One of my earliest memories of reading a news article in print was a tabloid story about a woman who gave birth to a frog. Except she hadn’t given birth to it she’d gone swimming in a pond and, in my memory at least, a rogue bit of spawn attached itself to her – a horror she discovered when a trip to the bathroom resulted in a tadpole in the bowl. A perfect story, I thought in my 11-year-old mind. The twists! The turns! The drama!
t I set about memorising the tale to retell it in the playground. I had it all planned out: I would build up the suspense (“She was just minding her own business”); add colour through mime (the swimming bit, maybe a frog jump); throw in some poor toad puns (“Surprised she didn’t croak it!”). But when it came to delivery, my story was met with nonchalance.
“Yawn, already heard it,” one of my friends said. “That story’s three weeks old, mate.”
“Mum strikes again,” I thought.
You see, when I was growing up, there weren’t many newspapers around – they were deemed too boring, upsetting or controversial. Plus, you had to pay for them, which in my perpetually skint family ruled out all broadsheets, no matter how much we kids begged.
I will never forget Eid 2004, when my Auntie B wrapped up a copy of the Observer and gave it as a gift to my cousin Amir. I can still see it now: Amir, confused, forced a grateful smile, while Auntie B declared proudly, “It’s got all the supplements!”
The best we’d get was the chance to read an old paper at the doctor’s surgery or the hairdresser, which Mum might bring home if they were throwing them out (hence the three-week-old frog pregnancy story). Perhaps my desire to get into journalism stemmed from this, a yearning not just to have pointless information, but to have up-to-date pointless information.
It’s a quirk that has persisted. I recently appeared on the Guardian’s front page for the first time, and a number of friends messaged me to say that my mother must be proud. And she would be, if she had seen it. Let’s just say it will be very big news in the Khan family in about three weeks, once Mum has been to the hairdressers.
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