On Living with your Parents in your Mid-20’s…

I’m Al, I am 26 years old, and today I move out of my parents’ house. Fanfare please.


Mine is a riff on your usual millennial story arc. I grew up in the 90’s and 00’s, and was shepherded down the well-worn path from education to the professions like every other good little middle-class scion. As we all bobbed merrily along, we were all coddled in the collective certainty we’d be plonked into good jobs (graduate, London, circa £25k) at the other end. Anything but was inconceivable. Life was there on a golden platter, all teed up.

Presumptuous bellends.

Enter stage-right global financial crisis: fire actors, nationalise theatre, bail out producers. The world moved on, for the worst, and things got tough for everyone involved. That said however, for me it almost didn’t matter. Almost. I nearly got away scot-free, escaping the employment wreckage of 2008/09 for work abroad. I got pretty far too (5,975 miles to be precise, not a bad first effort), but the universe – as it is want – cared not one jot. Early 2013 hit me with both barrels, skewering me with a slew of personal, professional and financial crotch-hits, and as a result I wound up back in the house I’d called home since 1992. I had a princely £15.61 banked, 3 friends within 30 miles and was on the dole.


I’d wager my life savings (£15.61) no circle of hell is as harrowing as the Warrington Job Centre dole queue on a dreich January morning, but it was there, sat with one of their rheumy-eyed job harpies that I truly realised my predicament: “You may very well want a ‘creative’ job, but there are none going. Your work history shows manual labour and I need you off my books to meet my quota, so I’ll just go ahead and amend your profile…”


Ten points to Gryffindor if you spotted Robert Baratheon in the above. If only my Job Centre experience had been as rhythmic… Mine was a wake-up call. A slap across the face stating: “You cannot handle this world. Not in the way you want.” I decided to admit defeat. Retreat. Tap out. I strangled my pride and moved straight home. Being a tall, white, Western male (avec corresponding bred-in entitlement complex), I cannot understate how psychologically reassuring having that fallback was. And yes, I appreciate the irony… Still, the fact of the matter was, that after three full-blown years of (quasi) adulthood in China, I moved back in with my parents. In one fell infantilising swoop, I became a re-adolescent.


Living at home in your mid-20’s means standing still. Stepping outside of life’s forward flow. Chilling out. Cooling your fucking heels. Slowing. Stopping.


A side product of that initially unwelcome stillness is that you’re given time to reassess. I used the word ‘shepherded’ before as that’s how I now feel about many past choices: as if, looking back, they were made only half-consciously. Like I was swept, oblivious, past life’s crossroads down the road most-travelled. As if they weren’t even my choices – “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” – and it’s only now I’ve managed to schlep back to that fork and pick a road of my choosing. Me. Mine. My own. (My precious).


I’m beginning to sound like a pretentious wanker, so try this: living at home in your mid-20’s is about money. Our generation is the first in a while to be less well-off than the previous, and those of it “not really worrying about money” are usually nobjockeys with far too much. Let’s all agree it’s quite important. You don’t need braying posho wealth (Dave, Gideon, Boris), but you do need ‘enough’ and, when circumstances frogmarch you into the financial gulags, there are worse places to save ‘enough’ than at your parents’.

Living at home in your mid-20’s helps you save either for a foundation for life, or at least for the tools to build one. And tools, good ones, cost. Be it a functioning laptop, healthy food (so expensive) or a car that doesn’t sputter to death on the work commute, there is always something – tools, whatever – you need to get on a level footing. If you are lucky enough to be able to, living at home gets you on that footing more quickly. That might draw accusations of materialism, but the simple brutal fact is that on its lowest rung the world is a world of things. If you haven’t got the right things, you are at a huge disadvantage compared to those who do. They may be a luxury, but savings are smart. Savings = things.


Something I’ve noticed, and detest, since coming back to the UK is the ‘you-should-be-doing-it-like-this’ attitude some people have towards those struggling with money. The attitude of ‘well, if you’re poor then you’re obviously doing it wrong.’ It’s “minimum-wage workers should be grateful they even have jobs” on one hand, and “I deserve this £250k bonus” on the other. It proclaims: “we’re all in this together” in public, then retires to a multi-acre mansion in Chipping Norton in private. It proselytises “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps,” then sneers at someone on national TV for having the barefaced cheek to do exactly that. At its root, it’s the deluded thinking that believes Rich can truly comprehend Poor, and therefore pass judgement. And then laws.

It’s bollocks. People thinking that way, people usually from cushty backgrounds, have had far too neat a safety net knitted for them. For us. I could quite easily fit that bill, but all I can personally can say is that one tiny, microscopic, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it taste of misfortune sent me scurrying back to my parents’. For 16 months. And thank God I had the option, an option many do not. I owe my folks much, much, more than I can ever give back…


Attitudes are shifting though, I think. I’d assumed I’d get ribbed this year for living at home, mocked even, but to my surprise the most common response has been: “How much of your monthly salary are you saving?” followed by: “Bastard.” Of course there have been some snidey little asides, usually from middle-aged English people who really don’t know what they’re talking about, but overall it hasn’t been quite the taboo I expected.

Finally though, I’m moving on. I bagged a good job and today am off to the hippest part of (arguably) England’s hippest city. Unfortunately, parts of it are overpopulated with kale-eating beardy musiciany types who always (when did this become a thing?) do their top buttons up, but I’m sure I’ll make do. It’s a four minute walking commute. And yet…:

Besides, I know that if everything goes tits-up again I can always move back home.

KIDDING mum, kidding. Geez…

On Carcassonne (Part 2)…

This is a continuation of a slightly longer blog post about a recent trip of mine to Carcassonne in France. You can find part 1 here.

I left off gushing about jousting. It was awesome. That was the Wednesday. On Thursday, I generally just pottered about. I sent postcards, bought trinkets and went on a boat tour of the Canal du Midi. It’s the Panama Canal of Europe, connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. It was rather dull. The Bridgewater Canal is more scenic, and if a body of ‘water’ that oozes through Warrington bests southern France, you’ve got some problems… That afternoon though, I happily discovered my old job had paid me exactly twice what I was expecting as a final salary, so I immediately booked an extravagantly priced guided tour of the Aude countryside. The nice tourist office lady wrote down four different spellings of my name before giving up: “Trop compliqué. In this, you are Alex. D’accord?”

In the evening, I wandered up to the Spanish Feria festival. All the local businesses were running little food stalls, so I ended up gorging myself on tapas from one run by a gymnasium that seemed to have based its costumes on those of the Power Rangers. I didn’t care. They had sangria. I’d only planned on staying an hour or so, but then the band started up. Full brass, strings, funk rhythm section, five rotating lead singers (one, if my rusty French understood correctly, from the French version of The Voice) and even a gigantic bald French conductor. Brilliant. They started out with French songs, then moved into Spanish, then English. Three sangrias in, they played a Stevie Wonder five-song medley that segued into Earth, Wind and Fire. Unreal.

All the fun of the Feria

All the fun of the Feria

I swayed off at midnight on a gentle tide of sangria. I meant to go home, but Carcassonne had other plans. I was sidling past a pub where two musicians were setting up when I saw they were having technical difficulties. Normally, regular Al causes anything electrical to spontaneously ignite by sheer proximity, but apparently Sangria Al is a technical wizard. I fixed it, and as they swayed back into focus, I realised they were the buskers from the day before: an impossibly Dutch-looking couple who looked so alike I assumed they were siblings. But no, Michiel Schotanus and Lisanne de Jong, duo extraordinaire. Insane harmonies. They’d gotten one of only ten busking licenses dished out a year by la Cite, and had come over for seven weeks to camp and to play. They were brilliant, and the fools even let me play a few songs between their sets. When I finished, two things happened. First, the even more foolish bar owner invited me back to play a more fleshed-out set with Mike and Lisanne the next day, and second, a French lady sauntered over and immediately introduced herself rather knowingly as a ‘Desperate Housewife.’ I did my best impossibly possibly Hugh Grant impression until she buggered off. Terrifying.

The final day was the all-day tour. We went first to a village called Villerouge-Termenès to see a castle where the last ever Cathar was burnt at the stake (go Catholic church), and then to a  town called Lagrasse with a 10th century abbey. As we wandered, my guide bemoaned all the tourists, quoting a friend: “the only French people in Lagrasse are in the cemetery.” My tour guide. Irony gods. But then she took me wine tasting, so I forgave her.

King of my castle

King of my castle

The winery was called the Château Villemagne – in Latin ‘the big villa,’ after the Roman house which previously stood there – and I thought we’d get one red, one white, one rosé then be booted unceremoniously out the door. Oh no. I actually lost track of how many we got: before dinner wines, after dinner wines, a specialty called ‘Blood from the Stone’ (tastes like wine mixed with whisky gasoline), identical wines from consecutive years to highlight the subtly different tastes (by this point: not a chance), award-winning vintages: we drank it all. And it was goooooood.

I was tenderly deposited back in Carcassonne in the evening, after which I toddled off to get some food before heading back to the pub. What a way to finish the holiday. By night’s end I was on guitar, Michiel was singing, and a huge ragtag crowd were shouting requests at us in six different languages. I played ‘em, Mike sang ‘em: we were there all night. There was even a pint glass for tips, and Mike & Lisanne kindly (moronically) split it with me. I went to bed forty euros better off than when I’d walked in. I also got an offer of free room above the pub any time from the owner, so long as I play. Yes, yes, yes.

You've never experienced surreal until you're a 19-year old six foot six Frenchman on his last night out before joining the Marine Nationale yells "Rape Me" at you repeatedly. Ohhhh, the Nirvana song.

You’ve never experienced surreal until a 19-year old six foot six Frenchman on his last night out before joining the Marine Nationale yells “Rape Me” at you repeatedly.
Ohhhh, the Nirvana song. Maybe I’ll play that now.

Then I went to bed. Then I went home. Best holiday of my life.

On Carcassonne (Part 1)…

Two weeks ago, I made myself an offer I couldn’t refuse.

If I got the stratospherically-out-of-my-league job I’d applied for, I’d go holiday. Offer comes in? Scour Ryanair website for a place you can pronounce and book it. Same day. No hesitation. Allons-y.

That’s how I found myself at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport last week, skulking past the carryon-weighing fascists with every one of my pockets crammed as full as physically possible. Fuck you Ryanair. Upon boarding, I was immediately (inevitably) seated next the only infant on the plane. It sized me up with its big baby blues – your wellbeing is in my hands, oversized pink man thing – then burped, threw up voluminously all over its mother and promptly passed out. For the entire flight. Had its mother not been covered in milky upchuck, I’d have kissed her for raising such an amenable little human.

I decided it was going to be a goooooooood trip.

La Cite, from the Old Bridge in Carcassonne

La Cite de Carcassonne at night, from the Old Bridge

By the time I arrived I was right proper knackered, so after I checked into my hotel – the Hôtel du Pont Vieux by the old medieval bridge, I recommend it – and some cursory wandering, I took the rest of the day off. I found a brasserie, sat outside in the afternoon sun, ate a crêpe, had a beer, read about a thousand pages of a Stephen King heptalogy, people-watched, had another beer, ordered something desperately French-sounding, eyed it suspiciously, poked at it, tried some, tried some more, devoured it, had another beer, washed it down with a glass of red, then turned in for the night. Joy.

The next morning I damn near levitated out of bed. Exploring time.

Carcassonne itself is ancient. Dominated by a huge medieval walled city that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the place has seen over 2,500 years of history – Gauls, Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, Crusaders, Aragonese, French, Spaniards, cranky middle-aged American tourists – and it is simply unbelievable. Walls within walls, spires on towers on balustrades on keeps on citadels on taverns on moats on chapels on gates on barbicans. Picture a ‘castle’ in your mind’s eye: this looks like that. Unbelievable.

You beautiful thing

This was just one tiny section of the outer walls.

I started my tour with a circuit of the outer walls, which took a full thirty minutes, before heading inside and doing the same along the ramparts of the inner wall. The city is free to enter – and it is a city, it never closes and is full of real, functioning (extortionately priced) hotels and restaurants – but the citadel, the castle-within-a-castle, cost euros. So, when I came to this section I went all out and paid for a fancy-schmancy audioguide.

I spent the next two hours with the walkie-talkie jammed happily to my ear learning history. As I said, the place has seen lots of it, but at some point the city fell into disrepair. Or it did, until a 19th century architect called Eugène Viollet-le-Duc decided to restore it. His approach was…unorthodox. He did a tad of digging, a smattering of forensic archaeology, a wee bit of looking at old pictures and then – according to scientific consensus – Made It All Up. To be fair, with so much history he could have rebuilt ten castles (the 11th century one, the 14th, the 17th), but he opted for a messy hodgepodge of each. I liked that. History is messy. Aptly, this Viollet-le-Duc chap was the voice narrating via my audioguide. Less aptly, this particular manifestation spoke in an Irish accent (à la Ardal O’Hanlan) which I found delightfully surreal. I spent the rest of the day wandering round the city with Monsieur Eugène O’McLeDucahan whispering into my ear. You don’t need a history lesson about the Cathars from me, but rest assured, it was utterly fascinating. Go Wikipedia that.

After that, I wandered about the city a bit more, silently judging all the buskers I found (more on these later), then started to head back to the exit. This is when I stumbled upon the best thing in the entire city: jousting.

None of the pictures I have do it even a bit of justice, but I believe the above video clip more than accurately conveys what it was like. Jousting! Kick-ass knights, on horses, with swords, and shields, and lances! Jousting! Obviously, it was gimmicky and completely played out for the tourists, but they went at it with such vim and vigour I totally fell for it. Shields splintered on lance impact, there were full-on melee battles, show tricks, stunts, all worked into a mock-dramatic play. At one point, an actor who looked suspiciously like Medieval Bane led a leashed goat out to torture a racked ‘prisoner’ by having it nibble at his bare feet. As the most ticklish man currently alive, I can tell you it looked excruciating.

Cue fanfare

None of these bastards crowned me Queen of Love and Beauty after. Pissed me right off.

I left with the biggest, dumbest, most touristy grin on my face.

Part two of the blog post is here.

On Deansgate Detritus…

For the last six months, I’ve worked at a little place just off Deansgate Locks in Manchester. Deansgate is the main thoroughfare through the city, and is just down from the old Roman fort of Mancuniam, where the city a) was founded and b) takes it’s current name. These Locks serve but one glorious function (and probably have since Roman times): boozery. Deansgate Locks exist only to get we Northern Monkeys utterly, eye-wateringly, leg-shakingly, bowel-looseningly, punch-throwingly, police-arrestingly mortal.

There are lots of bars built into the old railway (now tramway) arches, and they are all pretty terrible. We like them. We would. Between the hours of about 5pm and 9pm they are brilliant – fun, relaxed, marginally decent – but at around 10pm all the BEST people turn up and the classiness level plummets hell-wards. Ferried in from all over the North West on the train, Deansgate is the first port of call for each and every scumbag with a (amphetamine-enhanced) pulse before they head into town, and it gets delightfully awful. Working as I did but a stone’s throw away, I got to see the morning after. Particularly on Fridays, I was going in as some were going home. Or trying to. Mostly people just leave their detritus as evidence of earlier shenanigans. I am a big jessie, so I ended up finding these discarded remnants of a likely-forgotten night really rather depressing.

These were all taken in the space of a week in early July:

1) Lonely soldier

1) “Taxiiiiiiii…”


2) Empty booze bottles in a doorway = final resting place for many a discarded fag-end. If you are American, you miiiiight have to Google that phrase a few times. Safe-search recommended.


3) Gathering. The water cementing its reputation as the lightweight.


4) My guess? Laid down when someone was caught short, then forgotten as they staggered off struggling with their flies


5) One bottle of vodka, three empty cans of Red Bull. Oh what larks.


6) The loneliest of them all. Right by the train station.


7) Green means go (home)! That it is Sainsbury’s own-brand Ginger Wine means it could only have been a truly CLASS NIGHT.

On Blues and Folk Music…

The following article appeared on the Shenzhen Local Music site on June 5th. I’m reblogging it here as I haven’t written anything in five months. Because I am useless.

Blues and Folk: Music of the People

In one word, folk and blues music is history.

In their own way, each of the two genres is the history of a race of people. That history has been challenged, corrupted and co-opted by others over the centuries, but ultimately it is the story of a group of people set to music.

Blues for example has its roots in slavery. One theory goes that the ancient African tradition of dying clothes indigo during mourning was uprooted to fledgling America, and when slaves had to dye cotton in the fields the idea crystallised. “The blues” is more of a feeling than a musical style – the profound world-weariness of the perpetually downtrodden – and this is where the genre’s sentiment comes from. It’s why ‘feeling blue’ means what it means.

Folk music is similar. The word ‘folk’ comes from the German “volk” which literally means ‘people.’ In the past, so much music was in the hands of the few – the composers, the aristocrats, the monarchy; the tiny minority that could afford it basically – that folk was the only music ‘the people’ had. Folk and blues are the musical genres of the non-privileged: while imperial nations enslaved blues-singing African-Americans overseas, they sent their own folk-singing natives into the workhouses of home. Either way, it’s the music of the oppressed, and the music tells their stories.

And what stories.

You cannot mention blues music without a discussion of Robert Johnson. Destitute, dismissed and ignored during his lifetime, he only became successful after death. The story goes that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in order to learn the blues, and nowadays every guitarist worth the tiniest speck of salt credits Johnson as one of the most important musicians of all time. Eric Clapton called him “the most important musician that ever lived.”


The Devil’s in the Delta…

Blues formed in the early 1900’s in the Deep South, and has gone on to be one of the world’s most enduring musical genres. Artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker helped popularise it in the 1950, before the genre started to seep into rock n’roll. History came full circle when musicians from the country that had done so much to create the blues in the first place (carting half a continent of people halfway across the world has never been Britain’s finest moment) took a weird fusion of blues, rock n’roll and folk and churned out the Beatles. The Fab Four almost single-handedly created modern music, and there would be no Beatles without the blues. Simple as that.

Folk music is a little different. Folk formed out of an amorphous mass of anonymous musicians handing down songs by word-of-mouth. Over centuries. “Trad” is a word you hear a lot in British folk circles (meaning literally “traditional”) and in many recording credits you’ll see this little abbreviation. Basically, no-one remembers who wrote it because the singer is irrelevant, which is lovely as it’s the direct opposite of the celebrity-driven current raft of pop music. The song and story is what matters.

Many folk songs are brutal, telling the stories of common people as they try and eke out a life under the cosh of their psychotic overlords. One “trad” favourite of mine is the ‘Bonnie House of Airlie’ a song about war, rape, pillage and murder in Scotland. Another is “Bruton Town (the Bramble Briar)” which is about two noblemen who murder their sister’s lowborn lover. Death crops up a lot, as death happened to be the defining point of life. Imagine Game of Thrones, only with more acoustic guitars.


I got me the Hipster Blues…

Both blues and folk music have changed a lot in the last few decades. Blues went electric, and the styles and techniques the genre spawned are now found in everything from dubstep (no, seriously) to thrash metal. Folk music too has morphed, but somewhat awkwardly, with the term now meaning almost any music played with an acoustic guitar. Mumford and Sons are folk, the Lumineers are folk, Gotye is folk; it’s a bit messy.

Ultimately though, I think it’s the people hammering away at acoustic guitars, whether in the West or in the warrens of Shenzhen, that keeps folk and blues so relevant. At its heart, both genres are music played by people, about people, for people, and therein lies the genres’ most enduring feature.

On U.S. Bumper Stickers…

The third album I ever bought was Green Day’s Warning (I upgraded quickly from my second, Blink 182’s 1999 tour-de-force Enema of the State; I will never, EVER, tell anyone what the first was), and there’s a lyric on the title track bemoaning conformist automatons who “get their philosophy from a bumper sticker.” I have absolutely no idea why that line (ha) stuck with me, but (a-ha) stick with me it has, so when I started seeing all the rectangular things affixed to car bumpers during a recent trip to Portland, Maine, I went a bit snap-happy. The place was under about seventeen feet of snow when I was there, so I dutifully wandered (slid) around the city (glacier) clicking away in my hat, scarf and long-johns.* We don’t really do bumper stickers in the UK, other than chintzy “Baby on Board” dangly things stuck to the rear windscreen, so these all seemed rather quaint to me.

NB: I say quaint specifically, because if you play word-association with an American using “England,” the word “quaint” is likely to come lolloping into view in seconds. Well BUGGER YOU, you swill-bellied slummock-faced colonial humgruffins, YOU CAN BE QUAINT TOO:

1) Type A bumper sticker user: the hippie. Good going Portland, dispelling aaaaaaaall the stereotypes about you.

1) Type A bumper sticker user: the hippie. Good going Portland, dispelling aaaaaaaall the stereotypes people have about you.

04 Boring Political Priorities

2) Type B bumper sticker user: the Right-On politico. Works particularly well when unfortunate roadkill incidents lead to politicians’ names being smeared in blood.

The Hispanic Vote

3) The increasingly powerful Hispanic vote means that the traditional “Gobama” will eventually be replaced by the above. Republicans are really torn about which part of this to be mad about.

Better Priorities

4) Screw politics. This driver has their priorities straight. Also, apparently people are FAR too busy masticating to use the “u,” “g,” and “h” supposed to be in that word there.

03 Odd In-Family Banter or Unsubtle Twilight Reference

5) Odd  “remember that time Papa Cullen was at the whiskey and ran over old Mrs Dinkleberry from No. 34″ in-family banter, or unsubtle Twilight reference?


6) There are no words… Oh wait, yes there are. They’re all right there. Look.**

*Ha ha ha YES I was wearing other clothes.

**OK I cheated. This is from the internet. I promise you though, hand-on-heart, heart-on-sleeve, sleeve-on-Bible, Bible-covering-modesty, I saw a car just like this shoot past me. I blame the unreasonable cold for numbing my fingers so I couldn’t get a snap off in time.

On advert making…

I had forgotten about this until right this second. During the advertising internship I had at the end of last year, we were given a challenge. We had to come up with a six-sheet poster advert (six-sheets are the ones you get on bus-stop shelters) around the tagline “Curiosity Works.” That was all we were told, other than we had an evening to do it. The winner would get West End tickets. Here’s my hastily sketched and scribbled contribution:

I feel a kinship to cavemen, most likely due to comparable IQ levels

I feel a kinship to cavemen, most likely due to comparable IQ levels

I wrote the copy in MSWord, printed it, sketched out my noble caveman over the top, went over it in permanent marker, scanned it back in, and emailed it off with seconds to spare. Turns out I actually won as well, which was nice. Unfortunately, seeing as I was sofa-surfing my way through London at the time and because I am not a completely despicable person, I surrendered the tickets to people who had been so good as to put me up for a few weeks. They had a lovely time at Singing In The Rain. Jolly good.

On a bad, bad day…

Today Matthew, I'm going to be...

What do you mean? This IS my happy face…

Probably the worst non-China related day I’ve had in years. Appalling enough to merit entry in a blog that is purported to be about loftier things. Shut up. I’m grumpy. Hae ae gander:

  1. bring “invalid” proof of address to job interview, interview cancelled
  2. indicator on car breaks, can now only turn left
  3. go to hospital, informed surgery is required (not the cool kind I can brag about though, the minor, time-consuming, sissy kind, worthy of ridicule), have blood forcibly removed by Nurse Ratchet-alike
  4. park in the wrong place for exactly 53 seconds, receive parking ticket from hovering blue-clad hat-donned fascist
  5. plan night out, plan complicated lift schedule for night out, night out cancelled
  6. amazing guitar loop pedal my darling girlfriend just bought me broken, just removed from box, warranty only valid in USA
  7. anaesthetic used at hospital not wearing off, cannot feel/move face

Logically, that must mean all my bad karma has been depleted in one fell swoop, isn’t that so? Yes world? YES WORLD?



On Advertising Grad Schemes…

I know all six of you, my dear cherished readers, are salivating small puddles at the thought of hearing intimate details about the last few months of my life. To that I say: CALM THYSELF. You are being disgusting. No-one likes a drooler. I have plenty of stories to tell and I’ll get to them in due time. First item on the scribbled list I have here in this red notebook is “rant about your time on advertising agency grad scheme.” And so I shall.

The scheme was, in almost all respects, brilliant. Six interns were taken on for six weeks out of 500 applicants (advertising is ferally competitive) in early winter with the understanding that two get a full time gig in January. We basically got to play dress-up as trainee account executives (administrative managers/handlers), helping out on existing accounts. Second to that, we also had to come up with an advertising strategy and campaign for a fake pitch scenario. By ourselves. I’d post the powerpoint deck we came up with (my team lost, but it was still fucking impressive) but I am actually legally prohibited from doing so. Our “fake” pitch will be a real “live” one sometime this year. Essentially, the cheeky buggers want to cover themselves so that if they want to pinch our ideas, they can. They won’t of course, but it demonstrates the level at which we were working. People do all sorts of shameful things to work at that kind of level. Which makes me feel rather guilty.

The Advertising Graduate Scheme Experience

My new home, for seven weeks or so

My new home, for seven weeks or so

Thing is, I didn’t like it…

OK fine, that is a lie. The first two weeks I absolutely loved it, the second two weeks I felt like London was testing my limits, and the last two weeks were a hair-pulling teeth-grinding sleep-deprived nightmare. That last fortnight, an average day was getting in around 9am (after negotiating the hell of the District to Piccadilly Line interchange) and getting out anytime between 10pm and 1am. The last Thursday I was there until 2.30 in the morning.

In the interest of fairness, I feel obliged to point out to all wannabe adlanders that the hours are part and parcel of the industry. You either adapt or you don’t. I didn’t, couldn’t even, which is probably why they didn’t hire me. So, aspiring grads: when they say the hours are tough, they really really mean it. ‘Tough’ is not just working ’til 7pm the odd day. Draw your own conclusions. Also, in the interests of more fairness, let me submit to the honourable gentlemen and women of the jury that this was an internship which was by definition “intense.” Hours were longer and more taxing than they would be in the real job. I signed up to that, so can I really complain? Well, I performed a thoroughly scientific experiment known as “stalking.” I spied on the people who’d won full-time jobs last year and clocked their hours. They weren’t quite there until midnight, but 9 or 10pm was not an uncommon traipsing-home time. One of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen in my life was the poor woman sat across from me who face-timed her kids goodnight from the office almost every day. Basically, if I had joined, things would have got marginally less awful. But only marginally.

Big Brother is Watching

War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, Ignorance is Strength

War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, Ignorance is Strength, Stop Whining About Your Internship

There was also a strange atmosphere to the scheme, essentially because it was an Apprentice-style six-week competitive interview. Everything mattered, in the “be careful what you say to who” sense. There was an email chain running round the whole agency where people could send in feedback on the interns, and it seemed very much to be a case of ‘shit floats to the surface.’ Failings tended to brought up point by painstaking point in special meetings and the good stuff glossed over somewhat. I was careful not to seem ungrateful, but I did perhaps air a grumble or two too many about the hours. I was shot down (“it’s the industry,” “you need to want it,” “we all do it,” etc) quite comprehensively.

Some of it was really petty stuff though: I saw an account director flounce out of a research group in a huff over a perceived slight from one of the interns who was distracted handing around coffee and cake. It was childish, but it had a galling undertone, because we knew it would matter. This AD would almost certainly go and feedback to someone important (telling her version of the story to boot) and that would in turn be a black mark against our names somewhere. It got to the point where we stopped voicing any concerns we had. To anyone. We each had mentors who we were ostensibly there for us to bounce problems and concerns off. Nope. Not gonna. Not when anything and everything we say can count against us. No-one wants a reputation for being a whiner, so our outlook became fixed-grin relentless forced optimism. Cultish even. McCultish.

The Cherry on Top

We also got a bollocking. A bollocking to end all bollockings. I’ll spare you the build-up, but in short we interns screwed up. It was the honest kind of mistake that happens when interns are put in overall charge but twenty different people offer their own opinions and suggestions (opinions and suggestions which after things go awry everyone insists had either been explicit orders or advice to be completely ignored), but no leeway was given. Cue one charming gentleman from management coming down on us like a ton of piss-stained graffiti-daubed bricks. I quote: “I’m fucking livid. I’m fucking swearing so you can tell I’m fucking livid. What the fuck were you playing at? Do you have any idea of the fucking opportunity you are wasting here? 500 fucking people applied, and if you don’t want to be here there’s 499 right fucking behind you who fucking do” (it came out ‘faaaack.’ It was London after all). I’m not saying it wasn’t our fault, it very clearly was, it was just that the response was akin to summarily executing a soldier for failing to fold his barrack bedsheet in the approved regulation manner. It was, simply put, disproportionately unprofessional.

CCTV footage from our meeting

CCTV footage from our meeting

Luckily it was a team failure, so we all took it on the chin together, but it was something of an eye-opener. As far as me wanting the job, this was definitely where the rot set in. Now, I understand how the world works (shit travels downhill, management craps on everyone) but there are rules. Having a tantrum and throwing your toys out of the pram in a fit of profanity, to me at least, is not behaviour befitting a manager. I relayed the story to a creative working downstairs over a pint that evening and he was pretty shocked. He said he would have quit on the spot, an idea I half-seriously toyed with (I found out later one of the six was not-so-half-serious at all, and was seconds from actually walking out) but ultimately decided against. It would make not a jot of difference. One of the 499 right fucking behind me would have stepped in. In that Mr. Shouty McSweary was very correct.

Losing Out vs. Dodging a Bullet

Confession: I lost. I am a loser. I didn’t get the job. I myself raise a vigorously sceptical eyebrow when anyone who doesn’t get a job starts proclaiming “oh, but I never wanted it anyway; honest” so I know how it looks. I ask humbly for you to believe me, just this once. The hours were just too much. When the call came to say I hadn’t got in I felt absolutely nothing. Later on I realised I was relieved. If I had been offered it, I’m convinced I probably would have taken it. One does not turn down an opportunity like that, and I would have been turning it down to be unemployed. My family would have had a collective seizure. So I would have accepted, hated it, and probably started looking at open fourth floor windows and feeling an overpowering urge to understand what flying felt like.

The people who won absolutely deserved it. We became quite the little close-knit unit together in our six weeks and I can categorically say that everybody else on the scheme was a) far more competent than I b) far more worthy of winning and c) much better cut out for that kind of life. It was kind of embarrassing how good they were. I also still think advertising is brilliant industry, and I’m even still seriously considering finding a job somewhere within it. 99% of the people I worked with were absolutely amazing: creative, driven, brilliant, successful, helpful. I owe them a lot and feel a little guilty sniping at the whole process so much, but at the end of the day everything I’ve written is what I experienced. There was a culture clash (see! I worked in the theme of the blog!) on a huge scale, between my own attitude and the working culture there. Perhaps if I got to work with them outside of the artificial constraints demarked by what was essentially a six-week job interview I would feel differently. To people wanting to work in advertising I say only this: there are agencies and then there are agencies, choose wisely.

I am fairly sure I (0:38, above) chose poorly…

On my “Real” CV…

I have spent the last two months filling in application form after application form and sending out CV after CV to unsympathetic employers. I have a big entry coming up sometime soon about unemployment and the strange lethargising effect it has on people (which will also be an opportunity to skewer a Job Centre harpy I’ve been having running battles with over the last month), but that will have to wait. Today is about my “real” CV.

I’ve realised recently that I’m leaving out far more of my work history than I’m putting in. Most is left out because it is simply not relevant to the jobs I’m applying for, but there is a part of me that is still strangely attached to all the ridiculous jobs I’ve held over the years. They do nothing to help me get a modern grown-up job, but I can’t help feeling that in some small way they are more telling of the kind of person I actually am. The snazzy impressive job titles I now use on my CV to present myself as a capable, decent, proper human being (ha) are all fine and dandy, but I can’t shake the feeling that all this old irrelevant stuff is still important. So, below is a list of every job I’ve ever had and not just the edited highlights. It is a strangely interesting (promise) list…


1. July 2004: Classroom Assistant, Broomfields County Junior School, Warrington.

Helping out at my old primary school for two weeks. Adorably cute kids. One managed to slice his fingertip open under my supervision in arts and crafts. So mixed success.

2. December 2004 – October 2006: Potwasher, Stretton Fox Pub, Warrington, UK.

Cleaning, scrubbing, washing, scouring, disinfecting, preparing, mopping, slopping, chopping and having Si the chef throw steak knives at my head. True story.

I worked round the back. Reeked after every shift. But, altogether, not a terrible job. I can clean the fuck out of anything now, and you can quote me on that. To my face.

3. March – April 2007: Mail Sorter, Royal Mail Warehouse, Winwick Quay, UK.

Unsorted bags of mail came in, we sorted them, they went out. Eight hour shifts. Yum.

4. July 2007 : Drivers Mate, Wincanton, Runcorn, UK

(For three days before I was fired) Drove around Merseyside in a van with a surly driver, going to skips, rescuing thrown-out fridges (stinky) loading them onto the van and taking them back to base. Fired because when the driver found out I went to university he assumed I assumed I was “better than everyone.”

5. July – August 2007: Polystyrene Recycler, Comet Warehouse, Padgate, UK

Vans would deliver household appliances to people’s houses then drive the discarded (and frankly voluminous) packaging back to the warehouse. I put all the polystyrene from that packaging through a crusher and stacked the results. Eight hour shifts. I am still finding polystyrene balls in my car five years later.

6. September 2007: Shop Fitter, Boots the Chemist, Coventry, UK

The shop was getting refitted, so when it shut at 6pm we’d go in, move all the shelves so the tilers, sparkies and joiners could come in and do real work. Moved things between 6-9pm, foreman took us to the pub, moved things back between 12-3am, staggered home.

7. October 2007 – February 2008: Barman, Royal York Hotel, York, UK

Served the drunk nouveau riche of York. Shifts started at 5pm and often finished at 6am. No breaks, no food. Fridays and Saturdays. Saw some ugly stuff, met some ugly people. Pissed off the bar manager (who was fond of uploading videos of himself strawpedoing entire bottles of wine to the internet) by taking a day off. He stopped giving me shifts. I stopped going.

Despite the ‘ugly’ people, this one was definitely one of the prettiest places I’ve worked…

8. April 2008: First Travel Survey Team Member, No. 4 Bus Route, York, UK

(For one and a half soul-destroying days before I quit) Hassled bus travellers and asked them questions they didn’t want to be asked. Gave up, sat at the back of the bus and made up the answers to my own survey. Was told I’d done well.

9. April 2008 – April 2012: Freelance Copywriter, Greenlight Search, London, UK.*

Great gig. Wrote 300-word articles incorporating keywords and SEO terms. Paid per article. Essentially the dream-job for a student. This single-handedly bankrolled my university onslaught against my liver.

10. March 2009: Shoe Labeller, Unspecified Warehouse, Appleton Thorn, UK

Stuck size labels onto plastic bags containing Clarks shoes. Eight hour shifts.

11. August 2009 – June 2011: Primary Teacher, CTLC, Nanshan 2nd Foreign Languages School, Shenzhen, China.*

Ran away to China to sit out the recession. Taught six, seven and eight year olds conversational English. Great job. Great city. Great country. But mad. Oh so very mad.

My home for two years, Coastal City, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, PRC.

12. August 2010 – June 2011: Associate Coordinator, CTLC, Shenzhen, China.*

In my second year I was promoted within CTLC to be the go-to guy for all the new teachers starting their first year. Coordinator/organiser/social planner/TA/TEFL lecturer/drinking buddy/counsellor/British-to-American translator. Arguably the best job I’ve ever had, meeting the coolest people I’ve ever met.

13. September 2011: Reviewer, MoreShenzhen website, China

Wrote a number of cursory articles for a start-up website that failed after two months when the co-founders credit card was cloned and he lost all his money. Muppet.

14. September 2011 – July 2012: Features Contributor, eChinacities website, China

Contributed two or three articles a month to the largest expat website in China. Cool little side gig. Learned a lot about China. The articles are here under words in print.

15. October 2011 – July 2012: MARCOM Manager, Promate Technologies, Longgang, Shenzhen, China.*

Working for a maniacal Syrian man writing product descriptions and drafting marketing info about the company (international electronics giant). Cool at first, then progressively poorer. Arguably worst job ever. And that’s including the fridge van thing…

16. January – October 2012: Freelance Contributor, TALK magazine, Shanghai, China.*

Same deal as eChinacities, but for a different magazine. Great editor this time which made the work much better. Articles under words in print as ever.

17. February – May 2012: Musician, Black Panda band, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nanshan, Shenzhen China.

Best gig (a-hah ha) ever. Resident Sunday night covers band at the Crowne Plaza playing to drunk Chinese millionaires who couldnt understand a word we were saying. Too much fun. Here’s a video of us. Most fun I’ve had and got paid for it. Monday mornings were hard.

I was big in China. So big in China.

18. April – July 2012: Musician, Kettlebrue, Rapscallions Bar, Shenzhen, China.

Regular Friday night slot at Rapscallions. Usually incredibly sloppy and extremely unprofessional but extremely good fun. Lucrative too. Thanks Rue.

19. September 2012: Musician, The Venue, Lymm, Warrington, UK.

Got the occasional paid gig at this great little venue (helpfully called “The Venue”) off the back of some really fun Tuesday open-mic nights.


That is a shitload of jobs. The ones that actually appear on my CV are starred, but that is a quarter. Not a lot is it? I’m about to start a new job too, but I’m not allowed to say what is it is just yet. Exciting times. So blogosphere, what are the weirdest jobs you have done? Were you the secret Abercrombie and Fitch model or the golf beer-girl who was paid to flirt with drunk older men…? It’s always the quiet ones…