I went on a good ten mile Derbyshire ramble today - or yesterday when this post goes up. Early morning mists, a light frost, blue skies and an early showing of autumn colours. Great stuff. I though I'd nurture the mellow mood with a memory ramble too.
So - years ago I used to read the Guardian newspaper, but my customer loyalty came to an abrupt end with the Sarah Tisdall case in 1983.
Sarah Tisdall was a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) clerical officer who was jailed for leaking British government documents to a newspaper in 1983.
Sarah Tisdall anonymously sent The Guardian photocopied documents detailing when American cruise missile nuclear weapons would be arriving in the United Kingdom. The documents set out the political tactics Michael Heseltine, then defence minister, would use to present the matter in the House of Commons.
I remember being shocked that Ms Tisdall ended up serving four months in jail because when it came to protecting their source, the Guardian did not take it to the wire. I never bought a copy of the paper again. That was nearly thirty years ago now. Doesn’t time fly?
Yet looking back, I’m sure there were other reasons for dumping the Guardian, whatever the rights or wrongs of the Tisdall case. I don’t see what else they could have done anyway, although at the time I expected a newspaper so fond of espousing moral principles would at least show a little more anti-establishment balls.
But I had also become more and more aware that much of what I read in the Guardian was pretty dull, that good writers come and go, but most of them simply churn out pap in the house style to editorial guidelines. I didn’t think much of Guardian writers at the time, so no doubt I was looking for a change anyway.
In addition to the writing, the Guardian’s dull pontificating compared badly with an otherwise exciting time of rapid technical change. Microcomputers were all the rage. I had a Sinclair ZX81 and, amusing as it may seem today, all kinds of possibilities were opening up to my fevered imagination as microelectronics began to force its way into our lives.
For example, a demonstration of Wordcraft on the Commodore PET showed me that these new gadgets were capable of serious word-processing. This raised the fascinating possibility of writing novels and short stories without having to resort to endless blobs and smears of Tipp-Ex.
So dumping the Guardian wasn’t exactly a wrench, a life-changing statement or a flash of enlightenment, but more likely an imperceptible shift in the emergence of important social changes.
Eventually I bought a computer suited to word-processing and began to write novels and short stories on it. I’d already written a novel on a mechanical typewriter which stamped out a neat little hole in the paper whenever I typed the letter ‘o’. But my ream of typewritten A4 still needed much editing and I didn’t have the stamina to retype the thing.
Word-processing came as a revelation, even though my first word-processing software ran under DOS and was basically a simple text-editor. It didn’t matter though. I could write a whole novel, back it up onto floppy disk, print it out, edit it - all without a single blob of Tipp-Ex.
Okay that’s all a long way from Sarah Tisdall and dumping the Guardian, but on reflection it occurred during a period of rapid and radical change and I think, looking back, it was for me simply a forerunner of what was to come. It isn’t played out yet either – not by any means.
Today, nearly thirty years on, the Guardian is struggling financially and it’s difficult to see how it can survive. Does it matter? Maybe it does. Give me the Web any day, but we still need newspapers - possibly even the Guardian.