'Oh, the spoken material,' I was explaining to the Mother Superior, 'is about the Facts of Life. I've been asking people what they were told, how they were told it and did they ask questions...'
A superfluity of nuns had stopped to listen at the window of Metrodeco, cafe and live performance venue, in Kemp Town, Brighton, where I was performing Have I Given you the Talk Yet? In the street nearby later that week one of them stopped me, smiling, and said how much they had enjoyed hearing me sing. 'And we were wonder might you please sing something for a charity evening we have coming up?'I said, of course, sister.
The nun nodded. 'That's very good to hear. But just to correct you: not sister - but Mother Superior.'
She then asked about the spoken material in the show, in case we might include some of it on the night; and I explained that it was about how various people I had interviewed had been told the facts of life...
Bernard, 72. My sister read about Dutch caps. We looked at Old Masters paintings in a library book and wondered how having those funny big white hats on their heads would stop women getting pregnant.
Susan, 46. At school we were told: "Your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost". We were also shown a very awkward public information film which made us all scream "Yuk". Our biology teacher paused the film and said if we didn't behave we were having "Sam on Boff's Island" back on.
Raymond, 51. I was given the little green booklet with the diagrams. The women in it had hair like Maggie Thatcher and the men were all dressed like John-Boy Walton. I didn't understand how, with the individual sperm themselves being so microscopic, you would know they had been ejaculated. Surely you wouldn't feel it? The teacher explained that the emission process started a pump action going, which was practically impossible to ignore.
Cassie, 19. My eleven year old twin sisters are going away to my old school. The head of year asked if they could be told about periods, definitely, and the facts of life, if possible. Mum sat them down at the kitchen table separately. Milly worked herself into a state of dread about periods and cried herself to sleep for two and a half hours. When mum tried to tell her the facts of life next day, she stuck her fingers in her ears and sang very loudly One Direction's "Where do all the Heartbreaks go?" Carolina, when it was her turn, said that periods sounded a bit drastic, actually. She listened in silence to the facts of life, then said that she hadn't quite got it, so maybe when mummy and daddy next did that she could watch?
Marion, 42. My mother said that the sexual act was something I should use. I should flaunt the potential of a man getting it from me. I should manipulate. I should cajole. I should go so far and no further with it. I could be voluptuous with it. Flagrant; bestial even.
I asked her, "But what about the act itself?" She said, "What do I think I am, a bloody biology teacher?"
Mikey, 29. My dad warned me off booze and drugs and told me where the condoms were around the flat. I would have been about fourteen. I was curious if he'd told Sherman, my sixteen year old brother, anything about sex. Sherman's autism meant he most likely wouldn't ever interact with anyone outside the family. Dad said the jury was out on that issue. A bit later on he had to ask me to stop traumatising Sherman by inflating the condoms and making scary Hobbit characters out of them.
Trudy, 71. I was told nonsense like, "Girls have to keep themselves pure" and not to worry when I started periods because even the Queen and Princess Margaret had the same. The things we should have been told, except we were kept in ignorance. We were taken down to the local livestock market, some of us when we had whooping cough, for the good that the cows' sweat will do for it. Well, what a missed opportunity for pointing stuff out about reproduction. I had no idea what keeping myself pure meant! When local girls got pregnant, it was all "she doesn't know how it happened" which we would have done had they taken that opportunity to enlighten us down the livestock market, those of us that went when we were poorly. It made me terrified that even if I stood next to my boyfriend to kiss him goodnight by some mysterious happening I could have a baby. I never sat next to my male cousins at tea, either - always at least one away or diagonally opposite. And I always moved seats when a man sat next to me on the tram. This was when trams were just plain old trams of course. Not like today when you can go from East Croydon to Elmers End on something that's called an 'enhanced tram'.
Gareth, 42. My uncle pointed to a bull and said, "Bull has cow, cow has calf."
Larissa, 82 Oh, you've been talking to me lovely friend in the John Lewis Food Hall, haven't you? Has he put you onto me? Oh. That's...well, I did think he was my friend. It's always been a bit up and down with him, I'll admit. The other ladies in the Mansions said I was wrong to talk to him so much. Kalia said I didn't even know his name. I did - it was on the badge on his shirt pocket. Eric. But I'd noticed he did seem to just be staring at me the most recent times I've been shopping. I got so worried and asked him if the ladies - Kalia and the rest of them - were right and I shouldn't have been talking to him all those times? Telling him about my health scares. That's all it was, you know. That particular time I was speaking to him I'd just had a particularly serious scare. My implants. And I was getting the succinct impression that Eric really wasn't wanting to know. My fourth husband paid for my breast implants; and I hear he's kept the receipt from Wigmore Street all these years. Oh, I was anxious. The next time I saw Eric was after I'd been for my check up for the implants. I decided not to bother him. He was where he usually is, opposite the tea. I just kept my eyes on the display. And he - oh, I was so happy - he said hello and asked how I was. I gushed. I couldn't help it. Gushed about how relieved I was that he was talking to me, as I'd been so afraid that he had never wanted to, really. He explained that at his age, nineteen, he just felt that he had so little experience in such matters as mine and could offer no advice. I said that he should never have worried himself, the scare about my implants was over. I wouldn't need to have them taken out, I just needed to have my nipples moved.
What? So, you weren't speaking to my lovely friend Eric? What was the question again? Oh, I was a debutante and didn't live in the country, so I knew nothing. Do I think that was a bad thing? No, not really. Forewarned isn't always forearmed. If I'd known what my second husband in particular had in store for me in that respect, I'd have likely taken the veil.
Thomas, 76. We used to go to Leicestershire every summer for six weeks and there were chickens.
Jillian, 38. I was actually told the fucking crap about the stork!
Sonia, 46. My mother called me up to her room after breakfast, which was unheard of. So I went into her room and she drew a picture of an erect penis and then of something that in no way resembled a vagina and said, "That, goes into that. But only when the people concerned truly love each other."
I later found out that she had been asked to give me this talk by the house mistress at the school I was about to go away to. My mother's old school, actually. I also later found out that my mother had told this housemistress, Miss Cavendish (she'd also been my mother's housemistress) that I had a tendency to masturbate when I watched cartoons. "Except," Miss Cavendish said with that ghastly smile of hers, "your mother being such the scholar, she didn't say that you masturbated, but talked of your auto-erotic tendencies!"
Sian, 62. My mother didn't tell me the facts of life. I think she thought I must have known them; she caught me masturbating when I was nine and a bit. She dragged me in front of a mirror, made me open my mouth and pointed at my uvula. "See that thing dangling there at the back of your throat?" she said. "Every time you touch yourself like you were just doing doing there, it grows a bit. And a bit more. Until eventually it chokes you."
Sarah, 53. When I was about nine, I started asking mummy. Eventually, she said, "You know when we let Saltash off her lead in Stanley Park that time and that boy dog came ever so close to her and did that funny dance with her? Well, mummies and daddies do that. It's natural and nothing to be ashamed of and might be lovely."
Peter, 72. My mum refused to tell me and told me to ask my nan. I asked nan. She said, "No, sorry, Peter. I never even told your mother or your uncles any of that. If push came to shove we might maybe have taken them to the aquarium, I remember."
Fiona, 68. I was told that as soon as the ring went on my finger in the church a baby would begin to grow in my belly.
Francis, 73. When I was fifteen my father said he had something to tell me, took me into the bathroom, went bright red and locked the door. I thought, oh god, he's going to tell me that he's gone bankrupt or that mummy's died. Such a relief when he started squirming his way through telling me the facts of life! I already knew them - we had a gypsy family in the village and I was at school with one of the sons - but I wanted my father to be uncomfortable. I only remember certain details of what he told me, such as him calling the penis "your person" and describing the inside of the vagina as "like the nasal passages when one is suffering from a very bad cold". Oh, and he used the full, "spermatozoa" and said it was like live, bleached tapioca, could I imagine? No, frankly, I couldn't. He ended his talk by saying that if I caught anything it would break my mother's heart. "And homosexuality is just silly."
I didn't get to tell the Mother Superior any of the above. As soon as I'd mentioned the subject of my spoken material she interrupted: 'How lovely that you will sing for us. But about you going around and asking what you have, can I just say this: God does not want us ever to overreach ourselves.'