I’ve touched before on the fact that for part of my early childhood my family lived on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, a large town hungrily expanding, swallowing up the surrounding villages and countryside and desperately doing all it can to grow large enough to be noticed and officially granted City status.
Back in the 1990’s they tried to increase their chances by building an impressive ‘Christ the Cornerstone’ church, Britain’s first cathedral-sized ecumenical church loosely modeled on other British cathedrals (the link between having Cathedral and being allowed to call yourself a City dating back to the 1540’s during Henry VIII’s reign when he established dioceses (an area under the supervision of a Bishop) in 6 English Towns, and also granted them City status by issuing them with letters patent) and they refer to their shopping hub as ‘The City Centre’; however the decision to grant City status rests with our Queen and the competition for City status usually occurs around key events like coronations, the 2000 Millennium and Jubilee’s (like 2002’s Golden Jubilee), and after Milton Keynes was overlooked during the previous round of City status awards in 2002 they have most recently been furiously pushing for recognition, especially since the City Status results of Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee are due to be announced in 2012.
Anyway, back during the late 80’s and early 90’s when we still lived in Milton Keynes, we were fortunate enough to live in a house that backed onto fields, the farmer who owned the land stoically resisting for as long as possible any land purchase attempts by the swarming house builders clambering over the terrain. This glorious landscape behind the house was so different to the view from the front, which sadly looked out onto the bleak sight of one of the innumerable housing estates springing up everywhere, and as a family it planted in us a love of driving around and exploring the English countryside.
On one such expedition it was drawing towards early evening and the sky was growing dimmer as the sun began to set. These were the days before every car and phone came equipped with satellite navigation or GPS, in fact these were the days before mobile phones became an everyday item, and we didn’t always carry a road map with us as that was all part of our family adventure. Stomachs were rumbling, small children were beginning to play up on the back seat of the car, tempers were fraying.
My Dad then did one of the most heroic and manly things I believe any man can do. He stopped for directions. It takes a lot for a man to admit that he hasn’t the faintest clue where on earth he is, with most men electing to drive around aimlessly for a further 2-hours until the car runs out of fuel, a passenger threatens to wet themselves if they don’t stop soon or a small car mutiny overthrows the dictator after a swift, violent struggle where fizzy drink cans and shoes are thrown around.
However, to my young mind this incredibly manly decision was outweighed by my Dad’s next judgement call as he decided to stop the car outside a small pub in the middle of absolutely nowhere. As he turned the engine off he swivelled around in his seat to tell the family, “Wait here for a bit, I’ll be right back.” Horror films have opened with less ominous words. He then cracked the car door, briefly illuminating our nervous faces as the interior light came on, and exited the vehicle, closing the door behind him. It was fairly dark outside, and the shadowy outline of my Dad trudged away from us towards the pub entrance. We quickly reached over and locked his door from the inside.
Still no Dad, and I began to notice a large number of motorcycles parked outside the pub, and as our nervous conversation and the noises created by our cooling car engine slowly died away, the rowdy noise of rock music started to drift towards us from the pub.
We waited, but now started to uncomfortably fidget in our seats a little.
Still no Dad, and suddenly I had a panic attack because I became convinced that the army of bikers in the pub – no doubt burly, brutish and bored – had pounced on my Dad as soon as he walked through the door. I was telling The Mothership that while we sat in the car, right at that very second a group of bikers were in the process of bouncing my Dad around the room like a beach ball. I was convinced my Dad was being thrown around like a biker toy, and someone had to do something.
To her credit, she calmly allowed her frantic child to vent, then regained control by assuring my brother and myself that Dad was an adult and was perfectly capable of taking care of himself when faced with bikers. While she was telling us this, out of the corner of my eye I saw the pub door open and to my delight my Dad was illuminated in the light spilling from the entrance.
He trudged back to the car, waited for us to unlock his door and sat back inside, turning around with a big smile to inform all of us that he had obtained directions, and we’d be on our way home soon for a hot dinner. As he turned back to the wheel and started the car, The Mothership informed him that the children, and his daughter in particular, were very happy to see him again, and proceeded to relay to Dad my beach ball scenario. My Dad laughed all the way home.
As time went by I stopped viewing bikers a malevolent hairy balls of evil, mainly because my Dad got a motorbike, started hanging out with a few other men (I suspect all approaching some sort of mid life crisis) who rode motorbikes; and when we went to the occasional motorbike or car event I would meet some of these hairy motor-loving beasts who invariably turned out to be overly patient towards a child who enjoyed asking questions, and my fear of the unknown was replaced with a fondness of the familiar.
Which is why, when recently sent a link to an advert created by Carlsberg (a Danish brewing company that exports beer), it touched a chord with me. The advert takes place in a cinema where Carlsberg have hired an entire screening room and filled all but 2 of the available 150 seats. The cinema is showing a very popular film, so these last 2 seats located right next to each other would be viewed as a fortunate find by anyone turning up to watch the film, and would mainly appeal to couples who wouldn’t want to be separated during the showing. However the twist of the advert is that Carlsberg have filled 148 of the 150 seats with big, burly, brutish looking bikers. The advert then shows the differing responses of the various couples who walk into the cinema, while the lights are up, to be confronted with a room full of harsh faced and intimidating men who all turn to silently stare at them.
It’s a wonderful advert as it shows how easy it is to be intimidated by others, especially a group of people who have a very masculine way of dressing and come with a very strong stereotype linked to aggression and hostility, despite the fact that there are almost no reports of such behaviour and very few of us have ever been bounced around a room like a beach ball by a group of them. The advert is worth watching not only for the interesting ways the the different couples handle the situation, but also to enjoy the way the bikers respond to the few couples who display the courage to walk up the stairs and cross the menacing row of seated bikers to claim their seats.