My wife has a blog of her own (http://tracyloveshistory.wordpress.com/). Instead of dealing with the broad sweeps of history, like the world wars, or colonialism, she tends to focus on little details that bring history alive, like what underwear the Victorians wore, or what a filthy old pervert Samuel Pepys was.
In order to get down to these levels of detail she has to do quite a bit of reading. This is not a shameless plug of her blog, though. (Or maybe it is. I called her a lying crack addict in my last blog. For some reason she didn’t like this. I want to be friends again. Go to her site. Like it. Leave comments. Tell her I sent you. Tell her I’m busy buying her a cake. Tell her she may be a crack addict, but at least she’s my crack addict.). The reason I mention her is not because of the extent of her knowledge, but because of the vast, yawning gap that sits squarely in the middle of it. The poor dear genuinely seems to think that people in historical times were having sex!
Every fool knows that sex was brought to the Earth in the early 1980’s by a magical Jewish leprechaun called Dr Ruth Westheimer.
Before that there was no actual physical contact. My wife seemed to have trouble understanding this, so I had to haul out the scientific evidence.
Most species are confined to specific geographic areas. They are perfectly adapted to their homes, and have no reason to move, until we cart them overseas as pets and let them go in the Florida Everglades when they begin to frighten us. Human beings are different. We are a truly global species. And there’s a very good reason for this. Wind pollination.
Whenever the young ladies of a tribe or village began to feel the instinctive urge to reproduce, they would all have to move downwind of the males. Once they had all fallen pregnant, the males would wander off to join them. In this way, humanity spread in the direction of the prevailing wind, leapfrogging over mountains, swamps, deserts and seas, driven ever onward by the genetic imperative to breed. This is why people live in god-forsaken places like the Arctic, the Sahara, and Belgium. My wife, for some reason, was not convinced. I had to haul out my parents old, pre-Westheimer LP’s.
I started her off gently, where we all used to start, with Bob Dylan’s famous sex education song. She began to understand. The answer, my friend, really is blowing in the wind. Then we did a bit of comparing, first putting on Hendrix’s bawdy “The wind cries Mary” before contrasting it with Juvenile’s rather more staid, post-Westheimer “Back that thang up!” I’m never one to give up when I’m ahead, so even though my wife now clearly understood, I played us out with that haunting lament about impotence; “Dust in the wind.” Good one, Kansas. Thanks for keeping it cheerful!
I might be a little wrong here. Maybe Dr Ruth only invented talking about sex. This is not a good thing. I used to have a colleague who was alarmingly open about her bowel movements. “I,” she would announce cheerfully, “am going for a s**t!” I’ve never quite worked out how to respond to this sort of thing. I have managed to reach the age of thirty nine without discussing these matters with anyone until my children worked out that there was no lock on the bathroom door (“What are you doing?” is quite a tricky question to answer when confronted in media res by someone who doesn’t understand sarcasm).
It wouldn’t stop there. “Curry!” she would say. “I got a takeaway last night and it’s fighting back”. I would stare at my computer, desperately hoping it would burst into flames, just as a distraction. “I farted just now and I nearly followed through”. Why? Why, why, why? When have you ever received a positive response to this sort of conversational gambit? What was I supposed to say? “I hope it all goes well”? “I hope nobody gets hurt”? “Please remember to wash your hands”? “Never speak to me again”?
Before anyone thinks I’m comparing sex with bowel movements, I’m not. I just think there are some things best left unsaid. You see, it’s not sex itself that is the problem. It’s not even talking about it. It’s the way the good doctor got us talking about it. The format is generally the same, on TV or radio. There will be an expert, who will be a doctor, a psychologist or a sexologist (is that even a thing? Do they get degrees?), and there will be a lay person, whose job it is to answer calls and pass them on to the expert.
They will put on their special grownup voices, and sit and move in a way that says “Look at us. We’re talking about sex in a grownup way. It used to be taboo, but thanks to us, we can all be open about this. We are going to discuss genitalia with such disarming frankness that your ears will start to bleed. At lunchtime. On a Friday. On the radio. Like grownups. In just a second, Danny from Amsterdam is going to call in and discuss his sexual dysfunction, and we won’t even laugh. After that we’ll be talking about butt-plugs. You won’t even see the corners of our mouths twitch. Because we’re grownups.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been around grownups all my life. Never once has anyone mentioned a butt-plug. I don’t even really know what a butt-plug is for. Most people seem to function rather well without them.
Taboos exist for a reason. Up until the 80’s, nice people didn’t discuss their sex lives in public. The species somehow managed to propagate itself anyway. I do get the argument that open and frank discussion about these things has been a great help to people in distress, but can’t they just go and see a doctor? How does a couple decide how to deal with sexual problems these days?
“I’m so embarrassed, darling. This has never happened to me before!”
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We can just cuddle. I’m a bit concerned though. Perhaps you should go and see a doctor.”
“I can’t do that. It would just be too humiliating! Perhaps I’ll just call up that sex talk show and share my flaccid manhood with 3 million strangers”
“Yes. I think that would be best. Don’t hang up when you’re done, though. I don’t think nearly enough people have heard about my concerns with menopause and nipple sensitivity yet.”
It’s all just too much. There is a young black female talk show host in South Africa who I think should be our next president. She is smart, educated, and fearless. She knows what is right and is not afraid to say so. She doesn’t let anyone get away with anything. Recently, I heard her back down our president when he tried to spin a government scandal on her show. She is a national treasure.
She also walks around with two stainless steel balls in her private parts. How do I know this? Because she told me. And several million other people. During her Friday sex talk. She was being all grown up and open. And now the dream is over. How can she assume her rightful place as our leader if no-one can look her directly in the eye? How will anyone focus on her state of the nation address if we’re all just thinking about what will happen if one falls out.
It’s all just getting worse, too. You see, in my day job, I am a bookseller. Things are changing very quickly in the world of books, and every day holds some new surprise, but at heart, to be a good bookseller you still need to have some sense of nobility of purpose. You have to see yourself as some sort of guardian of the written word, a battered soldier fighting back against the tide of TV and websites and computer games and iPads and PlayStations. God knows we don’t do it for the money. This is kind of hard to do when all you sell is 50 Shades of *&%#ing Grey. It’s hard to feel like a lone candle, holding back the darkness, when you’re selling something called “mummy porn.”
I’m not going to go on about the book itself, except to say that hardly any of the booksellers I know have managed to get through the first three chapters. It’s not the sex that puts them off, it’s the writing. If this was well written, thoughtful erotica, reigniting the flame of literature that has been passed on through countless generations, I would be all for it. All of these new people, some of whom don’t seem to have ever been inside a bookshop, are going to want more. We should be inspiring new readers here, using 50 Shades as a crowbar to lever whole crowds of new recruits into the world of books.
Instead, they are going to stumble onto their first proper grownup book wholly unprepared. I can just imagine legions of newly minted porn devotees reaching the end of the first chapter of the latest Booker Prize winner and thinking “What is this crap? Where are all the tiny nipple whips?”
I shouldn’t worry too much though. Up and coming titles include “80 Shades Yellow”, “Bared to You” and “Deeper into You”. And a thousand others. I can’t wait.
Due to the phenomenal success of this infernal book, all of these frank, open and grown up discussions that plague me so are now going to veer off into leather, latex, and sanitised medieval torture gear. I have already had several conversations about sex toys with strangers my mother’s age. Please. Make it stop.
While I don’t like people discussing this stuff in public, I do love to imagine the effect it’s going to have on peoples’ private lives. It starts with the captain of industry, recently returned from a round of golf at the country club and settling in for an afternoon of sport on the TV, sitting slack-jawed on the couch, forgotten glass of whisky held loose in his hand, spilling out unseen on the thousand dollar rug, while his wife of thirty years leans back against the TV, covered from head to toe in shiny black latex, leather riding crop in hand. “You want me to do what?”
Six months later, and they’ve gone so far as to get the erotic piercings. The wife is standing at the door, dressed up for a night on the town. She looks down at her watch.
Wife: “We need to leave now, darling. The show starts in twenty minutes and we still have to pick up the tickets. What the hell are you doing?”
Husband: “Sorry dear, I just need to oil my Prince Albert” (If you don’t know what that is, Google it. But turn on safe search. You have been warned!) “I didn’t dry myself properly after my bath last night, and I think it’s starting to rust. It makes a horrible grating sound every time I do up my zip.”
Wife: “Oh, for God’s sake! We need to go now!”
Husband: “Fine. Have you seen the WD40?”
If there is a god, static electricity will turn their piercings into powerful electromagnets. The husband would emerge two minutes later, hunched over and looking flushed.
Husband: “Christ, that hurt! Right. Let’s go”
He stops, stands upright, and looks around.
Wife: “A little help in here please.”
Husband: “What on earth are you doing in the kitchen?”
Wife: “I wanted some milk. I forgot I had my piercings in and I dragged my feet across the flotaki. Now my boobs are stuck to the fridge”
The Victorians had the right idea. Never talk about it, but enjoy it anyway. There is a lot we can all learn from the Victorians. And we can do so at http://tracyloveshistory.wordpress.com/. Tell my wife I ate the cake, because it was a very long day. Strangers kept talking to me about sex toys. I am bringing home some high grade crack, though.