First, a statement. This is all true. Everything, especially the bit about the penis, is fact and it really happened. But you’ll have to direct your gaze downwards for that.
Second, an apology. To all women in London’s gymland. Friends report that most women stripping off in the changing rooms still have hair in all the traditional places. This can only mean one thing. My friends have been looking. I only hope they have not caused any distress and apologise for instigating, albeit inadvertently, a potentially intrusive visual survey.
Because we don’t look, or at least we don’t get caught looking. It’s one of those hangovers from more status-led, tribal times that there are rules about where you can put your eyes and for how long. Every school child quickly learns that it’s safer to mind one’s own business as there’s a often a painful penalty for ‘just’ looking. Even people in intimate relationships are careful about which bits of each other they scrutinise.
An older friend of mine, Warranty, once brought about an object lesson in minding one’s own business, even, or perhaps especially, within one’s own family. She had become curious about her father’s penis, specifically, what it looked like. As he had died some years earlier, asking her mother was the only option. But her mother replied that she didn’t know. She hadn’t looked. Ever. In thirty years of a marriage which produced three children.
A polite way of refusing to discuss the subject you might think. Warranty knew better.
Warranty felt sorry for her mother. Her mother, she concluded, had missed out on a unique and important visual experience. Warranty rushed off and found a book of male nudes which, as it was gay porn, featured numerous large penises in full colour. It would, she thought, do the job. Sadly, at about this point the two women quarreled and stopped speaking to each other. But Warranty’s concern for her mother remained acute. She knew what she had to do. She posted the book, first class, marking it private and personal.
Unfortunately this was the 1970s, the height of the violent troubles in Ireland and England. There had been a spate of parcel bombs in London. Although politicians and establishment figures had been the principal recipients of these, Warranty’s mother, a woman of significant anonymity, knew she’d been targeted. She called the police. Who arrived speedily, blue lights flashing, to open the suspect package.
A painful punishment which was most unjust. She hadn’t even wanted to look.