Wrong Or Write

I was lucky enough to start my journalism career at the end of its golden age.

A noisy and boisterous era of clacking typewriters, telephones ringing like church bells, overhead pipes loudly shuttling copy and ads to composing room and scribes shouting to be heard over the racket.

When the pressure of deadlines was released with a beer or two over the pub at lunchtime.

This current bout of nostalgia was sparked by the re-emergence of a video, now on YouTube, showcasing a day in the life of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, my local newspaper, playground of aspirations and inspirations.

And then Jeremy Vine’s return to the corridors he once strolled, as a feature for Radio Two. Where it began for him and hundreds of other junior reporters. Like me.


For the Coventry Evening Telegraph was a place like no other.

A world of characters that at once would grace the pages of a thriller and the stages of a situation comedy. For The Fast And The Furious read The Weird And The Wonderful.

And every soul that poured into the Coventry Evening Telegraph building on the junction of Corporation Street and Upper Well Street in those days played their part. It was a family, proud of achievement, proud of brand, proud of togetherness.

Heavy drinking sessions, often at the nearby Town Wall Tavern – out the front door, aim for the gap between the Belgrade Theatre and Lunn Poly and no chance of missing it – didn’t seem to dampen the talents of those who imbibed.

It brought them closer to the people who formed the Telegraph’s holy trinity: audience, subject and informant.

Photographers snapped away, then hid themselves away in the darkroom – managing to come up with world class pictures that would have the modern day equivalent, with all their computerised aid, weeping.

Talent. Sheer talent.

But everyone brought into the desire to be the best. From the security guards to the cleaning staff to the groundsman at the paper’s Lythalls Lane sports field. Newsagents were part of the family, too, and copies were snapped up outside factory and shop, sports ground and school.

The security team had a list of people not to put through to the newsroom team. One of them was ‘Jesus Christ’. On the sheet of paper in those non-PC times, the legend added to it was ‘obviously a nutter’.

Maybe we missed the Second Coming because no-one took it seriously. The one scoop the team failed to win.

Advertising bods understood what the paper was about and their part in it, journalists the same. The composing room, fresh from the smelly days of hot metal, was where the magic finish was fashioned . There, the chosen few trusted with computers inputted stories from the sheets we had handed over, readers checked stories, again and again, and ‘comps’ pointed out mistakes, too, from headlines to picture captions. The minutiae was important.

Not to say that mistakes didn’t happen. Coventry City striker Ian Wallace apparently struck a ‘hot shit’ over the bar at 1970s Highfield Road, although I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that was one mistake let through on purpose.

For a journalist it was about understanding what the readership wanted, understanding the city and county, understanding law and story writing. No time-wasting idly staring at a computer screen, trying to decide which was the best intro. In the days of typewriter it was about having a strong grip on the story, of writing an intro, tearing off the triplicate paper and attendant carbon copier, putting ‘MF’ for ‘more follows’ and then on to writing paragraph two (we called it three, because the first sheet was always 1/2).

It was the same for reporting from outside the office, from court or the scenes of crimes or tragedies. A phone call through to newsdesk, a brief chat about the story and then onto copy desk to dictate. On the spot reporting. A nightmare concoction of fun and fear, fear of getting it wrong, but fun believing that this was what journalism was all about.

And it was. Without the mobile phone, the internet or social media, it seemed easier to get hold of people. We rang next door neighbours, who would gleefully go round to get our intended interviewees to the phone. Or local post offices or shops, who on more than one occasion would send a member of staff to knock on someone’s door for us.

Only in certain cases, because we were encouraged to get out there and knock doors for ourselves back then. Get out and become part of the community.

The computer changed it all. The noise of the newsroom got gradually quieter. The telephones would purr, if you bothered to put it on the lowest setting. Colleagues would glare if you talked to loudly, or, God forbid, laugh. The modern world of journalism became sanitised, like public libraries. At one title I worked for, I ran up a small mock sign for a particularly sour-faced colleague who seemed to like absolute quiet when on a telephone interview. The sign said simply: Quiet Please!

The computer also saw staff levels savaged, from the ‘comps’ to reporters, subs and photographers. It wasn’t they weren’t needed, just that the newspaper landscape changed and suddenly profit came before product.

Maybe there were characters afresh, but not like the old days.

I remember Jeremy Vine’s splendid spoof on a Christmas tree story that had us all in stitches; Bob Cole’s incessant barking down the corridors; dragging my first editor, Barrie Clark, back to his desk from a drinking session that became immortal – nobody quite knew what to do. He leaned in his chair, a cigarette becoming a precarious pile of ash jutting at 90 degrees as the snores reverberated.

There was trying to make out sports editor Ken Widdows during a conversation at his desk, which was fog-bound by cigarette smoke from Ken and his colleagues; there was photographer John Bassett asked to get more action shots from Coventry Rugby Club at Coundon Road who accidentally walked on the pitch and nearly getting mullered in a scrum; and my first scrape with Jesus Christ, who had plenty of worries to share.

There were nine daily editions back then and most people grabbed a copy while it was still warm.  I remember telling someone I thought important that I was a reporter with the CET and immediately it was as if I was someone special, just because I was part of it.

That was the power of the paper. And watching those videos and listening to that radio interview, I am back in those newsrooms, searching for background information about all manner of local story in the CET’s library archive and asking the ladies in the telephone exchange for a number somewhere else in the country.

Teamwork. Pride. Belief in a common brand.



Suicide And Extraordinary Mistakes

ABOUT  this time two years ago, I stepped out in front of a car.

It was going fast in gloomy conditions on the Tamworth Road in Coventry, just after where the houses make way for parkland and countryside.

I had hit rock-bottom and felt the best way out – for everybody – was for me to go.

How bloody stupid.

Of course, only one or two friends know this. I was low. I’d been told I couldn’t work because of injury-induced frozen shoulder on my left side which was causing me significant pain.

The woman I loved, trapped in a loveless marriage, had, I felt, reached out to me and then thrown up an impenetrable brick wall. Love and the loveless.

But it was the sheer despair of the moment, of everything I’d worked hard – and damn hard at that – to achieve, slipping away. Fitness after a lung collapse, rebuilding a life and being grateful for the opportunity. Suddenly feeling that opportunity had been stolen back, like I never had it in the first place.

I’d never been off work for anything other than a fortnight. And that was when I’d been admitted as an emergency patient and had half my back removed. I’d been a workaholic, defined by my attitude to graft. Without it, I was lost. With the injury, it wasn’t as if I could go for a run, or to the gym and going down the pub to drown my sorrows when I was off-sick was a ‘no-no’.

Then there were the deaths of 13 friends in a 14 month period leading up to this.


It only ever happened once.

It was like I was so used to juggling 20 balls in the air, someone had thrown me two more and there they all were on the floor, me unsure how or what to do.

My Jimmy Stewart moment. My ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ wake up call. Because I have had a wonderful life.

But my, how things can change. I’m not a confident person. Never have been. But I’m generally a positive person. Ask some of the people I’ve helped. Ask anyone who’s played in a team with me, sport or otherwise. I’ve always focussed on the positives. The people that know me realise how much emphasis I put on self-worth, putting themselves first – without being selfish oafs – and how much they are capable of. I guess I often miss myself out of that.

I had come back to the UK from North Cyprus drained of energy and every last bit of confidence I could muster, a hollow shell of who I was. I went to interviews for journalism jobs only to find they didn’t want capable writers, just ‘yes’ men and women who would churn out press releases.

At one particular interview, for the post of a journalist writing 200 word business pieces for a tablet audience, the editor seemed dumbstruck at my question about what would happen if I happened across a big story, as had been my record in four decades of newspaper work. Or features, supposed to be a big strength of mine – an in-depth look at an issue, with talking heads and analysis. No, he just wanted me to rewrite press releases from businesses and business groups in no more than 200 words. No skills, no thrills, no frills. Nothing. Nada. A world away from the journalism I had known and loved.

So I became a chargehand on a bin crew, being treated like the rubbish I was taking away. A big hit to my pride, but at least I was earning a living. That was the real me, taking the hits, surviving, winning.

Until the car driver didn’t see me on my pushbike, lit up like a Christmas tree, in hi-vis clothing, helmeted and with right of way on my side.


To the verge of stupidity.

At that point, I wasn’t to know that my son, Henry, a real pain in the proverbial for his mother in North Cyprus, would be destined to live with me. To need me to be there for him.

At that point, I didn’t realise the love of my life, Shellie, needed me, either. She says she wanted me, loved me, hoped I would stand by her side as she became stronger and happy. She finally exited a horrible, loveless and abusive marriage and we’ve been together ever since. Like it was meant to be.


I was selfish, self-pitying and stupid – two traits of which I normally never entertain. And I apparently picked the one driver in Coventry who was able to stop.

How many lives would I have ruined?

Because I was feeling sorry for myself?

So my fitness had disappeared, I started putting on weight again, and soon, within weeks of moving to Cornwall to live with Shellie and Henry, I had a whole new raft of health problems to face.

But so what? Compared to some friends and their woes, this was small fry. Is small fry.

We’ve had some awful times since then, with shameful betrayal of the highest order and wicked lies to match, of toxic people trying their best to hurt us or target Shellie because she dared to be happy, dared to stand up to the bullies that had held her back.

Damaging narcissists the like of which I never believed existed.

And I wouldn’t change any of it. Because I’ve dared to be happy.

We’ve dared to be happy.

Henry has transformed into a young man, confident, happy and able. He’s a team player now, doing brilliantly at school and just a joy to have around.

Shellie has become strong, in control of her own life, happy and positive for the future. We laugh so much at times and know that we both made the right choices.

We have a beautiful baby daughter who has made such a positive difference to all our lives. That’s not her job, but Elizabeth has proved a marvel.

Shellie’s son Zane is responding so well to our love, reassurance and care, even though there are those who want to use him as a weapon to punish Shellie.

We have good friends who back and support us; family, for the most part, too.

So when I look back on my moment of madness, I realise that God didn’t want me for a sunbeam. There were other plans for me that I would never have guessed and how would those people that needed me to step up be faring now?



*I didn’t want to talk to anyone about how I felt. It wasn’t a cry for help, but I would urge anyone feeling depressed, or suicidal, or in need of a friend to call Samaritans on 116 123.

As a journalist I got to see how this wonderful organisation can help people at the worst of times.

Please, don’t throw a life away. Depression can be a killer, but you’re not alone. And people do want to help.







Got To Be Some Changes Made

So the late great Albert King told us.

And he’s right.

In the UK now things are dire. If they’re not for you yet, don’t worry your time will come.

In my mind it all comes down to the march of capitalism, profits and greed.

The rich getting richer, largely by ignoring the laws and the needs of our country, and the poor are getting poorer.

Let me put my cards on the table.

I want a strong Britain. I want a country that does well financially. It’s a no brainer. But even my O-level Economics tells me that companies cutting staff to the bone and out-sourcing work to other countries is failing Britain, British workers and the erstwhile all important Balance of Payments.

We’re over-reliant on a commerce sector that stinks to high heaven (should that be hell?) of corruption, greed and diverting money from where it should be going, including taxes.

We have a government that appears to be economical with the truth and without direction. Just look at Brexit Secretary David Davis’s performance before the Commons Select Committee on Brexit.

What was he hiding?

Either there was detailed analysis that meant Brexit was going to be great for Britain, or there wasn’t. You can’t have both, David.

Then there’s tax exile Sir Richard Branson. He’s winning chunks of the National Health Service, the privatisation of which actually costs the taxpayer more than if in-house provision remained, and sued when he didn’t win one contract.

This is the chap worth an estimated £5 billion, but who doesn’t like to pay UK tax, residing instead on Necker Island. Except, when the horrific storms hit, suggested he could benefit from aid from UK taxpayers to put his estate back in order.

And, as the figurehead of Virgin East Coast rail franchise, he’s opting out – and being allowed to do so – of a deal just ahead of the years when his company would be paying back government franchises. More loss to the taxpayer.

But where is the backlash? Where is the protest, the people taking to the streets, the outrage?

In little pockets here and there. As people still doing ‘okay’ cling on, quietly, trying to not make too much fuss lest they are next to suffer.

A collective selfishness, division by self-interest.

There is the rub. I’m conservative in my views, but a socialist by nature.

My conservative friends, who back either the Tories or Tory-lite New Labour, can’t seem to agree on policies or people. Theresa May or Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg or some other would-be heir to the throne?

Some wonder why David Cameron and George Osborne were so keen to jump ship after the Brexit fiasco. And yes, there’s not only something you don’t know, there’s lots.

So, to my socialist friends, who can’t agree on whether Jeremy Corbyn is the man to lead Britain back to being good (let’s not go for the foolish ‘great’ argument) and start tackling greed, corruption and focusing on Britain, not billionaires or Chinese profit margins.

The middle-grounders are split on renationalisation, some remembering the awful days on union-dominated walk-outs, strikes and pitiful production.

Others see that privatisation has seen millions of jobs axed, millions of acres of land sold to plough into the profits of the newly-private companies while the cost to consumers has been severe. And, looking back at the East Coast mainline franchise, when it was effectively renationalised for a period, it made profits, ran well and with few problems. Now there’s a thing. Not forgetting that privatisation was sold to us back in the 1980s as a way of reducing the burden on the taxpayer. Except we’re paying more than twice the amount we put into British Railways in the last few decades of nationalised rail service.

The naysayers will challenge renationalisation and come up with different arguments.

The money men and civil servants will come up with convoluted sums and formulae and laws to prevent it, or make it so costly to the taxpayer that it will not be worth it. So the money men will win again.

There has to be a solution, but who has it?

Simply put, we can’t seem to agree on anything.


A division that allows greed, corruption, lies and spin to prosper. Division that continues to see Britain’s fortunes fall.

For all our futures, and that of our children and grandchildren, I’d say we pay attention to what Albert said.


Don’t Give Up

My eleven year old son turned a corner at the weekend.

He refused to give up and completed his debut Parkrun, despite tying himself up in knots trying to sprint the 5km race.

He was last, but got a cheer from the Coventry Parkrun volunteers and never once considered quitting.

This is a different Henry. He’s changing. And for the better.

While he’s only been living with  his step-mum and I for a year (almost) he’s learned and changed such a lot. His mum in Cyprus did a great job, but now Henry and we are getting the wider support she never got. He now understands team sports, largely thanks to the effort of his school teachers. He’s a team player whereas before he’d get angry with his team-mates over the slightest issue.

And he realises that being the best he can be, despite the challenges and work involved, is a good thing.

He’s growing up.

Facing tough lessons. Meeting them head on.

I’ve not run with him, I’ve not ‘trained’ him or pushed him. But I’ve encouraged him. And Saturday’s Parkrun at Coventry, where I have run and volunteered over four years, was a joy to watch.

My wonderful wife, Shellie, also made her Parkrun bow, and beat her own target. There was never a doubt she would finish and finish well, such is her strength of character. I don’t know who was more delighted, her or me. She jogged.

Henry walked the course with the tail-runner keeping him company. He was in good spirits, despite ‘chest pains’ that came with his sprint efforts.

Yes, he didn’t listen to me about pacing himself, but he did listen about finishing, about achieving, about believing in himself . Like we do.

And he didn’t give up.

All 53 minutes and 32 seconds of tackling his toughest race to date. A touch different to my sub-23 minutes best. But I know he’ll be putting me to shame if he keeps going.

What’s more, finishing, last or no, has been a source of pride for him.

And for me.

Art For Art’s Sake

THE great art historian Ernst Gombrich wrote there was no such thing as Art, only artists.

Not a bad introduction to his acclaimed tome, The Story Of Art.

I read it the first time (and I actually did read it!) as a 14-year-old pupil at Coventry’s Blue Coat CE School as part of O-Level art. My long-suffering tutor, Mr Cooke, struggled to take any sort of potential and make it visible. I was a terrible student. Most of it down to a sheer lack of confidence.

That same lack of confidence has dogged me throughout a reasonable life in journalism. From the get-go, every reader told me how they could have written the stories I penned better. Even if they knew nothing of grammar, media law or the facts.

But I didn’t understand the concept of there only being artists, not Art.

Because I loved and appreciated Art. I went to museums on my own to look at the classic paintings, I went to museums and galleries to see the modern stuff I sometimes struggled to comprehend or enjoy.

I liked the art of performance, music, theatre, dance. I worked with photographers who excelled in the art of photography, even in the most humdrum circumstances.

And I enjoyed dabbling with oils. My first efforts post-school were terrible, but achieved without fear. There was to be no audience, although I have always been my most vocal critic.

My first painting was of one of my favourite rugger players, Mike Teague, with Mick Skinner bursting through the tackle of Simon Poidevin in the England Australia World Cup final of 1991.


While it was awful, it survived the bin. This picture on a poor quality phone camera is no better.

The more I painted, the more I improved. I bought artist’s quality paints and decent canvases, and while it was a case of ‘all the gear and no idea’, several people insisted on ‘owning’ one of my efforts. My grandmother took two steam train attempts before they were finished. I had taken them to show her the progress I was making and she wouldn’t hear of me disappearing with them.

Last year, after years of having them on display on the telephone table in the hall, for everyone to see much to my shame, she had them framed and put on the wall of the hall. Every time I go home I shudder to see these unfinished paintings, the mistakes in them I never got the chance to rectify, the potential they had to be better.

It was a reason I stopped painting.


If there is no such thing as Art, only artist’s, surely I was right to be affronted that my artistry wasn’t accepted for what it should be.

Then the realisation that I just wasn’t any good.

I returned to oils some years later, painting aircraft. Again, some people wanted pictures I had not even got halfway to completing. One I did complete was a painting of a Mustang IV for my grandfather one Christmas. He had flown them before being demobbed from the RAF.

Looking at the painting now, it’s quite one-dimensional. I painted what I thought I needed without knowing the tricks and conventions of painting. It is a good benchmark to see how far I’ve come, now I’ve started dabbling again. My always supportive wife Shellie pointed it out to me.

The big point was that it made him happy. He had always talked about being ‘up there with God’ when he flew, even during wartime with all the associated dangers of being a fighter pilot.

In his dementia, he would look at that painting and know what he had achieved. It was like a reminder and it went from the house where he and my gran had brought me up as their own ‘son’ to the care homes when his Alzheimer’s got too much for gran to deal with. He stared at it and smiled. For that reason alone, I like it. Even though it’s not very good.

He was born this day in 1919 and is very sadly missed.

But now, I’m painting again, his aircraft continue to be a source of inspiration, although in a different way.

I would never have attempted a Spitfire like this before. More an accident of experimentation and the move to higher quality linen canvas with the different challenges that provided.


So I’m becoming more ambitious. I’m experimenting. I’m simply enjoying the process of putting paint on canvas. I’m less cautious. I allow myself to make mistakes. I go for the simple touch at times. I’m trying to be bolder with colour and application. Paintings that my wife suggests might not be finished, based on my first efforts this time round.

art 7


I’ve ‘completed’ some dozen paintings now, more than I ever did before. I like perhaps two of them, but I liked painting them. That is the crux of it for.

Because I finally get what Gombrich meant. I’m not creating Art, simply being an artist.






Whistle Down The Wind

IN my teens, back in Coventry and rediscovering the joy of playing rugby, I remember chasing down an opposition player and knocking the ball from his grasp before he could touch it down.

The referee gave the try and I got punched in the face by my own captain.

Because I had dared to argue the ref’s decision. In my mind it was never a try and the ref had got it wrong. Even their player didn’t celebrate. But he didn’t argue either.

So I did.

‘We don’t argue with refs,’ said my captain, a gnarled veteran plying his trade in the seconds, after helping me up.

Lesson learned. Although, sometimes I will admit to helping refs with a bit of commentary at times, during my playing days.

But Michael Hooper, the supremely talented Aussie flanker, all round good guy off the field, disappointed me on Saturday.

When the referee of the England-Australia Cook Cup clash warned him and then sent him off for repeated indiscretions, he stood there and said: ‘What?’ It was absolute defiance. More akin to the association version of football, rather than the proper form.

And let’s not even mention Michael Cheika – oh, well, too late.

I must have watched a different game. I feel sorry for Kurtley Beale, and feel the rules are strange and wrong, but there was no way he was trying to catch that ball. He wasn’t a shoe in for the line if he had have caught it. he simply reacted instinctively. He let the ref know he wasn’t impressed either.

It’s not a good advert for a sport renown for its ‘respect’ value.

Refs are human. They are allowed to make mistakes. In rugby these days, we have touch judges helping out more than ever. Then we have the fourth official. From what I heard of Ben O’Keefe’s conversations with the fourth official, he made a decision, asked if that was right and got an affirmative from the TMO. The officials in agreement.

Just not Hooper, who now holds the record for the most yellow cards in rugby test match history, Beale or Cheika.

Cheika ranted about the 50/50 decisions, was seen to shout ‘f***in’ cheats’ and wasn’t impressed.

I remember well the 1991 World Cup final. Willie Ofenhengaue shoving Mike Teague out of the way, pouching the ball on the throw-in and scoring.  Not allowed even back then, but he got away with it.

And then David Campese, one of the greatest wingers the world has ever seen, and another to criticise the refereeing this weekend, deliberately knocked forward a pass that could have seen his opposite number, Rory Underwood, put England in front.

A tactical foul, they call it in football.

Back then, no yellow card. No sin-binning. He got away with it and Australia lofted the William Webb Ellis trophy on high.

Not a voice of dissent on the pitch. And I rewatched the video only the other week, so I know.

It maybe I’m getting older and more Victor Meldrew-like, but sooner or later, refs have to strike back and have zero tolerance of dissent, even when it’s players like Rhys Webb, who seems to think he’s in charge of the whistle.

I remember one game, when I called a forward pass out to the ref from my full-back position. He stopped the game and asked me if I wanted the whistle and to swap places. That shut me up.

All Agog At The Gig Economy

In ancient times, Hermes was the messenger of the gods.

In modern Britain, Hermes is the ‘messenger’ of mischief.

Twice this week, a courier for Hermes has simply thrown a parcel over the back gate. Thrown, not placed. No effort at opening the gate, which was unlatched. No effort to walk the 15 or so yards to our back door and knock to see if we were in.

No effort to ensure the parcel arrived safely and securely to our address.

A sign of the times. People seem to be nonchalant or complacement about the slow death of standards in our society. A sad acceptance that this is how it is.

I can hardly blame the delivery driver, on a poor wage with dozens of deliveries to make across Cornwall.

Except, the driver for rivals DPD is an altogether different person. He makes it to the back door, is always very friendly and if we’re not in, knows where to secret the parcel. Simple.

Except, during one conversation he told me he had over 100 drops to make that day. Let me say that again – 100. And all over, not just in our little town. Hundreds of miles covered, a three-figure workload and for what? Pennies. The gig economy in full swing.

Now this guy made no complaints and is a nice, hard-working chap.

But the Hermes bloke? Who knows.

There’s the old saying about ‘paying peanuts and getting monkeys’.

A Guardian investigation last year found Hermes was not only paying its ‘self-employed contractors’ less than the minimum wage, but had also cut pay rates. This despite ramping up profits.

I know plenty of drummers and business owners who have fallen foul of the new breed of couriers and their agents.

For me, it shows yet again a side of capitalism that puts service and workers’ rights second and profits very much first.

The Royal Mail had a monopoly, but the post always got through. Well into my working days there were two letter deliveries a day, including small parcels. If you were out, you only had to take a card to the sorting office in the city centre. Simple. Service with a smile. Posties were, compared to today, well paid and gave a toss. They were civil servants, with decent working conditions and pensions.

Except, a decent service comes at a cost. Austerity may have been coined for the Cameron-led government, but it’s been about since Thatcher and before. Successive governments looked to cut the bills and it was Labour, yes Labour, that initially put Royal Mail into private ownership with it’s ill-judged Consignia farce. An arms-length government organisation that was tasked with modernisation, ripening the Royal Mail for a sell-off, the move saw the second post scrapped, along with mail trains and the Royal Mail’s parcel monopoly, allowing the emergence of firms like Hermes and DPD. Parcel delivery on the cheap.

Since then, the Royal Mail has been sold off on the cheap, its staff numbers slashed back and those who are left paid poorly, with terms and conditions a mere shadow of the days before Consignia. The cost to us, its customers, have increased.

Pay more for less, a symptom of UK Plc for years. A symptom of the privatisation we were told would lead to cheaper prices and a better service.

And what have we done as a wider society?

Nothing. Sat back with scarce a protest.

So, don’t blame the couriers. Don’t even blame the parcel firms. Blame government. But most of all, we need to shoulder the blame of doing nothing and allowing this to happen.

The NHS is next.