Time for a break

That first morning at the office in Holywell was quite a drag and enough to put some people off journalism for life.

Halfway through the morning we had a coffee break and decided to switch subjects. Delwyn took the wedding reports (how many people can get married over one weekend?) and I took the obituaries (how many people can die in a week?).

At least with weddings you could have fun. The first line on the reports was always the surnames of the couple – the bridegroom first.

Sometimes they were simple:



but occasionally you hit the right combination:



Obituaries did not offer much relief especially as the form normally had a list of mourners (the undertakers used to leave small cards on the pews for mourners to leave their name) and lists of floral tributes (the undertaker would collect all the cards which had to be returned).

The funeral of a civic personality could take half an hour or more to complete.

Lunchtime came as a relief.

Delwyn had brought sandwiches and intended to stay in the office.

I decided to go down the hill to Greenfield to meet a good friend at the pub at the bottom of the hill.

The pub was right next to one of the Courtaulds mills and my old friend Roger Steele had got a job there working as a trainee laboratory technician.

At the weekend we had agreed to meet up for a pub lunch and a game of darts.

Legally we had no right to be in the pub. I had celebrated my 17th birthday just two months earlier and Roger had celebrated his the previous October.

We must have looked confident in our right to walk up to the bar and order pints because the barman didn’t bat an eyelid.

As well as my pint I ordered a ham bap and it was quite clear they used their own home-cooked ham because the meat in the bap was no thin slice of tasteless rubbish.

We were used to playing darts as we had often monopolised the yacht club board on a Friday night.

We ignored the darts kept behind the bar, which often had cheap plastic flights or tatty-looking feather ones which had seen better days.

We were proper dart players and had our own sets kept in protective boxes. Mine were medium light with feathered flights almost as elegant as an arrow.

At about 10 to two I said cheerio and headed back up the hill to Holywell.

The next hour went quite quickly. We had completed all the wedding forms and funeral reports that had been in the wire in-trays and I went over to look at the file of previous editions.

At about 10 past three we heard footsteps clumping up the stairs to the floor below and then a door slammed shut. After about five minutes we heard a typewriter being hammered in the office below us.

The clack of the keys and the thump of the carriage return continued incessantly for the next hour or more with just brief quiet intervals when Bill must have been changing the copy paper or lighting a cigarette or taking a swig of tea.

Just after half past four there was a longer lull and we thought it time to take our typed copy down to show Bill and take any instructions.

I led the way and knocked on the door. When Bill called out: ‘What?” We entered and there he was, ensconced at his desk as he had been that morning except now there were clouds of cigarette smoke over his head and an ashtray full of stubs by his typewriter.

What was obviously his copy out tray was stacked with sheets of paper stapled at the corners.

“Right boys, how did you get on?”

We presented him with our reports on the marriages and deaths and he picked a couple up at random and flicked through them.

“Good, very good. You’ve done well. I’ll check through them and get them up to head office at Chester on the bus. You two might as well have an early break and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

That was our first day.

Tea, coffee, beer and a ham roll; a stack of wedding reports and an equal stack of obituaries.

No dashing out to report on fires; no reports of bank robberies; not even a simple local story on a break-in at the church; or a swarm of bees setting up home in a primary school.

My first day as a real journalist had proved to be somewhat of a damp squib.

Never mind, tomorrow was another day.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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