Tag Archives: Romans

Blow me! – My sex education

There was an item on the BBC News Channel last night in which two teenagers were explaining how the Scout movement had now introduced sex education into the curriculum to join tent erection and tying knots in ropes. For some, there might be no distinction. The newscaster asked if there would be a badge for it. The answer, sadly, was No.

Then, this morning in the bath, I turned on Radio 4 and – blow me – Woman’s Hour was talking about sex education.

What is going on?

In my day, sex education was non-existent but, from peripheral evidence, it seemed to involve stamens on flowers and the human bowel system.

I am old enough to have hit puberty before the Penguin English Dictionary was published. This was the first widely-available UK dictionary which included 4-letter words and defined clearly what other sex-related words actually meant.

As my parents were Scottish, my sex education came largely through reading the News of the World on a Sunday (and looking at the pictures).

Sex for me was a strange world of naughty vicars, women with large lines between their squeezed-tightly-together breasts and evil people of opposite sexes who were “living in sin” together, mostly in flats and bedsits. The News of the World would expose these people in long articles with pictures. They were not celebrities, just seemingly normal people who were, in secret, immoral and evil and had started to live with each other without being married but – ever vigilant – the admirable News of the World and, to a lesser extent, The People hunted them down and exposed their sinful ways in print.

My sex education also involved Carry On films at the cinema – breasts and a lot of running about and screaming seemed much involved in sex.

At home, we had a large pre-Penguin dictionary circa 1935.

This tended to confuse me.

When the News of the World and The People reported sex cases, the key words mostly seemed to be “rape” (as both a verb and a noun) and people having “carnal knowledge” of each other.

When I looked up “rape” in the dictionary, it said it was an agricultural crop grown in fields and further investigation uncovered the fact that seeds and oil were a related outcome. This “rape” was a noun and there appeared to be no verb for the word. So it seemed unlikely it was what was being described in the News of the World; but it was worth my keeping it in mind, just in case.

The alternative definition for “rape” – a verb – was to “carry off by force”. I knew this was a good definition as I had vaguely heard of The Rape of the Sabine Women, in which the Romans carried off female members of some tribe or other – well, it must have been the Sabine tribe, obviously. I was a very good researcher, so I also knew this incident had been turned into the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. So that also obviously involved rape, too. But this didn’t help much. Though I did know the Italians and French made sex films with lots of large naked breasts which were shown at small cinemas in London’s West End.

This whole carrying off by force lark was presumably akin to kidnap though some of the cases reported in the News of the World did not seem to involve any carrying off to other locations. It was a puzzle.

Then there was the problem of what “carnal knowledge” actually meant. The dictionary defined “carnal” as “fleshly”, so “carnal knowledge” meant “fleshly knowledge” so, presumably, these people being exposed in the News of the World had seen other people of the opposite sex without their clothes on and that was what the big hoo-hah was all about.

It was all a great mystery to me and still is.

If anyone can help, I would be very grateful.

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The British have always been a violent race

Once upon a time, an Italian historian told me this…

The British are a restless, disorderly race. They are not the cold people their stereotype implies. You rarely get anything as social as British pubs anywhere else.  German beer cellars are not the same.

The British like to fight.

If two Italians have an argument, there is a long period in which they just stand and insult each other – “You bastard! – You asshole! – Are you an idiot? – You son of a bitch!” – They shout a long string of verbal abuse at each other, but there is no physical violence. The shouting usually draws a group of people round them and, slowly, the two men get closer to each other and the insults get louder. Only at a very late stage might one try to physically attack the other and – immediately – the onlookers will separate them and hold them back. Real fights are rare. There is a saying in Italy – The one who strikes the first blow wins – because there is rarely a second blow – The fight is stopped.

The British fight in a totally different way.

If someone is offended, he turns suddenly and the most he says is “Fuck you!” then he immediately hits the other guy in the face with his fist. No-one has time to separate the two because, by the time they get there, a full fight has started. I saw it happen in a pub the second day I was in England and I have seen it many times since. Very few Italians have broken noses, but lots of English and Scots do because, with their sudden fights, there is no time to protect your face from the first punch.

The other facet which confuses foreigners is that so many British look like losers. They dress casually and shabbily, they don’t repair the legs of their spectacles for years and they look like they are past caring but, at some point, this apparently laid-back loser will turn round and break your nose. It is not a country where you insult someone lightly.

I was in a pub standing next to a stranger and he muttered something to this other guy who looked like a real loser, a real meek man. There was the tiniest of pauses and the meek guy just hit the stranger full-force in the middle of his face. His nose exploded. The stranger went straight down onto the floor and never got up and the meek guy turned quietly back to his pint of beer.

The Romans had twelve legions to control their entire Empire, stretching from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia. They had to keep two of those legions – two whole legions! – garrisoned permanently in Britain, because it was such a very difficult country to rule. The Germans, the Persians and the Arabs were all difficult too – dangerous frontier people – but the real problem the Romans faced in their empire was the Britons. In the 16th century, Cellini called the English “wild beasts”. Hippolyte Taine’s Notes on England, based on his impressions in the 1860s, said: “Friends and enemies alike described them as the most bellicose and redoubtable race in Europe.”

The British have always had a violent culture. And they have always displayed enormous tendencies to individuality. The British will walk miles to prove their fitness. They want to go to the North and South Poles and it’s the only country in the world where explorers’ biographies are enormously popular. The British are obsessed by Enduring and Surviving. They are fascinated – obsessed – by individuals. The British see the family as a collection of single individuals. In Italy, the family unit is everything. You have to be with the family. That is not the case in Britain. Individuality is everything.

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