As regular readers of Londonist will know we’re big fans of local newspapers and their coverage of the obscure and the exquisitely dull.
But today we stumbled across this article from the Epsom Guardian which manages to encapsulate so beautifully every element of bad local journalism (and therefore everything that we love about it) that we initially thought it had to be a wind-up.
Kevin Barnes’ article is headlined One man and his dog: a tale of tears, criminals and daytime television and is essentially about the problem of dognapping in the Epsom area, a crime which has been brought to light by the theft of Lionel Blair’s bearded collie, Florence.
To kick things off, Kevin invites us to place ourselves at the scene of the crime:
Imagine prime estate Banstead first, because that’s where it began.
Ok Kevin, we’re imagining…no, wait…we have no idea what prime estate Banstead looks like so we’re having difficulties. How about we just imagine you Kevin, in front of your word processor ruing the day you decided to come and work for this tinpot newspaper. You could have been the next Donal Macintyre damn it!
Sue Blair was preparing her family’s beloved pets, Florence and Jenny, for their daily stroll. When she reached the Warren Farm area her routine of three years was interrupted.
Florence, who is chipped and has an ID tag on her collar, vanished as Sue averted her gaze for what seemed like seconds.
She ‘averted’ her eyes? What were the dogs doing, engaging in mutual masturbation? And ‘for what seemed like seconds’? How long was it exactly? An hour? More? Was she asleep?
In concert with police officers, she called out until midnight but there was no reply. Just silence and a deepening suspicion that the puppy rescued 10 years ago from Battersea Dogs’ Home was now in the hands of thieves.
Some 138 miles away the news filtered through to a late-Victorian theatre.
First of all: ‘in concert’? Who the hell speaks like that? In concert? Like Take That in concert? Was Gary Barlow there? Is that why she had to avert her eyes? Was he messing with the dogs? We may be on to something here.
And did everyone get that we’re now in a late Victorian theatre. This is not your everyday, namby pamby early Victorian nonsense. This is hardcore late-Victorian. Kevin has done his research and he wants you to know it.
Lionel Blair, the veteran entertainer, stared out at the semi-darkness, wondering how to get through the latest performance of a touring show called Simply Ballroom.
Mr Blair, 74, would later tell reporters: “Every night I have to go on stage and be an all-happy and singing dancer and all I can think about is my dog.”
Over the weeks the sight of his face, engraved by an unlikely despair, etched itself into the consciousness of daytime television viewers.
Ok, now we’re absolutely fucking convinced this is a wind up. How in God’s name did this crap get past the Epsom Guardian’s stalwart editor…(hang on while we look it up)….Sean Duggan? Engraved by an unlikely despair? What does that even mean? And what were these daytime TV viewers watching? Is Give Us A Clue still running?
Kevin then informs us that a massive 428 people joined the nationwide search for Florence “posting information and messages of support on an online dog theft database” and (get this!) scouring the Suffolk countryside in night-vision goggles.
First off, if you live in Suffolk and you own a pair of night-vision goggles you need serious help. But wearing them to ‘scour’ the countryside looking for Lionel Blair’s dog? Can you imagine bumping into that guy in the middle of the night with his weird green goggles strapped to his head and clutching a ragged newspaper cutting of Florence’s sad little face?
And we thought Florence had been kidnapped – if so what was she doing running around the Suffolk countryside?
Kevin also reproduces one of the messages left on the dog theft database (presumably because his article on a complete non-story isn’t long enough already):
I check every morning, first thing, in the hope there is good news. Please let it be soon, and please let Florence’s family be sure there are many, many of us sharing their worry and unhappiness, and trusting all will be well very soon. It brings back all the tears, emotion and feelings of emptiness felt with your own dog losses, however they may have been. Please, oh please, let Florence be found soon.
However your dog losses may have been? Lionel must have taken great comfort from those kind, if slightly mangled, words.
It’s at this point in the article where’s Kevin Barnes’ genius reaches it’s zenith, when he tries to describe the dark underbelly of the terrible world of dognapping (a world Lional Blair says has “given new meaning to the term ‘hot dog’” – a joker to the very end eh Lionel!):
It is a world where posters of missing miniature schnauzers plaster trees.
It is awakening at midnight to deposit plastic bags full of cash in the location specified by a muffled voice at the end of a telephone line.
It is a growing trend showing no signs of reversal.
One word: genius.
We’re then told that even Uri Geller had failed to locate Florence while the local PC tries to explain to Kevin that this ‘growing trend’ which shows ‘no sign of reversal’ doesn’t actually exist:
I can honestly say dog-napping is not something prevalent at Nonsuch. This is the first real incident I’ve investigated this year. Sometimes fear of the crime can be more evasive than the reality.
And rest assured folks, if Kevin Barnes can help to spread this irrational fear of non-existent dognappers he will! No matter how much bad journalism it takes. Expect him to have his own Channel 5 series within the year.
For more Kevin click here to read his enthralling report on pizza making in Leatherhead (“He was too bent on making the perfect circle to give the chaos around him a second glance”).