His & Hers Page 2

I know everyone by name, including the cleaners still sweeping the floor. It costs almost nothing to be kind and I have a very efficient memory, despite the drink. Once past security – a little more thorough than it used to be, thanks to the state of the world we have curated for ourselves – I stare down at the newsroom and it feels like home. Cocooned inside the basement of the BBC building, but visible from every floor, the newsroom resembles a brightly lit red-and-white open-plan warren. Almost every available space is filled with screens and tightly packed desks, with an eclectic collection of journalists sitting behind each one.

These people aren’t just my colleagues, they’re like a dysfunctional surrogate family. I’m almost forty years old, but I don’t have anyone else. No children. No husband. Not anymore. I’ve worked here for almost twenty years but, unlike those with friends or family connections, I started right at the bottom. I took a few detours along the way, and the stepping-stones to success were sometimes quite slippery, but I got where I wanted to be, eventually.

Patience is the answer to so many of life’s questions.

Serendipity smiled at me when the previous presenter of the programme left. She went into labour a month early, and five minutes before the lunchtime bulletin. Her waters broke and I got my lucky break. I’d just come back from maternity leave myself – earlier than planned – and was the only correspondent in the newsroom with any presenting experience. All of which was overtime and overnight – the shifts nobody else wanted – I was that desperate for any opportunity that might help my career. Presenting a network bulletin was something I had been dreaming of my whole life.

There was no time for a trip to hair and make-up that day. They rushed me on set and did what they could, powdering my face at the same time as they miked me up. I practised reading the headlines on the autocue, and the director was calm and kind in my earpiece. His voice steadied me. I don’t remember much about that first half-hour programme, but I do recall the congratulations afterwards. From newsroom nobody to network presenter in less than an hour.

My boss is called The Thin Controller behind his slightly hunched back. He’s a small man trapped inside a tall man’s body. He also has a speech impediment. It prevents him from pronouncing his Rs, and the rest of the newsroom from taking him seriously. He has never been good at filling gaps on rotas so, after my successful debut, he decided to let me fill in until the end of that week. Then the next. A three-month contract as a presenter – instead of my staff position – swelled into six, after that it was extended to the end of the year accompanied by a nice little pay rise. Viewing figures went up when I started presenting the programme, so I was allowed to stay. My predecessor never returned; she got pregnant again while on maternity leave and hasn’t been seen since. Almost two years later, I’m still here and expect my latest contract to be renewed any day.

I take my seat between the editor and the lead producer, then clean my desk and keyboard with an antibacterial wipe. There is no telling who might have been sitting here overnight. The newsroom never sleeps, and sadly not everyone in it adheres to my preferred level of hygiene. I open up the running order and smile; it still gives me a little thrill to see my name at the top:

Newsreader: Anna Andrews.

I start writing the intros for each story. Despite popular opinion, presenters don’t just read the news, we write it. Or at least I do. Newsreaders, like normal human beings, come in all shapes and sizes. There are several who have crawled so far up their own arses I’m amazed they can still sit down, let alone read an autocue. The nation would be appalled if they knew how some of their so-called national treasures behaved behind the scenes. But I won’t tell. Journalism is a game with more snakes than ladders. Getting to the top takes a long time, and one wrong move can land you right back down at the bottom. Nobody is bigger than the machine.

The morning breezes by just like any other: a constantly evolving running order, conversations with correspondents in the field, discussions with the director about graphics and screens. There is an almost permanent queue of reporters and producers waiting to talk to the editor beside me. More often than not, to request a longer duration for their package or two-way.

Everyone always wants just a little more time.

I don’t miss those days at all: begging to get on-air, constantly fretting when I didn’t. There simply isn’t time to tell every story.

The rest of the team are unusually quiet. I take a quick look to my left, and notice that the producer has the latest rota up on her screen. She closes it down as soon as she sees me looking. Rotas are second only to breaking news when it comes to increasing stress levels in the newsroom. They come out late and rarely go down well, with the distribution of the most unpopular shifts – lates, weekends, overnights – always cause for contention. I work Monday to Friday now, and haven’t requested any leave for over six months, so, unlike my poor colleagues, there is nothing rota-shaped for me to worry about.

An hour before the programme, I visit make-up. It’s a nice place to escape to, relatively peaceful and quiet compared with the constant noise of the newsroom. My hair is blow-dried into an obedient chestnut bob, and my face is covered with HD-grade foundation. I wear more make-up for work than I did for my wedding. The thought forces me to retreat inside myself for a moment, and I feel the ridge of indentation on my finger, where my ring used to be.

The programme goes mostly according to plan, despite a few last-minute changes while we are on-air: some breaking news, a delayed TV package, a camera with a mind of its own in the studio, and a dodgy feed from Washington. I’m forced to wrap up an over-enthusiastic political correspondent in Downing Street, one who regularly takes up more than their allotted time. Some people like the sound of their own voices a little too much.

The debrief begins while I’m still on set, waiting to say goodbye to viewers after the weather segment. Nobody wants to hang around any longer than absolutely necessary after the programme, so they always start without me. It’s a gathering of correspondents and producers who worked on the show, but is also attended by representatives of other departments: home news, foreign news, editing, graphics, as well as The Thin Controller.

I swing by my desk to collect my Tupperware carrier before joining everyone, keen to share my latest culinary creations with the team. I haven’t told anyone that it’s my birthday today yet, but I might.

I make my way across the newsroom towards them, and stop briefly when I see a woman I don’t recognise. She has her back to me, with two small children dressed in matching outfits by her side. I notice the cute cupcakes my colleagues are already eating. Not homemade – like mine – but shop-bought and expensive-looking. Then I return my attention to the woman handing them out. I stare at her bright red hair, framing her pretty face with a bob so sharp it could have been cut with a laser. When she turns and smiles in my direction it feels like a slap.

Someone passes me a glass of warm prosecco, and I see the drinks trolley that management always orders from catering whenever a member of staff leaves. It happens a lot in this business. The Thin Controller taps his glass with an overgrown fingernail, then he starts to speak, strange-sounding words tumbling out of his crumb-covered lips.

‘We can’t wait to welcome you back…’

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