That Sort Of Girl

It definitely is my age. I’ve been thinking about sex more than recently. Well, my age and other stuff, anyway.

Back in the impossibly long-ago days when Ben scored his hat-trick, having sex with (always called “sleeping with” when everyone knew sleep was not involved) three separate girls in a month and only one of them his official girlfriend, sex was supposed to be part of the revolution. In Ben’s parents’ world of doodlebugs and rationing, sex was something people did in wartime because they thought they might die the next day. After the war, when people regularly died from a host of things that would make headlines today such as tuberculosis or measles or smog in London, decent people didn’t until they were married, all through the 1950s. As the poet Larkin (not to be confused with Lorca, quite a different thing altogether) noted, sex began with the Beatles in about 1963, which was quite late for him.

Poppy’s happy, enthusiastically guilt-free bisexuality was illegal until she was ten years old in 1969. Or rather if she’d been born a boy it would have been.  The story goes that nobody could think of a way to tell Queen Victoria that girls left on their own when their men-folk went out for a spot of peasant-shooting sometimes found novel ways to keep themselves amused so when male homosexuality was made illegal (man, how straight is that?) there was no mention of female hom0sexuality on the statute because it officially didn’t exist. Like most stories it’s probably at least half wrong. In certain circles an Albert is a male piercing with attaches the penis to the scrotum with a small chain. Its name comes from that of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. The reader may draw his or her own conclusions about how restrained the late Queen’s sex life actually was from that fact alone.

Of course, there were dangers. The biggest one was unpleasantness when a girlfriend found out their boyfriend was nobbing someone else, a devastating event which ended sometimes in tears and occasionally even outright public sarcasm. At least in Ben and Claire’s circles, the idea of attacking anybody because two people had got temporarily mixed-up about where one ended and the other began never crossed anyone’s mind. The other not-very-huge risk was clap, the joke non-specific word for what usually turned out to be Non-Specific Urethritis, a bit of an itch, a genital irritation which a ten-day course of antibiotics cleared up with no further ill-effects provided the patient remembered not to drink alcohol and took all the tablets. Unbelievably now, that really was about as bad as it got. There must, somewhere, have still been people with real, really mess-you-up sexually-transmitted diseases, but back then a lot of people thought the worst one you could get was marriage.

Sex was revolution. Sex was not being your parents. Not-death, a loose, wild, necessarily messy stain-on-the-HP sofa Richard Brautigan un-death, the totally naked rejection of the suffocating not-in-front-of-the-children, please-and-thank-you mind-your-manners Terry and June suburbia of the soul that no-body could be bothered to realise was the only sane reaction of a 1940s generation for whom heaven really was a place where nothing ever happened, because so much else already had. To their children, the Bens and Claires, Theresas and Petes, the Lizs and Poppies, each in their different ways unchained if not unhinged by free prescriptions of oral contraceptives, sex was kicking out the jambs, which had nothing at all to do with the Women’s Institute. Suddenly, nice girls did, enthusiastically, shamelessly, happily, almost entirely because they almost certainly wouldn’t get pregnant by accident. It was stepping over the traces, changing everything for freedom, if not for god, Harry and St George and in those days at least, freedom wasn’t just another word for nothing left to lose. Someone of Ben’s generation still believed at least one party had to say they loved the other one before they got their kit off; at least one of them was genuinely shocked when after they announced they were quite keen on a boy they’d met but didn’t know what to do about it another girl simply said ‘why don’t you just fuck him?’ It wasn’t Poppy, although it sounds very much like her. In fifteen years, half a generation, from the introduction of oral contraceptives the world changed from one where officially no-one did to everybody did. As Wordsworth said before Thatcher invented AIDS and condoms and girls who went to Art School, bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. And in that respect at least, to be young was very heaven.







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Off the rails

I think it’s my age. I’ve been thinking about delinquency. Just a phase I’m going through, probably.

Reading Not Your Heart Away poses some problems for God-fearing folk who saw England as a land where laws were supposed to be upheld, where decent girls didn’t, where the consequences of pre-marital sex were not just pregnancy and disease but much more importantly to some, shame and ruin. Alongside the “moral” issues (who decides on morality? Oh anyone, don’t worry about that, so long as they can say with a straight face that that’s what God meant) there is also a measure of straightforward criminality.

Under-age drinking. Landlords tolerating (or pretending not to know about ) it. Drug-taking. Being drunk in a public place. Having sex ditto. Possession of a controlled substance. Possibly (pending the outcome of luckily fictional) blood tests, drunk driving.

The victims of crime were variously unhappy. Theresa was in tears realising not only that Ben was never going to put a ring on her finger but also fancied someone else a lot more than her. Ben himself, who tended to blame Claire for messing his life up for ever when really, he did it to himself. Liz, but only in the sense that she was just pissed-off with Ben being an idiot, poncing around with rich girls. Poor Claire seems the most damaged, her whole life in free-fall after her parents decided provincial pettiness about who puts what where belonged with steam trains, the Home Service and rationing, all of which they remembered.

Some characters’s lives changed hugely for the better in the same atmosphere. Poppy, for example, who might once have faced a cloistered life, bursting exuberantly out of the closet with no apparent harm to herself or anyone else. Liz herself, who was mostly just irritated with Ben and waiting for the revolution she thought would topple the likes of Claire and her kind forever. Bad luck Liz. There was going to be a revolution but you didn’t know it would do exactly the opposite of what you hoped.

Talking About A Revolution

Another revolution is going on now. One where part-time policemen can decide whether you should be allowed to say things they object to in public not just then and there (Ben’s generation were just told to shut up and piss off home) but for up to three years. If you don’t like it you can go to prison. Think I’m making this up? Sadly, I’m not. It’s all over the news, or it would be if the BBC didn’t feel the Royal Baby (capitals to match its divinity please) was more newsworthy. Maybe it’s the same revolution that was starting back then.

It certainly isn’t the one Ben and his friends had any idea was going to happen. Back in the days when Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero, (‘a bit political,’ as Ben Elton used to say) Adam Ant (Thatcherite motto: your money or your life, although in the Falklands in 1982 she wanted both) and Haysi Fantayzee (John Wayne – bad. Anal sex – sorry, the jury’s still out on that one) were political voices in the land, in retrospect John Otway much more than Billy Bragg captured the true spirit of the 1980s revolution when he sang about the ongoing oppression of the rural poor by the bourgeoisie.  (“Louisa said: Get me a saddle boy, and go and mount my horse. You and me together are going for a ride”). Gleefully, a whole generation grabbed its Ray-Bans and jumped into its Volkswagen Golf.

And what a ride it was. In a very few short years Ben’s generation dumped the leftover trappings of an alternative society founded on strawberry cigarette papers and patchouli, love, peace, unrestrained sex and gentle law-breaking. They swapped all of that for mortgages within a few years of graduation, silly spectacles, red braces and AIDS. A lot of them became seriously better-off in the process. A lot of them still mourn the freedoms that were lost.


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One Day Only

This Sunday, Not Your Heart Away is FREE on Kindle, Love, big houses, fast cars and naivety one country summer.

This special promotion is to celebrate the paperback finally being published. That’s not free.

So do yourself a favour, get a drink. Sit down. Open the book and be back there, in the best summer of your life. You might need some tissues at the end though.

Sorry about that.

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Well, it’s done. Final edits of Not Your Heart Away are all done, the synopsis is written and it’s off to Jenny Brown, the literary agents. I hope they like it. I can watch The Sweeney on TVCatchup now.

Next, I don’t know. I might write the rather odd story about the things that happened writing the book. On the other hand it would make a decent screenplay, with UFOs, car crashes, 1970s music, the National Front, dope and quite a lot of sex and Lebanonism as well.

On the third hand, I’ve still got an idea about a man who worked in the Twin Towers and went out for a coffee just before they came down.  That one’s been gnawing at me. As someone said at the time, they weren’t all heroes. They can’t all have been missed.






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