WITH a new year dawning, it is as good a time as any to face up to some harsh realities – and I have the following reader's letter to thank for bringing me to my senses.
"Dear Editor .. I could not help but compare the photograph of you on page 15 of today's Echo (December 29) with the photograph of you on page 6 of the same edition! On page 15 (the letters page) you have a full head of dark hair...on page 6 you have a much higher forehead and a much different colour. Is the page 15 photograph included for sentimental reasons and to remind you of eternal youth? I love your sense of humour, but wonder if it is time to update the latter? No disrespect intended. Happy New Year to you all at the Echo!"
Yours sincerely, Mary Everitt, Darlington.
So there it is – the bald truth – in black and white and Mary is quite right. The picture of me which, for years, has appeared on the letters page and alongside my various columns, was taken several years ago and time has taken its toll.
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I confess that it is partly due to vanity that a change has been resisted, but there are also practical reasons. Most of the pages which you see in The Northern Echo these days begin their life as templates, with the relevant "furniture" built in to them. To update my picture requires those templates being rebuilt and that, frankly, is a pain in the neck for our hard-pressed production editor.
Therefore, replacing my youthful picture with one which is more accurately haggard has been one of those jobs which has been put to one side – until Mary Everitt sent her chillingly honest letter.
So, one of my New Year resolutions is to get the templates changed to reflect a 53-year-old editor who is rapidly going downhill, rather than the 36-year-old editor who started out with such fresh-faced optimism.
This is, therefore, the last of my columns to be accompanied by the dark-haired, wrinkle-free photograph above. From next week, my “byline” will look like this. The picture is a mere three years old.
And, because I believe passionately in forward planning, I’ve also had one prepared for five years’ time.
In the meantime, I'd like to place on record my appreciation of the scores of colleagues and friends who have publicly rallied round since I posted Mary's letter on Facebook.
One of my predecessors, Peter Sands, editor in the early nineties, was even moved to get involved, saying: "My hairstyle is the same as it has been for the last 38 years. I actually quite like your current look ... I have long thought hair was very overrated."
BARELY CHANGED: Former Echo editor Peter Sands. This picture could have been taken any time between 1978 and 2016
When you've never had much hair, the decline is far less obvious.
I could name and shame several Smart Alecs but The Northern Echo's veteran (and annoyingly hirsute) North Yorkshire chief reporter Mark Foster stands out for his outrageously ill-judged comment: "Er, don't worry, you're still rather attractive – in a slap-head kind of way."
It has been very nice working with him.
THE PHOTOGRAPH which Mary Everitt seized upon, and reproduced at the top of this story, shows me presenting a cheque for £900 to the Darlington Town Mission.
The money was from the Gannett Foundation, operated by The Northern Echo's parent company, which awards grants to good causes around the country.
The Darlington Town Mission supports elderly and lonely people with social support and the grant will be used to buy telephones which block cold calls.
It was a pleasure to meet chairman of the trustees, the Reverend Andrew Wigram and treasurer Derek Mills and to hand over Darlington Town Mission's Christmas present.
FINALLY, I would like to thank you for your loyal support during difficult times for local newspapers, and to wish you a happy and peaceful New Year.