After something like 130 years, the Scarborough Evening News is ceasing to be six days a week. Unfortunately, the paper has decided not to cover in much detail its own demise, stating merely (in something akin to Orwell 1984 speak) that it is being 're-launched' as a weekly and going to a 'platform neutral' newsroom, whatever that means. I am sad that one of the few local dailies is being so diminished and also that staff will undoubtedly lose jobs and their sense of worth.

I started out when I left school thinking I would be a local newspaper journalist. Of course, I had grander plans for my writing, but I completed the National Council for Training Journalists pre-entry course (failed, to my enduring shame, my short-hand) and did a placement with the Western Morning News in Plymouth. Even then, things were changing. While I was there the printers went on strike protesting against the move to digital printing which would mean the loss of their jobs and the end of an era which required skilled printers. I remember walking through the print room with its huge and dormant presses, it felt like an abandoned cathedral to me.

Of course, 'progress' was unstoppable, the printing operation at the Western Morning News closed down (as it did at many other local newspapers) and the paper was produced at some anonymous digital printing firm on some industrial estate in the Midlands. The journalists and the sub-editors took over the page setting tasks once done by the print workers. The print workers were squeezed out. I returned to a newsroom a few years later and saw this burly chap unhappily hunched over a computer screen. I didn't have to be told that he was a re-deployed print worker, the ink was still ingrained under his fingernails.

Perhaps I shouldn't get too nostalgic. The print room (at least at the Western Morning News) was a woman free zone, and walking through it when it was in operation I was faced with much, as young raw feminist, which I found unacceptably sexist. For writers, digital printing has opened up the route to an audience in the way motorways opened up the country to city-dwellers suffocating in grime and pollution. Still I love old presses. I love the smell of ink. And I love the craft that can go into creating posters and books the old fashioned way.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

These lines from TS Elliot's The Waste Land have been coming back to me these last few weeks. I 'did' Elliot's Selected Poems for A Level, and I have my copy of them still, the pages turned a shade nicotine, as if the intervening thirty years was a chain smoker. At 17 I'm not sure I really 'got' The Waste Land (though I loved Prufrock). It has been a combination of reading Ackroyd's biography of Elliot, of hearing BBC Radio 4's wonderful dramatisation of his haunting masterpiece (it really needs to be absorbed in this way) and of my own experience of the 'cruel' month of April that has brought me back to his verse.

In contrast to Robert Frost, Eliot reportedly said that the real poet keeps himself well out of his work. If this is true, Eliot was dissembling. He, his mental health and his relationships (especially the most distressing one with his wife) pervade this poem. He knew about the cruellest month and he knew about standing on a beach looking out through the grey rain at the grey sea melting into the grey clouds.

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.


(Sir) Andrew Motion came to Scarborough on the 20th of March. He read from his new book, inspired by Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', and spoke about his life as a writer.

I found it all fascinating. I especially enjoyed one response elicited by a question about the difference between poetry and prose. Motion responded: I used to agitate about the difference between prose and poetry but I don't care anymore, beyond a distillation of the story and a repetition of rhythm which comes in a poem, I'm not sure we can say much more. I've stopped worrying about it.

Something I've been saying for a long time, but it has more weight, I guess, for the former Laureate to come out in this way. I also liked one of his parting comments about creativity, that you light a flame, then let the words speak for themselves.