A busy week at work was preceded by a weekend of nostalgia. Ten years ago I was deputy editor of Vision, one of two student newspapers at the University of York, and a number of us returned to the city to celebrate the paper’s 20th anniversary.
The university (chancellor: Greg Dyke) continues to have a flourishing student media – with a TV station and a radio station to boot – and a disproportionately large number of my fellow alumni are also enjoying successful careers in journalism and broadcasting.
The Saturday night reunion was not clever timing for the various Vision luminaries working on Sunday papers, but many dailies, regionals and agencies were represented.
Back to London, and first thing Monday I decided it was worth following up my story from the previous week about Downing Street launching an Arabic version of its website.
It struck me that the site ought to be translated into Welsh, which is, lest we forget, a native tongue of these islands. Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, agreed – giving me strong quotes to make the lead item in the following day’s Spy column.
Meanwhile, the new edition of parliamentary weekly, The House Magazine, featured an interview with Tory MP Ann Winterton, the latest to join the attack on her party leadership’s line on grammar schools. That made good fodder for the Telegraph’s Little and Large blog, where my colleague Brendan Carlin (Little) and I (Large) have been sharing political and parliamentary news, views and vignettes since January.
Monday night was a long night – but ripe for stories. You cannot beat being out there in the field if you’re looking for material, and if you’re after political stories, there’s nowhere better than the bars at the House of Commons. The evening began with a pre-arranged drink with Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik.
But I got more than I bargained for, since he brought his Cheeky Girl girlfriend Gabriela Irimia along. MPs were virtually queuing up on the Commons Terrace for an introduction and, to her credit, she was extremely chatty. She enthused about how she’s just followed her other half’s lead and booked flying lessons, which guaranteed her a spot in Wednesday’s Spy column.
As others joined us, I gained some useful background from a wide range of sources on the political stories of the moment: what Gordon Brown might have in store for us all, how people are reacting to the new administration in Holyrood and how David Cameron has fared during the grammar schools row.
I also got wind of Tony Blair having thrown a thank you party for his whips that evening. After last orders at the Commons, a group of MPs invited me to join them at a bar in the West End as they burnt the midnight oil and put the world to rights.
Tuesday saw the outgoing Prime Minister’s extraordinary attack on the media in a speech delivered to Reuters. The soundbite – which he successfully managed to get featured in all the coverage – was that we in the media are like ‘feral beasts”. Most hacks appeared happy enough to claim that as a badge of honour – within hours, a group was created on the brilliant social networking website, Facebook, ‘Feral Beasts of the Media”, which nearly 400 of us had joined by the end of the week.
For lunch, I zipped across to the Capital Club in the City with Spy editor Celia Walden for one of the twice-yearly gatherings of Fleet Street diarists. It’s always a convivial affair and goes to show that the rivalry between different columns is generally very friendly – and that the collective noun for a group of diarists should definitely be ‘a gossip”.
It was particularly good to catch up with former Spy editor Charlie Methven, who gave me my break at the Telegraph, and former colleague Henry Deedes, who is now ensconced at the Pandora column on The Independent.
Wednesday night was the highlight of my week: taking part in the annual Westminster Press Gallery vs broadcasters tug of war competition in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief. It’s a precursor to the main event – featuring teams from the Commons and the Lords – and I’ve been going along to watch it for years, so it was great to be asked to participate.
Alas the Press Gallery team’s luck only extended to winning the toss: the might of the state broadcaster (for the opposing team was made up exclusively of our feral cousins from the BBC) overpowered us and we lost in two straight pulls. Still, it was a fun evening and the dinner and auction afterwards raised a six-figure sum for Macmillan.
I wrote about the occasion on the blog, but also got to talk about it on Friday’s Daily Telegraph podcast. Celia had to dash off to an event at the end of Thursday afternoon, so I was deputed to represent Spy in the podcast studio, which I always enjoy doing.