Day 20: Little Thurlow to Sudbury

A very long walk today, or at least  so it seemed to be! Never ending plodding through ploughed fields, all slightly tilted upwards, managed  to exhaust and drain us of breath and humour in equal measure; we were faced with several hooded paths and collapsing styles all smothered with brambles and vicious thorns that all left vivid stigmata on my arms and legs. We were accompanied by our kind hosts which was kind of them. We stay the night with relations that are kind and fun. Looking back, the beginning of the walk seems a lifetime ago. It’s been a long way!

I cannot over exaggerate the delight of a welcome, an iced gin and tonic and a hot bath at the end of the day.


Long Live Prudery

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty three
(Which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first  LP.

Philip Larkin


Maybe sex is more important nowadays than it used to be, or perhaps my generation was more inhibited, restrained, pious and timid than today’s? Looking back, of course we weren’t saints but when I was in my last year at school and then Sandhurst, I guess only a tiny minority of us were sexually experienced. Hardly anyone “slept around”. Of course we all drank and smoked, we danced with great abandon, we eyed the “talent”, and often made crude comments and used foul language – for soldiers will always be soldiers – but that was about the extent of it. The pill was still in the future, clap was a badge of shame and unwanted pregnancies were a real fear. Also, we were taught to be gentle to women as they were the weaker sex.



One of my Sandhurst chums, George Mason – our resident Flashman – used to hint that his sexual exploits were of the extent and variety to make Playboy’s Hefner envious. When we watched him charging off to Camberley like Ferdinand the Bull, we knew instinctively that the various sexual activities he was forecasting were a bad thing: frowned on by the Church, family and society at large. On one occasion, Mason tottered back grinning at his sexual prowess, unaware that when our crowd had visited the local flick-house he could be seen sitting in the front row innocently eating crisps.

Although we didn’t always live up to our standards, we did know when we were behaving badly and we knew right from wrong.

These were the sexual drag ages. In 1960, a 22-year old University College Oxford student was caught in bed with a friend from St Hilda’s. They were both suspended, and although this may sound bizarre today, their student chums thought quite right too. A friend at Christ Church told me that his one sexually active colleague was universally regarded as being rather contemptable.


Everyone’s Doing It

Recently, a private-school teacher buddy told me that today practically all seventeen-year-old students are involved in more or less constant sexual activity – heterosexual and homosexual – and anyone abstaining is regarded as abnormal. Apparently the peer pressure that faces today’s young is simply overwhelming. Most of it is one-on-one and not “promiscuous”, but it is universal.

Canute showed us all the futility of trying to turn back the tide, and so today’s parents just shrug and accept the reality that their children will be participants in this brave new world of unlimited sex, often without strings. Few politicians or churchmen or judges would dare highlight the damage caused to family values and the coarsening effects caused by today’s behaviour. They know that if they spoke out, a dollop of the contumely that was poured onto the head of the late Mary Whitehouse would drench them. And, of course, few – if any – of their colleagues would support them. Mary was trolled as an old fashioned prude, slightly deranged, bigoted and guilty of “being judgemental”.

But not everyone accepts that wide sexual experience leads to happiness. To my certain knowledge, a minority of today’s young realise that chastity and virginity have advantages – and not just religious ones. Just because you are jeered at for being a prude does not mean that your critic isn’t secretly impressed by your resolution. A lack of confidence is often crouching behind the sneers.

I know several young people who married in a state of innocence and today the marriages appear supremely happy. The idea that sexual practice and living for years together before marriage is more likely to lead to a more happy and permanent union is drivel. And not everyone thinks that flirting and adultery within marriage is acceptable behaviour either.

Here is a counter-cultural statement made by world-class singer Dame Janet Baker, quoted by Anthony Clare from the programme, In the Psychiatrist’s Chair:

“I don’t feel attractive to the opposite sex. I consider myself married. A married woman is a married woman and that’s how I think of myself and I don’t want to go anywhere this can be placed in jeopardy. I was brought up in the north of England and that’s how it was then and how I am. I’m not available in any way to a man. I don’t like men telling dirty stories. I hate it. I’m not available to a man and I don’t like men looking down the front of my frock or anything like that – it makes me feel awkward.”

Brave that.

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