Sex education at my school was a diagram drawn on the blackboard of rabbits mating. I was brought up on a farm so I had some idea of what went on, but my generation were incredibly ignorant. It took me years to work out what lesbians could possibly do, although I did have a fantastic crush on a girl, but that was because she played Mr Darcy in the school production of Pride and Prejudice and in my wildest imaginings I only dreamt that we might walk hand in hand while I recited some moving poetry to her whilst gazing into her eyes. Along with most adolescents I quite fancied myself as a poet, but as my poetic efforts owed more to William Mcgonagall than Sylvia Plath the chances are that that the emotion that I would have stirred in her bosom would have been mirth. As teenagers we were all unsatisfied with our bodies and my dream of looking like Rita Hayworth was wildly unrealistic – I was 5’ 9” at the age of twelve, wore thick glasses and had braces on my teeth. I was built more in the Charles Atlas mould (he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day) who advertised that upon receipt of a sum of money he would send you an exercise regime that would transform you from a seven stone weakling into a magnificent specimen of a man. Apparently, the fear of every seven stone weakling was that, whilst on the beach, a larger man would kick sand in his face, but presumably once you had the exercise book you could hurl it into his face if all else failed. But as usual I have digressed from my point of the bliss (or otherwise) of ignorance. There must have been transgender people around in my youth, but we knew nothing about such things. I had no idea that there was any chance of my changing to become a man – despite always playing the male part in school plays and only ever learning to dance backwards as a boy! It was just as well, because, although at the time, I might have jumped at the chance of altering [SS1] my gender – I was the archetypal tomboy – later on, once I discovered ‘love’, I wouldn’t have changed for the world. I adore the company of men, but not the idea of being one.
I was at an all girls’ boarding school and all the staff were female. I imagine that some of them were lesbians, certainly several of them lived together in shared accommodation. What they got up to behind closed doors was up to them – we had no idea. The only member of staff I remember being married was the German mistress because, to our huge delight, she referred to her husband as Farty. She must have noticed that whenever she talked about her home life she was surrounded by sniggering girls, but she never gave any gave any indication that she knew how much hilarity the name caused. I really can’t believe that knowing anything about our teachers’ private lives would have improved the quality of the teaching. We didn’t know anything about their political affiliations’ either, although I imagine that as I was at a private school there weren’t many communists amongst the staff – although contact with some of us, horrible entitled snobs that we were, might have turned the truest, bluest Tory red.
We didn’t know much about the world either. We’d just come of a war with Germany and Japan and our relatives had seen and done terrible things, but they didn’t talk about them. Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law won the VC (Victoria Cross) but his own daughter didn’t find out about this until after his death. It is impossible to imagine that happening today. Not only would it have been all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. but he would have been offered counselling for PTSD whether he wanted it or not. Presumably he didn’t feel that his family needed to know about his war.
My mother was an endless source of scurrilous gossip about the goings in in society both before and after the war. People behaved extremely badly with drugs and strange sexual goings on. Rumours abounded, but for the most part nothing was made public and most people did not know about their idols’ feet of clay.
Today we have an almost insatiable desire to know everything about ‘celebrities’ – via the Facebook/Hello culture? Kim Kardashian is in many ways a remarkable young woman – she has given vast amounts of money to charity and worked on prison reform, added to which she is incredibly hard-working. Just think of the effort it must take to look the way she does. And yet if I see an article about her, I confess I am most interested in her bum and what she has done to get it to be that extraordinary shape. I despise myself for this interest in trivia, but I cannot be alone judging by the plethora of magazines and massive on-line presence of ‘celebrities’. It is still true in Hollywood that ‘coming out’ can be death to a career of any actor wanting to play the romantic lead or an action hero. However, one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that we don’t seem to have quite so many actors giving us their opinions of political matters. Instead, we are exhorted to follow the science which is a bit like trying to follow Medusa and end up completely entangled in the serpents’ heads as the science twists and turns. Perhaps the minutiae of celebrities’ lives does add to the gaiety of nations in these troubled times and Kim Kardashian’s unreal figure may lift our spirits. But, do we need read of actors opining about their family dramas where they haven’t (along with thousands of other people) been able to see their relatives but maybe we prefer this to seeing photos of celebs sunning themselves on golden sands whilst sipping a cocktail as we look out on to mud sodden fields. In that case ignorance would definitely be bliss.