The abhorrent panic!
My heart, lungs and entire stomach contents lurching upwards in one sudden, violent movement, and my forehead burning taut with incomprehension. And terror.
Blog day. A brilliant piece ready and it had just … disappeared!
The night before, as I bumbled up the stairs to bed, my head was still spinning after a busy Sunday night production shift on the newspaper sports desk.
I would be up early this morning for the usual school morning ruckus with dogs and kids, and then quickly upstairs to write my latest Endastories epic — I was full of the usual excitement and trepidation as my head hit the pillow.
Brain was soon going at it big time, wildly free-associating and alluding, tossing up images and blinding intuitions, alternating nonsense with genius word riffs that vanished as quickly as they arrived.
In those blinky moments before actually waking, I was finally happy I knew exactly what I was going to write.
I could actually see it, in the form of one of the newspaper articles I had been working on all evening.
But then my eyes opened in cartoon panic when I suddenly realised all the words had vanished from my newspaper page!
Bleak, blank text boxes snaked around the central photograph on the page of a little girl in a soft pink sweater, which I now recognised as my wife’s.
And I remembered more: smack in the middle of my nighttime reveries, brain had thrown up this appalling vista; my wife and I in the car, coming around a bend, her driving … we were in the countryside, I was aware of a field on our left, when, eek!, the same little girl, with long tumbling tresses like our K when she was that age, was standing in the middle of the road, sideways on to us, gazing at the daisy she had just plucked, and I was screaming at A to veer right, grabbing the wheel …
Association is the best part of looking at dreams, of course, and this one was pretty rich.
Oh, don’t worry, we didn’t hit the girl! Brain jump-cut to another scene … I don’t remember what.
There was the excitement of writing a new piece mixed with the fear of failing to come up with something decent.
Of drawing a blank.
The panic of losing the story was pretty raw, as I had been working the previous night with a newspaper I hadn’t worked with before.
I don’t know what newspapers are like elsewhere, but here, in Ireland, national newspapers have their own way of doing things.
I laugh sometimes when I hear about people starting new jobs — nay, career transitioning — weeks of inductions, and meetings, and getting to know the work gang … you know, paintball weekends and bonding bolloxology bordering on the spiritual, and you’re finally ready to take your place on the greatest team on earth …
In the newspaper world here, you land into a busy place, are introduced to the main person, who is up to their eyeballs actually getting the newspaper ready.
They direct you to the nearest computer station that is free, and assign one of the team to get you set up. This person is also working in stories, so has just a couple of minutes to talk you through it all.
You have grabbed a banjaxed office chair, jacked it up or down to something approaching your specifications, and are now sat in front of your screen, at a desk space with more coffee cup rings than the Olympic symbol, and littered with old newspapers and discarded page proofs, which you elbow aside to establish your personal work station.
You sign in to their production system — this is assuming you have been lucky enough to get hold of an IT guy and have your own log-in and password, by no means a given.
In between working on laying out stories, editing, captioning and composing snappy headlines, your designated guide will give you a quick outline of how the production scenario works — and each system is different, slightly or a lot — and you sit there, trying to look nonchalantly seasoned, as you scribble a few notes on the back of an article proof, since you forgot, of course, to bring a notebook.
And that’s it, induction, bonding and enlightenment all in a couple of snatched 60-second bursts, and you are off: editing away, sweating out headlines and the rest.
You have assembled and intuited just enough to be able to call up stories and work on them.
When you hit a problem or style issue, maybe, you ask one of the busy gang casually, as if just seeking a reminder of something you already knew.
Induction, my arse, as Jim Royle might put it.
As a freelance, the fear of f***ing up is never far away, especially on this first evening in a new place.
I had been called in only a couple of hours before the shift started.
Just time to shower, get O up to speed and let my wife know — she was out clothes shopping with K and a pal, and it took three calls because she didn’t immediately hear the phone in the shopping centre — and order a taxi. Actually, three cab companies before I get one to bring me to the train station — and charge me a small fortune on this Sunday afternoon.
The sub-editing part is fine — it’s what I do — it’s the getting used to their particular production system, and house styles, that generates the pressure, and all the while I’m nosing on an endless supply of nibbles and food from my bag, and quaffing coffee. Nerves.
The odd “How is it going?” from the lads expertly busy on the main desk — a grand bunch, I am sure — and me piping back “grand!”
I’m an experienced hack, me!
It’s exciting too, of course, and the evening actually passed quickly.
The other associations around my dream are more personal.
Let’s just say we have a canvas poster of K as a toddler with those same tumbling blonde tresses as the kid in the newspaper photo in my dream.
That’s the main picture accompanying this piece
When K was 18 months old, I wrote a little poem after watching her playing in the garden:
For K at 18 months
Grinning, spinning, in accelerating circles of delight
Outstretched fingers plucking at the breeze
Dribbling cherub in light purple summer dress
With daisies on chocolate-spattered bodice
Swerving, curving on patch of city garden
Revelling in the determined random
Unimagined imagination throws up
Stumbling, drawn-out fall
Querying ‘Ooh!’ of dizzied delight
Precisely stepping off the hem to rise for more
Me, standing back, not needed but vital
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