It’s confession time again. Dear god, when will I stop telling you unpleasant facts about myself?
Never, I fear.
Last time, I confessed to killing my vacuum cleaner. The time before, I confessed to holding Michael’s toys hostage.
This time, it’s serious. No, really.
Ever since I first laid eyes on books, I was hooked. I was an early reader and once I’d mastered the Dick and Jane stories, the world was my oyster. I read everything I could get my mitts on and have a fond memory of reading the paper with Dad one Sunday afternoon in 1967. I was 6, he was a little bit older.
Wendy: Hey, Dad, what’re you reading?
Dad: The papers. You want to look?
Wendy: Okay (leans over Dad’s shoulder to read paper) Hey, Dad, what’s that picture?
(picture of woman sitting on bench, in silhouette, to protect her identity)
Dad: Well, why don’t you read it for yourself?
(hands paper to Wendy)
Wendy, reading quietly and slowly: It says here that she’s a pros…prosti…prostitute? Is that right? Hey, Dad, what’s a prostitute?
Dad, pausing for a very long time: It’s a woman—
Wendy, eagerly: Yeah…a woman…
Dad: …A lady of the night…
Wendy: Lady of the night?
Dad: “Prostitute” is another way of saying Lady of the Night. It’s a woman who…does things for men.
And that, dear sister, is how I found out that a prostitute is a maid who works evenings. I imagined her, in the shadows cleaning clothes, washing floors and making dinners for male employers.
I remember being hauled out of bed in the middle of Mum and Dad’s wild parties, to read the paper to their guests. Unfortunately, they censored what I was allowed to read before waking me, and I was stuck informing my audience on the stock market or the crisis in Egypt. No more prostitutes for me.
Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I discovered Trixie Belden and read every one of her adventures. I loved Trixie and desperately wanted to move in with her. She had the best family ever.
Trixie could have punched Nancy Drew’s lights out.
As I got older, I started leaning towards the classics, but when I was 13, Nana threw a spanner in the works and sent me a Harlequin Romance. I remember the cover had a nurse looking demurely downward while a doctor stood in the background, looking all handsome and manly. They were obviously going to become a couple at some point in the book and I thought it was revolting.
Staff Nurse on what??? Was it really called this?
The whole idea of romance was off-putting, especially between these two. After all, they had to be in their 20s, which (and it’s a medical fact of science, as you know) is far too old to be engaged in romance.
I read the book in one sitting and didn’t even bother keeping it once I’d finished. The next day, having nothing to read, I trotted off to the local shop to buy something intellectually stimulating for a 13-year-old girl.
I came home with another Harlequin.
This one was better, no nurse or doctor, just a woman who was taking care of her employer’s children. I’d already read Jane Eyre by this point, so the plot was familiar but a lot racier than Jane and Mr Rochester in the Yorkshire moors.
I bought another Harlequin. And then, like junk food, I’d buy two at a time, knowing I’d finish one and still be hungry for a second. Nana fed my addiction by posting them to me, 3 and sometimes 4 at a time. I started hinting at her to send my favourite author—I can still remember her name, Anne Mather.
Her books sizzled. Oh my, the one where the woman (let’s call her Annette) who’s been hired as a housekeeper for an angry recluse (Manuel de Cordoba y Siesta Tapas Mañana) who lost his sight in a car accident which killed his wife? Yowzers MacTavish, that was intense! Annette is caught downstairs admiring the rehabilitation equipment in his gym, but because Manuel is blind, he assumes she’s actually Alfred, his faithful manservant/masseuse/chef. Through a series of cringe-worthy but thrilling plot devices, Annette is forced to give him a massage… Oh my god, I can still feel myself blushing.
Well. This is more like it.
After all that sexual tension, the kicker was, he wasn’t blind at all! So he knew she wasn’t Alfred the whole time. Oh, the mortification! I believe Anne included a leopard in the story, which just proves what a classy author she was.
Harlequins messed with my brain in a very unfortunate way and led me to believe a man only wants you if you’re a) beautiful beyond all words, b) incredibly stupid, c) a virgin, d) powerless, e) clumsy and f) hate him.
What a depressing message to pass on to a teenage girl.
I wasn’t beautiful beyond all words, I refused to act stupid, didn’t feel all that powerless, wasn’t about to start tripping over my feet, and really didn’t want to be with a boy I didn’t like.
I saw girls who did act that way, and they certainly were busy little bees at school, but that just wasn’t for me.
One book, with a Latin Lover, ¡aye caramba!, used a word I’d never come across before: sardonic. I asked you what it meant and you replied, “Look it up.” So I did. Now I had to add this to my list of traits for my perfect man:
- Handsome beyond all measure
- In possession of studly car
- Great kisser
Where would I find a man like this? Other than the “great kisser” and “handsome beyond all measure” requirements, I can see now that I was looking for Donald Trump.
The latest in road-kill-inspired hairpieces.
I stopped reading Harlequins when I was 15 or so, but we had 2 years of passionate, ill-advised romantic affairs, those books and I. I don’t miss them, am somehow pleased I can remember the plots so vividly (just proves I wasn’t reading them just for the sexy parts), and am very happy I graduated to proper grown-up books.
Like Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff was an angry, sardonic, handsome beyond all measure young man, passionately obsessed with a rude, insensitive, beautiful beyond all words young woman named Cathy…but neither of them owned a studly car.