Widows and orphans

8 Dec

THE Misfit glances at me across the desk and wrinkles up her nose. She’s one of those pale-skinned, stick-thin women who would snap in a strong wind. If there was an outbreak of cholera in the office, she would be the first to go.

“The trouble with me,” she whispers as she peels an orange, “is I don’t like people. That’s why I became a sub-editor. I couldn’t stand being a reporter. I hate the public. Can’t bear talking to them – never could, never will.”

I sort of agree silently, employing a series of sympathetic facial expressions.

“That’s why sub-editors are all odd,” she continues. “You have to be a bit anti-social, a bit anal, to do this job and work these hours. Look at what we do. We correct other people’s mistakes and have in-depth conversations about whether Fifa should be capped up or how many Ds there are in granddad. That’s fucking anal.

“And Gaddafi. Jesus Christ. How many discussions have we had over how to spell Gaddafi? With a double-D and one F? With one D and a double-F? With a fucking Q or a K instead of a G, for Christ’s sake, and with an apostrophe thrown in? We’re all strange. And we do it into the early hours of the morning when other people are asleep. Or shagging.”

I’ve stopped typing. I glance around the office. It’s late and there are only three people on the subs desk: myself, the Misfit, and Leek Man, who is down the other end of the room brewing his strange green tea. Leek Man’s odd, I must agree. Spends all his spare time in isolation sitting on his allotment with his prize leeks. And the strangest thing is he throws them away when he’s exhibited them. Doesn’t eat them. I watch him swaying in the shadows like a long, tall Musselburgh as he drops a teabag in the bin. And the Misfit, she’s as odd as a lost sock. That just leaves me.

And I think about the old boys who were on the desk when I started at my first paper. There was the one-eyed Scotsman, Alan McBump, who always had plasters on his nose and head because he was forever drunk – but he could tell the difference between eight-point Helvetica and Swiss at twenty paces. And old Cowswill who lived in a caravan and spent his lunch breaks rewriting the Daily Telegraph front page with a red pen. Definitely odd. And they were both jazz buffs. Perhaps that’s something to do with it. And then there’s Trout Man who breezes into the NOB for the occasional casual shift, despite being made redundant. Tweed jacket, bow tie and smokes a pipe. He’s a jazz fanatic too. I sense a theme developing here.

Two hours later, as an owl hoots in the churchyard behind the office and Nitherley sleeps, I chuck my bag in the car, sink into the driver’s seat and turn on the ignition. The CD player fires up and Miles Davis blows his trumpet across the empty car park. And I think: the Misfit’s right. We’re all bloody odd.

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