Authors: Caitlin Moran
To the bit in
where Rik Mayall and
Adrian Edmondson hit the gas man with a frying pan
forty-two times. I learned so much from you.
hen I became journalist at the age of fifteen, it was a matter of simple expediency.
Having been homeschooled for the previous five years, I had no academic qualifications whatsoever. As a resident of a housing project in Wolverhampton, this seemed to leave me with a grand total of three future employment options:
working the check-out at the Gateway supermarket, Warstones Drive, or,
becoming a writer: an option I only knew of because that was what Jo March in
, and Mother in
The Railway Children
, had done when they also fell upon hard times.
Considering all the options, I immediately eliminated Gateway, on the basis that their tabards were of a green hueâwhich gave my ruddy skin tone a particularly bilious tinge.
The prostitution, meanwhile, also got the ixnayâprimarily in acknowledgment that I was, at the time, sharing a bunk-bed with my sister Caz. As she put it, quite reasonably, “I don't want to listen to you being ridden like a show-pony three feet from my face. Plus, I think your Johns might hit their head on the Paddington Bear lampshade.”
So, writing it was. It's a choice I've never regrettedâalthough I do have the odd, panging moment when I consider just how useful a 40-percent discount on anything from the Gateway deli counter might have been. That is a lot of cheap Black Forest ham.
I began writing. I had a list of words and phrases I loved: a collection like others might collect records, or badges. Jaguary. Lilac. Catholic. Uxurious. Jubilee. Isosoles. Leopardskin. Mimosa. Shagreen. Iodine. Collodial mercury. Ardent. Attar of Roses. Corybantic. Viola. These would, surely, be useful. I knew I wanted to write intense thingsâwrite until I'd written myself new shoes and new hair and new friends, and a new life away from the inexorably compacting walls of our house. Words can be weapons, or love-spells, or just motorcars you can drive across county borders.
But what I didn't know was what to write intensely
or how to write about it. I had no subject. I had no subjectivity. I was just a bundle of sprawling words.
As a bundle of sprawling words, I entered writing competitions, and, at 15, won oneâ
's “Young Reporter of the Year.” In the letter announcing that I'd won, they offered me a chance to visit their offices, in London.
This wasâclearlyâmy chance to pitch for a job. They had no teenagers working on the paperâipso facto, if I went down there and made the right impression, that job was mine. I was going to pitch my ass off at these guys. I was not coming home until I had a promise of further work from them in the bag.
I spent the evening before preparing for my first ever job interview in the best way I knew how.
“People like people who bring cake!” I said to myself, at 11
. I was creaming butter and sugar in a bowl. The sideboard was covered in zested lemons.
“A lovely lemon and cream sponge! By bringing cake, I will become associated in their minds with cake, and they will think favorably of me, re: future employ!”
At the time, I was heavily under the influence of the autobiographies of actress, comedian and writer Maureen Lipman (imagine a Carol Burnett who spent most of her life telling amusing anecdotes on NPR). Lipman seems to spend all her time giving her friends and colleagues in the media giftsâengraved lockets, bunches of flowers, thoughtful chocolate selections.
We didn't have any kind of cake box or cake tin, for transportation down to London, so I put the sponge into a small, red suitcase I had recently bought from a tag sale, and went to bed.
The production and transportation of the lemon cream spongeâdone in order to secure the job at
âhad taken maybe seven hours, in total. This was six hours and fifty-eight minutes more than I had spent thinking about the actual job. Indeed, to be more specific, it was six hours and fifty-eight minutes more than I had ever considered what I would actually ever write.
o here I am, the next day, in London. Getting off the coach at Victoria Station wearing a gigantic hatâto make me look thinnerâand carrying a lemon sponge in a suitcase. If I carry the suitcase by the handle, the cake will tip on the sideâso I am carrying it flat, like a tray, in both hands. The time is 11:15
. I am due at the
offices, in Battersea, at 12:30
“Just enough time to go to the British Museum and Buckingham Palace!” I think, having looked at the tiny map of London I have in my pocket. I am keen that this journey to London will mix business with pleasureâperhaps to creature a new thing, “Plizness.”
I set off, carrying my suitcase out in front of me, like a crown on a pillow.
hree hours later, and I finally turn up at the
offices. I am trying very, very hard not to cry. All the skin has been flayed off my heelsâit turns out that wearing white pixie-boots and no socks is a poor idea if you're going to walk for three hours. I am soaked in sweat, utterly mortified, and newly enlightened as to the scale of capital cities.
When I woke that morning, I had no idea things were so far apart in London. In Wolverhampton, if you had a reasonable jogging pace, you could touch every single remarkable building in the town in under ten minutes. Fuck itâto be honest, if you sat next to the Man on the Horse statue in Queen's Square with a tennis ball, you could bounce it off every institute of note without moving. Even the McDonald's.
London, on the other hand, seems to have endless amounts of wide, gray, straight roads, which stretch on forever, and never have the British Museum, or Buckingham Palace, orâanxiously, from 12:17
offices at the end of them. I have been lost in a park, and round the back of Trafalgar Square. At one point, I tried to hail a taxiâbut was holding the cake-suitcase in both hands at the time, and so looked like someone doing an impression of the wise old monkey in the Lion King holding up a newly-born Simba for veneration, instead. The taxi just drove past.
The kindly folk at
have, understandably, been very worried. A fifteen-year-old girl has been missing in London for three hoursâthen turns up weeping and limping. They sit me down in a conference room, and prepare to ask me if I've been sexually assaulted.
“I really wanted to see the British Museum's collection of cuneiform tablets!” I say, trying to satirize the idea of someone being so nerdy they kept the deputy editor of the
waiting for a job interview.
Unfortunately, they think I'm being totally truthful, and try to make me feel better by talking about their favorite exhibitsâa conversation I can't join in on, as, obviously, I never made it to the British Museum. The only museum I've ever been in is the one at Bantock House in Wolverhampton, where they have a castle made of foil candy wrappers. It is a very good castle. Shiny. I tell them about the castle. They agree it sounds very special.
But stillâstill! Extrordinarily, after all of this, when I've drunk three glasses of water, quickly dashed a tear from my eye under the guise of adjusting my hat, and had everyone, very kindly, say, “London really IS easy to get lost in” one hundred timesâthere comes the moment where the deputy editor says, “So! Now we've finally got you here, ho ho ho, would you like to work for us?”
Unfortunately, at the time, I am going through a phase of not wanting to say the right thing, or the nice thingâbut the
thing. I imagine whole days' worth of conversations in my head, and then analyze them afterwards, from the vantage point of others, on their legendaryness-potential.
In the “being offered a job to write three columns in a national newspaper” scenario, which I've run through 300 times, I've finally decided that the legendary responseâspoken of in awe for years to come (“And then she saidâhahah, oh it was brilliant .Â .Â .”) is the one I bring out now:
“Work for you? Oh I'd love to. I'd really, really love to.”
I pauseâthen pick up a paper napkin, dip it in my glass of water, and then make as if to go and wash the walls.
“First I'll do the walls,” I say, “then the floorsâthat way, if I drip .Â .Â .”
It's a line from
the scene where Daddy Warbucks asks her to live with him, and Annie initially misunderstands, and thinks he wants her to be his maid. When I imagined delivering this line, I imagine everyone laughing. “We offered her a jobâas a columnistâbut she parodied her working-class background and obsession with musicals by pretending that we'd offered her a job as an office cleaner, instead! Legendary!”
There is no way everyone in this room won't have seen
. This line is going to be a killer.
Everyone in this room has not seen
There is another awkward pause.
“Would you like to write some columns for us?” the deputy editor asks, eventually, getting things back on track by pretending what I've just said never happened. “During the summer holidays? I think we'd be very interested to hear what you have to say about lifeâand cuneiform tablets! And tin-foil castles, ho ho ho!”
“Yes please,” I say, in a very simple way. I've decided to keep everything very simple from now on.
“So,” the features editor says. She's really lovely. Glossy-haired. A nice lady. “What would you like to write for us?”
I stare at her.
“What kind of ideas have you got?” she asks, again.
I keep staring. It had literally never occurred to me that I'd have to think of something to write. I thought you just turned up, said something legendary, and then they told you what to write. Like school. Papers are just .Â .Â . paid homework, surely? The grown-upsâa shadowy agglomoration who, in my mind, I presume to be politicians, Daddy Warbucks the billionaire and possibly John Craven from
âdecide what goes in the papers, and then farm it out to the writers. You don't have to .Â .Â . journalists don't .Â .Â . surelyÂ .Â .Â .
“ .Â .Â . could do a list of the things you feel most passionately about; issues that affect you,” the deputy editor is saying. I have got nothing here. I am all out on a conversation like this. I am going to have to pull the ripcord on this situation.
“I made you a cake!” I say, brightly. “To have with your afternoon tea. A lemon sponge!”
I carefully place the suitcase on the tableâhaving kept it, diligently, horizontal all day. Even when I sat in that “out of order” bus stop and criedâand open it up. People like people who bring cake! By bringing cake, I will become associated in their minds with cake, and they will think favorably of me, re: future employ!
In the punishing August heat, during a three-hour walk around London, all the lemon cream inside the cake has split, and gone rancid. An uneasy smell of vomit-cake fills the room. Everyone looks at me. In my head, I type out the sentence, “Write about this?”
ack in Wolverhampton, on the phone, my new editors suggest that I “read the papers, watch the newsâsee if there's something you want to write about.”
I assiduously research every high-profile current affairs story in the media for two weeks straightâthen write 600 words about my brother getting lost on Ynylas beach last year. The week after, I file 600 words about going to the library with my brothers and sisters (“We are in the âBooks So Boring They Should Have Won the Booker Prize' section.”). My third, and last, piece is about the family going on a picnic.
And then that's it. That was all
offered me, and it's finished. I'm unemployed again. I'm going to have to try and find some work.
ix months later, I'm on the phone, pitching ideas to
. I know they want “teenage-y” things, so I'm doing my best, but I don't really know much about teenagers, to be honest: being homeschooled, the only teenager I know, apart from myself, is my sister Caz, and she's currently not speaking to me.
When I go into her room, she makes me stand in the corner, facing away from her, while I talk. Years later, I see the serial killer doing exactly the same thing to his victims in
The Blair Witch Project.
“I could write about, erm, keeping a diary, or, erm, fashions,” I say, dubiously. “Or, erm, buses?”
I spend a lot of time on the bus. I've noticed a pecking-order in the seating arrangements, and am keen to share my theory that the true visionaries always sit top deck, front left, because that's the position Dan Ackroyd assumes in the car in
The Blues Brothers,
and he is my favorite Brother. I have a lot of bus-observation ready to roll.
“You can be as hard-hitting as you like,” the editor says, kindly, as the word “buses” still hovers in the air. Buses.
“ErrrrrÂ .Â .Â .” I sayâthe commission slipping away from me. I need to say something. I need to say something ear-catchy. In a panic, I blurt: “Anorexia?”
“Yes!” she says, instantly.
It's funny because, at the time, I spend most of my free time eating cream crackers covered with Shippam's Chicken & Ham paste. I am so in love with food that I get excited when the paste squirts up through the tiny holes in the crackers, like worm-casts. If I've ever had anorexia, it lasted less than forty-five minutes. I've not been very committed to it.
“I'd love to!” I say, before modulating down into my “issues” voice. “It's a terrible disease, and I can't believe I'm watching my generation being laid to waste by it.”