Monthly Archives: June 2011

Journalists I’d Like to Kick the Fuck Out of: Part Two

3. Danny Wallace

There’s no way this series isn’t going well. The first instalment back in (I think) September 2010 featured Alexis Petridis and Neal Butterworth and definitely wasn’t shit. This is the second instalment and might be a bit shit. Might be. For a start Danny Wallace isn’t really a journalist, but he has written whimsical pieces for a handful of broadsheets and has a regular (whimsical) column in Shortlist and I do want to kick the you-know-what out of him so he’ll have to do.

So, Danny Wallace. I want to get away. I need to get away. I’m broke, going mad and drinking too much and I’m hoping that going away will magically sort all of this out – that somehow being somewhere that isn’t here will make me less broke, less mad and less reliant on alcohol to get me through the day. It will won’t it? Just say yes.

Which brings us slightly clumsily back to Danny Wallace whose second book, Yes Man, I found myself reading in Boscombe library yesterday. I read it – or rather, I read some of it – as a mistake. It was among the travel books (I need to get away) and I remembered someone saying to me once that my writing was a lot like Danny Wallace’s so I picked it up and read a hundred or so pages and wanted to cry.

For those of you who don’t know, Yes Man is about Danny Wallace saying ‘yes’ to stuff instead of ‘no’ to stuff and finding himself in all sorts of hilarious, improbable and probably falsified situations. His first book, Join Me, was an hilarious, improbable and probably falsified account of him “accidentally starting a cult”. This is the kind of caper that he gets up to. He wrote a travel column for (I think) the Guardian about going around Australia with his (probably) lovely wife and visiting big tomatoes or something. He can write about anything now. He’s in a situation where he can go to his agent or publisher or a newspaper editor and say: “I’d like to do something where I go around the world talking to fish who wear hats” and they’d say yes. Or:  “How about a column in which I document my crazy decision to wear ONLY red trousers with yellow shirts or ONLY yellow trousers with red shirts. And I do this for a year. Don’t worry, I can make most of it up.” Or: “Maybe I should just say “Ooohh” for a whole year, or eat my underpants for breakfast, or fuck all of the truck drivers in Leeds…” and people who commission this stuff would say yes yes yes.*

This is what I want (perhaps not the truck drivers) and I’m jealous and the reason behind this vitriol is I know that if Danny Wallace had come up with the idea of Pitching the World he would have made a success out of it, would have landed a book deal and column and television series. What have I landed? I’ve landed night terrors, crumbling self-esteem, a growing problem with addictions and eczema on my hand. The idea behind this project is good, but the execution has been woeful. Perhaps I should lie about stuff more, like Danny Wallace does.

Danny, if you’re reading this I don’t really want to kick the fuck out of you. The main reason I don’t want to is that if you did happen upon this you’d probably take it to your agent and he’d say: “Do it. But write a column and book about it and we’ll sell it for loads” and you’d write about your training and make it quite funny and use loads of exclamation marks but you’d get pretty fit and punchy as well whereas I’d just sit in my Nan’s dining room and chainsmoke and drink. About two days before the big fight I’d do some press ups and give up after about nine, thinking “Fuck this, I’ll just get drunk and smack him” and I will get drunk and try and smack you but I’ll miss and you’ll smash my stupid yet once handsome face to bits and you’ll make a million pounds from it.

Next up: Dave Gorman. And probably Johann Hari.

Danny Wallace, earlier

* Jesus, after writing that I looked at his Wikipedia entry and read the following:

“On 16 December 2008 he presented his second episode of Horizon on BBC2, Where’s My Robot. In it, Wallace travelled the world to meet roboticists and ask them, simply: “Where’s my robot?””

You couldn’t make this shit up. He could, but you couldn’t.

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Five of the Best

I have a favour to ask. No, no – wait, come back, I don’t want money or sex from you.* Rather, I’d like you – that’s right, YOU – to tell me what your favourite posts have been over the last year and three quarters. This isn’t to feed my crumbling ego,** but my agent and I are putting together a proposal that we’ll soon be sending to publishers and some of the material we’re submitting will be previous blog posts. I know, I know, we’re both lunatics.

But can you help? Please. You don’t even have to be specific, you can just say “I liked that one where you drank Pernod in the shower and played with yourself”or “That was good, when you were in Dubai and couldn’t find a supermarket” or “You know that time you fucked up? That should be in there.” Actually, perhaps not that last one; perhaps I’d like you to be more specific than that.

Anyway, you’d be helping me out hugely. And whoever I judge to leave the best suggestion gets a can of Skol Super and 10 Camel Lights in the post. I’m serious about this. For the record, I think the best post I’ve written is Accentuate the Negative (February 2011) and the worst one Five of the Best (June 2011).

Thank you all very much. If you’re a little wary or shy about putting your suggestions up here, feel free to email me at: pitchingtheworld*at*hotmail.com

*I do really.

**It is really

Conversations With My Agent*

INT. DINING ROOM – DAY

14:16 Thursday 16 June, 2011.

MATTHEW HAMILTON: Hello. Is that Steven?

ME: I think so. Is that my award-winning agent?

MH: Hahahahaha. Yes.

ME: [TWITCHES]

MH: I was speaking about you last night. For an hour.

ME: Fuck. Really? To the police? They’re lying. Your therapist?

MH: –

ME: It wasn’t my Mum was it?

MH: Ha. [beat] Look, let’s talk Pitching the World.

And so we do.

Here’s what we’ve decided. Matthew is going away on holiday and I’m going to work on a proposal (and sample chapters) for a book based upon this blog. Sounds – or rather, reads – ridiculous written down, doesn’t it? Once Matthew gets back from his holiday (wish I was going on holiday) at the beginning of July we’re going to send off the proposal and sample chapters (wish I was a proposal and sample chapters) to publishers. Said publishers are going to start a bidding war (wish I was etc.) and eventually one is going to rise out of all the filth and offer me lots of money to write a book based on Pitching the World.

That, I think, is the idea. And there’s no way it’s going to fuck up (wish there was no way I was going to fuck up).

I haven’t quit by the way. That last post wasn’t my last post, by the way. I think it all just got a bit too much – my soupy ways, lack of money, living arrangements, the ridiculous idea of pitching all of these magazines – and I just wanted to curl up in a corner of a room somewhere and stay there, like a dying mouse or bear or horse or whatever animal goes to the corner of a room to die.

But then, this morning, a breakthrough. Who says this whole caper needs to be a success? I mean it clearly will be, but so what if it isn’t? Isn’t that something still? A kind of anti-journalism book, or a guide on how not to live your life – wouldn’t that be something still? The best bits of biographies are always the first 70 pages or so when the subject is struggling – going to auditions and not getting anywhere, or having manuscripts rejected, or living in a subway eating cans of tuna and drinking super strength lager. These are the best bits. And the book could – could – be like that. Imagine: a whole book of that. With no success (in fact I’m far, far less successful than when I started), no uplifting finale and no lessons learnt except perhaps JOURNALISM IS FUCKED or THE WRITER OF THIS BOOK IS FUCKED.

I don’t know though. We’re tossing around a few ideas at the moment. That’s right, tossing them around. And the end of the book could – could – be more uplifting than the end of Rocky, you never know. After posting this I’m going to write and send a letter to editors of magazines practically begging to write for them. It will be a good letter. A begging letter – can you imagine? Oh I’ve sunk low, I’ve sunk low all right. But I can sink much lower. Just you watch me.

If anyone needs me, once I’ve written that letter I’ll be in a subway in Boscombe eating tuna out of a can and drinking super strength lager. Come and say hello.

*Format courtesy of Rob Long, author of Conversations with My Agent. Go and buy it, it’s good. Incidentally, Rob Long’s second book was represented by my agent – perhaps you can go and buy that too, although I can’t remember the title. 

Century

Dear Readers of Pitching the World,

This is my hundredth post. Shouldn’t I be getting a telegram from the Queen or something? How does it work? A hundred posts. What on earth have I been writing about? I remember something about beetroot and something else about pie charts and I’m pretty sure I’ve even been including pitches recently, but other than that my mind’s a blank. Well, perhaps not a blank exactly, more a slaughterhouse. Or a malignant cartoon. Yeah, that’s more like it: Malignant Cartoon Slaughterhouse Mind – that could be my new nickname.

Anyway, I’ve had a little ditty going through my (slaughterhouse/malignant cartoon) mind all day to the tune of Happy Birthday. It goes:

Congratulations to me,

Congratulations to me,

For being such a fucking idiot,

Congratulations to me!

Good, isn’t it? And good, aren’t I? One hundred posts! Crikey. I always thought I’d write a hundred posts and end this nonsense there and then, but as I wrote post number 87 or 94 or even 99 I thought ‘How ridiculous I once was – to believe I would only write 100 posts. What a fool. I’m going to write way more than 100 posts. I might write 200. Or a thousand.”

Well. Well well well. I’m beginning to think that my original thinking was on the money and my subsequent thinking far sloppier. This, I fear, could be my final post. I’ve had enough. Enough of being a writer or a journalist or whatever the hell it is I’ve turned into and I am on the verge of quitting. The reasons are too numerous and complicated to go into, but let it be known that I’ve had enough. Enough enough enough.

You know what the worst word in the English language is? Hope. I’ve had it with hope. Me and hope used to be pals; I used to take hope round the back of supermarkets and have sex with it in big bins. That’s what I do with my friends by the way: fuck them in bins. But not anymore – the hope stuff I mean. Every week I think this week’s going to be better. This week, I think, the man who once paid me £3 a word is going to get in touch and ask me – beg me – to write his autobiography. Or: this week my agent, Matthew Hamilton of Aitken Alexander Associates, is going to get in touch and say, “Look, Steven, the reason I haven’t been in touch is because I’ve been working on a book deal for you. A secret one. And it’s big. Oh it’s big, it’s fuck-the-publishers-in-the-ass big.” Or: this week I’m going to be whisked off somewhere exotic with my ex-election team to write award-winning and morally affirming political speeches. Or: something else, something equally good.

God, what a melodramatic fool I am. But better a melodramatic fool than a hopeful one. Because, you know, this week isn’t going to be any better. If anything, this week will be worse – much worse. My whole life has been spent thinking that this week is going to be better and it never is. In fact, that’s going to be my epitaph – on my gravestone: “Here lies Pitching the World. He thought this week would be better.”

Someone once told me that “To get out of hell you’ve got to use power” and so I’ve decided that I’ve got just about enough energy for one final push. One final push then I’m giving up and going back to painting houses and building walls for a living. The rest of this week will be spent pitching editors with ideas for features that I actually want to write. I’m going to make them the most well honed and attractive pitches ever created and when editors read them they’re going to feel all oily and do remarkable things in their undercrackers.

At least I hope they will. And if that doesn’t work – if I get nowhere trying to make editors all oily or if I get nowhere with my massive fuck-them-in-the-ass secret book deal – then I’m going to put this advert in Private Eye, assuming I can find the money to do so:

Ex political speechwriter and current journalist seeks adventure. Anything legal or otherwise considered. Discretion assured. 

Fruity isn’t it? I’ve no idea what it means. I think whatever it means I mean it though. And if THAT doesn’t work (and it clearly will) then I’m either going to go back to painting and building walls for a living or I’m going to get a National Express coach to Paris for £25 and just hang around and try and find my own adventure. I don’t know what I’ll do for money. I’ve thought as far as dancing like a bear in a square somewhere. I know, I know: I’m having a breakdown.

So, you know, if it doesn’t all work out one way or another this week and I do give up and end up dancing around Europe like a bear, I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you for reading and commenting and subscribing and generally making me feel better about stuff. It’s been emotional. And perhaps a little too melodramatic.

Pitching the World. X

10 Of the Best Holiday Feature Ideas You’ll Ever Fucking See

Apologies for the profanity but I put the word ‘fuck’ in the title of a blog post on Tuesday and then yesterday had the highest number of visitors all year. “Ah yes, I thought, that’ll be the fuck. I must remember to fuck more in the titles of my blog posts. I wonder if I can somehow slip a fuck into my next blog post title. Bet I can’t.”

Well I have, and brilliantly. Anyway, I need a holiday. I need a lot of other things too, but primarily I need a holiday. As a successful freelance journalist with an unblemished track record in writing travel features you’d think it wouldn’t be a problem to go on holiday for free and then write words about it. You’d be wrong. It’s increasingly hard to get travel commissions. Hard, but not impossible. Not if you put some thought into it. This morning, then, I sat down and hammered out ten ideas that I don’t think have been covered yet. Here they are.

1. In the Rockies with the Rockys. I visit the North American mountain range and do nothing but watch the Rocky hexalogy. That’s right, hexalogy.

2. See Naples and Die. I go to Naples and try and join the Camorra. If I have to whack my photographer in an initiation ritual, then so be it.

3. An Englishman in Old York. I go to heritage-rich York for a bit. Possibly with Sting.

4. Disneyland Paris! Alone! I go to Disneyland Paris and try to drink myself to death over a two-week period.

5. Where Am I? I deprive myself of sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste and get on a plane headed somewhere. Once there, I have to guess – by thought alone – where I am. Then write 1,500 words about it. Pictures could be a problem with this one.

6. Morecambe and Wise. I go to Morecambe on an intensive two-week course studying Greek philosophy.

7. Terry and June. I go on holiday with a couple called Terry and June.

8. Terry in June. I change my name by deed poll to Terry and go on holiday in June.

9. June in June. I change my name to June and go on holiday in June.

10. May in June. In this one, I don’t actually go on holiday but I research the various holiday options available in June and then decide whether or not I’d like to go away then.

I’ll let you know how I get on with these. I sense ten commissions, though the ‘May in June’ one might be a bit late for this year. Wish me luck!

Fuck You, Memory

Earlier this year I found myself in Tesco Express in Finsbury Park trying to buy some wine. I can’t remember when exactly this thrilling exchange of money for wine happened, only that it was cold and wet. Nor would I care to remember exactly when it happened. I’ve fallen out with my memory, you see, my memory refuses to do what I tell it – it refuses to remember stuff for me – so in turn I’ve decided not to even try and remember stuff as some sort of punishment. That’s right, I’m ‘punishing’ my own memory now. Weirdly, this has left me feeling both noble and elated.

Anyway, I do remember it raining outside and the floor being wet inside and that it was around ten at night and the place was full of plums buying shit food for their shit selves. I was in a foul mood. I’d just finished work and all I wanted to do was drink wine, smoke and try to sleep without my shoulders hunched up at the side of my head. But there was a massive queue of people in front of me and I felt slightly uncomfortable buying my wine surrounded by all these people because my wine cost £3.69 and had a blurty, fun label on it saying “Spanish Red Wine!” or something like that and just looked a bit, well, shit.

I remember (fuck you memory) that the wine cost £3.69 because I’d checked my bank balance shortly before leaving work and was disappointed – though not entirely surprised – to find out that I only had £3.73 in my account. This meant that those bottles of wine that everyone thinks are quite good because they’ve stopped being eight pounds and are now four pounds were out of my reach, financially speaking.

And as I queued I spent a lot of time right next to a whole display of these half-price wines. I could sense people looking at me. I could feel their eyes going from my blurty “Spanish Red Wine!” to the much more tasteful display of red wine behind me and I could feel them thinking. “Why’s he not getting that red wine, the stuff that used to be eight quid? It’s only four pounds now and much better than the shit he’s about to drink. What’s the matter with the man?”

That’s what they were thinking. And I couldn’t explain to them that I only had £3.73 left in my account – not with my eyes, anyway – so I took out my bank card, a card that they only give to fourteen year olds and psychiatric patients, a card without even a hologram on it or an embossed number, a card I’m surprised that before sending out they even bothered to put my name on rather than just scribbling “FUCK YOU, CLOWN” all across it, and started tapping it on my wine bottle. “Happy now?” my eyes said, “Happy that you’ve reduced me to this – to tapping my Visa Bastard Electron card on my “Spanish Red Wine!” bottle just to prove a point. Well fuck you. And fuck me too. Fuck us all.”

That, I hope, is what my eyes said.

When it was my turn at the register I felt my face flush as my card was put through and there was a moment that just hung there when I thought my card was going to be rejected. “If my card gets rejected,” I thought, “I’m going to kill everyone in this shop. But not right now, I’ll find out their addresses and over a number of – ” but it wasn’t rejected and I walked out of the shop but before I got to the door I opened the bottle and began taking a huge swig of it thinking “That’ll show them” but it didn’t show them, if anything it showed me because I slipped on the wet floor and did a sort of strange-wobbly-drinking-dance thing out of the shop.

I should explain here that the rubber on the bottom of my shoe had worn away, exposing the wood underneath. Not fully, but enough in certain places to cause me to slide around and slip over when it rained. And when I was back out onto the mean streets of Finsbury Park I took very small, very careful steps. Everyone walked past me, brimming with confidence. People who I’d seen way back in the queue at the Tesco Metro and who’d witnessed my drinking-dance as I left the shop walked past me, brimming with confidence. A man who I judged to be about 90 walked past me brimming with confidence, and when that happened I decided to go into my fake limp and periodically stop and swig from the bottle when I sensed people coming up behind me, just so that I wouldn’t feel the shame of them walking past me, brimming with confidence.

That was a low point. But I managed to fake-limp my way to a friend’s flat where I was staying and I sat on his balcony and drank the remaining wine and smoked three of four cigarettes and thought: “It’s going to get better. I’ll stick at my well-paid job in Mayfair and I’ll buy lots of pairs of shoes. And I’ll smoke cigars and things will be fine.”

They’re not though are they? Fine, I mean. Things – they’re not fine. If anything, they’re a lot worse: I still have and wear those shoes (except when it’s raining) and they’re the only shoes I have apart from a pair of George Costanza Nikes that are falling to bits. And everything else is pretty much falling to bits too. My shoes, then, are a sign. A sign that I need a new pair of shoes, but also a sign that perhaps I need a new way of living my life. I think the way I’ve carved out isn’t working for me.

The Horror of Being a Restaurant Critic

From: Pitching the World

To: Teagan Maddocks, DV8 Magazine

Date: Thursday 2 June, 13:31

Subject: The Horror of Being a Restaurant Critic

Dear Teagan,

This time last year I was the North London section editor for Square Meal’s 2011 Restaurant & Bar Guide. Wow, you’re probably thinking, and you’d be forgiven for doing so. Around that time whenever I told someone what I did for a living, the response would be the same. “Wow,” they would say, and then say it again, “Wow, that’s my dream job – being a restaurant critic. That’s so cool.”

Well, it wasn’t so cool. In fact, towards the end it was pretty bloody terrible. I had to review around 130 places and at first it was quite enjoyable. I’d caper around and get comped seven course meals and £100 bottles of wine and smoke cigarettes with the chefs and get shown around their kitchens where I perfected an expression and a nod that suggested I understood exactly what they were talking about. Occasionally I’d write reviews – one or two a day at most. Some shone.

As my deadline approached, however, I had a creeping feeling that I had a lot of work to do in not a very lot of time. As usual when I have these creeping feelings, I was proved right. I had about 100 reviews to write in a month which meant no more long lunches and knowing facial expressions and lots more traipsing around Archway and Tottenham and Wood Green trying to ‘interpret’ menus and get an accurate impression of a place during a 15 minute visit. I started to panic, and the more I panicked the less I looked like a restaurant reviewer and the more I looked like a man descending into madness. It was sort of like Black Swan, but bleaker. And with less dancing. “You’re no restaurant reviewer,” an owner’s eyes would say when I told them I was from Square Meal and helping to put together their 2011 guide. “At best you’re a madman. At worst, you’re going to chain me to the radiator and rob the place.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t rob anyone. I did write some pretty terrible reviews though. When I began I used to really take my time over reviews – I remember describing 69 Colebrooke Row as a “pipsqueak of a speakeasy” and feeling so chuffed with myself that I took the rest of the day off. Towards the end though I was writing three or four reviews an hour and the stuff was pretty laboured. It was especially tough as North London is crammed with gastropubs that are all pretty much the same. “Oh, brilliant, this place has got wooden furniture reclaimed from a church. The barman’s got a checkered shirt on. And a crap moustache thing. Ah, I see, there’s a blackboard with stuff written on it that I don’t understand. What the hell is a seviche? Or a jus? Or a pork chop? Jesus, I’m losing my mind.” That’s how my reviews would be towards the end. I’m paraphrasing, a little.

There’s a point to all this. The point is that after filing, I split up from my neuroscientist wife, and moved (via Finsbury Park, Clapton, Dubai and East Horsley) to Boscombe where I live in my Nan’s dining room and often think that it’s about time that I got back into reviewing restaurants. Do you think you might be able to make that happen? I ate at the Cellar Bar in Boscombe recently and thought that might be a good place to start. I’ve included a few reviews I’ve written below. Very hard to pick the ‘best’ ones out of over a hundred, so I’ve just chosen a few at random.

Many sincere thanks for reading, assuming you’ve got this far.

All the best,

Pitching the World

Gallipoli

North Londoners have been sprinting to Gallipoli since it opened in 1996, lured in by its heady Turkish flavours, down-home prices & rollicking, slightly barmy atmosphere. The kitchen does the business by turning out waves of moreish kebabs, koftes & crisp falafels – all vividly spiced & fresh as a daisy. The waiters also play their part, singing happy birthday & banging pots & pans while someone dances on a table – you get the general idea. Although weekends are brilliantly rowdy, weekday evenings are more sedate: share a splendid platter of hot & cold mezze, nibble excellent baklava & sip apple tea while dreaming of faraway lands. There are two further outposts just a few doors down – Gallipoli Bazaar, 107 Upper Street (020 7226 5333) & Gallipoli Again, 120 Upper Street (020 7359 1578).

Dotori

Although the dog-eared surroundings can seem bleak & the interior uninspiring, Dotori’s food is anything but. In fact, its marriage of Korean & Japanese cuisine is turning lots of heads & booking is fast becoming essential at busier times. Sushi zings out of the kitchen spankingly fresh & firm, while nods of approval go to the excellent-quality kimchi, sizzling bowls of gutsy bibimbap, crispy tempura & dae-gh-tang (fish soup). Set meals are a steal at around £20 for two people. A couple of years after opening there are still one or two teething problems to iron out, especially when it comes to the ‘charmingly awkward’ & irritatingly slow service. Either exert a little Zen-like patience, or plump for a boozier way to enlightenment with cheap bottles of Asahi beer.

Island Queen

Apparently the only pub in the UK bearing the name, this Island Queen is certainly distinctive. Off the well-beaten Upper Street path, it’s a grand Victorian neighbourhood boozer with magnificently high ceilings, chandeliers, large windows, delightful floral mirrors & seafaring curios. There’s a quirky, offbeat charm about the place that attracts designers, architects & Noel Fielding wannabes from neighbouring Stoke Newington, Dalston & Highbury – although they mingle merrily with the hardcore locals. Despite an emphasis on drink (a top-notch selection of draught beer & lager including Paulaner, Sierra Nevada, Leffe & Meantime) & heaps of frivolity (weekends can be ‘colourful’), you can still bag better-than-average pub grub at keen prices: witness the £5 daily specials such as chicken burgers, handmade salmon fishcakes, corned beef hash & so forth. Lazy Sunday lunches are also much in demand. Service can be fetchingly slapdash.