Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Does Anyone Else Do This? No. 1 in an Occasional Series

Having a race with someone in your head

I left the house at the same time as our next-door neighbour, a rotund Spanish bloke named Paolo, this morning. We always say ‘hello’ a bit awkwardly and then leave it at that. So imagine my horror when I realised that he was walking to the station at the same time as me. I had visions of either having to engage him in uncomfortable conversation or walking with him in nervous silence.

Thankfully he headed off in a different route to my usual, so we could legitimately part ways without any social ill-grace. I then decided to see whose route was quicker – was mine better? I didn’t cheat and run it or anything – I’m not that competitive – I just walked briskly. This desire to get there before my neighbour was balanced by a desire not to bump into him again at the station and have to make conversation again.

After striding up to the tube, I found he was already in the queue for a ticket. I had to concede his route was quicker – especially as I could hardly believe such a fat fella could walk faster than me. Bastard! However, I’d already bought my Oyster travel card the night before, therefore didn't need to queue. So, as Alan Partridge wrote repeatedly in his autobiography 'Bouncing Back': needless to say, I had the last laugh!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hungover, Bruised, Abashed.

I’m really not used to drinking these days, so I got hammered far too quickly when I went for beers last night. This eventually led to the embarrassment of nearly fainting in a Clerkenwell bar – and a severely bruised gluteus maximus this morning.

Picture this Nathan Barley-esque scene: three embittered hack copywriters from three different agencies, all approaching their 40s, in the Eagle on Farringdon Road, drinking Staropramen and Kirin. After discussing women, family and art directors over a few pints, I receive a call from a Strategy Director friend of mine, who’s in a nearby bar with her boyfriend, who’s big in online media.

Yes, my life is a cliché.

So, anyway, we go to this bar and drink more beer. I’m wearing new Jeffery West boots with leather soles. The loos are down some wet stone steps (maybe someone didn’t make it to the urinal in time?). I’m a little unsteady on my feet anyway. You can guess what happens next…

I fall down the fucking stairs – my arse and elbow (no, I couldn’t tell them apart at the time) taking the brunt of the tumble. The pain – Christ – it hurt! I curse and pick myself up, go to the toilet and, as I’m unloading waste beer fluid, I start to feel rather queer (as they used to say in more innocent times).

As I zipped myself up and went back up the stairs, everything went like a cheap video effect from Top of the Pops circa 1978. It was the closest I’ve come to a psychedelic experience without drugs. I’m told I went ghostly pale and I remember leaning against a pillar, desperately trying to keep my wits. Luckily, my strategist friend knew what to do – and made me put my head between my legs – otherwise I’d have passed out completely.

This is after 5 pints. Humiliating.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Loose Lips Sink Ships

I realise that I don’t often talk about the people that I work with or go into specifics about my agency. I suppose this demonstrates some kind of discretion on my part, but it does make me wish I’d made this blog anonymous. I’d love to have the freedom to gossip.

I’ve always found copywriters to be the biggest gossips in the agency world. Every time I meet a freelancer to look over their portfolio, we end up discussing this person or that agency like two old women nattering in the queue at the Post Office.

This is partly because copywriters are (or should be!) natural storytellers – and gossip is undoubtedly a very seductive form of narrative. However, I also think we tend to be bitchier and grumpier than other creatives.

Apart from me, of course…

Friday, October 20, 2006

Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick

I was reading an article about revolting novelty foods in the Guardian today. As a result I’ve grown morbidly fascinated by Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick – Chocolate Chip flavour.

Just typing out the name of the product makes me realise that this foodstuff is wrong on so many levels. Let me itemise the wrongness:

1. The brand name: dead film star with pubic lice, wrapped around his steering wheel. Is the meat in the sausage actually Jimmy’s flesh scraped off his Porsche Spider, like some form of Method Actor biltong?
2. Pancakes and Sausage on a fucking stick: like a kind of meaty lollypop. A dog’s cock in a fluffy batter sheath.
3. Chocolate Chip flavour: Just as you’re getting past the prospect of microwaving Jimmy Dean’s road scrapings in batter, this new detail blindsides you. I know the Americans have a thing for mixing savoury and sweet things, but this is surely deranged?

What human being would eat such a thing? I must try it – just to satisfy my own perverse curiosity…

Jamelia's Dirty Bone

The blog’s been quiet this week as I’ve been manically busy on a job for a new client. It’s meant a lot of drawing, which is always a pleasure. When your main mode of work is typing stuff in Microsoft Word, messing about with a marker pen and paper is a joy.

As I draw, I’m listening to ‘Beware of the Dog’ by Jamelia. I’m not usually big on R&B, but it’s got a great sample of ‘Personal Jesus’ by Depeche Mode. Apparently the dog in this case is ‘dirty to the bone’ and best avoided by discerning ladies. I assume that Jamelia is referring to a cad of the human variety, as opposed to bestial acts with a spaniel after he's dug up the flower beds.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Wrong Side of the Leamingtonian Tracks

I had a night in on my own last night. Em and Stan had gone up to see her mum and dad for the evening. Although I missed them both, I have to say that I revelled in the peace and freedom. I even gained immense satisfaction from ironing shirts as I listened to music.

The Young Knives
I’m listening to the Young Knives a lot at the moment. They’re an interesting band, with a kind of choppy, new wave slant to their music and mordent wit in their lyrics. That a really good band could come out of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire is, frankly, astonishing.

The ‘Leamington Scene’
Though not as astonishing, admittedly, as the fact that I saw an article in the NME about a thriving ‘Leamington scene’. Now that really is bizarre. I know the NME tends to hype up excitement around ‘the next big thing’ in music without much substance, but the idea of Royal Leamington Spa as some kind of new Madchester makes me feel like I’ve stumbled into an alternative reality where the normal rules don’t apply.

Musical Memory Lane
When I was a teenager in ‘Leamo’ I remember there were only two bands of any note in the town – Bad Beach and Mortis. Bad Beach was a kind of thrash metal outfit and the short-lived Mortis were Goths. Each Mortis gig would start with the lead singer screaming ‘WE ARE MORTIS! YOU WILL DIE!” at the audience. In fact, Mortis may well have been ahead of their time, as the Horrors and Marilyn Manson have a lot of their moves.

Both bands used to play in venues down the bottom end of town (past the railway bridge, where all the poor and black people were hidden away). The favourite place to see live bands was the Bath Place community centre, which was full of crusties and ‘alternatives’.

The Neat End Paragraph
Ahh, them were the days – when sniffing marker pens was the only high readily available and sunglasses weren’t security tagged, making shoplifting a doddle. I can’t imagine that the 17 year old me could picture a point in twenty years time where he’d be listening to an album on a tiny white box holding his entire record collection, bopping around like a lunatic as he ironed fifteen shirts.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Welwyn Garden City: Nice!

OK, we've completely changed our plans and have decided to withdraw the offer on the house on Walthamstow and move to Welwyn Garden City. Although it is true that Welwyn Garden City is possibly the least cool place on Planet Earth (apart from Crawley), we went there on Saturday and fell in love with the place. After years of living in London, it's safe, green middle class heaven. By god, it has a Waitrose and a John Lewis! It has nice streets lined with apple trees! The feral teenagers aren't armed! It's...er...really nice! I genuinely feel like singing the praises of Welwyn Garden City from on high.

We've had an offer accepted on a house (it's a nice house!) there.

Yes, I'm now officially middle-aged and middle-England. I'll be going on holiday at Centre Parcs next...

The only thing I'm dreading is ringing the Walthamstow estate agent to tell him we're pulling out. I'll keep you posted...

Friday, October 13, 2006

East London Estate Agent Babylon

After my self-piteous rant about the property market in London, we found a nice house in Walthamstow that we can afford and had our offer accepted. Which is great, apart from the fact that this has pulled us into the orbit of the pushiest estate agent I’ve ever met (you can imagine that he’s pretty bad then). The estate agents in East London are especially appalling currently because of the Olympic effect. You can see the greed has gone into overdrive.

Since we had the offer accepted, this particular estate agent has been on the phone four times a day pushing me to engage a solicitor, which I don’t want to do until after we’ve had the house surveyed. He obviously wants to tie up his sale, but his tone borders on bullying. I’m almost at the point of telling him to stick his property up his shiny-suited arse.

Pointing out that London estate agents are venal wankers is hardly a startlingly original observation, but I do wonder whether these people are bred like it or indoctrinated. This guy turned up in his company Vauxhall Corsa with a ridiculous hairstyle slick with gel, driving along as he shouted into his mobile. He never listened to a word I said as he showed us around the house, apart from pausing in order to appear to listen, then making it clear from his next bit of patter that he hadn’t taken in a word I said. You could see his brain whirring, desperate to close the deal, figuring out his percentage.

Still, this is progress. Of course, now we’ll find out that the street we’ll be moving to is full of crack fortresses, but until then we’ll enjoy having found a potential home.

The house we found

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tigger's Fury

Tigger takes offence at Pooh's pathological honey greed.

Leytonstone at Night

E11, it's so mysterious and beautiful...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Property Prices and X-men

I had insomnia last night after getting so worried by property prices that my head was reeling. Emily and I are finally able to buy a home for the family and once I started looking for somewhere we could afford, I became utterly obsessed. It’s like a psychosis that sucked me in and filled my brain with postcodes, stamp duty, house prices and overwhelming despair as I realised we are priced out of the whole of London.

I then compounded the angst by watching two superhero DVDs in a row until 4am. The first of this Marvel double bill was X-men 3, which included some unforgivably clunky script clichés. When Magneto gazes in horror at Jean Gray/Phoenix wreaking destruction and utters a horrified “What have I done?!” you know that it’s script-writing on autopilot (especially as he was happy for her to wreak destruction a few minutes earlier (not that any internal logic to the plot appeared to be important)).

Please believe me when I tell you that X-men 3 is utter, utter shit.

But it isn’t nearly as bad as Daredevil, with Ben Affleck as New York’s blind avenger. It cost £3.25 from Tesco and even that wasn’t good value for money. If I hadn’t been pinned to the recliner by exhaustion, I think I would have blinded myself to avoid seeing any more of this cinematic turd-dribble, possibly by stabbing my eyes out with my own thumbs.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Holding Hands

Emily and I went out for dinner last night, with our friend Gill very kindly babysitting Stan. It was the first time we’d been out alone together since Stan was born. As we walked to the restaurant, Emily pointed out that it was also the first time we’d walked holding hands since the birth, as one of us is usually pushing the pram. After that, I was very conscious of the soft warmth of her hand in mine.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Egos and Insecurities

I feel a little embarrassed by my fit of insecurity yesterday. I suppose I should really have more front, like Creative Directors seem to. It often strikes me that most of the creatives I’ve met (I’m including everyone from the humble designer to ‘proper’ artists) are continually caught between extreme insecurity and raging egotism (not necessarily fuelled by the old Cameron Candy).

This seems to be especially true of men, who always vie to be the alpha male, with the ‘best’ idea or the most profound observation. They communicate in order to dominate. Women, in my experience, tend to communicate in order to cooperate, which is more productive. It’s unsurprising that in a creative world ruled by aggressive, insecure, emotionally underdeveloped men, women are somewhat under-represented.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tits Up Time?

After a weekend of tropical storms in dear old London, I made my way to work in sunshine this morning, listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy, fretting about my job. Having had a poor upbringing, in which my mum’s luck seemed to be permanently crap, I always start to worry when things are going well. A nagging fear creeps up on me – an anxiety that I’m going to lose my job and fall through the financial cracks into poverty. So, as I’m getting married, may finally be freed from my mortgage with Lucy (and therefore be able to buy a home) and appear to be making a success of my job, I’m waiting for everything to go tits up.

My current paranoia revolves around the fact that I’m going through a quiet patch at work. Only about 50% of my time is billable at the moment and in the agency world that’s enough to make one extremely insecure. After having felt rather pleased with myself for building up the copywriting practice at my agency, I’m now worried that not enough work is coming in.

This is my version of the immutable law of creative life: it’s either too busy or too quiet. The busy end of the spectrum leads to stress, hair loss and comfort eating. The quiet end leads to paranoia, insecurity and comfort eating.

And, in my experience, there is never a happy medium.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Battery Joy

I'm typing as my children watch the Fantasic Four on DVD, ruminating on my lack of traditional male skills. If I hadn't already realised that I'm useless media fop, I'd have caught on after a few hours working on my scooter. For instance, I had to ring a friend to confirm what colour connections I needed to attach to the positive and negative thingies on my battery. How crap is that?