Why I Started Writing Again*

Many things over the years could have got me writing again: gnawing poverty, misshapen emotions, a sense of doing something beyond myself, boredom, envy, borderline homelessness, getting older, getting madder, dressing in rags – the list, unfortunately, goes on.

It was none of those unsavoury things, though. It was a Soreen Cake. For well over a year now, I’ve been wanting to write about one. I saw a Soreen Cake in a cupboard in a house I was living in and it immediately depressed me. An image landed in my head. That of a middle-aged woman, alone, on a Friday night watching television. In front of her sits a slice of Soreen Cake. She eats the Soreen Cake and tries to be buoyant and unalone but the buoyancy of Friday night television only serves to strengthen the cloak of loneliness she wears. Still, she perseveres. She shoves more Soreen Cake down her  throat and thinks about that time last year when one of her male colleagues felt her up in a car park after they’d both had too much to drink. He was married and she sometimes thinks…well, I don’t know what she sometimes thinks because I became simultaneously bored and depressed thinking about my imaginary Soreen Cake woman and I stopped thinking about her.


A car park, earlier. 

I’m not sure why all of this depressed me so much. Perhaps it was because I too sometimes wear the cloak of loneliness that my imaginary Soreen Cake woman wears. Perhaps it was because I too want to get felt up in a car park after work by a married man. Perhaps (although there is no perhaps about it) I too want to much to drink. But it wasn’t any of those things, not really. It was something else. Something I had seen written on that Soreen Cake wrapper had annoyed and frustrated and depressed me. I went to read it again but suddenly lost all interest in anything other than lying on the floor and moaning and so I lay on the floor and moaned.

A few months later I decided to start writing again. It had been a while. But what to write about? I sat and thought. Nothing came. Find something then, I said to myself. I tried to find something. Nothing could be found. Then, bliss. I know, I thought, I could write about that Soreen Cake and about that woman getting felt up in a car park. That would be something.

So I sped off to the supermarket. In there I felt I should buy other stuff to overshadow the Soreen Cake buying: spinach, any kind of tablets, canned fish – anything, really, to cover up the Soreen Cake horror. Yet I didn’t. Emboldened by my decision to start writing again I just bought the Soreen Cake on its own, didn’t even take a bag, and strode flamboyantly out of the shop.

Outside, I immediately regretted my flamboyancy. Everyone knew. People could see the garish yellow and purple Soreen Cake and knew what I was all about. They could see my cloak of loneliness and could tell I was on my way home to stuff cake down my throat whilst thinking about getting fingered in a car park. “It’s not that,” I wanted to blurt out, “Honestly – it’s for this thing I’m trying to write.” But I didn’t say anything. I tried to shove the bastard thing into my jean pocket but it wouldn’t fit, it only highlighted what I had in my possession and made my cloak billow out behind me so I just ran home in near-tears with the whole town laughing at me.


A bastard-thing, earlier. 

At home I was happier. “You may well save my career, dear thing,” I told the Soreen Cake as I cuddled it. “You may well be my muse.”

I read the packaging. “The secret’s in the squidge,” it began. “Give it a squeeze. Come on. Don’t be shy. There. Feel that? That’s delicious chewy fruitiness, that is.”

Fuck, I thought. I thought “fuck” because the writing wasn’t at all bad – was actually pretty good for what it was – leaving me nothing, seriously nothing, to write about. And I also thought “fuck” because I found the writing slightly erotic. If I’m getting turned on by that writing and by squeezing a malt loaf, I thought, then perhaps I need to get out more.

The Soreen Cake went back into the cupboard unopened and I went off to bed in my cloak. A few weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about giving that Soreen Cake a good old squeeze. I opened the cupboard. There it was, all yellow and purple and sexy. I read the packet again. Good stuff, I thought. Then I lifted up a bit of flap – as you can tell, this was all getting a little heated – and there it was. “Slice me, tear me, chop me.” Oh yes, I thought, this is what I wanted, this is what I’d been looking for. “Why not toast me? Grill me, smother me with jam, or just enjoy me as I come…” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A cloak, earlier. 

And I remembered. That’s what had annoyed and depressed me all those months before, that infantile series of me’s. And not just on a Soreen Cake, they are everywhere. Buses are people. Boxes of tea bags are people. Towels are people. Car parking spaces are people. All these things are telling you stuff: Please don’t park in me. This is where you open me. Are you sure you want to wash me? I remember seeing all this and the Soreen Cake wrapping and thinking, “That’s why I want to start writing again, to help put an end to all of the cutesy, whimsical bullshit.”

But I’m not sure I do. Having had time to think about it, I could barely give half a fuck about what makers of malt loaf choose to put on their packaging. Do I think “SORRY I’M NOT IN SERVICE,” on the front of a bus is any better or more palatable than the taut and muscular, “NOT IN SERVICE”?  Obviously not. Are we being treated like infants? Probably. Do I give many fucks about it, so many fucks about it that I decided to start writing again?

No. But I do care about writing, even though I’m not sure why. And if I can stay in on a Sunday night (on a bank holiday, no less) to write about not writing about what is written on Soreen Cake packaging, then the future could end up not being as disastrous as it once looked.

* Beadier-eyed readers will have noticed that this post is not called “Why Online Poker is Ace.” Nor is it about why online poker is ace. I know I promised that. It’s forthcoming. Thank you. 

Why Online Poker is Grim

Firstly, a warning: This is probably going to be grim. And it’s probably going to be long, too. Grim and long – not a good combination, especially after such an extended sabbatical. Buoyant and snappy would be a good combination, or, at the very least, just ungrim and unlong but it looks like we’re stuck with grim and long.

But hey, you only have to read it: imagine having to write this stuff (ah, just for once I wish I was the sort of person who used exclamation marks – I’d bung in at least three at the end of “Imagine having to write this stuff” and it would feel so delicious).

So, grim. Why? Well, I suspect there will be a bit towards the end about me feeling calm whenever I think about putting my head on a railway track and letting a train squash my head into the metal (wow!!! I did warn you it would be grim!!!) and another bit about cancer (grimosaurus!!! but it’s okay, I didn’t even have it!!!) although there will be some chinks of light. The bit about having the bowels of an 80-year-old man, for example, is a particular bright spot and there’s an hilarious trip to the Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic. Plus, tomorrow I will write and post, “Why Online Poker is Ace” so, you know, that’s something.

Secondly, then, some background. Towards the dog-end of 2011, a man named Dan Fitch approached me with an idea. I like your writing, he said (incredibly, this was even before I’d discovered how amazing it was to use these zingers!!! – okay, that’s more than enough of that for now) and I’m going to be overseeing the content for a gambling website. How about you write a poker column from a novice’s point of view? It will run for around three months. It will be a brief journey into the online poker world. You’ll make it entertaining, I’m sure. So I said yes and a few months later started writing a weekly column. The column lasted for 87 weeks and when it eventually came to a slightly slapsticky end I found myself spending far more time playing online poker than I did writing. Sometimes I suspected I enjoyed it, so just carried on doing it more or less for a living.

Here are five reasons why it is grim:

1. Your Boss Is You And He Hates You. So Does Everyone Else. Imagine working perfectly all week – better and more efficiently and more smartly than you have ever done – and then at the end of the week your boss coming up to you and saying: “Not only am I not going to pay you for this week’s work, but I’m going to go into your bank account and take a further two week’s pay from you. This is variance. Deal with it.” You probably wouldn’t like that. You probably wouldn’t like it either if, during this beautifully-executed week’s work people were interrupting you constantly to threaten to cut your throat (this has happened to me in a chatbox whilst playing online poker) or to call you “a thick piece of shit” (this too) or to hope all your family dies from cancer (ditto). Welcome to online poker.

2. It Can Fuck Up Your Shits. Without wanting to get too scatalogical – and clearly I don’t want to, otherwise I would have called this second point something like, Ooh I don’t know, something like “It Can Fuck Up Your Shits” – I have the bowels of an 80-year-old man. Frankly I don’t want the bowels of an 80-year-old-man, I want my own bowels. I don’t really know what goes on in there and nor do I particularly want to know, but I imagine the stress, anxiety, sedentary nature of online poker and the hoofing up of a packet of cigarettes a day to help with the pressure, coupled with the downing of booze and pills to help calm me before sleep could have – and it’s only a could have – led to me swapping my bowels with an 80-year-old man.


An eighty-year-old man (bowels not pictured), earlier. 

3. It’s Not Fair. Poker is a game of mathematical, psychological and emotional skill. There is also a huge dollop of luck involved. Let’s take a very simple example. Suppose you have £100 on the table and I have £100 on the table. You are dealt the second best starting hand in Texas Hold’em (the form of poker that I predominantly play): two kings. I am dealt the first best starting hand: two aces. Now, supposing all of my £100 and all of your £100 goes in the middle before the remaining five cards are dealt. Roughly 80% of the time I will win the £200 in the middle and 20% of the time you will win it. Over time, this is great for me. If we were to run these hands a million or even a thousand times I would be making a lot of money. But short term, it doesn’t necessarily work like that. Short term, I have been losing a ton of times for a fair amount of money when a 60% or 70% or 80% favourite or I’ve been winning my fair share of times in situations where it doesn’t matter (small buy-in tournaments, say, where I don’t necessarily care about winning your chips) and losing when it does (in more prestigious, financially rewarding tournaments where I do care).

This makes me whine, sometimes, and complain that poker (and life) isn’t fair. I feel like an adolescent. I don’t want to feel like this, like a thirteen-year-old boy trapped in a thirty-nine-year-old man’s body. Actually, the stress and inertia and poor diet that online poker allows has given me – or helped to maintain – a thirteen-year-old boy’s body as well. So what does that make me? The mind of a thirteen-year-old boy mind trapped in a thirteen-year-old boy’s body? Surely that just makes me thirteen. Hold on, is this what the problem is and has always been? Am I somehow stuck being thirteen?

4. It Can Lead to Phantom Illnesses. In early 2013 I felt a lump in my mouth that I hadn’t noticed before. Immediately I went cold. This, I thought, is it. This is oral cancer and you deserve it for your recklessness and the way you have lived your life and you are going to die from it. For months, I carried my cancery-secret around with me. My brother was getting married later that year, and I didn’t want my dying of cancer to overshadow it. I’ll gather my family around shortly after the wedding and tell them, I thought, once I had received the diagnosis (the lump, it seemed, had been getting bigger). I planned a speech. It was a good speech: funny and poignant and wise and don’t-worry-about-me, all the good things an I’m-about-to-die speech should be. Eventually, after about a year, I summoned up the courage to get the lump checked out. The lump, it turns out, was just a lump. That’s what they said: That lump is just a lump. I’m still not convinced. In fact, after staring at the words “That lump is just a lump,” for too long I’m not sure that phrase actually means anything, it just looks like garbled nonsense.

Shortly after the diagnosis of my lump being just a lump, I found a different, almost imperceptible lump on my penis. I had been meaning to go to the GUM clinic for a while because someone who I once had sex with had chlamydia and they thought that I too might have chlamydia. She even thought that I may have been the one who had given her chlamydia. So I went to the sex-clinic and went through my recent sexual history (laughably barren – I had to make some stuff up so I didn’t feel embarrassed) and confessed to unprotected sexual encounters and they looked at my lump which wasn’t really a lump – you could barely see it, it was more of a non-lump – and they too said that the non-lump was just a non-lump. When I found out around a week or so later that I didn’t have any sexually transmitted diseases I was ever-so-slightly disappointed. Welcome to online poker.

5. And to Real Ones. Yeah, the real ones. The real ones like anxiety and depression and insomnia and having a noise like a fucking air conditioning unit whirring around in your head all day. The real ones like a jaw that feels like it soon will have to be prised open to eat because it’s wired too tight from the stress. The real ones like suicidal thoughts pinging around your head all day and the only way to deal with them is to surrender, to imagine actually going through with it and the thinking it through is calming. I think about going down to Pokesdown station and putting my head on the tracks and about my soft head being squashed by hard metal and I relax. Or I think about eating shellfish (which I am highly allergic to and it may well kill me if I ate it) mixed with tranquillisers and I sigh deeply and my shoulders stop being up at the sides of my head. And I worry that one day these thoughts will just consume and overwhelm me and worry too when I look back at my notebook and see references to it like, “Just do it and it’s done and you’re done,” like a nasty father admonishing a not-too-bright son. I think of these things and I think online poker hasn’t ruined me, but it very nearly has.

And then, gradually, I think something else: I think online poker has saved me, and saved me in a way that I could never have quite imagined. More of that tomorrow in, “Why Online Poker is Ace.”

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Squashed heads on tracks? Lumps not lumps? What is going on here? And how on earth do we get out of it? This is a bit like the end of one of those adventure stories that they showed in the cinemas in the 1950s where the hero is chained to a railway track (how appropriate – add screamers at your leisure) with an oncoming train hurtling towards him and you’re thinking, “How is he going to free himself from this little pickle? I’ll just have to wait until next time to find out.”

At least I think it’s a bit like that. I didn’t go to the cinema in the 1950s, being as I am only thirteen.

Soreen Cake Blues

Throughout September I had three writing projects on the go. I know this, because when I opened my notebook this morning I saw I had written down: “PROJECTS – SEPTEMBER.”

Grand, no? You’ve probably imagined (you probably haven’t imagined) that since abandoning Pitching the World a couple of years ago that I’ve just withered, that I’d given up on doing anything whatsoever and just – oh, I don’t know – evaporated or something. Clearly not true. Clearly I’m not the sort of man who just withers then evaporates. Of course I’m not, I’m the sort of man who, in September, had three – THREE – writing projects  “on the go.”

According to my notebook, the first of these projects is (1) PITCHING THE WORLD. “Get it back on track,” I’ve written, overlooking the fact that it was never really on track. “Promote. Continue. Thrive,” is added underneath: undoubtedly a bold, vigorous collection of words but words that, whenever written by me, become essentially meaningless. The final part of PROJECT (1) to be completed in September was “Write Soreen Cake Blues.” This post, it seems, is Soreen Cake Blues. I’m pretty sure this thing isn’t what I meant to write when I wrote “Write Soreen Cake Blues” back in early September.


A writing project, earlier.

(2) THANK YOU, MR SPIELBERG, FOR RUINING MY LIFE. This was my second project for September. I was supposed to be making lengthy notes for a book I want to write about Steven Spielberg ruining my life. And he has ruined my life. I haven’t ruined my life, Steven Spielberg has. My lengthy notes – and therefore the subsequent book – were going to be centred around “Stoicism,” “Parallels with jobs etc.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark (!!!),” and “Other. Lots of other.” Some book that’s going to be.

The main problem with PROJECT 2 is that I spent so long staring at and thinking about the words “Other. Lots of other” that they began to lose all meaning and became gibberish. This led me to spending a lot of time staring at and thinking about my life which too began to lose all meaning and become gibberish. Plus, I don’t know where to put the commas. Thank you, Mr Spielberg, for Ruining my Life? Perhaps: Thank you Mr Spielberg, for Ruining my Life? Or a more breathless and ranty: Thank you Mr Spielberg for Ruining my Life? Once I’ve found out where to put (or not put) the commas – and I’m determined not to find out – then work on PROJECT (2) can begin.


A life-ruiner, earlier.

PROJECT (3) Is my favourite. RADIO 4 PLAY ABOUT AN ACCIDENTAL SERIAL KILLER,” I’ve written. Then added, “OR OTHER.” Love that “or other.” Wish I’d written “OR LOTS OF OTHER” so I could stare at it and it would lose all meaning and I’d not have to write it. Although my radio play about an accidental serial killer wouldn’t work. There are no other ideas so my “other” radio play wouldn’t work, either.

Still, according to my notebook, there are things I can do to help my writing for Radio 4 career. These include “Keep up-to-date with competitions/deadlines etc.” (I haven’t done this, and don’t quite know what it means), “Read radio plays” (I haven’t done this, but at least do know what it means), “Listen to plays on Radio 4 more often,” (this is easily done as I’ve never listened to any plays on Radio 4, but at the time of writing I haven’t listened to “more” Radio 4 plays than I used to), “Contribute to comedy programmes” (I refuse to even comment on the absurdity of this) and “Mike Rampton?” (This bit I’ve actually made progress on. About three months ago I sent Mike Rampton a message asking for his email address. Mike Rampton is funny and writes well and writes funny stuff well and I liked the idea of collaborating with him on something – possibly even a Radio 4 play. But I didn’t get around to emailing him, possibly for the same reason that I have never got around to running which officially is ” That I don’t have the right tracksuit bottoms” but is obviously something else. Eventually Mike Rampton got in touch with me – he has got the right tracksuit bottoms – and we may well collaborate on something in the future.)


Mike Rampton, earlier

So, September. Not great. But where it once read: PROJECTS – SEPTEMBER in my notebook, it now reads: PROJECTS – SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER. October could be better. October is always better.

I want to fuck all the computer breaking gods in bins.

So I’ve come to Mallorca to write a book, a hare-brained fuckfaced scheme if ever there was one. And there was one, last year in fact, when I came to Mallorca and failed to write a book after failing to write three books in Paris. Prior to that I spent a decade not writing books in lots of places. There may be something wrong with me – something terrible. Wonderful, yet terrible.

So I’ve come to Mallorca to write a book. Naturally, I’m not writing a book. You probably knew that, knew it before I did. This non book writing isn’t down to laziness, a lack of moral fibre or shrinking inspiration. Not really. The gods must have been smiling at me because they beat up my computer the minute I arrived.

“The hard drive has gone,” explained the man in the computer shop.

“Oof,” I said, playing along. “Tricky.”


“Does that mean it can’t be fixed?” I said, hopefully.

“No, no, I can fix the hard drive,” he said, as I started to go for his throat, “but the fan has gone. And this bit here” – I looked at that bit there – “and this. You need a new machine, really. It’s not worth fixing this.”

“But I can’t buy a new machine,” I beamed. “I mean computer. A computer machine. I can’t afford it – I HAVEN’T GOT THE MONEY.” And off I danced, like a maniac.

So I’ve come to Mallorca to write a book and have ended up building flowerbeds and spreading clay on tennis courts. I have no idea how this has happened, but am delighted by the turn of events. Who the hell wants to go around writing books? Not me. Not yet. I want to be building flowerbeds and spreading clay on tennis courts.

Where does this leave us? I mean, it’s been a while. (In case you’re wondering, the air conditioning unit is still there, still whirring away.) Well, I write things now and again and have managed to drudge up a weekly column every week for the last six months. That’s something. And if I somehow manage to summon up a computer from somewhere then I suppose I’ll have to write that book. That’s something, too. And once I get tired of building flowerbeds and spreading clay on tennis courts – tomorrow, probably, or Monday – then I’ll no doubt have the appetite for writing for a living again.

Good this, isn’t it?

Bones vs. Slugs

Imagine there is a field with eighty bones in it. A hundred dogs are sent out to get those bones. Most dogs go away happy, most dogs get a bone – some may even get two. The unhappy dogs are the ones that aren’t very good at sniffing out and digging up bones: if there had been a hundred bones in the field they still would have struggled. Poor bastards.

Now, imagine that instead of eighty bones in the field there are just twenty. And instead of there being a hundred dogs, there are two hundred. Starts to become a problem, doesn’t it? And not only that, but there are more dogs on the way. Dogs that have been studying bone collecting at university for three years. Fresh, hungry dogs that haven’t spent the last six years bone hunting. Dogs that are finishing up their NCTJs.

At one point I thought I was going to become King Bonehunter. Now I’m not so sure. Now I sit at the side of the field with the slugs smoking roll-ups and I think, You know what, these bones can go fuck themselves.


A bone, earlier.

Later, I go to see my GP.

“This may sound unusual,” I tell him, “but for the last fourteen months I’ve had the sound of an air-conditioning unit in my head.”

“That doesn’t sound unusual at all,” he says, as if every other person who comes in here is half-man half-air-conditioning unit.

“Really? Because it feels unusual saying it.”

I’m not sure my doctor is a doctor; he looks more like a cleaner.

“I think it could be stress-related,” I say, wanting to tell him about the bones.

“Are you under much stress at the moment?”


“It could be stress-related.”

Wow, I think, he’s good. No wonder he’s got so many bones. He’s probably got bones coming out of his ears.

“You’ve probably got bones coming out of your ears,” I say.



“Have you thought about cognitive behavioural therapy?” He asks me later.

“Yes. In fact, you referred me to a cognitive behavioural therapist a few years ago.”

“And how did you find it?”

“It was excellent.”

“Well, take this leaflet…”

I take the cloying, over-friendly leaflet and begin to stumble out.

“The toilets could do with a mop,” I say, and I’m gone.


An ear bone, earlier.

Later I decide (not for the first time) to take to my bed. I’ll stay in bed forever, I think. No-one can stop me, I think. And if someone did try to stop me then they would probably try and help me too. That would be good. I’m buoyed until I realise that I don’t have a bed. Homelessness is not as glamorous as you might think.

At night I walk around in the rain with my shirt off drinking whisky. The slugs are illuminated by artificial light against the brilliant white wall. I swig whisky in the rain with my shirt off. The slugs are oily and black and sinister and marvellous.

“Hi again slugs,” I say. “I’m ready to join you now.”

“MMMMURRRGGGHHHHH,” go the slugs.

“That’s right. I’m going to get all oily and black and sinister and marvellous and bed down with you. I’ve got a sleeping bag that I’m going to dip in tar. Won’t that be something?”

“MMMMM” go the slugs.

“And you will call me King Slug.”

“You can’t be King Slug,” says one. “He’s King Slug.”

He gestures to King Slug.

“Oh yes, of course. Well, I’ll just be a slug. An ordinary slug.”

“MMMMURRRGGGHHHHH,” go the slugs.

And off I go to search for that leaflet.


A slug, earlier

Continue reading


In Praise of Homelessness

Apologies for the protracted absence, I’ve been busy doing things. What things I don’t know, I tend to forget easily. Things though, definitely things. Ah, I do know one of those things: playing poker, lots of it. I’ve been playing poker (a lot) and winning (a bit) and writing about it for my new weekly column which has somehow managed to limp into its eighth week without me being fired or arrested or set on fire. Other things have been happening too but those things have all been choppy and bleak and I’m beginning to hate things – things happening to me, things consumed by me, things thought by me, things other people out there are doing. Things. We’ve all had enough of things, haven’t we?

I’ll tell you what else we’ve all had enough of: Me being homeless. Haven’t we all had enough of that thing by now? I certainly have. Since splitting up with my wife two or five or ten years ago (or, indeed, in July 2010) I’ve been officially homeless. Oh, I’ve lived in places but it’s been a blur of Finsbury Park, East Horsley, Dubai, Mallorca, Boscombe and my Nan’s dining room. Now although that’s a blur, it’s not a heady blur. It may well seem like a heady blur, but it isn’t. And the appeal is beginning to wear a little thin. There are things about homelessness that I like – living on the fringes of society, working in cafes, sitting on benches, occasionally feeling like an animal – but the things that I like are being kicked to death by the things that I don’t like. It’s gruelling. The main thing I don’t like is being scattered all over the place. I have toothbrushes and socks and bits of paper where I’ve written ‘Is everything going to work out?’ floating around the south-west of England. This I can handle. What is less easy to swallow is that bits of me have been scattered around: skin, clumps of hair, bits of my mind. It’s not easy living like this, when you’re living in several places at once.

You’ll be delighted to hear there’s a point to all of this – and an uplifting one, too. None of it matters. Not really. I know I pretended it does, but it doesn’t. All that matters is this book that I’m writing, everything else – socks, homelessness, bits of skin that have fallen off – comes second. I was reading about an artist the other day who  lived by the maxim ‘Paint first, starve later.’ His wife, his children, what he was going to eat later that day, what his hair looked like – it all came second to painting. I’ve had to adopt a similar attitude to my work. ‘Write first, starve later,’ I go around saying to myself and although it’s slightly awkward when people stop me in the street and ask “Did you just say, ‘Write first, starve later?’” I can live with such awkwardness thanks to my new-found mantra.

I’ve gone mad, haven’t I? Again. Jesus, why can’t I stop going mad all the time? Or why can’t one bout of madness cancel out the previous one rendering me sane again? Who knows? Who cares? Write first, starve later. The writers among you out there would do well to remember that.

In the meantime, I’d be very happy if you wandered over and took a look at my latest poker column and let me know your thoughts. Thank you.


Flapping Up vs. Not Flapping Up

So, my piece about writing out The Great Gatsby has been filed and pronounced ‘great.’ I’ve just written the fourth of my weekly poker columns and they’ve been described as ‘the best thing on the site.’ My book is being written and it’s going swimmingly. I’m not as homeless as I used to be. My face doesn’t need combing as much as it once did. My drinking has plateaued and the amount of alcohol I consume at the moment (still lots) appears to be doing wonders for body and mind.

You know what this means, don’t you? It means that everything is going to fuck up soon. Or does it? Perhaps if I preempt it it will. My whole Pitching the World life to date has been taped together by me saying, “Things are good, now watch me go and flap them up” and then invariably going and flapping them up. You could say it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or you could say that my life is generally shambolic and inky and determined to do me in no matter what I predict or don’t predict. Who knows? But we’ve had enough now, haven’t we, of all that “Hahaha, I’m going to balls my life up.” Haven’t we? Haven’t we (and this is the royal we here, not you. You’re not complicit in this. You’re rather fetching, in fact. I like you) grown a bit tired of all that caper?

So watch me not fuck things up for a bit. Or, perhaps, watch me fuck things up to such an extent that it renders this particularly slender post the most prescient and banana-minded thing I’ve ever written.

Do you want to see a picture of a banana? Or a bunch of the things? Of course you do.

A sort of banana orgy, earlier. 

Boscombe Revisited

So, I’m back in Boscombe. Of course I would end up back in Boscombe:  Ialwaysend up back in Boscombe. You probably knew I was coming back here before I did. What am I doing here? I’m working on a book. I’m drinking. Occasionally I read. That’s all I do.

“It seriously is though,” I was telling my brother over breakfast sometime last week. “I do nothing else: I read and write and drink and that’s it. Other than that, nothing. What else is there though? What else can I do? Canoeing? I wouldn’t know where to begin. You don’t even see canoes anymore do you? Or do you? Do you see canoes anymore?”

I could tell my brother wanted me to go on. I went on.

“What’s troubling is that this – here, now, over breakfast – is the first time that this has occurred to me. I’ve never realised before that I don’t do anything. Isn’t that odd?”

“You’ve told me all of this before,” said my brother. “Twice.”

“Really? Even the canoeing?”

“Not the canoeing.”

My thrilling ‘I do nothing’ speech was taking place in the restaurant of a London hotel. Later that day I headed down to Boscombe. I was hungover when I left and drunk when I arrived. How fitting, I thought. But I wasn’t drunk enough so proceeded to get drunker and the next day I was more hungover and so I got drunk again and this inelegant series of events continued quite possibly until sometime on Monday when I read and wrote and thought about canoes.

And that’s pretty much all I’ll be doing over the next eight weeks whilst I work on the book version of Pitching the World: read, write and drink. You know what, I may even curb the drinking. I suspect the drinking isn’t doing me as much good as I once thought. It helps with the pressure, of course. The pressure of distilling a few years of your life, career, marriage and so forth into eighty or ninety thousand words. The pressure of knowing that if you screw this up, if you fail to write a remarkable book then that’s it, you’ll probably give up writing and have nothing to fall back on (you do nothing, remember). Thrilling, though. The pressure, I mean. Perhaps I thrive under pressure. Will I thrive under pressure? Watch this canoe-shaped space.




Pitching the World vs. The Great Gatsby. UPDATED

I’ve been busy today. Mostly, I’ve been busy being ill. Oh, I’m excellent at it now: two weeks of illness and I show few signs of getting better. In the shop I’m known as ‘The odd man who buys Ribena and notepads.’ That’s all I do, buy Ribena and notepads. It’s no life. You should see me in the shop though. You’d like it. I’ve had so little contact with other people over the last couple of weeks that I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to interact with other human beings. I’m no good at it anymore. I go in there, pick up my Ribena and notepads and then completely over-egg my personality when it comes to the exchanging of money and pleasantries. I grin loudly and fizz and crackle and make small talk that makes me appear madder than I actually am. Like I say, it’s no life.

But I’ve not just been busy being ill, I’ve been busy doing other stuff too. Today I began work on my book, a book loosely based upon Pitching the World. This involved putting all of the posts to date into a document and marveling at how I’ve managed to write 90,000 words about not pitching magazines. It’s quite something. What is also quite something is The Great Gatsby, which I’ve been writing out for a feature that I’m working on. All afternoon my words, then Fitzgerald’s. Mine, then his.

His are better, aren’t they? His words. Better. But are they? I have to believe that mine are better than his, better than anyone’s if I’m going to write this book. So, I thought I would put down some extracts from The Great Gatsby and some from the archives of Pitching the World and have what I suppose is a quiz. Or a competition. Or something. Certainly it’s fun. Can you tell who wrote the following: Me or Him? There might be prizes if you can.

1. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction – Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.

2. That’s what I do with my friends: Fuck them in bins.

3. I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon.

4. I desperately want to become Barry Manilow.

5. “Your eyes have gone weird. What’s happened to your eyes? You look mental.”

6. “It’s a bitch. Here’s your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it.”

7. Somehow, I’ve found myself in a situation where I’m living in an expensive house on top of a hill looking after cats. I don’t know how many. Two? Ten? A number of cats, anyway. And a dog.

8. Never think that anything is either untouched or promising.

9. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

10. I’ve flapped around and fucked up everything I’ve ever tried and I’m not going to flap around and fuck this up.

How did you get on? I told you it would be fun. I had lots of fun. Answers tomorrow. Or perhaps Wednesday. Who knows? Who cares? You’re probably not even reading this bit and if you are you probably want to stop.

Until tomorrow, then. Or Wednesday. Thank you.

AN UPDATE: It’s Wednesday, so time for answers. You’ve all been waiting for this moment, haven’t you? What do you mean you haven’t? Frankly, I refuse to acknowledge the lack of appetite for the above quiz and will stagger on with the answers regardless. Here goes:

1. Fitzgerald, obviously.

2. Me, obviously.

3. Fitzgerald.

4. Me. (and it’s true)

5. Me.

6. Fitzgerald.

7. Me.

8. Me.

9. Fitzgerald.

10. Me.

And that, thank God, is that. More quizzes tomorrow. In fact, quizzes every hour from now on until people agree that it’s a good idea.



Witness the Sickness

On Friday I shaved off all my facial hair, head hair and body hair. Then, for the remainder of the weekend, I lay in a cold bath with just by head peeping out  pretending to be a seal. I didn’t really. I nearly did though, I certainly wanted to. I’m really on the edge out here in East Horsley. Self-imposed isolation in Surrey isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But I’ve been sick. Terribly sick. If life has taught me one thing, it’s that if you’re sick – terribly sick – you shouldn’t spend all weekend in a cold bath pretending to be a seal. Frustrating though, this sickness. Frustrating that I couldn’t pretend to be a seal, and more frustrating that I couldn’t get on with all the work I feel like I should be getting on with.

What work? Well, there’s a weekly column to get stuck in to, a couple of features to write, an idea for a column that needs to be refined and pitched, work on at least two books and a load of other stuff that I’m not too inclined to think about because if I do think about it, I really might end up in that bath yelping away. Still, I can cope. Since quitting this ridiculous business of trying to pitch 642 magazines, my head has felt considerably fresher. Cleaner. No longer do I have to think of feature ideas for Electrical Review or Ships Monthly or Slim at Home. No longer do I have to periodically take out that stinking book and glaze over as I try and work out who I have and haven’t contacted. No. Now I have the mental freedom to actually chase after and conduct the sort of work that I should be doing.

With that in mind, then, earlier today I wrote to 79 publications listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘This man is a riot. This half-man half-seal is such a wreck that he can’t even quit properly. He fails at quitting. Fuck this, I’m unsubscribing.’

Is that what you’re thinking? Don’t. It was a one-off. Well, a 79-off. It’s just that I’ve half-heartedly sunk two and a half years into this beast and I wanted to be sure, you wanted to be sure, we all wanted to be sure, that by quitting I was doing the right thing. And I figured that if I contacted another string of magazines with my usual bullshit (‘I’m broke and homeless and possibly a seal looking for freelance work’) and they responded with their usual bullshit (‘We like you, we like your work, we don’t have any money, leave us alone’) then I would feel nicely vindicated in my quitting.

And that’s what’s happened. Sort of. Most of the publications who have replied today say that they have little or no budget for freelancers and only one or two have said they would like to me to write for them. If I do write for them, it won’t be under the Pitching the World umbrella. It’ll be under something else.

Excuse me. I’m heady, aren’t I? It’s okay, you can be honest with me. I’m sick, still. But I do have one piece of good news before I drift off for the evening. A kindly benefactor has emerged from the shadows and offered to financially support me whilst I write a book about Pitching the World. Special, isn’t it? Brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it? I’ve no idea why I’ve left this slice of news until now. Surely something as welcome and flattering should have been shoved up to the top of this post. All I can think is that for some reason I wanted to tell you about pretending to be a seal first. And I wanted to show that persistence pays off. You’ve got this far. Well done.

So there will be a book about Pitching the World. It will be about persistence not paying off (but also paying off), and borderline homelessness, and the state of journalism in the UK, and alcoholism and writing and some other stuff – loads of other stuff – that I haven’t even begun to mention over the last two and a half years. Will you buy it? I hope you’ll buy it. Even if you’re not going to buy it, I hope you’ll pretend to me that you are going to buy it. Thank you.

A seal (not me) in a bath, earlier.