Donald MacInnes: Falling over was quite a work experience

In the red

Everyone’s time is worth something, yes? Even as I type these words, I’m being paid for my creative abilities. Indeed, aside from two work placements when I was 19, I have always worked for money. And, what with all the talk now about using nepotism to secure unpaid internships for one’s offspring, my mind goes back to those weeks when I too was given the opportunity to get vital, first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be exploited and called by the wrong name.

First I visited the press office at the HQ of my local authority, Strathclyde Regional Council. That week saw one of the worst snowfalls in Glasgow’s history, so much of the time was spent informing the media which schools would be closed.

Aside from being hunched over a fax machine for eight hours a day, the only thing I really remember is, within five minutes on my first day, being asked by the chief press officer whether I was protestant or catholic. I recall his disappointment when I told him. Now, I don’t mind being racially pigeonholed, but at least pay me when you’re doing it!

The other placement, after I left college, involves some nepotism, which I should declare at the outset. One of my mum’s friends was the secretary to the editor of the Evening Times, Glasgow’s big evening paper. She arranged for me to shadow the chief reporter for a week and it was quite the experience. Not that I did much actual reporting, but he did take me to the pub every lunchtime with his pal, the news editor, who would join him for a five-pint session. That’s every day.

One day, as I tried to stop myself sliding off the bar stool, they asked me how much I got on the dole (I had just signed on). I told them it was £29 a week. They were aghast. The chief reporter spluttered to the news editor: “That’s your daily lunch allowance!” His radish-nosed pal frowned and said: “Only if I’m eating alone. If I’m entertaining, it’s more.” I immediately completed my collapse onto the floor.

Now, I would explain how this fiscal discrepancy impacted on my career expectations, but I have run out of space and if I go over my allocated wordage, I don’t get paid for it, so you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

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