I noted with interest recent newspaper reports about the demise of a former colleague.
When I knew her, Di was a tough cookie; a blond, plump journalist with a mouth on her second to none. After work some of us would gather at the Café Royal across the road from the Argus. The reporters always had the best stories, and they, especially Di would listen with slight irritation when lesser lights from the Works or Management tried to chime in with stories of their own. Adding to the journalists’ distaste for us was the knowledge that they generally got paid less than lesser mortals.
One Friday in the 70s Di announced to those near her that she needed a British passport: “There are stories in Africa that I want to do. I would marry a Briton just to get into countries that don’t accept South African passports.”
So I went over to a rowdy group of chaps from the Works – the guys that set the type and made the plates and operated the machinery that printed the paper. I chose a small good-looking guy with a lively sense of humour and an English accent – call him Ray. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Have you got a British passport?’
“Of course – I was born there. Why?”
“Di wants to marry somebody with a British passport so she can get into the rest of Africa; would you do it for a lark?”
“Sure – but she’ll have to pay for a party for me mates.”
I took Ray over to a surprised Di and told her that I had found her a possible husband.
She ignored his good looks and cut straight to the chase: “Have you got a British passport? Will you enter into a marriage of convenience? What do you want in return?”
Once she’d got satisfactory answers she said, “I’ll get a lawyer to draw up a contract that you agree to divorce me as soon as I’ve got my British passport.”
“That’s fine as long as I have a big party for me mates.”
While they negotiated on the size of the party, which was growing ever larger in Ray’s mind, I cut in with, “There’s one complication: the marriage has to be consummated to make it legal.”
“Oh no”, said Di. Even Ray looked a little doubtful.
That’s when his mates, who’d had a few, became chivalrous. “I’ll consummate it”, said one. “No, I will”, said another.
Di looked daggers at me as a succession of Works guys, big, small, drunk and sober gallantly offered to consummate her marriage. There was much laughter on one side, and increasing sourness on the other.
Soon after that I was transferred to another division of the company away from the centre of town.
A few years later I came back to the main office as promotions manager. One day I was on my way to the news editor’s desk to ask for his help in doing some stories to boost a couple of forthcoming events that the company was sponsoring. My heart sank slightly when I noticed that Di was deputising for him that day. I arranged my features into a smile and went up to her. That’s when I heard those three words we so seldom hear outside of lover’s quarrels: “I hate you!”
I decided that any repartee conducted in front of the newsroom was not likely to end in victory for me, so I waited till John got back to his desk a few days’ later. I had wanted to explain that I was only trying to be helpful that day in the Café Royal, and that I had done well to find her a suitable husband so quickly. It wasn’t my fault that negotiations had ended in farce.
But I knew that the only reply I was likely to get from Di was, “Eff off.”
So Di, if you are in a happier place now I hope that Ray and his mates will join you one day, and you can all have that party. This time there won’t be any bawdy banter, because I understand that there is happiness in heaven without hanky-panky.