You know how Proust goes on and on about recollections of the past that are triggered by simple things in your everyday life, like a taste or a smell? Or maybe knickers?
I recently got myself a pair of red silk French knickers – exhibit A. In case you wonder what they look like in real life, think boxer shorts but red, silk, sexy and evocative of the words “drawers” and “Edwardian”. I didn’t go out of my way to find them, I just came across them online one night and thought ‘may as well. Together with that black lace thong’. They arrived, I put them on, looked in the mirror, and the memory took me back a decade or so.
I was 22 – the “poor student” years I mentioned a few times here. I made friends with Allie, a beautiful blond girl of my age and one-of-a-kind personality. Allie worked as a stripper. She shared a small flat in Pimlico with 2 of her colleagues.
One Saturday afternoon we wanted to go to a gallery together, and she said I could come to pick her up. I found the door and rang the bell. For a while, nothing happened, and then the lock clicked, a sleepy-looking girl appeared and welcomed me in. She was tall, slim and busty, with masses of long fair hair, slightly tangled from sleep. She was wearing blue silk French knickers and fake eyelashes. Some glitter was smudged over her shoulder.
‘Are you for Allie? She’s in the bathroom,’ she said, rubbing her eyes. The fake eyelashes didn’t mind in the least. ‘Want to come in?’
Unsure of what I may see if I venture further from the door, I declined. The sight in front of me was enough.
‘I’ll wait with you then, I need to pee,’ said the girl and leaned on a wall. She rubbed her eyes again, looked at her hands, saw the nail polish on one of her nails was chipped, and started picking on it.
‘Allie! Out!’ she hollered 2 minutes later without warning. I jumped, and someone deep inside the flat snored in disgruntlement. There was no sign of Allie, so the girl started chatting to me. I don’t remember what about. I remember looking at her lips as a way to avoid looking at her breasts.
I had never seen other women’s breasts before. I mean I had, like in a gym change room or on TV, but those breasts were never so real, close and, well, available to look at. I was fascinated. Thinking of it now, this was probably the moment my attraction to women found itself deep inside my ovaries. I’d only just discovered sex, as you know, didn’t know much about it and, frankly, didn’t realise it was possible to have it with people of other than opposite sex. No, I wasn’t naive, just disinterested in sexual matters and thus mostly uninformed.
At the time, I thought it was her lifestyle: you know, sleeping till midday, being beautiful and wearing silk bloomers. But now I know the lifestyle wasn’t the real attraction factor. I have it now – I’ve got the underwear to show for it! – and I’m nowhere near less attracted to the girl as I remember her. It was her utter naturalness, and femininity, and those breasts. And, of course, the ease/ mental disorder with which she opened doors to strangers without bothering to cover up.
And yes, starting with Proust gives me a touch of chic, but the truth is, as a teenager, I opened Swann’s Way, read greedily a few pages, said ‘oh what bollocks!’ and never went back to it. Maybe the translation wasn’t too good. But at the time I couldn’t read the original. Still can’t. Not Proust. I don’t know the French for “bollocks”.