Thursday, 14 March 2013

The keen young hack: 1995-2000

Wedding day, 1998
Getting a job in journalism in 1995 wasn't easy. The most recent recession was easing off, but we weren't yet in the new media boom of the late 90s. Junior editorial positions on magazines were few and far between, and insanely competitive; if you wanted to work on a newspaper, it was extremely poorly paid, likely to be located somewhere you'd never heard of, and also insanely competitive.

I really wanted to live in Bristol, to be with The Doctor, but jobs there were even harder to come by, so I reluctantly started applying for jobs in London. That summer, The Doctor and I shared his flat, but by September it was all to come to an end. I got a job on a magazine about printing and publishing technology. While it wasn't my ideal thing by any means, it paid twelve thousand pounds a year and was situated just off Oxford Street. It was decided I would live with my Dad, in his flat in the Barbican (he spent the week there and the weekends with my mother in Suffolk). I bought a new outfit from Jigsaw to celebrate, said a tearful goodbye to The Doctor, and reluctantly headed up to London on the train.

I spent two years at the company - a small publishing firm. Mainly, it was mayhem. They ran three magazines out of two chaotic offices that were a health and safety nightmare.  At one point, the shop downstairs was being demolished and we had to a climb a rickety ladder up to the first floor to get to work. In the other office, everyone chain-smoked and the air was heavy with the smell of fags and dirty coffee mugs. We had one computer with internet access (very exciting at the time) and everybody took turns to use it. The company's finances were dodgy (it went bankrupt a few years later); it was not unknown for paychecks to bounce, if you were the last to pay yours in.

The magazine was monthly, and the last week of every month before we went to press was crazy; my editor tended to leave everything to the last minute, despite my attempts to be organised. One morning, I came into the office to smell a musty smell; our production editor had actually slept in the office, having finished at 3am. On the plus side, my boss hated flying, so sent me on all the press trips on which he was invited. I travelled about once a month, mainly to Europe but also to the US, usually flying business class and staying in luxurious hotels. The companies we covered - the likes of Agfa, Kodak and Fujifilm - had big budgets for entertaining the press (probably because writing about products such as scanners was deeply boring). While I can't say I ever truly "enjoyed" the job, the travel was fun, and I met some lovely people at the company, (including my good friend U, who blogs at Four Down Mum to Go).

I lived in London for the week, and went to Bristol to see The Doctor at weekends, where our student-type life continued. All the time, I was still trying to get a job in Bristol or nearby; I had several interviews, but they all came to nothing. And The Doctor was stuck there; even when he graduated, medical students there were supposed to do their first year of work in the Southwest.

By late 1996, we were getting to a frustrating stage in our relationship; how were we going to be together? The Doctor solved it when he proposed to me, atop the Ridgeway in Berkshire. Of course, I accepted. As my fiance, he would move up to London and attempt to get his first job there. Despite dire warnings from his fellow medics that this would be career suicide, he got a decent first job at Barnet Hospital and we moved into our first flat, a basement in Highbury near the old Arsenal stadium. Things were looking up. I eventually managed to escape the dodgy publishing firm for a beauty trade magazine, while he moved to the Hammersmith hospital. The following year, we got married. It was a wonderful day, sunny and happy, and we followed it with an idyllic honeymoon in Venice and Tuscany.

And then six weeks later my mother died.

I don't want to go into all the details on my blog, out of respect for her memory and because it's another whole tale. But obviously it was a very sad time, for me and my whole family. It took me a long, long tme to get over it, and just when I was starting to, another terrible thing happened; my mother-in-law also died, at the end of 2000, just a few months after being diagnosed with leukaemia.  

It was a traumatic time for both The Doctor and me,; it hadn't exactly been the greatest start to married life. In response to all this trauma, I did two things; I threw myself into work, and I also went slightly wild, keener on late nights, pubs and parties than ever before. The combination of the two was pretty perfect for my next job; working on a magazine covering the ad industry, where long Soho lunches and champagne-fuelled agency parties were par for the course. The dotcom bubble was growing, London was awash with money and by the end of the year 2000, I was a hardworking, hard partying editor on a respected business magazine.


Melissa said...

You're making me wish I'd gone into more detail on mine now instead of trying to pack ten years into a single post. But fascinating to learn about your early career, some of which sounds very glamorous (other bits less so!)

Sorry to hear about your mum - that must have been a horrid time

Circles said...

Also really enjoying all the detail - especially the bit about the ladder to get to work! I remember the day your mum died so clearly :-( And, on a happier note, your wonderful wedding day! xxx

Kit said...

Very interesting hearing about your early career. You're a few years younger than me, so hit London at a different stage but I also had a first proper job on a magazine. I thought I wanted to be in magazine production for a little while, worked for a computer magazine as an ad assistant, found it so dull after three months that I tossed it all for a job working in Italy for a walking holiday company.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Having been married to a medical student, then dr I completely understand all that shifting around and chaos and it was really interesting reading your version of it!

But I was stopped short reading that your mum and m-i-l died. How very sad. Not much consolation but I'm pleased for you all that you got married when you did so they could all be there.

Nota Bene said...

Well the early part of your career sounds just absolutely glorious...exactly the way it should be, rich with colour and detail! I remember well our first contact at the were always a great and supportive journalist, which was pretty unusual in the days where arrogance seemed to be the norm!


Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

This series is ace Alex. From your earlier posts I thought it was cool to get perspective on life as an expat in HK. I was just talking with a Canadian friend who lives in the UK about the comparative lack of community that exists for expats in the US, Canada or even here in the UK. I enjoyed the part here about climbing up the ladder to the office! Sorry to hear of your losses too, I hope the next installment shows things looking up x

About Last Weekend said...

Loving all this detail. That must have been a really glam industry to get into, my first jobs were in financial and biz journ - despite knowing nothing about either and the lunches and drinks parties were really lavish. Differently from you though I was one of a band of everlasting Kiwi "girls" - we thought we would never get married. No wonder looking back we hung around in a huge gang and guys must have been terrified to approach.

Metropolitan Mum said...

So sorry to read about your mother and your mother-in-law. How very sad.
Your story reads a bit like a rough outline for a novel. Mhmmm, I can smell a book coming along...