"Have you ever been raped?"
I was eating lunch with a gaggle of friends last week when the discussion got round to Julian Assange and someone asked the question round the table. I said, perhaps I had. Or perhaps not, depending how you looked at it.
To my mind, the Swedish woman who was happy to have sex with Assange before they went to sleep, but called it rape when she woke up and found him taking a second helping, was being a touch pernickety. What happened to me I put down to experience; nothing much to worry about, be more careful next time. I'd put myself into a silly position.
It was 1960, when I was 21. Early in the year I'd finally decided I was gay. Then I fell for a girl and decided maybe I wasn't. But the week before Christmas she ditched me.
The weather in London was cold and I was feeling hurt. I needed somewhere warmer to think about it so I set off for France with just twenty pounds in my pocket. By the time I'd hitch-hiked to Menton on the Italian border half of it was gone and I still had no idea of what I should be doing with myself. And in the absence of any clear pointers I carried on.
Later, standing on the main road from Genoa to Pisa feeling exceptionally hungry, a small Fiat stopped for me driven by an Italian manwho looked fortyish. He didn't speak English so we got by in poor French. He explained he was the owner of a factory. Well-known in the small town where he lived; he didn't have a current girl-friend, so once a month he went to the next town to have sex with a girl from the local brothel.
His story made me strangely nervous and as we approached the next town he asked if I'd like to join him. If I did, he'd pay for a girl for me. And although sex with a prostitute sounded terrifying, my golden rule was to experience everything, so I agreed.
The brothel turned out to be nothing more than an alberghetto,a simple restaurant and bar with a few rooms to let and several women lounging round the juke box. The man paid some money to the manager then took me upstairs where we had separate rooms.
He told me he'd only booked one girl but we could share her. Ten minutes later he knocked on my door and said he was ready. When I went to his room, lying on the bed was a woman the size of a Rubens nude, and just as naked.
"You go first," he said
It looked daunting, but always the optimist I thought if I undressed and climbed on it might all work out. But it didn't. When I clambered aboard, she instantly grabbed me in a grip of iron. And while I lay there crushed and breathless, the Italian man jumped up behind and rammed himself home, a bullseye in one, with no cream to soften the blow.
Fuck me, did it hurt!
Ten minutes later I was back in my room in great pain. I checked things out in the loo and found there was a fair amount of blood. After a painful rinse I limped over to the bed and lay down. The Italian man popped in to say my room was paid for and so was an evening meal, with breakfast in the morning. Then he left.
For a while I lay on the bed and moaned, but despite the dreadful throbbing in my bum, hunger became an even greater pain. I hadn't eaten all day and had scarcely any money left, so I showered and gingerly dressed myself, then hobbled downstairs to the dining room.
It occurred to me that this scene might take place in the hotel's dining room on a regular basis. If the man came to the town once a month, as he'd told me, this was probably what he did each time. The hotel would have witnessed a succession of butt-wounded young chaps like me passing through.
Acutely embarrassed, I ate the food they served me - spaghetti vongole and a carafe of white wine - then limped back to my room and slept. In the morning, still hungry, I had coffee with three croissants. But I was bloody sore.
From the hotel to the main road was a painful trek but I finally reached it and stood with my thumb out, pointing towards Rome. I didn't know why I was going on, but if I'd chosen to go back I wouldn't have known why I was doing that either. To advance seemed better than to retreat.
It was just as well I did. In Rome I got a Christmas present. I met a young hairdresser, the same age as me but much more sexually self-assured. He fell for me and me for him. And by the time I hitch-hiked back to London early in the New Year, I had a pretty clear idea of where my willie was leading me.
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