8 October 2009

Currie favour

On the left is Debbie Currie, daughter of vampish ex-MP Edwina, who is obviously on the right. Debbie earned some brief fame when pretending to be a wannabe pop star as part of a Cook Report exposée on the music industry.

I was reminded of her yesterday when a colleague brought up her mother's name during a conversation, the nature of which now escapes me. It was probably about eggs, or something equally as predictable. Anyway, since the fake pop princess incident, Debbie has been in the papers for the usual kiss-and-tell reasons and stuff about single motherhood, and was chased a bit when details of her mother's (still hard to believe, and gross to picture) fling with John Major was revealed via serialisation of her diaries.

However, one of Debbie's first ever appearances in our beloved, ever-sympathetic press was down to me. At least in part it was.

That isn't necessarily a boast, as I hated hounding or chasing folk when I was a hack in Huddersfield; indeed, it was one of the many reasons I disliked the job and knew I wasn't at all cut out for it. But I must confess it was something of a buzz when the agency for whom I worked was assigned by a well-known Sunday organ to go after this young woman, and it was made easier by the positive reasons for it.

I can't pinpoint the exact year but I suspect it was 1996 or 1997. Debbie's mum was still a big attraction to the media and interest in her daughter had grown. She was an undergraduate at Huddersfield University, living in poky student digs near Great Northern Street, only a short distance from where Peter Sutcliffe took his one Huddersfield-based life at the end of the 1970s. It wasn't a pleasant place to live at all, and still had something of a red light reputation, but students had always occupied this short row of urban terraces.

All we had was some rumour that she had taken a particularly appealing part-time job with the local Kirklees Council to supplement her undoubtedly meagre grant. It was the kind of vocation that would lend itself to good quality photography. Our job as hacks was to stalk her, essentially, and then report to the paper's assigned photographer exactly where she was. He then would turn up with his gear, do his stuff, and we'd submit a handful of paragraphs of copy to accompany what was just a big photo story.

So, once we'd uncovered where she lived, we simply drove to the street and waited for her to leave the house, hopefully for her new place of work. As well as her student address, we'd established whereabouts in the borough this pleasing job of hers took place, so all we had to do was follow her and she would, hopefully, take us to it.

I was driving a battered V-reg Fiesta at the time, the 1980s model with an unmarked gear stick and considerable lack of comfort or style. It was all I could afford. My boss joined me in the passenger seat and together we waited in this not picturesque street, keeping a watchful eye on the house while still far enough away so as to not attract suspicion.

Eventually, Debbie left her front door and got into her car. We'd seen her before in a photo and instantly we knew it was her. The resemblance to her mother is astonishing, as you can see above. It was a similar reaction to when you saw Julian Lennon or Samantha Beckinsale for the first time. If it wasn't for Edwina's old bat status they could be mistaken for sisters, albeit sisters who were born when their mum was 16 and 39 respectively. So we had our girl. Now we just had to trail her.

It was difficult, as my Fiesta wasn't exactly a sharp mover, whereas Debbie didn't have an especially swift car but it was newer than mine and she was a bit of girl racer to boot. I don't think she knew she was being followed, even though her place of work was a bit of a distance and she may have noticed this rusty old white heap a car or two behind her every time she checked her rear view mirror. Nonetheless, she didn't half shift once she got going.

It was approaching rush hour in Huddersfield, and Debbie snaked through the traffic with aplomb. I was still a fairly new driver, with one serious rush hour accident behind me, and this was quite a test for my nerve at the wheel. We joined one of the A-road exits from Huddersfield and made our way east towards Dewsbury, thereby pretty much confirming the place of work we'd been given was correct.

Eventually we hit one of the Dewsbury suburb centres and Debbie parked in a schoolyard. We found a space on a single yellow across the road and (using a phone box; the agency couldn't afford one of those newfangled mobile things) rang the photographer, who was in the area and was just waiting for a precise location. Once he turned up, we left, our job for the day done.

A day later, we got a call saying the task had been a great success and a picture would be going in the paper. It was, and I assume remains, common practice for tabloid newspapers to inform people in the public eye that something is going to appear in their publication about them in the near future, to give them a chance to offer a comment or, at the very least, prepare themselves and loved ones in case the tale is damaging or unflattering. And so, yes, I was sent back to Debbie's unclean street - and this time I was knocking on the door.

Her flatmate answered and hollered up the hallway for her without asking who this scruffy bloke with a loosened tie was that wanted to talk to his chum. Debbie duly came to the door and I explained, carefully and politely, that she had been snapped doing her part-time job and would be appearing in a paper at the weekend. She wasn't remotely surprised, although she assured me she didn't know she had ever been followed on her way. I got a handshake and a smile. She was a very good sport indeed.

The photo was superb when it appeared, with our small scrap of copy underneath. I wish it was available online, I really do. She later ruined it by posing with fried eggs (a nod to her mum's past?) on her breasts during the pop industry sting, but the photo I recall was of someone just enjoying life, not seeking attention or notoriety.

In her white jacket and with the tool of her trade in her grip, she was the most exciting, interesting and attractive lollipop lady I had ever seen.

7 October 2009

Super Geoff

For the many of you who hate football and/or footballers, this guy is one of those glorious exceptions to your rule. He's an old chum who has been through the mill, and then some.

The line about not being in the porn industry is of the kind of pricelessness that few footballers of any real wit could come up with. I think he's fantastic, and I only wish he'd signed for Hull City when the chance came...

6 October 2009

Killing fields

I found out this week that some of the vast, luxuriant playing field area in my small village which I frequent with four Basset hounds every day is to be developed.

I'm a bit sorry about this. The field is huge, containing four full-size football pitches as well as a changing area, concreted central section and a kids' playground. When it isn't dark or school time, there is always a sizeable clutch of kids doing something healthy and fun thereon to pass the time. Teenage lads do what teenage lads should do at leisure time; play football until called in for tea or homework or bed. Younger kids ride mountain bikes on the hilly area or on the specially-constructed grassy ramps for those who prefer a BMX machine. The youngest kids are in the playground area, sliding or see-sawing, with the pre-schoolers regularly taken there during the quiet daytime period by their mums or grandparents. And for what it's worth, these kids all seem good sorts (in an era where we're meant to believe that anyone under the age of 18 is a complete bastard) who say hello, make a fuss the dogs and wait patiently for us to get out of the way before resuming wheelies or keepie-ups.

What I've discovered, having not yet had the time to search for anything official from the local authority, is that a big swathe of football pitch area is to be tarmacked to make more playground room for the infants and, more tellingly, a bigger car park for mums and dads.

It is quite sensible, really. The four football pitches are excellently kept but very rarely have I ever seen four "official" football matches going on. Local teams, of both kids and adults, train there each week and play home matches there on Saturdays and Sundays. But there is always at least one pitch, more often more, that is never in use. Even if it's just scattered groups of lads in jeans and an assortment of replica shirts, they normally only have enough in their ranks to use just one goal.

So on a practical side, it is a good thing. The existing parking area is inadequate when the pitches are used at peak times, so an increase in the number of spaces makes sense. However, I can't help but feel disappointed on a less practical level that replacing natural expanses of grass with stony concrete is just wrong, even if the stony concrete will be far more useful than the patch of green there beforehand.

Two villages away you will find my old secondary school, which in terms of both intake and land, is one of the biggest comprehensives in the country. I have been able to remind myself of just how gigantic the grassy playing areas are as the gym I frequent borders this land and I can see right across it from my position on the treadmill. There are several full-size football and rugby pitches, plus a 400m track (evoking shocking personal memories of school sports days) and areas put aside for hockey and cricket. There is a lot of neutral ground too, making spectatorhood and passage from field to field easy. And yet it is cordoned and fenced off with legal notices everywhere, barred from use by anyone except the kids educated at the school, unless prior permission is obtained.

I hope that the school still has football and rugby teams for every year, like it did during my time there in the 1980s, as the practice sessions and matches would be the only way of justifying the amount of land which is rendered off-limits the rest of the time. The fences weren't up when I was a youngster but we were told in no uncertain terms that use of the fields was disallowed out of school hours unless we had special permission.

Of course, the usual array of irresponsible dog owners (look, just put some cheap bins on the trees and fences, and 99 per cent of dog owners will clean up after their pooches), motorcyclists and general vandals prompted the forced isolation of these fields via the erection of the fences. That's the same everywhere, of course, and my village playing field still has the odd empty lager can and festering turd within view when the first pedestrian of the day takes a morning stroll. But closing such enormous green fields to the public thanks to the actions of a tiny minority has always seemed such a shame to me.

I can't help but think that preserving one enormous area of field which is barely used while building a car park on a smaller but regularly frequented area of field two villages away is somehow wrong. I don't have the clout to argue against either decision, though. I just like vast areas of green grass, be it for Basset walks, football or just because, well, it looks nice.