Three years ago, redundancy came my way and I shuffled onto this ledge in the cruel daze of being without a job. What follows is a catch-up in the experiment known as my life.
The slightly older and hardly at all wiser version of me has a few things to say to that man as he contemplates life after 27 years on the same newspaper.
Mainly the old me wants to say: what were you thinking of? Staying put like that suggests a chronic lack of ambition. To which my slightly younger self replies: well, yeah, but that job was all right, or it was until they messed it up, and anyway I’m a creature of habit, a man who likes a familiar berth.
Mostly I was happy, or as happy as anyone is doing a job for so long. The other week, I bumped into someone who is still there and he said: “I bet you’re glad to have left now.”
The answer depends on the mood of the moment. If life had carried on just the same, the past three years would have been a lot more comfortable and a lot less worrying: a dependable job you mostly like is like an old friend. And, of course, it comes with old friends you now see only rarely.
The truth of it is that being made redundant was a terrible experience, but you cope with terrible experiences as best you can.
I felt untethered, unmoored and other disconnected things. For a year, I pretended to be a freelance journalist. I was selling features and having them published, as I still am today occasionally. But the money wasn’t good, and my year of total freelancing was sponsored by the redundancy.
Towards the end of that year, I entered the dark period. That came when I signed on, a common enough experience, but one so depressing that it haunts me still. It didn’t last long, six weeks perhaps, and I ‘signed off’ before a short holiday in France and have so far managed never to step inside that place again.
But I don’t want to be gloomy about this because there have been ups in my precarious new life.
That dazed man would have been amazed that his slightly older self has spent the best part of two years teaching journalism at a university. You know, standing in front of students and talking to them about writing – and occasionally inspiring some of them to produce good work.
They don’t all turn up all the time, emailing assorted apologies and excuses. Or they wander in halfway through, having sent early warning – “Sorry, I may be a tad late this morning.”
But I like those students. Last week, a group I have taught since the start were on the last day of a project. They needed photos for the website we’d been working on. We went outside into the sunshine and took the headshot photos. Then they wanted a group shot with me in, too. It felt good, an achievement of sorts, like I almost belong somewhere else.
But don’t get carried away with the idea that I am now set up for the rest of my working life or anything. In that job I am set up until the end of July, with the new academic year still a distant promise, depending on budgets. I have spoken informally to another university, and they were encouraging, but no promises.
Two days a week are still spent in Howden working for the Press Association, editing stories for the Sunday Independent newspaper. Last Sunday morning, after the landslide Yes vote in the abortion referendum, our handiwork was read out in the paper review on BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House (my favourite programme, just about), so that was nice.
Working every Saturday, until 9pm every other week, isn’t what I’d planned to be doing at the age of 61, but there you go.
One thing the slightly older me has to say to that crazy young fool of 58 is this: you wittered on a lot at the time about how you were going to make a living from words, with a novel or two on the go. How’s that all shaping up?
To which both versions of myself reply in unison: oh, do shut up.
I’ve learned a lot and I’ve learned nothing; and I’ve earned, well, not nothing but not a lot.
But here I am, in one piece. A bruised apple but hopefully still worth a bite.