Ever since I entered the rat-race proper, or graduate ‘milk round’, I was looking for a way out. A way out of the PAYE; i.e. pay as you yearn (PAYY). At our induction into this leisure blue-chip company, they said, “In 10 years time, we want you on ‘the board’.” Each step up of more responsibility was enticed with a company car with a slightly bigger engine and marginally improved seat trim. Excited with the possibility of my new status in corporate life, I headed down with my fellow graduates to the newly opened Hooters bar in Birmingham bright lights with my first proper pay check in my hand. In the warm autumnal evening, I remember waving the dot-matrix piece of paper thinking, ‘We could probably just spend all of this on sticky chicken wings and pints of cold beer.’
So we did.
Like honeymoons, ignorant as we were, these halcyon days don’t last forever. A couple of weeks after opening, the Florida Hooter girls in crop tops, Dallas-style big hair and roller skates were replaced with single mums from Small Heath, baby on their hips, roll-ups on their lips. Of course, Hooters has now been outlawed, quite right too. My corporate life too did not live up to the modest expectations that I had. I didn’t mind the pulling a thousand pints in the pub I managed on derby match day, or counting frozen fish in the walk-in Harvester freezer at 1am on Sunday morning, but a world reduced to the metrics of profit and loss did leave me cold.
On this blog, I have talked before about how I found myself with Medecins Sans Frontières as a humanitarian worker in disaster zones, and I did. At age 25, I joined this wonderful organisation and went to Afghanistan after the Twin Towers fell. I wanted to do good, but my primary motivation was adventure and not having to justify what I did for a living. For when that dark 4am shadow falls, and you look yourself in the mirror and ask, what are you doing? When I returned, even working for the NHS, trying to do some good, doing a Masters, I got the ‘coming home blues’. So, I started to write a novel.
At the time, I remember the thought hanging over my head being, ‘This could be my Golden Ticket.’
We all love the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl stories always create a wonderous world, that if we could all live in, then everything would be OK. It’s of course a rags to riches story with a strong sense of righting a profound injustice. Ironically, an injustice created by Capitalism’s engine of inequality, where the Bucket family are profoundly poor, despite being hard-working, good people. Enter the eccentric, aristocratic-looking factory owner, Willy Wonka who holds the means to chocolate production, which everyone wants, if not needs, for survival.
Personally speaking, my Golden Ticket was a way out of PAYE - pay as you yearn employment. The kind where you feel your soul vanishing and your energy stolen. My way out was a publishing contract for my novel. This would mean that I could express ideas and feel less alone. Ironically, I wrote and edited late into the night while living in the redeveloped factories of Castlefield, Manchester: the crucible of the industrial revolution. I was dreaming of not being in a budget episode of The Office (once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it. Thanks Ricky!); or ending up slaving like Mr. Bucket in those ‘dark satanic mills’.
I still dream. I didn’t get the book deal though. It was at the time when the old red-brick Victorian publishing factories were tumbling down, and my book, The Aisle wasn’t good enough. Ambitious, slightly dirty, but not good enough. “The present tense Ben, really?”
So, I was adding to my Pangolin Classic spoof book titles, something I haven’t done for a while – there are more than 60 for you to buy! I was on a Roald Dahl roll. Firstly, Donald and the Giant Impeachment, and then, Charlie and the Capitalism Factory, both by Rolled Dice. This is because Capitalism is a competition with only the illusion of fairness. The dice are loaded.
Those who are familiar with my Pangolin prints will know that I always design a vector graphic in the middle of my Penguin paperback parodies. When I paused to think what that first pay check and my first attempt at a novel meant to me at the time, I just knew it had to be the Golden Ticket. I love the wonder in Charlie’s eyes. I like the way that the people in the sweet shop both admire and covet at once Charlie’s winning Wonka Bar; their eyes twinkling, with excitement, and jealously.
We’ve all had these kid-in-a-sweet-shop dreams.
Whenever I take something iconic, like that moment, I have to subvert it. It’s in my DNA. So, I thought, what does the ticket say? What is it for? Charlie wants to get he - and his family - out from the underbelly of capitalist society. He wants to gaze into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, because it is a place of wonder. He is being asked to take it over from Wonka, because he is a good boy with a good heart. So then I thought, OK so if it is Willy Wonga’s capitalist factory, if it is The Office. It’s no longer a place of wonder. The hard-working population are all in there already. They don’t want to go in with their flat caps, moustaches and rapidly advancing chronic pulmonary obstructive disorders, they want to get out.
So, the Golden Ticket is your ticket out of the capitalism factory.
From my artistic inspiration point of view, I love that the ticket - in the book and the film - is covered in text. Along with irony, words are also my medium. Creatively, it’s also a coup is that what’s iconic about the ticket is the idea, not the design. This gives me artistic licence to attempt to create something aesthetic as well as attempting a common truth.
Above, you can see both sides of The Golden Ticket, one for Charlie, and one as a gift for someone you love. You love them because they are a dreamer. The words are printed onto shiny gold paper, which in turn is mounted onto backing board, standing proud like a certificate of achievement. When someone receives this; perhaps they have just handed in their notice; perhaps they are re-training as a teacher or a nurse, or even an artist… you are giving them your support for the decision they are making. You are giving them permission.
Give the Golden Ticket to a dreamer. Let them know, they are not the only one.
[Insert Joke Here]
Never unknowingly ironic