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Press Recognizes No Shield for the Naked Truth

October 16, 1989|JACK SMITH

There is a quality of the bizarre about British news events as reported in British newspapers that seems lacking in the American press.

Perhaps it has something to do with the British stiff upper lip in the face of the most sanguinary circumstances. England is the nation, after all, that produced Jack the Ripper and Mr. Hyde.

When they do not deal with bloodshed and horror, they are equally provocative in reporting the most mundane events, especially those that occur in the provinces. I remember the story of a man who sued a pub because his dog was not served a beer.

Ed Stalcup of Malibu sends me a story from the London Times about an alarming rise in the number of postmen who are bitten by dogs. It seems the dogs are becoming larger and more aggressive. One is said to have leaped through the open window of a postman's delivery van and bit him on the arm. Another is said to have crashed through the glass front door of a house in Bristol and attacked a postman in the driveway.

Postmen have tried several defensive tactics, including the use of a whistle that emits a sound intimidating to dogs, but with little success. "Postmen have also been advised to face dangerous dogs down by getting down on all fours and looking them straight in the eye," the Times reported.

"I do not think anyone was quite brave enough to try that," a Post Office spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Thomas F. Homann of San Diego sends me a wire story from the Los Angeles Daily Journal with the dateline Hull, England. It reports that a man who bit his neighbor's dog was fined $373 for cruelty. The defendant, Shaun Desborough, claimed that he was trying to calm the dog when the dog bit him, so he bit him back.

As every newspaper reporter knows, when a dog bites a man, it is not news; but when a man bits a dog . . .

There is also a horrifying little item from The Times reporting that Britain's 5 million cats kill 70 million smaller animals and birds every year. Mr. Peter Churcher, head of biology at Bedford School, said that "well-fed and contented cats are often ruthless killers," and are responsible for half the deaths of sparrows every year.

Meanwhile, the news from Ireland is less bloody, for a change. A three-column photograph on Page 1 of the Irish Times (I have lost the sender's name) shows a young woman climbing quite naked from a pool of water into a crowd of about 40 persons on the bank. I see the faces of two women in the crowd and five or six small boys. The others are yawping men. All are in swimming gear or dressed.

The story explains that the nude swimmer, rock singer Mary Downes, 24, was protesting the de facto exclusion of women from the waters of Forty Foot at Sandycove, County Dublin, which was described as "a male-only bathing place since 1835." Half a dozen other women, topless, joined in the demonstration, which attracted a crowd of 500--mostly men.

Several men were quoted as sneering at the demonstration as "a cheap publicity stunt," but one woman said men made women unwelcome when they tried to swim at Forty Foot by crowding around them and dropping their towels.

A 13-year-old boy, Paul Hatton, said he had cycled down from Deansgrange to support the women. He said, "I think the women should be able to swim where they like."

One man said, "I come here to get some peace away from women. I don't want them here. There's lots of other places for them to go to. I'd never gate-crash a women's only club."

My sympathies are of course with the women. Why should they have to subject themselves to such a humiliating exhibition to gain access to a public beach? I must ask myself, though, whether I would have been among that gawking crowd.

I like to think I would have stayed away, out of respect for the women's dignity. On the other hand, the women wanted an audience, or what was the point?

All things considered, as a gesture of support I'd probably have been there watching Ms. Downes climb out of the water.

Tell you the truth, I'd probably have ridden my bicycle down.

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