Thursday, 8 October 2009
Those were the days my friend
It's a big weekend, with two major events coming up. A reunion with people I trained with as a journalist three decades ago and the village highlight of the year. When I was asked if I wanted to join the 1979 gang on Friday night as well as the Saturday, I could hear guffaws and giggles through cyberspace when I replied: 'I'm sorry, but it's the village harvest supper and I'm part of the entertainment.'
I never was going to amount to very much, I can hear them thinking, even in 1979. But I only ever wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, never a tiddler in a wide open ocean. I'd wanted to be a local newspaper journalist from the age of about nine, after quickly abandoning my first choice of being a zoo keeper on Animal Magic. However, my careers adviser at big school suggested I should try being a librarian.
'Journalism is far too competitive, dear,' she said.
But I was determined, even when a major calamity hit in my fifth year at comprehensive. On the day I was due to sit my biology O-level, I had a baby, Number One Daughter. This could have been a drama of Eastenders proportions. But the family calmly put their collective arms around me and the child. There was no question of me packing in school, packing in my dreams. So I did a few O-level re-sits, went and got some A levels and then applied everywhere I could think of.
It was by pure chance I landed a job with Mirror Group Newspapers as a trainee journalist in Plymouth. A letter I'd written to a very kind Mirror journalist in Bristol was forwarded to the training scheme. For months I heard nothing. And then one night I dreamed I was at an interview with a lot of other people. We were all cramped in one small room, going round to editor after editor touting our wares.
I told my mother at breakfast the next morning. She smiled and shook her head. A few hours later I had a telephone call. Could I possibly go down to Plymouth tomorrow for an interview? Someone had pulled out and I was on the reserve list.
So I got on a train at Taunton, stayed with a friend and went to a Dr Feelgood gig, and later caught guitarist John Mayo looking at my backside when we saw the band having drinks at the Holiday Inn.
The next day, the interviews were in a cramped Portakabin with various editors of the Mirror Group stable of local newspapers in Devon and Cornwall. It was cramped, awkward and awful. A few days later, I learned I'd got one of six school leaver placements. Such talent, I allowed myself to think, after years of low self-esteem. I learned much later I'd got the job because the training manager Jim Dalrymple liked my bottom.
The rest, as they say, is history. Not to you, but to me. Those three years in Plymouth, Exeter and Newton Abbot were among the best years, and the worst years of my life. I remember good times on the dance floors, roaring up and down the A38 on a Vespa 100cc scooter most weekends, guest speakers such as John Pilger and Lynda Lee-Potter. And bad times crying on the beach at Paignton because I missed home, my baby and couldn't seem to grasp the finer points of Teeline shorthand.
As one of my former classmates, Ross, so quaintly puts it, we were the dumb-ass kids at the back, taking the piss out of the graduates. They'd spent three years hard study at Oxbridge only to find themselves on the same training scheme as a group of unruly Westcountry teenagers. But it was by far the best journalism training anyone could ever have. Six weeks in the Portakabin and then being let loose on a weekly paper as an indentured apprentice. Thirty years on and I am still writing for a living.
So, having passed the harvest entertainment auditions in front of our local Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh - Mrs Bancroft and The Parson's Daughter - this weekend I will be mostly on stage at the village hall and then doing a time-travelling act and making my way down to Plymouth. But not on a Vespa.
That's about it.
Love Maddie x
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