Category Archives: office

High fashion and Publishing Chic

Until last week, I worked for Macmillan Children’s Books – an ancient and illustrious publisher home to Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book, Judy Blume and The Gruffalo. The offices are situated in the heart of Kings Cross’s trendy redevelopment.

Just round the corner is what I believe to be a training school for Mac Cosmetics. (More below about why this is uncertain.)  Every morning and evening, employees of the two businesses walk up and down Wharfdale Road from the tube to their place of work and back. At lunch-time they take a similar route, this time to the nearby Pret.

The workforce of both institutions is almost exclusively female, and to an observer in the street, there is no question at all who works for Mac and who works for Mac-millan.

The Macmillan staff are characterised by their woolly jumpers and dungarees, colourful tights and pinafores. They carry ‘Books are My Bag’ bags and wear glasses. There is an abundance of patterned skirts, flat shoes, fingerless gloves and cardigans.

Books are my Bag

The Mac staff are dressed entirely in black. But it’s not a uniform. The brief seems to be that they can wear anything at all provided that it’s black, tight, shiny, accompanied by high heels, and complemented with make-up that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vaudeville act or a Burlesque club.

You’ll notice that I haven’t actually named any specific items of clothing or styles. That’s because I don’t know anything about fashion – I’m one of the woolly jumper and patterned skirts people. These Mac girls (and they are all very young) wear garments that I don’t even know the name of. Their clothes defy ordinary descriptions such as ‘skirt’, or ‘jumper’ or ‘dress’.

I’m well aware that I sound like someone’s maiden aunt here. But I’m actually not judging – just describing. This is clearly the way you have to look if you’re working for a high-end cosmetics brand. It’s simply that that world is so far removed from anything that I know about, that it’s like looking at an alien species.

So why the uncertainty about the identity of the Mac Training School? Well, while everyone in my office always referred to it by that name, for the purposes of this blog post I wanted to check that that was its formal title. So I Googled it.  And it doesn’t appear to exist.

A couple of generic postcode-finder sites refer to ‘Mac Cosmetics’ with an address on Wharfdale Road, but with no further information. And aside from that, it doesn’t appear under any other type of search.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that the place is actually a top-secret front for some kind of spy operation. The black clothes are possibly Ninja costumes, and the whole cosmetics-training angle is just a cunning rumour, propagated to explain the staff’s outlandish appearance and allow them to buy their lunch from Pret undetected.

But no longer – I’ve blown their cover!

Meanwhile, tomorrow I start a new job at HarperCollins Children’s Books, home of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, David Walliams and Dr. Seuss. This is situated in The News Building – a huge glass box next to the Shard, that also houses The Times and Sun. I wonder whether the styles of the people working for those three organisations will be equally distinctive.

 

So what do they wear in your office – and what does that say about the people who work there? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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