Nothing Short of Scandalous

So what do two people get up to in a secret mountain hideaway, when they are not actively involved in kinky fuckery?

I decided it was time that my Babygirl was introduced to what I consider to be the finest piece of prose the English language has to offer: I consider myself reasonably well read; this is not an accolade that I bestow lightly.

Perhaps it is partly thanks to my family links to Wales, that I find Dylan Thomas‘s Under Milkwood to be the head and shoulders winner in this category, which has some extremely stiff competition including the likes of Charles Dickens, Graham Greene, Margaret Atwood, Laurie Lee, Gore Vidal and Annie Proulx.

I have always found Thomas’s fine wordcraft, impish sense of humour and sexually charged wit to be exactly to my taste.

Under Milkwood was written as a radio play – a ‘play for voices’ as Thomas would have it – radio being the dominant medium back in 1953. The work has been likened to lifting the lid on a dolls house: it describes a day in the life of a small, Welsh fishing town and the goings on of its many eccentric characters.

And such goings on there are! Willy Nilly Postman and his wife, when not steaming open the town’s mail in order to spread gossip, are privately engaged in a spot of CP:

[He] Walks fourteen miles to deliver the post as he does every day of the night, and ratatats hard and sharp on Mrs Willy Nilly

‘Don’t spank me please, teacher,’ whimpers his wife at his side.

But every day of her married life she has been late for school.

Dai Bread the baker is in what we would now call a polyamorous relationship with Mrs Dai Bread One and Mrs Dai Bread Two, all of whom occupy the same bed.

The local strumpet, Polly Garter, sings to herself, as she scrubs the floor ready for the Mothers’ Union dance that evening (a gathering at which she would never be welcome) of her previous loves, Tom, Dick, and Harry. We learn that Tom was “strong as a bear and two yards long”, Dick was “big as a barrel and three feet thick”, and Harry was “six feet tall and sweet as a cherry”. I confess that it wasn’t until the second or third time of listening that I realised it was Tom, Dick and Harry’s vital appendages that she was eulogising.

Mrs Organ Morgan bewails her husband’s passion for his organ, but which organ?

It’s organ organ all the time with you…

Under Milkwood is as replete with requieted as unrequited love: the local haberdasher and the local sweet shop owner, whose businesses are at opposite ends of the town, write to each other of their undying love but nonetheless are never to be united.

The butcher’s daughter, Gossamer Beynon, is a vision of feminine ripeness:

The sun hums down through the cotton flowers of her dress, into the bell of her heart and buzzes in the honey there and couches and kisses, lazy loving and boozed in her red berried breast.

In spite of her overt respectability, she secretly yearns for Sinbad Sailors, her imagined, hircine lover:

She feels his goatbeard tickle her in the middle of the world like a tuft of wiry fire, and she turns, in a terror of delight, away from his whips and whiskery conflagration.

Sinbad laments Gossamer’s education and her superior standing in the microcosm of society reflected in the town. Social snobbery dictates that they will never consummate their passion.

And blind, old Captain Cat reminisces of his time at sea, the men he has lost and the women with whom he has caroused:

Rosie Probert, 33 Duck Lane. Come on up boys, I’m dead.

Even when unmasked as a serial teller of tall tales, the captain beseeches his long dead (and probably imagined) lover to,

Lie down, lie easy. Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

Life in Llareggub (write it backwards and you will see the author’s little joke) is not all romping and ploughing in the hay. The schoolmaster, Mr Pugh, dreams of doing in Mrs Pugh, locked as they are in poisonous matrimony:

Sly and silent, he foxes into his chemist’s den, and there, in a hiss and prussic circle of cauldrons and phials brimful with pox and the Black Death, cooks up a fricassée of deadly nightshade, nicotine, hot frog, cyanide and bat spit for his needling stalactite hag and bednag of a poker-backed nut-cracker wife.

Thomas died exceptionally young, on a trip to the United States. It would have been amazing had he lived to old age and allowed his style to develop even further. A lover of women he certainly was; unfortunately, also lover of whiskey, which helped him into an early grave at the age of only thirty-nine.

The point is, long before those of us living what we euphemistically call ‘alternative lifestyles’, Thomas was suggesting that such activities were commonplace, desirable and only to be condemned by the village gossips or bigoted preachers in the chapel, whose dominion in Wales stretched far and wide back then.

Not only is it a wonderful piece of writing, it is bold and adventurous and lit the path for those of us who rejoice in the pleasures of the flesh, whip and cane, to take up the baton in order to normalise our lifestyle for future generations.

The BBC has released a dramatised audio version of Under Milkwood in which the voice of Sir Richard Burton has been digitally remastered to appear alongside contemporary actors. If you do nothing else this month, give it a listen. Kinksters, you will not be disappointed!