Mondays have always been my favorite day.
The chance to start again.
A clean enough slate with just the dust of your own past mistakes still visible—almost, but not quite wiped away.
I realize it’s an unpopular opinion—to be fond of the first day of the week—but I’m full of those. My view of the world tends to be a little tilted. When you grow up sitting in life’s cheap seats, it’s too easy to see behind the puppets dancing on its stage. Once you’ve seen the strings, and who pulls them, it can be hard to enjoy the rest of the show. I can afford to sit where I want now, choose any view I like, but those fancy-looking theater boxes are only good for looking down on other people. I’ll never do that. Just because I don’t like to look back doesn’t mean I don’t remember where I came from. I’ve worked hard for my ticket and the cheap seats still suit me fine.
I don’t spend a lot of time getting ready in the mornings—there is no point putting on makeup, just for someone else to take it off and start again when I get to work—and I don’t eat breakfast. I don’t eat much at all, but I do enjoy cooking for others. Apparently, I’m a feeder.
I stop briefly in the kitchen to pick up my Tupperware carrier, filled with homemade cupcakes for the team. I barely remember making them. It was late, definitely after my third glass of something dry and white. I prefer red but it leaves a telltale stain on my lips, so I save it for weekends only. I open the fridge and notice that I didn’t finish last night’s wine, so I drink what is left straight from the bottle, before taking it with me as I leave the house. Monday is also when my trash gets collected. The recycling bin is surprisingly full for someone who lives alone. Mostly glass.
I like to walk to work. The streets are pretty empty at this time of day, and I find it calming. I cross Waterloo Bridge and weave my way through Soho toward Oxford Circus, while listening to the Today program. I’d prefer to listen to music, a little Ludovico perhaps or Taylor Swift depending on my mood—there are two very different sides to my personality—but instead I endure the dulcet tones of middle-class Britain, telling me what they think I should know. Their voices still feel foreign to my ears, despite sounding like my own. But then I didn’t always speak this way. I’ve been presenting the BBC One O’Clock News bulletin for almost two years, and I still feel like a fraud.
I stop by the flattened cardboard box that has been bothering me the most recently. I can see a strand of blond hair poking out the top, so I know she’s still there. I don’t know who she is, only that I might have been her had life unfolded differently. I left home when I was sixteen because it felt like I had to. I don’t do what I’m about to do now out of kindness; I do it because of a misplaced moral compass. Just like the soup kitchen I volunteered at last Christmas. We rarely deserve the lives we lead. We pay for them however we can, be it with money, guilt, or regret.
I open the plastic carry case and put one of my carefully constructed cupcakes down on the pavement, between her cardboard box and the wall, so that she’ll see it when she wakes. Then, worried she might not like or appreciate my chocolate frosting—for all I know she could be diabetic—I take a twenty-pound note from my purse and slide it underneath. I don’t mind if she spends my money on alcohol; I do.
Radio 4 continues to irritate me, so I switch off the latest politician lying in my ears. Their over-rehearsed dishonesty doesn’t fit with this image of real people with real problems. Not that I’d ever say that out loud or on-air during an interview. I’m paid to be impartial regardless of how I feel.
Maybe I’m a liar too. I chose this career because I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted to tell the stories that mattered most, the ones that I thought people needed to hear. Stories that I hoped might change the world and make it a better place. But I was naïve. People working in the media today have more power than politicians, but what good is trying to tell the truth about the world when I can’t bear to be honest about my own story: who I am, where I came from, what I’ve done.
I bury the thoughts like I always do. Lock them in a secure secret box inside my head, push them to the darkest corner right at the back, and hope they won’t escape again anytime soon.
I walk the final few streets to Broadcasting House, then search inside my handbag for my ever-elusive security pass. My fingers find one of my little tins of mints instead. It rattles in protest as I flip it open and pop a tiny white triangle inside my mouth, as though it were a pill. Wine on my breath before the morning meeting is best avoided. I locate my pass and step inside the glass revolving doors, feeling several sets of eyes turn my way. That’s okay. I’m pretty good at being the version of myself I think people want me to be. At least on the outside.
I know everyone by name, including the cleaners still sweeping the floor. It costs almost nothing to be kind and I have a very efficient memory, despite the drink. Once past security—a little more thorough than it used to be, thanks to the state of the world we have curated for ourselves—I stare down at the newsroom and it feels like home. Cocooned inside the basement of the BBC building, but visible from every floor, the newsroom resembles a brightly lit red-and-white open-plan warren. Almost every available space is filled with screens and tightly packed desks, with an eclectic collection of journalists sitting behind each one.
These people aren’t just my colleagues, they’re like a dysfunctional surrogate family. I’m almost forty years old, but I don’t have anyone else. No children. No husband. Not anymore. I’ve worked here for almost twenty years but, unlike those with friends or family connections, I started right at the bottom. I took a few detours along the way, and the stepping-stones to success were sometimes a little slippery, but I got where I wanted to be, eventually.
Patience is the answer to so many of life’s questions.
Serendipity smiled at me when the previous news anchor left. She went into labor a month early, and five minutes before the lunchtime bulletin. Her water broke and I got my lucky break. I’d just come back from maternity leave myself—earlier than planned—and was the only correspondent in the newsroom with any presenting experience. All of which was overtime and overnight—the shifts nobody else wanted—I was that desperate for any opportunity that might help my career. Presenting a network bulletin was something I had been dreaming of my whole life.
There was no time for a trip to hair and makeup that day. They rushed me on set and did what they could, powdering my face at the same time as they miked me up. I practiced reading the headlines on the teleprompter, and the director was calm and kind in my earpiece. His voice steadied me. I remember very little about that first half-hour program, but I do recall the congratulations afterward. From newsroom nobody to network news anchor in less than an hour.
My boss is called the Thin Controller behind his slightly hunched back. He’s a small man trapped inside a tall man’s body. He also has a speech impediment. It prevents him from pronouncing his Rs, and the rest of the newsroom from taking him seriously. He has never been good at filling gaps on rosters so, after my successful debut, he decided to let me fill in until the end of that week. Then the next. A three-month contract as a news anchor—instead of my staff position as a correspondent—swelled into six; after that it was extended to the end of the year, accompanied by a nice little pay raise. Viewing numbers went up when I started presenting the program, so I was allowed to stay. My predecessor never returned; she got pregnant again while on maternity leave and hasn’t been seen since. Almost two years later, I’m still here and expect my latest contract to be renewed any day.
I take my seat between the editor and the lead producer, then clean my desk and keyboard with an antibacterial wipe. There is no telling who might have been sitting here overnight. The newsroom never sleeps, and sadly not everyone in it adheres to my preferred level of hygiene. I open up the running order and smile; it still gives me a little thrill to see my name at the top:
News Anchor: Anna Andrews.
I start writing the intros for each story. Despite popular opinion, we don’t just read the news, we write it. Or at least I do. News anchors, like normal human beings, come in all shapes and sizes. There are several who have crawled so far up their own asses I’m amazed they can still sit down, let alone read a teleprompter. The nation would be appalled if they knew how some of their so-called national treasures behaved behind the scenes. But I won’t tell. Journalism is a game with more chutes than ladders. Getting to the top takes a long time, and one wrong move can land you right back down at the bottom. Nobody is bigger than the machine.
The morning breezes by just like any other: a constantly evolving running order, conversations with correspondents in the field, discussions with the director about graphics and screens. There is an almost permanent line of reporters and producers waiting to talk to the editor beside me. More often than not, to request a longer duration for their package or two-way.
Everyone always wants just a little more time.
I don’t miss those days at all: begging to get on-air, constantly fretting when I didn’t. There simply isn’t time to tell every story.
The rest of the team are unusually quiet. I take a quick look to my left, and notice that the producer has the latest roster up on her screen. She closes it down as soon as she sees me looking. Rosters are second only to breaking news when it comes to influencing stress levels in the newsroom. They come out late and rarely go down well, with the distribution of the most unpopular shifts—lates, weekends, overnights—always cause for contention. I work Monday to Friday now, and haven’t requested any leave for over six months, so, unlike my poor colleagues, there is nothing roster-shaped for me to worry about.
Copyright © 2020 by Diggi Books Ltd