Friday, September 10, 2004

Zen and the Art of Blagueing

I was going to wait until next week to tell you this story. But what the hell. It's written so why wait.


I was working at the Ministry of Agriculture many years ago as an assistant scientific officer. For some reason my pay wasn’t getting to me, someone of a similar name was getting it and so despite my protests I was very poor. In fact I was so poor I used to go to Guildford market on a Saturday afternoon as they were closing and pick up the vegetables out the road that had fallen of the stalls. You know a lot of it was good stuff and free. Then a trip to the park to fight with the ducks for bread, followed by a trip round the back of the pub to decant all the drips from the optics whisky bottles into one small bottle. I lived on vegetable stew, which became by Monday spicy vegetable stew and by Wednesday vegetable curry. By Thursday it was either all gone or inedible. I starved Thursday. God I was poor.
So you can imagine my dismay when walking around Guildford, I noticed a poster “Neil Innes (Ex Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) in concert. Tickets £10” I just stood there playing elephants ears with my empty trouser pockets. How could I find the money to go?
I couldn’t. I had borrowed money from just about everyone I knew and a lot of people I didn’t, my credit was stretched to breaking point and still no sign of my wages.
I hatched a cunning plan.

On the night of the concert I dressed in my black suit and white shirt, and went to the stage door at 6:30, carrying a small briefcase full of sound equipment requisitioned somewhat unofficially from the ministry stores. I knocked loudly at the door. A man opened it and said in a gruff voice “Yes?”
I held up my Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food Identity card, “Ministry.” I said, “I’ve come to check sound levels at this concert.”
“Oh you’d better come in. Where did you say you were from?”
“The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food.”
“I didn’t know they did this sort of thing?”
“MAFF is into a lot of things, it’s all under the one umbrella, the min of ag isn’t just about farming you know. We have our fingers in a lot of pies.”
“Oh I see. I’ll fetch the stage manager.” He ran off and all eyes were on me. I tried to be as cool as possible standing there with my briefcase in front of me. The stage manager arrived.
“I wasn’t expecting any visitors.” He said.
“No that’s alright we rarely give warnings. It’s just a spot check, nothing to worry about.”
"So can I get you anything? Do you need anything?”
“No thanks all the same I have everything I need here in my case.” I gave it a tap.
“Well OK then. I’ve got to get on the show starts in two hours.”
“Yes don’t mind me. I’ll just have a look around at the speakers and try not to get in your way. Oh yes there is one thing. What amplification are you using tonight?”
“We’re running two fifteen hundred watt amps, slaved off………” he went on telling me stuff I didn’t understand,but I just nodded approvingly, and pretended to make notes in my note pad.
“Excellent.” I said and wandered off.
I made for the bar and being professional, and broke, I bought a pint of ice water with a dash of lime and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, which is hard when everyone is whispering and pointing at you. Finally the doors opened and the crowd came in. I mingled with the crowd, standing in the centre. Neil Innes came on stage and started playing. He was brilliant. So good in fact that I forgot I was supposed to be taking spot sound checks. It was noted. As the final applause died down and people started making for the doors. I noticed the stage manager looking at me from a distance rather sternly.
“I want a word with you.” he shouted.
Shit! Rumbled. I ducked down into the crowd, and head down, made my way in the opposite direction to him.I took off my coat to disguise myself. I could see him jumping up and down trying to spot me. He signalled to some security guards, but they just shouted “What? Who?”
Too late I was out the door and running.
I’d like to apologise to Neil for depriving him of a well earned tenner, especially as it was such a good concert. I’ll make it up to you Neil, you can come to one of my gigs for free. I'll even buy you a pint.

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