The second hardest drinking journalist
Monday 25 September 2023
David Cemlyn-Jones was the second hardest drinking journalist I ever knew. He was nervy, forever clutching at his red beard and contorting his face in a worried grimace. If things got bad, he would throw up his hands and shout. When they got worse, he would often give up and mope.
He had a nationality mix which left him marooned half way between the Irish Sea and St George’s Channel. David’s father, Bill, was a Welshman who developed an extraordinary dislike of Britain. He took his revenge by becoming Irish. Bill eventually tired of Ireland in all but name and, having disposed of a marriage and a small fortune, went to live in Spain where he dressed like a retired guards officer, drank like a drill sergeant and worked as a stringer for The Guardian and The Observer.
His upbringing left David a puzzling crossbreed of leek, shamrock and grape and gave to the world a Welsh raconteur with an Irish spirit and a studied understanding of the Spanish “manana”.
David was the number two at the Reuters office in Madrid and was nominally my minder. Lessons began and ended in Madrid’s many bars with such injunctions as “one for the typewriter,” or “just another snifter”. I measured our time together by glasses of Fundador, an impelling, high octane Spanish brandy which made all but the prospect of having to spring into action to report Franco’s death fade into a hazy timeless tomorrow. “Ah, don’t worry. There’s nothing happening,” David would say with fine disregard for grammar. He would inspect his empty glass as if to reassure himself that all was indeed quiet on the news front. As luck would have it, very little ever did happen in Spain in those days.
David had a low regard for my abilities, certainly at the outset, but was kind. He saw in me the mirror of his own agony and reached in to help. His was not exactly the training that Reuters had in mind when they devised the graduate programme but it provided a sort of anaesthetised passage through the first months of having rough edges cut from every side. ■