Thursday, 25 February 2010
“'Did I bring the porno?' What to I look like? Some kind of 'non-porno-bringer'?”
-Peter Griffin, Family Guy
It has been nearly a year since the husband of Home Secretary Jaqui Smith was caught using her expense to pay for two pay-per-view porn movies for her husband. Since then, the MPs' expenses scandal has deepened and deepened.
I've already mentioned in 'Human Nature', a previous blog, that greed is intrinsic to human character and that our MPs are just like every other normal person- they'll take what they can when they can.
There was something about this particular expenses claim, however, that didn't sit right.
The Daily Mail quoted Ms. Smith as saying, “I am sorry that, in claiming for my internet connection, I mistakenly claimed for a television package alongside it.”
This is the equivalent of writing a cheque to your gas supplier and “accidentally” missing a digit off.
The majority of Britain was angrily asking, “Why are my taxes being used so that Jaqui Smith's husband can have a wank?” I, however, wondered who actually pays for porn these days.
Ms. Smith had already claimed for her internet connection, which is usually an up-front monthly bill these days. Did neither she, nor her husband, realise how much porn was available online, right at their, um, fingertips? No matter how weird or bland his tastes, he'd find his niche on the net: the internet caters for a wide range of tastes. Or so I believe.
What her husband did was ultimately pretty normal- the adult entertainment industry is the biggest industry in the world. Lots of people do the same thing as him. I just don't know why Ms. Smith used a medium she'd have to pay for separately in the first place, let alone claim for it on her parliamentary expenses. And why didn't anyone else ask this?
It just goes to show how up-to-date our MPs are with technology, society and the world. Why is it that the higher that people climb through the ranks of politics, the less of a grip they seem to have on reality?
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
My back is against the wall, more bills than money to pay...
When I need relief I pray
- The Pressure, Sounds of Blackness
Early 2004. I was in third year at uni, desperately trying to catch up on the mountains of media coursework that had piled up. Something had gone wrong- I'd hesitated when starting the work, convinced I was going to fuck it up. And I was right. My assignments were laid out in ways that didn't help- headings were jumbled, practical projects were on hold while I caught up and team-members were getting impatient. Before Christmas there had seemed so little to do- then a few months down the line, I had a world of work to plough through and little idea of how to finish it all.
How was I supposed to tell a comedy club how to utilise their advertising budget? How could I have advised the heads of ITV on how to improve Parkinson when the talk show moved over from the BBC?
I'm just a simple man. After two-and a half years at uni, I started to wonder why I was there. But I was no defeatist. I would finish that degree.
Hence, I sat back down at the computer, the gold background blurring the contrast of the meagre 500 words that I'd managed to knock out. I could stare at the screen longer that way. I needed to finish this, fast. That's why I'd been living on 6 hours sleep a night for the past two weeks, jamming chocolate and Red Bull down my throat every evening.
A lecturer of a separate module had already snapped at me earlier that week, playing the tough industry veteran. I owed him some overdue work as well. Out of spite, I worked on something else to get his face out of my mind. Only this module was also perplexing me. Something about an inventor. He's made a microphone. We are required to advise him on how to protect his invention legally. We're studying media, not product design. This won't relate to our future remotely. I wonder how much of this course actually will.
My hands were moving over the keyboard again. There was an extra distraction of sorts, but something I might not feel if I wasn't so busy. Media legality slipped out of my mind as I stumbled to the toothpaste-stained sink at the other end of the room. The light above the mirror illuminated my reflection, my worn face obscured by months of fluoride-spit and grime. I forgot work for a moment and thought, Why didn't I clean here?
A growl of sorts responded to this, right from the centre of me. Then I blew chunks of pizza into the sink, strands of bread base congealed, hanging in saliva. My vision obscured behind watery eyes and my knees gave way.
Leaning with my head on a cupboard door, I tried to think of what I'd eaten and when. I couldn't place anything, but I'd not been hungry so I must have had pretty regular meals. It could only be one thing, I figured.
That was the most pressure I had ever put myself through. The right amount can get people to achieve all sorts- just look at how technology can leap forward during wartime. Without the Nazi's efforts to dominate the globe, America wouldn't have invented the atomic bomb. Britain wouldn't have developed the cavity magnetron for anti-submarine aircraft, and eventually the microwave oven. I got my degree in the end, so there was a certain sense of macabre logic to the insane graft that I put in- and the insane bullshit I put up with- even if it didn't pay off in the long-run. I'm still poor as fuck and the outdated equipment wasn't used in the industry then, let alone now. At the time, I was immensely pissed off with the situation. If the course had been laid out better, I would have had more to do in the first semester and less to sever my nerves with in the second.
Despite all this, I couldn't help feeling a sinister, nihilistic sense of enjoyment from what I put myself through. Lecturers wanted this work off me, or I wouldn't graduate. Today, in an attempt to get my writing noticed, I am the master and the slave. I write when I want and I stop when I'm tired. But how alive am I feeling? When was the last time I felt the constant thumb of pressure? And how much quicker can I get work written, and hopefully published, If I play the master a little more?
Well. Let's say I choose March as the month to test this. By the first of April I want to have written every day. I've got around 20 projects that I started and never finished. I'll polish off as many as I can. I never work to targets as I never have any idea of how long anything will take me, whether it's writing or driving or anything else. My only real target is to feel that burden until the 1st April, that daily guilt that I carried every day towards the end of third year at uni. Back then I had to work, otherwise- what was I doing?
Add to this the fact that I am using up leave and am in work for one day a week, for the next month. April 1st is the date that the annual year changes over, so I had to take my leave now or I would have lost it. Hence, the time that I have to do this should allow for immense wordage.
As Joe Cabot from Reservoir Dogs would say... Let's go to work.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
“With audacity one can undertake anything, but not do everything.”
I've just received a letter from my old university asking me if I'd like to join many other graduates by donating money to help more students get through their degrees.
“For one nursing student, this cash injection has put a roof over her head,” it says.
Over the years, I've become more and more bitter about my Higher Education experience. I'm aware that I'm quite privileged to have been able to go, but I feel, in retrospect, that the decision was a rash one. I am £9,000 in debt because of my university course. This is a small figure compared to the average £12,000 debt for most 2005 graduates (my graduation year) according to The Institute for Education Policy Research.
I'm pretty appalled that The University of Salford has the nerve to send me this letter. I'm sure many other graduates feel the same. However, I can already imagine the university heads' response to this complaint. They would tell me that it was my choice completely to go to university. Nobody made me do it, and I knew I'd have a large debt to pay off at the end of it. They are right. I just did it because, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. What chance did I have of getting a media job with a Merit-level GNVQ?
Universities are businesses. They are there, primarily, to make money. I was a customer, and I paid for three and a half years to get a 2:1 in Professional Broadcast Techniques. Granted, I grafted my arse off to get it. But it would be nice if it was actually worth more than the paper the certificate was printed on. What did I want at the end of all this? I cannot answer that question, to this day. Here's why.
Britain's UCAS system (University and College Admissions System, I think- their website doesn't define this) allows people to apply for various universities at the same time as every other applicant: at the start of their final year at college or 6th form. This was certainly the point at which I went wrong with my adult education. Why apply for a university course when you are knee-deep in a college course? I was half way through this course when I was encouraged to start filling out the form. I was in the middle of one of many heavy modules, consisting of a 2500-word report, a practical project, research and an evaluation. And my grades were slipping. I was too busy to be thinking about the next step.
Let's imagine that my college course, a GNVQ in Media, was less work-intensive than it was. Let's say I had more time to think about my future. I would perhaps have realised that it was still too early to be thinking about my next step. I needed to know what my strengths and weaknesses were- and this couldn't be done with only 50% of my grade marks available.
Here's one proposal for the government, who are ultimately responsible for the growing numbers of people going through HE: force students to take a gap year between Further and Higher Education. Insist that UCAS applications are only sent by students who have completed their Further Education courses.
And here's a proposal for Salford University- and every university. Only put on a course if it will realistically prepare applicants for work in that field. My Professional Broadcast Techniques course taught virtually much nothing about the techniques of broadcasting anything professionally. Throughout the majority of the course we were making pre-recorded programmes. This is Media, in a way, but not Broadcasting. Broadcasting is defined as “to transmit (programmes) from a radio or television station.” I presented on a radio broadcast once, but using a university organisation's Restricted Service Licence. It wasn't integral to the course. Also, the equipment we used on the course was too old for industry use. So even if I wanted to be, say, a cameraman, I would have learned everything on a format that was outmoded. How similar would it be to industry-standard technology? Who can say?
Add to this the breadth of the media industry. If you want to work in TV, why study a course that includes radio modules? I didn't know what I wanted to do, but it was difficult to focus when such a variety of modules were on offer. Variety may be good, you might say. Yes it is, at Further Education level. Variety is vital then. It is the opportunity for students to recognise their strengths. But at Higher Education, you should be focussed on the line of work that you want to go into at the end of it all. Unlike a course tailored for one line of work, an unfocussed course ultimately won't help the students.
I have one last gripe. At college, I grafted consistently for two years. The modules were work-heavy and intensive. Before every deadline, everyone exhausted themselves to be ready in time. After one deadline was met, we were given another module brief. I finished the course with a decent grade and went to university with no idea what was in store.
In contrast, not only was the university course content too broad, it was also drastically mismanaged from the start. When I got to uni, the workload was so light, so unlike my intensive college course, that defied belief. In first year I was given virtually no assignments. First-year students all over the campus, each year, were in the same boat. Nobody had anything to do. In second and third year, the work fluctuated between sparseness and having six imminent deadlines. Work was always dumped on us in one giant heap. Towards Christmas in third year, I was under so much stress that I would vomit into the sink in my bedroom.
So no, University of Salford. I would not like to donate a portion of my meagre insubstantial wage back to you, after everything you've taken off me. However, even though I make a pittance and even though I am normally an extremely tight man, I still give £5 a month to Oxfam, to help people a hell of a lot poorer than any of your potential students.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
I have yet to see one completely unspoiled star, except for the animals - like Lassie.
-Edith Head, costume-designer-to-the-stars
It's early 2007 and I'm trying to chase after a girl who's a few years younger than me through some dodgy South Manchester suburb as dusk falls. It's hard to run when you're in a suit and business shoes with a long black overcoat and you've got a lap-top case strapped over one shoulder.
You should always dress up for a job interview.
Tonight I'm shadowing a door-to-door saleswoman as a working interview with CSC, a face-to-face marketing company in Manchester. At the office they'd given me a purposefully vague introduction to the work- I can't even remember what they told me it was I'd be doing. “Forward-thinking marketing”, or some psycho-babble that made it sound a thousand times more complex and yuppie-fied than it turned out to be: Going to people's houses, and getting them to change their gas and electric suppliers to CSC's.
That is Saleswoman's job.
“I joined this company when I was sixteen,” she snorted, “and within a year I was living in a penthouse apartment.”
Really, I thought. And you're, what, a supervisor? Who brings these people up? Don't they get taught not to brag? And why “Was living” ? Been demoted to the basement, maybe? Her attempts to seduce me into the job are having the opposite effect. I answered the ad because I wanted to promote ideas to people. That's how I interpret “marketing”. Pushing your way into ageing people's homes in an attempt to get them to pay for something is “sales”. Funny how the professionals of these fields don't seem to accept the difference. I know I'll be saying “no thanks” to the manager.
We leave one door after the home-owner seemed half asleep and completely disinterested. She didn't exactly force us away, though.
Saleswoman asks me, “What did you notice about her?”
“Um... her house was very- warm.”
“She was on drugs.”
We march further down the street. “Not this one,” Saleswoman says, passing one one of the semi-detached houses that already uses her supplier. She walk-runs up the next drive and simultaneously knocks on the door and rings the bell. A middle-aged woman answers hesitantly.
I'm starting to feel depressed from all the rejection, even though I'm not the one being turned down.
“You're eligible to pay less,” Saleswoman says, showing her a chart of complex figures. “Just give me a few moments and I'll explain it to you.”
In a few seconds, Saleswoman has managed to bully the home-owner into inviting us into her lounge, where I'm greeted by three large but playful collies. The closest jumps up to me and I catch her front paws and drop them down carefully again. The woman calls the dog's name. It's a girl. I ruffle the thick fur around the dog's neck, my fingers disappearing into the coat.
“They look just like Lassie,” Saleswoman says.
Home-owner tells us it's funny she should say that- it's funny that everyone says it- because parts of the new Lassie movie were filmed nearby in Yorkshire a couple of years ago. Dogs in films can't be overworked, she heard, so the film crew needed a few collies to act as stand-ins. One of her dogs- she points her out- got a walk-on part in the film.
She doesn't show us any proof of this and we don't ask, of course. She does give us proof of identification and home ownership as she fills out the paperwork, however, while I keep the dogs company for a few more minutes.
It occurs to me at that moment that there is a big distinction between the dogs and Saleswoman. Saleswoman has to be overtly nice to every potential customer- an act she has down to a tee- in order to get commission. In contrast, the dogs just want company. They are truly happy to see me and have no ulterior motives. “Unspoiled”, you could say.
As for me... although today has been an interesting experience, I still need a Goddamn job. Hence, the quest continues...
Monday, 15 February 2010
'I played a heap of snow in a school play. I was under a sheet, and crawled out when spring came. I often say I'll never reach the same artistic level again.'
Bollocks to blogging in three-month quarterly summaries. And you know what? Bollocks to magazine-style professionalism, and the constant niggle of 'how publishable is this, outside of this blog?' These thoughts do not matter right now. What matters is that I stop being a 'bell chod', as one of my readers put it, and update this blog more regularly. So here you go.
My first sound-off is to remind you (again) that, in the space of one month, I have had a few publishing successes. Stray Branch, a literature publication, accepted a story. My poem found it's way into Aphelion- another lit magazine (both online), and also my letter was featured in the Oldham Evening Chronicle- my local newspaper. I intend to carry on this way: reeling out material and getting it published.
It was fairly easy to keep this up: I was pretty much stranded inside when 15cm (9 inches) of snow was dumped all over the town of Oldham, bringing it to a standstill. This disruption also occurred from Land's End to John O' Groats. Just to remind those living underground. I'm 27 and I've never seen snow like it.
I wondered up the hill behind my house while it fell- the whole of Greater Manchester is normally visible from Heartshead. In fact, on a clear day you can see the Clwydian mountain range on the North Wales coast some 50 miles away. I marched up the track to Heartshead's summit, trudging through iced puddles, the snow falling so thick it looked like mist. Each snowflake was twice the size of a cornflake. The eroded path forked, heading into two parts of oblivion. There is a beacon tower up there, known as Heartshead Pike, that has stood since 1863. It's not quite on the summit, but it's a good a place as any to get a panoramic vista. On that day, however, I got half-way up the track before realising I couldn't actually see anything in front or behind me. And if anyone was going to get lost on a hill like that, it would be me. So I backtracked. I took a few decent pictures on my phone when the visibility cleared up further down the road.
January's high-point number two occurred when I was updating my LinkedIn account. I suppose you could call LinkedIn 'the business version of Facebook'- a social networking site without the socialising. I searched the site using my Hotmail contacts and found a girl I'd pulled in 2004 when I was at uni. She was from down south, and was visiting friends in Manchester at the time. She kinda looked like Eady from the film Heat (the one DeNiro, erm, 'gets with'), only said lady is fitter.
It turned out that she worked for the TV company BSkyB. I was studying media at the time, so we swapped Email addresses and she promised to pass my CV on to the production team, for what it's worth. Back to 2010: I connected to said lady on LinkedIn. She's now BSkyB's head of trade marketing.
Has anyone else pulled any high-profile people? Comment below!
Speaking of business- now the snow has passed and I have loads of annual leave to use up before the business year ends, I won't be in work much. So stay tuned for more bizarre accounts of what I've been dumb enough to get involved in.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
'I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.'
Recently I received my tenth publishing acceptance- a letter in the local newspaper The Oldham Chronicle. I figured that to celebrate this momentous occasion, I should offer up another piece of personal history- my first rejection email from an editor.
Mushaboom was an obscure music publication that ran in Manchester. In summer 2008 they advertised for contributions to their magazine, asking for writing or artwork. Granted, I thought, they are probably looking for music-related work only. But surely it won't hurt to send a few of my own pieces out- a few non-fiction stories about life's trials and tribulations might diversify the magazine. And if they don't like it, they can say 'no thanks.' This was mistake number one.
Well, they did say no thanks, in so many words. I sent five pieces, one after the other. One included an attempt to draw parralels between the challenges of adolescence and the challenges of adulthood, using examples from my own life. It was such a bad piece that I have since deleted it from the internet. Sending five stories at once was mistake number two.
Moral of the story? Research the publication before submitting work.
Here's the editor's reply:
i run a MUSIC fanzine and am looking for ARTICLES. you are sending me diary entries. i think you have missed the point slightly. i have no idea why you have sent these to me, you dont think i'm going to print lengthy, banal accounts of your exploits in chav bars with common as shit women. i also think it was inappropriate of you to send graphic details of your inadequete sex life.
if you have sent me these because you think you are a writer, you have failed to grasp the two basic elements of any writing; genre and target audience. you clearly have no idea what an article is because you sure as hell haven't written any and you clearly haven't checked what publication you are writing for. it's an independent music fanzine, in other words its about music. not explicitly i grant you, it also includes creative writing and articles on literary or arts based themes. this may not be overtly obvious from the myspace but a short email inquiry would have made it so.
if you think your myspace blog constitutes creative writing, you are very sadly mistaken and should stop wasting your time. your talent does not lie in writing, let me tell you this as both literature student and reader. i have no problem with you documenting areas of your life for your own amusement/satisfaction etc but the fact that you are a) putting this stuff on the internet b) sending it to me you want people to read it and.....what? feel sorry for you? like you?? i personally found it amusing to begin with but am now sick of you inundating my bastard inbox with the affairs of your boring life. you sound like the last person on earth i would ever wish to talk to and you need to grow up, get over something that happened when you were 15 and stop letting it define who you are now. high school is tough, its like that for most people, the difference is most people realise it is part of growing up and don't use it in later life to make themselves sound complicated and tortured.
I had a sneaking suspicion that this response might be a little unfair. It was a bit of a wake-up call that people can be uncomfortable with graphic depictions of drug abuse and mind-bendingly bad sexual encounters, but seriously? Did I deserve to be shot down with such ferocity? I put the response on Facebook to gage people's reactions.
anyone who has a story to tell and a fucking good one at that doesnt make them a bad writer.. just because some little editor of mag has a degree doesnt make them a good writer.. maybe she got lucky and shagged the boss..tight skirt n little titties.. im aiming that at americans or southereners... she has no life or she'd be out here with the rest of us drinking .. fucking .. and having a bloody good time but obviously shes stuck at the office and has time to reply a lenghty email that she really doesn't care about.. good night missus editor have a good life and remember to feed ur cats u barmy twit!!!! love u matt xxxx
11 August 2008 at 01:21 ·
You also might notice that this so-called editor wrote her reply with a complete lack of capitalisation. And where the hell did she grow up, if she went to "high school"? It can't be anywhere near Manchester, England- the place where her "music fanzine"'s base of readers allegedly lives.
It can't be denied though, I may have spent too much time in chav bars. And don't get me started on the women...
11 August 2008 at 07:45 ·
Correct me if im wrong here but isnt the point in both music and writing about expressing yourself? Who said to pulp, the streets the killers and the arctic monkeys to stop wasting their lives trying to deal with something that happened to them when they were 15 and stop writing songs about tarts and life experiences. I dont even know what you wrote but from the pretentious "i have a literature degree" response, this person is clearly clueless about how the real world works and where great writing derives. Take no notice fella, i have seen your work and know it bond from a more real and honest place than this "editor" can deal with. Perhaps we should all stop making social comment and stay up until daft o clock in the morning masking ourselves behind internet postings which are totally unnecessary when a simple "dear sir, we regret to inform you that your postings are not what we are looking for" would do. I dont think its Matt who needs to grow up here or am i too bitter and twisted and need to deal with my life without wasting my time commenting on internet postings?!
11 August 2008 at 11:13 ·
Sorry to jump in but have you got her email address? I say you get everyone to inundate her with lyrics to their favourate songs by the above artists with the footnote of 'obviously you are right, no body was interested in what Richard Ashcroft had to say, thats why he has been in the same successful band since he was 18! P.S. Have a look on the cover of NME, and you might spot the reason you dont work for a proper music publication. They are artists, not novelists, and if you actually wish to be successful in the music industry I suggest you rapidly learn the difference before your boss is replaced by someone who actually knows what they are talking about!'
Rant over, back to work now lol! x x
11 August 2008 at 11:33 ·
EMAIL ADDRESS SUPPLIED
Be my guest, but if I get my balls chopped off by a bitter, post-menopausal editor, I may feel slightly worse...
I'm surprised, and highly appreciative, of everyone's responses. I'm also a little bit nervous about sending work to any other publications...
11 August 2008 at 18:11 ·
From what Chris said to me you have nothing to worry about. Not everyone in the industry is a jumped up middle aged nutter! There are unfortunately too many people who work across different types of media tend to be full of self worth and rate themselves so highly that they think their opinion is the only one that is valid. Trust me, by the sounds of things she will last a whole 5 minutes before she is shot down in flames by someone who actually knows what they are talking about, and until then, lets give her a complex and annoy the life out of her! Manners dont cost anything, and by the sounds of things it wont be long until she speaks to the wrong person like that leaving her career to self distruct!
11 August 2008 at 18:26 ·
A few weeks after this I noticed that one of my Facebook friends had booted me out. He was a decent guy, but it turned out he was the boyfriend of said 'editor' and possibly cofounder of the 'publication'. I've never spoken to him since.
Eventually I scraped myself up off the floor after receiving such devastating lambastation and started sending material out to publications again. I have since had work published in Flash Fire 500 (twice), Gemini, Writer's Bloc, BadHap, The Oldham Chronicle (twice), The Manchester Evening News, Ophelion, and I have had a piece accepted into the fall / winter 2011 issue of The Stray Branch (so there'll be a bit of a wait before you see that).
As for 'Mushaboom'- their MySpace now says 'Mushaboom was a cult folk/alternative night that ran for 2 years in Manchester.' So neither the magazine, nor the apparent folk night, are running any more.