Hare-raising experiences turned me to journalism
Recently, I read that more than 20 percent of women college graduates in Britain want to work in the media. Wow, I thought, as a woman five years out of graduate school and an occasional reporter: How did I manage to get into this profession?
The reality of life as a reporter is of course much less glamorous than those flak-jacketed women, hair fluttering artfully in the breeze, who report for CNN or the BBC from far-flung and always terribly dangerous destinations. No doubt it's these kinds of women that today's graduates are so keen to be.
I never had that kind of role model.
My family didn't purchase a TV set until I was 12. It wasn't because they couldn't afford one they simply didn't think that what was on television was suitable for developing young minds.
They were probably right. But Mum and Dad didn't buy the papers, either, apart from the Horncastle News. The News was the local weekly, providing essential information to the 4,000-strong English market-town community: Who had married, who'd died, and what time the Methodist church fete started on Saturday.
There wasn't much chance of my finding a swashbuckling role model there, either, worthy though News writers undoubtedly were. But I did get to read national papers every day, thanks to my rabbits. And that's how I developed an appetite for the news.
When I was 7, I bought my first Himalayan dwarf rabbit, Benjamin Bunny. For the next eight years or so, my black and white, red-eyed miniature rabbits were my pride and joy.
I bought rabbit-keeping manuals. I went weed-gathering in the evenings after school, looking for the white-flowered shepherd's purse and yellow groundsel particularly favored by my pets. I joined a "small animals" club and sometimes wore my yellow plastic National Young Fanciers Society badge to school. It took me ages to work out why fellow pupils found it funny.
I cleaned out my rabbits' hutches every single evening, lining them with clean newspapers. It was the manual's suggestion. Sheets of newspaper were much less messy than armfuls of wood shavings. When they were dirtied, you could just fold them up into a bundle and spread out crisp new ones.
Since my parents couldn't help me much on the used-newspaper front, Auntie Nora next door faithfully handed over her stock every week for nearly a decade.
True, it wasn't your weighty broadsheet stuff. It was mainly tabloids (the Daily Mail and the Express), although occasionally there were bits of the Daily Telegraph that a neighbor had passed on.
I lapped up those newspapers from front to back, perfecting the art of speed-reading as I scanned the Daily Mail's "Femail" pages. I knew my father wouldn't be pleased to find his 10-year-old studying the merits of various lipsticks and blushers.
Benjy lived to a ripe old rabbit age. When he died, I still had Biddy, Bonnie, and Bambi. During their lifetimes, I spent hours on warm summer evenings outside their hutches following royal family scandals, parliamentary reports, and French cheese scares.
I went to university not to study journalism and got a master's degree. Then I started my scramble for the job I knew I wanted: to be a reporter.
It was hard and frustrating, involving at various times my providing free copy to the Horncastle News, unpaid internships at a dodgy monthly in a Paris hotel, a stuffy week selling ads for an educational magazine in London, and checking through the agate type on the sports pages of an international daily. Two years later, I got my first real journalist's job at an international news agency.
Had it not been for Benjy and company and Auntie Nora's never forgetting to "bring round the papers" I might have become something sensible: a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer.
Instead, I got my dream.