Andrew Johnson


Thursday is a bit like the day after the night before. We wake from an adrenalin-fuelled press night to face the music. There is a certain pleasure in watching people walk down the street reading the paper, or with it in the top of their shopping trolleys. But there is usually an irate phone call or two from the powers that be.

Today it is Camden’s director of housing, unhappy with our coverage of the Town Halls’ plans to transfer its housing stock to a so-called armslength management organisation.

There are 30,000 council homes here – so, boring as it sounds, it is important.

A lot of tenants think it’s a back door to privatisation.

After a half hour of full and frank discussion, we come to an accommodation to bypass the press office and talk directly to him.


Today we start to crank up the machine for the coming week. It tends to cough and splutter a bit. I have a meeting about our Far East Prisoner of War Campaign. I spent six months interviewing former prisoners to raise £6,000 for a memorial. We are now finalising the purchasing and unveiling ceremony of the memorial.

Then it’s off to The Independent for a night shift on the newsdesk, and undergo a curious role reversal. In Camden I possess a, ahem, certain status, while at The Indy I enjoy, er, none. They seem pleased to see me, though. It is a quiet night. I write a couple of stories, about Tom Mangold suing Newsweek and a few pars on the Libya-Lockerbie deal.


I’m woken at 8am by Five Live informing me that Idi Amin has died. I have a pang of paranoia that it dropped on the wire last night and I might have missed it.

For the past 18 months I’ve been freelancing at The Independent on Sunday, and this includes a day shift every Saturday. So I’m at the desk by 9.30am, where a quick wire trawl reveals news of Amin’s death dropped at 6.23am.

It’s surprising how many big stories break on a Saturday (shuttle disaster, Queen Mum’s death, Moscow bomb, Soham bodies found) but today is pretty quiet. I spend the morning melding several articles together and cutting the total from 3,000 words down. Write a bit about Amin and Italian forest fires.


I take it easy. Nip into Covent Garden and then pop into the Journal offices to practice my trumpet. A fading Doppler-effect police siren ends in a bang. I look out – a police car has collided with another car. One of the coppers is trapped and has to be cut out by the fire brigade, although he is not badly hurt. It turns out it’s an armed response vehicle, so rather a lot of “plain clothes” cars race to the scene.


A homeless man walks through into the back garden of the Journal office proudly showing off the 10-inch knife wound down his chest to our photographer. He was stabbed in a brawl outside the Tube station, where the homeless alcoholics from a nearby wet hostel gather to drink and squabble.

His wound was stapled together and covered with what looked like a sanitary towel. The exchange with the editor was as follows: “You know that homeless man who was stabbed?” “Is he dead?” “No, he’s in reception.”

Reporter Andrew Walker meets David Blaine filming on the streets. He takes some pictures, which is fine with Blaine, but not his publicity people.

“You can’t photograph him,” they cry. “He’s in a public street!” Walker responds. “You have ruined four hours work,” they shout huffily.


MTV starts its live show from the studios in Camden Town (they wanted to run it from Leicester Square but the council there seems to disapprove of crowds of young people).

Angelina Jolie is the big guest with Blazin’ Squad and there are crowds of teenagers to welcome them. Jack Osbourne doesn’t get much of a cheer.

Barry Sullivan, a veteran campaigner, loses his court battle to keep his free advice centre open. It is being evicted by the council which it has beaten in many court battles.

I look at the address from South African President Thabo Mbeki which was read at the funeral of a Labour councillor earlier in the week. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner in the days when much of the African National Congress was exiled in Camden. Nelson Mandela was up the road the other week unveiling a blue plaque to Jo Slovo.


Press day, but it’s August and not as hectic as it could be. Joey the Duck, rescued from a fox last November, was kicked like a football at the weekend and unfortunately is deceased.

I go for a sandwich, which can be a bit hairy in this neighbourhood.

Camden is full of, shall we say, concerned citizens whose ire at the iniquities of the world causes them to zealously accost members of the press. I spot one across the road, a lovely old woman with a heart of gold and mouth like a drain. She’s been thrown out of more council meetings than I care to remember, once held a onewoman protest outside our offices when she thought we were covering up dodgy dealing and is adept at circumventing our security measures.

I do the right thing, and duck behind a passing bus. She did once slap Oswald Mosley in the face though.

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