This article is not going to concern itself with instances where a gentleman who, having refreshed himself more than adequately, is caught in the act of relieving himself in public. That can happen to any morris dancer or Member of Parliament. A chap who cannot properly see or stand up can hardly be blamed for pointing Percy at the pavement. To take an example, my Member of Parliament in 1959 was caught in just such a situation while clinging to some railings in Westminster. His case was heard between the calling of the General Election of that year and the vote. The case was splashed on the front page of the local newspaper, and in my youthful innocence I assumed it would ruin his chances of re-election. Not a bit of it – he got in with a substantially increased majority.
No, I should like to examine those peculiar men who set out to shock or annoy women by brandishing their organs of generation at them. I had assumed that such men are rare and solitary creatures, since I have never knowingly met one of them. Yet many women tell of being accosted by the man in the flasher's mac, naked from the waist down except for the trouser-legs tied above the knees. Experienced victims of these flashers keep suitable replies handy, such as “Does your mother know you're out?” or “Is that the best you can do?”
It must have been in 1967. With my wife as driving instructor, I drove our tatty old Ford Popular to the Watlington Downs one beautiful summer afternoon. We found that the little town of Watlington, below the Downs on the Oxfordshire side, was surrounded by police cars. Everybody passing through was being carefully scrutinised. At work the next day I asked my colleague ex-Sergeant Jones, who had been Station Sergeant at Watlington, what was the meaning of so much police activity.
“Indecent Exposure merchants”.
“I know what flashers are. But in the plural?”
“Oh yes. They come from far and wide and hold conventions on Watlington Downs. They even come from as far as Watford,” he added slyly, knowing that Watford was my home town.
It turned out that the Earl of Macclesfield (whose ancestor got the earldom for procuring boys for James I), Chairman of the County and District Councils and of the local Bench of Magistrates (positions that he used exclusively for promoting the interests of the Parker family), used to maintain an astronomical telescope on top of Shirburn Castle. This he used for spying on courting couples on the Downs. (Incidentally, an even earlier ancestor was Nosey Parker, Queen Elizabeth's first Archbishop of Canterbury, 1559-1575.) If the Earl saw anything he didn't like, he would telephone Watlington Police Station and demand immediate action.
Confirmation of this extraordinary phenomenon, flashing as a social activity, comes from the following story. It was a gloomy evening in late November in perhaps 1969 or 1970. People on their way home from work were threading their way through crowds of early Christmas shoppers in George Street, Oxford. A lady I knew was among these when she was flashed. Extremely indignant, she ran along Cornmarket, down St Aldate's, stormed into the Police Station, and explained to the desk sergeant what had just happened. The sergeant put his head through a door and bellowed:
“PC Smith and WPC Jones! Flasher in George Street! At the double!”
And a man and a woman in civilian clothes ran out of the Police Station and up St Aldate's.
“If you would like to sit and make yourself comfortable, Madam, I'll have a cup of tea brought in while we are waiting for my officers to return.”
No more than ten minutes later, Smith and Jones came back escorting a red-faced little man.
“We got him, Sarge. Red-er-handed, if that's the right expression.”
“Right, Madam, can you identify this man as the man who accosted you?”
“No, it isn't the same man at all”.
I am still baffled.