How to lose friends and influence people

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The Independent Culture
COMPASSION FATIGUE. Yes. You turn the pages of your newspaper and you think "Hmm", and "Oh dear", and "Ah well", and "Yes, I'd love another cup ..."

But every now and then, you read something so monstrous and terrible that it makes you rear up in your chair, egg and coffee flying on a tide of outrage.

This time, it was an advertisement for The Writers Bureau of Manchester, on the back of one of those little magazettes you get free in the newspaper, the ones for people who like watching the telly and going out to the pictures and the theatre and ballet and concerts, the poofs.

"Why not be a WRITER?" it said, and the answer is: "Because being a writer is a pain in the arse." All you do is sit around all day getting piles and grumpy. It is the world's least jolly trade. A roomful of writers would give you fulminating nephritis, they're such miserable, suspicious sods. You spend half your life writing stuff down in your little notebook - stuff of no use at all, like "Man on the bus. Why? NB trousers. Dickens???" - and the other half convinced that you have no ideas and will never have another one again. If, like me, you get a letter quite seriously suggesting that you might like to write the label copy for a new, exciting series of novelty toiletries, you, like me, will equally seriously consider the idea instead of shouting "Has it come to this?" and slashing your throat. People steal your stuff and take the credit. You burn out and are forgotten. It's a mug's game and a dog's life and not to be thought of unless there is NO OTHER OPTION OPEN TO YOU AT ALL.

But the Writers Bureau sees it differently, bless their optimistic stony little hearts, and go on to quote their success, Jon Eagle of Essex. Jon Eagle of Essex received a pounds 25,000 advance for his novel Red, and sold the film rights, and is co-writing the script, and now he looks forward to receiving his Certificate of Competence.

Maybe that's where I've been going wrong all these years. No Certificate of Competence. Nobody's ever asked to see it, but perhaps that's because they can tell, just from looking at me, that I don't have one and never will. And so I am condemned to obscurity. It's like those old Strand magazine ads for business schools. Pimply young skunk sitting in Dickensian office, smirking. Earnest smooth-cheeked young prig next to him, bent over his ledgers, smugness oozing from his brilliantined hair. Old bully - white moustache, six-piece suit, false teeth, obvious wife-beater - and weedy hand-wringing Confidential Secretary (chap by the name of Maurice, with rooms in Mecklenburgh Square and a special friend, Jeffrey) standing outside, peering in. "Mark down young Jorkins for promotion," says the old bully to Maurice. "He is taking the Acme Business Efficiency Course."

Nowadays, of course, your first assumption would be that Jorkins was the pimply young skunk, a grasping, robotic moral castrato with the commercial ethics of a record producer and the human sympathies of a Duracell. He'd be headed straight for the top in any of our great organisations, blasting in with his computers and analyses and "crisp" white shirts, and blasting out again just as quickly with all the money, smirk still plastered to his bitter, bony face. The real Jorkins would be screwed. Out on the streets with two fat ex-Pentonville security bastards clamped onto his honest broadcloth elbows, and if his fate aroused any reaction in skunk-face at all, it would be in the form of a tiny but pleasurable twitch at the groin.

There's a business opportunity here which nobody has yet exploited. I won't have time to do it myself, because I'm too busy working on my scheme to turn atheism into an organised religion, with apostles and disciples and eager female followers who will beseech me with little gifts and take their clothes off and stand in the wardrobe without a moment's complaint. So someone else can set up the Bastard School. Don't you see what a winner it could be? The world is full of decent, honourable people who just want to do their bit, unmolested, but instead get stomped, traduced, buggered about, impoverished and flung out to die by the skunks, who realise that if you don't give a damn about what other people think of you, there is absolutely nothing you cannot achieve.

The Bastard School would correct all this. For a modest weekly sum, it would offer Bastard Lessons. You'd begin by learning to be moody, and move on to Tantrum Studies and Advanced Weight-Throwing, rising through the ranks from Bit Of A Shit to Indescribable ****, But By God He's Rich.

The advertising would write itself. "Why Not Be A Bastard?" it would say. "As a freelance Bastard, you can earn riches beyond your wildest dreams by doing damn-all except talking plausible managerial jargon and intimidating other people. Our step-by-step correspondence course teaches you how to:

"l Sack people who stand in your way! l Persuade stupid board members that you know what you're talking about! l Take the credit for other people's work! l Behave with unremitting dishonour with a smile on your gob! l Talk bollocks while looking as though you believe it! l Fake sincerity! l And much, much more which you will only learn when you SIGN UP WITH THE BASTARD SCHOOL.

" 'Until recently, I was employed on the production side of my business, and, to be frank, I wasn't very successful. But now I am Chief Ex ecutive. In the last few months, since signing up with the Bastard School, I have BLED OFF pounds 5m from the company, SACKED the entire R&D team, CONTRACTED out production to a team of retrained Malaysian bark-strippers, LEASED the corporate premises to a consortium of Iraqi financiers, BANKRUPTED eight of our trading partners and MADE everyone who works for me wish they were dead. Thank you, Bastard School! I look forward to receiving my Certificate of Bastardy!' - Bledlow Chubb of Abberfax."

I offer this idea with my compliments. All I ask in return is a Certificate of Competence. Doesn't matter what in, as long as it isn't Writing.