Whatever Next

I was rummaging around my blog, looking for something I’d written a while back and came across this, written for my first anniversary of blogging in April 2015. I offer it up for… well you decide.

The Le Pard family, circa 1972. You can almost smell those festering hormones in those teenagers

WordPress announced yesterday that I have passed a year of blogging with some 370 posts under my belt. It is difficult, of course, to have an e-party so to celebrate instead, you, my dear readers are offered a special post that, I hope, will titillate and tease: it’s all about smut.

‘It’s just a bit of rumpty-tumpty. Oh nurse!’

The 1960s are often thought of as a defining period in the transition between the generations.  If you were adult before the 1960s kicked off then you stayed adult – you stayed staid if you like. If you were born just before (so your formative years were the 1960s) or at any time after then you belong to one of the frequently name-checked ‘generations’: My Generation, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Now. What that means is I probably have more in common with my children than I ever had with my parents in terms of the music I enjoy, how we dress, how I spend my leisure time, what I ingest and so on. And in particular our attitudes to sex. The freedom to talk about it, enjoy it even.

Principally that stems from the ability to have sex without the consequences that stalked my parents every careless fumble. That in turn leads to a freedom with which we can discuss it, to acknowledge its existence even. The way it is described on the page, on stage and on screen – these are now commonplace. And the 1960s changed everything. That is the received wisdom, isn’t it?

Really? Well, like all sea changes there is a transitional period and, growing up in a New Forest cottage in the middle of bloody nowhere in the 1960s and 70s, I was in the middle of that transition.

How I kept my mind off sex : 1.painting shed roofs

There’s still to this day a time line that is spoken of in connection with British TV and that is the ‘watershed’. 9pm. This is the time after which programmes with any adult content can be shown. Violence, difficult subject matter and, especially any with a direct sexual component can be broadcast. Being born in 1956 puts me in what I’ve come to realise is The Watershed Generation.

Attitudes towards sex were changing but the old guard and the old attitudes still held sway. Especially in the backside of nowhere where I lived. If you like I’m part of the 8.45pm Generation. We were that close to enjoying some post watershed fun and frolics but, more often than not, it was tantalisingly out of reach.

Avoiding base practices: blowing up a large ball….

Back in 1969, when I started at my secondary school, I was meant, as a twelve year old, to receive some sort of sex education. But it was just my luck that I changed schools at twelve and due to some badly organised timetabling I missed the lessons. My only formal sex education came at fourteen and involved a cartoon film explaining the mysteries of venereal disease followed by a cringe inducing discussion group.  That’s rather like being offered the promise of sticky toffee pudding but missing out yet still ending up with tooth decay and a trip to the dentist.

If the urges are overwhelming: Climb a tall tree wearing heavy leather gloves…

Needless to say my parents were not about to make up for the shortfall. No, my first sex education came at Scout camp, somewhere in the Dorset countryside near the visibly priapic Hardy Monument. I mean it was inevitable: six boys aged between 11 and 15 in a tent for a week and you learn quite a bit, mostly through the use of bizarre metaphors and euphemisms involving trains and tunnels and, oddly toad in the hole (that delicious sausage and batter British staple has always had, for me, a certain additional frisson). The jigsaw pieces did, however, begin to fit.

Hard to believe they’d be interested in, erm, you know. That knitwear..

And if there was any ambiguity I wasn’t about to ask and neither my mother nor my father were about to explain any of this to me. My father, whose Saturday nights were spent at the local Rugby club, famously could never sing nursery rhymes to my brother and me because after the first line the only words he knew were wholly inappropriate. Jack and Jill went up the Hill, Tum-te-tum-te- tum-tum. In all his years, on all the walks we went on together he never managed to enlighten my what Jack and Jill did up that hill.

I suppose this was a problem confronted down the generations, this delicate subject dealt with in code. The problem for us, my parents on one side and my brother and me on the other was that new device: THE TV.

By 1970 nearly every family had one, sitting in pride of place in their sitting room (lounge or parlour). And you watched it together. In 1970 we still only had 3 channels and colour was for the rich or desperate. My parents had many modern traits, one of which was a willingness to embrace drama and documentaries, sharing things with the two of us nascent teens.

Play for today for instance. We saw some excellent stuff which, for a family stuck out on the edge of a piece of heather coated bog would otherwise have been denied us. But what you couldn’t know, especially from the programme information in the Radio Times, was what the sexual component of such programmes might be. Oh sure there were plays such as The Sex Olympics – that sort of gave you a hint – and you were pretty sure if Dennis Potter had written it for the Wednesday Play or Saturday Night Theatre there would be something in there with scope to embarrass – he was the man who brought us Casanova. Not much chance of us watching that as a family.

There soon developed a process to counter this problem. We would sit and watch, a bit like Gogglebox today, occasionally commenting, one or other parent dozing off. Then some trigger – a top removed and hands reaching behind a back for a bra clip or – horrors – trousers or a skirt being removed; and dad would harrumph, mum would struggle to her feet and head for her sewing box which was strategically placed in front of the TV, ostensibly to retrieve a critical bobbin or needle, but in fact to give her time to assess the content of the next scene; while the Archaeologist would curl into a ball, feigning embarrassment but all the time watching the screen.

‘Shall we watch the news?’ ‘What about a coffee, Barbs?’ ‘Haven’t you some homework to finish?’

No one ever spoke about what was on the screen beyond a subsequent comment that  ‘it was unnecessary.’

Of course it remains the case that no one can imagine their parents ever had sex – we are all adopted, or at least we would all be slightly more comfortable if we had been. But today if there is sex on screen we are all able to share a good story without that same terrible tension filling the room.

And what did he do to his right wrist

There’s one story that best sums this up.

By way of background you might need to know that, back in the 1970s there was a deal of mythology floating around about a totally natural practice (especially beloved of teenage boys  though having read Caitlin Moran’s How To Build a Girl, I’m aware it isn’t an exclusively male preserve). Even Monty Python, in their Big Red Book called it ‘The Difficult One’ and indicated that were you to indulge such practices you might go blind or, worse, end up voting Conservative. And never was the technical expression used for such a solitary entertainment even amongst one’s peer group – oh no. You might ‘polish percy’ or ‘whack the bishop’.

One evening we were watching the third episode of an adaptation of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin. This was a gritty rewrite, much beloved of mum and tolerated by dad. In the lead roles a young Alan Rickman played opposite Kate Nelligan. The action had reached a crucial point: Therese and her lover, having murdered Therese’s awful husband, are trying to restore their affair to its former passion.

Picture the scene: dad is dozing, mum is partly watching and partly sewing and we boys are glued to the screen. Why? Because Ms Nelligan is stark naked, as is Mr Rickman (not that we focused on him) and neither parent seems to have spotted this turn of events.

‘What’s wrong?’ pleads the delightfully déshabillé Ms N? ‘Why can we not make love?’

These are trigger words causing mum to look up. She disturbs dad, who stirs.

At this moment Alan Rickman jumps from the bed, clutching a sheet strategically to cover his privates. In a loud voice he declaims,

‘We must master fate.’

That was, in retrospect perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase. Dad is, by now, wide awake and frankly goggling the screen. He looks at mum, back at the shocking scene confronting him and says, ‘Surely not, Barbara? Not on the BBC.’

The only solution? Go and chase butterflies….

Or better still leave it to your much more impressively proportioned family boxer…

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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25 Responses to Whatever Next

  1. bevveaseywalshe says:

    I missed this first time around so TRUE! ALL of it :)))
    And I rember that VD film!
    Bev

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I could probably let you know the words to Jack and Jill if you still want to know!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. joylennick says:

    Loved it, Pete! Having been born even earlier, ‘it’ was NEVER DISCUSSED in front of the children and I might just write a post myself on such a subject… I can recall one outstanding date when I watched a French film, aged sixteen, with a ‘young man’.in a cinema, and during one passionate love scene (surely scorching the screen!), when you just KNEW what the couple were dong, the camera moved slowly around the room, with muted sound effects in the background, while I thought my blushes would ignite my hair! .I couldn’t wait for it to end…How times have changed. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I think we all contributed to early examples of global warming with such things. We studied Romeo and Juliet for O level and in 1973 we were taken to see the new Fellini film. At one point we were treated to a brief and blurry example of Olivia Hussey’s nipple. Our English master, the Rev CTN Waters never really recovered.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. willowdot21 says:

    I enjoyed this first and second time! Something I still can’t understand, why are you tied to the top of a tree? What heriticable act had you commited? … Did they actually set fire to you ?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Darlene says:

    This is very funny. Raised on a farm, we didn’t need TV or sex ed to show us how it was done. I recall watching the BBC adaptation of Therese Raquin on Masterpiece Theatre in the early 1980s. It was excellent, but the one we saw featured the amazing Kate Nelligan and Brian Cox. It was shown after my children were in bed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wot about us who became 18 in 1960? We had to get engaged and wait

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Curiously old-fashioned clobber, even for the 70s…
    Especially on the BBC!
    I feel part of that in-between generation too. It was never discussed but equally there was the expectation and acceptance that you would do it at some stage because of easy protection, but absolutely no discussion about how to! I was 16 before I found out the mechanics of it all and another 3-4 years before … ‘it’.
    Evocatively recalled. Flesh creeping nicely.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. JT Twissel says:

    I remember this post — I also published on the Twissel blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoyed this very much, Geoff.

    Like

  10. As you know, we are very close in age and this is awfully familiar territory! As is your mum’s powder blue dress because I can just see my own mum wearing something very similar.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. petespringerauthor says:

    They never taught us about painting roof sheds during sex education class. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  12. noelleg44 says:

    I was sixteen in the early 1960s and THAT was never discussed EVER. My parents even had a discussion about whether I was old enough to see the movie Mr. Roberts!
    Do you ever wish to go back?

    Liked by 1 person

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