Work

Hello. This is a brief and boring post to ask about work projects.

Over the last ten years I’ve worked freelance. Over that period I’ve done copywriting, have worked as a subeditor, have written the news online and have done a little bit of illustration but mostly I’ve worked in e-learning; writing and structuring corporate training courses. It’s not very exciting but some of the projects are interesting, and it pays the bills. In the last couple of years I’ve also done a bit of work in social media, writing and overseeing Twitter and Facebook accounts and generally helping companies avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls. I’ve enjoyed it (most of the time) and would quite like more of the same, please.

Now, as a freelancer you’re supposed to have lots of different employers so when one isn’t offering you work, you can ask around. With my usual hubris, I haven’t done this, so the vast majority of my work comes from the same supplier and when things are quiet for them they are very quiet for me -and I spend my days sat at home, writing stupid things on Twitter and occasionally publishing a book. Towards the end of last year things got very quiet and I vowed that I’d make 2012 the year in which I either got a full-time job or was at the very least working freelance most of the time.

I do enjoy exploring my creative side and it’s lovely that in the last six years I’ve written and published two books (and I want to do some writing for TV and radio; something I dabbled in many years ago) but realistically it makes very little money.

Twitter has put me in contact with some very useful people and helped me get work, but I suspect that it also prevents me getting work.  I imagine that people look at my profile, see that I have lots of followers and therefore assume I already have some kind of glittering media career. I don’t. People assume I’m some kind of journalist or media figure and whilst I do enjoy a certain cult status in small, dark corners of the Internet, the fact is that most of the time I am just a man sitting in a room, twiddling his thumbs. I have the Twitter profile of a man with a brilliant writing career (last month The Independent named me as one of their “Influential non-celebrity voices“) but I have the income of a man who keeps walking into doors. Ironically, I’m followed on Twitter by lots of people who seem to work in the industries I’d like to explore, but somehow the connections are rarely made.

Now, I am realistic: I don’t expect immediate work and fortunately I do have some projects in the pipeline. I’m not desperate for work, but I’d like to start sorting out my life (next month I turn 37. It’s madness. I vowed to remain 25 forever) to the extent that I have regular work so that when one project ends I have something else lined up other than staring blankly at a wall. I also realise that for the sake of my mental health, I need some work that involves leaving the flat, going to an office and talking to other human beings. That seems like a reasonable start.

So, if you think you could use my talents and want to chat or take a look at my CV, please drop me a line on themanwhofellasleep at hotmail dot com.

Thank you.

I am not on a bus

A few years ago, when I was on a London bus, I decided to tweet: “I am on a bus.” It struck me as a wonderfully banal thing to tweet, and it nicely dovetailed with my earlier Twitter catchphrase: “I am in a room” (which I tweet when I am in a room). It caught on. A couple of weeks later, I thought I’d spice things up by tweeting Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, every time I got a bus. Over the last two years I’ve tweeted Boris many hundreds of times, reporting on my bus journeys. I’m sure he appreciates it, despite the fact that he has never replied.

Because of this, people associate me with buses. They think of me as The King of Buses. Random strangers tweet me when they are on the bus! They seem to think that I spend most of my life on buses. This is not the case.

Some people on a bus.

I feel I should explain why I tweet so much from buses. First of all, I work from home a lot. This means that unlike many Londoners, I don’t face a daily commute via tube. The bus is great for short journeys, but if you’ve got a long trip from the suburbs into the City or the West End, you’re much more likely to take the tube. Personally, if I am out and about during the day, I’m probably on a bus.

Secondly, For at least half of the last three years I lived in Muswell Hill, which has no tube station but an excellent array of buses – if I wanted to take the tube, I’d have to take the bus first.  I moved from the leafy confines of N10, but I still live in quite a hilly area and since I’m quite lazy I take a lot of short, local bus journeys – I’d probably be a lot fitter and healthier if I walked instead. Even given all that, I probably only use the bus 10-15 times a week. There are many Londoners whose baseline is 10 journeys a week, since they will get the bus to-and-from work or a tube station five days a week. Ands there are plenty of people who takes four buses a day – two to work and two home. Compared to them I’m a dilettante; the difference being that they don’t tweet about it.

The thing that frustrates me about my public association with buses is that I don’t actually like buses. I appreciate that they exist and I know that London buses are much, much more reliable than they were when I was a kid, but I have no love for buses. I know some people find buses terribly romantic, but I see them as purely functional. They get me from A to B and that’s it.

In contrast, I absolutely love almost everything about the London Underground. I swoon about it. I love tube maps and tube tales and tube station design. It excites me. I’ve always felt like that. If London has a soul it’s located underground, shuttling along the Piccadilly or Victoria Line. There’s a relentless energy about the tube, a sense of expectation and drama with every journey. Even if it’s a humdrum journey from Finsbury Park to Turnpike Lane, it feels epic, as though simply by being in a tube train you are connected to the pulsing heart of the city. I love people-watching on the tube. I love the station designs. I love the endless romance of anonymity, the glances exchanged across platforms and escalators.

I also like the rules and etiquette of the tube: as a rule, people behave themselves when underground. Trapped underground, closely monitored and with limited exits, people think twice before attacking or abusing you. There is a certain dusty, disheveled chivalry on the Underground. This is in stark contrast to buses, where ruffians know they can get off whenever they want (pressing the button above the doors) and therefore act out whatever gangster fantasies they desire. No amount of commuters at rush hour is as terrifying as accidentally getting on a bus as the schools are emptying.

Of course, I’m also realistic about the tube. It is crippled by signal failures and draconian weekend closures. I’m also lucky enough to avoid often use the tube in rush hour – I know how hellish it can be. I also once spent 20 very hungover minutes stuck on a Circle Line train between Moorgate and Barbican, desperately needing the loo and cursing my existence. Despite all this, I love the London Underground. Sometimes, when I’m feeling depressed or out-of-sorts I take a short tube journey to reset my brain.

Some people waiting for a tube train.

An underground station

I would tweet more often when I’m on the tube, except for the obvious fact that most of the time I am underground with no signal. Otherwise I’d be tweeting “I am on a tube”, happy for the whole world to retweet me.

London Tales

In 2006 my first novel, A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep was published. A combination of material from my website and new writing, it was an odd novel, without much in the way of plot or characters. I liked it. It sold reasonably well for a first novel, particularly since the publishers The Friday Project were a new company, without a huge about of clout in the literary world. In 2008 the Friday Project went into administration (not my fault) and not knowing quite what to do, I bought up 300 copies of my book. (I could have bought 2000 copies but I had no idea where to store them or how to sell them). By chance, a few weeks later I stumbled upon The Big Green Bookshop, a local bookshop in Wood Green, pretty much where I grew up. I became friends with Simon at the shop, and we decided to sell A Year in the Life... through the shop, splitting the profits. It gave me a headache-free way of selling the book and gave them free stock and an exclusive grip on the all-important Stekelman market. Thanks to Twitter, there was a new-found interest in my writing and the book sold steadily, to the point where late last year we ran out of stock (I did make enquiries as to what happened to the other 1700 copies – apparently they were pulped).

Simon had been toying with the idea of setting up a small publishers, and he proposed that the first book be a reissue of A Year In the Life... I wasn’t sure. There was enough wrong with the book that I started totally rewriting it, which was taking ages. And I wanted to add new material, which meant that after a while it started to feel like a George Lucas revision of Star Wars, in which all loveable errors are erased and replaced by bad CGI. It didn’t feel right, so I stopped.

At about the same time, I started doing a little art project online. I was taking photos (mostly of myself and bits of London), screwing around with them in Photoshop, drawing on top of them and adding text.

They were stark black and white images, and they worked well. I put them on Facebook and Twitter and people liked them. Hooray. After a few weeks, a couple of people suggested I collect them all together in book form. Simon thought this was a good idea. I wasn’t sure, but decided to play along.

It was agreed that I would produce 100 images and we would collect them together in book form. The book wouldn’t have a story as such – it would be a moody collection of words and pictures.I had already produced about 40 images, but most of these were very low-res images – fine for the Internet but unsuitable for print. So I spent months writing and reworking the images, getting friends to take photos of me looking quizzical (thank you Matthew Carrozo). Finally, in July this year all the images were ready. End of story, right? Not quite.

Normally, when you publish a book, the author does all the high-faluting artistic work and some poor schlub does the technical side of laying it all out in print form. But in the case of Timeline Books (Simon had settled upon a title for his company) it was just Simon and I, and it fell to me to do all the layouts, including designing the cover. Now, when it comes to drawing stupid pictures I am good at Photoshop. But I’d never had any formal training in design and I’m notoriously lazy when it comes to details – and in design details are important. I got a trial copy of InDesign and with a bit of help from a graphic designer friend (Thanks Lee) I started laying out the book. I worked slowly and it took ages. I was constantly convinced I was doing it all wrong. In late August I finished, and had even designed a cover that looked pretty good.

Some early cover designs:

 

The final cover design:

Simon and I had discussed how we wanted to release the book. I knew from my experience with A Year in The Life... that I do not have a particularly high-profile as a writer but I do have a dedicated and loyal set of readers. It seemed silly to print thousands of copies of London Tales, particularly since my experiences selling my previous book had not been easy. It was decided that we would print 250 luxury hardback copies of the book, all signed and numbered. Rather than pitching it as a regular book, it would be a deluxe object of desire, accordingly priced. This made me a little nervous; I am cheap. I get my jeans in Primark. I own nothing worth more than £500. I was worried that no one would want to spend £40 on a book. I consulted the good people of Twitter and they gave me solid advice on pricing and told me to stick with £40.

Next came the challenge of putting the book together – selecting paper types and binding options. Again, this was not something I had ever considered before. Every few weeks Simon would present me with the latest samples from the printers and I would ummm and ahhh and bite my lip. I was sure it would be a disaster. Finally, having set aside my neuroses, we proceeded. Simon called the printers and told them to fire up the presses. I waited. And last week I finally got my hands on a finished copy of London Tales. And to my relief, it looks amazing. Even my mother, who normally responds to my work with a pat on the head and a sigh, was impressed.

Simon, being a marketing genius, started selling the book on pre-order earlier this week. We agreed that the first 50 orders would get a London Tales postcard, on which I would hand draw a little sketch/doodle (that will be fun!). To my relief, it is selling well. I must remember to put more faith in Simon. We’re also talking about doing a central London launch if we can find a sympathetic venue.

I suppose I should mention the content of the book itself. Despite the title, it’s not really about London. Or at least, it’s not about anyone else’s London except my own. It’s mostly my own wanderings around the familiar streets of north London suburbia – hence the cover showing a pollarded plain tree, rather than an iconic view of the city. There are lots (too many) pictures of me – but I’d like to think it walks the right line between self-analysis and morbid narcissism. Most of my writing walks a tightrope between silliness and self-pity. I try not to fall off.

As has been pointed out many times, I am a terrible salesman of my own work. My natural talent for self-deprecation means that whenever someone asks me about my writing I shrug awkwardly and list all the reasons they won’t like it. And yet, despite knowing that London Tales will not be to everyone’s taste, I think it’s good. That’s the most you’ll get out of me.

You can pre-order a copy here.

Charlie Brooker and Twitter etiquette lesson no. 432

Over the last few days, the writer/TV presenter/hair model Charlie Brooker has been tweeting about David Cameron. More specifically he’s been tweeting about David Cameron being a giant evil lizard who eats foals. It’s moderately amusing (I imagine that when Charlie Brooker wakes up in the morning, there’s a Guardian reader at the end of the bed telling him he’s not as funny as he used to be) but what has been interesting is the response from his followers. Because Charlie has been retweeting all the angry responses (removing the tweeter’s name to both protect them from abuse and to prevent trolls getting their 15 seconds in the limelight).

A lot of these tweets have been along the lines of  “You’re a boring twat. Change the record.” or “If you continue like this I will unfollow you.”

Now, my attitude to Twitter is that if someone is boring or pompous or just plain rubbish, I unfollow them. I don’t tweet them to tell them that they are shit. I don’t engage them in arguments about why they are boring/pompous/wrong because I have chosen to follow them. It was my decision. They are not obliged to entertain me. They haven’t lured me into following them under false pretences. I am not paying them to tweet me.

I find it interesting, because I think it reflects how we view our Twitter feeds. Many of us think of our twitter feeds as our own personal space. And when we follow someone, we feel that we are inviting them into our personal space, and that as guests there, they should behave or we can angrily throw them out. Now, my own personal space on Twitter is quite relaxed. I work from home most of the time. I don’t care if people I follow swear or post rude pictures. I only unfollow people if they really bore/annoy me. But on occasion I’ve had to take charge of corporate Twitter accounts. And it’s all about staying on-message, getting the tone of voice right and pretending I have a shiny metal exterior. And my head is therefore in a prudish, semi-outraged place. I’m like a teacher patrolling a school corridor during lunch hour. So when someone appears in that Twitter feed and is swearing, or expressing shit political opinions, or posting pictures of porn, I get angry and defensive. “HOW DARE THEY?!” I think. “HOW DARE THEY COME INTO MY SLEEK TWITTER WORLD AND POST THAT CRAP? BAN THIS SICK FILTH!”

Whereas in reality the person tweeting is actually in their own personal space, expressing their own opinions, and I am the voyeur peeking in.  Tweeters are not guests invited under sufferance into our space. They are masters of their own domains (this is a terrible phrase/metaphor. I’m tired).

But I also think that the reason Charlie Brooker has received so much abuse is that as a celebrity/journalist, there is the perception that he is here to entertain us on Twitter. That just as we pay our license fee to watch the BBC or pay to buy a newspaper and demand entertainment, so we should be able to follow Charlie or Caitlin Moran or Giles Coren on Twitter and sit back, popcorn in hand and await entertainment. But this isn’t the BBC or The Guardian, it’s Twitter. No-one (well, very few people) is getting paid to tweet. No one here is obliged to entertain you. You are not doing anyone a favour by following them.

I sometimes get the sense that some people view Twitter as civilians and celebrities. If you’re a civilian, you can tweet about picking up your kids from school, or what you had for lunch, or take the piss out of Ed Miliband. Whereas if you’re a celebrity, you’re obliged to entertain, to feed your followers a constant stream of wit and bon mots. Whereas surely the whole point of Twitter is that it can smash down that wall between celebrity and the public. You might work in a bank, or work in e-learning (like me) but you can still be funny (or try to be funny) and gain a respectable following. And you might be a top journalist and you can still tweet about David Cameron being a lizard or what you ate for dinner. If you follow a “civilian” (for example, a man who works in a bank and plays football on a Sunday with Steve and Justin) and he tweets annoying crap about David Cameron, you might unfollow him, but you wouldn’t tweet him to tell he’s a boring twat. Whereas with Charlie Brooker, well, he’s a public figure so as soon as he says something stupid you’re well within your rights to tweet him abuse, right? Because he’s obliged to entertain you.

I suppose my point is that on Twitter we are ALL public figures. We’re equals on Twitter in that unless our accounts are protected, we all theoretically have the same global reach. Everything we write on Twitter, whether we are Rihanna or a girl living above a KFC on Seven Sisters Road, is open to the same level of scrutiny.

Twitter has the power to reshape how we think of private/public figures. Occasionally I get tweets telling me that I am boring, or that my tweets are shit, or that I “ought to get a girlfriend” (I have a girlfriend). And normally I block those people. But once in a while I think: How about instead of blocking them, I follow them? And then, when they tweet about picking up their kids from work, or why they like David Cameron, or what they want for dinner, I can chime in with “That’s boring, mate.” or “You’re a twat. Unfollowed.” Because they are obliged to entertain me, right?

I’m not Gandalf or Magneto

Oh, the Internet and its memes. You cannot stop them.

About a year ago, Sir Ian McKellen took part in a Stonewall protest march in London. He was protesting against the pope’s visit to Britain and the homophobia of the Catholic church. He (and many others) wore Tshirts that proclaimed “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It.”

I saw a photo (by Dhruti Shah) of Sir Ian wearing the shirt and with my lightning wit, I decided to photoshop the tshirt so that it read “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.” It took me 15 minutes. I didn’t do it as a piece of political satire or to attack either Stonewall or the Pope. It was just me being silly. I put it on Twitter.

Then people started retweeting it. A lot. The comedian/actor Simon Pegg didn’t realise it was a photoshop job and retweeted it to his hundreds of thousands of followers, giving the impression that Sir Ian was actually wearing a Magneto-related tshirt (he later realised it was a fake and correctly attributed it to me. Thank you, Simon). The Internet went crazy. Most of my twitpics are viewed 300-600 times. In two days it was viewed over 250,000 times. Amusingly, people loved the tshirt and thought it was great that Ian McKellen was wearing it. I tried to make it clear that none of it was real, but by this stage it was out of my hands. The picture was no longer merely on my Twitpic account – it had been copied onto thousands of blogs and tumblrs. A cursory google of Ian McKellen Gandalf Magneto tshirt reveals page after page after page of pics.

Then, as these things do, it all died down. Some months later I was amused to read an interview with Sir Ian in Vanity Fair in which he talked of his disappointment with the tshirt and the fact that it undermined the serious issue of homophobia. I don’t blame him. (also, it is a dreadful, dreadful interview. The guy asking the questions is absolutely clueless)

And then all went quiet until this week. Because someone else has photoshopped Sir Ian McKellen wearing a Stonewall tshirt that reads “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.”

Here it is:

Now, when I first saw the pic I thought for a brief second that it might be genuine – that Sir Ian had seen the funny side of things and decided to wear a shirt of his own. But a cursory check on TinEye reveals the original pic:

And now this pic is sweeping the Internet. I’ve seen it across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and once again people seem to think it’s real. And those who know it’s fake have tweeted me to ask if it’s my work – it isn’t. I can’t see the point in doing the same joke over and over (unless someone missed the joke in the first place. And in this case, they didn’t.)

The odd, and somewhat frustrating aspect of this is why someone would bother to photoshop Ian McKellen with a slogan that isn’t even their own. I half expected my photoshop job to turn into a meme in which everyone inserted their own slogan, which at least demonstrates some creativity. But why someone would go to the trouble of repeating my “joke” with a different photo, I just don’t know.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with me. Now, as with so much on the Internet, it belongs to history and to excited Brazilians leaving enthusiastic comments on Twitpic. The eerie thing about all such memes/phenomena is how quickly they spin out of your own control. You just have to sit and watch it blow over.

UPDATE: It’s January 2012 and the meme has mutated. Over the last day or so people have brought my attention to a photo of Harrison Ford that is sweeping The Internet.

“I’m Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner. I’m Fuckin’ Over It!”

Unless there’s a hidden side to Harrison Ford and he has an unexpectedly nerdy sense of humour, I assume it’s a Photoshop. Also, the fact that it has three roles in it (Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner) as opposed to two in the Ian McKellen pic means that eventually these spoofs will be like IMDB entries, with full lists of every actor’s roles, all in chronological order.

Given the way these things go, it’s inevitable that one day in 2015 a minor celebrity will wear an actual tshirt based on the Gandalf/Magneto meme. (I’m betting on a haggard Steven Seagal wearing a “I had a ponytail. Get over it!” shirt.) I may have to strangle them with my bare hands.

UPDATE: Here’s the original Harrison Ford pic. It was a grey tshirt all along! Thanks to the people who commented on my earlier blog and pointed me towards this pic…

Great lost indie singles of the 90s

Musically, I seem to be trapped in the 1990s.

I like to kid myself that I’m very musically adventurous, that I’m a musical sophisticate, listening one day to an obscure 60s soundtrack, the next to Steve Reich and the day after some Congolese flute songs. But somehow, when faced with a long bus journey or an evening in, I always end up listening to crappy guitar bands from the 90s. It’s not that I think this is the best music, it’s just that those bands got to me when I was at my most receptive: those precious years between 15 and 25 when I was genuinely excited and amazed by music. If I listened to the Manic Street Preachers for the first time now I’d think they were a joke – but they got me when I was young so I will always think that they are amazing.

These days, I probably listen to a much broader range of music that when I was in my twenties (I am actually listening to the soundtrack to Chinatown as I type this), but I struggle to listen to new things: I simply don’t have the patience or appetite. Every year I try to listen to a few new bands, just to keep my hand in, but it’s a struggle to find things that really excite me. I’m already full of music and any new things I listen to just spill out on the floor. In the last year the only “new” music that has really made me swoon has been Jens Lekman, and he arrived on the scene about 8 years ago, although I only discovered him recently.

Anyway, enough waffle. This is supposed to be an introduction to my randomly chosen 10 great lost indie singles of the 90s. This is a purely subjective choice, although I did have some ground rules: No britpop, no songs that might have appeared on a compilation entitled “Indie Disco” or “The Best Album EVER!”  I wanted to include the kinds of bands that featured in the lower reaches of John Peel’s Festive Fifty, or as filler on a free CD given away with Select Magazine. There were a few songs I wanted to include that I couldn’t find on YouTube. Rats. I also broke a few of the rules. The Tindersticks are hardly obscure, and apparently no one has forgotten Fade into You by Mazzy Star as it was featured in an action sequence in Starship Troopers. I didn’t know that.

Here they are, in no order:

1) Sebadoh – Flame

Sebadoh are one of those bands where I’ve convinced myself that I really like them, whereas in fact I actually only like about 3 songs per album. Maybe that’s enough. Flame was their breakthrough single, and ridiculously, they played it on Top of the Pops.

2) Ooberman – Shorley Wall

I know very little about Ooberman and have no particular desire to learn about them, but I love this song and the spoken word bit makes me a bit teary.

3) My Drug Hell – Girl at the Bus Stop

Again, I know very little about the band. I vaguely remember them being “ones to watch” in the mid-90s.

4) Thieves – Unworthy

Thieves split up almost before they started. The singer is David McAlmont, who is one of the best people on Twitter. He’s best known for his collaborations with Bernard Butler, but he is in fact a human being in his own right.

5) Drop Nineteens – Winona

One of those college rock bands like Magnapop or Wheat that all seemed to look the same and all produced at least one great guitar anthem.

6) Cousteau – The Last Good Day of the Year

A classic one-hit-wonder. I remember them playing on Jools Holland. It sounds a lot like Walk On By but that’s no bad thing.

7) Half Man Half Biscuit – Dickie Davies Eyes

I like the idea of Half Man Half Biscuit much more than I actually like their songs, but this is fantastic.

8) Mazzy Star – Fade Into You

Everyone loves this song. In fact, I think during the 90s every single indie male fancied the pants off Hope Sandoval. Even the fact that she had sex with one of the Jesus and Mary Chain couldn’t take the sheen off her.

9) Adorable – Sunshine Smile

I remember hearing a 3 second clip of this on the Indie Chart in the Chart Show and thinking it sounded like crap. Some years later I heard the full version and realised it was great. It’s a fairly generic indie-by-numbers anthem, but is still great. When I first posted this list on Twitter, a man tweeted me to tell me he used to be the drummer in Adorable.

10) Tindersticks – Travelling Light

Again, I want to like the Tindersticks more than I actually do. I love the idea of them: morose, chain-smoking doom-mongerers inhabited by the spirit of Lee Hazelwood and Scott Walker. As it is, I often find them a bit boring. However, I do love this song. I remember the video by discussed on some panel show. It may have been The Beat or Naked City or Raw Soup. They were terrible days.

BREAKING NEWS: It has been correctly pointed out that Dickie Davis Eyes by Half Man Half Biscuit came out in 1986, which as many of you will know, is not in the 90s. This is a disaster. However, I cannot be bothered to update this list.

Chris Floyd photos

I haven’t benefited hugely from being on Twitter. I’ve made a lot of new friends and rekindled interest in my book, but it hasn’t made me rich or famous. I’ve been sent some free stuff. Sadly not very exciting free stuff. Duracell sent me some free batteries, worth approximately £2 and a nice cook once sent me some chocolate.

However, as I said, I have met lots of interesting people and taken part in some projects that would never have happened before I digitised my entire life and uploaded it onto Twitter so that people could point and stare.

I hadn’t heard of the photographer Chris Floyd, but he was a friend of a friend and got in contact with me. He was doing a project in which he photographed 140 people he followed on Twitter and he wanted to photograph me as part of it. I’d already seen some of the photos and really liked them, and I’m hopelessly vain and self-absorbed so of course I said yes.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Chris. I’m suspicious of people on Twitter who are journalists or photographers. I tend to assume that whilst I’m a deeply authentic, profoundly sincere person, who spends his time agonising about sex and God, they are all terrible media gadflies, snorting coke in Soho House and stabbing each other in the back. I’m not sure what this fear is based on. Probably not reality.

Anyway, it turned out that Chris was very nice. He has a little studio in Kensal Rise, down the road from a place I used to work 10 years ago. Studio isn’t really the right word: it’s a small cubby hole, crammed full of technology and old photos. We chatted and got on. I suppose the photographers know how to put people at ease; they know how to slip into easy conversation, so that you don’t spend your time biting your nails or shouting at the sun. I was fascinated by the photographic process. As we chatted he took photos, and within a second of the photo being taken, his assistants would be converting it into black and white, lightening certain areas and cleaning bit up. They all seemed to instantly know which photos worked and which didn’t. When I tried to pose, Chris told me off. He was right.

Later, I was joined by my friends Wh1sks and Debsa, and some group shots were taken.

The whole day made me quite excited. I giggled like a schoolgirl. I gawped as I pointed out the other Twitter people who Chris had photographed for the series.

Here are some of the pics:

1) Me, looking moody.

2) Me looking puzzled.

3) Me smiling. It does happen.

4) Me as a crude anti-semitic stereotype.

5) Me and Debsa.

6) A group shot.

I’ve kept in touch with Chris and was pleased to see the final product: a rather beautiful poster of all the 140 people:

I like it for a lot of reasons. Mainly because it means that if I achieve nothing else in life, I am on the same poster as some minor British celebrities. They can’t take that away from me. They can try, but they will fail. I also like playing “Where’s Greggy?” a kind of narcissistic version of Where’s Wally, in which I get people to find me on the poster. Have a go yourself.

The poster is also a useful historical document. If nothing else, it shows that in February 2011, over 90% of the men in London wore a checked shirt.

In summary: Chris is good.

Poppy Dinsey interview

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would revive my ill-conceived attempt to interview people from the Internet who I find interesting.

I started following Poppy Dinsey on Twitter a few years ago (drawn to her attractive avatar) and it turned out she was funny and interesting and made me temporarily interested in fashion. So we met up in London and ate burritos and it turned out she was just as lovely in real life.

Poppy runs a site called What I Wore Today, in which she takes a photo of herself every day and shows the world what she’s wearing.  

Armed with a hangover, I decided to interview Poppy on Skype chat. This meant a lot of typing and that odd overlapping thing where you’re both typing at the same time and nothing quite makes sense.  

Poppy Dinsey

Greg Stekelman: I’ve been following you on Twitter for a couple of years. How did the WIWT blog start? (that is a boring question, but necessary) 

Poppy Dinsey: It’s quite a nice story. I was sat on a beach (Newport or Huntington or Laguna, I should probably try and remember which one it was exactly so that I don’t tell the story differently every time I say it) and was thinking about New Year’s resolutions as it was a few days before NYE. And I just decided to see if I could photograph every outfit I wore every day for a year. 

There was also a side reason, a more sinister reason, but that’s the PR friendly version and 90% true. 

GS: Ok. We all have sinister reasons. Very few of us decide to splurge our lives all over the Internet simply to make the world a better place. 

PD:  It’s one of my most self-indulgent projects to date. 

GS: If I did what you do, I would run out of outfits after about a week. How do you manage to not wear the same clothes over and over? That is a terrible question. The answer is probably that you have loads more clothes than me. 

PD: By owning lots. I have wardrobes, drawers, external rails, suitcases… There are cases in my bedroom, office and bathroom. I also wear a lot of the same stuff repeatedly, but ‘in different ways’. 

GS: Yes. I do that as well. Sometimes I put my shoes on my head. 

PD: Do you ever wear high heels? 

GS: No. I quite like the idea of spending a few days dressed as a woman, but I have a beard and I find that beards and high heels don’t really mix. 

PD: I have always wanted a beard. And a penis, if I’m honest. 

GS: There’s still time. Technology is moving at an alarming rate. 

PD: Yes, I am wondering if I will choose the sex of my baby. And make it blue eyed and brown haired…

GS: Right. I was thinking about how exposed you are on your site. I post occasional photos of myself on Twitter but ultimately I quite like hiding behind anonymity. How does it feel having so many photos of yourself on the net? 

PD: I hate it in some respects. 

It can feel hugely unbalanced, people know a lot about me (or think they know a lot about me) and that’s not true the other way around. It can be weird when people tweet that they just saw me somewhere and I have no idea who they are, but they can recognise me because I constantly bombard them with pictures of myself. So I was asking for it really. I’ve ended up on a porn site (although I haven’t appeared on porn star facts). And I have some weird stalker people. It scares my Mother. 

GS: Oh dear. That’s quite unpleasant. I know what you mean about being spotted in public. I’ve had that, and in theory it should be flattering but in reality it’s quite alarming. It’s also odd because it’s like being famous without having any of the advantages of fame and fortune. I’m still mostly unemployed and skint. 

And I sometimes feel like without thinking I put a lot of myself on the Internet and then wonder if there’s anything left for my private life. 

PD: Yes it’s a bit weird. But generally people are awesome, I’ve been moved to tears by lovely emails from some people. (Cue sob story music) 

GS: I generally don’t get lovely emails from people, but I suspect I project a less approachable image than you do. 

PD: Well I like that people have decided I’m a bit short tempered (my FAQ/general rants imply that) and now start emails with huge apologies about being sorry to bother me. It’s quite nice. 

GS: Yes. Your FAQ is excellent. More people should write similarly comprehensive guides. Back to the questions. High fashion tends to be all about size zero women. You’re not size zero and you don’t look like you want to be, which pleases me. I hate the idea of women feeling constantly pressured into being stick thin. 

I realise that’s a statement, not a question. 

PD: I don’t know, I’m beginning to get a bit paranoid about that for the first time ever. I’m nowhere bloody near size zero and at certain fashion things I feel really self-conscious. I know fashion quite well, but that doesn’t mean I can always wear it well. I could style someone else to look amazing, but my options are more limited. 

I am spending more and more time wanting plastic surgery and wanting to stop eating though. I was never like that before.

GS: That’s my fear. Almost every single woman I know has some kind of fairly serious body image issues. Whereas as a man there are loads of things about my body I dislike, but I’m fairly accepting of it. 

PD: I’m extremely self-conscious about the fact I have braces. To the point where I decided before they were put on that I wouldn’t date anyone for the next two years. 

GS: I think women think about their bodies in the same way that men think about their cocks. In that a woman wants to be thin even if her bloke likes someone curvy, because it’s important for her to show other women that she’s thin. And men want to have big cocks, even if their girlfriend hates big cocks, because they want to show other men they have big cocks. 

That last statement reads like a load of sexual gibberish. 

PD: But it’s true. 

GS: I think it must be quite difficult for a woman operating in the fashion world and maintaining some semblance of mental health. 

PD: You can get disillusioned, when you’re around models a lot you can feel like shit. Then you can go to Sainsbury’s and realise most people are normal. And normal is fine. Most people aren’t that hot. Most fashion people aren’t ‘hot’ anyway, they’re beautiful. Classy. Untouchable. Scary. 

GS: Do you feel like you’re a role model for teenage girls who are into fashion? 

PD: I wouldn’t say I feel like a role model but I get more of a kick from emails/tweets from younger girls. That sounds fucking dodgy. 

GS: No. It sounds sweet. If it was me getting emails from young girls it would sound dodgy. 

PD: If I could speak at a school every week then I would. My cousins are my favourite girls in the world to hang out with and they are 13/14. Shopping with them is still exciting and fun. 

GS: Are you more interested in catwalk fashion or high-street fashion? Or both? 

PD: Nothing compares to the fun of watching live catwalks, I absolutely love it. It gets me very excited. But I can’t afford high end (generally), so high street fashion is where it’s at for me realistically. 

It’s always interesting to see which trends actually make it off the catwalk, because we’ll watch the shows and make assumptions but not every trend gets picked up

GS: I used to be quite interested in fashion. Not catwalk stuff. Just clothes because I was a teenage indie kid, and every musical genre had its own tribal uniform. Indie kids/rudeboys/goths/metallers/grebos etc. That seems to be disappearing. Everyone shops at Top Shop.

You can see someone in tight trousers, a leather jacket and a Stooges t-shirt and they’re actually a JLS fan, but Top Shop/Primark sells these looks to everyone. 

PD: Has it changed? Or are we older? I’m not sure. But part of me really hates how strong the trends are on the high street now. You can’t get simple clothes. 

And I don’t like people who purposely dress dishevelled when they’re rich. That probably sounds awful, but this faux-punk idea of privileged kids makes me gag. People that make an extra effort to look shit, ya know? 

GS: It feels like the high street incorporates underground fashion so quickly now that within a month of some weird trend, Primark are selling a copy for a tenner and everyone is wearing it. 

PD: Yep, definitely. It’s very, very fast. 

GS: But as you say, it’s also about getting older. I’d like to dress cooler, but that would probably involve me having the figure of a skinny 21-year old. And that isn’t me. 

PD: I have no idea why men wear skinny jeans. It makes me feel ill. 

GS: I think it’s so that people can admire the shape of their mobile phones in the jean pockets. 

GS: How many proposals/sexual overtures do you get per week? 

PD: Many a day. Some are becoming police matters. 

GS: Your FAQ mentions people offering to pay you for sex. Does that really happen? 

PD: It comes back to what we were talking about earlier though, if someone emails me asking to take me out why would I *EVER* say yes? They know so much about me (supposedly) and I know nothing about them. 

And yes, I get emails from married men and men offering to pay. Again, why someone would email from their work email address with their real name is beyond me. I could phone their boss. Or their wife. 

GS: Wow. That’s weird. Also, I’ve been on the Internet for about 15 years and no-one has EVER offered to pay me for sex. 

PD: How much would you charge? 

GS: That depends what people would want. I would offer a sliding scale, to take into account people on lower incomes who might want to sleep with me. 

I worry enough about what to charge people for my books, let alone for sex. 

PD: I’d worry someone might ask for their money back. 

GS: So, tell me about your obsession with Dustin Hoffman. 

PD: It’s pretty bad. I don’t watch Dustin movies because it upsets me too much. I haven’t seen most of them. It started with Straw Dogs, which is one of my all time favourite films.

GS: As a short Jewish man, your obsession with Dustin Hoffman comforts me greatly. 

PD: Do you like his voice? 

GS: I find it a bit nasal. To be honest, I haven’t thought about his voice very much. I like him. I love The Graduate and Tootsie but he’s been in so many rubbish films recently that some of the shine wears off. 

He’s an odd actor for you to obsess over though. In the sense that he’s not a conventionally handsome man. 

PD: I recently dated someone who was conventionally handsome, it was strange. I like older men generally, 40 plus. Although I am trying to be a bit more sensible about that… 

GS: You’re now going to be inundated by offers from older men. 

PD: …As older men generally come with a bit more hassle 

GS: Yes. Incontinence and prostate problems. 

PD: Well that’s another problem isn’t it? When I’m 50 they’ll be 70. But 70 years olds can be fun. (I haven’t slept with one) 

GS: When I meet someone who is flawless and conventionally beautiful, I struggle to envisage myself going out with them. I assume they are in a different league to me. I like beautiful people but they have to have a flaw, like a glass eye or a terrible skin condition, for me to consider going out with them. 

I think it’s interesting how we can have a veneer of confidence but underneath it’s just a mass of flawed assumptions. 

PD: My main pre-requisite is the ability to work hard and to not be bamboozled by menus in restaurants. 

GS: That rules me out. I do not work hard. My brain never stops working, but that rarely translates into physical activity. When I complete an 8 hour day in an office I genuinely believe I deserve a medal. 

PD: I have dated people who work less than me and it doesn’t work. 

GS: Before being a fashion blogger, you worked in tech. How was that? 

PD: It was amazing. And I still consider myself to work in tech really. I’m working on a new site and an iPhone app, things that I wouldn’t be confident to do if my background wasn’t in tech. 

I like working in start-ups and like working with developers, there’s a lot less fucking around. You just do stuff. 

Well you do piss around but it’s not like being with artsy types. 

GS: Careful. I may be an artsy type. 

PD: I like artsy types, but I wouldn’t go into business with them.

GS: My experience with tech people was that they were full of energy and ideas but were often sociopaths. 

PD: Yes but that can be quite nice, just getting on with things in silence. A lot of that is a stereotype, but if we’re going to go down the stereotype route then I prefer working with cold/direct/socially awkward people to OTT/fake/loud people. 

GS: Yes. I like a bit of both. To be honest, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to work with other people. Most of my work is done from a small room, with only woodlice and memories for company. 

PD: I keep my blinds down because I don’t want to be reminded of the outside world. 

GS: I find the sunshine outside my window a constant torment. 

PD: People who think you and I tweet a lot forget how much we are just “in a room”, to quote yourself. 

GS: Yes, indeed. 

PD: We’re devoid of human contact.

GS: It’s true. Sometimes I talk to people at bus stops, just to feel alive. 

PD: The postman can’t figure me out. 

GS: Let’s talk about something else. What books are you reading at the moment? 

PD: I’m reading The Upgrade by Paul Carr, Anger Management by Giles Coren andMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. 

And I feel like I’m always reading The Saturday Times and Sunday Times, they last me all week. 

GS: Ok. Hmmm. Paul Carr. I remember Paul. He set up The Friday Project, who published my book. He also brought down The Friday Project, although he did have some help with that. 

PD: He signed my breasts recently. I love his writing. 

GS: I think he’s very good at being Paul Carr. I quite like him but I wouldn’t work with him again. He gets things done, but he leaves a lot of corpses behind. 

PD: Is it bad to love Giles Coren? Because I do love his wordmanship.

GS: No. I never know what to think of Giles Coren. On one hand I think he’s a smarmy, smug journo who only got the job because of his dad. On the other hand, I think he writes well, is provocative and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think I’m a better writer than him, but that’s based on ego not evidence. 

PD: I adore him. And Victoria. I fucking love The Times full stop. Is that weird? I’m a bit paranoid that I love it too much. 

GS: No. Not at all, before it went behind the Paywall, I would read The Guardian and The Times online in an attempt to get a reasonably balanced view. I couldn’t exclusively read either of them. The Times offers a very comforting vision of a forgotten England, but it feels a bit detached. And right-wing. 

PD: Is Caitlin (Moran) a friend of yours? 

GS: Not really. We both used to post on Popbitch many years ago, and I’ve met her once or twice in the pub but that’s it. I think she’s a really good writer. I like her sense of humour and how irreverent she is. And the fact that she does it in The Times, so she’s not playing to her natural audience. 

PD: Yes I love her. I love them all. 

GS: I was about to write a long thing about ME and the media and then remembered that this is about you, not me. 

PD: Hah. Yes, it’s me today. 

GS: Do you have any secret plans to conquer the world through TV, etc? 

PD: Not through TV…well, maybe TV, but those aren’t what the plans are. I am building a new site and app and they are my focus for the next couple of years. They’ll be launched in July (I hope). And I would like to finish writing a children’s book that I have started. 

GS: Hooray. Do you have any final plugs or statements you want to make? 

PD: Please visit http://wiwt.com/ and tell your friends and email me if we can collaborate in any way and please help me meet Dustin Hoffman. Thank you x 

GS: Thank you.

Twupdate

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted on Twitter and I’ve found the break very enjoyable and surprisingly easy. I thought I would struggle but apart from a couple of bored evenings Twitter hasn’t really crossed my mind. I check every few days for replies in case I’ve been sexually propositioned, but I’m not reading other people’s tweets (not much change there then!)

One of the reasons I wanted a break from Twitter was to regain some of the many hours I lose every day to pointless social media stuff. Twitter is great when you’re stuck in a boring situation (on a bus or in a meeting) but it had gotten to the point where I would wake up at 9am, think to myself: “Oh, I’ll just check Twitter” and still find myself glued to my PC for the rest of the day. And that would be fine if I had a job and was tweeting in the background, but my situation wasn’t like that. It was just a mostly unemployed man writing a series of one-liners to a load of strangers all day, whilst they polited applauded or replied or pointed and jeered. Which isn’t quite how I want to spend my life. It’s all very well killing time if you’re stuck in a 9-5, but when the 9-5 is your life then killing time just means wasting your life. And whilst wasting my life is sorely tempting, I do want something more.

So, what have I been doing with that glorious time I’ve recaptured from Twitter? Some of it has just been wasted on Facebook. Pornography has also picked up some of the slack. I’ve also read more books and watched more films. But mostly I’ve been fairly productive, on a social level, if not always creatively.

One of the oddly compulsive things about Twitter is that you always want more. When you have 5 replies you want 10 replies. When you have 500 followers you want 1000 followers and when you have 9000 followers you want 10,000 followers, as though that is going to make a material difference to the quality of your life. And it occurred to me that rather than desperately trying to get new followers, I should spend more time getting to know the people I’ve befriended over the last year or so. And so that’s what I’ve done. I tend to avoid big Twitter meet-ups because it inevitably means you spend loads of time chatting to people you don’t really know or like and not getting the chance to speak to people who actually interest you. I’ve just been having coffee or lunch or booze with people, talking about shit and seeing where it goes. I absolutely love Twitter but it’s quite nice being a human being for a while.

On the occasions when I do check Twitter, I find it slightly bewildering. When you are tweeting non-stop you don’t recognise how quickly everything happens on Twitter, and what an insular, self-referential bubble it is. If you consider a political issue (wikileaks or student riots) then in the world outside Twitter you have the time to weigh up the pros and cons, change your mind, remain uncommitted and ambivalent. On Twitter (at least within the particular Twitter bubble I’ve inhabited) within 5 hours of something happening, battle lines have been clearly drawn. People have immediate, concrete opinions and villify those who disagree. An “awareness-raising” hashtag is developed. Someone creates a satirical twitter account in the name of one of the main protagonists. An article by Johan Hari or Graham Linehan is endlessly retweeted as though it were the Holy Grail. A Daily Mail article is retweeted as though it were Mein Kampf. A backlash starts in which a few contrary tweeters pick fights. And you start really hating or loathing Twitter people based solely on bursts of propoganda. All of this before 2pm. One of the nicest things about my break has been allowing my brain to gently expand to the point where it can entertain concepts beyond 140 characters, where there is room for a hundred indecisions and a hundred visions and revisions. Where I don’t feel the need to have an object to hate or resent. It feels like stepping off a merry-go-round and finding my bearings. Obviously, after a while it gets boring in the real world because merry-go-rounds are  fun.

When I was about 14 or 15 years old I was very unhappy at school. And I hung around a group of friends who weren’t really friends. I assumed they were friends because I saw them every day, but actually they treated me like shit. But it took me years to work out the simple fact that I didn’t have to spend time with them; that I could walk away and hang out with other people who weren’t evil twats. And my recent time of Twitter reminds me of that – not in the sense that anyone on Twitter was treating me badly, but just in the sense that sometimes you forget that you can take a deep breath and walk away; that the world will not crumble if you change friends or stop tweeting for a bit. And of course, whereas I grew to hate the “friends” at school, I really like most of the people I know on Twitter, and I love the sense of endless possibilities that Twitter offers. And yes, I will be back.

But when I return I want to be a little wiser in how I use it. I’m 35, am single, live in a room in a friend’s flat, and have no discernible career. Because I’m quite high-profile on Twitter people assume that I’ve well-connected and have some kind of media career. I don’t. I know almost no-one in the media and my job prospects are no better than they were 10 years ago. I see writers 10 years younger than me getting Guardian columns and sitcom offers – not because they are more or less talented than me, but because they make things happen. Meanwhile, I get by on odd bits of freelance work from the same old sources. But I wake up some mornings terrified that I’m on the scraphead, that whilst my peers have £60,000-a-year jobs, and homes they own, and wives and kids and cars, I haven’t acheived anything of note (aside from publishing a book 5 years ago that made me no money and was mostly ignored). And I suspect that if I want that to change; if I want to make something of my life, to feel that I have some sense of direction and purpose (even if I never make much money) then I can’t just kill the days on Twitter. I can’t just tweet endlessly in the hope that some Hollywood sugar-daddy is going to pluck me from obscurity and shower me with opportunities and riches. I have to make things happen. I’m not really sure how, but thats’ another story.

Busy

I haven’t wasted my time off Twitter. Oh no. Never. I’ve sent various emails and also updated my CV. I’m available for work if anyone fancies hiring me to do things. I’m a social media guru. I’m followed on Twitter by Charlie Brooker. That’s got to be worth 5o grand a year.

But I’ve mainly spent time being Greg as opposed to being themanwhofellasleep, which is time well spent. I also met Ricky Villa. I’ll write about that properly some other time.

I’ve done some stuff that involves words and pictures. It was, like most things, an accident. I will continue to add pictures when I feel like it:  http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/londontales.html

Oh, and for those who missed my last book quiz at the Big Green Bookshop and want to have a go at home, here are the questions: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/questions_nov.doc and here are the answers: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/answers_nov.doc

I may return to Twitter soon. I’ve quite enjoyed my break. It’s odd because yesterday I had a quick peek from behind the curtains and it looked ridiculous. Like a load of grown men dressed as worms having an argument about X Factor. I felt a twinge.