Better to be a big fish than a tiddler

I wonder at times if being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a small fish in a big pond.

In one you feel important and have a sense that the little fish are looking up to you thinking: “One day I’ll be the big fish and all the little fish will adore me.”

When you swim into the big pond you suddenly realise you have become the tiddler.

It happened like that when I moved from primary school to Rhyl Grammar School.

In a way it also happened when I moved from running the Holywell office to joining the editorial department at the Rhyl Journal.

My time spent at the NCTJ course in Cardiff in 1969 put me back with others as a big fish. I had worked as a journalist longer than many of my companions, furthermore I had been involved in more journalistic experiences than all, bar one or two.

When I returned to Cardiff in late 1970 my companions from the year before, those that remained as journalists, and myself could not only impress the pre-entry wannabe journalists but also those on their first year of block release.

The group of four from one newspaper the previous year had lost one of their number and a couple of weeks before the 1970 course started I had a call from asking if I would like to join them in a flat share.

The quarter share of the flat plus any food costs was less than the B&B from the previous year and our pay department had agreed a set figure for expenses so it left me with a small but welcome bonus.

On our first day of the new session it was like being back at school after the summer holidays. We greeted old friends and enquired about those who were absent.

The routine of lessons was soon re-established. Clearly there was plenty of journalistic law we had to get our heads around, along with newspaper practice covering the way to gather and present news stories, and of course shorthand was considered very important.

A few of us, however, felt that a lesson which was basically just a rehash of English lessons from school was inappropriate. If we had written stories in the way the lecturer was describing we would have had our editors and the sub-editors fall on us like a ton of bricks.

Five or six of us went to see the head of department and after about half an hour of talks it was agreed we would be spared the tedium of these lessons.

For the rest of the course we had an hour to ourselves while the rest of the group studied comprehension and verbs and adjectives.

My three flatmates and myself decided to use these three periods a week to get ourselves some exercise – just not too much.

We settled for badminton and booked a court for the periods when our course mates would have their heads down studying English.

By the end of the course we could have probably taken on anyone else in the college and beaten them soundly.

One of our “free periods” came before the lunch break and the session after the lunch break was a general study period.

This gave us three hours during which we had a good two-hour session of badminton when we could occasionally get two courts and play singles as well as doubles.

After this we would trot over to the pub opposite for a ham roll and a pint.

The course seemed to fly by and soon we were all heading back to our newspapers, better equipped for taking on a wider range of reporting.

It seems odd but I felt I was being assigned to a far better range of stories and feature work when I got back to Rhyl.

With my courses behind me and just my NCTJ exam ahead (some time early in 1971) I began to see I had a sporting chance of moving on to another pond where I could grow even more.

Talking of sporting chances I managed to wangle my way on to a skiing trip to Austria straight after Christmas.

Having left school early I had missed out on any school trips to foreign places, although I did have our theatre trip to Germany courtesy of the Little Theatre.

The skiing trip was being organised by Rhyl Grammar School for fifth formers and I was pally with a couple of the teachers who were organising it.

Not long after I returned from my course I was at the school and one of my teacher friends caught me just as I was leaving.

She asked if I would be interested in joining a school trip to Austria to write about it for the Journal.

It turned out she had an ulterior motive – apparently two teachers had dropped out and the party required a set number of adults based on the number of children on the trip.

As of 1 January that year I had officially become an adult when the UK legislation dropped the voting age to 18.

They had managed to persuade one other teacher to take up a space but everyone else had already sorted out their Christmas/New Year holidays.

I agreed straightaway as I had no commitments for that period and had some holiday due.

Because I was to be classed as a responsible adult I was entitled to a discount on the price which was a further attraction.

My editor Brian Barratt was happy to allow me the holiday period and because it was to generate a feature for the paper he did not mark the complete trip off my holiday allowance.

I have always accepted the NUJ criteria that “reporters shall not normally take photographs” but a feature on a skiing trip would be a bit grey without some images to go with it.

Glyn Roberts, our photographer, agreed to loan me a spare 35mm SLR camera which he mainly kept for emergencies. Even then it was better than my old Zenit B.

I was also provided with four rolls of black and white film.

The trip began on Boxing Day 1970 when I joined the teachers and about 18 school pupils (four or five boys amid a phalanx of teenage girls) for the coach trip down to Luton and a flight to Munich.

From there a coach ferried us over the Austrian border to the village of Dorcholzen where the fun was to begin.

The trip deserves to be more than a tail end to Cardiff story.

Next time: schlusses and saunas and a jinx called Fred.

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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