At Henley men become extrovert and blossom forth in a welter of stripes and colours, whilst women are like waves of fluttering silk.
The lengths to which women will go in order to draw attention to themselves is a phenomenon that men find difficult to understand. Some time ago I heard of a female who had been seen walking down Bond Street with a live mouse in her hat. The tiny rodent was imprisoned in what was described as a pillbox of transparent plastic and was clearly visible to the passer-by, whom it, for its part, was in a vantage point to eye as it travelled impressively through their midst like a miniature maharajah on a very large elephant.
A moment's reflection indicates the advantages of such a novelty. The female had solved the nightmare of how to begin a conversation with a stranger, be it at Henley, Wimbledon, or any of the colourful events of the Season. No longer need the interesting man sitting near her at luncheon be at a loss for something to say. Even the dullest cricketing bore could sparkle. The flow need not be one-sided, for though he might be intrigued by her fatuous answers to his questions, she in turn could be scarcely less interested in what her invisible pet was doing in its little conning-tower. Altogether a novel twist to the instinctive underlying motive that hides behind the feline amatorial approach during the campaigning weeks of the Season.
The signs are not confined to Bond Street, for only a small percentage of the female population has the time to indulge in a summer of languorous sophisticated interludes. Even so, there is a tendency for those whose spare time is limited to skirmish round the fringe of the Season. After all, only the race-course at Ascot separates jellied eels from champagne. Those on stand and heath enjoy equally the excitement and urgency of the moment. Many a female adds inches to her imaginary status by cultivating an air of social superiority when returning to her employment after one of these jaunts. It adds an edge to her matrimonial skirmishing, which always seems to become intensified during these weeks of general social activity. The pattern is more or less orthodox and familiar to all except the unfortunate victim, who eventually may imagine that he is in love. The symptoms are unmistakable. He becomes egotistical and deludes common-sense into believing that the woman of his choice wants to marry him for himself alone, a naive outlook due to lack of understanding of the feminine approach to the subject. Women may say that the topic is not one for cynical levity. My contention is that it is about time that a mere male told these ladies something of the truth of their own motives.
No doubt there are variations to the theme. Techniques change, but as one grows older there is neither the time nor the deske to keep abreast of the latest developments. By convention we are conservative in habit. The link between this topic and the London Season may seem slender, but the influence of the latter is so persuasive and widespread that for the sake of potential male victims the symptoms ought to be enumerated and analysed. Some of the categories seem to vary little, one in particular the secretary-type hardly alters at all. Invariably shrewd, she approaches her career in scientific fashion. Knowing that such work can only result in a curved spine and ever-spreading hips, the time spent on such unfeminine activities must be made as short as possible, otherwise the chances of her appearing at Phyllis Court during the Royal Regatta in anything less than a bathchair are slight. An obvious solution is a brief private secretarial career. The main thing is to avoid the typing-pool, that stuffy cemetery of unmarried drones. Sympathy for these females is often wasted. Many are content with their working-heaven, provided they have never heard of the text which informs us that there shall be no marrying in heaven. A few solace themselves with the thought that if only some high executive could see them, all would be well. The odds are that the fellow has already inspected them from afar, hence the relegation to earphones and wax cylinders.
Becoming a private secretary to a lonely chief executive calls for special qualities. Getting him to approve across a wide expanse of shining desk is only the beginning. It is here that some of the tricks practised by women on their escorts at Wimbledon, Lord's and Henley can be of use. The right facial expressions must be practised, likewise postures and hand-movements... the last-named can be copied from the artistic contortions seen in the viewing galleries of the Royal Academy. Hair, teeth, and figure need constant attention. Extravagance with hosiery and the right kind of perfume is more important than mastering the rudiments of shorthand and the mysteries of the typewriter. Having completed such formalities, the female sizes-up her employer. A safe assumption is that however brilliant may be his reputation as a businessman, he is first of all a man, with many vulnerable, probably adolescent, sides to his nature. All these will emerge once she gets him alone in his private office.
An experienced female knows all the moves. Every employer comes under the heading of an occupational risk, for there is no guarantee that he will react favourably to the sudden urge to sew a button on his jacket, in short, the psychiatric, almost confidante approach. An elementary move is to adopt the trick used so effectively on the river. A female draped elegantly on the cushions of a punt suddenly ceases to notice the distractions of May Week, and gases with what she imagines is rapt admiration at the perspiring male who is struggling to master the current, control the ungainly pole, and avoid getting his slacks drenched with water every time he lifts the cumbersome object out of the river. Similar tactics in the office consist of gazing at an employer when he is dictating so as to register signs of awe or appreciation at relevant passages. The slogan of most women during the Season, whatever their activities, is that it always pays to flatter by inference. The private secretary soon discovers that if her nose is stuck in the note-book, the only things that register are her ears, by no means the most potent part of her anatomy. But if progress goes to schedule, the dictation part of the work should soon be reduced to a minimum. The few letters that have to be written should be placed before him immediately he comes in from lunch. A fountain-pen that works is handed to him so that the impact of hands lasts a split-second longer than is necessary... an old move equally effective with wine-glass, magazine, or anything suitable that happens to be around. One thing must be remembered... a sweet innocent look is essential. The expression often requires considerable practice to look convincing. The main thing is not to over-do it.
Another line of approach is to cultivate the personal interest. Every big executive has some form of occupational disease. Quite likely a lively imagination stimulated by one of the many sporting events making headline news will attribute his complaint to past participation in such athletic tests. The main thing is never to suggest that they are weaknesses or infirmities, only indispositions that need vitamin-pills, hormones, and the attention of a young healthy secretary.
The question of personal appearance is important. Few men expected to see the day when women would get sunburned in the places they do now. Such extrovert gestures must be controlled. In spite of the dictates of fashion most employers prefer their private secretary to be adequately clad. The 'art of smiling' ranks high on the list, only many fail to make sure that their make-up matches the expression. Only experience and a few setbacks can convince that an over-daubed mouth and badly tinted hair have a peculiar effect on some employers.
Some secretaries gain the reputation of being brilliant conversationalists. The secret is simple and can be seen in operation at almost every function associated with the Season. It can be adapted for almost any sphere of feminine operation. The woman seldom talks and becomes a sympathetic listener. General topics are avoided. Every subject must be personal and intimate. In the case of the designing secretary the answers take longer and the artificial relationship of employer and employee disappears quicker if his interests, hobbies and weaknesses are discovered, and wondering questions are asked of the oracle. The main thing is to let the man talk. It is here that expression is important. Generally speaking, provocative eyes and wrinkled-up nose are usually effective, provided she remembers to keep the lips slightly parted, with the body leaning a trifle forward. The pose needs practice, otherwise the result looks somewhat silly.
There are alternatives. She can become a manicurist, when hands can be held from the outset, or perhaps an authoress... but second thoughts suggest that after all no intelligent women ever work... at least during the Season... they leave that to men.London Season. Louis T. Stanley; with illustrations by Alan Crisp; prefaced by Alfred Noyes. [www.archive.org] [As Written]