Saturday, 20 March 2010

Shameful legs

For my entire life I've believed the myth that the Victorians covered up furniture legs for the sake of decency. Now it turns out this is a total fantasy dreamt up by some 19th century writers.

In fact the Victorians weren't particularly prudish and enjoyed sex as much as we do today. Not that prudery ever went away of course, as shown by all those tampon ads that daren't use the word "vagina" or even the words "down there".

If piano legs and the like were covered at all, more likely it was to protect them against cats. Cats were common in Victorian homes to control rats and mice, and a cat constantly sharpening its claws on a table leg can easily reduce it to half its original size.

There's no historical evidence whatever that the Victorians blushingly hid their furniture legs. The myth was fostered by two writers, Frederic Marryat and Frances Trollope, as a casual practical joke that somehow lived on despite the denials.

But we 21st century folk can be pretty coy about sex ourselves. How else to explain the obsession with wardrobe malfunctions, excessive cleavage and visible knickers? We also have our strict informal rules about what is permissible and what is shamefully risqué.

We may boisterously enjoy sex in our own bedrooms, but we still tut-tut furiously at any public figures who seem to be flaunting their sexuality. And many young couples are still too embarrassed to discuss condoms, or even their particular sexual tastes.

We might not cover up piano legs, but we still hide that vibrator that threatens our boyfriend's masculinity. Or that book of nudes our visitors might look askance at. No visible sex please, we're British.

PS: By the way, did I mention, today's my 63rd birthday. Jeez, how did I get to be that ancient?

PPS: Shucks, I didn't make it to the Irish Blog Award Finals. For some reason, the judges were shocked when I offered them bribes....


  1. happy birthday, m'dear

    i can talk about sex, i'm not british :)

  2. Kylie - Gee thanks! Glad to hear you don't have the British hangups. So tell me all about sex....

  3. what would you like to know?

    i love to ask people the most interesting location they've used, whether they have any interesting stories, that kind of thing

    i dont ask too many people though

  4. that reminds me that one of the very first things I learned in Dutch was ik heb een hekel aan blote benen - I hate bare legs hehe it was on a tights stall in the market!

    Have a fantabulous birthday - I hope you do something very special.

  5. Happy birthday dear Nick!

    You know, I'd never even heard the story about Victorians covering up their furniture legs for prudish reasons. It's so funny, really! But of course the other explanation makes more sense.

    American society (I only say American 'cause it's what I experience) has a very strange relationship to sex--a funny combination of flaunting and prudery. Sort of like our relationship to food--which you can see in television commercials, divided between fast food ads featuring gluttonous amounts of bad-for-you stuff...and then the ads for diet centers and weight-loss pills...

  6. Kylie - Most interesting location? Nothing at all exciting, I've never been one for sex in public places, I'd be too nervous of discovery. I'm British, after all. And the only interesting stories are about other people humping away enthusiastically in adjacent rooms or flats. So indiscreet....

    So what would you like to share? What's the most embarrassing thing a man has ever asked you? Or done to you?

  7. Conor - I hate bare legs, very appropriate. I must say there's something very sensual about a pair of sheer tights. Goodness, these comments are getting a bit racy....

    Leah - Britain is equally contradictory. Blatantly skimpy and figure-hugging clothing everywhere you look but talking about sex is still virtually taboo. The food contradiction is just as absurd.

  8. Happy Birthday, Nick! Many, many more.
    And as I'm older than you I can send you this, to cheer you up!

    Birthdays are delicious,
    But they come just once a year.
    The happy part is chocolate cake.
    The tough part is the mirror.

    You might be getting wrinkled,
    But the best part – this is true,
    You may be getting older,
    But your friends are older too!

    And as to the great dichotomy of our living with fast food and fast sex and expected to stay both slim and puritanical: We are nations of hypocrites.


  9. www - Thanks! What a great poem. Actually I'm not too bothered by the mirror, I have no wish to be 20 again and I accept my body just the way it is! Unfortunately I forgot the chocolate cake but I do have chocolates....

  10. Nick, my birthday wishes seem to have evaporated. :(

    Welcome to the 63 shelf, I won't try singing as it would scare the local cats. Have a very special day. I am dancing on the table in your hon....ouch!

  11. interesting doesnt have to be outside! a gf frolicked while a third party slept in the same bed!

    my most embarassing? well, i once had a big gagging fit. that was pretty bad

  12. Grannymar - They must be floating somewhere in cyberspace. Dancing on the table, eh? Careful, you'll get all your toyboys over-excited.

    Kylie - The gagging fit must have been awkward. I did have a girlfriend once who liked to be tied up. The relationship didn't last very long, but not because of the tying up, that was rather amusing.

  13. Happy birthday Nick. You don't look 63 I can vouch for that! Well the only legs that remain covered at my place are my own damn jetty stumps. Yep we're still in the Victorian age when it comes to outing ourselves sexually. I mean I even find myself thinking 'get a room' when i see couples snogging in public.

  14. Happy Birthday you old dude you!

  15. Baino - Jetty stumps, oh come now. Plenty of public snogging in these parts, I don't mind it at all unless they're getting rather too intimate. A display of love and affection always makes me feel happy!

    Meno - Thanks. I still can't believe I'm that old. It must be a case of mistaken identity.

  16. Ahhhhh.... so they covered the legs because they had too much pussy...


  17. Scarlet - Excellent!

  18. Happy birthday for yesterday, Nick!

  19. Nick,

    I hope you enjoyed your birthday and the chocolates and that more of both await you.

    As for public affection, I say since we only live once, enjoy all the snogging you want.

    The strangest thing that ever happened to me involved a visit to emergency and casualty on Valentine's Day with my date, who had broken out with welts after receiving a certain edible gift, and having a reaction to its colouring agent...

    Suffice to say the doctor on duty could barely contain his laughter, although he gave a try worthy of a BAFTA...

  20. Liz - Thanks!

    e - Birthday was good. Chocolates, books, a movie and one of Jenny's mouth-watering curries! That was an unlucky Valentine's Day, I hope things went better after that!

  21. Happy birthday for yesterday Nick and here's to many more!

    After many embarrassing conversations regarding sex when my children were younger, we actually achieved easy conversation eventually! But it had its pitfalls - I remember once when flying abroad for a holiday with them I advised my son to buy his condoms here (just in case) - he took my advice and then when all the alarms in the metal detector sounded at the airport because of the metal tag in the pack he took great delight in telling everyone his mum had told him to buy them!

    I still haven't lived that one down - many years later!!!

  22. Kate - Thanks! Hey, you should have turned it back on him and said, Actually I bought them for him because you know how embarrassed guys get about these things...

  23. Happy birthday, Nick! Just think, someday, years from now, 63 will seem really young to you.

  24. Thanks, Heart! Well, I hope I don't live too long, I don't want to end up a decrepit wreck in some miserable oldies' home. I'd rather pop my clogs while I'm still fairly fit and healthy and enjoying life.

  25. I think it is very silly to cover up furniture legs unless, of course, they have fat ankles.

  26. Murr - Good point. Or they're very thin legs, in which case they might get cold without some clothing.

  27. Here is wishing you a very happy birthday and best wishes for many happy returns of the same.

    At 63, you are not ancient. Ancient is yours truly!

    You have seen nothing yet Nick. Come over to India. Despite our Kamasutra and Konarak we must be the world's biggest prudes.

  28. Ramana - The world's biggest prudes? Really? Not even the equivalent of page 3 girls or lads' magazines? I presume that's mainly due to religious strictures?

  29. Happy belated, Nick! Hope it was wonderful!

  30. Liz - It was great. All my favourite things, and I even got a belated chocolate cake! *sigh of contentment*

  31. No, social customs and traditions. The main Hindu religion is far from prudish in its teachings. Prudery actually was brought into India by Christian missionaries who came along with the East India Company's marauders.

  32. Ramana - Very interesting link. I wasn't aware prudery was introduced by Christian missionaries. Unfortunately many of today's Christians are still far from open-minded.

  33. I was trying to explain what timber I used to make a crooked knife handle on one of the forums, but instead of pussywillow, all that would show was *****willow!!!
    The mind boggles.

  34. Le Loup - That is absurd! Whatever next, a shag pile, oops **** pile carpet?