On the first day of my second week at the Guardian it happened again. I was there half an hour early. This time it wasn’t the glass-fronted office I was standing outside, but a battered looking warehouse that happened to be a convenient two-minute walk from my flat in East London.
Checking the address I had been given on Friday by the Guardian’s resident stylist, I looked at the wooden door with its peeling paintwork. The street I was on ran adjacent to Hackney’s proudest Tesco and the cement cuboid of a block of flats. Yet the number 18 shining on the door was unmistakeable; I was in the right place.
“Hi, I’m here from the Guardian. I’m assisting on the shoot,” I said into the buzzer. A moment later the door was opened and I was met by a smiling woman and a cold tongue licking my legs.
“You’re the first to arrive, come on through,” said the woman as a smiley Jack Russell continued to lick my legs.
Dog and I followed the woman into the innards of the warehouse. The front half of the huge room was set out as a photographer’s studio: white painted floor backing onto a white wall with leads and tripods set up in front. Unlike most sterile studios, however, the second half of this room was home to an old pool table, three faded sofas and a kitchen complete with retro fridge and tin road signs. As I found out later (after having been introduced to the photographers, make up artist and assistants who were soon to arrive) this studio is also the envy of all hip East London homes.
As I chatted to the woman who had led me in I leant down to stroke the Jack Russell who had by now given my legs a thorough cleaning. I soon discovered, however, that the dog wasn’t a Jack Russell. Despite having the face of a Jack Russell this dog lacked one feature key to any Jack Russell. Hair. I felt tricked. I wonder if that’s how the dog felt when it realised that despite its face (his father’s), his mother was actually a Chinese hairless dog. I quickly aborted my plan to stroke the dog as this, I discovered, was impossible. You can only, sort of pat, a hairless dog, which I did in an attempt not to hurt his pride. If it is possible for a dog to look put out then this one (Louis) did just that and returned to his basket as I headed into the spare room come fashion cupboard.
A van had just arrived piled high with bags of clothes for the shoot, which I carried through (I wonder why you don’t see ‘arms of steel’ on more job requirements in the fashion industry) and started hanging things up before the rest of the Guardian team arrived, soon followed by the models.
We were shooting for the Guardian’s ‘All Ages’ section so the models were aged 62 and 39, and although gorgeous, toned and willowy (I would kill for legs like that at any age, let alone 62) also refreshingly normal. As the Guardian stylist picked outfits I chatted to the models, steamed their clothes (also succeeding in burning my face in the process – who knew fashion could be so dangerous?) and helped to dress them. This in itself proved an interesting experience. Dressing someone else is a whole different ball game to dressing yourself, and dressing someone much, much taller than you who is debilitated by drying nails and a nest of rollers in their hair is a completely different sport altogether.
Whilst the photo shoot took place the photographer’s wife cooked for us all so that at the end of the shoot (after the Monica inside me had finished organising the clothes and writing notes on what was used) we all sat down and ate and chatted. Seeing everyone (models included) tuck in to a table piled high with freshly cooked couscous, pasta, stew and salads was a brilliant end to the day.
“That was the best meal I have had in ages,” I said honestly. In my head I was thinking, “so this is why the Guardian come to this old warehouse in Hackney…”
On Tuesday we were back in the studio for a second day of shooting, this time with three models from 19 to 35. Being greeted by everyone on day two I felt very much part of the team, a feeling I could very easily (and happily) get used to. Seeing everyone working together (models, make-up artist, stylists and assistants included there must have been ten of us) made me think all the more how no good idea in this industry can be credited to just one person. The days of covering your work so your neighbour can’t copy your homework are long over: a photo shoot is like a big stew pot of ideas.
At the end of the day came the long task of packing up all the clothes and labelling them to send back to their prospective shops and PR companies. Which meant lots more lifting and carrying and tidying. But after such an interesting and fun two days assisting on a Guardian photo shoot I was hardly about to complain.
The rest of the week was spent in the office. I spent the last few days doing chores and trying to take in as much as possible before the sad time came to leave. On Thursday Jess Cartner-Morley was back in the office and although I sadly didn’t get the chance to speak to her (I was working in the fashion cupboard that day) passing on the stairs one of the reasons I wanted to become a fashion journalist was enough for me. We smiled at each other and perhaps it sounds bizarre, but seeing her in the walking, talking, breathing flesh made me think, “I could be you.” Well, not you exactly, but I could be me doing what you do.
Every year the debate comes around again about the morality of unpaid work experience. Well I may have the added bonus of living in London and a government loan to make me able to afford to work for free at the moment, but in all honesty feeling this inspired and spending two weeks at a newspaper I would love to work for is something I would be prepared to sell most of my worldly goods in order to PAY for. I still live in hope that one day I will get a job but for now at least I am still extremely grateful to be given opportunities like these. Each work experience placement brings me closer to knowing what I want to do in the future; I have now fallen in love with the idea of working for a newspaper, for example. And above all I have realised the thing I have always known; that whatever else I do I always want to write.
Friday arrived like the sad yet inevitable end to a good book. It was a quiet day in the office and I felt guilty not doing anything so asked if I could tidy the fashion cupboard; I wanted to do something to say thank you and to keep me busy.
“Yes please,” was the reply. I’m not sure, however, whether they quite expected me to take on this task with quite such a worrying level of enthusiasm. I took out three bags of rubbish to the recycling bins and scaled a coat hanger mountain, untangling the angry mesh of metal and sorting them into ‘clippy hangers’ and ‘normal hangers’. Excessive? Perhaps.
When the time came to leave my mouth couldn’t quite keep up with all the ‘thank you’s in my head.
As I left I heard the delicious words, “do come back if you ever want to.”
I might just hold you to that.