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Oh, to Be Able to Add CQT After My Name!

Sunday, 13th May, 2001

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I discovered a book whose characters and content spent a long time dancing around the echoing cavernous wasteland that is the inside of my skull.

In more recent times I lent the book to my mother, at which point it effected a particularly successful disappearing act, thus demonstrating in no uncertain terms that such events could happen at her end too. Its vanishment was especially annoying as it is possibly the only book that I have ever wanted to concoct a sequel to.

Its name is 'The Club of Queer Trades' and its author was the polymath GK Chesterton.

We are introduced initially to a misunderstanding which leads to an explanation of the workings of The Adventure and Romance Agency, a private enterprise devoted to rekindling the sense of adventure sadly lost in the modern age. For a yearly or quarterly sum, you can be submerged into a world of intrigue and life-threatening action.

It's a unique endeavour, and one that enabled its proprietor, PG Northover to claim the initials CQT after his name. CQT, of course, stands for Club of Queer Trades, which is 'a society consisting exclusively of people who have invented some new and curious way of making money.'

My initial reaction was to wonder how I could join such a club; followed by the acceptance that being fictional, it probably didn't exist and thus would require my forming it; followed in turn by the realisation that if I were to run such a creature then I would have to qualify to do so.

There lies the rub.

What could I do that has not been done? Not only must it be a completely unique venture but it would have to be my source of income. If it was just something done for fun, then it wouldn't count. So far I have been flummoxed by the insistence of various people that I pay tax, rent and booking fees for badminton courts.

One day, however, I will reach the point where I can, in all honesty, resurrect Chesterton's society and make it real.

As founder, of course, I would be the de facto first member, but a club with only one member would not be much of a club. If a club requires anything, it requires people to join it, and with such a restriction on eligibility, I could just end up as the sole member of my own club.

But no! The world may be growing smaller every day, but it is still quite an enormous place and somewhere, lost in the teeming throngs of humanity, must be other candidates worthy of being a member of the Club of Queer Trades. So I've looked for a few, and a few have arisen from the masses to demonstrate that they have beaten me to a unique profession.

Take JSG Boggs, for instance. He is an artist, which is commonplace enough, though his art is of a particularly unique form. He is possibly the only legal counterfeiter in the world today.

His galleries have been raided; the Secret Service have watched him for almost a decade, occasionally confiscating his work; and he has been arrested on more than one occasion. Never yet, however, has anyone proved that he has broken any law, and thus he remains a free man.

You see, he draws currency.

Originally he was doodling on a diner napkin over a well-needed doughnut, when the waitress was so impressed that she offered $50 for his drawing. With a flair for the unique, Boggs offered an alternative: how about paying his bill with the fake dollar? The waitress agreed and brought him his change.

He never sells his work, merely spends it. Ninety percent of the time he is refused, though he is always careful to point out that his bills are not legal tender, always one sided, and often with individual customisations that banks would naturally frown on. The ten percent who accept may not realise it, but they just made a rather astute business decision. Boggs keeps his receipt and sells it for $10,000 to the next collector on his waiting list, who promptly tracks down and offers a deal to the lucky waitress in question.

The world is a strange place so I can't assume that Boggs is alone, but my guess is that nobody else makes their living from selling the receipts to transactions they make with hand drawn fake currency. Mr Boggs, I salute you.

Many potentially unique jobs belong to the subset of employment known as the entertainment industry. Boggs is an artist; Ouchy the Clown is a clown dominant.

That's right, the images rolling across the insides of your eyelids are correct. The white clown face and bobbled hat don't seem to sit too naturally with the studded leather loincloth, but it does make him unique.

Combining his work as a party clown with his growing interest in the S&M scene, Ouchy found a way to combine the two. Now he makes his living in a thoroughly unique manner: performing custom beatings, floggings and electrical torture in tandem with clown horns, cream pie flinging and the inevitable bad jokes.

Quite who would pay for a clown to drip hot wax over their genitals is a moot question, the man earns $100 per hour in sessions that run at least two and a half hours by default. That's pretty good money.

And if work is slack, he can always follow one of his other sidelines: he works as a club DJ and as a trained and certified Meeting Facilitator, specialising in brainstorming sessions, conflict resolution and organisational development. As he says, 'Sure, it's weird to have a clown facilitator, but you've seen stranger things, I'm sure.' The Burning Man organisation hired him, and I'm sure many others will follow. My guess is that it would be pretty hard to get too angry with your nemesis when you have a white faced clown juggling cream pies. Maybe we should petition the United Nations to take him on as permanent staff.

Entertainment is a pretty diverse industry. I remember a rather bizarre television programme from years ago focusing on a man who was a professional antique breakfast cereal box trader. How on earth he managed to find mint condition cereal boxes decades after they left the shelves is something that has always puzzled me, but that he made a living out of trading these things puzzled me even more.

I've collected strange things in my time. I still have a reasonable collection form childhood of pencils stamped with the names of various tourist attractions that I or friends visited. Badges, stamps, seashells, bookmarks, original handwritten novel manuscripts: the list goes on. As a mere whippersnapper, my girlfriend spent her time collecting squirrel tails and buckets full of the shells shed by June bugs.

Most, of course, were childhood collections, but then many people never grow up, which is often rather refreshing. At Ray Bradbury's 55th birthday celebration, someone asked him the time honoured question, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' His answer was 'I want to be fourteen years old like Chuck Jones.'

I have no idea who this trader of cereal boxes was; I never wrote down his name those many years ago. I don't know if he stayed in business long or whether it collapsed in on him years ago. I did find Jessica Lindsey's name online, however, who seems to be trying to emulate his work.

She is a collector of pop culture, but to fascinating extremes, treating cereal boxes as cultural artefacts that can be studied en masse to help understand the movement of popular culture. By extension that gives a glimpse into the psyche of modern society.

As wanting to open up this museum of popular culture and trade her way into a unique profession isn't yet bringing in any money, she has to support herself with other endeavours, namely as a mystery shopper and a hand model.

Mystery shopping leads her to retail outlets where she samples the wares or services and then reports back on her experience. Apparently she'd often written letters to companies about the services they provide, but it wasn't until later that she found out that she could earn money from it. There are even classes now on how to benefit from this system.

Just as a friend clued her in on mystery shopping, so her boyfriend pointed out an art school poster advertising for hand models. She applied and ended up modelling jewellery for the students, but took it further when friends teamed up to get professional 'hand shots' done, which launched her into the world of Spanish television commercials.

Eclectic certainly, but is it unique? Is Jessica the only person in the world who does this for a living? Sadly I'd guess not, which counts out such a fascinating person from eligibility to join the Club of Queer Trades.

This is the biggest problem of them all. Many people hold down almost unique jobs, but that little word 'almost' precludes them by definition from the CQT. Rare is one thing, but unique is something else entirely.

Book & Magazine Collector recently ran a fascinating interview with Professor Mirjam Foot, whose job as Professor of Library and Archive Studies at the British Library makes her possibly the world's leading expert on bookbinding. Could anyone else in the world be paid to work with public money to maintain a stunning collection of history's greatest bindings of books? Possibly but possibly not.

Online, I found Martin Hunt, who designs computer algorithms to implement into the financial trading markets of the world, essentially living off the intellectual challenge of beating the stock market with mathematics. Could he be the only one? Maybe the only successful one, but that's not the same thing.

Back to art, and Ron English flourishes as a billboard liberator. He hijacks billboards and replaces them with his own brand of dry artistic humour. He parodies successful commercials, often adding astute social comment. I'll never forget his drawing of OJ Simpson, complete with Peter Falk's Columbo hovering at his shoulder saying 'Uh, just one more thing, Mr Simpson...' But as a member, albeit the founder, of the New Urban Aesthetics Committee, this isn't unique.

So the quest goes on. There are other people out there who would qualify as CQT members. I just have to find them. Maybe I could earn a unique living writing about the people who earn unique livings?

Maybe that would qualify me...

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