Tag Archives: Press

Unreality check

16 Mar

THE managing director, Don K Jacket, has circulated an email announcing the creation of a new executive role – Assistant Editor (Grassroots News). This has caused a stir among a workforce that has suffered redundancy upon redundancy over the past four years and has seen its workload and stress levels increase dramatically.

It’s late at night and the Misfit is twitching in her chair.

Misfit: “Didn’t they have an Assistant Editor (Grassroots News) at one time, and wasn’t he made redundant?”

Leek Man: “It was Mad Max the Manxman. Yes, he was one of the first to get the chop.”

Misfit: “But can they do that – make someone redundant when it suits them then recreate his position for someone else when it suits them?”

Leek Man: “Yes, because they have no concept of reality. What is reality in the present will be unreality in the past. Irrespective of the legal aspect of the redundancy process, they’ll do whatever they need to do in the present, and fuck what went before. That will have been brushed aside.”

Pause.

Misfit: “If we ignore reality and give ourselves executive titles, will that protect our jobs?”

Leek Man: “I expect it will.”

Misfit: “Good. I’ll be Assistant Editor (Stories About Furry Meerkats at Bristol Zoo). What will you be?”

Leek Man: “I’ll be Assistant Editor (Bloody Axe of Retribution and Merciless Avenger Destined to Snap One Day and Twat All the Executives).”

Misfit: “That’s that sorted then.”

Crocodile tears

23 Feb

“OH, my good lord. ‘Crocodile bites man’s testicles during Zimbabwe river crossing’.” The Misfit places her dish of Moroccan cous-cous on the desk and moves closer to the screen, screwing up her eyes and nose. “Oh, my good lord.”

“Sounds like a good story,” says the Leek Man. “Is that running on the PA foreign wire?”

“No it’s on Digg,” she says. “But I think it’s come originally from a website called the Global Post. Listen to this: ‘Zimbabwe man attacked by crocodile while crossing Chivake River suffers bites on his testicles and penis, but credits a box of tomatoes with saving his life’. Oh, my good lord. Fancy having a crocodile hanging off your penis. Fancy having anything hanging off your penis.”

The Leek Man’s back stiffens and he growls: “That is absolutely horrendous. The last part of that sentence says he credits a box of tomatoes with saving his life. How badly-written is that, for fuck’s sake? It gives the impression the box of tomatoes jumped in the river, wrestled with the fucking crocodile and pulled the man back to the bank. Don’t they read what they’ve written before they send it into cyber-space, these morons who blithely debase our language and murder professional print journalism? Jesus effing Christ.”

“Ooooh,” says the Misfit. “I was going to copy that story and slide it in as a nib on page 26 for the second edition, but I don’t think I will now.”

Leek Man: “You can still do that, but it needs rewriting.”

The Misfit: “Okay. What shall I say?”

The Leek Man, who has by now got the story on his screen: “A Zimbabwe man who was attacked by a crocodile while crossing a river suffered bites to his testicles and penis – but he managed to save his own life using a box of tomatoes. Second paragraph: Meanwhile, up river, a sub-editor from the Nitherley Observer and Bugle tracked down a bunch of semi-literate, spotty-arsed tossers from an internet news provider and crushed their inadequately-developed bollocks on a rock using a hard-backed copy of HW and FG Fowler’s The King’s English applied forcefully beneath a size-ten hiking boot.

“That do yer?”

Going to the dogs

23 Feb

GORDON the chief photographer is having a panic attack at the office photocopier. He’s jabbing buttons and banging drawers in and out.

“Oh nooooooo . . .” he moans. Then he looks around for assistance. It’s turned midnight and there’s only me in the vicinity – and Big Bernard over on the newsdesk.

“I’m trying to print out my wedding speech but this bloody error message keeps coming up. Jesus, I’ve sent it from my computer but it just won’t print. It’s stuck in cyber-bleeding-space. Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

He clatters the drawers again then turns the machine off and on.

“Now there’s a message saying the machine is warming up – but the fuckin’ thing is never switched off. Fer fuck’s sake, is this a stress fest or what? How the fuck am I supposed to get my speech?”

“When’s the wedding?” I ask.

Gordon clatters the drawers again. “Now there’s a message to say the toner is low. It doesn’t say the toner is OUT. It says the toner is LOW. That means there’s still toner in the machine. Why does it need to tell me this? For fuck’s sake. Am I going to have a heart attack, or what? Tomorrow morning at ten.”

“That’s early.”

“My eldest daughter. Marrying a Scottish chemist from Haddington. Jesus, here’s that fucking error message again. Oh, Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus . . .”

I help him press all the buttons, crash all the drawers in and out again, then switch the machine off and on several times. Finally, there’s a whirring noise and three sheets of paper sail into the tray. Gordon scoops them up, folds them quickly, and thrusts them in his jacket pocket.

“Thanks Pork Chop,” he says, with overwhelming relief. “Now I’ve got to get to a bloody remote hotel near Cockburnspath before I get to bed. And all I know about Cockburnspath is that it’s a long way north. Jesus Christ. If you’ve got a daughter, don’t ever let her get married.”

Gordon hurtles through the door and into the night. The photocopier whirrs again. Three more sheets sail into the tray. Big Bernard strolls over and picks them up.

“What’s this? ‘There comes a time in every father’s life when he has to make the ultimate sacrifice and give away his baby Tinkerbell . . .’ Sounds like a wedding speech to me. Where the fuck are the Sunderland greyhound racing results I’ve just sent to the printer?”

Thirteen hours later, in the function room of a remote hotel near Cockburnspath, Gordon climbs to his feet with his buttonhole bobbing and his coattails hanging as proudly as Nelson’s. Two-hundred guests wait expectantly as he removes his papers from his breast pocket and pops his reading glasses on his nose.

His proud smile does not waver. His eyes do not lose their twinkle. But slowly – ever so slowly – the colour drains from his cheeks. The guests wait in silence.

“This is going to sound a bit daft,” he says finally. “But I wish I’d had a hundred quid on Bouncing Molly.”

[NOTE: Okay. In the real world, events didn’t quite end like this. But they nearly did.]

There’s no such thing as a . . .

22 Feb

CHIEF reporter Big Bernard is shuffling papers rather seriously as he prepares for afternoon conference. Everyone files into the Editor’s office and sits down. The Editor looks around and everyone looks back.

Editor: “Bernard. You got a splash for us?”

Big Bernard: “Boss. I have a splash for you. And it’s a good one. And it’s just this moment come together.”

Editor: “Let’s hear it then.”

Big Bernard: “In a nutshell, we’ve learned through a Freedom of Information request that the chairman of the local health authority has run up an expenses bill of £5,000 in restaurant costs over the past year – £600 of that blown on one night for him and his mates in a posh restaurant just before Christmas.”

Editor: “Whoa . . . How do we stand with this – legally?”

Big Bernard: “It’s all in the public domain. But it’s our Freedom of Information request so we have it all to ourselves. It’s exclusive.”

Editor: “Go on then.”

Big Bernard: “The £600 was spent in one night at The Pink Trees Hotel, which is somewhere between York and Leeds. We’ve got a picture of it, so we could use that on the front page.”

Editor: “And this was just before Christmas, you say?”

Big Bernard: “Correct.”

Editor: “Do the expenses say who else was at the meal?”

Big Bernard: “No. Why?”

Editor: “Because I think I might have been there.”

Moment’s silence.

Big Bernard: “Wow. It’s a plush spot. What did you have?”

Editor: “Can’t remember. But it was good. And I think someone paid my taxi home.”

Big Bernard: “Oh. Where does that leave us?”

Editor: “Dunno. Shall we go away and think about it and reconvene in half an hour?”

In a nutshell . . .

18 Feb

NITHERLEY Football Club are in severe financial straits. The Nitherley Observer and Bugle is running a campaign of support. The Editor puts one of his many ideas to conference:

Editor: “I’ve had this great idea to get away from all the financial stuff and add a bit of colour to maintain readers’ interest. We give the club mascot a video camera and do a video diary for the website, and we follow this up with a first-person piece in the paper.”

Big Bernard, the chief reporter: “What, that bloody daft dog?”

Barry the Business Editor: “It’s not a dog, it’s a racoon or something.”

Editor: “Fer fuck’s sake. It’s not a racoon, it’s a fucking squirrel.”

Big Bernard: “It’s not a squirrel, it’s a big brown dog with big pointed ears.”

Editor: “Yeh? And what’s big and brown with pointed ears? It’s Nutkin the Squirrel. It’s official name is Nitherley Nutkin.”

Big Bernard: “So we give Nitherley Nutkin a video camera and it does a video diary, and then it follows it up with a first-person – or first-squirrel – piece for the paper?”

Barry the Business Editor: “Can I just say something before I go back to my desk? If you’re going to approach Nitherley Nutkin you need to talk to the man who wears the costume, not Nitherley Nutkin himself because he’s just a fur and foam suit.”

Moment’s silence.

Editor: “Thank you for that, Barry. Now will you please attend to your duties and fuck off back to your desk?”

Barry the Business Editor: “Will do, boss. No probs.”

Barry leaves the room and closes the door behind him.

Editor: “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if ever the job of investigative journalist comes up and I suggest Barry, tell me I’m fucking nuts.”

Big Bernard: “Like a squirrel.”

Editor: “Like a fucking squirrel.”

Unfriendly fire

16 Feb

THE Leek Man is sitting at his desk reading The Journalist, the NUJ’s quarterly magazine. He suddenly kicks back his chair, and with a hissing intake of breath stomps out of the newsroom. I glance at the Misfit and she glances back. I raise my eyebrows and she raises hers. Then I go to the drinks machine for a coffee.

I climb cold stairs, walk through a series of echoing corridors, open a small door and step out onto the roof. The sky is dark and overcast, clouds glowing in the glare of town centre lights. I see the Leek Man sitting on the parapet between two redundant air-conditioning units. He turns his head, acknowledges me, then gazes out across the roofs.

“You okay?” I venture.

“Yeh. Fine me,” he answers. Then he adds: “Well, no actually. I’m bloody angry. I’ve just read this John Pilger piece in The Journalist and it’s made me feel so bloody inadequate that I just want to fuck off and do something worthwhile like dig my allotment and not bother with this sodding place any more.”

I sit next to him and we gaze out across the townscape. The glass dome of the shopping mall is particularly bright and attractive when viewed from the parapet of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle offices.

“What’s he said, Pilger?”

The Leek Man unravels his magazine and squints at the pages through pop-bottle glasses. “Here we are,” he says. “Pilger’s banging on about how journalists fail in their duty to question governments and get to the truth. He cites the build-up to the Iraq War as an example of how the British press swallowed Blair’s words hook, line and sinker. Listen to this:

Dan Rather, America’s most famous news television anchor, told me that he and others now believed that had journalists done their job and challenged and exposed the lies of Bush and Blair instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened. When will we as journalists consider this is our responsibility too?

“Do you know?” he continues, “Do you fucking know, that during the build-up to the Iraq invasion I questioned everything that came down the PA wire from the British government and everyone in the newsroom took the fucking piss out of me? Remember all those grainy satellite pictures of mobile chemical warfare installations that were issued by the Ministry of Defence as proof of WMD? I said ‘No, they’re just lorries parked in the desert’. And they all fucking laughed – har-fucking-har.

“Those claims that Saddam’s palaces were stuffed with weapons – I said ‘Show us your evidence’, and all the pillocks did was guffaw and call me a fucking leftie. And remember those pictures of Iraqi military installations set up near ancient monuments, which our Government said had been positioned there to deter us from attacking them or to blame us if their antiquities got bombed? When I said, er, pardon me, but don’t we have a rather important tank training area on Salisbury Plain right next to fucking Stonehenge, they looked at me like I was Trotsky with his ice-pick still sticking in his fucking brain box.

“But the best one, or the worst one, depending on how you want to look at it, was the general assumption that WMD was absolute fact. Time after time I’d be proof-reading pages and insert the word ‘alleged’ before weapons of mass destruction. And it always engendered the same response. The ignorant, gullible twats always laughed. They looked at their proofs and they said ‘Wa-hey, the Leek Man’s had his red pen out again’. The ignorant, small-minded, totally un-fucking-professional pack of bastards. And they were all wrong. And sometimes I felt like ignoring the references to WMD and just leaving things as they were – but I kept on as a matter of principle. And I kept on because I am a fucking journalist, a professional journalist. And I was right. I was fucking well right.”

I look up at the glare of the lights on the clouds, and I say: “I came up here last month in the hope I might see the northern lights. And someone said: northern lights, don’t you have to go to Lapland to see the northern lights? But I came up anyway, though I didn’t see anything. And I felt like a bit of a nerd. Then three nights later it was reported that the northern lights had been seen across northern England. I was right after all.”

The Leek Man sighs and says: “Is that supposed to mean something?”

I say: “Not really. But at least we know we’re sane.”

And we sit there like a pair of duffers, on the roof of a building in the middle of a February night, with our feet dangling over the parapet.

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.”