Yo-ho-ho... there’s method in this madness

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

“WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?” my daughter asked me over breakfast yesterday morning.

“Rich,” I replied with a mouthful of cornflakes.

She looked confused.

“How are you going to do that?” she asked.


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“Good question,” I said, clearing away the dishes. “What about you?”

She thought about it.

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“A painter,” she said. “Or a hairdresser. Or perhaps an astronaut or a pop star or a princess or a person who drives trains.”

My two-year-old son, who has spent all summer messing around on my father’s boat, added his two-penneth worth. “I be a sailor,” he said. “Like Grandpa.”

“Oh yes,” said my daughter. “I like sailing too. I will be the captain and you can be the cabin boy.”

When you are a child, there are simply no boundaries to what can be achieved. The sky really is the limit.

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to write. But like my son and daughter, it was all about what sounded exciting rather than what was going to make money.

The distant responsibilities of paying bills, buying a house and feeding two kids were certainly not on my radar back then.

Contrary to popular belief, journalism is not a very lucrative career path, unless of course you happen to become a Piers Morgan, a Rebecca Brooks or a Rupert Murdoch (God forbid).

All I knew when I made my decision was that I loved to read, was fascinated by current affairs and that writing came relatively easily to me. At 17, my school career advisor told me that if I wanted to be a reporter, I should first complete a degree in English Literature and dutifully I trotted off to Manchester University.

But I wasn’t long into the course before I realised being able to rattle off Shakespeare quotes was not really going to help me get a job on a newspaper and I needed to re-think my next step “to be or not to be” in with a chance.

I ended up completing an expensive but thoroughly necessary post-graduate training scheme to learn shorthand and a smattering of law and local Government.

And despite being �12,000 in debt at the end of it, I then worked for free before landing my first job on a local paper for a wage of just �13,000 a year.

Eventually I made the leap to the national press and somewhere along the way I developed a thick enough skin to brush off the criticism from those people hell-bent on slamming everything and anything associated with “the media”.

To put it bluntly, journalism is a profession you follow simply because you love it. There is no other reason. The pay is rubbish, a lot of people hate you and it’s a pretty cut-throat world where nice doesn’t get you very far – on the national papers at least.

On the flip side, you get to go out and meet new people every day. You have a responsibility to uncover the truth and to tell the world about it. You are privy to deep dark secrets – many of which you will never be able to write about. You spend time with people in their darkest hour and celebrate with them in their most triumphant. You find things out first.

If I could go back in time, to my school days when anything seemed possible, would I have picked to do something else? Something with less hours and more pay? Absolutely not. Nor do I think I would have been any good at anything else. After all, how can you do a job properly if your heart is not in it?

I cannot imagine how soul-destroying it must be to dread going to work each morning. Or how frustrating it must be not knowing which career path you want to follow.

To those 650,000 teenagers across the country who received their GCSE results last week, I feel for you right now.

Those grades are to open up a pathway to the rest of your lives.

Some of you might opt to start an apprenticeship or go straight into the world of work.

Others may assess which subjects they have done well in at GCSE to help them choose what to study at A-level. With good A-level grades they then have their pick of university. Their degree could help them select the career they have dreamed of.

No pressure then, kids.

But it is, isn’t it?

Especially for a 16-year-old battling the tail-end of puberty, raging hormones and a complicated social life of boyfriends and girlfriends. And ahead of them yet more exams, more essay-writing and then the big wide world of work.

As parents I suppose we have a duty to guide, advise and point in the right direction, without lectures, added drama and raging argument. I have all this to come but I hope they turn to me for help when the time is right.

For now, I have only the innocent dreams of two little ones with nothing standing in their way.

My daughter came to find me at bedtime yesterday.

She had been continuing the discussion of what to be when you are older with her little brother and together they had formulated a plan.

“I wanted to be the captain of the ship and he was going to be the cabin boy,” she started. “But you want to be rich when you grow up.

“So we are both going to be pirates. That way we can still do sailing but we can also find the treasure and give you loads of money.”

I’m not sure it’s a career path that I exactly approve of but as Polonius said to Hamlet, “there is a method in the madness”.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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