Nicola Barry - Columnist, The Press and Journal, Aberdeen

29.09.05

Leap out of bed at 7.30am in my granny flat in Aberdeen. Pack suitcase for returning to Edinburgh.

Today, am interviewing the UK’s most famous former madam, Cynthia
Payne, in the city for a public-speaking engagement. She is tiny with a
Cockney accent; flamboyant for 72. Her first words were: “Dear, it was
like this: in my 30s, I did it. In my 40s, I organised it. And, now, in
my 70s, it’s all I can do to talk about it.”

She said she charged
her elderly clients £20 for everything, paid for in luncheon vouchers,
of course. I asked her if she had any regrets.

“Yes, dear, I do,” she said. “I wish I’d charged them a much higher entry fee.”

Fortunately,
I love Aberdeen: the perpetually gridlocked roads, the ever-changing
weather, the screeching seagulls, Derek Tucker, editor of the Press and
Journal.

I have been under just about every editor in Scotland and one has one’s favourites.

Usually,
I hit the road south at about 7pm and arrive at my house around 10pm.
It is in a graveyard, beside a leafy dell, with a river running past.

I
can hardly wait to see the love of my life. When I push open the door
he pees all over the floor with excitement, then rolls over on his back
for me to tickle his tummy. But enough of Alastair. I greet my handsome
Westie, Coll, named after the Inner Hebridean island.

We have supper, after which I start to write my Sunday Express column.

30.09.05

Finish column about cyclists and the right to roam; guys in
body-hugging Lycra coming hurtling towards you like so many Exocet
missiles. They don’t brake, don’t use bells.

Put finishing touches to an interview with a man of 65 who has
smoked two packets of cigarettes a day for 50 years, but doesn’t
believe he has gone blind as a result. New research says smokers are at
risk of losing their sight.

01.10.05

To Edinburgh Airport to meet the organiser of Scotland’s first
fear-of-flying course. Believe it or not, his name is Captain Steve
Allright. He invites us to ask the questions we have always wanted to
ask, but never had the opportunity.

I thought I was a nervous wreck until I saw the others.

Some never get out of the airport, just sit there stuffing themselves with tranquillisers.

The questions come thick and fast.

What
happens if one of the engines fails? What happens if the pilot dies and
an engine fails? What happens if one pilot dies, the co-pilot has food
poisoning and two engines fail?

The course concludes with a 45-minute flight and, inevitably, more questions.

What’s
that far-off rumbling noise? Was that a wing falling off? Why are we
turning right? Why, when you’re up at 18,000ft, does everything
suddenly go suspiciously quiet?

In my mind’s eye, I could see the next day’s headline: “Fear of flying course plunges 35,000ft into the sea. No survivors.”

02.10.05

Start my Pee and Jay column, local pronunciation for the paper. It’s
about Tony Blair and his eternal apologising. This time over the
manhandling of Walter Wolfgang at the Labour Party conference.

I am a slow columnist. I start well ahead of deadline and keep revisiting for a tinker.

03.10.05

An in-depth interview with Mick North, father of one of the 16
children massacred at Dunblane, on the back of the hullabaloo over the
documents ordered to be kept secret for 100 years, some of which are
now being made public. He has spent the whole summer reading the
abhorrent reports. Mick’s beloved wife, Barbara, died in 1993, after a
battle with cancer.

He struggled to make three-year-old Sophie the centre of his life. It worked. Father and daughter were inseparable.

Says
he carries this sense of guilt, that he failed Sophie, and failed his
wife. He promised Barbara he’d do everything in his power to take care
of Sophie, but didn’t manage it. It’s so brutally unfair.

04.10.05

Meeting with my trainee, Sarah Cameron, about covers for our Your Job supplement.

Great interview with a nurse in Dundee who visits pubs to carry out
health checks on men. So many men won’t go to the doctor, yet, when
ill, make such a fuss. You know what it’s like. You’ve got a headache;
they’ve got a brain tumour.

05.10.05

Conference held by features editor Sonja Cox, a hard taskmistress; nasty but nice, a bit like Mother Teresa on crack.

We make decisions about my massive workload for the next two weeks before I go on holiday.

Set
off for the Scottish Parliament for The Disability Debate. Having spent
eight years in a wheelchair as a child, I believe the last thing we
need is more discussion. We need laws, legal teeth that bite employers
who fail to take on their quota of workers with disabilities.

For
a disabled person, a wheelchair can provide a wonderful shield; a place
to hide and say: “I can’t do it; I’m in a wheelchair.” The trouble is,
a wheelchair provides the perfect excuse to everybody else as well, for
not giving someone a job, for not allowing them into shops or buildings.

The
very thought of it makes my blood boil. Apartheid is always ugly,
whether it exists because of race, background, gender, religion or
disability. No amount of debate can change that sordid little fact.

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