You don't know me, so let me explain why I'm writing to you. Yesterday I had an appointment for a flu injection. They said I was an hour early, so I had to wait. Actually, I don't think I was, but that's what they said. While I was waiting, the only thing left to read was a women's magazine, and that's where I saw your name.
I see that you advise people on their personal problems. If I tell you about mine, you might be able to help, even though I'm a man and don't make a habit of reading magazines like yours. I don't want you to think I'm a bit funny if you know what I mean.
Let me tell you about myself. My name is Donald Lally, and I am 18, and I like girls, but when I go out with one, there's usually just the one date. Something seems to go wrong, and we don't go out together again.
I know my name doesn't help. At school, Donald Lally was shortened to doolally - which isn't very nice. Unfortunately, the nickname has stuck, and a lot of people still call me that. I do have a second name, but that doesn't help much. A family name on my mother's side is Gladstone. So at school, I got called Gladys. For some reason, I don't understand, girls seem to find that amusing.
Mummy was given that same name, Gladstone, as I was. She doesn't like it either and never uses it if she can help it. Mummy always says it's worth putting up with for the legacy she will get in due course from wealthy relatives up north somewhere. I've never met them. She always makes a point of sending them cards for birthdays and that sort of thing.
I'm quite good-looking. It may sound conceited, but mummy says I'm handsome and I could be a male model. This photograph I'm sending will show you. It was taken when mummy took me along to an Agency about six months ago. He charged a lot to take a few pictures, but apparently, the rewards will be massive when I'm famous. Antonio, the man we met there, promised to send the photos to several top people in the business he knows very well, but nobody has contacted us so far. Perhaps we'll hear soon. I always try to look smart and ready to be available at a moment's notice – passport handy, that sort of thing...
I saw my father yesterday in town. He and mummy split up when I was 10. He wasn't very kind to her, she says, although, if I'm honest, he's always been OK with me. The two of them weren't right for each other - I can see that now as I'm older. After what seemed like years of squabbling, they finally parted when dad took up with another woman. I've met Janice, and I rather like her. That's from just a handful of meetings - never planned - but Morton, where we live, isn't a big place, and you see people around the town. So if I'm with mummy when we see her, I have to pretend not to. The same thing with my dad. That's very difficult as dad always waves and speaks, whether he's with Janice or on his own. As far as mummy is concerned, Janice is "That common shop girl. The trollop from the co-op".
There was one young lady I went out with recently. Her name is Tiffany, and we seemed to be getting on very well. We'd met as arranged, in the town centre and went to the Odeon. I'm not very well up on films and things, so I let her choose. Anyway, after the film, we didn't have time to go for a coffee or anything. I had to rush to catch my last bus, so I left Tiffany at the bus station. When I phoned her the next day, she was very rude to me. She said that even though her bus was on time, she'd still had to wait 20 minutes and had been pestered by 'a horrible old man, and that ended that. Just what else she thought I should have done, I don't know. It was pouring down, and she does live right by a bus stop after all. I'd have had to walk back home over 3 miles in the wet. As it was, when I got home, mummy had to hang up my mac to let it dry, and she insisted I had a hot water bottle when I went to bed. On Saturday morning, she's going to take me down to the shops now that we know my shoes leak.
I thought I knew all the etiquette things a man is supposed to do if he takes a lady out, like walking on the outside of the pavement, for instance, but, quite honestly, expecting a chap to risk catching pneumonia - well, that's just too much.
It won't be like that much longer, though, as I'm taking driving lessons. Mummy lets me drive her Morris Minor to learn in and says that when I pass my test, she'll give me the car as long as I drive her everywhere. She's a very careful driver and always stresses to me how to drive safely. I have taken one test, but the man said I was too cautious with that chap on a bike when he overtook us. Mummy says that the examiner is probably in league with someone who gives lessons and wants me to sign up so he'll get his bit of commission out of it, and, anyway, she's been driving long enough to teach her own son.
Another thing I find confusing is this: who pays when a chap and a girl are out together? I know that traditionally the man is expected to do the honours. This got me in trouble a while back with Davina – who, by the way, prefers to be called Dave. She's very much involved in what mummy refers to as 'women's lib.' She doesn't approve of that sort of thing at all. Dave kept quoting things from the papers for most of our brief time together. Actually, just one paper - The Guardian. I got the impression she reads every single word in it. And she talks non-stop.
We went to the Great Wall – it's a Chinese restaurant in town. Dave/Davina seems to be partial to pints of lager. When the bill came, the waiter gave it to me, so I took out my purse, checked the adding-up, and started counting out the correct amount. This seemed to upset Davina. She snatched the paper from me, glanced at the total, and muttered something rude under her breath. I didn't catch it all but did hear her say something about 'men with purses.' She handed the waiter a couple of banknotes, gave him some extra for a tip, and said to me, "Some of us are in the 21st Century, you know, Gladys. Why don't you come and join us?" We haven't seen each other since that evening.
As I said, Davina drinks lager. At home at Christmas, or special occasions when we have visitors, mummy drinks sweet sherry, and I will have a soft drink like Diet Coke. We never have any strong drink in the house at all. That is because my father enjoyed a glass or two despite mummy's disapproval. She worries it might be hereditary.
It's not only girls. I have no particular men friends either. I'm sure it can't always be me. Let me tell you.
I work in the Treasurer's Department at the Town Hall. The chaps down there are alright, but the sort of things that seem to interest them is not my cup of tea. A lot of their talk is about football, pop music and, of course, girls. And when they do talk about girls, the things they say are often rather vulgar. Some of their language is very rude indeed. I don't swear. Mummy says swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary.
Along with some of their pals, a group of them go on a regular Saturday night out. I went along with them a couple of times. Quite frankly, it wasn't my sort of thing. In the first public house we went to, somebody thrust a large glass into my hand and said something I didn't hear properly. It was only when I saw a name on an advert on the wall I realised that what he'd said was Tennyson's Strong Ales.
As I said, I don't drink, but my intention on visiting a pub for the first time was to treat myself to a dry sherry. It was something I'd been promising myself for a while. When I told the chap I found myself standing next to - someone I hadn't met before - he looked puzzled. I don't think he'd heard me properly as he went off and started to talk to someone else.
I must be honest. I don't remember much of the evening. It seems the others put me in a taxi that took me home. The taxi driver apparently complained bitterly to mummy about the condition I was in and the mess I'd made in his vehicle when I was sick on the back seat. Mummy wasn't pleased. It confirmed many of her thoughts about what she kept calling "The Demon Drink." We have an arrangement so that she allows me to keep some of my salary as pocket money while she banks the rest for me. She follows the financial advice in The Mail on Sunday. The money needed to placate an angry cabbie would be taken from my account, mummy said.
Three weeks later, I was given the chance to go out again with the gang. It was like an ultimatum. If I made a fool of myself, I wouldn't be asked again. "Your chance to redeem yourself." That's how they put it to me.
I'd had a quiet word beforehand with Paul, he's the one of them down in the office I can get along with best, and Paul suggested that I drank a shandy when I went with them all. As it is made of lemonade and beer, it's quite innocuous, apparently. Pints of shandy are safe for a non-drinker, he told me. So Saturday came, and all went well. Initially, that was.
We'd moved on from The Black Swan, had been into the Griffin, and were somewhere else. It was either the third or fourth pub of the evening, And I wasn't sure where we were. I do know that as we were walking across to this other pub, I was feeling very happy and enjoying myself. I tried to start them off singing One man went to mow. One thing I did notice was how uneven the flagstones were in the pavements on that street. They were so badly laid that a couple of times I tripped, and I remember I made a mental note to inform the Highways Department people of a serious danger to the public.
Something was going on, and I didn't know what. A couple of the fellows were looking at me in a slightly strange way - almost aggressively, I thought - and there was some muttering that I felt involved me. I could hear the phrase – 'short arms and deep pockets - I could make it out but didn't understand what it meant. I stumbled at the step as the group went inside. This made me the last going in through the big doors as they held them open for me. The fellows seemed to be waiting for something. Instead of rushing to get drinks, they all just stood back. A couple of them ushered me through to give me a clear passageway to the bar. I could hear a couple of shouts of 'Mine's a pint with somebody else shouting 'Your round, lad. Get 'em in.' Baffled, I looked for Paul. 'Donald. It's your round. You buy everyone a drink. They've been paying for your drinks all night, now it's your turn. That's how it works.'
I'd not heard Paul swear before, and it wasn't nice. It must have been just then when my night out came to an end. Either the bar I was in was in the middle of a minor earthquake - very rare in England, I'd always thought - or I was seriously ill and should be in bed. Paul told me later that I had actually just crumpled to the floor, saying something about waking me in time for work in the morning. I don't remember anything else of the evening.
I do remember waking the next morning on our living room sofa. Mummy had left me there as she couldn't get me upstairs to bed. I felt terrible. My head was throbbing, my throat was dry, and it hurt when I tried to open my eyes and harder still to keep them open. There was not the usual sympathy I would have expected. Instead, Mummy told me - at least three times - how much she'd had to pay the taxi driver for the mess I'd made. It was the very same driver who'd brought me home previously, and according to him, Number 23 Hammond Street was going to be put on to some sort of local taxi blacklist. My appeals for a doctor were ignored, and apart from a cup of tea, I was left to fend for myself for the rest of the day.
On the Monday morning back in the office, I felt that some sort of explanation was called for, but when I spoke to Paul, he was very curt and abrupt with me. Not at all like his usual easy-going self. What he said boiled down to two things. That never again would I be welcome on a night out with the lads, and, more importantly to him personally, I owed him for the drinks he'd bought that I should have paid for. To repay him, I had to go home at lunchtime and face mummy when I asked her to help me out. Paul appeared baffled when I tried to explain that these complicated ritual things involved in going for a quiet drink with friends were all new to me. On the evening in question, I had £5 and some change in my purse and assumed that would have been enough to see me through. How wrong I was.
You may be wondering about my normal social life, Samantha. Actually, it's quite a full one. For instance, on Tuesday evenings, the local Bridge Club meets. Mummy and I go regularly, and I'm the youngest down there by quite a long way. Everyone takes the game very seriously, and no one more than Miss Johnson, who is our President. She is my regular partner, and if my bidding isn't to her satisfaction - or if she doesn't hear properly - it's always my fault. The other event we go to every week is Bingo down at the Conservative club. We have our usual table with some of mummy's friends. Finally, every fourth week there's a Tea Dance. Mummy says I'm an excellent dancer.
Oh, and by the way, we're off on holiday soon. We always go to Paignton and stay with Mrs. Prescott in her boarding house. Same place, same week every year. We're looking forward to it.
Let me just update you with some news. There's a family event coming up, the wedding of a distant cousin, and we are going up to Yorkshire for it. It seems that Mummy, who writes regularly to people, has sent a photo of me, probably the Agency one, to a friend of hers. This lady has a daughter, and the two mothers have arranged for us to meet. Mummy hasn't met her before, but she keeps saying nice things about the young woman. Her name is Edna. I'll keep you posted.
You must get lots of letters every week from people, so I don't expect this one will be anything different from what you've heard before.
I'm a young woman, and I've met a boy. He's gorgeous, he's dishy, he's everything a girl could want. He's a bit younger than me – he's 18, and I'm 25 – but that's not a problem. The thing is that he doesn't seem to want to be with me.
We met four weeks ago on a weekend thing – our mothers are friends – and Donald, that's his name, seemed to like me. He was so polite and attentive. After that first weekend together, I expected we'd see each other a lot, but now he's gone home, and I think he's avoiding me. I've tried ringing and writing but have managed to speak with him just once. He seems to have a great bunch of pals from where he works, and they go out every evening. I'd been asked by his mother to go and stay with them for a few days, but Donald has been sent away by his boss to help out in another office in another town. 'On Secondment,' he called it. It's a weekend arrangement that might go on for quite a while, yet he says.
Since we met, I've worked hard at losing some weight – I was a bit over plump, I must admit (see photo from 2 months back). Donald clearly doesn't like me smoking, so I've cut back to just one packet a day - well, nearly. And I'm trying to remember not to swear so much. In other words, I'm doing all I can to please the man of my dreams, my darling Donald. Wish me luck.
Another one for Mildred, eh Marty? You know what, if our readers ever find out that picture of 'Samantha' we show in every issue is of a woman who's never worked here, we'll be in real trouble. What was it we asked the photo agency for? Around the forty mark ─ well preserved, but not like a Barbie Doll. Understanding, kind face, mature. Perfect for the part of a mother-confessor figure. All from a photo in an agent's file. And what do our readers really get? This month it's Mildred Pinchbeck's turn. What is she? Sixty? Never been near a man and a face like a horse. Still, as long as they keep reading and sending in their little problems, why should we worry? It pays the mortgage and helps to keep the wife happy.