09 January 2010

The staff, the snow, the ghost and the headhunter

So, it's a new year and on Monday I went back to work. Only this time it involved going out to work. For someone else. I'm usually up by 6 anyway, but on Sunday night I set my alarm clock, just in case. Just as well - for once my insomnia went into hiding and I slept like the dead. The 6am bleeping was a vicious reminder of a world I left behind 6 years ago - a world in which one showers, dresses, makes up their face and eats breakfast long before the dawn breaks and sane people (like my former freelance self) don't do such things until after 5 hours' work and a spot of brunch.

Forget this week's snow (for now, anyway) - last week's still lay on the pavement, reduced to a thin layer of highly polished, invisible glass. Despite the fact that I'd chosen to wear my favourite sweater dress for my first day back in an office, I was forced to leave the house in my hiking boots, so I could negotiate the icy streets, and carry my heels in a bag. I had to perform a hurried, undignified change of footwear in reception on arrival.

My new boss came to collect me and I was whisked off on a whistle-stop tour round the newsroom and introduced me to about 50 people whose names I promptly forgot. I then spent a leisurely morning sitting in the "ops room" where radio producers produce a show from next to the studio, watching what was going on and reading my way through a huge heap of weekend newspaper supplements to drum up feature ideas for the weekday morning magazine show. Then there was an editorial meeting, so I pitched a batch of ideas and was chuffed that they were all accepted.

This laid-back start to my new job didn't last long. Overnight, a blizzard struck, burying my city in more than 20cm of frozen whiteness. Instinct kicked in when I looked out of the window and I was out of the house far earlier than planned - not only was it obvious that it would be a struggle to get to work, but that my colleagues would be struggling too and yet the news still had to be got out, this time to a public depending on it. After a long and fruitless wait for a bus, I struck lucky with a lone, passing hackney cab with its light on and made it in more or less on time. I'd barely got my coat off before I was ordered to hit the phones and start ringing round the bus companies to find out which services were operating (I could have told them without phoning - none. Why else did I arrive by cab?). With only a skeleton staff in, it was all hands on deck and despite being the new girl (with no idea how anything worked there) I had to muck in like everyone else to keep the news flowing. I work hard for myself at home but I'd reached a new level of shattered by the time I finally got home that night.

There was only one rough moment. I was temporarily sent back to the ops room to help on the phones there. The producer told me to get a pen and I started hunting for one on the desk. This was a major broadcaster, right? So I expected to find pens. Wrong. I have pens in my bag, of course, so I reached for that. Clearly not fast enough. The producer said witheringly to me:
"You do have a pen, don't you? Hurry up! I mean, if you want to be a journalist..."
I made a split-second decision not to brain her with my handbag and replied, as politely as possible, through gritted teeth:
"Actually, I've been a print hack for more than 30 years and was filing copy before your parents met. I already am a journalist. I'm just new to radio. And of course I have a pen. In my bag. But I didn't think it unreasonable to expect to find pens on the desk here."

The rest of the week passed in a blur. I was taken off the newsdesk on Wednesday as I wasn't needed there, but I was kept busy learning how to use ENPS, how to write radio cue scripts, researching my pitches, pre-interviewing show guests and finding experts. All in all, it was fun and exciting and ever so scary, but weirdly familiar despite being a totally different environment to what I'm used to. I loved every moment of it. Apart from the patronising comment in the ops room. I mean, I know I look younger than my calendar age but surely no one could seriously mistake me for a 20-year-old workie...

Two surprises rounded off my week. I got home on Friday evening to find my answering machine bleeping. The message was rather incomprehensible due to lots of background noise and crackling that made me think the caller was playing a slice of dodgy 1950s vinyl down the line at me. Several replays and I was able to decipher her name and number, though not her company, and discern that she was a headhunter. Intrigue! I shall call back on Monday to see what she wants, although it's unlikely I'll be interested in any offer unless it's goldplated with bells on.

Then I noticed my Skype phone was flashing. There was an "add contact" request from none other than my very first editor, the man who had such faith in me he offered me a job more or less on the spot when I literally walked into his magazine off the street. I was 16 and a half, had just walked out of school and had bleached blond spiky hair and what's now called "attitude", in spades. I worked my socks off for him for 2 and a half years until the magazine folded, bankrupted by one defamation suit too many. We lost touch not long after. I moved away to work elsewhere and never saw him again, even though a couple of years ago I did some freelance features for one of his newer magazines (on that occasion I asked the editor to say hi to him for me, but clearly the message didn't get passed on).

Once I'd got over my shock, I sent him an IM on Skype and within 5 minutes he was ringing my landline. It was incredible to be talking to him again after nearly 30 years. He was exactly as I remembered him - a cheeky maverick, with vision and a mischievous sense of humour, as well as a nose for journalism and amazing entrepreneurial skills - and we had a great time reminiscing about our days on the mag. I owe my career to this man and as soon as he suggested tracking down the rest of the old team of staff and having a reunion party I promised him I'd be on the first train there. And I will. I'd work for him again if he offered me a job. I'd work for him tomorrow if he asked.

Hell, it's rare to get a call like that. It made my week. No, scratch that. It's made my year and 2010 is barely 10 days old. Something in my blood tells me I'm going to have an amazing year, after the start I've had this week.

Excited? You bet.

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