Rantings of a sub-editor

May 22, 2010

Jolly bastard blocks

Filed under: Substuff says...,The Sunday Times — substuff @ 2:54 pm
Tags: ,

Psst, hello, I’m at the Sunday Times.

Should I be blogging on my first shift here? I’m not quite sure, to be honest, but there seems to be a break between each piece of work, where the others sit back and read a paper, so it doesn’t seem too much of a crime that I should rattle out a few words. Well, I say rattle, but “thunder” would probably be more accurate. Having got used to the teensy finger-taps that my crumb-proof Apple keyboard requires, my fingers are having a right knuckles-up getting used to this monster.

Let me describe my keyboard to you. Firstly, it is approximately half the size again of your common-or-garden desktop keyboard. Secondly, it had 40 extra keys above the F-line keys. Thirdly, each of these keys has word or two on it (more on that later). And fourthly, it requires quite some power (and noise) to get the keys to do what you want. I have given up worrying about the “i” key and simply accepted that it will keep going iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii at iiregular iiiiintervals and I will just have to do some backspacing.

Let me read to you from my keyboard. Feeling immature? There’s a “Grow Up” key. Fancy a rest? Hit “Vertical Slack”. Inventing wrestling moves? How about the “Snap Down”? And then there’s my favourite, my absolute favourite: “Bastard Blocks”. What does it all mean? I have no idea. But I think Bastard Blocks could be handy in everyday life. Keep a few in your handbag just in case, because you never know when you might suddenly need to block a bastard.

On the subs’ desk there are two glorious three-storey carousels heaving with books. World Music, Good Food Guide, Football Yearbook, Who’s Who 1986, Modern Slang, Dod’s Parliamentary Companion. Oh, and the occasional dictionary.

This is a great place to sub. You have time – time, I tell you – to do it beautifully. To check every fact. Or perhaps they’re just breaking me in gently.

Of course, I have no idea where I actually am, other than somewhere in Wapping – my route to where I sit now was labrynthine and the floors do not seem to follow the order that you would imagine. And then there’s the fact that the building is moneyless, so you have to procure a card in order to buy any food, but the card machine doesn’t like £5 notes from Brighton… However, I have been kindly rescued and am no longer in danger of imminent starvation. In fact, I’m having a wonderful time.

Almost overwhelming desire to hit the Bastard Blocks key just to see what happens.

Must stop thundering now.



  1. Well done and I hope they ask you back. When I did my test shifts there I was mentored by a helpful chap called Steve, something of a legend there as the fireman who sorts stuff.

    I think it’s the best paper where I’ve worked. Subs are given time to check facts and are expected to be meticulous. And it’s needed – in one instance a while back, the main interview by a celebrity writer had the subject’s name spelled wrongly throughout.

    You might also witness, as I did, the chief sub testing a story to destruction. I doubt if a leading QC could cross-examine the writer better.

    As to the odd extra keys, they are a throwback to the desktop system before the current Hermes. Grow up and snap down are layout commands for making and securing columns. You’ll find out about vertical slack when one part of your story unaccountably doesn’t fit.

    As to bastard blocks, it’s an abbreviation for bastard bollocks, a key that you press after you’ve screwed something up. That’s what I was told.

    Comment by Bertie Blunt — May 24, 2010 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

    • Poor Steve – he now has the task of minding me for three weeks too! He’s fantastic.

      Yes, I agree. Mostly the copy was excellent, but I found a few facts that were dead wrong – Jeremy Irons’s children’s ages were both four years out, for example. And in another case, the board of the LA Opera was quoted as having 62 members, but when I looked it up there were at least 75. I did wonder if I was being tested with dummy mistakes, because both were the kind of things that you would think were too specific to get wrong… but maybe that’s a bit paranoid!

      Bastard bollocks? I don’t believe you! …Really?

      Comment by substuff — May 24, 2010 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

  2. Sounds like brilliant fun!!

    Comment by Stefmez — May 24, 2010 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  3. I wouldn’t describe any shift I have ever done at The Times or Sunday Times as “brilliant fun” – “terror” is the word that springs to mind, but admire your enthusiasm. Certainly you looked like you fitted right in. Did you hear any of the usual “we are now approaching absolute f**king copy meltdown” going on from the newsdesk? Though they were not as loud as usual. Hope the feedback was positive.

    Comment by Kit Davies — May 25, 2010 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  4. please stop bloging, the internet is bored with it!!!!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 26, 2010 @ 6:42 am | Reply

    • Mhm… 357 hits yesterday, 299 the day before…

      The internet is a big place, I’ve heard, and if a page bores you, you don’t have to look at it.

      Comment by substuff — May 26, 2010 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  5. Ah, good Anon! Where hast thou been? You were sorely missed …

    Two small, teensy little questions for your colossal intellect:

    1. What is bloging? Is it a misspelling of blogging (uncharacteristically witty of you to spell something incorrectly on a blog dedicated to the art of sub-editing), or some strange new activity of which you disapprove?

    2. The internet is bored? Goodness … this is the first time I’ve heard anyone suggest that the internet is sentient. Does it feel other stuff, too? Does it get excited? Does it deign to allow such blogs as this to continue despite their obvious lack of interest for all and sundry?

    And substuff, I can only presume you meant ‘if a page bores you, you don’t have to look at it again …(and you certainly don’t need to tell the world more than once).’

    Oh, hang on, there’s a book over there, and it’s winking at me … bless it … oh, no … it looks rather angry …


    Comment by trenchard cleats — May 26, 2010 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: