Reading this indignant page;
Know that in a former time,
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.
Sex education was a musical adventure when I were a lad. Bare with me, I'll explain . . .
Nowadays with the ubiquity of the internet, young people have seen everything, know what it looks like, and what it's for. Travel back with me, dear reader to a time when there was no internet or even Page 3. Pre-Sun, even.
I was quite keen on "wild life" when I was at Junior School - I was a member of the WWF and collected PG Tips cards with all that info about animals in danger of extinction. My pocket money just about stretched to buying badly printed booklets from Cramphorns ( a pet shop-cum-garden-centre) and some British Wildlife-type magazine that I've long-since forgotten. Observer's books of birds/animals/bird's eggs etc too. Basically, as a kid of about ten I was quite up on British wildlife - okay I was probably a boring geek but a spell at Grammar school soon beat that out of me (via an awful bullying science teacher). Anyway, I remember that I read zoology books (my first career choice) and it seemed okay - to be quite honest, I had no idea about that funny picture:
What the hell does that mean to a ten year old?
My mate Josh - who became an F1 driver long before that other, more notorious F1 driver from Stevenage - explained to me that it had something to do with the jokes all the girls were making. And why we played kiss chase with the girls in the year above. And possibly why Cindy Marlowe and the exquisitely (and alliteratively named) Melanie Mucket were so popular. Josh had an older brother who worked for RSO and "knew" Eric Clapton. Actually, that didn't mean much to me as I was so naïve I had no idea who the hell he was talking about. You have to remember that I was probably much like the kid in Son of Rambow at this point. To be honest, if Josh had held on to all those wonderful old pop and psyche singles from the late sixties/early seventies his brother gave him he'd make a fortune on ebay. Perhaps he did. He obviously didn't become the first Louis Hamilton!
Perhaps Josh's older brother explained things to him - by the time I went to secondary school I was completely confused. An all boys school meant that girls were an unknown quantity. I had an older sister who kept bringing her friends home - they seemed interesting to be around. They probably hated me being there but they were, er,unsettlingly interesting. Occasionally uncomfortable for all of us (certainly me) but strangely alluring. I remember my sister brought home an lp of Hair. There was a particular moment one afternoon when my sister and her attractive grammar school girlfriends were sitting in the front room listening to it when my mother came in to chat to them. Raising her eyes to heaven about the nature of the songs on it, she seemed to continue to hover in the room. Maybe she was asking what my sister wanted for tea, I'm not sure. I still don't understand why they put up with me, a ten year old kid sitting there in he same room with them, but . . . they did. As one particular song came on, my sister jumped up to change the record saying something like, "well we don't want to listen to this one really!" But my mother did - she said, "oh no leave it on - it's the only nice one on the album."
The silence was palpable. I've never been in a room where everyone was so obviously uncomfortable before. Or since.
The music started and the singer sang:
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Can be fun
Join the holy orgy
Wïth a wonderful innocence, my mother walked out of the room without a word. As a fairly innocent naif, I found it funny - but I didn't know why.
Anyway, at age eleven - 1967, the Summer of Love - I went to grammar school. No girls. Even less chance to understand what the hell was going on. In these days there was the "Hedge System" which is a concept we have possibly met before. Basically, it meant that youngsters "found" copies of magazines like Parade and much later, Fiesta* left in unlikely places like under hedgerows. Now, I'm not sure this was an actually well known way of passing knowledge on but it did genuinely happen. There you are, walking along the fields near your house with a mate when a torn colourful magazine was poking out from under a hedge. Nowadays I tend to be pleased when some rosehips or sloes are poking out from under a hawthorn hedge but then, a copy of Parade with a cheeky rural lass with her charms showing was a much better harvest. Actually, they were more like a full colour version of the Sun, little was on actual show. And Health & Efficiency airbrushed it all out. I'm aware from what I'm told that airbrushing is still important - probably Photoshop nowadays, I suppose. Well, that's the "Hedge System" - the visual part of our education.
Meanwhile, our sex education was being moved on in more musical ways.
My father and uncle were members (fna, fnaa) of the Baldock Working Men's Club. This was somewhere that working class families could go for an evening out without paying for baby-sitters. Much beer was drunk and bingo was played. After the bingo, if my uncle had had enough beer, he would get up and sing I Left My heart In San Francisco. That was the only song I ever heard him sing. Usually, on a Sunday evening, there was also a comedian and a musical act. Generally, the musical act was a three piece resident band in the style of The Peddlars** with a drummer, bassist and a saxophone player called Rodney who, I believe, my sister was rather enamoured of. Their shtick was to play versions of popular songs of the day - they did a mean Lazy Sunday Afternoon, I remember - but occasionally when covering for late main acts (or non-appearances) they performed such numbers as a rather surprising ditty called Lady Chatterley's Lover to the tune of An English Country Garden. I'm not making ANY of this up. We had to make our own entertainment in those days, I guess. However, I'll leave it to your imaginations.
At about this time the charts began to fill up with songs such as J'taime moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin ( I'm no French speaker but I'm assured that at one point he wishes to "pass between your kidneys") and Wet Dream by Max Romeo (the follow up to his more famed The Israelites) where he attempts to convince his young lady friend to lay prone and allow him to "push it up, push it up". This is repeated possibly because she is hard of hearing or just for rhythmical effect (!). Obviously, this was all rather confusing without a more worldly-wise mentor. By this time Josh was dreaming of becoming an F1 driver. There were stories of acquaintances such as the god-like almost mythical Charlie Backer who had, evidently, actually "done it" but most of us were a long way off from that. At this point a future in animal husbandry seemed more of a career path than anything else.
My father had been in the Royal Navy towards the end of the second World War - I believe he lied about his age - and during the halcyon years of the early 1970s was the Commander of the local Sea Cadets.This meant that at some point I had to join. I didn't last long but that's another story. Yes, I was a great disappointment to him. Still, it was a major part of my sex education.
On the various trips that we went on in the Cadets, we usually had to sit in the mini-bus or on coaches - occasionally on "whalers" (ridiculously long rowing boats - like Roman Galleons but without the percussionist) and, as was usual for the forces, we had to listen and join in to popular songs. Now, I'm not sure if you're aware of such events but these sing-songs were where innocents like me learnt about the ways of the world.
From such musical exploits, I learned quite a lot about the opposite sex. I learned that in the Scottish town of Inverness there had been four and twenty virgins (no, I had no idea what they were despite being one) who had managed to go on a feminist Viking rampage of England; and about the length of hair on a woman's, er, "dickey dido" (what on earth that was). I also learned that there was a lady called Dinah who was implored to "show us your legs" - get this - a YARD above her knee. From my own observations of the various girls next door, that suggested somewhere above their chests. A yard? Perhaps maritime types liked really large women. I also learned at this rather tentative time in my development that the aforementioned Dinah also appeared to be rather different to her peer group. Whilst rich girls used Vaseline©, and poor girls used lard, Dinah, for some reason used "axle-grease". I didn't know why really nor did I really have any idea about what the hell all these older boys seemed to know about - I just went along with it all. I don't think my sister was ever going to explain it and, somehow I sure as hell knew my parents weren't going to.
So, all in all, it seems that Generation Console have it easy as far as learning about the others goes. I remember my father shuffling in to my room when I was about twelve and asking if we "did sex education" at school? Oh yes, I know all about it. The look of relief on his face that meant he had been able to relinquish all responsibility for "learning me" such stuff was palpable. It was always so embarrassing - no one wanted to talk about it. "It" was everywhere. The first naked woman I saw on tv was on Monty Python - thank you Carol Cleveland - but I knew what girls looked like. It was just going to be a few years before any of them would be - even vaguely - interested in me. Getting rid of spots and the advent of better hygiene helped. Oh, and going to college where there were girls as well as boys helped too!
All I'm saying, I suppose, is that we had to read between the lines and there seemed a lot more mystery than there appears to be now. Having instant access to some (extremely graphic) porn means that younger people seem far more aware of what to expect. I can assure you that (other than young master Backer, I guess) there was a lot of unexplored and unfamiliar territory to discover all those years ago.
Roll up, for the Magical Mystery Tour . . .
* slightly raunchier
** a light entertainment jazz combo featuring bass, drums and a keyboard/singer with a habit of soiling himself onstage much to the chagrin of his band mates