Sex education is a young man’s rite-of-passage
So too, for some of us, was not understanding it
I was at the vanguard of modern sex education, or at least the vanguard of it in my high school. Deprived the realities of “human reproduction” the years prior to mine had to make do with being taught the bedroom activities of rabbits (which thinking about our older boys explained rather a lot).
But it wasn’t to be so for me and my peers. The last of the nuns that had ruled the roost for oh-so-long had finally given way to a new generation of headmaster and for the first time the new boys of 1984 were to be given the unabashed and unvarnished truth.
Well, if their parents signed the permission slip that is.
My parents like most others, chary in equal measure of standing out from the crowd and of having to suffer this embarrassing rite-of-passage conversation with their adolescent offspring themselves, dutifully signed.
Which is how, at the age of eleven, a naïve and late-developing PPW, found himself in a classroom with thirty of his little friends being introduced to the world of sex in all its apparently joyless glory.
The “meat” of this lesson was an A4 printed sheet containing the classic cut-out drawing of the “male” and “female” “genitalia” “in coitus” coupled with several paragraphs of explanatory text with a selection of blanked out words we were to fill-in as the story unfolded. It’s a testament perhaps to the naivety of even the most advanced members of this Roman Catholic class of 1984 that not a single obscenity was found scribbled into any of those blanks.I believe this factsheet to have been written by our science master, a gawky twenty-something who I suspect hadn’t the practical experience nor university training to back this particular lesson up. It was distinctly meritorious in two key regards. First of all he had managed to write a page about “sexual intercourse” without letting a single suggestion of pleasure get anywhere near it. Secondly he used some of the clumsiest and most awkward prose I’ve read outside of the Literary Review’s bad sex shortlist. His fiery red blushes burned through every sentence.
The audience for that lesson were a mixture of kids who already knew it and kids who weren’t nearly ready for it. We all develop at different speeds and sex education isn’t really something you can effectively schedule on a random Wednesday in May for two-and-a-half dozen kids thrown together by nothing more than geography, demography and received religiosity.
Afterwards outside the classroom the boys who already knew it all gathered to snigger and giggle while the unready slinked by keeping our, er, reservations to ourselves, save for one boy who marked himself for life by exclaiming “Well, I’m never doing THAT with a girl!” as he stalked off.
And I kept my reservations ’til puberty kicked in and my first shot at third base came to pass. While they remained, I have to admit, they troubled me more than somewhat.
Devoid of informative adjectives, lest any hint of physical pleasure be revealed unto us, the textures and touch of the anatomical components of that associated artwork sparked my first doubt. That drawing of male and female junk snugly entwined left me with the impression that girls were harbouring a rigid, bell-end shaped chamber inside of them in which an unsuspecting chap could quite easily find himself trapped.
I was a little concerned about what one would do if this were to occur, and the image of myself and my partner crabbing stark-naked into the nearest A&E to get our coupling de-coupled bothered me pretty much until the day that first curious, exploring hand found its way to third-base.
My second worry was born entirely of the clumsy prose in the explanatory text. I don’t remember the words exactly but one phrase troubled me until puberty finally struck. It ran something like “the penis is stimulated by the male beforehand to an erect state.” I read “stimulated” as a verb and wondered why the associated instructions for stimulating it weren’t included in the accompanying notes.Perhaps we didn’t get told that bit until we were sixteen?
Whatever the reason I seemed to be missing a valuable piece of the instruction manual for my junk and it left me pretty much shag-phobic until puberty came around. I was haunted by angst-ridden visions of my first time; the girl lying naked on my bed would coyly invite me to “go away and get my erection” and I would dutifully clomp off to the toilet to perform this secret male ritual with no idea how to do it.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before Mother Nature’s prose taught me what my Science Master’s had failed to. Stimulating it wasn’t going to be a problem. Keeping it un-stimulated was the challenge.
What was awkward, uncomfortable and troubling at the time is now little more than a stock anecdote, a favourite story for a seedy forty-something keen to kill a bit of time over a pint by demonstrating that I wasn’t always the way I am now. It’s all part of growing up after all. Or so it was for alumni of the school of hard-knocks, from back in the days when kids were allowed to feel bad about stuff, before last place trophies, before running to teacher at the faintest whiff of bullying and before the days of lavish shop-bought school-play costumes lest anyone tease you for being poorer than the other kids.
Back when preparing kids for adulthood including letting them learn how to deal with feeling bad. The school of hard-knocks seems to have closed its doors now.
And I’m kinda glad I graduated before it did.
Another day at the corporate coal-face,
Another fiat from the corporate thought-police
Two great ways to stand out on the Internet;
Be a blogger whining about bad customer service,
Or be an old man whining about the young.
Twice-weekly visits to one of my clients currently entail an early morning start from my sleepy local train station for what is admittedly a slightly obscure journey. As the station is unmanned I usually end up buying my ticket on that first train of the day.
Even though my off-the-beaten-track ticket challenges some of Northern Rail’s guards more than somewhat it’s never a problem. The handful of guards who don’t know how to issue it generally just ask me to pick up a ticket when I first change trains with the exception of one enterprising soul who actually rang his office from the train to find out how to do it for me.
At least it was never a problem until this week.
When I met a young guard called Mark.
Mark’s manager has told him to “do more” to collect revenue so that’s exactly what he’s going to do. He doesn’t know how to issue the ticket I want of course but he’s got to sell me one nonetheless. After all, he flatteringly observed, he’s lost count of the number of cheeky fare-dodgers who disappeared straight out of the station after they had promised him faithfully they’d be buying a ticket just as soon as they got there. Clearly waving my Platinum AMEX at him and asking for a fare six-times the cost of a trip to that first interchange station has marked this middle-aged professional as most likely “on the thieve”.
I’ve got to buy a ticket or get off his train. He can’t sell me the ticket I’ve asked for, but that’s probably just one of my nefarious fare-dodging schemes and he’s not going to let me get away with it. After all, his manager has told him not to. So he spent the next ten minutes presenting me with am inventive range of inconvenient and expensive options I needed to choose from because he can’t do his job.
I can, for example, get off his train at the first manned station and buy my full ticket there, adding an hour to my journey (yeah, I know it’s difficult mate but what can I do?) Or he can sell me a partial ticket and I can “pay an excess” when I change trains. Of course, he has no idea whether that’ll cost me more in the end – I mean why would he, with his ticket machine in his hand, know something like that? Or I could tell him the code to put into his machine to find my fare, which obviously if I did make this alleged trip regularly I’d know.
And anyway, if I have made this alleged trip before, why don’t I have an old ticket to show him, eah, eah?
Yep Mark, you’ve tumbled me mate. You’ve got me bang to rights.
New-school work ethic
I didn’t ask for Mark the Moron’s name. I’m not a complainer. In some respects I’m the worst possible customer – I accept your service for what it is, if it’s acceptable I’ll keep using it and if it isn’t then I’ll quietly take my money elsewhere. It’s not my job to make you do yours better. Plus, on an individual level, I’ve long since learnt that even if you do manage to destroy the odd womble the smell of the carcass will just bring another one out of the burrow.But I nonetheless have Mark the Moron’s name and the reason I have it is that he repeatedly volunteered it. He seemed unusually keen for me to make a complaint in fact, inviting me to do so multiple times over the course if this ten-minute farrago.And here’s why this story sticks in my mind. It’s not the poor service but the astonishingly piss-poor attitude to both his job and his customers; an attitude that I can best sum up as “it’s everybody else’s problem, it’s everybody else’s responsibility and it’s everybody else’s fault”.
Mark the Moron doesn’t know how to issue my ticket and in what passes for Mark the Moron’s mind it’s entirely appropriate that I, the paying customer, am inconvenienced, expensed or otherwise pissed about as a result. I should feel free to write in and complain about his inability to do his job – if I do maybe his manager will give him the training he needs so he can do it. If buying two tickets costs me more money, again I should just write in and complain and I’ll get it back.
If I write in and complain I’ll even get some free travel vouchers out of it too! Yes, Mark the Moron’s master plan to honour his manager’s instructions to get more revenue is to bully passengers into buying one ticket and encourage them to complain to Northern Rail who will pay out multiple free ones in return.
And what the hell? It’s only a paying customer’s time wasted, worse complaint statistics for Northern Rail and lost revenue to the company paying his wages.
Who cares about that man?
Certainly not Mark the Moron.
Reaping what society sows
One of the comforts of growing old is complaining about the young; and for my generation one of the most common complaints is of the lazy, entitled generation wrought upon us by the social changes that reached their full swing in the caring nineties. A generation who seem to think they have a right to a good job rather than having to work hard for it, a generation who’ve been taught to run to teacher every time something nasty befalls them and a generation coddled by a nanny state who’ll always be there to protect their precious feelings and provide if they’re not providing for themselves.
I can’t imagine not taking total responsibility for my ability to do my job. I can’t imagine ever making my inability to do my job my customer’s problem. I can’t imagine keenly inviting a customer to complain about me if they have a problem with me rather than making things right myself and I can’t imagine gushing at the prospect of an aggrieved customer taking compensating freebies out of my employer as a result of my inability to do my job. My lasting memory of my encounter with Mark the Moron is that he had all of these in spades.That guard who went off and phoned his office from the train to find out how to issue my ticket was an older guy, taking responsibility for his own job and doing it properly. Twenty-something Mark the Moron would never think of doing something like that. He’d probably laugh if you told him. I mean, why would you do something like that “mate” – it’s your manager’s fault, it’s the company’s responsibility and it’s the customer’s problem. Life is just so much easier when you can’t be assed and the consequences are everybody else’s.
My experience with Mark the Moron is thus far unique and I’d rather like to think it will stay that way. But I can’t help recognising a work ethic I’ve seen before and I seem to be seeing more and more. Everybody but me is responsible, everybody but me is to blame, and it’s everybody’s problem but mine. The truth is that life is hard, life is tough, life is unfair and good things are to be earned, not handed to you by some inalienable cosmic right. The more we insulate the young from these truths the fewer of them will learn them.
I therefore take little consolation from the fact I’ll probably never encounter Mark the Moron again. It’s like waiting for a train after all; there’ll be another one along in a minute.