It might seem this blog was cut off before the election in a rather blunt fashion, and then may look like we were just being mardy. Apologies for that- the truth was more complex and involved illness that made the actual night of the election a fever-dream within a fever-dream. It was probably the codeine, but I swear I saw footage of Michael Gove being re-elected while swallowing whole a guinea-pig. Who knows anymore?
Illness aside, I was also reluctant to offer up a post-mortem, unlike every other voice on the internet. I had sleep to catch up on, fluids to drink and Christmas to enjoy. Blogging could take a back seat.
Returning to this site, some positives: I was very proud to be able to take on Faith Pring and Chris Tregenza as guest election correspondents: both excelled, turning in copy that zinged and popped. It was a joy to act as their editor, and a greater joy to be able to raise funds to pay them both – not a huge amount, but through your generosity, enough for them to accurately describe themselves as professional journalists. They both deserve more paid work and more bylines: I’ve offered them both opportunities on The Beestonian and look forward to continue working with them. Thanks to all who donated and made this possible.
Yesterday, I gave a presentation to the journalism students I teach, themed ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. It was a compressed history and overview of investigative journalism, taking in the inevitable Woodward and Bernstein through to the more modern heroes such as Nick Davies, Paul Foot, Carole Cadwalladr, Amelia Gentleman, Daphne Caruana Galizia et al; then modern citizen investigative reporting, from Bellingcat to the phenomenal forensic crowd-sourcing work behind An Anatomy of a Killing;.
Researching the lesson, and watching the reaction of the students when I delivered it, made me realise that there is little more important than strong journalism in these post-truth days. A journalist is obliged to be a scientist, a detective, a person of infinite patience and resource. We need more of them.
I was planning to quit this blog for good once the election was done, after tentatively stepping away several times in the past. Then I read something that struck such a chord with me I can’t get it out my head and it serves as a constant prick to my conscience. This is Nick Davies, a hero of mine:
“For various reasons, I got hit by a lot of adults when I was a child. I deeply hate people who abuse power because of that. I want to get my own back on people who abuse power and by good chance that’s what a good journalist should do”. (Broken News, Alan Rusbridger)
The resonance of it! As a child, I was hit by adults frequently. My parents were bullies who delighted in slapping, belting, using anything blunt as a punishment tool, or co-opting my older brother to do it for them. I suffered acute atopic eczema throughout, which made the skin incredibly sore and sensitive: a belt across the back would hurt that little bit more as it burst wounds and welted broken skin. This would be arbitrary, sadistic and bizarrely banal and surburban – I remember my mum fretting over a possible hairline fissure in the hoover attachment she’d struck across my thighs. That mother, who I am very gratefully estranged from and will never be allowed to come anywhere near my own child, is almost inevitably currently a Conservative Councillor.
My condition led to the predictable bullies at school for years before I developed strategies to quell it, before they developed I’d regularly get a shoeing on account of being shit at football or having perpetually flaky skin. Sometime around the age of 11, I tried to do myself in by taking a load of pills -heavens knows what they were, I do remember a handful of paracetamol – but there were always lots in our house. I remember being it anything but dramatic, just a pragmatic decision.
If it wasn’t for the fact I vomited and collapsed in the bathroom, and the subsequent discovery of empty tablet blisters, I would have been successful. As it was, there was a drive to A+E at the QMC, pints of orange-flavoured emetics forced down my neck, hours of throwing up until my mouth was burning and lips swollen through the gastric fluids forced out, and home, where my loving dad gave me a kicking before sending me to bed. There would be more attempts, more failures, more kickings. If it hadn’t been for a loving, empathetic and wonderful grandmother I could run to I would not be here.
I’ll never do the work Nick Davies did: few will. The guy is a genius and has uncovered child sex rings right here in Nottingham; coined the phrase ‘Churnalism’, and famously, exposed the phone hacking scandal. I’ve pissed off a few Councillors and had a few people swiftly ‘removed from positions’. Yet his reflective motive and sheer honesty was common ground and served more to make me understand why the fuck I do this to myself. I have a wonderful job working with writers; I run a fantastic magazine; I teach with incredible people; I go on telly to talk about nature, books, and all between. Investigative journalism is horribly stressful, often utterly depressing, often seemingly pointless.
But like Davies, I have to do it. I cannot sit by and watch others abuse others as I was abused, it really is as straightforward as that. I now have much beauty in my life: a wife and child I could not adore more, work I love, reasonably good health and freedom from the aforementioned eczema that blighted so many decades of my life. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, it cleared up when I cut my parents from my life, and has never returned.
I will always, always be condemned / compelled to address wrongs. This isn’t some attempt to paint myself as some sort of moral superiority, some white knight; rather to explain it’s a reaction to damage done, a character flaw that drives me on. I’m n ot sure if it is a curse or a blessing, and I hope one day I’ll be able to do what Nick Davies eventually did – feel sated, quit and
Yoga currently holds little attraction, so you’ll have to put up with me a great deal longer, perhaps sporadically, perhaps not. I won’t write for the sake of writing; there are far, far too many keyboard incontinents out on the internet. But I will write when something needs to be done and no one else is doing it. The next five years are going to be assaults on so much: I speak not as someone on the left, but someone who recognises the abuse of power and is appalled to see it. I most likely won’t have much impact. But I will have absolutely none if I don’t bother. Simply, I can’t not bother. That scabby kid with the buckle welts burning on his flesh hasn’t had his fill yet.
Henceforth tomorrow expect a piece in why our new MP has already done something so shitty it deserves to be more widely told. Tune in.
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