Puberty came late for young Michael Davidson – he mentions this at several places in The World, the Flesh and Myself. Here is a passage from the very beginning of the book, page 5, where Davidson has just described Dr John Fraser, the family’s house doctor:
Now and then, in the holidays, Dr Fraser – he had a handsome military face and a man-to-man breeziness which somehow enhanced my shyness – used to take me for a drive on his rounds; and one unforgotten day he asked bluffly, out of the blue, if I ‘played with myself’.
This overwhelming question – as any personal prying always has, and still does – made me squirm with embarrassment; not because of the subject, which I guessed at, but because I was ashamed of not knowing exactly what he was talking about: somehow I felt that at my age, about twelve, I should have understood what he meant and should already have been performing this secret act, whatever it was, that he seemed to expect me to perform.
Mortified to the point of sweating, I whispered ‘No’; and he, thank heaven, left it at that.
No doubt poor Dr Fraser’s inquisitiveness sprang from the highest motive; perhaps he felt that, as medical man to a boy with an ineffectual father, he could take it upon himself to stand in statu parentis; I’m certain that my mother, so wise and courageous in most spheres yet so diffident about ‘unpleasant’ matters, wouldn’t have dreamed of giving him such an impertinent mission.
Anyhow, his interest in my moral metabolism, however well-meant, had just the opposite effect: he put into my head speculations and mental turbulences which hardly had stirred there before, and started a train of thought which, like a running flame, was soon seeking any morsel of fresh fuel.
I don’t suppose that Dr Fraser’s gaucherie did me the slightest harm; I do know that the incident is still today, after 50 years, engraved in my mind. In fact, because in bodily development I lagged well behind my age, I didn’t reach the delights of pubescence until three or four years later.