Bernice's first day looked likely to be her last. She had given her notice in to her current employers on Tuesday, the day after her meeting with Martin and Kate. At first they were surprised that anyone would want to leave their haven; then they were outraged that she wanted to leave in a week; and finally they were rather shamefaced to discover that they had indeed forgotten to change her terms and conditions, and that one week's notice was all she needed to give. Some hurried checking up of other contracts was soon carried out.
Though she acted responsibly throughout the remaining five days with the company, and tried to make the transition to the new editor as painless as possible by leaving the magazine in good order, inevitably her mind was elsewhere. Most of her waking hours and quite a few of her sleeping ones were devoted to thinking about the magazine she would launch in two months' time. Luckily there was a lot she could do, even without an office or an editorial team.
First she tried to get clear in her mind the readers she would be writing for. Then she tried to understand what their needs and interests would be, and how she would cater for them. Finally she began to draw up a list of articles that she would use in the coming issues. Within a short time she had over 80 of these, enough for nearly a year's worth of issues, with subjects ranging from the serious - Violence in the Office - to the frivolous, like Office Romances, and from old chestnuts like Making Speeches to currently trendy topics like AIDS. Once she had this list, even though none of the articles existed other than as a title, she felt happier: one of an editor's greatest fears is that there will be nothing to put in the next issue; with her list Bernice knew that she would not have this problem for a while yet.
More specifically she began planning the dummy. This was the mock-up of the first issue that would allow them - whoever 'them' turned out to be - to try out different ideas before deciding on final versions of design, layout, structure etc. It was also invaluable for advertising and marketing departments who needed something concrete to wave around and shout about. She had roughly three weeks to produce the dummy: again, some of this could be done now while she was tying up the loose ends on Employment Magazine. During the evenings and at the weekend before joining Wright's she wrote a couple of articles that were representative of the kind she hoped to put in the launch. These could be used in the dummy, repeating them several times to pad the magazine out to the necessary length.
With these preparations behind her, and with a copy of the reasonably well-drafted ad for the outstanding editorial staff that had appeared the day before in the Creative and Media pages of The Guardian in her briefcase, it was with real excitement that she took the train down to Southdon again the following Tuesday.
Now that they would be the background to the drama of her daily existence, she tried to look more closely at the scenes that passed by her. She noted the back gardens of the semi-detacheds and maisonettes, some tidy epitomes of middle-class repression, others rough patches of barely controlled Nature. She saw the loft conversions, the blatant double-glazing, the ugly refacings. As they pulled into the stations, she saw how cruel time had been to these monuments of Victorian capitalism: the paint was flaking, the ironwork rusting or decayed, the walls covered with mindless graffiti. And when she arrived at Southdon, she saw the familiar anonymous little shops - the newsagent's, the optician's, the baker's, the off-licence - that filled countless other similar towns, and she saw the faceless offices that so often sat above them: unloved, unexceptional offices, unnoticed except by those for whom they formed the centre of the universe.
She was struck by how many of these houses and shops and offices there were, and by the fact that each of them represented lives and histories. She had a renewed sense of just how many people there were in London's suburbs, going about their daily lives, minding their own business, and she wondered idly how many of them might read her new title.
Potentially very many of them. She had decided that there was a huge gap in the business magazine market, not served by any of the current titles. They were aimed mainly at 'serious' business people - the suits - who controlled companies and workers. But what about the millions of people who worked in offices - just as she did? They might be middle managers or they might be staff, but they all shared common characteristics as people who spent most of their waking hours in offices. She wanted to create a magazine that served them, that helped them understand how business worked, and helped them get more out of it. Although a million miles from being a Thatcherite, she did believe that the current ferment in the business world made now an exciting time to be working in companies, and she wanted to capture some of that excitement in her features, and help others to enjoy it.
With so much to do she obviously arrived early at Wright's for her first day. Already her diary was quite full, what with meetings with Martin and other departments. She hoped that she was not going to lose control of her days, a victim of the Dire Diary syndrome whereby it is the diary that controls you, rather than vice versa. She had written an article about it once for Employment Magazine, and it had generated a lot of sympathetic letters from people - particular senior managers - who recognised the symptoms only too well.
The receptionist recalled her from her previous visit, and when Bernice explained that she was starting today, Brenda introduced herself and welcomed her to the company. Buxom Brenda had striking hennaed hair and was heavily made-up, as if she felt that as well as representing a visitor's first encounter with the company she was also in some sense an incarnation of its image, like a bosomy ship's figurehead. Although Brenda held an apparently unimportant position in the company, Bernice knew from past experience that receptionists were often the eyes and ears of an organisation, noting who came in when, in what state, and more particularly with whom.... Bernice resolved to be friendly to Brenda - something that came naturally to her anyway - expecting her to be a handy source of information in the future.
Bernice was due to attend a standard company induction that afternoon - indoctrination was her term for it - and first she had a meeting with Martin to go over basics. She was beginning to find her way round the buildings as she went up to the tenth floor of the North building again, and saw the publisher next to Martin in his office, who this time was down on his hands and knees looking at something intently. On the way she passed a strange, shabby figure, an extinguished cigarette hanging on the edge of his lip beneath a huge, bulbous nose in the middle of a red fleshy face topped with thin grey hair, heavily slicked back. As he peered out of pebble glasses like a confused nocturnal animal, she wondered who he was, what part he played in the pageant that was Wright's. But by the time she had reached Martin's office she had forgotten all about the sad creature for the moment.
"Hello," she said to Cristina, surprised to see her in so early. A truly dedicated secretary, she thought, which was true, though not just in the way she imagined. Martin was busy with the micro on his desk. He was desperately trying to make the numbers come out for the new launch. Some of his earlier calculations had been a little optimistic, and he was juggling things like marketing spend and paper weight in an effort to get the right bottom line. He was conscious too that in busying himself with his computer he was trying to avoid the discussion he was about to have with Bernice.
After preliminary greetings and welcomes and offers of coffee accepted this time, Martin edged towards the subject he had been dreading ever since Charles had explained the situation.
"I've got some good news - well, at least I hope you'll think it's good news. I'm sure you will. Because one of things that worried me about the launch schedule was that it was so back-end loaded. I mean you were down to do almost everything yourself for the first issue, allowing for a certain period to bring in new staff. Well, I am pleased to say that as a result of some changes here" - that is, because of titles being closed or merged or simply shaken up a little - "we able to bring some journalists across to start working straightaway." Martin knew that this was not going to go down well, and it didn't.
"What? Are you telling me that I can't choose my own staff as you promised?" demanded Bernice, her anger rising and her heart sinking: only a few minutes into the job and already they were shortchanging her.
"No, of course not. As you saw, the ad appeared in The Guardian yesterday - and we've had a pretty good response so far. I was going to talk to you later about organising interviews. It just that we that is I thought that it would help if you could hit the ground running - " Bernice immediately detected the corporatespeak - "so we've managed to find a few staff to help you."
"What, temporarily?" asked Bernice, still unimpressed by this turn of events.
"Well, not exactly in the true sense of the word 'temporarily'...." Martin hated this; he knew that she was right and that he was wrong, but his hands were tied.
"You mean 'no', Martin. You should practise saying things in a straightforward manner. I have no difficulty saying short, simple phrases - this one, for example: 'I resign!'" Although Martin was conscious that his authority was being threatened here, he ignored this for the moment as he admired how wonderful Bernice looked in her anger, her nostrils flaring, and her brows contracting, her long hair flying with élan as she shook her head angrily.
"Come on, come on, come on, Bernice," he said, "you can't resign, you've barely joined the company. Look, aren't you being a little hasty, prejudging things in this way? Why not meet the people concerned and see what you think?" he asked reasonably.
"And if they're not suitable I don't have to take them?"
"It's not as simple as that. There's been a bit of a reshuffle here, and basically we might have to let some people go - " Bernice snorted: she hated these weasel words.
"Fire them, Martin, you mean fire them."
"OK, make redundant," conceded Martin. "Now these are all perfectly good journalists, some with many years' experience - "
Sure, thought Bernice, that's why you're planning to get rid of them.
"It's very difficult. One of them has a young family, another an elderly sick father...."
Damn you, thought Bernice, for using emotional blackmail. And yet despite herself she found her anger receding. She never liked seeing people fired if it could be avoided, and if there were just a couple of them...they could be useful, she conceded.
"What job titles have these two got?" she asked cautiously, trying not to appear too mollified.
"One is currently an Assistant Editor - very reliable, another is I'm not quite sure," Martin said, searching for a file on his desk amidst the sheets of printouts - "ah, yes, here we are...well, basically a features editor," he said fudging the issue.
"So that would leave me with an art editor, sub, news editor, and two reporters to find, right?" she could feel herself giving in. Did she want to launch the title so badly, or was she so confident she could use these journalists? In fact Martin's underhand appeal to her sympathy for those under threat had done the trick. "Unless you intend dumping anyone else on me, of course..."
"Of course not. Though I should clarify one thing: there are actually three journalists that we got for you, there's also another reporter. Brilliant mind I'm told. His previous publisher said to me that we would be really lucky to get him to work for us." Which was true; in a sense....
"I feel very unhappy about this. I hope that it will not set a precedent for the way that Wright's works," Bernice said. Martin insisted that this was an exceptional situation. "OK, I had better meet them then, hadn't I?"
"Of course. They're in your new office which in South Tower, tenth floor coincidentally. I'll take you over there myself. Then perhaps we can meet up again for lunch - I've booked us in for the Directors' dining room - the food's pretty good considering."
Separate dining rooms, Bernice thought ruefully, remembering an editorial she had written some time back in Employment Magazine inveighing against this kind of divisive practice. Ah well, just another disappointment.
As was the situation in 'her' office. It turned out that nobody had told the three journalists that she would not be turning up until the Tuesday, so they had spent the whole of Monday stewing in there, bouncing their resentments off each other until they were in a fine state when she met them late on Tuesday morning. She also felt as if she was being admitted to their office, since they moved comfortably in it, and had already taken possession of several desks.
When Martin opened the door and they went in she was slightly annoyed to see that in addition to the three journalists, who were all men, there was a secretary. Typical, she thought, for a male manager to ignore the presence, indeed the existence of a female secretary completely. She was introduced first to Peter Lawnesley, who seemed about 35, had mousey coloured hair and long sideburns, and looked rather sad, even when he came forward with a rather overdone enthusiasm towards her. He was dressed in a rather old-fashioned suit that was beginning to shine in certain strategic spots. Apparently he was her new Assistant Editor.
George Benington, on the other hand, was smartly dressed, a triangle of handkerchief peeking out of his jacket pocket, in his mid fifties, with thinning, Brilliantined hair, fiery salt and pepper eyebrows, and a rather suspicious expression emerging from behind his squarish glasses. She got the distinct impression that he was not happy about reporting to what she suspected he would have called a 'slip of a girl', and saw that she would have to work hard to win his confidence. However, he at least looked rather more promising than the last of them, introduced as David Mowley. In his late thirties, dark, thin, hollow-eyed and rather ill-looking, he was almost a parody of journalist: badly-dressed, unkempt, unshaven and smoking continually. And yet he was supposed to be the one with the brilliant mind.
At least the secretary, whose name was Janice, had a smile for her. She was probably in her early twenties, but looked older, as if the life had taken its toll. She wore a tight-fitting sweater that rather emphasised her full bust, and a short skirt that did the same for her legs. Whether it was just female solidarity, or something more, Bernice felt heartened by the presence of Janice. As far as the others were concerned, she was conscious of the full weight of her position: as a manager she knew that it would be her job to cajole, to flatter, to threaten and to be endlessly sympathetic to these and others in order to get the best from them. She also knew that this would be tremendously draining.
After the preliminary introductions Martin ran off, leaving them to 'get to know each other'. Before doing so, Bernice cast a quick glance round 'her' office. It was a large-ish open plan room with windows that would have had a fine view of South London suburbia were it not for the other office blocks that faced them. From the window she could just see the station and its railway lines fanning out into the endless neat housing estates of Surrey. Desks and chairs were standard, and bore the scars of numerous previous owners. Above them the strip lighting buzzed annoyingly: she would have to get that fixed immediately.
"Right then," she said, "is there somewhere around here where we can talk a little more privately?"
"There's a lounge of sorts nearby the staff canteen," offered Peter.
"OK, how about if you and I go there then for a chat? she said brightly. "I don't suppose they have coffee there, do they?"
In fact they did, which was more than she had dared hope for. The lounge itself was anonymous in the extreme, and reminded her of countless hotels she had visited for press conferences. A vague kind of decor pervaded the place, with a few potplants and framed posters advertising soap and French Railways on the walls.
"Well, Peter," she began.
"Please, call me Pete, everyone does. Well, not everyone, my wife... - there's one thing I'd be grateful if you could help me with - not that I want to cause any bother, you understand, but I do just like to have these things done properly," he said, not entirely clearly.
"Of course, Pete, what exactly can I do for you?" she asked, slightly mystified.
"Well, it's just a letter - confirming all this, my position, I mean. Just so that I have some proof, I mean something in writing."
Bernice was already beginning to read Pete, and could see that he had this insecurity in the face of the world. She said that she would either write one herself of get Martin to do so straightaway This seemed to calm Pete somewhat, who soon responded quite freely to Bernice's gentle probing. In particular he spoke about his wife, Elaine, who was the centre of his life, along with his two small daughters Denise and Katrina. He seemed to feel somewhat ambivalent about his career; on the one hand he wanted badly to succeed, to be able to provide for his family, but on the other he was afraid of having to spend too much time away from them. Bernice recognised it as a basic dilemma of working, and one that they would explore in the new magazine. In fact she encouraged Pete to start thinking about some features on this subject, and this seemed to cheer him up considerably.
George was more problematic. He was unwilling to expand much about himself or his family apart from the fact that he had one, and was very proud of 'his boy'. He was obviously very unsure how to deal with this young woman who was suddenly his manager. As she gathered later from his files, which she looked at in Personnel afterwards, he worked most of his life on one title, The Retired Gardener, and had established a simple, safe rhythm of work there under his (male) editor. Like Pete, he was fortunately unaware that he had been close to redundancy; he had been told simply that he was needed on an exciting new launch, and that he was being transferred immediately.
David, or Dave as he insisted on being called, knew only too well that his move was lucky. He had no illusions about his security of tenure, and knew that he was being dumped on Bernice. However, he did not seem particularly grateful. In fact in general he seemed to feel no strong emotions either way; he made no bones about the fact that he wanted an easy life, and preferred to be left undisturbed. Bernice would have gone straight to Martin to demand his removal were it not for the fact that just as her publisher had said, Dave did show flashes of insight and understanding as she talked things through with him that suggested he was worth making an effort for. Part of the job of a manager, Bernice knew, was being able to judge people and their potential and then how to realise it fully. She guessed that Dave would be a pain to work with, but also, sometimes, a great pleasure. She was right on both counts, though underestimated the strength of both.
If she had taken an immediate shine to Janice, her secretary, she found that the more they spoke the more they got on. Something of a rough diamond, Janice may have looked the archetypal dumb blonde with a big bust, small hips and tiny brain, but in fact possessed a quick mind and a ready wit. Like the vast majority of secretaries her many skills were almost completely unused, and Bernice resolved to help Janice to grow as quickly as possible. Janice, in her turn, was touchingly grateful for the attention which Bernice showed her, and resolved on her part to follow her new boss wherever she led.
As she was coming back from the lounge with Janice, they met a small, roly-poly, nervous man with eyes that seemed to be popping out of his bearded face with amazement or fear or both. An old-fashioned kipper tie hung askew about his neck. He introduced himself as Bob 'Cheap at Twice the Price' Percival. He turned out to be the new advertisement manager on the launch. Although Bernice claimed no special competence when it came to judging ad managers, she was deeply worried when she met Bob. He seemed to ooze lack of sincerity. Even his beard looked strange, as if had been stuck on afterwards. He was also appallingly chummy as only desperate salespeople can be, and she found it hard to imagine creating a new magazine with him. She was also disconcerted by his parting remarks.
"Oh, and by the way, if I can ever be of assistance to you, in other areas - if you need anything at all, just call Bob - and cheap at twice the price. No, but seriously, if you want to buy a car..."
"A car?" she asked.
"No, of course not, they'll give you one won't they - what do you get? Never mind, no, I mean if any friends or family need a car. What about your parents, for example, do they need a car?" he continued, unable to stop his patter.
Why is he going on about cars, she wondered? "Well, my father is a car salesman, so...." This was true, actually, and also convenient.
"Oh, is he then? Ah well, never mind." Bob seemed disconcerted by this information, as if he had committed an indiscretion in talking to the daughter of a rival.
"Anyway," he continued, "how about a quick snifter over lunch - just so that we can get to know each other better. After all, we will be working together quite closely..." he said with what could only be described as a failed leer.
"Sorry, Bob, I'm having lunch with Martin. Perhaps some other time." She replied, again grateful that the truth was also convenient. And after saying goodbye to Bob, who moved away with a strange kind of nervous bouncing movement, and telling Janice that she would see her later, she went to lifts that would take her first down to the entrance hall, and then up to the famous Directors' Dining Room at the top of the North building.