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Two days on, and my stint is about to finally end. (And by now I don’t care if that is tautologous; three months in the Forces does as little for one’s command of the English language as it does for self-esteem.,But I knew I would need to brush up fast on my return to Broadcasting House.) For today, in my concluding assignment, we were to yomp six miles through rough terrain, in sweltering summer heat. And guess who was officer-in-charge.

“Craven, come here!” These were the first words Spraggon had uttered in my direction since the ordeal, and it was as if nothing had ever taken place, in fact she oozed an air of practised insouciance. “You’ll need some protection on that head, Private.” I apologised and made to find my cap. “Don’t be a cretin all your life, Private, you know you only wear that in the line-up. I mean sun screen, of course. And yes, I know you don’t have any, which is why I do!” I winced. Another excuse to get off rubbing my head, no doubt. But I had no need to worry on that account; there was nothing even remotely sexual about the crude way she shoved the stuff into my cranium and, oddly, eyebrows. Which came as some relief. And it must have been the most evil smelling sun lotion ever sold, a viscous, blue, stinky liquid. “Where did you get that from?” I enquired, when the job was done. The reply was calculated and cold. “Never you mind, Private. The main thing is, it does the job. Now run for your life.” So for six miles, I did.

At long last; sweaty, filthy, bodily and mentally drained, I turned to face Camera 2 for the final curtain call. Being under no illusions as to that which would make tomorrow’s `head’ lines, I decided to confront the issue, as you might say, head on: “I have been labelled, amongst other things, as GI Jane for sometime now, so, in the true Army tradition of `If you can’t beat `em, join `em’, I’ve let the whole thing go to my head, as it were.” That’s the fluff. Now for the speech. “But don’t worry, normal service will be resumed from now on, and I have to say, the Army themselves will probably breathe a similar sigh of relief when I walk out of those gates in one hour’s time! I have to say, it has been a gruelling experience for myself, physically, of course, but also in a psychological fashion that I had never quite envisaged. Unless you have experienced it at first hand, you will never quite realise just how it feels to be a woman in the Forces. The expression `second-class citizen’ doesn’t do it justice. You can’t really fight, or use a large weapon, or reproduce, you can’t even swear like the men do without some kind of censure. Try to question the culture, and they in turn will question your sexuality; and so the men have it both ways. It is the unfairness, the whole inequity of modern life writ large; a place where male perceptions, male prejudices, and prehistoric male attitudes still rule the roost. A place where testosterone talks and misogyny is the medium, and for a woman to ever consider making something of herself, she must first fashion herself into the nearest thing possessing a penis. I should know, for two days ago I was all but raped by a…”

I never saw the perpetrator of my imminent revelation until she had wrested the microphone from my grasp. Thereupon, with the help of two male heavies, Jude the cameraman was thrown to the ground and my precious tape, and with it the week’s footage, ripped out and carried away. As the foul dyke grinned in my direction, her final communication was delivered between decaying yellow teeth: “You won’t be seeing that again, sunshine. Now fuck off.” Like a fool I hadn’t noticed Spraggon standing behind me, less than five yards away, and now I would have to face my employers with a job only half done.

“Come!” As a rule, one never actually saw the Director-General, his was almost a semi-mythical beast, a figure whose name was only ever uttered in breathy, intonations. The DG’s say-so was the only one of any import; it was the DG who hired and fired, commissioned and de-commissioned, renewed your contract or – well, the alternative wasn’t even worth entertaining. Now I was the one summoned to appear before the almighty, and His jaunty tone of voice seemed immediately at odds with his countenance. “Ah, Jane, come in, I’ve been wanting a word with you. How’s the Army been treating you recently?” He knew full well of course, and seemed most unmoved by my obvious discomfort. “Er, well, maybe not with as much respect as they wanted from me, sir..” “Ah, no, I guess not. Shall I tell you then, how the Army have been treating us, recently?” The tone was quiet and unnerving, and I could only manage an embarrassed gulp for a reply. “Well: Following on from another of your neo-feminist rantings to camera, you are no doubt aware that they confiscated your material and promptly destroyed it. When we then tried to instigate proceedings in regard to breach of contract, the Army themselves presented a counter-suit against us, the Corporation, citing intimidation, sexual harassment, and numerous counts of slander including allegations of assault by a senior officer.” “WHAT….?” I could hardly believe I was hearing this. “The fact is, sir, that the senior officer assaulted me! You have to believe that. Why would I lie?” I knew what his comeback would be. This is the media, after all, and if it ain’t on film then it never happened.

“What she did or not is largely irrelevant, without any proof! Can you support the allegation? I didn’t think so. What IS relevant, however, is after having wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of our money, in order to save both our face and further expense we are now advised to drop our claim. Which means your documentary is unfinished and therefore useless. In other words, a great deal of time, work and money and absolutely zilch to show for it. Another thing. What was the point of news updates without a conclusion?” He gave out a long sigh. So did I, having just spied the legend engraved on the desk: `Director General – Mr. Greg Dyke.’ Yes that really was his name. The irony wasn’t lost, but any humour was. “You were always such a bright spark, Jane. Even at Channel 5, I followed your progress from local radio to local TV and onwards, and upwards. I noted your ready wit, radiant smile and curious hairdos. And what happened there? You are aware that BBC stands for British Broadcasting Corporation, not Bald By Choice!” I felt nothing. For he is referring to me in the past tense. “We had high hopes for you, Jane. Up till now your star had been rising as fast as any in the firmament. We thought the Forces assignment would be perfect with your sassy style and eye for the angle, but instead you had to turn it into a feminist tract, some crusade about women’s rights. I mean, God knows, I’ve done as much as humanly possible to further the prospects of women in the media, but there’s a time and a place… such a shame. Look, I won’t keep it from you any longer. I’m afraid we won’t be renewing your contract as from next month, and you have two weeks holiday to take, so this is your last day. I’m sorry, Jane, but we had no choice. Is there anything you wish to say before you leave the building?” But when you feel so numb your mouth won’t even move, such a question is quite superfluous.

So here I am, all alone in my London apartment, with a huge mortgage to pay and precious little with which to pay it. All my attempts at re-entering television have foundered on account of my appearance. You probably guessed it all along, dear reader; that wasn’t sun screen I was wearing on that ruinous final day. The trichologist tells me what ever it was destroyed every single follicle on my head, rendering me totally hairless until the day I die. Oh, I could wear wigs, but when you’ve built your career around eccentric, experimental, trendsetting hairstyles then the comparison pales into insignificance. I know that, and so do prospective employers, and so do the public. Another thing; until shit happens you have no idea how shallow the whole media celebrity thing is. Straight off, ins
tant isolation; they’re all `too busy’, and the phone stays silent. No one wants to know a failure, even less a bald one with no eyebrows. I feel a freak. I am a freak. If someone ever again says to me, “Jane, you’re one of us.”, I’d have to ask this: Please, tell me straight, what exactly do you mean by: Us??

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