Until she started her training as a journalist, Rose Haldane hadn’t realized that one of the key skills required was the ability to bullshit.

The rose garden in June at Sissinghurst [photo: nationaltrust.org.uk]

The rose garden in June at Sissinghurst [photo: nationaltrust.org.uk]

If you knew nothing about your subject matter, you could do it, or wing it. Hopeless at bullshitting and equally terrified of writing about something and getting it wrong, Rose had faced each new assignment as if preparing to appear on Dragon’s Den. Consequently she bunjee-jumped off a crane tied to the mayor of Littlethorpe to publicise Public Safety in Kent Week, then wrote about whiplash while wearing a neck collar for a week. For two weeks she lived entirely on maple syrup and water, then illustrated the finished feature with before and after photos demonstrating the reduction in size of her bottom. This feature attracted quite a few letters to the editor, and one blind date which had been disastrous. She learned to take her research seriously.

Many years later she joined the London Herald as health reporter. The Herald was a national newspaper, she worked in a skyscraper at Canary Wharf, not a grey warehouse on a shabby industrial estate in the flat, grey world of North Kent. But she felt stuck.

Since the first ever story she had published – about a run-over dog – she’d scored each article out of 10. She was still waiting for that elusive Tenner – the 10/10 feature she was convinced would change her life. She knew pretty much what each feature would score before she typed ‘end’ at the end. She needed a Tenner to get away from the Herald.

She worked on her Maddox notes for two hours then wrote a quick e-mail asking a couple of extra questions. She debated how to sign off the message – best wishes, regards, kind regards. She eventually settled for ‘Thanks, Rose.’ She sent it, logged off for the night and reached for the tiny blue bottle of soothing eye drops that had been sent in for a feature. Her head was tipped back against her seat, one hand pulling her lower eyelid down, the other trying to aim the bottle in the right direction.

“Rosie love.”

She jumped as if electrocuted. Sam was leaning over her shoulder, breathing evidence of his lunchtime cheddar and onion sandwich, making her gag. She made a creditable attempt of covering up the retching as a coughing fit, her hands over her mouth, pinching her nostrils.

“There you go, Rosie, clear out your pipes.” He patted her on the back.

She flinched at the bastardisation of her name. There were hundreds of varieties of rose and some days Rose certainly didn’t feel like she merited the association, though she preferred the name to Rosemary. “I’m a flower, not a herb,” had been her standard retort as a child. Sam called her every derivative, every bastardisation, including Roz, Rosa and once even Rosalind, Shakespeare’s heroine. This insulted Rose the most, she preferred Beatrice’s wit. ‘Rosalind’, she’d written in a sixth form essay, ‘was rather wet.’ Her teacher had scrawled across the bottom in green ink: ‘Subjective. Prove it. Facts not assumption.’

That was the day Rose became obsessed with facts. That was why she was so hopeless at bullshitting. And though she would deny having anything in common with Sam, her dedication to facts placed her firmly alongside him in the old-school journalism camp. Fleet Street hackism not Canary Wharf soundbite-journalism. Sam was a builder’s tea journalist, not an espresso one. She worried she had more in common with Sam than was comfortable. He hated adjectives, and he hated working in Docklands. The arse of London he called it. He used the word arse a lot. “Get your arse in gear and do what you’re told. Work your arse off and you and me’ll get on just fine,” he said to Rose on her first day. Only the thought of the mortgage on her lovely flat stopped her shouting back at him, that and the sensible voice in her head which told her to be a sponge and soak it up. Working on a broadsheet fattened her CV.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #8: Sam, the dinosaur, the slob, the hack… the boss she must impress.
This is the 7th instalment of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ about identity detective Rose Haldane. To start reading from the beginning, please click on the category ‘My Novel: Ignoring Gravity’ in the right hand menu.