“Nah, mate, I’s dan’t nevva looks at nuffink outside da pub” our ear-pierced, Ben Sherman-wearing subject answers.
“No, I mean do you ever see any drinks outside these ones on any posters?”, I ask, slightly differently, pointing at the card-mounted poster, yet again.
“Nah, I only looks at da ones inside da pub” he answers.
Five hours into my first freelance job, interviewing strangers in carny pubs about drinking, I was becoming a bit of an old hand as market researcher.
But my patience is wearing thin, and I want to go home soon.
I nod at m’Temporary Lackey, who already understands me, and hastily scribbles our subject down as a ‘Don’t Know’.
The research goes well though. We manage to avoid getting beaten up, despite the unfriendly Turkish blokes, who I think assumed we were gay when we offered them drinks, and the bemused Russian girls, who I think hoped we were gay when we offered them drinks.
And the post-research debriefing goes extremely well too. Advertising has made great efforts to shed its reputation of recruiting for looks over ability, stressing how they recruit fairly, indiscriminately and professionally. However, presenting by a window overlooking the grass-lined roof garden of ‘Totty Towers’, surrounded by a bevy of blonde, home counties raised, DKNY-wearing babes, I find myself unable to dispel this myth. Drawing the presentation to a close, the team leader expresses her thanks:
“Brilliant. That’s just what we were looking for. We shall certainly recommend you both.”
Smugly satisfied at our sterling effort, m’Temporary Lackey and I bid our farewells and make our departure, maintaining the elite illusion of professionalism we’d managed to convey throughout.
Finding a lift, we press the button for the 1st Floor, exchanging mutual congratulations.
But for some reason, despite repeated presses of ‘1’, the lift takes us up to 8, then down to 4, up to 5 again, and finally down to the basement.
We crash out into the waste unit, before deciding it would be wise to walk up the stairs again. A kindly security guard directs us on our way out.
Confused, m’Temporary Lackey points at the doors marked “ALARMED – DO NOT OPEN”.
“These’ll be OK” he says, confidently.
Before I get a chance to finish warning “But I wouldn’t...” he’s opened the door, and alarms start sounding all around.
Bedlam! Colleagues panic, and the security guard rushes back. And looks less kindly looking as he switches the alarm off, before making a patronising comment as he lets us out.
We return to the outside world, realising our work was done, and eager for our next mini-adventure, whatever that may be.
“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” exclaimed my normally reserved friend Volvo, flapping his arms about and gesticulating wildly as if a child possessed.
“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” he continued, to the unbridled amusement of my assembled friends.
In the way that only alcohol-fuelled pub conversations can evolve, Volvo was demonstrating – very ably, I must admit – his perception of the work of ‘marketing’ people such as myself, using primarily the medium of sound.
Underlying this abstract performance was the inference that marketing is somehow not a proper career. Not even a proper job. More like playing, it was suggested. Child’s play, in fact.
I beg to differ. As I’ve previously defended on these pages, I’ve toiled through some pretty heavy
direct mail campaigns on my way to the top. It’s not all launches and meedja lunches, you know. I even have to know how to use spreadsheets, and work the photocopier.
So into my third ‘week of leisure’ it is not without a small sense of pride that I am bowled over to announce to you that my occasional bursts of jobhunting are starting to pay off.
Because this afternoon, dear readers, I embark on my first contract which will last THREE WHOLE DAYS. Not enough to pay the bills this month, admittedly, but a start nonetheless.
The interviewer briefed me yesterday on the client’s multi-segmented sales strategy, elasticity testing, and creative approach, before explaining the role.
“So,” I said in my summing up, “you basically want me to wander round carny pubs in London buying punters drinks pointing at posters asking them which they like best?”
“Yes” she replied, “That’s about it.”
So I say to you, Volvo, and all you other sceptics out there: “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
I’m not afraid of hard work. Who’s laughing now, hmmm?
Hunting for the truth
I must have passed the shop a hundred times before, but not paid it the slightest bit of attention.
Or ‘salon’, to be more accurate, as I watched its patrons having their assorted buoffants trimmed, sculpted or re-engineered.
But only now, sitting on a bus stuck in traffic down my street, did I take the time to read the salon’s name.
The sign proclaimed, in unashamed splendour: HAIR HUNTERS.
This struck me, at first, as slightly odd, before I realised the obvious pun on the hunting of hares, surely soon to detract attention from the hunting of foxes, or whale.
But then I considered that perhaps the owners were being literal. I felt slightly ashamed that I might have reached the ripe-old age of Jesus, utterly oblivious to the practice of hunting for hair.
I pondered whether the salon was just a front for the practice of the hunting, gathering and collecting of hair. The salon a mere window into the underground, and hitherto unreported, world of hairdtrading. A practice in which London customers’ hair is unbeknownst to them mysteriously transported across distant oceans. Before finding itself traded for a ridiculous sum through the hands of an unscrupulous hairdealer’s hands on some far-flung streetcorner. All whilst the real mind behind this operation (Mr Big Hair, maybe) keeps sufficient distance from all proceedings as to be untraceable to this abhorrent crime happening right under our noses, or perhaps more accurately right over our heads.
Then I considered whether instead the salon was merely being honest as to their seeking of hair for their own wretched, deviant, sexual pleasure. After all, a hair salon would be a good place to start, what with its coming complete with customers entering generally have lots of it, which they don’t want. And then what is missed by the hair hunters can soon be swept up by a salon junior. Juniors who could in turn broker a hairtrading ring with their counterparts at salons throughout the city. Then further appease their employer’s sordid, fetish-laden hairswapping parties. Before the inevitable sabotaging of this sick indulgence by the anti-hairhunting lobby by encouraging bald men (the son of Elton John would be ideal for this, I imagine, if he existed) to patron the salon, thus denying the workers of their self-proclaimed right to all London hair.
I looked across at the nail salon opposite and wished that had it also shown such unashamed honesty. With nailtrading, ivory-trading could be wiped out overnight, and the elephants would be saved. But in spite of this continues its repulsive selfishness behind the façade of ‘Tilly’s Nails – American Style’. As if we are to believe their business is solely appealing to the socio-demographic in desire of nails mirroring those of the inhabitants of Buttfuck, Indiana.
On the other hand, it probably is an intended pun. They are clever.
The bus pulled away, and I pitied my fellow passengers sad, shallow lives.
Out of touch
I’ll email them.
I will, I’ll do it today.
When did I last see them? It must have been five months ago.
I’ll check my diary, then email them later today: after all, I’ve plenty of time on my hands.
February!! NINE-AND-A-HALF -months!!!
That’s it: the Happy couple, two of my longest-standing friends, and I haven’t seen them for the best part of a year. I mean, it’s not like I’ve been busy
. Sure, I’ve worked, and been out a lot. But not really
busy. Certainly not enough to warrant neglecting close friends for so long. Life’s too short.
So that’s it, then. I’ll email them today. Promise.
Dusk falls. The day closes. Of course, I haven’t emailed. Sorting the evening out by phone, my mobile rings.
I check my voicemail:
“Hi Unlucky” greets the familiar voice, “Mr Happy here… I emailed you at work, but the reply said you don’t work there any more? What are you doing??? Anyway, wanted to let you know we’ve had another son. Byeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!”
I phone back to offer my congratulations and express my surprise:
“Didn’t you know Mrs Happy was pregnant?” asks Mr Happy.
We should keep in touch more often. So I’m taking the opportunity to visit them tomorrow.
The way it is
“What do you do?” I was asked, more than once, at the weekend’s house party.
I had to think about this, because I don’t really do
anything at present.
“Self-unemployed” became my stock answer. Succinct, but factually correct.
Of course, one of the key benefits of not having a job, is not having to work.
A benefit I’ve been revelling in these past two weeks. Immersing myself in my ‘man of leisure’ status, I’ve found myself easily distracted by the most inane of tasks. I’ve caught up on my backlog of videos, and got back into reading. And easily made time to meet up with some neglected friends.
But reality hit on Friday. Because, of couse, one of the key drawbacks of not having a job, is not having any income.
So I spent a couple of hours undertaking the dull-but-worthy tasks of rejigging savings and paying off bills, to pare my overheads down to a bare minimum, and calculate what amount I’d be writing my ‘pay cheque’ out to myself.
The answer was frightening, as I see my savings take a significant dwindle.
But I knew this was coming. In the midst of this hedonistic living, I keep reminding myself: get a job.
Perhaps I should get Bruce Hornby in to remind me, in his piano melodic style, as he repeatedly sings “get a job”. He seems like a nice man, and his lodging would bring in some much needed income. I’d find it difficult to accommodate his band The Range though, unless they shared the kitchen annexe, but I’d still feel bad about taking their money.
On the other hand, perhaps I should just get up off my arse and find some work. It’s high time.
Starstruck part 2
Unarguably the world’s best cricketer stood but a yard in front of me. But should I call him “Andy”, “Freddie”, “Mister Flintoff”… or “Sir”?
Instead I avoid any potential naming embarrassment by coolly patting his elbow to attract his attention.
“Are you about to have your photo taken?” I ask, calmly. He replies he is, but sees my books and promises to sign them as soon as he’s done.
I retreat, remaining collected. The three Cs are working out just fine. And a man of his word, as soon as the photo’s done, Freddie walks over, and starts making conversation.
Suddenly the three Cs go out of the window. I think he’s saying something about how he’s in awe of being in the company of his cricketing elders (unsure who, being a relatively new convert). But I’m in awe of Freddie. Freddie!! Freddie Flintoff!!!!
I revert from the cool, calm, collected 33-year old, moderately successful direct marketer. Back to the fifteen-year old starstruck saddoe who slobbered over Five Star’s Doris at Cliffs Pavilion.
Daunted, I start babbling back: “Not a bad year for you then!...” (Inane. Sychophantic.)
I continue: “…you know, on the pitch, then with fatherhood” (Better. Knowledgeable. Without being stalkerish. If a tad pandering.)
Freddie chats amiably back. We’re bonding, and will definitely soon be friends. Suddenly I notice my book’s already signed. Panicking, I grab it from his hand: “No, not that one” I interrupt, “I think I’ve picked up the wrong one!”
Freddie looks confused, but signs my other copy. Then I realise all copies contain the author’s signature anyway: “Sorry” I say, “can you sign this one after all?”
Freddie looks bemused, but signs my original copy regardless. We’d have been best mates by now, if I hadn’t lost it. Instead, we just wish each other well, and I rejoin my un-famous, less talented, common friends.
Minutes later, Freddie picks up a bag so laden with free books that it breaks and falls to the floor, before wandering embarrassed from the room.
It’s good to know we’re all human after all.
Starstruck part 1
Dashing across the West-End from post-seminar drinks, I arrive, hot and not a little dishevelled, at Soho Square.
Quickly identifying the venue, I politely greet the doorman, before signing in the guest book.
There he is. A living legend. Right before me.
I pretend I don’t notice. Because to act any different would lack dignity. Besides, I’ll catch him later.
Dehydrated, without wine for at least twenty minutes, I make my way to the bar before seeking out Bookseller and Teletext Man.
The book launch is certainly in plush surroundings. Besuited publishers, bookbuyers, sportspersons and media bods pass a blind eye to us dressed down in jeans, combats and tracksuit tops. Waitresses circle round offering trays of sushi, mini-kebabs, and cream-coated strawberries picked from a metal-pronged tree.
A few glasses in, Bookseller and Teletext finally summon up the courage. Borrowing my embarrassingly cheap, tacky pen, they grab a bunch of books, before approaching the towering figure by the bar, who graciously signs their copies.
They return within two minutes. No ice broken. I can do better than that, I think. I can befriend the stars.
I wait, knocking back another glass of wine. To approach him with the same tacky pen so soon would infringe on his rightful space. I show respect keeping distance.
Until a couple more minutes later, I pick up a couple of copies from the pile, checking they’re not my friends’ copies already signed, and make my way.
Three Cs, I think, as I stroll across: Cool, Calm, Collected.
Alas, the photographer’s chatting to his crowd. I stand, like an idiot.
Three Cs, three Cs… should I wait? Nah, I’ll interrupt.
Hang on: how should I address him?...
“Hi Dad, it’s me.”
“Me. Your son.”
“Ah, hello, Unlucky.”
“I’m phoning to tell you my plans for the weekend.”
“So do you know what you’re doing yet this weekend?”
“Yes. That is why I’m phoning you.”
“So are you going to tell me what your plans are then?”
“Yes. I’m visiting Curly as planned tomorrow, then staying there.”
“Oh. So are you visiting Curly?”
“And then you’re staying here?”
“No. I’m staying over at Curly’s.”
“Then on Sunday…”
(Interrupts) “Then what are you doing on Sunday?”
“… on Sunday, I’ll come back to yours for lunch.”
“You’re coming back to ours?”
“Will you be here for lunch?”
“Yes. Then I’ll be staying…”
(Interrupts, again) “Will you be staying here overnight?”
“Yes. I’ll be staying over Sunday night.”
“So we’ll see you for Sunday lunch then.”
“Good. See you Sunday lunchtime then.”
(Distracted) “Hang on, your mother wants a word.”
(Muffles as phone is passed)
“Hello, dear. So what are your plans for the weekend?”
It’s a desperate, desperate situation.
The various groups are fighting for attention, but it’s by no means certain who’s who. Outwardly projecting calmness, the reality on the ground is somewhat different. Those in power just don’t seem to know what’s going on. Nobody’s taking responsibility, nobody’s taking control. In the midst of this bedlam, out of sheer frustration, a rebel surges forward to make a stand.
Which pisses me off no end, because my number’s ahead of them in queue ‘A’.
I naively assumed Argos would be better mid-week. Focusing all my efforts on my impending need to find employment, I found myself diverted to other high priority tasks such as rearranging the furniture. And decided that my procurement of a new printer necessitated the purchase of a new, luxurious, classy coffee table, leaving aforementioned printer to stand on my old, cheap, tacky coffee table. Without a car and desiring a purchase immediately, the Dean Gaffney of the British High Street was alas my easiest option.
For readers unfamiliar with the Argos concept (“brighter shopping”, their advertising boasts. Brighter my arse), it fits department store range into low-rent, regular high street sized outlets, at reasonable prices. This is achieved by shoving all the stock in a back stockroom with purchases made from catalogues at front-of-store, with goods brought to a central collection point by means of a numbered ticketing system.
This concept, though brilliant in theory, is utterly, utterly painful in practice. Its effectiveness is not enhanced by the employment of staff seemingly devoid of any numeric, or indeed communicative, skills whatsoever. A straightforward queuing system – so often proclaimed the symbol of British etiquette – is rendered pointless as they consistently ignore the sequential numbering and exhibit apparent disregard for the size and shape of purchases listed on receipts, fruitlessly searching the smallest or roundest of boxes for my desired table. This already dire situation is further exasperated by the store attracting hordes of customers who too cast a blind eye to simple instructions relayed on their numbered tickets, instead wandering round in an aimless ‘Steptford Wives’ like trance. Efforts were made to ease matters with the introduction of a screen-based visual system a couple of years ago, however this too merely confuses matters when abused by backroom staff processing numbers in bingo-calling like randomness. So, instead, this state of confusion continues until through a process of elimination buyer, seller and purchase eventually, and inevitably, meet.
Still, my table looks nice. And there’s probably worse things happening in the world.
Seconds out, round one
I’m pacing up and down, pensively.
Ten minutes. There’s still ten minutes before I’m due to phone my interviewer.
I’d got up especially early* to prepare. Showered and shaved, made toast and coffee, and booted up my laptop to get my thoughts together.
Should I change? Perhaps wearing a suit would put me in a more professional frame of mind. No, I decide, shorts and T-shirt will suffice.
“Laaaaaaaaaaa!” I check my voice. Unaccustomed as I am to speaking to myself, my throat sounds a little hoarse. I chuck on my Animals That Swim CD to sing along to, and sip some OJ, to relax my vocal chords and bring out my best ‘telephone voice’.
Four minutes to go. Two-hundred-and-forty seconds.
I wander round my flat, checking each clock. They’re all accurate, having only changed them back last week.
Two minutes. One-hundred-and-twenty seconds.
I should relax, I tell myself. Relax, relax, relax...
Suddenly, my bladder panics: too much coffee and OJ. I rush off for a quick piss. It takes longer than I expected. Longer. Longer still. Quite a bit longer. Stops. Bit more. Finally finishes. Bliss.
The clock strikes ten. Now, I wash my hands, just like I’m told to in public toilets.
I ring my interviewer.
Ding, ding! Fifty minutes later, I’m through.
Fingers crossed for round two...
* Normal time for you working people.
I thought we were building a good relationship.
We’d spoken only a couple of weeks ago. Half-hour’s chat had seemed but minutes. We got on so well.
I couldn’t wait for us to speak again. Our chat had ended so positively, with a promise to call me again. But, unable to resist waiting, even my own calls were going unreturned.
My concerns we had no future together sadly grew when we eventually spoke last week:
“Sorry, Unlucky” advised my Evasive Recruitment Consultant, “but I don’t think you quite ‘fit the box’ of what they’re looking for with this role.”
“Well, I gave you my counter-argument to that last week” I replied, assertively if defensively, “but if they’re saying that, there’s not a lot I can do about it.”
We agreed to end things there. In the unlikely event suitable opportunities would arise, he’d contact me. Fat chance, I thought.
Until my mobile rang today:
“I may have been somewhat hasty last week” advised ERC, “as it turned out they hadn’t read your CV. They want to interview you by phone.”
Despite realising he’d lied, I responded positively: “That’s great. When?”
“Tomorrow morning.” ERC replied before whizzing into his interview preparation patter “Remember, telephone interviews are like the trunk of a tree.”
“Righhhhhtttttttt...” I listened, sceptically.
“Stick with me. If you head off on the wrong branch, it gets harder to find your way back again.”
“Hmmmmm” I continued listening, increasingly sceptically.
“So you’ve got to find the trunk, and stay on it.”
“Excellent. So shall I talk to them then?”
“Yes. Best of luck. Let me know how you get on.”
Recruitment Consultants: take out the “Recruitment”, and the “O”, the “N”, the “S”, the “L”, the “T” and the “A”, and what have you got left?
That’s right. Well done. Gold star.
Unfortunately I need them at least as much as they need me right now.
For Fawkes sake
Friday, 7:30pm. At home. My mobile rings. Running round in my pants getting ready, I can’t answer it in time, so ring back the missed call number.
“What’s up, ex-lackey?” I ask.
“I don’t need you anymore.” comes the somewhat curt reply.
Gulp. But I remain calm: “That’s a bit harsh. I only left my job a couple of hours ago.”
The power had clearly already gone to his Jamie Oliver-like head.
“No, that’s not what I mean. I had a problem, but I’ve sorted it.”
I feel choked. The boy’s becoming a man. It was time for me to let go. We bid goodnight, me suppressing my proud tears, then I add sufficient clothes to my pants to facilitate going out.
Sadly, my last day at work had been anti-climatically subdued, having to work frantically right up to the final bell.
So it was gratifying to see Londoners rally round to commemorate my three-and-a-half-years service dedicated to the furtherment of direct marketing, with a series of impressive firework displays.
Hallowe’en years before, I’d quizzed my host Canadian cousin’s husband, who’d spent much of his youth in London, over the North American glorification of this ghoulish night.
I naively recounted Daily Mail-scaremongered stories of razors-in-apples, cruel tricks after no treats, and sinister initiation ceremonies all giving rise to macabre celebrities like Marilyn Manson, The Masked Magician and Cherie Blair.
He calmly but assertively replied how encouraging young children to build wool-filled effigies of a hanged man once caught attempting to blow up our Parliament buildings, peddle it round shopping centres in a trolley for meagre funds, then chucking it on a bonfire in the name of family entertainment, was not exactly indicative of an innocent England.
Now, our papers – Daily Mail very much included – happily sensationalise photographs of oppressed cultures visually protesting by burning pictures of Bush and Blair, whilst this long-standing body-burning tradition continues without so much as a bat of an eyelid.
Maybe our Guy was misunderstood. Perhaps it’s time for us to let things go.
I sleep through my alarm, missing my early train.
Detecting a distinct aftertaste of champagne, beer, wine, gin, miscellaneous cocktails and kebab as I rush to the station, I nevertheless manage to miss my normal train.
My late train is delayed. And takes me to Richmond. I don't work in Richmond. I work in Chiswick. Lacking my usual faculties, I don't know whether it had been rerouted, or I'd just caught the wrong train.
But it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Cos today's my last day at work.
Removing a wad of receipts from my pocket, I realise the moment last night's client party transgressed from free bar to paid bar (eight-fucking-quid-a-drink, I ask you!) passed me by. My final expense claim is going to read like a mortgage statement.
Still buzzing after only three hours sleep, I'm here in body, but not in mind.
Today's not going to be the most productive day.
But somehow it all seems a fitting finale.
These jeans are comfortable.
I implement a fast rotation of my limited wardrobe. I alternate my assorted garments, varying from the extremes of jeans to cords, T-shirts to short-sleeved shirts, beige to grey, on a daily basis. Thus enjoying the benefits of, whilst conveying the impression of, real man-about-town freshness.
But my new jeans are just so comfortable.
I feel good wearing them. Often. Not having bought a pair for ages, I savoured their fashionable newness. They fast became my going-to-work jeans, my about-the-house jeans, my going-out jeans, in fact my doing-anything jeans. These jeans have been places I remember, and some places I’ve forgotten.
I like these jeans.
Finding myself at home for a rare evening in, I’ve emptied my pockets of the usual wallet and change to find gig tickets, receipts, club flyers, footy tickets, gum wrapper and some Hungarian notes.
Excuse me a minute...
Those jeans are in the wash.
These pants are comfortable.
Tying up loose ends. Client lunch. Footy tonight.
No time for a full post.
I'm going to miss this working malarkey next week.
Pinch and a punch
7pm, pre-gig meetup, chain pub.
Chain pubs are good meeting places, usually easily located, inoffensive and cheap. But you don’t necessarily want to stick around in them.
Their value attracting a higher-than-usual proportion of heavy drinkers, the Brixton branch, a place already with its higher-than-usual proportion of heavy drinkers, was certainly no exception.
Pinching a table that came free, our conversation was interrupted by a deranged looking fella laying claim to the table as his own.
Gesturing and shouting threateningly, we calmly moved away to avoid a confrontation.
He sat their babbling, occasionally looking over, as nobody came to join him on ‘his’ table.
Minutes later, our own conversation was again rudely interrupted as on his way out he saw fit to quickly detour to punch me on the shoulder.
My friends moved quickly, ushering him out the door to diffuse any situation.
I hadn't stolen 'his' table. Sometimes strangers just take a disliking to my face. Perhaps I should grow a beard.