Are you happy with your current work?

It is the perfect place to exercise my considerable herd of what ifs and cultivate a large crop of if onlys. Failure seems to be the endemic end to all the company’s efforts. This gives me lots of time to work up reasons why none of this is actually my fault.

If only the data was better; our landing pages are a disgrace; the website doesn’t communicate our USP; if only we could plan better.

But our return on investment languishes between 0 and 0.01%, so there’s the strong possibility that I am terrible at my job. And if I am incompetent? I am almost 40, and have always seemed to languish. You see I possess the bitter mix of laziness and self-doubt. I will read the 10 ways to ace your copy, but am then too nervous to put this learning in place.

I am convinced that I know my stuff. So why do I struggle to put all this knowledge to work? Am I really too timid to take the advice that I give to others so generously? Or is it because I’m bone idle: full of amazing ideas, as long as others suckers put in the hours? I think, on balance, it’s a generous dollop of each.

You see, this is the fertiliser that I can spread on the neat rows of if onlys. I am busy, weeding out green shots of work. It is great, spending days basking in the loamy stink of wistful plans. stopping constantly to lean on a gate and think maybe some day. But not today.

I’m passive you see. Never one to act upon, instead I am acted upon – the beach, not the sea; the wheat not the wind. As a child indecision would paste me to the spot. I never wanted to go. No. Wait: I want to go…No, wait.

And so it goes on with life. The days have churned on, thickening in to weeks, setting and settling: months. Years. And still I am there in the spot: wait…go…no…wait.

Everything I’ve achieved, that small savings account of successes, was because I tried. And on the whole, trying brought me some success. That should really be the lesson in itself. Was it Woody Allen who said 80% of genius is just turning up? Yet, more often than not, the red cheeked farmer with his lazy crop of perhaps and but if, is there leaning on the fence. He’s happy to chew a piece of stereotypical straw and say why bother, and anyway, it’s not your fault.

See, here again: standing still and polishing up some handy excuse as to why it’s not my fault. Who is this lazy farmer, fat on subsidies and  content watching his herds get skinny and blight chew through his crop? Who is this country gent?

It’s me. Of course. Me, hiding behind my imaginary farmer. Me, lavishing twenty minutes on kicking shit off the heels of my boots. It doesn’t seem the best strategy does it. Okay, the company’s problems are not all on me. If that’s the case then maybe it’s time to move. The longer I stay there, the more I seem to be part of the problem.

If what I’m doing isn’t getting results because  of poor websites, raged data and bad planning, then go somewhere that isn’t tangled with these problems.

But if suddenly the blocks all get pulled down, but I still struggle to achieve good results?

Well, I’d better find myself another trade, I guess.

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Morrissey f**ks Penguin

What do you want to learn about singer, songwriter and provocateur Morrissey? If it’s the circumstances of his birth and upbringing, good luck discovering them in his autobiography.

I cannot decide if this rubbish is intentional: a ridiculous attempt to out-do modernist obscurist James Joyce. Or if the editor at Penguin who oversaw this overblown vanity project is so in awe of Stephen Patrick that she meekly agreed to just tidy up the grammar and send it to print. Because this is a strange, pompous and vainglorious work that grabs and grabs at literary greatness but reads like the sort of horrific verse one might write to a buck-toothed girl in Luxemburg.

There is plenty of great writing here. Individual sentences and turns of phrase glow with wit. The first line is magnificent and there are several instances of repeated internal rhymes that would make fantastic lyrics.

But that is what Morrissey is brilliant at: snarky, witty fatalism summed up in 200 words; guitar solo; chorus repeat and fade. Surrounding these beautiful flights of fancy are stodgy masses of pomp. Instead of narrative drive there is baggy, boring pieces of padding. The book was swathes of text that are full of show but no tell.

I have worked as a copy editor and my first instinct was to grab a pencil and start to cut and shape. There’s loads of gold here, but it’s still all buried in the grubby bedrock. Surely the point of this being published by Penguin is that they can bring a long tradition of taste and tasteful editorial assistance to pull out the best from an author’s work. Especially a first timer like Morrissey?

And it’s a shame, because more than any other popular artists from the 80s, Mr M built a persona fully of witty outrage: the dangerously well read ruffian, the dole queue dandy and working mans club fop, as deadly with his turn of phrase as his friends are with their fists. But so little of that is apparent in the book. Instead you get the obsolete LA ego, puckering media arsehole who has forgotten why people love him, but just naturally assumes they will.

I struggled to start the book. Because it meandered and struggled to get to its point, I skipped around. Where Morrissey is at his best is talking about music: his love letter to the New York Dolls exactly captures what it is to cherish something that everyone around you thinks is obscene. What teenager hasn’t felt that thrill of being a secret society of one; of lifting the needle and playing the record again, again and again? Brilliant.

Perhaps instead of an autobiography, he had written essays on pop music legends he would have written a book that was consistent, marvelous and hideously acidic and bright.

Who is culpable for this bloated egotistical tripe? Weirdly not Morrissey, although I feel he spent a lot of time resisting help, becoming tearfully pedantic over every little change, getting brattish and contrary every time he didn’t get his way.

But surely if Penguin really thought that every thought Morrissey had while typing was good enough to sit in the same list as the Iliad, they should have made sure the book was the very best that they could make. If even I could sit there and make editorial amendments as I read, then they’ve failed. Utterly, embarrassingly failed.

A worst crime is that Penguin then let Morrissey ruin sex, and published his novel. In the press the Charming Man accused reviewers of ad hominen attacks. I can only assume that his name alone shifts enough units that Penguin are happy to print everything he writes. A shame because Penguin is so precious to me that I feel it’s letting one person’s fan crush ruin it.

Yes, there’s something incredible and alluring about Manchester’s romantic yob. But his preciousness pales against that of the orange and white delight that is Penguin.

Bad dreams

If the details change, is it still classed as a recurring dream? Because the intricacies of plot differ, but my friend dream always keeps its theme consistently. The point my subconscious wants to ram home, night after night, is that I am a bad friend.

Other people’s dreams are dull – their inner surrealism is only magical to themselves – so I will avoid giving a detailed account. The précis is this:

I agree to meet an old friend in a familiar place. But when we meet, the old friend’s smiles become jeers. They expose the indifference that I have shown to them and remind me of every unfriendly act, missed appointment or unkind word. They are lyrical on my hypocrisy. Then they disappear. Popping up occasionally to remind me what I prick I am, as I try to navigate through the once familiar place, which has now mutated into a maze.

For years the disdainful friend was D*****. Now it is Rachel.

At university, I shared a flat with Rachel for three years. She was a well spoken, well behaved young lady. An enthusiast, she wore thick, green woolen stockings, fussed, muttered to herself and made coco at bedtime.

Even as a student, Rachel had the air of someone who would eventually make jam and chair WI committees. She was church-going, small c conservative, CofE right down to her range of plaid, knee length kilts and flat soled shoes. Does that sound dismissive? It’s not meant to be. I loved her in a clumsy, brotherly way.

No, not brotherly. She had the practical, enthusiastic charm of a favourite aunt. Or more likely, I did not have the brains required to analyse our relationship, at all. At the time, Rachel simply existed in the twin states of ‘friend’ and ‘house mate’.

I can’t remember what Rachel studied. Whatever it was, she did it with a sense of industry that meant her lectures were all attended, her books got read and her essays arrived on tutors’ desks proofed and on time. Her approach to study sat awkwardly with mine.

In fact, her ethic and elbow grease was a stark contrast to my more loutish, ramshackle approach. In my studies, diligence and hard work were remote destinations. Like Paris or New York, they where places I had heard of, but hadn’t visited.

If I hadn’t been wrapped up in the storm of ego and chemicals that made up my career as a student, I would remember more about Rachel. What she thought, felt or believed in.

Instead my memories of her are defined by her relation to me, rather than as a separate, complex and interesting person in her own right. But who has the time to appreciate others? I had a torrid infatuation to worry about. A pointless and painful obsession with our other flatmate Lisa.

When Rachel returned to University for our final year, she had fallen in love. By the time we graduated, she was engaged. Was she married that summer or the one after? Does it matter; although I accepted the invite, I didn’t go. And that is something I will always fund shameful about myself. Nor did I apologise or explain my absence. I find that even worse, the reprehensible acts of a coward.

This all happened before social media. Rachel got married a year before I even owned a mobile phone.

It’s been 15 years since I last saw Rachel. If there was a big goodbye, the memory hasn’t stuck. It’s the ephemera of the last day at university that remains: piling the flat’s collection of empty wine bottles into an old potato sack; the panic that we’d not be able to empty out a year’s supply of other junk; that no one would get their deposits back. But no goodbyes.

I am sure Rachel is out there, carting well-adjusted, bright children to recitals and drama club. She is in her kitchen, sterilising jars, or in Waitrose buying frozen fruit, for jam. And part of me wants her to stop and suddenly think ‘I wonder whatever happened to James?’. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I deserve her time.

Other people keep hold of their university friends. All over the country, sideboards groan with photographs taken a yearly reunions. But not in my house. As my dreams remind me, I am a friend. not a good friend though – good friends are the one’s you get to keep.