Helen Martin: Abusers were on power trip

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THE Seventies and Eighties were great times for journalists. We were paid well, lived high on the hog and being the main providers of news pre-internet, work was exciting. But there was a down side, especially for female reporters or feature writers.

Equality wasn’t “fully formed” (although we could argue that perhaps it still has some way to go today). In those comparatively early days devoid of correctness, it was assumed that if you wanted the breaks and the salary, you had to be as tough as a man and expect no special treatment. Worse, there were certain male, unreconstructed interview subjects who were generally known for “responding” better to females and thus speaking more freely.

It was a bad day when you were assigned a job like that. Any woman who went back to her editor saying she’d walked out on the job because the subject had made lewd suggestions or “a move on her” would have been regarded as unprofessional. Deal with it, talk your way out of it, slap him or whatever . . . but get the story.

Some men in public life were predators well known for making the flesh crawl and now they are gradually being brought to book for lives of lechery and abuse. Dead or alive, it’s taken a long time for their sins to catch up with them and the question younger generations are asking is, how did they get away with it?

The establishment, be it political, legal, sporting or showbiz, was all powerful. A young woman, journalist or not, had no standing or back up from employers – especially those who had sent her into the lion’s den – or for that matter, the police. Famous people, especially those of high status, were always believed. To accuse them of inappropriate behaviour, any woman would have had to be able to prove it, or find 
herself in grave trouble for defamation. It wasn’t just journalists, secretaries and other unfortunate young women with whom they came into contact who knew about their behaviour. Many were “investigated” and surprise, surprise, the resulting reports and evidence were “mislaid” or found to be inconclusive. From Jimmy Savile to Cyril Smith, pictured, and to Fettesgate as we now know, embarrassing scandals were smoothed over by the establishment.

At the time, we thought the high profile, successful men on our “avoid” list were lusting after young women. We accepted the world was as it was – a man’s world. What we didn’t recognise then was that they were power abusers. Many of those same men, it now transpires, were just as interested, if not more so, in children. It wasn’t just a matter of gender equality, respect, women’s rights and feminism. Their behaviour towards us was an indicator of something we didn’t even realise existed. They were also paedophiles.

If there is one lesson to be learned as wave after wave of historical child abuse emerges, it is that there is a link. Abusers seek victims less powerful than themselves. Inevitably that means young women – and children.

Tram line must grow but can we afford it?

ONLY the truly naïve ever expected that the bill for Edinburgh’s trams would ever be fully paid off. The loan payments will just carry on for ever and with the passage of time – if we are lucky – will become more manageable in the same way that the £500 you might have paid for a three-bedroomed semi in 1950 now seems a modest outlay.

Despite some citizens’ determination to enthuse about the things, presumably on the basis that we’re stuck with them so it’s easier on the psyche to make the best of it, there are still many of us who grow more convinced by the day that our tram system is unequalled “corporation” folly.

The other day, I asked my neighbour at the bus stop if he’d ever been on one. “Yes. I’m one of the grey-haired lobby who took a run out to the airport with my bus pass, had a cup of coffee and came back again, just to try it,” he said. “But have you used it again?” I queried. He looked a bit baffled, before admitting he had no reason to use it beyond that novelty experience.

Another neighbour said since it would take a bus ride to get anywhere she could catch a tram, she hadn’t bothered.

And that’s the catch. For it to be of any great use to most of us, it needs to grow from a line into a network, or at least a circle. And after the ruinous mess and ridiculous cost of the first phase, it is almost inconceivable that we would welcome spending three or four times that to turn it into any kind of “system”, over and above the necessary maintenance costs of what little already exists.

And just for the record, have I ever been on an Edinburgh tram? No. Have I ever even seen an Edinburgh tram go past me? Once. It was empty.

Not so rubbish

TWO black sacks of household rubbish were dumped beside the small litter bin outside our house in the early morning. Foxes spread it all over the pavement so we phoned the council environmental department. Twenty minutes later it had been scooped up. Credit where it’s due.