The Editor sat both Colin and Derek down and told them that due to falling sales, the Newbury Chronicle could no longer support two photographers, and that he’d have to let one of them go by the end of the year. Colin knew it would be him, no matter how much the Editor assured them both that no decision had been made and that it would be based on the comparative quality and subject matter of their photos in the weeks ahead. Though he kept silent and his arms crossed, Colin failed to believe this and thought it stood to reason that Derek would be chosen. After all, dashing Derek, as Colin called him, was the younger man, always seeming to be given the best assignments, and was admittedly able to get on with people more naturally than he did. Colin knew his own faults; he was a bit old-school, scruffy and aloof with a knack of annoying the public, and doubted that his eighteen years with the Chronicle would count for much when push came to shove. He felt that the writing for him was less on the front page than on the wall.
As he walked home, Derek sought out every stone he came across on the pavement and kicked it as hard as he could.
“Oh, Kodak,” he confided to his cat as he poached them both an egg for their tea, “What are we going to do? Who on earth will want a fat, balding ex-photographer?” Kodak didn’t contradict him, and looked up at Derek in the way cats do. “I’ll have to think of something, or it’s no more eggs for us.”
Kodak continued to say nothing, finished his tea and moseyed off.
The next day, and with his head down, Derek cursed there being no stones left for him to pummel as he walked through the town to interview the owner of the oldest guinea pig in West Berkshire. Suddenly inspiration hit him. Or rather it just missed him, in the form of a bucket of water which fell from the town hall clock tower and struck a road sweeper’s cart. Its soapy contents showered the itinerant road sweeper, and extinguished the cigarette that had been boosting his enthusiasm for his work.
The window cleaner came quickly down his ladder full of apologies for his clumsiness, eager to make sure no one was hurt. Smarting from his initial shock, the road sweeper registered his displeasure at what he saw as the window cleaner’s ineptitude and inadequate subsequent apology, and dealt out the sort of torrent of florid abuse that gives council workers a bad name amongst even dockers and convent school girls. As the soaked road sweeper continued to make his umbrage known, Colin reached slowly into his duffel bag for his camera, removed the lens and pumphh, he snapped the exact moment that the road sweeper connected the head of his broom with the head of the window cleaner.
The picture made the front cover of the Newbury Chronicle; which in turn relegated Derek’s shot of Ivor Thrips’ prize-winning onion at the local horticultural show to page 6.
“This is exactly the sort of real life drama that sells copy,” enthused the Editor.
“Just doing my job, Boss,” said Colin, struggling to fend off a grin.
As he left the office, a thought came to Colin’s mind. This time his grin could not be contained.
Early next morning, Colin hurried down to the Kennet and Avon canal where it passes through the town. He knelt down and liberally sprinkled a box of drawing pins on a patch of the tow path, before concealing himself in an adjacent bush. Then he waited. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a cyclist came into view, heading unwittingly towards the potential danger. Colin checked his light meter, then: pumphh!
The photo perfectly captured the look of terror on the dismounted cyclist as he flew through the air, scattering the ducks in the slow moving water. This made for another front page shot, and was followed the next week by his image of a herd of cows escaping from a field and causing traffic madness on the busy A339. His picture showing the precise moment that a local geriatric fell down an uncovered manhole made the cover of the next issue, as he did the week after that, with a picture depicting flames springing wildly from an ice cream van, which had inexplicably been petrol bombed as it innocently negotiated the Robin Hood roundabout.
Circulation of the Newbury Chronicle soared as more and more remarkable events in the local area were captured spectacularly by Derek’s waiting lens. These photos so impressed the Editor that he was delighted to bring forward his decision and sacked Derek there and then to appoint Colin as the Chronicle’s sole photographer. What’s more, he also topped up Derek’s wages up for fear of losing him to rival publications and even nominated him for the coveted, ‘Best Berkshire Local News Photographer of the Year’ award.
The award ceremony was considered a prestigious affair among the counties finest journalists, and was hosted alternately at one of the three epicentres of Berkshire culture, namely Reading, Slough and Bracknell – known colloquially as the ‘Winners Circle’ – not to be confused, of course, with the nearby town of Winnersh Triangle. This year was Reading’s turn again, and a room above the Lame Dog was booked and made resplendent with bunting and balloons. As in previous years, the cost was borne by those with aspirations to scale the ladder of council politics, in a cynical move to curry favour with the local newspaper paparazzi, who could make or break any wannabe Councillor’s ambitions. Tensions were running high, and a buzz went round the crowd that the services of no less than Sir Richard Stilgoe had been secured to compère the show. This was followed by massive disappointment as a counter rumour spread to suggest this was just a vile hoax, set about by some aggrieved non-nominated photographer or other. Eventually, the awards ceremony started amid great rivalry and anticipation, and the guests were treated to an on-screen PowerPoint presentation, illustrating the work of Colin and the other nominees.
Colin had to respect the quality of his adversary’s photos. There were shots of converging vehicles, millimetres from impaction; Parquet Flooring -the housewives favourite at Ascot, slipping over at the third on a bunch of bananas; a fire ravaging the miniature buildings of the Bekonscot Model Village; a group of rampaging thugs, (albeit both showing a facial resemblance to the reporter of the Windsor Weekly) streaking through the crowded Harry Potter display at Legoland; and a POV shot of the referee being squirted with silly-string on the half time whistle of the Reading v Blackburn Rovers match. Colin had to concede that they were all fabulous pictures.
It was then that Sir Richard Stilgoe actually entered the fray to a mass of cheers. He whipped up the audience even further with some excellent reporter-centric jokes that I feel no need to repeat here, and drew gasps of appreciation with some well-construed anagrams.
“The quality of photos is so good…” enthused Sir Richard, the crowd eagerly anticipating what the wordy wizard would say next, “…and the timing of these split-second shots so marvellous…” the audience leaned forward, “the shutter speeds and image depth of field so perfect…” he had them virtually salivating, “that it is almost as if you guys had rigged the shots yourselves.”
The room fell silent. You could have heard the click of a digital SLR in ‘Mute’ mode.
“Ah. It seems from your silence,” he reckoned, “that I may have hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head. And it could be suggested that the reason you contestants are here at all, is only due to your own devious and deviant behaviours in setting up these shots, and your readiness to cause damage to man, beast and property in order to further your own careers and financial interests.” As he took a deep breath to recover from the rigours of delivering such a long sentence, there came an uncomfortable laugh from some of the guests while the nominees, as one, lowered their heads in shame.
“So, do I take it then, that I am right?” Sir Richard stared into the face of Colin, who, being a member of the Berkshire Guild of Journalists and therefore incapable of telling a lie, looked up and admitted:
“Yes Mr Stilgoe, Sir. I can’t speak for my compatriots, but shamefully, I have indeed rigged events at public cost in the name of my art.”
There was a mass intake of breath from the guests in the room at his admission. But then a wonderful thing happened. George, of the Chievely Crier, in a similar pique of professional honesty, stood up and said, “I’m not proud to say this – but I fixed mine too.” All eyes turned to him, but then Trevor of the Eton Echo arose and confessed to exactly the same thing, followed by Hector of the Runnemede Runner and in turn, every one of the nominees.
“I see,” said Sir Richard. “This leaves me only one course of action. Derek – come up and unzip me.”
Colin was shocked to see his former rival appear from one of the back tables and walk to the front of the room, all the time glaring at him with a glare that can only be glared by a man whose photographic livelihood has been stolen by an older man with fewer scruples. Derek moved behind Sir Richard, reached to
the back of his head and, to another gasp from all in the room, unzipped the prosthetic suit revealing that it was not Sir Richard at all, but DI Ruggles of the journalistic Crime Squad – Berkshire Constabulary, tipped off a few weeks before by the usurped Derek, who had suspected foul play. Having tied up and gagged the real Richard Stilgoe in the beer cellar earlier that evening, D.I Ruggles had cunningly set this honey trap, and now he had a room full of witnesses to the confessions of these despicable men’s dastardly deeds.
“Smile gentlemen,” called Derek, and his camera pumphhed as he photographed the nobbled nominees as they were being led to the police vans waiting outside. The picture did not make the front cover of the Newbury Chronicle, but by the next morning it had certainly made the daily nationals.