Peter Rhodes returns to the scene of the crime where he turned a respectable couple into waxworks
OKAY, it can be put off no longer. As promised, I have returned to the scene of the crime, here in Swanage. This is where in the summer of '61 there occurred The Most Embarrassing Incident in My Entire Life. I was ten.
TO this day I cannot explain or excuse it. I can only put it in context. Forget the year. The Sixties did not begin to swing for at least another four years and 1961 was still part of the grey, rigid, post-war Fifties where nothing mattered more than respectability and everyone spent most of their time worrying about what other folk thought of them. People were easily shocked.
ON holiday in Dorset that summer, my mother craved nothing more than the genteel company of nice people with nice children, the sort of children she wanted her five sons to become. The Dimms from Leicester fitted the bill. They were shopkeepers, 40-something going on 70, part of a generation which wore collar and tie from breakfast to bedtime and removed the tie only on very hot days on the beach. This was such a day and somehow I came to be alone with Mr and Mrs Dimm (not their real name) amid the deckchairs as my older brother made sandcastles a few feet away.
THE conversation seemed to flag. "I bet you haven't heard this poem," I began brightly, launching into the first verse of "The Good Ship Venus." An older kid had taught me it some weeks earlier and, although the subsequent verses were obviously very rude, the first verse just seemed a bit cheeky, although there was that puzzling word at the end of the verse, the one that rhymed with "Venus." As I reached the end of the line and uttered The Word, the Dimms seemed to turn into waxworks. All these years on, I can still see their frozen, expressionless faces, like the farmer and his wife in Grant Wood's iconic painting, American Gothic. Oh, dear.
LET us not dwell on the aftermath. My older brother grassed me up to my mother who retired in tears to her room. The Dimms never spoke to us again, an arrangement which seemed to suit my father very well. We never went back to Swanage.
WHY did I do my little recital? Who knows? Who can explain why little boys go scrumping, put pennies on railway lines, chuck stones at greenhouses or do any other reckless or naughty things? We just do. My personal theory is that the Devil gets into us and if the worst you do is turn a pair of old farts into waxworks, you've done pretty well.
BACK in Dorset this week, I resisted a powerful desire to get a loud-hailer, stand in the middle of Swanage Beach and give the trippers the full, uncut and maximum-volume version of The Good Ship Venus: "The Captain's wife was Mabel and whenever she was able . . . " etc.
MAYBE next time.