I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey. My plan was to take the paperback on holiday and read it in the pool, where it wouldn't matter if it got wet (the book, I mean) and wouldn't be too hard to get to grips with (again, the book).
In the end, I bought it on my kindle because I couldn't bear the idea of anyone seeing me holding a copy – not that I'm being prudish about the raunch factor, but because Fifty Shades is widely agreed to be about as literary as Anusol. And even in this covert form, I still didn't read it.
I needn't have worried. All the other people in the pool were German, and according to Sex Stories: 50 Shades of Grey (Channel 4, Sunday), such is the demand in Germany for this particular tube of Anusol, it has been reprinted six times. (Insert joke about Teutonics being anally retentive here.)
There is a high-minded minority who disdain the sort of programming that surfs the wave of an imagination-gripping cultural event by inviting talking heads to spew forth about it and cutting in a saucy voiceover. But I have absolutely no problem with it – it saved me the hassle of reading the book after all, and provided diverting, sexy, black-and-white entr'actes that actually looked like real people doing real sex. Which is a whole lot more titillating than what goes on in the book, by all accounts.
"I read it in TWO DAYS. And that was full-time reading," explained the luscious-lipped Amy Childs from TOWIE, reclining on a chaise longue wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes that look more painful than the genital clamps so well-used by the protagonists. "It's the sexiest book I've ever read."
So it's safe to assume Amy Childs has never read Anais Nin. But perhaps we could have deduced so much without necessarily watching the programme.
Nevertheless, Sex Stories featured a winsome collection of pundits, including Rachel Johnson, Kathy Lette and Jilly Cooper, whose motivation for commenting on Fifty Shades seemed to be mainly seething jealousy. "Whipping someone's nipples for hours on end just isn't terribly erotic," sniffed Cooper, no doubt feeling a bit sore – not from an evening of nipple-whipping, but from the re-appropriation of equestrian equipment from her own novels into this, a novel which has made its author a bunch more money than hers did.
Where there is sex there is always money, and Sex Stories was the perfect showcase for a timely retail survey of exactly how much filthy lucre people are now spending on filthy things. "Whips, blinds, handcuffs… Sales are up by 30 to 70 per cent," an Ann Summers shopgirl tells us. A clip from a behind-the-scenes sales meeting for the store showed a man who looked like a losing candidate from The Apprentice announcing that they've run out of "jiggle balls", but they've got another 90,000 coming in. I had to Google what a jiggle ball was and believe me, you wouldn't want to experience that many of them at any one time.
Time for an expert opinion, and a trip to somewhere that looked like Little Gidding to find out what goes on behind the closed doors of a suburban couple who indulge in BDSM.
"I've spent a certain amount of time being in control," she explained over footage of her hanging out the washing and dishing up tea (meatballs). "I'm most happy when I'm not in control – it's a relaxing place to be."
Given the regularity with which the programme referred to whipping and paddling and not snacking in between meals (this is one of the main clauses in the Fifty Shades contract between dominant and submissive), "relaxing" is not the word I would have used. "Relaxing" is not, presumably, how it would feel if you knew there were 90,000 jiggle balls heading for an intimate space that the Erotic Review's Rowan Pelling had just referred to as "Hades".
Turning now to another dysfunctional relationship, Geordie gourmands the Hairy Bikers are going on a diet (Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight, Thursday BBC1). They'd do well to draw up a dominant-submissive contract between themselves and their guts, not so much ruling out snacking between meals but exorcising the dishes of thrice-baked cheese upon which they seem to subsist.
"I love this sort of food," sighed Si (the heavier of the two, at 19 stone and 42 per cent body fat), as they cooked a Last Supper of chicken kiev and cheesecake. "Ner merh stotties fer yoau, my friend!" shrieked Dave at the weigh-in.
Following the adorable pair as they met up with record-breaking slimmers and discovered that food made without butter or salt can still be tasty (it's a four-part series, and I'm convinced that their conclusion will be simply that it's not), was as much of a treat as that salutary kiev.
I think this programme should be government issue: it should be prescribed viewing for fatties and southerners alike, to convince both groups that their lifestyles are bad for their health. Tune in next week to see if Dave can fit into the fancy Italian jeans he bought at the Metro Centre!
Harriet's marmalade dropper
As a fully paid-up Olympics Grinch, I was pleased to see the Opening Ceremony kick off with a dreadful turn from some nobody with a guitar. Imagine my horror when the rest of it turned out to be brilliant.Reuse content