The Day Job

Raise the flag. Sound the trumpets. Light the beacons. Put the kettle on. I have returned.

My friends, I apologise for being away so long. Rather than making a start on all the grovelling and forgiveness-begging I am due, I have instead decided to jump straight back in with an actual post. In light of what’s been keeping me stressful in absentia,1 I thought it might be interesting prudent to tell you all about what I actually do.

I am a trained and qualified Graphic Designer. Whenever I tell people this, I get a nod, and sometimes a ‘ah OK’, because whilst everybody has heard of the job title, nobody really knows what it means.

Put simply; it is visual communication. It’s storytelling using pictures. If people realised how obvious this is we would not be able to charge the prices that we do. I am exceptionally lucky in that I am able to exercise my creative muscles on a daily basis and call it a career, and in many ways am really taking the piss by not being content with that and writing a humour blog and a sitcom on the side.

You will be pleased to know, however, that my career is yet another source of crippling insecurity on a daily basis. I have a cycle of worries regarding my job that go a little something like this:

***

 I worry that as a ‘visual person’ I am at heart tremendously superficial.

I indulge my other interests to become a fully-rounded, well-adjusted, multi-faceted, overly-adjectified person: write things, read things, see stand-up, buy records, attract hot babes, etc.2

I worry that I am neglecting my career.

I buy expensive design books and start another ‘portfolio enhancing project’ like a poster series or animation.

 I remember I am supposed to have some sort of social life.

 I call up a friend, they ask what I’ve been up to and I say ‘nothing’.

I take a long look at my life.

I worry I am worrying too much about everything.

I realise I’ve wasted too much time already worrying about worrying about worrying.

I go back to work to make up for lost time.

Repeat ad infinitum.

***

As well as this, design is a thankless job. It’s comparatively well-paying as a career, but this is a fair trade for the endless extra hours you will work (for no overtime) because the client wants it ‘amended’ (changed entirely) and sent back before the end of the day. ‘I’m sorry the display is exactly as dictated the agreed brief but you don’t like it anyway, I’ll just work another eight hours tonight (not an exaggeration) for your benefit for free.’ And yes I’m passive-aggressively hinting at YOU, property magnate in Manchester.

Because the nature of a good chunk of design is ephemeral (so slick you don’t notice it’s there – sometimes I don’t know why I bother) there isn’t a lot of respect for it as a usage of one’s time. My nan doesn’t think it’s a ‘real’ job, and thinks I’m an artist. This is inaccurate, and a little demeaning to both myself and any artists who might be reading this; artists express themselves, whilst designers express things on behalf of other people, and thus are at once creatively active and stifled, like a neutered dog in heat.

That said, I am uncomfortable calling myself a ‘creative’, even though it’s what I do all day every day. It sounds to me like one of those adjectives that is bestowed upon you by other people3, and is increasingly very difficult to quantify. Anyone with an Instagram app will call themselves a photographer, anyone who owns Photoshop will call themselves a designer and anyone who’s been on Cracked.com and read something about fonts will shout ‘Comic Sans! LOL’ and call themselves a typographer.

It’s a shame that these once-respected avenues of expression are being eroded by trivialisation. Typography, as a subject is quite fascinating; there’s so much consideration in making content readable and inflected with the right ‘feel’, and there’s some genuinely interesting things to be learnt.

Gill Sans

You’ve got to draw a line somewhere and it might as well be between your dog and your third daughter…

And whilst we’re on the subject, can we all get over the Comic Sans bashing? It was funny at one point but now it’s just sad. It’s been kidnapped by that odd group of people who mercilessly hate something and pretend it’s taste, like they did when Lynn Truss brought out ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’.

Comic Sans

I don’t really have a problem with Bieber, although his music isn’t my ‘thing’ – he’s very responsible and well-adjusted for someone at his level of fame. What I DO have a problem with is hype. If you’re a Belieber and you’re offended by this message, please consider that any resentment either of us may feel is entirely your fault. So there.

I got into graphic design because, like many of you here, I wanted to tell stories, and one day I hope to get out of it, for the same reason. I love the work – obviously – it’s exhilarating, but it’s a far from easy life, and there’s a reason why I have this other creative outlet here. If you should ever find yourself (and if you want it, I hope you do) in a situation where your income is a direct reflection of the frequency and quality of your ideas, I think you’ll see what I mean.

Allow me to sign off as the ungrateful prick I am clearly becoming. I’m off to have my cake, eat it, then take a chunk out of the hand that feeds. I reckon humble pie will be on the menu too.

Rant over. Bon appetit.


1 Good name for a bad song, that.

2 One of these is a deliberate lie, just to see if you’re paying attention. Answers on a postcard.

3 To illustrate my problem with these sort of words, I’ll use it in a sentence; ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly get a job and contribute to society, I am a creative.’

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Hello all. I am super-busy with work at the minute, and am likely to remain so for a while, so busy that I am unable to respond to comments from up to four posts back. (Not so busy as to not write a post, eh Mr. Busybiscuits?)

In the meantime, I have prepared this; the post I did about Facebook was a moderately popular one, so here’s another highlight from my personal social archive. It concerns the time I met and did some work for arguably popular British R&B sensation Lemar. It was quite sensational. He’s a sensation. Sensation. Yeah.

If you don’t know who Lemar is, good. The ironic lack of celebrity will make it funnier.

If you look at the bottom, you will notice Comedy Terence showing up two days late with the wrong end of the stick, devoid of grammar, laughing at his own joke, and spelling the key word wrong. As per usual. That man is a stand-up, ladies and gentleman. I realise I haven’t written very much about him, so this ‘as per usual’ schtick is largely ephemeral, but you get the gist.

Anyway, I hope you appreciate this lazy bit of filler candid sneak peak into what minor celebrities get up to, with specific reference to urination. Enjoy, and I’ll get back to you all hopefully this week.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Admin – A Note of Absence

Last week my four year old MacBook finally gave up.

Although it may not have seemed like it, I was absent from these shores for about two weeks. I had some posts scheduled, and even managed to knock out out a quick one at work (not a euphemism), but I fear that this made me appear that whilst I was happy to publish my nonsense, I was not willing to actually interact with any of you.

This particular anxiety displays not only paranoia but also arrogance of the highest level; that I dare to assume that people are constantly checking up to see why I’m not reading their posts but posting my own. Perhaps they’ve worked out a ratio system. Perhaps there’s a graph.

There’s always a graph.

Anyway, whilst that might be a glaring example of mental instability, at heart it’s because I, like everyone else, seek the approval of my peers, and look forward to interacting with you all.1 I had all sorts of lovely emails from blog chums old and new that I was able to read but not respond to, and I’m going to do that right now.

I had a week with no digital designing work, no recreational writing, no internet browsing, and no iTunes. The Mac’s backlight went, so I didn’t lose any of the files, but they’re there, just below the surface, taunting me, like a fish with a bad attitude. I have instead shelled out on a new machine that I can’t realistically afford. It’s approximately eight times as good as the ol’ Macca, and I’ve just noticed upon signing in how vehemently purple my blog is. Sorry about that.

Here are some of the things I filled my unexpected free time offline with:

  • Read three books.
  • Counted out all my small change in my change jar and paid it in.
  • Did a bumload of sketching and storyboarding for both work and the sitcom-that-will-never-happen.
  • Cooked properly.
  • Sorted out my finances so that I could actually afford a new computer.
  • Orchestrated what began as ‘gardening’ but rapidly became ‘ant massacre’.
  • Watched the Tintin film – the opening sequence was awesome but if they want my five-star review they need to put Professor Calculus in it.
  • Talked to a very pretty girl in a book shop about Hemingway, Kerouac and the guy who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower which made me feel clever and attractive and debonaire, before sneaking off because I couldn’t afford any new books and a new Mac, which made me feel ashamed to have wasted her time.
  • Exercised properly.
  • Watched a lot of tennis and saw my cousin on the telly and in the papers because he was dressed in an enormous Union Jack.
  • Discovered that WordPress has an app that I could have been using all along.

1 People may say that they don’t care what people think about us, but if that was true people would be rude, nothing would get done and nobody would put anything up for review (e.g. blogging). Social convention and the disapproval of strangers keep egos in check, and anyone who truly doesn’t care what people think of them is an idiot.

Taxi Banter

My job is supercool. I am in a taxi with a package full of money, on my way to meet a mysterious stranger at an undisclosed location. I feel like a disposable henchman in a Bond film. I wonder how I’m going to be dispatched, and if I’ll have enough consciousness to catch the inevitable tortuous pun…

To spoil the surprise, the money is £500 in pound coins, and I am going to get them photographed. This is even less glamourous than I expertly lead you to believe in the first paragraph because the coins are in a big pink bucket.

The company is currently doing a campaign for a bank, and the posters will feature structures built out of coins, and for that we need to build and take photos of them. We’re literally made of money.

It is about 9:20 in the morning, and I’ve withdrawn this money from the bank and dashed into a waiting taxi. It feels like an elaborate espionage mission and I am pretty chuffed about it.

After the taxi driver takes down the postcode of my rendezvous, he sets off through the city centre.

‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ he asks.

‘It’s a big pink bucket full of five hundred £1 coins,’ I reply.

‘What’s that for? Making a deposit?’

I try to have a joke with him.

‘No, it’s a ransom. I’m going to meet some thieves. They stole my iPhone.’ I hold up my iPhone for illustrative purposes.

‘Oh,’ he replies, my excellent joke falling flat on it’s stupid face.

I opt instead for the truth; ‘I’m a designer,’ I say, ‘and we’re rebranding a bank. These are for a photoshoot.’

‘Oh,’ he replies.’

This is clearly going nowhere. The set of circumstances currently being undertaken in this vehicle are thoroughly interesting, and if you’ve got nothing to say to that, let’s give up and sit in silence.

We pull up at a set of traffic lights, and he turns to me as if to say something. Oh Christ, is he an illegal minicabber, about to stab me for my bucket of coins? Or maybe he’s a kidnapper; my earlier jape accidentally alerting him that I might know too much, and as such must be silenced? Or is he a marketing hating nutter who’s about to lampoon me for all the myriad ills involved in my profession?

Nothing happens. He just looks at me. I think I might have blushed.

It dawns on me that he is probably only craving a bit of company. He seems a sweet, shy, possibly lonely old man, obviously inviting me to start a conversation.

I pretend to do a double take, flash a warm smile and ask him the first question I can think of, which happens to be what time he started, and inwardly flinch as I realise I am now officially as interesting as Peter Kay.

‘Seven,’ he replies, but in a tone of voice that implies he wants me to continue this banal line of inquiry. It’s like blood from a bloody stone this…1

I can feel the shame burning the back of my throat as my voicebox coughs up the sentence ‘What time are you on ‘til?’

‘Two.’

‘Any interesting bookings happening today?’

‘You’re the most exciting so far.’ You’re damn right I am!

‘Any good cabbie stories?’

‘Nope.’

Well, this is supremely awkward. About a minute passes, and I pretend that I can’t hear the uncomfortable silence over the sound of the engine. I get my phone out and pretend to organise a business call but I actually text my friend Luke about last night’s TV. Luke doesn’t text back.

***

I get to the secret location. It is a building. I wave a cheery goodbye to my silent chauffeur and enter. The photographer is a pretty native Scandinavian girl who has just moved to the UK. I tell her that this is but one of my buckets of money, but I don’t think she understands I am joking. This is unfortunate because if she was impressed I would have to withdraw all my savings and put it in buckets to maintain her trust. I shut my face, and the rest of the shoot passes without incident.

On the way back, I have a different taxi driver, who tells me that everyone except him, including me, is the worst word in the world.2

He proceeds to tell me that I’m worth more to him dead than alive, because alive I am only an £8.00 cab fair whereas if I am killed in an accident in his vehicle I am worth £250,000. He punched his sat-nav because he ignored it and got lost. He is not a nice man. I want the old guy back.


1 This may have been a poor choice of words.

2 Runny poo-head.

My Drinking Problem

Part 1: One In, One Out

Hello, my name is Chris, and I have a not drinking problem.

Go back and read it again.

I’ve recently moved to Manchester to start a new job, working as a designer at an advertising agency. I am undergoing a probation period and I need to impress. This is a problem because I am not a drinker.

If you are unfamiliar with this blog, you might not know that I am painfully skinny. My delicate frame just can’t withstand the liver-rotting quantities quaffed by my contemporaries. Alcohol hits me hard and fast, like an abusive husband, and I get drunk very quickly. This does mean my nights out are cheaper than most peoples, but it also means that if I ‘keep pace’, I’ll be floored in record time, a bit like Amir Khan.1

Alcohol also does horrible things to otherwise perfectly nice people, and it’s not my idea of a way to wind down. I own two pint mugs, but no pint glass – that alone should tell you all you need to know.

And then there’s hangovers. I’ve never been a fan of hangovers. In fact, I’d go as far to say I am anti-hangover. They are rubbish. I avoid them as often as possible. Unfortunately, being such a lightweight means I get them without fail, and avoiding them means not drinking. This is fine with me, but society expects me to salve my troubles with blackouts and liver damage.

Why is this a problem? My new colleagues are big drinkers. Employability in my field is 50% personality, 50% talent, allegedly, and apparently, ‘personality’ is a synonym for ‘getting pissed.’ I resent that whilst many people will work to live, slogging through the week to drink themselves unconscious at the weekend, I must drink in order to keep a job.

I had a whinge on the phone to my friend Doctor Harry, who is a professional psychologist, and he immediately tells me to go for it, and to drink and be merry to win friends. Statistically, those who drink and socialise with their workmates get employed – and stay employed. I worry for the good doctor’s patients, if his best advice for me is ‘solve your problems with alcohol.’

***

My colleagues themselves are a close group. They obviously know each well, and I am the outsider in their midst, but my nerves and misgivings about the company are not limited to it’s socialising culture.

Everyone is very good looking and fashionable – of course they are, they’re big city media players – and it’s very intimidating. One client liaison named Rory is even an international model. Not only does he have a jawline like hewn masonry and limpid blue eyes, he’s also quite the brain box, as he alone is responsible for about half our revenue. And he’s nice. This is even more intimidating.

I’ve noticed as well that there seem to be cliques within the company; with some very interesting work for an impressive client being done by a group of creatives under the direction of Jade, the senior account handler. Admittedly, this collective is based solely on aptitude rather than nepotism, but they seem to be a tight-knit group, often going out for a drink once a brief is completed. I have identified Jade as someone to get close to in order to be given interesting work, but she’s very business minded and all the cups of tea she can drink don’t seem to thaw her coldness. I will have to impress her with my work, and for that I need a stimulating brief. Dammit Jade!

There’s been a few occasions where I’ve been invited out for a drink (and it is always ‘a’ drink on my part), but I never stay long, partly because I live so far away, but mostly because I don’t feel I should have to drink in order to socialise, or to keep a job. I’ve been trying to fit in in other ways; letting my talent speak for itself, being convivial and warm to my colleagues and doing all the belittling jobs without complaining. Not in public, anyway. Save it for the blog.

But I am having the last laugh… (Not out loud, obviously. Nobody has the last ‘LOL.’ That would be ridiculous.) You see, whilst I have withered the storm of blank stares and cursory glances, I have been orchestrating an elaborate plot to exact my vengeance on those who have spurned my talents….

I have been deliberately making bad tea!2

GASP! As I don’t fill the mug up to capacity! SCREAM! As I don’t get the most flavour out of the bag! MAKE A SHOCKED INVOLUNTARY NOISE! As I put just a bit too much milk in! LOOK OFFENDED! As I ‘forget’ to offer you a biscuit.

Revenge is a dish (mug) best served hot. Or it would be, but unfortunately I am so good at making tea that even my worst brews are exceptional. Just my ruddy luck.

I also stole a pen.

Despite their chilly disposition and possible alcohol dependencies, I feel my colleagues are essentially good people, but my favourite member of the team is Jez, the copywriter. Jez is fiercely intelligent, and has the sharp wit to go with it, as well as a mischievous streak and a warm, inclusive laugh that add real life to the room. He’s hilarious, welcoming and leaving at the end of the month. What a let-down. Naturally there’ll be a big piss-up in his honour. What a bigger let-down.

Part 2: Lad Banter

It’s the evening of that leaving do I just mentioned in honour of Jez. I am sat with Paul, an account manager, and a new addition to the team, and Andy, a digital designer. Andy has many things is ample supply; bravado, fight stories, a baby and alcoholism to name but four, and Paul combines the physique of an alpha male with the good humour and intelligence of not-an-alpha male. I am intimidated. I stare nervously at the expensive beer in my hand. I resent the pressure to drink it, but equally I want to get my money’s worth. Look what depths the economic recession has brought me to…

The conversation has been centred around the fairer sex for quite a while, and I have been nodding and pretending to be bawdy. Currently, Andy is holding court on the subject of cheating. I hate cheating. It is rubbish. I liked it better at primary school when it was called two-timing, before it got rebranded, and even then it caused a frown upon my tiny face.3

I can’t put it any more succinctly than comedian Jon Richardson, who said on his BBC 6Music Show;

‘I hate cheating, I think it’s my least favourite thing in the world. I hate it even more than wet bread. And I hate wet bread. I could never be a duck.’

Anyway, after Andy starts listing the circumstances that would cause a lapse in his fidelity (he is drinking/a girl is near) Paul amiably concedes to our colleague’s opinions with this throwaway statement;

‘If a girl starts talking to you, you’re not going to turn her away, and if it leads somewhere, so be it. You’re only human.’

NO! This is not an excuse! As humans we have evolved to be BETTER than animals. With our consciousness we have created such notions as ‘chivalry’ and ‘shame’, and failing to utilise these concepts properly is like spitting in the eyes of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and-so-on exponentially until you’re phlegming in the face of Neanderthal man.4

When humanity developed a conscience, it should have spelt an end for laddish behaviour. Animals copulate because nature says so, but we alone have the power of reasoned decision, and with that power comes great responsibility – so spake Spiderman. With human consideration comes such human traits as courtship, romance, fidelity and evenThe Joy of Sex, as well as, admittedly, marital aids, sexual deviance and photographs of naked ladies; phenomena that separate us from the beasts.5

If your excuse is ‘I am evolutionarily hardwired to stick my business in whatever hole is directed my way’, then at least have the decency to use correct terminology; you’re not ‘only human’, you’re ‘only an animal’. Get it right.

Once again, my needlessly overstimulated brain has neglected to allow my mouth to keep up with my colleagues’ conversation. My silence is noted and I am once again quizzed about my love life. A particularly insecure part of me asserts itself, eager to earn the respect of these real men, and I tell a horrible lie…

I describe a fictional recent girlfriend, a break-up with whom I am still getting over, and hence am not on the market. I name this girl ‘Danielle’, giving her the personality of my friend Daniel and the appearance of my friend Sophie. Inevitably, what with us being bloody blokes, the conversation tends towards the physical, and I have to describe a fictionalised sex life with the uncomfortable amalgamation of two close friends, neither of which would be up for it. Dan is obviously a male-bloke-man, and indeed, sometimes we have shared a proper hug (never in public) but nothing that would infuriate a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. Nothing romantic has ever happened with Sophie either, because she is a homosexual, something that very much would infuriate a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, if she knew any.

I wonder inwardly about the horrible thing I’ve just done. Who is the real immoral person here? Is it my lesbian friend, happy and successful and in love with another beautiful young lady? Or is it my colleague(s), lusting after the merest hint of woman, happy to sow their oats into any receptacle, regardless of commitments to other err… receptacles? Or is it me? The insecure deviant who creates a lie in which he sleeps with a girl with no interest in him in the real world, but who is foisted with the personality of his best mate in order to win the respect of two lads who aren’t his cup of tea anyway?6

My new friends’ curiosity is only sated once I show them a picture of this girl what I maded up. I have to surreptitiously google the word ‘girl’ without them noticing. To this day I have no idea whose picture I inadvertently showed them, but they seemed satisfied rather than appalled, so I presumably had Safe Search on.

As the beers continue to flow, the collective machismo becomes diluted, and the truth comes out. Andy is unhappy in his relationship; an affair of necessity than of affection to support their baby, and Paul secretly shares many of my sentiments on the subject. We discuss this further as I accompany Paul away from the party early to catch transport home. I’m starting to like Paul, and I feel like a fool for judging him too quickly.

As I leave, I say a final goodbye to Jez, thanking him for making me feel so welcome. He lauds my talents and wishes me the best for the future, promising to keep in touch. We shake hands vigorously, and I tell him the agency will be a colder place without him. He replies that it’ll do just fine with people like me there. This is a very nice thing to say, but then again, he hasn’t read this blog.

***

Monday morning heralds another roll call of drunken mishaps and mischief. I learn that Hayley broke a table by dancing on it, that Stan was arrested for lighting a cigarette indoors, and that there may have been some insensitive comments made about race. Jane, our new copywriter, has already put her phone in the fridge, so the week is already off to a good start.

I appear to have passed some sort of ritual, and the invite goes round for the studio Christmas Meal and Annual Piss-Up. I say yes, obviously, because a job hangs in the balance. Perfect: here I am, in October, dreading a hangover I am going to have in December.

On my lunch hour I accompany Andy & Paul to an award winning sandwich shop. As we walk past a XXX Pornography Shop, the owner protrudes, beer belly first, from a seedy-looking PVC strip curtain, leans forward into the street, uses one dirty finger to press his nostril together, and snorts a gobbet of phlegmy snot onto the pavement.

I learn an important lesson about who the worst people in the world are.

Part 3: Getting Merry

The day of the Christmas Party has arrived, just as I knew it would do. That’s calendars for you. Of course, I’m very worried, and have prepared several hangover remedies in advance:

2 x Two litre bottle of water – to dilute alcohol intake, and also to take painkillers with the next morning, should a glass of water not be available.

1 x 16 pack of Nurofen Plus Express – for fast acting pain relief.®7

1 x Two pint carton of milk to line stomach with.

2 x Bread rolls – to initially line my stomach and to give much needed carbohydrates in the morning.

1 x Massive bottle of Lucozade – to replace electrolytes lost in sleep whilst processing alcohol, as well as much needed glucose the next day.

1 x Bag of Ready Salted Crisps – to restore greatly diminished levels of salt.

1 x Teabag – for, when I’m ready, speeding up my metabolism with caffein to process the remaining alcohol faster.

Some might consider this level of preparation unnecessary, but such people were obviously never in the Boy Scouts. Being this paranoid got me fourteen badges, and you just can’t argue with those stats.8

It’s these pre-emptive strikes, as I like to call them, that lead me to being where I am now, doing what I’m doing.

Our office (or studio as we call it, ‘cause we is creatives) shares it’s foyer with another office, which is currently vacant. Either the recession has discouraged new tenants from taking residence in a steeply-rented office space, or people just can’t stand us arty-farty marketing tossers. I guess we’ll never know.

For the time being, however, our agency has appropriated the foyer and it’s enclosed lavatory as an area for visiting clients to call their own, and it is in this lavatory that I find myself during my lunch hour on Friday.

It has come to this; me, huddled in the square meter betwixt toilet and sink, necking a two-pint carton of milk to line my stomach for the night-long binge that’s coming my way. There is absolutely no need for me to be huddled, but initially it seemed appropriate, and then I got cramp and had to stay that way. I take great care to make myself presentable upon leaving the bathroom. It would not do to be seen by a client exiting their private toilet with a milky face… That isn’t how our business is done…

***

Come four o’clock, the team downs pencils for the week, piles into three taxis and rendezvous at a fancy hotel apartment that’s been booked for the specific purpose of having somewhere to trash in a drunken stupor. It sleeps eight, comes with a complimentary dressing gown and pillow mint, and has glorious panoramic views of a
bog-standard carpark. I’d like to be able to say it was a particularly picturesque or beguiling carpark, but that would be a lie, and I only lie for comic effect, to get myself out of trouble, or if the mood takes me.

The early birds have already started, and are downing whiskey on ice. They joke that they’re going to get me wasted. I devoutly hope its a joke. Rory says he’s going to make me do so much coke I’ll think my name is Henry.9

They all laugh, and so do I, but mainly because Henry is my middle name and Rory has been accidentally correct.

Everyone grabs a beer bottle and nips to the bathrooms to spruce up. I do the same, but pour my beer away and fill the bottle with water so that I can be seen chugging. I can almost hear readers screaming at me for wasting alcohol, especially when there’s starving people in the Third World, but you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach and the Ethiopians have enough on their plate – figuratively speaking – without being peer pressured into boozing. It’s downright irresponsible.

***

After a short taxi ride, which I am allowed claim back on expenses, we arrive at a very fancy restaurant. I eat one of my top three meals of the year. This part of the evening is only marred by our Managing Director getting a bit frivolous and accidentally catapulting a whole desert onto his lap. This is probably a ‘you had to be there’ moment, but rest assured it was very, very funny. The desert was a sweet pear, and it sat there in his lap, juice seeing into his expensive trousers, looking like a fruity, gloopy, misshapen wang. And he’s the big boss man. Oh how we laughed.

There is a moment of camaraderie between us all, but before I have a chance to enjoy it properly I have to neck a glass of wine and follow the group to a cocktail bar…

***

Two hours drip by, and I’ve held steady with just the one mojito, but I keep scooping the ice out so it looks like I’ve drunk more of it than I have. There’s a much more relaxed air of conversation now; I’ve loosened up enough to come out of my shell a bit, and my workmates are tipsy enough to laugh at all my snarky jokes, which is nice of them.

My easy-on-the-alcohol ethos has not gone unnoticed, however. Rory, quite drunk, leans across to me and says how much he respect my ability to say ‘no’ to drinking too much.10 ‘If only people could say no,’ he slurs, ‘how much better life could be without our vices…’ I accept the compliment, and raise my glass to self-restraint, deciding not to point out that an absence of self-restraint has taken Rory to modelling parties all over the world and into the knickers of celebrities you’ve actually heard of.

I also get talking to Ed, another new account manager, as we try and ignore a scene going on to my left. It turns out that Jade and Stan, a designer, are midway through a turbulent love affair, and have decided to showcase a small part of it this evening, for our delectation. As they smooch so gracelessly, Ed confides in me that he is a comedy writer, and is writing a sitcom pilot with his flatmate about the life of a stand-up comedian. Keen to impress, I casually guess at the plot, and accidentally get it right first time. I think Ed hates me.

Off the back of this, Paul’s ears start to burn, (not literally) and before long we’re having an excellent male bonding session made up entirely of Alan Partridge quotes. An hour later and we’ve all gone away promising to check out each other’s favourite shows, and Ed has offered to look through my blog.11

With the rest of the team now too drunk to notice me necking a glass of water, we take two taxis into Manchester’s Chinatown to a karaoke bar. A joyless bouncer asks for ID, and is noticeably disappointed when he is unable to refuse me entry, as I always carry ID because I look about twelve. None of the rest of the group has ID because they haven’t needed it for years, and we have our first big drunk argument of the night, at 10:30 PM. The management have allowed us in simply to appease us, and when I say us, I mean Hayley, who had to be restrained. She really wants to do karaoke…

Hayley sings the beginning of Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ eleven times because she wants silence for her performance and PEOPLE KEEP TALKING! I make a note of this in my phone because it is funny. A staff member comes to check if the karaoke system is OK and Hayley screams at them and slams the door in their face. Then security gives her a talking to. It isn’t funny any more.

Having previously been so worried about songs, I note with delight that every almost song on the playlist has featured on a ‘Punk Goes Pop’ compilation of my youth, and I know all the words! I patiently wait until I am expected to sing. Under much cajoling from the rest of the staff, Paul and I select ‘Say, Say, Say’ by Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, myself taking on the part of the begloved moonwalker. I don’t want to seem arrogant, but we nailed it. The King of Pop is dead. Long live Me.

Now that we’re safely in the karaoke bar, and everyone else is too drunk to remember if I make a fool of myself now, I let my guard down and enjoy myself. After all, it’s my Christmas Do too. I drink several expensive beers that the company is paying for, largely because the company is paying for them, and they are expensive. I relax, and begin to see my colleagues as friends…

***

As the night draws to a close, I find myself sat at the back of the room with Jade. ‘This is my chance to get to know her,’ I think, ‘see if I can’t get me some cool work. I’m feeling particularly outgoing, and she’s well out of it.’ I initiate conversation, but before I’ve finished one sentence, Jade grabs my wrists earnestly;

‘Chris, I just want to apologise.’

Eh?

‘I wish your first week had gone differently, because the little I’ve seen of your work has been amazing…’

Ah.

‘Your work on that TV ad was great. I think it’s disgraceful how little good work you’ve been given.’

Ah.

‘You know Jez said you’re a fucking genius. You’d do so well here, but you’d do even better in London…’

Ah.

‘I wish we’d got to know each other sooner. Me, you, Paul and Ed, it would have been so good to have a new team. You’re all so talented! And cute!’

Ah.

‘I do have one criticism, though…’

Ah.

‘You need to make better tea.’

Balls.

Twenty minutes later, against my will, Jade has kissed me in front of an audience of about thirty Chinese people, and dragged me and Paul into a taxi and passed out..

***

I wake up the next morning. My hangover is mild, and will be gone in an hour. I use all my remedies, and even have time for a shower, before heading back home. Once again, I had nothing to worry about.

At work on Monday, the atmosphere is relaxed and jovial. Ed, Paul and I greet each other with a unanimous ‘AHA!’ I make all the tea properly. Jade gives me a little wave. This is what you get for trying to have fun…


1 Can you smell that satire? Wouldn’t like to be him when he reads this! Also, wouldn’t like to be me when he reads this. Good God what have I done!?

2 If this was speech rather than a written piece, I would have arranged for a dramatic sting to be played at this point. Just so you know. Don’t say I don’t think of everything.

3 All of me was small. I do not have an abnormally small face, not now, not ever.

4 You never know, they might have enjoyed that sort of thing back then.

‘Have they invented the Xbox yet?’

‘Nope. Want to spit on my face?’

‘K.’

5 N.B. Not true of all said photographs.

6 ANSWERS: It’s C and/or B. If you said A you can fuck right off.

7 This blog is not endorsed, supported or even acknowledged by Nurofen. That said, they do a bloody good painkiller. Go on, go and buy some Nurofen!

8 Not the sewing badge though, that would be a step too far.

9 I’ve only just realised this might be a reference to Henry the Hoover. Poor Henry, ridiculed the world over for performing a function and having a silly face. I’ll be your friend, Henry…

10 He also said he’s intimidated by my vocabulary, in particular my use of the words ‘requisite’ in ‘zenith’, as well as my ability to use them in a better context than I’m doing now.

11 Hi Ed! BIG SHOUT OUT!

Smerch

This is the story of how the comedian Stephen Merchant robbed me of my friends, my dignity, and my breakfast.

***

I have upped sticks and headed North to Manchester to start a new job. A new job! One might assume that such good fortune might be the start of great things to come. On the contrary, I now have a whole new bunch of reasons to be comically insecure.1

This is a city in which I know almost no-one. Like starting Uni, I will have to build a new life from the ground up. Unlike Uni, however, Iʼm not surrounded by people doing the same. This will be difficult, and/or awkward. As well as this, I donʼt know the city very well at all. I was scouted for the job, and have moved to a room in a house a good hour-and-a-half from the city centre. My knowledge of Manchester extends as far as: two football teams, Oasis, a punk band no-one has heard of (even in their home town) and Karl Pilkington.

Aside from my mate Rick, who has just had a child, I have no friends in Manchester, and resolved to carve out a new life in this glorious Capital of the North, and all the potential new best-friends it contained. What a life we would have, experiencing art and music and comedy together…

Which is why just three short weeks later, I was watching the award-winning writer and comedian Stephen Merchant on my own.

Stephen Merchant. Photo by Robbie.

***

I love comedy; itʼs one of my Top Three Favourite Things of All Time. Iʼd describe myself as a ʻproperʼ comedy fan, although I primarily intake via podcasts and the like, as these can be enjoyed alongside daily life.2 I love a good gag gig, and have enjoyed countless nights with like-minded friends, but the absence of my chums will not dissuade me from seeing Mr Merchantʼs live act.

The irony of seeing a show primarily about loneliness in the company of sod-all was not lost on me, but needs must, and this might be the perfect way to meet a whole new group of mates… Perhaps a new set of comedy-loving friends will only be a few seats away… Perhaps there may even be a pretty young lady, inexplicably attracted to the skinny, awkward comedian, and who is willing to think ʻYes. I will settle for less,ʼ and go out with me instead. Maybe I will meet someone there…3

A comedy gig is not, strictly speaking, a social function. You arenʼt there to talk, youʼre there to listen. And laugh obviously, unless its rubbish, and even then heckling is discouraged. But maybe this time will be different… thereʼs something different about me these days – maybe itʼs my new job, maybe itʼs my snazzy new jumper, or maybe itʼs the air of loneliness and intense desperation that hangs over me like a damp rag. Good name for a band that…

Hopefully the need for company and a feel-good atmosphere will catalyse a connection or two. If my obvious solitude doesnʼt attract a mate – in either sense of the word – I wonʼt be at all surprised. But friendships have to start somewhere, and where better than a mutual interest in misery-based comedy…

***

Steveʼs first ever touring stand-up show is called ʻHello Ladiesʼ, and is about his failed search for a wife. It is sublime, exquisitely written, and will be available on DVD from the back-end of November for your convenience/the festive market.

Iʼm a big fan of the Lanky Co-Writer, and as a Pilkie-hipster proper fan, I have seen all of Ricky & Steveʼs visual work and heard not only all the podcasts, but all 192 hours of the old XFM shows as well – thank you pilkipedia.com – unless XFM are reading this in which case I definitely havenʼt heard any legally protected material. Unfortunately this meant I had heard Steveʼs first four anecdotes before.4

Iʼve always found Steveʼs jokes much easier to relate to than his colleagues, Ricky can be quite brash, and Karl never, ever admits heʼs wrong, but Steve is humble and wonderfully understated5 and is essential listening for anyone whoʼs got a bit of loser in them. I therefore assumed that I, a single loser, would be hilariously vindicated by some scrupulously honest comedy from a man whose personal life has not exactly had the same soaring heights as his career, and was both pleased and slightly disappointed to learn that Steveʼs love life, whilst far from stable, was thoroughly existent.6

Perhaps you could take from it that despite not having the oft-overlooked blessings of conventional attractiveness, athletic ability and a functional social life, Mr Merchantʼs love and enthusiasm for comedy not only provided fuel for his dream career, but perhaps some of the raw material as well; Steveʼs (and Rickyʼs) comedy is as poignant and salient as it is irrepressibly hilarious, and it comes from a very real, relatable place. His soul is clearly as nuanced as his wit is sharp, and itʼs that that (I reckon) his fans respond to, even if he is a lanky goggle-eyed freak with dance moves reminiscent of ʻa stick insect being given electroshock treatmentʼ or ʻa bit of weird art.ʼ

Alternatively; if you want to be pessimistic about it, (and I do) Steveʼs success has counted for nothing. Beauty really is skin deep if two BAFTAs, a British Comedy Award, a plethora of accolades, a Blue Peter Badge (!!) and a presumably obscene amount of wealth canʼt offset crippling astigmatism and the physique of an angle-poise lamp to win you the heart of a fair maiden.

I thoroughly enjoyed Steve – itʼs always nice to break the barrier between successful people and the regular plebs (us) and see that they have problems too, something that many celebrities often lose touch with. Incidentally, I saw Smerch in the same week that Ricky Gervais was under tabloid scrutiny for ʻmongingʼ all over Twitter. As a fan of the Chubby Funster, it was dismaying to see him fall so gracelessly, but as I always do in these situations, I asked myself, ʻWhat would iPhone Scrabble say?ʼ

End of.

***

Needless to say, Steve ripped it, by which I mean the show was good, not that he damaged public property. He wouldnʼt do that, he is a nice boy. Iʼve since seen the show on DVD and reckon my night was better;7 particularly the end segment involving the audience, which I wonʼt spoil for you, but is ruddy marvellous, especially the bit about GCSE Drama. God dammit…

ʻWhat a shame my friends couldnʼt be here to see this with meʼ, I thought, ʻIʼdʼve enjoyed it so much more with Dan or Terence or Joe – I should have given Rick a call, heʼdʼve loved to see this.ʼ

Iʼm ready to call it a night – Iʼve had a good time and will be able to do a blog about the irony of seeing a show about loneliness on my own. You know, the one youʼre reading now. ʻBlogceptionʼ, as the kids say these days.

But the night was not to end there. Iʼd had a pint and a laugh, and after seeing the show was feeling slightly more lonely than normal, and was prepared to chance my arm a conversation. To my left are two young men about my age, seemingly approachable and deep in conversation; comparing the show to some of Ricky, Steve and Karlʼs recorded material. I turn towards them, lean in and let my guard down, like a bloody fool…

ʻI couldnʼt help overhearing, youʼre fans of the podcasts? Have you heard the XFM shows…ʼ

We chat for a bit about how good Steve Merchant was, and still is, and the one on the left compliments me on my snazzy jumper. ʻYay! Friends!ʼ I thought, but I was wrong.

***

My new compadres are named Matt and Mike, and are senior and junior production editors for the BBC, respectively. Iʼm a little bit impressed. We bond a little as I tell them my similar credentials and that my company are doing a few bits of work for the BBC at the moment. Matt says ʻCoolio,ʼ and I laugh, because that is a rapper as well as a funny word. Mike does an approving grunt – after laughing himself hoarse at olʼ Stevie Merchant, his voicebox is a little worse for wear. He introduced himself thusly: ʻIʼm Mike, and I sound like Barry White! Barry Shitting White! How about that!?ʼ

Matt is 28 and resembles Aaron Barrett, the frontman of popular ska/pop-punk band Reel Big Fish, if thatʼs any help to you. Mike is 23 and looks like my friend Toby, who is not famous.

The boys invite me out for a drink. It is gone 10:00, and I want to be in bed soon, as Iʼve got work tomorrow, but I say ʻyesʼ, because I ought to take more chances, and this might be how friends are made. However will I earn their respect if I donʼt drink excessively with them? We walk briskly from the Manchester Apollo to a bar on Oxford Road, discussing amateur-level comedy and how everyone knows someone who thinks theyʼre funny but really isnʼt. Everyone except me, apparently…

About an hour later, Iʼve drunk much, much more than I intended. Inwardly, I seethe that this is what it takes to make friends as a young adult; it isnʼt enough to have a common interest, no! You must also make yourself chemically imbalanced and drench your dignity in liquid shame.

Matt and I are talking about productions suites and working for the Beeb. Mike is on the phone to his current girlfriend, whom he is telling that he sounds like Barry White. She doesnʼt believe him, so he tells her a few more times. Itʼs only a matter of time before Iʼm asked the inevitable question.

ʻDo you have a girlfriend?ʼ

ʻNo, no, Iʼm single.ʼ

ʻAnd is that out of choice, or are you sort of between girlfriends?ʼ

ʻYeah, out of choice I suppose, itʼs not really my thing –ʼ

ʻSo youʼre gay then?ʼ

ʻNo, no Iʼm a straighty –ʼ

ʻBecause if you were Iʼd be fine with that.ʼ

ʻNo, Iʼm not gay –ʼ

ʻWell you are well dressed. And skinny. Have you got AIDS?ʼ

ʻNo I havenʼt got AIDS!ʼ

ʻCan you prove that?ʼ

ʻErr… Not right now….ʼ

ʻThen until we know differently, let us assume that you are straight and have at least one fatal blood disorder.ʼ

ʻIʼll take that.ʼ

We then proceeded to have another pint and two further rounds of shots. By this point I was too drunk to remember to feel uncomfortable around these guys, and was focussing all my innate paranoia on dreading the next dayʼs hangover. I was able to remember the conversation because I drunk-texted my friend Dan the simple sentence; ʻMet some guys who asked me if Iʼm gay and have AIDS.ʼ8

A final round of shots burning the back of my throat, we wander outside towards a club. We are refused entry, not because I am clearly in work clothes and carrying a shoulder bag, but because Mike tried to kiss the bouncer. Even a rendition of ʻMy First, My Last, My Everythingʼ couldnʼt get us in, and when that happens, you know itʼs probably time to go home. Also, it was 11:15 – way past my bed time. Matt and I shake hands, promising to keep in touch, although we know that wonʼt happen.

After telling me one final time that he sounded like Barry White, Mike too bids me good evening. I get into a nearby taxi, after first making him promise me he isnʼt an illegal minicab. Safety first.

The next morning I have my third worst hangover ever. I exorcise most of my demons9 before leaving, and am only twenty minutes late for work, although my performance suffers terribly. I have two bits of work to start and finish that need to be in New York by 3:00 PM, but I also have two pints and three shots in me that need to be down a toilet much sooner.

An ʻevacuationʼ during work hours is a new low for me. I stare into the basin as my sick spirals away, with my career in tow.

At about midday I perk up, and the work is done early. I get an email from our New York clients commending my efforts. I read it out loud in a Bronx accent. Oh how we laughed. A colleague invites me for drinks after work, and I politely decline. No new friends for me.

***

A few weeks later I text my friend Rick, to see how heʼs getting on with the latest addition to his family. He asks me if Iʼd seen Steve Merchantʼs DVD. ʻMate,ʼ I reply, ʻI saw him live.ʼ ʻMe too,ʼ he replies. ʻThursday night. Third row.ʼ

My friend – my only friend in this city – was sat twenty feet away, and I was none the wiser. I tell Ric we should have arranged a meet up, and that this is all his fault, and that he is an arse. Now I definitely have no friends in this town.

Steve Merchant you hilarious bastard, this is all your fault.


I hope itʼs comical. If these arenʼt funny Iʼll probably have to do a murder or something in order to give these ramblings some function as a mentalistʼs manifesto. Not that it isnʼt that already.

Aside from the aforementioned Ricky, Steve and Karl, other comedy favourites include Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson, Danny Wallace, Simon Amstell, Charlie Brooker, Robin Ince, Tim Key, Russell Howard, Richard Herring, Dave Gorman, Danielle Ward, Larry David, Steve Coogan, Simon Munnery, Dan Antopolski, John Robbins, David Mitchell, Josie Long, Tina Fey,  Matt Forde, Bill Bailey, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and JonRichardsonJonRichardsonJonRichardsonJonRichardsonJonRichardson. Thank you for asking.

This is fast becoming a catchphrase.

ʻWeʼve arranged to meet back at youʼ is a long-time personal favourite. Unless XFM are reading this too in which case I hate it. And I havenʼt heard it. Who are you again?

Humbly wunderstated?

As opposed to being non-existent. This is not really a valid sentence to say in conversation.

ʻOh howʼs the love life?ʼ

ʻThoroughly existent.ʼ

ʻAlright, alright, calm down.ʼ

Take that, Oxford.

I donʼt do a lot of drunk texting, mainly because (a) I donʼt really do a lot of drinking and (b) without any ladies playing a main feature in my life, I am free of any romantic angst that might initiate inadvisable messaging. The last drunk text I sent was in January on a night out at Uni. Frustrated with the shod being fed into my ears by the DJ, I texted my friend Dave the lyrics to Streetlight Manifestoʼs Point/Counterpoint in full, with horn parts included thusly; ʻbah badaba bah bah ba bah baʼ. As drunk texts go, this was quite harmless, and cost me nothing. Or it would have been, if Dave hadnʼt been in Australia at the time.

Vom.