Women up to mischief

 “In principio

 Mulier est hominis confusio”

 The meaning of this saying is

 “Woman is all man's joy and all his bliss”.                   Chaucer – The Pardoner's Tale.

 A huge tome would not do justice to this subject. It would seem that there is usually a sexual element in women's mischief making, though it might be argued that the reason for that is that men set themselves up as high and mighty and women enjoy bringing them down to earth. Let us take a look at a few stories of women behaving badly. The reader may wish to draw conclusions, gnash the teeth and demand the compulsory wearing of the burqa, or just laugh.

 In the early days of Hollywood, film people were regarded by Middle America as implacably immoral. Fatty Arbuckle was convicted (of rape) before he had even been put on trial; Mae West got put in prison for indecency; and Tallulah Bankhead came to England on a private crusade to subvert the morals of decent people. The decent people that she decided on were Eton schoolboys. It appears that she gave face-to-face private tutorials to a good many of them. The Provost of Eton was so concerned that he persuaded the Government to set up a three-man committee to deal with the problem of Miss Bankhead. So a meeting was arranged between Stanley Baldwin (Prime Minister), Randall Davidson (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Major-General Sir Vernon Kell (Head of MI5). All three were tremendously embarrassed and wondered why they were there. In the end, the Government being unwilling to sanction the requested assassination of the femme fatale in question, the Provost limited himself to expelling a few boys. Most of them kept quiet, but one was highly aggrieved and told the press that if it had been a homosexual scandal he would have got the OBE.


 A similar tale dates from the inglorious days of John Major's government (1990-1997). A speechwriter, either imbecilic or mischievous, had wished upon the Prime Minister the slogan “Back to Basics”, which was interpreted by a gleeful press as meaning “a return to Victorian values”. Meanwhile, a Member of Parliament and joker called Colin Moynihan had imported a very special Research Assistant into Parliament. This lady was a prostitute of Indian extraction whose nom de travail was Pamella Bordès. She was evidently much better at her job than any of the Government ministers were at theirs (though that would not have been difficult). By the time the Speaker had found out what was going on and declared her persona non grata, she had gone through, it was estimated, two thirds of the heterosexual male Members of Parliament, and massively increased their expenses claims on the public purse.

 An amusing episode of bringing great men down to size occurred during the Second World War. Admiral Andrew Cunningham had just (March 1941) sunk the entire Italian Navy off Cape Matapan. He made a special visit to Bletchley Park to thank the girls (I say “girls” because many of them were teenagers) who operated the deciphering machines that had made this spectacular victory possible. The young ladies made a great fuss of the Admiral. They mobbed him and demanded kisses from him. As they pressed against him, they forced him back into some wet paint, so that he spent the rest of the day unaware that the back of his ceremonial uniform was ornamented with stripes of government issue green.

 Of course young women can get into mischief out of sheer exuberance. The Air Transport Auxiliary women, who used to deliver aircraft during the war, liked to fly their Spitfires under Tower Bridge. Orders were issued from Most High that this practice was to cease immediately. Thereupon ATA pilots would amuse themselves by flying under all the Thames bridges. Even worse, there is the story relating to 617 Squadron, who were practising flying their Lancasters at the unfeasibly low level of sixty feet in preparation for Busting the Dams. One Lancaster crew, flying at sixty feet, were astonished and not a little alarmed when an ATA woman flew another Lancaster between them and the ground.

 Sometimes women, like men, will cause mischief out of spite and malice. At my sister's school, the front of the assembly hall consisted of a huge mullioned window. When the stonework was found to need repair, the window was sealed off inside by a varnished plywood screen, the width and height of the window. The morning assembly ritual used to begin with the girls sitting in their allotted places in the body of the hall, the mistresses likewise on the stage, and finally the Headmistress arriving on stage. At this point enormous double curtains were drawn open, actually and symbolically letting in the daylight. This ritual of opening the curtains was maintained even when the window was blocked off by the plywood screen.

 One morning, as usual the Headmistress arrived on the stage, the curtains were drawn back... and a gigantic depiction of male genitals was revealed scored into the varnish. It was a magnificent fourteen-foot erection, the whole meat and two veg, all drawn to scale in accurate detail. I first heard about it because the Headmistress sent the police around to the boys' school to ferret out the culprits.

 Actually, though, the girls (who were hugely delighted by the Headmistress's discomfiture) conducted their own investigation. They ascertained that the culprit was one girl, who, labouring under a sense of grievance for some reason, had contrived to get herself locked in school after hours and had spent the whole evening with a screwdriver and the use of a convenient builders' trolley. How this schoolgirl had come to have such an intimate knowledge of male working parts was never revealed.

 My own experiences of women's capacity for mischief are, fortunately, on a smaller scale. The following stories date from my morris dancing days, and all rely on the premise that a man loses his dignity with his trousers.

 One evening On Tour we arrived at a public house in a town in the West Midlands that shall remain nameless. P-, a tall handsome young man, rushed into the pub first, no doubt aiming to get the best seat at the bar. However, less than a minute later, he ran out again minus hat and trousers. It was Ladies' Darts Night. We never did recover his trousers or his hat; perhaps they are to this day in a glass case along with the Club's silverware.

 One glorious summer evening in one of Oxfordshire's prettiest villages, we were engrossed in singing and jugging in the public house. One of the younger dancers had had enough. He was tired, and did not want to drink any more. So he wandered out, and lay down for a snooze on a warm horizontal tombstone in the nearby churchyard. The next we knew, he came staggering back, apparently in a state of shock. He explained that a gang of village girls had pinned him down and raped him. I am sorry to inform readers in these days of sexual equality that the young man did not gain a lot of sympathy. In fact he was made the butt of bad humour. Another youth of disreputable antecedents rushed off to the churchyard in the hope that the same thing would happen to him. Meanwhile C-, our Squire, read the original victim a pious lecture about how disgracefully he had behaved. He, C-, lived in the village and had a reputation to maintain, and here was a visitor threatening to bring C- into bad odour with his neighbours, etc etc. Personally, I thought that this was most unfair on two counts: firstly, the young man was clearly the innocent victim of an assault; and secondly, C- was a dreadful hypocrite, since he was notorious for Dropping the Daks in every other village bar his own.

 My final story comes from Bonn, where the dancers were celebrating the twinning of that city with Oxford. Of course, “celebrating” in dancing terminology meant downing beer by the litre and in large quantities. Some of the young ladies from our opposite numbers, a Silesian folk dance group, accosted our man A- in a bar.

 “Ach, Volktanzer, du trinkst viele Bier, nicht wahr?”

 “Nein, ich trinke selbst Milch.”

 “Ah! Er wünscht die Milch, denn er muẞt ein Bébé sein.”

And with that, they pinioned him backwards over the bar, stripped him naked from the waist down, and fastened a towel, filched from behind the bar, round him with safety pins to resemble a nappy.

 A-'s wife knew all about her husband's disporting himself naked in a public bar with a gang of Foreign Women before we even got back to England. What is more, she blamed ME for it. And all I had done was to laugh like a drain.

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