Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Oh for our lost innocence

Pussy will rub my knees with her head
Pretending she loves me hard;
But the very minute I go to my bed
Pussy runs out in the yard

Who of you read that and snickered? I couldn’t help it when I came across it this evening. It’s an extract from a rhyme that appears at the end of Rudyard Kipling’s story “The Cat that Walked by Himself”, a story I’m using as source material for my new exhibition at the Rand Club next week.

The Cat that Walked by Himself

The story was published in 1902, but read that out aloud in 2012 and the meaning is entirely different. Pussy was already being used as a double entendre at the time that Kipling wrote the Just So Stories, but since then the alternative, more prurient meaning has become much more … established (I was going to say widespread, but realised I was digging a hole for myself).

It used to be easy to be innocent, as I reflected after a reading at the Open Book Festival this past weekend. My story is part of the My First Time collection edited by fellow Thought Leader blogger Jen Thorpe. In it I reflect on the first time I discovered there was such a thing as sex, courtesy of my mother’s copy of Everywoman, which I discovered in her cupboard while ferreting about for hidden supplies of Smarties.

As I explain in the piece, “I grew up in a household which in many ways was painfully prudish, and being the eldest, there were no older and more experienced siblings to cast the scales from my innocent eyes. My father might have taught us all the word “scatophagy” because he thought it was funny, but the possibility that there might be something so bizarrely mechanical yet utterly fascinating as sex simply did not exist.”

Thanks to Everywoman, I’ve long since left those days behind, though I will confess that it was only in my late teens that I discovered the alternative meaning of “pussy”. Now, I find it impossible to read that Kipling poem without wanting to giggle. And there’s something a tiny bit sad about that.

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