Thursday, August 06, 2009
By Andrew Culture
An old cliché dictates that life imitates art; evidence around these parts would hint that life in fact irritates art. As is the way with small local newspapers - not that you could really class our output as art as such - but one has to have at least a handful of delusions of grandeur in life otherwise we'd all just fade to grey. Working for a local newspaper is less about reflecting and reporting the life of an area, and more about providing the filler between the weakly scandalous headlines and the classified adverts in the back.
You may wonder why my editor continues in his willingness to send me a pay check each month, the sad truth is that I spend my days wondering much the same thing. I'd like to think I'm still retained by this paper so they might benefit from my forty years of experience, in fact (in my brighter moments) I see myself as an ambassador for the old guard of journalism. Truth, justice and punctuality are weak currency in today's market. In reality I'm kept on as I'm quite prepared to cover the news chaff that younger hotter journalists wouldn't shake a Dictaphone at. I smile when I see these children fresh from college and on a mission to change the world; it's a kind smile, one that reminds me that once I lived for exposing scandal and salacious gossip.
By now I suppose you're wondering if I've been downgraded to covering stories like the one I'm on my way to now as a part of a gradual slowing down process; as if my employers are easing me into a static and numb retirement. You're wrong, I choose these stories, and in fact I've been choosing these stories for nearly thirty years. Today's bit of shallow investigative journalism finds me tracking down a story deep in the heart of this cultural sink-hole I call my patch. A duck got stuck in a fence; the story was reported by some old lass in sheltered accommodation. I'm hoping there'll be enough of a story here to knock out the five hundred words that will keep extra work firmly in the in-trays of my younger, keener colleagues. I want to go home early today; I always want to go home early. Whilst older 'hacks' have rejected T'internet I’ve embraced it like a man in a desert embraces a mirage; I can send in stories to the paper with none of the inconvenience of having to darken their doorstep, or look into the cold dead eyes of their heinous receptionist.
My first employer was in London, a large newspaper you may have heard of. I got the job the old fashioned way, nepotism. I was hot, through devious methods I won't dwell on here I was always the first on a blood soaked murder scene and I was at the front of every queue for every leaked government document. I tingled with excitement when some poor soul of a child went astray. I fuelled myself (and my swelling bank account) like a parasite gorging on human misery. Most journalists burn out (or are thrown out) of that fast paced world but I lasted a full decade. My face was everywhere, I couldn't show my face in any pub from Newbury Park to Reading without hearing a volley of creative expletives, every one aimed squarely at me, and falling (with some justification I'll admit) heavily in my lap. I was a bottom feeder, growing fat on detritus of humanity and it earned me no friends. I didn't care, I was the chap going back to a huge house in my nice car (drink driving - pah) while they went back to their benign shift work, forever condemned to be a part of the mindless grey hordes.
In the end it wasn't a breakdown or an arrest that made me stop. I stopped after having what an alcoholic might call a 'moment of clarity'. First thing one Thursday morning in Fulham (11am by my timetable) I found the seat of my overriding melancholy, a deep sadness that had become so familiar to me it was like family. I realised we all become a reflection of what we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Doctors see the world as being saturated with death and disease, if ninety percent of the people you meet on a daily basis are sick then I’m sure you would share their view. By focussing on only the most despicable and woeful aspects of humanity my view of the world had become similarly horribly queered. No longer did I want to wallow in this mire, the initial cash driven euphoria had slipped away from me so silently and without commotion I hadn't noticed it go, and it was taking my humanity with it. Neither had I noticed this hole in my humanity becoming filled with a numb nihilistic need to focus on the cruelty of this world.
On that morning I made a change. Well actually I made a phone call, but let's not get pedantic, that's the sub-editors job. I called an old friend who I knew had just been taken on by a small rural newspaper. With a few nods, winks and handshakes - all of which would be considered entirely inappropriate today - I found myself where I am today. I take the lightweight stories that nobody else wants because I revel in them. These small newspaper tales are full of redemption, heroism and positivity. Sure enough they'll never change the world, but they've certainly made my own world a far nicer place.
When I arrived on the scene of today's page twenty five filler story the duck had managed to wriggle free. In fact it managed to free itself before the fire engine arrived, only to be flattened by said fire engine upon its departure. I like that; it's a sort of self cancelling story. Evil doesn't always begat evil, and good doesn't always breed joy. Actually if you want a word or two of advice from me (so you may benefit from my many years on this planet) I guess I could let you know that things generally turn out okay no matter how hard you try and exert yourself upon them. Oh, and don't think too much, it's not always the most helpful way of solving a problem.
And as for the duck - I took it home and ate it. Life is good when you don't stop to think about it.