I heard about the death of a well known TV personality recently. Bamber Gascoigne hosted University Challenge throughout my transition from child to adult, with his ‘starters for ten’ and ‘no conferring’. I doubt he resonated beyond the restrictive boundaries of over intellectual quiz shows on the Beeb and, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’d really remember him save for his link to my sexual health education.
Ha, that’s got you interested. Back in the early days of the 1970s when we’d yet to confront the oil crisis, banking crashes and toilet roll shortages – yep, history does tend to repeat itself – I had moved schools to a former grammar school in Brockenhurst in the New Forest. A rural idyll? Oh bollocks it was. Even the school motto: Inter silvas, quarere verum – loosely, in the trees we find the truth – is somewhat ambiguous and might be better explained by the variety of hallucinogenic happy mushrooms available thereabouts as any educational aspirations. It was isolated, theoretically liberal and almost totally dull.
However we were promised sex education lessons. Maybe today’s almost teens are more sophisticated but to this youth brought up on a diet of Benny Hill and a father, who never finished a nursery rhyme because the only versions he knew had been rewritten for his rugby club – Jack and Jill tee-tummed up and down that bloody hill and as for little Miss Muffet, well it was anyone’s guess what she got up to on her tuffet – the idea of being informed about things sex based was both thrilling and utterly terrifying.
I’m rather short of the details but two things stand out: the sheer horror we all felt that followed the teacher’s failure to include an explanation of the appropriate scale to be applied when he described one consequence of having sex might be a nest of crabs living in our genitals; and the graphic way the transmissibility of VD was portrayed.
This latter section involved a rather crappy cartoon of stick people of various ages and dressed in a variety of clothes sliding past each other while a voice over, in dark ‘nuclear war is nigh’ tones warned us of the ease with which the various types of venereal disease could be transmitted. To represent those who had this awful affliction a green cross hatching appeared on the groin area of the sufferers and as one with green cross hatching passed the other, the green cross hatching transferred.
There was a certain incredulity that we could walk past someone and catch these diseases so easily, but we all took comfort from the fact that we would at least be warned by the tell-tale and highly visible hatching adhering to such persons trousers or skirts and could take appropriate diversionary action to avoid being snared. Inevitably I suppose, various posters around the school that had pictures of members of staff on them were defaced with green cross hatching.
This particular past-time reached peak graffito when a picture of the host of University Challenge appeared one day – Mr B Gascoigne – culled from the Radio Times, I suppose – with the ubiquitous green cross hatching applied to his genital area and with his name amended to
And that’s how he’s always been known, at least in a small area of South Hampshire.
I started listening to Miriam Margolyes’ autobiography the other day – ‘This Much Is True’. In an early chapter she mentioned that, as a Jew she might no longer believe Judaism’s religious tenets but she did follow some of the cultural associations to this day eg she had never had a bacon sarnie.
My upbringing had some vague CofE elements and for a time the Archaeologist and I were dispatched to Sunday School at a local Methodist Church as much for the moral and religious education as to give mum and dad a free morning in the garden. Gradually dad’s exhortations to avoid using religious expressions as oaths and saying grace at Christmas faded from our lives alongside Y fronts and waxed toilet paper.
So, what, I ask myself are the cultural lessons that I have carried forward from my parents into the twenty first century?
I don’t cut back the daffodils too early, even though it offends my tidy gene.
I don’t eat much processed food as mum always emphasised cooking from your own raw ingredients.
I take off my cap when singing the National Anthem, per dad. I also go bareheaded into all Churches.
But really these are the flippant examples. No, the major takeaways are manners: holding doors open for people of either sex, ditto giving up seats to those who might better benefit from sitting, countless pleases and thank yous, a bone deep need to apologise from all and any clumsy interactions whether my fault or not, covering my face when sneezing, holding back on serving myself until others have had their fill, and trying (and it must be owned these days, more often failing) to retain one’s farts until alone. Yes, some of these might be antiquated and some might even offend though goodness knows why but it was made clear civilisation would only continue while manners remained a significant feature of my behaviour. It didn’t matter what others did; the world as we knew it would end if I failed to offer my seat.
Mind you, if anyone sees a somewhat shabby, bearded baldy of indeterminate years with a cute dog leaning heavily against the doors on a train and wants to offer me a seat… well, it would, be rude not to accept, wouldn’t it?
And let me finish on a new example of the rewritten nursery rhyme I stumbled upon this week. Inevitably it relates to our own example of how not to do being Royal, the Duke of York
The Grand Old Duke of York
He had 12 million quid
He gave it to someone he’d never met
For something he never did
When I think of Andrew as a role model, it makes me ready to believe No-Vax Djokovic’s interview was an honest an attempt to explain his motives and not some sort of slick PR move. Almost…
I hope by the time we reach week eight, Europe doesn’t have a war in its hands… Take care out there, people…