Tuesday, April 16, 2024

THE CAPSULE COLLECTIVE: Stuffing Up

Nothing is more comforting than hearing about the mistakes other people have made at work, so here are some tales of the dumb things we’ve each done on the job.
You’re welcome.

Kelly

Out of all the magazines that made up our company, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly was the second-most accountable* to its readers. Even right up until the end the amount of letters and feedback we’d get from our loyal readers was incredible. Especially when we made a boo boo. 

Our sub-editors lived in constant fear of stuffing up the sudoku after one memorable mistake culminated in a heated screaming match between an irate caller and our poor editorial assistant – as well as bags and bags of pissed-off reader letters that demanded answers, a free magazine, our firstborn children and an assurance it would never happen again (see Emma Clifton’s yarn below for further proof). 

One time, we got the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge mixed up. You see the ease of that error – the result of a very tired journalist and subeditor who had worked a 13-hour day and overlooked a bit of alliteration at the very last minute. Unfortunately for us there are still a tonne of people who don’t like Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (don’t get me started on it all) — so to get her confused with everyone’s favourite Windsor Kate went down like a cup of hot sick. 

I personally wore it when I spelled Whangarei wrong throughout an entire cover story with their proudest son, Sir Michael Hill (fuck sakes I just spelled it wrong again, I never learn) and I learnt what it was like to attract the ire of an entire town. 

But the worst disaster of my working life involved two small dogs, a gay wedding, pink feather boas and a broken shoe. 

It was only a few years into my career and I was assigned to help with a high-profile celebrity wedding, which I was initially thrilled about. My job, along with another poor writer who was roped in, was to stand outside the venue with huge golf umbrellas and block the lenses of the waiting paparazzi who were stationed right outside. 

No problem. How hard could it be. 

It all went pear shaped when the grooms’ dogs arrived at the venue. Someone, without thinking, opened the car dog, and before my colleague and I knew it this bloody little pug, with a pink feathered boa that had been draped around its neck trailing after it, was hightailing it up the driveway and towards the steep drop into the sea. My buddy and I looked at each other and instantly, we knew we had two choices. 

If we chased the dog the paps would get the shot, which would not only ruin the wedding, but would no doubt be splashed across the Sunday papers. “Mag Hag Goes Arse Over Tit While Chasing Pink-Feathered Pug”. If we didn’t chase the damn dog, he’d end up in the Hauraki Gulf, the wedding would be ruined anyway and we’d have to explain to the grooms why there was a trail of pink feathers floating past their reception venue. 

In the end, we decided on a third option. My colleague, who had better arm strength than me (read: she had some) did her best holding two umbrellas in front of the cameras, while I used all of my fitness (read: all jack shit of it) to outrun a dog. Alas cork wedges from Number One Shoes (it was the early 2010’s give me a break) weren’t built for such endeavours, so with one pitiful shoe hanging off my ankle, I somehow caught up with the dog just before the cliff, hauled it back and carried it down the hill, limping in embarrassment and triumph, looking up to see the two old paps almost doubled over with laughter, my workmate’s arms having finally given out right at the clutch climax of the whole sad clusterfuck. 

However, the wedding was saved, even if my dignity wasn’t – and I’ll give those paps a bit of credit. After stormily (and wonkily) marching over to their spot, chin held high like I had two working shoes and a shred of credibility left, I demanded the pictures never see the light of day. 

“I’m a PROFESSIONAL,” I huffed. “Just like YOU. Don’t you DARE”. 

And apart from an email sent to my work account the next day with a particularly hilarious shot – legs akimbo, pink feathers in hair, broken shoe lying forlornly next to me – they never did. 

Moral of the story: Don’t involve dogs in wedding ceremonies. Oh, and check before opening the bloody car door. 

*The first was, and always will be, New Zealand Listener. This is why Pamela Stirling is a god.

Alice 

There’s a sudden heat that rises up through your body, as time slows down and a sense of panic sets in. It’s difficult to make sense of what is going on in that moment, but one thing is clear – you’ve made a mistake. By the sounds of it, it could be a huge one. Oh god.

Today, it seems mostly comical, but about a decade ago I made a mistake that really got people raging. I can still remember that hot feeling rising up my spine as I tried to make sense of what a very upset, crying, teenage girl was trying to tell me over the phone. “You had one job!” she wailed at me at one point.

As it transpired, I’d sent to print an issue of Creme (the greatest NZ teen magazine) that included a poster of Liam from One Direction…. which labelled him as Louis. The calls, emails and Facebook messages flooded in – the Directioners were well and truly riled, with many of them letting me know that I should literally die for what I had done. 

It’s important to remember that this happened at the absolute height of 1D mania – as if those hormones weren’t already raging, the floppy-haired fivesome had just visited our shores, leaving overwhelmed fans in puddles of tears. I’d seen it all first hand, and have a permanent reminder of it after I damaged my hearing at a One Direction concert (it was the screaming, not the music FYI, and yes, perhaps my actual biggest mistake on the job was not wearing earplugs to that concert). I can tell you, a month is a looooong time to have your mistake sitting on supermarket shelves, ready for someone new to find it and call for your blood. Of course, it wasn’t the first or last mistake I ever made at work – there have been little ones, big ones, and some very strange ones – but that was the only one that had death threats involved.

When people ask about the worst work mistakes I’ve made, that one is definitely my go-to as the one that earned the most ire (and a few chuckles). But there have certainly been bigger ones – ones that only I know about. They’re mistakes where the only person who was let down in the process was me. They’re times when I let work be number one, when I should have put myself at the top of that list. They’re times when I let things that people said or did, lead me to doubt myself and second guess everything, when I should have had the guts to back myself. They’re times when I was treated pretty poorly, and yet, just sucked it up and kept going.

One of my favourite quotes by Maya Angelo is ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time’. Sometimes, it takes a great deal of guts to stand up for yourself, or see that it’s time to simply walk away. But, thankfully, that’s the difference between mistakes and regrets – personally, I think they’re only regrets if you make the mistake without learning the valuable lesson. Now, I’ll always be able to tell the difference between the 1D boys, and, if one of those other  situations arises where I’m not being treated fairly, a little voice will always pipe up and say, ‘Hey, you deserve better than this’. And, I’ll be listening. 

one-direction.jpg

Emma

I don’t know if you’ve ever confused thousands of New Zealand puzzle fans but let me tell you, I wouldn’t recommend it. My very first job was for New Zealand Woman’s Weekly as a sub-editor, which was a fantastic introduction to both the pace of magazines but also the personalities that live within them. One of my tasks was checking all the puzzles every week; which meant filling in every one to make sure there were no errors. I hate all puzzles, being organised and attention to detail, so to me this was a cursed task even though so many other sub-editors loved it. One week, everything was running behind so I decided to be efficient (always a mistake) by doing things in a different way, which meant I was proof-reading the puzzles before they had been laid out on the page. “This is genius,” I thought to myself. “I am saving this company time and money.” Wrong. The designer had placed the wrong ‘Clues’ section with the wrong puzzle, which is the kind of thing the normal system would have picked up in a second. But I had cheated the normal system! So it was my cross to bear. When I entered the office on Monday morning, there were already tens of messages waiting for me. It became my full-time job, answering the hundreds of phone calls from mostly friendly, very confused people who couldn’t find a word that ended with two ‘d’s. For my poor desk mates, it was a running joke that every time I would answer my phone, I would say the same sentence, “Yes, I’m so sorry – there was a mistake in this week’s puzzles page.” I talked to teachers who had asked their entire class to try and solve it over a week. I talked to people who had gone through dictionaries of foreign languages to try and find the ‘dd’ word. I talked to people in hospital who had been given the magazine as a get well soon gift, and the puzzle of the puzzle had given them hours of (tortured) activity. Also, because once a NZWW is in the world, it exists forever, I got phone calls for the better part of six months. The only thing that outlasted the phone calls was the jokes. Oh, the jokes – even now, literally a decade later, I still sometimes get “Remember the puzzles mistake?” and I shudder.

But, like most mistakes, there was an upside. I would estimate that 95% of those who I spoke to were not angry, rather they were delighted to learn there had been a mistake because it meant that they weren’t going crazy. Human error is the most anti-climactic and yet most common reason for anything, and people understand. Also, the readers were – by and large – a delight, apart from one woman who told me I had a laissez-faire attitude. I’ve never had a laissez-faire attitude to anything, ever, in my life. But for the most part, it was a reminder that the puzzles section of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly was a bloody essential part of the magazine (and not to be trifled with). I got to spend many hours listening to people discuss the joy that magazine had brought them and I never forgot it.

Nicky

The fear of having made a mistake at work is something that causes me the greatest amount of existential dread. That would be understandable perhaps if I was a surgeon, or a firefighter, or an aircraft maintenance person but no, no. Despite the fact that I’ve only ever really done jobs where the consequences of my fuck ups will be minor in scale and impact, I will still lie awake at 3am panicking about the most insignificant infringement as if my life really did depend on it. The list of times I’ve felt sick about my stuff ups is long and distinguished and the awkward moments from every job are catalogued carefully in my brain for easy access when I need to feel bad about something. 

My first proper job out of university was as a receptionist at a private banking firm in London. I had only just moved to the UK and was still very much a naive Kiwi kid making her way in the big smoke. I had already had to lie to my new employers about my ability to use a phone switchboard in order to get the gig and now I was getting this call from a man whose cockney accent was so thick I couldn’t have begun to guess what he was saying. Because I sat alone in the reception there was no one to ask so I did the only feasible thing I could think of which was to hang up. Repeatedly, because he kept calling back and getting angrier every time. I later discovered that he was a cabbie who was waiting outside to collect somebody. Needless to say that person never got the message or the ride and they conveyed to me quite clearly afterwards how they felt about that. Turns out people who work in private banking get pretty wound up about making it to client meetings.

My next job was as an assistant to a famous British architect and his wife. This involved key things like typing their letters, setting up their meetings, rsvp’ing to events and buying their sandwiches. The sandwiches part might sound straightforward but it was by far the scariest. He did not take kindly to the wrong flavour arriving on his desk. On one occasion I had to get a taxi to Selfridges to buy his preferred muesli and then organise for it to be couriered to him at his summer home in Italy. You know, normal stuff. Of course, they didn’t have it so I agonised over what was the closest brand like it was the most important decision I’d ever make. Luckily he was in Europe so I didn’t have to feel his rage when the wrong cereal arrived from its overnight flight.

 Since then I’ve worked in magazines where usually the most disastrous thing that can happen is you spell something wrong, quote someone incorrectly or mix up some pages. They may not be big mistakes but they are highly visible and people are vocal and vociferous when that occurs. Sometimes folks are not happy at the way they get portrayed in stories and I’ve fielded some difficult phone calls on that front. There’s a fine line between telling an interesting story and keeping the subject happy and it’s one every journalist must constantly walk. On a really bad day someone might threaten defamation but seldom is there a case for that. And also, when you’ve put yourself on trial every day of your working life, could it really be any worse?

What The Viral Age-Gap Article ‘The Case For Marrying An Older Man’ Says About Us

It was The Cut story heard round the world. Last week, a 27-year-old writer’s article called ‘The Case for Marrying an Older Man’ caused...

THE ONE THING… You Can Do TODAY to Improve your Finances By the End of the Month

Whilst we stare down a cost of living crisis amidst another recession, a lot of us are asking, "how can I improve my finances,...

Money, Honey: Inside the Life and Budget of an Auckland Teacher on $140,000 a Year

How much are we all earning? How does your profession add up? How are women your age spending their money? Is everyone in debt?...

Chelsea Handler talks How to Find Your Joy, Being Proudly Single & Childfree, Plus Being a “Cutie Patootie Who Has Her Shit Together” at...

Ahead of her visit to NZ in July for her Little Big Bitch tour, Chelsea Handler talks to Alice O'Connell about everything being high...