Monday, 20 June 2016

Sex on sofas, and other observations

A 'humorous postcard' from the mid-1970s.

Perhaps I should explain (for younger readers) that credit cards made their debut in the UK in the opening years of the 1970s. First came Barclaycard, which is still here. Next came Access, from a rival card company.

Access got into immediate trouble by sending cards through the post to all and sundry, without anyone asking for them. But it weathered that, and had catchy marketing on TV, showing a chirpy person-sized card coming to to the rescue of people who wanted things but hadn't got the cash. Access was 'Your Flexible Friend'. The name, Access, implied instant instant gratification of any desire. So the postcard above had real point to it. Suddenly it seemed that owning an Access card opened all doors. Or in this case, orifices.

Some forty years later, and the postcard is a museum piece, harking back to an era of snatched lovemaking on household sofas; rampant young men forever trying it on; and busty, leggy young women defending their virtue. For the question of whether it was 'right' to have sex before marriage was still something of an issue in certain quarters. 'Nice' girls could insist on saying 'no', without at least an engagement ring first, to make it 'all right'.

For men, this was an era of easy lays if the girl were willing, and many were willing enough. That doesn't excuse the casual assumption then made by most men that when a girl said 'no' she meant 'maybe' - or didn't really know what she wanted, and could be persuaded to the man's point of view with more chat and more drinks. It was not a good time to be a young woman, if she simply wanted to get on with her life unmolested by beery males with cigarette-breath.

It wasn't just young men, either. Middle-aged men felt that they too had a charm and sophistication denied to callow youths, and would press both onto any lass considered in any way fanciable. It seemed to be the national sport. The girl was in serious difficulties if the man happened to be her manager, or was the boss. How to refuse them?

Even older men joined in. Perhaps the worst difficulties arose with them, because often it might be your best friend's dad, and it was impossible to say anything. Or else a long-standing male friend of the family. Nothing much might occur. It was generally 'friendly touching', of the sort 'permitted' if you'd known them since childhood, or at least so well that it 'couldn't possibly mean anything'. As if one were their own daughter. So it might be the odd squeeze or hug; and later a careless hand on the knee, if they gave you a lift in their car. Things like that. Things that seemed wrong, and embarrassing, and destroyed trust, but not actually criminal.

I grew up in this atmosphere.

There were of course young women who were only too glad to be with men who were very frank about what they lusted after. Who scorned timidity or sexual incompetence in men.

And everyone, of course, poked fun at gay men. I remember hearing a laughing exchange between two office ladies, which went thus:

'What a gay day!'
'What a freak week!'
'What a queer year!'

It makes for shuddering reading now. Did people really say such things? Oh yes they did, in the 1970s. It was 'well known' that gay men minced around, had a camp voice, wore effeminate clothing, might speak a funny lingo called Polari, and (more darkly) 'did things'. So it wasn't hard to 'mimic' a gay man, and turn him into a TV stock character - and then into something less than a human being. It took the arrival of AIDS, and a dreadful series of tragic deaths, before the public grew up a bit, stopped sniggering, and faced up to what it might really mean to be born gay.

Curiously, everyday mention of lesbian women was taboo. They were mostly invisible, of course. I suspect that nobody knew enough about lesbians to find anything funny to say about them, so they escaped attention unless they made themselves particularly high-profile. Even today, the media tends to leave lesbian women alone, and focusses all the time on gay men. That may simply be because - even today - and the odd exception apart - women make second-best news. It's still men that get the top jobs; men who fall under the closest scrutiny; men whose downfall is the most salaciously examined.

It was ever thus. Let's hope it's not forever so.

Now, to end, who or what is being mocked in this second mid-1970s postcard?

The Mini is still with us, and despite its current sophistication, this small-car joke still has resonance. It's still impossible for a normal-sized man to roger his girlfriend in the back of a Mini.

But who would now bother? In the 1970s, if they couldn't afford the rent for a bedsit, cash-strapped young people had secretive, nervous sex in their parents' houses, or else in the back of little cars parked in secluded spots. Times have changed. Increasing affluence has put larger, flashier cars within reach. And probably also what used to be called a 'bachelor pad'. Who is going to wrestle on a tiny, uncomfortable back seat when said pad, central heating, soft music, and a king-sized bed are all begging to be used?

In any case, it's become difficult or impossible to have sex - or any form of it - in modern cars. They have gained heavily shaped seats; a mass of obstructive controls, and a raised central module between the front seats that makes it impossible for the driver to casually leap across onto his female passenger. Or vice versa.

I'd like to see how - in my Fiona - a male passenger could, without contorting himself like Houdini, sneak a hand onto my knee and keep it there! (As if anyone would, of course)

In any case I am confident that Volvo must have installed some computer systems in Fiona to manage any attempts on my snow-white virginity. Such as:

Over-sexed Passenger Alert

Wandering Hand Encroachment Sensor System

Knee And Thigh Monitoring System

Automatic Kiss Control

Instantaneous Passenger Seatbelt Tightening And Locking Control

Passenger Seat Electric Shock And Disabling Strobe Light System  

They'll all be there somewhere, ready to protect me.

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