Thursday 7 January 2010

Albigensian Donkey Sex

Dear reader, this post will be obscene. Whatever you do, don't read it.

This is currently the most read story on the BBC news website


An arrest warrant has been issued for a Leicester man accused of having sex with a horse and a donkey, after he failed to turn up to court.

Joseph Squires, 66, of Overpark Avenue, is charged with buggery of a donkey between February and April 1999 and buggery with a horse in March 2004.

The things I love about this article are legion. There's the noun pile up in the headline. There's the ambiguity of whether he had sex with a horse and a donkey after failing to turn up to court. There's the fact that he appears to have buggered the donkey non-stop for two months. There's the mysterious change of preposition from "buggery of a donkey" to "buggery with a horse". And there's a repressed memory that suddenly burst screaming from the vagina of my unconscious.

I was a student again. I was alone in a library and... I don't know how to tell you this, but I was reading the Publications of the Modern Language Association. It's a sad fact but true that one in twenty English Literature students has, at some time or another, been intellectually buggered by the PMLA.

The article I was reading was on medieval filth in general and the word bugger in particular. Many people know the origin of the word bugger. Basically, a bunch of Zoroastrians from the Middle East moved to Bulgaria to work in the mines, bringing with them a bunch of dualist thought. Several heresies sprang up in the Balkans so when the dualist Albigensian heresy emerged in the Pyrenees the heretics were referred to as Bulgarians or Bougres in French.

The Pope sprang into action. He decided to suppress the heresy by putting it about that they were all a bunch of shirt-lifters. Therefore bougre came to mean homosexual or bugger (which was a noun before it was a verb). When calling them woopsies didn't work, the Pope organised a crusade, which, if it didn't stamp out the heresy entirely, at least confined it to Lawrence Durrell novels.

Anyway, the point of this article in the PMLA was that the word then went underground. This is because of confessionals. 14th century confessions were difficult things. There was always the chance that if you told the priest your sins in too much detail or with two much enthusiasm he might get a little excited. He might indeed go off and find a choirboy or donkey of his own and even if he didn't he might commit such an act in his mind's eye, which would be just as bad.

The result was that manuals telling priests how to take confession prescribed an intricate sort of dance whereby you could only ask the confessor about lustful crimes such as buggery obliquely. Moreover, the confessional manual itself couldn't mention the thing that it was telling you not to let the confessor mention. The result of this was that thinking, talking, or writing about sins of the flesh disappeared for nearly a century.

At the end of the fourteenth century it all started off again. The church had decided that it was rather hard to ban something if you couldn't say that you were banning it and the desire to proscribe outweighed the purity of the priest's mind. So the word bugger came back, but nobody could remember precisely what it meant.

Whereas bugger had originally referred to any homosexual relationship it was now vaguely thought to refer to sex with animals or maybe even some exotic sort of heterosexual sex or something. Nobody was quite sure and they were still rather embarrassed about discussing it.

If a taboo were really taboo, who would know about it?

An undefined word gathers much moss. That century of silence and semantic acretion is, ultimately, the reason that Joseph Squires, 66, was charged with buggery of a donkey.

As a modern parallel to the confessional manuals, I knew a lady who used the word bugger all her life as an expletive only a little less mild than blast. When she was eighty somebody told her what it meant and she never used the word again.

Incidentally, Lord Arran the Conservative Whip who got the bill to legalise homosexuality through the House of Lords was also responsible for the Badgers Act of 1973. He said that his life's aim was to "to stop people buggering badgers, and to stop people badgering buggers."

Lord Arran, your life was in vain.

P.S. In case you were wondering, which I'm sure you weren't, I was researching Cleanness and Gawain and the Green Knight, both of which are unmitigated filth.


  1. He pleaded guilty today, his lawyer made a nice joke about him having 'no stable address'!

    Leicestershire man pleads guilty to animal sex charges

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  3. I've only just noticed this (probably since I obeyed your initial instruction NOT to read the article), but I think the term confessor generally refers to the priest and the person confessing should be called the penitent (or similar).