Ten years ago I left my house to meet a mysterious man in a black polo neck about a top-secret project.
I think I’m OK to talk about it now, but the top-secret project was for a brand-new magazine called ShortList, which I think is still going.
I was to write a one-off guest column for its launch issue – an issue that would be given away for free on the streets, like a loving glance from a beautiful stranger. This would be a magazine for people with more than one thing on their minds. It would feature absolutely no naked bottoms. And it was designed to be read as you go.
I filed that guest column, which was not about fixing the Middle East or solving global warming, but about how a tradesman had started referring to my guttering as “she” and “her”. Why was he referring to guttering in the feminine? Is it just guttering you can do that for?
Well, this was precisely the kind of powerful think-piece the magazine world had been waiting for. Things like this just weren’t covered in The Economist or Time. It was a conspiracy of silence. And so a brave and fearless new voice was born, and the man in the black polo neck asked me to write another. And after that, another. We never got round to signing contracts. We still haven’t. Everything would be done on trust. And 10 years later, although the Middle East and global warming continue to be issues of concern – perhaps in part because I never really gave them my full attention – the world can console itself with the fact I have written a column for every single issue of a magazine I’m proud to be part of, and the man in the black polo neck has become a close friend.
But, more importantly, so have you lot. I’ve spent 10 years writing a sort of weekly diary of tiny moments; 490 molehills I could make mountains out of. I’ve received your emails and tweets and your photos of unusual things you’ve spotted on your daily journeys to and from work (which I never asked you to do but simply began to happen organically and delightfully). I’ve met you in pubs, on streets and at festivals. In airports and foreign lands. And it genuinely feels like we know each other.
(This is not a roundabout way of saying you can stay at my house. Please don’t think I’m saying you can stay at my house.)
You sent me your congratulations when I started releasing children from my wife. You were there for me when I wrote about my mum having a fall. You weren’t really there for me when I got stung twice in the mouth by a wasp hiding in my can of Foster’s – because what you did was mainly make fun of me – but these are the experiences that have only made us stronger.
Writing the column has become second nature. It’s led to a couple of books and even a Hollywood sitcom pilot. And through it all, I’ve tried to focus on the everyday things that happen to me in the hope that they happen to you, too. The tiny things that happen in the gaps. The way a cashier puts a receipt in your hand and then inconveniently but unfailingly piles the change on top of it before guilt-tripping you for not having your Bag For Life. The arrogance of someone in a restaurant suggesting they order your food for you. Someone in a lift pressing a button you just pressed, like you don’t know how to press a button.
But I’ve also written about the more unusual things. Like the taxi driver with far too many satnavs. Or the day I was inexplicably called “illustrious” and asked to open a technology conference in India with a speech “designed to motivate students towards limitless horizons”. Or the day I found out my picture was being used on a vase by a French conceptual artist and was now being toured around Spain. Or the time a ShortList reader alerted me to the fact that I, Danny Wallace, was being used as the face of a radical new Christian movement in America which sought to ban Hallowe’en and replace it with something called Jesuswe’en.
Or the time – just a few weeks ago – a cleaner peed in my garden.
I’ve been delighted to introduce you to the characters in my life. My funny wife, who I once arranged a massage for, then had to cancel when I realised there was a 50-50 chance I’d booked a prostitute. My infant son, now seven, who, when he was very small, ran away from me in a park, forcing me to chase after him while he shouted the brand-new word he’d learnt, which was “HELP! HELP!”. Mr Barker the handyman. The woman in the deli with ideas above its station. My mate Colin, who I’ve known since school, and who, if I’m ever short of something to write about, provides me with something just by watching how he drinks a pint, or looks at a lady, or tries to rent a room and accidentally ends up sleeping in a child’s nursery.
But I haven’t shared everything with you. I’ve kept the birth of our third kid to myself. I didn’t tell you what happened that time I complimented a stranger’s wife and nearly got lamped. At one point, I lived in an entirely different country for a whole year and didn’t mention that at all. So you see? I can keep some stuff to myself.
Though I admit I have probably overshared, as well. On reflection, an entire column about a terrifyingly long wee I once had does not seem a wonderful use of paper, even if I did make excellent use of a metaphor.
Anyway. It’s an amazing thing, to be allowed to connect with a group of readers the way this has let me. Whether you have read it occasionally, or regularly, or if this is the first time ever: thanks.
ShortList was a great experiment that led to something that’s as strong as ever, 10 years on. The man in the black polo neck was on to something.
And from next week, I’ll start tackling the Middle East and global warming. It really is about time someone said something.
So here’s to ShortList, and all who’ve ever sailed in her.
And yes, that’s right: her.
We have finally found the answer. It’s not just guttering!