Sellout! Notes Reflecting on Retail Island

I’m at a stage where promoting my writing feels beyond me, and I certainly don’t expect there to be a plethora of reviews and interview requests surrounding the publication of my new book, my first proper work of fiction and first output of any sustained length in a full five years. This explanation, apology, dissective reflection, whatever it may be, is likely to be as close to getting under the skin of a book that developed in two distinct but equally difficult phases as will happen.

Not so long ago in real terms – two years ago, maybe – I was working on three projects simultaneously: a concise but monograph-length academic work on postmodernism, a long, long exploratory novel, and a story that was partly inspired by JG Ballard’s later works, but primarily by the bleak landscape surrounding the office space my job had recently located to. Within a few months of the relocation, the inspiration for the latter work proved to the cause for all three projects to ultimately halt.

The venue depicted in Retail Island as The Orchard Carvery was the place where a number of sections, particularly in the early stages, were written, and the mind-numbing dialogue I found myself transcribing in the name of making art that was credible and close to life proved to be a major contributor to my creativity – such as it was – drying up. Having transferred from a town-centre office close to my home, to an out-of-town office in a location almost identical to that in which the book is set, a full hour’s journey away, I found my mornings starting earlier and my evenings starting later, but, worst of all, whereas I had once had access to pubs and coffee shops where I could write, there was only the carvery as an option for lunchtime writing. Increasingly, I found myself either walking to Asda or WHS Smith or Sainsbury’s for something to do over the course of a 20-minute lunch break, or otherwise failing to leave my desk or taking any kind of break at all.

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At what point does enlisting a friend to help cross the boundary into an abuse of power? This was a question I began asking myself after I received a promotion. Finding myself managing a team, I charged one of my staff with the task of making sure I took a lunch break. Was it wrong? This question would ultimately resurface in the writing, which, in hindsight, only became possible once enforced lunch breaks came into effect. I’m aware that assigning ‘tasks’ is in a different league from parading one’s cock, but in a climate whereby I’ve been subjected to the opinion that performing a piece about suicidal self-loathing without a trigger warning is more or less the same as committing rape, I’ve found myself questioning even my most basic assumptions. Given the graphic nature of some scenes – and again, given events over the course of the last few months – I even began to doubt whether it was right to publish. But the function of art is to challenge. Art that does not challenge is merely entertainment. As such, I make no apologies.

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical. I cannot stress this enough. As with many of my works, it’s an exercise, and an idea taken to its (il)logical conclusion. A serious, Ballard-influenced dystopia set in a parallel present on the one hand, it’s also rich in irony and parody, and is not a work designed to be taken as seriously as its surface suggests. The ‘love interest’ strand is simply my exploiting convention, and the apparent lack of irony in its execution is, in fact, a double irony.

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Initially, my new job made writing impossible. I was exhausted, anxietised, immersed in the job. The new role brought with it a lot more stress and anxiety for minimal financial reward. With lunch breaks resumed, I ultimately returned to writing, both lunchtimes and evenings, and the project which had stalled at around the 3,600 word-mark began to flow, and I chiselled out the remaining 27,000 words in under three months. During this time, I found myself again, at least to an extent. I stepped back from the precipice of being a corporate machine, and reclaimed my mantle of being a writing machine. But the elation of production was tinged with the guilt of advantage.

On resuming writing, I remembered that I tend to work best when I have an audience, someone – or some people – I can sling chunks of text to by email, as they emerge. It’s less about feedback (and certainly not about validation) than about targets in some vague way. Most of the books I’ve written have been produced to tight, self-imposed, constraints. THE PLAGIARIST had to contain 200 pages of text and be completed inside three months. Because. A number of other works evolved because I promised – half-joking – to send various people either a page of text or 500 words a day. Perhaps it ties in with my other jobs, as a corporate whore and a music reviewer: give me a deadline and I’ll work to it. And I’ll deliver. So, on finding a willing recipient for regular instalments of my work-in-progress, Retail Island grew quickly. I spent less time thinking, and more time writing. And more time writing meant less time focusing on the causes and symptoms of my stress and anxiety – something else which fed into the book as the protagonist finds himself increasingly tormented by anxiety.

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This again is something that’s played into my daily life. I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety. I still do. It’s become apparent that a number of people I now manage do, too. I’m increasingly aware of everyday mental health issues, and I’m also one of the worst at dealing with my own. But, moving on…

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical, but the characters and locations are real. Or versions of people and places which are real. I find it easier to write people and places I can visualise.

A large portion of my posts on various websites, including my own, as well as on social media and the sites of lit zines who interviewed or published me in the past have disappeared without trace over the last decade, but those that remain will likely attest that I’ve long advocated the practise of ‘write what you know’. This isn’t a stance against imagination: it’s just that personally, I find it easier to acquire details of a dismal office location while working in a dismal office, and to decorate a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery with detail while frequenting a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery.

For me, life will inevitably inform my art, and it was ever thus. So, for better or worse, a number of characters – a couple in particular – resemble people I know or otherwise work alongside. Their physical characteristics and various quirks, not to mention other details only they will recognise, have been woven into the fabric of their fictional counterparts. This is something I have done throughout my writing career, and no, the subjects aren’t always aware, often for reasons apparent. But Retail Island is a sci-fi novel, at least in the Ballardian sense. As such, the characters are largely ciphers and cardboard cut-outs: they are vehicles and tropes, and not designed to carry emotional resonance. As such, even those based on people I know and like are subject to a distancing, a detachment. These are not the people I know: these are characters, and delineated, two-dimensional ones at that.

To return to the question of power and its abuse: this has long been a topic of interest: having never had any tangible power previously, I’ve always been at the receiving end of any abuse – not ‘bad’ abuse, but the kind of abuse which keeps a person down. I now have a small degree of power. I’m mindful not to abuse it, but there’s always a risk – especially in the current climate – that an off-the-cuff comment could lead to trouble. What do you do?

For the record, I do not work at a pharmaceutical company. But I do work in an office, and like any office, it’s riven with sexual tension. This, paired with the power debate, prompted one of the narrative threads before the whole Harvey Weinstein thing broke. I don’t know if it now looks like I’m trying to cash in on the zeitgeist here, or simply being exploitative. But some of the interactions I have witnessed – none nearly as extreme as the majority of scenes depicted in Retail Island – have made me scrutinise what goes on in workplace environments, and what people accept despite feeling uncomfortable.

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I have a broad guideline for writing: observe everything, then leave 85% out. I adhered to this while composing Retail Island. The omissions provided space for the fiction. And beneath a more serious, genre-sculpted work than my previous efforts, all of the elements which featured previously are still present, just in a different form.

The use of repetition is much more subtle than in several of my previous works: instead of replicating phrases and scenes wholesale, a la Stewart Home (in turn appropriating Richard Allen) the repetitions are more narrative-based, with scenes and ideas seemingly looping, with a view to creating a sense of temporal dislocation. Think Alain Robbe-Grillet, perhaps. In keeping with the way the central character, Robert Ashton, feels he is constantly stonewalled and making no progress, so the narrative continually returns the reader to appoint of stasis and frustration.

As with all of my works, despite possessing a linear narrative and adhering broadly to many literary conventions, genre trappings and all (I’ve completely avoided any form of cut-up here), the ultimate aim of Retail Island is frustration (to a greater or lesser extent). But hopefully, the brutal violence, gratuitously detailed sex scenes (which are actually integral to the plot as it happens), and explosions will provide enough entertainment to counter the frustration.

Retail Island is published by Clinicality Press on 1 January 2018. It’s available to order now via THIS LINK.

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Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Being a Music Reviewer – Part Seven: Negative Equity for Working? No Thanks!

I’ve written previously on the economics of the music industry and some of my experiences working as a music reviewer. And yes, I do mean working: just because I enjoy it, doesn’t mean there isn’t a considerable amount of time and effort involved. There are deadlines and word counts and chaser emails from editors and PR people. And there are standards to maintain.

I recall the Musicians’ Union campaigning against venues with ‘pay to play’ policies back in the 90s, and this practice does now appear to be rather less prevalent. There’s also currently a substantial movement campaigning on behalf of workers – writers and artists in particular – with a view to prevent exploitation, and to stop people being pushed into working for free. While zero-hours contracts – and I’d like to think it goes without saying I’m fundamentally opposed to them – have been a hot topic of late, the vast swathes of people working for free, ‘for the exposure’ or to ‘build their portfolio’ as they’re so often told, have been largely overlooked.

I write music reviews. It’s not my day-job, because writing music reviews at the level I operate doesn’t pay. I’m ok with that. I used to spend a lot of money buying albums and going to watch bands play. Now I don’t. But I am still very active in supporting, and, effectively promoting music. I spend long hours typing up reviews. I’ve spent a decade straight doing this now. I’ve seen some incredible shows, conducted some hero-worship interviews and heard more amazing albums than I could have ever imagined. But churning out up to 1,000 words a night and working past midnight seven nights a week on top of a challenging day-job and parenting means it is very much for the love rather than the money. But I view it rather like bartering: I receive an album or entry to show in exchange for writing which may further the artist’s career. I feel no guilt over this, especially if an artist has hired a PR company: their job is to attract media coverage by sending representatives of said media copies of the album or inviting them to shows in the hope that they’ll provide coverage which is positive. A positive review is, ultimately, marketing and promotion. If a PR fails to attract significant media attention, then they’ve arguably failed in their job. But they still get paid. It’s not necessarily their fault if the press don’t bite. But of course, if they do, then the PR has done a good job, justified the expense, and probably helped shift some units.

So why would an artist or label undermine this? I recently experienced an unusual and frustrating situation, where a local (sort of) band I like launched their new album, at a venue I like, promoted by a national PR I’ve been in contact with for quite some time. The gig came to me via the editor of a site, and it was he who arranged it with the PR. On arrival at the venue, I was informed that I was on the list, but that it was a ‘cheap rates’ list, rather than an actual guest list.

I accept that things sometimes go wrong, that communication chains break from time to time: the guest list doesn’t get passed to the guy on the door, or your name hasn’t been added to it, or you’re not marked as having a +1. It can be embarrassing. But there’s no point making life hard for the guy on the door: he’s just doing his job (even if often they’re not interested in being shown the email confirming that you’re on the list with a +1, because, well, you could be anyone and besides, there’s a queue of people with actual tickets to deal with).

Music reviewers are often accused of freeloading, of being liggers – an accusation I’ve faced myself. But as a writer, I’m not getting something for nothing: my side of the deal is to actually produce copy in exchange for my free pass. Do other journalists face the same criticism? Can you imagine a news journalist being told ‘you like news, you should write news articles for free’? Or, to offer a slightly different perspective, imagine a producer pitching to Jamie Oliver, ‘well, you enjoy cooking, so why should I pay you for your time to do it on TV? It’s just a hobby, right?’

Let’s look at this in terms of the broader picture. People usually work for an hourly rate, or otherwise on a by-job basis. The minimum wage in England is £7.50 for over 25s. I’m way over 25. So, if I arrive at a gig having been informed by a PR firm hired by a band or label that I’m on the guest list for a show, with a +1, I should be able to reasonably expect that I will be allowed entry to the event as a non-paying guest, with the expectation that I will provide coverage and therefore media exposure for said artist. Because, after all, my review is work.

If it’s only a £6 gig, and it lasts 4 hours and takes me 2 hours to write my review, then I’m working for well below minimum wage. But I accept that, it’s the nature of an industry in which there is no money once you’re below the top 5%. But to arrive at a show to be told that no, I’m on the ‘discount ticket’ list and that I have to pay £4 to get in… well, that’s different. It may sound petty to piss and moan about paying £4 to get into a £6 gig up the road from your house, but it’s not actually about £4. It’s about the fact I’m expected to pay to provide a band or event with exposure.

You wouldn’t hire a web developer and ask them to pay to build you a website, would you? Or tell your builder that you’re going to charge him to build an extension? How many would walk into a restaurant and tell the chef he’s got to pay you to cook a meal? So why would it be different for a music reviewer?

I accept the depressing reality that we live in a culture where everyone wants something for nothing, thanks in no small part to free music streaming sites, YouTube, and crappy internships. But as of now, I’m done paying to work.

Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Working as a Music Reviewer – Part Two

We live in a visually-orientated culture. Pictures are more immediate than words. And yet I still don’t get the idea of reviewing a gig in pictures alone. The images convey so little of the experience, and besides, after a while, people with guitars or standing behind synths all start to very much resemble one another.

Similarly, I don’t get the whole deal with people posting photos of their food on social media sites, but did recently suggest that my refusal to subscribe to this trend was proving an obstacle to my achieving mainstream popularity.

So I figured I should document my day – yesterday – in images. Of food. It seems vaguely apposite, as I was assigned to review Black Bananas at the Brudenell in Leeds last night.

I got up a bit before 7am having squeezed in about 6 hours sleep, dressed, guzzled down a mug of tea and was out the door around 7:40. I breakfasted at my desk while wading through emails.

 

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Breakfast

I managed to nip out to grab a bite for lunch, again consumed at my desk.

 

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Lunch

After work, I legged it home, dropped my bag and changed my boots before heading straight back out for a train to Leeds. I had my evening meal in Foley’s on The Headrow before trekking out to the Brudenell.

 

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Dinner

 

I needn’t have rushed as the first act wasn’t on till around 8:30, but the beer was cheap and good and I always carry a paperback in my jacket pocket in case I find myself killing time.

The show was ultimately enjoyable, but I was aware of the train times and, being knackered, decided to slip out during the last song for the 11:16 train. This meant I had to run all the way from The Brudenell near Burley Park to the train station. Consequently, I was even more knackered but I arrived back in York in good time and arrived home around midnight.

Today, having woken up with heartburn and a head full of things I needed to do at work around 5am, I managed a full half hour lunch break, during which I managed to find a quiet pub and knock out the first 409 words of my review. I can’t very well call myself a writing machine if I don’t get on and write now, can I?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Redressing the Balance: This Book Isn’t Nearly as Stupid as the Title Suggests… Or Is It?

For all of the claims made by myself and my publisher for the audacious anti-literary bent that drives my latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid, the fact that the core thread – the story itself – is essentially a straightforward piece of contemporary literary fiction is something that’s been very much underplayed.

As the paperback edition is out today, I thought it would be an idea to post an excerpt from one of the more conventional narrative passages, if only to prove to the world that as a writer I am capable of ‘normal’ things like plot and character development (after a fashion) and not only about text that function on a theoretical level…. Ok, well I half mean it…

 

from This Book is Fucking Stupid

 

It was just another day at the office, the same as any other. Ben sat at his desk. He had spent the last three hours trying desperately to compile his latest report based on a series of site visits to out-of-town shopping developments ahead of Friday’s deadline, but it was proving nigh on impossible. For a start, the buildings were in a poor state of repair: his surveys had uncovered a number of significant structural flaws which were bad news all round. The trouble was, he found these modern prefabricated monstrosities composed of concrete and corrugated iron the most uninspiring of all buildings to assess, and while he had most of the information he required to hand, some of his notes were a little patchy regarding some of the sites, as he had been tired, bored and hungover while conducting the surveys. That said, he didn’t really find buildings in themselves all that inspiring. Surveying hadn’t been a calling for him, but then, for whom is surveying a calling, a passion? Surveying was a job, which required an even and pragmatic approach to factual data and a grasp of figures and certain scientific concepts regarding the deterioration of concrete, the weakening of iron girders, the flammability of certain materials and so on.
    The appreciation of architecture was not a prerequisite for becoming a government inspector of commercial property. Yes, a civil servant. But the modern out-of-town retail park developments were still the worst: once you had seen one, you had seen them all. But feeling tired and grotty made any report on such buildings even more wearisome, and with a tight deadline looming, even more troublesome to a man who was not a big fan of typing long reports, preferring, if possible, to keep communications down to brief notes and bullet-points. Equally troublesome, his phones – landline and mobile – kept ringing, interfering with his train of thought. No sooner had he regained his flow and begun formulating a coherent sentence detailing the defects in the roofing structures or damp coursing than another call would demand his attention and haul him away from the job at hand for just long enough for him to forget exactly what it was he had been about to write next.
    Ben sat and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He had been staring at the screen for what felt like hours. How long it had really been, he was uncertain. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. He had spent the last week and a half driving long-distance between the sites he was surveying for this report – Wednesday last, Southampton, Thursday last Birmingham, Friday last Nottingham, followed by Bath on Monday, Stoke on Tuesday, Newcastle on Wednesday and Norwich this morning – before returning to the office with a sheaf of scribbled notes, digital camera shots, notes recorded on a Dictaphone while on the tops of various buildings, muffled and inaudible due to high winds blasting across the mic as he had mumbled tiredly and unenthusiastically about various joists and joints. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary eyes to the screen. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary pupils to the screen. He needed a break. Needed to clear his head, to regain his focus. Yes, he had a deadline looming, but he’d never make it like this, he simply couldn’t focus his mind.
    The Foo Fighters’ track ‘The Best of You’ rattled from his pocket for the umpteenth time that day. He loved that song – it rocked – but he was beginning to tire of its polyphonic yet stunted ring-tone version intruding into his life every five minutes. He was also weary of his works mobile. Why they wouldn’t upgrade to something more contemporary and functional like an iPhone or a Blackberry, he had no idea.
    It wasn’t that Ben was a he fan of the iPhone, although he did rather like its multimedia functionality, and its now classic design. He liked its dimensions, a cozy yet suitably chunky 115.5mm x 62.1mm 12.3 and comforting 133g weight. He also had an appreciation for its TFT capacitive touchscreen, even if its sleek surface, with its with its scratch-resistant oleophobic coating, became a slick of greasy thumb-prints within seconds, even while in the pocket, and these obscured the screen, despite its presenting a respectable 320×480 pixel 3.5” view at a density of 165 pixels per inch. Similarly, the Blackberry was a classic example of contemporary design. The Curve 8900 had real appeal. Despite the rather fiddly QWERTY keypad, it was practically a mobile office that would fit in the pocket, and with its 256MB ROM memory, 250ppi display, albeit at a smaller 2.5” – a whole inch smaller than that of the iPhone – its 65K colours made it suitable for checking out pics emailed from different sites while on the move, and then there was the card slot with a reader that could handle an SD card of up to 32GB. It also had the better camera. Still, neither the iPhone nor the Blackberry had a battery life worth writing home about, while the clunky piece of Nokia crap work had provided him with only needed charging once a week.
    He checked the name on the incoming call. It was Ruth, his ‘better half.’ They had been together almost eight years now – long enough for him to have known almost instinctively that it would have been her ringing.
    “Hi, Ru,” he said, half sighing, half croaking, his voice cracked with fatigue.
    “Hey,” she chirruped back.
    A slight pause – as was customary. He never liked to jump in and ask why she was phoning this time – it sounded tetchy, and she was the sensitive type – but she never came straight out with anything either, hence the waggledance of telephonic etiquette each time they spoke, even after all this time. Particularly after all this time: it had become habit, and he knew it. He knew not, however, of a way to break it, or even if there was any point in doing so – or even if he wanted to do so. It was harmless, but did take seconds out of his busy day. Seconds that could have been spent on other matters. He fought this involuntary irritation that he felt – that he had been feeling for the past few weeks, or possibly longer, he’s not been paying that much attention as he’d had a lot going on – and reminded himself that Ruth didn’t actually do anything to annoy him and that his tiredness was simply making him irrationally irritable. It wasn’t his fault he was tired and stressed. It wasn’t her fault he was tired and stressed. He just was.
    “Hey,” he echoed back, as he commonly did. It bought time, breathing space, signalled to her that he was listening, like a call-and-response of ‘Copy,’ ‘Roger.’
    “I was just wondering what time you’d be home for tea tonight,” she said in her usual even, gentle tone.
    He sighed and rubbed his tired, itchy eyes again. Ruth liked her routine. Daily, she called around 3.30 or 4pm to enquire when he’d be home, although he was rarely able to give a specific answer. There were invariably deadlines to be met, which frequently entailed working later than anticipated, however he budgeted his time, however hard he worked, and however closely he worked to the premise that however long one anticipates something taking, double it and add ten per cent to get a more accurate estimate. Then there was the matter of the drive home. On a good day – or a weekend – it would be a 40-minute drive. But on a weekday, during the rush two hours, it could be anything up to an hour and a half, and that was provided there were no accidents, freak storms or other unusual circumstances which may extend the journey time still further. Ben enjoyed driving, but did not enjoy being stuck in slow-moving traffic for hours on end on the same stretches of rode night after night. Open country roads with the windows down, the wind in his hair, shades on and the stereo up loud and his foot the the floor, that was his idea of driving. It was to liberating, that sense of freedom, the idea he could go anywhere he wanted, and fast. It was the precise opposite of being hemmed in between the mushroom walls of the office in which he worked, with its Jacobs Twist Axminster carpet in a fetching shade of blue-grey by the name of Fen and regimented rows of desks, each with identical Dell base units and monitors, accompanied by ergonomic keyboards and mice and standard-issue high-backed office chairs without arms.
    “I dunno,” he replied after a pause. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment.” “Ok, do you think you’ll be home before eight-ahuh?” she asked, her voice rising at the end and a small not-quite-laugh following the last syllable. He pictured her, smiling as she did, her nose wrinkled a little and her eyes half-closed, an endearing expression which he had been fond of from the outset when they had met some seven years ago. How time flew! He had been in his early twenties then, and having recently relocated following the securing of a decent job in Sheffield, Ben had been on the brink of embarkation on his career proper.
    “I don’t know,” he reiterated. “I hope so, but I wouldn’t like to say for definite.”
    “Ok, well I thought we might have chops tonight and they grill in no time, so I shall wait until you get in before starting the tea.”
    “Fine.”
    “Call me when you’re leaving work?”
    “Sure.”
    “Ok, I’ll speak to you later, bye.”
    “Yeah, bye.”
He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. And because he didn’t know, he felt he couldn’t really talk about it with Ruth – what was there to say? It was his problem, and he didn’t want to push it onto her. She had her own things going on, namely the fact that she would soon be unemployed – again. After a succession of unappealing and unsatisfactory temporary jobs, mostly in big corporate offices, the type of place she hated – so many people, so many awful people, the sort she’d not have given a moment of her time to through choice – she had landed herself a fantastic job on a medieval library archiving project. Only now the project was almost done and the funding had run dry and so her contract was to be terminated in a couple of weeks. Ruth’s unemployment, or otherwise low wages did place a strain on things for them financially. Again, Ben never liked to make an issue of it, because to do so would be unfair. He accepted, and in some ways, thrived on fulfilling his role as the dominant male, the breadwinner. He’d always been ambitious, and while he’d never been certain as to what career he wished to pursue, he’d always been ambitious to earn. A good income, a nice house, a fast car…. It’s what every man wants, and it had always been his dream to live the life, to work hard and to reap the rewards, and to spend those rewards in such a way that everyone who saw him knew it, that he was a successful person.
    But right now he didn’t feel successful, and he was struggling to put his finger on exactly what the root of his niggling discontent was. But he had realised that he was not content, and despite his reasonable income – £42K pa plus car plus mobile phone, etc., was a fair salary, he knew that, although after tax there was little benefit, he felt, to earning £42K over earning £25K. He knew he wasn’t like those he left behind in school, those whose profiles he had read on Friends Reunited….

One Star

 

And if you’re loving my work, please buy a book. This Book is available in print from Clinicality Press and as an e-book through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

They were cunts in school and are still cunts now….

Job-hopping was, historically, considered to be a bad thing. A job was for life, and anyone who had a CV that consisted of an endless catalogue of short-term contracts was perceived as either being unable to stick at anything, or incapable of obtaining anything more than seasonal or temporary work – usually menial, low-grade employment that was undemanding and required minimal intellect or, worse still, the kind of person who made a habit of getting themselves sacked. Times have changed. Some people actually choose to flit between jobs and call it ‘freelancing’. Others have short-term work forced upon them, and it’s no longer simply the blue-collar types. Offices and ‘contact centres’ (call centres to those who live outside of the corporate environment) are bursting at the seams with temporary staff and staff on fixed-term contracts – to the extent that many large companies actually employ very few staff directly. While the hourly rate for a temp may be higher on paper, subtracting the cost of benefits such as staff pension and sick pay and it’s easy to see why companies do it, although the benefits are immeasurably in their favour over those of the employee. Many of these temporary staff are educated to degree level, yet are still unable to secure permanent contracts. Even in positions that require higher qualifications and levels of experience, the situation is the same: universities are employing teaching fellows on a basis of a semester at a time, for one or two hours of teaching a week.

Again, there is an immense disparity between the idea of job-hopping as a lifestyle choice and the common reality for those who find themselves forced into a life of what Ivor Southwood refers to in his book Non-Stop Inertia as ‘job precarity’. It isn’t fun. And yet recruitment agencies and those who enjoy the ‘freelancing’ lifestyle (usually the kind of people who get head-hunted and land a short-term contract of a year or two in highly-paid executive roles) all emphasise the empowering nature of the ‘freedom’ this approach to employment affords the individual. For those who lack the comfort of a financial buffer and the capacity to earn large sums in short periods of time, the uncertainty and lack of stability that arises from short-term employment contracts is is anything but liberating, and every bit as depressing as being stuck in the same dead-end job for a decade or more.

The endless quest for a new contract and the endless stream of rejections the endless applications elicit is just as soul-crushing as knowing that your life is slowly slipping by while you sit in the same office churning out the same meaningless shit each dull day. At least that unfulfilling rut pays the bills, ensures the rent gets paid and affords the kind of security that comes will a pension, sick pay and all the rest. As a job-hopping freelancer, you are not your own boss: you’re a slave to the quest for the next thing and the search for a new boss to fuck you and discard you along with all the short-term contract trash not worthy of a permanent contract.

Still, surely no employment can be as depressing as Friends Reunited, arguably the first social networking site – if re-establishing contact with people you already know qualifies as ‘networking’. More often than not, people lose contact for a reason: the friends who are worth keeping, you make the effort to maintain contact with, and the effort is mutual. If you want to feel old, look up your old schoolmates. Check out their photos and see how their youthful looks have faded as they’ve grown fat,old, bald and saggy. Read their profiles and see how happy they are with their pathetic lots as they plough through life unquestioningly, aspiring to nothing more than a fortnight in Spain to provide a change of scenery from the 9-5 which, though monotonous, is the pinnacle of their capabilities, and as they like their colleagues and are able to leave their 2.4 children with their parents or grandparents while they go for a few drinks down the pub on a Friday night, it’s no cause for complaint. The ‘successful’ ones are no better really: leaving behind their small-town roots and making for the big smoke after graduation, they’re rich, jet-setting and love their Autumn skiing trips, mini-breaks to Paris and Rome and will have seen the world long before they retire at 50, but none of this changes the fact that they were cunts in school and are still cunts now.

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Friends Reunited: keeping track of a bunch of cunts you never liked in the first place

The desire to rebuild bridges with people you were never friends with in the first place is simply a manifestation of the anxiety of ageing, the fear of losing one’s youth and all ties with it. Never mind that you hated school and were bullied mercilessly: you were young and had your whole life ahead of you. Rather than face the fact that you’re halfway through your time on the planet, it’s infinitely preferable to delude yourself that on reflection, school wasn’t that bad, in fact it was good fun. But however hard you work on kidding yourself, however much you force yourself and everyone to swallow the lie that you were cool in school, the bullying was just banter and that you didn’t spend those years lonely, depressed and yearning for something, anything, that would take you out of that hateful environment, every once in a while something will trigger a rush of recollection and it will all come screaming back at you. Sometimes, you can’t help but yield to those pangs of curiosity, when something random makes you remember a name, a face, an occasion and it drags you back like an undertow and you wonder what that person, those people are doing now. And before you know it, you’re trawling Friends Reunited or Facebook. You can’t help yourself, it’s a morbid fascination that makes you recoil in horror at that ageing face, that flabby beer gut, those sagging tits you lusted over when they were pert and teenage and hadn’t been ravaged by three screaming brats by three different fathers, none of whom is the current husband, hanging off them but you still go on through those family snaps, the pictures of the works nights out, the hen night for that slapper who laughed at you when you said ‘crotches’ when you meant ‘groynes’ in geography class. You can still hear that honking sound that ended with a snort and your blood boils with repressed anger even though it was almost a full fifteen years ago now. And that’s why you try not to think about it, because when the recollections resurface, the old wounds open up and you find yourself staring into the gaping gash straight into your fear-filled soul that’s been shrivelled by a decade of corporate dehumanisation. You need to snap out of it, now.

 

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No Win in Winter: Taking Leave of the Compulsory Festive Fun

Being the kind of writer who doesn’t sell enough books or writing to cover the bills, I find myself forced to take on regular work in order to stay afloat. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to find work that utilizes my literary and / or academic skills, but not always. Sometimes, I find myself juggling multiple posts, because, well, needs must.

One feature of office work around this time of year is the inaugural Christmas party. More often than not, that’s parties, with departmental nights out, team nights out, and any half-arsed excuse for people to hit the boozer at lunchtime or immediately after knocking off early.

I’ve always avoided these events like the plague. I have attended one or two during the course of my working life, and have usually felt compelled to make my excuses and leave just as things are warming up, i.e. before someone punches me in the face, makes a serious tit of themselves, gets us kicked out or pukes over their – or my – shoes. As a consequence, the worst I’ve had to endure on my return to work is mild abuse for being a killjoy or a lightweight, and while I’m most certainly no lightweight (I simply happen to know my limit and stick to it rather than letting things get out of hand), I guess I’m happy to wear the ‘killjoy’ hat if by ‘killjoy’ it’s meant ‘person who gets out before it gets too crazy’. In fact, leaving the rest of them to have their fun at whatever cost to themselves rather than nagging them not to behave like imbeciles is surely the opposite of killjoyism, but I digress.

So it was that on Friday I found myself on the bus back into town in the company of a friend of mine and some of his colleagues. They were going out for a meal, but before that, some drinks. It was 4pm. I, on the other hand, was going to pick up some milk, go home, cook for my family and get down to some writing and various other pressing things.

Disembarking, we parted ways and bid one another farewell, and I was momentarily resentful of my fiend’s active social life and the fact he has connections with enough social and work-related groupings to see him out doing Christmas-related socialising at least two nights a week throughout the whole month of December, in contrast to me, who declined the one crappy offer I did get, because, well, it would have been hell. So what’s my problem? Well, for starters, just because I don’t want to spend insane amounts of cash on crap nights out in loud bars in the company of tossers who can’t handle their drink or their emotions, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to participate in the faux revelry and put-on camaraderie – but I would like to socialise with the people I likie in places I like. The trouble is, all of my friends are busy, for the most part spending insane amounts of cash on crap nights out in loud bars in the company of tossers who can’t handle their drink or their emotions. So, if you can’t beat ‘em… No, fuck it, even if I was invited, I wouldn’t join ‘em. So call me bitter and awkward if you like and see if I care.

As I carved my way through the crowded city centre, packed with Christmas-shopping tourists, gaggles of students not long out of school or college, and early doors workers descending on the hostelries and eateries to begin their merrymaking, I felt the tension rising within me. I could barely move it was so crowded, and while I’m no agoraphobe, I do find crowded places – other than gigs – stressful environments.

It didn’t take long to dawn on me that while I enjoy socialising and would broadly jump at the opportunity to sample the range of seasonal ales on offer, I can only enjoy myself in the right environment and in the right company. Works nights out invariably mean being pressed into close proximity with the crets you work with and despise all day every day: why the hell would anyone want to prolong the experience? Add to that the fact the setting are always lowest-common-denominator mass-market pubs and chain restaurants that offer group discounts on cheap and cheerful (microwaved) food, and my resentment of my friend dissipated rapidly.

It wouldn’t be me with a raging hangover and gaping hole in my finances the following morning, even if he did succeed in avoiding any of the kind of embarrassing situations that would see him all over Facebook and publicly humiliated by half the globe before he’d even woken up, and subsequently derided mercilessly for the next three months by all and sundry. Yeah, I’m happy to stay in, sup a few bottles of homebrew and enjoy a quieter night in. The pubs can wait until January, when I can go and sit on my own with a pint and read a book in peace. Ahh… cheers!

 

Christmas Night Out

Above: some people having a blast at a Christmas meal. Don’t you wish you were them? Image courtesy of the Internet.

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Liberator! Part 7

‘Wake up, you’ll be late for work!’ Amy was shaking him to stir him from his slumber. Tim didn’t want to wake up. He’d been dreaming that he was on top of a mountain, looking out across the expansive vista of other mountains and trees on the slopes below.

‘I’m not going to work,’ he mumbled from under the duvet.

‘Are you ill?’ Amy quizzed.

‘Nope.’

‘Working from home again?’

‘No!’

‘Have you got a day off? You didn’t tell me if you have!’ she sounded tetchy.

‘No,’ Tim sighed. ‘I’m just not going to work.’

‘I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you,’ Amy snapped as she flung herself from the bed and dashed about making herself ready.

Tim tensed. He felt a strange sense of déjà vu and something else just beneath the tension. A tingle of excitement and apprehension perhaps.

Before long, Amy had left for work and Tim found himself alone. He turned over and slept for another hour before being awoken by his phone. He turned over and picked up the device that lay buzzing and bleeping from his bedside table. He checked the caller ID. Seeing that it was Flashman, he killed the call and turned over again and slept for another half an hour before getting up and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. This was novel! But before long the novelty wore off and he began to feel restless. Restlessness gave way to agitation. He felt twitchy, fidgety. Resisting the urge to continually check and recheck his email was almost more than he could endure. It seemed unnatural, somehow. To remove the source of temptation, he stitched off his laptop and went for a walk. He had no idea where he was going. It didn’t matter: he simply needed to be out. He hesitated momentarily as he deliberated with himself over whether or not he should take his Blackberry. Going anywhere, even as far as the lavatory, or the back yard, felt somehow wrong, like a breach of protocol, or worse, like heading into a war zone without any kind of arms or protection.

The first thing that struck him was the extreme quietness that hung in the still air. He inhaled deeply and looked up, soaking in the sky’s blue hue and the delicate patterns the clouds traced across the vast expanse. Before long, he became aware that there were sounds to be heard, that the world was not silent. Sirens, but distant, sounded more calming than they did urgent. Birds chirped.

***

He awoke is a panic-stricken sweat. His jaw ached from grinding his teeth. His bruxism was beginning to wear him down, causing frequent toothache and dental sensitivity. He’d treated the last week like a holiday. He’d even let the charge on his Blackberry run down so he wasn’t being hassled by notifications of incoming messages or calls or texts and wasn’t tempted to switch it on. Ignoring the land-line was rather harder, but he’d turned the ringer down, or otherwise taken himself off for walks, drives and cycle rides. He’d spent all of Thursday from midday onwards in the pub.

So far, he knew inside himself that up to now he had only been dabbling, a few small token approximations of the principles of self-liberation. Small wonder nothing had really changed. He still felt tired and stressed and was still struggling to manage his time. Friday night he found himself walking aimlessly, a little drunk but alert in the cool night air. It was as he wandered he found himself struck dumb by a moment of clarity. This was his epiphany, and with it the realisation it had to be all or nothing.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk