The popularity of cooking or food shows on television is perhaps one of the modern world’s surprise successes. Granted, there may be a schoolboyish fascination with Nigella Lawson’s cleavage (especially when accompanied by purring commentary about whipping cream to soft peaks). And, one watches Gordon Ramsay knowing that some proper culinary knowledge will be imparted in the midst of his obscenity-seasoned language and verbal shredding of hapless minions. Even Rick Stein’s quiet and restrained presentation has its place.
However, for all our enjoyment in watching proper chefs cooking, there is absolutely no voyeuristic pleasure in watching people eat on the telly. We’d rather watch the goriest bits of Grey’s Anatomy than see food being masticated. You could shake a martini at any number of actors who’ve consumed beverages on screen, but TV dinners are best kept on viewers’ laps.
Voyeurism and exhibitionism (V&E) are two heads of the same beast. Some people (myself included) switch between the two, but the world appears to have more voyeurs than exhibitionists. These pursuits are most regularly associated with something a bit risqué, like displays of extreme amounts of bare flesh, or unexpected glimpses of someone else’s naughty bits. But in the world of V&E, the crème de la crème, the Beluga, the platinum card; is real live public sex. It’s the crack without the cocaine, the cash without Johnny, the rattle without the snake. Apart from the accidents that can result from voyeuristic distraction (like falling out of an upstairs window while trying to get a better view), one is well removed from physical danger (especially of the STD variety), and strictly speaking not committing an act of infidelity.
Contrary to the scenario I’ve sketched, I’m not an aficionado of public sex. By its very nature (like unicorns and four-leafed clovers) it’s one of those things that doesn’t come around very often. And not every sighting carries the same level of excitement. Rounding a corner, one’s headlights catching a bare leg akimbo against a car window, followed briefly by startled eyes that rapidly dip out of view, grades high on humour but low on titillation.
What I’m building up to is my only ‘proper’ experience. It happened as I was having lunch at the open-air restaurant of a Thai resort hotel. The restaurant is perched above a curved beach, equivalent to an area about 50 metres off-shore. People were wading a long way in, because the water was no more than chest height. At first there was nothing suspicious about the couple I noticed. He had his back to the beach while they appeared to be doing nothing more than hugging and kissing as they were standing in the water. Sure, they did seem to be moving a bit more than necessary, but it wasn’t until her knee came out of the water that the situation was confirmed (and the languid physical movements intensified). For the next half an hour they moved around a larger area – even seeking shelter in the lee of a moored (empty) fishing boat – before, finally, making their way back to the beach, apparently sated.
For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed my Singha beer and chicken fried rice, even if the seasoning was somewhat unusual.