When I moved out of London to the West Country 15 years ago, my friends thought it was a curious career move. You have to be visible and in touch, they said. And now I can see what they mean. The postman comes to our house at about 8.40 hands me the mail, and I say what a nice or nasty day it is, and he says you should have been up at six to see real weather, and I say you're probably right, and sometimes that's my networking over for the day.
But what my friends didn't realise was that a move to the sticks can pay dividends. Last week Radio 4's News Quiz came down to do a live recording at Wells Town Hall; some of the regular panellists were terrified of the trip out of the city and refused to come, and the News Quiz people were desperate to find locals who had handled a mike before, so the lovely Dr Phil Hammond and I were lured out of Somerset and Wiltshire respectively.
The small price I had to pay was to read every national newspaper for a week and memorise all the stories they might ask questions about, which is why I now have on my desk a list that starts, mysteriously but poetically, "Queen in Oz, coloured eggs, Anne Heche, Mary Archer's face..."
Yes, it's last week's news. Does any of it ring a bell? Here's some more..." Russell Crowe, Bafta red carpet, the Halifax, Sue MacGregor, Osama DNA, Helen Brinton MP, Ken Dodd..."
All these items, once headline stuff, have been forgotten by now, which tells you more about the nature of journalism than I care to know. The story about the man who produced different coloured eggs by feeding his hens different foodstuffs... the report of Russell Crowe being a bully... the new theory that Tyrannosaurus Rex could hardly move at more than walking pace... the account of the policeman who escaped sharks after capsizing... Not only did these get printed and forgotten last week, they didn't even get used in the programme, which is why I suppose I remember them.
We got questions about the Halifax, and Bafta's foaming red carpet and the Marquess of Bath selling his paintings, so I've forgotten all that, but I'm still keyed up about the Scottish Nationalist who urged his compatriots to cheer for England in the World Cup (Some hope. Blimey, I am English myself, and even I was cheering for France in the rugby on Saturday) and about Mary Archer's face...
(This was a strange story. Someone became convinced that Mary Archer had had a face-lift, so in the more serious papers there were loads of photos of Before and After, with Mary looking pretty much the same in both. However, the tabloids ignored Mary's face and gave us Kylie's bottom. "Has Kylie had a bum-lift?" shouted the papers, showing us photos of Before and After. No, of course she hadn't, but what a great excuse to show photos of her bottom.)
Other stories spurned by the News Quiz team included the new contraceptive patches; Helen Brinton MP doing exercises in the nude and disturbing classes at the next-door school; the store manager who played Verdi and Benjamin Britten on the PA system outside his shops to drive yobs away ( successful, apparently); the Americans asking for DNA samples from Osama bin Laden's family to identify dead bodies in Afghanistan; and Anne Heche...
(This was a story that was maddeningly terse. It was contained in a one-sentence item in the Herald Tribune that said: "Actress Anne Heche has become engaged to and will marry a cameraman she met during the filming of a documentary about her long relationship with Ellen de Generes..." It's not often you read about gay people going straight, so I wanted to know more about it, but unfortunately I couldn't ask anyone because I don't know how to pronounce "Heche".)
And now all these stories are stuck in my mind like threepenny bits in a trouser turn-up or fluff n the navel, and the only way I can get rid of them is by writing about them, so thank you very much for helping with my therapy – oh, and not forgetting the report that Ken Dodd is being seriously considered as the next Dr Who. "Not so unlikely," said a BBC spokesman. "After all, he has an odd appearance and a reputation for talking in an outlandish way."
On that basis, Loyd Grossman has an equally good chance of getting the part. And there's a joke that never made it on air either.
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