I cycled past a couple having sex by the Oxford Canal yesterday on my way back from the station. At least, I assume there was a man under there somewhere in the mud. What caught my eye was a very fine pair of dangling breasts glinting in the evening light, barely restrained by a white shirt, and the happy pleasure of the woman’s face – not just physical pleasure, but an “I am happy to be here with you” look about her.
That was all I glimpsed before discretion and the fear of cycling into the canal suggested that I averted my gaze.
Most of me does not approve in principle. However liberal I may be on such matters, a public path, yards from the houses of Jericho, and in broad daylight, does not seem quite appropriate. Two aspects, however, appealed to me, and it has taken me 24 hours to work out what they are.
One is that the white shirt and all that evident joy lightened up this neglected part of Oxford like a flower in the desert. This is a patch which no-one in authority seems to care about – I have written about it in a post called Oxford Canal – the alternative view.
This stretch of canal is not owned by anyone, in the sense that no-one has pride in it. Oxford City Council, British Waterways and the Environment Agency all have a property interest of some kind, I suspect, but the council’s contribution is a mean and shoddy development across the stream, and British Waterways have flogged off the boatyard opposite, leaving a derelict fenced site. You would think they might have paid some penance by spending some of the proceeds tidying the bank. Derelict boats are moored here, and the whole thing should be a source of shame to a council whose letter paper proclaims “Pride in our City”. The happy couple, incongruous amidst this muddy dereliction, brought a moment’s light and life to it.
The other thing which appealed was the evidence that it is still possible openly to have unauthorised fun and not get caught or punished. A letter in today’s Times asks if the government might publish a short list of things we are still allowed to do without being sent to prison for it. Public sex has always potentially been unlawful, but New Labour has doubled up the offence with the Prevention of Pleasure (Outdoor Copulation) Act (I cannot recall its real name), applicable where you do not take reasonable care to avoid being seen. This couple took no care at all. With every new offence which reaches the Statute Book, I find myself cheering on all those willing to break the law (not necessarily literally, of course – a cheer from me might have spoilt their moment).
No voyeuristic CCTV watched over them. No nasally-challenged little runt from Oxford City Council took down their particulars on his clip-board. No thuggish policeman pointed his sub-machine gun at them and arrested them on suspicion of terrorist activities. That dim, interfering little harridan Caroline Flint, the Minister for Health, would have been appalled that people could enjoy themselves so dangerously without a notice-board, a leaflet and a qualified medical person on hand to warn them of the risks they ran (suffocation on his part, I would say).
Who was she?, I find myself wondering. She looked a bit upmarket to be a boat-dweller (and they don’t wear white anyway, or not for long). Was she a single girl looking for a bit of rough, or a neglected house-wife after a D H Lawrence moment? None of my business, and of passing interest only, as it were.