Good evening, and welcome to Off The Fence. Now, over 400 of you have signed up for this week’s outing, and we’re not going to disappoint you, though previous readers of this newsletter must be warned that we are compelled to break our usual standards of good taste today.
Many of you will know of our interest with Russell Jones, the bearded graphic designer turned self-styled satirist, who tweets under the handle Russ-in-Cheshire. He has amassed over 275,000 followers, who helped him crowdfund his first book, The Decade in Tory, and who choose to ignore his sex blog (which he wrote at the age of 42) in which he advises women to stop telling him how fat they are, ‘stop being insensitive and bitchy’; ‘stop liking Twilight’, and most infamously, when they are in bed with him, to ‘give it some minge’.
Russ first came to our attention when he crowdfunded his legal costs against a Conservative MP, raising almost £20,000 from his followers after he libelled Brendan Clarke-Smith – pleading that he didn’t have £5,000 (despite previous boasts of owning a Tesla). When he announced that he was coming down to London to have a Christmas party in a Kentish Town pub, for a chance to ‘meet like-minded people, get one another drunk and indulge in communal shouting about Suella Braverman’, our editor, Charlie Baker, knew that in the interests of journalism, he would be compelled to attend.
Give It Some Mince Pie
It is 7.30 on a wet Thursday evening, and I am standing in a corridor outside the upstairs room of The Grafton, looking at the back of Russ-in-Cheshire’s head. I turned 34 years of age last month. What am I doing with my life?
The main room is packed, so full that I am in a group of stragglers huddled outside, as the star of the show, Mr Jones himself, stands in front of the doorway, declaiming an excerpt from his upcoming work, Four Chancellors and a Funeral. I skittle back downstairs to the main bar, buy a pint of Guinness (£5.70) and head back up the stairs to the corridor. There is applause. The excerpt has been finished. Russ-in-Cheshire turns, notices that our little group of latecomers have not been able to join the adoring throng, and beckons us through the door.
We wend our way through the room, and I go and stand by the side-bar as a Q & A session begins, compered by a man even more extravagantly bearded than Russ-in-Cheshire: Unbound’s publisher, John Mitchinson. He starts a speech of his own, which allows me to take in the room.
There are more women than men here, and I would say the average age is around 45-46 – comfortable middle age, with an emphasis on comfort. There is no one sporting an EU flag bandana or a spider brooch, but there are at least three separate men wearing Paul Smith-style collared paisley shirts. Mitchinson, pint of beer almost finished, tells us that ‘Russ has an exciting new project’. And indeed he does, as Russ tells us that he would like to write a novel about World War Two, but with the current Tory government in charge, as opposed to the Churchill war ministry.
A reveller pipes up from the crowd: ‘But you know what would happen Russ… you know what would happen… they would join the Nazis!’
When the next audience member asks Russ whether he harbours any political ambitions, he demurs, replying that he wouldn’t want ‘to be on the frontline’, but would be more inclined to take a background role, to take stock, in order to ‘analyse the problems in a holistic way.’ The audience mutter approvingly.
I dispatch my pint of Guinness and order another one immediately. But when the card machine is presented, the price is £6.41: a 71p increase on the cost in the bar downstairs, an issue I whisper to the barman. He is sympathetic: ‘It’s with service charge – we’re just trying to make them hit their minimum spend, which I think is £1500.’ I pay up – but so has everyone else here, who have each paid £15 ‘to cover the hire of a room’. I would say there are at least 90 people in the room, who’ve all bought a ticket, and most of whom are drinking beer or wine. It would seem the minimum spend fee would be hit quite easily, and then exceeded by some margin – making this evening a nice little earner for Russ, which likely explains why he has been promoting the event so heavily to his followers.
The questions continue. Someone asks who, apart from the Guardian and the Good Law Project, are holding the government to account. At least four people shout out ‘The Byline Times!’
There is a slightly frenetic atmosphere building – lots of people have their hands raised. I wonder whether I should ask him a question. I ponder what I could say.
Russ, if you were to fulfill your political ambitions, would you insist on standing in a constituency that was in Cheshire?
Where did you park your Tesla, Russ?
Russ – why are you obsessed with the word ‘minge’?
I decide to keep schtum – I don’t want to be the first recorded victim of an FBPE lynch mob.
The final question asks what Russ is going to do if and when Labour gets into power. Russ replies that his heart won’t really be in the ‘Week in Labour.’ And then the Q & A is finished, and the audience breaks up for more drinks. As much as I would stay and take in the scene, it’s time to head home, but not before buying a copy of The Decade in Tory at £25. It’s the size of a tombstone, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity of having it in pride of place on my sitting room mantelpiece.
I haven’t opened the book since Thursday night, but I have been thinking about Russ, and Unbound and the ethics of making people pay to come to the pub with you. Over on the gossip website Tattle, there is a dedicated thread to Russ, and these sleuths have been tracking Russ’ account on Mastodon, where he has been whining about the publishing industry and the money he is making from Unbound, and that despite making £120,000 in revenue, that it will only translate into £8,000 income for him.
Maybe that is why Russ was so keen to boost his ticket sales? But perhaps Russ’ co-host, John Mitchinson, could have stumped up for the drinks – he is one of the co-creators of the smash hit television show, QI, and Unbound is partly funded by a venture capitalist company headquartered in Mayfair.
Interestingly enough, a friend of The Fence got in touch to tell us a bit about what it's like working with Unbound. They told us that when their book, which was published by Unbound, won a prize, John Mitchinson invited them out for drinks at a five-star hotel in London. The evening was liquid, the cocktails were delicious, but the £200 bill? That was debited from their royalties.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter here.
Sweet Sweet Print
You can help crowdfund Russ-in-Cheshire’s next book, Four Chancellors and A Funeral, by pledging £80 – for which you’ll receive a signed first edition, an ebook and ‘Four Tory Mugs’ (one mug has a pixellated picture of Boris Johnson with the legend ‘Shit Aslan.’)
Or, you could subscribe to this publication for the price of £30 only, and receive four separate print magazines loaded with beautiful illustrations and featuring short stories, investigations and comic slices from the most exciting writers in the UK and Ireland. We always look to provide value and we never mug off our readers. Subscribe today.
Getting Fizzy With It
There are about 15 beautiful Paul Cox prints left. If you would like to get your hands on one, we’re selling them in A2 size at £40, and all you need to do is reply to this email . You can either pick them up from our Soho office, or we’ll ship one to you. Look how gorgeous they are!
Measuring Out Your Life In Coffee Spoons
We tasked Michelle Taylor to ask fellow Eliot experts how a genius poet could write such anodyne correspondences, and if you haven’t read her piece, you can do so here.
Now, here is the full extent of his ‘unpublished’ letters (i.e., the most boring ones that couldn’t make the anthology). We want to find the dullest of the dull, the most yawn-inducing letter ever sent by T. S Eliot – send us your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish the ‘winner’ next week.
Lizzie Borden Gave It Forty Whacks
It’s time to dust down something from the archives, it’s an article that was actually the very first thing we published, and is still one of the funniest, in which Fergus Butler-Gallie imagines London’s train stations as serial killers. You can read it here.
In Case You Missed It
Matt Sullivan and Cheyenne Roundtree have more eye-popping nuggets in their overview of Kanye’s years-long, harassment-filled porn-fueled time at Adidas, than second hand reports can do justice.
As Elon Musk proves just how hard it is to run a competent social media platform, Taylor Lorenz speaks to the site’s greatest ever poster, Dril, to get his read on the new regime.
Over at VICE, Camilla Pantina and Nick Thompson tells the incredible story of the Metropolitan Police’s scheme to entrap dozens of young men via a hip-hop record store.
David Wollman charts a course for Hawaii in an absorbing tale of Covid Cultism and paranoiacs in the Pacific.
An oldie but a goldie from the LA Times: J.R Moehringer (who is, strangely enough, Prince Harry’s ghostwriter nowadays) goes in search of a faded boxing champion and finds something far, far more sordid.
With the world moving at a hectic pace at the best of times, what better way to wind down than by relaxing with Irish national broadcaster RTE’s seminal documentary series, Hands.
Broadcast between 1978 and 1989, Hands documents traditional Irish arts and crafts, and does so with a sleepily sophisticated brio that makes Gardener’s World look like early John Woo. Its slow pace and remarkable profundity was remarkable even at the time, but now approaches something like zen. There are over a dozen full episodes available on YouTube, and there isn’t a duff one among the lot, so we’d recommend you put on some comfortable socks, clear your evening and simply start anywhere that looks good and go from there.
This week, we had cause to use it in a more urgent capacity when a friend of the publication found themselves trapped in a mushroom high they no longer believed in. Knowing the only cure for a beating breast, one of our number sent the affected party this clip, in which Dublin author, historian, lecturer and Irish republican, Éamonn Mac Thomáis describes the art and ingenuity of Dublin’s Stonecutters.
A salve in strange times, and a balm for the unsettled mind, Hands also serves as a beautiful chronicle of a world, and an art, that’s long since slipped away.
That’s it for this week, and we’ll join you again at the same time next Monday. If you have any pointers, queries or complaints, please reply to this email and we’ll get back to you promptly. And please do consider supporting our publication – there’s a link just below. Until then.
All the best,
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