Journalism stuck its fish hook in my heart as a 14-year-old. The Royal Navy’s task force was steaming towards the Falklands and, as it advanced, my paper round slowed. The front-page photograph of HMS Antelope spraying molten debris into a night sky 8,000 miles away made me late for school, even though I had risen with the lark. There it was: that guilty thrill of being among the first to know, even if it was simply by dint of getting up a couple of hours before my peer group in a Bradford suburb.
The smarter homes on my round took two titles, a broadsheet such as the Guardian or the Times and the Yorkshire Post; a national paper and a paper that believed itself to be a national and which just happened to be based in Leeds. I set my cap at a reporter’s job there and, after university, landed one.
I was in awe of the old lags for whom four-pint liquid lunches provided no impediment to lucid copy. My newsroom chaperone had studied theology at Oxford. His great friend was our main leader writer who told his jokes in Latin before translating them into English. Parochial it was not.
After a few years, and on the advice of the paper’s news editor, I left the YP for the sunlit uplands of television. But when back in Yorkshire, I always buy the paper. It bears the scars of dwindling circulation but retains some of its old elan. It must be a struggle, fighting the good fight against smartphones and shrinking attention spans. Last week, driving through Leeds for the first time in a while, my heart shrank as I saw the YP’s offices, now demolished, save for the old clock tower.
I was in Yorkshire for my mother’s 70th birthday. She grew up in a family of nine children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. My mother worked, before turning to nursing, in the same textile mill as two of her sisters and her own mother. Her father had a desperate start to life, even by the standards of the West Riding pre-war: his parents died before he left school. The charity of nuns kept his body and soul together.
Recently, I asked my mother about my grandfather’s wartime service. Unremarkable, she said. But at her birthday bash, when I put the same question to her younger brother, a contradictory story of rarely revealed heroism emerged. Will it prove just as difficult for my six children to agree on a definitive parental biography?
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