Friday, December 07, 2012

The Back of My Cab

The news has been making me feel very old. Not just old. But like an old seen-it-all-before black cab driver. This is what happens when you start heading towards fifty - Here's who I have had in the back of my cab.

God I hated working for Newsnight. The bitchiest, most unsupportive newsroom I have ever worked in - this from a woman who (when working for another organisation) was once backed against a wall by a boss holding a chair, who imprisoned me between its four legs all the better to bollock me. I could go on about Newsnight but I'd still be hammering my keyboard frothing about the license fee this time next week.

George Entwistle.
How old do you have to be before the former director general of the BBC is someone who was your successor in a different job? George took over from me at Westminster as a Newsnight producer. I remember someone saying "He's very BBC" and wondering "What the Hell does that mean?" I understand now though.

Jimmy Savile.
There is a moment in my first book Wife in the North where I lift the ponytail of a little cousin who has been sick from cancer and who is well again, and as I lift it and run it through my hands, I celebrate the fact this girl-child is so lovely and healthy again. Years ago, I covered some charity event - I think for the local paper I worked for then, but it might have been for ITN. The children in the centre of the room were sat at tables having tea, grown-ups lining the walls around them. Jimmy Savile was holding forth, Jimmy Savile was why we were there. He walked around the tables, around the kids, parents chuckling at his banter, and as he stopped behind one girl, he lifted her ponytail and ran it through his hands, talking all the while. I thought: "Yeah gods, the guy is a pervert." I said as much to my photographer (it might have been a cameraman) afterwards and he told me: "Everyone knows. That's been around for years."

Max Clifford.
I never really dealt with Max Clifford - maybe once, maybe twice. I feel it ought to have been more on the grounds I have been a journalist so long - in my defence, celebrity stuff wasn't my area. But I did still have him in the back of my cab. Well not "have" him. Not have him and get snapped and sell my story through the agencies of well - Max Clifford.

(Scene fades to black, and up again.)Occasionally you feel good. You wear the right thing, your hair falls as it should, the light hits you like it ought to. Doesn't happen all the time. Hardly ever happens. It may never happen to me again - but it did that day, that day it was all a fit. I'd had a hellish train journey but I'd finally arrived in London to talk about the possibility of a book deal. I was walking along the Strand, wearing black, a tight belted top and a fishtail skirt which swished - I could hear it. Black boots clung to my calves and a long riding-style coat, lined all in silk, framed me. I was running late but about to walk into a meeting I was looking forward to (shame I managed to tuck that swishy fishtail skirt into my knickers when I got there, but that's another story.) My skirt was not tucked into my knickers as I walked purposefully along the Strand, and I was smiling a little because the prospect of a book deal can do that to you. Ahead of me, Max Clifford walked out of a building to climb into a car. He glanced my way. I met his eye. He was Max Clifford. I knew it and he knew that I knew it. I was all dressed in black, black, black with lips the colour of crushed raspberries. At that moment, Max Clifford thought he might see me again. Thought I had a story to tell, that I might knock on his door and say breathily "Mr Clifford, there's this man. He told me he was going to leave his wife or I'd have never...I've got pictures." It is one of my proudest moments.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Devouring Books

I had to go up to Edinburgh yesterday for an interview which meant a train journey. I like trains, the problem though is that I regularly end up sitting with an insane person. Insane people travel by train a lot.

This particular chap got on the station after me which meant I had to stand up and let him in. I should have known he was an oddity from the look he gave me - a look which said "You are sitting next to me. I don't like anyone sitting next to me. It means my imaginary friend will have to stand, and that makes him ANGRY." Anyway he reluctantly sat down, and I sat back down and picked up my newspaper to read more about something that wasn't Kate's pregnancy and the chap got out a book. All well and good. He was a reader which is a good thing. And it would have been had he grasped what is supposed to happen when you read - that is to say, you lift the book into your line of vision, hold it there, and read the text from left to right, thereby absorbing the meaning of the words. For him however, reading was a multi-sensory experience. He was indeed holding the book in his line of vision (and bearing in mind I was reading my newspaper here) the problem was he periodically lifted it to his mouth and breathed into it deeply - deeply like empty your lungs deeply. This went on for a while (time tends to stop when you read about George Osborne's taxation plans) and realisation dawned only slowly that I was sat next to a nutter.

While still facing frontwards, I slid my eyes to the left to watch what was going on next to me - was is a breath? If so, was it inwards or outwards? Or was it a kiss? And if it was a kiss - was it with or without tongues? Because if he had his tongue out, I was going to have to move. (If it was without tongues, I figured I could stay put.) I couldn't see that much without turning my head which I did ever so slightly - I was pretty sure it wasn't a kiss. Sensing my interest he moved slightly to block my line of vision, and quickly I switched my eyes back to my paper. Out of a darkening sky, sleet hit the train, slapping against the windows and giving me the excuse to casually glance his way. The book's pages appeared loose like it was poorly bound, its font was tiny and every now and then it had an ink-drawn diagram - I saw two: an ornate cross and something like the cross-section of a conker. Every now and then he sighed as if life was too much or the book was telling him something he didn't want to hear. I decided it had to be something vaguely spiritual, or cultish, although in no religion I know of, do you have to breathe on the text. By the time we pulled into Edinburgh Waverley, I was almost wall-eyed from trying to see exactly what it was he was reading. I failed. As I walked along the platform, I wondered - was he trying to suck the meaning through his mouth, but then he was breathing outwards and not inwards. Was he trying to animate the text with his breath of life? If I hadn't been there would he have ripped out the pages, salted and eaten them? And if he had offered, it would only have been polite to eat one too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Take 1lb of Cranberries

The only advent calendars my kids are interested in have chocolate inside. Penguin's advent calendar has no chocolate. It does have me though behind Day 4 with my five top tips for good deeds at Xmas. It is the moral equivalent of a recipe for cranberry sauce. I am issuing a health warning...all this stuff about good deeds, I am beginning to get a little sweaty round the collar. There is a risk when you write a book about good deeds, people will think you are good. There is a risk when you come out with five top tips for good deeds at Christmas, people will think that you think you are an extraordinarily nice person. Here is the health warning: I am not a nice person. I am an alright person trying to be better.