Hey Simon, do you fancy replacing Lesley Keating as one of our columnists?’ said a member of the features team. ‘It’s really easy. Just write 500 or so words on three topics each week. We’ll put it online as well as in The News so that means lots of people can merrily criticise you each week for having views that disagree with theirs. If you’re lucky, someone might even take a real dislike to you.’
Me: ‘You’re not selling it well.’
Colleague (warming to the theme) ‘Why, only recently our restaurant reviewer was called a really rude four-letter word for not liking a particular burger.’
Me: ‘Yeah, but they didn’t like the halloumi burger. Even I know you can’t criticise things hipsters like or you’ll attract some online trolling. This is 2019.’
Colleague: ‘They might call you a communist, or a raving right-winger, or a snowflake, or they might swear at you.’
Me: ‘I’m a football fan, I am used to swearing. I’ve seen my team lose 7-1 at home – I heard a lot of swearing that day. ’
Colleague: ‘You’ll need a thick skin. One of our columnists was called a ‘lazy old bag’ recently.’
Me: ‘I’ll be ok. Providing I don’t say bad things about vegans. Or Greta Thunberg. Or halloumi burgers. Come to think of it, especially halloumi burgers.’
So here I am, writing for the good people of Portsmouth (and I guess the bad ones as well …) and surrounding areas.
I’m not a communist – though I did study Karl Marx as part of my sociology A-level course – and I’m not a snowflake.
I’m one of Thatcher’s children. No, not the cider, the former PM. I grew up in the 80s and sometimes I wish I could take a Tardis back there. To a time when the only trolls were found in children’s books under bridges. A time before social media and the internet allowed everyone to be perpetually angry (or is that just my Twitter feed?)
A bit more about me – I like rock music, real cider (hence this column’s strapline – quality play on words or what?), cheddar cheese, cats, cricket (arise Sir Ben!) quizzes and bike riding. Yes, I am a cyclist on the roads of Portsmouth. I can already imagine the online abuse as a result of that confession, and this is only my first column ...
Here’s a question - what are you looking for when you arrive at this page of The News every day?
1) Do you want your columnist to air their views on a national topic such as Brexit, Love Island, Donald Trump or Katie Price’s car crash love life?
2) Or are you looking to get a portal into their lives, their families, the things they love and the things they hate? To learn a little more about the men and women who receive an unhealthy dose of online vitriol just for having the guts to type out a few words each week?
I’d choose 2), but then I’m a journalist. A nosy git, in other words.
Ok, I’ve confessed - I’m a journalist. Unlike the other five people who pen a weekly column for this paper, I’ve always been paid to write words of wisdom … apart, that is, from three weeks when I worked in a tyre factory in Winchester (well outside my comfort zone) after being made redundant from a job in Southampton I’d held for 16 years.
Yes, the ‘S’ word in my first column - no doubt a bigger sin in these parts of the glorious south than slagging off halloumi burgers and riding a bike around Hilsea roundabout.
I haven’t made the best of starts really, have I?
Good job I’ve got a thick skin ..