The nest empties

If you’re sending your only (step)child off to university, you ought to make an occasion of it. There’s no reason you can’t spin the weekend out a bit, so we did.
Departure time was set by mutual pre-arrangement for 10.00, Saturday morning. At 05.00 he finally rolled in from saying goodbye to his friends. At 09.20 he was finally persuaded that if he wanted to make the journey washed and fed, now would be a good time to get up. At 09.45 he was saying, “look, can we speed this up a bit?”
An uneventual journey, apart from learning that Pease Pottage actually exists – or at least, motorway services of that name do. Luggage unloaded, new housemates met, and his mother allowed to make his bed, after which we were politely but firmly shown the door. And quite right too. I think I went through similar with my own mother in October 1984, apart from the making the bed thing.
So. Beloved had never been to Brighton before, so into town we went, me pointing out the church that actually features (though not by name) in The New World Order. Parking charges and crowds of no less than a couple of thousand put us off cultural activities like looking around the Pavilion. We edged our way along the sea front for a bit, then retrieved the car and drove along the coast from Brighton to Eastbourne – not least because Sandi Toksvig did exactly the same journey in a bus on Excess Baggage a couple of weeks ago and it sounded nice. Every now and then we would utter something wistful, like “I am so glad he got a house in Brighton and not Eastbourne, like the university were advising him to.” It’s a beautiful 20-mile trip, but a very long 20 miles.
More positively: a beautiful landscape of rolling downs, sparking sea, quaint villages, Roedean looking like a cross between Hogwarts and an HM penitentiary clinging to a cliff, Beachy Head, and just one man urinating at a bus stop while his fellow future passengers showed resolute Englishness by queuing in the opposite direction and ignoring him. Cream tea in the Victorian Tearooms on Eastbourne pier, then a cross-country trip through more lovely rolling downs bathed in sunlight to stay the night with an old school friend who lives in the vicinity.
Sunday morning: exploration of Horsham and then, finding it unexpectedly close, Guildford Cathedral. We wanted to go somewhere to kneel and say a brief prayer of thanks for the boy finally entering higher education, and where better than a placefirmly associated with the Antichrist?
So it was perhaps ironic that the place was full of several hundred Masons, all in full aprons, medals and other forms of togs, gathered together for an annual service of thanksgiving. Seats were reserved for men with titles like “Provincial Grand Steward”, which frankly I think is setting your sights too low. If I was going to be a Grand Steward, no way would I settle for being merely Provincial. Fortunately we still had about an hour before the service began so could explore in relative peace, if not quite the quiet we were hoping for. I stood next to one of the gents in the Gents, and found jokes about funny handshakes filling my mind. I’m quite glad none of them slipped out.
Then home, finally, to a strangely empty flat. You’d think that if we just shut his door and drew his curtains then for the rest of the flat it would be just like him still being there, but no, apparently not. I took the opportunity to hoover his room and could have sworn the carpet screamed: “stop! What is this strange thing you are doing to me?”
Followed by: “Hmm, actually that’s quite nice.”
And then: “Oh yeah, baby, more.”
At which point I stopped.
Five years ago he couldn’t wait to move in. Five years later he couldn’t wait to move out. The mind and the spirit left some time before the body. This is life, and it is good. And now we see with no small level of interest what happens next.

Fame and fortune and everything that goes with it

Along with the usual random collections of invitations to bid to write someone’s medical research paper or biographical squibs for a website featuring nude Bollywood stars (I know, I wish I was making this up too), this morning’s inbox delivers the following treat.
“Dear Ben
This is $SCAMMING_COW from $SCAMMING_COWS_INC. [Names changed not to protect the innocent – as if – but because I have no intention of publicising their scamming set-up.] We are a full service media relations company that works with authors, speakers, thought-leaders, coaches, internet marketers, business experts, health and wellness leaders, etc. to secure media exposure for them and their businesses. We’ve taken specific interest in you and your business as someone we’d like to represent and would like to further discuss the possibility of representing you.”
Well, I do have an agent, y’know, but okay, I’ll read further. Nice to know someone thinks I could be a thought-leader, or even a thought leader.
My eye is caught further down by a very promising list of prices. If these people can get me these, I’ll be laughing.
  • Online radio: $60 per booking
  • Terrestrial radio: $100 per show per market (for example, If a show is syndicated into Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago that appearance would be $240)
  • Television: $150 for local, $500 for national
  • $1000 for major network shows
  • Print media: $750 per placement
  • Blog features: $50 per appearance
  • Webinars-hosting and inviting attendees -$250
(Incidentally, are you picking up the vibe that these people think I’m American?)
Except that I then read the bit just before:

“We also now offer pay as you go PR. Experts can join the PR company and pay per booking that we get them.”

So … you want me to pay you $100 to get me on a radio show? In fact:

“Our media relations representation packages start at just $500 per month and guarantee a minimum of 5 engagements per month!”

So I’m paying you $500 a month. My incentive is presumably the carrot you dangle in front of me of fame, fortune and media exposure. What exactly is yours? You’re getting $500 a month, and I’m also paying you for the extra promotion. Why do you want to do anything at all on top of that?
Answer, you don’t. Children, if you get anything like this, it’s a scam. Genuine PR agents take a cut of your earnings: that’s standard and accepted and it’s what makes them tick. No earnings, no cut. That’s how the big wide world works. Sadly, it is a feature of the same big wide world that there are people like $SCAMMING_COWS_INC. out there always ready to prey on the needy.
Like all good scams it finished with a morsel of truth.

“All of the MEGA best-sellers were born in the mass media (Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Tipping Point, Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Success Principles, etc.) here’s your chance to do it in a very cost effective manner.”

Well, yes, they grew big through the mass media – but I promise you, their authors did not pay $500 a month for a minimum of 5 engagements. Or even:

“Reputation Management $250 a month -in which we control the search engine to overtake any negative reputation harming search entries and articles.”

Oh, and on the credit card authorisation form that they so helpfully send, they manage to say “Public Relaitons” instead of “Public Relations”.
Back to the attempts to earn an honest living {sighs}.

Quarterly Report

Well, it’s been three months since the Morning of the Long Knives. How’s the freelancing going?

It … goes. I think.
To recap: summoned to a meeting early at work, told the department was being restructured, warned I was at risk of redundancy, sent home for a week (which turned into three weeks) to think things over. On the understanding that I would be retained to work for the old place for 5 days a month, I took the redundancy and became a freelance technical writer.
Later on the same day as the Morning, I went into London to meet some nice people who wanted me to do 36,000 words of ghost-writing. That was fun, and lucrative, and it kept my mind off worrying what to do next. Sadly that’s now over.
In the meantime I was signing up with various agencies who handle people like me. They were all saying essentially “work’s always thin on the ground at this time of year but it picks up in September”. It’s now September so I’ll be holding them to that.
And meantime – oh, dear – meantime I signed up to websites like and I helpfully get sent daily lists of jobs being offered that I am invite to bid on. At first this was almost suicidally depressing; now I just keep getting the alerts as incentive – a dreadful insight into what could be.
Example, in today’s post:
“I will need 500 articles of 100 word length as soon as possible … All writers will be given a list of keywords to write at. You MUST be able to do at least 20-30 short articles a day … My budget is $30 for each set of 100 short articles (100 Words Each).”
So, $30 for 10,000 words.
The only thing more depressing than the tenders is that there are people who still make bids, with persuasive notes such as:
“Respected Sir, I want to establish long term business relations with you because I can do your project and it will help us to develop healthy business relations.Sir, I will provide you high quality work under dead line.”
On the bright side, the 5 days a month at the old place pays the mortgage and fuel bills, so at least I can starve in the warm and dry.
To be blunt, I miss working in a team that I got on with doing work that I valued. I miss my friends and I would much rather have a full time job. However I don’t want one so badly that I’ll just take anything, and I don’t want to have to take a step back: hence, no real desire to return to journal publishing, for instance. I’m a realist and I know that beggars can’t be choosers – but I’m not yet a beggar, and shouldn’t be for some time to come.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s September and I have stuff to do …