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In tribute to a master journalist

AS regular readers will know, my journalistic hero is the incomparable H.L.Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, whose prose illuminated intellectual life in the USA for decades in the early 20th century.

Running him a close second was the equally incomparable Bill Connor of the Daily Mirror in London, better known to his millions of readers as Cassandra.

His column was a masterclass in prose style for years up until his death in the mid-1960s.

Together, Mencken and Connor embodied all the qualities I value most in a journalist. I'm afraid their virtues are even scarcer now than they were in their lifetimes. Their incandescent minds found expression through some of the clearest and most concise prose you will find anywhere. Every young journalist ought to be force-fed M and C, just so that they are forever aware how the job should be done.

When it came to skewering the pompous, none did it better than this irrepressible pair. They struck terror into politicians, which is always a good sign. And shysters fled the moment their gaze fell upon them.

So what has all this to do with my drawing of a congested marshalling yard? Well, it's called Camden Goods and depicts the north London shunting yard Cassandra mentioned in one of his greatest pieces, called Camden Nights.

Cassandra maintained that his telephone number was remarkably similar to that of Camden goods yard. During the night, he was frequently woken up by a man asking: 'Thatchew 'arry?'

It was a Camden yard worker asking where certain goods should be sent.

Cassandra grew so sick of it that he decided to amuse himself by pretending to be 'arry, and thus distributing railway cargoes all over the London area.

Asked what to do with a huge roll of fencing wire, he instructed: 'Bung it out to Tufnell Park.'

All these years on, I still find myself smiling at some of Cassandra's stories. But he was a great reporter, too, describing an atomic bomb test in the South Pacific as 'like a mushroom from hell.'

This picture is for you, Cass, with thanks and eternal gratitude for being so damned good at what you did. And for providing a benchmark for those, like me, who followed in your shadow.

NOTE: This drawing has an alternative title: The Little Green Shunter, which is the locomotive picked out in colour. This is primarily for the amusement of my grandchildren, who love exploring the detail of line drawings, and then trying to emulate me by drawing pictures of their own.

Picasso said children were the true artists. He was right.

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