BEEN blessed through my career to work with some top-class journalists and writers, the ones whose copy you looked forward to popping up on your screen.
The very best are a rare breed. Over the years have seen the English language fight a losing battle with some reporters whose copy has barely escaped intact (in more than one award-winning case, having largely been replaced by agency copy).
But when the top-notch ones arrive, you cherish them. The pressure is on a sub, not to make it readable and coherent, but to do it justice with a quick polish and suitable headline and design.
Steve Tucker was one of those. Above that, he was a good friend.
Which makes his sudden loss this week at the age of 52 hard to take.
Tucker – it was always Tucker, he always called me Freeman – was one of a group of journalists and assorted others who became a fixture of my Cardiff years in the office, the pub and… well, that covers an awful lot of it.
This blog has mentioned several times nights spent in The City Arms and endless repeated musical arguments. That was Tucker. And still reckon he was wrong.
Inevitably, the last couple of days since the news broke of his death has seen plenty of words written about the man, his work and his passions – he could get very passionate about Cardiff City, his family or whatever had caught his attention.
A former colleague penned a tribute for Wales Online, sharing some of Tucks’ best-known pieces on the Bluebirds and Tucker’s Travels.
A former editor can take the credit – or blame – for the Travels. Sure he had to take a fair bit of flak over it, the news desk and People’s Champion Nick Machin (appointed to address readers’ needs and, probably most commonly, complaints) certainly did.
The Travels saw Steve and his companion Gustav the Squirrel journey to a different part of Cardiff, his home city, each week and provide an individual view on what he saw.
It was not meant to be taken too seriously, it certainly was not assiduously researched or to be considered a factual portrayal of its subject.
The man himself can explain:
“The Travels has been criticised recently for giving the impression we merely arrive at our destination, write down a few facts and figures and then proceed to get very, very drunk.
“I would like to put these hateful rumours and slurs to rest once and for all: we do not write down any facts and figures and I’m deeply hurt by the allegation.
“All this fine work is done with the assistance of a photographic memory, White Lightning cider and an impeccably-trained squirrel who sits on my shoulder and says things like: ‘These Cardiff people, Mr Steve, they crazy like the nuts.'”
Not the standard stuff in an evening newspaper
The weekly missive was always keenly awaited (and you could wait for Tucker’s copy) throughout the office. Well, maybe not so keenly by those who might take the flak from Pissed Off of Penylan, Furious of Fairwater or whichever part of the city was annoyed by that week’s comments.
Some of us did not always have to wait as long – he would often run it by me before sending it over to news desk, just to check it was not too over the top. Not sure he listened to suggested changes, the most common of which is to have more Gustav.
We could then sit back and watch gleefully as Nick attempted to desk it with his head in his hands, working out how he was going to explain away some of the comments when the phone started ringing.
Nick got his own back – on me at least – by volunteering our services to help Tucker and his family move house. Not sure whether he wanted us there to carry stuff or as an excuse to be allowed out in the evening to take us on a tour of his new local pubs as a reward for our efforts.
Tucker volunteered to help me move out of Nick’s spare room to my own place, but sure he was more interested in claiming his reward that evening.
And chances are, he would spin some tales over some liquid refreshment. Or we would embark on one of those endless musical debates, argue about the merits of egg-chasing against football (you didn’t want to start him on former Cardiff manager Dave Jones, especially when we were banned from his press conferences) or work out more details of our great sitcom that never was, Gorilla In The House.
While the sitcom never did get written, the former drama student in Tucker was happy to embrace stand-up for a while. It was irreverent, genuinely funny and certainly not for a family audience.
There were very good gags about a bloke with a mop and adult movies (don’t be crude) and enjoying yourself while at work (you can be crude on that one). Just not sure a crowd at an arts centre was the right one for a set which opened with the question: “Anyone here like porn?”
As the plant at the back, was certainly not expecting to be the only one to respond.
Even, as just been reminded, his internal emails were humorous and mischievous – one involving the parking spaces the paper used to have at the nearby rugby ground reducing almost the entire office to hysterics and almost ended with us convincing him he had been summoned to HR.
There are endless other memories to savour from my time in Cardiff, far too many to mention here (at least one former colleague will be complaining this has rattled on too long to which the only response is: Keep taking the tablets).
And while there was an evolving group of us, Tucker and Nick were among those at the core of those memories.
We were roped in to wet the baby’s head the evening Tucker became a father for the first time. Perhaps on a school night we should not have been quite so keen on more than the baby’s head getting quite so wet.
That they are both no longer with us is incomprehensible.
Wherever you are guys, grab a Stella and a cooking lager. Stick The Smiths on the jukebox and settle in for a good night.