Friday, 28 May 2010

far from grim fairy tales

There was the girl for whom we bought fifty tickets on the Liverpool ferry and then photographed plying across the Mersey to New Brighton and back. The story we sold our news editors was that her doctor had ordered her to take a cruise for health reasons: the ferry trip was the only one she could afford.
Then there was the dog we tied to the railings of the police Bridewell, a note attached to its collar "My daddy threatens to shoot my dog. Please Mr Policeman would you hide him somewhere safe?" Which we signed "Simon 11" after cleverly misspelling "threaten".
Both stories were page leads in our newspapers and aroused much comment. Animal stories always caused comment. I almost lost my job by suggesting The Daily Mirror motto should be "Every Day Has Its Dog". In my defence I pointed out that the day before we had run two stories. One on page one told how stray dogs were moved from cages each day at the RSPCA kennels until they reached the one labelled "Tuesday". When a dog reached the "Tuesday" cage it was put down. The day that "Tuesday's Dog" appeared, the paper was snowed under with cheques and postal orders to pay for its continued life; our phone lines jammed with calls. One caller offered a thousand pounds to have the dog brought out to Italy and a life of luxury. In the same issue I wrote a story of some limbless ex-servicemen who after superhuman efforts got themselves a workshop to make things to sell. They were a month behind with their rent and their landlord threatened to evict them. Only five readers rang up about that story and not enough cheques arrived to meet the arrears.
Liverpool district reporters on National newspapers in those days would have got a "first" on any Creative Writing Course. Nor were we without help. We had to find a story a week for our sister Sunday papers. Bert Balmer, the city's Assistant Chief Constable and a Press Club member, used to make them up for us on request, over a convivial glass in the club bar.
So it might seem a bit odd that I have cancelled my subscription to Daily Mail newspapers in disgust at its treatment of Lord Triesman, the chairman of the Football Association. I think little of the FA and when I saw the photograph of the Lord and his lady (?) Melissa Jacobs I thought of the judgement of a commanding officer on one of his subalterns: "One would hesitate to breed from this officer." But love is allowable, even among the unsightly. What is not allowable was for her to pass on an innocent remark he made about his fear of bribery of referees to the Mail on Sunday and for that paper to give her £75,000.
I wasn't sorry to see the paper go. I had been reading the facsimile edition on line and, though in bribery the Mail group is second to none, it has yet to turn out readable facsimilies. I see The Times is offering a similar service. I will try it without hope.
Certainly it is time our newspapers caught up with the computer world. As I sat at my news desk surrounded by the most modern gadgets, I used to reflect on the expense and labour involved in gathering, illustrating, printing and publishing the day's news. Yet all depended on a small boy on a bicycle. If he slept in or forgot to deliver the morning paper, the whole costly process collapsed.
Now that news has been largely supplanted by the vapourings of celebrities one wonders whether mytrade deserves to survive. Interviewed in The Sunday Times, the 61-year-old actor Jeremy Irons
speculated that disease or war could become Nature’s way of halving the population.
Irons, who owns several cars and six houses, including a pink castle in County Cork, Ireland, nevertheless dismissed the idea that a recovery in consumption would help Britain out of recession: “How many clothes do people need? People must drop their standard of living so the wealth can be spread about."
He rightly suggests there are too many of us yet this father of two says: “I don’t think you can tell people not to have children."
The grimmer alternative, says Irons, is to continue to inflate the richer western economies to bursting point at the expense of poorer nations: “We would have to ringfence those who are starving and fighting over water, keeping everybody out. We’d live in a sort of fortress world, with an area which is fine, with its guarded oil pipe coming from Afghanistan or wherever, but I can’t see that working.”....Thus spake the fecund owner of six cars and a pink painted castle on an Irish Lough.
Reading that last comment I am uncomfortably aware of pots calling kettles pink. My personsal Ship of Fools is swift approaching the rocky channel of overdraft times. This week my late cousin's library went up for sale. It occured to me it would have been nice to own a small collection of his books to remind me of the many happy hours I have passed in that room of wonders. I chose first editions of the "Hound of the Baskervilles"," Johnson's Lives of the Poets" and the Surtees' Jorrocks collection. I noticed in time the bid I was making would carry me into the overdraft shallows and equalled the amount I have promised to pay my charities for the rest of the year. One of these is Help for Heroes and, as it happens, one of those heroes was interviewed on radio. He was a Lance Corporal who had lost three limbs. His esprit was shaming. I tore up the cheque for the auction.

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