ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: The office is vital for cool friendships… and hot gossip
There isn’t much good news around Covid-19, but for many mothers who have long wanted more flexible working, their day has come.
When I edited Vogue, I had a staff of about 30 who were mainly female.
It was a curious fact but office pregnancies seemed to happen in cycles, and often four or five of the team would be expecting at the same time.
One year there were so many babies, I bought them all a Team Vogue T-shirt.
About nine months after their babies were born, the new mothers would return to work.
There isn’t much good news around Covid-19, but for many mothers who have long wanted more flexible working, their day has come. When I edited Vogue, I had a staff of about 30 who were mainly female
Then pretty much two months to the day later, they would invariably knock at the door of my office and ask for ‘a chat’. I instantly knew what it would be.
They would either want (and this normally depended on the financial status of their partner) to work a shorter week or, more often, to work one or two days from home.
Most of the time I wasn’t wild about either idea.
These women were the more senior members of staff (in all my time I remember only one assistant being pregnant) and generally I felt that their jobs demanded five days of their attention.
Also, people working from home was a pain for those like myself in the office every day, who couldn’t just walk over to their desk and chat about an idea, or look at a layout or go through a rail of clothes or spontaneously call a brainstorming session.
Now, thanks to Covid-19, that approach sounds as outdated as the typewriter.
Thousands of offices will never return to the occupancy they previously had. Many companies have decided that they can function perfectly well with a remote staff.
Then there’s the water-cooler gossip, the sharing of the disastrous date the night before, the office affairs, the consoling chats (about heartbreak, rotten bosses etc) in the ladies’ loo
And the holy grail of one or two days at home is likely to become more common. But my advice is: be careful what you wish for.
Office life has so much going for it, particularly for the young just starting out who need to learn the tricks of their trade from experienced colleagues.
Then there’s the water-cooler gossip, the sharing of the disastrous date the night before, the office affairs, the consoling chats (about heartbreak, rotten bosses etc) in the ladies’ loo.
None of these things are Zoomable and it’s that daily interaction that makes you a close community, often one where you make friends for life.
As for WFH parents, sure the pandemic will have changed employment patterns, but it won’t have changed the guilt attached to working in your home with a small child desperate for your attention.
Escaping to the office, where you get an all-expenses- paid, child-free environment – with a bit of a natter thrown in – might quickly feel like a highly desirable option.
Quarantine? That’s for the little people
Next week we are going to Croatia. Well, that’s the plan.
Like so many others, we booked before returning home demanded two weeks of quarantine and we’ve been dithering about whether it makes sense to have an eight-day holiday and then have to be locked in for 14.
My gung-ho side says carpe diem. Who knows when we’ll be able to get another blast of sun and sea.
Quarantine is just another name for staying at home.
My more pessimistic side says what’s the point of coming back all refreshed and hopefully glowing only to be stuck inside and not able to show anyone how relaxed I’m looking nor take part in the real world.
This sounds as if we are planning to take quarantine seriously, which we are.
Of course, we’re hoping for the unlikely miracle of the Government getting its act together and stopping these ludicrously chaotic policies.
But I know for a fact that there are many others who are just taking matters into their own hands. Reinterpreting quarantine, if you like.
An acquaintance dined at Scott’s in Mayfair last week with a friend who had just returned from the South of France.
When he suggested to his friend that, surely, he was meant to be quarantined, the other man blithely agreed.
But then he starting pointing to diners at a large number of other tables, saying, ‘So should he… and her… and them…’
Quarantine, like so many other things, appears in the words of that tax-dodging hotelier Leona Helmsley, to be for the little people.
Meghan’s deserted her National service
When Meghan replaced the Queen as patron of the National Theatre in 2019, the board will have hoped she would use her star power to help raise funds.
Now that she’s ensconced in California, they must be wondering how to manage with an absentee patron whose only recent funding has extended to getting her own Netflix deal.
BBC boss and his mission impossible
It will be fascinating to see what happens to new BBC director- general Tim Davie’s attempt at muzzling its news journalists, now that he’s told them to refrain from broadcasting their personal opinions on social media.
I imagine they’re going to find it a tough call when they have to sit back silently and leave Twitter to opinionated rivals such as Sky’s Adam Boulton or ITV’s Robert Peston.
After all, some people would say that the definition of being a journalist is having a big mouth and a conviction that other people are interested in what you have to say.
Torment no mother should go through
How awful for Nicola Urquhart, the mother of missing airman Corrie McKeague, who spent a day fearing bones found in a Suffolk river may be her son’s before finally having it confirmed that they weren’t.
And how awful for all the other parents of missing children who wake every day of their lives not knowing what news that day may or may not bring.
How awful for Nicola Urquhart (pictured), the mother of missing airman Corrie McKeague, who spent a day fearing bones found in a Suffolk river may be her son’s
The ups that help you go down well
Next week I am appearing at the Chiswick Book Festival. Unfortunately, not in the flesh since all literary festivals are currently digital, which is how I found myself filming in a beautiful Arts and Crafts church, empty except for me, my interviewer, a cameraman and Lady Antonia Fraser – the next speaker.
Antonia, a veteran of the book-tour circuit, shared her three rules of public speaking: Speak Up – the audience need to be able to hear you; Dress Up – you have to look as if you’ve made an effort; and, importantly, Shut Up – know when you’ve said enough. They’re not bad guidelines for life in general.