After a few hundred years of fossicking about with reports from the women’s institute and wedding stories, came the morning when I realised Max was talking about me to Nigel, one of the other reporters. ‘I’ll have to send her, there’s nobody else.’
I looked at them and they looked back.
‘I mean, she’s bloody useless,’ said Max, smiling so I knew that was a joke.
‘Bloody right she is,’ said Nigel, also smiling, but not joking at all.
Send me where? I asked.
Turned out there had been a house fire on one of the new estates. A mother and two children had been rescued in the middle of the night from a blazing bedroom, and I was to go, get ALL the facts, interview the mother, and not to do anything stupid. I was to be sent with the trainee photographer, Andy, and we were to get the story and some good pictures and not to mess about.
On the way there, determined to get this right, I wrote a list of questions. ‘What is your name?’ and then, ‘How do you spell that?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘What time did the fire start?’ What were you doing at the time? ‘Do you know the name of the fireman who rescued you?’ And so on. Down to, ‘Where did you go on holiday last year?’
‘What are you going to ask her that for?’ said Andy.
‘Maybe she brought back a book of souvenir matches from Majorca,’ I said. ‘Then we could warn people not to buy them.’ The hidden dangers of souvenir matches. Are you carrying a menace in your trousers?
‘Right,’ said Andy.
We arrived at the house, which was damply smoking, but not too badly damaged. There was burnt furniture in the weedy, unkempt garden, and the mother was in the centre of a knot of reporters. I opened my notebook, and waded in. The other reporters left way before I did. I was determined not to let Max down. The mother, simply relieved that all her children were ok, was happy to talk. Andy, equally eager to please Perce, the chief photographer, took all the pictures he could, including ones from very arty angles.
I went faithfully down my list, and the poor woman answered every question with touching patience. Finally, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It had not been souvenir matches that caused the blaze, but her eldest son playing with a lighter.
As I left, I said, as a throwaway remark,’Well, at least you’re insured.’
She shrugged. ‘The insurance ran out three days ago. But its ok because all the neighbours are giving me furniture and clothes and stuff. Even a new goldfish.’ I stood for a moment and stared at her. ‘Did you tell the other reporters this?’ She shook her head. ‘They didn’t ask.’
I had my first proper story. And it was exclusive. Max was going to be very happy. I uncapped my biro again and turned over a page in my notebook.
‘What was the name of the goldfish?’ I asked.