A foreign office


We are moving offices in the next few months. I can't wait. Some developer just paid €29m for the grand old lady of D'Olier Street, but for me the soul of the building went the day we stopped printing the paper here.

I remember as a teenager walking past the place, along the Fleet Street side, in the early hours of the morning. You'd hear a rumbling and see this clunky machine grinding away. You might chat to the men working there, or try to blag a free paper still warm from the press, like bread from an oven. With a few Pernod and blacks on board, it seemed magical that what was going on inside the building would produce a newspaper to be read over breakfast, lunch and dinner by people all over the country.

The process is less noisy now. And even if it weren't, we don't get to hear or see what goes on, because for a good while the paper has been printed way out in Citywest. And this feels like a shame.

For me as a teenager, it had a kind of inky romance, a newsy charm. I walked into the newsroom a decade later and became a tiny cog in the production of the newspaper. My mother cried when I told her the news that I was being given a chance here. It might sound over-the-top but The Irish Times has that effect on some people.

Since the printing press went, though, this building has been just bricks and mortar to me. And a clock. A beautiful iconic clock on the D'Olier Street side, which I hope we are taking with us to Tara Street.

Our offices here aren't very impressive. When you bring someone in, you feel like apologising for the dowdy old lady The Irish Times has become. I was given a tour around the New York Times once and was stunned by how clean, spacious and organised the place was.

"Why, what's The Irish Times like?" my guide asked when I expressed surprise, once again, at the gleaming surfaces and clutter-free offices. "Oh, it's a much older building," I hedged, not wanting to let the side down.

One thing I couldn't get over at the New York Times was the tidiness of the desks. "We operate a clean-desk policy," the guide explained to me.

I thought of the leaning towers of documents that littered the desks in the newsroom in Dublin, desks that, though messy, made it feel like a real newspaper. Desks of journalists who needed to keep every scrap of paper in case some fact or detail might be called on for a story. Journalists too busy to file things neatly from A-Z. I remember Kevin Myers's desk being pointed out to me and it seemed, at the time, that the messier the desk, the more important the journalist. I was impressed by his mess. It was another part of that newspaper charm.

In our new offices, we have been informed, a "clean-desk policy" will be in operation. I'm dying to see how this will be enforced among journalists especially, given that we really don't like to throw things away. Hearing rumblings of the impending "clean-desk policy" I tried it myself for a while. I stuck a note up: "Clean desk policy in operation." It was a dismal failure. I put this down to my innate messiness and the fact that my workstation sees constant human traffic. But mostly I put it down to the grand old gremlin of D'Olier Street.

The gremlin is very real to me. I used to think a real, live human being was rummaging through the stuff on my desk, discarding things, stealing things, sometimes leaving things behind, but it's just easier to think a mischievous sprite is involved.

It means I no longer eye people in the lift, wondering if they were the ones who broke into the full Trocaire box though I'd reinforced it with Sellotape, or who took half the books on the shelf one day. I've decided it must have been a gremlin who stole all my personal letters from readers that were stored in a file on the desk. I had kept them all, even the nasty ones. But then they were gone.

I'm not sure I can blame the gremlin for the disappearance of the David Beckham pictures I occasionally stick up around my desk. The potential suspects for that crime are vast. And I have to be fair and admit that while the gremlin mostly taketh, she sometimes giveth. Thoughtful things. Little surprises. The latest thing she left on my desk recently was Life's Missing Instruction Manual by Joe Vitale, which turned out to be an extremely useful book.

I wonder if the gremlin will travel with me to Tara Street. I wonder if the "clean-desk policy" will work. I wonder what it will be like to work in a clean, spanking new office worthy of the New York Times.

I'll let you know.