Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One era ends, another begins

It's only once in your life that the best job you've ever had comes to an end, so I thought I'd reflect a bit on the closure of 'Burke's Backyard' magazine, have a bit of gnomey fun for starters, and then blab on forever about working from home and what an enjoyable time I have had working on this great magazine.

Pictured below is the rather startling, but definitely memorable, last cover of 'Burke's Backyard' magazine. It's the March 2013 issue – we're calling it a 'collector's edition' (well it is, sort of) – and it's on sale now.  

When we were tossing around cover ideas for
the last issue, the fact that we'd been axed came
up as a possible coverline, and then the idea
of Don's 'murdered' gnome came up and, to
cut a long story short, here it is. As a gnome lover
who also owns a murdered gnome I must admit
to having a hand in pushing the idea forward.

When I say 'gnome lover' I do mean it. This
photo of me was taken in our backyard back
in 2004, when our garden looked very different
from how it appears now. The mag needed a
backyard nutter for the next issue, the one we
had planned dropped out, and so as a stopgap
I was roped into this little family portrait of
Jamie with just a selection of our gnomes.

Inside the final March issue there's a story on gnome
collections, and pictured above right is mine, and above left
are some of the magazine owner, Don Burke's, very nice
collection, which includes a few celebrity gnomes, as well
as the full set of Terry Sedgwick 'murdered' gnomes.

Like the rest of the team at Burke's Backyard, we're all terribly disappointed to see the magazine close. Unfortunately, magazines are an expensive business to run, with lots of staff and bills to printers, etc to pay. Unfortunately in recent times as a business it hasn't been making enough money, so it had to close (reluctantly!). That's the sad fact of what's happening to publishing in general, and we're just another magazine closure story to add to the long list that's accumulating.

I can very happily say this is the best job I've ever had, and unless an absolute ripper of a new offer comes along, I think these times just ended might stand as the best days of my working life. For more than 14 years I worked on the magazine from my home office. Sure, I'd be over at the magazine's office to help see the magazine through the organised mayhem of deadline week, but most of the time I worked peacefully in my study at home. I came and went as I pleased to the main office, but I worked my own hours at home. As a routine I spent lots of time each morning in the garden before walking the 20 metres back to my office to get stuck into work at whatever hour I got there (usually that was around 7 or 7.30 each morning, as I am an early-riser).

If anyone is contemplating working from home, I say 'give it a go'. It's not for everyone, of course. It's a free-range existence, and some people need order around them (imposed on them?) so they can concentrate on the job at hand. I'm the opposite: I thrive in free-range freedom – I feel more creative and productive with the shackles off.

Pammy works from home too, but we spend the whole working day well apart from each other. We have breakfast at different times, lunch at different times, and she's down the back of the house (overlooking the garden, with music playing, typical art department), and I'm well away, at the front (in silence, like a monk's cell, typical editor's library). But it works for both of us. We get together at dinner time, where we love cooking for each other.

The idea of a 'working week' became fuzzier as time went by, so I often found myself either writing or editing stories on Saturdays or Sundays, or at 6am or 6pm on any day. I just worked when I felt like it, but I often ended up doing a bit of work for all seven days of the week in succession – and that didn't bother me at all.

Of course the other wonderful part of this job was the subject itself. Gardening! Well, the mag also had cookery, nutrition, pets, wildlife, decorating and design, but its heart and soul was gardening. I learned so much in these 14 years at Burke's, and writing this blog is, in part, my attempt to pass on a little bit of what I have learned to other souls who I really do feel are just like me. We just like gardening, even if we aren't experts.

I also want to tell you a bit about our team. They're simply the best bunch of people I've ever worked with. The keynote sound of our office was laughter. We had a good time together, and there were lots of laughs every day. Sure they'd all get stuck into the task at hand on deadline week, but even then they'd find something stupid or funny to amuse themselves despite being flat out busy.

One good sign of a happy workplace is that people stay there, and our small team included our photographer Brent, photo researcher Julie, and me, and all three of us were there when the magazine started 14 years ago. Zora, our Creative Director, came on board in 1999, just one year into the new magazine's run. That's a lot of long-termers in a tiny team, and I am sure if the magazine had continued on a lot of our relative newcomers (with mere four or five year histories) would have hung around to become honoured old lags.

I also want to say how much I have enjoyed working with Don Burke. He's an inspiring guy to work with, with a remarkably wide range of interests and specialist knowledge in everything from horticulture through to animals, pets, wildlife, the environment and anything the world of science manages to dig up next. Don's a believer in giving praise where it's due to all his staff, and that's something I have found lacking in many other people whose job title is 'boss'. Don's wife Marea is a big part of Don's success, but she is a force behind the scenes and Don's greatest supporter, along with their daughter Chris, who is the most dynamic dynamo I have ever worked with. She's tireless, and when the pressure's on, I always think she's enjoying it all just a bit more. (And let me tell you, when the pressure's on, I hate it!).

Anyway, so that's it for our fab, beloved magazine. That's not it for Don Burke or Burke's Backyard, though. For many years they've had a very active website (and it's still belting along), and now with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter versions of Burke's Backyard active online, they're moving into a new era.

I'll be keeping up my happy and productive association with Burke's in all sorts of new and interesting ways, including new books, but as far as the magazine goes, unless there's a miracle, that's it.

Finally, here's a linky to a segment on the Channel Nine show 'A Current Affair' about the closure of our great magazine, and Don's plans for the future. Our lovely horticultural editor Elizabeth Swane makes a brief appearance, so does Julie, and around the 1.00 minute mark so do I, with a five-word speaking part (I'm the one in the blue Hawaiian shirt – I told you it was a relaxed workplace!)


And as for Garden Amateur, we ain't going nowhere! Stay tuned for the next installment, as my lovely old mag may have passed on, but my garden (and Pammy's garden) is every bit as bright and fascinating as ever.


Jess said...

Thanks for the link to the video Jamie - I enjoyed seeing Burkey - brought back so many memories of watching Burke's Backyard as a kid!

I am most of the way through the final issue now, and am feeling a sense of loss already.

I hope that your next job is as relaxed and rewarding as BBY was! :)

Melinda said...

I was so, so disappointed to hear of the magazine's closure. I really looked forward to receiving it every month, there's no magazine quite like it anymore.

Best of luck for your future endeavours Jamie, very glad Garden Amateur blog is sticking around yet.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear this !I can well imagine how you feel losing the job of a lifetime ! I really hope you find an even better one !
I've been following your blog for quite some time now and I love it !
Good luck to you !

Jamie said...

Thanks Jess, Melinda and Gwennie. The good thing about all this modern social media stuff is that a lot of our team are all 'friends' on Facebook now, so that makes it so much easier for us to stay in contact, which I am sure we will do.

Helen Johnstone said...

I am sorry about your job but at least you have good memories and who knows what is coming round the corner

Sue O said...

Having a job that you love is worth more than gold. Sorry yours came to an end, but you were lucky to have those fourteen years.
I collect gnomes in a minor sort of a way, but our Pacific Northwest weather is not very kind to them. They lose their paint and fade rather badly after a few years. I suppose I should take up painting as a hobby and refurbish them.

Lithopsland said...

Yes, definitely not an end, & more like turning over a new leaf. You have the best gnome collection & I am very jealous; hopefully mine will be as good one day. With all due respect, I honestly thought you look a little like a gnome wearing a white hat in your About Me pic. :)