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All passed for press

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Last Saturday morning, on the kitchen table round at my house, my mate Andy and I signed off the 13 front news-style pages of the October issue of Environmental Engineering magazine. I’d produced the copy for those pages; he’d done the layouts and some judicious cutting and shaping; together we then made the pages fit, scrawled some headlines into the spaces allotted to them, wrote picture captions, nodded a few times, grumbled a bit and laughed a lot. And then Andy put the pages into the format from which a printer 200 miles west will be able to produce the printed magazine.

And that was that. My last press day. Probably. Someone else – a different old friend – is taking on responsibility for the back half of the October issue and will take on Environmental Engineering in its entirety from the next issue with Andy. Including the press days.

I’ve had the title “editor” on various magazines for just short of 30 years: about a dozen of those years on weeklies, a dozen or so on fortnightlies and the rest on something more infrequent. I reckon as an editor I’ve done around 900 press days – the days when you and your journalists have to stop faffing around and finally sit down to produce a magazine and sign it off. If you add in a dozen years before that, all of them spent on weeklies in varying positions of responsibility (or irresponsibility), I’ve done somewhere towards 1,500 press days. Signing off maybe the equivalent of 60,000 A4 pages or 36 million words.

I may do odd jobs as an editor over the next 40-odd years, but I’m now, finally, more of a jobbing freelance writer than an editor, happy to contribute wherever and whenever. And I’m not now, after last Saturday, in charge of getting the thing out of the door and, via the printer, on to the doormat of the reader. No more press days.

I’ll miss press day for the adrenaline rush that it still produces, the thought that your eyes are the last to see things and to be able to change things before they are committed to type and unalterable. My editing has spanned the technology changes from hot metal, galley proofs and the “magic” (which I never understood) of “subbing on the stone” with a compositor at your elbow – right through to today’s kitchen table publishing and web-ready copy. I’ll miss the constant technical challenge.

And I’ll miss the challenge of trying to make it as good and as right as you can inside the time constraints and, of course, the cost constraints. Journalism would be an easy job if you had no press deadlines and no budgetary restrictions: easy but shallow, and a big part of the press day smoke and mirrors is to make the published magazine appear effortless and unhurried – up-to-date but also somehow timeless. The best you can do, whatever the panic-strewn reality.

Most of all I’ll miss good people I’ve shared press days with – from Andy, with whom I’ve worked and had a few beers for 20+ years, and John Moore, the best sub I’ve ever known, right the way back to the 3.00am press nights at Eden Fisher in Southend with Hodge of The Engineer: George Hodgkinson, the white ash worms of his constant cigarettes withering in the ashtray, his RAF slang and wartime stories, and his ability to “fanooker” copy and pictures and flatplans into the required shape and format.

It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been a privilege to work with such people and learn from them.  But now it’s someone else’s turn. I’ll go on writing but I’m also going to do and learn something else. All my pages are passed: let the presses roll.

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Written by johnpullin

October 9, 2014 at 8:44 am

The source of my stress

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I’m pretty stressed out currently, and it’s not because we found my father, who would have been 95 today, dead in his shed in Devon three weeks ago. It’s because of some little shit of a solicitor in an office in the East Midlands who is steadfastly failing to do his job. So at the point where I should be worrying about my father’s funeral (in a couple of days’ time) and the duties of being an executor and how to fit long and frequent visits to Devon (via Stonehenge, see earlier blogs) into my work schedule, my angst has an altogether different focus.

To explain requires some background. A few months ago, I signed up for an MA course at Leicester University, starting at the end of this month. I’m not giving up the journalism that’s kept me in employment for 40-plus years, but I am consciously going to do less of it; by taking the MA over two years instead of the usual one year, I can wind down some commitments and continue to do others. It seemed a nice way forward: a taster of a potential new direction without leaving the safety of what I know and what I do. Everyone I’ve spoken to – family, friends, colleagues – thinks it’s a good plan.

(Actually, there was one exception to the universal approval for the scheme. My father, never knowingly reticent in his opinions, pronounced that it would be a total waste of time “just like it was last time when you were at university”. He had never forgiven me for doing history for my first degree when other family members had done “a proper subject”: maths.)

Anyway, the logistical difficulty of the Leicester plan is that the MA is a taught course, which means I need to be in Leicester for maybe up to half the week during term times. So we’re trying to buy a flat where I can stay and also work. And therein lies the problem. A flat was found, an offer made and accepted, and a target exchange and completion date for the end of August was set.

It’s now halfway through September, 11 days from my first Leicester assignation, and I’m still waiting. My own blameless solicitor is fine to go, the estate agent has been helpful, the vendor has responded fast to each and every request for information or a signature. But the vendor’s solicitor can’t be asked. It took four weeks for initial paperwork to reach my solicitor; it’s now three weeks since the last set of queries went back, and there’s been no movement. The vendor wants my money and I’m happy to give it to him; I want his flat and he’s happy to hand it over. But the process is stalled. This week, I’m told, the person dealing with the “case” (which is scarcely complex: I’m a cash buyer) has gone on holiday.

It’s long been known that the English process for buying property is daftly complex, and I’m sure my experience is commonplace. But what should have been an orderly process of setting myself up for a new student lifestyle, gently getting broadband sorted and transporting some of our spare furniture in, has become a source of immense stress: far more than anything that’s coincidentally happening in Devon. And for that, one apparently indolent and carefree solicitor is to blame.

Written by johnpullin

September 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

Posted in About me, Journalism

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Three’s company, two’s a crowd

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It’s culture week in the Pullin household. On consecutive evenings, starting last night, we’re going to see the two halves of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s dramatisation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Then it’s cinema Wednesday, the Proms on Thursday, after which it peters out a bit. It resumes next week with Test match on Sunday and Southend United v AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday. Well, OK, those are maybe less cultural, but one can hope.

Anyway, last night’s theatre was a bit odd, not through the play, the acting or the staging, all of which were dramatically good, but through the seating arrangements. The two of us had to sit one in front of the other, because we couldn’t sit next to each other. And we couldn’t do that because the Ticketmaster computer that controls seat bookings at the Aldwych Theatre wouldn’t let us.

When we booked, there were several clumps of three consecutive seats in several different rows across the auditorium. No twos, or fours or fives or larger numbers. Just a lot of threes and a few ones on their own. Maybe we should have realised at that point, but, we thought, it’s no problem, there are plenty to choose from.

Except the computer at Ticketmaster wouldn’t let us have two seats, because that would leave a single seat in a threesome unoccupied. It wouldn’t allow us to buy them as two singles next to each other either. Same problem. You could buy one, leaving two vacant, but not the second, because that would leave a singleton. I phoned Ticketmaster. A charming Lancastrian voice told me that those were the rules and, though they were patently daft, she couldn’t change them.

So we bought two singles at the one place in the auditorium where a threesome from one row intersected with a threesome in the row in front and we sat indian file, one behind the other – and thereby freed up two sets of two seats for a couple of other couples to sit beside us. And it was fine: the play was brilliant and the view was good.

But how very silly.

Written by johnpullin

August 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Posted in About me

The Swiss at the Commonwealth Games

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I’ll happily watch most sports on television, with the possible exceptions of darts and the circus tomfoolery that is wrestling. I’m a bit more discerning about what I’d pay good money for to go and see live, away from the comfort of my armchair, but I’m a pretty active watcher all told, with around 50 soccer matches a season and maybe half a dozen days at the cricket. Even the odd rugby match. And I got quite excited when the Olympics were in London a couple of years back.

The wall-to-wall blanket coverage on the main BBC channel of the current Commonwealth Games, however, is proving slightly too much of a good thing. I know it’s quite important, and if it was in London rather than Glasgow I might go along. But the Olympics it ain’t. And I wonder whether the BBC’s saturation coverage isn’t more to do with the fact that it’s lost most major sporting events to satellite channels than with the Games’ intrinsic merits. Also that it’s in Scotland, and the BBC doesn’t want to be blamed for losing England’s oldest colony in the September independence referendum.

Anyway, I’m not watching much of this coverage, but I do want to catch up on the highlights in the TV news. And therein lies a problem.

TV news coverage of sports events – soccer excepted – seems to me these days to be less and less about the sport and its news and more and more about the sports news presenters. Instead of showing us 60 seconds of cricket highlights, wickets falling, catches being held, exquisite cover drives and so forth, you get 30 seconds of that and then 30 seconds watching someone called Joe outside the ground give his opinion. Does Joe have devastating insight that justifies this? Or a commanding screen presence? No he does not.

Worse still is something I’m inclined to call “the Andy Swiss phenomenon”. Swiss is a sports presenter whose role seems to be, while great sporting events are happening in the background, to “pop up”, in the manner of a meerkat, to offer some anodyne fact-free guff about the event that he can’t see because he’s looking into the camera and you can’t see because the camera is focused on him.

It’s maybe unfair to blame it all on Andy Swiss: other presenters are now doing very similar. It looked, yesterday, in the background of the report on the Commonwealth Games marathon, that runners were falling over in the wet, but you couldn’t really tell because some presenter was standing in front of the action telling you it was raining and that she was getting wet.

This is rubbish: rubbish coverage of interesting sports events, and rubbish reporting in general. It’s the televisual equivalent of a selfie. It offers no information or insight, except to tell me that some TV news reporters have big ears and big egos, and some TV news editors have no clue about news values nor any regard for the intelligence of their viewers.

The job of a reporter, any reporter, is to hold a mirror up to the world; TV reporters can go one step further, and hold up a window for us to look through. This lot are too fond of holding up mirrors and showing us their own reflections in them.

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July 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm

To speak or to remain silent

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We moved house back in the early part of the year, and along with the downsizing comes a smaller garden and rather shorter distances to other houses. It’s fine and it’s what we wanted, and we were looking forward to having fewer rooms to heat and clean and spread our (my) tide of paperwork over. Mostly that’s working.

But there’s a “but”, and it’s only become apparent in the evenings and nights of a rather-better-than-usual summer. It’s been warm and sticky in London for a week or so now, and at night the stuffiness means you want to sleep with the windows wide open to catch any fleeting breezes. But in our new house, the breezes come accompanied… by voices.

Neighbours tangentially to the back corner of our end-of-terrace house have been sitting, chatting, in their own back garden for four of the past five evenings. They have loud voices and they don’t moderate them for fear of being overheard; they have loud laughs, too, and likewise they’re not shy about them. One chap in particular is a fund of relentless anecdote, often, it seems, about rugby, most of which he then finds very funny, so the voice is followed by guffaws, mostly his. But there are other voices too, some of them quite penetrating.

None of this ought to be a problem and it is part and parcel of living in a city. The difficulty is that it goes on. And on. And on. Eight o’clock in the evening sees them in place in their garden, nine o’clock, ten, eleven. They don’t pause at midnight, though the lights are out in virtually all the other local houses. One o’clock, two o’clock… that seems to be about the norm at the moment, though one night there was still jollity and anecdote at a quarter to three. It’s not very noisy: close the windows, and you barely hear it, though in the current heat you may well then struggle to sleep for a different reason.

The thing is: what does one do about it? If anything? We don’t know the neighbours – the chattering ones or any of the others who may also be being disturbed. It seems churlish to complain when it’s probably only a temporary difficulty: there aren’t that many warm nights a year in London. We can get earplugs. But maybe they just don’t know how intrusive they are being and would be mortified if they realised that they were causing a disturbance. There’s a danger, I suspect, that the longer this goes on, night after night (except Sunday), the more tired we will get through sleeplessness and we’ll then make an inappropriate approach to them, and put their backs up. But currently our backs are up: well, up to two in the morning, at least.

So should we say something or stay silent ourselves? Advice, please.

UPDATE, 25 July: Well, the gist of advice seems to be that a problem unconfronted is a problem that won’t go away, and that we should tackle the talkative folk. If only to let them know that their intimate conversations are not exactly private. But actually last night it was quiet, so we slept. And today the UK weather is forecast to resume its usual summer pattern of unreliability, so maybe there will be less cause to sit out into the early hours. We’ll see…

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July 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

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Cricket tickets: Lord’s and money

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I’ve been going to cricket Test matches at Lord’s and The Oval ever since I moved to London, which is more than 40 years now. I’ve seen every single one of the Test-playing countries there and I’ve watched some memorable cricket. But in recent years it’s become more and more difficult to get a ticket. And for this coming season, at Lord’s, it’s impossible. It’s an Ashes season, with the Australians in town, and while I was able to watch all five days of the equivalent game in Sydney on my trip to Australia two years ago, in my own home town it’s no longer possible. Not even a single day.

It’s been noticeable at Lord’s over the past few years that long records of watching rather dull games in May against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe count for nothing in terms of getting tickets. The 250 or so of us who watch a County Championship match at Lord’s in late April for £10 better make the most of it. Because if it’s a big match, against the Australians or maybe the South Africans, we ordinary folk hardly ever get in. And the problem? Corporate hospitality and profiteering.

Last time the Ashes were in town, 2009, four of us managed, somehow, to squeeze some tickets out of Lord’s for a single damp-ish day towards the back of the Mound stand. There for most of the day we sat entirely alone, surrounded by empty seats. Fleetingly, towards lunchtime, a few bodies came in to sit near us, but pretty soon they departed: they were there for a lunch elsewhere in the ground, with a seat at the cricket thrown in, but the cricket was of no interest. One chap came back in mid-afternoon after lunch and sat near to us: he was, he said, embarrassed that none of his fellow lunch companions were interested in cricket and none intended to return.

Lord’s can and will protest that demand far exceeds supply for seats for the premier matches, and I’ve no doubt that they’re right. Some form of ballot for scarce seats is probably inevitable and that’s allegedly what’s been held… though when you’ve been unsuccessful in a ballot, as I and everyone I know appear to have been, you wonder whether it was ever actually held.  London’s other big cricket venue, The Oval, is far less opaque in its machinations: I didn’t get the tickets I wanted for there this year either, but I can see that others did.

At Lord’s, you see from websites that some people have got tickets. On Viagogo, a reseller site, you can buy tickets for the Ashes Test at Lord’s: seats with a face value of maybe £100 are now on offer for sums between £350 and £700. Charlatans and profiteers seem to have a licence from Lord’s to ply their trade. There are, elsewhere, corporate dining experiences available for £760 a day, with a seat thrown in. I love cricket, and I love watching cricket, but I can’t afford these sums. And nor do I want lunch: I want cricket. Lord’s isn’t interested in whether people who get seats are interested in cricket. It just wants their money.

I shall be watching the Lord’s Test from my armchair this summer. I shall be interested to see whether all the stands are full. Next year, when Lord’s will host some presumably “less attractive” Test matches, I’ll probably get in again: my money will be good enough for them again. But this year, it just isn’t cricket.

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March 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Facebook and navel fluff

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I don’t really understand the fascination with Facebook. Its users, fine, I can handle. And I can see the utility of the concept: indeed, I have a barely-used Facebook account myself and a more-used presence in various other social media places. But the minutiae of the Facebook company and its founder and, particularly, its figures?

This morning we’ve got the reportage on yesterday’s news stories that Facebook had, for the first time, gone past 1 billion users in a month. And dire in some cases this reportage really is.

Consider this statement. “If Facebook was a country, it would be third biggest in the world after China and India…” Isn’t that just rubbish? Facebook isn’t a country; never has been, never will be. It has 1 billion users: don’t knock that, it’s obviously a bit of a milestone. But how many users does electricity have worldwide, how many people are in telephone directories, how many fridges are there? How many people benefit every month from healthcare and medicine?

Or look at it from another way. If breadline poverty was a country, it would be the biggest in the world, bigger than Facebook. If the number of people whose prospects have been screwed over by the banks was a country, it’d be the size of… you get the gist.

Facebook is a utility, like water, electricity, sanitation. It isn’t a coherent, defining grouping. And unlike those other utilities, if it disappeared overnight, people’s lives would go on. They’d get over it and so should we. Take away the others and we’d have big problems.

And by the way, if the number of people who woke up with navel fluff every morning was a country, it’d be the biggest one in the world. Bar none. Probably.

Written by johnpullin

October 5, 2012 at 8:53 am

Posted in About me, Journalism

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