The 12 days of local Pressmasness: Free-zing outdoor pursuits

pressmaness

Boxing Day. For most of the country, it means a second day of over indulgence, a dawning realisation that the might of the BBC and ITV between them really could only pull together one day of TV, and, for many, any excuse in the book brought to the surface to avoid the Christmas sales.

Not for the Boxing day reporters though. We’ve all been there. It’s not like we’re police, fire crews or medics – although it makes life easier if they answer the phone on this quietest of days – so we can’t claim ‘essential service’ status and looks of respect from friends and family when we say we’re off into the office.

This was brought home to me when my family, a few years ago, refused in sympathise with me when I told them about the Boxing Day deathknock I’d done. In fact, the family I was knocking were more sympathetic.

‘Don’t worry, love, it’s not you that’s spoiled our Christmas, is it?’ they said, showing a remarkable level of kindness to a reporter in circumstances most of us can only ever imagine.

Even shop workers deserve more respect than we do on Boxing Day. This, too, was brought home to me when I worked in Toys R Us while training as a reporter. It’s quite crushing to be told by more than 20 people you’ve wrecked their Christmas because the Furby they bought (the £19.99 one, not the 2013 £59.99 one) didn’t work.

But work we do. Because the news doesn’t stop, or at least the presses don’t and the demand for it online, increasingly, doesn’t either. And so it’s only right to celebrate the annual Boxing Day pursuits we find ourselves covering. For the third day of Pressmasness, here are three of the best:

1. The Boxing Day swim

Nothing helps you work off the Christmas calories more than running the risk of your heart stopping by plunging into freezing cold water wearing very little, or in the case above, wearing so much that the weight might of what you’re wearing may well drag you down. 

Lurking in the background, across the country at events like this yesterday will have been reporters and photographers. And if you think these are one-off to your area, you’re wrong. Google News through up 6,100 results for the UK yesterday – admittedly, many of those will have been duplicate PA feeds, but here goes: 

Father Christmas going for a dip with hundreds of others in Tenby (above), a ‘traditional’ dip for 70 in Windermere, Harry Potter (sort of) and 1,000 others in Sunderland, hundreds in South Shields (including a real celebrity!), almost naked Dovorians (that’s what you are if you are from there) heading into the Channel, a 7C dip for scouts in Southampton, quite a dive in Aberdeen (but if you want to read the whole story you’ll have to drive up to Aberdeen to buy a copy!), Onesie Direction in Folkestone, a 30-year-old tradition on the Isle of Wight, tutus, tinsel and trunks in Cromer, a Boxing Day dip for 90 in the Albert Dock, 300 swimming and 3,000 watching (surprise!) in Torquay and Penguins in Llandudno. Birmingham was ahead of the rest though – its Festive Dip takes place on Christmas Day – and dates back to the 1800s in Sutton Park. 

Even the land-locked aren’t left out … in Longridge, Lancs, they jump into prams, not ponds,  in fancy dress while in deepest Norfolk it’s all about running while dressed as Red Indians. 

All perfectly normal, of course. In national papers and on national news, it’s an ‘and finally.’ For regional papers, that’s page three in the bag right there. And a great picture gallery to drive Boxing Day page views. 

2. Boxing Day Sales

Men dash for slightly cheaper hand-made, brightly coloured soaps at Lush in Belfast. Picture: Belfast Telegraph

If you dodge trip down to the lake, river or coast, it’s probably the Boxing Day sales ringaround for you. For national news types, that means asking what’s going on down at Westfield or getting footage of people going wild in Selfridge’s on Oxford Street. If only it was so easy for us. When I was a reporter on the Newcastle Journal, it was quite easy – we had the MetroCentre and various other big shopping places to speak to. It was a bit different when I worked on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, especially when two of the three main shops – M and S and Debenhams – either claimed not to do sales (oh yeah!) or weren’t open. In fact, one Boxing Day in Blackburn was so quiet McDonald’s decided not to open to do breakfasts. That’s when you reach a low as a journalist – queuing up outside McDonald’s.

But while all eyes are on Oxford Street, there’s plenty going on in the regions. Just look at the crush in Lush in Belfast, or the  1am queues in Stoke (1am? That’s a nice way to end Christmas Day!), 60% of pyjamas in Nottingham, 1,000 queuing for the Next sale in Plymouth, the disquiet at the quality of the sales goods in Newcastle, the brilliant graininess of this shot in Scunthorpe which shows just how depressing the sales can be, the 9pm on Christmas Day queue in Leicester and the woman who fainted in the queue for Next in Manchester. The busiest shop in Burton? Card Factory, where people were stocking up for next Christmas!

I thought about naming and shaming those who used the phrase Jingle Tills. It’s less journalese, more nonsense pun which no-one outside the newsroom understands. 348 references in Google News tonight. But there’s no doubt the Boxing Day sales stories are moving with the times – the MEN live blog of the sales was well-viewed, especially on mobile.

I love this by the way – the Boxing Day sales as told through Lion King GIFs on WalesOnline.

3. The Boxing Day Hunt

You don’t need to watch Downton Abbey to step back in time when there’s a ‘fox’ hunt nearby

This is where I need to tread carefully. I have a habit of upsetting fox hunters or people who support them. It all began when the master of a hunt told me that if the ban went through he’d have to shoot his hounds, and then he got a shock when he made the front page. And at another hunt, sent on Boxing Day, I was treated with disdain when I turned down a glass of champagne at a hunt in another part of the country, on the grounds that a) it was 9.30am and b) I had to drive 50 miles back to the office. “Aah, you’re one of them,” said the lady next to the horse. I assume she meant an anti-hunt person, as opposed to just someone who didn’t drink and drive. 

And then I met an editor of a well-known newspaper this year who was appalled when I suggested his newspaper might want to reconsider it’s position on fox hunting if it was serious about attracting a new, urban, intelligent, younger, city-dwelling audience. It was like I’d shot his, well, hound. 

But there’s no denying there’s something special about going to cover a fox hunt, not least because it normally means you get to swerve covering either 1 or 2 above, and stand a better chance at the front page than covering either 1 or 2. But it’s what being a reporter is all about – going out and seeing things which otherwise you wouldn’t even dream of going to (unless you’re into fox hunting, of course).

In the case of the gathering of a fox hunt, there’s no denying the sense of tradition, pride and, more recently, of injustice which is there for all to see. And a sense of a little bit of the absurd too – up to 70 horses chasing a scent in place of the animal they used to hunt. 

But I’ve learnt it’s probably best not to share that view with anti-hunt protesters who turn out to protest against men and women riding horses chasing a scent. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But is it any more bonkers than going to the sales at 1am in the morning, or dressing up as Santa on the beach?

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