by Mary Jackson (August 2006)
“Neither one thing nor the other” (Winston Churchill).
This remark by Churchill, on being told of an MP by the name of Bossom, is one of his funniest. And the competition is stiff, even if our choice is restricted to one of the two parts of the anatomy Churchill evokes. For example, on hearing that the Greek premier was called Plasteras, he remarked, "Well, I hope he doesn't have feet of clay too." But the Bossom comment is even better. Our thoughts bounce between bottoms and bosoms, both of which are inherently comical, and come to rest between two stools, where an offending item fails to be either.
My tribute to Churchill’s remark is in three parts:
3. Things that are neither one thing nor the other
First to bottoms. I saw a television programme the other evening decrying the beauty industry. Creams and lotions, costing £100 a pot, promise to reduce “the appearance of” wrinkles. For legal reasons which remain obscure to me, the manufacturers are not allowed to claim that they reduce the wrinkles themselves. Presumably the wrinkles are still there, but cunningly disguised as non-wrinkles.
“Experts” were wheeled in, one of whom made the common-sense observation that the magic potions were a waste of money. Wrinkles or lack of them are mainly determined by your genes and by the amount of time you spend in the sun. The dermatologist went on to say that if you look at your face in the mirror, then look at your buttocks, your face will look about ten years older. That’s right. In a bizarre variation on Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, it may be possible to have the buttocks of an ingénue and the face of an old trout.
Strangely enough, it has never occurred to me to compare my face with my buttocks. But if I did, I would like to think that my face would come off better. Besides, one is not comparing like with like. Or is one? Cue for an old joke:
A man was becoming very agitated about not having had a date in quite some time. He was getting worried that he might never find a mate. In the hope of finding a solution to his problem, he decided that it was time to see a doctor. Looking through the phone book, he came upon a Chinese sex therapist named Dr. Chang.
On arrival he told the doctor his symptoms. The doctor said "Take off all your crothes and you crawl velly fass away from me across the froor". He crawled to the other side of the room and Dr.Chang said "Now...you crawl velly fass back to me", and he did. Dr. Chang shook his head and said, "you haf velly bad case of Zachary's Disease...worse case I ever see! That why you haf sex plobrem.” The man was completely confused and asked the doctor exactly what Zachary's Disease was and he replied, "Zachary's Disease.... your face ZACHARY like your arse.”
“Arse”, incidentally, has much more raw power than its American counterpart “ass”. “Arsehole” packs a bigger punch, too; it is a full-bodied ale of a word, compared with the Budweiser-lite of “asshole”. Furthermore, “arse” lends itself to a better class of pun – about art, rather than about donkeys. But I digress.
Some women, and increasingly men, use botox as a way of looking younger. Their face is injected with botulism, and the muscles paralysed, so that they can neither smile nor frown. Why anyone thinks this is attractive is beyond me. In any case, botox is the wrong drug. Introducing …[drum roll]…butox. The cream that makes you look ten years younger. Yes, use it regularly and your face will look “Zachary like your arse”.
And now to bosoms. “Bosom” – with its variant “bazoom” - is a funny word, even when used metaphorically in such phrases as “the bosom of your family” or “the bosom of the Pope”, which Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 And All That tells us to “trace by means of graphs etc”. My impression is that it is no longer a serious word for breasts, and now has the same connotation as “chest”, as used in the advertisement: “lady with large chest for sale”. It has a seaside postcard ring to it, conveying an old fashioned sense of outraged respectability, from a time when men said: “Madam, I can see your predicament,” and women replied indignantly, bosom all a-heave, “Oh, sir, I thought you were a gentlemen.”
Caitlin Moran, writing in The Times, made some of the funniest remarks I have ever heard on the subject of bosoms. She asks the vexed question: what, exactly, can a grown woman of sense and wit call her bazoomikas? Over to her:
“Boobs” are too Benny Hill. Boobs are perfectly spherical, bouncing, jokey — you might as well refer to your “pink chest clowns” and have done with it. Boobs are also, by and large, white and working class — you don’t really get Bangladeshi boobs, or boobs from Bahrain, or the boobs of Lady Antonia Fraser. Boobs are what Jordan and Pamela Anderson and Barbara Windsor have — except when Barbara had a breast cancer storyline in EastEnders, when they quickly became “breasts”. “Boobs”, of course, can’t get cancer, or lactate, or be subject to the subtle erotic arts of the Tao. Boobs exist only to jiggle up and down on the chests of women between the ages of 14 and 32, after which they get too droopy, and then presumably fall off the face of the Earth, into space, maybe to eventually become part of the giant rings of Saturn.
For exactly the opposite reasons, “breasts” will not do, either. You never hear the word “breasts” in a positive scenario. Breasts are bad news. Mainly, breasts exist to be examined by doctors and get cancer, but breasts also rack up impressive horror-points for being hacked off chickens and cooked in white wine, being the word of choice for awkward men about to have very bad sex with you (“May I touch your left breast with my finger?") and ageing pervs (“Her magnificent breasts were unleashed from the flimsy fabric, and seemed to dance towards Hengist”).
Moran has a point … or two? And am I alone in finding ridiculous the descriptions of breasts in the Song of Solomon: “Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins”? Identical or fraternal? Solomon hardly redeems himself by going on to say: “Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fish pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim … [quit while you’re behind] … thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.” Call that a compliment? A nose need not be pert and retroussé, but no woman with a fair-to-middling hooter likes to see it compared with a tower. Moran goes on:
“Bosom” sounds a bit Les Dawson. “Cleavage” doesn’t work, obviously — “I have a pain in my cleavage” — and neither does “Embonpoint”, because it sounds both embroidered and pointy, and so would cease to exist when you took your bra off.
“Tits” seems nicely down-to-earth for day-to-day use — “Give me a KitKat, I’ve just caught my tit in the door” — but struggles to make a satisfactory transition to night-time use, where it seems a little too brusque.
I did go through a phase of referring to my upper palaver [my italics] by the names of celebrated duos — “He made me get my Two Ronnies out!” “And it was all going so well, until The Scarecrow and Mrs King here refused to fit into the top.” “Actually I call them ‘Simon & Garfunkel’. Because one’s bigger than the other” …
As you can see, the English language has yet to get its head convincingly around the problem of the average woman’s FiFi’s Funballs.
Upper Palaver, it should be explained, is a small English town to the north of Upper Ramsbottom. Make sure you look out for the sign – miss it and you’ll end up in High Dudgeon.
My third category is a large one: “Things that are neither one thing nor the other”. Arguably, there are more things that are neither one thing nor the other than there are things that are either one thing or the other. And I am not confining myself here to things that are not bottoms or bosoms. Here, in no particular order, are some things that are neither fish nor fowl.
1. Vegetarians. Vegetarians are a pain at dinner parties, forcing decent omnivores to eat like rabbits or the host to cook extra food. They are also a pain in restaurants, which now must include vegetarian dishes at the expense of other meat dishes. Really, vegetarians should stay at home, but they don’t. London is heaving with them. While failing to make decent guests, they also fail to make a difference to animal welfare. Movements for “cruelty-free” meat, such as Compassion in World Farming, could make a difference. But the world is not going to become vegetarian and nor should it. Moreover, a vegetarian who eats dairy products condemns male calves to slaughter. And what is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy products? A vegan. Vegans are whey-faced, cadaverous lunatics, but they are consistent. Sorry, veggies, you are neither one thing nor the other. Eat meat or go the whole hog and be a vegan.
2. Modern hymns or “worship songs”. I wrote a blog piece some time ago on what makes a good hymn. It has to have “burning martyrs” or a “sacred head sore wounded”, not pylons and concrete. And it needs a dignified tune. God, as I said then, is nothing if not old fashioned. He spake and he smote; he did not do podcasts. Marisol Seibold commented scathingly on hymns for “youth”: “the dumbed-down chord progression, the flat, simplistic, repetitive melody that mirrors the flat, simplistic, repetitive, shallow lyrics, the ‘rock-star’ persona invading worship services...” If young people want rock music there is plenty of good rock music around, even today. If it’s hymns you want, let’s have a traditional one. Modern hymns fall between two stools.
3. Surrey. Surrey is neither city nor country. It is full of bland, boringly pretty towns, and wearily undulating landscapes. It is London overspill, but it lacks the edge of Hertfordshire or Essex. When a man is ready for Surrey, he is ready for death.
4. Crotchless knickers. Either put on some proper knickers or throw caution to the wind and take them off. Have the courage of your own convictions on the knicker front. Don’t sit on the fence in crotchless knickers. They are knickers that don’t work. Don’t touch them with a barge pole.
5. Intelligent design. Intelligent design, more talked about in the US than in the UK, is the ne plus ultra of things that are neither one thing nor the other. This theory states that biological life is so complex that it must have been created by an intelligent mind. In the words of Gerard Baker: “The millions of different physical components that work together to enable a bee to fly, for example, cannot possibly be simply the work of Darwinian evolution, but must have been produced, like Blake’s Tyger, by some unseen hand or eye.” And, as Baker points out, it is neither proper science nor proper religion:
It is not only that intelligent design is a pseudo-science, but also that ID undermines not only science, but religion itself. If the existence of God were capable of being proved by scientific theory, it is the notion of religious belief that would have the bigger problem, since it is the very essence of religion to try to make sense of man’s and the universe’s existence beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.
Intelligent design wins the Golden Bossom Award for being neither one thing nor the other. The trophy – for obvious reasons we cannot call it a booby prize - is an amorphous globule placed between two stools, on top of which sits a fish with a beak.
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