Usually I rather begrudge working Saturdays, but not today.
I admit I am not one of those journalists who are themselves news junkies, living life as a caffeine-fuelled spasm from one update to the next. Full of a pathological determination to get their story out one nanosecond ahead of their rivals, they live for the news, their lives picking up the same tempo as the news, experiencing ecstasy in action but finding quiet periods intolerable, as if they start fading from existence without something – anything – to report.
Once I was asked by a hot-shot young advertising executive full of this same media brio: “So what is your thing? Getting the next story? Seeing your byline? What do you do to make your heart beat faster?”
His look of eager anticipation collapsed into disbelieving horror when I replied: “Actually I’m mainly looking for ways for my heart to beat slower. Most of all I like sitting in the forest doing nothing at all. That is time that really isn’t wasted.”
The world could manage perfectly well without 90 per cent of the news. I subscribe to the “tomorrow’s fish wrapper” view of media output in general, though I retain the utmost respect for the professionals who bring us the other 10 per cent in a clear, concise and memorable way.
But one of the joys of being a journalist is that the process of gathering even the flimsiest, most ephemeral news can be a pleasure in itself. That’s the feeling I had today covering a curious double-header consisting of a NATO conference in the morning and a parade of blondes in the afternoon: one potentially bone dry, the other as lightweight as peroxide hair extensions.
I attracted a few glances cycling the short distance to Kipsala exhibition centre in my suit and tie, not least from the military personnel at the gate. I left the bike with them, amused that this was probably the only time I would ever be able to leave my bike unlocked in Riga with absolutely no chance of it disappearing.
Disappointingly the promised anti-globalization demo turned out to be 12 people with one banner between them. But it was quite early in the morning and for all their virtues I don’t imagine anti-globalization protesters are the earliest of risers. The revolution will not occur until midday at the earliest.
It’s worth mentioning the impressive level of organization from the hosts of the NATO session. I generally place the Baltics in the order of Estonia/Latvia/Lithuania in order of ability to get something done how it is supposed to be done and when it is supposed to be done, so I hope the Latvians will not be offended if I say they displayed a positively Estonian ability to get people in the right places at the right times.
Now please can I have a goody bag?
Central bank bigwig Ilmars ‘Rimmo’ Rimsevics gave an informative overview of the Latvian economy, his usual glacial cool only thawing slightly when his audience laughed at the suggestion Latvia would prove itself to be “better” at handling its finances in future than some existing eurozone members.
“We’ve heard that before!” chuckled the Dutch representative.
After Rimmo’s departure, I heard an account of Greece’s “endemic” tax avoidance culture which was also interesting. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly may be just a talking shop but Vaira Paegle’s promise from a day erlier that there was likely to be much more straight talking than is usual at political conferences turned out to be true.
At the coffee break I was interested to see Russia’s “colourful” Vladimir Zhirinovsky almost hidden on his own at the end of the coffee bar. He has a reputation as a real Russian man’s man, no stranger to fisticuffs and able to pack away enough vodka to float the Baltic fleet. After he finished his drink and drifted back to his bodyguards I went over to see what big bad Vlad had been knocking back. Was it Russkiy Standart? Maskavskaya?
No, it was a tisane of delicate jasmine tea. Maybe it’s all an act.
After writing up the wisdom of Rimmo, it was back on the bike, pick up the camera and cross the river for the blonde parade. I won’t waste too many lines on what is essentially a pictorial-only feature but I did bump into a stag party from my home town in the UK.
This gave me the pleasant experience of interviewing a very nice chap – dressed as a bear – who was kind enough to supply me with the perfect quote: “I must have died and gone to heaven,” without any need for sneaky prompting from myself.
I think I know which of the two stories will play bigger.
So today I enjoyed being a journalist and especially enjoyed being one in Riga, where the mightiest military alliance the world has ever seen can still be overpowered by five hundred leggy blondes.