Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jun 18, 1949
“Young man seeks employment of a hazardous nature.”
That is how an advertisement I saw the other day in a newspaper began.
There are obviously a considerable number of young men for whom danger is one of the ingredients of pleasure, but I was never one of them.
As a reader of fiction I have always liked what Stevenson called “the bright eyes of danger,” but in real life I am not the sort of person you will find crawling about the jungle for fun in the track of a man-eating tiger.
Ordinary life has been hazardous enough to satisfy any small appetite I ever had for danger. I have been knocked down by a penny-farthing bicycle in childhood and by a motor-bicycle in old age. I have sunk for the fourth time before being saved from drowning.
I have been in fire in my lodgings at four o’clock in the morning. I have run for my life from the batons of policemen during a riot. I have been shaved by a drunken barber. I have gone “over the falls” at Wembley.
Perhaps it was because I thought of journalism as employment of a non-hazardous nature that I became a journalist.
I had not been a month in my first paid job, however, when I found that even the life of a journalist in time of peace is beset with perils.
In the course of an article describing a day in a registration court I must in sheer lightness of heart have made a few jests about the policemen who were present. Visiting another court a few days later I saw an enormous sandy-haired policeman gazing at me with an expression of extreme bitterness and pointing me out to a sergeant. The sergeant, I was relieved to see, smiled, but the enormous policeman, who seemed to grow more enormous every time I looked at him did not smile.
As his expression became more and more sinister, I felt I could stand this no longer and rose to go. He was at the door as soon as I, however, saying: “Wait a minute.” I waited. He said: “You’re the man who wrote that article.” I tried to placate him with a smile but he did not look placated.
“Do you box?” he asked, towering over me like a creature — half giant and half wild beast. He almost smiled — but it was an evil smile—and, with my knees trembling, I stuttered: “No, no, never any good at sport.”
“Come around to the station some evening,” he said, gazing at me with the eyes of a boa-constrictor. “Some of our boys would like a few rounds with you.”
I decided to walk warily after this, but in the following week I was sent to describe one of those famous Manchester public-houses which provided song as well as liquor for their customers.
I described the extraordinary scene—the room so filled with tobacco smoke that you could scarcely see the singer beside the piano, the clamour so loud that the chairman had to keep hammering his mallet on the table and shouting, “Silence, please” in the hope of setting a hearing for the songs, old-fashioned mothers with infants in their arms whom they kept quiet with an occasional frop of their gin — or, perhaps, I saw only one mother doing this.
Having written an account of the scene I thought no more about it till a fellow journalist said to me casually one day: “I met Jim Flavin last night on my way home. He was mad drunk and roaring for your blood.”
Jim Flavin, I learned, was the regular chairman at those publichouse sing-songs, but had been absent on the night I was there.
I also learned that he was a powerful Irishman about 6 ft. 4 ins. in height, equally famous for the strength of his arms and of his language. I made up my mind to keep out of Jim Flavin’s way.
A few nights later at a smoking concert at the Press Club, my heart dropped several beats when someone came up to me, leading a huge man, and said: “You Irishmen ought to know each other. This is Jim Flavin.”
I looked at the man who was thirsting for my blood and thanked my stars that my article had been anonymous.
I plunged into talk about other things and soon found that he was a passionate admirer of Daniel O’Connell. I expressed the wildest enthusiasm for Daniel O’Connell, myself, and the more we talked lovingly of Daniel, the more we seemed to love each other.
It is a queer experience to sit with a man who is thirsting for your blood and to know that your life depends on your never letting the conversation flag along enough for him to ask what paper you write for.
After two or three other nerve-racking experiences of the kind, however — there was the affair of the vengeful cookery demonstrator, for instance — I decided that journalism in Manchester was one of the dangerous trades, and it was with a sigh of relief that, with a spare pair of socks in my overcoat pocket, I got into the train for London.