Bill Connor (Cassandra)
I have been on Fleet Street for thirty years and I have never laughed so much. There is no other job like it, so preposterous, so wildly improbable. The task which we impudently assume is to chronicle the whole pageant of life, to record the passing show and then, with unforgivable brazenness, to draw conclusions, to give a verdict and to point the moral. Damn and bless our bloody eyes.
I would never advise anybody to come to Fleet Street. Learning this trade is like learning high diving – minus the water. But I wouldn’t have missed it for all the treasures of Araby. The man who when he was asked what it was like to be in the First World War said: ‘Oh, the noise, and oh, the people!’ You can say the same thing about Fleet Street – ‘Oh, the noise, and oh, the people!’
You can get used to the noise but I’ve never got used to the people. The lovely nuts. The gorgeous crackpots. And all those wonderful, generous, self-derisive folk who spend their lives making dirty great black marks on miles and miles of white paper. Newspaper people are the greatest company in the world. They know but they will never learn. Fleet Street is a pavement where the manhole covers are missing. The aspirants who walk down it are warned by notices which say: caution – men working. They stride on and in a trice are below ground. I know. I’ve done it.
Fleet Street is snakes and ladders. Fleet Street is the greasy pole with the old duck pond waiting scummily below if you fall off. I know. I’ve done it. Fleet Street is the slippery slide with the banana skin laid there for all to see. And the saints and sinners go marching on until bingo we all fall down. I know. I’ve done it.
The way to get on in Fleet Street is never let it be known what you want to do. Hide Ambition’s dark face. Never ascend the heights.
The newspaper business, especially in Fleet Street, is over-shadowed by an angry towering mountain with the summit lost in the eternal hostile snows. Way down in the warm valleys below the foothills, life in the print business can be serene and relaxed. The place is stuffed with bee-loud glades where the idle, as well as the able, the incompetent as well as the efficient can relax. The vegetation is thick and the great warm fronds provide shade for those who wish to lie down in the noonday sun. Reporters, sub-editors, feature men and sports writers can all have a relatively pleasant time and, if they wish, can make love to the secretary birds under the kindly foliage.
A little farther up the mountain, the foothills begin and the humming birds are no longer seen. The flowers are still bright, but there is a freshness in the air that old journalists suspect and young ones too often relish. Above the foothills you can see the sky between the trees.
Still farther up, the foliage begins to diminish. There is a nip in the air and old hands shake their heads. The conifers grow shorter and more stunted. The undergrowth thins out. Bushes take the place of trees, and there is little cover under which to hide. But the eager beavers press on. Like young wild pigs they grunt and bolt around, sniffing the freshening wind.
Far below in the valley there were flowers and berries and fruits to be found. Here there is little. Nor is the bark of the trees edible. But still rooting and snorting, the ambitious porkers press on. It is the charge of the Gadarene Swine in reverse – upwards instead of downwards – to disaster.
Above the bushes comes the scree. Above the scree come the boulders. Above the boulders, the snow line. The ambitious journalists have thinned out now. Some are exhausted. Others are killed by their fellows. But here and there a burly brute with a red gleam in a beady angry eye that indicates the fevered image of the Editor’s Chair, still scrambles and scrabbles upwards.
I call them to come back. But it is too late, and as I stumble down the mountain to the softer climes below, I see the last of the Go-Getters, the I-Believe-In-Me mob, struggling ever upwards. Little black dots slowly ascending the North Col.
Ultimately, one of them makes it. O the Power! O the Glory! But they have still reckoned without the Abominable Snowman – the mysterious yeti, nine foot tall, covered in silky ginger fur with great gorilla-like feet leaving imprints in the dazzling snow. Sooner or later they meet him face to face, and another familiar mountaineer has the millstone of Editorship around his neck and dies the death. And the faithful Sherpas who always knew that one glance from the Abominable Snowman meant disaster were right.
Editors! I seen ’em come. And I seen ’em go. But way up on the mountain overshadowing Fleet Street the Abominable Snowman goes on for ever.
So, young stranger, my advice is don’t come near us. Don’t come in ‘for the water’s warm’. It’s not, it’s hot. It’s also freezing cold and it’s rough too. But it is the best, the finest, the most furious, the most exciting bath of life that anybody could ever take.
But, for Gawd’s sake, mind the plug ’ole.