Dandelion Days

I SUPPOSE, if I had been a member of the House of Lords (either a real, modern, appointed New Labour peer, or merely a bishop) I would have voted for the retention of Clause 28. But I would have done so with a heavy heart.

My reservations would not have been about the Clause itself – hamfistedly drafted though it is – but about sex education tout court. Who needs to be sexually educated? And, more importantly, who needs sexually to educate?

I cannot now remember at what stage and in what manner I first learned what are risibly called ‘the facts of life’. It was certainly not from that rather embarrassed biology teacher who approached the matter exclusively from the reproductive practice of rabbits. (Not inappropriately, as it has turned out, in terms of modern morality). Nor was it from the British Medical Association pamphlets which my doting mother left (casually), in long vacations, in my favourite corner of the sitting room.

I learned what I learned from other boys at school. (And to a lesser extent, I suppose, from girls at other schools)

And this knowledge turned out, not surprisingly, to resemble all other forms of knowledge, howsoever gained. It was like the knowledge of English history, for example, which Jack Simmonds (our beloved history teacher) worked tirelessly to impart. It was a figment of truths, half -truths and ancient prejudices.

Stanley Bunnell taught us English. Stanley was a square-chinned, upstanding, tweed-clad Leavisite. So we read ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Sons and Lovers’ and were completely convinced (at least between readings of John Donne and Andrew Marvell) that human relationships were completely dominated by class and economics.

I owe (under God) as much to those two talented, opinionated, brilliant teachers as I owe to my own parents. My parents stood me on my own two feet. Those two (and others numerous beyond mention) led those feet into a larger room. But I now share virtually none of any of their opinions. Which is probably why I am still free to respect them and venerate their memories.

Neither Jack nor Stanley (though one of them was my house master) ever tried to teach me about sex. It would have been, in that complex and mysterious process of learning, a confusion and an embarrassment. I would have been obliged (which mercifully I was not) to ask questions about their own sexuality. Were they straight? Were they gay?

One, I suspect with hindsight, probably hankered after some Rupert Brookean relationship with the Captain of the First Eleven (which he was far too grown up to suppose was worth the candle). The other, if the gentle restraints of a loving wife had not been too much for him, would have directed us towards the healing arms of buxom working class girls who (coincidentally) would have improved our understanding of the great DHL (in an inventive inversion of Chatterley and Mellors).

But in the absence of instruction or tutelage of any kind, we hacked our own way through the dense undergrowth of burgeoning emotion and found out (more or less) who we were and where we were at. In the way that liberals used to idealise, but have now rather abandoned, we scribbled away on our own tabula rasa, without overt guidance. And (I am bound also to record) without much interference.

All this took place in an atmosphere of mockery and ribaldry. Some were mocked for their girl friends (as evinced by a display of artfully posed photographs and an addiction to sentimental correspondence); some were hounded for having boyfriends (mostly too young or too old for them, and therefore breaking taboos other than the sexual). Then there were those whose private parts were communally considered smaller than was adequate, and those whose pubic hair developed unsatisfactorily late.

We were, in short, the despair of the sexual educators and the politically correct. In their view, we could all have done with a long and serious course on the nature and permanence of ‘relationships’, on tolerance of all forms of sexual predilection, and on the use of condoms. There can, I submit, be no doubt about that.

What is doubtful is whether it would have done us any good. I have not been very successful at keeping up with school friends and acquaintances. It is a long time now. But I can tell you what I know.

The most uxoriously afflicted member of the Fifth Form (who wrote religiously to his girl-friend in Driffield every Saturday afternoon) failed to get a place at Manchester Art School, succumbed to narrow trousers and a dog-lick hairstyle, and entered upon an enterprising career of promiscuity, the most recent casualty of which I stumbled across only the other day. The timorous fourth former, who for long entertained a consuming passion for the Captain of Rugby, is now a Methodist Minister with four children. The sixth former with the most admired collection of pornography is now a Buddhist monk. The boy voted ‘Man most expected to score’ (the son of an Anglican Vicar), discovered that his energies were less sexual than financial, and, after a period driving up and down the King’s Road in open-topped cars, ran guns and ammunition during the Biafran war.

And then there is me…

What a glorious, confounded, God-inspired, devil-infested mess it all is! And who but a fool would let Tony Blair and this government of puritans and ‘modernisers’ anywhere near it?

Surprising, you are no doubt saying, that none of us made it to the BBC!

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark.