By Alan James
Key Themes: diary, Holland, memoir, travel
Alan James is “Chipmunka’s” local “Big Issue” vendor. “Chipmunka’s” Jason Pegler encouraged him to write about his experiences and “Ten Years After” was the result. His second book “Going Dutch” is his account of selling the Amsterdam street paper “Z” during Holland’s coldest winter for 30 years, and details the similarities and differences between homelessness in Amsterdam and London.
About the Author
Alan James was born in 1951in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, where he was also brought up. He left grammar school in 1969 with 6 ‘O’ Levels and two ‘A’ Levels.
Alan attended teacher training college in 1971, but dropped out to sell paintings door to door. He dropped back in again in 1980 and got a second class honours degree in Humanities at Sunderland Poly in 1983. Alan has only ever used this degree to get a job once, in Greece from 1991-93, where he taught English in Athens. Then, after surviving a nervous breakdown, he came back to England where he has been selling the ‘Big Issue’ all around the UK and for most of the last ten years.
Since my first book, “Ten Years After”, I’ve often been asked if I was going to write another one. Writing Book 2 about selling “The Big Issue” in London was always going to be a non-starter, and I clearly needed something different. I had sold the “Issue” in Moorgate, London for the last 5 years and was looking for a new pitch. I remember a conversation with a customer at Putney Bridge station many years ago, back in 96. He told me he used to be a vendor himself on the same pitch for about 2 years, and then gave it up as people were sick of the sight of him standing in the same place every day. The advantage of having a regular pitch is you gradually build up a customer base: the disadvantage is you can overstay your welcome and lose some of those customers; so find somewhere new, but where? Well, another pitch in London didn’t appeal to me after spending so much time there, neither did outside London as I had already sold the “Issue” in Bristol.
The answer could be Amsterdam, a city I’d visited a few times before where everyone spoke English. In September 09, Roz a customer friend of mine sent an “E” Mail to “Z” magazine, the street-paper for Amsterdam, asking if it would be possible for me to sell it there. She received a reply saying it would be possible. To go there I needed some extra cash so I continued vending in London until Christmas, which is always the best time to sell the “Issue”, and then I would go to Amsterdam in the New year- and this time keep a diary!