A Tale of Guerilla Merchandising by J. Hamilton

Helen (Asylum’s editor) recently introduced me to the term‘guerrilla merchandising’.

I’d been sending in e-mails about various impulsive activities I’d been doing.

My mind is literal, and I can’t visualise (it’s called aphantasia if you don’t know). So I sense stuff instead. Guerrilla became Gorillas and I started getting flashbacks of Gorillas in the Mist, Sigourney Weaver, Aliens and even French and Saunders. Before I knew it, I’ve travelled back to the 70s and 80s.

Helen only wrote the word guerrilla.

I decided to have a go. I designed an Asylum T-Shirt & on Tuesday 9th June 2021 I went out in it to do a bit of guerrilla advertising. I was a walking, talking nutcase of an advert. It was scary at first, but I soon got over my false self and stepped into my true self. Here’s what happened.

I spoke to an old dog. The man who was with him told me the dog was 16 years old and walked every day between 4-7 kilometres.

I was delighted to meet the Captain Tom of dogs, although he was less delighted to meet me. He was hot after his walk and seemed to want to get into the shade. No doubt the old trooper could do without a nutcase holding him up after a hike in the sun.

But, during the conversation, the man noticed my T-Shirt.

He was called Dan and he ran the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green, East London. He said if we ever want to do a fundraiser we could get in touch.

So, if there are any mad comedians out there, nutters destined to perform, or budding Jo Brands in the NHS, feel free to follow this up.

I thanked Dan, promised I’d google his club and write about it. I kept my promise.

During this exchange I was uncontrollably jigging about due to extreme anxiety. Fortunately, this didn’t seem to bother Dan.

A bit of flapping, uncontrollable honesty and vulnerability and there I was, a would-be pretend journalist.

I watched too much Mr Benn (the TV show) when I was little. For people who might not know, in every episode Mr Benn walked into a clothes shop and left through a magic door entering a new world to fit his costume. I did a Mr Benn in reverse, let’s call it a Ms Benn. The world came to me and I had to quickly transform by stimming my way into the costume.

Thanks to Mr Benn, I survived complex trauma, always knowing I could walk into my imaginary shop, blank out abuse and recreate myself. This is what Jean Paul Sartre and Buddha went on about, but that’s too high brow for me. Mr Benn is my level.

Sitting on a bench outside Victoria Park I found an old receipt and jotted down some notes. I wasn’t planning on being a journalist, so didn’t have a notebook – I was advertising instead. Note to self: when advertising you might have to turn into a journalist. I’ll be better prepared next time.

Next I met Emdad Rahman who set up Book Bike London. It was inspired by his passion for four things: football, cycling, books and supporting others.

He wrote a book called, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (he’s a Liverpool fan) which he describes as football poetry.

At first, he gave his book away to families who were struggling with reading or who couldn’t afford to buy books. This gave him the idea to collect books and share them.

Now he cycles all over collecting books, dropping them off to vulnerable people and sharing free materials.

Maybe Asylum readers might be interested in this as either, a service, or as having a stint at being an egalitarian book giver.

What a great day! I met some great new people (which I avoid most of the time).

I was inspired; by Dan’s kindness, the perseverance of his Captain Tom of dogs, and Emdad’s passion.

In fact, it was all so overwhelming that I had to retreat to a local church, to calm down and write this article. Reverend Trevor took a photo of my T-Shirt to put on social media and show support for Asylum.

It’s amazing what a T-Shirt can do.

So, I’m calling all you nutcases: whether you are diagnosed, hiding or pretending to be sane. Let’s all become guerrilla advertisements and change the world.

After all, Gandhi was what he wore. He really practised what he preached. “Be the change in the world you wish to see”. But be careful if you are stripping off like Gandhi. He did get assassinated.

Rather than expecting society to change anytime soon I’m going to don myself a Boris haircut and get on with it. Keep Calm and be realistic.

And if you like consuming, consume your false self so you can get to your true self. Stigma, your days are numbered. Make way for a neurodiversity.

Get yourself a Mr or Ms Benn outfit and see what happens.

Ms Benn (AKA J. Hamilton) pretend journalist, over and out for now. I fancy a change.

This is a sample article from Asylum 28.3 [Autumn 2021].  Subscribe to Asylum Magazine.