Friday 2 March 2007

March 2, 2007 at 4:23 pm (blog, The office)


This week I’ve been working on a fashion magazine. It comes out twice a year. Opposite us is the office of a leading men’s title. Cover to cover tits. Their office has one big fish tank with a Dr Dre sticker on it. One of the journalists – and this is the arsehole of the trade – has a giant Superman toy behind his monitor. There is always music blaring and conversation tends to have racist and particularly sexist themes. It’s like walking into a bad pub crossed with a student digs (there’s cans of tuna, ketchup and brown sauce on a cabinet). Behind me is a fridge full of beer. The good thing is we roll in at 10.30 and leave around 5.00. King’s Reach Tower, which provides one of the few opportunities to work on the 26th floor in London, is a 15-minute bike ride from my house (and the pic is of sunset). That means I don’t have to cross the river or us public transport. And still I arrive late. There is a basketball under a desk I’ve been eye-ing all week. I bounced it. I was itching to and I finally did. May buy a basketball. My mother used to tell me to play the sport when I was a stumpy 13-year-old – so that I would grow taller. I finish here on Tuesday.

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February 22, 2007 at 11:53 am (Double espresso, The office)

22 February 2007. 11:49am. Just has a bacon sandwich – prepared by myself in the FT canteen. Cinnamon and raisin bagel, stuffed with rashers. There is something bacon does in the morning. And one egg. Dear me. £1.70. Now for some work. Left phone at home. Will cycle to pick it up at lunchtime. The US may be about to bomb my country of birth, eating is one way to deal with it. Although this was a valid meal, not an emotional outburst.

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Death by punctuation

October 4, 2006 at 12:25 pm (Teaspoon verse, The office)

I am strangled by a semi-colon
I prise it off
My jaw is hooked on to a comma
I dangle, my body an exclamation point
A hyphen impales me. Then another
Proofs – pages marked with red – pile up
I heave myself off the comma
An apostrophe picks me up by the collar
My body is italicised, my screams upper case
Then a hyphen pierces my eye
I put a pomegranate on my computer
En dash, em dash, balderdash
The red on the proofs is my blood
I bleed. I die
All that is left is a question mark

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Reflections on 9/11

September 11, 2006 at 3:12 pm (The office)

The life of a magazine sub-editor rarely gets more exciting than a plane crashing into a building. Drama in our job is usually a missing semi-colon or full-point spotted too late, or a misspelled contributor’s name, the closest subs come to terrorism. But on September 11 2001 we were all huddled around the TV on the news editor’s desk. The images of destruction in New York were so powerful that even in Farringdon, London you expected smoke to billow from around the next corner. My boss and I sat back at our desks. He mumbled something about Cambodia and how “America can’t just do what it wants and expect the third world to sit back”. (Although, to be fair no Cambodians were among the terrorists.) He, like the rest of us, was slightly concussed. I’d never heard him say anything political – we only talked about punctuation.
That day I accidentally placed two identical stories on to one news page, high drama on a normal day. But my boss understood – the mistake was clearly trivial given the tragedy across the pond.
“TV CHARTS TERROR” our headline screamed, slightly odd, but we were a broadcasting trade weekly. After work I took a long walk to my favourite Chinese restaurant in Soho. I ordered monosodium glutamate with aubergine and pork and hot and sour soup to cheer myself up. Then I plodded home and wondered about the futility of existence. I always do that after work, but this time I had cause. Thugs with piloting skills had managed to affect the world in a way no writer could hope to – I imagined Marquez thinking, “Why do I bother? Wouldn’t terror be easier?” Perhaps this is what recently inspired Martin Amis to examine the last days of Muhammed Atta.
Six thousand people were supposed to have perished at the time and the internet jokes erupted within hours. The best was an animation of the Twin Towers bending sideways to avoid the approaching plane. The worst was a map where in place of Afghanistan was a blue expanse called “Lake America”. I don’t know where I was when the war on Afghanistan started, or how many were killed by the US-led assault.
The US has since colonised Iraq, allowed Israel to punish the people of Lebanon anew and the Palestinians further, and has set its sights on attacking Iran.
Five years ago was I turning 30. Now, as I approach 63, I wonder if it is not better to turn rightwing in old age. Look at Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie or Amir Taheri. Being allied to power is surely good for the old boys’ blood pressure. Edward Said railed against the system and look what happened to him.
Meanwhile, George Bush, the non-Islamic fascist, remains in charge and Osama Bin Laden is still missing. Where is the old life-coach for suicide bombers? If Iran is to be attacked, we’ll probably be told there, but I suspect he’s hanging out with my semi-colons and full-points

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August 24, 2006 at 11:19 am (The office)

Must invoice the magazine I was at last week. Otherwise it amounts to voluntary work for a publishing company and there are worthier causes. Also, stop wasting paper. I just pressed “print” without noticing the number of copies in the dialogue box. Four A3 sheets I didn’t need. There is a recycling bin next to me, but I’ve killed a tree. Yesterday an editor made me recall copies of pages I’d put out to five people because of a minor headline change. Tree killer. I nearly bit her head off. After the Iraq war I became disillusioned with recycling. Imagine separating your cartons and bottles to better the world and then all that planned destruction. I had taken it up again, but then they attacked Lebanon. On a ligher note, a teacher, Mrs Hurst told me when I was 10 never to write “and then”. Then we spent a whole afternoon not writing “and then”. A few months ago, a section editor who I always see reading, handed me back a page reuniting in red “ands” with “thens” wherever I’d pulverised one. And then I thought to myself, maybe Mrs Hurst was wrong. She had a red face, a voice hoarse from the cigarettes she smelled of and once humiliated me for suggesting Buckingham Palace was a quadrangle. She laughed at me. Then, in a school production of Robin Hood, she allocated bit parts to everyone — I didn’t get one because there were no Arabs in the story. The only part left was Robin himself; it was me and my best friend at the time James Nelson. Naturally, James got the part. He lives in New Zealand now. I hope Mrs Hurst lived long enough to learn Buckingham Palace is, in fact, a quadrangle and that Robin Hood was Iranian.

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