I sometimes think that life is a sequence of petty illnesses. When we wonder where all the time goes, it is because a percentage of it has been spent on the sofa, groaning and gazing at TV programmes that we’d never dream of watching in good health.
That is to say, I have spent the weekend slumped on the sofa with a cold. It was not an entirely unproductive time. I did manage to knit the best part of a Fair Isle mitten (I will need to catch something else if I am to create its matching twin), and, amongst the deluge of Malcolm in the Middle re-runs and crap movies, I watched two things that made me think: BBC4’s drama, Hattie, and BBC2’s The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
I was transported to the days of sitting cross-legged on my grandparents’ green carpet aged six or seven, while trying to make sense of all the hysteria and innuendo. I suspect the purpose of the double-entendres was to add an adult layer to the script that went over my young head, but in reality, little escaped my notice.
Returning to these shows as an adult, I felt again the echoes of those early sexual stirrings, a vague idea that men and women pursued each other, without fully comprehending what the end game might be. My mind retained a catalogue of images for later consumption: Barbara Windsor’s yellow bikini top flying across a campsite, Benny Hill chasing a giggly stream of girls, Helga stripping to a black corset and stockings for the delectation of Herr Flick of the Gestapo.
Rummaging through the dressing-up box of my then-best friend, I remember coming across a cache of her mother’s old underwear: lacy bras, thong knickers and a black chiffon babydoll nightie, trimmed with green ribbon and slashed up to the navel. The meaning of these garments was not lost on us. We put them on over our pink vests and pants, and spent a happy hour playing Carry On under the bed covers. Sample dialogue: ‘I take my willy and put it in your back bottom so that it comes out through your front bottom.’ It should be noted that this displayed unusual sophistication for us. Our other favourite game at the time was to sneak into my grandparents’ garden, dig a hole in the vegetable patch, and poo in it.
What did I learn from all that erotic farce? That men had voracious sexual appetites, that women were obliged to put up a show of resistance, that luxuriant cleavages and shapely legs were much to be aspired to, and that sex was grubby, compulsive, giggly fun.
Of course, I am practically obliged to point out that it’s all terribly un-PC and objectifying to the modern mindset, with those clear distinctions between young nubiles and old battle-axes, and the general acceptance that men cannot help but to pinch or slap any bottom that comes with in ten-yard radius of their restless hands.
But I, personally, find it all rather comforting. In the hands of ‘Allo Allo and the Carry On films, sex is joyous and mutually-delightful; it’s barely recognisable from the sex we see in contemporary drama, which is too often either po-faced (by which the writers mean to imply: good), or barely consensual (bad). In fact, I find this queasy handling of sex far more sexist, as it rarely shows women having very much fun in bed at all.
Thank heavens, then, that I grew up in the era of smutty jokes, dirty old men and a bit of slap & tickle. It’s the best sex education a girl can have.
(Oh, and here’s that mitten, just in case you’re wondering.)