Never A Letter From "Troubled Blue-Eyes" (27 July 1973)
This is mainly for women. Men can please themselves whether they read it or not.
In any case, after a good many years at this job I am convinced that more often than not it is the woman of the house who orders the local rag, whoever pays for it. Men may buy it for some aspect of sport, or the latest prices of second-hand cars, or even for council news, but it is women who show the keenest interest and put it on the shopping list.
Have you ever gone home on a workers’ bus on a Thursday night? It is educational. A bevy of young women crowd on and having settled down, they produce copies of the Gazette. Sometimes the front page has enough feminine interest to hold their attention and to draw comments like “Serves her right, I say,” and “What’s she got to complain about anyway?” and “She should look after her kids better.”
Inevitably, the next stop, so to speak, is at the wedding reports and pictures. “Is Bunty’s wedding in?” asks one. “Oh, she does look nice,” says another.
The tastes of older women in their homes, as far as I have been able to observe them, are similar. Not for them the lordly plans for the new city, the parking problems, or the court cases that do not involve women. They, too, are interested in the matched, but if they have lived locally for any length of time they are equally interested in the hatched and despatched. Anything directly to do with their children or grandchildren also get them going.
The collection of this basic stuff can be difficult, but I never found it tedious. Whenever I went to a house for a death it was with a feeling of sympathy and whenever I went for a wedding, which was usually a day or two beforehand, I genuinely wished the bride and her mother a fine day for the event.
When I was a lad our trade was just mourning the death of the greatest newsman of them all – Lord Northcliffe. One of his tenets was “There’s half a column in everybody you meet.” At my present age I realise its truth more than I did at the time.
This brings me to what I was going to begin with. That is to apologise to all those women, probably hundreds, I have met just once and especially to those I have met once a year at some particular annual event and have failed to recognise in the street afterwards or when the event has come around again.
Many times I have known a face enough to smile and say “Good morning,” without being able to put a name or a place to the owner. My only excuse – and it is a feeble one – is that you ladies do have a way of dramatically altering your appearance from time to time; the dustman’s wife as much as the duke’s wife, and they are of equal importance to the weekly newsman.
I don’t know what to think about Women’s Lib. To me, men and women have always seemed to be of equal, if complementary status. But whatever it is women want, you may be sure they will get it sometime. Whether they will like it is another matter.
The union of which I am now a life member was formed in 1907 and has had equal pay rights for women members for as long as I can remember. At one time women reporters were employed almost exclusively to deal with women’s topics. I was in the job seven years before I met one. They were not over-popular with their male colleagues.
There was a feeling that they had to be protected from the rougher edges of the job, like courts with particularly nasty cases on the day’s list, gruesome incidents, work against the elements, mixing with crowds of rioting male strikers and so forth.
They were also apt to be unaware of the double entendre. The position has since changed a good deal, but not altogether. It may be that in looking at our own trades we can best judge how far women may be able to get industrially.
To come to a lighter point. Many newspapers with small staffs employ just one woman reporter. More often than not she does a weekly “Women’s Column” among her other jobs. Sometimes she is on holiday or absent for some other reason. But the column still has to go on and be up-to-date. So in my time I have been “Audrey,” “Margaret,” “Kathleen,” “Helen” and goodness knows how many other young charmers for a fortnight or so at a time. Unfortunately, I have never had to deal with letters from “Troubled Blue-eyes.” On the other hand, neither have I had to speculate on what is likely to happen when a certain sign of the zodiac gets in conjunction with another.
This was going to be a sober piece when I started. It was going to apologise to women, to extol them, to tell how locally they bore the brunt of the war, and in general to thank them for helping me during my time among them as a reporter. I seem to have got off that beam, so it will have to wait. But you may be interested in this anecdote:
However many bods of various services and nationalities were dossed down elsewhere on the premises, there was only one other person in that big hall. This was a drab little woman of 55 or 60 with straggling hair who was washing up at the tea counter. She told me there was sure to be a bed for a floor space somewhere upstairs. Then she offered me a cup of tea.
She was passing this to me when suddenly there was an almighty bang outside. I ducked. The wall at the other end swayed in, then went back into place and a cloud of dust and plaster filled the hall.
When I got up and rubbed my eyes the woman was still standing there with the cup in her hand and a pained expression on her face. Hardly a drop of tea had been spilled but a thick scrum of dust and plaster was now floating on top. Then came her priceless comment:
“Oh dear! They are a nuisance, aren’t they? But never mind, I’ll give you another.”
I have had a wholesome respect for the unlikeliest-looking women ever since. You never know what greatness of soul dwells in that worn little frame to be an example to us all.