Friday, 18 April 2014
Paedophilia isn’t something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. I know that some people do. They probably have kids and grandkids, so I suppose they are bound to. I know when I was a kid, my mum always told me that if a strange man tried to talk to me, then I should run and find a lady and tell her. Then along came Myra Hindley, in the 1960’s, and more recently, Vanessa George.
I guess my mum was naïve, I am sure that there have always been predatory women around. You just don’t hear about them very often. But both women have become archetypes of evil, because they stepped out of the traditional role of women as nurturers, instead embracing, and seemingly relishing, doing harm to children.
It’s not good enough to say that both women were under the influence of charismatic men. They knew right from wrong. It seems that some dark, latent, fascination was drawn from them, by the compelling influence of the men who came into their lives. Without those men, maybe the two women would have led quiet suburban lives; but we just don’t know.
Myra Hindley was working quietly in an office, in the 1960’s when she met Ian Brady. He introduced her to the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Adolf Hitler. They were lovers, but lovers who embarked on a spree of rape and murder. Myra’s role was to lure and abduct. Ian Brady raped then murdered the children that she procured for him. He sucked the life out of them like a greedy vampire. They buried their poor little violated remains on bleak Saddleworth Moor.
In 2009, Vanessa George, a mother of two, and a worker in a children’s nursery, appeared in court, having been charged with seven offences, including two of sexual assault by penetration and two of sexual assault by touching children in her care. She was also charged with making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children. Vanessa George, 39, was arrested after indecent images of children taken at Little Ted’s Day Nursery in Plymouth, were found on a computer disc seized by police from a suspected paedophile in Manchester. Police said that the photographs included pictures of children’s torsos taken on a camera phone at the nursery, where Vanessa George had worked for the past two years.
So far, none of the children has been identified, and the officer leading the investigation said that some of them might never be. Parents of the 64 children, aged between 2 and 5, have been asked to complete a questionnaire and list any features that could help to identify individual children from the images.
Russ Middleton, the head of Plymouth CID, said: “At this time we have been unable to identify any images of individual children and it is right to say some images may never be identified.” The number of photographs being examined by the computer experts could eventually run into thousands, Mr Middleton said, though he could not say how many had been taken in the nursery.
He added: “We have specially trained officers looking at the images. We have a large number taken from laptops and PCs but the starting point was from a camera phone. Some of these images were clearly taken inside the nursery but it is impossible to say where others were taken.”
Vanessa George’s arrest followed that of Colin Blanchard, who appeared at Trafford Magistrates’ Court charged with possessing and distributing indecent images.
Officers searched a caravan that Mrs George owns at Harlyn Bay near Padstow, Cornwall, in addition to the family home in the Efford area of Plymouth. Police said that her husband, Andrew, and two teenage children had been taken into “protective care”.
Police will be speaking to the nursery’s 15 other members of staff but say they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the investigation.”
Vanessa George still refuses to say which children she abused.
Paedophilia isn’t a topic that sits easily with writers. Perhaps there is a fear of being identified, associated with the crime, let alone the idea of finding a someone to publish it. But a paedophile with a female accomplice? Myra Hindley had Ian Brady, Vanessa George’s mentor was Colin Blanchard.
Then there is also the case of “Marc Dutroux a Belgian serial killer and child molester, convicted of havingkidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls during 1995 and 1996, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. He was arrested in 1996 and has been in prison ever since. His widely publicised trial took place in 2004. He married at the age of 19 and fathered two children; the marriage ended in divorce in 1983. By then he already had had an affair with Michelle Martin. They would eventually have three children together, and married in 1989 while both were in prison. They divorced in 2003, also while in prison."
Michelle Martin was complicit and indulged in Dutroux’ atrocities.
Henry James anticipates this type of insidious, dark exchange in 1898, with his novella, “The Turn of the Screw”.
“The Turn of the Screw”, is essentially a ghost story. The subtle indications of paedophilia are there, but in a more “creeping up behind you”, dark manner than in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, which tackles it head on.
A young governess, is sent to a country house to take care of two orphans, Miles, aged ten, and Flora, aged eight. Soon after her arrival, Miles is expelled from boarding school. Although charmed by her young charge, she secretly fears there are ominous reasons behind his expulsion.
With Miles back at home, the governess starts noticing ethereal figures roaming the estate's grounds. Desperate to learn more about these sinister sightings she discovers that the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of her predecessor, Miss Jessel, hold grim implications for herself.
As she becomes increasingly fearful that malevolent forces are stalking the children the governess is determined to save them, risking herself and her sanity in the process.
Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are the bad guys in “The Turn of the Screw”.
Peter Quint had been a servant at the house at Bly; Miss Jessel was the children’s previous governess. They had an intense erotic interest in one another. Both are now dead; Peter Quint in some sort of brawl. Miss Jessel, under strange circumstances, after she left Bly.
It is much more than a ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw”, is an enthusiastic romance of children and sex. The implication that Miles, the young ward of an impressionable governess, is sexually aware, sexually experienced, and sexually hungry has its draw. Titillating in its inappropriateness, the novel suggests through metaphor and silences what was, and still is, unmentionable.
A dialogue between the narrator and the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, emphasises this;
Mrs Grose says that she was afraid of Peter Quint. “I daresay I was wrong, but, really I was very afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of the things that man could do. Quint was so clever -- he was so deep.”
I took this in still more than, probably I showed. “You weren’t afraid of anything else? Not of his effect --?”
“His effect?” she repeated with a face of anguish and waiting while I faltered.
“On innocent little precious lives. They were in your charge.”
So the new governess, has strong suspicions that Peter Quint has corrupted young Miles, in addition to seducing and corrupting Miss Jessel.
Peter Quint and Miss Jessel haunt the house at Bly, they also haunt the children’s new governess. It seems that even in death the ghosts want the children for themselves.
When Mrs Grose and the narrator next converse they speak of the children as their darlings, their little dears. But Quint and Jessel, even as ghosts are still a threat. They narrator is certain that Quint and Jessel want to possess the children.
“They’re not mine -- they’re not ours. They’re his and hers!”
“Quint’s and that woman’s?”
“Quint’s and that woman’s. They want to get them.”
Poet and literary critic Craig Raine in his essay on Sex in nineteenth-century literature states quite categorically his belief that Victorian readers would have identified the two ghosts as child-molesters.
Mrs Grose tells the governess about Quint’s relationship with Miles;
“It was Quint’s own fancy. To play, with him I mean -- to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added; “Quint was much too free.”
Psychoanalytically, the governess, who is alluded to as being sexually inexperienced and sexually repressed, has attached the image of raw, animalistic sexuality with the ghost of Peter Quint, which explains why she is fervent in her efforts to keep this ghost away from the young and impressionable Miles. The housekeeper, Mrs Grose, early in the novel, implies that Peter Quint, who acted as master of the house at times, and the young Miles may have engaged in some man-boy intimate contact, and thus the strange behaviour of Miles can be read in this manner.
Quint represents a scary threat: sex. We know that he seduced the unfortunate Miss Jessel; Quint is a destroyer of young ladies, and that he spent far too much time alone with young Miles. Quint is described as handsome but dastardly, and he is seductive and frightening in equal measure. Basically, Peter Quint stands for everything the Governess is afraid of, and this sense of menace is his most distinguishing characteristic.
The narrator tells Mrs Grose about the ghostly vision that she’d had of Miss Jessel.
She describes her as “handsome, but infamous.”
Mrs Grose replies; “Miss Jessel was infamous…they were both infamous.”
But what is it that the governess is so afraid of? It seems that her entire focus is on the “corruption” of the children -- she is certain that they were corrupted by Quint and Jessel when they were alive and that they continue to be corrupted now that they are ghosts. Before she even knows about Quint, the governess guesses that Miles has been accused of corrupting other children. Although corruption is a euphemism that permits the governess to be vague about what she means, the clear implication is that corruption means exposure to the knowledge of sex. For the governess, the children’s exposure to the knowledge of sex is a far more terrifying concept than confronting the living dead, or of being killed.
In the final chapter, Miles tells the narrator the reason he was expelled from school.
“I said things.”
When asked how many boys he had “said things” to, he replies;
“No -- only a few. Those I liked.”
“…they must have repeated them. To those they liked.”
The narrator asks; “What were these things?”
Events take over and we never find out for sure. Although we share the narrator’s suspicions.
Consequently, her attempt to save the children takes the form of a relentless quest to find out what they know -- to make them confess, rather than predict what may happen to them in the future. Her fear of innocence being corrupted seems to be a big part of the reason she approaches the problem indirectly -- it’s not just that the ghosts are unmentionable, but that what the ghosts have said to them or introduced them to that is unspeakable.
But what the hell is going on with this current governess? She is the narrator and we only ever see things from her point of view. Is she reliable? Can the reader trust her? At times her narration seems to border on the hysterical. She describes the children as “little dears”. “Our sweet darlings”. But just pages later, she hints that they are duplicitous; colluding with the ghosts. And what about her own relationship with the children, especially Miles? On their walk to the church, their dialogue reads like an adult flirtation.
“I could say nothing for a minute, though I felt, as I held his hand and our eyes continued to meet, that my silence had all the air of admitting his charge and that nothing in the whole world of reality was perhaps at that moment so fabulous as our actual relation.”
Then later, the narrator is so overwhelmed, she cannot bring herself to follow Miles into the church.
“…it was too extreme an effort to squeeze beside him into the pew; he would be so much more sure than ever, to pass his arm into mine and make me sit there for an hour in close, silent contact with his commentary on our talk. For the first minute since his arrival I wanted to get away from him.”
Let’s not forget that Miles is a ten year old boy and the governess is a woman in her twenties. Does she have an infatuation with Miles? She speaks of their relationship as if she is violently, sexually attracted to him. Is she as guilty in her secret thoughts of the sin that she condemns Quint and Jessel for? Or maybe she is just flustered around males; she is seduced by Miles -- she continually tells us of his goodness; but it is plain that he makes her nervous. She has certainly been attracted to Miles’ uncle, when he interviewed her for the position of governess in Harley Street. And Peter Quint’s raw, animalistic sexuality terrifies her. It’s as if she can scent Quint’s musky, relentless, sexual arousal. Quint is primal, feral. He takes what he wants.
Henry James clearly knew what he was doing, when he created his characters and this malevolent situation. Never is he explicit, he lets his words work on us, like burrowing maggots. What we, as readers can imagine is vastly more frightening and haunting than what he, the author, could have ever committed to the page.
Perhaps James is asking us to consider; what is the source of evil? We know that evil exists, but where does it come from? He "turns the screw" on the conventional notion of evil, by introducing the innocence of children.
Miss Jessel, Myra Hindley, Vanessa George, Michelle Martin. What are we to make of them?
Paedophilia is silenced. Okay, these days we talk a lot about it. We babble and say nothing. When we try for a constructive dialogue, we end up screaming at each other. We panic.
What is less admissible, more unspeakable than paedophilia? And what then is more silenced than female paedophilia?
Friday, 11 April 2014
And there she lulled me asleep
And there I dreamed – Ah! woe betide! -
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.
“La Belle Dame sans Merci”
The painting is by Frank Dicksee; the same theme & title.
There must be a group for men like me, at odds with social convention but at peace with my own nature. "Hi, I'm Ed and I am a spanked husband." Chairs in a circle, maybe a box of tissues set on the floor. With any luck, several guys are there with me both to tell their stories and tell me they know where I am coming from. I have yet to find such a collective of submissive odd fellows but if I ever do, I will follow my terse introduction with a narrative that, outside that circle of acceptance and shared vulnerability, would expose me to a hail of derision.
I was with Lisa for nearly twenty years, from dating and engagement to estrangement and now divorce. My personal story, however, is but indicative of the shifting dynamics of mating and relating that already have existed in a substratum of Western society for a very long time. Today, the world speaks of Empowered Women. In private, in shadowy precincts of swooning fetishes and closely guarded secrets among countless couples burrowed in the aggregate intimacy of the race, there are and ever will be dominant ladies and the submissive males under their feet. Thus, Lisa and Ed. For that matter, there are your neighbors and friends; bosses and co-workers and for God's sake, a handful of your relatives too.
About myself and my union with a woman whom I have loved for over half my life, I will share some stories and then offer a few tentative conclusions about where I suspect evolution is pushing women and men; that is, awkwardly and fractiously toward a realignment of gender roles in the 21st Century. Believing that experience is the best teacher and knowing how much people enjoy reading erotic details of other's lives, let me elaborate on my own transformation from self-indulgent jerk to disciplined husband.
Being male, there is a primal fact that permits no rebuttal: I think with my penis. That makes me like almost every other male, naturally. But not every man is joined to a woman who consistently lays the law down with a practiced poise so effective that the marriage itself reflects the exercise of her will. Here is a perfect example from our early days. Before our engagement, I used to accompany Lisa to the local fashion mall whenever she liked because there were sure to be plenty of young female employees wearing sexy outfits. I wanted all of them. Don't get me wrong here because I was already in love with Lisa. My cock nevertheless had not yet signed off on my future plans. I flirted intensely with all manner of attractive females when opportunities arose. Occasionally, I would seek out a certain statuesque blonde at a large department store, sidling up to whatever counter she was working that day. I really looked forward to seeing her and talking breezily about most anything, my day at work or some car I wanted, you name it. All to hold her attention and invite her lovely gaze. Her makeup was immaculately matched to her shoulder-length hair and I used to think there was an artist inside, showing her off to the world. Moreover, she seemed to relish the attention as much as I loved lavishing it on her! One night, I thought the coast was clear while Lisa was trying on dresses in a store two doors down across the wide and crowded walkway. I was making pretty good time with this young lady, I figured and while chatting her up, fantasized about how I could arrange a rendezvous. Then Lisa walked up quietly behind me. I watched the face of my luscious Amazon flush crimson as she averted her eyes and got suddenly very busy with stocking merchandise. It was the sum of all fears for a roué. Busted! Lisa had chided me repeatedly about conversing with women whom we did not know mutually. I could do nothing now but beg the question of my guilt. "Oh, hi honey. I was just..." That is as far as I got. "Go out to the car," Lisa commanded coolly. I started to protest that I didn't mean any harm. An obvious lie. "What did I just tell you?" Lisa was in no mood for games so I replied with a feeble "Yeah, OK. Sure," and did as I was told. It was maybe another 15 minutes before Lisa came out, took the keys away from me and drove us to her home silently. I don't know to this day what she told my alluring blonde acquaintance but never again did the two of us flirt or even acknowledge each other though Lisa and I still shop there often. When we got home, Lisa told me that my days as a skirt-chasing dog were over. She had trusted me on my own and I had let her down, badly. Seeing the dire straits I was in, I clumsily confessed to my treachery and apologized profusely while she sat on the couch, listening with an implacable scowl.
Clearly I was only digging myself in deeper. "Are you through?" I was definitely through, I thought. Finished. Lisa straightened herself and pulled up her skirt to form a straight line across her thighs. "You have just earned yourself a good spanking," she declared. "Take your pants down." I was not about to refuse and lose Lisa. I loved her, more so than any woman before and couldn't imagine myself considering marriage to another lady. This was a make-or-break moment. So I unbuckled my belt and dropped my pants to the floor. She reached out, grabbed my hand and pulled me across her lap. "You know damned well you have this coming," she said as she took down my boxers and strategically positioned my bottom so that it rose like a hillock over her stockinged knee. Lisa used a stern hand on me, cupped for a punishing resonance that soon brought intense heat and a ruby red blush to all four of my cheeks. In subsequent spankings, Lisa discovered the effect her hairbrush had both on my bare behind and on my behavior. Still, her point was soundly made that first time. She probably delivered about a hundred swats to each cheek, alternating with authority and scolding me throughout. I was reduced to tears, as much from shame and humiliation as from the sharp sting applied with building intensity. Afterward, I was banished to a corner of her living room with my pants all the way off, standing there for an hour while Lisa poured a glass of wine and admired her handiwork.
Thereafter, punishment spankings became the norm for me as Lisa evaluated then fulfilled my deep need for discipline. Her sturdy wooden hairbrush was always close at hand and worked wonders in reshaping my attitudes in our relationship and conduct outside the home, where by the way I was not immune from being turned over her knee! If I acted up, my pants came down even if that meant hauling me into an empty family rest room in a public venue. Lisa was my loving wife but a consistently strict and skilled disciplinarian. I must have divined this side of her nature when courting her. She was always confident and assertive from the beginning. What I did not anticipate was how much I would come to crave the control Lisa exerted over me. I did all that I could to maintain her trust in me because it was a long way to go winning it back after obvious flirtations and The Mall Incident. When I failed her in any significant way, particularly by disrespecting her feminine authority, Lisa exercised her matriarchal marital right to take my pants down (or make me do it for her to reinforce my submission) and administer the old-fashioned spanking we both knew I had earned. It was characteristic of a comprehensive lifestyle that served us well for years. Femdom spanking guided our marriage into a sexual wilderness.
END OF PART ONE
The painting La Belle Dame sans Merci (The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy) is by Frank Dicksee 1901
Oil on canvas.
Can be seen at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (UK)
Friday, 4 April 2014
The Body of Christ
A short story by
Jan Vander Laenen
"Ce qu'il avait fait de mieux
contre l'infâme de M. de Voltaire,
ç'avait e'te' un jour
dame! on fait ce qu'on peut-
de donner un paquet d'hosties a' des cochons!"
(Barbey d'AUREVILLY, A un dîner d'Athe'es)
The number of communion wafers that I have ever partaken of must be roughly the same as the number of men with whom I have hitherto made homosexual love, or so I concluded last summer. It was the eve of World Gay Pride in Rome, and I lay on the bed in my hotel room, somewhere in the district of the Campo dei Fiori, thinking about my own little life in general and the unusual event of the previous day in particular.
My own little life I am now forty can be fairly schematically split into two halves.
The first half was characterised by a very middle-class, Catholic education in a small village in the Kempen region and a boarding school near fascist Antwerp. From age 6 to age 20, about twice a week I attended Mass there and consumed a Body of Christ, which with a little arithmetic adds up to somthing like 1,456 communion wafers.
Add to that a conservative fifty of these sacred items that I, together with other blasphemious pals, went one night and pinched from the pyx in the chapel in order to supplement our poor boarding-school fare, and we reach the round sum of 1,500. During the second half of my life, I have virtually entirely lost my interest in the Body of Christ, although I have nonetheless developed a most overwhelming passion for the bodies of less holy men.
Dwelling on this passion here is of little profit: I have probably experienced a career in love similar to that of a good many of my libertine brothers and it therefore seems to me acceptable to estimate the number of bedmates I have had at something like fifteen hundred.
And whilst in virtually all Catholic regions the Body of Christ has pretty much the same taste and consistency and in principle can only be taken in a church and in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist, the range of tastes of the bodies of other men and the places where one might sample them are naturally much more extensive and varied. The same goes for the emotions that go hand in hand with performance of the two aforementioned activities.
To the best of my recollection, I have always downed my communion wafers somewhat indifferently, or perhaps with a hint of devotion, in short a very nondescript emotion in comparison with the feelings of passion, lust, loving and subservience that my many horseplay partners have been able to wrest from me.
So much for that: these mullings are my foreword to the unusual event that happened to me last summer. I was strolling through the centre of the Eternal City and having walked past twenty-or-so monuments without regard, I was suddenly taken by an unexpected mood of devotion.
Yes, I wanted to confess, I wanted to pray to God and the Holy Virgin and to have myself cleansed by imbibing a Body of Christ. Happily, Rome as everybody knows is just riddled with basilicas, churches and chapels, and about a hundred yards up the street I located a small, Baroque house of God in which I could assuage my religious hunger.
And so I set foot into the little church, made the sign of the cross with a few drops of holy water and went and sat on a pew at the back, as the Mass had started. And after first casting my gaze over the interior's sculptures and paintings, my eye suddenly fell on the priest, who was just magicking a chalice of wine into the Blood of Christ. He wore a chasuble. He had a full beard and a serious expression. I reckoned he was about forty. He struck me as familiar, although at that moment I could not remember at all where I might ever have met the man, and I immediately then dismissed this thought as one of those crazy notions that had frequently occurred to me in recent times.
Ten or so minutes later, as I was shuffling up the queue for my portion of Holy Bread, however, I got a clearer look at the man, and as I eventually stood plum in front of him, looked at him and stuck my tongue out, I thought I could read something akin to amazement in his eyes. Indeed, he was staring at me in wonder, wafer in hand, and for a long moment he stood in this position, as though turned to stone.
'Hello, Jan, how's things?' he eventually said to me in Dutch, at which he gathered himself, murmured 'body of Christ' and with trembling hand laid the wafer on my tongue.
I went and drank a Campari after the Mass, and it was at the pavement cafe that, having racked my brains for ten minutes that the priests' name suddenly dawned on me: Paul Van Gelder.
Well I never, Paul Van Gelder, it was a long time ago, in Brussels, both of us twenty and gay and each not daring to admit it to the other. And all the trouble we went to all those evenings in the student bars round Sint-Gorik's Square to avoid the subject, whilst we were both head over heels in love with one another.
And so on until that evening, that dark November night when you stood unexpected before the door of my study. I let you in, you took me in your arms and changed my mind with a French kiss as passionate as it was long. After this, you took your leave of me and with wavering voice told me that you would be going away from Brussels the next day to start training as a priest.
And so, Paul Van Gelder, you really did become a priest and, as fate had it, twenty years later our paths momentarily crossed again, in Rome, and in a church to boot, in the Holy Year and the day before World Gay Pride. Thanks, Paul Van Gelder, you gave me the most cleansing Body of Christ ever in my sinful existence.
Jan Vander Laenen
“Matthew 26:26-28: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
"Transubstantiation" is the official Roman Catholic concept referring to the change that takes place during the sacrament of Holy Communion (Eucharist). This change involves the substances of bread and wine being turned miraculously into the substance of Christ himself. The underlying essence of these elements is changed, and they retain only the appearance, taste, and texture of bread and wine. Catholic doctrine holds that the Godhead is indivisible, so every particle or drop thus changed is wholly identical in substance with the divinity, body, and blood of the Saviour.
Friday, 28 March 2014
My Experience with Erotica Writers on Social Media
As a blogger I have been using social media for almost half of a decade. I have crossed paths with various bloggers who cover different subject matter utilizing various styles.
Lately, I have worked my way in with any number of erotica writers on Twitter. This is interesting to me because although I have written about subjects that do include human sexuality, I have never explored erotica as a genre.
Many of these erotica writers are very talented and produce not only tantalizing tales but also include posts about sexual health, sexually transmitted diseases, and social commentary related to sexuality.
It seems to me, as an outsider on the subject of erotica, that the challenge for many of these authors and bloggers is how to connect with a wider group of potential readers who are not necessarily seeking out sexual stimulation. Many of these potential readers may not realize that the erotica genre encompasses a great deal of information and displays a wealth of writing skills worth perusing. One of the hurdles attributed to this disconnect is the word “porn.”
It has been said that one man’s music is another man’s noise. Much the same can be said about erotica and pornography.
Erotica to me, in the classic interpretation of Eros in regard to love or desire, is an artistic depiction of human sexuality that celebrates the instinctual sexual attraction we all share. Pornography is a more graphic and in your face (no pun intended) representation of explicit sex acts. It should be worth noting that some people recognize little distinction between erotica and porn.
Andy Warhol once infamously stated that, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Much has been inferred by what he may have meant by this but for me the take away is simple.
We live in a society that represents an odd dichotomy in regard to sex. We both celebrate and suppress sexuality. In this process sexuality becomes more than what it really is. At its core sexuality is just another natural part of life.
We certainly enjoy cooking and trying new recipes to help us enjoy eating. A little spice here and there adds zest to meals we have eaten a hundred times before. In the same vein sometimes a relationship needs a little zing.
For example, within the context of an adult consensual relationship where trust and respect abound, a woman may enjoy submitting to a bad boy and a man may enjoy the shaky breath of fear coming out of his damsel in distress. For the less adventurous the old fashioned game of the cable guy visiting the lonely wife may be in order. Erotica can help conjure up ideas and fantasies for many couples. Good sex, as they say and I believe that it is true, is largely mental.
Porn may have its place too. Just about everybody at one time or another has checked out porn. My only caution with porn, as with so many other things in life including eating and drinking, is to keep it in moderation. For too many people porn is becoming a replacement for real sex. Just as socially we often tweet people on the other side of the world but may not know the name of our next-door neighbor, technology is providing better and increasingly interactive virtual realities where we can have sex but is also creating a situation where we can forget about how to deal with real human relationships.
My experience with erotica specifically on social media would lead me to believe that the human experience in regard to erotic content should be presented in a creative and positive way. I believe there are a fair number of potential readers out there who could be brought into the erotica genre never before having considered it.
Again, erotica is not my forte. But to reach fuddy-duddies like me I would recommend these few suggestions.
Keep avatars and bios modest. If your avatar is a picture of human genitalia I will not follow you. If your bio is an exhibition of four letter words in regard to your sexual exploits I will not follow you. Many of my followers are professional writers and marketers who do not expect a picture of a woman with a penis jammed into every orifice of her body showing up in my timeline.
Do not lead with posts that are designed to shock. People who are seeking jaw-dropping material will find it on your site if you decide to offer it. The last thing you want to do is scare away a somewhat potentially interested reader.
Appeal to women. A set of breasts crammed into an avatar will attract men but not necessarily the best followers. Where women go men will follow. It doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. My years around the nightclub industry taught me that male review nights attracting women were a lot more fun to work than female review nights attracting men. Women just don’t care about a bunch of horny guys coming out to watch strippers. That is the whole point of Lady’s Night and not Men’s Night. If women are tweeting about you, male followers will also appear and those men will be more interested in your content.
Erotica at its best should enhance the way people enjoy love and sexuality. Erotica should be about people and the human experience. Erotica should put a naughty smile on your face as much as a warm spot in your jeans.
Thought provoking stuff this week from Billy Dees. I think that all writers, and readers of the erotica genre should read this. Billy contacted me on Twitter, a while ago -- expressing much of what he says here about the erotica genre – it is to Billy’s talent as a writer that he managed to convey, very succinctly, his complex ideas in a Tweet. (To those of you who don’t understand Twitter, that’s a message in only 140 characters.) I asked Billy if he would write something for my blog and here it is.
Billy can be found at his journal and on Twitter @billydees
Friday, 21 March 2014
These days, we’re used to the term “moral panic”. But in case you haven’t come across it it’s “an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.” We’ve seen it happen in our own times; the threat of immigrants, the threat of asylum seekers, the threat of paedophiles, homophobia…the threat of homosexuals. At some point in our present, and recent past, all of these “folk devils,” have been seen as a threat to our social order.
And fear appears to be the catalyst. The status quo is sensitive and protective of itself. The status quo is suspicious of difference; it doesn’t like criticism. It doesn’t like change.
Rewind the clock back to Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s and we have the anti-Semitism which resulted in the holocaust and the horrors of the gas chambers; resentment against the Jews had been simmering for centuries. According to popular thinking at the time, the Jews were responsible for everything that was wrong in Germany. Failure to win the First World War was the catalyst for the horrors that followed. Germany had been demoralized once too often and it was the Jews’ fault.
“Moral panics are in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tensions and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its centre is taboo. The media have long operated as agents of moral indignation, even when they are not consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking. Simply reporting the facts can be enough to generate concern, anxiety or panic.”
I think that probably the earliest example of a moral panic is the 16th century witch hunt.
“Before 1750, they were legally sanctioned and involved official witchcraft trials. The classical period of witch hunts in Europe, and North America, falls into the Early Modern period of about 1480 – 1750, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation and the 30 Years’ War. The trials resulted in an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 executions.”
It appears not to matter whether they fall into a time of plenty, or a time of frugality, a society can be susceptible to a moral panic at any time. It’s 1918, the final year of World War I and there was an atmosphere of gloom throughout England. The sight of so many men with grotesque wounds was a dispiriting reminder of a war that seemed to have no end. And the mood was no better in the trenches. Britain was not doing well. The German troops were flourishing.
Some wondered why we seemed incapable of victory. Might it somehow be our own fault? Could there be something rotten at the heart of the British ruling class? One man certainly though so. The maverick MP, Noel Pemberton-Billing.
Billing was a colourful self publicist, who believed that Britain was being sabotaged by thousands of perverts in the pay of the Hun. He alleged that powerful figures in Britain had been corrupted by perverted German spies.
“They have used,” he claimed. “Practices that all decent men had thought had perished at Sodom and Lesbia.”
These astonishing allegations found a ready audience by a people frustrated by their failure to win the war. They would also land him in court.
On the morning of 29th May 1918, a great crowd gather at the Old Bailey, for what promised to be the most sensational court case in Britain for many years. It was a newspaper man’s dream and it involved an exotic dancer, high politics, enemy spies and sexual deviancy. It threatened to blow the lid off the British Establishment.
According to Billing, 47,000 British people had been corrupted. Their names had been written in a secret dossier which Billing called “the black book”. He claimed that the black book held the names of Cabinet Ministers, Privy Counsellors, Newspaper Proprietors, even members of the King’s own Household. And he said that the wives of senior public figures were in especial danger because in the throes of lesbian ecstasy, the most sacred secrets of the state were betrayed.
So where were these degenerate traitors to be found? At the theatre of course! Specifically at a private production of Oscar Wilde’s banned play, “Salome” starring the voluptuous actress Maud Allan.
In an article entitled, “the Cult of the Clitoris”, Billing asserted that the actress was having an affair with Margot Asquith, wife of the former Prime Minister.
Billing was charged with Criminal Libel.
Conducting his own defense, he used his trial as a platform to reveal to the nation how far the moral rot had spread. He called, as a witness, a woman who claimed to have seen the black book, listing all the people who had been corrupted by the filthy German agents.
“Is Mrs Asquith’s name in the book?” he asked.
“Yes,” the witness replied enthusiastically
. “It is!”
“Is Mr Asquith’s name in the book?”
“It is!” she responded.
And Billing pointed to the judge. “Is the Judge’s name in the book?”
“It is!” she screamed.
There was complete chaos in the Court. It was all nonsense of course, but Mr Justice Darling was out of his depth and rapidly lost control of proceedings. This absurd trial lasted for 6 days. On 4th June 1918 the Jury returned their verdict. Pemberton-Billing was not guilty of Libel. He left the court to thunderous applause and when he got onto the street outside the Old Bailey his supporters threw flowers at his feet.
And Pemberton-Billing’s ridiculous rantings had struck a chord -- people were worried. And at this stage of the war there was much to be worried about. The balance of power was with Germany.
(This blog post has been put together using sources from the Web and the BBC/Open University documentary series, Britain’s Great War, presented by Jeremy Paxman. If you are in the UK and have access to BBC IPlayer you will find the series there.)
Friday, 14 March 2014
Sometimes, something snaps inside our heads. We become disconnected; we can’t find our way. We are lost. We may be confused, babble, see visions. Sometimes, people take us away. The world whispers about us; around us. People say that we are mad.
And it is madness that inhabits the world of Ken Kesey’s novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Not just madness, fear inhabits that world too.
I can’t claim, by a long way, to have read every novel written in the twentieth century, but I’ve read a helluva lot, and I really do believe that Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, published in 1962, is one of the finest. It’s startling in its originality; Kesey’s use of language is stunning in his poetic prose. He twists metaphor until it strains like tortured metal, and threatens to snap, and all the while, instantly, the reader knows exactly what Kesey is talking about. His novel deserves its reputation as a classic work of literature.
The narrative takes place in “the Big Nurse’s” ward in a mental institution. It sounds as if you are in for a tough read, but you’re not. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is funny, Kesey’s sharp sense of humour rescues the book from bleakness.
The novel is also poignant and ultimately heartbreaking.
The two main players in Kesey’s novel are McMurphy and “the Big Nurse;” Nurse Ratched.
Kesey has gravitas. His writing has dignity. Our emotions may be miniscule, set against the great profundities that human beings have to pit themselves against, but any writer who can make us think; “yes, I have felt like that too,” is worthy indeed.
Kesey demonstrates this understanding after McMurphy observes in the group therapy session, how the residents turn against Harding. “Pecking at him, like he was a wounded chicken”, all under the eye of Nurse Ratched and the doctor. McMurphy says that Nurse Ratched is a “Ball breaker” -- she sits with a small smile on her face as Harding is emotionally castrated.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is told in the first person, by Chief Bromden. The Chief is a patient on the Big Nurse’s ward. He has been there the longest of all the patients, and despite being considered a hopeless case, he has learnt to carve out a life for himself. He knows how to survive. The staff and patients all think that the Chief is mute; deaf and dumb. He isn’t; he can hear as well as anyone, and if he chose to, he could speak. Through the Chief, readers are treated to a cynical look at society and its rules. He refers to the authority figures in the book as “The Combine”, in reference to the mechanical way they manipulate individuals. The story is really a modern day parable about the abuse of power.
The Chief describes Nurse Ratched;
“Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh coloured enamel, blend of white and cream and baby blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils -- everything working together except the colour on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big womanly breasts on what would otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.”
The Chief introduces us to the ward. We immediately understand that this is a domain of lost souls. People with no power, who at some time in their lives have had their grip on sanity slip, never to regain their footing.
Enter, Randle P. McMurphy.
Faking insanity to get out of prison for a battery charge, McMurphy immediately begins upsetting Nurse Ratched’s routines, embroiling the two in a power struggle. As an upbeat character, McMurphy easily convinces the other patients—including the stuttering Billy Bibbit, the effeminate Dale Harding and the germaphobic George Sorenson—to gamble, to vote to watch the World Series on TV, to take a fishing trip and to start questioning the demands of the hospital staff. McMurphy is a strong, but flawed character; one who, at times, struggles with the expectations he has manipulated and the consequences he has brought about.
McMurphy represents the freedom that the patients have voluntarily given up – and it is McMurphy who shows them how to find the courage to reclaim their place in the world.
When McMurphy first enters the ward, the thing that immediately distinguishes him, aside from his lack of fear, are his jokes. He laughs out loud at everything, and makes fun of everyone. Laughter is very rarely heard in the ward, and by not taking anything too seriously, McMurphy is able to exert power over it. He manages to avoid any sort of insult or invasion by making a joke of it. And laughter is something that men do. McMurphy’s gut wrenching belly laugh is absolutely male. The Chief notices McMurphy’s calloused hands; his sunburnt skin. McMurphy is a man; a concept that the men in the ward have forgotten. Even through the pervasive odour of hospital smells, the stench of incontinence, the Chief scents on McMurphy;
“…the man smell of dust and dirt from the open fields, and sweat, and work.”
McMurphy, having bet the rest of the men that he can get the Big Nurse to crack within a week, makes his first step by the use of a long joke. The Big Nurse is unable to fight back because it takes her by surprise. By making fun of her, he subverts her authority, and eliminates any power she might have over him.
McMurphy tells the other men jokes in an attempt to get them to laugh, but such an act smacks of rebellion, and the other men are unable to accomplish it. Laughter is equated with strength and an ability to not take everything seriously. It also means having an emotional reaction to something that isn't fear, an idea of which the men of the ward are terrified.
When for the first time, the men take part in the joke, pretending to be dangerous mental patients, they frighten the people around them into treating them with respect, giving the men a feeling of power. They become a team against the world, which they always were, but a team with an ability to actively fight back. For the first time, the joke is at the expense of the society that has terrorized them.
McMurphy laughs at seeing the men the way they are, both laughing at them and with them. He is able to survive for so long against the world that has destroyed the rest of them because he can laugh at it. He takes everything seriously by taking nothing seriously. He doesn't deny that there is pain and hardship, but he refuses to let that define and ruin him.
But McMurphy misunderstands the enormity of what he has taken on. He is playing a dangerous game. These men, really are people who are very ill. They are emotionally frail and while McMurphy reminds them of what it is like to have fun, there is danger ahead. And Nurse Ratched is a formidable foe.
The Chief muses;
"I thought for a minute there I saw her whipped. Maybe I did. But I see now that it don't make any difference.... To beat her you don't have to whip her two out of three or three out of five, but every time you meet. As soon as you let down your guard, as soon as you lose once, she's won for good. And eventually we all got to lose. Nobody can help that."
McMurphy slips up and shows the danger of constant jokes. The Big Nurse warns him of the possibility of a lobotomy, but instead of taking it seriously, he turns it into a joke about his testicles. McMurphy has no intention of backing down at this point, but by turning the warning into the joke, he increases the chances of it being acted upon.
Friday is the day that the men go to the X-Ray room to get checked up. While they wait, McMurphy notices another door and asks where it leads. Harding tells him that it goes to the Shock Shop, and explains the theory behind electro-shock therapy. Once again, it is revealed that the Big Nurse has the power to order such treatment as well as lobotomies. McMurphy realizes that it's the system that's behind everything, and tries to explain this to the rest of them; how even if they got rid of the Big Nurse, things wouldn't change, really. The men don't understand, and Harding finally admits that they've noticed that he's stopped fighting against the Nurse. McMurphy agrees, and tells them he realised he had as much to lose as the rest of them. Harding tells him no, McMurphy has more to lose, since all the Acutes are there voluntarily. McMurphy can't believe this, and he starts accosting all of them, until Billy Bibbit breaks down.
"'You think I wuh-wuh-wuh-want to stay in here? You think I wouldn't like a con-con-vertible and a guh-guh-girl friend? But did you ever have people l-l-laughing at you? No, because you're so b-big and so tough! Well, I'm not big and tough.'"
It’s the beginning of a downward spiralling tragedy, that for the Chief culminates in triumphant liberation, and ends in disaster for others.
McMurphy gets the doctor on his side, and they organise a fishing trip. It’s a chance to remind the men of who they are, outside the confines of the hospital. On the fishing expedition the patients laugh and feel complete humans again. This happens with McMurphy's guidance, his laughter booming in the face of chaos.
But later, all the men who went on the boat trip have to take a special shower, because Nurse Ratched thinks they might have caught some sort of bug. While they're in the shower, the black aides attack George, trying to get him to put on salve. George refuses, because of his neatness obsession and pathological fear of germs. McMurphy steps in to defend him, and he gets in a fight with the aides. The Chief helps throw them off, and the two of them get strapped down and sent up to “Disturbed”.
Things are dangerously out of control for McMurphy. This passage, where they are driving home from the fishing trip, stands out for me. The Chief narrates;
“Then -- as he was talking -- a set of tail-lights going past lit up McMurphy’s face, and the windshield reflected an expression that was only allowed because he figured it’d be too dark for anybody in the car to see, dreadfully tired and strained and frantic, like there wasn’t enough time left for something he had to do…While his relaxed, good natured voice doled out his life for us to live, a rollicking past full of kid fun and drinking buddies and loving women and barroom battles over meagre honours -- for all of us to dream ourselves into.”
This is a story of sacrifice. While the Chief and McMurphy are waiting for Electric Shock Treatment, Kesey sprinkles his prose with Christ images.
McMurphy arranges himself willingly on the table in a crucifix; arms outstretched, his ankles clamped together, he’s clamped down at the wrists.
“They put graphite salve on his temples. ‘What is it?’ he says. ‘Conductant.’ the technician says. ‘Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?’”
Electro Shock Treatment is an obscene ritual and Kesey tells it so casually and that’s what makes it so horrifying. It is only when the Chief describes McMurphy’s body arcing, as the volts slam through him, that the reader offers up a silent scream.
“…light arcs across, stiffens him, bridges him up off the table till nothing is down but his wrists and ankles…”
The Chief is brought back to the ward, and the rest of the men greet him like a hero. They ask him all sorts of questions about what's going on with McMurphy, and when he responds, no one thinks it odd that the Chief is talking now.
The Big Nurse sees that McMurphy's legend is growing, and while he's away he's just getting bigger and bigger, so she starts making plans to bring him back down. The men anticipate this, and work out a plan to get McMurphy out of the ward that Saturday, forgetting it's the day that McMurphy has set up for Billy's date with Candy. They tell their plans to McMurphy when he returns to the ward, but he refuses to leave until after that night. He says to consider it his going away party.
McMurphy bribes the night aide, Mr. Turkle, with the promise of “booze and broads“, in order to get him to open up a window that night. Candy is late, but when she arrives, she's got a friend with her, the woman, Sandy, who was supposed to be with her earlier at the boat trip. The group hides from the night supervisor, and proceeds to get drunk on the liquor the women brought with them, along with whatever medication Harding can get out of the cabinet. Billy and Candy eventually sneak off for some privacy, and Harding tries to get McMurphy to leave. McMurphy asks why the others don't come with him, but all of them need a little more time. He asks Harding what made them so scared. Harding isn't able to say, exactly, just that they were beaten down by the rest of the world for the things they did, and who they were, and that they didn't have the strength to fight back. McMurphy says that he's always had people bugging him, and it's never brought him down that much. Harding admits that this is true, but that he's figured out who drives strong people like McMurphy to weakness.
"'Yeah? Not that I'm admitting I'm down that road, but what is this something else?'
'It is us.' He swept his hand about him in a soft white circle and repeated, 'Us.'"
It's five am, and McMurphy decides to get some sleep before leaving. He says goodbye to Harding and the Chief, then settles into bed. All of them fall asleep and don't wake up till the black aides come on the ward at six-thirty.
Harding tries to get McMurphy to leave in the morning, but he claims that he's too drunk to move. When roll call shows that Billy is missing, the aides and the Big Nurse do a room check. They find him and Candy in bed in one of the rooms. Nurse Ratched is shocked, and keeps telling Billy how ashamed she is for him, but Billy doesn't seem to notice, just gets his clothes together and comes out into the hall. He responds to her questions without a stutter. However, the Big Nurse knows what buttons to push in the end. "'What worries me, Billy,' she said- I could hear the change in her voice- 'is how your mother is going to take this.'" Billy immediately panics. He begs Nurse Ratched not to call his mother, and when the nurse refuses, he starts to blame the fact that he was in bed with a woman on everyone else in the room, saying they made him do it. He is taken away to wait alone in the doctor's office.
All the men sit down in the day room, and they tell McMurphy that they don't blame him at all, they know it wasn't his fault. He just relaxes and looks like he's waiting for something. The doctor yells for the nurse from his office, and she and the aides go running. She comes back alone, and speaks directly to McMurphy. She tells him that Billy cut his throat with some instruments in the doctor's desk.
"'First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you're finally satisfied. Playing with human lives- gambling with human lives- as if you thought yourself to be a God!'"
She goes back into her office. The Chief knows that McMurphy is going to do something, and at first he thinks to try and stop it; but then he realises that he can't stop it, because he and the rest of the men of the ward are forcing McMurphy to do it. They force him to get out of his chair and go over to nurses' station. He rips open the Big Nurse's shirt, revealing those too large breasts, and tries to strangle her.
When the doctors and aides rip him off her, he cries out. The Chief describes it as;
“A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance, that if you ever trailed coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs get him, when he finally doesn't care any more about anything but himself and his dying.”
McMurphy’s fate is sealed. When he is returned to the ward, he has had a lobotomy. The mythology of McMurphy lives on. The men on the ward discuss whether this ruined spectacle is really him.
“After a minute of silence, Scanlon turned and spat on the floor. ‘Ah what’s the old bitch tryin’ to put over on us anyhow, for craps sake. That ain’t him.’”
“‘Nothing like him,’ Martini said.”
“‘How stupid she think we are?’”
The chief knows it is McMurphy and he tries to think of what McMurphy would have done.
“I was sure of only one thing: he wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.”
Nurse Ratched may think that she has won the game, but the Chief’s final actions before he leaves the ward, make it a hollow victory.
The title of the book is a line from a nursery rhyme.
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.
Chief Bromden's grandmother sang this song to him when he was young, and they had a game about it.
The inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest came while working on the night shift (with Gordon Lish) at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to the patients, sometimes under the influence of the hallucinogenic drugs, with which he had volunteered to experiment. Kesey did not believe that these patients were insane, rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. Published in 1962, it was an immediate success; in 1963, it was adapted into a successful stage play by Dale Wasserman; in 1975, Miloš Forman directed a screen adaptation, which won the "Big Five" Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Forman) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman).
Kesey was originally involved in creating the film, but left two weeks into production. He claimed never to have seen the movie because of a dispute over the $20,000 he was initially paid for the film rights. Kesey loathed the fact that, unlike the book, the film was not narrated by the Chief Bromden character, and he disagreed with Jack Nicholson being cast as Randle McMurphy (he wanted Gene Hackman). Despite this, Faye Kesey has stated that Ken was generally supportive of the film and was pleased that it was made.
Friday, 7 March 2014
It was the scandal of the decade, if not of the twentieth century. The year was 1963, an austere time in England. We were still recovering from the devastation we had suffered during WWII. Rationing had only ended in the late 1950's. It was the height of the Cold War, when spying was rife and the threat of war was imminent, with the outbreak of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And fear of spies was a reality. Britain was reeling from the revelations that Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were Soviet spies. There was sexual intrigue involving men high in the social scale. A Minister of the Crown; an eminent Harley Street doctor. Sex and lies from those very men that we looked up to. The idea that a British politician was not only cheating on his wife with a call girl and sharing the call girl with a Soviet diplomat, sent the public reeling.
This scandal of sex and betrayal saw the resignation of one Cabinet Minister, the retirement of a Prime Minister and I don’t think I am exaggerating, when I say that the scandal eventually caused the downfall of a government.
The 1960’s was the decade that the publisher Penguin was prosecuted for publishing D.H. Lawrence's racy novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. Penguin won the case and was able to publish 200,000 copies as people raced to get their hands on it. The old order was being challenged and a new order was just beginning. The children born just after, and during the war were coming of age. The Beatles still had mop haircuts and had just released “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, Ian Fleming's spy novels had hit the screen starring the very sexy Sean Connery as 007. The newest actors in Britain were not Hollywoodized versions of British men, but actors like Albert Finney and Michael Caine who were working class.
New magazines like “Private Eye” which poked fun at everyone and everything was established. Beyond the Fringe starring Peter Cook, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller hit the West End. And David Frost became a national celebrity hosting the hit TV show That Was the Week that Was (a more topical version of VH-1's Best Week Ever).
Yet for all the changes, Britain was stuck in the 1950's. This was still the era when unmarried girls who found themselves pregnant, were packed off to places where they could have their babies in secret and then give them up for adoption.
And politically things were not good. Although Harold Macmillan had swept into office in 1959 with a majority in the House of Commons, there was discontent in the country. While Japan and Germany had recovered nicely from the war, the economy in Britain was stagnant. There was inflation and labour unrest. Unlike America, with its young, vibrant president, Irish-Catholic, war-hero with a beautiful young wife, and two adorable children, it seemed that politicians in office reflected a by-gone era, the era of Churchill and Lloyd-George, old school politicians.
So at the height of the cold war in the early 60s, as the established order was challenged as never before, Britons paid rapt attention to a sordid little affair which involved a cabinet minister, a showgirl and a Soviet naval attaché. It was an era in which anything was possible and nothing was safe; a time when the established order was being challenged, subverted, and ultimately buried.
Even today, in our peculiar society, we get excited when ministers and other public figures are caught with their pants down. In 1963, the very notion was deeply, deliciously shocking.
It was still mostly a pre-pill, pre-promiscuity age, when unmarried pregnancy was a matter of deep family shame, and back street abortionists thrived. The tabloid newspapers were already brash but not yet sex-crazed, and were by and large polite to politicians. But when the storm broke, it was not simply driven by sex; there was a deep, dark context of rank treachery.
The chief players in the unfolding drama were;
John Profumo - Secretary of State for War, married to the actress Valerie Hobson.
Harold Macmillan aka Supermac - Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Christine Keeler - goodtime girl and model
Mandy Rice-Davies - fellow goodtime girl and model
Stephen Ward - osteopath and panderer
Lord Astor - A member of an old, respected, aristocratic family. He was the owner of Cliveden, a large country house where sexual intrigues took place.
For months, rumours had circulated about the private life of John Dennis Profumo, secretary of state for war. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, he was a quintessential high Tory who had achieved cabinet rank after serving in a number of junior posts. He and his wife moved effortlessly in the crème of society.
In the deferential spirit of the 1950s, the rumours may have been restricted to salon gossip. Now, in the new age of iconoclasm, the whispers were amplified in the media. “That Was The Week That Was” scored a telling blow with a splendid parody of the old music hall number, “She was Poor but she was Honest”. The words of the new version went: "See him in the House of Commons / Making laws to put the blame / While the object of his passion / Walks the streets to hide her shame."
The "object of his passion" was a young woman whose name is now embedded in British political folklore: the incredibly beautiful Christine Keeler.
Christine Keeler, unlike Profumo, had had an extremely undistinguished life. Born in 1942, she left home at 16 after an unhappy childhood in the Thames Valley, and gravitated to London where she found work of a sort at Murray's cabaret club. There she met and befriended another showgirl, Marilyn "Mandy" Rice-Davies. Soon, both young women had drifted into the racy circle around Stephen Ward, a fashionable West End osteopath and socialite.
Christine’s relationship with Stephen Ward was both torrid and rocky. They broke up several times, but he seemed to exercise an almost mesmeric influence on her, and always she drifted back. Soon both young women were celebrated players, albeit with bit parts, in Ward's sexual circus.
Not all the action was centred on Ward's Wimpole Mews flat, equipped with two-way mirrors and other aids to lubricity. Soon, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were circulating in more exalted milieu, including Lord Astor's country mansion of Cliveden. It was there that John Profumo first laid eyes on her. A brief but passionate affair ensued, and tongues began to wag.
Even then, it might have been brushed under the carpet in the time honoured English way, but Profumo made a fundamental error: he lied to the House of Commons. In March 1963 he told the chamber that there was "no impropriety whatever" in his relationship with Christine Keeler. Ten weeks later he appeared before MPs again to say "with deep remorse" that he had misled the House, and would resign.
What brought Profumo down even more than his deceit of the Commons, was the startling revelation that Christine Keeler had also slept with Eugene Ivanov, the naval attaché at the Soviet embassy. It was that detail which captured world attention, notably in the United States, where the FBI compiled a detailed report called Operation Bowtie.
In Britain, Profumo's downfall naturally caused a huge sensation, inflated by the establishment's crude and cruel attempts to find scapegoats for its own embarrassment. As usual, official wrath was turned on those least able to defend themselves. Stephen Ward was prosecuted for living on immoral earnings. On the last day of his trial, he killed himself with an overdose of sleeping tablets.
In his suicide note Stephen Ward wrote; “I feel the day is lost. The ritual sacrifice is demanded, and I cannot face it. I’m sorry to disappoint the vultures”.
Some people think that Stephen Ward’s death is a little too convenient. They believe that he was murdered.
Christine Keeler was also tried and imprisoned on related charges. Mandy Rice-Davies, who escaped prosecution, earned a dubious immortality when, during the Ward trial, she was told that Lord Astor disputed her version of events and replied: "He would, wouldn't he?"
Less than two months after Ward's tragic and mysterious death, an official report was produced by Lord Denning, master of the rolls. It was a hot number: hundreds queued to buy a copy when it was released at midnight. But there were few juicy bits in Denning's findings. He criticised the government for failing to deal with the affair more quickly, but concluded that national security had not been compromised. And, to the dismay of the reading public, he failed to identify the man who, naked except for a mask, had served at Ward's dinner parties. There had been rumours that the "man in a mask" was a cabinet minister but Denning, who interviewed him, denied it.
There it ended, though it never really went away. The 1989 movie, Scandal reignited some of the controversy, and Christine Keeler raked over the embers in her autobiography, “The Truth At Last”, published early in 2001. In it, she revived some of the more startling claims made at the time - though alas she was unable to offer convincing new evidence to back them up.
John Profumo died in 2006. Christine Keeler is now in her 70s. After her prison term, she
repeatedly tried to restart her life, but the scandal continued to hang over her head like a sword of Damocles. She married and divorced twice, and has two sons. Over the years, she's held various jobs as a receptionist, and as a dinner lady in a school in London, all under an assumed name.
Mandy Rice-Davies traded on the notoriety the trial brought her, comparing herself to Nelson's mistress, Lady Hamilton. She married an Israeli businessman, Rafi Shauli, and went on to open a string of successful nightclubs and restaurants in Tel Aviv. The restaurants and nightclubs, which bore her name, were called: Mandy's, “Mandy's Candies” and “Mandy's Singing Bamboo”. Mandy Rice-Davies also parlayed her minor fame into a series of unsuccessful pop singles for the Ember label in the mid-'60s, including “Close Your Eyes” and “You Got What It Takes”. I am sure that I have seen her on television too.
Few attended poor Stephen Ward’s little funeral on that day in August, but a number of leading figures such as the writers Kenneth Tynan and John Osborne clubbed together to send a wreath of a hundred white carnations bearing the message 'To Stephen Ward, Victim of Hypocrisy'.
Check out my own version of Christine Keeler's famous chair pose at Francis Pott's lovely blog...here
This post was prepared using sources including Wikipedia and Derek Brown - 1963: The Profumo Scandal And from what I recall listening to my parent’s conversations about the case. A few years later, when I was 14, I wanted to go to London to train as a fashion model. My father would not let me go, citing Stephen Ward, Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler as his reasons.