Grimnim’s website has gone to a digital grave, but today’s story can be accessed at the Internet Archive.
[Adopts David Attenborough voice]
The Emily (introverta nervosa) is a reserved and timid species, related to the wallflower. Emilies are conservative in their plumage, camouflaging themselves in drab clothing and preening with less make-up than most other females. The astute male, however, will often discern a shapely figure under an Emily’s modest exterior, and may find her shyness adorable. Said male may speculate as to what carnal passions might lie dormant within the Emily, only to be unearthed during the mating process, but he’ll probably have to marry her to find out.
We all know an Emily or two.
Emilies are attention-averse and seek shade from the glare of social scrutiny. If an Emily finds that others are looking at her, even for positive reasons, she will blush, fidget, touch at her mouth and hair, and generally wish herself to disappear. Emilies view banter and horseplay with disdain. They flinch at the boisterous and the bawdy. Physical slapstick strikes Emilies with terror.
An Emily’s skin will crawl at the very thought of gunge.
On Saturday night, whilst bolder species such as the Shannon (cheekyvimto intoxica), the Danielle (promiscua gonorrhea) and the lesser spotted Jodie (asbo asbo) are vomiting into privet hedges and giving head in dark alleys, the Emily seeks refuge in the parental nest, doing A-Level coursework or preparing a Bible study for next morning’s Sunday School. And it is in this habitat that our story begins.
[back to normal voice]
Emily Watson, 18, the unsuspecting protagonist in this tale, is at home with her parents and younger sister Gemma, watching Noel’s House Party. This is not a show that Emily warms to, but inertia keeps her on the sofa. The opening paragraphs of the story introduce the reader to Emily, and Grimnim takes care not only to draw a mental picture of her looks, but also to flesh out her personality, something that is neglected by a great many writers.
Focus then turns to the TV, where Noel has plucked an unfortunate young woman called Rachel out the audience and, as punishment for some frivolous ‘crime’, sentences her to a gunging. This piece of “warm-up WAM” not only maintains the reader’s interest during a long story build-up; it provides valuable insight into Emily’s psyche. The disdain Emily is already feeling for Noel Edmonds and his tacky show rachets up to revulsion as the completely unwilling Rachel is frogmarched to the gunge tank. As in TheWhiteLady’s story Sympathy Sliming, Emily almost shares Rachel’s suffering as she watches. She cringes as Rachel pleads for her cleanliness, and jolts with each wave of cold gunk that inevitably comes surging down. While the audience whoop and Emily’s family snigger and grin, Emily appears to be the only person in the country who is sympathetic to Rachel’s plight. This compassionate response increases the injustice of Emily’s own impending downfall. Whereas many humiliation stories conclude with a ‘baddie’ getting an overdue comeuppance, Emily is totally undeserving of the messy fate that awaits her.
With Rachel unceremoniously carted offstage in the gunge tank, it’s time for NTV to start. While I’m sure that every regular reader of this blog knows about Noel’s House Party, I’ll give an explanation of NTV for those who didn’t watch the show. It was a segment where an unsuspecting viewer would have video cameras concealed in their living room, having been set up by family or friends. Noel would then snap his fingers and the show would go live to the hidden camera feed, leaving one very shocked person gawping at themselves. Noel would then trawl through various anecdotes and photographs to embarrass the victim, and the ordeal would culminate with some silly act, usually involving fancy dress or karaoke (gunge rarely featured in this segment).
I have to admit that I always felt a tingle of dread in the buildup to NHP, even though I was a child and they obviously never played this joke on children. My parents were more sceptical and thought that the whole thing was staged, claiming it would be impossible to put TV cameras in someone’s home without them noticing (we’re talking tech from twenty years ago, remember). Looking back, it does seem suspiciously convenient that the victim was never out of the room fixing a drink or going to the loo at the moment the NTV slot rolled around. That said, urban legend has it they once had to cancel the segment because the guy was having a wank (over a gunging, perhaps?).
Anyway, in our story, Noel clicks his fingers, and Emily’s world falls apart. Things turn from bad to worse; it transpires that Gemma has sent in Emily’s diary, and Noel proceeds to read out Emily’s most private thoughts to millions of TV viewers. There’s nothing Emily can do except sit cornered in her own living room, reeling from the betrayal by her own family, dying of embarrassment as Noel reveals her crush on a boy named Martin, squirming self-consciously in the glare of the nation’s scrutiny. She can only pray that this nasty little man will soon tire of tormenting her and move on to pick on somebody else, leaving her to crawl up to her bedroom in shame. Unfortunately, Emily’s diary contains a rather unfavourable review of Noel and his House Party, so the bearded one has organised an extra special ending to this week’s NTV…
“So”, Noel looked up at the terrified Emily. “I think there’s only one punishment for saying something like that.”
“Sorry” tried Emily meekly.
“It’s just not good enough Emily. Stand up.”
She was too scared to disagree with him. She stood up.
A cameraman walked into the room with a TV camera perched on his shoulder.
“Follow that young gentleman Emily.” Noel cried.
The cameraman beckoned her and she followed.
Every step she walked she felt she looked so, so, stupid. She was pretty sure what was going to happen and she really, really didn’t want it to. But there was no escape.
She followed the cameraman out of the front door onto the street.
The sight that met her rubbed salt into her gaping wounds.
Hundreds of people had gathered on the street. She could see all of her friends. She felt she could never look any of them in the eye again.
In the centre of the crowd was the gunge tank. The vat above the booth was filled with blueish-green slime.
The moment Emily saw it, she reacted in the same way as she had described in her diary. Her skin crawled all over. She suddenly realised how mush she was exposed, her clothing wasn’t going to offer much protection from the putrid muck that was going to be covering her very shortly.
“Please no” She tried to say to the cameraman who led her towards it. She hated the sound of her own voice.
He led her to the booth and sat her inside. She looked at the crowd around her. All cheering and shouting, “GUNGE HER! GUNGE HER!”
She was crushed, totally crushed. It was as if her life was ending. Her family had betrayed her. She’d been humiliated in front of millions. Martin was never going to look at her again with out laughing, let alone want to go out with her.
And now she was going to be gunged.
The stark enormity of that last sentence is emphasised by being in a paragraph on its own… or at least it would be if Grimnim didn’t use very short paragraphs habitually, an aspect of his writing style I’m not so keen on. But nitpicking aside, this is a masterpiece of build-up. I remember reading some long-lost comment (most likely on WamMonkey) that went along the lines of “I love how she approaches the gunging as if it were an execution”, and to this day I think this sums up the scene perfectly.
And that brings us to the moment when the lever is pulled and Emily’s worst nightmare comes to fruition. The gunging itself is described in the typical Grimnim style, with minimal detail on what the gunging looks like to the onlooker, and a focus on what the gunging feels like for the victim, in both the tactile and emotional senses.
The closing line “nobody could see her tears” echoes Grimnim’s previous story, Claire’s Humiliation (and also this earlier story). I wonder if this is a last-minute attempt by Grimnim to excuse the baying mob (for they know not what they do), and perhaps in doing so relieve his own guilt for the trauma he put Claire through…?
Of course, there’s no need to feel bad because this is only fiction. Noel Edmonds was never that cruel in real life. I mean, he wasn’t, was he?
It’s my hunch that the inspiration for PPE came from the above gunging of an unfortunate Miss Charlotte Biggs. Betrayed by her own family, mercilessly teased and embarrassed over her personal habits, and then – la pièce de résistance – the gunge tank revolves into view! Even the green-blue colour of the gunk is the same. And just as Emily is humiliated in front of her classmates, “everyone at work’s watching” Charlotte. It’s going to be a hellish Monday morning.
It’s hard to tell, in the three minutes during which Edmonds and Charlotte’s mother Cynthia play judge, jury and executioner to the poor girl, whether Charlotte is an Emily. She’s commonly referred to in WAM circles as the “vain woman”, which would suggest that her personality type is diametrically opposed to Emily’s, but I’m not so sure. I think she might be rather shy and insecure. She certainly looks nervous, even when she still thinks she’s there to provide a supporting role in an amusing animal anecdote. When it becomes clear that the joke’s on her, she endeavours to keep smiling, but I can’t help but be reminded of Emily’s own battle to put a brave face on the situation:
It felt like her insides were being churned through a mincer. She could feel tears trying to creep into her eyes, she held them back. She mustn’t cry. She knew she mustn’t cry. She had to play along… She wanted to die, but all she could do was sit there and take it.
I’m left in a tricky dilemma, because this is one of my all-time favourite gungings. And while Charlotte’s beautiful attire and the brilliant facial coverage play their part in my preference, I’m afraid that the biggest turn-on is the manner in which she is set up and humiliated. It seems I’m not alone in feeling this way. Here are some quotes from the community:
“…the best ever. I always find myself re-watching it as the years go by. The setup, execution, and reaction of the woman are the apex of all the gungings in this show.”
“I thought it was one of the most sexy and overwhelmingly arousing things I’d ever seen. I was 19 years old and I literally couldn’t sleep with excitement that night.”
“I have been watching this one over and over angain lately as well. I love how her mother set her up for humiliation and her reacion.”
“It’s pretty much ideal as a set up. ‘Dressed up and nervous’ as someone once very well described her demeamour.”
“one of the best gungings ever and her reaction”
“This type of reaction is exactly what people are yearning for in this niche market. Kind of a niche in a niche. Thing is, this reaction is virtually impossible [for a WAM producer] to re-create.”
…and it’s impossible because it involves springing a gunging on a completely unsuspecting and unwilling victim. Sure, Charlotte could have stood up and walked out, but even doing that would have been a humiliation and loss of face for her. So even if, on a legal definition, she consented to being gunged, the situation raises serious ethical concerns.
Of course, we wammers watching the clip today can find ways to absolve ourselves of moral responsibility. We didn’t carry out the gunging, nor did we aid and abet it. Noel’s the bastard, not us. And besides, the thing happened back in 1991. It’s done, and no amount of hand-wringing can undo it.
And yet, my conscience is not assuaged. I can’t help pondering what I would do if I held the lever in my own hand, if it were me charged with deciding Charlotte’s fate. Would I be able to do the honourable thing and spare her, to send her skipping away unsullied in her polka-dotted dress, black tights and a very grateful smile, and in doing so deny myself what might be the biggest thrill of my life… and lose a superb scene that is still celebrated in community 23 years later? It’s hard to say if I could.
Ultimately, I think fiction is the only way to square the ethical dilemma. For those interested, this tale has a sequel, Gemma Gets It, in which fortunes shift in Emily’s favour and against the villain of this piece. Personally, I think it is Grimnim’s weakest story on a number of levels, and I suspect it was written out of guilt rather than enthusiasm. I don’t want to see Emily find love with Martin and get even with her sister; I want to see her lose. This fictional Emily was conjured into the literary landscape to be humiliated for our guilt-free pleasure.
It just isn’t Emily’s night.