A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Hooptedoodle #121 – Black Agnes

Recently, I got a friendly leg-pull via email from Louis, who jokingly noted that my various Hooptedoodle efforts appear to be generated by a formula. I complimented him on his good taste in reading such material, and on consideration I have to say that there may be some substance in his theory.

Something current in my life, says Louis – an argument with the bank, non-delivery of a parcel, disappointment over the performance of a virus-checker, a tasteless banana, whatever – will remind me, often via some oblique (or incomprehensible) link, of some remote event in my lengthy past. I shall somehow mix the whole lot up into a yarn of some sort, arrive at some unlikely conclusion and – bingo – another Hooptedoodle is born.

There are times when a glimpse of the truth is uncomfortable. I have to say that I do not fully agree with him; I admit I might recognize a process by which I am led to ponder certain subjects. I cannot claim to have supernatural levels of wisdom or insight to apply to such matters but – like everyone – my views are coloured by my personal experience, and I certainly have a great deal of that. Of course, my ponderings sometimes generate Hooptedoodles, so in the end he probably is on to something.

To prove the point – here’s the formula at work again (I’m self-conscious, now).

On the radio this morning I was listening to an interview with an elected councillor of the city of Stoke on Trent, no less, who is pleased to represent the British Nationalist Party (BNP). I am certainly not going to get into a debate about the BNP, but I listened to what he had to say. Some of what he said seemed to be based on fear, and in essence the thing that he feared most was the disappearance of the community in which he remembered growing up. The strongest attributes he mentioned were that it was an exclusively white, English community, and the trouble starts right there, with the loss of that situation.

OK – let’s not get into any of that. It occurred to me that any kind of presentation of such views is a mixed bag. Some of what he said made some kind of sense. Some of it seemed to me to be wrong, and I deliberately use a vague word like “wrong” because that covers a whole raft of reasons why it might be wrong. It might be absolutely wrong because (say) it is illegal, or morally indefensible for some reason. It may be wrong (to me) because it does not accord with my own views, or the things which I have learned (or been persuaded to believe) – and that is layered with things like religious views, fashions in society, and the dreaded Political Correctness.

The PC thing is tricky – I’ve never found it intuitively natural, and at times it can be counter-productive (CP?). For example, some of the BNP man’s views are definitely frowned upon from a PC perspective, and in some instances quite correctly so. On the other hand, the gradual wearying of the public at large (well, me, anyway) with the screechings of the PC brigade – especially on issues that do not matter a great deal – can make bits of the BNP view sound relatively calm and pragmatic. Not easy to get a handle on.

Anyway, I was left to ponder the complicated mish-mash of legality, good taste, prejudice, vested interests, inculcation, ignorance and genuine grievance which makes opinions seem right or wrong (whatever that means). And I was reminded (that’s right, Louis) of an embarrassing episode – maybe 20 years ago. I was invited to speak at a dinner organized by a Scottish business group. My subject was the future role of technology in the workplace – I wish it had been something else, but – hey – they were going to feed me.

At dinner, I was placed next to another speaker, who was an executive director of a well-known feminist publishing house. She was Agnes – she was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and she wore black clothes. Terrifying – she reminded me of Maria, the mother out of the old Charles Addams cartoons.

Her first line at dinner was “I notice that all the serving staff are girls – I bet the chef is a man.”

I was aware of the terrible history of discrimination against women in all walks of life – especially the workplace – and was generally positive about feminist initiatives, though I was very uneasy about some of the fashionable terminology, and about most of the extremists. So I just nodded, accepting my share of the inherited guilt.

Then we moved on to “how many of your company directors are women?”, to which – I fear – the answer at that time was “none”. And what proportion of our senior managers were women? – well, a growing number, but I had recently had a bad experience in this area (which I did not tell Agnes about, but it certainly coloured my view).

In my area at work there had been a vacancy for a Senior Manager (let’s not worry about what that means), and there were three excellent candidates, of whom two were men and one was a woman. As it happens, the woman candidate was the weakest of the three – she lacked practical experience, and had an overriding need to avoid blame which was worrying. However, we were instructed by our director to choose the woman, because it was important that our company be seen to be actively promoting female staff.  I protested to my immediate boss, but it was made very clear that it would not be in our best interests to disagree with the board, so (and I still cringe with shame) we did as we were instructed.

Back to Agnes.

I said, “do you actually employ men, then?”

Oh yes, smiled Agnes, men were much better for lifting big boxes and so forth in the dispatch area, and they also employed some tradesmen.

So let me get this straight – she ran a company which published only female authors, on women’s subjects, exclusively targeted at a female audience, and which had a policy of placing women in all senior positions. I have a feeling, I said, that if I were even to suggest the possibility of creating a counterpart enterprise which was exclusively male, I would be in very big trouble. How is this?

Agnes looked at me as though I were something she had scraped off her shoe, and told me – very firmly – that she was very disappointed that I was just another sexist bigot. That was my very last flirtation ever with the glamorous world of feminist publishing.

Got it wrong again.


  1. As the saying goes, you're damned if you do. . . and damned if you don't. Your experience also sounds like much of my experience as a student of European literature at university in the 1990s.

    Best Regards,



    I enjoy your Hoopdedoodles very much by the way.

    1. Thank you, Stokes - much appreciated.

      I've said this before on this blog, but the memory of all the female managers we acquired in the 1990s, and the huge investment in external management degrees that went along with it, makes me recall that it led one of my bosses eventually to say that he thought the education was largely a waste of money, since most of what it delivered was a new vocabulary to describe why none of them could actually make a decision or put their reputation on the line. Now he was a sexist.

  2. I'll be interested to see what sort of responses you get for daring to say that the BNP bloke said some things that you could see had some element of truth in them - from his standpoint, at least. On the men/women/work front, I am wont to say as my wife and I drive around (actually, she does all the driving because I can't), and we pass the workforce repairing and maintaining the roads, the particularly dangerous 'A' roads, and the motorways, or emptying the rubbish bins, or building the houses, offices and supermarkets - 'oh look, there's some more Harriets who went to St.Paul's Girls School'. The reference is, of course, to Harriet Harperson (who went to the very top fee paying St Paul's Girls), and who has made a lucrative political career out of the underrepresentation of women in certain jobs; but not all. The casualty figures for the British Army engaged in Tony Blair's Afghan campaign aso bear examination in tha light. None of which is said in a sexist fashion at all - there's a lot of class in it too.

    1. The BNP chap did speak intelligently about the changes due to the pottery factories of his childhood times now being closed, which has been a major contributor to the decline of the community, though his thoughts on whose fault this was were a bit extreme.

      Harriets - Billy Connolly used to tell a tale of the NSW Dunny Men, local government employees who used to empty all the outside toilets. Some forward-thinking type decided the name should be updated to Sewage Operative or similar, but the scheme was dropped, due to public ridicule, stemming from the fact that no woman had even been employed in such a job, nor was likely to be.

  3. Well, you've certainly done your bit to support the international worm canning industry as you've opened a few here ;O)

    I'm always wary of any political party that includes the word 'national' or names a country in its title. BNP falls down badly on this one, but so do The Daughters of the Confederacy - have you heard these people?!? There's something primeval which drives the membership of such organisations who are tribal beyond what might be acccepted as 'normal' of any group. I'm not getting into any analysis, but the 'clever' ones can be very persuasive (true of any political party).

    After too long in the public sector, I can tell all kinds of stories related to feminism, but modern feminists are simply playing at it. I reserve my admiration for their grandmothers and great grandmothers.

    And I agree with Stokes: your Hooptedoodles are a highlight of my infrequent raids on the blogosphere!

    1. Thanks, Gary.

      We have a very prominent and self-confident National Party here in Scotland, of course (you probably heard about that), and the nearer we get to the referendum date the more confusing their role becomes. I hope that sense prevails and the referendum says no, in fact I sort of expect it will - but if it doesn't then we'll have to see what happens next. In theory, Salmond and Co should step down, job done, and there should be free elections to get something running which can think about something beyond not being English (which is a large slice of the current mindset). That is when the factions start fighting each other - there will be loonies who always believed that Scottish independence was a class war, there will be others who always thought in terms of Braveheart(!), there will be full-on republicans, there will be others thinking of ethnic cleansing - Iraq comes to mind.

      When it comes down to it, why would people in Aberdeenshire trust a parliament in Edinburgh more than one in London? Why would Glaswegians be prepared to have the capital on the other side of the country? Why is it assumed that an independent Scotland would still be part of Europe? Why would the big Scottish banks and the distillers choose to stay in Scotland to be taxed to the hilt, to pay for all this?

      Given the timescales, if the referendum gives a go-ahead, even without interference from Westminster, the number of vested interest groups and the lack of a single, coherent idea about what nationalism represents will make it next to impossible to get any kind of democratic decisions made before cut-the-ropes day.

      I have never heard a BNP rep say anything about global warming, or education, or anything apart from foreigners pinching our stuff. Once you start having an independent Scotland, why not Greater Manchester? And would people from Altrincham want to be part of that? Hmmm.

      At some point, the back seat drivers might get asked to drive the bus themselves, and I'd prefer not to be on board at the time. Being a protest group is maybe a valid part of democracy, but what happens when there's no-one else left to complain about?

      That should upset anyone I haven't upset already. I would hate to think there were people in the SNP that believed they personally were going to get riches and power from independence, but I'm sure that someone will be thinking just that…

      I expect letter bombs will arrive now, so will board up the mailbox.

  4. A bigot is a bigot and a sexist is a sexist. However, very few bigots or sexists realise that they are that.

    Nor do the female variety realise that they can also be bigots and sexists.

    What I would like to know is why so few women are in top management jobs - plenty of major around are quite new, half the population are women and I would assume they had the opportunity of starting some of these companies. Why didn't they? or if they did, why don't they use more women in senior positions themselves?

    If a woman is the best person for a job then of course they should get it - but I don't look on it as a right, I look on it as something that has to be earned.

  5. I would suggest that our unease with PC thought is that while it is in isolation sometimes a necessary corrective (e.g., don't speak to that person in that racist/hateful way), the sum total of PC thought is essentially totalitarian. PC thought has a logic to it that would rule all other forms of discourse as inadmissible. Those of us who are formed by a certain kind of rational, liberal worldview can accept that while some political views are extreme (I only know of the BNP second hand, but I can imagine), they have a right to be heard in the public sphere provided that they do not go out of bounds. Unfortunately, the idea that society could be formed of many interdependent yet different estates and interests has been in decline since the Reformation, which at its heart abhorred difference. Small l liberalism to some extent offsets this totalitarian tendency because it appeals to a larger view of the polis than the balkanizing tendency of nationalism can comprehend. As you say, if an independent Scotland, why not an independent Manchester or Aberdeen?

    1. Michael - it is now almost 2 years since you published this comment, and I am confident you will never read this response, but I have thought about this totalitarian aspect of PC thought since I read the comment, and have found it useful and illuminating in clarifying my own feelings on the subject. Thanks very much - I do appreciate it!