If you get involved in some hobbies, some fields of interest, you have to get used to the fact that you’ll end up finding yourself alongside older men with unpalatable views. If you like trains, for example, you will sometimes find yourself alongside elderly trainspotters who haven’t yet worked out that there might be a link between “being single” and “not washing”. You get used to hearing them espousing rather reactionary viewpoints, such as “we should send them all back to their own countries”, and so on.
Nevertheless, occasionally, something comes along which makes you think: I can’t believe they said that. Or, in this case: I can’t believe they printed that. I was reading a book I picked up recently in a charity shop: Victorian and Edwardian Railway Travel From Old Photographs by Jeoffry Spence, a 1980s reprint of a 1970s book, and came across this delightful passage in the introduction. It starts off with saying how Edwardian railway timetables were far too complicated for women to understand, and goes on:
But even today, with so many regular-interval services and absence of complexities, there is something
rather irritating to us chauvinistic males about the sight of a woman standing haughtily in the
circulating area of a big station, telling us firmly what time the train goes, which platform, where to
change, and even the time of arrival at the destination; it makes a bad impression on our younger children.
I’m sorry? It “makes a bad impression” for children to be allowed to see a woman advising a man? To see a woman having responsibility? To see a woman speaking firmly? Or, indeed, all of the above? Even for something written in the late 70s, that’s a bit much to see in print.
A bit of research suggests that Spence was born in 1915, so was probably in his early 60s when he wrote that. He died* in ’92, at 77 or so. Getting a bit elderly when he wrote those words, then, you could argue. But I don’t think that’s an excuse, given that feminism was already alive and well when he was growing up; and that there are plenty of people of his generation who weren’t such terrible bigots. Thirty years later, it comes across as a shockingly sexist piece of writing. The worrying thing is: I’m sure there are still men today, lurking in the backwoods and writing down the numbers of trains, who would probably still agree with him.
* Assuming I’ve found the right man, but the unusual spelling helps
I’ve been surprised before by things I’ve overheard people say at work. I’ve even posted about it: suddenly, someone who looks normal, says something horribly bigoted. The staff over in Another Part Of The Forest still manage to amaze me, though, not just with what they think, but with what they’ll say out loud.
Over there this afternoon, I got chatting to the current office temp. He’s just taken his university finals, and is temping over the summer before he gets a proper job. He was telling me how great his time at university was:
I made some great friends there. One of them’s going into professional sport – he’s going to be right at
the top of his sport in a couple of years’ time. I’m glad I met him – he’s going to be a millionaire
soon, exactly the sort of person you want to stay friends with!
“Erm … yes,” I said, wondering if he was being as serious as his eyes said. That’s really not why I have friends, and I hope it’s not why my friends have friends; but if that’s the sort of person you are, fine. Later on, though, one of the other co-workers* managed to beat him. The temp was complaining about the number of Lithuanians and Poles living in the area, and she replied with:
Ooh, I know, there’s loads of foreign people living round here. Still, we’re not as bad as some places –
at least they’re all white round here. I don’t like this town though. I don’t like living here at all –
if I could, I’d move abroad somewhere.
Again, she seemed completely serious. No idea of the big hole in what she’d just told me. I stopped talking and got on with work; it was easier than trying to explain what she’d said.
* A girl of about 19 or 20, hoping to go to university herself soon if she can raise enough cash.
Being a normal, well-adjusted, modern person, I sometimes forget how bigoted and backwards other people tend to be around here.
Today, I was over at one of our branch offices in Another Part Of The Forest for a few hours. Whilst I was there, one of the staff popped across the road to the local chip shop to get us all dinner. She came back, and we tucked in.
“These are good fishcakes,” said the branch manager. He’s in his mid-30s, he knows how to cook well and dress well, and I assume he’s fairly intelligent.* “You wouldn’t think they were made by a couple of gayboys.” I choked on my coffee, but managed not to say anything. We get on badly enough already.
* Well, his writing is barely functional – I’ve received memos from him, and they’re very badly written, bad enough to be very hard to understand sometimes. But, if you manage to become a branch manager, you can’t be too stupid.