The Grey Cardigan: 11 January 2008

SO WE’RE here in the Evening Beast newsroom on one of those dour days between Christmas and New Year. No one’s interested, no one’s enthusiastic and our dilettante deputy editor Alistair has abandoned conference so he can read his Jackie annual in the peace of his perfumed office.

The duty Nervous Nigel running the newsdesk (we call them all Nervous Nigel because it’s hardly worth learning their names before they’re sacked and dumped into special features) comes over to my horribly undermanned subs’ desk and says: ‘Right, Grey. Let’s not piss about with this one. Let’s just get it filled with any old crap and bugger off home.”

Now I don’t really know why – call it old-fashioned pride, I suppose – but this attitude really got up my nose. So I have a look at the plan. There are only nine overnights, so by the time the Christmas babies are in (‘We thought we’d call her Holly”), the police and fire calls are sorted and we’ve stuck on Page 5 the compulsory single mother who was burgled on Christmas Eve and lost all her children’s presents (the lying cow) then there won’t be much for the night shift.

So I draw up a list for Nervous Nigel – page leads, picture stories, sticks of nibs and downpage fillers – and he piles into it, bashing copy across at a rate of knots. It’s poor stuff, with even a 10-day-old council meeting with the date removed being proffered, but within 90 minutes there’s enough copy there to fill. So I give him another list, for another five pages. Imaginary ones.

He looks at me askance, but returns to his desk muttering and keeps shovelling stories across, although I can sense that the bottom of the barrel is receiving a good scraping. This suspicion is confirmed when he starts rooting in the bottom drawer of his desk and later wanders over to the solitary features soul and tries to cadge a backgrounder or two.

By half past twelve, the nine overnights are finished, so I send Mungo off to the pub and let the two recent mothers (now returned as miserable casuals) go home to their mewling infants.

‘It’s OK,’I tell Nervous Nigel as he lifts his head from his terminal. ‘I’ll finish these last few.’And I give him another list, for a further three imaginary pages.

At half past three, he finally snaps. ‘I’m in trouble, Grey,’he bleats. ‘I’ve cleared out every basket. There’s nothing left. How about a PA feature on global warming. There are some nice pictures of drowning polar bears.”

‘No problem,’I say, standing up and putting on my coat. ‘You’ve got us off to a flyer for tomorrow.’And I walk out of the office, gripping my pipe weapon-like, in case he attacks me in the corridor.

FRESH FROM a classic festive season scare story headed ‘Can Your Christmas Dinner Give You Dandruff?”, the Daily Mail descends further into self-parody with a whole page of health horrors.

Apparently, vitamin pills give you prostate cancer, central heating causes eczema, getting divorced causes diabetes, and electric blankets bring on cancer of the womb. With all this expertise, it’s a surprise that no one at Derry House can put their finger on what’s wrong with Lord Dacre, whose sick notes accumulate at an alarming rate.

CLEARLY IN the best of health, our old friend Tanya Gold – she of the size 11 feet – has been busy over Christmas, pitching up in the Mail while spending Christmas Day at the legendary Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados and dishing the dirt from her prime sunbed located between Michael Winner and Philip Green.

But it’s an odd appearance. We’re told that her room costs £1,650 a night, but would Sandy Lane take one-night bookings at that time of year? I don’t think so. So we can only assume that either Viscount Rothermere has gone barking mad by booking his hacks luxury fortnights at one of the most expensive hotels in the world, or that Tanya, having had a profitable freelance year, is there in her own right.

Either way, our correspondent is duly outraged by the cost of a burger (£15) and a copy of the Daily Mail (£8). But what really hits home is the price of flip flops in the resort’s boutique. Tanya complains that they’re £200 – each. Yes, love, but I think you’ll find that they’re made to measure and that price is just for you.

I CAN only assume that Liz-fucking-Jones is scoring heavily in the Daily Mail’s market research surveys, because nothing she’s written recently – for the daily or the Sunday – has managed to impress me very much. The debate has now moved to the letters pages, where a surprising number of disgruntled readers are being allowed to have their say.

‘I’ve long wondered whether Femail writer Liz Jones is a real woman or a skilfully presented joke,’writes one. ‘Surely such a self-congratulatory, vacuous and vain woman cannot be for real?”

‘I’ve never understood why anyone publishes Liz Jones’ self-obsessed neurotic articles,’chimes another. ‘Liz Jones can be a bit of a nasty caricature: surely no one could be that mean-minded and shallow in real life?”

‘I can no longer tolerate her and eagerly skip over her column’adds a third.

In the interest of fairness, I should point out that there were also letters of support, but in my experience when star writers are subjected to this kind of public trial, it does not bode well for them. Watch this space.

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