Naked Slave-Girls in Chains

One of my earliest memories.

I was watching an old film on TV, alone in the living-room of our old house in Sherland Road, Twickenham. I can have been no more than five years old, the age at which we moved house to Teddington. In which case, I must have been watching on a black-and-white TV: strange, I remember being very conscious of a difference between this film, so obviously black-and-white, and the colour programmes that I normally watched at that time (I vividly remember the Goodies and Banana Splits as having been in colour even though the TV was monochrome. Which probably says more about my memory than about my childhood television set, but perhaps not).

The film moved from 1930s America to ancient Rome: I forget the exact device but I think the heroes stumbled through some sort of time-portal. In Rome, many slave-girls attended their mistress while singing a song “Keep young and beautiful”. I remember the words and melody quite clearly, although I have never heard it again. The slaves were then stripped naked, chained together and sent to stand on a high ledge around a public arena, as human statues. On seeing this, I felt an unfamiliar ecstasy. I felt an urge to get closer to these naked, chained, completely submissive women with skin of warm, soft marble; to somehow become one with them. I had never felt anything like this before. Yet I also felt guilty, wary of anyone else entering the room. And I felt excluded – I yearned to reach inside the TV, to be transported to ancient Rome where the slave-girls would undress just as obligingly for me.

This very early memory has persisted in some kind of glass bubble – I am conscious of having carried it for almost all of my life, and it still seems more vivid than most subsequent memories. Almost every pertinent detail can still be seen and heard, as if it were before me now. And, for many years, I kept on looking for that secret gateway to ancient Rome (Uroconium?) Although I never found it, through the power of the Internet I did find the film’s name, Roman Scandals. A part of me is curious to see it again, but I know that it would be a huge disappointment.

From a little earlier, I have less distinct memories of keeping an imaginary Spanish girl inside an imaginary musical box, which I would only open when I was in bed and certain that Mummy and Daddy had gone downstairs. Then, in the dark, I would open the box carefully inside my head. This moment was the absolute highlight of my day, of my life. The box would light up, the music would play, and I would watch the dark-haired Spanish girl dance. I would get a warm feeling inside me. I was smitten with Spain, with flamenco, and head-over-heels for Spanish girls. I don’t know where this obsession came from, probably a book, or perhaps my Grandparents had recently been to Spain and sent me postcards of dancers. I was four, or perhaps three, at the time.