Gerry Farrell: David Bowie gave courage to the outsiders

WHEN I was 16 years old an alien fell to earth and inhabited my brain and body. He made me experiment with mascara, lip-liner, nail varnish, blue eye-shadow and rouge. He made me feather-cut my ginger hair so it stuck up spiky at the front and long at the back.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 13th January 2016, 12:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th January 2016, 12:36 pm
'David Bowie made it okay to experiment with who we were'
'David Bowie made it okay to experiment with who we were'

He made my Mum say “You’re not going out like that, you look like a girl.” He made me join a band and be the frontman. He came, like a thin white Jesus, to transform my bleak Seventies adolescence into something sexy. He told me he was coming in a song:

I had to phone someone so I picked on you

Hey that’s far out so you heard him too!

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Switch on the TV we may pick him up on Channel Two.

Look out your window you can see his light

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright.

His name was David Bowie and the other day he floated back to whatever planet he came from. There was never anybody like him and there never will be. In my late fifties now I’ve piled up a fair few regrets. One of them is that when my mate asked me if I wanted to go to Bowie’s first Edinburgh gig at the Empire Theatre on January 6, 1973, I said “I can’t, I’ve got homework.” Next morning they came into school, the rebel-rebels, the ones who never let homework get in the way of a good time. They showed me ticket stubs. “Grand Circle, £1.00.” Smoking in the toilets they swapped stories about what Bowie wore on stage. “Like a glittery, see-through top, you could see his nipples.” Aye but he kept changing. He came on in the second half in a white mini-kimono with white thigh-high boots.” Is he a poof, like?” (This was the Seventies, remember.) “Is he f*** a poof!” Wee Edinburgh hard men feverishly defending the ambiguous sexuality of a guy who’d been up on stage bending his gender and licking the neck of Mick Ronson’s Fender. Extraordinary. Extra-terrestrial, even.

Bowie made it okay to experiment with who we were. He gave courage to the outsiders, the ones who got picked on in the dinner queue and bullied in the playground. Facebook is full of Bowie right now. Not just because he was an artist but because you could tell that underneath the theatricality there was a down-to-earth, cheerful guy with a weird sense of humour and one eye a different colour from the other. Of all the Facebook Bowie posts I read and listened to today, it was one my son posted that finally made me cry: “Whenever someone accuses you of being weird, odd, silly, different, unusual, too much or strange, remember there was a man like you and the world loved him.”

City’s got iself into a hole

I managed to get myself invited to be a mentor to fledgling businesses at RBS Entrepreneurial Spark. It’s a part-time role but they don’t ask just anybody so I was pretty chuffed to get the nod. Last Wednesday night was my first session, the one where I introduce myself to the “Chiclets”, as they call them. I dressed up a little nicer than usual. I was keen to make a good impression. I had to get from my home in Leith to South Gyle for 5pm so I set off around 4pm. Just before the lights where Great Junction Street meets Ferry Road there was an almighty crunch and judder. My nearside front tyre had gone into a pothole a foot wide and six inches deep. The tyre burst on impact. I limped back home and called a cab. It cost me £20 there and £20 back. At Kwik-Fit the next day a new tyre cost me another £95.

The irony is that I’d been on a bit of a mission to rid Great Junction Street of its dangerous potholes. Just a week before I fell into one, I took my can of fluorescent pink aerosol spray paint (the one I carry for identifying mounds of dog poo) and sprayed a huge magenta circle round a pothole that was three feet wide and six inches deep. The next day I was surprised but pleased to see that some Ashphalt Angel had filled it in with tar.

Now you would think that if they wanted to get rid of the problem, the council would properly resurface that bit of road, not just pour in ashphalt which will soon soften and turn into another hole. And you would think that while they were on Great Junction Street, they would make a point of filling all the other potholes there – and there are plenty. Of course, they don’t do that. Instead, they leave the holes for months, people drive their cars into them, tyres, wheels and shock absorbers get wrecked, the drivers put in for compensation and the council fork out. In fact, every year the council pays motorists around £40,000 in compensation. That feels short-sighted to me.

The SNP’s ninth year of Council Tax freeze gives our councillors the perfect excuse to plead poverty and shift the blame onto Holyrood who then shift the blame onto Westminster. This is a silly game. Edinburgh’s Council Tax is among the highest in the UK. Let’s see more of that cash spent on good road maintenance, not squandered on daft schemes like the £1.2million re-cobbling of Brighton Street.

I spent an hour yesterday afternoon painting pink rings round some lethal potholes at the Ferry Rd end of Great Junction Street. I’ve taken photos of them all as you can see here. I used permanent paint because one shower of rain washes away the temporary stuff . I expect to see those holes filled. But what I’d prefer to see is a road maintenance policy that doesn’t allow them to become a metre wide and six inches deep in the first place.

A novel way to pitch your book

If you’ve ever written a book you’ll know that the hardest part is finding somebody who wants to publish it. Most of our best writers, including JK Rowling, could paper a wall with their rejection slips.

So it was a brilliant move of the Highlands & Islands creative body Emergent Writers to run a pitch on Twitter last week. There were only two rules: a) you had to live in Scotland and b) you had to get the whole idea for your book across in less than 140 characters – a single tweet in other words.

For 24 hours, a panel of publishers, including Edinburgh’s leading company Canongate, monitored this Twitter thread. If two or more of the panel liked your idea, they got in touch to tell you.

I’m not saying what became of the micro-pitches I tweeted. But watch this space.