Some things are supposed to be hard when comes to making love, buying condoms should not be one of them.
In the 1980s and 90s long before I knew what condoms were, believing them to be some kind of street drug given how hush-hush people seemed about mentioning them, I remember the TV adverts which tried to reassure you that it was OK to buy them. There’s the one above for example, and I also remember one with a checkout girl where the girl was busy thinking about the weekend and make-up and shoes and things and not paying any attention to what the young man was buying. These were supposed to tell you that there’s no embarrassment in buying these things, and you shouldn’t be put off. Thanks to the public information ads of that age I also learned that you couldn’t get a girl pregnant by sharing a toilet seat (unless you were on it at the same time).
Some years ago, in a Tesco Express in Chelsea, I was to learn that even all these decades later there can be a phenomenal amount of social awkwardness and embarrassment caused by this simple, functional purchase.
I’d taken the girl I was dating up the King’s Road, and this had given her the idea of inviting me back to hers. Because it was nearby. I soon realised I was ill-equipped for such intimacy. I didn’t have a change of clothes or toothbrush with me, so I’d have to go to work the next day looking like a scruff. I didn’t have my MP3 player with me so I could play my post-coital victory song on my headphones afterwards when she was asleep. And I wasn’t carrying any condoms.
Now I know there probably some lads reading this who have them sewn into every pair of pants they own, but it was quite practical for me not to be stuffing my wallet with this accessory which on 99% of days would be completely unnecessary. Based on my luck with women vs other things that I could prepare for, I’d have been more sensible carrying a fire extinguisher or a travelcard for the Hong Kong Metro around with me than bothering with condoms.
One of my friends used to buy them online in boxes of 50. I should point out this was a male friend. That would be overkill for me unless I had devised a way to carry them with me into the afterlife. That’s pretty much a lifetime supply for me, even if half of them were ripped and had to be thrown away.
No, what I really need is a pack of 12 with an incredibly long shelf life. The number of times I have thought I could rely on the pack I have in my bedside drawer and then realised they expired in 2004. You’d think something called Durex would be more durable. Some of us very carefully pick and choose our sexual partners and such special people are few and far between (by “special” I mean drunk enough to agree to it).
So, as always seems to be the case with anyone who has slept with me and does not want to be identified on the internet, I must invoke McCannonymity™ for this girl. You may remember the rules for fake girls’ names from a previous post – screen roles played by Ashley Judd in order of how chubby her cheeks are in the film. OK we’ve done Charlene and Carla, this time it’s… oh for fuck’s sake, we’re on Norma (Norma Jean, 1996). I’m not writing a story about dating a girl called Norma so I’m going to bend the rules slightly, in this case I can get away with Marilyn.
Me and Marilyn traipsed around the local Tesco Express looking for johnnies for about 20 minutes. I am not a patient shopper and any excitement that had built up for the evening’s festivities was being dampened by my fury at Tesco’s retarded arse-backwards store merchandising. I tried in the toiletries section first, then alcohol section, then back to toiletries, then scouring the frozen food aisle, and even rummaging for rubbers through packs of chocolate biscuits. “WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY!?” As you might know from my torturous ordeal in the Swedish shop, I am not one for asking staff, even if I’m looking for something innocuous. I’m certainly even more reluctant to talk to shop staff about any purchase which is destined to touch my penis. I ended up back at the toiletries section, looking even for some sign that they had them but they’d sold out. Marilyn was getting bored.
“Just ask someone, just ask.”
“YOU fucking ask!” Yes, we’d reached the point in such evenings where I go nuts and almost destroy my chances of intimacy by having a row with my partner mere yards away from the love-making destination.
“I can’t believe this, you know where they’ll fucking be, they’ll be behind the counter! They WANT me to go up and have to ask for them. Haven’t they seen those ads in the 80s about how AWKWARD it is to have to ask someone for johnnies!”
We joined a long queue with our other purchases, including wine in case Marilyn sobered up and changed her mind. I looked ahead to the young black guy at the checkout – he probably hadn’t seen the ads I was talking about, he didn’t look like he was alive in the 80s. He barely looked old enough to remember the Spice Girls.
I waited impatiently, the other shoppers in the queue must have thought I had Tourette’s or something from the frequent mumblings and grunts of things like “fuck’s sake”, “bastard shop”. We got to the front of the queue and I tried to push Marilyn ahead and occupy myself with packing so when the manboy said “Is there anything else?” she would have to answer.
I had my head buried in the bags, reorganising them with intense OCD vigour to avoid having to deal any further with the transaction. The moment came and Marilyn was silent.
“Fuck’s sake,” I muttered and turned to the teen cashier, “Do you have any condoms?” It felt like I was asking him personally – “Here mate, help a guy out here, young strapping lad like you must have a few spare johnnies in your wallet, I’m pretty much in with this girl.”
He said “Sure,” and turned and pointed to a cabinet, ON THE FLOOR behind the counter, secured and protected from any would-be rubber robbers. “What kind do you want?”
Excuse me? Oh he wants a conversation about it. We’re not at John Lewis. Can I fucking try them on and see which one I prefer? I turned round in disbelief to the crowd of shoppers queuing behind me. He looked at Marilyn. Why are you looking at her, she hasn’t even seen it yet! “Um, what kind do you have?”
He opened the cabinet and gave me a look at their range of sheaths. I was only buying time, I had no idea what I was supposed to say here; come on the only acceptable response for any man in this situation is, in the loudest possible voice, “The biggest ones you’ve got please. You know those ones you might find in the green room at the Grand National. Have you got any specifically designed for African-American basketball players? Those please, naturally. I’ll take all you have, this pretty little thing next to me is in for a long night. Do you also sell wheelchairs? She’ll need to get to work tomorrow somehow.”
The truth is, I really wanted to ask him if they sold singles. Usually after the first time I never see the girl again, so I had no desire to waste rubber or cash on an optimistic pack of three.
I couldn’t even properly see the contents of the cabinet, and my priorities had completely changed from ensuring we had a nice night together to simply getting out of this fucking shop and somehow, anyhow, not getting Marilyn pregnant. He bent down and started to pick some up, so that – YES – he could show me the various offerings in his hand. I had to act quickly, I pointed “those ones please, yeah that box, yeah they’re fine.” I immediately started thinking what I’d do with the spares, they were a very pretty colour, maybe useful next time someone at work had a birthday and we needed some slippery balloons.
We paid and finally left and made our way back to Marilyn’s, and I vowed never to be caught short again. So, if you were walking behind me that time a couple of months back when I walked all the way from work to the Tube with the small back pocket of my rucksack accidentally open and nothing but a pair of (sealed) condoms in there, now you know why I carry them around.
Hang on, they’re probably the same ones, need to check the date…