"I'm from the New York Times," said the woman at the Bad Sex Award party on Tuesday night, "and I wanna ask – what would a Good Sex Award winner be like?" It would be a piece of writing, I replied, which didn't mention the medical names of fleshy bits, but didn't fall back either on cute euphemisms (like the award winner David Guterson's references to a lady's "front parlour" and "back door"); which didn't use extended metaphors for foreplay ("She lay her flag on his South Pole") or for orgasm (any mention of waves, oceans, shores or splashing bodies), and didn't let random thoughts about the real world – traffic lights, committee meetings, weather forecasts – intrude, bathetically, on the most private of human transactions.
"That's great," she said, "but what should it be like?" Damn. It was difficult. It's like driving, isn't it? Very easy to spot somebody doing it badly, but hard to spot someone doing it well – writing about sex, I mean. And when you take away the details, and the rubbish euphemisms and metaphors and bathos, what are you left with?
As poetry lovers know, the most sexy lines in English verse are from John Donne's On His Mistress Going to Bed: "License my roving hands, and let them go/Behind, before, above, between, below", so we could start there, with a proposition couched in prepositions. I always admired a Hemingway short story called Fathers and Sons in which a chap remembers that his first girlfriend "did first what no one has ever done better" and, when you're wondering if her skill lay in needlepoint or manicure or DIY, explains that she did it "uncomfortably, tightly, sweetly, moistly, lovely, tightly, achingly, fully, finally, unendingly, never-endingly, never-to-endingly, suddenly ended." Excellent. But what else?
There's a lovely bit in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity when the protagonist says he'd heard from friends all the details of sex, but nobody'd mentioned the little man with a football rattle careering around the pitch in your head after a happy conclusion. In Sue Limb's Up The Garden Path (prototype of chick-lit novels), the heroine enjoys, not a lot of Sturm und Drang thrusting and groaning, but the "fat voluptuous ticking" that rocks her and her inamorata to ecstasy. But I'm afraid that's pretty near the total of the fictional Good Sex I can recall. Prepositions, adverbs, one wholly unsexy image, and one small phrase. Can you, dear reader, come up with anything better?
A plate of squid at a matinee
As both a film buff and aspirant foodie, I love the news that Rowley Leigh, the genius chef of Café Anglais fame, is doing food at the Odeon Whiteley's plush new Lounge cinema.
It doesn't mean you're expected to tackle the Lancashire Hotpot in the dark while watching Wuthering Heights. He promises "a playful, grown-up take on classic film food to be enjoyed from the comfort of your seat". But classic film food is popcorn, hotdogs or Maltesers.
Couldn't he match dishes with films? Roast Wild Partridge next time they show Kes? A tentacular helping of seared squid with an Alien retrospective? A double-plateful of burrata the next time Scarlett Johansson's on screen?