Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Nostalgia Factory (iii)


There was a time when the wife had never known me to have a job. I'd left the last job I had shortly before meeting her and wasn't to have another one until the government foisted one on me in 1984. It wasn't for the lack of trying; I paid weekly visits to the job centre, scoured the paper and applied for anything that I could reasonably do. I had interviews - some of which I'd rather forget - and got a job that I lasted 4 hours at (because it wasn't as advertised). So when I got called into the job centre and told I had to go on this new Community Programme, I approached it with a mixture of happiness and trepidation; I was essentially being given a choice of positions appropriate to my experience and I pretty much had to take one of them.

The job that appealed to me the most was that of Youth Information Project co-ordinator for a Borough Council initiative called (ahem) The Youth Information Project. This utilised this new Internet like technology (a kind of Intranet) that stored information about events and things the youth of the county could do. It was pretty cutting edge, even if it didn't work all the time and I'm not completely sure what my or the two people who worked with me were actually supposed to do, but we sat in this large spacious office come reception area and did stuff. We recruited artists, writers and able bodied youngsters to do stuff, volunteer and help run the place - which, as I inferred, looking back I can't recall us ever doing much apart from leaflets, but it kept people off the streets.

I was young and probably really irritating and my desire to write for a living was not backed up by any real ability. I was a million miles from a decent editor and while my peers were all academically adept, I had slipped into this strange vicious circle of claiming to be a writer and yet having produced zero written material for getting on for 3 years and that had been pretty woeful. I was full of big claims that were pretty impossible to back up. Yes, I'd had two poems published in 1980, but even I don't possess a copy of the book they were in, and I kind of used this as a 'well you might be better than me, but I've been published' stick to hit people with.

Yet, the next time I got published was possibly one of my proudest moments and quite remarkably it had practically slipped my mind for years... It still didn't make me a better, more disciplined writer, but it was one of those rare occasions when something comes together and didn't need a lot of editing (if any).

The building the YIP was based in was shared by a whole bunch of the now-defunct Community Youth Service - a body of people who, if they were in existence today would be incredibly valued because of the way they could conjure things up with no money. The CYS produced a monthly news letter - a real professional looking broadsheet magazine that now seems quite an achievement considering how little like this is produced today (probably because there isn't any money) and it focused on what the CYS was doing in the county, upcoming projects and interesting 'journalism'. It wasn't produced by professional writers, but it was packaged professionally and they didn't have any old shit in it. It wasn't particularly stunning to look at, but it was jam-packed with information for just about everyone under the age of 25.

I'd built up a good relationship with the CYS, either through already formed friendships or just working closely with them on a daily basis and I knew a few of them from the sub-culture movement in and around the town in the 1980s. I got talking to one of them about drugs; for some strange reason he'd come and asked me about them - heaven knows why - and wanted to know if I could hook him up with a dealer! No, not so he could score, but because he wanted to interview one for the magazine. The opportunist in me was quick to jump on this and I said I'd speak to someone and get back to him, already formulating a plan in my head.

I went back the next day and said I knew someone who was willing to be interviewed, but they would only be interviewed by me, to safeguard their anonymity. The CYS worker agreed to this without hesitation and I had this reputation, see, of having been published. What I did next was pretty indicative of my time at Comics International; I hacked it.

Over the next two weeks, when I popped round the bloke who I used to buy my cannabis off of, I put the interview together - not directly, but indirectly. The guy was an old friend and me asking him all manner of questions wasn't unusual; so when I came to sit down at the typewriter - this was before PCs and shit - it wasn't so much an interview with a drug dealer as one with a fictional dealer. If nothing else, I didn't want any trails being left that might end in me not being able to visit my bloke.

What I delivered wasn't fictional, it was based entirely on information given to me, it was just the words were largely made up. The CYS worker went apeshit for it; it got bumped from inside to the back page article; very little was cut and they saw fit to pay me £50 for it. Result.

The events that followed were a little more sinister. The day after it was published, the police paid the YIP a visit, but they weren't allowed to talk to me; the CYS guy was spouting about freedom of the press and being allowed to keep sources secret, despite the fact I wasn't a member of the NUJ or anything. They left and a couple of days later, my boss's boss asked to see me. He wanted to be sure that the person I had interviewed was someone I met through a third party and not someone I regularly had contact with - if you know what I mean? Then it all died down for about two months.

Then something really unexpected happened. The CYS guy came down to see me and asked if I had any objections to the interview being used by Nottingham University for its sociology department - it was going to be used as material in a specific course. It didn't pay anything, but they wanted my permission to use it; which, even if I should have got more money for it, I was happy to oblige.

I found the magazine a couple of years ago, in a box, in the loft, and if memory serves me well it's pretty good and I'm surprised I'd forgotten about it for so long.

The second thing I ever 'published' was a school magazine called Trashcan back in 1978. As chief compiler and editor of this School Council sanctioned 'comic' I was stymied by the strict editorial control of the head of 6th form, got far too precious over the 2nd issue, which got, ahem, canned, until they managed to get rid of me from 6th form and started it again with other, less wilful, individuals.

The reason I was a pompous arse was because Trashcan wasn't my first adventure in printing and publishing. That was Media - a fanzine I took over when I was in the 5th form - about comics. I was the go-to person to speak to and when the council okayed it, they came to me. Media, created by a lovely chap called Mark Ellis, was taken over by me with #7 - an awful mess of a thing, printed, by the looks of it, with potato stencils. Production soon improved and I was already a perfectionist (to a degree) long before I went to work for Dez Skinn.

Oh and there was them poems. I can still remember one off by heart. Which, I suppose, is nice, for me.

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