the Power of Austin
I'm broad minded. I can curse in four languages (though
I only speak two passably well) and some of my best friends are foul mouthed
Irvine Welsh types. However, I still can't bring myself to say the word
I also have some sympathy with the American woman who objected to an Austin
Powers talking figure on the grounds that she had to explain what it said
to her prepubescent child. There's a problem with inappropriate sexual
innuendo throughout popular culture, whether through pop music or advertising:
Sex sells everything from shampoo (try sitting through an Organics shampoo
ad with a small child and explain why it's funny) to soft drinks - and
children soak it all up. Back home I have a seven year old girl dancing
round the room singing that she's 'horny, horny, horny...' Another dilemma
of the kind Penelope Leach does not prepare you for. One friend solved
the problem by telling her daughter that the word was 'honey', but unless
you come up with a whole lexicon of safe homophones for all varieties
of sexual slang, sooner or later you have to explain why the birds and
the bees are so motivated.
But in the case of the S word, it's not the explanation I really mind,
it's the pronunciation. When I was a teenager, 'shag' was such a tainted
word. It oozed bicycle shed smut. It was the kind of thing grungy, unfanciable
boys whispered in your ear when they wanted to really humiliate you, or
wrote on bathroom walls complete with the kind of rudimentary gynaecological
diagrams that made them unsatisfactory lovers later in life.
Tough girls could tell a chap to sod, bugger, p*** or even f*** off (some
of which you can't even print in a newspaper) but nice girls just couldn't
say 'shag'. It wasn't obscene, but just plain icky.
So here I am Mrs Supercool, forty is the new thirty, woman with attitude,
sitting in the tube looking at a Tower Records advert in the newspaper
when it jumps out at me: 'music to shag by'. Suddenly I'm Mrs Mary Whitehouse.
Then blokes at dinner parties tell me ruefully how they haven't had a
shag for months - prompting mass 'who can say shag most in one sentence'
competitions. Or the woman reading the news on CNN telling me with perfect
Australasian diction, that the film 'The Spy Who Shagged Me' has knocked
Star Wars off the no. 1 slot.
I'm stunned into shocked silence but amongst the children general rejoicing
breaks out - unbeknownst to me Mr Shagadelic himself has moved into our
house and they love him. Next they'll all be wearing velvet flares and
I'm dragged of the cinema but I refuse to walk up to the counter and ask
for tickets. I tell my twelve year old that I'm sorry but I just can't
say 'The spy who em.....'
'Just ask for Austin Powers then,' he pleads.
Okay - problem solved until the girl behind the counter hands me my change
and yells; "So that's three children, one adult for The Spy Who Shagged
Me, 1.30pm, Screen 3."
Then, just when I'm hoping my ordeal is finally over, the American woman
standing in the queue behind me, watches me stuff my change back inside
my Pradaesque money belt.
She taps my shoulder and says:
'Excuse me ma'am - but that's a very cute fanny-bag you have there.'
I beg your pardon, but really - some things, like fine wine and bad language,
just don't travel.