Mind the gap

It’s been almost four weeks since my last blog post. I’d like to explain away my absence as a result of huge pressure of work, inundated with new clients etc.

The reality is far less exciting. The first two weeks of the absence could most definitely be attributed to suddenly finding myself busy again after almost six months of having heehaw to do and all day to do it.

The last fortnight, however, has seen me tip back into full-on news junkie mode.

The last-ever edition of the Screws

The Establishment car-crash that is the News of the World phone hacking scandal has had me glued to the rolling news channels, Twitter, the blogosphere and the compelling Hackgate minute-by-minute on the Guardian website.

One word: wow.

In my lifetime, the Screws – as it was affectionately and not so affectionately referred to within the newspaper industry – was the ultimate Sunday paper. We, of course, never ‘took’ it at home when I was growing up. We may have been Catholic but my parents were decidedly puritan in outlook when it came to reading material. Dad always said Screws was ‘just full of shagging vicars’ while mum would rather have ripped out her own eyes than ever read its salacious contents.

Naturally, as soon as I moved out of the house, the Screws became my Sunday paper of choice.

And yeah, shagging vicars, cheating footballers, lying lawyers, celebrity screw-ups, suburban wife-swappers and schemie gangsters were pretty much its stock in trade week by week.

Now, of course, we all know where most of their wonderfully-tagged ‘World’ exclusives were coming from – corrupt cops, bent PIs and bureaucrats willing to put their ill-gotten gains well before an individual’s right to a private life.

As an ex-red top journo, I’m not whiter than white about how and where I occasionally came by stories or leads.

But I don’t think I have ever experienced a more jaw-dropping moment than the one almost exactly two weeks ago when I heard that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked.

Barely had 48 hours passed amid a veritable sea of new and ever more shocking revelations before my jaw thudded to the floor again when Rupert Murdoch announced the Screws was to close.

Tonight I’m writing this with BBC News on in the background as commentators pick over Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation as Met commissioner.

Here comes that word again: wow.

At the risk of being accused of red-top style hyperbole, I think we’re experiencing one of the most momentous cultural and political events of any of our lifetimes.

And we get to experience every resignation, every revelation, every new twist, every new theory in real time thanks to the, at times, shocking immediacy of online news and social media. It’s actually bloody breathtaking.

Last month I wrote a lament for my old papers, the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, as their owners, Trinity Mirror, slashed more jobs, cut investment and homogenised content with the Mirror. What price a revival now for those titles as one of their greatest rivals disappears virtually overnight leaving a vacuum of potential readers to be Hoovered up?

Or is Murdoch’s brutal and seemingly-instantaneous decision to bin the Screws – a hugely profitable title that kept its loss-making stablemates The Times and Sunday Times afloat – an even bigger indication that print media’s future is even more bleak and short-term than ever?

Maybe not – Hackgate was exposed because of tenacious digging and reporting by The Guardian, using its website to report developments instantly, then offering in-depth analysis in the following day’s print edition. The Independent and the Telegraph have also done sterling work on this.

Maybe what we’re really seeing is an end to the Screws’ style of journalism that has set the red-top agenda for the last four decades – that celebrity-driven, lowest common denominator content that has also fuelled the rise of the gossip mag too.

I hope so. I love a bit of gossip and scandal as much as the next person but I want my newspaper to carry genuine news too, not just splashes on Katie Price’s* new boyfriend is or a picture of the Hollyoaks cast falling down drunk in a Manchester street or another interminable story about Victoria Beckham’s hair/dress/diet/baby/pals.

Tabloid fodder - and potential client

In other news, this week I am in loco parentis for my niece Kate. At 17, she’s way too cool to be holidaying with her maw and paw so – somehow – she thinks Debbie and I are much cooler. Or at least where we stay is. Brighton rocks apparently. And at some point this week Kate and I are off on a pilgrimage to Covent Garden and Lucy in Disguise, the retail emporium of her idol, Lily Allen.

My role in all of this will be to hold Kate’s coat while she tries stuff on and open my purse to buy her stuff. This I can get on board with. Mainly because she’s only here for a week.

*Apparently Katie Price lifted one of Lead On’s postcards from the counter at Sweaty Betty in East Street Arcade! Scream!! I could be responsible for her pups. And walking the dogs too …

PS It’s getting late so tomorrow I will update the blog with all the Scottish words and phrases I’ve been posting on Facebook over the last month. There’s a wheen o’ them …

PPS Check out this new blog on The fight to save Scotland’s newspapers


Breeks n: trousers. Eg: The wean tore a hole in the erse o’ his breeks when he went skiting down the hill on his bogey

Skite v: to slip or slide. n: to go on a drinking session. Eg: Watch you don’t skite on that wet floor. The boys are away oot on the skite cos it’s the Glesga Fair

Toty adj: tiny; very, very small. Eg: She wants one of those totally toty wee dugs, like Paris Hilton has

Girn v: to moan, complain, whine. Frequently applied to tiny babies. Eg: Gie that wean a dummy, she hasnae stopped girning aw day

Mollicate/molligate v: to rip someone apart, either verbally or physically. Eg: He got absolutely mollicated off his mammy when he came home steaming and had spent aw his digs money

In the name of the wee man An expression of surprise or shock. Eg: In the name of the wee man, whit are you daeing skulking about the scullery in the dark?

Pochle (or pauchle) v: to steal, to manipulate something dishonestly, to fiddle something. Eg: One of the first things I learned as a junior reporter was to how to pochle my expenses properly

Cludgie n: lavatory, toilet, WC. Eg: Hurry up and get oot the cludgie, I’m bursting!

Lorne sausage n: a square slice of sausage, either pork or beef, an integral part of a Scottish cooked breakfast but also most commonly eaten in a bread roll. Eg: Gies a roll and square slice in a crispy roll with a mug of tea, please. Nae sauce

Wally close n: a particular type of tiled wall inside a tenement building, usually on the ground and up to the first floor, and a feature in posher Glasgow tenements. Eg: They’ve got a lovely big flat aff Byres Road – it’s got a wally close an’ everythin’

Affrontit adj: embarrassment, shame (usually embellished by the prefix ‘black’ to express the depth of the shame). Eg: Rebekah Brooks should be black affrontit that she’s put the jobs of 500 people before her own

Tawse n: leather belt (particularly evocative for Scots of a certain age who remember the belt in schools!) Eg: Teachers at my school used to carry the tawse on their shoulders, tucked under their black gowns, and they’d terrorise us by suddenly slapping it on to our desks when the class got rowdy