Our present day computer knowledge-based internet age gives added impetus to our questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? And, what happens when we die? Suggestions there are a-plenty from accountants, judges, army officers – commissioned or otherwise, mystics, assorted reverends and well-intentioned folks from flocks of faithful of every colour and creed…
Yet, who am I to mock? Long before I’d arrived at the point of wondering what life was all about I’d learned the meaning of the phrase “Know your place!” Actually I realised that ‘Know’ had two meanings: the first meant “Shut up!” or “Speak when you’re spoken to!”; the other concerned really awkward questions about it, you know, puberty, contraceptives and male members. In fact it took some time before I realised that these ‘members’ did not belong to mens’ clubs. They concerned all males, and more pointedly, me personally. Various awkward words. assimilated naturally in or out of school, caused most of my problems because I knew how to say them but was ignorant of what they meant and when not to use them. At first they brought only looks of mild disapproval. Later they were accompanied by a clout round the ear’ole or the toe of a boot aimed at my behind.
So, I learned that these questions were better raised when nicer grown-ups were present, then their reception, and the subsequent reply to them, had the chance of being softened by a seemingly good-natured laugh or smile. Yet even when I grew older, I never knew whether to blush or duck when I raised those questions again. Like most youth of those times, learning about me and my body meant I was doomed to a world of frustration, humiliation and continued mystery.
If the innocence we are supposed to possess was given in order that it might be lost, my loss would have taken place while I was in the British Army. Not that the sergeant in the Education Corp who took us for a series of lectures was any help. His embarrassment was obvious as he mumbled things about condoms, and screened slides of terrible diseases with horrible names that were just waiting to pounce on the likes of us. But I did admire the way he sidestepped questions that belligerent lads from the cities threw at him, until I realised they were the same questions as mine. As usual, they remained unanswered.
Enlightenment came at a training camp in North Wales with an advertisement in a local paper for a certain booklet by a “René Mac”, or some such name. I blushed as I read, “Sex and the young man,” followed by a short list of words that sent my pulse racing. You would not believe how quickly I made up my mind, with my letter and postal note in the mail the very same day. Perhaps a few of my close mates noticed me breathing more quickly when he parcel in plain brown paper was passed to me at mail call the following week. Opening it later on my own, my eyes at last told the rest of me what I needed to know. It was such a relief reading that explanation in black and white. I mean, there’s no denying things in black and white, is there? As I read them, I was sure I’d known instinctively what they’d said would happen, wouldn’t happen, as regards my sight. I’ve worn spectacles since I was seven and my eyesight’s just fine. You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve been on much friendlier terms with myself since then.
However, where ignorance is bliss it can be folly to be wise. I wasn’t wise when it came to know who to trust. Twenty-four hours had elapsed before I let one of my mates into the secret of René’ booklet. The following day it had disappeared from under my pillow, never to be seen again. At least, not by my eyes. The teacher in me now suggests it probably did the rounds, passing through many hands and minds, bringing enlightenment before it finally disintegrated. The thought also encourages me to think more highly of myself whenever René surfaces in my mind. Indeed in my musings of late (regarding what happens at the end...) I’ve begun to visualise myself seated in the reserved section of Cloud Nine. I entertain the belief that if the higher level of Cloud Seven exists, I may well have the hope of being invited there in due course. I dream on.
Dennis Crompton © 2000