One afternoon I returned to the newsroom equipped with about a quarter of my brain capacity functioning - either due to a long liquid lunch or a council meeting. I can't now recall.
There was a "post it" note by my phone. It said "Call Myra Mains" and gave a number. I finally called.
A voice responded: "St. Faith's Crematorium."
I said: "Can I speak to Myra Mains?"
There was a half laugh and a mutter on the end of the line. Then it hit me what I had just said and how I had been set up by my colleagues who were desperately tying not to wet their pants close by.
I only tell the story to illustrate what I sometimes miss about newspapers. The goofiness, the balls of paper being thrown around, the practical jokes and the characters.
Admittedly even when I joined the profession it wasn't like it used to be. It's hard to pinpoint a golden era with certainty but back in the 1960s and 1970s, I'm told newspapers like the Daily Mirror that are only concerned these days with Big Brother contestants showing cleavage, used to have dozens of correspondents working in Asia on stories such as the genocide in Cambodia.
Back on the course when we used to read the Guardian from cover to cover and talk in awed tones about journalists such as John Pilger, the golden age was already receding. But not like now. Alan C., one of the instructors on our course, typified the old school. He'd run around the class yelling: "Smoke smoke, don't you know everyone smokes in a real newsroom?" He was only one stage away from shoving cigarettes in the mouths of the recalcitrant ones. But the lesson when Alan got out a long wooden ruler and tried to teach the class how to measure copy, illustrated how he was already being cast in the role of T-Rex, with the ice age knock knocking on the door. We'd just started using computers that measured out the copy and informed us where it would fit.
Newsrooms were often fun, although veterans would tell you they were pale shadows of their former selves. Still I miss the occasional buzz I got from those days. Like the days the smug officials unveiled the damning official report into the fire that burned down the city library under strict embargo, only to open their newspaper to find my report of their findings on the front page because I had spent half of the previous day pleading with a friendly union official to get a glimpse of it.
American newsrooms had bigger staffs but I always found them subdued and half empty. People also took themselves too seriously. It's not as if they were being paid enough to do a real job.
Today I occasionally catch up with what's left of the British newspaper industry by checking out Hold the Front Page. The website is dominated with news of layoffs and deaths and peppered with the occasional low paying job. Even the site's name is a great big kick in the goolies with a pointy boot (the kind girls wear) because it harks back to the days when an excited news editor, usually with bad dandruff, would rush into the news room yelling "Hold the front page" because of a breaking news story.
These days because the local printing works has been closed down to save money and the newspaper is using someone else's 200 miles away, nobody will hold the front page for a small breaking story like an air crash, although you can probably get something on the website.
I was interested in a story about how Keith Newton, "entertainments editor of the Teesside Gazette for a quarter of a century, lost a four-year battle with cancer last week."
As someone who has come out of the other side of the profession I have to wonder why we always wrote like that. Was it really a battle against cancer? And if a cancer sufferer said to himself "I'm not going to fight this thing." would it still be described as a battle?
Keith had apparently worked on a national newspaper in London but returned to his roots in Teesside which can politely be described as gritty.
Wife Lyn said: “He adored the job, the camaraderie, going out and meeting people, working to deadlines, going to the theatre…. he was passionate about everything he did. “He’d often be on the phone, talking to famous people – the likes of Paul Daniel would often ring us.”
There's something strangely heart warming about this. The camaraderie. That's exactly what we lost somewhere along the line as we became obsessed with the bottom line. I do wonder if Hold the Front Page means Paul Daniels. And if so, I wonder why anyone would want to talk with him.
I'm guessing there's a brave new world out there and the ink of newspapers doesn't feature. There's something wonderfully sexy about my new Kindle Fire, although it would be a lot better if I didn't keep losing the switch to turn it on. Sure I can buy reports from the New York Times or whatever newspaper I want on my Kindle, although I doubt if I will. But I have to wonder if there will be anyone left to write the stuff soon.
PS - It would be remiss to write this without bidding a fond farewell to Daft Scots Lass who unexpectedly quit blogging for like ever after a couple of centuries of blogging on a daily basis. She also appears to have disappeared from Google+ as well as to have disabled comments so as nobody can say "don't be so daft." So no more shocking early morning blog titles which cause one to spill one's coffee on oneself. We'll miss ya. Although I have considered quitting blogging from time to time, I have discounted the idea as I always seem to find something to bang on about.