12 November 1976
Marc is sitting on the wooden steps that run out from the back of the fourth year juniors’ classroom. It is a cold November day, but the sun is shining and Marc is busy pretending to smoke. He inhales on a white sweet cigarette stick tipped with a red-painted end to simulate the real, lighted thing. He exhales and enjoys the smoke-like effect his warm breath passing out from his lungs makes as it hits the cold surrounding air. He thinks he looks grown up – like his Uncle Aubert used to look.
* * *
Marc shifts to the left of the classroom steps as Gareth, his best friend since nursery school, grins and swaggers towards him. Gareth is wearing a brand new, green, ‘snorkel’ parka. The amazing orange lining is peeping out as Gareth unzips his prized jacket and sits down beside him. Marc is quite jealous of Gareth’s new ‘snorkel’.
‘Where did you get that, Bushy?’ Marc says.
‘My brother got it for me; it’s from his new job. He gave me some other stuff as well – you wanna see?’
‘What’s it going to cost?’ replies Marc.
‘It’s really gross,’ Gareth continues. ‘Are you interested in seeing what men and women do when they are grown-ups?’
Although Marc is only ten years old, almost eleven, he would say he is quite ambivalent about sexual matters. In public he is cautious how other boys will view him over sexual things. He is acutely embarrassed by the nude artwork in the family home and he always slides the vase of flowers on the hallway side table to cover the naked breasts of the pictured woman before he opens the door to his friends. And yet, since he was five years old Marc has been experimenting with sex. Along with one of his sisters, Simone, who is two years older than him, Marc plays doctors and nurses games with their best out-of-school friends of the family – Ben and Adele. In their make-believe games Marc is the first to take off all his clothes and lie down on the ‘examination table’. They take it in turns to examine each other.
* * *
‘You up for it, Frog?’ asks Gareth for a second time? ‘What men and women do when they are grown-ups?’
Marc nods and Gareth asks for his breaktime biscuit in return for a rather tattered page, folded into quarters, which has been torn from a hardcore magazine. Marc walks across the playground to the boys’ outside toilet block and locks himself in the cold sit-down cubicle. The toilet door does not reach to the floor or the ceiling so Marc is not guaranteed privacy in the space. He has to keep an ear out for others who will joyfully fling plastic bags full of water over the top to drench a stall’s occupant.
Marc holds in his hand what feels like a passport to manhood. This is the typical rite of passage for boys of his generation. He unfolds the page that Gareth traded with him to reveal some black and white photographs in which a man and a woman who look like they have just left the pop group ABBA are having penetrative sex. Marc thinks the man’s penis looks enormous; it is erect, he is very hairy and his penis is entering the shiny, wet and equally hairy vagina of the blonde woman. Marc feels a little scared that he will have to do this to a woman when he gets older. But he is glad for the confirmation that a penis does go in the front hole of a woman.
Until a moment ago he really had hoped that sex would be like the games he played in private. He wanted it to be about strutting around, showing off to the world and having girls stare at him; he wanted it to be about chasing girls around the room, like all those blondes and brunettes who ran around in The Benny Hill Show.
Marc looks at his own prepubescent penis. He wonders how it will ever get as big as the one in the picture. He has adult thoughts but he is aware of how much of a child he is. He thinks of himself as James Bond, but he is a schoolboy with a bicycle rather than a secret agent with a prestigious car.
The magazine pictures are the first time Marc has seen a mature male penis – and an erect one at that. His father is never glimpsed in a state other than fully clothed. On family holidays at the beach he remains in long trousers and a shirt, although he does roll up his sleeves. He seems uneasy with his body, with sex, with women. When he and Marc use the gents’ urinals together, he always uses the cubical rather than standing next to his son, man alongside boy.
During the early to mid-1970s, there was no way that the testosterone-driven demands to worship Eros through accessing erotica, pornography and other sexual images could be achieved by a boy or young man on his own. However, older brothers, their friends and fathers who used pornography tended, at least in the cities, to be good suppliers. Bit by bit the masculine hormone-orientated mind of a boy reaching puberty could acquire access to a small portfolio of images worthy of masturbation, especially when it included a certain amount of liberation of young women in lingerie – courtesy of the underwear sections of pay-monthly catalogues such as Kays.
* * *
Marc folds the pornographic images back into his pocket and returns to the steps of the classroom. Gareth is waiting for him. Marc wants to take the pictures home with him, but to do so will almost certainly bring a ribbing from Gareth – and he does not know what trouble that could lead to.
While he sat in the stall and once he had got used to the pictures, he had felt a stirring in his guts and in his penis. It was not as strong as when Adele had touched his skin and certainly not as strong as when she had actually touched his penis the final time the quartet had met to play hospitals when Marc was seven years old. However, he knew he liked the feeling he had, and he wanted to look at the pictures again.
‘Gross, just like you said Bushy.’
‘I knew you’d say that Frog, totally gross,’ Gareth retorts.
Marc wishes as hard as he can for Gareth to say he can keep the pictures for the weekend. The bell ringer stands in the playground and lunchtime is at an end. The pornographic images are in Marc’s pocket and thier teacher is already standing next to them on the classroom steps.
All the way through the next lesson Marc is imprinting in his mind the image of the penis entering the woman’s vagina. His ‘girlfriend’, Sally, seems silly and young to him now. Yesterday, when he had held her hand by the monkey puzzle tree in the playground and when he had been dared to kiss her by Gareth, lips tightly closed, she had felt like a glamour model or TV star.
In three days’ time Sally and Marc will end their ‘relationship’.
The rest of the afternoon is passing quickly, and at final play of the day Gareth asks Marc to hand back the page full of pictures. Given there is no real opportunity for Gareth to embarrass Marc this late in the day, Marc asks to keep hold of them: ‘I’m going to Ben’s tomorrow, and he might cough up some money to look at that gross stuff. I’ll split the cash with you 50:50 if he does.’
‘How will I know if he does or not? You could rip me off.’
‘You dill; I’m not goin’ to rip my friend off am I – partners; yeah partners in crime!’
Gareth whistles the theme tune to The Sweeney.
Marc’s heart is beating really fast. It’s true that he might make a few pence selling Ben a look at the pictures tomorrow, but there is no way anyone other than him will be having those pictures tonight.
‘Packing up now, class,’ says the teacher, ‘Girls, chairs on tables please … now boys.’
The class stands silently waiting for the day’s prefect to ring the bell. A door opens into the main hall that all the classrooms surround. The clapper of the bell makes a muffled sound as the prefect’s hand wraps around it. Like Pavlov’s dogs, 4F are attuned to this noise. Three or four steps on the perfectly polished parquet floor will echo in the Victorian hall before the prefect does her work and rings out the sweet sound of going home.
Marc is released. He raises a hand to Gareth: ‘See you Sunday Bushy.’
‘Bring the cash, Frogger.’
Marc loves Fridays. Friday night is Cubs, a different group of boys, the lovely Akela who has a big bust, really blonde hair and smells of a wonderful mix of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes and the perfume counter of a department store. Marc will spend the first few pence of his pocket money on the way home from the Cub meeting; greasy batter scraps from the chip shop will fill his ‘hollow legs’, followed by fruit Polos that he will purchase from the off licence at the top of the hill. He will check in the phone box on the corner by the school for any change that has been forgotten, and Veronique will let him in at home when he arrives – hot, tired and happy. Veronique and Simone will try to boss him about as he uses the sofa as a trampoline while watching the television. But tonight they will fail to have any power over him. He has seen that women are the ones who are penetrated. He has seen that men are dominant. Despite the fact it is his mother who bullies and hits him, and despite the bra-burning he has heard of in the news, he has seen that women lie down and let men penetrate their vaginas – and there is nothing they can do about it. It is the way of the world.
The house is quiet as Marc climbs in to bed that night. His mother and father are still out and Veronique is in charge. He has gone to bed without a fuss. Quietly, he looks at the ‘ABBA’ porn. He normally masturbates when he wakes up in the morning but this time he turns round in his bed. He hangs his head off the end of the bed and rubs himself on the sheets. He keeps his gaze away from as much of the penis and testicles of the male porn actor as he can. He focuses his attention on the vagina and the breasts of the bubbly looking blonde. A few seconds of rubbing and he orgasms a huge pulsing wave of sexual excitement. He folds the magazine page and slides it between the cover and the dust jacket of a hardback book on his shelf. He closes his eyes. Sleep approaches quickly; he has just enough time to think back to when Adele stroked his penis.
Tomorrow Marc will arrive at Ben’s house at 9.30am. Adele will open the door to him. She is almost fourteen years old now and her strawberry blonde hair will shine in the morning light. Marc will see how much of a woman she is becoming. Her cheesecloth top and her jeans. He will feel like a little boy, but his mind will think sexual thoughts about her – what she might look like now without her clothes on, her breasts and her pubic hair. Her frame is willowy and mysterious. As he considers these things, he will carry on talking to Ben.
Adele is still not like the sisters of Marc’s other friends. She is nice to him. She mothers him slightly. She finds him cute. In the summer holiday of her first year at university, she will have sex with him. She will be the one who takes his virginity away from him on a joint family camping holiday in Cornwall.
Ben will not be interested in the pictures Marc is ‘pimping’. He will think there are much better things to do than look at grown-up women. He’d rather listen to Status Quo than look at pictures of people who look like ABBA having sex.
Later in the evening, when the rest of his family are watching television, Marc will go to his bedroom and trace the different images of the couple having sex as best as he can. For the next few weeks this will be his masturbation fodder.
On Sunday morning at church, Marc will think it is better to lie to Gareth about Ben. He will tell him how Ben thought the same of the pictures as they did: ‘Gross.’ He will pay him 5 pence from his own pocket money, pretending it is a 50:50 deal and, very quietly when no one is looking, he will hand the pictures back to him.
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