My copy of the Metro was often little more than a sweet, merciful barrier against Paul, who I met once at a barbecue and feared would get very animated about the Doctor Who novel he’s been writing if our eyes met on the Overground.
The free daily paper serves the sleep-bereaved office worker as an instrument of social grace, as well as distraction from the loud complaints of nearby commuters – you know the type, the ones who appear to be in the middle of a second-round interview to become head of the passengers’ union.
My grip on the Metro was especially tight in those years I worked in my last job. I’d moved over to London from Ireland, where employment prospects weren’t so hot. I would never stoop so low as to deploy hoary and reductive old stereotypes but, in 2011, it seemed that paid jobs in Ireland were significantly less common then gently weeping statues of the Virgin Mary.
My job was not creatively stimulating. It required about as much brain power as separating your keys out from one big fob and on to another, smaller fob, only it was roughly 4 per cent as satisfying. But I did have one creative outlet, one I would mercilessly abuse for a few years as I struggled manfully in my brave struggle with pivot tables and mail merge.
You see, something else my morning Metro had provided me was an introduction to the Rush Hour Crush, that section of the paper where commuters make direct appeals to people they fancy on public transport.
By turns mundane, bewildering, even menacing, Rush Hour Crush is the collective horny drunken text of Britain’s agglomerated singlehood. Mostly a vehicle for harmless, flirty messages, it was also, at its best, a deadening litany of desperate howls into the dark and dusty void. I was immediately hooked, and set about trying to craft one good enough to be published.
To my delight, I got one in on my first go, three years ago this month.
— Shocko (@shockproofbeats) December 4, 2016
My second also got in.
I’d do them on my lunchbreak, mostly to entertain my colleagues, or mates back home via Facebook or Twitter. It was kind of weird to believe that as many as 4 million people could be reading them each morning. My intention was always to make them funny and believable at the same time. Believable by itself was pointless, and funny on its own would rarely get printed.
Creating an image that would stick in your mind was key, but my favourites, like the above, also managed that trick of having the signature complete the joke. Although this could work against me.
Who knows if my Scatman tribute would have succeeded without the Jamaican Paul Weller sign-off. Other names that may have cost me were “Nigerian Judge Judy type”, “Big Celery Man” and “Office Girl With Kinder Egg”. There was the risk that, like all evil masterminds, I’d become greedy.
Pretty soon I was getting in one a week or so. I think in two years I submitted 60 and had 19 published. Although as with Scatman, there were some I submitted as many as six or seven times.
Broadly speaking, I was sexually polyvalent, and of switchable gender, race, build and taste.
I could be a mild-mannered sweetheart or an outright prick.
And I wasn’t merely fixated on romance. I also developed a connection to Metro’s more sweet-natured sister column, the Good Deed Feed, wherein commuters thank strangers for favours done to them. Here again, I reckoned I could be a bit more inventive with the format.
I was particularly delighted to get the bracketed reference to Thunderhooves’ rider being a policeman in here. Mine, you see, was a subtler art than you might suppose.
And sometimes it was exactly as unsubtle as you might suppose. The joy was often in trying to create the most jarringly odd scene and describe it in as mundane and upbeat a manner as possible. Such as the following account of some expert tannoy work, another all-time favourite.
Perhaps my crowning achievement was successfully getting a Rush Hour Crush and a Good Deed published on the same day, describing the same event from two different angles, each of which gave extra meaning to the other.
Shortly after this, it became harder and harder to get published. One or two I’d had published had become mildly well-known – especially the burger castanets one, which got millions of shares and one particularly incensed review from a columnist who was, it seems, mostly scandalised that newspapers were still a thing.
I’d been anonymous for most of this, and my own Twitter feed was at that time roughly as popular as SARS, but it became clear that my IP had been logged and that was that.
In truth, I’d have stopped around then anyway, as I was sorely running out of ideas – that and conversations with confused, elderly family members who were taking them at face value, had really started to get on my tits. The frothy torrent of lovesick madness that once poured from my brain had dried up to a dreary trickle, perhaps because I’d moved jobs and was actually getting a little more creative sustenance in my daily diet, and perhaps because I’d moved on to other boredom-battling pursuits like my Daily Mail-baiting quest to get rude words printed on Nutella jars.
Looking back at my old exploits, I’ve tried to put some form of meaningful spin on the whole enterprise. Possibly to lend it more meaning than it deserves, but possibly because going through them all again really did remind me of how wasted and bored I felt three years ago and, happily, how alien that feeling seems to me now.
I do think that this type of “creative stupidity” can be a remedy for the mundanity and isolation of unfulfilling work, and that it had a huge effect on my getting out there and doing stuff more publicly. It may be unwise for me to prescribe it as a cure-all for everyone but, then again, I’m a grown man who wrote to the paper as Shy Woman Dressed As Horse, so what do you want from me, exactly?
See all the submissions here.