Category Archives: crime

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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Sole Sisters

Thin Golden Strap Stiletto Sandals

Sole Sisters               

 by Jacky Cowper

“Nice shoes.”

She looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, in spite of the fact we’d been standing together waiting for a bus for nearly five minutes.

She took in my large DM’s and the stud in my nose. Her face told the story. I was an insect, a piece of dirt to be scraped off her delicate gold and bejeweled sandals.

Undaunted, I tried again.

“Are they fancy, one of these labels; a big name? Designer shoes?”

She checked her watch again. Took out her phone and shook it.

“There’s no signal down here.” I said. “It’s a blackspot.”

“Damn.” She said. Then she looked at me. “What’s your problem? Can’t you see I don’t want to speak to you?”

She rooted around in her equally delicate bag. No ciggies either. She was really having a bad night.

I stuck my hand into my pocket and pulled out a fresh pack of 20. Immediately I had her attention.

I drew one out of the packet, tapped it on my hand, flicked the lighter and lit up, drawing a lungful straight down. I held it inside for a few seconds and then let it drift out of my mouth and nostrils into the dark night. It hung there, caught in the flickering on/off of the streetlamp for a minute before dispersing into the air.

I made as if to notice her for the first time. “Want one?”

“Sure,” she said. “Thanks.”

She allowed me to offer her a light, cupping her hand around the flame as if holding a butterfly.

She sucked in the smoke, and blew it gently through her nostrils. They flared slightly as the heat raced through them.

Smoking together always brings about companionship, and her reluctance to speak to me was soon forgotten as we considered the chilly Edinburgh night. After another ten minutes, I didn’t need to look closely to see her shivering.

“Listen,” I said. “I only live a few minutes away. I was just being lazy taking the bus anyway. Come to my flat and call a taxi from there. I’ve got a landline.”

She looked doubtful, but after staring at the top of the road where the bus was due to appear, she nodded. “Ok.”

I led the way.

The pavement was uneven and she stumbled from time to time. Once she even reached out her hand and rested it on my shoulder. I felt it burn all the way through my jacket.

We reached the entrance to the close. She looked into the darkness through the arch and hesitated a little.

I stepped forward, showing her it was safe.

“Just watch your footing – there are bin bags all over the place at the back. “Folk round here aren’t too careful where they put their crap.”

She moved forward, her heels catching between the cobbles at the start of the old stair.

“It might be better if you take your sandals off.” I said. “You wouldn’t want to break a heel, would you?”

“Not likely,” she laughed. “These cost over £100!”  I felt cold slivers of sweat trace their way down my back and disappear into the waistband of my trousers. The little gemstones on the shoes caught a little of the feeble light coming from the street, and glinted like diamonds in the darkness.

She leaned on me as she bent over to remove them. The heels were thin, elegant, infinitely discreet, like her little feet. Clusters of green and red stones mixed with the solitaires winked at me. Then I felt her hand reach out, clutching the shoes.

“Here, would you take them for me?” she asked. “I’m having trouble with the cobbles.”

Somewhere off to the left, in one of the flats above us, a dog barked once, then there was a snarled human voice and all went quiet again.

She looked up, her hair caught for a moment in the light trickling down from the night sky.

She handed the shoes to me. I could feel the breath leave my body. They were divine. They were the sun, the moon and the stars all carefully whisked together and tied onto your feet with tiny golden straps that fastened round your ankle and over your toes.

She moved slightly ahead of me, her slender frame wobbling on the uneven ground.

“Over there, in the corner. That’s where the door is.” I called quietly.

She began to move carefully through the bin bags towards the door, almost hidden in the dark.

I laid the shoes down at the side of the dark close and jumped on her back.

She squawked as she went down, my left hand quickly clamped around her mouth and my right hand brought the knife out of my pocket and slid it across her slender throat. I felt her body buck under me, but she was fashionably thin and my weight on her back wore her down very quickly.

I held her head down, listening to the blood splash onto the plastic around us and breathing in the hot smell that seemed to fill the air completely.

It was quick.

She stopped moving even sooner than I’d hoped. I stayed still, hidden in the darkness, listening for any sounds that might indicate I’d been heard, breathing quietly in the stillness of the night.

Nothing. Not a car. Not a bus. Not even the clicking heels of a passer by or the muffled laughter of a couple as they bent into each other.

I eased myself back, onto my feet, dusted myself off.

I threw a couple of bags on top of the body and tucked her bare feet away under another bag. The bags were supposed to be deposited in a communal bin out on the street but no one in the stair ever bothered.

I stepped backwards and picked up the shoes. They’d been worth the wait, the plotting, the risk. They gleamed like diamonds in the dirt of my life.

I tucked them into my jacket and pushed the close door open, walking quietly up the stairs to my second story flat. I let myself in, turned on the lights and sat down.

I pulled the shoes out and laid them on the table in front of me. They glistened.

I smiled. Wiped them with my sleeve until every trace of dirt from the alley was gone. I held them close to my ample chest. I could smell the leather, feel the stones as I caressed them. They were mine now.

I stood up and picked them off the table. There would be plenty time for adoration later.

I walked over to my bedroom, opened the wardrobe door. I reached up to the shelf, pulled down the suitcase from the top.

I laid the case on my small single bed and opened it. Three pairs of encrusted sandals winked back at me. I eased them over, making room for the new member of their family. I looked at all my pretty things, laid out in a row. They were loved. They were all loved.

I hauled my boots off, looked at my toe sticking through the top of my sock.

I pulled the socks off too.

I picked up the blue sandals – my first acquisition, all the way from Aberdeen. I slipped the left one on, or at least as far as it would go. The sole said size 4 and I was an 8. God saw fit to grant me the love of delicate things, and the body of an all-in wrestler. I was a cosmic joke.

Blue sandals had been my first, a call girl. Too late she realized, when she got into the car, that the short fat guy was a short heavy woman. She might have lived if she’d just given me the shoes, but she fought for them. She was right to do so, of course. Who wouldn’t have fought for such beautiful objects?

They were well-worn, and they carried her scent for a week or so afterwards, but I didn’t mind. Now they had new companions. I ran my dumpy fingers across the blue shoes and the others in the case. The stones sharp and hard under my skin. I closed the suitcase, put away the memories of that Aberdeen night, the Dundee park, the Fife woodland.

The police arrived three days later. One of the neighbours had found the body – a bare foot sticking out had been a clue apparently.

It was just a regular questioning. Had I seen anything? No. Gosh officers, my rubbish bag is nearly ready to go out. I sat down as the shock hit me. I could have found it. The body. Was it a man or a woman?

A woman. So sad. Such an evil world. I shook my head in despair.

The police took in my big boots, my lumpy body. The short hair and the studs. They assumed the stupid expression that would naturally go with it. My feet were far, far too big to ever fit the small sandals that were missing.

I was an ugly sister for sure, not a Cinderella.

They thanked me and moved on to the drug-addled neighbour upstairs. I never heard from them again.

Why would I?

I had no connection with her. The tiny pieces of evidence they’d found on her body were from generic clothing. And it could have come from the bin bags anyway.

Every policeman knows that killers don’t dirty their own patch.

Except when they do.

That there’s no such thing as a completely random murder.

Except when there is.

That people are not killed for a pair of small golden sandals.

Except when they are.

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