Geoffrey Gaines’ personal website. Based on Serif ‘s ‘Shabby’ template.
What the Butler Saw
My first experience of eroticism. Was it at Skegness? Or Scarborough? Or Llandudno?
I was a pubescent kid - on a day trip to the seaside with the local working man's club. Three or four of my pals were there too.
The dry, greyness of the wooden boarding of the pier underfoot. The blustery British weather. The machine itself. Even in 1957, when I was thirteen, it looked old. A relic of the Victorian age as much as the photographic images it held.
Forehead uncomfortably pressed to the metalic cowl of the binocular eyepieces of the 'What-the-Butler-Saw' machine I turned the handle at the side. One by one the stereoscopic pictures of buxom-bosomed, full-hipped, cupid-lipped ladies in their lace undies flipped into view.
The pictures didn't seem all that erotic. Maybe because the 'girls' on the photos looked old to me (At thirteen, anyone over seventeen is old!). Or possibly I was conscious of the fact that I was doing something I'd been told was naughty!
It was all a ten minute giggle ... then ... on to what we'd really come to find - the beach, the candy floss, the dodgems, the helter skelter, the big dipper!
That proto-erotic incident at the amusement arcade was to have one enduring effect though. Although I didn't realise it at the time, it had left a sort of, 'virus', in the recesses of my mind.
The virus accompanied me everywhere. Incubating stealthily. Onto the big wheel, onto the waltzer, onto the ghost train ... onto the coach back home!
A few months later the virus was to exhibit its first 'symptom'.
The nights were longer by then. There was a film - "The Green Mare's Nest" (Cert 'X') - advertised in the newspaper. Seeing it would mean us walking nearly two miles to the Forum cinema and pretending to be sixteen years old in order to get in.
It would be the first 'X' rated film any of us had seen. The virus whispered its demonic "I bet you daren't" to each of us. How could we not go?
I was scared the cashier would stop us and call the police. Faking deeper than our normal voices - and pulling ourselves up to make ourselves look a couple of inches taller - we asked for tickets.
I think the cashier must have turned a 'blind eye'. TV had just 'taken off' and cinema audiences were starting to decline rapidly.
We handed over our 'one and sixes' (it was worth paying the extra for seats in the balcony) took our tickets, and climbed the wide staircase to the upper level of the cinema foyer.
One last 'hurdle' to negotiate. At the doors to the auditorium stood the lady waiting to tear our tickets. We avoided looking her directly in the face (and expanded our 'boy-ly' chests in an effort to appear more 'man-ly'). It worked. We'd made it!
The mild euphoria at having achieved this first objective was, however, short lived - for me it was almost immediately tainted by a persistent 'censuring voice' from within.
"Was this the slippery slope, the thin end of the wedge, of which I'd been warned repeatedly?" I found myself wondering.
I fidgetted my lanky legs and ungainly frame uncomfortably in the plush velvet seat on the front row of the balcony. I waited, it seemed interminably, for the lights to go down, for the curtains to open.
A deeply unsettling suspicion came over me.
Were the 'all-seeing-eyes' of GOD ... was ... HE watching ... me?
I sat there, in the front row of the 'gods', with the burden of my guilt spoiling any enjoyment - sexual or otherwise - that I might have found in the film.
What-the-Butler-Saw at the seaside had made me a sinner. Now, by going to see an 'X' rated film underage, I was turning into ... a criminal!
After the film the eyes of the Immortal One seemed to follow me all the way home. Above my head - above the clouds even - far out into space. Following me like the full moon.
I felt naked before HIM ... like a photograph in a What-the-Butler-Saw machine!
(Written circa 2004)