Psycho Commissioning Editor

Posted on November 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

As I walk into the office, trying to leave behind the frustration of the Tube journey, I notice one sad, lonely Christmas decoration that’s been pulled out of a box and hung from one of the joists of the ceiling tiles. I look up and admire its desolate beauty amid the bright, garish office lights and functional teak desks. The stained red chairs, uncomfortable and lacking lumbar support. I spend so much of my life here. The overworked coat rack. I sigh and think about when I might be able to get my next drink in.

It is Christmas, and the party season approaches.
We’re not yet even at the end of November and already the Greatest Christmas Songs Ever countdownis playing wall-to-wall on MTV and VH1, Noddy Holder sitting there barking madly and gurning at the thought of the bi-annual royalty cheque. The editorial side of things is slowing down as the academics head off for their long holidays, the emails decreasing in number. An email arrives from HR arrives informing me about the depressing large amount of holiday I have left. Once again, I’ll have to take off vast chunks of time at a point of year where there’s actually no work to be done in the office. The system wins again.
My first Christmas Drinks even is, ambitiously, in November. An old relic comes up and touches me on the arm and proceeds to flirt viciously. I feel sick. His right-wing Old Boys Network vibe chills me to the core.  I walk off and head to the pub.

The Christmas Party season used to come at the very end of December as people slowly filtered out of the office. Now it’s done on the first weekend and everyone heads off for three weeks out of the office. Perhaps no-one is taking holiday anymore. An airport, a taxicab, a generic hotel.  A set of restaurant and shopping strips that could be anywhere in the world.

A colleague forwards me an invite a swanky lunchtime launch at a nearby venue. It’s free drinks and canapés and we head there over lunch. Decked out in hardwood veneer and gilt-edging, it’s packed out with beautiful people, all wearing clothes that would cost my monthly salary. Haircuts are neat and recent, precise and to the point.

Oxford Street is busier than ever. Retailers are slashing prices in a desperate attempt to pull people into their shops – and so the usual arm to arm rugby scrum is now a mission to walk more than two paces in the same direction. Amidst the bargains are heaps of Christmas gift shop junk and in the more upmarket stores, smarmy sales assistants look on amusedly as shoppers pick up items they could never afford, a print out of a 20% off voucher sticking out of a pocket. A red flag. I notice John Lewis has at least 15 types of pillow on sale as I meander around before drinks just off Great Portland Street.
I haven’t been on conference in a while. I start to head out to go academic calling but keep it strictly within the confines of Zone 1, my Oyster card and I united in a solidarity pact. The peaceful greenery of university campus life awakens something awful in me. I remember a time when my daily life wasn’t consumed with two on the Tube every day and when I was still ungrateful. Walking two minutes to the library in a pair of new Marks and Spencers slippers was deemed a chore; the subsidised cafeteria dubbed a rip-off. I now pay three pounds for a sad, soggy sandwich and feel as if I’ve gotten value for money. Surrounded by the opulence and grandeur of a centuries old university, I wrote banal poetry and fretted about the blue-blooded girls I’d never sleep with. In the midst of the grime of the Underground, perhaps the hectic workload and the bills I now have to pay have eased that existential burden. I head to the Society Young Publishers conference with a David Mitchell novel in my Dunlop bag, wool gloves and a Fulton umbrella. It’s been a long while since the decompression of the SAS Radisson in Helsinki and the sun in the Senate Square. Suddenly the financial markets have collapsed and venerable institutions go under. Perhaps I didn’t eat enough Tamales in Washington.
The newspapers are full of headlines about the credit crunch. There’s a temptation to blame. The clamour to buy is overwhelming. Mud is flung about and everyone is outraged but they weren’t so angry when credit was as easy to come across as a noisy phone conversation on the top deck of London bus. Balance sheets flip through my waking dreams and I close the door when the washing machine is on because it’s a little too noisy. The crush of a bar and the subtle skills of getting served when it’s three deep to the taps are nestled deep in a growing desire to forgo the whole sorry grabbing spectacle of mass dereliction.