I had human company today. For 22 hours. It has left me shaken, exhausted. It had been over a week since I talked to another human, unless you include shouting at Charity Dingle to shut up or Nick Stokes to take his top off. We talked about Hackgate, the demonization of the working class and Cher. We ate cheese on toast and chickpea curry and drank much Rioja. This is how I used to live, I think, before the Days of the Dole.
I was poor as a trainee reporter and as a regional reporter because the wages ain’t great. At journalism school I was encouraged to see it as a vocation and recognise it would not make me rich. I wasn’t warned that the industry would be decimated and it would leave me unemployed. I wonder what young journalists face now as they pay extortionate fees to learn the trade.
I realise, though, that I first imagined not being a journalist when I was first called to the editor’s office. I thought my card was marked, my career over. I was fairly sure he knew nothing of my fabricated quotes but everyone left his office in tears. Meena was the journalist who had most seen The Drawer of People Who Could Do Your Job. The editor opened this drawer, bursting with CVs and begging letters, every time a reporter annoyed him and announced, “Here are other people who could do your job. Should I be calling them in?”
So, as I walked towards his office past my colleagues, the more cowardly ones with their heads bowed or eyes transfixed on the computer screen, I was expecting the drawer.
“Come in,” he said, stern-faced but not looking up from the newspaper. “Sit down.”
I sat. My jaw started to twitch as I tried to control my nerves. I’ve always been the type to need to the loo as soon as anxiety strikes and this occasion was no different.
“I’ve been looking at your story about the riot in the pub.”
Ok, now I was freaking. I looked at The Drawer and imagined its ambitious contents all waiting to out me as a fraud. I’d heard about a huge fight in a local pub in which everyone was involved – from the landlord to the local dogs. The place was trashed – and no one was talking. The police had failed to arrest anyone because people had done a runner and the landlord had not entirely explained to them what had gone on. I, of course, wasn’t there at the time and my contacts that had been were unwilling to tell me anything. So I made up some quotes. Only descriptive stuff, nothing about the cause of the fight or who kicked whom: just colour, predictable outrage, shock.
“I love it,” my editor shouted. I could almost detect a smile changing the shape of the creases in his face. “It shows good contacts, quick-thinking, you elicited some great quotes.”
“Thanks.” I was confused. Any minute now he would throw the paper at me and call me a liar. But it was worse, much worse.
“I want you to go back to this fella, the one who said “I was there from the start, I saw every punch and kick land and can tell you it is the most scared I have ever been”. Any man in that neighbourhood admitting fear is a story in itself.” Was that a chuckle I heard?
“I want a full interview with him,” he continued. “Get him to agree to photos. I want to know what happened in there, what has happened to him before. Is he a fighter, a local hero? Was he injured? Well, you know how it goes.”
I had no idea how it was going to go. My imaginary source was unlikely to pose for a two-page spread and tell me the ins and outs of his life. He was just as unlikely to win a local hero award.
“You know, we should set up a Local Hero Award. Find unsung heroes in the patch,” my editor shouted, as if cruelly reading my mind. “We could start with this if it turns out he’s heroic. Of course, he might be a coward.”
He’ll be a coward, all right, I thought: A silent coward who has had serious second thoughts and deeply regrets speaking to me in the first place. His fear of reprisals will leave him unable to speak to anyone.
“I’ll certainly try,” I said, enthusiastically. “I think he is unlikely to speak because he was scared of reprisals but I’ll call him, try to convince him.”
“You do that. Now get out.”
My colleagues were stunned that they had only heard him shout once and it hadn’t seemed to be in anger. I walked towards the reporters’ desk.
“I need a pint. Someone please come for a pint. Now.”
We sat down, half pint of lager each as pay day was a while off. No one said anything, all waiting to see who would break the silence and mention the editor’s strange behaviour.
“So, are you fucking him?” Normally I’d be irritated by Mick.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s it. That’s why he treated me like a human being for once.”
“I’ve never seen him like that with anyone else,” said Meena, desperately trying not to hate me for it.
“What’s up then?” Diane lit up a cig, blowing smoke out of the side of her mouth as she scanned my face.
“He is pleased with a story I did. It was about that riot in the pub. He liked the quotes and wants me to get an interview with a fella I spoke to for a spread.”
“And, what’s the big deal? If that turned him into your fucking granddad, you’ll be quids in if you get the follow-up” Diane was a good reporter. She was diligent and honest and tenacious.
“Yeah I know but-” I was dreading the looks on their faces, especially hers, but I needed their help. “I made the quotes up.
No jokes, no laughing, not even shocked faces, just a silent and soul-destroying look of disgust spread across the three faces before me. No one said anything for what seemed like a long time.
“He wants a Local Hero campaign,” I said, finally. “You know someone in the community who has saved a life, worked tirelessly for others, got their heads kicked in at a pub riot.” I looked down into my lager.
“And he thinks this imaginary victim is perfect?” Meena spoke first.
“Then we have to find an alternative Local Hero,” Diane said, but still shaking her head in condemnation. “We’ll figure something out, you silly bitch.”
“And if we can’t you’ll just have to fuck him,” Mark added, with an infuriating wink.
Amount of money I have: £85.66 (Chaplin now has cat biscuits.)
Number of films I have watched: 2
Human beings I have spoken to: 1