A soupçon of portent
“You’re obsessed with bums, you are,” my grandmother once told me. I was five years old and she said it with a hint of outrage and a soupçon of portent.
To solicit this reaction, I had proudly revealed to her the naked arse of a Micky Mouse doll. She was correct, of course. I was obsessed with bums and would continue to be obsessed with bums in various ways for the rest of my life.
Not just bums, of course. I was also obsessed with willies and fannies and boobs. As a child, any extremity or orifice usually covered by an undergarment was my mental and conversational bread and butter. It is a pity I had not grown up in an Islamic culture where everything was left to the imagination. It is fun to think of a knee or an earlobe having the same comedy substance or horn value as a tit.
In spite of being perfectly clueless about the actual mechanics and vocabulary of sex until an educational encounter at Dudley Zoo on my thirteenth birthday, I knew there was something brilliant, exciting and frequently amusing about those saucy parts of the human body. I’m pretty certain that my fondest ambition at the age of five or six was to see a “lady’s part”: a distinctly different thing, I was aware, to my little sister’s one, which was completely gratuitous seen as it was every single week during her elaborate escapes from Sunday bathtimes.
The obsession with sex was realised from a very early age in the form of imaginative doodles in every spare margin of my childhood and teenage diaries. Ask me about this some time: I have a crayloa sketch from 1986 that would make your eyes water.
Long before I had even heard of pornography, let alone seen any, I had in my mind a collection of what I called “rude photos”. It had become a reflex reaction to press record on the old brainbox whenever I saw something vaguely sexy in reality or on television. I had, to all intents and purposes, a photographic memory. Oddly enough, the photographic memory could never be cajoled into helping me out in exams.
Even though I couldn’t understand them, I delighted in rude jokes. I remember reading the ‘fun fact’ off a penguin biscuit wrapper to my dad: “What is the British nation’s favourite sport?”, I quizzed him. My dad must have taken leave of his senses or forgotten to whom he was talking because he responded with, “Bonking”.
I didn’t know quite what “bonking” was but I knew from Russ Abbot’s Mad House that it was a rude word and it shouldn’t really be coming out my dad’s mouth: the mouth that usually spouted sobering parables about the importance of conserving sandpaper.
(He was dead into sandpaper, my dad. He had a great big bucket of the stuff in his shed, every sheet as smooth a pickup line).
My parents were not terribly good at talking about sex. I distinctly remember asking them word-perfect “where babies come from”. My dad suddenly discovered how to pass into the fifth dimension and my mum, not one to forsake parental duties but bashful nonetheless, actually used the phrase “special cuddles”.
This became quite a popular euphemism. I once asked why Popeye was acting in such an eccentric way around Olive Oyl only to receive a jaded “special cuddle” explanation over basting a half chicken.
Learning the mechanics of things was of course myth-shattering. I remember acquiring a book in the How my body works series about reproduction. My parents were happy that I would finally learn the facts of matters. I remember showing it to my better-educated friend, Tom, one day in my bedroom who found the cartoony approach the book took too childish until we got to a pretty biological illustration of a male gamete. “That is Rude,” my friend exclaimed, pointing at the page, “That is a Sperm!”
And he was right. It was rude. It was a sperm.
I went to bed that night confused about sex for the first time ever. The feelings of excitement I used to get when thinking about people undressing had been pretty straightforward. But now I had taken a nibble from the apple of knowledge, I had somehow to connect those feelings with this grim, biological portrait of spermatozoa and ova and an illustration of the female reproductive system that no longer resembled the cute and mysterious anemone I held in my imagination but now a pastel-coloured cross-section of something that looked like an ant’s head, ovary receptors bouncing from the end of fallopian tube antennae.
And so the death of innocence came in the form of a manual presented by Charlie and Samantha bloodclot.
I still like bums though. Haha. I said bums.