Monthly Archives: February 2011

Accentuate the Negative

Regular readers will be well aware of my deep and profound attraction to Stoicism. Having such a deeply held – not to say profound – philosophical doctrine to live by means that I can swan through life with ease. It doesn’t always work: witness that time I swore at bottles of brandy in East Horsley (last month) or that time I collapsed and had to go to hospital after drinking for 30 hours straight (this month) or that time I ground my teeth down to nubs through stress, and then tried to counteract that stress by chainsmoking in the toilet at work (this month/every month).

But my world isn’t always this glamorous. Neither, I imagine, is most people’s. Recently though, and in line with my deep and profound connection with the Stoics, I’ve been practicing something called negative visualisation. Sounds shit, doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, it’s shitting brilliant. According to William B Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, “The practice of negative visualization is a powerful antidote to a phenomenon that will otherwise deprive us of much of the happiness we could be enjoying: negative visualization prevents us from taking for granted the world around us and the people in it.”

This I like. And I like William B Irvine and his work. “When parting from a friend,” he says, “I might make a mental note that this could conceivably be the last time that I see him.” He goes on, “Once I’ve made that mental note I decide that the best thing to do would be to kill that friend, thus reflecting the idea that I’ve built in my head. After killing my friend, I feel excellent.” He doesn’t really say that last bit. But what he does say is interesting: “Stoics don’t advocate that we dwell on bad things but that we contemplate them, a subtle but important difference. As the result of negatively visualizing, we might find ourselves taking delight that we still possess the things that only moments before we took for granted, including our job, our spouse [fat chance, Bill], our health [fatter chance, Bill] – indeed our very existence.”

I’ve been trying out this business of negative visualization and – for a while at least – it’s changed the way I look at this beautiful world. As I got into the lift at work earlier I thought, “This could be the last time I get in this lift, or any lift. Aren’t lifts something: the mechanism’s pretty special but it’s astounding how we, as a species, managed to create such a thing that is synthesized from stuff that’s been lying around on this planet for billions of years before we got here. How extraordinary.” I enjoy my ride in the lift more than usual. Then, when I get out of the lift I bump into a work colleague. “This could be the last time I see you”, I think, “Isn’t your skin nice and firm. Your hair’s not too shabby either. If this is going to be the last time I see you, perhaps I should try and kiss you.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Says my work colleague.

“I’m just trying out some new stuff.” I say.

And then I’m off in a cloud of cigarette smoke to the Halifax in Mayfair to pay a stinking credit card bill. This being Mayfair, everyone’s taking out huge amounts of money in fifty pound notes and acting like they own the place, which they probably do. I begin to hate them all. This could be the last time I begin to hate them all, I think to myself, so let’s really hate them all. After hating them all for a while – and I don’t really hate them, I just want to be them – I’m called up to the counter by a woman who looks like she needs some sort of medication and she tells me that she can’t tell me what the minimum payment is on my credit card and then looks at me as if to say but whatever it is, you probably can’t pay it.

I leave in a bit of a huff, but I don’t think anyone notices. This could be the last time I leave somewhere in a bit of a huff without anyone really noticing, I think. I could phone up and pay the stinking credit card bill, but after a brief internal wrangle I decide that my credit card bill can take a hike. I’ve had enough of paying my credit card bill, I think, my credit card bill can go and fuck itself, I think, I wonder what William B Irvine would think if he could see me now, I think.

After so much excitement I come back to my office (via the lift – not as special as it seemed a few minutes earlier) and think about pitching. For some time now I’ve wanted to pitch this feature idea where I get to shadow a team of private detectives for a week. I’ve been offered generous access, I can be one of the team as we follow people around London recording them and eavesdropping as they go shopping or go to bars, I can even take photos. It’s the only feature I’ve ever really wanted to write and so my pitch has to sing. This could be the last pitch you ever write, I think, make it as good as you can.

Yet twenty minutes later I’m still staring at a blank screen and I think: You can’t write the fucker can you – you’re the Eric Bristow of pitching. And, for the first time in a long time, I realise I’m right.

Someone who may or may not be about to get into a lift, earlier.

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For Whom the Bells Tolls

Occasionally I drink. I don’t know if I’ve written about this. Occasionally I work too and I’m pretty sure I haven’t written about this, and if I have I haven’t written about it in any great length. Part of my thinly-disguised anonymity you see – “Journalism’s rubbish answer to Banksy,” according to one idiot* – allows me to hold down a relatively well paid, prestigious and, yes, sometimes important job in a very grand building in Mayfair. From this very grand building in Mayfair you’ll occasionally find me writing reports on findings in, predominantly, the field of social psychology.** These reports have – over the last few days in fact – been variously described as “Excellent” and “What the fuck is this shit?”

Anyway today, whilst conducting my banana-sharp research, I came across a pair of boners called Ackoff and Emshoff who, in 1975, identified four types of drinkers, each with different motivations for drinking. These apparent ‘types’ are as follows:

  1. The Oceanic Drinker: Tends to drink so as to become more gregarious and extroverted.
  2. The Indulgent Drinker: Tends to drink in order to become withdrawn and introverted.
  3. The Reparative Drinker: Tends to drink in order to wind down from work and ease into leisure, and also reward themselves for all their efforts.
  4. The Social Drinker: Tends to use alcohol as a social lubricant

So, which one are you? More importantly, which one am I? Just kidding: which one are you? I’d love to know because from where I’m sitting – a very grand building in Mayfair – I’m all four, and often all four at the same time. I can’t work out if this is good or bad: it could be that they’ll all eventually cancel each other out like double negatives and I’ll become ‘The Non-drinking Drinker: Tends to not drink’ but somehow I doubt it.

* That idiot being me, about two seconds ago.

** Although this is a rarity. If you were to ever visit this very grand building in Mayfair – and I’d love it if you did – you’re more likely to find me (1) smoking in the toilet, (2) practicing my Daniel Plainview impression in the toilet, or (3) sleeping in the toilet.

The End of an Era

Back in 2001 I was young and broke and trying to make it as a writer. Now, I realise that ten years later I’m old and broke and still trying to make it as a writer, but I have had one or two slivers of success. Back then I’d had no slivers of success. This lack of success lay mainly in my ability to cleverly disguise any ambition by working on building sites, spending most of my waking life drunk and not doing any writing. It also lay in me cleverly disguising any ambition by not really having any ambition.

Oh, but you should have heard me. Really, you should have. If you had been working with me on a building site back in 2001 you have thought that I wasn’t just someone working on a building site; no, I was a writer working on a building site. Yes, I was an idiot then and I’m an idiot now – albeit a slightly braver and tougher idiot after ten years of living like a tramp.

Where were we? Ah yes, we’re in 2001 and I’m working on a building site and one day I pick up the Euro Weekly News, a free English language newspaper – we’re in Mallorca by the way, I should have mentioned that earlier – and read in the classifieds that they are looking for columnists. “Brilliant”, I think, “I could do that.” Normally when I think “Brilliant, I could do that” I tend to imagine doing whatever that thing is over and over again in my head and polish it to such a level that, when it actually comes round to doing that thing I feel as if I’ve already done that thing hundreds of times and so the thing never gets done. This time, however, that thing got done. I came back from work one day and hammered out two columns about a young, broke writer in Mallorca who was working on building sites whilst writing a novel – and not only a novel, but a dreadfully important novel. I say hammered them out but because I didn’t have a computer at the time I hammered them out by hand and then went to my ex-boss’s house and hammered them out on her computer. As bad luck would have it, my ex-boss’s internet connection was down and so I had to fax over the columns.

This next bit is good, this next bit is where I fuck up.

So, two or three days after faxing off my columns I get a call from the editor of the Euro Weekly News saying that he “loved them”. The columns, that is. And not only did he “love them”, but “everyone in the office loved them”. And not only was there a lot of love going around the office with regard to my columns but they wanted to offer me a regular gig as one of their columnists. Well, I was bowled over. The only problem, said the editor, was the format: could I, instead of sending them over by fax, send them by email? Could I? Of course I could.

Except of course I couldn’t. At the time I was chronically computer illiterate and after spending hours trying to send the columns by email I just sort of gave up and then refused to answer my phone for a few weeks. That, I’m afraid – and here I really must apologise to all the people in the English speaking world who were deprived of my copy for the next five years – put the breaks on my writing career (if you can call it a career – which you can’t, not really) until late 2006 when I started to eke out a living as a journalist.

And we all know what’s happened since then. You don’t? Oh, well then let me regale you: I got married, got semi-divorced, had a series of breakdowns, drew some excellent pie charts, ate some beetroot, had a trial for Colchester United and swore at some bottles of alcohol in East Horsley, Surrey.

Which leads us rather unseamlessly onto last night when I was mucking around on the internet wondering where I’m going to move to next. Out of this month’s favourites – Paris, obviously; Buenos Aires; Bali; Canada; Somerset – I think I might have to move to Mallorca for a while. And if I do move to Mallorca for a while then I’m going to have to get a job in Mallorca for a while. And after looking at the opportunities for writers who happen to be in Mallorca for a while, it appears that my best bet lies in applying for a position at – wait for it, because this is fucking brilliant this – Euro Weekly News. How wonderfully cyclical. It seems that EWN want people. And I’m people. What sort of people do they want? According to their selection criteria:

At EWN we are rather choosy about who we employ.

This bit is worrying. But:

We are not afraid of those with ambition, just as long as they have the talent to back it up.

This bit isn’t too bad: I have ambition. That my ambition is to do more than nine kick-ups with a tennis ball and to get through the remaining 30 minutes of this morning without nipping to the off-licence downstairs from my office for a can of super strength lager can be overlooked – I won’t put that in my application. I’ll put about wanting to be a real good EWN employee and that – they’ll probably like that.

The next bit though, is pretty bad. It reads:

For our part, we do believe in developing our staff where possible.  Hard work and commitment will always be recognised and rewarded.You need not apply if:

You are all mouth and no trousers

You have a drug or alcohol problem

You have a criminal record

And this is where the dream ends. First, all that talk of hard work and commitment being recognised and rewarded leaves me cold. Second, I’m worried that I’m no mouth and all trousers, or perhaps no mouth and no trousers, or possibly some mouth and some trousers, but whatever I am, I’m certainly not all mouth but also with trousers, which I assume is what they want. Is that really what they want? Meek people with massive dicks shuffling around the office? I’m not sure. But regardless of where I fall in the relationship between mouth and trousers, it’s all painfully academic as I fall woefully short on point two.

So, it seems my promising ten year career at the Euro Weekly News (if you can call it a promising ten year career – and you can’t, you really can’t) comes to an end. Next stop: the Majorca Daily Bulletin, quite possibly the worst newspaper ever produced.

Around the World in 80 (well, 10) Perfect Feature Ideas

Last year I was thinking about writing a book called Around the World in 80 Lays. Don’t worry, it wasn’t going to be a sexy book. Rather, it was going to be a hilarious romp with me going around the world and, with chronic irony, not having sex with anyone. It was a bad idea. When I say that I was thinking about it “last year”, I wasn’t thinking about it for the whole of last year, but probably only for about five minutes of last year. Two of those five minutes were taken up with me Googling “Around the World in 80 lays” and finding out that Joe Diamond – “the Gulliver of sex travels”, according to Larry Flynt – had beaten me to it.

But I’m a sucker for a snappy feature title. For a start, they look splendid in the subject header when you’re pitching. And I particularly like the “Around the World in 80…” approach. This approach got me thinking – it got me thinking that although I might not be able to go around the world in 80 lays, there are probably lots of other things I could go around the world in. What things? These things…

Around the World in 80 Mays. I go around the world, but only during the month of May. At the end of each May I have to come back to London and wait until the following year to resume my journey. This would take a while. Probably 80 years.

Perfect for: Geographical Journal, Traveller, Wanderlust.

Around the World in 80 Gays. I go around the world constantly circled by 80 homosexual men.

Perfect for: Attitude, Gay Times, GQ, The Pink Paper

Around the World in 80 Neighs. I go around the world learning to ride 80 different types of horse. If there are that many.

Perfect for: Country Life, Horse & Hound, Horse & Pony Magazine, Horse and Rider, Your Horse.

Around the World in 80 Nays. I go around the world and say no to stuff 80 times.

Perfect for: Red Pepper

Around the World in 80 Pays. I go around the world but can only spend money on exactly 80 separate occasions.

Perfect for: Accountancy Age, Financial Adviser, Moneywise, Spear’s Wealth Management Survey.

Around the World in 80 Rays. I go around the world only speaking to people called Ray.

Perfect for: Dave Gorman Magazine

Around the World in 80 X-rays. I go around the world amazed at the many different ways in which doctors and medical professionals in various cultures X-ray their patients.

Perfect for: British Medical Journal, New Scientist, Nursing Times.

Around the World in 80 Ways. If I can think of them, I go around the world using 80 different methods of transport 80 times.

Perfect for: Aeroplane Monthly, Boards, Caravan Magazine, Classic Boat Magazine, Climb Magazine, Dancing Times, Dogs Today, Flight International, Motor Cycle News, Runner’s World, Ski and Board, Ships Monthly, Today’s Pilot, Total Off-Road, Truck & Driver, Waterways World, Yachting Monthly

Around the World in 80 Trays. I go around the world looking at, and occasionally purchasing, different types of trays.

Perfect for: Delicious, Sainsbury’s Magazine

Around the World in 80 Yays. I go around the world and am happy about stuff 80 times.

Perfect for: Psychologies, That’s Life!, Yoga & Health

 

True Idiot Grit

A confession: I don’t really like blogs. In fact, I hate the fuckers. A second confession: I’m rehashing material I wrote back in March 2010. Remember then? Then, when times were good? I don’t, not really. At the time though, I wrote: I don’t particularly like blogs, writers, writing, blogs about writers, or writing a blog about a writer.

Little has changed, except now I have the after-effects of a head injury to deal with as well.

I’ve lost rather a lot over the last year – wife, mind, home, hair, dignity, muscle definition – but losing consciousness at the weekend was the most disturbing. I’d been drinking for 30 straight hours and on the way to the pub – the pub, for fuck’s sake – I just collapsed and was out, with my eyes wide open, for at least a minute. Friends who were there were “terrified” but thankfully paramedics and doctors put me back together again and after four to five hours of being checked out and monitored and silently (and deservingly) scolded I was let out onto the streets of Archway to carry on flying around like a banshee.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? Don’t answer: I know it’s ridiculous. The second most ridiculous part was falling asleep in a wheelchair whilst waiting for a chest X-ray. The first most ridiculous part was that as I was drifting off I thought: “I bet this happens again. I bet this isn’t the last time I fall asleep in a wheelchair.” This is kind of worrying and makes me think that I must be completely out of my fucking idiot mind.

But before I find myself falling asleep in a wheelchair again, I’ve decided to wrestle this ill-fated joke shop of a project to the ground. It wasn’t always going to be this way. Since I landed pretty much the best agent in the country, the idea was to let the pitching part of Pitching the World just kind of evaporate. My book, when I get round to writing the book, was going to gradually insinuate that the idea of pitching 642 magazines is a ridiculous one and one that can’t really be done, but what can be done is to use that framework to make some hilarious swipes at the journalism industry whilst simultaneously losing my wife, mind, home, hair, dignity and muscle definition. Seriously, if you have a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and flick through it, you’ll realise that pitching all of those magazines to a not-dog-shit standard is impossible. They’re too specialist and particular and seemingly impenetrable to lay people. It really is impossible.

Which makes me determined to do it. It makes me determined to do it because I’ve flapped around and fucked up everything I’ve ever tried and I’m not going to flap around and fuck this up. If I do this, I realised, I’ll be the first – and quite possibly last – person in the world to individually pitch 642 magazines. That, I hope, is something to be proud of. That, I hope, is something I can carry around with me forever. That, I hope, is something I can smile about the next time I find myself sleeping in a wheelchair in a hospital.

 

 

How to get a writing grant…in just two easy steps!

As far as I can gather, getting financial support for your writing project works like this.

1. At 27, after failing to become an actor in Los Angeles (because you only spent two days there), you get a coach to Canada and fail to become a successful carpenter. You fail to become a successful carpenter because you’re not very good at carpentry, you’re too scared to climb ladders and you keep laughing at your boss’s face when he hammers in nails. After being fired, you leave Canada and head to Mallorca and make a film about a man who thinks he’s both Clint Eastwood and the King of Spain. After six weeks of filming every day, you become a bit heady and have to move back to the UK and medication. Back home, and on medication, you visit Bournemouth library and happen upon a book called Directory of Grant Making Trusts. This is good, you think, there may be grants available to filmmakers (you assume, wrongly, that you’re a filmmaker now). There is, however, a problem. There is always a problem. The book appears pretty much impenetrable. This is because you didn’t read the ‘How to use this directory’ section at the beginning of the directory. After wrestling with the guide for about 30 minutes you give up, reasoning that the problem doesn’t lie with you, but with the book. You decide not to apply for a grant. That’ll show someone, you think. About three months later you suffer what may or may not be a breakdown. You write about the whole experience – the filming, the breakdown – for Bizarre magazine. It’s your first feature. You ask the editor on the phone if you can be paid up front and he does his best not to laugh. Two years later, when you meet the editor at a party, you claim that asking for payment up front was ‘a joke’, but he can’t remember the incident and goes off to talk to someone else.

2. At 35, after failing to become a reliable husband in London (because you only spent four years there and didn’t really have enough time for your jokes to bed in or for you to hit your sexual peak), you relentlessly get coaches between Bournemouth and London and attempt to pitch the world. You fail at this because – well, there isn’t the time right now, but you fail at this. One day you visit Bournemouth library and head straight for the section which houses the 2010/2011 edition of the Directory of Grant Making Trusts. The first bit of the directory is entitled ‘How to use this directory’, but it looks a bit too long and complicated so you skip it assuming, wrongly, that you read it back in 2003 and have probably retained the information. After half an hour wrestling with the book you go outside and smoke – and hugely enjoy – a cigarette. You come back from your enjoyable cigarette and inexplicably find three trusts which give grants to individuals working on book projects. You like looking at the numbers which run from £500 to £10,000. But you don’t apply according to the guidelines they set out. Oh no, not you. Fuck that. Play by their rules? No way. Far too uncool for a maverick dicksplash writer like you. No way are you going to apply in the manner they suggest which is probably helpful both for them and the applicant. No. Instead, you write a series of long, winding, seemingly carefree applications full of crap jokes that aren’t really jokes. You sit back and wait for the three cheques.

See? Grants. Who knew grant writing could be such fun? Not me. But whilst I’m waiting for my three cheques to roll in, if anyone else has any information on grants – and please, this isn’t an invitation to cut and paste Wikipedia entries on Eddie Grant, Russel Grant or Ulysses S Grant. Or Grant Mitchell* – then please feel free to share it.

*It is really.