Monday, 20 October 2014

Kissing men

Well, here's a subject, and no mistake. Mouth-on-face action with the opposite sex! With men, anyway, however you stand in relation to them.

I will confess at once that I was never, ever, super-confident about sexual kissing. Even if there are those still living, still prowling the planet, who can testify to occasions - not many, and only after a period of profound celibacy - when I was in the grip of relentless, uncorked sexual desire, I was, even in those steamy moments, unhappy about my kissing technique. It was on my mind and always took the edge off any excitement. I felt inept. But then, I'd never been taught properly. My family did not kiss each other; I started late in the dating game; and the best ways to kiss were never explained to me. I was somehow supposed to know how.

And I still feel inept with kissing. The leopard does not change her spots. In fact, if I ever find myself cornered by a marriage proposal, however unlikely that may be, I will insist on a 'no kissing' clause in the pre-nup. (I'm secretly hoping that this will be my 'get out of jail free' card, so that the thing won't go ahead)

Expert sexual kissing seems jolly difficult. Like achieving an orgasm. It's something I presently feel inclined to avoid like the plague. Well, let's leave this on one side, and discuss the other kind, social kissing - which after all, is the sort most of us have to contend with every day.

Social kissing is on the rise. Once (the context I now refer to is middle-class UK in the 1960s or 1970s) it was only between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, adults and young children in the same family, or between women friends. Men did not kiss men. Men did not kiss women who 'belonged' to another men, unless the couples knew each other very well indeed. It was a fairly clear-cut scheme. If anyone was in doubt, one could shake hands instead, or just smile at each other. In business and professional situations, a manly handshake was in order, supposedly signifying solid qualities connected with trust and honesty.

Did I say men did not kiss men? It wasn't quite true. It was plain from watching TV that foreigners behaved differently. Continental men might at any moment embrace one, and bestow a celebratory kiss on both cheeks. This was a morbid fear, I suspect, of many a British father at his daughter's wedding or similar ceremony. And one imagines, as town-twinning got under way, how the average town council in Cheshire or Yorkshire or Somerset looked askance on the requirement to be properly welcoming to the visiting town council from France. It would require an intense kissing ritual between grown men. By 'eck! Talk about being hot under the collar!

And there was another category of men who seemed to smooch each other rather a lot: footballers. Any goal, and they were all over each other. Maybe this was more from the 1980s, but I do recall the ridicule directed at these players' uninhibited behaviour. Maybe it was just the foreign teams.

Kissing between gay men wasn't then discussed. It wasn't discussable. This changed during the 1980s as AIDS cases suddenly proliferated - a bit like the Ebola scare today - and the mechanics of body fluid transfer had to be widely understood. Before AIDS, even urine and spit weren't mentionable in normal conversation.

How prim we were! We've forgotten. I'm pretty certain that if I could be magically transported back to 1970, and sat down in the very training room that I sat in at age eighteen, with assorted 1970-style adults on week 1 of the Inland Revenue's Income Tax Training Course, I would scandalise everyone - old and young - within seconds. I'd give myself away as soon as I opened my mouth. I'd be casually mentioning, in what would be to me polite and friendly conversation, all kinds of things that just weren't known or spoken about then. They'd think me a very loose and precocious woman in odd clothing who didn't know her place, and showed no respect whatever to men, and indeed authority in general. I'd be raising eyebrows and making people gasp with what I let drop on perfectly ordinary topics. They'd consider me hopelessly irreligious, immoral and subversive - a danger to society.

Some chaps, and some of the younger girls, would admire my apparent forthrightness, and wish they could be as outspoken and daring. But most wouldn't. They'd be shocked into red-faced embarrassment at my easy frankness; dismayed at my amazing tolerance; and mystified by the opaque technological content of my talk. We are all knowledgeable about techy things nowadays - but not then, not before the Internet, when even pocket calculators weren't invented, and 'computers' meant huge mainframe machines with punch cards, or tapes whirring around.

God help me if I accidentally showed my mobile phone, or - impossibly - it received a text message from 2014. All eyes on me, and that thing in my hand that made the funny noise. The best I could hope for would be, 'Is that a toy? Gosh, a Communicator like they have on TV, in Star Trek! But where's the flip cover?' The worst could mean being arrested as an invading alien from Outer Space, masquerading in humanoid form. Probably I would be, anyway: they'd find Fiona in the car park, and panic would ensue. Sirens would wail, the Sweeney would rush in after doing ninety up the Edgware Road. They'd take me to a disused warehouse in Dockland. And I'd miss a golden opportunity to brush up on the Total Income Formula, and learn to calculate Earned Income Relief (taking into account Retainable Charges), and absorb all the ins and outs of Dependent Relative Allowance. Sad.

Oh dear, I've digressed.

Right, social kissing. In 2014. Things have moved forward quite a lot. I think it must have started in London and nearby counties and spread outward. A certain recognition that as a nation we were a sight too stiff and pompous and reserved, and that it would do no harm to ditch the stiff upper lip and be more Gallic (kissing is always linked to The French). This marched with drinking more wine, smoking recreational drugs, cocking a snook at politicians and 'standards', and generally enjoying a party lifestyle - if you could afford it. During the Thatcher Years it wasn't congenial to be Gallic and kissy if you had no money. So you stayed old-fashioned. But if you were doing well, social kissing took off and became the norm. Handshakes suddenly looked over-formal and distant. Embracing and kissing was so much nicer, perfect for a new age of spending and display.

The only trouble was that it didn't happen like this everywhere, nor at the same pace everywhere, nor at all levels of society. And nobody, not even the Ministry of Kissing and Approved Social Behaviour, wrote a manual on what to do when meeting another person. So we were all left guessing.

And that is how it still is. Among your own local social group, you all know what to do. But elsewhere it's a nightmare - nobody knows quite what to expect, resulting in clashing noses and lips slithering past each other, missing their targets. All in all, a constant embarrassing failure to greet each other elegantly.

You'd expect women to sort this out, especially between themselves, but the kissing that some older women expect - a peck on one cheek only, say, for one's elderly aunt in Newport - is a world away from what occurs between some young girls (possibly a hearty smackeroo on both cheeks, and/or a wet-lipped smooch right on the lips), which would disconcert my aunt.

British men remain more reticent, as befits their credentials as No-nonsense Masculine Frontier Types. But even they have become accustomed to accepting (and giving) a two-cheek kiss to flighty females like Yours Truly. Actually, I'd say men are an easier proposition than kissing other women, because men mostly stick to one simple learned technique. This is most commonly a cheek-to-cheek air-kiss, plus a rather robotic hug. I can cope with that. It contains no surprises at all. Nor do they linger over it - another plus. And no special kissing skill is demanded of me. We can fudge it, and be thoroughly British about it. Personally speaking, a girly handshake from me would do just as well, but I realise that these fine fellows - my nephew, for instance - are making a Gallant Effort, and so I will help them out willingly.

There's just one snag. It's the current fashion for men - especially young men - to grow a crop of stubble over their faces, if not incipient beards. It feels like rubbing up against a stiff wire brush. Ooooh...! Still, it's remarkable that men will nowadays let you kiss them this freely, something not to be discouraged, and so I make the best of it and compliment them on the staunch virility of their facial hair. This always goes down well. What I'm saying is that the issue is not now so much 'Should I kiss this man?', but 'Will it hurt?'. The kissing has become a given; facial discomfort is the key problem.

I hope men do not go back to Victorian beards as voluminous as Charles Darwin's, or Lord Tennyson's.


But then, perhaps, men's beards tend to become softer when grown really long. I hope that's true. If not, how on earth did their wives and girlfriends cope?

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