My journey into mucky books, with Cagney & Lacey

Mucky books, mucky books (ooh mucky books)
Mucky books, mucky books (ooh mucky books)
Mucky books, mucky boo-hooo-hoooks
Mucky books, mucky books (uh huh ha, uh huh ha!)
- Darts (except not quite)

Some recent tweets and a post by Steve Baxter at the New Statesman have made me think about mucky books. I hardly ever think about mucky books these days, but typing this right now is making me do a Sid James style 'phwooar!' at my keyboward.


Anyway. What was I talking about? Ah, yes. Mucky books.

Mucky books? Phwooar!

And so on.

I can't remember the first mucky book (or jazz mag, or dirty mag, or grot mag, or grumble mag or whatever you called them) I ever saw. I remember finding one in a bush in the park, and one stashed behind a loose brick near the adventure playground, and one of my mates showed me his big brother's stash at one point, but I don't have a special memory of the first one I ever clapped eyes on. I went to an all boys' secondary school you see, so dirty books circulated like luggage on an airport carousel, except you could buy one for 50p and then put it back on and get a quid in return if you knew the right people to buy from and to sell to. I made a fortune on the things, so memories of them are a whirl of basques, big 80s hair and, uh, big 80s hair.

I do remember the first one I had in my house though. I was about 12, and two older kids at school had managed to nick a bundled up delivery of Fiestas and Penthouses from outside a newsagent. They probably thought they'd struck gold, but they just created a glut that meant they were eventually giving them away. My mate got one of each, but gave the Penthouse to me to take home. When I got it there, I rushed it up the stairs and hid it under the carpet beneath my chest of drawers like some kind of hiding dirty magazines wizard. (That's what was in the original draft of Harry Potter, by the way).

Once it was safely there, I felt more like Gollum. The thrill of having something illicit and precious and exciting that only I knew about followed me around all day. I knew it would be there at least all weekend and I could just go and look at it whenever I wanted, instead of having to crowd around one kid behind the Sainsbury's next to school and shout something about flaps as if I even knew what I meant. It was going to be great.

But then god intervened, via the medium of Cagney & Lacey.

I loved Cagney and Lacey. I liked all the cop shows, but I especially liked the way Cagney and Lacey followed the characters' lives outside of being cops so we knew what it was like for them when they went home. Plus it had Kreese out of the Karate Kid in it - but it was finding out about the characters' real lives that made it good for me. Even Kreese, who was Isbecki in Cagney & Lacey. He wasn't a shitbag druggie after all. He had a sick mum.

The night I'm talking about, the very night I'd taken my first ever dirty magazine home and secreted it in my bedroom, I watched Cagney & Lacey with my mum as the plot followed Mary Beth (or 'Mewwy Beff' if you pronounce the name like her husband, Hooarvee) discovering a dirty magazine hidden in the bedroom of her 12/13 year old son, Michael.

It was like someone had injected fizzy liquid into my chest that spread up to my head and down my legs to my toes. My breath went thin. The top of my face felt all swollen from the nose up. I looked over at my mum, but she just sat there smoking. Surely, she'd be able to tell, something would give me away. She'd know. I'd get in big trouble. The whole family would find out and I'd have to endure mucky book pervert jokes forever. Oh, god. Why tonight, why this storyline on this night?

I made some sort of noise that was meant to sound nonchalant, a sort of a poker face noise that was supposed to convey, "Meh. Just another story in Cagney & Lacey, like when Petrie's wife was pregnant," instead of, "Oh my god I've got a dirty book of my own upstairs please don't look please don't tell anyone!" But it came out as a strangled whine that made my mum look sharply at me. I had to say something. I had to throw her off the scent. So I said, "If he's only my age, where did he get it from? You can't buy them in shops." It came out all whistly.

"Kids can get anything they want these days, drugs, anything," she said. She knew this because she'd seen Death Wish 4.

It had worked!

But I wasn't in the clear. The story progressed, and the bits of me the dirty book upstairs were supposed to excite crawled up inside my body as Mewwy Beff agonised over what to do about Michael's porny magazine. She hit upon the idea of going through it with him and asking him to explain who his favourite model in it was and why.

Oh my god. That would be worse than anything. Literally anything! Imagine.

"And why do you like her?"


"I'm sorry? Because what?"

Dear Jeebus, to this day I am so glad I never gave myself away at that moment. I can still feel the relief more than a quarter of a century later. The whole idea puts me in mind of the scene in The Dead Zone where Frank Dodd's mum puts a clothes peg on his peepee. If I'd gone through that, the trauma would have meant you'd know me for my infamous serial murders rather than writing a little known blog of dubious quality.

I wish I could say, "And that day taught me a valuable lesson. I never looked at another dirty picture again," except I can't. As I said before, I made a killing in the black market in them. The trick was to wait until one kid got loads of them and wait him out. He'd eventually get so nervous about having them in his house, he'd literally give them away. Then you could go and find kids who weren't in his immediate circle of friends and the magic words, "No sticky pages, no pages missing, still got the cover," would get you a scuffed pound coin. I sat down once and worked out that out of the 120-odd kids in my year at school, I could count the ones I hadn't got a mucky book from, sold one to or witnessed with some battered copy of Whitehouse or something on one hand. I'm not proud of that, but I was just a kid.

If we're thinking of applying the idea of that sort of porny ubiquity to the availability of it on the internet, don't they amount to the same thing? I'm not sure. You can get hold of way, way more extreme stuff than anything I got or ever wanted to get far more easily now. It's much easier to stumble across things you didn't want to look at in the first place.

But you're on a hiding to nothing if you try to keep kids away from it. I'm trying to imagine what we would have done when I was a kid if we mostly had some closely monitored internet activity, and I'm prepared to bet the kids with less vigilant parents would end up circulating memory sticks at a price. And memory sticks are not like magazines. You can't tell what's on them before you decide to take them away.

While I'm not proud of my first career as a black market porn salesman, I'm happy to say I stayed away from the stuff I thought was too disgusting because I knew it wasn't my thing. The kid who gave me the Penthouse though - he ended up coming to school one day with a black eye after his mum found the beaten up VHS casette he'd bought for a tenner with infamous scenes on it that share a title with a famous George Orwell novel. I could have had a copy of that, but I knew it wasn't my thing. Ugh.

I guess all we can do is make sure kids are well educated about sex and relationships, and in the absence of decent SRE that means some uncomfortable conversations (but not as uncomfortable as Mewwy Beff and Michael). Beyond that, you keep a eye on them and hope they stay away from the nasty stuff, because you're not going to be able to stop them getting hold of it if they're determined.

Because kids can get anything now, drugs, anything.

They can. Trust me, I've seen Death Wish 4.

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