A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… WEARING GLASSES

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Both my parents wear glasses, which is ironic because they both blindly staggered through the act of parenthood*. I always found spectacles incredibly funny and pathetic in a way you only can when you’re young and whole.

 

I started getting headaches at work. Initially I thought it was brought on by hearing people say things like “what’s your favourite question?” while I was trying to work out how to kill myself using only the wire linking the keyboard to my antiquated computer.

 

The first time I went to have my eyes tested was fairly uneventful compared to what was to come. So there I was – on the way to my first optician’s appointment in well over a decade. I walk into Boots the Optician proudly. “What do you want?” says a teenager behind the desk. Used to such naked hostility, I press on. The following happened:

 

“Hello**, I have an appointment for the optician”

“Okay, what’s your name?”

“Tom Ratcliffe”

[Ambient computer tapping noise]

“We can’t find you in the system…”

“Okay, well…”

[Takes out appointment card. The card has a Specsavers logo on it]

“I think I’ve got the wrong day”

“No, we just searched the name and it’s not anywhere in the system.”

“I have to go”

[Exit stage left]

 

I then continued down the road to Specsavers. They did have evidence of my appointment; by virtue of me having one. A little over a fortnight later I was the proud owner of a pair of glasses. This was nearly three years ago. Here is what I’ve learnt.

 

GLASSES SHOPS ARE EVIL RETAIL GENIUSES***

 

If – like me – crippling self-awareness hampers you, you will hate picking a pair of glasses. When it first happened I had no idea I had to just choose glasses then and there, in the aftermath of the revelation that my eyesight was appalling.

 

I stood gaping in horror at the endless columns of glasses. I stood stock still for a whole three minutes before the shop assistant asked me if I wanted her to leave me alone. I said yes****. Eventually, shamefully, I began trying on glasses. In broad daylight. In a non-empty shop. A non-empty shop that actively encourages its patrons to look at things.

 

I was now also so paranoid about my poor sight that I didn’t trust myself to evaluate glasses frames clearly. How could I need glasses to see fine details and yet trust my failing eyesight to identify glasses that didn’t make me look like a knob?

 

Eventually I found a pair and after trying them on for a millisecond decided they would do. More eventually still I attracted***** the shop assistant’s attention. “Do you like these ones?” she asked, “Yes” I replied. “Well, try them on then.” “I’m sorry?” “Try them on.” To this day I don’t know why I was made to do this. I also don’t know why, when she responded positively, I didn’t say, “I don’t actually give a shit what you think.” I also don’t know why she called another shop assistant over to look at me in my glasses. And why, when she responded positively, I didn’t say, “I don’t actually give a shit what you think.”

 

Beyond even that though I don’t know why this shop assistant took a photo of me wearing my glasses but I can only assume it’s for some special Whatsapp group the employees of Specsavers have called ‘Freaks in Their New Glasses’ or ‘I Can’t Believe They Bought These.’

 

When I returned two weeks later to pick up my snazzy new glasses I was made to try them on again and the assistant went and got two other members of staff from a backroom to look. It as at this point I began to believe that this process, the Whatsapp group and all that proceeded were one of those psychological tricks used by shops to make you panic and not question the quality or price of anything you buy.

 

That was until I spoke to fellow glasses wearers who assured me they’ve never had their photos taken by the staff of Boots the Optician******.

 

 

GLASSES CAN’T SOLVE EVERYTHING

 

I was lucky enough to not have to wear glasses at school so I was only bullied on account of my other physical features and my personality. I was as such unprepared for the trials and tribulations of having glasses. Seventeen minutes into my first shift wearing glasses I got called a “specky twat.” Later that day I was called “four-eyes.” I thought having glasses would mean people finally gave me the respect I deserved and they’d know instantly how smart I actually are. I feel they lend me an air of sophistication.

 

On an unrelated note, one day I trod on my glasses. I’d managed to drop pasta on my shirt and was walking to the kitchen to put a fistful in the bin. A small screw had fallen out and after spending a fortnight with them taped up I realized I liked being looked at in the office even less than being ignored entirely.

I returned to Specsavers the Optician and asked them to fix my glasses. To my surprise they agreed. The following is another happy exchange:

 

“They look wonky, try them on”

“That’s just my face”

“Yes well, we’re all different.”

 

I told someone that to someone and they said that was a kind thing to say.

 

EYE TESTS ARE WEIRD

 

I recently went for my first optician’s appointment as a glasses wearer. At work there were free eye tests, I dutifully signed up and within a week I found myself in a truck in a car park. I’ve never before seen a medical professional operate from a truck or even drive one. I’ve sadly come to the conclusion that they operate like snake oil salesmen who need to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as the townsfolk cotton on to their swindle.

 

I climbed into the truck/death cab and a man said a man looked at me. He then said “who are you?” which was a level of existentialism I was not expecting. After more rudeness I was ushered into the front-back part of the truck where the eye exam would take place.

 

I sat in the chair and awaited my fate. After the initial introduction (when I was asked ridiculously specific, technical questions about my prescription that surely only an optician would know) the optician span round in his chair to begin. In doing so he dropped a pen/torch/scalpel and bent down to get it. My decrepit eyes followed his movement to the floor and I saw something that baffled me. In the corner of the room (on a truck lest we forget) was a neatly folded blanket with a tin of tuna perched on top. Not a moment has passed since when I haven’t wondered what this meant.

 

The tin of tuna, okay, it’s an odd thing to keep in your office/Thunderdome but it could at least be the lunch of a medical man who works out of the back of a truck. The blanket, however, is baffling to me still. I understand people do get cold in certain situations but I don’t know anyone who could not survive an eye exam without the aid of a blanket on the knees. An idiot friend of mine suggested it might be for people to cover up after being naked which speaks far more about his own life than mine. After many sleepless nights I am forced to conclude, until further notice, that this particular optician sleeps and/or lives in his eye van.

 

Then the exam began. Eye exams are weird enough when taken in isolation. They’re bizarre and invasive things even when not practiced out of the back of a van. This one was particularly odd. There was a brief and ill-tempered exchange when we differed on which lens I could see better out of, to test my eye reflexes I was made to follow a porcelain stick with a beautifully detailed picture of a parakeet on and to test my reading skill I was given a Thomas the Tank Engine book. This can all easily be dismissed as him thinking me an imbecile/child. Then there was the light test bit.

 

My few remaining friends would be the first to tell you that even with the best will in the world I am not a trained medical professional. And yet I feel confident enough to offer some advice to opticians for the dark bit. This is the worst bit, we all hate it so please – do NOT chew gum. The sound of a stranger chewing gum in my ear is coruscating to my soul. Also, again, I reiterate the above that I am not medically trained but I do not care how close you think you need to be to see into my eyes, there is never any reason for your HUMAN EYEBROW TO TOUCH MY FOREHEAD. In fact that goes for everyone, not just opticians. He was so close he was nearly out the other side of me. In the darkest recesses of my memory I remember soothing myself through the ordeal by repeating this mantra in my head: “he has long eyebrows, he has long eyebrows, he has long eyebrows...” And yet when the lights came back up I was looking at a man with some of the shortest eyebrows I’d ever seen.

 

I then had to exit and just carry on with my life like the world was okay. I then had to choose yet another pair of glasses. Shakily I decided on a pair and when I was told they were a popular style I simply shrugged.

 

 

Maybe then it’s my fault. Maybe it’s perfectly normal for an eyebrow to touch a forehead, for your face to be wonky and for Specsavers staff members to take photos of you for their personal use. I see it clearly now.

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*This is a joke

**You might not know this if you’re not as well adjusted as me socially but this is a great way to start an interaction with a person

***It’s not genii you mega-twat. We don’t speak Latin

****That goes for every human being I’ve ever met

*****Not like that. She may well have been attractive though, not that my stupid eyes would ever let me know.

*****Specsavers

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A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… WEARING GLASSES

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… CROWDFUNDING YOUR BRILLIANT IDEA

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 21.30.54Hello. Long ago I tried to go to a gym(nasium). I hated it. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing and only acknowledged my amateur status by laughing or telling a member of staff a child had entered without a parent or guardian. I wanted a gym where you could go in, people were friendly and no one had a tattoo on their face. In this safe space no one was allowed to Instagram their workout and no one could be too attractive.

 

A gym for me. A place where the weak and the meek could come and learn how to lift weights and run safe from the ridicule and persecution that we faced in normal life. Throughout my life I’ve occasionally been called a ‘soft lad’ and reclaimed that phrase in my branding and swore to wear it as a badge of honour from here on in. Thus Soft Lad Gyms was born. It was, to my chagrin, previously called Fanny Gyms until a friend of mine pointed out the link between the word ‘fanny’ and the idea of being a weakling is not necessarily the strongest one.*

 

Like all great ideas I told it to people as if it was a joke initially. Then if they laughed I could carry on pretending it was a joke and my apparent sincerity would only  enhance that joke (I stole this technique from a friend of mine who told me at the age of seventeen that he wanted to be a professional dancer). This proved largely academic as for everyone one person who spat out their drink in mirth there were TWO who said : “wait a minute, that’s actually a great idea. Why are there windows at gyms? You are great and not an idiot, a disappointment to your parents or an inadequate lover.”

 

This feedback was enough to make me proceed with Soft Lad Gyms seriously. However, immediately I met set backs. I tried securing investment (in exchange for equity) from my friend, an idiot. He outright refused; presumably because he’s scared he may one day achieve something and will then have less to moan about. I also tried texting my Dad with the aim of securing investment but had to wait a week for a reply which read “who’s this?” After failing to convince angel investors that it wasn’t (a) a Ponzi scheme or (b) a shit idea, I realised something. The internet has changed things and there is now a place for ideas too radical and brilliant to secure investment in the traditional manner – crowdfunding.

 

Crowdfunding is a system wherein normal people support ideas or people with small amounts of cash for apparently no other gain than to offset their own guilt. There are countless websites which offer the service of crowdfunding; I’m sure your familiar with most from people begging at the beginning and end of podcasts. After some research I landed on a site called Indiegogo. I read the GoogleAd (“How New Entrepreneurs Start”) and the What We Do page on their website (“With both live crowdfunding campaigns and innovative products shipping now, there’s no better place to start the hunt for cool and clever innovations that surprise and delight. Indiegogo is where new launches“) I decided this was the perfect place for the new Steve Jobs (me) to launch my brilliant idea.

 

After spending four hours writing up my entire scheme on Indiegogo** they swiftly rejected my target amount. They also had some pretty scary legalese when describing the refund process and it looks like you keep/have to use the money even if you don’t reach the target (and whilst I was confident in the business I didn’t want to go to prison). As such I deleted my account and hide under a duvet for 45 minutes.

 

After that brief timeout I returned to Kickstarter. I had dismissed it initially as it’s website says it’s just for creative endeavours and not businesses but I was running out of time and sick of searching. I began in earnest. It’s complicated doing a crowdfund so follow me every step of the way.

 

Initially you need to choose your Title and Subtitle.

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The Title speaks for itself. I also repeated the Title in the Subtitle to reinforce the brand immediately. I then followed it with “a safe gym – built with you in mind.” I know this is already linked to a brand but for the life of me I can’t remember which one. It’s also one of those brilliant empty terms brands use that essentially mean nothing but can influence the soft of mind.

 

Next up was Project Category and Sub-Category.

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For Project Category I had to put Technology and for Sub-Category I had to put Makerspaces. I have no idea what that means. Unless we’re making better people? Yeah? Nevertheless it was the closest fit I could find to what we were doing. I suppose that’s partly what makes it a fantastic idea – it simply defies categorisation.

 

What followed was Project Logo.

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This was knocked up pretty quickly. Luckily as well as being an artist by other definitions, I’m also a tremendous artist in the proper meaning. I plan to be a hands on CEO and creative all-round business wanker as soon as this takes off. As such the above logo took only three minutes. That might sound like it’s untrue but I assure you it is. I used the image of a flower and a dumbbell to represent a SOFT LAD and a GYM respectively and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s breathtaking.

 

The next section was Project Video (Optional). I think I’ve made it abundantly clear so far that as a business man I will not be cutting corners.

This was one take and largely from the heart as I firmly believe in this idea. I have suffered greatly at the hand of the traditional gym and would like very much for this to succeed/would like to retire early.

 

Now we come to Environmental Commitments (Optional). As just mentioned I will not be cutting corners. Having said that, I realise it’s fashionable to be environmentally sound lately but we here at Soft Lad Gyms and its subsidiaries will NOT be taking the environment into account. In fact we aim to scorch as much earth as possible on our way to the top.

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The compromise reached was to tick Something Else as an environmental commitment before describing the practices as “Soft lads [sic] going to the gym.***”

 

Up next was the About section. This has copied the format from poorer crowdfunding site ‘Indiegogo’ as I’d already spent a lot of time on it. It should be fairly self-explanatory but if you have any questions please stop me in the street and ask or, failing that, come to my flat in the brief interludes between visits from Christian cults****.

 

SOFT LAD GYMS

Are you a weakling or fatty? Here’s the gym for you. No judgement, no cameras, no laughing.

Do you, like me, yearn to go to the gym? Do you, like me, start crying on the rare occasions you enter a gym?

We have the place for you. SOFT LAD GYMS aims to reclaim fitness for those who need it most. Weakling, fatties, vulnerables. You are the people who need the gym most. Not people on Instagram or men with face tattoos.

We here at SLG want to create a gym for beginners. Somewhere you can come and learn how to gym – free from ridicule and judgement.

Who we are

Hello. We’re SOFT LAD GYMS (SLG for short)! You may have heard of us. We were previously known as Fanny Gyms before it was pointed out this was sexist.

Throughout my life I’ve been called a ‘soft lad.’ I’ve decided to reclaim the word and use it as the cornerstone for my business empire.

Soft Lad Gyms aim to reclaim the world of fitness for those who need it most. Self-obsessed gym fanatics have made the world of fitness a no-go for people like me. Enough is enough.

We don’t want gyms with windows. We don’t want people taking photos for Instagram. We don’t want people laughing or pointing when we select the lightest gym/drop it on our foot.

What we need

I’ll be perfectly transparent here – I don’t know squat about business. This is very much an exercise in testing the water. You may have noticed that many focused business people also go to the gym so once I’m able to I’m sure my business acumen will improve.

  • I have run some numbers and believe we need between £500,000 and £8 million pounds.
  • The perks are non-existent as we don’t actually have anything to provide at time of writing. Please disregard this as I can’t launch without perks. There are now perks. See the section marked ‘Rewards’.
  • I can’t envisage not securing the full £8 million and as such will not entertain such an idea

Donate and together we can make fitness available for those who need it.

This will also double as a press release when the time comes.

 

Next came Funding Goal.

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I set this at an ambitious but achievable £8 million. This was undoubtably why the cowards at Indiegogo rejected this once in a lifetime opportunity. The problem was I don’t know how much this shit costs – I need to make sure I can afford to do it (badly) if for some horrendous reason I succeed. When applying for the Apprentice I failed to account for my plan succeeding and it will haunt me to my early grave.

Some people have said this is stupid. I’d like to use this opportunity to say that they am themselves stupid and are craven weasels who will never amount to anything.

 

Following swiftly was Rewards.

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This did admittedly get a bit silly but I was not allowed to launch the campaign until I put some rewards and was also getting quite bored of my new life as a mogul. I was going to put a horrendous description for the signed photo of CEO Tom Ratcliffe (i.e. me) which I won’t mention here but involved the words splayed and bottom. In the end I described the piece as “a lovingly recreated picture of beloved CEO and founder Tom Ratcliffe MBE.”***** The price (a bargain) in the screenshot of £100000 was also rejected, as the upper limit is £8000. The picture is available for £8000. They were also, unfortunately, limited to a mere 1000 copies, not available to be shipped and would be available as early as May 2023.

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Next came the wonderful “A free go on the moving floor thing.” For those of you who haven’t watched the pledge video or aren’t insane, I’m referring to a bit of floor at the gym which is on a conveyer belt (at time of making the Kickstarter I didn’t know that it was called a Running Conveyer. I apologise). As it moves people run and it gives the impression of running a great distance whilst actually only using a small amount of space. The description was as follows “one free go, for a discretionary time period, on that bit of floor they have in normal gyms that allow you to simulate running a great distance whilst actually not moving in terms of physical space.” This unfortunately had to be pushed back until December 2023 as I can’t guarantee the full functionality of these imagined facilities until then. Also, as this would doubtless cause wear and tear to my new machines, places were limited to 50. No shipping.

 

Before we get to the messy world of the finances I had to add my Profile for the About Us page.

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I used my real name (Tom Ratcliffe) and an unflattering photo of me from a terrible day out at Stone Henge. For my biography I put “Tom is a fitness fanatic. Or at least he would be if he could feel comfortable in a gym. Join him, as he changes the world of fitness forever. He also enjoys going to the cinema and walks on the beach. “ I don’t enjoy those things incidentally but Kickstarter assured me that this biography would look great on my profile. I’ve found fitness/business people also like to put bland things like that to try and humanise themselves in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they are scum.

 

After setting the length at 10 days (it shouldn’t take longer than 30 seconds to realise how great an idea this is), I verified who I was, uploaded my bank account information, shit myself quickly and quietly as it all became real, and waited.

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36 HOURS LATER…

Right, everyone can fuck off.

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Well the world of tech has changed. Apparently it’s no longer populated by people who are scared of gyms/can tell a great idea from a bad one. If this was in the 80s, before computers became important, those geeks would’ve been backing my project themselves.

As I’ve always suspected people are stupid and wrong. They clearly can’t see a great idea when they’re presented with one and don’t care how much time you’ve spent doing something. How these people have the front to group this idea with “fitness centres [and] training facilities” is beyond me. That’s like calling the iPod ‘essentially another Walkman’.

So fuck Kickstarter and fuck you for reading this. This isn’t the end. This is just the beginning. I won’t rest until I can feel comfortable in a gym and I’m certainly not going back to the therapist, Dad.

 

 

 

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*Please don’t Google Fanny Gyms or any composite of those words. None of the content featured on the various domain names is made or endorsed by me.

**Incidentally Indiegogo is shit. It took me nearly an hour to format my logo for them and then it was pixelated.

***I’m not entirely sure what [sic] means. As such I’ve taken it to mean ‘this isn’t a real/defining word or phrase.’ Soft Lads are in the title of the business empire but by no means are we restricting our market.

****Some Christians knocked at the door just before Christmas and started reading the Bible to me. I politely listened. When they’d finished the asked me if they could come back some time. When I lied that I finished work at 9.30pm every day they said they would come back on a Saturday. Since then they have visited fortnightly to read more of the Bible to me and I now cancel deliveries for Saturdays, don’t answer the door to anyone and leave the curtains drawn until 7.00pm.

*****I figured, by the time May 2023 rolls around, I will almost certainly be the Jamie Oliver of weaklings and as such honours will be imminent.******

******I’ve just read about Jamie Oliver’s restaurants. Please be assured the above comparison was purely based on Oliver’s attention-seeking charity work. I will not be bankrupting any businesses.

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… CROWDFUNDING YOUR BRILLIANT IDEA

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… APPLYING FOR THE APPRENTICE

 

It seems like only yesterday that a craggy-faced old misery guts chose another self-obsessed lunatic to be his Apprentice business partner. I was sat eating a boiled egg watching this unfold when I thought; I could really do with two hundred and fifty grand to fund my stupid ideas. So I decided to apply.

To my shame I do avidly watch the Apprentice every year. Although I’m better than reality television I’ve nevertheless sat through countless series – I wept as Margaret and Nick were rightfully dismissed for the crime of being too old and I laughed merrily as Lord Sugar steadily degrades before my very eyes. Through this watchery I’ve acquired a vast bank of knowledge and (I sincerely believe) can perfectly balance lunacy and business acumen – a combination that makes for the ideal exploitative reality television star.

The application process is surprisingly simple. I had initially expected some form of weeding out and then I remembered some of the specimens I have had to sit next to before, during and after job interviews.* All it took was a few clicks, the odd cliche and some imagined achievements. At this point I should confess I thought the initial application would be substantially longer and provide far more delicious content.

I opened my laptop, found the website, read the following horrific term and condition:

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wondered briefly how one could possibly review someone’s sexual orientation as part of an assessment of a job application, and began.

 

The first page was fairly self-explanatory. All I needed to fill out were the basics – name/contact information/occupation/salary. Having been habitually been unemployed for much of my life this looked easy. After briefly toying with using my own identity I decided to opt for one of my many online aliases. Many, if not all of these, were created for an art project I was working on which sadly never came to fruition. Now they are merely masks – alternative realities if you will – where I live out various fantasies online and wind up the social media pages of morally reprehensible businesses.** The account I used was in the name Colin Goosewary. Colin is a chartered surveyor, he’s been divorced twice and is rarely contacted by his adult children. In his spare time he organises dog fights. For the purposes of this application he is a big business twat.

 

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Once that was decided I was ready to go. For current residence I used the address of a Burger King in Southampton that I think may have once been rude to me (I can’t really remember, I do definitely have ill will towards them anyway and it can’t be for no reason). For the number I used a friend’s mobile.*** The question ‘For what do you do for a living and for who?’ naturally irritated me as it broke from the format of ‘Name:’ and asked a question when it would have been much easier and consistent to have written ‘Job Title:’ followed by ‘Employer:’.****I put ‘Self-employed entrepreneur; myself’ after toying with the idea of answering in a full sentence. I did also consider putting murderer or charterer surveyor and a fictitious or real company but decided that was too easy to trace.

Next was State all qualifications, giving details of establishments attended. I again debated putting something stupid like Byker Grove but, after finding out that show was actually named after a youth club and not a school, I opted for Thornhill Community Academy which is the school from exploitative reality TV show Educating Yorkshire.  Despite all the preceding idiocy I am actually reasonably well educated on paper so included all 19 of my qualifications and an extra A* in the imaginary Social Media Studies. I then changed my degree to Genetic Engineering and my university to the University of Toronto. My salary was of course set at £100000+.

 

After effortlessly clicking next with my mouse, the next page appeared. It should be noted here that I am an idiot and as such I forgot to screenshot this page. I can assure you though that the following is based on a true story. At this stage I will hypocritically break from the format I’ve already established.

Have you ever been on TV before?

No.

This is true. In my mind Colin has been pictured picketing in favour of fox hunting on no less than five terrestrial television stations.

 

Do you know anyone that works for the BBC or Boundless [production company that makes the Apprentice]?

No.

This is untrue regarding myself but is probably true for this ill-baked pseudonym.

 

Have you yourself ever worked for the BBC or Boundless [production company that makes the Apprentice]?

No.

I now remember why I didn’t screenshot this section.

 

This was almost certainly the end of that page. And good riddance. On the next page there were fewer yes/no questions and a chance to flex my Apprentice knowledge.***** For the next few questions I had to use all my limited cunning and logic to appear just mad enough to be exploitable for viewing figures and sane enough to not be considered a threat to anyone. I also had to make writing this interesting. I used an amalgamation of stupid things I’ve read, seen or thought to do with the Apprentice and its various candidates. By chance I often socialise with a wide variety of boastful yobos whenever my common-law wife prevails in our ongoing struggle as to whether I should leave our flat or not. Those experiences also came in useful.

 

Have you ever lived and/or worked outside of the United Kingdom?

Yes.

This will be expanded upon shortly. I couldn’t work out if this was usual practice or if they were trying to weed out EU nationals, who will of course have been long Brexited****** come November 2019.*******

 

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Have you ever lived/worked outside of the UK before?

I went to Prague for a weekend on a poorly organised stag do last month. I also studied at the University of Toronto for three years.

After the preceding yes/no ordeal I was inexcusably bored and tried to add some interest for myself as much as you – the (presumed) reader. I think someone may have told me an (unsolicited) anecdote about a stag do in Prague at time of writing. I don’t know why I chose the University of Toronto.

 

Have you ever worked in journalism or broadcasting in any capacity?

No.

Not for want of trying. I maintain this question would have worked better on the previous page (see footnote ****).

 

Why should you be Lord Sugar’s business partner? 

I”m a big business bastard like Sir Alan and I don’t take no for an answer. I guarantee I will make more money than any business partner he’s had in the processes thus far. My ideas are unique and with my business plan Sir Alan will finally have a legacy to be proud of.

This is the sort of shit you hear year after year on The Apprentice. I’m pretty sure most of this was in fact absorbed via osmosis from watching the show (TV’s The Apprentice); a giddy mix of the creepy and boastful who’s true subtextual horror will only be revealed when, inevitably, read aloud to a jury. I am particularly proud of the phrase ‘I’m a big business bastard’ and believe this to be the modus operandi of every candidate ever. I also like calling Sugsy ‘Sir’ instead of ‘Lord’ because if you do set any store by such nonsense, a knighthood is a far greater achievement than a lordship. Whoever heard of buying a knighthood (see end of footnote *******). There is also a hidden insult and a bizarre use of the word thus.

 

What makes you different from everyone else applying?

I’m a big business dog and I’ll bite off the opposition’s face to get ahead. I’ll give 110%, 8 days a week. I don’t do weekends, I don’t do cliches and I don’t do women. No one will work as hard and no one will give as much as me. I’m a business superstar who need a Sugary push to become a billionaire.

This is a potent mixture of half-remembered quotes from Apprentice candidates past and my own philosophies on life. I am particularly pleased with the business dog simile as I believe it could easily have been said by a candidate. You might, incorrectly, believe that repetition of I’m a big is lazy. If that’s the case then I pity you. Blind repetition is a key tenant of any Apprentice star. The same is true of me using I’m particularly pleased with. You might also believe that saying I don’t do cliches is me being stupid, in which case you yourself are the stupid. I don’t do women may seem unrealistically aggressive and sexist. In which case I can point you to Paul from a few series ago who, if he didn’t necessarily say those exact words with his mouth, he certainly said them with his eyes. Paul once threw a box of boiled sweets to the floor which such righteous fury that I had to hide behind the sofa. Sugary push has the structure of a pun but in no actual way is one. This will appeal to Sir Al who, as the light noticeably dies, misremembers worse than ever the jokes his team of unpaid******** interns write him.

 

What’s the most interesting thing about you?

I once held a terrapin at Whipsnade Zoo.

Now this is not true but it has been a long held ambition of mine and, if I am to live vicariously through Colin G, I may as well tick off some stuff off the bucket list. I did, however, once hold a small crocodile in a game reserve in Zimbabwe and that scene was immortalised on a coffee mug. I have also fed red pandas and annoyed the zoo keeper by asking if we got our money back because one of them wouldn’t come down from the tree. Additionally I once spent a Valentine’s Day at Monkey World in Dorset. Alone.********

 

What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in business?

I started my own business at 19 and last year It paid me a salary of over £100000. My latest business idea has been described as “one of a kind” by old family friend Timothy Spall.

By this point I had actually convinced myself I would at least get an interview and so played it fairly safe (and at no point had I seen the need to prove any of these achievements). As such, I tried to come across as a strong candidate. Timothy Spall is an odd one. I can’t remember when he moved into my every waking thought but I believe my friend, an idiot, once mentioned him apropos of nothing and it made me laugh. See also Toby Jones before he started getting parts in films that weren’t just Harry Potters. Knowing Timothy Spall would almost certainly be deemed more interesting than holding a terrapin. Actually no, it wouldn’t.

 

How did you hear about the process?

Other.

I can’t remember the available options.

 

Who did you hear about the process?

man told me.

This distain comes from a very real place and is twofold. First of all the word ‘process’ is stupid and illogical in the context of the Apprentice. I believe this comes from all BBC competitions being made illegal by the government. You can’t win a process, the use of the word is stupid and reminds me of Excel and therefore the long drawn out death of individuality. Secondly, asking where I heard about one of the longest running and most watched shows on UK television is also stupid. **********

 

I then hit next page and it turns out that was it. Which is really annoying as I put quite a lot of work into writing a 20 page business proposal for a venture I’m currently exploring called ‘Soft Lad Gyms’.

 

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Soft Lad Gyms or SLGs are an ongoing passion project of mine. The original premise came from the idea of having a gym I could walk into and not want to cry. It was only when I spoke to a friend, a habitual fanny, that I realised I was not the only one who could benefit from a gym where you are allowed to mock. Soft Lad Gyms: Bring me your blobs and your weeds; no judgement, no photography, no laughing. If there are any potential investors reading it’s actually a great idea – a gym where people can come and learn how to do everything at their own pace – with no angry men who look like cysts and no women who are Instagram models.

Now there is nothing to but wait. I’ve asked my friend to let me know if he has an unusual phone calls and I check my emails on the hour. Hopefully I get to the next stage (and more hopefully still the people at Boundless won’t contact the University of Toronto or Thornhill Community Academy. If nothing comes of it then I’ll be quite annoyed. And I’ll be even more annoyed if my own, serious application using my own achievements is also overlooked as i’ve long had the idea to create a home delivery service for prescription medication (Speedy Meds, a subsidiary of Soft Lad Gyms inc.).

 

********************************UPDATE 31/01/2019*********************************

So I enjoyed  writing this and far more people than I thought read it and, hopefully, also enjoyed it. Then last Friday I routinely checked my 11 fake email addresses.

 

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Now, carried away with my own cleverness though I was, I never really expected anything to come of this. But incredibly the above email was in my inbox. I don’t know on what planet someone considered that application worthy of being considered for the next stage.

 

I was genuinely stunned that the person who wrote “I’m a big business bastard’ / “I’m a big business dog” / “I don’t do women” / “I once held a terrapin at Whipsnade Zoo” etc. was being actively invited to interview for a television show. I can only think there is some formula at Boundless HQ that searches for key words and phrases like “bastard”, “business”, “sugary push” and “8 days a week”. To my eternal chagrin the rest of the email put an end to my dreams:

 

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If I had the facility to conjure up fake passports I would have long since utilised this to better effect (see footnote ******). If that wasn’t enough,as previously mentioned, I had at best a love-hate relationship with the Burger King who’s address I’d used. I read even further and realised, although doubtless competitive, I was only at most four stages from appearing on The Apprentice. I can now add not using my own name on this application to my ever growing list of regrets.

 

I did consider emailing with a list of ridiculous requirements to be able to attend the interview (“as you must have noticed from my name my family has reason to be incredibly wary of geese” and so on) and also desperately sought a Colin Goosewary to borrow their identification.

 

3***********

After plunging back into the metaphorical bath of self-loathing that I live in, I realised that I shouldn’t beat myself up. Just by getting to this stage I had won. I had proved what I had set out to – that The Apprentice is stupid and that I could perfectly replicate yobbery and arrogance to mock their system.

I’ve got to finish here ’cause I’m filming an application for Channel 4’s Hunted  with my friend (an idiot).

 

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*I was once interviewing for some vague IT consultant job. In the atrium I was sat behind a fellow candidate who passed the time by sardonically scrolling through pictures of dead rabbits on his iPad. There was also an argument after a group task when someone read the interviewers notes and shouted “I am NOT argumentative and potentially difficult to work with.” I was actually taken to the next stage of the application process but declined. In response I received an email that ended “please do not think the candidates on the day reflected the company and its values.

**I was considering catfishing a friend with one of these accounts after it took them four days to reply to a text message but at time of writing have not bothered

***I would advise learning a friend’s number off by heart. It can also help to know their email. This has got me out of all manner of scrapes but has, unfortunately, seen him banned from filling out Pizza Express feedback cards,

****This feedback was emailed to the Apprentice team, the BBC enquires inbox and OfCom. I attempted to tweet it Sir Al but he’s blocked me. It is available to read upon request.

*****Flex, verb. (As of muscle) contract or be tensed. No putting a picture of a watch your happily married parents bought you on Instagram, you teenage twat.

******Or as my mother calls it ‘Britex’. This is one of the main reasons why I have campaigned tirelessly to have her sent back to her own country.

*******There’s a good chance this year’s winning business plan will be selling stockpiled tinned food to the starving masses (satire, noun).

********This is an assumption

*********Emotionally, if not physically.

**********As is this.

***********This is poorly cropped because I’m ashamed to be on mobile network giffgaff: the Mobile Network Run By You. Turns out, I don’t know the first thing about running a mobile phone network. When I first signed up they swapped my old O2 number with a girl from Stevenage. When I tried to explain what had happened they sent me an email saying “Hi Catherine, we believe that you have updated your name to Tom Ratcliffe and are currently using this email rather than kat*****@hotmail.co.uk.” Those are my asterisks.

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… APPLYING FOR THE APPRENTICE

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… SETTLING DOWN IN YOUR EARLY TWENTIES

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Something unthinkable is happening to me at the end of the month. Something that, until recently, would have been considered impossible and wholly not in keeping with the lifestyle I practiced for so long.

 

My bankcard runs out.

 

At a rough guess I have lost seventeen bankcards since I became financially independent at the heart-aching age of 14. Along with these many good driving licenses, out of date gift cards and a handful of bank notes all fell simultaneously; brave brothers-in-arms all. And the wallets! Beautiful leather* in every shade of brown imaginable.

 

Most nights out would result in the loss of these brave boys and their polyvinyl chloride acetate** comrades. One lingers in the memory. After a particularly raucous*** night out I had to ring the sordid grief hole I’d been in and ask them if they’d found it. When they asked me what it looked like I had to say “it’s brown and it says Bad Mother Fucker on it.”**** They hadn’t seen it.

 

These days are now long gone (I’ve just got a new bank card); now I spend my evenings swapping passive aggressive barbs****** with my common law wife and pinching the soft flesh on my inner thigh to convince myself I’m still alive. Now doing the big shop after work counts as a night out and it’s acceptable to leave a pub before last orders. My eighteen-year-old self would have been physically sick at the idea of this life and his dreams of a bacchanalian, bohemian, vagabond lifestyle getting washed away by reality TV and IKEA trips. In many ways I agree with that beautiful bastard of lost youth but this life of domesticity has kept my alive, up until time of writing. Here is what I’ve learnt.

 

IF YOU HATE NIGHT CLUBS YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO THEM 

I’m not sure I ever liked nightclubs. I think what I enjoyed was being able to drink after 11pm. I cannot be alone in this – in the same way no one can honestly say they like dance music when they haven’t taken ecstasy – surely no one can claim to innately like nightclubs.

The lost time I’ve spent wandering the septic gloom of nightclub corridors makes me sad – steadily buffeted by slabs of meat with undercuts having the time of their tragic lives. I could have finished my memoirs or the play I’m writing where everyone is a twat but me. Or written a MORE indulgent blog.

I also loathe to and cannot dance. And I resent that it’s a mandatory pastime. There aren’t many activities that people HAVE to do. Why don’t we all sit down and play Age of Empires and we’ll see who’s good at things and attractive to the opposite sex? Having said all that there is nothing quite like seeing someone in their forties who still goes night clubbing – surely exactly what Siegfried Sassoon meant when he wrote “the hell where youth and laughter go”. *******

On nightclub trips I’d often rat out into a smoking area for an entire evening of delicious, carcinogenic air. Standing there in the cold hating every one, most of all myself, for being involved in the whole sordid affair and praying for a force majeure to mash the entire building and all its occupants. I took to saying things like this to people when they asked to borrow a lighter, along with the always hilarious “I don’t smoke” followed by a cloud of smoke. Crazy days.

So now if my remaining friends are going night clubbing I don’t go. Ditto for when they go to raves in warehouses. Or have fights in the street.

 

YOU’LL GET YOUR KICKS IN OTHER WAYS

 There’s a range of things you can do that don’t involve getting blotto or staying out ‘til all hours. You can convince yourself green tea tastes acceptable, see how long you can go without masturbating, paint a picture of your cat or simply pretend watching mediocre television is as good as actually living your own life. You could just commit whole-heartedly to cleaning up after your common law wife in a constant ouroboros loop of washing up begetting washing up which must be washed up. I spent much of last week trying to work out how fruit and veg from Aldi manages to partially decompose on the journey home when you checked the fucking mange tout three fucking times to make sure it didn’t happen again.

 You might write a blog post about forsaking the person you swore you’d become and be too afraid to weep too loudly as you do it because Love Island is on. In its simplest form I’ve found life to be filling the hours between entering and exiting bed – the last area of autonomy in my life. ********

 

YOUR MATES’ NIGHTS OUR WILL SOUND LIKE THE LAST DAYS OF SODOM

 When I hear stories now of my friends’ nights out (that they’ve charitably stopped inviting me on) I am overwhelmed with feelings of disgust and pride. They now sound like abstract concepts to me – like cold fusion or the female orgasm – and yet it was not too long ago that I was very much in the eye of the storm. Like the memory of a half-forgotten dream these nights live on the edge of my mind, preserved in beyond 4K The Hobbit reality+ high definition; impossible to the life I live now.

It’s actually better to hear these events second hand compared to experiencing them in the harsh glare of reality. It’s exhilarating hearing these tales of Sodom (literally in some cases) and Gomorrah, knowing you’d already been asleep, safe in bed, for three hours while they played out. If you get a good anecdotalist telling them you can pretend you were actually there. There’s a reason people get in a cage to swim with sharks.

 

YOUR INTERESTS WILL CHANGE

 Hypothetically let’s say that when you were younger, you and your friends got really into fencing for a while. You were young and reckless and hedonistic and looking for real experience and to expand your minds. At one point you realized that you couldn’t cope with fencing like the others. You realized you probably enjoyed fencing more than most and you could not deal with what came after fencing; particularly the mental side of it.

So you stopped fencing and indeed stopped attending the various fencing-based events. While you were away your social circle continued to fence, honing their skills and their capacities for fencing; whether it’s a quick fence after work to take the edge off or a 48-hour fencing binge. It’s fine not to be involved and being in bed before midnight is nothing to be ashamed about – because it turns out there’s more to life than nihilism – particularly that which comes with constant fencing. ********

Incidentally, it’s great to see people who criticized our fencing when we were young and stupid and trying new things getting bang into fencing as they crawl, relentlessly towards 30, when they should know better. Looks like I’m right again.

 

MONOGAMY IS AS MONOGAMY DOES

 Having been in a relationship for nearly eight years (you get less for racially aggravated assault – provided you have no previous convictions) I can say with a reasonable amount of pride I have been 100% faithful. This eight years has coincided with the grim march towards adulthood and responsibility. I know some people, men especially, struggle with this both as a concept and an action. I never have.

And while I can chalk this up to a rigorous moral fiber (and I probably wouldn’t have done anything anyway) I’ve never really had any sort of offer or interaction to suggest such a thing would be an option, currently or at any point n the future or in any form of reality imagined or beyond the conception of mortal man.

This probably makes faithfulness a lot easier; much like a dung beetle doesn’t yearn for pretzels when it’s doomed to each shit. I realize that is not a flattering analogy for anyone involved.

 

WORKING 9 TO 5 IS A WAY TO MAKE A LIVING

 In the limpest display of Kerouacian rebellion for a long, long time I refused to do a job that was 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday. I say it was an active rejection of becoming ‘a square’ but it probably had more to do with working jobs that required little to no effort or skill (and a life-long commitment to avoiding trying at anything).

It’s all relative though. Now I sit in a chair all day and finish at 4.30pm. And moan as much as I ever. Only now I get home at a reasonable hour; just in time for my common law wife to take out another bad day on me. I now get two days off every five days – for no reason. Just for turning up and giving my very best forty percent. It’s mad. I like having contracted hours that aren’t zero. And all the extra money may go on car insurance and rent and council tax but that’s fine too. It’s all fine. Everything is fine. This is a life.

 

 

 

Incidentally, during writing this, I went to London (to watch some friends fencing) and I managed to hold onto my wallet for a change. However, I may have left my phone on a tube and may have thrown up in my pocket on the way home.

 

 

Because of that I have had to throw out my conclusion.

 

 

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*A very good friend of mine had a Velcro wallet-cum-purse until the embarrassing age of 20. Funny stuff.

 

**Yeah I had to Google it but I bet you didn’t know it either. Now you can imagine how impressed your colleagues would be if you told them; as you eat your lunch alone in your car

 

***Sat or maybe stood in a nightclub smoking area talking exclusively to the people I’d spent all day with

 

****Captain Velcro (see above) was driving me somewhere at the time and nearly crashed from laughing at this utterance. Hence the Velcro reveal*****

 

*****Also re the wallet itself it was ironic and normally pretty funny. It’s not funny to have to say what’s written on it over the phone or, I imagine, in court

 

******My mate says we live like Roald Dahl’s The Twits

 

*******This might sound like I’m making light of the horrors of the Great War. I’m not, I’m using the ideas of trench foot, youth cut short and meaningless death in the name of carving up colonial Africa to convey just what a bad time I‘ve had in nightclubs. Nah, YOU use grammar properly.

 

********I never envisaged this being as depressing as it’s turned out. In fairness I’m on a five hour train journey to Edinburgh and we have endured not one but two stag dos in our carriage. There is a child next to me who has been shaking a box of crayons for THREE hours and when said child threw the box of crayons at me, I handed them back to the parent and said “it’s fine” in the very English way that suggests it isn’t fine at all. I then get told off by my common law wife who says I’M being rude when I’m only responding in kind to a rude world. I don’t want to live in a world of hatred but this life has not offered me the choice. She somehow thinks that’s more rude than spraying tee tree oil on a hot crowded train. Which she’s just done. And there’s a child kicking my seat and I keeping half turning to look at him but his Mum looks like she’ll headbutt me given half the chance and I’m a tremendous human coward. So I’m just sat here; suffering meekly in silence like Nelson Mandela, – if Nelson Mandela only existed in crass similes that don’t really work. And that is why things have taken a somber tone

 

*********This passage may not actually be about fencing

 

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… SETTLING DOWN IN YOUR EARLY TWENTIES

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… QUITTING SMOKING

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Delicious, disgusting. life-affirming noxious glory. That’s what they never say about smoking. That’s what it is though. For a long time smoking was my longest running hobby and I was 100% committed. I had my first cigarette at the age of 14, on the correct assumption it was cool. It tasted like the fiery death – which of course it was. I’m not a quitter though and I persisted on and off until the age of 16 when I finally started to enjoy it. 10 years later I quit.

Because I don’t have anything else going on in my life this has become a topic of discussion with my family and my remaining two friends, here is what I’ve learnt.

 

MY SENSE OF SMELL IS BACK AND I THINK I HATE IT

The first thing you notice when you quit smoking is that you can smell again. The second thing you notice is that the world STINKS. Since I first said this I’ve been told it’s a Bill Hicks routine. I didn’t know this and I’ve refused to watch said clip. It’s worth mentioning though that I’m aware of it and that I thought of it independently. You might also want to make a note that I’m as good as Bill Hicks. Anyway the world stinks. The town I live in smells exclusively of soiled deep fat fryers and stagnant water. People in this town also stink. I thought BO (body odour) had disappeared long ago, destined to be remembered by Peter Kay in a few years on Doing a Tour, Tour* but it’s not, loads of people have refused to accept this new-fangled ‘hygiene’.

Most of all though, cigarettes stink. I honestly never noticed before. They smell like burning dust and although said smell can still make my soul salivate, I’m aware that it is a disgusting habit. For years it baffled me how my teachers and my Dad knew I smoked. I know now that it’s because the smell of death was almost visible in its potency and I have no issue telling every smoker I meet that they have a fetid shadow.

 

YOU WILL GET APPROACHED BY STRANGERS LESS OFTEN

“Do you have a lighter I could borrow?”

“There you go”

“Thanks. Gotta quit soon”

“Yeah bad for you aren’t they?”

“They’ll kill ya. Are you scared?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Are you scared of dying?”

That is a conversation I had outside Birmingham New Street train station. If there’s one thing worse than arriving in Birmingham for the weekend, it’s having a conversation with a suspicious smelling stranger about the relentless march of mortality. Conversations like this only ever happened due to smoking. Sometimes these interactions with the world’s waifs and strays were preceded by having to provide them with a cigarette.

There aren’t many things people are comfortable asking for you to give to them for free but a cigarette is definitely one of them. To add insult to injury, after being coerced into giving someone a possession of mine for no personal gain (with the all too familiar masculinity shrivel) I’d be obliged to have a conversation with them. Sometimes these interactions would be less heavy than the example above and sometimes they’d take a surreal turn; once outside a bus station a road sweeper decided to spend his lunch break smoking one of my cigarettes and talking to me, before dropping the butt on the floor he’d just swept and carrying on his way. I would be lying if I said all these interactions were unenjoyable, however; I spent one happy evening in a nightclub smoking area discussing the true horrors of the Irish Potato Famine with some poor lad who only came over to borrow a rizla.

 

VAPING IS SHAMEFUL 

I didn’t quit smoking cold turkey. No, now I ‘vape’. Vaping is the action of pouring an unidentifiable gloop (that tastes of rancid citric fruit) into the bottom half of an electric toothbrush. It is then lit on fire and inhaled. It’s practised largely by virgins, cowards and people who still listen to nu-metal. The chief benefit is that it’s so embarrassing to do in public that you only partake whilst locked in your own bathroom. Thus nicotine consumption is reduced.

I can testify that this system works. Unsurprisingly, having smoked through my formative years, I look like a particularly world-weary 17-year-old. When it’s unavoidable to vape in public I look like teenager who bought a twenty deck of B&H silver for one house party and made a big deal about quitting for attention.

I could go into any corner shop or off-license at any time day or night, say the brand and quantity of cigarette I wanted, get IDed, pay and leave. With vaping there are specialist shops that for some reason shut at 5.30pm. You have to weasel into an empty room with a bearded man behind a counter (inevitably in a baseball cap). You then try to decipher which of the thousands of bottles (with labels in the style of Offspring album covers) is the most similar to what you last vaped. Then you’re asked what nicotine level you want and what VG (Vegetable Glycerin) percentage. I have no idea what that second one means but I assume it’s carcinogenic**. I’ve already had experiences in both the vape shops in my town which means I can never go back.

In shop one I was queuing behind a man wearing cargo pants. He was enquiring about a piece of vape equipment. The shopkeeper said it changed colour when used. The cargo-pantee said “I don’t want that, that’s a bit gay.” He then turned round to me and said “no offence.” In shop number two, the retailer insisted I tried one of his vape fluids. After I reluctantly agreed, he filled a vape with said fluid and proceeded to test it was working. He then handed me the vape, the fluorescent light glinted enchantingly off the fresh saliva, and I panicked. My fear of a social faux pas overrode my innate fear of hepatitis and I greedily sucked in vapour. I haven’t been back there either.

 

SMOKING IS NOT AS MUCH FUN WHEN YOU’RE ALLOWED TO DO IT

At school, smoking made everything intensely exciting. Suddenly we were yearning for the nicotine that we didn’t even inhale. Break times became a twenty minute sprint to a hole in the fence to chain smoke as much Golden Virginia as possible as we’d gone nearly three hours without the cigarettes we’d just learnt to crave. Lunch times took on new purpose, as we simply HAD to leave school to get some acrid smoke into our young lungs. The loss of a much beloved disposable lighter would cause consternation, as we never knew when we would be able to get served again. We also went through a phase at around fifteen when we would chew nicotine gum and/or use patches if we were ill.

By the time Sixth Form rolled around, much of the excitement had worn off, not least because our head master would walk past us smoking at break, on his way to get his own fix of pre-rolled cancer***. By the time I was twenty-two I was just another sallow, slightly jaundiced adult smoker; breaking up his miserable day with a drag of noxious air.

 

YOU GET ILL A LOT. THEN NEVER

I felt all right initially after smoking. Incredibly, ravenously hungry but okay. For the first two weeks at least. Then I was ill; incredibly, ravenously ill. The sort of illness you only see in films when the protagonist tosses and turns and sweats through a montage. The sort of illness where you see God on the ceiling of your bedsit. The sort of illness when you’re afraid you might have become Mary Lennox and will never leave your bed again. Mucus of all colours of the rainbow poured out of me as my body showed its gratitude by giving a literal representation of the harm it had endured. Then, after exactly two weeks of throwing up black*******, I was fine.

Now my ashen, foetal body is so eternally grateful that I’m no longer choking it to death it has rewarded me with what I believe to be the first stages of immortality. Either that or my body is no longer preoccupied with fighting off rat poison and everything else in cigarettes*********

And that’s it really. No more smoking. The coolest trait I ever had is gone. People always used to tell me it wasn’t cool and yet huge Tobacco companies went to great lengths with their advertising to make it cool. Now my lungs can almost inflate fully but I can never again lean at a bus stop and pretend I’m James Dean. James Dean wouldn’t have vaped.

 

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*I’m actually (without irony) a huge Peter Kay fan. That Peter Kay Thing is phenomenal, I love Phoenix Nights series 1 and most of series 2 (apart from the racism) and I don’t think Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere is that bad (apart from the cold open when Paddy gets raped).

**I’ve just looked up that vegetable thing and it’s used in some beauty products. The FDA also said it was “generally recognised to be safe” which for some reason fills me with far more dread than if they’d just said ‘it’s toxic’.

***About four years ago there was a potentially racially insensitive picture tweeted by the very same. It was truly heart-warming to see the variety of current and former students who came forward to debate whether blacking up was that bad. Google it.****

****My mate used to work in Waitrose in the town where we went to school and he told me he’d hide behind the counter if he saw an old teacher, as he didn’t want them to have the satisfaction of seeing that their predictions of his future career had been right. *****

*****He now lives in London and is doing pretty well, judging by the amount of cocaine he can afford.******

******That’s a joke.

*******If you’ve ever drunk nine pints of Guinness in a poorly kept city centre pub you will know what this feels like. ********

********I do. I’ve never drunk Guinness since

*********I’ve not bothered to double check but I’m pretty sure this was mentioned in a drug awareness talk at school **********

**********I’ve also just remembered in that talk we were asked how many cigarettes it took to get addicted and the speaker gravely proclaimed it was “as few as forty”, which even at the time struck me, not only as anti-climactic, but as a profoundly stupid thing to say.

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… QUITTING SMOKING

HOW NATHAN FOR YOU REDEFINED THE PRANK SHOW

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When you hear the words comedy prank show you may well, like myself, vomit enthusiastically. This may be due to shuddering memories of shows like Balls of Steel or Trigger Happy TV. Perhaps these words don’t elicit such a strong reaction and you instead fondly remember shows like Da Ali G Show or Almost Royal or Impractical Jokers. Regardless, it seems fair to say that there has never been a definitive, hilarious, truly unique ‘prank’ show that has done for this genre of comedy what Monty Python did for the sketch show or the Office did for the mockumentary.

The rest of this article was published by the good people at the Comedy Crowd. Here it is.

 

HOW NATHAN FOR YOU REDEFINED THE PRANK SHOW

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… WORKING IN A PUB

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You wanna run the place? Right well shut up then.” – Basil Fawlty

 

A fresh faced 18 year old boy turns up at a canal side pub for his first day of work. He enters and asks his new manager what he wants him to do. The manager tells him to collect dirty plates from outside and make sure everyone had enjoyed their food. The boy carries out these orders and after a while approaches a kindly old man with an empty plate. “Was your food okay?” asks the boy as he picks up the plate. The old man looks him in the eye, says “I haven’t tasted fish like that since my wife died” and winks at the boy.

That boy was me. And that old man is now long dead (probably). I’ve worked in pubs on and off since I was 18. I’ve worked for two pubs owned by two different breweries in the same town. Here are some things that I learnt.

DRINK DRIVING IS VERY REAL (AS ARE AFFAIRS) OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE LEAVING MY MORALS AT THE DOOR

Prior to starting work in catering I thought drink driving laws were largely obeyed by the public. With it, you know, being a law and all that. Turns out once you work with alcohol it’s treated like a weird little half remembered footnote. One of those weird state laws in America like how in Alaska it’s illegal to wake a sleeping bear to take a photo. The first time I saw someone get behind the wheel absolutely terracotta I couldn’t believe it. I mentioned it to a fellow staff member and they just shrugged. You become so deadened to it that you’ll stop feeling guilty and just hope they hit a tree when they crash and not a pedestrian/cyclist/school bus. We had one regular who would always drink two bottles of Pinot Grigio and drive home. By the time I left (and had started driving) I had a grudging respect for his abilities.

It’s similar for affairs. As someone who feels guilty about things that have nothing to do with them I was astounded at people (men) who would unashamedly bring their wife to the pub on a Friday and their mistress on a Saturday. I’ve been told this is fairly common at pubs off the beaten track as people think they’ll never be seen. Less common perhaps is when people take their affair to a far more physical level like, I don’t know, engaging in after hours coitus in the car park when the entire staff force are sat there drinking and smoking their misery away. One time a woman came in and ordered a bottle of champagne with two glasses. She sat and waited for a considerable amount of time until she received a phone call. I don’t know what was said but I do know she ended the phone call by saying “stay with your fucking wife then” and throwing the bottle of champagne at a wall. Normally you’re not directly involved in any way and you just stand and watch as these people destroy their lives but not always. Once I was sombrely called into the office to see our manager. Fearful, naturally, I sat and asked what was happening. My manager informed my “if X’s wife calls you can’t say he’s here or that you’ve seen him.

You’ll meet some awful, awful people. That’s true of anything involving the public. The majority of people are horrendous. The tip to succeed in customer service though, is to be polite and courteous to all customers; whether that be a gentlemen with swastikas on his knuckles or Dave Lee Travis.

PEOPLE ON CANAL BOATS ARE WEIRD.

In the UK and Venice there are things known as canals. Essentially roads made of water they were used to transport things around the country until horses were invented. They exist now as picturesque references to a time before problem solving. Both pubs I worked at were situated on a canal.

This may come as a shock to some but a reasonable amount of people live on canals. Not in a house or a flat but in a boat. Working in a pub just next to a canal these people will make up a fair amount of your customers. These boat dwellers can be split roughly into two camps; ‘boaties’ and ‘old people who have retired to live on a boat’.

Boaties are people who seem to live on a boat because they have been shunned by the societies of dry land. I have known many and liked several. They will come into a pub, try all the ales (no matter how often they come in) and order a pint of the strongest one. They range from Bukowski inspired wastrels to would-be vagrants.

‘Old people who have retired to live on a boat’ are largely self-explanatory. They are invariably old people who have decided to spend their retirement living on a barge (canal boat). They’re Enid Blyton style folks, the like of which will be all dead and gone forever in the next 30 years. They must have had some odd, jingoistic, middle-England idea of canals and living on a canalboat but you can see in their eyes they regret choosing to live out their days sloshing about atop the UK’s largest septic tank.

For sake of ease drug dealers will be grouped in the boatie category and miserable, ill-thought out, middle class holidays will be grouped in the ‘old people who have retired to live on a boat’ category.

One of the pubs was within touching distance of a ‘lock’ which was used to raise or lower water levels so barges could continue on their journeys. For some reason this used to light a fire under customers and they would flock to see a boat navigate the lock. Nothing used to delight me more than to see middle class parents dragging little Toby and Rubella-Florence to watch this mundane act only to see a grubby boatie sat there scowling, smoking a roll up and occasionally spitting into the water.

The other pub had a canal running right alongside the road into the car park. On one of my few days off a taxi drove straight into it and had to be lifted out by a crane. The interesting things always happened on my day off.

REGULARS ARE THE WORST.

You alright Dan?

Not really. The cancer’s back.

Above is a conversation I had with a regular. A regular is a person who would come to the pub almost as often as you, even though they don’t have to and they don’t get paid. Some you will learn the first name of (e.g. Blind Harry), some will only be known by the name of an ale you sold 3 years ago because they complained so much when you stopped selling it (e.g. the Seafarers).

Some of them wanted a conversation. Some of them I’m pretty sure I was the only person they’d ever talk to. That’s fine. We’re not friends though. When I quit one of my pubs jobs I remember a regular saying “oh well, stay in touch.” No, I’m not going to stay in touch. I’m not even staying in touch with the staff. All I know about you is what you drink.

Being friendly is obviously heinous but equally I had innumerable regulars who acted as if they had been forced at knife point to come and sit in my pub and read their paper. Anything would warrant a tut or a passive aggressive shake of the head. These ones almost always believed they some how owned or had investment in the pub because they spent all their miserable lives there. This meant giving their opinion on everything from the lighting, my haircut and the price of their drink. I remember distinctly one time when the price of a pint had increased by 5p overnight and one such arsehole’s eyes went scarlet.

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG.

They are sometimes alright though, customers. The problem is you can have 10 polite, friendly, unstupid* customers in a row and one knuckle-dragging, hyper-aggressive cretin will make sure you forget that the concept of politeness even exists.

Pint of Stella

We don’t do Stella

Well you did Stella last week

No we didn’t. Do you know how I know? Because I’ve been working 12 days in a row and changing brands of lager is the equivalent of an orgasm when you’re this bored. I think I’d remember. I’m not surprised you’ve forgotten though, I remember seeing you drink your 7th Peroni with that woman who isn’t your wife.

I used to get stuff like that fairly regularly, people never entertain the notion that perhaps they’re mistaken. From the common or garden ‘when did you move the toilets?‘ to the lesser spotted ‘has that canal always been there?‘ there’s always some loudmouth offering their incorrect facts on the place you know better than the back of your hand. It’s fair to assume that most of the teenagers working don’t know much of what is going on but I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I don’t need you to slur out what you think aioli is.

YOU WILL FIND ANY AND ALL WAYS TO COMBAT BOREDOM

If you have no customers, it’s a blessing. But unlike almost any other industry, when there are no customers there is absolutely nothing to do. As in actually nothing. As in standing behind a bar staring straight ahead. In the winter especially you’ll find you have a lot of time to kill so you have to be creative. Very occasionally a supervisor won’t have locked themselves ‘in the office’ with ‘stuff to do’ so you’ll have to be subtle. Usually in this case I’d find ambiguous quotes from Adolf Hitler to write on the various chalkboards.

More often though you’ll be left entirely to your own devices. In this case I found playing golf with a broom, a dustpan and a tennis ball can pass a chunk of time. Another good one is the Ice Bucket Challenge, where you throw a chunk of ice into a bucket from a considerable distance. Sounds boring but smashing ice off a wall makes a significant amount of noise, especially if there’s only one customer in. Float Scratching, Float burned brightly but briefly, the premise being you put a pork scratching in someone’s coffee. If it floats then they see it and the game is ruined. If it doesn’t they get a salty kick at the end of their mocha.** Tabasco in drinks works in a similar way. Someone once put gin in my Redbull and that also worked.

Unfortunately boredom is not restricted to when there are no customers. When it’s exceptionally busy (and two members of staff have tragically fallen ill overnight even though you’ll see their Snapchat story later and they recovered enough to go to a nightclub and they don’t the shame to even try and hide it) customer interactions are reduced to the barest minimum. In this case you’ll be repeating the same handful of stock phrases so often you need something to alleviate the monotony. A classic my colleagues and I enjoyed was saying ‘wank you very much‘ instead of ‘thank you‘ which it turns out is only funny when someone calls you out on it.*** Pen Arm again works best with a busy pub. In layman’s terms you walk up to someone and draw on their arm with permanent marker. Double points if they’re talking to a customer. Tally charts used to feature on busy days as well. It’s a rare pleasure to listen to a customer say something stupid then add it to the day’s Stupid Questions tally.

Another favourite was locking people in the walk-in fridge. This was a speciality of several chefs I worked with and I managed to play a few times when I wasn’t the victim. This ended abruptly, however, when I locked the Area Manager in once and had to go and let him out. There were mixed results with chefs joining in on time wasting. We spent one happy evening playing Fry This, when we saw what would happen to various things in the deep fat fryer. Whereas another day we put a raw egg in a chef’s tea (raw egg will helpfully rest at the bottom of a hot drink) and he was the most angry I’ve ever seen anyone in my life.****

YOU WILL MEET SOME FANTASTIC PEOPLE (AND SOME ABSOLUTE GONKS)

Another half-heard, forgotten analogy: you shouldn’t pick your subjects based on your teacher. I.e. you should enjoy something for what it is not the people involved. I.e i.e. don’t stay in a job you hate because you get to hang around with people you like. Hospitality seems to attract interesting people by and large. People like me who would find sitting in a stagnant office all day cripplingly boring or people who are trying to make other things happen and need some money to fund it. I’ve met some of the funniest people I’ve ever come across in pubs, one of which I write and podcast with to this day (even if he is an idiot). These people  made some of the most horrific experiences of my life somehow palatable and many of them I now see in pubs even though I’m not financially obligated to do so (and mostly enjoy it).

Obviously I can’t end like that. I worked with one gentleman who followed me out for a fag break and read his poetry to me. He was fired shortly afterwards for unrelated reasons and I saw him at a supermarket. I stopped to talk to him and mid conversation he pulled a bottle of vodka out of his bag and started drinking from it. It still had the security tag attached. I remember ringing another much loved colleague once in a desperate attempt to get him to come in and help out as we were short staffed.

Hi mate, any chance you can come in we’re seriously short staffed.

Oh sorry I can’t, I’m in Milton Keynes

You know you’ve just answered your house phone, right?

Oh.

He didn’t come in. There was an 18 year old who I remember questioning a dear friend of mine who had been working in a kitchen for 5 years. They were arguing about which table a meal needed to be sent to and the teenager said “I think I know, I go to university and you’re just a chef“. Righteous fireworks ensued. By and large though they were okay or funny or boring or incompetent. A lot of them seemed to only work at a pub because it saved them walking to one after work.

PUBS ARE DYING AS WE SPEAK

That knob who ‘went to university’ sums up the attitude I experienced from working in a pub. “Get a proper job“, “why are you doing this if you don’t enjoy it“, “do something better with your life“, “why are you so rude?” that sort of thing was common to hear directed at me and/or the people I worked with. Fair points perhaps but equally the people saying this are in a pub as they say this. If you think it’s beneath us all to work in a pub that’s absolutely fine. We’ll all leave now but you’ll be the one who can’t have your ‘work do’ where you think you’re being a right laugh but the whole table calls you a dickhead when you’re in the toilet.

The UK is one of the few countries in the world where working in hospitality is looked down on and only ever considered a stopgap and not a career. Incidentally that is why you get so many foreign people working in hospitality. And I have no idea who Brexiteers think will soon pour their chestnut ale as they watch a game of cricket on a sun-kissed lawn or whatever chocolate box, Rudyard Kipling Britain they think they live in once they ban immigants.

Increasingly people are choosing not to do it. Including me. The money is appalling and the hours are even worse. You’re treated terribly by people. For the last 18 months I was working we were trying to find a chef. No one wants to do it though and I can’t blame them. As bad as working front of house is I’ve always thought working in a kitchen is tantamount to torture. Bad money, ridiculous hours, stress and working in a sweatbox. On top of this food allergy legislation is now so strict (rightly or wrongly) that breweries are choosing to outsource their menus and take any freedom away from kitchens and in some cases any real cooking. If you’re wondering, that is why managed houses (regardless of ownership) have almost exactly the same menu.

Overall I’ll look fondly on my pub jobs (with time). I’d recommend it to anyone who is bored and in their late teens or a social recluse who needs to learn to speak to people. Hopefully you can get an indulgently long blog post out of it.*****

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars 
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

 

*Irony; (noun) the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

**Becomes mean spirited with vegetarians and/or vegans

***A short spin-off of this involved swapping the word hunt for c**t. This lasted one round

****I think this was partly because we ran the egg through the till and made him go and get it and said someone on a canal boat wanted it.

*****Having said that my dream is still to buy both pubs, flatten them and turn them both into car parks

 

A WEIRDO’S GUIDE TO… WORKING IN A PUB