Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Short story on my birthday...

Been a while so I thought I'd post a story I wrote about four or five years back. I don't write stories as much as I used to but I was particularly proud of this one. Like all the best stories, it's partly based on real life. I'll leave it to you to work out which bits were real and which were just made up. 

This Is Art

Clancy Berkshire was one of the most unfortunately named people I have ever met. He was new to my senior school, arriving in the middle of the fifth year. This was when the fifth year was the final year of “big” school, where kiss chase had become much more serious and could end in unwanted teenage pregnancy or genital warts.

Clancy and I quickly become friends during our respective art classes. I was doing pottery with Mrs Heighington while Clancy was in the adjoining class room, doing art with Miss Cubrillo.

Miss Cubrillo had a special place in the heart of every schoolboy at our school thanks to her fashion for wearing the lowest of low-cut tops. This in itself was not such a big deal. Mrs Bowers, the Home Ec teacher, wore low cut tops during most the summer months, but then she was stick thin, bow legged and in her late 60s. But Miss Cubrillo was none of these things. She was in her mid 20s, shapely like an hourglass and the owner of the most magnificent breasts to ever pass through the school gates in something other than a training bra. They often appeared to have a life of their own and she would casually rest them on her desk as she wrote reports, leaving her students to consider primary colours and what they looked like in the flesh.

Now, you’d think she’d draw the jealous ire of the pretty girls at school for upstaging them, but no, this never came about, primarily because she’d regularly take not just the cool sporty cute girls for bi-weekly sessions of hockey, but also the less-cool, less-cute, bookish ones. She would pass on her knowledge and skills, amazing them all with her deft stick control and somewhat mischievous tales of growing up in the Caribbean and the handsome young men she had known there. The boys would look on from the demountable classrooms which sat beside the sports field, with legs crossed and imaginations vivid.

Now personally, I always held a special fondness for Miss Cubrillo, and not in any way because of her breasts.  Okay, maybe just a little, but mainly it was because of two very much unexpected and somewhat life-changing compliments she paid me during a pottery lesson.

She had sauntered in from her art class next door, as she often did, and airily announced she was bored with her students and wanted to see what we were up to.
Our class, taught by the wise and wonderful Mrs Heighington, was a collection of slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging students who had failed to get into any proper studious classes and were quietly dumped in the cul-de-sac of pottery. And there was me, the Oliver Twist in a room full of Artful Dodgers. I was the odd man out being classified as the boff who had strangely chosen pottery over the more suitable academic subjects of chemistry, geography and latin. We didn’t actually do latin at my comprehensive, but if we did, I would’ve been expected to take it. I would’ve been expected to even get the accent right.  

While outside the lesson, I was considered fair game for the more predatory students, inside that room I was not teacher’s pet, I was King Rat. I was the boy who “could”. I could work the kiln, I could create the slip glue which put clay figures back together, I could throw a pot on the wheel and make it rise and fall like a teenage boy’s member at the school disco during the slow dance. A boy who could is in great demand in a class like that, ready to help the other students at the drop of a hat with their ashtrays and coil pots, guiding them through the tortuously artistic interpretations of ‘war’, ‘entropy’ and ‘desolation’. Yes, Mrs Heighington had been a true Sixties star-child and as such was wonderfully bohemian in her approach to setting project titles.

Anyways, Miss Cubrillo had cast her gaze across the room before she settled on my work. I was diligently engrossed in constructing a full-size Samurai warrior helmet and facemask which I had researched and designed myself during numerous lunch-breaks in the school library. Ah, the school library - the holiest of sanctuaries for any discerning boff who liked the finer things in life. Like not having their balls kicked in on the school playing field each and every lunch-break.

She sidled up to my workstation and I was alerted to her presence when her breast casually bumped into my arm, startling me a tad. In fairness, it probably startled more than just my tad. I was 15 and a half, remember.

As I coughed and tried to regain my composure, she asked me what I was going to do after school. While I very quickly reasoned this was not an invitation to join her in her hand-painted 2CV for a romantic liaison, this did not prevent a round of filthy giggles from my nearest classmates.

As I put the finishing touches to the insignia at the front of the helmet, which honours the Samurai’s master to whom he is beholden, I told her I was probably going to work in a bank or some such unutterably boring and safe environment which would please my parents hugely because it meant I would be paying them most of my wages each month. She tutted and said, in sad, almost pitying tones, that having seen my work over the past two years this would be a great waste and I should instead be going to art college.

I was quite taken aback. I had never been so complimented at school before. At any school before when I come to think of it. Scratch that – I think I can safely say I’d not had any kind of compliment, anywhere, ever, which had made me glow inside. But then, just as I was momentarily enjoying this little button of warmth which was pulsating in my chest, she metaphorically hit the hockey ball into the back of the net.

Miss Curbrillo turned to our pottery teacher who was on the other side of the room, and loudly pronounced: “Mrs Heighington? I do so love Carl’s helmet...”

Needless to say, there was a two second lag of silence before the room effectively exploded. Matt Paulson had been drinking some water at the time and two jets of it erupted from his nose as he snorted with laughter. Anthony Lord guffawed so hard he fell off his stool and landed on his back, cracking his head on the ground. Christopher Selfridge was so agog he went to pick up a figurine which had been drying and, because he was looking at Miss Cubrillo with his mouth open, instead grabbed a pot which had only just come out of a kiln. He screamed, dropped the pot and ran for the sink to immerse his fast blistering hand.

I’ll never know whether Miss Cubrillo’s gorgeous Caribbean skin hid any kind of blush. But I do remember her turning back to me and smiling warmly, as if she knew full well what she’d done. Dumbfounded, I watched her sashay back to her own class, leaving me feeling more confident and around 72 places higher on the official “cool at school” list. Gareth Stone, who two years earlier had pinned me to a Home Ec cooker and grilled my back to a crispy turn, looked at me with an element of awe and gasped: “Miss Cubrillo love’s your helmet...Nice one Carl!”

Mrs Heighington cocked an eyebrow at me from across the room, so I just smiled the unexpected smile of the boy made legend and returned to smoothing out my insignia, which is not a euphemism. But it’s true I was very much thinking rude thoughts about Miss Cubrillo as I wistfully stroked the clay of my helmet. That’s not a euphemism either.   
Anyway, back to Clancy. His art project consisted of paying specially chosen fifth-year schoolboys a small fortune to gurn with what they thought was their most amusingly pained face to camera. Over a period of four weeks he shot around seventeen rolls of 36 exposure 400ASA Kodachrome. What I found most intriguing was that each mugshot-like still was of a boy who had mercilessly teased or tormented him at some point since his arrival at the school. For the end of year art exhibition, which was open to all pupils and parents, Clancy had placed each image, grid-like, on an A2 posterboard, while a rotary slide projector threw huge colour photographs of each boy onto a large white sheet at one end of the main hall.

However, he received a week-long detention after shocked parents spotted how Clancy had placed additional slides into the projector which revealed the true title of his work – which was not “Nobility Anointed” as he had claimed, but “The Come-Faced Spunk-Muppets of the Fifth Year”. Not that most of his victims really understood what a Come Face was back then. Admittedly, a large number of them had had some kind of sexual exploit – usually with Daphne Fairfax who eventually found fame as Weightwatchers’ biggest failure - but invariably it was not a case of having a ‘come face’ as having a ‘shocked’ or more likely ‘startled’ face due to a not-entirely-unexpected premature ejaculation.

Shortly before we lost touch I learned Clancy was arrested at art college after leading a one-man crusade to create “quantum art”. This radical form of art mainly involved Clancy setting up an array of sophisticated laboratory equipment, which for several months misled lecturers into thinking they were cultivating the very essence of the Young British Artist. It was only when a Misuse of Drugs Act warrant was executed by the local constabulary that they realised Clancy was, in actual fact, cultivating the very essence of a methamphetamine laboratory on the campus.

The last time I encountered the name of Clancy Berkshire was from a local newspaper report about a Home Office investigation into a prison incident in the Midlands. Clancy was doing a short stretch for fraud, having sold three almost-perfect copies of Turner’s Ovid Banished From Rome to a Russian oligarch. He had escaped execution and torture by the Oligarch’s henchmen having already given them all completely-perfect copies of Banksy’s Urinating Royal Guard.

He had selflessly spent his time in prison educating the other inmates to read and write, as well as giving art lessons. He had encouraged free expression along with avant garde use of watercolours and oils. The governor was so pleased with the results he allowed Clancy to create a prison art department and order all manner of equipment, paints, brushes and thinners. It was only after the authorities learned that Clancy had been using the paints and cleaning solvents to create explosives that the art lessons were postponed indefinitely. That and the fact that Clancy had left via a hole created by the explosives, meaning there was no-one left to continue the supposedly therapeutic art work.

The report ended with a line about Clancy’s current whereabouts was currently unknown. An unnecessary repetition, if you ask me, but that’s the standard of reporting these days.

Me? Well, I did end up working in a bank. But in my defence, it was in the Caribbean where Miss Cubrillo taught me so much more than just hockey…

©Carl Eve 2012

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Coca Cola truck is in town. Shoot me now.

An 18-wheeler articulated lorry has brought festive cheer, because a reindeer-drawn sleigh just doesn't carry enough cans of fizzy

(This opinion column is copied here only because I know it'll be taken down eventually from the Plymouth Herald website)

The Coca Cola van is in town and I couldn’t be more appalled.

“Oh, but it’s Christmas” I hear Plymothian’s cry, in between mouthfuls of Bacon Double Cheese Burgers from Generic American Takeaway and staring slack-jawed at Sky Sports 4 - The LDV Van Trophy Replays.

Let’s be very clear. Coca Cola is not Christmas. It’s no more Christmas than being given a butt plug and a dirty raincoat from your across-the-road neighbour Alf who stares at you through his filthy net curtains while holding himself. Because yet again he picked you out for your street’s Secret Santa.

It is carbonated water, with enough sugar in it to make a toddler scream “enough already, can I have some carrot sticks and celery please!’

'Yes kids, you waddle over to the Coca Cola truck and meet Father Christmas while I sit here...'

Do we celebrate each time South West Water find a fat-berg clogging up our sewers and claim it’s part of a Christmas tradition?

Because for the last decade Coca Cola’s annual reports to the US Securities and Exchange Commission have listed obesity and its health consequences as the single greatest threat to the company profits.

To counter that threat it has deployed intensive marketing – such as suggesting somehow A Coke is for Christmas – along with lobbying and pouring millions of dollars into fighting any campaign by government to tax or cap the size of sugary drinks.

Childhood obesity - no, go on, have some more sugary drinks sweetie

‘But the Coca Cola truck is Christmas Carl, you grouchy git’. Oh really. Really? On November 14, which happened to be World Diabetes Day, the Coca Cola truck was in Newcastle, the city where it sponsors Park Lives, which encourages more exercise.

Now, whereas I consider that hitting the Irony Meter at full strength, you may think that’s noble. But it’s about as noble as Plymouth Half Marathon being sponsored by Capstan Full Strength cigarettes. Or the League Cup sponsored by Coca Cola... which they did.

But, let's be clear - November 14 is not Christmas. So far it’s still a date when if we see lots of Christmas trees being put up in people’s homes we consider them a bit mad and too keen. At least wait until November 25, for God’s sake. We’re British after all.

Eggnog and Coke? Anyone?

It’s the other small merchants I feel sorry for. There they are, paying out a fortune to the council in business rates or the City Centre Company for a ten by ten pitch in the Piazza in the hope that their Summer-house shed full of dog blankets and home-made wicker Santa Clauses will be eagerly visited by Christmas shoppers, when a ruddy great articulated truck, painted blood red with a dash of swervy white lines, like a drunk cocaine-snorting rock star, pulls up and plonks itself on their lawn.

I think the police had the right idea a few years back. In 2011 an ‘unprecedented 1,000-plus’ people swarmed the lorry like hoards of hungry zombies keen to devour a former This Life actor who we now recognise was a stalker in Love Actually and not a romantic man with a pile of vomit-inducing placards.

Shoppers, clamouring for photos of the truck – because in Plymouth they’ve clearly never seen a big red truck before – spilled into the busy Royal Parade, putting their lives at even more risk than drinking gallons of the sugary drink.

'So, that's Christmas is it?' 'No dear, it's a cheap marketing ploy used by a company which makes billions of dollars each year from selling a tar-coloured sugary drink which used to have cocaine in it...'

I say risk, but it’s all comparative. Especially when you consider one in five children are overweight or obese when they start primary school and almost one in three by the time they leave primary school.

Oh, and as for being dismembered by either zombies or by cars whizzing along Royal Parade while drivers gawp slack-jawed at the big red truck, keep in mind that 2014 was marked by a record high number of amputations – more than 8,500 – mostly due to type 2 diabetes, a condition closely linked with being overweight or obese and diets high in sugar can lead to being overweight or obese.

Should I remind you that each can of Coke has around nine teaspoons of sugar, which the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health equates to the recommended daily allowance of sugar – for a full grown male adult?

Frankly, if police started pepper-spraying the crowds around the Cola truck shouting ‘it’s for your own good, you’ll thank us one day’, I wouldn’t be complaining to Amnesty International.

‘Oh, but it’s Christmas Carl, and the Coca Cola truck is very red, which makes it very Christmassy’. Oh FFS. Look – mince pies are Christmassy, but they don’t get more Christmassy if I pour tomato sauce over them? Additionally, I struggle to buy mince pies in the middle of June.

It’s not like Lidl and Marks and Sparks are packed full of Christmas puddings shortly after the Easter holidays. And while I could possibly buy hot mulled wine, eggnog and spiced gl├╝hwein in September, the one thing I do know is that they’re not easily available from a decrepit soda machine dispensing the sugary black acidic 2p-coin cleaning gloop from the ever-so Christmassy venues such as a manky coach station located in the arse-end of every city in the world.

‘Yes, but Carl, Santa will be on board. That’s how you know it’s Christmassy’. Oh for the love of…

'Honey, the Pepsi truck is here... does that mean it's Easter?'

Look, would you get this excited if the Lilt truck or the Tango truck came to town with loud-hailers blaring out Noddy Holder’s dulcet tones as long as it had some minimum-wage-paid seasonal fat bloke wearing a beard and Lennon-glasses, plus some skimpily dressed elves who were chosen mainly because they once appeared on Babestation.

You would, wouldn’t you? I despair.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Oh, blimey

Okay - I need to get back in the saddle don't I.

Will sort something from my addled brain soon. No really, it'll be my pleasure...

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

It's my own little world, where I get to do anything I want...

An American friend has suggested I write more. All well and good, but time is short, getting shorter and my 3rd-hand laptop at home is older than my cat, does not have internet and has to sit on my lap because I don't have my own office.
But she's right.
So, in the spirit of the wilting of 2013 and the slow erection of 2014 - and yes, there's an obvious "ooeerr missus" in there - I will post two of my short stories that have come out of the magnificent Athenaeum Writer's Group, of which I am but a very minor player... but will endeavour to attend more regularly in 2014.
So I guess that's my New Year's Resolution sorted, whether I wanted to make one or not.
I hope you enjoy...

Holding hands with an adult

I’M NOT GOING to get better, am I Dad..?”
It wasn’t just a question, like all the others Andy uttered. It was as much a statement as anything. Andy was putting on his brave face, talking like us grown-ups were supposed to.
I’d just pointed out an oil tanker on the horizon, creeping up the Thames estuary, heading towards the Coryton refinery, comparing them against the seemingly tiny cockleshell boats which would commute back and forth from nearby Old Leigh.
The cloud was hazy over the Isle of Sheppey and from the Chalkwell Cliffs it appeared we were looking out to sea, rather than the eastern fringes of London’s shabby river. 
I felt that buzzing warmness around the back edges of my eyes, the one that reminds a man his tears are always waiting for him if he gives in. My tongue went dry and it felt fat and stupid, sticking to the roof of my mouth.
‘I have to be strong. I have to be a Dad… I mean, I have to be a good Dad’ I barracked myself silently.
A seagull screeched loudly a few feet from us, making me start. I turned to look at Andy, not really ready to give the speech I’d prepared weeks ago.
Like any copywriter, it was a speech I’d amended along the way, adding fragile sombre words, taking out the gags, then putting them back in again for my own sake rather than his, then changing it again, adding hope but tempering it with realism, like the bereavement counsellors at the hospice explained.
I’d never had to prepare an answer for Andy which was so onerous, so important, as this. I think I was even proud of the one I’d drafted by the end, certainly prouder than the one I’d given him when me and his mum had split up.
But as I drew breath, dreading the darkening monologue I’d rehearsed, Andy suddenly turned away, looking to the distance. His arm feebly came up, pointing towards the horizon, a pitiful mirror of the Queen Victoria statue a few yards away. He gave a forced, chipper exclamation as I turned to squint into the distance.
“A clipper… isn’t that a clipper Dad, over there?”
A handful of heartbeats tapped out the time it took for me to understand that my answer was to go unspoken for now. I knew he’d changed the subject on purpose, and he dropped his eyes suddenly to my hand holding his on the arm of his wheelchair, as if to tell me, ‘I know – I changed the subject Dad. I changed it because of this thing. This thing is just for me and I’m not going to put you through it as well.’
His beautiful blue eyes looked up to mine and his trademark lopsided smile burned across his face. Jesus, when did he get so damn smart? And who the hell did he get that from, because it wasn’t me and it certainly wasn’t his mum?
Again, the buzzing heat behind my eyes threatened me with my shame and embarrassment and weakness. I drew in the cold air quickly through my flared nostrils, the way soft men do to stop the tears taking over.
As I pushed him back along the Cliffs to the car the questions flowed like a bubbling river over a fall.
“Who won the FA cup when I was born Dad? Did the pier burn down four or five times? What’s the red dot on a seagull’s beak?” All the way through town he kept it up, urging on my replies whenever I struggled.
“Why don’t you live with us anymore?”
We had just pulled into the driveway of the hospice when he bowled me that one.
As I got out of the car, came around to open his door and pulled his wheelchair from the boot I rolled out the well-worn response as recommended by the Idiot’s Guide to Divorce (parents’ edition). 
“You know why Andy. Your mum and I… well… we have different lives now. Things don’t always work out for the best in a marriage. But what’s important is that we both love you very, very much and that will never change. I love you, we both do,” I assured him, noting with despair how easily I could lift his feather-light body into the wheelchair.
“But why can’t you love each other anymore?” he demanded, suddenly insistent.
I knelt by the side of his chair, flicking the numerous clips and catches to make it more sturdy.
I sighed deeply, wondering the same, before muttering softly “I don’t know why Andy. I wish I did.”
Andy’s bird-like hand plopped on top of my head and he ruffled my greying hair.
“Well, I’ll always love you… and that’ll never change,” he laughed, knowing full well he was bouncing the approved statement back at me.
“Ha ha, very funny” I replied sarcastically, standing up and grabbing the handles of the chair.
“Ha ha very funny” he parroted, trying to drop his voice as low as mine, causing us both to laugh out loud.
Later that night, after I’d helped him eat his dinner and badgered him into swallowing what seemed like a sweet-packet of pills, I stroked his hand while he fell asleep.
I drew my palm gently up his arm, passing the multitude of bruises where different nurses had struggled to find a vein thick enough or strong enough to take another needle.
The largest blood bruise was still there, marking the time when the new student nurse had shaken with nerves as she jabbed with the syringe.
The senior nurse had been at her back, and had tried to calm her pupil with a hand placed softly on her shoulder. Andy’s cries had argued the point and I could see the young woman become increasingly distressed at the pain she knew she was causing.
She had become so het up, as Andy’s wails grew, she eventually gulped down a sob and fled the room.
“She’s new…” said the senior nurse in explanation.
“You think?” hiccupped Andy, trying to laugh while gulping down his own tears.
“A lot of them get into this because they want to help,” the senior nurse, Gloria, told me later as we shared a cigarette in the hospice car park.
“But sometimes the work here is just too much. They feel guilty, embarrassed, angry with themselves after a while. They know they can’t hack it, but it takes them several weeks to really accept the truth before they finally leave. Others learn how to cope and they’re the ones that stay. Once you learn to accept what goes on here, you stay for ever.”
The blood-bruise had gone black, then blue and had slowly faded to a large mottled yellow stain, like a smoker’s fingers.
Jules, the student nurse, had stayed the entire term of the bruise and had learned to cope. She could now find a vein even better than Gloria, despite the degeneration of Andy’s muscles and arteries.
It was my shift when Andy finally passed away and I was pleased we were alone together. After months of treatment, his mum and I had agreed a rota, some nights she would stay, and some nights me. We made sure Andy was never alone as he went to sleep, that there was always one of us with him.
It wasn’t easy since the split, but at least it meant we didn’t have to meet at Andy’s bedside and go through that awkward handover greeting.
When I arrived I realised pretty quickly the day wasn’t going to end well. I had a dark itch at my back all the way along the hospice drive and the face of the receptionist telegraphed it all. I started to leave an increasing number of phone messages and texts with Andy’s mum, but either the restaurant she had gone to with her new partner was out of signal range or she’d turned her bloody phone off again.
Gloria had given me a look which said “bugger calling, you’re needed now”, so I stopped trying to do the right thing, and just did the right thing.
I never saw the light leave Andy’s beautiful blue eyes, because he’d closed them days before when he’d slipped into a coma.
I held his hand when his heart finally stopped beating, feeling it grow colder and colder, until Gloria gently told me it was time to let it go.
As expected, his mum had screamed at me for what seemed like hours afterwards. Blaming me again and again that she should have been there, not me.
I didn’t know what to say, how to make a sensible reply, so I said nothing.
What do you say to a mother who’s missed her own son’s death in lieu of a romantic but less-than-average pasta bake with a car-wash manager called Brendan?
I didn’t go to Andy’s funeral. Well, Brendan suggested it wasn’t a good idea if I attended as it would upset Andy’s mum and he didn’t want to see her upset.
He did the whole Alpha male thing, using matey words, with the hint of what he must have seriously thought was menace. The whole time he was prattling on all I could think was he probably held his pressure-washer lance on a people-carrier thinking he’s using a flamethrower in the Vietnam War.
I didn’t argue – I’d already decided there was no point in going anyway. It wasn’t Andy in the expensive wooden box his mum had bought for him. It wasn’t Andy, it was just what remained of Andy’s body. The one he’d lived in. The one that had gone and turned on him, taking him apart bit by bit.
I haven’t gone back to work yet and though they’re being nice about it, I think they know I probably won’t ever go back. Selling advertising, copy-writing, it’s just selling false promises. Your life won’t be better if you buy this, you won’t be a richer person, you will not live longer. 
I do still go up to the Cliffs and watch the boats saunter along the estuary. I sit on a bench which bears Andy’s name on a small brass plaque. When my hands begin to shake, I put them together in my lap and try to fool myself I’m holding his hand again. 
No-one asks me much in the way of questions anymore. But it’s alright.
Andy taught me that some questions… well, some questions just don’t have answers.

©Carl Eve 2012 


Jam And Jerusalem

“TO THE LEFT a little please Margaret, closer to the delphiniums, lovely, Jeremy dear that needs to go over the other side, in between the two Greek columns, that's right, oh Daphne those are magnificent cushion covers, but we can’t have them in this marquee, people will think they’re cruising Marks and Spencers, oh for pity’s sake Gerald, I said straight-back chairs, not those, this is Bramley House, not a housing estate...”
The shrill voice of Morag Mulwhinny rang out inside the crisp white marquee, which was festooned with colourful bunting, assuming you approved of the colours being only red, white and blue, which Morag certainly did.
She wiped her hands twice on her sensible tweed skirt and briefly hummed a particularly favourite Scottish reel to herself which she found as calming as a saucer of camomile tea.
Morag was proud of her Scottish heritage. Certainly proud enough to have retained her cut glass BBC accent which even Lord Reith would have approved of. 
She caught sight of an impressive-looking fruit cake on an ivory stand and absent-mindedly straightened it so the clock-piece almonds around the edge did not appear askew.
She then noticed the elegantly written card attached to it and carefully returned the cake to its former askew position.
“Admiring my cake Morag?” said a tiny but true Scots voice beside her.
“Ah Hettie... yes, a fine cake,” said Morag. She had used the word ‘fine’ in the way people use ‘interesting’ when they are unsure of what they’re seeing. The way some parents would use ‘lovely’ when their child brings home a painting from nursery which looks like a walrus eating a Volkswagen Beetle or vice versa but your child insists is actually you. 
“Perhaps a few too many almonds for my liking Hettie, but I think it’s a rather fine effort on your part. You know, I do think there’s every chance you could get a bronze this year, although Cynthia’s Victoria sponge has some admirers.”
Morag smiled sweetly at Hettie who was beginning to frown slightly at the sponge cake beside hers. It was adorned with a dusting of icing sugar which clearly displayed a silhouette of Queen Victoria. Cynthia's recent run of OCD meant she’d probably been up all night placing each individual speck using surgical tweezers and a magnifying glass borrowed from her husband’s surgery.
Morag’s petrified hair seemed to crackle as she looked up and walked with exaggerated urgency towards the marquee’s open tent flaps, her arms raised in melodramatic alarm.
“Emmett darling, you’ll need to put that trestle table out the front, there’s simply not enough room in here for any more asparagus and artichoke displays. And could you tell...” she swallowed hard “Sahara… that she really needs to get a move on. Those dahlias she’s preparing are liable to wilt in this heat, and heaven knows what will become of Glenda’s display of red hot pokers. She knows full well Major Hegarty has a tendency to become somewhat cantankerous if he has to judge wilted torch lilies.”
Morag eyes swivelled and narrowed as she spied suspicious and furtive movements at one of the tables. A voice like cheesewire sliced through the hubbub and ensured all eyes headed towards the subject of Morag’s displeasure.
“Gerald? I’ve told you before – no macaroons. You know they give you indigestion and Dr Parsival quite clearly stated they were as beneficial to your gall bladder as the Zulus were to the garrison at Rourke’s Drift."
A balding, red-faced man gingerly placed a solitary macaroon back onto a rose printed plate, which stood in line with several other similarly rose printed plates on the white cotton tablecloth.
The hubbub returned, embarrassed, as the many continued the work of the few. 
An olive-skinned woman sporting a khaki baseball cap, a denim shirt and a long white cotton Gypsy-style skirt strode into the tent. She waved happily at a couple of the young girls hoisting bunting around the marquee as she approached Morag. With one hand she whipped off the cap and she shook out her long dark hair which had unconcerned strands of grey.
“Morag, I knew I’d find you here in the comp tent. How’s it going? Everything according to plan? It’s frightfully hot don’t you think? Have you had a drink? You’ve been hard at work for ages. You’re starting to look a little flushed you know.”
Morag radiated tireless determination as she gently tended her lacquered hair with the palm of her right hand. She felt the bead of sweat run down the side of her face, but ignored it testily.
“Thank you Georgina, that’s very kind of you, but I can assure you, a childhood in Kandahar, two years in Singapore and three more years as a Japanese P.O.W has left me immune to British summers. I take it you’re taking a break from the holy tent to see how we’re getting along.”
The two were now standing side by side, surveying the cakes, vegetables, flowers and fruits on glorious display on tables the length and breadth of the marquee.
“Holistic tent Morag, although we decided to rename it the ‘Chill Zone’ at our last meeting – didn’t I send you an e-mail?”
Georgina missed Morag’s brief wince at the technological term as she began to look around the marquee full of busy workers. “I must say Morag, this looks very... traditional,” she said with a genuine smile. “It really does look every inch the British summer fete – your lot have done a fantastic job.”
“Well, one does what one can.” Morag’s palm returned to primp the coiffured hair.
“Hmm, anyway, we finished a while ago and I thought I'd offer to give you a hand – do my bit for the sisters in Piggot’s Bottom as it were. The massage table’s up and running, the yoga mats are down, the Bedouin corner looks very cool and the hammocks are out the front. We’ve got whale song and Tibetan monk chants rigged up on the speakers and the organic muesli and yogurt drinks are going like hot cakes. Speaking of which, when's the judging? I'm keen to know how my hash brownies did....”
Georgina caught Morag’s sudden raised eyebrows and grinned.
“Only joking Morag, couldn't resist after that kerfuffle over the speaker I got in from the hemp collective. I actually did mean my carrot cake. I’m looking for a commended this year with some luck, although the competition does look pretty intense.” Georgina cast a questioning gaze over at the cake table which appeared to strain under the weight of this year’s efforts.
“Well, don’t count your organic chickens,” replied Morag sarcastically. “You’ve got some very stiff competition from Mrs Wetherby’s beetroot brownies. What’s so funny?” she asked as Georgina's hand raced to her mouth to stifle childish giggles.
“Nothing Morag, I’m sure Mrs Wetherby’s beetroot brownies will be looked upon with great admiration, as they are every year. Is her husband judging again this year?” she asked sweetly.
Morag took a sharp, deep and indignant breath which was followed by a long stare and a haughty reply.
“Colonel Wetherby is a much respected judge and has been for the past thirty years at each of Piggot’s Bottom Women’s Institute fayres and I’ll brook no insinuation that he is biased in any way. It just so happens that Mrs Wetherby is an exemplary baker and I would remind you and your ladies,” she stressed this word with suspicion “in the Greater Nedging WI that if they wish to compete they should ‘up their game’ to use one of your modern phrases...”
Georgina dropped her right hip and placed her right hand on it, turning to Morag with an arched eyebrow. She sucked on her dazzling white teeth, baring them as she abruptly shook her head. “Oh, we’re not going down this road again Morag – you’ve got your ways and we’ve got ours and that’s that. I respect what you do and the way that you do it, and I would suggest you do the same.  But at the end of the day Morag, if the WI is going to survive the next century and get new members it will have to stop living so stubbornly in the last one.”
Morag drew herself up and puffed out her chest, her hands clasped in front of her in the stance known by servants and put-upon clerks the world over. She positively radiated indignant zeal.

“It may be old fashioned and twee to you johnny come latelies Georgina, but the Piggot’s Bottom WI has a fine tradition of flower arranging, cake making and vegetable growing competitions. Marjorie Twistleton-Ffiennes even won the national award in 1975 for her Beefeater-shaped ginger biscuits and I hardly need remind you of Daphne Fairfax's outstanding plums which made the front cover of the WI’s Life magazine last year...”
She completely ignored Georgina’s smirk and ploughed on like a Crusader in the Holy Land.
“...Like it or not, some of us still hold firm to the concept of Jam and Jerusalem. We're not all into Hamas and Hezbollah.” 
“Humous,” answered Georgina, smiling indulgently.
“Pardon?” quizzed Morag.
“Humous. Not Hamas. Hamas are a political movement in Palestine considered by Israel and some in the West to be a terrorist organisation. Humus is a dip derived from chick-peas. Although I can see how you could confuse the two. You really should come along to some of our meetings Morag, there’s lots more things to learn about the world.”
Morag kept her indignant stance, but softened as she assured herself she had made her point and won the argument. She never wanted it to be said she wasn’t gracious in victory.
“That's most kind Georgina, but all I need to know about the world is here, in this marquee.”
Georgina sighed and unexpectedly reached forward with both her hands to clasp Morag’s.
“I thought as much. Look, if you need some Reiki or a shiatsu massage, pop on over to our tent –  you can have one on the house – I think you need it.”
With kind and smiling eyes, Georgina gave Morag’s hands a little squeeze before turning away and walking out of the marquee, twisting up her long dark hair and placing her baseball cap back onto her head. 
Morag blinked twice and the corner of her mouth twitched. The shock of the unexpectedly tactile and sympathetic offer had taken her quite by surprise and she took a second or two to regain her composure. She watched the receding sway of Georgina’s hips and the swish of her gypsy skirt.
“Shiatsu...” tutted Morag. “The day I let another Japanese get his fiendish hands on my body...” she muttered to herself.
The idea dropped from her mind like cracked eggs into a bowl of flour as she espied a guilty-looking Gerald slinking over towards the macaroons again. 

©Carl Eve 2012

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger

Words have power. Oh they do. I read it somewhere. Well, certainly in between reading a lot of other waffle and, frankly, utter fartwittery, over the past week or two.

You may have noticed that a) a prominent sports star revealed they were attracted to boys. No, not Jessica Ennis. Tom. Woo Yay. Saw the vid and was pleased for him and thought “that took guts mate, and not just the kind of guts that sees you jump 10 metres up, backwards, spinning through the air – that’s pish easy by comparison – so good for you.”

Around that time I also set my stopwatch and started thinking about laying profitable bets on the backlash because, let’s face it, you know me – I’m not local. I don’t have a lot of faith in the six-fingered Plymouth posse and guessed that the 17th century mind-set of most of the city-that-civilisation-forgot was going to get their crayons out and start stringing monosyllabic words together to inform the echo-chamber that they was right sick of them gays and fed up with having them gays rammed down their throats and why didn’t heterosexuals get a “march” like the homosexuals and, frankly, it’s vile because if all men turned to men there would be no more babies, so it’s un-natural and against God and he will burn in the fiery pits of Hell, or Hull, whichever has the better culture these days.

Alongside them I was betting I would be educated by literally web-fingered know-it-all pseudo-citizen journalists who were going to remind me that this wasn’t real news and why was we, as a little Plymouth newspaper, hounding the Plymouth boy by writing about his YouTube revelation which was being retweeted by his million-strong followers, shown on national and international TV, radio, newspapers and sent via the science of telecommunications into outer space.  

And then I bet on the chances that both of these groups would write in, some actually using paper but most just sending in their missives via the wonder of the email and internet, which fortunately for them, allows people to write any old tadgers under the cover of complete anonymity. Yes, I bet they would write in accusing the paper of a) being disgusting for printing Tom’s words, b) being disgusting for printing letters from people who were disgusted at us printing Tom’s words, c) disgusted at the disgusting supportive letters who were disgusted at the disgusting letter writer who was disgusted at the paper for printing Tom’s disgusting words d) eventually it gets so meta, you find you just see a big ball-bag of everyone being “disgusted from Tunbridge Wells” and realise that you’re not remotely bothered anymore.

One of our more erudite and charming letter writers...
Except that I am. It was inferred that I and my workmates were either cheerleaders for bigotry or, worse, the bigots. Particularly from people who should know better. From people who for a number of years refused to speak to me about promoting LGBT issues in this city because, hey, I was a reporter on the local paper and thus couldn’t be trusted not to have the mind-set of Alf Garnett. When I pointed out that I wasn’t from “round here” and thus enjoyed the renaissance, the echoes of the 60s, the decent political correctness of the 80s and a more cosmopolitan outlook on the world, having worked for about a decade in London and living just down the road from it for more than three decades, but it fell on deaf ears. It must’ve been the Alf Garnett accent.

I mean, I know it’s cruel and harsh and very unfair of me to suggest it, but, well… you are a bit backward down here, aren’t you? It’s not entirely your fault, I know. You’re a little island, surrounded by grass and water, moors and channel. The next city of comparable size heading west is probably New York and it’s 50 miles east to the middle-class accents in Exeter. It probably wasn’t until 1976 that you saw your first hippy. You probably ate him. As for the 1980s, I’m sure you were convinced Boy George was a girl until he chained that bloke to a radiator. And you probably liked Clause 28 which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools as a “normal family relationship”. Because saying it’s okay for people to be gay, or lesbian, or whatever, is clearly more evil than the evilist thing we can imagine. You do wonder though why all that energy went into drawing up that bit of legislation when, perhaps, oh, I don’t know, people in the late 1980s should have thought more about whether it was appropriate to invite a DJ with a penchant for molesting children to Chequers on a regular basis.  

My mum brokered reality for me when I heard her say to my dad, who had made some disparaging remark about “poofs” a short while after laughing along with John Inman and Larry Grayson – so this’d be late 70s. Her surprisingly forcefully delivered line, considering it could easily warrant a slap or punch later the same night, was “Who cares if a man loves another man? There’s not enough love in this world and if two men love each other, then it’s more love in the world and that’s a good thing. I’d rather have two men loving each other than them going out and beating up some old woman…” You can’t argue with that, can you? So I didn’t.

"Well, it's better than them going out and beating up some old woman..." said Mum

When my best friend came out to me in our late teens I wasn’t exactly surprised. I was surprised at how well I handled it. Then I wasn’t surprised at how my initially mature response fell by the wayside and for a while I really couldn’t handle it. And a few years later, I found I could. So I asked his forgiveness for being an utter, immature, pratt. To his credit, he did and it was nice to finally rejoin the grown-up world again.

He was, and is, gay. And it’s a word I learned meant “I love him”. It did also mean “him, over there… he’s fit. You Carl, are a minger so don’t flatter yourself that I’d ever be remotely interested in your straight but flabby, unattractive backside.” Saying that – it (the aforementioned backside of mine) did get pinched a bit while it was sashaying through a Priscilla-type bar in Sydney, Australia in teh mid 1990s, so, it can’t be that unattractive.

Well, someone here didn't find me unattractive, so there... 
I liked the Political Correctness of the 1980s because it recognised that words had power. They could be used to create solidarity, and to divide. They could be reclaimed, fought over, reinterpreted. We searched for mutually acceptable words to describe each other so that we didn’t cause harm or hurt. Some will say it went too far, but the aim was good – it was to create a more inclusive, equal and fair world. Women could be bosses – they could be “chairwomen”. By giving them a name for that role, they could be more readily accepted as being able to perform that role. Now, a woman can be chairman of a board. We no longer think of it as a male role. It’s a person’s role. People weren’t “cripples”, they were disabled people. And Gay went from “happy” to “I love him”, which I guess, in a way, is still happy.

Sadly, this current generation doesn’t seem to agree. Gay now means rubbish, useless, wimpy, crap. Thanks to moron DJs like Chris Moyles, who repeatedly promoted thestreet slang word as a negative, it is bandied around playgrounds to disparage, bully, put down. Teenage boys who are learning that maybe they love “him” instead of “her” now face being considered rubbish, wimpy, crap. It’s a 21st century version of Witch-hunting. Find someone, point at them, call them gay. If they aren’t gay (useless), then the continued "you're rubbish" vilification will see them sink. If they really are “gay” (I love him) as well, then the vilification will see them float and then burn. So, we have teenage boys who are and are not gay, killing themselves, because bullies have made their lives hell by calling them gay.

And when I think of what my friend went through, how he tolerated my stupidity, and endured the Government’s stupidity, and the public’s stupidity, it makes me angry enough to give my eldest and middle son a right bollocking when I caught them saying something or someone was “gay” (to them, meaning rubbish/useless). I told them of the legends of music and acting and literature and science who were Gay, of my mum – their grandmother’s – brave solidarity with the concept of being Gay (whom you love) and of my oldest friend who forgave me my stupidity and is a really top bloke, though a bit grouchy at times if he hasn’t had his coffee.

So they don’t use the word in our house, and, I bloody hope, they’ve learned not to use it outside it either. Because if anything is rubbish, being Gay is not it. And I’m pretty happy with that. And I’d really, really like you all to be happy with that too.

I’ll leave you with this thought. Being Gay is like Being Ginger. They just are. Now get over it.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Hello, is there anybody in there, is there anybody home...

It's been a while, I know, but stuff happens.

There's been a lot going on. Things were fraught over the summer at work as we were down a few people and those of us who remained were kept rather busy. But things have settled down, we're up to almost full strength and work is keeping me busy.

Leveson. Ye Gods but it's causing trouble. The predicted trouble is not Leveson and his recommendations. That, I can handle. And to be honest, I agree with much of what he wrote, if not all of it. He was particularly insightful and kind towards us local newspapers

But, as predicted - at least by those of us in the newspaper world who didn't hack phones, didn't blag medical records, didn't bribe coppers or DVLA staff and didn't lie about not doing it afterwards - the backlash has begun.

I remember a reporter friend at my previous paper who was told to go down to the queueing mourners at the civic centre who were all ready to sign a book of condolences for Princess Diana following her death in a horrifying car crash in Paris. Hundreds of people were in the queue and the reporter was tasked with getting a few comments from a handful of them, explaining why they were there, how they felt, why signing the book was a way of offering their sympathy for those left behind. However, very quickly what he got was criticism, and then outright abuse.

"Why are you here? It's your lot that killer her. You lot killed her you bastards... You scum!"

Yes - a 25-year-old ginger-haired reporter from Southend who liked doing stories about house music had apparently been the cause of a Royal death in another country. Or at least someone very much like him...

Obviously, trying to point out the difference between a local scribe and French paparazzi was a mute point. I mean, they're all the same, aren't they? All the same. All vermin. Like those on benefits, eh? All skiving scum.

Except that one doesn't represent all. It's a hard concept to have to accept. It means having a few calm thoughts, recognising the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, and having the conscience to not take the easy "you're all the fecking same" and accept that one's opinions could do with being tweaked a little.

So, as I said, the backlash has begun, again. Already in my role I'm having a few problems with officers who think I have horns, a curly tail and cloven hooves. That I will taunt them and call to them with my siren song, tempting them onto the rocks of corruption with a well stuffed brown envelope and the promise of a well paid column after their retirement (possibly their enforced "A19" retirement).

I know... mental, eh?

I have bribed cops you know. Oh yes. A cup of tea at Capn Jaspers. To date I have bribed two Chief Superintendents. I bought them a cup of tea and insisted the deposit went in the Fishermen's Mission charity box afterwards. Oh, and a Sergeant. He got a cup of tea as well. And a burger. In payment of the burger he'd bought me a few weeks before. I promised him it would balance out.

Scandalous, aren't I!

Devon and Cornwall Police have responded to Leveson by taking on recommendations by HMIC to ensure that all contacts between journalists on daily publications and police officers is recorded. Reporters on our sister weeklies don't have to go through the same thing, but the paper I'm currently working on, telly and radio, all have to submit to it. The copper has to note down on their computer system their name, the date, who they spoke to and from what organisation and what they talked about. The information gets sent off to the police press office who "monitor" it.

Of course, any suggestions that officers will be carpeted if they speak to the wrong person, or say the wrong thing, are scurrilous, unfair and a downright untruth and I will horsewhip any of you who suggest such a thing...

Sadly, despite these vicious rumours of it being used to terrify officers into choosing not to talk to the press, some officers appear to have found it far easier to, erm... well, not talk to the press.

I get a lot of "oh God, not you Carl, now I'll have to fill in one of those bloody forms and I'm up to my eyeballs in paperwork as it is... tell you what, you bugger off and I won't have to fill it in". I also get a couple of "but we're not allowed to talk to you anymore Carl - I'm sure there was an e-mail from one of the Chiefs saying not to talk to you. Everything has to go through the press office now. Yes I know they've gone home, but that's the new rule". I've even had a couple along the lines of "Can't really talk to you Carl. Apparently you're person non grata at the moment with the bosses. It was after that article you did... you know, the one about the Plymouth Headteachers having concerns about Op Encompass not working as well as it used to..."

I also occasionally get a few "feck the forms, this is not 1984 and I won't have some busybody in Middlemoor telling me I don't know what I can and can't talk to you about. Now, I've got this appeal I want in the paper and I want it prominent. And I've had a result on that racial assault and they're up in court next Thursday, can you get your magistrates reporter to cover it". Which is nice.

Anyway, there are trolls about, it's late and I've got to get home. Those brown envelopes won't stuff themselves you know...

I've just learned that Amy Childs, from that telly programme The Only Way Is Essex, is coming to town and I am praying to God, or in my case Billy Bragg, that I won't be sent to cover it. Please Billy, watch over me and keep me safe from celebrities...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

"Whine, Whinge, Moan, Gripe" - yes, now you too can speak Plymothian like a native...

"You love us, you really love us..."

Ooooooooooooooh, some people. I mean, really, some people. It's gets so that you hurry the day when you have to pass a test and get a licence to allow you to put comments on the internet.

Fortunately, that day isn't here and anyone can put the boot in on anyone else, ideally under the cover of a false name with no chance of anyone finding out who you are... unless you have the bottle to say who you are... or are stupid enough to say who you are. Yes, I am the latter, welcome to my small world.

I found this on a story which I'd spent much of a Saturday out in the rain covering, then followed up with a corking tale about an escaped suspect from a police station. By the time I got home (around 8.30pm), the kids were abed and upset I hadn't read them their bedtime story as I always try to do, dinner was cold and the Mrs was doing a fair impersonation of a highly unamused partner. And who could blame her? I am not the kind of guy you find in 50 Shades of Grey... more like 17 Versions Of A Sickly Green Colour...

I mean Nevman has a point, I'm not saying he doesn't. But he seems to think we have an army of reporters and the kind of backing seen at The Mail, the Sunday Times or the Observer, with hosts of reporters, plus stringers, freelances, part-timers and oodles of subs and proof-readers. We don't. We're a local paper. We do, however, have articles which those three newspapers, along with all the other nationals, regularly partake of (read "steal") and then put their name to.

So it got me to thinking, what the blinking flip have I been doing since I got here. I mean, I'm no investigative journalist. I'm no Nick Davies, or Seymour Hersh, or John Sweeney (although I have worked alongside Sweeney on a piece of investigative journalism which I'm particularly proud of and really, really got up the noses of the MoD, but that was another time and another news organisation)

So, I had a bit of a dig in respects to what could be construed as my own "lack of depth and background to articles" and my own "absence of investigative journalism":

Well, we could start here – which we got first and then BBC et al followed up on… http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Man-tried-tell-police-seen-escaped-rape-suspect/story-16514502-detail/story.html

Earlier this year there was - http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/pound-950k-seized-Plymouth-club-boss-Jersey/story-15306195-detail/story.html - this one took, off and on, a year of digging and being knocked back, even to the point of getting an MP to ask a minister who appeared to not give the full picture.

Then there’s some late night being out on the beat:
http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Inside-raid-Border-Agency-targets-Plymouth/story-16364272-detail/story.html –having already done a day’s work in the office, and yes, this'll get to be a moaning theme of mine, as it does with every crime reporter because our subjects do not like to keep respectable hours)

Then there’s the times I’ve been out into the very early hours – having already done a full day at work - http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/line-war-poachers/story-13470919-detail/story.html & http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Plymouth-police-target-deer-poachers/story-15505538-detail/story.html (and no, we don’t ever, ever got overtime payments… again another theme with reporters, sorry to go on... and on... and ... you get the picture)

There's kind of a theme with these three:
http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Area-manager-flooded-city-streets-drugs/story-14228011-detail/story.html - which again took ages of interviews with detectives who weren't usually okay with talking to a reporter. 

Then there’s this ongoing story which I'm particularly proud of for personal and professional reasons, yet no other news organisation was interested in for around a year, where Plymouth schools, council and police lead the entire country on something truly worthwhile -
as long as you ignore the commendation bit... I'm vain, but there's only so much adulation you can take.

Add to that the Kelly Edney story (http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/ERRORS-LED-ESCAPE-VIOLENT-RAPIST/story-11403887-detail/story.html) which took nearly two years of FoI haggling with Prison Service and Information Commissioner. Okay, it's a bit old, but cases like that don't come around often in sleepy Plymouth.

Now this is just a quick-as-I-could-get selection of stuff I’ve written in the past four years… there’s lot of stuff I know I’ve written but can’t find online about police investigations - the Chinese brothels/traffickers case, the Essex/Plymouth cocaine dealers,  the Vietnamese cannabis crime gangs which I was the first to highlight down in the South West, even the in depth interviews with rape victims, victims of domestic abuse.

Now, that’s just my stuff. Admittedly, I could be doing more, but there is the day to day gubbins to be getting on with, writing about incidents and crimes, doing picture captions for charity events, schools events, amateur theatrics, appeals for witnesses (many of which work and I have coppers galore admitting to me that they’ve had a result from The Herald and/or thisisplymouth appeals), plus fluffy bunny stuff like http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/VIDEO-Plymouth-s-Charlotte-Holmes-crowned-Miss/story-16456523-detail/story.html and http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Heading-headig-headig-heading-headig-headig/story-13630670-detail/story.html (I know, shame about the heading, eh)

Now, add to this some of the phenomenal material dug out by people at The Herald like Edd Moore who covered the Plymouth Argyle shenanigans solidly for more than a year so brilliantly that other news organisations were reading him to find out what was going on. Some of political reporter Keith Rossiter’s work, and health reporter Diana Prince’s work has been incredible, insightful and revealing, covering both the nitty gritty of the NHS and council to the personal stories.
Not to mention the award-winning work of defence reporter Tristan Nichols who spent three months alongside “our boys” in Afghanistan, one of the first local reporters to be embedded for such a length of time with frontline operational servicemen.

I really think not enough credit is given to The Herald for having not one, but two full time court reporters Stuart Abel and Graham Broach - one for the magistrates and one for the crown. My last paper in Essex had one such reporter, just for crown and just for Basildon. The Southend office would occasionally go to mags and crown court, as would the Thurrock office, but not everyday and not both courts. So to have two is quite remarkable and really gives Plymouth a view of the justice being meted out in the public’s name. I wonder if the Plymouth people would rather that was hidden from their gaze?

One thing which bothered me was the dismissive tone about the “human interest” stories. My old news-ed (Dave - he'd been a reporter for longer than I’d been alive by the time I started at the Echo) used to say “people like to read about people”. Which meant that whatever the story, however big, however seemingly divorced from mere mortals, it would actually always have a human dimension worth revealing. A massive new housing development? Who will it benefit and who will it harm? Incinerator near a school? Talk to the pupil or teacher with asthma. A crime or court verdict? Talk to the copper and the victim, or the victim’s family. 

Dave also used to say "Eve, what's this sh**? Can't you spell properly? If you send me one more bit of copy with a 'teh' instead of 'the' I'll come over there and rip out your liver you feckin' muppet" on a regular basis, so take what he said about people-wanting-to-read-about-people with a pinch of salt if you wish...

As for not noting Plymouth’s weaknesses? What, like this paper has never ever mentioned the city's racist element, it’s above-average number of child-abusers, it’s small-minded stuck-20-years-behind-rest-of-UK mentality, it’s crap internet speeds and train-to-London timetable, it’s lack of a bleedin’ airport, diminishing dockyard and lack of use of its derelict spaces and properties left to rot….

I mean, the paper loves the city, but you have to be honest in any relationship, don't you?

Personally speaking, and keeping in mind I'm not local, as is often said to me with a finger jabbing into my chest by someone with three-too-many fingers on a regular basis, I’ll tell you one thing we really don’t focus on in this city as much as I’d like to since I arrived here six years ago – how much people in this city feckin’ moan… I mean they REALLY do moan a lot. Everything from the sky to the ground, the sea to the rivers, the view to the smell, the streets to the pavement. (Although, the potholes are a real pain in the suspension if you know what I mean, I'm with you there on that one folks)

What I will say in defence of the paper is it’s not perfect, despite the efforts of the staff at the place. It’s easy to carp from the sidelines, (especially anonymously, without risk of being identified), it’s easy to forget the good articles (such as the Support for Devonport campaign), it’s easy to remember the spelling mistake, or the missing word or comma.

It is not perfect, but I'm pretty sure that here, as with many other local newspapers up and down this green, pleasant and wet land that the reporters and others at those papers will continue to do their best to get the news of their town/city to the people of aforementioned town/city.

Meanwhile, for those of you who girded your loins to read this ongoing pile of horse manure I write, if you've been invited by the guvnor of The Herald, why not take a shot and give it a go? What have you got to lose, other than your pre and mis conceptions?

Love, as always... (mutter, mutter, grumble, grouch, mutter, grumble...)