Instead of waiting for the outcome of the second Irish work permit application, spending money all the while, I decided to give up on Ireland. I changed my punts into pounds, reducing IR£600 to UK£500. I secured emergency berthing rights with my ex-wife in Banstead, Surrey, for three weeks max. My reception was friendly, but not that friendly. After two days of repairs, sewing on missing buttons, doing dry cleaning and laundry, I spent a day drafting a new CV suitable to the London terrain before spending the rest of the first week sending out letters at a rate of six a day. If I heard nothing in the middle of the second week, I would secure emergency landing rights with old friend Alan Ritchie in Toronto or with new friend Peter Leney in Montreal. I had met Peter as a fellow stone sub at the Gazette, when he worked on Canada's Financial Times before signing on as a business reporter on the Gazette. If there was no hope by the third week, I would fly Laker to New York and take a bus to
Toronto or Montreal, depending on how Plan B and Plan C looked at the time.
In my Fleet Street applications, I focused on two jobs, knowing that Fleet Street was short of subeditors and business journalists. In drafting my CV, I reduced the number of jobs I had and stretched out the ones that concerned themselves with business journalism, those being the shipping reporter for the Gazette and business reporter with the Vancouver Sun. I also stressed every other job where I was a sub, with a page and a half CV. I included a covering letter, stressing my growing interest in subbing, emphasising my 37 years and my needs for a more stable life and regular hours. I also said I was married, talked a bit about the demands of family life, and of course made a little reference to whatever publication I was going after. Employers like married men with family responsibilities, so I lied without actually doing so. The truth, nothing but the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth.
Simon's brother David, my old colleague at the East Anglian Daily Times 15 years earlier and now long ensconced at the Daily Telegraph, supplied the appropriate names of chief departmental subs authorised to take on casuals, and I hammered away with the letters. Mid-Week One, I started to follow up with phone calls. At the end of the first week, the Sun's chief sub asked me in on a casual basis. He said there was a full-time job going in a few weeks and seemed to be interested. Then, quite incredibly, letters started coming back. Most were Nos, but most contained some new lead that sometimes people required subs here and there. Word even came that the Sunday Express was about to start a new colour supplement.
Then came a call from Mr Fallon. I was out at the time, posting more letters of application. Presumably it was Ivan Fallon, city (or business) editor of the Sunday Telegraph. It wasn't, though. It was his brother Padraic Fallon of Euromoney, an outfit I had never heard of. When I contacted Padraic, he told me he was one of the Fallons of the Irish Times, and it seemed they took care of people who came in from Ireland as best they could.
But we were not to meet for a day or two, so I reported in at the Sun as a down-table sub. I was to come in once a week to replace someone who had some weekly commitment that was to be indulged. There was more work in the offing, but it was not yet in sight that first night.
My recollection of the Sun’s subs’ table is bright light and great busyness with subs moving copy up from one stage to another at high speed. Despite the flashiness of the "tea tent tab," to be read male roadside navvies sheltered from the rain by the roads and building sites, there was no flash demanded of down-table subs. What flash there was would be added laer by more senior hands.
In my brief time there—one shift, as I was taken away to Euromoney before I was next scheduled to reappear—it seemed that the reporters gave up on writing stories altogether and simply delivered typescript notes to the subeditors. From these crude blurbs, often with little attempt at punctuation, subs would craft the story anew in longhand on small sheets of paper, much like those 4x8-inch takes we used at the Vancouver Sun, although each sheet had "The Sun" emblazoned on it in red Helvetica bold italic.
My two-shift stint at the Daily Telegraph's financial subs' table—curtailed for the same reason, a full time job at Euromoney—was more or less as I expected in terms of work, though the room where we were confined was a gloomy hole with frosted, wire-reinforced glass windows facing an internal air shaft. It was bit like work at the Gazette or the Sun, editing professionally produced business copy, much of it from news agencies. My fellow subs were the usual solemn souls one finds in that calling, made all the more solemn in the Dickensian gloom.
More Dickensian still was my tour of the composing room, undoubtedly in preparation for the copyboy task of fetching the page proofs for my fellow subs, a task that would fall to the new man. I had been acquainted with antiquated methods at the Irish Press in Dublin, where they used pins instead of scissors to cut copy paper, a technique I doubted was extant in my grandfather's day before World War I in Montreal. But at the Daily Telegraph, I found a page proof-making technique that might have been around in Gutenberg's day.
The phorm, no different from any other hot type operation around the world back then, was pushed from a wheeled turtle table and pushed onto a section of the stone bench. Here it was daubed with ink by one man with a paintbrush, with two others to manhandle a giant rolling pin, which forced the page proof paper on the phorm that produced the finished proof, which emerged pitted with punctures and parts smudged beyond legibility, not a patch on our page proof machines in Montreal.
It was then I learned from the chief sub, who was showing me the ropes, that the tiny 6pt stock prices that filled column after column were typeset by hand—this really was Gutenberg country. That is, every letter was set not by linotype machine, as the rest of the paper was, but by men who had to literally pick out individual letters, punctuation marks and ad slugs while standing before the slant-topped type case, a latticework of tiny boxes within a frame. Not only that, they had to do it all over again in another print shop in Manchester to comply with union agreements. This is the very thing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was fighting against throughout the industrial sector, and what induced Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black in turn to abandon Fleet Street and flee to Canary Wharf downriver to escape the clutches of the Luddites.
My Euromoney interview was amazingly brief. Half of it was me providing the latest news and gossip of Irish politics and journalism. The editor, Padraic Fallon, aka "God," was a man who thirsted for fresh news from home. The other half of the interview was talking about the glories of Euromoney. Then he looked at his watch, said he had to go and told me to start on Monday. I asked him if he had any questions for me. But all he said, as he rushed for the door, was "No, you seem to be a fairly literate fellow."
I started on Monday, but not before I read and reread the articles that touched on the syndicated loan market and anything to do with it, which turned to be quite a lot. This included wars and rumours of wars, under the rubric of "country risk," which interested me greatly; but sadly little else did. The amounts of borrowings, the point spreads, the fluctuations in LIBOR, the overnight London Interbank Bid and Offer Rate, as well as the terms and conditions of the financing themselves left me cold.
I typed out the headlines and a few paragraphs of a number of articles so I could get the look of them on a typescript page as well as a sense of the expository tone and tenor demanded. I rewrote some to see if I could effect any improvement. It paid off. When I arrived Monday, I had a good idea of the task ahead and made bold slashes through an article from a banker who found it difficult to get to the point, which was a matter of refashioning his conclusion as an intro, and leaving it pretty much the same as he wrote it at the end. Fallon seemed mightily pleased with the result, as every piece that went into the hefty magazine was thoroughly vetted by him, often critically with shouts heard the length of the office.
This was a time of considerable Fleet Street drinking. Technically, we were not in Fleet Street as such but in Playhouse Yard, near "Ireland Yard," where I suggested that we open an office to produce a financial investigation magazine. Its name, "Ireland Yard," would be associated with all the glory of "Scotland Yard," the unofficial name of the London Metropolitan Police. Euromoney writer Donal Curtin, who had been the economic advisor to the prime minister of Ireland, was delighted with the idea as we drank ritual noontime pints at the Cockpit pub, shared with journalists of the Observer. There was Derek Bamber, another Irishman from Ulster, who was lately on the staff of the Economist. And one that would join us later from Reuters, David Sheriff, who was fluent in Turkish, having grown up there as the son of a British diplomat.
The big problem was getting a place of my own. There were eight people in the ex-in-laws' house, and while they were okay with letting me stay longer as I now had a good job, there was a palpable pressure to move on. Even my elder daughter Jenny was surprisingly blunt about it, once volunteering that the family had been doing well without me.
I tracked down Simon, who had managed to get a job as a doorman at the House of Horrors in the basement neath the London Palladium and secured a sublet at a classic high-rise London council flat, where I slept on the floor from time to time. Being in Lent, my annual physical spring cleaning, I stopped smoking and drinking, which imposed a useful discipline on life.
This was when my brother Joel arrived on holiday with his wife, Ginny. She returned to Montreal after a few days. I do not remember why Joel stayed on another week, but the important aspect was that he and Simon became fast friends.
Enter Adam Ruck, a currency forecaster in Euromoney's econometrics department, which was peopled with young graduates or near-graduates from the nearby London School of Economics whose talents seemed to be an ability to be trenchantly vague in their predictions. Adam, while employed full time, was busy with his other irons in the fire, which included jobs with a magazine called Travel Which, since turned into Which magazine. He offered to have me share the expense of a house he had recently bought in Wandsworth. He had a flat mate, but she was giving indications of moving in with her boyfriend. I took him up on this offer and we lived cheerfully together without complaint, at least after I was properly trained to put the toilet seat down after using it. It had never been a priority with me, though I learned to live with it.
Our address at 28 Algarve Road, Wandsworth, was not three minutes’ walk from Earlsfield Station, where every morning, properly togged in City attire and with my Daily Telegraph, I joined throngs of fellow commuters on the train into Waterloo. Then I would walk along the south shore to Blackfriars Bridge, cross the river to Ludgate Circus at the foot of Fleet Street, and wend my way to Playhouse Yard in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Maggie Thatcher was at the height of her power, and the left was staging street demonstrations and undoubtedly fomenting the riots in Brixton, next to Wandsworth. One morning I ran into Adam at breakfast. He was gleefully reading the accounts in The Times of the Brixton riots the day before. He was sure it would increase the value of his £30,000 house, even joked that he suspected the Wandsworth Rate Payers Association had fomented the riots to arrest the distressing news that Brixton was to be the next trendy neighbourhood in London. The rioting was serious, though, the first time that it was continuing day after day, rather in the way it had done in Harlem and Watts in the US.
The other big news of the day was what I came to call the "Royal Wadding," because it stuffed the newspapers day after day, driving me to read the Financial Times recreationally, where I discovered with some pride how large Canada loomed in the FT's news columns. We may have been boring, but we were big. I am pretty much a monarchist, but my interest in Prince Charles's coming nuptials was minimal, even though it was supposed to happen not two minutes away from the office, at St Paul's Cathedral.
The press was alive with charges that the root cause of the Brixton riots was racism in the police, but what struck me from the TV footage I saw was that the rioters, black and white, were throwing bricks into the faces of policemen in a touching spirit of togetherness. And by this time, I had little sympathy with the police and had my own admittedly simplistic theory of the conflict: that the trouble started when they made policemen white-collar workers. When they were blue-caller workers, i.e., wore blue shirts, they were civil and polite. But as soon as they donned white shirts, they even looked like SS men and developed an unseemly arrogance that was quite absent when I first encountered them nearly two decades earlier.
Much to my surprise, within a week or two of my brother meeting Simon, they decided to go to Canada, where Wee Bro was certain Simon could do better for himself than he had been doing as the doorman at the House of Horrors.
Life went on grimly at Euromoney. I liked the people, indeed admired nearly all of them. Usually, in
every editorial operation I found myself, I was in the top five of the intellects in the office, and among my contemporaries, in the top two or three. Not here. At Euromoney, proportions were reversed. I was now at the bottom of the heap. My most notable lack was my comparative innumeracy, mathematical illiteracy. I was amazed how so many in my present company effortlessly brought mathematical input to arguments they were making, where contending forces were proportioned with considerable exactness. In cruder fashion, I soon did so myself, with some reward. We were frequently in discussion about something contentious, and I found they were just as likely to fall prey to pet theories that were as fallible as those coming from lesser intellects. I also found that in friendly arguments, which we frequently had in pubs, I could hold my own if I had a firm grasp of the fundamentals. It was nice not to feel inferior at every level to these guys.
But I was less competent at what they paid me for. I was the chief sub, but I was by no means the best sub. I had two below me. One, named Liz, had once been a communist and was now very much an ex-communist—so much so that she went to every National Union of Journalists meetings to raise the alarm in case the Reds pulled something underhanded. Such as using low turnout at these ill-attended gatherings to provide them with a bare street-legal quorum, enabling them to make egregious changes unopposed.
My strong suit has never been proofreading, and it was the task I dreaded most. So I carefully assigned the most interesting articles to my two subs, the other being a grumpy young man who did not mix with us and who seemed pleased to find fault with copy, two characteristics that recommended him to me. I took on the dreariest and most technical articles, where mistakes were least likely to be found because they were least likely to be read.
Still, mistakes were found. Six months passed and Adam left Euromoney to take up full duties at Travel Which. This involved him touring France methodically and writing detailed descriptions of all that he saw and experienced. So for two weeks he was away and for two weeks he was in town writing at the Travel Which offices.
Although the money was rolling in and being banked, my misery was growing. Adam had been disappointed in love—not very seriously, but he was a little mournful on one of the Saturday mornings when we sometimes shared a breakfast and coffee. I was consoling him on his loss, saying that our life together, while unexciting, was pleasant enough. He responded to my cheerful bromide with a reply that I remember word for word: "But one does want one to want one, doesn't one?" he asked plaintively. Say it aloud to better understand why I nearly fell off my stool.
By this time, I was not interested in getting a girl. They were expensive and unrewarding. I did miss Marianne in Dublin, who had since found herself a millionaire. She was about the only one with whom I could have an interesting conversation and fun. Still, the idea of being a kept man was too much to contemplate.
My feeling of not wanting to be in a relationship in which one was always at the pumps keeping it afloat was further strengthened by a new situation I found myself in: a love triangle—fortunately with only observer status. These were two friends I had known before. One was Tony, whom I had known as the owner of a small grocery store in West Kensington in 1966; the other was Viv, whom I first met in Notting Hill Gate in 1967, and was again tangentially involved with in 1974 when Alan Ritchie and I rented her flat on Clapham Common.
How I found these two in Wandsworth at the Alma pub, I quite forget. Viv had married a prosperous dentist, whose name I cannot recall, while she was romantically involved with Tony. I was asked to keep secrets of this squalid triangle, and would be expected to leave when Tony and Viv were in furtive liaison but otherwise talk to the dentist about dentistry, about which he would cheerfully expound when not voicing his suspicions to me through oblique questions about Viv's absences and whereabouts. Or when waiting with Tony, who had become a minor expert on Cockney rhyming slang and was quite entertaining on the subject. Viv had little to say when she arrived and would either be swept away by Tony or carry on desultory social chit-chat whenever the dentist, Tony and I found ourselves uncomfortably sharing a table at the Alma.
I mention this because it began to represent 90 per cent of my social life. I advertised in Time Out for a girl, an act I ascribed to supply-side economics in that there were so many people advertising for partners, I found myself doing what the Romans do. You might as well have asked me why I smoked cigarettes. Two responded. One was a low scorer in the looks department and, while intelligent, had no other features of interest. The other was also intelligent and passed muster in appearance but was high-strung and judgmental, and managed to reject me before I rejected her.
A more promising girlfriend I met at a function. She was a subeditor at the Middle East Economic Digest, an Oxford grad. We were so ideal for each other that we managed to convince ourselves for two or three weeks that we were in love. Then abruptly and simultaneously realised we weren't and broke up, taking different trains from the same railway platform. I remember the loudspeaker announcing, "All change at Crewe," which is what we did.
These were dreary times of too much drinking. I found myself in cricket whites playing for the Euromoney side, called the City Gentlemen Eleven. I was no better at this that I was at subbing, having never played before and not being a sporting sort except in musketry.
Every month my duties took me from Paddington Station down to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, where the magazine was put to bed and final proofs were read. It was exhausting and stressful work, down "in the shires," as we called them, as the locals all spoke like Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings movie. But I never felt like doing anything except drink coffee and get as much sleep as I could in the chilly seaside hotel. On these trips we went through Bath, where I caught glimpses of Georgian terraces in the distance as the train swept by. We stopped in Bristol, and I longed to have a look at the place for all sorts of historical reasons and the fact that one of my favourite teachers came from there. But there was never time.
What few pleasures there were while waiting for the errors to be found in the new edition of the magazine were few and infrequent. One was a weekly fixture with David Twiston Davies, whose task at the Daily Telegraph as an obituary writer he found most rewarding. Geoff Frost and Tony Nunn, also ex-EADT reporters and currently with the Daily Telegraph, also joined us at the Bell pub in Fleet Street. We jokingly called ourselves the East Anglian Daily Times Fleet Street Alumni Association. I remember little of these encounters except that they were congenial and one of the few bright spots in my life.
One of the most amusing incidents was when our IT guy failed in his attempt to determine what countries possessed the best and worst economies that year. He came up with outlandish conclusions, naming the best as Liberia and the worst, France. It was a "garbage-in, garbage-out" situation before anyone heard of the phrase. It was equally clear that if such results were published, Euromoney would be the laughingstock of Fleet Street. What's more, the rubbishy results of the IT boffin's calculations were a long time coming, never having been attempted before. The deadline for the finished product—boastfully announced in the previous edition with great fanfare, extolling the slam-dunk exactitude of our much-vaunted computer technology—was less than two weeks away. No time for a total re-do.
This left Liz, my No. 1 sub, to sneer in her donnish manner: "How can the GDP of Liberia be known when they haven't had a proper census ever?!"
This left God, aka Padraic Fallon, pacing the reporters’ room looking grim-faced. Every now and then he would say, in that ex-cathedra tone of his: "Taiwan . . . Turkey . . . Thailand." I remember the first lot began with "T" and soon he had his top 10, saying he would sort out the losers later. Donal Curtin was detailed to make it so and credit the computer with some role in formulating the conclusions.
When I arrived the next morning, I announced the Financial Times' most inconvenient tidings—that Rhodesia's GDP had a double-digit increase. Rhodesia, still struggling to survive, was not on God's Most Favoured Nation list. Donal Curtin, who was bending to his task of making God's dead reckoning appear as settled computer science, looked like he had been there all night squaring circles. He gave me the most evil looks and snarled a word indicating that he had read the FT's Rhodesia report. I was quite amused that despite battering from boycotts and economic sanctions Rhodesia might conceivably rank as the world's top economy. Of course, not only would such a thing ignore the will of God, it would also cause a call for data and raise questions Euromoney was ill-prepared to answer.
Soon the cyber snafu, with Donal's skillful handling, came and went unnoticed, as God's judgment as to the best/worst of the world's economies seemed to match everyone else's. It was clear that my stock was sinking as nicks and gashes appeared in various columns, blurbs, heads and decks.
What's more, I was receiving news from Simon, now in Montreal under Wee Bro's wing and getting on famously, writing essays about Canada in a way Alistair Cooke might have done on the BBC in his Letters from America. Simon was broadcasting from Radio Canada International to Africa and the Caribbean and having a great time. In fact, everyone in Montreal was having a great time. I began to gloomily reflect on Dr Johnson's saying that "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." Well, I did not know if I was tired of life, but I was certainly tired of London.
But then came the big snafu: “Toyko.” I could have dodged the bullet, but I chose not to. It was my error: I had missed the misspelled Tokyo in the main headline of the lead article. Fallon was pissed off and I accepted my dismissal without demur. I was sacked on the spot.
I had a final drink with Derek Bamber at the Bell, where I was surprised to meet him. I collected my money from Barclays Bank that had mushroomed into £6,000. It was soon time to head off to Heathrow and home.