IT’S a strange feeling writing this column - knowing it will my last for the Courier.
The column, the features - but more than those, the Courier in general - has been part of my life for so long, that it seems unreal our relationship is coming to an end.
It all began with a copy of Hugh Sharpe’s “Careers in Journalism” which I discovered on the careers’ shelf of Brighouse Girls’ Grammar School library, as a third form pupil, aged 13, back in 1973.
I knew from that moment that when I left school, being a reporter would be the job for me, so straight from A Level studies I tipped up on the doorstep of The Brighouse Echo and asked for a job.
Apart from a break to bring up my children, The Echo and then latterly The Courier, have been my life.
The past decade and a half as a features’ writer and columnist has been one of the happiest stints in my long career. However, changes to the paper - from daily to weekly format - mean I will no longer be able to be part of the team here. I accept the changes - I’d be a Luddite not to - and for me, hopefully, it will be the opportunity for a new start.
Redundancy, someone told me recently, is not an ending but a beginning.
So it’s with mixed emotions that I sign off today - excitement at the prospect of pastures new but also sadness that I can no longer refer to myself as a Courier journalist.
But I don’t want to use up my last column inches by being sombre. It’s not my obituary after all.
Instead, I want to use them as a means of celebration of what’s gone before, an opportunity to put on record just how much I have loved working in this historic building in King Cross Street and how I have felt genuinely honoured to have been part of this newspaper.
I must have written millions of words in my career and I am proud of every single one that has carried my by-line.
I have met the most inspirational, talented, humorous and inventive people - and had the honour of conveying their stories in these pages.
From Spitfire pilots and landgirls, to detectives-turned-novelists, artists, musicians and celebrity chefs, Samaritans, playwrights, historians, milliners and calligraphers, ex-pats, DJs, charity workers and TV weathermen - they’ve all been on my diary at some stage.
There have been so many highlights that it is impossible to mention them all but memories I will definitely be able to tell the grandchildren about include the time I met the Queen (twice) and spending an afternoon, interviewing Hollywood legend John Hurt when he received his lifetime achievement award at Bradford’s National Media Museum. Being dispatched, as a young reporter, to cover the committal of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe from Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court to the Old Bailey, was certainly an experience I won’t forget, and the memory of finally getting to meet my hero, Steve Harley (of Cockney Rebel fame) when he came to Halifax, still makes my knees go wobbly today.
And heck, who can forget the time I interviewed action man-turned-musician Steven Seagal, while basting a chicken? One for the memoirs I think.
But often it is the most “ordinary” people who have the most extraordinary stories to tell and Calderdale is rich with these. I have only been able to write the features I have because of their wonderful lives.
This could quite easily turn into a BAFTA-like acceptance speech but there are people to thank.
I have had the privilege of working with some of journalism’s finest - not least a clutch of talented editors, who inspired and encouraged and who led by fine example. (What’s the collective noun for editors? A scoop maybe? A headline?)
I want to pay tribute in particular to Stephen Firth with whom I spent many happy years at the Brighouse Echo, and Edward Riley who was my very first editor back in 1979.
I then had the good fortune to serve under Edward a second time when both of us moved to the Courier. A true newspaperman in every sense of the word, with vision and integrity and the ability to spot a great, local news story at 40 paces and a stickler for accuracy, grammar and plain English, Edward, now retired, still for me epitomises everything a good regional editor should be.
These are difficult times for newspapers and their journalists. The world of print is beginning to diminish. Many have asked me if I would choose a different career path if starting out all over again but the answer would be a resounding “no.” This has been the best job in the world and hopefully journalism and writing will continue to be part of my life.
One final thought before I sign off: there may no longer be Virginia Mason in the Courier. But there’ll always be a part of the Courier in Virginia Mason.
Cheerio - and thanks for reading.