I’ve posted “offcuts” or “outtakes” in the past on my own blog. Here’s another. This didn’t make it into the final published version of Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper but that wasn’t because I no longer believed what I had written; the book changed direction (as books are prone to do; they have a life of their own) and I cut passages that no longer fitted. This was one.
You just can’t tell about people, can you? I was talking to a guy, an Artistic Director on a magazine I’ve done work for who went through the Sixties, he was one of the ones they mean when they say, “If you can remember it you weren’t there” but he remembered it and I’d say he was there all right. Probably didn’t do the drugs some people did, which is how he kept hold of his memories. Anyway, he and I were having a coffee, talking through what I’d already shot and what he wanted out of me that day and I was listening fairly closely because by that time I was billing a few grand for a day’s shooting which is top dollar, believe me, big money for anyone and I never got so blasé I’d think that sort of money was nothing. And there was a girl passing on the pavement outside with the most beautiful long legs you ever saw and she was wearing a really short skirt, a micro-mini you could call it, to show them off. And Zak, the Artistic Director (I found out when he signed a contract that his name was George, but there you go), Zak was in reminiscent mood. He talked about mini skirts and what made them possible, how until the beginning of the sixties women wore suspender belts and they couldn’t wear really short skirts because there had to be room to cover the suspenders but then Pretty Polly Holdups came in, stockings that didn’t need suspenders because they kept themselves up but you still had the patch of bare leg at the top which was lovely to get your hand on, apparently, but then came tights and now a skirt could be as short as the girl or woman wanted it to be. And he said older people, those who were already adults before the Sixties started, if they saw a girl in a mini skirt they thought she was immoral, which is how they saw it then if an unmarried girl had sex, and they assumed anyone dressed like that would go to bed with anyone who asked her. But Zak said it wasn’t the skirts, they had nothing to do with it, it was the Pill, that’s what made the difference, and if you wanted to know whether a particular girl would or wouldn’t it was no good eyeing the length of her skirt, you had to ask her, which you might do with or without using actual words. ‘But it wasn’t the length of the skirt. That was a red herring. She might have a mini or she might have one trailing on the ground like her grandmother would have worn and it told you nothing. Except maybe whether she thought her legs were attractive. Mini or no mini, she’d either fuck you or she wouldn’t. ‘
We both agreed, though, that miniskirts were a Good Thing.
While I’m talking about Zak, something else he said that surprised me was that there was far less sex around in the Sixties than people imagine there was and certainly less than there is now. ‘People were still most likely to live in families. There was still shame attached to a girl having a baby when she wasn’t married. Some people had trial marriages, where you lived together for a while before you married to make sure you really were compatible. But they were considered very daring, most people didn’t do it and those who did still intended to get married in the end. And certainly before they had a child. You never hear the words “trial marriage” now. Do you?’
I said it sounded as though people were happier now, but Zak said I was confusing freedom with happiness, a mistake they’d been prone to make at the time. The people I’d grown up with, would I say most of them were happy? And of course when I thought about Chantal and my mother I had to say no. Zak said back then they hadn’t really known what they were doing. He said it was like Pandora’s Box, except that people were so ignorant now, so uneducated, that if you mentioned Pandora’s Box they’d think you were talking about the genitalia of some tart with a posh name. He talked like that a lot, long words like genitalia mixed in with what he called the demotic. And he said opening the box was one thing but shoving everything back in, that was something else again.
‘We thought the family, marriage, chastity, all that stuff was the morality the ruling classes imposed on the people but not on themselves. Because, let’s face it, the nobs didn’t follow the rules. Didn’t then, don’t now. Prince Charles told Diana if he did what she wanted he’d be the first Prince of Wales in history not to have a mistress. And he was right. So if they didn’t, why should we? You know what they say. If work was so wonderful, the rich would have stolen it. Everything was organised to keep power where power had always been and we were going to change that. Starting with sex. We were going to have sexual freedom. Restraint was harmful. Families damaged people. Jealousy destroyed lives, and if everyone was free to sleep with anyone, jealousy would disappear. The sexes would become equal. Contentment would reign. That’s what we thought. We were wrong. Look around you if you want proof. Fathering children and expecting someone else to take responsibility for them is a route to disaster.’ He looked closely at me. ‘It’s none of my business but, if I were guessing, I’d say you know all about that.’
I said, ‘Are you married, Zak?’
‘Certainly am. For the third time. But I’ve been with this one for twenty years.’
‘Would you call yourself happy?’
‘Happier than you, mate. That’s for dead sure. I’ve seen your pictures. I mean, you’re a great photographer, one of the best, don’t get me wrong. But happy? You? I think not.’
What got me thinking about that passage was that I received a new story from Kat Carlton to edit. Mandrill Press is a cooperative and the deal we have is as follows:
- no writer can veto publication of any other writer’s work;
- no writer can introduce another without the agreement of both of the other two;
- each writer must submit their work to both of the others for the first edit; and
- I (that is, John Lynch) handle all the admin for Mandrill Press and receive 10% of the others’ earnings in return.
So Kat sent her latest story, working title Taken By Force, to me and Suzie for the first edit and any comments we might wish to make. I’ve suggested some changes, Suzie has suggested some changes and now Kat will decide which suggestions to take up and which to ignore. The story will be delayed a while; if you want to know when it’s published, register for Kat’s newsletter (and if you’re in a newsletter-registering frame of mind, you’re very welcome to register for mine, too (right now I’m offering a half-price paperback of your choice to all new subscribers)).
Why did I post that extract from Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper if I was going to talk about an as yet unpublished story by K C Carlton? Because the extract is about how people in Britain experienced the 60s (not, for most, the way the newspapers wrote the decade up) and Kat’s new story is set at that point where the 50s turned into the 60s (which, oddly enough, was probably in 1963 and not 1960).
I was at school during the 1950s, primary school until 1953 and then grammar school, and I have to say that the 50s in Britain were an awful decade. And I was a boy. It’s only in recent years that I’ve realised how much worse it would have been to be a girl at that time. And that is at the heart of Kat’s new story. Of course, being by K C Carlton, it’s an erotic story – she doesn’t write anything else – but, once again because it’s by K C Carlton, there’s much more to it than that. I refer privately to Kat and Suzie as the RLs which stands for rude ladies but you don’t just get the sex with the RLs; you get characters, plot, a story arc and character development as well. So. When we meet Yvonne, the protagonist in Kat’s story, she’s just turned 16. She has a brother two years younger. A typical British family of the time. And I can do better than tell you about Yvonne’s family – I can show it to you as Kat introduces it at the start of the story (I have Kat’s permission to post this):
Mary Hutchings, who had never expected to have a paid job, had driven a baker’s van in the early 1940s and loved it but her husband Sydney had returned from six years of war unscathed – physically if not emotionally – and she had been retired to home duties so that he could take back the breadwinner role and come home to a hot meal and a clean house with a wife available for sex when he’d drunk enough alcohol to be in the mood. Anthony, their son, was encouraged to do well at school though it was their daughter Yvonne who had inherited whatever brains (as well as looks) were available in the family but higher education would be wasted on one whose future was as wife and mother. She passed the Eleven Plus and went to the High School; Anthony failed his and it was hoped he would acquire at his lesser academy the technical drawing skills that would allow him to become a draughtsman. If he failed at that he might be apprenticed as a fitter (in fact, he eventually joined the police force). Although money was tight, Anthony was given a new cricket bat and football boots; Yvonne got her aunt’s old tennis racquet. Anthony had a sports jacket for casual wear; Yvonne spent her leisure hours in the same clothes she wore for school – a navy gym slip in winter and a cotton dress in summer – which she wore over the baggy cotton knickers that all English girls of her age wore at that time.
At a time (I mean: now) when more young women than young men are entering British universities it may be hard to understand that the situation Kat describes here was the rule as recently as…well, during my lifetime. Her father let Yvonne go to High School (the girl’s equivalent at the time of grammar school) because she had to go somewhere and that was where the State – on the basis of her educational abilities – decreed she should go. He did not, though, allow her to stay on into the Sixth Form despite her teachers’ protests that she was university material and nor did he allow her to do the job she really wanted to do which was trainee stage manager at the local repertory theatre. Instead, he made her join the civil service as a clerical assistant.
I know that Kat is writing this from the heart in a way I never could, but I knew families like this – girls like this – and looking back it’s heart-breaking but at the time it seemed normal. What Kat is involved in, if she could only get her mind out of her characters’ knickers, is historical fiction and I’d really love it if she’d concentrate on that aspect of her writing – telling people how it was, 65 years ago.
How would you feel about posting in the Comments box, encouraging her to do just that?