There’s not an awful lot I miss about being a full-time wage slave, but I do have occasional yearnings for the banter and in-jokes that occur between colleagues on the same wavelength. When I worked on the now defunct trade paper Publishing News a decade or so ago, sharing space and humour with people like Rodney Burbeck, Roger Tagholm and Ralph Baxter (not to mention ad boss Matt Levy, who started the Crisp Olympics via internal email to decide on which variety of fried potato snackwas best, and designer Jon Bidston, who put subliminal items into the backgrounds of photos and created a treasured spoof place setting for the office Christmas lunch that still lives on my mantelpiece) made some of the other aspects of the job far more bearable.
Tagholm, in his dry Croydonian way, is one of the funniest people I’ve ever encountered. He’s also an unbearable human being*, but you can’t have everything. He once rendered me and Ralph (with whom I already had several years’ worth of in-jokes stored up, the pair of us having been friends at university) speechless with admiration using nothing more than a slightly adapted section of Wichita Lineman. The paper was owned and run by a terrible old misanthrope called Fred Newman, whom I think I’ve mentioned before. He was known to the irreverent in the PN office as Kunta Kinte, just because it sounded a bit like what we thought he was. I think Tagholm might have been behind the rechristening. When we moved from Museum Street to Store Street, Rog found that his desk was directly under a skylight, and that, when the sun came out to play, his monitor was afflicted with terrible glare. Grudgingly, Fred arranged for a blind to be installed. One day, pulling the blind across with the stick he kept by his desk for the purpose, Rog sang to himself, quietly, “I am a blindsman for the Kinte”. On hearing this, I think Ralph and I just stood up, clapped and nodded approvingly. What we really needed were those score cards that you used to see on the TV coverage of ice-skating. This would have been worth a clean sweep of 6.0s.
At PN, as at many workplaces, the office noticeboard was a strange mixture of serious information about the work on one hand, and surrealism and quiet subversion on the other. We had ‘Up the Arse Corner’ before Viz ever latched onto the idea. Also pinned there was a yellowing letter sent some years before in response to an article by columnist Ian Norrie, which we all suspected to be the single greatest item of reader correspondence ever sent to a periodical. When I handed in my notice to become an airy-fairy author ponce in 2002, I took a photocopy, which turned up the other day during a bit of light re-shelving, and I reproduce it for you here. I have reason to believe that its author is the same Simon Strong who wrote the cult novel A259 Multiplex Bomb Outrage. If it’s half as good as this, I must find a copy.
*Actually, I love him, but I didn’t want to look too crawly.