Grey Cardigan: 8 December 2006

WHAT HAVE I always told you? Never, ever, upset the secretaries.

They are the font of all wisdom, the keepers of the flame. They know where the bodies are buried and where the mistresses are laid. They know the expenses fiddles, the tax dodges, who's due for the black bag and who's hanging on by their fingernails. They are your greatest ally and, if you get it wrong, your most dangerous foe.

You see, most editors are lazy and fickle bastards — their opinions formed by casual gossip rather than by thorough research. So they mention to their secretary that Grey, that awkward sod on the subs' desk, is coming in to ask for a pay rise. If the secretary in question pulls a face and says: "Well, that's a waste of time", poor Grey is sunk.

If, however, buoyed by cosy chats at the coffee machine, the prompt arrival of birthday cards, an occasional nod to their inside knowledge, their inclusion in shared jokes, and the briefest of fumbles at the Christmas party, the secretary in question says: "Well, he does work very hard, you know", poor Grey has a chance of paying the council tax next year without having to sell off his collection of Hogarth cartoons.

Which is why some poor bugger in human resources (now nauseatingly renamed The People Department) is in for a few brief months of abject misery before inevitably departing these blighted shores. And it's all down to the aforementioned Christmas party.

Or rather it's not. I don't know why someone felt the need to issue a memo banning the erection (spuriously on health and safety grounds) of the traditional Christmas decorations. I don't know why someone decided that the Evening Beast's annual piss-up should be renamed a "Winterval Wonderland". I have no idea whatsoever why the men in grey suits would decide to publicise the fact that the company's contribution to that celebration of the year's labours would be £6.27 per head, and that we'd have to cough up the remaining £17.73 ourselves before sitting down to corrugated cardboard, sawdust chipolatas and stuffing balls in a grubby three-star hotel on the ring road that rents rooms by the hour to priapic photocopier salesmen and their ink cartridge-ordering floozies.

But I do know that the secretaries aren't happy. These august ladies start their Secret Santa planning in January. They are the custodians of boxes of antique paper chains, tattered tinsel, an anaemic Christmas tree and a battery-operated "flashing" Santa only admitted to the fold on a majority vote in 1993. And on 1 December every year, they leap into action, support hose and varicose veins on diabolical display as they teeter on stepladders clutching sellotape and staplers.

So mess with the Queens of the Newsroom Tinsel and you mess with your own career. You have been warned.

AN ALARMING picture appears in The Independent's media section. It shows Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis, Superman costume concealed beneath a wrinkled white shirt, standing in front of his new-look news "hub". (For some reason I am reminded of the Westminster Press "pods" of the early '90s, but no matter.)

Now this isn't the notorious picture issued upon the newspaper's move to Victoria of an immaculate office with journalists patently absent. This is the real thing, taken on a working day, and that's where the problems begin.

For a start, there are men in the picture. Worse still, men with grey hair — four of them, in fact. And what's that there, on a previously pristine desk? Why, it's several sheets of paper, and a pen. And there are two books, looking suspiciously like volumes of Who's Who. And there look, lurking in amongst the expensive electronics, a potentially lethal bottle of water. Do health and safety know?

Meanwhile, just behind Mr Lewis's tousled head, amid the potted plants and the huge video screens, is the Telegraph's equivalent of the Grey Cardigan — a man in his early 50s, with his head unashamedly buried in his hands. Marvellous stuff.

CAN SOMEONE do something about this curious outbreak of heavily-pregnant weather girls on the telly? Shouldn't they be at home with their feet up once they get to that size?

Not only does their ungainly waddling prove distracting, but the entire population of Wales hasn't had a clue what weather to expect for the past two months.

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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