Monthly Archives: February 2014

The 80’s on Trial

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The headlines in the UK at the moment are frightening. Icon after icon from the 70’s and 80’s is being hauled up before the courts accused of sexual assault, touching and sometimes even rape.

The offences in almost all cases, were described as ‘historic’ in other words, they took place around 30 years ago. But why does it feel that it is MY youth and growing up that is actually on trial?

That was around the time I worked in a large office, first in Dundee and then in Edinburgh. There was nothing exceptional about them – a bunch of people of varying ages all working and often playing together and producing a newspaper every week.

We were colleagues and we were (usually) friends. There was the occasional office romance but we were adults and we all knew that good terms were needed as we all had to work together, and it worked.

There was, what would definitely be classified now as sexual harassment, in abundance.

We touched each other. We massaged each others shoulders. We made rude jokes in front of each other. We tested limits – on one occasion I found a 4X magazine in my drawer with some fairly explicit images. Clearly a reaction was being waited for, so I took it out, flicked through it and dismissed it with a brief and scathing, “Nah, mine are bigger.” Then I chucked it to the side.

I remember one Valentine’s Day popping a red rose (man, these are expensive!) into a colleagues desk drawer because he complained that no one ever gave men flowers at Valentine.

We slapped each others bottoms. We stroked each others hair sometimes for fun and sometimes  if a colleague was upset. Occasionally we even hugged, especially in times of distress. We drank together at lunchtimes and partied together in the evenings. We sometimes went to disco’s together in the evening. No one took offence, because it was all part of the way offices ran in these days. Ok. It’ll bring that in a little. I am a journalist and it was the way newspaper offices worked. I can’t speak for insurance companies or other businesses.

In fact in many ways it gave me a really good insight into how to deal with men who got a bit ‘fresh’. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t worry me. It certainly didn’t make me feel that I had been assaulted or sexually traumatised in any way. I gave as good as I got.

Can there really be anyone who worked in office environments around that time who didn’t indulge in a bit of office banter or a bit of touchy feely nonsense? Are you wondering now whether someone from your dim and distant past will turn round and accuse you of harassment any day now? It has crossed my mind.

My only defence is that there were no power differences involved. We were colleagues on pretty much the same level. No one really had authority over anyone else – and we were all grown up enough to stop if our behaviour made anyone uncomfortable. But we all enjoyed it. It was fun. It helped make the office a fun place to work.

I’m sorry if that offends you, but it did.

In the same way that I don’t really feel any responsibility for the horrors of the slave trade and don’t feel any great need to apologise on behalf of my ancestors (who were farm labourers and almost certainly never had any contact with slaves either), I feel it is unfair to judge the behaviour of the 70’s and 80’s in the light of today’s much more restrained and politically correct accepted norms of working life.

I’m absolutely not excusing rape. Really, rape is a crime that is vicious, cold, horrifying and an extreme abuse of power.

But sexual assault – touching shoulders, slapping bottoms, slipping a hand around a colleague’s waist? In the 70’s that wasn’t classed as sexual assault. It shouldn’t be judged to be so today.

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Come Quickly!

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By Jacky Cowper

Graham picked his way through the undergrowth.

“Cassie”. He shouted. “Come here, girl.”

He sighed as the brown and white spaniel failed to put in an appearance.

“Bloody dog,” he said, and looked around for somewhere dry to sit and have a fag while waiting for her to chase the rabbit or follow the scent or whatever else it was the stupid animal got up to every Sunday in the woodland behind his house.

There had been a lot of rain recently and the fern leaves were dripping. Dry spots were few and far between.

He leaned against a fallen trunk instead and drew the smoke down into his lungs.

No chance of an accidental blaze today anyway, he thought, flicking the lit end off into the muddied trail his boots had made.

“Cassie!” He yelled, angrier.

There was a muffled barking somewhere, but it was too far away to determine which direction it was coming from and whether it was even Cassie.

The woods were a popular destination for dog walkers in the district, though they were thick and dark and autumnal today. In the summer they were usually full of children playing on the tree swings, teenagers sitting round bonfires, even some campers braving a night in the woods.

A bird squawked somewhere nearby and something rustled in the leaves nearby.

He started nervously. He wasn’t really scared, but they were big woods and though there were no dangerous animals in Britain, he still got the creeps from time to time. He was conscious that he was alone, isolated.

He decided to press on a little deeper, thinking perhaps if he got the serious heeby-jeebies, he could find a nice protected spot and hide there and watch to see what was that he had heard.

He moved quietly, pushing leaves aside with his hands and occasionally his knees, careful where he stepped.

As he moved, he became conscious of an odd creak. It sounded almost like a tree being moved by the wind, but there was no wind. It didn’t belong here.

As he kept going, the sound got louder.

It was in front of him, somewhere through the bushes and the massive ferns.

Then his eyes were drawn by a strange movement, towards the top of his vision. A large growth on the tree, but the light filtering through the leaves was in his eyes and he couldn’t make out details.

He straightened up and shaded his eyes with his hand.

There in the tree, was a body. It was, or had been a man he thought, judging by the top and sports bottoms. Standard uniform for round here, he thought, but the face was dark, purple and swollen. The hands hung limply and one trainer had fallen off. It lay on the ground below the hanging corpse, on its side, a pool of water soaking in to it.

Graham thought he was going to have a heart attack. He yelped loudly and shot backwards out from under the tree and ran back, his hands wind-milling wildly, to the fallen tree where he had had his smoke.

He grabbed his phone out of his pocket, dropped it, then swept it up and dialled 999.

His hands shook so much that he hit the wrong number twice and had to lay it on the tree to keep it steady enough to press the screen.

“Emergency,” the clipped and professional male voice replied. “Which service do you require?”

“Police, police. Now. Please hurry. I don’t want to be alone with it.”

“What is the nature of your emergency, sir?

“There’s a body, hanging. On a rope. I’m in the woods in Blairveggie estate.”

“There’s a squad car on it’s way to you now sir,” the voice said. “What is your name and your exact location?”

“My name is Graham. Henderson. I live round here. I was just walking the dog. Hurry up. This is so scary. Come quickly, I don’t want to be here alone.”

“The police will not be long Graham. Tell me about the body. Are you sure they are dead?”

“I think so. He was all purple, black, swollen. I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Can you still see the body?” asked the controller.

“No,” Graham said. “I ran away.”

“That’s alright. It’s a normal reaction. Will you be able to lead the police to where he is?”

“Maybe, I guess.”

“What is your exact position? They will be with you very soon.”

“I’m about a quarter mile off the main path towards the back end of the estate greenhouse. I was looking for Cassie. She’s run off again. It’s pretty thick undergrowth round here.”

He heard a siren in the distance, but coming closer. “They’re here,” he said, and ended the call to wait for the police.

Still shaking and jittery, he pulled another cigarette from the packet and lit it, noticing how much his hand was jerking.

He could hear two, maybe three policemen crashing about in the woods somewhere nearby.

“Over here.” He shouted. He waved his hands, feeling a bit stupid in the darkened wood, but wanting to do something.

He spotted a peaked cap just through the leaves and yelled. “This way, this way. Come now. I’ll lead you.”

Then he turned away from them and started back along the path he’d created in the undergrowth as he ran from the body.

The police followed along the path and stopped when they spotted the corpse in the tree.

Graham just stood aside to let the professionals take over.

“Been there a few days I reckon.” Said the tallest of the three men. “Maybe a suicide. We’d not have found him without that call.”

The one with the beard got on his radio and requested an ambulance and the crime scene team, just in case. They’d take the photographs anyway.

Graham moved away, feeling ignored, but glad he no longer needed to look at the bloated body.

He’d done his bit. He’d been a good citizen. He shivered, conscious of the dampness around him.

The police were on their radios again, and he could hear another siren coming towards the woods from the opposite direction.

One policeman was shaking his head. “No, no sign. We’ll give him a ring. What’s the number again?”

One of the others took out a mobile phone and pressed several digits.

Graham felt the vibration in his pocket and pulled his phone out.

“There,” one policeman shouted. “Shit.”

Graham stood and began to walk back to the clearing, finally pleased they wanted to speak to him.

But the policemen were standing looking at the hanged man.

And listening as the bleeping tone, clearly audible, rang out from the left hand pocket of his jacket.

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Filed under Fiction, new fiction