Last Thursday night I went to a party. For three hours glasses clinked and 200 guests bellowed at each other. The occasion was to mark the triumphant first decade of Prospect, the serious current affairs magazine founded and edited by my husband, David Goodhart.
Towards the end of the evening a woman came swaying up to me and said: “The magazine is marvellous, what a terrific achievement, simply fantastic.” Then, with eyes narrowing, she asked, “What’s it been like for you?”
What it has been like for me is a long and complicated story. I started trying to explain, but the woman was already looking over my shoulder. So I am going to tell it here instead.
In 1990 I married a fellow journalist wage slave, who showed every sign of staying in gainful full-time employment. Four years and three children into our marriage, he announced one evening that he wanted to start a magazine in which all the articles would be very long and very serious. Do you think it’s a good idea, he asked.
No, I replied.
Our approaches to journalism could hardly have been more different. He was against dumbing down, I was for it. Our approaches to employment conflicted too: I was in favour of being married to someone with a steady job and steady income. He was in favour of risk and freedom.
In the hope of finding encouragement elsewhere he wrote to many people for advice. Among them was Toby Young, editor of the now defunct magazine, The Modern Review. He wrote back: “All I can really say is that you should be prepared for your life to become complete hell. The amount of work involved is horrendous – as is the anxiety. Your life will be an unending crisis, putting out one fire after another. I don’t mean to discourage, but I hope you don’t have a family.”
David read the letter and was not discouraged. I read it and was.
Mr Young was right – the amount of work has been horrendous and David has not just put out fires, he has started a few too.
From the beginning, the prospect of Prospect for the family could not have been worse. Usually, if you do a job that takes over your life, that demands punishing hours, considerable skill, stress and responsibility, you earn a lot of money. Equally, if you do a job that is less demanding you earn less.
Alas, when you start your own business the trade-off does not go like this. You get to work harder than a junior hospital doctor and you earn next to nothing. Worse, you probably invest some of your own money, which you are likely to lose. Any return comes in the distant future and only if the business takes off (which most small businesses never do).
This is a bad deal. But when the business is an intellectual magazine, it is the worst deal ever known. Then you have to face thatthe fact that even if it does well, it will still not quite break even. As most of the potential backers correctly spotted at the
time, the upside risk just was not there at all.
However, 10 years later, this is not quite the negative story I want to tell. How it has been for me has been – bizarrely – fine.
Working long hours need not be bad for families (as I wrote three weeks ago, much to the disgust of many readers). It can even be good when the workaholic works from home, and can make himself useful by letting in the man who has come to mend the dishwasher. Not earning much money is not great, but it is not a catastrophe either – so long as there is enough coming in overall.
The only things that are irredeemably bad in the working life of a spouse are unhappiness and boredom. David suffers from neither of these things. He is happy as a sandboy. He is endlessly fascinated by the articles he publishes. He does something he is very good at, that he has control of and which he loves. Often people say he is pretty good at it, and I dare say he finds that nice, too.
Compare this to with various women I know who are married to men stuck in jobs they hate. This means that they do not sleep. They drink too much. They spend their evenings bad-mouthing colleagues. They talk on and on about how unhappy they are, like a stuck record. They get passed over for promotion and become not just unhappy but bitter, too, and that bitterness corrodes. They envy other people their success. They are absolutely horrible to live with.
I am not saying it has been a picnic being married to the happy, obsessive founder of an intellectual magazine. I do not like the messy piles of newspapers and books that are everywhere in our house. I do not like having articles on the transatlantic alliance thrust under my nose as I am trying to go to sleep. Neither do I like it when after a hard day at work I am expected to sustain a discussion over dinner on the tension between diversity and solidarity when I would rather watch Lost on television.
Yet these are relatively small problems. There is also, now that I am in such a positive frame of mind, a further set of benefits that come from being married to a financially dodgy small company.
It makes me grateful to work for a big company. There is the pay cheque, the photocopier and the computer help desk. There is the loveliness of leaving work behind in the evening. Above all, there is the special pleasure is in not having to worry about the finances of the publication I work for. Other unfortunate wage slaves get paid to do that.
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