23 December 2011

The Ladies Not For Tidying

Each week, for the benefit of its upmarket AB readership, the Spectator’s Mary Killen “answers readers' queries on the finer points of social etiquette in a question-and-answer format, offering insight into the problems that can occur”, to quote Amazon’s description of her Book of Etiquette published in 1993.

The problems posed by modern life and Mary’s advice as to how to proceed can provide unintentional amusement, for example recently:
Q. At continental saunas I have noticed that women now ‘tidy up’ a normally unseen area, while my own extravagant disorder attracts disapproving looks. The same seems to be happening at my London gym. Are we now to pay as much attention to grooming there as we do to our eyebrows?
—S.B., London SW6
A. Do not submit to fashion victimhood. This sort of tidying is by no means compulsory in civilised circles. Indeed it risks signalling a presumption that inspections of the zone in question are likely to be serially carried out. For this reason it is best to leave things as nature intended.

Admirably euphemistic, but as I read “inspections … serially carried out” and wondered quite what Mary could have meant, Toulouse-Lautrec’s Rue des Moulins, (now part of the Chester Dale Collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC), inappropriately came to mind.
Surely Mary is failing to address SB’s concerns? SB is already encountering serial inspections by way of the impertinent glances from her fellow-gymnasts which presumably are preceding the disapproving looks. Her problem is that of choosing not to conform to peer group pressure. This is something which usually brings censure in one form or another which will just have to be ignored, if SB chooses not to be, as Mary says, a fashion victim, .

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