from a novel in progress by Sally O’Reilly
‘Plastic’s well sexy. You’ve got your rubber fetishwear, which isn’t actually rubber, but usually PVC, which is a petrochemical, of course. And you’ve got your hard, thermosetting plastics in your vibrators and dildos. This discreet prawn model is a real big seller among the professional ladies, whereas couples seem to go more for this Rampant Lion one here. As you can see, they range from the big and bendy to the pocket-sized and stiff. And just look at that range of colours and textures.’ Ida’s mind was boggling at the variation, at all the kinky practices expressed through this expansive array of packaged forms.
‘Then there’s all the fun fur round your handcuffs – pure nylon, that, as are your non-chafing silk love ropes. And the TPR plastic of the Dutch wives, that’s latex- and cadmium- free. We’re setting up a made-to-order celebrity doll service, so punters can have them made to look like Celine Dion, or whoever. What’s really great, though, is if you haven’t got the room for a full-sized blow-up doll you can have this compacted version here.’ He passed Ida an inflatable pair of breasts with a delicately wrought and self-moistening vagina planted right in the cleavage. ‘All the important bits there, all in a cubic foot or two. And if that’s all a bit much – some blokes are intimidated by the tits, you know; I can kind of see what they mean, swinging around like wreckers’ balls – anyway, if the tits are too much then there’s this cunt in a can. Tidy, eh? Looks just like a can of beer, but just unscrew the top and viola. And then, when you fancy a bit of back alley action…’ He turned it around and removed another lid to reveal a tightly puckered anus. ‘This one’s made of that non- latex stuff, but you can get real flesh ones now. I sell them online because it’s still a bit dodgy. They’re grown from pig stem cells and UK regulations mean we have to bring them in from abroad, so it’s still a bit under the counter. But I’m hoping they’ll relax on that one soon.’
Johnnies John was certainly generous with his time and information, although he did have a rather annoying habit of emphasising a point by clutching the listener’s forearm or digging them in the ribs with his elbow. Sending a verbal point home with such physical punctuation broke all the rules of personal space, but it was worth tolerating for his fascinating narration, and informed speculations on petrochemical content: ‘I happen to know that this Motion Lotion contains propylene clycol, hydroxy-ethylcellulose, imidazolidemy urea, sodium benzoate, methyl barabene, tetrahydroxpropyl, ethylene dianure, tetrasodium EDTA, tocopheryl acetate and aloe vera. Very good for the skin, aloe,’ he said, caressing Ida’s cheek televisually with the back of his fore and middle fingers.
‘How do you know all this?’ asked Ida.
‘Because I care,’ Johnnies John replied. It is generally the way, that if you care you know, but not necessarily that if you know, you care, in which case you generally forget. It would seem, then, that the way to tackle a failing memory or scant understanding is to induce heightened caring, for the heat of it liquefies the brain, making it easier to pour into the dark corners of ignorance the brightening effect of knowledge.
A couple browsing the vibrators picked up a Dick Rambone and put it back down again, with boredom rather than disdain. ‘Nothing’s really jumping out at me? Is it you?’ ‘Nah.’ It was an entirely pragmatic conversation, unembellished with symbolic portent or even lascivious potency. Ida wasn’t sure that the sensualists couldn’t do with at least a bit of cerebralism, so that they could intellectually project themselves beyond states of inertia. The one drawback to sensualism, it seemed to her, was that it was over-reliant on external stimuli.
‘My dad was big in porn,’ continued Johnnies John. ‘I learned everything from him. Businesswise, I mean, nothing funny like. He wasn’t like that. Just adult hetro porn. I always wanted to go into real estate. I like property. I like land. Owning land is the noblest thing. But I’ve got sex shops in my blood. I opened an estate agent, John’s Urban & Residential it was called – classy. But it was in a slum area and after a year I was really struggling, so I opened up a room in the back where I’d shift some units for my dad – you know, swings, mats, role-playing costumes. It became a real hotspot for swingers. They’d come to rent their spare rooms to other swingers through my office and buy all the gear out of the back. I ended up bringing the porn gear out the front and installing a small notice board for rooms-to-let ads. They could sort it out themselves. Well, business boomed and then I sold that on and moved to a smarter area, suburban, nice, you know. Probably full of swingers too, but they were discrete, kept it in the family. I’d done a conversion cookery course, specialising in baking. Made lovely artisanal bread. It was well hard work: up at four, delivering them myself at first, running the shop while the missus looked after the kids. Bloody knackering, but so satisfying. Seeing all those loaves steaming in the morning chill, on their way to greet a family at the start of their day, from warm pillow to warm bread, gently does it. But of course then the supermarkets started their home delivery and people started buying in their bread along with all their other stuff. Crippling that was. Criminal those supermarkets. Too convenient, too cheap. They thought I couldn’t compete, but I could, you know, I thought, John, I thought, I did, I thought John, what do people want that they can’t get delivered by Tesco? What do people not want in their shopping bags, nestling next to the groceries? What would they like a discrete bloke like me to drop round, under the cover of a nice warm loaf? Porn, of course. I started delivering porn mags and a sliced bloomer, blues movies and a pack of buns. And, well, you can probably see this coming, can’t you? Yeah, the porn really took off in the suburbs and so I dismantled the bread oven to make more room for the swivelling mag racks, got in some display cases for toys. And that’s the way it’s been really. Every time I try and make a go of something else… So far I’ve set up a hairdressers, a reprographics shop, a private dental clinic, a lido, a conference centre and a theme park, but every time all they want is porn, porn, porn. So I’ve resigned myself to it now. I’ve got a chain of sex shops, all with different skews and specialisms, but this is the biggest yet.’
The porn megastore was housed in a concrete block typical of the city: grey and streaked with damp, crumbling precariously in places and shored up with contingent bolts and braces made from whatever pieces of wood or metal had been to hand. The façade was a symphony of bodge, with amateur design and prefabricated elements brought together in such a way that produced an ache in the chest of anyone used to slick mass-production and honed market- driven aesthetics. It was beautiful in its fallibility. The front entrance involved a strange but ingenious triangulation of doors, black-out vinyl and a large mirror, creating a confusing kissing gate-like setup, where the punter approached his or her own reflection only to turn an abrupt corner and find a clutch of other punters waiting to leave through the same aperture. It was an enforced moment of physical proximity prior to entry to the well-proportioned halls beyond, and just the sort of minor perversity that appealed to Johnnies John.
Once, inside, the carpeted hallway was flanked by two treadle machines, each with disembodied boots that worked the pedals that turned a wheel to which arabesque feathers were attached. This tickling machine was a big seller in the provinces – a trade that was conducted by internet and postal service – but the off-the-street punter tended to bypass the showy goods on the ground floor and scoot straight up the stairs, where the sex machines (not sex toys, if you please) ranged from the portable to the room-sized.
‘So, this copulation machine has two modes. There’s vibration only, that’s for anal, and there’s this interchangeable member for vaginal, which also moves back and forth. It’s remote controlled and runs at up to 700 beats per minute.’ Johnnies John obviously relished the technical aspect of his work, like a ferroequinologist obsessing over particularities of track gauge and serial numbers of rolling stock. He dwelt for quite some time over the serried ranks of dildos, drawing Ida’s attention to their dimensions and materiality. Even the earliest models were impressive in their ingenuity: Renaissance-era glass shafts of a pleasing solidity were topped by rubber addendums that ranged from the geometrical abstraction of a blob to the figurative gruesomeness of a doll’s hand with fingers outstretched like a coxcomb; there was a stainless steel one that screwed on to a shower hose for a jolly good drenching, a clutch of 19th-century hand-cranked vibrators which looked like rotary egg whisks that had lost their balloons, and a number of Soviet designed utilitarian vibrators, controllable remotely by way of a lamp cord and rocker switch.
‘And this see-saw is a good transition piece, bringing together dildo design and the kinetics of the furniture department.’ Two upright protuberances were placed four feet apart, awaiting the open core of the two women as they each, in turn, brought down their side of the see-saw, the cutaway in the wooden seat providing ample clearance for alternating ruddy good shaftings. ‘And over in the furniture department I think you’d appreciate the Rim Chair, the Voyeuristic Object, the Erotic Saddle and the various flatpack tables with armrests, waist-belts and lazy Susans.’ The Voyeuristic Object was a porcelain gazunder in a Bakelite holder with small feet and a wing mirror attached for auto-voyeurism – a proclivity that Ida did not harbour herself but could understand, what with the alarming nature of an overstretched sphincter, and alarm being the uptight cousin of thrill.
‘And I suppose, if you’re going to be farsighted about the impact of oil, then you should take into account electrical goods too,’ said Johnnies John as he demonstrated the various brands of Van der Graaf cavity massagers, electromagnetic wave lengtheners and anti-masturbatory pouches, which, when touched with the bare hand, complete a circuit that sends a jolting warning up the forearm, stopping well short of the heart, but close enough to put the fear of god into an adolescent. ‘Because electricity is a by-product of oil, after all,’ he added enigmatically as he proffered her something called Surge Gainsbourg.
Ida gave him a look that let him know she knew he was pulling her leg. According to her schooling electricity was farmed in large, remote, open spaces: deserts, moors and mud- flatted estuaries. She was more struck by the paradox that electricity was used in some instances to curb an erection and in others to stimulate the flaccid. It was interesting, too, that the sex shop did not promote indiscriminate intercourse, but encouraged the healthy conduct of individuals of all ages and persuasions, and even, in the case of over-stimulated male adolescents, espousing the deferment of sex until it could be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities and not just as a bald fact. In the wild old unregulated days, pumped- up bands of teenagers had ravaged everything within reach, spawning a swollen generation of unplanned brattlings and burned-out mothers, which proved a very poor basis for settler communities. The recent stabilisation of society could be attributed to the good work undertaken by a modern, self- legislating porn industry, and particularly its influence on the deferred dawn of a young man’s sex life; although girls and young women, it has to be said, were still as wild as ever.
‘Now I’ve got a real treat for you, treacle. Through that door on the left is a cinema dedicated to Edwardian Spanish porn. Do we call it Edwardian if it’s Spanish? Anyway, whatever, it’s old. No dialogue. Doesn’t need it, see? The stories never change. If you watched the modern Swedish stuff and this side by side, you’d see it’s all the same stories. Lots of inter-class romping between mistresses and gardeners, masters and chambermaids. The only difference is the production values. Of course these days the camera work is quite something – gets in real close, so you feel like you’re actually there. The new 3D stuff’s incredible. But this old Spanish stuff, well, it’s all long shots and static viewpoints. The actors’ techniques are pretty rum too – all fumbling, mainly stand-up wanking or missionary, not at all inventive. Not like those Swedes – phewee – they employ choreographers these days. Artful, it is. Anyway, I’ll just go and set up a reel. You sit here by the Ben Wa balls and I’ll come and get you in a few minutes. The loo’s down that corridor if you need it. First left, second right.’
Relieved at the reprieve from Johnnies John’s relentless chatter and clutching and nudging, Ida wandered towards the loo, not really needing to go, but enjoying the autonomy. There were no signs indicating which was the ladies’, so she tried one door, which was locked and probably a janitor’s cupboard judging by the puddle of flecked water seeping from beneath it. A door opposite seemed a little ornate for a loo, but the silver deco handle was rather too tempting not to try. She pushed gently and it swung open with ease, invitingly even, and so she stepped into an entrance hall with a stiff tufted hessian mat, on which she automatically wiped her feet, and walked, as if compelled, up the royal blue carpeted staircase.