"You must be an absolute knob."
This was the flash-judgement of a complete stranger I met a few months ago whilst swallowing a few sharpeners in a London bar.
It's true, there certainly are penis-like qualities to me - but there was no way this partly-pissed young man could have known that.
Because we'd only just grasped hands and all he'd been told was that my name was Joe and I worked for the Daily Star....A TABLOID AAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!
Yes - of course I was tempted to make his girlfriend blush with desire just to teach him a lesson - but I resisted. I am a retired swordsman and anyway, she was quite rude and looked a bit like Tin Tin. You know who you are.
Let's widen it beyond me, though (only for a moment, then back to ME).
A friend at The Sun was recently abused at great volume in a well-known member's club over the paper's infamous and admittedly disgraceful Hillsborough coverage.
My chum explained to his verbal assailant that he was nine at the time, but it made no difference. The torrent continued like, well, you know what torrents are like - they're torrential.
Not a week goes by without some other hack getting a kicking from the professionally disgusted of Twitter, spurred on by a small army of would-be writers, transparently jealous of their chosen target's success.
I'll give these collective abusers the name Keith, because so many blokes called Keith seem to talk from their hole.
It's very likely you agree with Keith. But do you know why you agree with him? I mean, have you really thought about it?
Let me take a guess at a few of your reasons.
1: We hack people's phones and pry into their personal lives.
2: Our jobs are without merit.
3: We are scum. We just are.
All such simplistic explanations that anyone with a modicum of intelligence must know they're not good enough.
The general loathing of red-top writers has grown steadily over the years and came to a natural, pus-filled head, with the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal and subsequent closure.
The spot burst, the crater is closing up but the scar will, I fear, remain for many moons.
However the fact is almost none of us are phone hackers.
No, I haven't and no, I don't know how to. The image so many have of tabloid hacks just isn't accurate.
The sneaking, greasy man in a dirty, shiny-arsed suit, sifting through people's rubbish and generally being a nasty piece of work, doesn't exist.
After more than a decade in Tabloidland, I am well-placed to tell you that most of us are ordinary, decent people who graft at a skilled job which brings both entertainment and knowledge to many.
I've worked with alcoholics, drug addicts, sexual deviants and first-rate tools. I even have a colleague with a spaniel and another who is a keen cyclist. But who hasn't?
Tabloids represent their readers. It's our job to ask the questions they want answered. When I was doing an interview, I didn't just speak for myself or my paper, I spoke for every single reader who would have KILLED to be quizzing Jennifer Lopez (or whoever).
Like it or not - and I actually don't - we live in a celebrity-obsessed world and so our most popular newspapers reflect that.
We regularly write about absolute trivia, I agree. Often laughable, rarely laudable and certainly deserving of sneering, here's my nose my arse is following-style, scorn.
But we are not monsters. They've been caught now.
We don't deserve hysterical abuse and we keep a LOT more secrets than we reveal.
When you find out Bill's been bashing Beryl after a bit of blow, I know - I KNOW - you talk about it with everyone who knows the unhappy couple. It does the rounds.
I don't. I keep it to myself.
Trust me, I know many things about many celebrities that could massively damage their careers.
But my lips are sealed when it comes to the stuff that really matters.
As are those of most of my good friends in the profession, all of whom have equal-sized mental dossiers of dirt to mine.
So leave off will you Keith?
You're starting to sound like an absolute knob.
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