Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Descent of Man

   As a child at school back in the sixties I remember being taken into a room, physically examined by an elderly medic and hearing him apply to me a big word I didn't understand, but whose tone and context told me was important, and possibly shameful, so I memorised it. It was before I knew how to use a dictionary. At the time the chief clues to word meanings were hung on the classroom walls. I remember the picture of an axe and being mystified by the spelling of the accompanying word – why the E at the end?

   The presence of an E at the end of AXE remained a mystery but the meaning of my big word didn't. After a while I learned that “underdeveloped” was every bit as shameful as I'd suspected.

   It's odd to think that I remember a particular word being said when memories of my early school days are normally so hazy, but then the handling of ones genitals without invitation by a towering stranger lends itself to recall. It's also odd to think that this manipulation was considered normal practice. Maybe it still is. Or perhaps nowadays the examiner uses some sort of electronic soup ladle (or teaspoon in cases like mine).

   I have long had a mental picture of my father being present at this institutional groping, I can see him slumping in resignation upon learning that his son was never going to be a caber tosser and was destined instead to lead a life of unalloyed milksoppery. I now suspect I added my dad to the scenario at a later date just to confirm the ritual humiliation of it all. The real interlocutor was probably a secretary with a clipboard, fountain pen poised to mark me down for life, stockinged legs scissored, strained lab coat threatening to catapult buttons-

   Anyway, sometime during the following years my genitals must have put on a metaphorical spurt as I remember engaging, as a cocky nineteen year old, in frenetic and seemingly concatenate bouts of copulation for months on end with an obliging girlfriend. I couldn't believe my luck and was far too hyperactive to worry about underdevelopment, that was until she referred to me as being “immature” a term that had uncomfortable echos of the U word. It came as a tremendous relief when she patiently spelt out to me, in what turned out to be our final conversation, that she was referring to my morbid jealousy, snide comments and all-round superficiality.