The really big event in my early days at art college was our first life-drawing class. I was barely sixteen and I'd never seen a naked woman before. I was both excited at the prospect and scared stiff that I'd find some way of embarrassing myself. I'd discussed the matter with my friend, Steve, who was also suffering from heavy attacks of conflicting expectation. He and I used to travel on the train together and on the morning of the great event we noticed a beautiful woman, in her early twenties, sitting at the other end of the carriage. We laughed and joked about, "Wouldn't it be fantastic if she was the model instead of some Bessy Bradock" (Bessy Bradock was an amiable but pudding-faced, rotund, middle-aged politician who for a pair of teenage boys had grown to symbolize the sexually unappealing ).
At college we got into conversation about the impending life class with Robby, a big leather clad Scottish lad who was a couple of years our senior. According to Robby he'd been there, done that, and frankly didn't know what all the fuss was about.
When the moment was finally upon us, we filed into the liferoom with our heads bent low and our smirks tucked carefully into the shadow of our collars. Needing a security blanket, I immediately went over and stood by my favorite easel. Steve took up a similar position on the other side of the room. Robbie, meanwhile, perched himself right next to me astride a donkey, a kind of long, low stool, with a drawing board cradled at one end.
After a couple of minutes our drawing teacher came in with, of all people, the beauty from the train. She had bare feet and was wearing a Chinese silk robe. It took me a few seconds to come to grips with the implications of this momentous occurrence. I shot Steve a glance and could see that he was wearing a look of panicked ecstasy, similar to my own. I snatched up a pencil and started sharpening it for all it was worth. Funny: back then, I never noticed how blatantly phallic that gesture was. I was trying to compose myself, knowing that she still had to go behind the screen and undress. I told myself I had plenty of time to prepare for the oncoming shock to my senses. But, as it turned out, things didn't quite go the way I'd imagined. Our model's conversation with the teacher ended abruptly. Instead of stepping over to the screen, she simply pirouetted, and, with the flick of her delicate thumbs, unhinged the robe. Even without comparison, I knew I was gawking like a guppy at a truly celestial body. The room filled with an unearthly silence. Nobody moved a muscle, then from my right there came a groan and great creaking, we all turned to see the spasticated flailing of leathery arms and legs as Robby and his donkey keeled over and crashed to the floor in an avalanche of pencil shavings, drawing board clips, and charcoal dust.
And that’s why, to this day, I am pone to smile whenever I see a beautiful naked woman.
From The Artful Dodger