The appeal of erotic ephemera you encounter on holidays by the coast.
At the moment going on holiday is, astonishingly, illegal, but there was a time when we could do so. And on holiday not only could we get drunk without worrying how it might affect our performance at work the following day, or throw up next to our hotel without it leading to years of strained relations with neighbours, but we could buy tat that we would never normally bother even looking at. Because holidays melt the brain. You do stuff you’d never normally do, you literally go a bit mad, you purchase things you don’t actually like – come November, you look at that straw donkey and think “why?!”
Here’s another thing. Exposure to sunshine is scientifically proven to make British people randy, not least according to authoritative texts like Carry On Camping, Carry On Abroad and Confessions From A Holiday Camp (films mostly shot in the dead of winter). And while sexual activity thus goes up (if you’re lucky), you’re also more likely to feel more relaxed about sexy things in your environment. Inhibitions, as well as heavy clothes, are shed. And maybe it’s that you can buy stuff you find properly erotic and get away with it because it’s a bit jokey, a bit of a lark?
Naughty stuff is on offer to the tourist by the sea, whether in Blackpool or Benidorm, or at least it used to be. (Apologies, I haven’t had a break for a little while…) The further south you go in Europe, the ruder (to us Brits) it seems to get. I remember 1970s holidays in Greece where a trip to the shops would be an eyeful of naked men with enormous penises etched onto everything from plates to vases. Three years ago in Gran Canaria, I spotted what we’d call a hardcore porn mag in what we’d call an ordinary newsagent’s: Super Sexy was about four feet off the ground, next to TV guides and puzzle mags. But if you’d recently come from the nearby nude beach at Maspalomas it might not be that much more of an eyeful than you’d just had.
A much earlier memory of mine is being in a French supermarket at probably five or six years of age. I desperately wanted one of their pens with a woman on that you held upside down and all her clothes slid off, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I was so furious I ran off and almost got lost in the store. I was embarrassed at this story being recalled when I was a young teenager, but now I find it quite funny: I was clearly a fan of the unclothed female form from an early age. The stripping pen has, interestingly, remained a novelty staple to this day, essentially unchanged – you don’t mess with the classics.
Related to sexy female (and male) stripping pens are the mugs with an image of some cutie on, which you put hot liquid in to see their clothes melt away. Be advised that dishwashers will send your sex object into a state of either permanent nakedness or more likely their body will acquire a grey-stained mark of misfortune. Something I’ve never risked in a dishwasher is my shot glass with a blurry image on the bottom that reveals itself as a woman putting a dildo… well, somewhere, when you put clear liquid in it. Classy, eh?
Back in more prudish Blighty, resorts like Skegness and Blackpool still offer their share of blue tat – when the shops are open – if not as much as before. If you’re lucky you might still find little plastic monks lifting cassocks, men dropping barrels so their John Thomas springs out, or monkeys you squeeze to make their willie shoot forth. See, it’s not all about naked girls. From the 1970s to the 90s saucy end-of-the-pier romps would roll into town and pack punters in, starring the likes of Robin Askwith in The Further Confessions Of A Window Cleaner and Barbara Windsor in Wot A Carry On In Blackpool. In those days, many a seafront store would happily sell you some godawful softcore VHS tape with a Union Jack and humongous-breasted saucepot on the cover, that you would literally never see anywhere else in your life.
There are the postcards too, of course, from the saucy cartoon ones like classic Bamforths and the fairly dreadful newer ones (which still aren’t entirely charmless) to the sexy photo ones. Playing cards, too, which can range from soft glamour girl images to complete and utter filth; it can sometimes be a lottery buying a sealed pack, opening them to discover whether you’ve purchased 52 versions of Page 3 or 52 versions of multi-racial double-anal gangbanging. I fondly remember one holiday break where me and a few mates played constantly with a pack of nude lady cards, and how whoever was dealt a certain card – the only card in the pack with no naughty bits at all on show, as the lady wore a brown top – would bemoan “Noooo! I’ve got Brown Jumper Lady!”
In the heyday of Blackpool as a mecca of sleazy tat, you could find all variations of the sexy playing card, from Harrison-Marks style black and white topless and airbrushed nudes in packs that looked as though they had been in the same place on the same shelf for a good decade even back in the late Seventies, through to more explicit sets. One devil-may-care seafront souvenir shop had an arresting display that remains a vivid memory even now – a selection of explicit colour nudes – legs spread, fingers close to insertion – surrounding a photo of who I now recognise as Ron Jeremy (still skinny in those days) sporting a pop-up erection. This is probably the sort of thing that the Indecent Displays Act was brought into force to put an end to.
In fact, the souvenir shops of yore were often a Russian Roulette for browsing families, where one moment you might be looking at some immediately breakable but – at that point – absolutely essential toy, the next seeing all manner of bare flesh alongside those old-school vibrators that were sold as shoulder massagers – this was long before the sex toy revolution, and I imagine that both customer and retailer were happy to stick to the idea that these devices were for loosing knotted muscles. I often wonder just how many people actually bought them for that purpose, blissfully unaware that Doc Johnson was not, in fact, a genuine back pain specialist.
Alright, you can buy this sort of thing on the internet nowadays but it’s a lot more fun if you get it on your hols, and it’d be nice to think that the seasides and playas will always be home to sexy tat, even in dark, censorious times. Maybe purchasing a pack of rude playing cards could come to be seen as an act of rebellion, your part in the fight against stifling political correctness. That’s my excuse for owning them anyway.
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