Fair’s fair

Coop PaulI’m off out with the girls tonight – a reunion with the women I used to see all day every day when we worked together but now, almost two decades on, struggle to manage a get together twice a year. We were drawn together by a shared love of women’s magazines and clung together for emotional warmth in the days when magazines had scary, whim-driven Devil Wears Prada-style group editors.

Samples to be tested in the hope they would end up on the hallowed fashion, beauty or food pages would come in by the sack load. I sat opposite the beauty editor and thought I’d died and gone to heaven when my first Friday coincided with the monthly beauty sale. That month’s cache of samples and freebies were laid out on the craft editor’s desk and put on sale for pennies. Far from being a jumble-sale-style free-for-all it was a delicate, finely tuned distribution process carried out with the precision, tact and sense of justice of a Red Cross relief delivery. In a barely perceptible coincidence of timing and product placement the editor, deputy and editor’s PA would get first dibs, but they in turn would be careful not to abuse the privilege, only picking one choice item each before ensuring that the humble work experience girl would be presented with a suitably impressive souvenir of her month stuck in the windowless fashion cupboard ticking off and packaging up clothes to be returned to the fashion PRs. Then it was time to open the sale to all comers – the boys from the post room would be invited to pick something for their mums and girlfriends as well as the girls from switchboard (yes it was that long ago) and the IT department. The beauty sales were presided over by a fair and rigorous system – controlled in part by common decency and in part to avoid being known as the greedy cow who hogged all the goodies.

All this is a very longwinded way of saying that young and inexperienced as we were, we still knew we were in the privileged position of having access to treats and opportunities that were denied to many. It may have just been an expensive new foundation or a tub of gold anti-frizz wax, but they were perks and perks came with responsibilities. They were enjoyed, but they were shared, and the pennies we bought them for went to local charities. Those who didn’t get it and took advantage were shown the door. I’ll never forget the look on one work experience girl’s face when she was caught cheerfully and innocently photocopying all the contacts books she could lay her hands on.  She’d got it into her tiny, ambitious head that “contacts” were valuable currency in journalism, but hadn’t quite worked out that the privilege of having Glenda Jackson or Pierce Brosnan’s home phone number was earned not stolen. Editors, news editors and senior reporters before her had spent mind-numbingly tedious years proving their worth in coroners courts, council chambers and attending the openings of phone boxes before they were sent to interview a Monty Python or a James Bond. Not just to pay their dues, but to prove that they could be trusted with information that affected other people’s lives. Fortunately, she was seen by an eagle-eyed sub editor whose job it was to spot young reporters’ blunders on or off the page. The wannabe reporter was frisked, given a Fergie style blast of the hairdryer and sent on her way. She was put straight before she could do any lasting damage to her own or anyone else’s career.

What a shame the same couldn’t be said for shamed Co-Op boss Paul Flowers. Throughout his years working for charities, churches and banks, where was the responsible person who could have firmly pointed out that claiming thousands of pounds a year on dinners out and hotel bills was greedy and unprofessional and in the real world, where people earning far, far less pay for their own nights out and holidays, wholly unforgivable?

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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