Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaving Oxford in 100 blog posts: 5. Woodside

It was September 1994, and my Significant Ex and I had been back from travelling for over a year. Since the previous November I had been working in Andover, living with my parents, who had accidentally moved there a few years earlier, and spending a chunk of every Friday night and a chunk of every Sunday afternoon driving myself to Oxford and back by 2cv to see him (and to not be in Andover). It was workable, but it was not sustainable. He was working in Newbury, so in theory we could have moved there and I could have commuted, but a) why would you live in Newbury, or indeed anywhere near it, unless you're the kind of person who has a horsebox and a Range Rover, and b) I hated my job. So I started buying the Oxford Times every weekend, and taking it back to Andover to scour the jobs pages.

I applied for anything that looked even remotely like a job I could do, but I didn't get very far. These were the Major years, and it was still all looking a bit grim. But then I saw a job for a Production Editor at a small publishing company based just outside Oxford. I didn't know what a Production Editor did, but I applied anyway (when I was drunk, but that's another story) and duly found myself arriving at Woodside to be interviewed. By P, who read my CV, said 'well you seem bright enough, let's see what you can do', and gave me an article to copyedit on screen. I was very nervous, and dimly aware of movement behind me. I later found out he was making 'she might be the one' gesticulations at C, who was working at the next desk and trying to make him stop.

I was the one. Although it turned out C wanted to be the Production Editor, so I got his job, which was Reporter. It was a bit easier to understand what a Reporter did, so I didn't mind. What I was Reporting on, though, was in the main totally baffling, being the European information industry, which in those days was still largely dial-up leased line databases which were searched with their own command line languages. There was Telnet (but only in the morning, before America got out of bed). There were obscure data protocols called things like Z39.50. There were CD-ROMs, but most computers didn't have a CD-ROM drive to read them. There was email, but it was mostly Compuserve, where you didn't have a name, you had a number (mine was 100632.151). It came down the phone line. If you had a modem/phone line splitter, you were pretty cool. If that was what you thought cool was.

Woodside garden roomFortunately, I did. Because from all of that, came the internet, which (if you don't count the pr0n) is still about the coolest thing ever. And because I got to work at Woodside and Report on it (and on some other things -- I was Managing Editor of Library Manager magazine for a while, and not a lot of people can say that), I got to watch the world wide web emerge from its geeky chrysalis, spread its wings and change the world. And write about it. It was ace.

At some point during this period though, I split up with my Significant Ex. For related reasons, there came a point where I had to leave Woodside. But, as Lloyd Cole once said about Charlotte Street, it was never my intention to stay so long.

Many of the people I met there, though, are still part of my life. We had a Woodside Editorial Dream Team ("for a time, in the mid-90s, almost nobody in Europe knew as much about this shit as we did, probably") reunion last Christmas, with attendance from Oxford, Abingdon, Nantwich, London and Arizona. C and I used to argue like cat and dog (including about which of us got to be the dog), but these days I am properly genuinely fond of him. M developed the software for Index to Theses, currently (tho' not for much longer) run by P, and C is also involved, doing something involving abstracts that I have never fully understood. When P turned 60 a couple of years ago, he invited us all to a Works Outing in London, which involved sewers and speedboats and sherry and was altogether excellent. I have made many good friends at NGO X, but the IWR* years, and the people associated with them, will always have a special place in my heart.

And in my last months in Oxford, I have by chance come back to live near Woodside. By slightly less chance, M still does little bits of work for various of the spin off businesses that grew up when the mothership imploded, as it was always going to once it was bought by Big Publisha. One of them ended up back at Woodside, as it was always going to, what took it so long? But then we heard that the building had been sold, and was (is) shortly going to be demolished, to make way for five "luxury homes". Because we need more of them.

But you can't fight progress, and M and I duly made a short (but brutal, as it was by bike, and anyone who ever cycled to Woodside will remember that hill) pilgrimage to see J and L during their last week in the building, and to say goodbye to the place. I hadn't been there for years. Maybe not since I left in 1999. When we arrived, the first person we saw was Dave Bond, the handyman-cum-caretaker who once cut through the ISDN line to London and nearly stopped us going to press, resurrected from retirement to clear musty rooms of their history. We sat in the office that Big Publisha Clive once extended so it would accommodate his ego, and caught up on the old days with two people who were old hands when I was but a Bright Young Thing. It was like a timewarp, but in a good way (apart from the dead flies), because the vast majority of my memories of the place are happy ones.

The tannoyThe doorstep I used to smoke on with J the receptionist. The tannoy through which she would announce "Sandwich lady's here, everyone! Sandwich lady!" and we would pile out the door to buy brie and cranberry on multigrain out of a Boars Hill yummy mummy's BMW boot.

The unheated swimming pool we would jump into every sunny lunchtime from May to September, still the best lunchbreaks I have ever had. The cherry tree Dave the Rave and I would lie under after jumping into the pool, nursing our vodka hangovers.

The server room occupied by a series of unpleasant men, with the honourable exceptions of Yasser, a Palestinian asylum seeker who was IT guy when I arrived and who presided over a collection of PCs that nobody ever bothered screwing back together, so often did they need to be taken apart, and Michael -- Irish, mostly stoned, and willing to supply you with dope, so he was, as part of his unreliable service.

The garden room, where important meetings (and job interviews) were held, now full of dead flies. The editorial office, where Library Manager guest editor J V W, from the featureless interior of the US of A, fell asleep face down on her keyboard one afternoon, causing C and me to email each other in silent hysterics, wondering what we should do if she'd actually died. The small archive room known as the library where we used to record our phone interviews, which Marketing wanted to expand into, sparking a 'Today the library, tomorrow Poland!' guerrilla poster campaign.

Neglected swimming poolThe residents block, home to random self-employed people (including, for a while, the newly separated M, who slept in his office on a camp bed), transient lost souls, and an alcoholic postman called John who would boil lumps of meat in an aluminium pan for hours and hours and hours, until the whole ground floor stank of cheap dead pig.

Which was a slight improvement on the smell of dead rodent, which we had to deal with one winter when something died under the floorboards of the editorial office, and we spent several weeks typing in fingerless gloves, on account of the cold, and burning joss sticks, on account of the stench.

And yet, and yet, it was my first proper job, and without it I would not be the woman I am today. Whatever kind of woman that is. Oh, and it's where I met M. If you hadn't worked that out already.


*I link to the website reluctantly. It's not even half the publication it used to be, and that's not just because I don't write for it anymore.

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Blogger Spine said...

I live in fear of managing editors. To think you were once one.

9:34 am  
Blogger Jo said...

I was. But I doubt very much that I scared anyone, there's not a lot of urgency in the world of library management.

10:47 am  

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