IT'S HALF past eight in the Evening Beast newsroom and Blakey, the lugubrious deputy news editor, wearily puts down his enamel mug of peppermint tea to field a phone call.
Suddenly he springs to life, like a cat plugged into a wall socket.
"Scramble," goes the cry. "Man stabbed to death outside laundrette in Walpole Road."
The duty firemen grab coats and camera and head for the door.
The crime reporter dials the cops, ready to be lied to. The chief sub ponders the origins of the word "laundrette". Yes, it's French, but what if the establishment in question is actually a Laundromat? Isn't that an American trade name, in which case an upper case L would be required?
And then everyone abruptly grinds to a halt as we realise that our beloved newspaper, once the medium of the masses, went to press several hours ago on an industrial estate in the Midlands. And the next available edition for this important story? Same time tonight, and on sale tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile the local TV and radio have free rein to make their usual hash of the story, leaving us trying to find an angle that looks vaguely original. And what of those readers who buy the Evening Beast today, expecting to read fresh, breaking news? Tough titty.
Shareholders come first in this brave new world.
An hour later the Boy Wonder, our schoolboy editor, wanders into the room, the security blanket of a clipboard tucked under his arm.
He looks puzzled as he realises that the wave of hostility that usually greets his entrance has, for today at least, been ratcheted up a level.
IS THERE a political gene? And if so, is one of its characteristics an allergy to marijuana? I ask because every single politician who I've ever seen quizzed on their previous drugs usage owns up to smoking a joint, "but only once".
The latest "one-dragger" to come out of the closet is miniature minister Hazel Blears, who submitted herself to The Independent's lazy "You ask the questions" feature this week, where she was asked: "Have you ever smoked cannabis or taken any other illegal drugs?"
"I tried a joint once, but smoking it hurt my chest and it wasn't worth repeating the experience," Ms Blears replied.
It's so irritating. Why can't someone just come straight out and tell the truth — "Yes, of course. Large parts of my university life were spent in a total fog of dope, drink and acid. It was fucking great, man." They would get my vote.
MUCH PONTIFICATING over the exposure of Lady Heather Mills McCartney as a bit of a mucky pup in her past.
While the red-tops are at least honest about their attempt to assassinate her character in advance of any possible legal action, the grown-up papers focus on the morality of their brethren as a means of repeating the salacious detail. Either way, it gets a read.
The current Mrs Cardigan certainly devoured every word. Thus I found myself collecting a punnet of polytunnel strawberries and a carton of Tesco Value cream from the fridge before wearily climbing the stairs on Sunday night.
A CLEFT stick arrives from Gloucester, where almost all of The Citizen's staff have been rounded up and bussed down the road to Cheltenham as part of Northcliffe's Greed is Good programme.
As my correspondent points out, the place didn't have much going for it in the first place, but at least the benighted populace had their own local newspaper. Now there are very real fears that a combined Gloucestershire "product" is inevitable.
He goes on to suggest a new slogan for the paper's titlepiece: "The Citizen — Lining Lord Rothermere's Pockets Since 1932". Well, it has got a certain zing to it.
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