Tuesday, 23 December 2008

How Not to Win a Writing Competiton

The first and foremost rule of not winning a writing competition is this: Don’t read the rules.
For instance:
“Urbis and SMITH want you to describe your life as a writer, artist, or raconteur in six well-chosen words. We’ll feature the best ones on Urbis and SMITH—and they could end up in a future book.”

You may find that, while concocting these anecdotes, the majority of what you can think of- and what everyone else thinks of- is pretentious, repetitive tosh.

“My words, my life… My arse.”
“The ink my pen bleeds love”.
“Write, send, get rejected, rewrite, yawn.”

All very poetic, and I can agree sometimes poignant.

But is it fun?

Reading- and writing- should be massively entertaining. I found trying to write about creativity too awkward. I expect it would be like giving a speech about childbirth… while you are in the final stages of labour. It could be done, I suppose, but it’s difficult to explain, and it’s one of those things that speaks for its self.

But the potential to tell stories in a six-word format, with no boundaries- that’s entertainment.
Here are a few I hammered out, story title first:

No one can judge me
“Court case thrown out: free man!”

How to stay young
“Man stays youthful through permanent retardation.”

Advice on Relationships
“If love hurts, stop dating sadomasochists!”

Try coming up with anything as ridiculous or as absurd as that, within the catchments of “the creative life”. It’s impossible. The writer is almost forced into pomposity. Bravo to the winning entries as they were poignant and- wait for it- actually entertaining.

Well, enough bitching. Are you ready for a game? Name that film, represented in six-word memoir style!

1) Man kills dad to free galaxy.

2) Jewell thief admits being a cop.

3) Kill my crew? Eat vacuum, Alien!

4) Jew gangster grasses friends. Escapes alive!

5) Cripple does “Wild Goose” on cop.

6) Cat avenges dad’s death; becomes king.

7) Astronauts find ape world. It’s home!

8) Clerk kills wife’s pimp; finds paydirt.

9) After boxing, misogynist becomes fat comedian.

10) Son runs dad’s business; removes brother-in-law.

Back to the point.

My humble opinion is that writing of any kind, no matter how short or long, requires two things to stand out from the crowd: outstanding content and outstanding skill. The winners of the competition exemplified both of these. Here’s a final afterthought:

“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” ~Author Unknown, commonly misattributed to Samuel Johnson (*) (Thank you, Frank Lynch.)

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Emergency Services Night

In early 2007 I must have looked like a dodgy bastard. Not in terms of physical appearance; but there was something inexplicable about me that just attracted trouble, no matter how much I tried to avoid it.

A classic example: I’d been out with Colin on Oldham’s Yorkshire Street, apparently the third most violent street in Britain according to government statistics and the local newspaper. 

Driving, I spent the night sober. Not driving, and dare I mention it- banned, Colin was not sober- far from it. Hence I took on the role of Chauffeur Supreme, and kept a watchful eye on my company- who openly described himself as “one hell of a beer hound”.

Normally Colin was the one looking after me: his football hooligan days set him in good stead for the risks of a night in Oldham. That night he’d hammered the drink quite quickly but seemingly knew when to stop and ask me for a lift, necking the dregs of his pint and thumbing to the door with practiced skill.

I’d given him a lift once before, and tonight I’d definitely started driving in the right direction. I need to do a route three times before I know it. But Colin’s instructions had stopped, and I was on a strange road.

“We still going the right way, Col?”

No answer.

“Col. Colin.”

With one hand on the wheel and both eyes locked on the unfamiliar road, I shook Colin’s shoulder. His upper body slouched left and his head lightly knocked on the door window, tongue lolled to one side.

Oh, fuck, I thought. He’s out cold. What has he taken? Okay. Calm down. Let’s imagine that I was a responsible adult. What would I do?

The car lights illuminated a sign for Rochdale centre. Oldham has a St. John’s ambulance normally. Rochdale must have too, given its similarly dangerous reputation.

Please don’t throw up in my mum’s car, I thought. Don’t OD either… Col’s done enough looking-after for me, I thought. I’m not letting him down.

I spotted the waiting ambulance in the centre of town and slammed the car as close as I could get to it- in a nearby taxi rank. Locking Colin inside, I strode over to the technicians with a minor gut feeling that I could have a serious situation on my hands. I’d never dealt with an unconscious person before. I’d also never had a chance to learn any first aid. I had no idea how serious this was.

I explained the scenario to the ambulance workers. The woman followed me while the man stood guard of the van.

“What’s your friend’s name?” she asked, snapping on some medical gloves.


Inevitably, a taxi had pulled in behind me and the Asian driver was unimpressed that a random Nissan Micra had taken his place in the queue.

“Here y’are mate, how are we supposed to work when”-

Before I’d even thought of politely explaining, the ambulance man had jumped in.

“We’ve got an emergency situation with this car here. So get back in your taxi and wait. Okay?”

The taxi driver sat back, browbeaten.

I let the woman in and she basically did what I did, minus driving. She shook his shoulder and shouted at him.

“Colin. Colin. Wake up.”

Col’s mental transgression from confusion to minor panic, then surprise, was priceless.

“Your mate’s trying to take you home. Do you know where you live?”

Col stammered out his address.

I thought ahead. “Do you know how to get there from here?”

“Where are we?” he asked, bemused.


Col blinked. “Er, yeah.”

I thanked the lady, who then ordered the three disgruntled taxi drivers in front of me to leave the rank so I could get out.

“Oh… Newby…” Colin was gradually realising where he was and why. “I’m so sorry. I’m SO sorry.”

When I finally got to Colin’s, his housemates were still awake. I retold the night’s story with such vigour and enthusiasm that I got the inevitable, “My god, he is Jim Carrey” treatment. And I try so hard to be like Andy Garcia…

So with Colin home safe there was only myself to take care of.

I’d got about two thirds of the way home, through Oldham centre (for an obligatory cruise to check out the women queuing for taxis) and out to the suburbs before the lights flashed in my mirror.

Fuck, I thought. What have I done now?

I pulled over, tailed by the blue-and-yellow Vectra. It was a fairly non-descript night out, we’d not done anything dishonourable (other than to go to Oldham in the first place). But casting my mind back, there was nothing the police could seemingly book me for. Parking in a taxi rank? Yeah, right. Checking out women? Well, it’s not as if I was slowly driving past bars and making strange animalistic noises whenever a short skirt was near.

Not this weekend, anyway.

I checked my mirror. The officer got out of his car and walked cautiously towards me, chin down, talking to the radio on his shoulder.

It’s Saturday night, and it’s 1AM. I’m a young man in a red Nissan Micra, traditionally a woman’s car. If I was a policeman, I thought, I’d pull me over too. I wound my window down.

“I pulled you over,” the officer said, hands on knees, “because we’ve had reports of a car matching your description being driven erratically in the area.”

There’s a pause.

“Right,” I say, but it comes out like a question.

“Have you had anything to drink tonight, sir?”

“No, only soft drinks.”

“Is this your car, sir?”

“No, it’s my mum’s. I’m insured on it.”

I just want to go home. I’ve had enough absurdity for one day. Let’s get a move on, I thought.

“You can see my licence if you want.”

“No, no. That won’t be necessary. I’m satisfied that you’re safe to drive this car. Take care, sir.”

Well, I thought, as Officer Zealot got back in his car. Whoever is drink- driving in Oldham, this guy’s going to catch them. Especially if he’s pulling over any random car he can find. That’s what we pay tax for.

I knew where the cameras are in my area, but I still kept under the speed limit until I got home. It’s strange. The emergency services crews are usually there in places where they are most needed. They have hard jobs that they perform well in. But sometimes those there to protect us- whether it be our mates, ambulance ops or police- seem to be the most likely to give us a heart attack.

Monday, 13 October 2008


You can tell you’re personally developing when someone actually rings you for moral support. They trust you to enough of a degree to call you, over everyone else, in order for them to sort their head out. I don’t think that had ever happened before yesterday.

John’s ex is pregnant with his baby. I offered him my congratulations but he did not want to hear it.

I was shattered from too many late nights and early mornings, but I couldn’t have stayed in at a time like this- we needed to go out and let John take his mind off things. Oldham, on a Monday night though, can be best described in one word- dull. Walkabout was pretty much empty. Except for me, John and Chantelle- a girl that John knows who looked vaguely familiar, the place was bereft of entertainment. Chantelle -damn good-looking but gets ID’d a lot- told me she’s an art student. I asked if she’d heard of a painter called Malevich, someone I’d studied at GCSE level. She hadn’t.

So after wondering around a few bars, and him relentlessly kicking my ass at pool, and playing air guitar to Thin Lizzy’s Whisky in the Jar, we decided to go on a mission. This was not least because the pub seemed to be fragranced with eau de OAP home.

First stop- my house. I caned Mum’s Nissan Micra down Lees road to the “temporary” traffic lights. These lights and road works have been there so long that 2 businesses in Lees have had to close down because nobody can be arsed fighting through the traffic to shop there. John taught me a trick- flash the main beam lights in two short bursts. Leave a second’s gap. Flash it again. The traffic light thinks your car is an emergency services vehicle with the lights on, and swaps red to green. Genius!

Not many of my mates have seen the inside of my house, and I’ve not had anyone round since I dated some randomer from Walkabout over a year ago. We had sat drinking tea in the lounge, desperately tying to string an uncomfortable conversation together. This time, it was around quarter to midnight on a Monday and Mum and Dad were asleep upstairs. The booze was still in the garage from Emma’s party, so I dished some of that out. Being designated driver, as usual, I absconded.

John reminded me I was allowed one. I don’t normally go into detail about this with people, but as he’d been pretty open with me before I found it only fair to explain why, if I’m driving, I do not touch alcohol.

Martin Johnston was a friend of mine from college who died in a drink drive incident just before Christmas in 2001. He got in a car with someone who’d been drinking. He was driven into a wall between Mossley and Stalybridge. He was 18. At this time I was about halfway through my 14- month long, 100+ hours of driving lessons. I’m a slow learner.

This incident had somewhat of an effect on me and after the funeral I made a conscious decision to keep alcohol and driving in two separate worlds, never bringing the two together.

We loaded the car with beer and cider and aimed for Uppermill, a quaint village in Saddleworth. I drove insanely fast down country roads in the dark, like a responsible adult, while John acted rally instructor in the passenger seat. He even told me when to change gear to maximise speed on hills. How immoral. All the while, we blasted out whatever was half decent on the radio. Every time I hear The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani, I will forever think of that night. We almost went to Huddersfield to the sound of “’Cause I’ve been actinglikesourmilkpouredonthefloorandthenIdidn’tshuttherefrigeratormaybethat’sthereasonI’vebeenactingso co-old…” Dance Nation’s Move Your Love also punctuated the night. You can find them in my Myspace friends space. It was around this time I learned that trying to dance whilst driving at high speeds in the dark is dangerous. I frequently came close to losing control of the car, not to mention my colon.

We also visited Delph, one of Oldham’s most difficult places to find. It just isn’t next to anywhere that anyone would know. I was totally in John’s hands (figuratively), as without him I’d have been stuck out there. I couldn’t have got out. Delph is like a dull version of Narnia, only painfully real.

There is an eighties song with the lyrics, “there’s a tree by a river near a hole in the ground…” I think that song was written about Saddleworth Tops. All of the characteristics mentioned were present. There was nothing going “round and around”, though. It was the most serene, silent place in Oldham. The view was good and the air was clean, which we noticed straight away.

It occurred to me and John, while on the tops of Saddleworth moors, that we needed a piss. We found a lay-by somewhere near a stream. It was pretty much pitch black and somewhat edgy, given that Moira Hindley murdered numerous children and buried them somewhere out there forty years ago. Some bodies were apparently never discovered, which added to the chill.

We couldn’t encourage Chantelle to urinate in a farmer’s driveway while we leaned on the bonnet out of eyeshot, so John came up with a plan. He called one of his many associates in Oldham and we made a beeline for Sholver- the “South Central” of Oldham, you could say. Chantelle was at breaking point. I told her to picture a huge concrete dam, and I did more obscenely fast driving. John’s short-cut plan fell through when we ended up on a country road that turned into a flagged path that turned into a rocky carving in the hillside, so I had to reverse down this narrow gap in between two fields. Rear lights on a Nissan Micra aren’t as illuminative as the front lights. With every bump Chantelle got more nervous, and so did John and me.

We made a quick stop at John’s mate’s house for Chantelle and then we called it a night. We dropped Chantelle off- I’ve already totally forgotten where she lives- and me and John agreed to do this again. Only next time we’re picking a different town. John told me he appreciated the opportunity to take his mind off things: I realised I’d completely forgot, by this time, why he’d rang me in the first place. I also realised that Nissan Micras don’t have the world’s best mileage. I used up a good portion of the tank that night. It will be interesting to see what Mum says.

Access Denied

Sarah is somewhat of a disreputable character. She has previously confessed- no, wait- bragged- that she has beaten up lads and that she hates Asians. She drinks pints and can generally drink most men under the table. She can definitely out-drink me.

I wouldn’t really describe her as my type. Only she’s quite good-looking, and has an infectious little giggle when she flirts. Oh, and she has huge breasts. This could be why I relentlessly forgave her for her ridiculous behaviour over four years.

When there’s only one part of me making the decisions- not the brain- I have a tendency to go round the flirt circle. I lust after someone, uncover psychotic tendencies, tell them to fuck off and get a lobotomy, lust again, and then forgive.

Four years on, the circle continues. Last year, I had driven to Oldham and had found Sarah in Walkabout. Predictably, and with minimal flirt time, I’d kissed her again.

Unlike most men, I find alcohol to do nothing but fuck up my chances with women. That’s why I was driving and that’s how I found myself in Walkabout with my arms around Sarah, again, trying to keep my eyes pointing above neck level.

Three years before this, I had told her I was a virgin. I still was that night, but we’d not breached the subject since. Would she remember? Would she believe me? Is she even up for sex?
Stop. Calm down. Think thoughts like that and you definitely won’t get sex.

I gave her a lift home. This led me to be sat on the couch in her mum’s lounge, a steaming mug of hot chocolate on one side of me and Sarah on the other.

“So explain the suit,” she said, pulling on a jacket lapel.

“Oh. You’d have to be a man to understand, Sarah.” I’ll give you a clue, I thought. Look where it’s got me right now.

She pulled me in closer until I was pressed against her; those two massive beasts slammed together in a red corset- an image I might never forget.

I’d been kissing her for a matter of seconds before her phone rang.

My shoulders slouched suddenly, and I sighed at the typicality of the situation. Now. Fucking. What.

“Just a moment,” she said, a sudden embarrassment fleeting over her face. She picked up.

“Hello… Yeah… No. He’s just a friend- Right. Okay.”

Now Sarah’s posture was similarly slouched. Inevitability had struck again. I had to find it kind of funny. I looked up at the ceiling- her mum could be directly above us, almost anticipating a banal, explicit, muffled soundtrack to the rest of her night.

But she had been spared.

Sarah put her phone back in her handbag. “I’m sorry Matt. You’re gonna have to go.”

Fuck, I thought. I’ve hardly even touched my chocolate.

I nodded. As I stood up and headed toward the door, my mind went into fast-forward. How could I salvage some dignity from this situation? My place would result in a similar letdown. My room is a thin wall away from my light-sleeping parents’ room. Could I afford a hotel? Well, yes, just about. But asking if I could take her to one might not only sound cheap (the hotel would have to be too), but also it would be an affirmation that I was after sex. That’s perhaps not the best impression to give a girl with such volatile tendencies. But then what am I doing here? Why would she invite me in? It must be on her mind.

I was out of ideas, and out of time. And I didn’t have the social graces to manoeuvre this minefield.

“Stay in touch,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.” I kissed her and got back in my car.
I don’t need to tell you what kind of situation I would have preferred. Of course I was kind of pissed off. But maybe being thrown out of a girl’s house by her (possibly jealous) mother is something we all must face- a part of growing up.

I had to go back to Walkabout. By the time I got there the bar was shut. They were already cleaning up, and I was already laughing.

Being a recent former employee they let me in, and I recounted the last hour’s events. The staff were in a similar state of disbelief- what the hell else could possibly go wrong for me? What other scenarios are left?

If anyone knows of any low-priced accommodation in Oldham, please let me know. Otherwise I will continue to find myself in these predicaments.

Please spare a thought for me.

Intense Staff Party

February 2004

She’s still mumbling something as she starts to lift her dress. Disbelief hits me hard: I slightly panic as I realise no one would believe my story if they caught me now, with this extremely drunk girl. After I pulled that thirty-something in the middle of a shift last week, all the staff think I’m some kind of womaniser: if anyone sees me now, they’ll assume I’m worse…


I’d been on my feet for the last nine hours. The plan for the following night’s party was confusing me: We were supposed to be wearing rugby kit, but where the hell I was supposed to get that from I had no idea. Even if I’d had planned in advance I still wouldn’t have wanted to have shelled out. Fuck it, I thought, I’ll figure something out.

“Drinks at ours Matt. You coming?”

I was kind of jealous of Dave. He was about the same age as me, but taller, handsome, built like a brick shithouse, and utterly full of himself. I’d worked with him for a couple of weeks and one thing seemed apparent: He LOVED his job. I, on the other hand, was on the verge of quitting.
I could really do with some sleep, I was thinking, especially seeing as I’ve got a late night tomorrow and lectures possibly the day after (I didn’t even know what I was doing that far ahead). Although if I do quit, I might as well see what happens over the next few days. Soak up the Living Room experience.

“Uh, yeah, okay.”

Dave’s apartment defied belief, considering he’s a bartender- one of the lowest paid jobs you can get. The apartment block had been renovated within the last couple of years from an old hospital but now the building was a model example of what Manchester was producing: smart, compact housing for young professionals. I noticed a century FM car parked outside. Some day, I thought… I’ll work for a radio station and make loads of money…

Dave stuck Royksopp on the Hi-Fi, an album I’d bought a few weeks before so at least I’d got the conversation rolling. He handed me a Stella.

“I only drink spirits, mate. Have you got anything like that?”

“Er, no.”

A divide was growing already. These guys had worked together for a while, and I wasn’t sure how welcome I was. But the car advert was becoming a mantra me and with my uni mates: It’s a Mini Adventure…

Tony, another barman, was slumped on a designer couch with his head tilted to the ceiling and his eyes closed. I guessed he hung around at Dave’s a lot. “That fucking manager, man, he does more harm than good. All I was doing was pointing that 700 out… He started to bitch…”

On my induction a couple of weeks ago, I was given some till roll with a list of commands scrawled on it.

600- Break
68- We are out of
86- I’ve replenished
150- Get manager, change needed
Shoes- Breasts
700- Fine lady

These kind of commands would be barked at the bar backs like we were trainee marines. I’d spent a fair bit of time learning them, getting me even further behind with coursework.

Dave had pulled out a small black plastic bag the size of a bank bag and a credit card. “Aw, he’s a fucking knobhead. He tried it with me. I just said, ‘yeah, you’re a fucking knobhead, aren’t you?’ He just smiled and walked off! He thinks it’s a joke!”

He delicately poured out a lump of fine white powder onto the coffee table. I recognised it pretty quickly.

I’d only dabbled in coke once before, on a night in the previous year when I was utterly wasted on cheap scotch. The girls who lived opposite my flat were putting something up their noses and I’d thought: what the fuck are you doing? Pretending to do coke? You’re a student, there’s no way you could afford that… I had no idea how cheap and accessible it had become.

Dave cut three short lines on the edge of the coffee table then looked up at me. “You joining us?”

Bang. Decision time. Indulge in class-A narcotics? Play it safe? Grasp an opportunity? My brain was accelerated and I hadn’t even touched the stuff yet. “Er…”

“You’re under no pressure.”

Of course I’m not, I thought. You’ve paid for this stuff; you want your money’s worth. I could see Dave had regretted inviting me back: I was a bar back. I didn’t serve on the bar like everyone else in the room. The divide was growing.

“Put a line out for me, I’ll have a think.”

Within seconds I had a line of cocaine pointed at me while everyone else passed around a Fifty, each hoovering their own. Images from the films ran through my mind on fast forward: Mia Wallace with blood and puke streaming from her unconscious face, some guy in Boogie Nights crying over a dying girl while Burt Reynolds stands over them, apathetic… Mia Wallace snorted heroin. That girl in Boogie Nights did too much coke. This was one line. I imagined the phone call to my home back in Oldham, waking my parents up… My parents rushing to a hospital in Manchester… Get a fucking grip, I thought.

The bar staff were getting giddy, and childish. I was trying to find their wavelength on my own mental tuning band, but it wasn’t happening.

“What the fuck goes in a Cosmo now?” Dave was looking more dangerous by the second. Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t figure out what.

“I think I did one with fucking… grenadine, or something,” said Tony, his welsh accent getting stronger. “Is that not right?”

“Didn’t know we had any fucking grenadine.”

“I fucking put allsorts in tonight. Fucking Scotch, Orange Juice…”

His face is a mask of mock confusion, and he’s acting as if someone is controlling his body. Only they’re not being forcing him to do anything other than mix a cocktail.

I shit you not; this conversation went on for hours. They were obsessed with their jobs: proud and overconfident. But that aversion I felt was tinged with jealousy. The coke was still clinging to my mucus but some of it was working through me. The initial feeling of caution had heightened into a kind of paranoia. Was there some side to their conversation that I don’t get? While Tony was in the throes of his bartending mime, Dave was on the verge of pissing himself. I, on the other hand, was on the verge of disappearing into the background.

The sun came up eventually. I’d watched the clock go full circle a few times and I just wanted to be around other members of staff. I was thinking, once we get on that coach and get out to that party, I’ll be with the bar backs. The tension will be off and I’ll probably have come down from this bastard drug.

Trying to figure out how we would be ready in time for 5pm (the coach’s leaving time) was a massive operation- everyone’s brains had ceased to work. Tony needed to get to his and change. He had a spare rugby top for me, I needed to get back to Castle Irwell (student digs) and shower/ dump my work clothes, then we needed to meet at the Mark Addy for lunch.
This blurred by, and I found myself in the Addy (yes, named after the fat one from Full Monty) ordering pub food dressed as a NZ All-blacks player. One of Dave’s friends, a girl he went to uni with (he dropped out after the Living Room lifestyle sucked him in, apparently) was telling me she’d been to Salford, studied media and now worked for Century FM. That must be her car then, I thought.

I was still feeling outdone by Dave and Tony. I couldn’t even flirt with this Century girl ‘cause I was so exhausted and confused. The public started to stare as we strolled through Manchester towards the Living Room in Shorts and T-shirts. Maybe I’m just a shallow, narcissistic bastard, but I’m quite comfortable being stared at when I know why people are looking at me. I kind of thrive of it.

The Living room was full of staff. The entrance was clogged with what looked like rugby players and schoolgirls, with a few bemused customers eyeing us suspiciously. One of the bar-backs had come in a suit. The girls looked fucking amazing in pleated skirts, blouses and ties. They were locked into a specific conversation about something- there was no way I could cut in. They might even have engineered it that way when they saw me coming, I thought. No. That’s the coke making me think that. Rationalise. Calm down.

The manager shouts that the coach is here and we slam our drinks down and walk out. Dave and Tony were already on the coach and had occupied the back seats with a few others- I could not be arsed to try and cut back in there. I’m trying to find a seat near the bar backs but things aren’t working out. So began a silent 4-hr journey to Birmingham…

To this day I can’t figure out what happened exactly at Birmingham. My waterproof was the only thing with pockets in, and I’m sure I left it on the coach. So I seemingly didn’t buy a single drink all night, and I apparently ran the risk of having my wallet nicked from the coach driver. It was a blur.

We started drinking in a Wetherspoons close to the Living Room. The place was crawling with people in school uniform, sports kits, and suits: a warm-up venue for all of the Living Room staff from across Britain. I found I could actually talk to random girls that, at the time, I could never do. We had the workplace in common.

I was getting somewhere with a group of Liverpudlian schoolgirls when it occurred to me I didn’t recognise anyone any more. Thanks for the fucking loyalty, I thought. No one came to tell me we were moving on. I managed to find my way to the Living Room myself without getting lost in a strange city while twisted on drugs and sleep deprived, which was an achievement.

Birmingham’s Living Room was immense. It was more of a club than a bar or restaurant, with a large dance floor. The music was terrible, which surprised me because a lot of the time it was the music that would get me through the shifts at Living Room. Dave and Tony were still ignoring me.

I’d been doing laps of the dance floor and having brief, broken conversations with people who looked vaguely familiar from work, then got dragged out to dance with two of the waitresses, who looked way too young to be doing bar work.

A few days previous to this, I’d read an article about a scientific experiment with some coffee drinkers. The scientists gave the subjects decaf. They told the subjects that they were drinking decaf. An hour later they gave them decaf again, only this time they told the subjects they were drinking caffeine. The subjects started to perk up, be more alert, and performed better in tests. The proof: most of the “effect” of caffeine is self- induced. The same can apply to drugs. So around 20 hours after doing one line, I still felt hyper and on edge. But none of these people were experiencing it with me.

Feeling somewhat detached from reality, I look for a way to mix in. Then these waitresses grabbed me and I was dancing, a bit too provocatively (does a guy do that, or is there another adjective?) with both of them. I could sense nervous glances from across the room- there was a problem of sorts but the girls were still dancing with me, so it can’t have been that bad…
The night blurs on. I’ve just come back from the Gent’s and as I walk back to the dance floor, I nod at the blonde girl walking past. She’s possibly the drunkest person in the room, and she’s amongst the best looking.

She holds my hand and leads me somewhere. This could be the girl I’ve been looking for, I’m thinking. But whatever she’s got in mind, why pick me? And where are we going?

She pushes a fire exit door at the back of the bar and leads me into a stone corridor. The music’s distant now, and I can hear her mumbling something to me. She might be Swedish or something- she ’s not making any sense and she looks like she could be Swedish. I’m practically propping her up while she mumbles at me. Then, resting her head on my shoulders, she starts to lift her skirt.

“Look, er, you’re really drunk and uh…”

She’s pulling down her underwear. I look over to the fire exit door. They’d have a pretty good view if anyone walked in now. I could see the headline: “Bar worker jailed after drunken, drug fuelled molestation”…

She’s got her back against the wall. She squats, and urinates on the concrete floor.
I’m thrown. I feel kind of relieved, amused and let down at the same time. I don’t know how to react, other than to step back away from the stream to keep my shoes dry.

What a fucking night, I’m thinking. She pulls her underwear back up and grabs my hand again, not looking at me. When we get back inside she lets go and immediately some guy starts cracking on to her. She wanders off to dance with him. He’s sober enough to see how drunk she is. He’s trying it on with her in front of the whole bar. I’m hoping everyone who knows him can see him, the fucking scumbag.

Not long after, the music stops. I realise how much time has gone by- hours of my life are missing. What the hell happened in this bar? I’m confused about something. Something is missing, something material but I can’t figure out what.

People are dripping out of the club. I’m following them out to the street. It’s cold.
BANG. My coat. I had a coat. I must have done- I’ve got no pockets on these shorts, and I wouldn’t have spent all night in a bar without any money?

Would I?

I’m just about to get on the bus when I realise I’ve got to go back. I explain what I think I’ve done to Neil, one of the managers, and he already looks pissed off with me.

“Be VERY quick, Matt,” he says, and there’s something in his voice telling me the hold-up I’m about to give him isn’t the only problem.

I turn into the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and sprint back to the building, explaining the problem to the doormen. I leave my name, mobile number, branch details and coat details to a doorman. He says they’ll ring Living Room Manchester or me at some point.

The coat had cost me a fucking fortune from Blacks on Deansgate. I’m gutted. I sprint back to the coach and sat in exactly the same seat. We pull out of Birmingham centre and I consider how I’m going to break this to my mum. I have no recollection of how I’d lost it. Despair hits me. I slump in the chair.

The street lights flash rhythmically into the coach as we drive down a road onto the motorway. There is something on the floor in front of me, small, dark and square.

I pick it up. My wallet. Complete with all cards and cash. You lucky fucking bastard, I think. Well.
It’s a start.


The manager looks up. I hold the wallet up.

“I found my wallet.”

“Right, okay.” I get the impression I’d not told her in the first place.


I jump a little. The waitress is sat next to me, who I vaguely remember being on the dance floor with. Of course, by this time, what I’d done is a blur. Is she pissed off with me?

“Hi, you alright?”

“My dad’s not too impressed with you.”

I’m confused. “Your dad?”

“Yeah. Neil. The manager.”

Oh, shit.

“Because of how you were dancing with me. He was going to come over and say something.” A pause. “I am only 16, you know”.

The voice in my mind saying 16 IS LEGAL is drowned out by another side of my conscience saying THE WHOLE BAR SAW YOU FLIRTING GRATUITOUSLY WITH THE MANAGER’S DAUGHTER, 5 YEARS YOUR JUNIOR. THIS INCLUDES THE MANAGER.

“He was going to have a word with you when we were in the bar.”

I’m hitting another phase of nervous quietness. How can I get out of this company in a clean, reasonable manner? I need to stay out of trouble. I close my eyes, head tilted back, and try to clear out my mind.

When I open my eyes, I’m staring at some kind of cord dangling from an overhead compartment. It’s opposite me but a bit further down, possibly above where I was sitting on the way down. It has a toggle on it that looks very familiar. I have no recollection of putting anything up there, but if it’s not mine, I can always apologise.

I tentatively pull it down. Green Sprayway. There is no way that this isn’t mine. I’m smiling, relieved. There are a lot of things confusing me but at least I’ve got everything I lost back.

I just want to get back to my digs now. I connect to people at Uni. I have my blatant differences, sure, but I still fit in. I’m not fitting in at Living Room. I need sleep. Then I need to think about what I’m going to do.

Flashback of August Bank Holiday

The following is an email exchange and a prized story of weekend excess, told through the medium of email. Please enjoy.


From: “Matthew Tuckey”
To: thomasleecharnock@hotmail.com
Subject: fellatio
Date: Tue, 29 Aug 2006 11:11:57 +0100

Oh. My. God.
Mate, this weekend has been fucking absurdly awesome.
Saw Pride on sat, +went 2 commonwealth stadium with key spreading messages etc. Was pretty cool, but nothing like sun nyt.

Cowboy night in walkabout. Chicks LOVE cowboys! I shit you not, I pulled a couple of girls and 2 top it off, some girl pulled my pants to my ankles and sucked my cock on stage. What. the . fuck. Didn’t exactly get wood but wen you’ve got a crowd of people watching that’s not the easiest thing to do. I took it in my stride! had my hat, my neckerchief n 1 of my guns nicked off me. bitches!

Swapped numbers with some other girl, who hasn’t rang me yet so iv got the feeling she wont pick up. She probably saw me do something absurd and thought, fuck that, he’s a psycho…

After we’d cleaned up the staff all went to the “staff house” where the manager n the Aussies live. There we proceeded to ingest cocaine n swapped stories, then I went home n laughed myself to sleep at about 7am.

Last night the manager of walkabout donated some ecstasy to me, although Christ knows wen I’ll use it. Party on!

How was ur weekend?


Fuckin hell mate – that’s a fuckin ace story!!! Gotta hand it to ya mate, I’m impressed!!! I didn’t really do much except go to the gym, go, swimming, go running blah blah boring blah. Went to a sort of party at my bro’s on saturday night and got hideously pissed. didn’t get back till 5 and all around me people were smokin weed, taking pills and snortin coke…alas, with my impending military engagement I was sadly excluded from said activities. Sunday night I just sat watching tv. Monday I just sat watchin TV. Good eh? That’s because everyone I know around here is a boring cunt. Anyway, we’ll have to go out again some time soon. Probably gonna be havin a house party in mid sept to mark my and duressa’s leaving of our house, and you are cordially invited, along with any guests you wana bring. I’l give exact details asap.


I thought it might be novel to show a story unfold through email. Also, I could not be arsed rewriting it- I have other tales to tell that require my time. Here’s what writers on Urbis.com thought:

“Not sure what you could do with this, but it gave me a few laughs although I feel obligated to include the disclaimer that I don’t find drug use funny.“- “Nani”.

“I hate it when everyone you know is a boring cunt! Haha.“- “aliciapie23”.

“DCAllen”s response was so classic I had to include the whole thing. Cheers dude.

“No, this doesn’t bite me on the nose. In fact, it just makes me a bit embarrassed for you. I wonder why you posted this at all: to document the lives of two boring people, I suppose. Because you were drunk when you pushed “Submit”? Because you really don’t care what people write, and you don’t plan to even open your reviews?

Don’t get me wrong: I love dirty. If there had been a spark of eloquence here, I might have reacted differently. As it’s written, it’s simply banal.

While this should have been marked Mature, I can see why you couldn’t bring yourself to call it that.”

“Banal” is a word that recurs frequently in the reviews I receive, for some reason. But hey, at least I’m honest. It is my honesty that drives me to write. If this makes you uncomfortable, then I guess I’ve succeeded, to a degree.

Claim to Fame

They’d already barred me before, the twats. All I’d done was resign. But I’d not even waited for the three-month bar to lift. I’d just walked back in about 6 weeks after leaving. I even shook the doorman’s hand on entry.

The staff in Baa Bar, even the managers, seemed so jaded by everything. The week before, twenty-or-so gangster wannabes were beating the shit out of each other outside the entrance with the majority of customers watching through the immense glass doors. Every night the obligatory puke king (or queen) slipped in their own vomit in the staircase, which only heightened the sickening level of pretence held by the customers despite the fact that they were paying a pound a time for a shot with hardly any alcohol in. All of this played out between the exposed brick walls and beneath twenty rotating disco balls, scattering blotches of light in every direction and heightening the effects of the cheap drink. There are a lot of distractions. Who can blame the doormen for letting me back in again? I still don’t know why they bothered to bar me.
We’d sat down on these poofs, watching women get drunk and opportunities pass us by. But when someone passed me by a bit too closely, it wasn’t a woman. It was a man. A big, black man. He’d caught himself on my toe, stumbling forward for a second.

I gulped. I saw what this looked like. I could tell, however, that he did not. I held my hands up in confused apology. He leaned into me until I could see every angry feature in his face.


His fingers hit my cheek lightly. A man like that could have ripped my head off in a second, and probably thought nothing of it. He might not even remember it in the morning. I watched him traipse off to the bar.

Paralysing fear was still eminent behind Toby’s eyes. But the fear I felt had morphed into something else. Anger. Disgust. Who the fuck was that? In this bar, I thought, no scally gives me shit. No matter how big they are.

I got out of my seat.

“I’m not standing for that,” I said, and marched to the door.

Ben was on security- a guy more-or less my age but twice my size. I told him what had happened and he called his team mate over.

“’Ave a mooch around for him,” said the man, who must have been edging on the minimum weight requirement for a doorman. “Tell me what he looks like, and I’ll throw him out.”

I found the guy propping up the corner of the bar. He was less discreet than he was clearly hoping, standing in front of a giant poster featuring a multicoloured alcoholic shot.

Good, I thought. You waste a few extra quid. Let’s see it all kick off now.

I backed off to the doormen.

“He’s big, he’s black, he’s bald,” I said. I was starting to sound like Bret, the victim of the hitmen in Pulp Fiction. “And he’s wearing a long-sleeve, dark green t-shirt with little holes in it. He’s at that corner of the bar.” I pointed.

I waited in the middle of the bar with Ben as the other doorman pushed his way to the corner. After reaching the individual, it was obvious from the doorman’s face that he had begun to administer a fair bollocking to said scally. This was despite the fact that he towered a full head over the doorman.

I couldn’t help but think: where do people get the balls to act like that- to take the risk of getting filled in without even showing a glimmer of weakness or fear? Doormen must possess something that removes the thought of defeat from their minds- to solve a problem, regardless of risk.

Whatever it is they have, it works. The scally didn’t even argue. He put down the bottle that he’d only just been served, and walked out past me on his own. He didn’t glance at me as he walked out, but I watched him walk down onto the street and disappear from view. I didn’t fancy being thrown into the canal by some angry meathead.

The doormen were also monitoring his departure, but there was something I’d missed in all of this- some extra nougat of curiosity that the doormen were chewing over.

The doorman who spoke to him came back to me.

“Do you know who he was?”

“Nope,” I said, “Never seen him before.”

“He’s Trevor Sinclair. He plays for England.”

I could practically feel the comedy cash signs appearing in my eyeballs. I tried to stay calm.

Let’s not jump to conclusions, I thought. It might not be him. I might not be able to sue the shit out of him, or get my name in the paper. But I’m damn well going to try. Fucking footballers.

Toby had already texted Stu, our seemingly agoraphobic housemate, with our involved level of celebrity happenings. From the confines of his safe, comfortable room, Stu replied simply-

“Bollocks mate. Trevor Sinclair plays for West Ham.”

He could be right, I thought. West Ham is a 200-mile trek from Manchester.

I tried to cast my mind back to the footage of the World Cup in Japan the year before. I’d actually watched every England game, including their inevitable defeat at the hands of Brazil in the quarterfinals. It was the only time I’d ever paid any attention to football.

He wasn’t big enough to be Emile Heskey, but Sinclair? Maybe, from what I could remember.
We had caused enough trouble in the short space of time we’d been in the bar. It was time to
make our own exit.

I shook Ben’s hand. “Thanks for the help tonight, mate,” I said.

“No problem. Seriously mate. Go to the press. You’ll make a fucking mint.”

“Will do.”

Fear. Disgust. Surprise… and now anticipation. What a night.

I kept checking over my shoulder as I walked back to the flat. The last thing I wanted was to be jumped by some angry A-list footballer with a vendetta. The first thing I wanted was to laugh myself to sleep.

The next day I dragged Toby down Deansgate to the offices of the Manchester Evening News, as my witness. I was put in touch with Nicola Dowling, a journalist who told me she would try to find out where Trevor Sinclair was last night. In the reception area of the M.E.N, I fed her the details of the night.

Like most journalists Ms Dowling was somewhat of a law expert.

“I obviously can’t phone Trevor Sinclair,” she said, miming holding a phone, “and say, ‘Oh, hello Mr. Sinclair. You wouldn’t happen to have been in Baa Bar last night, would you?’ ‘cause he isn’t going to want to talk to me. So I’m going to have to do some sneaking around. The bar won’t want to talk to me, ‘cause that would be bad publicity for them. So I’m going to have to do some sneaking around. But I’ve got your details, and I’ll be in touch.”

I felt slightly unnerved- not at the thought of getting Trevor Sinclair angrier, but because I’d been given another snapshot of the working world of media. I knew that my uni course, Media Production, was not preparing me for anything as professional as this.

And that’s as far as it went. Because of the aforementioned legal issues, the article remained unpublished. Sorry Ms Dowling, I’ve potentially plagiarised your work here. But as Doctor Alban would say, it’s my life.

I never found out for sure whether the culprit really was Trevor Sinclair, although Sinclair himself allegedly pulled out of a training session the next day due to injury…

Am I Insane?

Internet Celebrity gossip source “Popbitch” – Birthplace of many questionable (and sometimes disturbing) rumours, once printed this piece on America’s grave struggle with the minds of the populous.

Caught in a trap: Everyone’s got a disorder

Dr Robert Spitzer is probably America’s
leading psychiatrist. In the 80s he
identified a vast number of disorders –
Obsessive Compulsive, Attention Deficit etc.
In 2007 more than 50% of Americans have been
diagnosed as suffering from a psychological
disorder. But Dr Robert says he now thinks he
was wrong, and that his diagnoses just
confused these syndromes with ordinary human
behaviour and unhappiness. Which is, I guess
bad news for the highly-paid therapists
on Robbie, Britney, Gazza etc’s payroll.

Popbitch, 1/3/07

When I read this, there was one defining moment in my life that the article seemed to tie into.
In 2006 I applied for a job with an Australian custody company, GSL. They had branched out and had recently signed a contract with Manchester courts. The position of “custody officer” appealed and I went to yet another company assessment day.

Imagine an entire series of The Apprentice slammed into one day, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the hoop jumping and grilling dished out by the hard-nosed businessmen running the company, putting on the event – and eventually hiring the shining, jammy assets of the group.

After the initial personal detail form-filling a second form was handed over to us- a grid of numbers starting at 1, with each number followed by the letters A-E.

I had lost count of how many of these “psychometric tests” I had filled out. There had been loads, mostly from companies that didn’t hire me- and some from companies that did (and then proceeded to fire me when they realised I wasn’t quite the heartless-bastard salesman they wanted). I had no faith in this method of gathering information.

My competency was actually tested after this, when we were put through our paces on English comprehension, Maths, memory and cognitive group exercises. I was becoming doubtful that I would be hired: if memory and maths were relevant to the job, I wasn’t going to be hired. These areas of the brain are the two Achilles heels I walk around on, and this test had just stepped on both of my feet. However, people had already been whittled out through the selection process and I was still there. I must have done something right.

The remainder of the applicants were all a certain breed: One had graduated in criminal law and, despite being my age, was already married. Others had a background in security and looked somewhat dangerous. I was the smallest guy in the room, but the next guy wasn’t that much bigger than me. The rest, I guessed, were steroid-munchers.

Had I beaten the system? Had I just known how to handle certain questions and behaved in the way the conglomerate company wanted me to? Or would I really be better than half the other applicants at looking after the convicted scum of Manchester’s society? I was about to get GSL’s professional opinion.

One by one, the applicants were taken out of a waiting room. I assumed the interview room was on the other side of a corridor. But when a manager called my name he led me out of the building, past the cricket ground that they were using as a venue, into a different building and into a very stereotypical interview room- too large for purpose, with a solitary chair facing a long desk. Three of the managers were sat behind the desk, doing their best “Dragon’s Den” impressions.

“Okay Matt,” said Dragon 1. “Sit down, please.”

Let’s get this over with, I thought. It’s going to be interesting to see what angle they take. Perhaps, “We don’t hire innumerate morons in this organisation Matt. The shed’s that way…”

“Before we start, Matt,” said the stern late-thirties man on the left, “I’ve got to ask you- is there anything you need to tell us?”

My guilty conscience immediately gave me flashbacks of the year before. I had tried a couple of stints in the world of Media sales: Flogging adverts to arrogant company directors. This had proved not to be my forte and I was, needless to say, sacked both times. In an attempt to only show my better side, I had left these off the application form. They had, thankfully, overlapped onto other jobs so there was never a gap in my CV. But had they done research? Had they contacted the Inland Revenue, who had in turn grassed me to GSL? Was that possible?

I stuck to my story. If I changed it, I definitely wouldn’t get the job. If I kept things as they were, I probably wouldn’t. That’s a minor improvement.

“Erm…” My composure was slipping. “No?”

“Matt- we’ve analysed the results from your psychometric test. It suggests the possibility… that you could have some instabilities in your character. It basically says you’re a time bomb waiting to go off.”

My brain took off like a fighter jet. I wanted to laugh, but I was too freaked out. Something had been exposed, but I couldn’t place what it was. First, I always joke with my mates that I’m a nutcase. When you portray yourself as having sociopathic tendencies, the jokes are endless. My style of humour is disturbed. Second, and here’s what I wasn’t prepared to tell some arrogant cunt-in-a-suit seemingly denying me a job- There are a lot of things that make me very unhappy. I’m normally a “smiling motherfucker”, as Ving Rhames would say, but beneath the surface… I have more problems than an applied maths anthology.

I wasn’t prepared for my mental state to be grilled. Someone who has never met me before has picked up on something deeply personal and highly problematic- on a day when I am trying my hardest to impress.

“We can’t afford to have someone like that on our team, Matt.”

We were all trying to do the same thing- figure out whether the said assumptions were valid. I was thinking: has this test uncovered something dark about me? Is this confirmation of something I have suspected for years?

Suffice to say, I left the cricket ground still unemployed. Days later, a letter was to arrive on my doorstep confirming my lack of success. It did not mention any reason.

In retrospect, the idea that you could assuage somebody’s mental stability through a multiple-choice questionnaire is ridiculous, and a company like GSL should have known better than to use “psychometric testing” for these purposes. They should also have known better than to have suggested that a well-intentioned applicant had a mental instability. They are not psychologists. They are custody officers.

It’s annoying how it can sometimes take hours for the world’s best comeback line to pop into your head. I think it took me a few weeks.

On every application form, companies are obliged by law to have a section asking, “Do you consider yourself to have a disability?” Due to my memory difficulties, I always tick “yes”. Nobody at GSL had asked me about this, or the results from the memory test today. In an attempt to figure out what my memory difficulty is, I have visited two educational psychologists, numerous support tutors, and have been tested in far more advanced ways than this, including brain scans. I am quite sure that if I did have “instabilities in my character”, these methods would have picked up on any psychological irregularities.

Stick that in your blunt and smoke it, GSL. Any excuse to whittle the numbers down, eh? As trainingzone.co.uk says, “one person’s liveliness is another’s distractibility”. You ask me to assess my own personality then turn me down on the basis of my own tick-box decision. How about assessing me yourself? Don’t assume that my perception of myself is going to help you judge my abilities. This test was two years ago- I’ve been through further struggles in life, but the “time bomb” still hasn’t gone off. Despite the urges we all get, I still haven’t stabbed anyone in the neck with a pencil. And I doubt I will, despite temptations from custody managers insulting me over issues they know little or nothing about.

I have thought too much about it. Months later a former employee of GSL told me he resigned because the managers were all twats, and the atmosphere of working for the company was sour as fuck. He also mentioned that through his recruitment process hey had turned people down for an array of ridiculous reasons.

So what do you think? Am I a stable but challenged individual? Or is there a possibility…

Hunks in Trunks

I’m actually beginning to type with last night’s fake tan and baby oil still stuck to my hands, and pretty much every other part of my body. The shower didn’t remove it all.

Hunks In Trunks is Walkabout’s national current competition- a selection of local men brave enough to strut about on stage in Speedos, competing against each other. I, of course, volunteered when asked a few weeks ago.

All the competitors met on the night (although I knew Mike from Cuba Cuba and recognised a couple of others). Any of us could have seen who the top 2 were going to be- they were unblemished gym addicts and traditionally handsome. We quickly decided to treat this as a fun event and not to have Mr. Universe- style competitive bitchiness.

The upstairs bar was cordoned off for the competitors to chill in: it was important that the crowd didn’t see us until we were due on stage. Kat, Donna and Sarah- Walkabout staff- took excellent care of us to make sure we knew what was going on. Of course, we were only allowed to know part of that. The upstairs bar also doubled as a changing room. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but I can assure you that things have changed since PE in third year. I’m not too far down the smaller end of the scale, it seems. Although the Speedo style trunks were dangerously oversized for my meagre 30” waist. It was also pointed out to me that most guys shave armpits now. Hence, I have just taken a break in typing to do so and my armpits now itch like fuck.
Waiting was the hardest part- the nerves took hours to kick in. We were plied with sambuca and given a few bottles Before going on stage we were lathered in tanning oil and baby oil by the girls. (Okay, they did the backs. We had to do the rest ourselves. It’s Walkabout, not the local massage parlour, the Georgian.) Some of the guys were taking the piss a little bit and being a bit too flirty with Donna and she was getting irate. I stepped in to calm things down…
Those of us who did work out were priming ourselves- I was doing press-ups with claps in-between like DeNiro does in Taxi Driver, and a couple of others bicep-curled gas canisters that we found near the bar.

I had the perfect position in the running of things: being the second contestant to go on stage meant I got an idea of what was happening (although I got bollocked for looking around the curtain at the side of the stage) but I could get my appearance out of the way and not piss myself with nerves beforehand. I knew I had to do something with Kat, involving a liquid of some kind.
I was called out and I gave it some gusto. The presenter (not the DJ) asked me a few questions. Thankfully these didn’t relate to sex, otherwise I’d have been fucked. (Is that a pun? I don’t even know…) I had to deliver my best chat up line.

“If I see two girls at a bar, I’ll probably walk up to them, put a hand on their shoulder and say: ‘Ladies- I don’t wanna come between you- or do I?…’”

I’d like to break from the story at this point to inform you that Colin, my top friend on MySpace, texted me the next day with regards to writing this blog. He said, “Don’t forget to mention how your chat-up line went down like a lead balloon”.

So you can imagine the reaction I got. People in Oldham don’t do highbrow wit.
After proving to Oldham why I don’t chat up girls, I proceeded to lie Kat down on the stage, pour whipped cream on her boobs and stomach, stick a few strawberries over her and lick them off, occasionally feeding her a strawberry mouth to mouth. It was pretty cool, although I could probably have got away with a lot more.

I waited backstage. One by one the guys went up and gave it their best, usually returning to the corridor looking like the girls had molested them with fridge paraphernalia, not the other way around. After this the judges were given a break to decide who gets the top three places.
So, to keep the crowd entertained, Kat, Donna and Sarah- in bikinis- went on stage. I could hear the crowd cheering- mostly male voices among the music- and a few minutes later they came back to the fire exit where we were waiting. They were laughing, covered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I was thinking, thank God the photographer’s out there…

Meanwhile, we knew what was going to happen next. All the competitors were called on stage together. Third, second and first places were read out. They were adorned with Olympic-style medallions. Along with this, the man receiving gold- a vain steroid abuser with poor muscle definition and a tiny cock- was given a Sony PSP. And then we were free to party.
Me, Mike and Colin went to Cuba Cuba, still wearing the Speedos and flip-flops. We managed to get past the door and onto stage and dance for about 10 seconds before the manager bollocked us for public indecency. All good fun though. I also got reprimanded by the doorman later, after dressing, for undressing again. I was fucked by this point.

It was suggested by a close friend that I could have won the competition if I’d have pushed the boat out more- by squirting that cream in a few other places and being a little more brave. Cuba Cuba, like many bars, may have had fairly strict regulations on what you can and can’t get away with. But Walkabout- for the record, an international chain found near you- doesn’t really. You can display boundary-pushing behaviour and the doormen will roll their eyes and smirk. If you see a competition like this, don’t wait to be roped into it. Just ask. I keep looking for these challenges. As Eminem would say, “The older I get, the dumber the shit I get in.”

Speed Dating and Chlamydia

08 Feb 2007

Every week one of the radio presenters on Key 103 sends out the KeyMail: an email to subscribed listeners, detailing everything the station is involved with over the next few days. After subscribing to this from key103.co.uk, I saw Key had organised a speed dating night in Stockport. I instantly forwarded this to everyone on the promotions unit, the Street Team, asking them to back me up. There was no way I was missing out on this. Unfortunately I have the persuasive skills of a mentally challenged gibbon, so it didn’t appear to be getting off the ground for me, or my mates. How the hell I have managed to work in promotions for so long without these skills is a total mystery.

At the last minute, my boss emailed the whole team saying there was a shortage of men. I had to stop and think. Bar. Lots of girls. All single. All hoping to actually meet people, not just get drunk and be ignorant. BRRRRIIING IIIIT ONNNNNNNN!!!!

Speed dating is a social craze developed from an idea by Jewish Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, who devised a system to help Jews meet other Jews. Not long after, a bright spark in Beverley Hills felt that such a good timesaving (and fun) activity should not be exclusively Hebrew. The idea was modernised and implemented in Beverley Hills in 1998 and, not long after, the success of speed dating snowballed its way across the Atlantic to us Brits.

I got booked in and drove down there, manouvering around the ring road with surprising ease. I had to ask for directions in some dodgy part of Stockport (not the brightest of ideas, but what choice did I have?) but eventually I found the bar hosting the event. Stockport’s Brannigans was freezing due to being much quieter than a busy weekend night, but there were a number of applicable women there.

So I was sat at this table with some girl, sipping pineapple juice. (I cannot remember names, faces, anything- other than the odd occupation- an HR chick, a vet, someone in debt collection), I began to realise I had an upper hand. I’d done it before. I was possibly the least nervous person there, for numerous reasons: 1) I worked for the outfit putting on the event
2) I had done it before (at a disasterously overpopulated night at Tiger Tiger where, due to being out of work at the time, I was generally overlooked by every female at the event)
3) I had a genetic upper hand over most of the other men. Ladies, if you are thinking of going out on the pull- don’t bother with Stockport. Say-no-more.

Each man had his own table. The tables were numbered, and so were the women- who had three minutes to weigh up whether or not the man she was paired with was worth spending any more vital minutes with some other time… Likewise, the men make a similar decision from the brief encounter. And both sexes have a simple choice of which box to tick- “interested”, or “not interested”. After three minutes a horn is blasted and the “date” is over. The women move on to the next man, and all participants are required to form judgements on the spot. This is a game where first impressions are literally everything.

I was getting attention from the girls and I was ticking the “interested” boxes frequently, which surprised me. I was attending the event thinking, if I don’t try it, I’ll be thinking of the possibilities that I’ll have missed out on… I didn’t realistically think I’d meet anyone that I’d want to see again.

Afterwards, we handed in the forms and we were left to chat. I was talking to breakfast presenter Chelsea’s mum, a lovely lady. I always seem to aim for one girl, miss, and end up talking to someone nearby. Hence, I didn’t actually speak to the beautiful and probably charming Chelsea. Usually I end up pulling the girls I chat up by default, in all honesty, but that was not on the cards last night. Especially not with a local celebrity who is pictured on half the buses in Oldham and who co-presents one of the most listened-to radio shows in the northwest of England.

I also talked to Chelsea’s co-host Mike Toolan, who was asking me what I wanted to do in radio- a difficult question to answer as I’ve recently realised I have no idea. I have a technical degree but no technical skills. I like working with the public. Presenting would be great, but the world-and-his-dog wants to present: I don’t think I could I could handle a radio show without an expletive slipping out here and there… At least Mr Toolan recognizes my face now.

At this point, something unbelievable occurred. I had wondered previously, wouldn’t it be cool if they had karaoke at this thing? Lo and behold, karaoke was introduced! I made a beeline for the DJ and jumped on. Within minutes I was rocking the kas bar to “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin. Chicks loved it! The Marketing girls were like: “I didn’t know you could sing!” I said: “I’m a man of many hidden talents, darling.” Then I winked.

All in all, it was a successful night. I also bumped into one of my sister’s mates, who moved to Stockport: a bit random.

Today I went to Bolton, handing out information on sexual health. As you do. The client, the NHS, asked us to particularly emphasise the dangers of chlamydia, Britain’s “most popular” sex disease. One in ten 16-24 year olds carry the infection, which can lead to infertility if left untreated. Chlamydia, it seems, originates from the marsupial, the koala. In the wild, these lovely furry creatures will breed and breed. But if their population starts to go overboard, Mother Nature steps in and whacks them with a dose of the clap. The number of infertile koalas rises, and the population stabilises. Quite how the infection spread from koalas to humans appears to be undocumented, although I think we all have the same image in our minds… It seems that Britain’s human population is undergoing similar overhaul. And the British government have still not even made sex education compulsory in schools- let alone made any of the lessons more than an embarrassing, rushed debacle.

Britain now has 60 million residents. Despite the birth rate dropping since 1991, the population has been steadily rising throughout. Perhaps nature’s backlash is imminent…

The Chlamydia promotion was quite good fun, giving people condoms and leaflets. It was fucking freezing. We infiltrated Bolton Uni and gave away tons of stuff. I drove Vicky’s car to get down there, which was quite an experience. I almost crashed on the motorway numerous times, and then totally forgot to pay and display. I FUCKING HATE RESPONSIBILITY. I wish that I could handle it and behave like any other adult, but because of many interlocking conditions- some diagnosed, some not- I am constantly some kind of outsider, no matter how much people welcome me in. So I owe Andy £15 for half the parking fine.

My life is falling apart faster than I can put it back together again. But hey. At least I don’t have clap.


Meeting Bret Easton Ellis


I will now try to describe the typically bizarre events of yesterday.

I go into Manchester in the afternoon. I’m meeting legendary writer Bret Easton Ellis at 7PM and want a few hours spare to read the latest Chuck Palahniuk book. Unfortunately I decide to spend hours wandering around Manchester aimlessly, not getting a great deal done. The library will be closing, as will the food court, which is too noisy anyway. It’s raining, so a spot of outdoor reading is off the cards. But if you are going to walk around a city checking out women and window shopping wishing you had a decent wage coming in, there’s no city better. You need a decent wage to make either of those pastimes worthwhile. Then, with 15 minutes to spare, I wander into Waterstones bookstore.

No one is around. Bemused, I tell the Clerk I’m there to see Bret Easton Ellis. He tells me he’s at the theatre on Oxford road.

I knew this. It’s written on the ticket that I bought earlier in the week. Yet because of my lack of control over myself this fact slipped from my mind, as I knew it would. This is a big deal. The man wrote American Psycho, for Christ’s sake. It carved my entire personality from the age of nineteen upwards. Patrick Bateman’s numbness and indifference to the world, and his overwhelming pride in himself, is what I’d tried to replicate. Until I read that book I’d cried nearly every night for a year. Getting people to see things from my perspective was just too much of a challenge. Then I read American Psycho. I felt like I had been shown that it is possible to present my differences and yes, people will think I’m weird but crucially- it’s okay if that means I might be dangerous.

The theatre is a good half-hour walk, but thankfully I have developed one timesaving device…

Seconds later, I’m legging it down Oxford Rd. I’m asking people if they know this particular building- it is part of one of the universities- but no-one’s heard of it. It’s a university building, for fuck’s sake, and I’m surrounded by students who live and study on this road. It’s no wonder so many people hate them.

I take someone’s advice to flag down a taxi. I babble instructions to the driver and sit leaning forward impatiently as we crawl through the traffic almost an hour after “rush hour” was supposed to end.

Eventually we get to the building and I’m so pained by my lack of organisation that when the fare reaches around £3 I throw a fiver through the glass letterbox and snap “keep the change”, not even feeling ripped off. Then I’m charging through the glass doors of this building waving my ticket around like I’m in a lap dancing club, and a random lady from Waterstones tells me I’m on time and rips my ticket in half.

Relief washes over me so strongly that everything goes grey for a second, like an un-tuned television, and there’s a chance for me to buy Mr. Ellis’s new novel, Lunar Park, which I pay for in cash as I don’t trust these people with my card if they’re not going to use chip and pin.

I’m using my New-York photo-print shirt to dab the sweat from my face, neck and arms and I realise I’ve not had anything to drink in hours. And this is going on for another four, according to my ticket- or what remains of it.

In the hall where Mr. Ellis is due to speak, an old man from Waterstones emerges from behind the stage curtain. He gives an introductory talk, discussing Mr. Ellis’ work- that most people in the room already know, I guess. He ends with, “Please welcome Mr. Bret Easton Ellis.”

Mr. Ellis Walks onstage, looking familiar although a lot older than in his pictures from the inside of some of his book covers. I notice that my body temperature has dropped to a reasonable level. He gives an introduction to his work then reads the first chapter of Lunar Park, which had been reproduced in a broadsheet that I’d read a few weeks previously. I also noticed that, although an excellent writer, he’s not as comfortable reading as perhaps a Radio 4 presenter might be.

After reading, the guy from Waterstones (actually I think it might have been a girl) asks him a few questions about his work. Then she opens he forum to the floor.

I’d already planned a few questions on a piece of paper a few hours before, leaning on an NTL advert in the Arndale Shopping centre. I have picked the best one and I am poised.

Most of the people asking questions are smart-arsed English students from Manchester Uni, revelling in the opportunity to grill a best-selling novelist on taxing issues-

STUDENT: How have schools of thought like post modernism affected your work and what are your opinions on it?

MR. ELLIS: Uh, I dunno. Um… It’s not really something I know a great deal about. Sorry.

(Murmurs and giggles from the audience)

STUDENT: After American Psycho, did you get any endorsements from Habitrail?

(More laughs. The novel American Psycho includes a scene where a woman is tortured to death by having a starved rat fed down a Habitrail tube into her vagina, causing an extremely prolonged death for said girl, not to mention a backlash of disgust from women’s rights groups worldwide.)

Mr. Ellis sighs.

MR. ELLIS: I think I got given a couple of Armani suits, and I think some hardware store gave me an axe, and maybe a few power tools.

One girl’s query is so convoluted and pretentious that Mr. Ellis’ response is nothing more than a confused pause, then “Am I just not understanding the question?”

As this embarrassing tirade from Manchester’s student population continues, I raise my hand each time. I’m right on the front row, but the lady from Waterstones is picking every other random person. Mr. Ellis glances at me every time there is a new question, but the Waterstones lady hasn’t even noticed.

“I think we’ve got time for one more question,” she says. Then Mr. Ellis interjects.

“This guy’s been so patient. He’s had his hand up every time.”

The overhead microphone swings my way and I think: this guy’s a legend. He’ll remember me now.

“My question is: I noticed with Glamorama that the book had a much more cinematic structure and feel to it than your previous novels. How did the fact that you’ve had movie deals with American Psycho and Rules of Attraction- how did that affect the way you wrote Glamorama?”

Mr. Ellis sighs again, but he’s smiling this time. There’s a pause. “At last,” he says. “A question I can answer.”

His answer is a little difficult to understand, but after talking it through with a girl sat next to me the mist clears. Mr. Ellis has written film scripts as well as novels, and if Glamorama was supposed to be a film that’s how he would have written it. The novel is a satire on celebrity- on films, music and fashion- so the style was set to remind us of those mediums. Not to mention, the outline of Glamorama’s plot was written before American Psycho was made as a film. (I think we can discount the 1987 movie, Less Than Zero, as very few people know it exists- possibly because it’s terrible- although interestingly, it stars Robert Downey Jr. as an affluent drug addict. And if you look carefully, you can actually see the irony leaking out of the TV screen.)

So perhaps not a total answer, but a good one.

After this we clap to say goodbye as Mr. Ellis takes a photograph of his audience and walks off. We exit the theatre into the foyer. As I’d already bought Lunar Park, I don’t have to join that queue. Instead I join the even bigger queue to get my novel signed, and it’s at that point that I realise that I haven’t had anything to drink since breakfast and my breathing’s getting heavy. I’d almost dried off in the theatre, but now I’m sweating again and the theatre feels like an oven.

I notice that the queue to buy a book and the queue to get them signed have merged somewhat, and everyone’s gradually crawling forward in the same mass. I’m trying to strike up conversations with people around me but they’re all typically ignorant students with no interpersonal skills. I’m too tired anyway.

When a member of staff from the university opens the remote-controlled windows, there’s a communal mumble that almost passes as a cheer.

After about an hour, I get to the front of the queue and it seems he remembers me.

“Thank you for your patience, Matt,” he says, scrawling in the first page. He knows my name because the Waterstones staff stuck a sticky note in the book so I could get a dedication.

I shake his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I say.

“You too”, he replies.

I walk out into the glorious, dark, pissing, warm rain. While Mr. Ellis is no doubt ferried back to a luxury city centre hotel, I’m quite happy to have a half- hour stroll through Manchester, then dry off on the bus while immersing myself in chapter one…

Most Embarrassing Moment

When I was nineteen I had my first, and undoubtedly worst, sexual experience.

It wasn’t my choice to wait this long. I’d thought about it every day since I was eight, I just did not have a clue how to get what I wanted. Looking back, it’s amazing I even managed what I did.

I’d pulled Christine on the dance floor at a party. Due to my hot – and – cold personality I don’t always have the power of persuasion, and I wasn’t particularly coercive then. But one advantage I have over most men- and what clinched the deal that night- was my ability to dance. And combining this with a bit of sweet charm, I’d got her to show more than a little interest.

At this time, if I pulled a girl, I’d normally find that that she’d just drift away into the night afterwards. I seemed incapable of sustaining a girl’s interest. I felt like the jacket that you try on in-store, and then hand back to the salesman while breathing in through the teeth. (“It’s nice, but… nah…”) And if a girl did show interest, she usually acted like a complete chav- suspicious, and frequently aggressive- meaning I’d be the one to get rid. I’d think, this is a lot of stress. And I get THIS as a payoff?

I could probably have counted the amount of girls I’d kissed on two hands. But now things were different: she was a friend of a friend. She wasn’t a randomer, and she was a guest at the same party as me.

A friend of this girl’s, Rob, was offering to buy me a drink. I think he went to college with her or something- they both seemed like the performance type.

“Do you wanna come to the bar then?” He asked.

“Yeah, ok…”

I assumed he was going continue this conversation about what he did at college (the same college I’d recently left) but at the bar there was a strange pause as we waited to get served.

“I’m not being funny, mate,” he said, “but have you got the money?”

This threw me for a second. Was I rude to assume he was offering to buy me a drink? In retrospect: no. He was being a cock. But these people exist.

I sat down with Christine. Within minutes I’d already forgotten her name, despite it being my mother’s. She drew me to her by her personality more than anything. As you could imagine, I was somewhat nervous. At that age I was going through a process of self-styling: I was constantly changing the way I dressed, behaved and styled my hair. I didn’t know who I was. Hence, I was fidgeting with the ridiculously garish gold-leaf medallion ring that I wore on my middle finger. (For the record, I pawned this some years later.)

She noticed that my fingers were twitching and I was staring intensely into space. Her hand rested on mine.

“Relax. Are you nervous?”



“I’ve just, er, been in some pretty bad situations before. With girls.”

“Did you get hurt?”

“Well… You could say that.” I was misleading her. I’d only been on one date, and she’d fucked me off for her ex. I’d never been in a relationship, but vicious, piss-taking bitches in school had mentally scarred me. That was a fact.

“I’ve been hurt too,” she said. “So you’ve nothing to worry about.”

You were hurt no doubt in a relationship, I thought: in a scenario of which I have no comprehension. I stifled jealousy. I just wanted to see what became of the night- probably just a phone number.

I usually got nervous around attractive girls. I was nervous around Christine, but how into her was I? I assumed quite a lot, considering how uncomfortable I was.

The party was coming to an end. It felt early- rented function rooms don’t stay open too long. There was some kind of gathering happening at Rob’s house- just a walk away from the function room.

Rob’s parents owned an old, large building somewhere in Stalybridge. Even though the house was a tip, his parents must have been loaded to live in that area. The inventor of the barcode allegedly lived a few streets away. The “party” turned out to be about 5 people: the birthday girl, me and Christine, and Rob and Leanne, his apparent girlfriend. If she is his girlfriend, I was thinking, he’s about to lose her. His attempts to coerce her into sex were getting her more pissed off by the second.

Leanne was pushing him away from her, but she was smiling, flirting back with him. I could never understand why women did that. If you’re interested, girls: don’t waste time. Just say, “Okay. Let’s not waste time”. If you’re not, and a guy’s being really sleazy, like this cretin was, just say “get the fuck off me”. Don’t fuck us around. Particularly don’t fuck me around.

While this was happening, Christine leaned in closer and whispered in my ear.

“Do you wanna do it?”

In that moment I thought, heh, that sounded as if she meant- shit. She does want to do it. Christ! All these years, and this is all I had to do? I started to get flashbacks of primary school. When I was eight, rumours emerged in the playground. There was something that men and women did, and it was apparently amazing… Everyone else who heard such rumours- they’d probably all done it. I was probably the last one. I’d had to wait 11 years to put this knowledge into practice, but considering this I still felt strangely unenthusiastic. Instead of eager anticipation, I started to feel something resembling… dread.

“Er… Yeah?”

Nerves started to kick in again. My fingers were trembling and my bladder expanding. She led me by the hand into a back room somewhere, picking up some bed sheets. The rich bastard had a spare lounge. She pushed me onto the expensive-looking couch and draped the sheets over us both, intensifying the smell of her perfume. She kissed me, unbuttoning my shirt. She stroked my stomach and smiled at me. This is what I’ve done all those sit-ups for, I thought. At last, someone has taken advantage.

I stroked the inside of her thigh. Was this right? This was something I’d heard about in school, something that apparently drove women crazy. She put her fingers over mine and guided them down her thigh, pulling our fingers away quickly as they neared her crotch. It was an instruction. I tried to copy her, and tried to make out her expression in the dark. She looked like she was really enjoying it, but this girl was a performance student. She’d been trained to act. She’s a damn good actor, if that’s what she’s doing, I thought.

I reached the top of her legs. Well, I thought, she’s definitely a woman. That’s one weight off my mind. There was something at the top of her opening- a small nub of flesh that protruded through her pubes. Ah, I thought. I know what this is. When I ran my finger over it, she arched her back towards me, inhaling sharply. She exhaled when I pushed in my forefinger and index finger, medallion ring included.

I did what felt natural. I made a kind of “come here” gesture with my fingers, very slowly. I was caressing her wet, warm front wall, but it felt like I was doing a practical exercise- it wasn’t a harmonious union of two people. I was just trying to figure out what worked for her. After a few minutes of this, lactic acid swelled my wrist. My muscles were on fire. She was telling me not to stop, and her insides started to grip onto my fingers. The more she gripped, the faster I flexed, and the pressure increased until I could hardly move them any more- I was trapped inside her. And then she gushed. She moaned, her muscles relaxed and my fingers were covered in warm water and there was a distinct smell like nothing on Earth.

Well, I thought. That wasn’t too hard. Although she did last a hell of a lot longer than I do.

I’d read in some lad’s magazine that you should NEVER say, “ was that good for you?” after sex.

“How did that feel?”

“Fucking hell Matt. You are so good at that.” Then she sucked and bit on my throat.

Something wasn’t right. I was detached from the whole situation- I was curious about everything but I just wasn’t aroused. This was not what I wanted. But considering she’d just come all over my hands, it was too late to tell her. Discomfort was mounting.

Seconds later, she dragged me into a bathroom.

“Wait here,” she said, and shut the door as she left. I still couldn’t even tell whether I fancied this girl or not: the events of that night had gone so fast. I was going to find out…

I stared at my reflection. My mind was blank. Christine had left a mark on my throat and it still burned. My medallion ring had lost its shine and had a dull, sticky coating. The door opened.

“Leanne’s getting pissed off with him, you know.” She’d obviously told her all about me. Hey, I thought. That’s not such a bad thing. “He’s a dick.”

“Why doesn’t she just dump him then?” Why am I the only voice of reason?

“Oh, she’s not going out with him. She hardly knows him.”

Fuck, I thought. Where do people get the idea that behaving that way gets you where you want to be?

She dropped to her knees and started unzipping my fly. I was starting to get hard but something was wrong- I wasn’t really nervous any more but I could feel a discomfort of sorts, like I needed to think about what I was doing before I do it. Before I came to anything resembling a decision, I was already in her mouth and she was sucking me. It felt like intense pins and needles only wet, and I was thinking- wow, people actually do this outside the world of porn? I gritted my teeth, trying to figure out whether I should have led her on in the first place. I looked at myself in the bathroom cabinet mirror and thought, you moron. What have you got yourself into?

My paranoia crested and I started to go limp in her mouth. My breathing became shaky. We both tried to ignore the situation: I said nothing and she carried on sucking.

“Stop,” I said as casually as possible, like I was trying to help someone reverse a car. Then I started jabbering away like an idiot, swearing I didn’t have any problems. All I wanted to reverse at that point was time. The whole thing seemed like a dream: I was in denial that anything had gone wrong. I was shutting out a very real and dark moment, one that was more than I could handle.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. She was trying to soothe me, to reassure me, but the situation at hand would not allow this. I felt slightly sick. The cigarette smoke in her breath put me off even more. What dignity there was in the situation had evaporated rapidly. “I don’t mind,” she said, “’cause you’re a really nice guy…”

Oh, well, that makes everything all right then, I thought. It appears I have some kind of erectile dysfunction, but hey- I’m a really nice guy. Fantastic. Do I just not fancy this girl? I was beginning to hope not. If I did, then there was a serious problem. But I do okay on my own, thank you very much.

We walked back into the lounge, now empty, and fell asleep together on the sofa. As I drifted off I hopelessly wondered whether I’d wake up the next day and it would all be a dream.