Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Oh to be Charlie’s Aunt

An interesting piece from the 1978 edition of "The Pilot". A prolific writer, I have no idea who she was, and if anyone has any more information, I'd love to hear it. I've added above an advertisement from the same page as the article. Does anyone know if "Pour Madame" still exists? Or shopped there?

Oh to be Charlie’s Aunt
By Edith Gott
(Pilot 1978)

Unashamedly, I confess to an addiction. Neither pub nor smoking den do I frequent, and not one coin of the Realm do I expend thereon. For my straw of comfort I turn to certain magazines and newspapers which I find, well thumbed and dog-eared, while waiting for appointments I have made in town.

"With the Bank manager", you say. Not so, his tract is the Financial Times. Nor at the Doctor's. His is Yachting. (Doctors are natural yachtsmen what with tides running in and sands running out). The publications I refer to are generally found at the Hairdresser's. Yes, you have guessed, I am addicted to the Lonely Hearts' Column.

The writers of these columns (those who answer the questions) are no less intriguing than their clients. They evoke my admiration, both emotional and journalistic. The fact that they are more often than not self-styled "Aunts" may be a clue to their success. An aunt is wiser than a contemporary, and well-removed from the mediate family. (Of course, there is no reason why an uncle-in-reality could not be an aunt-in-print).

Shielded by anonymity, sanctioned by their respective editors, and revered by all, these aunts are marvels of homespun virtue and psychological insight. Powerhouses of wisdom. Comforters of the oppressed. Like pundits do they reign, manfully "doing" their columns week after week, no doubt wishing often that they might exchange their type-writers for tomato frames, like mountaineers who retire to the valleys.

Perhaps, as people we prefer our own problems to those of others - a sort of poor-thing-but-mine-own approach.

Then why do we like to listen or read about the problems of others? If anyone doubt this, let him explain the tremendous success of the programme “If you Think You've Got Problems”. Could it be that we get mental re-assurance from the magnitude of other people's problems. On the other side of the fence the grass is greener, the problem meaner?

On the same analogy as the client in the Lonely Hearts' Column but trying a different tactic, is the advertiser who appears more and more frequently in the Personal column. Instead of writing a letter and expecting an editorial answer, this person states his requirement, "a kindly lady" or "a cultured gentleman", and leaves the rest to Fate.

The Lonely Hearts' Column caters for those who want advice in a particular dilemma; the Personal advertisement is for those who know their problem (or think they know it) and are seeking a way out.

Laugh as we do at their seeming naiveté, both reflect the "still, sad music of humanity" and in the light of what is revealed both "have ample power to chasten and subdue."

To begin with the Lonely Hearts. Recently an "aunt" on one of the weeklies published a letter from Susan Craig in Scotland who is intensely interested in ballet. Judging from her friends' interest in their boyfriends, Susan, who confesses that she gets more pleasure from ballet than from boys, is concerned about her normality. She adds, almost as irrelevant, that she is thirteen.

Mr Larcom, from East Anglia, has a different sort of problem. He is 70. He is desirable. Two women are after his hand in marriage, but he is hesitant about committing his heart and possibly jeopardizing his capital. The snag is that one woman is a compulsive supporter of good causes (over-seas at that) and the other is a Bingo fan. Perhaps Mr Larcom should look outside the missions and the gaming

With those who advertise in the Personal column one is at a disadvantage as far as piecing together their story. Only a few facts are offered, "of a certain age" and "with a view to matrimony" being the most common. All the rest is pure conjecture. But as every author knows, one can build mightily on two or three words. I believe that those who use the Personal advertisement are essentially honest and direct. Here is a twentieth century heaven-sent medium that just might turn up trumps - far more reliable than trusting to one's friends to come up with one's own particular type of charmer.

Miss Ida Hathaway is more coy than most, and finds the lending library in her, part of Cumbria not up to scratch, so she wishes to correspond with "one of the opposite sex" with a view to sharing books and writing about same. A great many years ago, a namesake of hers did captivate a literary gentleman, but no need then to rely on the post as they both lived in Stratford.

Another lady states her preference for an escort with a fast new car. It sounds as if she had an humiliating experience which left her touchy-about-cars. Someone should tell her there's more to life than hitching your wagon to a car.

More women than men seem to advertise in the Personal section - here is one place where the most timid can take the initiative. I must confess I was a bit puzzled to read the' other day that a mink farmer from Sussex had advertised for a "companionable lady interested in wild-life". Though these are nasty little animals, any mink farmer worth his pelts should know that a woman might easily become interested in them under his tutelage. Anyway, I hope he got his Woman and she her Mutation.

The Lonely Hearts' Column and the Personal advertisement have become a feature of many British publications, whether we like it or not. The human situation, with its perplexities and contradictions, does not change.

May we talk more about it. We can, and do, identify with the guys and dolls who push their problems over to Auntie. And I predict that more and more papers will procure an editorial Aunt. Perhaps (who knows?) even this one.

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