As ever, it’s been a bit of a week. Although I’ve already squeaked to those on my private Facebook page a few days ago, I can finally let a big cat out of a straining bag and tell you all that as of today, I have a Brand New Job as a full time trainee news reporter with my local newspaper, the Echo.
It’s been a long journey of job applications – over 300 saved in a folder in my email inbox marked Jobs Applied For, and many more CVs dropped in along the High Street, adverts answered in shop windows and newspapers, and a few jobs picked up and not worked out along the way. I remember the day the advert appeared in the back of the Echo for trainee reporters. I didn’t see it myself, but that morning I learned which of my friends read the Echo on their lunch break, as a slew of text messages, emails and phonecalls ensued telling me that there was an advert in the newspaper that I write a weekly column for, looking for trainee news reporters.
The night before my interview, I sat up all night, scribbling notes on different coloured flash cards about the Press Complaints Commission, codes of ethics, the right to a reputation, children in the media, media law, the Ws, and other guidelines, boundaries and legal nuances that I just might be asked about in my interview. I went to bed, sleep ignored me, so I sat at my dining table all night muttering the contents of my flash cards aloud to myself. Come 7am, I downed a cafetiere of coffee, ironed my shirt for the third time, changed my mind about it, ironed a different one, put the original one back on, and missed my train.
The next one was delayed for over an hour. Swearing, clutching my portfolio, and calling everyone I knew that might give me a lift to my interview, I eventually pulled up in a taxi, shook my way through the interview, chewed my fingernails and irritated my friends for the ensuing three weeks of not hearing anything.
The Tuesday before last, having pulled Small Boy out of nursery because I couldn’t afford the top up on the fees any longer, I broke down sobbing at the Storehouse – the food bank I queued up at in the bitter cold every Tuesday morning to collect a tin of beans, a tin of tomatoes, cereal, bread and fruit. Volunteers at the Storehouse sat me down, have me a cup of hot sweet tea, took Small Boy off to play with some other children, and gently reassured me that I was doing okay.
As I left, my phone rang, and I stood in speechless silence as I was told that they would like to offer me the job.
When I was a little girl, I wrote things. I wrote stories, songs, poems, plays, essays, musings, ditties. Friends and family bought me notebooks for my birthday and Christmas every year, and I filled them with words. English was the only subject that I achieved an A for achievement on my report cards, followed by the lowest mark for effort.
I’m no stranger to the press, in a queer juxtaposition that occurs when you both write the stories, and are the stories. I appeared in the Echo in August, prior to opening up my home to sell everything I owned, to reconcile rent arrears and utility bills that had accrued in my period of unemployment. I was the subject of a double page spread in the Sunday People just before Christmas, have been mentioned in the Independent, and recently cooked for Xanthe Clay, the food and cookery writer for the Telegraph for an upcoming feature.
I started to contribute to the Echo on the Reader Pictures section of the Letters page a few years ago, occasionally submitting seascapes, photographs of local life, and sunsets by the pier. A year ago I moved from Reader Pictures to the Letters page, popping up on a regular basis, usually to shake my fist verbally at something that had irked me. From the Letters page I moved to writing my own online blog, reporting and commenting on local events, local politics, and my own experiences as a single mother living in the centre of the town.
Some people know that I used to model for friends who were photographers, before I decided to take up photography myself. In the same vein, having been the story, I’m more than content to write them these days, and it is here that I find myself embarking on a new adventure as a full time news reporter. I will still be running my craft business in the background, still photographing, still cooking, but a year of sitting through every Council meeting, every scrutiny committee, taking down copious notes and quotes and painstakingly filing Cabinet papers and agendas for future reference appears to have finally paid off.
I wrote back in July, before the Big Open House Sale:
“This morning, small boy had one of the last Weetabix, mashed with water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with. ‘Where’s Mummys breakfast?’ he asks, big blue eyes and two year old concern. I tell him I’m not hungry, but the rumblings of my stomach call me a liar. But these are the things that we do…. Poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off. Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”
After over a year of this, of learning how to live on a food budget of £10 a week or less, I’m finally going to have a regular salary again, a desk with a mug on it, and hopefully I’ll never have to tell Small Boy that there is no bread or jam again.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe