Deputy chief sub, Take a Break
‘Help! I’ve got wasps in my knickers!’ screams the headline of the feature I’m over-reading. Poor Joanne. After getting caught short on a motorway, she pulls over, heads for the nearest bush and unwittingly relieves herself on a wasps’ nest.
She spends the rest of the day with paramedics, who remove 76 stings from her nether regions.
And a stinging sensation when passing water, chief sub points out, is just one of the subjects in this week’s Embarrassing Problems health section.
Boils, restless legs syndrome and a bad-smelling discharge, are all giving readers cause for concern. And there I was fretting about getting issue 13 out on time. Puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?
Mums’ Army, the magazine’s campaign in which readers make a stand against antisocial behaviour, is gathering pace.
Letters of support, media interest and a planned march to Downing Street to hand in a petition to the PM, show how strongly people feel about yobs in their community.
Another campaign — Women’s Orgasm Lib — focused on women in their 50s and 60s who were having orgasms for the first time. We celebrated their frankness, especially the reader who found she could satisfy herself sexually with a shower head and couldn’t wait to come clean about it.
Spend the afternoon keeping up with flatplan changes and honing my extensive InDesign layout skills. Look, Ma, I can move caption boxes!
The Middle Table sits in the very heart of the office and is at the very heart of office life. We’re treated to a host of goodies from companies that are gratefully received and duly placed on the Middle Table for people to share. We’ve had everything from Krispy Kreme doughnuts and suntan lotion to chocolate cake and incontinence pads.
Today, however, the table’s looking a little sorry for itself.
There’s a pack of gluten-free porridge, two gingerbread bunnies and a selection of self-help books to which no-one is self-helping themselves. Copy of Bankruptcy Explained anyone?
In the afternoon the subs’ desk obsession with all things badger raises its furry black-and-white head once more, with the question: ‘What do a badger’s legs look like?’ A quick visit to Google, and a photo of a badger is duly despatched to our inboxes for perusal.
Badger. It’s a nice word, a cute animal and it’s what we subs do. We badger the editor for copy. We badger the art department for layouts and we badger promotions for late pages. We just don’t like anyone badgering us.
Monday morning. A time to regret what you didn’t finish on Friday afternoon. A few swigs of cappuccino, a quick recap of everyone’s weekend and we’re ready to go.
Features get busy chasing stories. The editor asks a feature writer: "So, how exactly did he kill himself with an alarm clock?" And chief sub and I concentrate on clearing Iris proofs for the issue that goes to press on Thursday.
The most important thing about Irises is not to make mistakes when you’re making corrections. What we do at this final stage will appear in the magazine, so it has to be right.
No pressure there, then.
Later, a copy of the latest issue crash-lands on my desk.
While people flick through the mag, laughing at photos of pampered pets and cute babies, it’s the unwelcome cue for my heart to pay its weekly visit to my mouth.
Every sharp intake of breath from the office floor has me imagining a spelling mistake on the cover or a photo caption that still reads: ‘photo caption to go here’. One of my greatest fears is opening an issue and seeing that a major feature suddenly stops mid-
There’s a deep sense of loss in the subs’ department. Our trusty gazetteers, to which we refer on a daily basis, are falling apart at the seams. Over the years, subs have painstakingly checked readers’ addresses, clarified locations and — to some people’s annoyance — even had the audacity to change Middlesex to Greater London in a bid to get things just right.
But with the books in tatters and pages lost, checking could be difficult. Those readers who live anywhere between Andover and Streatham will still be catered for, but God help us if we have to confirm the exact whereabouts of Urmston or Yeading.
After working on stories about a love rat, a woman who could die from having too many orgasms and a surprise baby, I turn to our horoscope page for some light relief.
Immature, I know, but you try not to smile when you read that planetary influences are firing up Uranus.
It’s the day before press day and I cross off the cleared pages on my flatplan like a demented bingo player. The art department have obviously been eating their Weetabix because after a flurry of activity, we’re snowed under with new layouts.
We get our heads down and plough on, stopping only for coffee and a gazetteer game in which one sub supplies a location and the others have to guess the county it’s in. And you thought subs didn’t have any fun.
It’s 6 o’clock and everybody’s brain hurts. The editor asks chief sub how we’re doing on the production front. Hearing that we’re behind, he sighs deeply and says: "But we’ve all been working so hard!"
As chief sub puts it: "Subbing is like pushing a boulder up a never-ending hill — but not half as much fun." On the plus side, issue 12 goes to press a day early.
It’s home time. We clock off, log out and, like a scene from The Waltons, we wish each other goodnight.
It’s time for the badgers to stop beavering.