It was Harry’s bitchy comment on Christmas day that got me going. ‘You look just like the queen sitting there,’ she said. Well I suppose I was wearing pearls, but the ironic sort -huge and obviously more than any poor oyster could accommodate. But the rest was most unqueenly, brown see-through lace and leather over the knee boots. Harry often wrong-steps me. She used to brag about her orgasms being multiple and for years I quietly felt totally inadequate, until a kind man opened my eyes to the alternative viewpoint. Women who orgasm easily never reach the build-up necessary for the mind- to say nothing of the body- shattering experience of female ejaculation. Apparently.
That’s not the only carnal thought I’ve been having today. I’ve been contemplating filth. My mother never was a great one for water. I’d go so far as to say she was hydrophobic. One bath a week in a couple of inches of warm water was all she could take. In between it was a matter of what she called ‘a lick and a promise’. I used to think Ugh and sit for hours in a hot bath, dreaming my dreams. But not any more. As I grow older I bathe less. The juices that ran so freely now must be conserved. I value the oils, the salt and the grease that make me what I am and feel they must now be conserved as they sit on my skin. I am very careful what I add to them or how I remove them. I don’t wear perfume or wash with anything smelly. I might occasionally rub myself with essential oils that I buy by mail order from the medina in Fez but that’s absolutely it. I love the whiff of me I get when I stick my nose down my cashmere roll neck. I’ve kept quiet about this reluctance to wash away my preciousness, thinking that the world caught in the gospel according to Procter and Gamble might find me eccentric.
Imagine my surprise then to find an article in the special double Christmas Issue of The Economist on this very subject. I had bought it as a pre-festive splurge along with The Spectator and The New Statesman to get me up to speed by the end of the year-most of 2009 having been wasted on Vogue and Grazia and there tucked in a corner with no mention in the contents, I might add, under the heading Filth, is a three page article on how we’ve been brain washed, pun intended, into an obsession with cleanliness, which is actually harmful to our health.
Another example of Allie riding the start of a wave I thought as I read The Joy of Dirt. It includes the information that a recent experiment in California suggests a molecular basis for what is called The Hygiene Hypothesis. They found that common bacteria living on the surface of the skin can help wounds to heal by releasing a special molecule to stop outer skin cells getting inflamed. Germs are needed to build up a strong immune system. When I lived in the tropics my next door neighbour, a Peace Corps volunteer called Carol, kept a bottle of Milton at her side and was always ill. Yours truly, who ate freely in brothels (best pepper stew in town, appropriately enough) drank palm wine from dodgy glasses and shopped in the local market, was rarely ill. I knew then that a peck of dirt was good for me.
Apparently Elizabeth 1 bathed only once a month and her subjects were sewn into their combinations with a thick dollop of goose grease in October, where they stayed until released for the annual bath at the end of April. No wonder May was a popular month for weddings!
Simple hygiene is important and I can well see the link between ablution and absolution but it seems to me there is something pathological about the fear of germs in our society. So I was relieved to see that researchers in my home city have found that there might well be evidence that dirt actually makes people happy. An experiment on mice revealed that bacteria found in dirt stimulated the neurons in the brain to produce serotonin which, of course, influences mood.
So that’s the answer to the epidemic of depression that has hit the western world. Wash less and feel happier. Get to know who you are and what your signature smell is. Smell real not clean! My mother would have approved. ‘It’s only natural,’ I can hear her say. ‘Make do with a lick and a promise.’