Anyone for Tennis?

 Let me say at the outset that if your sensibilities are a little delicate and are likely to be offended by talk of events surrounding a young boys haphazard encounter with the facts of life and you think it possible you may be disgusted or mortified or sickened or outraged or feel otherwise put out or put upon, then please don’t continue listening I mean, I don’t want to upset you.

One way or another the progress through the minefield of experience that involves learning about the birds and bees can be an awkward time.

One usually accumulates knowledge over a period during formal and not quite so formal encounters.

Because I spent a considerable amount of my childhood in hospitals, my time might have been more awkward than most.

Not for me were there sniggering, joking, boyish primary sessions in the play ground at school.  I missed out totally on the secondary education that I might have studied in the dimly lit back row of a movie theatre.  This in time would probably have led to my graduation in a furtive, and erratic, not to say inaccurate, explosion of awareness at the drive-in movies.

That is not to say that I would have learned that many “facts” but knowledge would have come through “hands on” experience, as it were.  Rather than dry theory.  As it was I was kept in an artificial environment like a plant in a greenhouse.  Like a plant I was growing. I don’t know when it became obvious that I needed or was ready for some formal sex education.  Perhaps some of my behaviour was indicating my interests were getting a little specific.

Since the earliest days in hospital I’d realised that all nurses were for falling in love with.  In fact it was so automatic for me that I figured it might have been compulsory.  It was a natural thing, I suppose.  A little boy needed affection and in the warm and caring nature of the nurses I found it in abundance.

I fell in love so easily with all nurses and with such regularity that I doubted I actually had a heart in my chest but a piece of toast and every time I saw a new girl I just dropped crumbs at her feet.

Then, when I was about eleven or twelve the time came when a whole host of hooligan hormones started to wreak havoc upon my childish body and emotions.

Now I began to see my ministering angels in a different light.  Suddenly there was something strangely stirring about those bosoms and bellies and bottoms that I hadn’t noticed before.  But why the toilet bits had a new and mysterious fascination, I couldn’t quite work out.
All that expressive softness constrained and straight jacketed in starched cotton was confronting and challenging.  The warm and friendly eyes and smiling lips that always offered compassion now held the promise of other mysterious delights that were nameless and unknown to me.

Now and again a nurse would stretch across me to tuck the sheet in the far side of the bed and, as her pendulous body weight pressed down on me, my breath would come in strangled gasps and my voice squeaked like a mouse pinned rigidly onto a laboratory tray. (Well, all right.  As rigid as a paralyzed body could get.  Anyway, there’s rigid and then there’s rigid.  Isn’t there?)

That’s when I decided, with the wisdom and wonder of a twelve year old, not all cuddles might be the same.

How could I get to lay a hand on the objects of my increasing desire?  That was the problem.  There were no little girls my own age around who fancied a game of tag.  But I was as imaginative as I was precocious.  I soon found a way.  Because I breathed with my diaphragm my stomach rose and fell with each breath.  I wonder if anyone else’s did.  Well, you can only ask. So I asked every Nurse or Sister I felt comfortable with if I could place my hand on their tummy to see if it rose and fell like mine.  Some places I put my hand could never have moved by the aid of breathing alone.

As I fraudulently pilfered my surreptitious caresses with a wan and innocent expression on my open, ingenuous face, my conniving devious child mind gave mute testament to the concept of original sin.

The almost magnetic attraction those bodies held for me caused me to indulge in a variety of creative, inventive behaviours.  I found that I could get a thrilling glimpse of stocking top or bra strap if the line of sight angles were right.  After a lot of trial and error I found that certain positions they assumed as they picked up a pen that was repeatedly dropped (mostly I had to throw it) afforded me a satisfactory view.

Although I admit my imagination did see more than my eyes did.  Not that I knew precisely what I was looking for, anyway.

It was only girls I knew nothing about.  Those wonderful and magical creatures who were becoming increasingly more delightful.

I knew a little about the way my body was beginning to work.  After all, I did spend part of my life in the country.  I couldn’t really reconcile some of what I saw as essentially violent animal behaviour with the feelings that were awakening inside me.  They were insistent and irrepressible but basically had more to do with tenderness than voracity or aggression.

Although some of the things my body was doing to me without my permission was certainly violent.  I mean, suddenly putting the same hair on my face as on my backside was taking a liberty, I thought.  It really didn’t seem very nice at all.

But I was very proud of my new armpit foliage.  I assumed a pose, always casual and unstudied, of one arm draped loosely over my head and the T-shirt armhole stretched down as far as it would go without tearing so the wispy curls were displayed in all their glory.

I don’t know if anyone else was impressed but I was.

Often I lay in bed and looked down with pride at them and blew gently so they waved and tickled.  I quickly looked up to check no one was watching me and smiled.  God, it felt good to be a man.

This behaviour didn’t last long.  It was thought I might be developing a problem with my shoulder and the threat of medical intervention soon brought it back to its correct position. I don’t want to be too indelicate, but I also soon realised nature’s benevolence in providing every boy with his own personal, portable toy shop.  Nature had given us our own version of Snakes and Ladders or Yo-Yo or, in some cases, Trivial Pursuit.

Right about this time I was given “the book” to read.

There was no discussion or explanation offered just a dog eared sex education book that was at least pre-war in age.  The first world war, I think.

Of course I read it with great interest. But it was no real use.  All I could gather was that girls of a certain age had inflicted on them a periodic illness.  What it meant or exactly what it was I couldn’t gather.  It seemed they were guiltless and the illness was meted out automatically and indiscriminately.  The only real fact that stuck in my mind was that during these times a thoughtful, considerate boy would not ask a girl to play tennis.  Why the hell tennis?  No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t make sense of it.  Was ten pin bowling O.K.?  What about cricket?  Golf?  I was never likely to ask a girl to play tennis, anyway.  A lot of other things maybe, but not tennis. 


I couldn’t work out either how you knew they were sick.

I sensed that it wasn’t something I could ask.  I was always thoughtful and considerate.  I sort of realised it had something to do with the tummy area.  So I worked out, by close observation and a liberal amount of applied imagination, that on some days some girls tummies bulged a bit more than on others.  This must be the way to tell!  I also realised that when this affliction was upon them they, like all people with illnesses, should not handle food.  And this must be a pretty bad illness to have had a book written about it.

Every morning I peered intently at the tummies of the day shift.  And if my luck was out and a nurse who I decided “had it” picked up my meal tray I excused myself from breakfast because of queasiness.  It was true, I was awfully queasy.  Even though my heart broke for these poor women bearing up bravely, carrying on despite their burden, they weren’t going to carry my food.  I simply could not eat food contaminated by germs.  On one occasion a particular nurse worked a double shift two days running and I thought I was in danger of starving to death.  It didn’t occur to me that she might simply have been trying to get extra money to pay for the huge meal that had swollen her belly.

I was becoming totally preoccupied with women’s waistlines.  When I met someone for the first time I would smile and say hello and then look straight to her waistline to check her condition.  I used to pray for the skinny nurses to serve my meals.  It was funny how they never seemed to be afflicted.  They might have been immune, I thought.  I was torn between concern and revulsion and I was getting sick of going hungry.  Everyone seemed to have a pot belly and I was losing track of who did and how often.  Soon salvation in the form of extra knowledge was at hand.  I discovered in the physiotherapy rooms an illustrated medical dictionary that explained everything I didn’t know quite clearly to me.

The author must have had a food fetish because he spoke of human body organs as the size of almonds and the size and shape of a pear.  So when I learned of Fallopian tubes I immediately continued with the food likeness and envisaged lengths of macaroni joining everything together.  And that is when I was cured of the effects of my ignorance.  How lovely to see my nurses walking around with their almonds and pears and their pasta all locked up in their own pelvic pantries.

So now if it was sugar and spice on the outside it was something equally as nice on the inside.

Women now become for me something of a delightful cross between love images and delicatessens.

At the end of this hectic and intense educational period I was reasonably well acquainted with the facts of life.  The ones that you are told about.  That you are told about as a part of growing up.  I mean who is going to tell a pretty faced twelve year old that one day he is going to have hair sprouting out of his ears and nose?  And that part of his grooming will be the regular snipping of growth from his nostrils lest they end up festooned with particles and airborne debris and get to resemble a facial version of a drift net or a tasteless banner or Christmas decoration.

And one day down the track, when the boy is finally a man, a man who knows he’s in the prime of life, he could make a discovery that almost certainly no one warns him about.  He could discover, and probably will, a grey hair in his underwear and realise, with chilling horror, it’s not because the cat has been sleeping in the laundry basket.

This totally unexpected low blow can result in some strange behaviour.  Some fellows have been known to start using Grecian 2000 secretly, and in the oddest of places.  They soon stop, though.  It is not that the colour restorer is expensive.  It is just the amount of unwearable undies accumulated that are stained beyond use by the application of hair lotion.

There’s more.

You fellows know how any nubile eighteen year old girl will fall at your feet with desire if you just click you fingers?  And the only thing that stops you is your high moral values and refined sense of mature responsibility?  Well, one day it is quite likely one will call you “Mister” or later, dare I say it, “Pop”.  Cheeky young damn things!

You see it is one terrible blow after another.

There is one other ugly rumour that I have heard whispered.  That is uttered by ashen faced men in breathless tone.  It concerns the most hideous and vile words that a man, during his lifetime, may ever have the misfortune to hear.  It is not “you have cancer” or “you are going bald” but is spoken by a women as she turns over beside you, “Don’t worry, darling.  I am not disappointed.  It can happen to all men sometimes.  It isn’t important.”

Quite honestly I’m not sure what that refers to but I know I should not think about it let alone talk about it.  So I won’t.
Perhaps boys are deliberately not told a lot of these things as youngsters so that it comes as an eventual playback for all our peacock strutting in the emphatic certainty of our infallible male prowess.

But if it is a pay back trick it is a nasty one.

Like most people I eventually negotiated that minefield of childish learning experience, hopefully without too much embarrassment to me or anyone else or too many bruises but I think sometimes that some of my early ideas may not have been too far wrong.

I know I have been exposed to hard core sex education from all sources including the sealed section of Women’s’ magazines.  (Please excuse me, the memory makes me feel faint. I need a drink of water.)  So I’m supposed to know most things.  But still I want you to humour me.
You think about the tennis you see on television over the summer months and reflect on the shape of the girl players tummies.  I bet they were all flat.  And if one did have a pot belly, I bet she lost.  It wouldn’t be her fault, though.  The organiser arranged the tournament with the aid of a Gregorian calendar and not a biological one.

He wasn’t being thoughtful or considerate.  He just should not have asked her to play tennis.

I know all about that.

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