Saturday, 6 May 2006

Small pleasures from small favours

Since I’ve already denied women the right to make fools of themselves by taking up pole dancing as exercise and learning it at public classes, and thereby contributing to the backlash against feminism, I thought I would now deny women the right to have children at an age when they should be playing with their children’s children or enjoying retirement. But too much has been said about that 63-year-old mother-to-be and the subject has gone stale on me.

Instead, I want to slap people who, having acquired a little bit of power, suddenly take themselves seriously and refuse to do other people small favours, when it’s no skin off their noses.

My partner and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for Shakespeare’s Birthday (April 23rd, in case you’ve forgotten when it was): the Royal Shakespeare Company had planned masses of events and we thought it would be good fun.

We hadn’t booked for anything (we’d learned about it too late), but we managed to attend two very interesting events (one about playing Cleopatra – with Harriet Walter and Janet Suzman; the other about the Sonnets – with Patrick Stewart and my beloved John Barton). There had been a few tickets left for the first talk, but the second one was booked up. Nevertheless we thought there might be some returns so we queued anyway. There weren’t, but just before the start we were let in, together with four or five other people, because there was space and because they took pity on us. We stood, or sat on the floor, at the back of the room, and spent a wonderful, stimulating two hours.

There was one more event we ‘didn’t mind’ attending: an interview with Judi Dench. It was to take place in the big marquee that had been erected in one of the theatre gardens (and where we’d heard the two Cleopatras earlier that day). For this too tickets were unnumbered and the queue to go in was unbelievable: it went round and round and round… We, and a very small group of other unfortunate, ticket-less people, waited for everyone to be seated. We had money in our hands; there was plenty of standing room on the side of the seating area and there didn’t seem to be any reason why we couldn’t be let in. That’s when I noticed her – Bronwyn Robertson, the most officious woman ever, and I more or less knew we were waiting in vain.

She could have said to us, “You’ve been waiting so patiently; there’s only a few of you; this is the last event of the day; I cannot deprive you of the pleasure of listening to Dame Judi, who’s come specially today – a Sunday – to give this interview. Please come in!” But she didn’t say it and everyone wandered off (one person was in a wheelchair – you’d think she would have allowed them in), disappointed. We did hear the interview for a while, because we discovered that, if we positioned ourselves in a special spot, behind the marquee, and listened closely, we could hear every word. Unfortunately, the questions were so lame and banal and so unworthy of her talent that we gave up halfway through. But that's not the point.

It would have been so easy for Bronwyn to make us all happy. But, no, it was in her power to deny us and she did. I wonder if she got any satisfaction out of it.

I first met Bronwyn in 1974, when I lived in Stratford and needed a job. She was secretary to one of the directors; she was obstructive and annoying. She was then put in charge of something or other and she carried on being unhelpful. I must have been introduced to her a dozen times. She always forgot who I was. It requires a special kind of person to ‘forget’ completely someone they see practically every day.

While I’m slapping people who deserved it in the past but who only got the utmost courtesy from me because I was still hoping to have a career with the RSC at the time I might as well mention Diana Minchall. We met in 1977, when we were both attending the Summer School and were staying in the same B&B. She knew no one; I knew everyone. By the time she went back to London she knew everyone too. Two years later, when she got a job with the RSC (in the Publicity Department), she had a head start. I had told her about the vacancy so she could apply for it and when she got the job she promised to return the favour. Yeah right!

Not only did she not help me in any way but, within a few weeks of her taking up her new post, one might have thought she was the RSC’s Artistic Director, judging from the way she started behaving. I stopped being in the secret of the gods because my contacts assumed she was giving me lots of info and I didn’t need to be told anything.

She was there for about ten years and I never got another chance to get a job with the RSC. Instead of being a help she was an obstruction. I’ve been wanting to slap her smug face for a very long time. There!

When I used to work at Penhaligon’s I had access to perfumes that everyone valued immensely. I was in a position to give my friends a few samples from time to time. And why not? My mistake is that I’ve always expected others to derive as much pleasure from doing (or returning) favours as I have.

I’m sure Judi Dench would have been very sad to know that half a dozen people were turned away that day – for no good reason whatsoever – because of some self-important official.



  1. You can see it in their eyes, can't you - the smug satisfaction these officious people take in blocking someone else's way. You are so right - they do it because they can, not because there is any inherent good reason.

    It's what makes me dread an upcoming trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver's license: what should be a smooth, simple transaction will be an exercise in aggravation because of some petty tyrant.

  2. Pettiness, unfortunately, is a rampant disease.

    You can console yourself with the thought that precisely, as you pointed out, their power is very limited and this is why these people can't resist going on power trips, when they can.

  3. Slapping hard for you.

    Jobsworths and cryptofascists.

    It takes a special brand of self obsession to not recognise other people or remember events. I tend to keep everything in mind, so it hurts more when others lose me quickly. I know a few of these, but you can guarantee as soon as I do something humiliating, I'll be perfectly memorable.

  4. They were probably bullied as children.

  5. Petty people. I know that a lot of the so called *little things* matter. They aren't little. The people are. I can't understand the "thrill" of denying someone a bit of happiness and recognition.

    Sad and very unfair that you were treated that way. Especially by the lady you were so gracious to. Only Upshot-Be very glad that You Are Not Them. What *fun* that would be ;)

    Then again, maybe one of them will get stuck behind red-queen at the Department of Motor Vehicles :-)

  6. There's no power like minor power. *rolls eyes*

  7. Thank you all for your support. I find this kind of behaviour absolutely incomprehensible. I expect I/we'll encounter it again in the future. *sigh*


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