There were times when the most enjoyable part of any job was writing the invoice. In the days before digital accounts and automatic payments, there was much effort made constructing this small work of art that included not only the agreed costs, but any additional charges often know as sundries.
Sundries were items that hadn’t actually been mentioned in the original estimate and stretched to charging for hard master copies, additional hard copies, cassettes, CD’s, extra instrumentals, pencils, postage, delivery, phone calls, coffee, cake and anything else that felt worthy of an extra few shillings.
I was sitting with my business partner one day in a smoky café high above Waterloo Station, London. We were listening to a proposal from a client for a new website we were both developing. Rather than being on the creative side of the discussion where normally we would be suggesting ideas and a way forward to constructing the final project, we were patiently listening to yards of technical jargon and data as to how we could achieve better efficiency and attract more customers. Perhaps the stifled yawning gave it away, but the meeting was drowning in indifference with no real conclusion how we should proceed. The client left and we both looked at each other, none the wiser. Then my partner said: “I think we should send them an invoice!”. We laughed and wondered why we would be sending someone an invoice for something they were trying to sell to us? It was then we decided on The Invoice Book; A series of letters sent to unsuspecting ‘clients’ for unrequested services accompanied by equally silly invoices.
Fending off any doubts of fraud, we adopted the ‘Angry of Twickenham’ and ‘Frustrated of Croydon’ personae and began writing a letter to the establishment where we’d been sitting for the last couple of hours. The room was full of cigarette smoke and we argued that as my partner had stopped smoking, the only reason his clothes might smell of smoke would be that he was having a steamy affair in a smoky dive and his wife may well find out. The accompanying invoice was for the extensive and expensive dry-cleaning required to clean his suit so his wife wouldn’t find out. Well, it made us laugh. We sent it and waited.
I decided to write to South West Trains with a complaint of late trains but soon discovered that our angry and frustrated topics were running a bit thin. It was then we decided simply to make things up.
We sent out some rather silly letters to various people, offering services and suggesting creating ideas that would hopefully make their lives easier and better. Accompanying invoices were included. Again, we posted and waited.
A week or two went by and I started to get replies. It was clear that the departments we’d written to had either got the gag or were being very sensitive in dealing with these absolute loonies offering the most outrageous things. My partner however was getting very frustrated. He hadn’t received anything by way of any replies. It’s worth mentioning here that we included our own addresses but changed our names.
Using that well known sign off;” Bob’s your Invoice!” we decided to call ourselves Bob and then our own middle name. So, I was Bob Howard and my partner was Bob Johnstone. Whereas our twinkly eyed postman Terry would ring the bell with the greeting:” Another one for Bob!” we discovered that my Partner’s wife would accept the letters and return them with a curt: ‘Not known at this address’.
After informing her of our japery she allowed everything to be delivered and we both started getting in some funny and measured replies to our letters.
We were successful in poaching a literary agent who in turn secured a deal with Virgin Publishing. After some time, they decided to back down and sacked our editor and so we invoiced Richard Branston for serious time wasting.
Finally, after much discussion with other literary experts, we decided to self-publish and the final result became this rather lovely and very collectable collection of letters.
It was a worthy distraction and one that I would do again if only to get a new perspective on work, life and laughter. Sometimes you just have to stop and do something different. When you do, make sure it’s fun and you can enjoy it just as much as your regular creative journey.
Shameless marketing opportunity; should anyone out there fancy a copy; you can get them here.
Now, where do I send the invoice?