Oddo’s Court

After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting today in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. It was a naked triumph of Venetian greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their payment demands to my boss.

Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. Sitting opposite them at their family table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.

Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to go to Oddo’s: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit, but I like my boss. He’s funny, entertaining and affable hustler with an eye for a new deal.

Once I realised what they were doing and that I was being charged for more than just an electricity bill. I sat silently like my boss’s errant son on remand for a crime I did not commit.

I felt enraged by their shameless greed, but I couldn’t let my boss down. Not in front of him because unlike my outbursts in the past I know the power of words. When to speak and when to say nothing. I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. You play the game.

It’s important to always pick the right words, and I will refuse to shake hands with Oddo when I finally depart my apartment’s front door.

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Italian Hustle

Let's adore and endure each other

This is a story about an Italian hustler in Shoreditch. He broke all the rules, lied to everyone and never took any responsibilities for his actions. He cost me a considerable amount of time and money and I should hate him but for some reason I empathise with his desire for success. He tried, tried and tried again. And he doesn’t stop trying.

Likewise I never stopped chasing him in court for my unpaid wages. I kept on trying and trying despite having no chance of success. Everyone told me it was a waste of time. As enforcing a court order against this Shoreditch playboy would be like throwing spilt milk at a beggar.

Accepting work from Leonardo (not his real name) was a huge mistake. But when you are unemployed and looking for jobs; you try things, silly things, especially if you want to avoid working in an office. Freelancing is an extremely hard thing to do. It’s far easier to take a salary from a big company and bank the savings. Doing your own thing offers freedom and creativity but many people fail working on their own and some more spectacularly than others.

By joining CAN U in June 2013 I unwittingly signed a freelance contract with a startup company on the verge of collapse. Despite obsessively talking about #collaboration and #collaborating on their website their business model was opaque at best. Having a creative army of designers, writers and artists on your books is impressive but it won’t make you any money.

That’s the problem with many East London startup companies. During the first year you have a shiny new website, glamour launch party, coke-addled staff and a low-interest business loan to pay for it all. The second year the bills come through…and this proved to be Leonardo’s downfall.

An infinitely hopeful man with zero understanding of business, Leonardo believed he was predestined to become the greatest entrepreneur in the world. On running up 10k worth of debts in unpaid wages and countless feuds, Leonardo sadly proved to be just another social media consultant in a playground full of young CEO’s.

On being hired under false pretenses, I found myself overseeing their content strategy, writing blogs and updating their ‘What’s On’ microsite. Despite having nothing in common with Leonardo, I initially found him a positive and enjoyable person to work with.

Leonardo’s biggest problem was that he loved the idea of being a CEO but didn’t have the foresight or discipline to be one. For example he became convinced that writing in caps was a good idea. “FROM TODAY I WANT ALL COMMUNICATIONS IN CAPS”, I was surreally told one morning. I responded to his email straight away and explained that from a writing perspective, caps are considered loud and aggressive and it would upset future clients.

“THIS IS PART OF OUR NEW COMMUNICATION STRATEGY AND IS NON -NEGOTIABLE. CAPS ARE POSITIVE AND GREAT FOR BUSINESS”.

Only they are not great for business – they are annoying and irritate nearly everyone.  It soon became clear that Leonardo loved taking calls and updating his Facebook status but did precious little else.

CAN U failed to pay me for my 90+ hours work or any of their staff. Unable to remunerate his freelancers, Leonardo claimed he couldn’t pay anyone until CAN U received ten grand from an Italian restaurant in Hammersmith.

His negotiating tactics for settling this debt involved going over to West London and throwing chairs at the owner. Later he is alleged to have paid some heavies £250 (on the advice of a bogus debt collector) to bash the restaurant owner’s legs. Let’s just assume his methods were unsuccessful.

Abandoning all of his debts in July 2013 he tried to relaunch CAN U as a phoenix company trading under a slightly different name. His former colleagues were bitterly angry but couldn’t find a way to challenge him. Undeterred by his ridiculous emails, I pursued my wages in the small claims court and won a default judgement against CAN U.

It was a moral victory, but a pyrrhic one. CAN U have no funds left available and I will never be compensated for my efforts. No regrets from me – someone had to try and take him down. CAN U are still officially trading but only because I have a court order to keep them superficially alive.

On pursuing his entrepreneurial ambitions through social media, Leonardo appears no closer to making it big. Although I hope one day his fearlessness is rewarded. Reading his bizarre updates on Twitter #alwaysbehonest #nevergiveup I find myself almost wanting him to succeed.

As for all the lies expressed by Leonardo since I joined CAN U, I don’t think he’s a bad person. On the surface he’s a friendly and entertaining character. He keeps on demanding the impossible and makes glorious mistakes. Playing it safe is certainly not his style. He makes me laugh even though I should want to kill him.

Leonardo keeps on trying and has never compromised unlike this blogger. I guess for that reason alone, I am a grand down but can’t find it within myself to dislike him.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Kohl-Eyed Entrepreneur

Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple has never struggled to get the internet’s attention. Born in New York, the visual artist has a saucy flair for the cruel and gorgeous, embracing a decadent world of burlesque, nudity and subversive politics. From decorating some of the world’s most glamorous nightclubs to founding a burlesque cabaret workshop, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, Crabapple’s art empire strikes against the bohemian maxim ‘I am an artist, therefore I despise wealth’.

On the contrary Crabapple is a roaring American success story. By mastering the internet she controls her own financial destiny and this alone will upset some purists, as artists have traditionally rejected materialism. Making money from art goes against the ruinous fantasies of bohemians who live for the moment.

Poverty has traditionally defined an artist’s career, a garret lifestyle cliché of half-grooved eccentrics and drunken poets who believe art can only flourish where material comforts are absent. With the advent of crowdsourcing in the 21st century starving artists can now queue in Waitrose for lunch, if they are successful of course.

Her latest project the Shell Game received $64, 799 from 701 backers on Kickstarter, which will fund nine massive paintings about the collapse of the banking system. It may even pay the rent, grocery bill and six bottles of absinthe too. Why should an artist have to starve for their craft?

Everyone should welcome that an artist can now make a real living out of their creative gifts without starving or working for an insurance company. Uncompromising men and women are easy to admire but artists who subvert from within live to tell the tale.

“As any strawberry picker can tell you, hard work and nothing else is a fast road to nowhere.”

– Molly Crabapple

Through sheer force of personality and brilliant marketing, Crabapple has skillfully cultivated a subversive underground image. Arrestingly beautiful she could easily pop out of a traditional Western European fairytale and with her phosphorescent eyes and gothic baby doll aesthetic, the New Yorker looks like a painting. Luminous cheekbones bereft of intellect or character will only capture your attention for so long though.

And while no one should doubt her unseen hours of dedication, Crabapple’s anti-establishment credentials are very suave; the kohl-eyed darling of Occupy Wall Street trended after her arrest by the NYPD in September 2011. You don’t need to be a social media node to realise that #freemollycrabapple will do wonders for your marketing potential.

Eaeyoepotynia

While it may have been romantic for artists to suffer in the inter-war era, the crowd sourcing phenomenon of the twenty-first century provides a new model. Why should the wealthy have the sole reserve over the arts? Anyone who purports not to care about money either has too much or doesn’t need it. Crabapple in this respect is a modern inspiration and should be applauded for her glamour inspired riches. Romantics may starve in dismay but aspiration and the arts no longer have to be mutually exclusive.

Arrested Development

WestEndWalk

After the Guardian revealed Lord Wei of Shoreditch is unable to fulfil his Big Society duties because working for free is incompatible with ‘having a life’. Lord Wei not only exposed the sham of a government expecting people to work for nothing in an era of massive spending cuts.

Moreover it shone a torch on the murky world of corporate exploitation in the modern workplace. Earlier this week Richard Bilton’s excellent BBC documentary showed how class continues to restrict access to professions and well-paid careers to all but an exclusive pool of well-connected individuals.

Anyone looking for work in the publishing, fashion or media industry will already be familiar with internships. The vast majority of media jobs in Britain are based in London and anyone lucky enough to receive an offer can be expected to work for 3 months unpaid and still have no guarantee of employment. With 1 in 10 graduates now out of work, I can recall my struggle to make a break through after graduating from the University of Glasgow in 2004.

After the privilege of studying at a world-class institution, the harsh reality of finding stimulating employment became all too apparent when I temped for the financial services industry. While I wanted to use my creative writing skills for a living, I sorely lacked confidence and with no connections, I found myself trapped in a vicious circle of dead end temping jobs to pay the rent. Glasgow is the call-centre capital of Europe and after graduating, I would turn up every day for £6.04 an hour wearing a Britney Spears headset on behalf of the Scottish Co-Operative Group.

With my dignity in tatters, I quickly realised that in order to improve myself, I had to go down the Scottish voluntary route. By doing so I religiously scoured the internet and worked for free on behalf of tourist boards, local restaurant guides and a global university website. Eventually I quit my administrative day job to focus entirely on voluntary writing positions I had initially agreed to fulfil in my spare time.

On not wanting to let my future references down, I eventually gave them my full working week for nearly 5 months and used credit cards to pay the rent. Clearly unsustainable I fortunately managed to get a salaried media job in London as a result of my volunteering and agreed to move down south.

While I have clearly benefited from volunteering and believe it is often a necessary passage for young people to get ahead. Anyone doing a voluntary internship in London will have astronomical overheads compared to what I had to pay in Glasgow where the cost of living is far cheaper.

If young graduates want a media job in London then they will be expected to serve not one but several unpaid internships before getting a salaried position. Expecting people to work for nothing inevitably favours upper-middle class children from the South East, who have financial support or live within commuting distance of their parent’s home. This new aristocracy of coming from a home owning family is increasingly divisive and helps to form an unfair and disproportionate workplace in some of the most desirable sectors.

Once you’re inside the door then depending on your employer it is increasingly down to the dark arts of networking and internal friendships to progress. While it would be desirable to think you can progress through ability and hard work alone, I often find social intelligence and the ability to ‘work a room’ is all too prominent in making that elusive connection to get ahead. From a personal perspective I have always found the charm offensive very difficult because I don’t have a silver tongue to seduce random strangers at launch parties, meetings or screening invites. We are all made differently and the path ahead is not always going to be a fair or equal one.

When Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke of the British promise being under threat by cuts to public spending. He tapped into a deeper trend of how the current generation cannot expect to exceed the wealth and standard of living of their parents. There is nothing clever about making the best jobs only for the rich and by narrowing the best opportunities to rich home owning families it only serves to create an increasingly divided and unequal society.

Clearly there are social, moral and long-term economic benefits from having a well educated workforce and to frighten off potential students from poorer or lower-middle class backgrounds is foolhardy in the extreme. It makes me extremely angry that higher education is perceived solely as a means for people to make money.

Surely in the current economic climate our future values have to change. We should be looking to create a fairer, balanced and more equal society instead of this myopic chase of prosperity. Even by writing inside a rented box in the sky for nothing, I am still enormously proud of my university education and feel it should be open and accessible to anyone. Something even Lord Wei would agree about as he reduces his voluntary hours in order to pay the bills.