Monday, 28 October 2019

A reunion of hacks

Forty years ago (I can't believe it's forty years ago), I entered with great trepidation the Portakabin of Life as part of the Mirror Group Newspapers training scheme in Plymouth.

I was eighteen and rather nervous. I didn't really feel like I belonged there, alongside clever graduates from Oxford and similarly lofty establishments. I was a comprehensive school girl from Somerset.

But English was the only subject I was ever any good at. And since the age of about nine or ten, I'd wanted to be a journalist. I put that down to having watched the wisecracking Rosalind Russell in the 1940s film His Girl Friday.

I wanted to be like her - smart, sassy, witty, independent. I also wanted to wear those suits. And maybe catch the heart of Cary Grant.

The school's careers adviser said journalism was a competitive business and I'd be better off in retail management or train to be a librarian. I can't sell anything for toffee and I'm not particularly quiet, so neither option seemed suitable.

I carried on writing letter after letter to try to get into journalism. I was thwarted at every turn, until my letter to a Mirror journalist in Bristol bore fruit. Up until then, my fallback position was a Youth Training Scheme course in film editing that one of my older sisters had found. I often wonder what might have happened if I'd done that instead. I like to think I'd be working on the latest Wallace and Gromit movie.

Anyway, the Bristol journalist suggested I try the Mirror's training scheme, which was based on weekly newspapers in Devon and Cornwall. I'd never heard of it, but it was worth a try.

I didn't hear anything for months and then I had a dream. I was being interviewed in very cramped conditions, speaking really quietly in a room where lots of other interviews were also taking place. The next morning, I told my mother about my dream. She dismissed it and told me not to get my hopes up.

That day, I had a call from the Mirror Group. Apparently, I had been on a reserve list, someone had dropped out and could I come for an interview the next day.

I stayed with an old boyfriend at Plymouth Poly who gallantly slept on the floor and gave me his bed. We went to see the band Dr Feelgood while I should have been prepping for interview.

The next day, he dropped me off on the edge of Plymouth to a dingy old industrial estate. I made my way around the back of the drab building to a Portakabin at the rear. And here, in cramped conditions, there were whispered interviews going on with the various editors of the weekly local newspapers in the Mirror stable.

Incredibly, I got the job and, for the next two-and-a-half years, I learnt the trade, including studying newspaper law, public administration and shorthand. We had a bit of 'block release' in the Portakabin and were then let loose on local newspapers like young children in a fun factory.

My year comprised eight school leavers with A levels and Westcountry roots rubbing shoulders with bright graduates who went on to greater things. Many of the school leavers did, too.

I'm still in touch with my fellow trainees and we've just had a reunion.

I remember so many details - such as exactly where I sat in the Portakabin and who was sitting next to me - which the others have long since forgotten. I remember a wild party in Truro (of which the host now has absolutely no recollection) and hitchhiking around Cornwall with my flatmate and waking up on a cliff edge, having pitched the tent in the dark. My flatmate doesn't remember a thing.

It was a brilliant way to learn. I still feel like I got the job by default and I'm very privileged to have had such practical, good quality training, which has stood me in good stead over the years. Our training manager, Jim Dalrymple, was a legend. We've had some tantalising glimpses of his movements since then but we're still none the wiser. You'd think that one of us, as journalists, would have been able to track him down.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Blessed be the fight: a view from the march

I went on the march yesterday.

It was an early start, driving into Bridport accompanied by Tony Blackburn on Radio 2 to catch the seven o'clock bus to London, and then back home again at ten at night to Craig Charles's House Party.

In the interim, my friend won a 'I'm one of the Liberal Elite (apparently)' T-shirt in the raffle on the coach and I acquired a Union Jack-meets-the-EU-stars flag as we waited for the march to set off.

It was the first time I've been on a mass protest since 1983.

In a country torn apart by Brexit, it was the most positive many have felt in a long time. Surrounded by people of all faiths, colours, creed, all united for a common cause. We, the forty-eight percent, others who have changed their minds in the last three-and-half years and those who, in June 2016, had been too young to vote.

There were teenagers, old people, the middle-aged, millennials and children. There were dogs and unicorns, masses of drums and big, bold disco music coming from a giant speaker on a trailer towed  a bike-riding Rastafarian.

There were librarians against Brexit, NHS workers for Europe and Tories for Remain. Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and grannies, care workers, ramblers and rabbis. There were farmers and factory workers, all of them not wanting, to quote the Dominic Cummings mantra, to get Brexit done at the cost of selling the country down the river to the financial elite and little Englanders whose standard response to the people who want to stay in Europe is 'you lost, get over it'.

At the statue of Achilles, the ancient Greek hero of the Trojan War on Hyde Park Corner, we shared a laugh with a British Asian carrying a Dorset flag. He was holding it aloft on behalf of  his friend from west London who declared it the best county flag in the country. It stood out beautifully in the sunshine against a clear blue sky.

Earlier, as we listened to impromptu speeches from our Dorset contingent, in the manner of a service at a Friends Meeting House, a mother whispered to me that her tall, teenage son was the one who had placed a 'Bollocks to Brexit' sticker across Achilles's fig leaf-clad privates.

'I think his grandfather would have tutted but secretly he'd have been very proud of him,' she told me.

We gloried in the brilliantly witty placards carried high above the crowd as it snaked along in baby steps from Park Lane to Parliament Square. We chatted with people who came from all over the country to be a part of this, passionate people who cannot believe the country is doing this to itself.

We did the actions to YMCA in the pouring rain, heads covered in flags or makeshift, pink poster headgear which looked like the bonnets from The Handmaid's Tale.

Praise be.

Great cheers rippled through the crowd as the news came through from Parliament Square that the amendment put forward by my MP Oliver Letwin - who is viewed in this constituency as a dishonourable disgrace or a principled hero, depending on your point of view - had been passed by 322 votes to 306 at Saturday's 'super sitting'.

Stuck in the middle of this one million-plus throng, we peeled off at Duke of York Column from Waterloo Place down to the Mall where we made our way to Parliament Square to listen to the tail end of the speeches before getting the bus back home, tired but inspired.

Today, listening to the news that the prime minister is determined to get out of Europe whatever the arguments against this act of mass suicide, did the march make any difference? Only time will tell, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in, however rude, offensive and vitriolic those who disagree with you may be.

Blessed be the fight.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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