The difference between a grope and a caress

Asked about reincarnation, Woody Allen said he would choose to come back as 'Warren Beatty's fingertips'
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The Independent Online

To grope or not to grope, that is the question, irrespective of whether or not you're running for governor of California. It's all the baggage that goes with the word that is so unattractive, the implied clumsiness, amateurism and general cack-handed inefficiency that all self-respecting women abhor. Substitute caress for grope and we're back in business.

Someone asked Woody Allen if he believed in reincarnation and, if so, what would he choose to come back as the second time round. "Warren Beatty's fingertips," he said. Back in the days when I devoured glossy film magazines and showbiz gossip along with all the other giggly spotty adolescent girls in my class, Warren Beatty was the undisputed king of the Hollywood heap. There were endless pictures of the Great Great Lothario escorting Julie Christie to this premiere, Natalie Wood to that, dining with Monroe, dancing with Bardot, looking as ever, cool, confident and gorgeous. Warren Beatty groping was as unthinkable as Houdini failing to escape or Horovitz playing a duff note. In fact, I can even remember the breathless confession's of a starlet who said that being with WB was for a girl like being a piano on which those fine delicate fingertips moved with infinite subtlety and skill to produce wonderful music. Are kiss and tell confessions still as poetic, I wonder.

Being groped by a meat mountain like Arnold Schwarzenegger sounds about as alluring as being run over by a truck but, damn it all, he apologised, which is something men rarely do. Then again, said my feminist friend Kate, it's easy to apologise for retrospective groping. "The bastard has stuffed his face so full of cake over the past 30 years," she added viciously, stabbing at her Starbucks muffin, "that even while he's saying sorry I bet he can still taste it on his lips." Not an appealing metaphor - I prefer keyboards to cakes - but I take her point. At least he didn't try to wriggle out of his responsibility like Clinton, though what the groping equivalent of not inhaling is, I couldn't guess.

My friend Louise's husband is a groper, which used to embarrass her and me a great deal, but over the years we've learned to accommodate Charlie's proclivity as an irritation rather than a crime. With Charlie, groping comes as naturally as being left-handed or not liking sprouts. The gropers' code is a variation of that old Services adage, "If it moves, shoot it, if it doesn't, polish it." With Charlie it goes, "If it's female, grope it", a maxim that applies as much to slags, slappers and pensioners as nubile nymphs. When Charlie and I meet and I proffer my cheek for the obligatory peck, he always contrives to turn it into a full-on, sloppy, wet-lipped tongue twister, one hand clamped on my backside, the other at the front making sharp inquisitive forays through layers of scarf, mackintosh, jersey and blouse like an excited terrier down a rat hole. For God's sake, Charlie, grow up, I say, pushing him away, and not at all abashed he goes back to reading Country Life.

Years ago hitchhiking round Ireland with a student friend, Sally and I were picked up on the road to Tralee by a white-haired priest in a cassock driving an ancient Ford. I sat in the back leaving Sally, who was good at that sort of thing, to chat to Father O'Hagan. Father Gropious, more like. Without taking his eyes from the road his left hand moved seamlessly from the old-fashioned gear stick to Sally's lap where, after a brief professional rummage, it moved crabwise on to me in the back seat. How he achieved all this without crashing the car or pausing in his lyrical panegyric about the glorious landscape of Kerry was nothing short of a miracle.

Arnie and Charlie notwithstanding, gropers in these PC times are a dying breed. Male gropers, that is; the female of the species is rampant. When the children were small we had a mother's help called Sarah from Harrogate who seemed incredibly genteel, ate her banana with a fork, taught the children to say pardon. And then one day coming home early I found Sarah shouting out of the window "Ee, love yer bum!" at a builder mending the roof. Sarah, it turned out, was a predator whose advances boys ignored at their peril. Listening to teenage girls these days talking about going out on the prowl is an eye-opener. "He didn't seem interested at first but I soon sorted him out," opined a fragile blonde, closing her handbag with a snap. Poor fellow.

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