News that I am due to give evidence next week to the select committee looking at home education has now reached the HE-UK message boards. The reactions are somewhat extreme; on the thread which announces that I am to give evidence, a debate is now taking place among people hoping to flee the country! I realise that I am unpopular with these people, but this does seem an extreme reaction. As well as the usual stories about the possibility of my working for the DCSF, an old favourite has been revived about my journalistic career. Ah, that my life is of such interest to these characters that they should wish to investigate it in fine detail! Briefly, a couple of months ago Mike Fortune-Wood took one of my posts from the list and stuck it up on the Times Educational Supplement website. I say nothing of the ethics of this; it speaks volumes about the man. Here is the relevant part;
"Third rate hack freelancers, into which category I am obliged to place myself, have a deplorable habit of misrepresenting themselves to both editors and also the public at large. It's perfectly true that I described myself as a teacher in that article. However if you were to be a reader of True Detective, then you would a few years ago have found me describing myself as a former detective from Scotland Yard! And don't even ask what I claimed to be when writing for The Lady..... Why, I even change gender for women's magazines. I know, I'm utterly shameless, but what can I do? I have to pay the bills like everybody else."
I had originally posted this in a light hearted vein as a riposte to somebody who was annoyed that I had not previously mentioned that I was a teacher. Apparently, this deeply incriminating passage is going to be waved beneath the nose of some MP. We must hope that she has more of a sense of humour than the members of the HE-UK list!
Actually, the above post is based upon a humorous piece I did for a writing magazine about the difficulties of being a freelance journalist. Not that it is wholly untrue and misleading, far from it. The fact is that many magazines wish to appear authoritative. To this end, they often encourage contributors to puff up their qualification to write upon a given topic. There is no particular secret about this, it's just how things work in that field. Women's magazines, to take another case, prefer to have it look as though all their contributors are women themselves. For some reason, many women feel uneasy about reading articles about intimate health problems that have been written by a man. Often, they alter the gender without even asking. I have had several pieces published in such magazines where I have been transgendered without any prior notice; a disconcerting experience indeed!
Not a few magazines like to make it look as though every article is written by a different person. Typically, I will be asked for an alternative name if more than one of my pieces is going to appear in an edition. Look out for James Tregarth, the name I use if I am writing about folklore or country matters. Of course the change of name from Simon to Simone is an absolute natural and possibly one of the reasons why we actually ended up naming my daughter Simone in the first place. A real case of art imitating life, as she now writes herself under this name. I dare say that just to confuse matters, she will probably end up writing as Simon Webb at some stage of her career!
I have of course not the least objection to anybody passing this email to any MP or House of Commons select committee that they wish. My only objection is to the sheer hypocrisy of these people. They rave on about protecting the privacy of individuals on the lists and then do their damnedest to spread other people's posts to the four winds. Breathtaking really.