Damsels In Distress: Articles

This section contains articles written by Alan Ayckbourn about the Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays. Click on a link in the right hand column to read the other articles in this section.

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the world premiere of GamePlan at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during 2001.

Schoolday Memories

From the age of seven I was educated privately at all-male boarding schools. During that period, I spent a third of my life at home and two thirds at school (which I gradually came to regard as home). Contact for the most of us with the opposite sex of our own age was rare or non-existent.

Our knowledge of women, psychologically and physical, was, to say the least, sketchy. When one thirteen-year-old arrived back from the holidays with the surprising fact imparted by a friend of his sister's that mature women were physically incapable of raising their arms above their head, who were we to disprove him?

"It's to do with their breasts," he confided. "She told me and she should know." Some of us were doubtful; but none of us, come to think of it, could ever recall a single woman of our acquaintance lifting her arms fully above her head. Athletes did, yes. But they of course had had some sort of operation. But normal women? The dispute grew heated and in the end a committee was dispatched to the village shop where a certain surly but full-breasted assistant was in charge of the grocery counter.

Our spokesman stepped forward. "We'd like, please," he requested sweetly, "some of those on the top shelf." He pointed high above her head at a tin of biscuits. She fixed him with a hostile eye and sighed. She looked at us and then at the shelf and then back at us. "Are you quite sure?" she asked suspiciously.

"Yes, please."

"They have to be those, do they?" "Yes, please."

There was now an air of tension. Would she summon a male assistant? Would she ask one of us to perform this, for her, impossible task? Or would her arms miraculously extend way up above her head to pluck the tin swiftly and effortlessly from the shelf? Instead, she walked to a far corner of the store. The Lobby for Restricted Female Mobility were already sensing victory. She returned with a small pair of steps, climbed them and with two perfectly horizontal arms brought the tin down; for which we, the Women's Freedom of Arm Movement Movement, as losers, were forced to pay.

Sadly, given this clear evidence, I was forced to concede that women were in many ways, poor souls, an inferior species. Actually, it wasn't until the beginning of the following term when my mother, both arms above her head, waved me off at the station, that I began to have fresh doubts.

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