Tuesday, 22 June 2010

What do you call yours?

To Cambridge, and Lucy Cavendish College, for a joint Saturday-night appearance with Maggie Alderson (old work colleague and editor of a collection of female erotica*) at a feminist book festival, Women's Word.

The subject was . . . What do you call yours?

To publicise my book Filthy English, I was appearing in front of a gathering of feminists and inviting them to discuss their favoured words for, well, their favoured anatomical parts, I guess. Presumptuous, at the least.

I suspect I was more anxious than I let myself feel.

The reason Maggie was with me was she was of great help with my book on that evening's subject**. Here is the relevant section from the book . . .

In early 2009, a group of women novelists got together and published a collection of 'unashamedly sexy stories' entitled In Bed With. Not so unashamed, though, that they'd use their real names. (Pseudonymy: sounds like a perversion, doesn't it.) Knowing one of the editors, Maggie Alderson, I got her to send me an electronic copy of the book. I did a count of the words they used, for their own parts and their partners'.

In this 334-page dirty book, there are: seven cunts, four pussies, three vaginas, three labias, three bushes, one vulva, one fanny but no twats or front bottoms; five tits (all in the same story), four titties (all in one other story), twenty-two nipples and fifty-seven breasts (four stories have seven apiece); fifteen clitorises (four in one story) and two clits (both on the same page). Men? There are forty-three cocks (seventy-four per cent of them in just four of the twenty stories), nineteen penises (ten in one story), one dick and no pricks; nine balls but no bollocks or testicles. Sexual activity? No cunnilingus or fellatio and the only bugger is a non-sexual expletive. Fucks and fucking? There are forty-five sexual ones (thirteen in one story, a tale of revenge) and eleven non-sexual ones. There is one roger, one bonk and five shags, all of them humorous or dismissive. And there are ninety-one kisses.

A fair picture, I'd say, of which words are used for what by literate, educated, middle-class twenty-first-century Englishwomen - when their noms de porn lull them into thinking no one's counting.

Maggie and I recreated our original phone calls - complete with props. We discussed female anatomy. (I'm avoiding the actual words we used so this blog doesn't get censored or blocked.) We discussed attitudes to female anatomy and the language used - in English and Serbian, in particular. (Maggie's husband is Serbian.) I claimed that if there were a World Cup for swearing, the final would always be England-Serbia.

I talked about the fine grain peculiarities of the word wanker and Maggie bemoaned the paucity of words or phrases for female masturbation - something I write about in my book. We branched out into a discussion of the implications of the playground insult 'your mum'.

We were the last act of the whole week and, while the crowd weren't exactly the second house at the Glasgow Empire, they were a gobby lot. Smart, opinionated, voluble, aggressive at times even. A real treat for a writer at a reading.

Finally, Maggie offered a prize of a copy of her book for the best word or phrase for female masturbation. I said the competition was open to - boom, boom - all-comers. I got a laugh, thank god.

The winning entry was 'flicking the bean', provided by a 19-year old former Catholic convent schoolgirl, sitting between her psychiatrist father (who went to school with Shane MacGowan and thus, like me, knew him before he was Irish) and her stepmother - an academic and former member of the Fall.

At the after-show drinks, she - the former member of the Fall, that is - noticed that I was limping a little, in pain from a crooked knee. 'I deal with pain,' she said. Having asked me a couple of questions, she told me to clench my buttocks. 'Really hard.' I did as I was told. 'No, really hard. Till it hurts.'

Stupidly - or possibly because she was American (and a former member of the Fall) - I assumed she was some kind of alternative practitioner. Not that that stopped me following her advice. But still . . . Saturday night, being told to clench your buttocks by a former member of The Fall. Such are the wonders of life.

Then I looked her up on-line. I wanted to see just how big the pool of The Fallen is. I discovered two things. She is one of 59 ex-Fallers (by one count, anyway). And she is Head of the Pain Team at West Suffolk Hospital.

Some entertainment? Washboard art?

Next up The final bit bit of my answers to my old friend's arguments against Freud and . . . who would Freud have supported in the World Cup?

* Actually she hates the word erotica, preferring to call them 'unashamedly sexy stories'. I used it, of course, to tease her.

** First, I wrote 'subject at hand'. Then I started to make the obvious smutty joke - 'as it were' or somesuch. Then I realised I simply couldn't do that. 'Subject at hand' is just such a cliche.