Honest to Jaysus, how I ever managed to survive puberty with all my faculties intact is more by luck than chance. The mechanics were a complete mystery to me and to be perfectly honest I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that I really wanted to know anyway. But then the cavalry arrived. We were ‘invited’ to attend sex education lessons, on a one to one basis with a Christian Brother in the monastery.
Now hang on, before you get any ideas, it was a genuine bona fide set up and this is not a euphemism for some impromptu, inappropriate interference. ‘Interfere’ was a word used in relation to sexual relations of an unholy nature back in the day in Dublin for some reason. It had many connotations. If someone was suspected of being the victim of sexual abuse, it would be whispered,
“Was she interfered with?” It is a horrible term. I remember coming out of the bathroom in my uncle’s house and he saying, “Jaysus you were a long time in there…I hope you weren’t interfering with yourself?” Still haven’t got over the embarrassment of that one.
But I digress, back to the birds and the bees. I turned up to meet my appointment to be educated in the ways of the world by a Christian Brother, whose name has left me through the passing of time, but whose lesson has stayed with me. I was left waiting in a big old dining room in the monastery for about ten minutes, bathed in the scent of furniture polish and incense. I remember the only sound was a big clock, ticking loudly on the mantelpiece and I sweated buckets at the thought of discussing anything sexual with the Brother.
When he finally arrived he plonked a big encyclopaedia in front of me and opened it up at a bookmarked page. He then walked to the far end of the table, all the time silent and sat down. After an age he simply went,
“Well go on boy, read the page I’ve opened for you.”
He had a thick Cork accent and a head on him like a potato. The clock ticked and I looked at a page that had outline drawings of a penis and testicles, with all the functioning innards labelled. On the opposite page I saw the word vagina with similar drawings and I gulped and turned red. It was the most bizarre few minutes of my life. I was actually embarrassed by the words on the page and the eyes that glared at the top of my head as I read. I took nothing in, learned less and wrenched my hands beneath the table.
When I eventually looked up, the Brother asked simply if I had read it all and when I acknowledged that I had he stood up, walked across to me, closed the book and took it with him as he returned to the far end of the table. He remained standing this time and then he began.
“When a man and a woman get married…” I could feel a drop of sweat roll along my temple as he began to pace the room looking from ceiling to floor, at all times ensuring we never once made eye contact. “… The main purpose of their union is to create a family, to procreate and add to God’s loving family.” I had no idea what he was talking about. “To do this they must have intercourse.”
He flashed a rare look in my direction which he immediately withdrew and I began rocking my right knee up and down as a sense of terror took over. I didn’t really know how it all worked, but I had heard that word before so I knew we were getting to the heart of the subject. I was terrified.
“On the night of the wedding, they join in union for the first time; both of course must be virgin, free from sin and having ensured they remained undefiled by ungodly acts before that sacred day.” Once again he had lost me, but there was no way I was going to ask him any questions.
“The wife will take herself to the bedroom, put on her nightgown, kneel before her bed and say a prayer that the act that she is about to engage in will bring forth a child, the sole purpose of the act of intercourse. She will then turn out the light and get into bed, a signal for her husband to enter, prepare himself for bed before kneeling in the dark to offer up his prayers for the same result.”
I wasn’t sure where he was going but I was already considering celibacy. I remember he had his back to me as he continued.
“They then quickly complete the sacred act in the hope and prayer that they will have God’s blessing and their union will result in pregnancy and a child.” He turned to face me and looked at me for the first time with any serious interest. In his slowest, clearest, finest Cork accent he asked,
“Do you have any questions?”
I actually didn’t. I had only skimmed the words on the page of the book because most of the words filled me with a dire mortification. We never said ‘penis’ or ‘vagina.’ Dear God the very notion that they were printed in a book that was in the possession of a holy man was enough to send me sideways. Questions? Nothing I read clarified a single thing and nothing he said made sense. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
“Good… and you’ve read the pages in the book?” I acknowledged that I had indeed and he smiled and told me that in that case we were done. He showed me out and I ran out across the playing fields to clear my head. Such trauma.
I knew girls had breasts which we all called ‘diddies’ and that we had mickeys, flutes or willies depending on your colloquial preference, but we never ever said breast or penis and to be perfectly honest, while we did have a word for girl downstairs bits, it was generally a bit too rude to use and if you were overheard using it by an adult, they would larrup the arse off you. There was some form of exchange that involved nudity, that much I knew, that was enough.
Between my mother, the priests and the Brothers, I was so petrified to consider investigating any further at that stage that I was happy enough in my ignorance. It was out of that world of naivety, ignorance and innocence that I somehow managed to find my way to adulthood. It is a world far removed from this one, but a world on which I draw for inspiration when I write.
It was never more so than when I wrote Little Big Boy. When people ask me if it is autobiographical, I find it complimentary because I know I’ve hit the mark when they do. I suppose it is to some extent, in that it is drawn from that time and place where my memories are still so vivid. I tend to draw on my own experiences and emotions as much as possible when I write. Because I switch genre and theme so much, it is important to hear my voice as a connection for the reader from book to book. Now you’ve heard my voice in my blog and if you like what you’ve heard, you can always dip your toe into the world of my books…
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : – http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower