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The Gates of Hell

Posted: 09/10/2012 01:18

When I was seventeen the gates of hell were eight feet high and made of rubber. Whenever they opened they made a noise that sounded like two whales in wetsuits on a kids slide and even now, nearly twenty five years later, whenever I hear a whale in a wetsuit on a kids slide I shudder (granted that's not very often but you get my drift).

They stood at the end of a warehouse where I'd managed to land a temporary summer job loading wagons with heavy boxes. When I say heavy, I mean really heavy, the job was both back breaking and soul destroying with long hours and tough foremen who would chivvy and chide the poor souls who had found themselves lost and abandoned in a factory in Speke from eight till six, Monday to Friday with three quarters of an hour for lunch.

It wasn't all bad though, because it was hard hot work they allowed us as many drink breaks as we wanted, unfortunately, none of us wanted them. Well that's not exactly true, we all wanted them, it is just we were too scared to take them.

Which is where the gates of hell come in.

To get to the kitchen we had to pass through the portal to Hades, and on the other side we didn't find Cerberus, what we found was much worse than that, we found about thirty to forty women, Mums, daughters, grandmothers all mix of womankind existed behind the gate, and it's only source of entertainment was the poor young men who worked "on the other side".

I remember the first time I wanted to go and get a drink, one of the foremen started laughing and said something along the lines of "Are you mad?" as I walked towards the doors. I pushed them open and saw the "packers" hunched over boxes stuffing smaller boxes into them. I was a confident young man so I don't recall any sense of trepidation as I headed towards the kitchen, I do recall seeing a few of the packers looking up as I wandered through them, I also recall one or two whistling as I went by. I filled the kettle and made some tea and then headed back to work, cup in hand unaware that the next kettle I would have to deal with was a wholly different one filled with fish.

This time when I faced the packers they were ready for me, they shouted, squeezed, pinched, pulled and petted me. I spilt my tea, flushed and blushed, pushed and pretended I wasn't scared when in truth I was. I remember feeling a hand on my crotch and the "Woooh!" echoing around the room as I pushed it away.

It was a long walk, I made it only once and swore I wouldn't do it alone again. A few of the lads I worked with that summer fared considerably worse than me, I recall one young man returning from hell sans his trousers. The wicked women of the west had held him down and debagged him, he had scratches on his legs and I recall that he was tearful in his humiliation and his underpants.

The foremen spoke to the women and asked them to calm the "joking around" down after that, they didn't. It soon even became unsafe for us to go in there in groups, we laughed about it, but we were actually rather scared, though none of us would admit it, to do so would be to invite ridicule.

Such was factory life back then, dignity in the workplace? More like indignity, but it was thirty years ago, I was an adult and I lived through it, I'll not be ringing the police, even if the Director General of BBC seems to think I should.

I listened with interest the other morning as Liz Kershaw told of being groped whilst being on air at Radio One. The next day Sandi Toksvig told the world she also had been "unpleasantly groped" whilst on air (I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "pleasant grope" but maybe I'm wrong). The media seemed to lose sight of the severity of the Savile allegations and started to navel gaze and talk about a "rugby club culture at the BBC" in the eighties, pretty much every newspaper led with the story and the DG exclaimed "anyone who suffered these assaults should contact the police immediately". Desperate to avoid criticism promises were made about internal investigations and the need for people to speak freely and instead of groped, breasts were beaten with statements about "lessons being learned."

Now I'm not downplaying these assaults, they are serious and distressing and should never be tolerated. But today it is 2012, the world is a vastly different place from the 80's. As much as we like to pretend, a great many mixed workplaces in those days were like a poorly written seventies sitcom full of lecherous men with wandering hands at Christmas parties and battle axe women who touched up young apprentices. It was wrong, but it happened, the BBC wasn't special, it was typical and the only reason we are hearing about it now is because the BBC seems intent to flagellate itself for fear of being criticised by the press over every incident that occurs there.

These are important issues but surely to discuss them in the same context as the crimes Savile is alleged to have committed is wrong? Should the BBC and its employee's not be asking why if, as Kershaw stated, Saviles behaviour was an "open secret" nobody had the guts to say something to stop it? I watched as an ex newsreader told a story about finding Savile with a young girl on his lap and his hand up her skirt, forgive me, but I was almost as angry with her as I was with him for not saying something to put a stop to this behaviour.

Time and again I've heard tell of him being an intimidating and powerful figure with people being afraid to speak out, really? You'd be more worried about your job than whether you could stop a child being raped?

Or did they think Jim would fix it for them to end up in a coffin?

I think not, I just think they were lazy and selfish, people who were paid to speak, not speaking out.

 
 
 

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