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Window of opportunity

15 Feb

I CLIMB the stairs to the Deputy Editor’s office to find him leafing through a leather-bound volume of the defunct Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Co-operative Society accounts. I notice a long metal object, shaped like a truncheon, on the desk next to his telephone.

I pull up a chair and gaze around the semicircular office at the wonderful things he’s managed to amass over the years: thirteen clocks, an Imperial typewriter, a set of Russian dolls, piles of railway magazines, a cobalt-blue Codd bottle and a complete set of I-Spy books. On the floor are more metal truncheons. These are a recent addition.

“What are those things that look like truncheons?” I ask, curiosity getting the better of me. “Truncheons?”

“Ahhhh . . .” he says, peering up from his account book. “They most certainly are not truncheons. They are cast-iron weights from sash windows. This one here on my desk is from a Regency window. The ones on the floor are largely Victorian. But the history and development of the sash window can be traced back as far as the 16th Century – in Britain at least. In Holland they go back even further. Did you know that Blenkinsop’s Foundry in Pontefract was a major producer of sash window weights?”

“Fascinating,” I say. And he laughs, because he knows I’m taking the piss.

“What brings you up here to my lonely garret, Pork Chop? Not that I want to be distracted, because I’m working on a piece for my Yesterday Today series and these accounts of the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Co-operative Society are a mesmerising goldmine of facts. Did you know that one of the most popular commodities the Co-op provided in its early days was white doorstep paint? Doorsteps in Newbiggin – a colliery community – were all painted white, apparently, so that the women had to scrub them every day to keep them clean.”

“Fascinating,” I say again. “I just wondered why the Editor has been summoned down to head office. Is there something in the wind?”

“Ooooooh . . .” says the Deputy Editor. “I’d be surprised if he knew himself why he’s been summoned.”

“More jobs going? More redundancies? Another wave of terror and bloodshed about to sweep through the offices of the Observer and Bugle, Nitherley’s great family newspaper?”

“God, I hope not,” says the Deputy Editor. “I don’t expect there’s much demand for collectors of sash window weights.”

“I don’t expect there is. What about doorstep painters? There might be an opening there. Is there still such a thing as doorstep paint?”

“I say, what a splendid idea. What a marvellous way to make a living. Hang on and I’ll Google it.”

I watch his fingers – more used to clattering the Imperial typewriter – fumbling across his keyboard. The clocks begin to chime 9pm. One buzzes.

“Gosh. My goodness. There’s plenty of doorstep paint on the market. Ronseal do tins for £6. That’s cheap.”

“Charge £10 a doorstep.”

“It’s the future. My word, the past is the future.”

“Yesterday Today.”

“Everything that goes around comes around.”

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

As I rise to leave, he says: “I can’t go into business by myself, Pork Chop. I’ll need a partner or an apprentice – someone to stir the paint.”

“Put my name down.”

“Can you come up with a snappy company title?”

“Step On It.”

“You’re hired.”


The bus stops here

14 Feb

NITHERLEY Borough Council has spent £5,000 on installing a bus stop on a road where no bus has ventured for four years – and the residents are fuming. This is the Nitherley Observer and Bugle’s splash for tomorrow and the Leek Man is working on the Front Page. A small group of people has gathered behind him to watch the page come together – and offer advice.

Conversation 1 – Search for a headline:

Editor: “We want something snappy – not your general splash headline. Is there a catchphrase from On The Buses that we could use?”

Tony Malone the Assistant Editor: “You ’orrible little man, Battler.”

Editor: “Thank you. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Stop this madness’. Gerrit? Stop, as in bus stop? And we could do the word ‘stop’ in red.”

Leek Man: “What about: ‘Bus stop ding-dong’?”

Editor: “Ding-dong! I like that.”

Tony Malone: “But why ding-dong? What has that got to do with buses?”

Leek Man: “Because when you’re on a bus and you want it to stop at a bus stop, you push the button and it goes ding-dong.”

Tony Malone: “No it doesn’t. It goes ding-ding. ‘Bus stop ding-ding’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

Leek Man: “Jesus. Split fucking hairs, why don’t you? ‘Bus stop ding-dong’ is just the ticket. It says it all and it’s witty as well.”

Tony Malone: “It sounds like Leslie Phillips should be involved.”

Editor: “I know. What about: ‘Stop this ding-dong’? The word ‘stop’ would be in red. Or, better still, what about ‘Stop this madness’? Have I said that already?”

Conversation 2 – The headline comes together:

Editor: “Right. This is where we are. We have the words ‘Bust-up’ in big red letters, and below have an underline that says ‘over bus stop’. ‘Bust-up over bus stop’. That’s great. What do you think?”

Leek Man: “I think it would look better if we had an overline instead of an underline. It would have more impact.”

Editor: “Yeh? Go on. Elaborate.”

Leek Man: “Something like: ‘Ding-dong over bus stop ends in . . .’ and then have ‘Bust-up’ in fucking big in-yer-face 124 point caps underneath.”

Editor: “Like it, like it. ‘Ding-dong over bus stop ends in . . . Bust-up’. Great stuff.”

Tony Malone: “But isn’t a ding-dong the same thing as a bust-up? Aren’t we saying the same thing twice?”

Editor: “Yes. It just needs some more work. But we’re on the right road. Unlike the bus stop.”

Leek Man: “What about ‘Bus stop mix-up leads to . . . Bust-up’?”

Editor: “Yesssss . . . Back of the net. That’s it. Go with that. Get it on the page and print me a proof.”

Conversation 3 – Fine tuning:

The Deputy Editor has emerged from his office with a pile of I-Spy books under his arm. The Editor calls him over.

Editor: “What do you think of the Front Page? Get this headline. ‘Bus stop mix-up leads to . . . Bust-up’ What do you think of that?”

Deputy Editor: “Hmmm . . . Do you need a hyphen in Bust-up?”

Editor: “For fuck’s sake. Of course you need a hyphen. Bust-up has a hyphen. It’s the sort of word hyphens were made for. It demands a hyphen.”

Deputy Editor: “Then shouldn’t bus stop have a hyphen as well?”

Editor: “No it fucking shouldn’t. Bus stop is a noun.”

Deputy Editor: “Bust-up is a noun.”

Editor: “Yeh, but bus stop is a different sort of noun, innit? It’s a real noun. One that exists.”

Leek Man: “I’ve got a better idea. Scrap the whole thing and just have two words: ‘BUS STROP’.”

Editor: “Yesssss . . . Another in the back of the net. BUS STROP. Does it have a fucking hyphen?”

Lost in space . . .

15 Jan

THE light streaming down stairs at the end of the darkened editorial floor emanates from the Deputy Editor’s office. I wander along the aisle between empty desks where, during the daylight hours, reporters finger keyboards and answer calls from the Nitherley public. Then I climb echoing steps to a cold, semi-circular room overlooking the town centre. It’s Sunday night and the streets are quiet.

The Deputy Editor is peering through his window at the night sky. He turns around when he hears me enter, then sighs and slumps in his chair.

“I can’t understand it, Pork Chop,” he says deflated, pink fingers turning the pages of a small yellow book on his desk. “I thought I had, at long last, completed my first I-Spy book, but just thumbing through my classic 1966 edition of I-Spy the Sky – which is surely a collector’s item – it transpires I have not observed the constellation Orion. Or, to be more precise, I have actually observed it but failed to record it and, most importantly, failed to make a note of the date.”

“Does it matter that much?” I venture, removing a box of Airfix models from a chair and sitting down.

“Well, the thing is,” he continues, “if I just enter any old date and Big Chief I-Spy checks it before validating the book and sending me a certificate, then I’ll be up the creek and my reputation as a journalist will be in tatters.”

“Hmmm . . .” I attempt to help him out of a black hole. “Have you had a look tonight? You won’t see it from this window because Orion is quite low in the southern sky at the moment. You need to be up on the roof.”

“Gosh, Pork Chop. I didn’t know you were a star-gazer. I might just do that later. Thank you ever so much. Right. What brings you up here? What can I do for you? I was about to go home, but I see you’re clutching a piece of paper that looks like it might be terribly important.”

“Yes,” I say, unfolding the sheet of A4. “This is a story that’s just dropped on the Press Association wire. It’s outlining who will be appearing next week before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. The main person is Ian Hislop, TV personality and editor of Private Eye. Then further down we have a list of editors from the regional press. Let me read you this paragraph.”

“Further testimony will be provided by regional newspaper editors from the Yorkshire Post, the Irish News, the South Wales Evening Post, the Belfast Telegraph, the Manchester Evening News, the Scotsman, the Ipswich Evening Star, the Herald, and the Nitherley Observer and Bugle.”

“Deary me,” says the Deputy Editor. “Our illustrious Editor has been called to appear before the Leveson Inquiry – but unfortunately he is, at this very moment in time, on a bright orange jet bound for Majorca and a family holiday in the sun. What will happen when he fails to appear before Leveson?”

“Dunno. Contempt?”

“But is the inquiry governed by the same strictures as a criminal court?”

“It’s being held in the Royal Courts of Justice. And Leveson is a judge.”

“Ooooh. He is in a pickle. Anyway, more pressing business. You say that we can probably see Orion from the roof?”


“Right. Shall we avail ourselves of a couple of coffees from that horrendous machine and take a stroll up there . . . ?”