Men’s Talk

Alan Bennett

Two middle-class men talking. Call them Charles and Henry.

CHARLES: And did you have to go through that tedious charade, sexual intercourse?

HENRY: (enthusiastically) Oh yes. From A to Z.

CHARLES: Z? B is the furthest I’ve ever felt it necessary to go.

HENRY: A. B. C. D. The whole alphabet of love.

CHARLES: What form did it take?

HENRY: A myriad forms.

CHARLES: Put it in and jiggle it about a bit, did you?

HENRY: We-ell, ultimately, yes. But it was a long and winding road.

CHARLES: But that’s all it comes down to in the end, isn’t it? Put it in and jiggle it about a bit. Time after time, day in day out. I said to my wife on the last occasion: ‘Look, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done this.’ And she said: ‘Well think about me for a change.’ Of course I was trying not to. Desperately. How old was she, your sex-partner?

HENRY: Seventeen.

CHARLES: Seventeen!

HENRY: Seventeen, with pert, young breasts that I oh so tenderly cupped and kissed as I fondled my way round all the tender little highways and by-ways of her sweet young body.

CHARLES: Then you put it in and jiggled it about a bit. How long did it take?

HENRY: Well, I did a real textbook job – foreplay and afterplay with all the trimmings. I don’t suppose when it was all over we had much change out of three hours.

CHARLES: Jesus Christ! You could be in Leeds in that time. Did she enjoy it?

HENRY: Oh she enjoyed it all right (chuckling).

CHARLES: How do you know?

HENRY: The infallible sign: she started moaning. Moaning and crying, pain and pleasure inextricably mingled.

CHARLES: I take all that with a pinch of salt.

HENRY: Oh no. These cries were wrung from the depths of her being. It was as if her soul were speaking. (He moans) ‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ (Scope for much overacting here) Indeed she was moaning so much it was as if she was being stabbed.

CHARLES: I think a lot of that’s put on. I think what’s happened is that one of these females – call her Wendy Barraclough – was laid up, having fractured her pelvis in three places. Il suo marito arrives home and insists on having his marital rights ...

TOGETHER: Putting it in and jiggling it about a bit.

CHARLES: Well, if you have fractured your pelvis in three places, putting it in and jiggling it about a bit can be acutely painful. So the hapless Wendy begins to moan in genuine anguish and finds that hubby, who’s a normally reticent chartered accountant of modest sexual pretensions, is transformed into a crazed animal. Well, as soon as it’s practicable, Wendy hobbles down to Flower Arrangement, or whatever it is they do on an afternoon, and says: ‘Listen, girls, big news. Drop the macrame, gather round. If you moan, they like it more. Besides which, they get to the point a damn sight quicker. Which will leave us more time for making chutney and so on.’ Since when, one’s told another and it’s gone round and now they’re all at it.

HENRY: I just thought she liked me.

CHARLES: Liked you? How old did you say she was?

HENRY: (crossly) Seventeen.

CHARLES: No, no, no, no.

HENRY: I didn’t think anyone was still 17.

CHARLES: As a matter of fact, I nearly scored with someone 17 the other day. I was sitting at home and it was a beautiful evening. Crisp, clear with just a hint of autumn in the air. I thought: ‘Well, it’s a crime to stay indoors on a night like this. I’ll just take a turn along to the Ladbroke Grove lavatory and get a breath of fresh air.’

HENRY: (puzzled) The lavatory?

CHARLES: Yes. The lavatory. In Ladbroke Grove.

HENRY: But you live in Ladbroke Grove.

CHARLES: Correct. I live in Ladbroke Grove.

HENRY: Was there some malfunction in your own toilet?

CHARLES: No. No. At last flush it was in tip-top condition. Do you know that lavatory at all? Ladbroke Grove?

HENRY: We-ell, yes. I’ve been in there. On occasions. You know, purely for ... for ... functional ... purposes.

CHARLES: Of course, of course. That’s why most people go in there. For proper, legal and functional purposes. They use it for the purpose for which it was designed. (Pause) I don’t.

HENRY: YOU don’t?

CHARLES: No. I use it for ancillary purposes.

HENRY: I didn’t know that.

CHARLES: No, well there’s no reason why you should. You wouldn’t know that because I haven’t ... I haven’t come out of the closet.

HENRY: (a fool) No, you’ve just gone into the closet.

CHARLES: No, no. I was speaking metaphorically. However, the lavatory in question is a pretty reliable sort of place. It’s not three-star by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly two crossed knives and forks. It’s an eclectic sort of clientele. Good social mix. The usual groundswell of Spanish waiters, odd Foreign Office, sprinkling of BBC. Plus (God Bless Our Lady of Downing Street) many, many unemployed youths.

HENRY: Unemployed youths. Dear me.

CHARLES: Yes. (They both shake their heads at the plight of unemployed youth.) Anyway I am stood there, you see, in the lavatory purporting to have a jimmy riddle for upwards of 20 minutes ...

HENRY: Twenty minutes? Is that what you have to do?

CHARLES: Oh yes. You have to do that. Minimum. It’s a real RSC award-winning performance. In any other context it would get you a Tony or an Oscar. And indeed in that context occasionally gels you a Tony. Less often an Oscar.

HENRY: By the law of averages.

CHARLES: Quite. I am stood there, as I say, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile various good citizens come and go, having emptied their honest bladders. But nothing. Not a nibble. Probably a Bette Davis movie on the television or something. But it’s very, very quiet. When suddenly the doorway is darkened by the massive form of Mr Right.

HENRY: Mr Right?

CHARLES: Mr Right. Absolutely dead-centre me. Tall, bronzed. Crisp, hyacinthine curls. Built like a brick shithouse. And – biggest plus of all – he never says a word.

HENRY: Shy.

CHARLES: Maybe. Dissolve to half an hour later. We are back at home. My wife is upstairs making her 87th quiche of the day and we are installed in the snug.

HENRY: The rumpus room.

CHARLES: We are just crossing the start line. I have eased down his nether garments with practised skill. He has done the same for me with a clumsiness I found rather endearing. But it is at this point that doubt begins to creep in.

HENRY: Doubt?

CHARLES: Doubt. To begin with, he seems entirely unacquainted with the geography of the area in question. And while what I’ve got to offer is respectable, it isn’t remarkable. And yet he is gazing upon it with all the amazement of an Eskimo gazing upon the Eiffel Tower.

HENRY: ‘Silent upon a peak in Darien’.

CHARLES: Quite. And it’s at this point that the thought occurs to me, a pensée, you might say, and a pensée I’m quite sure never occurred to Pascal. Or if it did he certainly didn’t publish it – namely, ‘This bugger is a policeman.’

HENRY: What did you do?

CHARLES: Asked him. I said: ‘You’ve seen one of those before, I suppose?’

HENRY: Irony.

CHARLES: ‘You’re not unfamiliar with it?’

HENRY: Litotes.

CHARLES: ‘Are you a policeman?’ He said: ‘To tell you the truth I’m more familiar with feet.’

HENRY: Feet?

CHARLES: Feet. Turns out he’s not a policeman. He’s a chiropody student at Mitcham Polytechnic. Not my cup of tea at all. Went right off it. (He makes the gesture of a balloon rapidly deflating.) But he was 17.

HENRY: So he didn’t moan?

CHARLES: Moan? Oh no. Boys don’t moan. Well, I’m saying they don’t moan: they moan about being unemployed or not having any money or not having anywhere to spend the night. But they don’t moan about that. Little grunt is the most you’ll get.

HENRY: A chiropody student. Well, I suppose it’s all in the mind.

CHARLES: Yes. And these days very often not even there.