Beestonia: United We Stand.

I’ve had a run of good fortune lately. Stuff in my life has gone very right. In 42 years of life, the majority where I’ve seemingly shambolically stumbled through a series of unsuitable jobs / relationships / countries, this is a good thing. Recently:

  • Beeston Oxjam had it’s best year ever…and it’s best year over all Oxjams. ever.
  • I was challenged to write a short story in a 24 hour period, something I’ve never done before, did so, and now a publisher wants to publish it and give me a chunk of cash to do so.
  • Nottingham became a UNESCO City of Literature, after an eighteen month campaign that I was immensely lucky to help out on.
  • The Beestonian is turning a profit, growing hugely and looking to expand into other areas.
  • My career as a for-hire writer is going so well I’m in the utterly ridiculous position of having to turn down work.

So how about a post where I have a quick revel in my own glory?

Nah. It’s not false modesty, rather an solid awareness that all this good stuff was in some part hard work, but also a great deal of luck. 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration? Again, nah. You can add to the mix a  pinch of inspiration, granted, but add in a a whole load of cashed-in felicitation to that perspiration. I got a break, that’s all, as did every other person who finds themselves doing something they love for a living.

Before I got that break, I did a shit load of crap work to keep me in cheap wine and occasional haircuts. I was a postie for two years. I worked abroad, serving drinks to dodgy Portugese mafia types. I stuffed cheese in ceramic pots. I photocopied stuff for a law school. I stocked shelves. I typed up mental health reports for a psychiatric unit. I was a parkkeeper. I laboured. I worked on factory lines. I did retail. I assistant managed a pub. I worked in nightclubs. I sold contact lenses. I delivered newspapers, aged 12 -17. Same newspaper I now write for.

I never have not worked, and I have never not written. I’ve had lapses when drugs, females, illness and a short-lived obsession with computer games but generally I’ve written. Even when I went through a period of narcotic psychedelic exploration. Though the type of stuff I wrote then was generally scrawled upon the back of Rizla packets, or merely transmitted directly by my exploding brain straight onto wallpaper, curtains or carpets rather than rendered upon paper. Thank fuck.

So that idea that talent shines through is bollocks, frankly. Most people are great because, weirdly, most people are, given the chance. The astonishing thing about meeting famous people is their utter normalness. I suspect them to be shining a radiant gold aura; be 12 foot high; be smelling of a musk that renders us mere mortals senseless. The one thing I do sense is there awareness of the sheer absurdity of the situation.

The moment I assume that I am great, btw, or revelling in a break, you have a permission to kill me. Or write something cutting on Twitter. If I’m at the level of pomp, either will render me dead.

Yet I do have a secret. One that is hardly up there with who shot JR Kennedy, or who that bloke was being talked about in Carly Simon’s song. One that I can retrospectively see as the true reason I’ve had a ripe run of good luck of late.

Collaboration. Cooperation. Working together.

When I first started this blog up over 7 years ago, I did so with this self-image as a lone wolf. “Who is this keyboard ninja?’ people would exclaim ‘whapping authority with his numchuks of truth?’. Lord Beestonia had arrived, hiding in the shadows and bringing down authority then disappearing again.

That was great to begin with. I could snipe, a position now almost default in internet commentary. I got bored of it soon though. I wrote into the void to begin with, but as I built an audience I realised I wanted others to join in: impossible if one rocked the exclusively incognito.

So I ditched that, and welcomed this blog as being open. I’ve never been reluctant to stick my identity on here, shy of giving you my PIN or my DNA profile. I asked for help, cautiously, on issues. People responded. I like that. I did it more.

And as I did it, I realised asking for help was exponential. People want to help people. People like being involved. People are, ultimately, good.

Thus Oxjam. Each year we start with not a penny in our funds. We are given slim advice from our bosses. Year one was a struggle to get people on board. A struggle to convince businesses to be part of it. A mountain to climb in convincing the public to join in. We raised about £4,000. Not bad. Yet, by utilising those initial bonds, and using the festival to push them further, we just raised over £17,000 for charity. Collaboration.

The Beestonian started with £50 seed capital and no idea how to set up a mag. I expected that money to pump out three four page issues, before I ran out of ideas and cash. Yet from issue one people approached me and offered both. They continue to do so: as a reader of this blog there is a strong chance you’ve inspired an article. We now have a team of ace writers, designers, a marketer and even kicked out a documentary. People did that. You – most likely -did that.

The City of Literature bid was based on cooperation and collaboration. The project leaders, Pippa Hennessey and David Belbin, both brilliant writers and literary heroes, bought me on board and tasked me with bringing other groups to get behind the bid. I was astonished how wonderfully all aspects of Nottingham did just that. Local authorities. The press. The broadcast media. MPs (sadly not our own here in Broxtowe, though we did ask). Schools. The Universities. Tourist groups, literary groups, poetry societies…it didn’t take long before it took an age to scroll down my contact spreadsheet.

That did it. That persuaded UNESCO, who do not hand out the designation willy-nilly, to read our bid and award – unlike the majority of applicants – the designation.

Cooperation works. Collaboration works. It’s such a simple idea. It informs my politics: I am to the left philosophically, not as I feel a tribalism or familial disposition (the Daily Mail and it’s outpourings were the lingua franca chez Goold) but rather that it celebrates working together as an ethos, rather than the nihilistic individualism of the right. I suppose this is best demonstrated in my upbringing: I was bought up between my grandmother and my actual family, with that  surrogate, now sadly passed, who saw the core value of a human in their ability to ‘mix’. I remember taking her into a Stapleford club, just a few months before she died, which she hadn’t been in for several years due to increased fragility, and the entire place hushed on her arrival, the bingo breaking to allow a spontaneous standing ovation.

Looking after each other, collaborating, cooperation has been under attack through the years. We are expected to only care for those immediately around us, to form emotional fortresses to our neighbours. Suspect them. They could be the enemy. They could hurt you. Stick up for yourself, fortify yourself. A paranoia develops. The Conservative party know this, and nurture it to get power. Immigrants. Scotland. Your house. A bit of racist dog-whistling is thrown in, and voila: a scared population is a subservient population. You have to accept this.

Or don’t. Step out the door, realise that the vast majority of people are wonderful. They might not be like you, but that’s great. Those refugees? They still have the exact primary needs as you, and I bet they have something to offer you if you give them the chance. Those people who don’t support your politics? Try and have a chat with them. It might be fun. Really. And if it’s not, walk away.

Meeting people who have vastly different views to mine is revelatory. It rarely changes my view, but it does increase the understanding, the nuance. We are in an age where nuance is a vastly diminishing commodity: look at a place like Facebooks bonkers Tram Ranting Room, where paranoia, the effect of an echo chamber and a hatred of anything with a shade of grey has polluted local discourse.

I have been lucky over the last couple of years to make a career out of what I love. It gives me a huge swelling of pride to see things I care for do well, if it be Nottingham’s literary fabric, Beeston’s civic excellence, Oxjam’s growth. All will make the town, the city, the world, a better place in various degrees.  I am very lucky to be a part of all of them. Yet that luck was realising that we, as a community, as individuals, work better together rather than apart. If that makes me sound like a crazy socialist, so be it. Life is not a race, not a competition. We are only whole through our association with others.

Happy New Year!