Two weeks into the new job and an unexpected bonus: On Wednesday I resumed the position of “World’s Best Dad”. Having spent the last couple of years as boring, square, fat dad I regained the initiative with my kids by placing a photo of them in the paper. We needed a shot of cute babies/toddlers for a story we were doing, so I raided my archives and pulled an old pic of my girls in nappies, sitting inside a cardboard box. Job done. Editor happy, me happy, kids feigned embarrassment when they saw it, before taking copies of the paper to school to show their mates and boasting “look what my dad did!”.
What’s more I was both photographer and parent so I could ask myself for permission to use this photo, knowing I would be unlikely to change my mind and complain to myself about using pics of my semi-clad children in a national newspaper (their mother couldn’t wait to see her kids cringe). In this post-Blair bonkers world where parents aren’t allowed to attend school sports days, you can’t photograph your own kid in the park lest someone else’s get snapped in the deep background, and holiday snaps are frequently reported by the girls at Boots for being iffy, I knew I was in the clear with this one.
Or so I thought. Turd in the water tank.
On Friday one of my new colleagues approached me and asked if I knew who the kids were in that photo.
“Yes I do” I smiled “and I know the snapper pretty well too” I added, smugly “that’s a pic of my girls years ago”
“Oh!?!?” my friend said, eyebrow raised.
I felt something was awry. “Whassup?”
“Well, I’ve had a call from a woman who is very upset that we’ve used a pic of her daughters on the cover”
Guffaws in the office, the meerkats popped up over their pc screens.
“She a loony?” I asked?
“No, she sounded pretty normal, just very pissed off” he replied. “Wanna give her a call?”
“Mind if I stay and listen?” he said, rather excitedly.
“Not at all, old bean”
He passed me the slip of paper with the woman’s number on it. As I dialed, three more interested chums pulled up chairs to listen to the action unfold. How would the new boy handle this one? Was the reader a nutter ? Was Bealing so hungover that day that he’d forgotten what his kids looked like?
Let’s not use the lady’s real name.
“Good morning to you, Michael Bealing from The Times. I understand you called my colleague with a problem.”
“Yes, I DID” her hackles were in the upright position—notsomuch as a ‘good morning’. “I’d like to know how and why you have use a photograph of my daughters in your newspaper?”
“Erm… I’m afraid we didn’t, Mrs Trellis, they’re my daughters”
“NO THEY ARE NOT. That is my photograph of my twin daughters, taken over 20 years ago.”
I was a model of calm and restraint.
“I’m sorry, but they really are my daughters. That’s Kate on the left, and her elder sister Lucy on the right. It was taken about twelve years ago.”
That’s impossible” she barked “My daughters are twenty-four!”
I hesitated as I tried to work out what that meant. My workmates could see I was perplexed. One of them was making little circles with his index finger around his temple area, querying the woman’s sanity.
She went again “I have that exact picture of my girls in a cardboard box. Even their haircuts are the same!”
(Even the haircuts are the same????? Kate was 9 months old—she’d never had a haircut!)
“Honestly, Mrs Trellis, I took that photo of my girls in the box years ago, I guess a lot of children like cardboard boxes.”
I was inches from offering to send her a copy of the photo, but then thought “Sod it”. And a good job too, cos in a flash she relented
“Well I suppose I’ll just have to believe you” and with that she hung up. It was over as quick as that. I would have offered my apologies again for her mistake, perhaps my phone number, and I don’t-know-what, but I was hoping I could convince her and placate her. But she’d gone. Buggered off. Vanished, like an old oak table, to coin a phrase.
You know when you know you’re right, when you know black is black then someone comes to you with such conviction that black is, in fact, white and you start doubting yourself? Well, that’s how I felt. She’d made me doubt what I knew to be fact. I had a mental image of Mrs Trellis, steam pumping our of her ears, crawling around the attic looking for that photo album to find that picture. For the rest of the day I kept one eye on the phone in case she called back triumphantly, having found the pic and demanded compensation and a written apology in the newspaper (not what a new boy needs in his first couple of weeks on the firm). Luckily, no such call came.
My colleagues and I resumed work on our next story. It was about the merits of breast feeding vrs the bottle. We chose a lovely photo for the cover: a delicate close-up of a baby suckling from a mother’s breast. Baby’s eyes wide-open, lips clasped around the nipple. Beautiful, classy, classic and very tasteful. I just pray to God that it’s not Mrs Trellis and her daughter.