Apart from some quiet giggles from the back row, anything to do with sex was met with silence or a certain suspicion from the boys in my classroom. We were about twelve or thirteen years old and the infantile books read by the majority in ‘library’ didn’t go near the subject at all – especially in the sixties – while the type of novel harvested from my father’s collection at home – if allowed past ‘inspection’ by the English lit teacher – inclined towards a handy and moral dot dot dot just after the unsurprising end-of-chapter clutch between the hero and his new (yet infinitely mysterious) friend.
Not much there then.
For a while, I had a black and white French postcard which, at tuppence a look, was keeping me in sweets, but demand was so high I had little time to examine it myself. A continental couple fastened together in coitus, you know the form.
A friend of mine had got into trouble for looking up the worst word there was in the dictionary – a blue-stocking pre-war Oxford thing. He’d just read the entry for ‘copulate’ and was reeling from the possibilities when a teacher noticed his expression and asked to see what he had been looking at. Dimwit told him, too.
So, as the final term at my prep-school ground towards the end, some ‘leaver’ or other would be taken out of class for the obligatory and highly embarrassing ‘sex talk’ given by the headmaster. You would sit in the same leather chair he’d bent you over for the previous five years while giving you ‘six of the best’ for a poor showing in Latin or talking after the lights out. Under those conditions, and considering the risk, you can see why I had such a high price on my postcard.
It was a couple of days before the end of term. I had given up on ever being told anything about sex but, since my parents were shortly moving to Spain, I reckoned I’d find out my own way.
But then the call came. Titters (from the back) from the Latin class as I was called to see the headmaster. Who started this delicate subject with ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed a tassel-like thing hanging in front of you?’
Blimey, no wonder the English are famous for everything except sex.
Spain was, indeed, much more racy that my prep school in Wiltshire. The first person to give me what appeared to be a passionate kiss was, unfortunately, the chief-of-police’s son from Vera who caught me in the corner of my parent’s sitting room while I was still in the first flush of youth. I did better a couple of years later when I initiated proceedings with an American girl who my dad said looked a lot like Harpo Marx. She talked a lot more, as I remember.
But enough about me. Franco still held Spain in his catholic grip and sex was not something that nice girls did, which was why tourism was so well received by the Spanish, especially when the tourist was a young woman looking to have some fun with some local fellow (Gaaar – the kid was covered in spots and still she preferred him to me…). I usually ended up translating. Thanks to some strange films breaking ground in Sweden at the time (‘I Am Curious Yellow’ for example), which were most definitely not shown in Spanish cinemas, willing foreign girls were known as ‘suecas’, ‘Swedes’, even though most of them were British.
So, on the hunt for suecas, gangs of youths would take up foreign ideas like ‘going to the beach’, ‘dancing to soul music’, ‘wearing Varon Dandy (an eye-scorching gentleman’s perfume)’ and even ‘having a pet – look, he’s called Chico’. All very healthy and, as long as they didn’t get too involved, little damage was done. The alternative to chasing the tourist girls – where available – was a Saturday evening trip to the nearest whorehouse, of which Spain, both under Franco and beyond, has been remarkably blessed.
What the average Spaniard sees in ‘casas de putas’ or bordellos is something a lot different from the soulless ‘half an hour dearie’ version in Soho. Here, everyone goes for a drink, to show off and to enjoy a slap n’ tickle with some houri from Eastern Europe or South America. It’s reasonable but not de riguer to go upstairs. What happens to those poor moth-eaten girls who stand on the side of the road near a convenient bush will remain, I hope, a mystery. Boys will be boys, according to the ultimate authority: mama.
Recently, such innocent pastimes by a generous part of the Spanish male population have fallen under a cloud. A PP councilor from Palma, in Mallorca, maxed out his town-hall credit card to the tune of 50,000 euros on massage parlours and other extra-marital fun while he should have been at work. He has just got two years of prison to look forward to (and the opportunity to discover a whole new ’nother kind of sex).
While ‘puticlubs’ and so on have not changed much after Franco’s death and the power of the Catholic Church’s passing, despite perhaps a small hike in prices in the Nation’s ‘prostíbulos’ (there are over 130 of them in Almería province alone), the advent of pages of newspaper adverts for all kinds of erotic services (a tip of the hat to a friend called Steve for pointing them out) and a new kind of private club in some horrid villa (a group of friends etc), we now have ‘Russian Brides’, Viagra, display cabinets chocked full of condoms, french ticklers and battery-run penis rings on display in our supermarkets; and, above all, we the wonderful limitless power of the Internet.
Bring forth the Bluestockings. No booze, no fags no sex…
Erotica itself, in the shape of big-production cinema, was available just across the border into France but, again by the mid seventies; you only had to go to your local flea-pit, or indeed watch it on the late night telly.
Pornography is now a far cry from my French postcard and is sold as DVDs (in place of cigarettes) in petrol stations across the land. I was told by a local manager that lorry drivers (for some reason or other) often rush up to the counter where an unabashed girl is posted at the cash-register to ask if the latest triple x video-gruesome has arrived. Dear God!
But sex, one on one. Mano a mano. Besides being very good for one’s heart and so on, it is, of course, the single best way to learn another language.