Saturday, May 23, 2009

The truth about what I do for a living/ my working life history.


Originally written for Lights Go Out zine in May 2008, quite a lot in my life changed since then.

I often get asked what I do for a living, as from the outside it probably appears that I do very little!
I work for myself and have done for about six years. After many years doing crappy manual factory work I started off my first attempt at a career working with adults with learning disabilities (somewhat harshly referred to by some as retards) and ended up doing residential work with chaps that have what they call ‘challenging behaviour’ which means they beat the crap out of you pretty often. It was a pretty unpleasant time but I did become fluent in sign language so there was definitely plus points. Since the age of about fifteen I always had a reputation as being good with computers. In reality I was good at breaking the computer my dad had bought in a vain attempt to get me to try a little harder (i.e., at all) at high school. It was windows 3.1 so it didn’t take a lot to break, and a typical evening went like this;

4.30pm return from high school and start messing about with the computer

5pm the computer would be utterly dead and I would have roughly thirty minutes to fix it before dad got home from work.

Now I should say at this point my dad rules and would never go spare if he found out I had broken the computer, but fixing it before he got home became a sort of game! So by the time I was getting cheesed off with turning up to my support work job at 7am only to get punched in the face so hard that I would literally be sent flying. Usually this punch would be shortly before having to clear up man poo and invariably was followed by clearing up some piss or spunk from the lounge furniture. I decided I’d had enough. This situation wasn’t helped by the fact I was also doing the same job during the day for the local social services department (often with the same clients). At its worst I was away from home for three or four days solid, as I was earning what would now be less than minimum wage the £20 bonus for sleeping at work was pretty attractive. Around this time my dad suggested that I try and train for a job in IT, I had previously not considered this as everyone I knew in IT had an A-level or even a degree in mathematics and I had left school with no qualifications at all! Dad suggested I buy my computer from a family friend called James. James had always interested me as he had been quite the ‘wrongun’ as a teenager growing up in Alabama and Georgia before joining the army for many years, eventually coming out the other side as a self employed IT consultant. In a style of response that I eventually learnt was very typical of James he suggested that instead of building me a computer I should pop over to his house and build it myself. In a cavalier style of response that came to symbolise my early years in IT I decided that even although I failed at Lego building as a child I could probably knock together a fully functioning computer. I arrived at James’ house expecting some training on computer building as I went along, but in reality he just sort of left me to it and I got it all right! Little did I know at the time, but he was testing me. I passed and he gave me a job as his first ever employee! I spent the next two years whizzing around the English countryside turning up at the offices of large companies without any idea of what I was doing, and somehow generally fluking my way into fixing everything. It didn’t go without its hitches though, like the time I nuked the hard drive of a client that had stored on it fifteen years worth of business leads. James had specifically told me NOT to wipe the drive, but for some reason I am still unsure of I decided I knew better. When he found out James put his hands around my throat and pretended to strangle me. His hands really were rather tight, and the look in his eyes is something I will never forget! I did some really cool work whilst working for James, including supporting the housing office at a nearby American air-base. This was one of my favourite jobs as it consisted of sitting largely undisturbed in a nice little air conditioned room eating doughnuts, breakfast burritos and all manor of other treats that were unavailable in England but that the USAF saw fit to fly half way across the world for their homesick servicemen and women. The servers in my ‘office’ also made a gently reassuring whirring noise that regularly lulled me into restful unconsciousness. Although this rest was once broken by a transformer (the building was half 240v and half 110v) behind me catching fire causing me to call the on base fire service. They screeched up wearing full silver suits looking more like they were hunting for ET than getting ready to put out a fire that in reality was the size of my fist. Eventually James was owed so much money by clients that he had to make me redundant. He cried, it sucked, we’re still friends.

I was invited into London a couple of days before my job with James ended to talk to a company that wanted to hire a website controller. As I had spent the previous two years running networks and fixing computers I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job, and as I had spent the last two years occasionally travelling to London by train to fix networks I knew there was no way in hell I wanted to make that awful journey every weekday. At the end of the interview I was asked how much money I would want to be paid if I took the job, bearing in mind that I really didn’t want the job I plucked a figure out of the air that was roughly double what I was previously earning. I demanded they pay me at least £24,000 a year and sat back in my chair awaiting the indignant and angry response this foolish demand would bring crashing down upon me. I half expected to be escorted from the building for my bare-faced cheek. Imagine my surprise when without so much as a pause for breath they bit my hand off. Almost by accident (as far as I was concerned) I had landed myself a job in the city. It was a few months after that I found out the starting rate for a website controllers in London was £35,000 a year! At this time I had also bought a badge making press on a credit card and started up BestBadges.co.uk to make badges (pins) for bands. This enterprise had taken off very well indeed but being out of the house for twelve hours a day, and then sitting up past midnight to make badges was really starting to take its toll on me. I really enjoyed working for this organisation in the city, but after two years I was about as sick of commuting as a lad can be, and utterly exhausted. I was also paying twice as much for my train fare as I was my mortgage! I took a huge chance and informed my employers that I wanted to go self employed, and that I wanted them to be one of my clients. Miraculously they went for it and almost by accident I had started working as a sole trader, and calling myself ‘Web Care Takers’. Providing IT support, very high level email hosting and all kinds of general computer and internet stuff.

BestBadges.co.uk was now far too much for me to cope with, and thanks to my ‘total guesswork’ quoting system it was also not making any money. Stuart Culture (the singer of my then band Junk Culture) got involved, freeing me up to get myself and Web Care Takers properly up and running. As I’m writing this I’m realising that my life has been one long series of remarkable co-incidences, and I’m about to tell you of another! When I started up working for myself a very large local employer cleared out most of it’s senior management, they ganged together and started their own HR consultancy. It just so happened I knew one of them personally and they became my first clients. This was a little surprising at the time as I had just gotten rid of my car and bought a bicycle in an attempt to be more green. My first meeting with this group was at the offices of their previous employers. I had ignored the fact that this office was at the top of a very large hill and turned only to make my first impression a very sweaty and gasping one! In fact within a few months I had most of the old employees at this company on my books! All these clients needed web hosting so I started another wee thingy and called it PunkyHosting.com As the zine I was writing for at the time ‘Real Overdose’ called it a day I decided to add to my own workload and started up a zine called Beat Motel.

A couple of years passed and as I hadn’t started anything new for a while I opened a record shop in Ipswich with Rikki from Red Flag77. He had been running ‘Know Your Product’ for many years as a mail order distro, and as I had an itch to open a record shop we decided to join forces. This lasted a couple of years until a small group of bankers in the USA decided to make the entire world poor, and we had to close.

As is traditional with zines I had a bit of trouble shifting copies of Beat Motel so I started trading them. Well to be more accurate I started sending copies of my zine to every zine address I could find online and in print. The more zines I was sent meant the more addresses I would find to send out copies of Beat Motel to. Before long I was swamped, so I decided to my own zine distro called ‘CornDog Publishing’, you can find it online at www.corndog.co.uk Within a few weeks I heard the demos for an album by a band called Los Salvadores and was blown away, I decided to upgrade my CDR label CornDog Records to a ‘real’ label and put out a cracking Los Salvadores album called ‘Attack of the Clones’.

So what do I do with myself these days? Well I still run Web Care Takers and PunkyHosting as well as being a director and helping out with both Best Badges and Know Your Product. I am writing more than I used to and have had a few bits published by the BBC website. I am also getting back into photography and have had some of my photos published online and in a national magazine. I am getting really into my zine distro and am still enjoying putting on the occasional gig as well as playing in my own band ZEEB.

So does all this mean I actually have any money? Does it bollocks! My problem is that each time I actually make marginally more than cash I need to live and pay my tax bill I go and start something new. So I may be poor (my wife is a vegetable gardener and earns far more than I do), but I generally get out of bed when I feel like it and consider myself to be more sort of ‘actively unemployed’ than having a career. I know I’ve been very lucky, but I don’t think I could ever go back to being an employee and although I get really lonely (and a little nuts) working at home I don’t think I’d change it for the world.

Thanks to Graham Birks for the lovely photo of me shown above.