When I’m feeling suitably writerly miserable, when all avenues to creativity seem blocked, when hard-fought written words are thrown away like litter, the cheery rhetorical question of this ad makes me want to laugh. Madly.
There was a zombie woman on my early morning train.
Her face was a skeleton. Smooth tea-coloured skin stretched over dry bones. Milky blank eyes of faint cataract blue. Colourless dry wisps of hair stuck to the dome of her skull.
Her maw was opened. Dark. Like a tunnel. The dry lips strained. Mouthing.
She stared forward. Focusing on nothing. On no-one.
More dead than alive.
And yet, still she moved amongst us!
I looked around the crowded train to see if anyone else had noticed the Death Stare Zombie Woman on the packed commuter carriage to Hell (next stop London Waterloo).
But everyone seemed calm. Dull-witted. Asleep, yet standing.
Swaying. Clutching their phones, their tablets, their e-readers, their morning papers. Someone even had a paperback book. Old Skule style.
No-one had noticed the open-mouthed yawning look of death of the Zombie Woman.
No one was scared she might bite. Might waken into a tearing ravenous rage.
Were they all dead too?
A half-remembered line of T.S. Eliot poetry crawled through my mind.
‘So many… I had not thought Death had undone so many.’
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
From The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
He knew it already, even then, back in 1922!
He saw it.
This sad, shambling semblance of life.
The mindless swarm, the meaningless repetitions of daily commute, of deadly life.
Going through the zombified living death, day after day.
I stared out of the window as the train slowed on the outskirts of central London.
The smut-stained streets and walls of Victorian houses, old businesses and ageing shuttered warehouses. The closed, dark, dusty past, now being overshadowed by the city’s shining steel and glass newness.
That was when I noticed something. There, poking out of the top of a rusting black drainpipe, clinging sadly to a drab brick wall.
A straggling scribble of life (‘bush’ would be too big a word to describe it).
A struggling buddleia growing – or trying to grow – from an old drainpipe, hanging from a dying building.
No soil. No nurturing.
Just trying its best to live, to survive, in a grim and hostile city environment.
Nobody loves it, I muse.
Yet still it clings to its stupid, meaningless life at the top of an old London roof.
How many years of dirt and disregard has it survived to get there?
And yet, there it is.
A buddleia – a ‘butterfly bush’.
And I thought: life persists.
I hope it was worth it, little bush.
I hope the butterflies will come to you.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter …
… I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
From The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
The train dragged itself into the mainline station and the zombies shuffled out onto platforms to go and bite other people, or work in offices or shops or whatever they do for a ‘living’.
I lost sight of the Zombie Woman amongst the murmuring, moaning walking dead.
It left me thinking: how many years have we all survived to get here?
Half-dead, but persistent.
Often disregarded, sometimes un-nurtured, we are all clinging on to our lives.
It’s banal. It’s trite.
But Life goes on.
And so can I.
My London Observations are an occasional series
fuelled by sporadic bouts of freelance copywriting
I follow the thought-provoking blog A Narcissist Writes Letters, To Himself so it was wonderfully exciting last week to find a yellow padded package (with an exotic San Francisco return address) stuffed into my humble post box here in the UK.
The Narcissist (E.I. Wong Himself) had kindly sent me a copy of his book*.
I sat down at my quintessentially English breakfast table, poured myself a cup of quintessential PG Tips tea (pyramid teabags, natch) and began to peruse the pages torn from the tortured Poet’s mind.
All of human life, rich in experience, is here.
From the evident joy of harpooning a pelican, to depression echoing the symptoms of a giant tapeworm, this small book covers a multitude of subjects to make us all pause for thought, and wonder.
How often have you considered the implications of a birthday surprise from friends that features deadly blow-darts?
Or that by simply walking into a web you can turn an excited spider’s dream feast into a broken home hell?
Amazingly perceptive, perspicacious and pretentious.
On every page E.I. Wong (I think I can call Him Eric) teaches us that life knows we are all idiots; indeed, ‘life’s main purpose is merely to try and replace us with something better’.
My particularly favourite poem is ‘A Shrill Shriek Follows Me’, which I reproduce here for your delight, and to give you a small flavour of the mad genius that lies within this small book.
The Poet’s explanatory notes beneath His poems and prose are worthy works of their own: poignant, funny, erudite and often downright rude.
Bald, bold, bad.
This book is provocative, sometimes sexually graphic, and occasionally non-PC. But E.I. Wong doesn’t care what you or I think**.
And for that I have to admire Him.
In his defence, the book’s cover notes tell me E.I. Wong ‘attended the University of Oregon for Poetry, where He was not well received’.
I commend this book to all who enjoy discovering a different poetical perspective on life. I recommend you follow E.I. Wong’s blog too. Even if you don’t always like his writing, I understand he is very good looking.
I’ll leave you with some final precious advice on the art of creative writing, direct from the virtuoso Himself:
But along the way I learnt how to suffer when my creation was pinned to a wall.
There’s nothing quite like presenting your first idea to a group of fellow creatives.
You feel raw.
The birth of an idea can be very painful.
The delivery onto paper can be slow, and fraught with difficulty. Sometimes even blood is involved, if the art director annoys the copywriter enough.
And the copywriter happens to have a heavy steel ruler in their hand.
But then, at last, you have your beloved concept.
‘My baby. My love. Heart of my heart.’
You beam. So proud.
The time has come to present it to the world.
You hold it up for others to admire.
And so often they slowly (joyfully?) tear it into pieces.
If you’ve worked in the commercial creative business, you too will know the hot, wrenching physical pain of your work being picked at, dissected and destroyed in front of your friends, colleagues, and most horribly, your rivals.
The deep cuts of scything criticism. The shredding power of chilling sarcasm.
I used to hear a small child’s voice inside me, begging the critics and the creatives to move on, move away.
To please, please, PLEASE look away from my precious, previously loved work.
My beautiful baby.
Only now I see it is maybe not so beautiful.
It has many faults.
It is deformed. Wrong.
Nobody loves it.
When you decide to pin your heart to a wall, or a page – or a blog – everyone has the right to look at it.
It’s all well and good if you are in a happy place. But when you’re not, Christmas is something that can push you over the tinsel-bedecked edge.
“Joy to the World!” pipes the tinny supermarket muzak as you watch sad, grim-faced people gazing at boxes of SuperValu mince pies.
It can feel miserable. And depressing.
A fake jolliness we desperately try to invent, to get involved with, ‘Because it’s CHRISTMAS!’.
And, ‘CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT!.’
And, “IT’S NOT ABOUT ALL THE PRESENTS … IT’S ABOUT LOVE, AND FAMILY, AND GOODWILL TO EVERYONE.”
So, I was browsing in a department store trying to find a festive jumper for my son, but it was out of stock.
In-store was jostling with shiny Christmas promotions and glittering displays. That’s when I noticed:
‘We’ve Got The Perfect Christmas Gift’s For You!’
BAH BAH and DOUBLE BAH with a GIANT APOSTROPHE HUMBUG on top.
As a copywriter (who too often has been told ‘We’re bringing the writing in-house’), it makes me mad (and sad) to see a well-known brand approve and print a glaringly gleaming grammatical goof like this.
Maybe the marketing department think the words are of so little importance that they don’t mind displaying their ignorance, lack of attention to detail, slacksadaisical approach to quality etc. etc.
After all, IT’S ONLY THE RETAIL YEAR’S MOST IMPORTANT SALES EVENT.
It really doesn’t matter that they have produced, approved and printed (all in-house – it’s better, you know,) a lovely display with a stupid typo in it. Then plastered the mistake all over their lovely top-notch merchandise.
It’s only been reproduced and repeated in hundreds of large shops all over the country.
Nothing to see here.
Let’s all deck the halls with sloughs of folly.
FA LA LA LA LA
Seriously, here’s just how lazy and samey things can get when no-one cares about the writing.
Apparently, all of these brands have Christmas all wrapped up.
By the way, I don’t know if these three examples are from ad agencies or produced by marketing teams in-house, but these are just three (JUST THREE – I know McDonald’s amongst others are also using THE SAME copyline on TV) that I’ve randomly collected from emails and online ads I’ve seen over the past 3 weeks or so.
Bah. Bah. Bah.
Anyway, let’s get back to the REAL meaning of Christmas.
A writer friend of mine was discussing the commercial compulsion we may feel to spend too much and eat too much at Christmas.
It got me thinking, if money was no object, what would I like for Christmas?
Maybe a new dress. Perhaps a new winter coat as mine is looking a bit shabby. And gym membership would also be good. Thanks Father Christmas! x
But my friend said she honestly couldn’t think of anything she wanted.
Her slippers had holes in but were comfy.
Her coat was warm and a bit rubbish, but she didn’t have to care about it.
She’s not bothered about food (other than where it comes from).
She did however have a book list encompassing 25 titles. And she could do with a couple of new Bic biros for writing.
I love her way of thinking, even though I can’t live up (or down?) to her standards. She’s such an other-worldly old hippy, too good for this world.
If I really think about it, I don’t actually need anything.
I’d like some things, for sure.
But I have a warm, dry, safe home.
Enough food. And not too much debt.
Which is more than about 95% of the world.
Putting my children to bed without bombs exploding outside their bedroom windows is also big bonus, of course.
But, if you’re asking, a nice big fat copywriting contract for next year’s Christmas promotions would be nice. 🙂