William Shakespeare, as ever, has something to say on the subject of touch. When taking time off from his property investment and speculation in the City on gold prices as we know he put on plays at The Globe, much as the money men of today support the theatre. From the play "Troilus And Cressida", we have "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin".
This is not about sexual predation of the unpleasant groping and grabbing that occurs never mind the worse that can be done as some use this to exert their dominance over others. It is about ordinary touch and those for whom contact is a part of communication in the ordinary business of life.
The current scatter gun coverage of the issues of who might touch whom and to what effect is bringing out many and various joining in the publicity and coverage. One is the elderly celebrity, Michael Parkinson, late of Cudworth by Barnsley, Yorkshire now in retreat in Berkshire.
One of his characteristics was a hands on approach to the job. Who can forget the lean forward, the smile, the inflected Yorkshire accent and the "Eh up me duck" when with the lovelies who smiled, if only for the fees they earned for doing so. His grandfather, I believe, worked at a pit that had a major disaster.
He is not the only one. There is also Brian Blessed, born down the road from Parkie eighteen months later. His family has been at Hickleton Main, I knew a lady whose husband had been killed there. Brian is an actor who is known for his hands waving and going all over the place. Seeing him both on TV and on stage I have often muttered, "For the sake of Zeus, stop waving them about."
But they were not alone. If anything they were men of their time and place. It was not just men, it was women, it was people of all ages and it was a common feature of their lives. So why did some be like this and why was it so common among many groups of people?
The answer is simple. It wasn't sex, it was work. When the masses left school at 14 and before and went to the factories, mills and mines, it was in the same places as their parents and other members of the community. It was a very different world in structure and purpose.
Also, it was noisy, often very noisy. Literally, you could not hear yourself speak. To take Brian and Parkie, both from mining families, they will have known what the effect was as a consequence of working in the concentrated noise that occurred. What is was like in the past could only be imagined.
For those growing up in industrial areas, some places had noise, just about tolerable and allowing speech to be heard. Some were not. At one shoe machinery factory, most of the engineering was loud but manageable. But the tacking shed was a horror, the acoustic scrambled the brain never mind the ears.
The answer to the obvious difficulty in communication and gaining attention was touch and the movement of hands. People learned this at an early age, it was necessary to the job and inevitably carried into ordinary life and living. The workers touched because they needed to and were used to it.
In the offices and the professions, however, touching and hands were generally regarded as no go, do not, it is not proper or polite. In those classes and higher, you had to know the etiquette and the detail of that defined what touch, when and how between persons. Hands off was more or less the rule, unless etiquette required it. And very often you wore gloves.
In the 21st Century we have a different problem. Many have things now constantly plugged into their ears or have head phones tuned in to something or other. Also, many are now paying the price in hearing loss for the loudness thought essential to modern living. So we are back to hands on again, but touching is becoming a risk.
So if I want to attract your attention, it might have to be the shillelagh.
A few months ago we saw a demonstration of an early twentieth century power loom. The noise from that one loom made conversation difficult, yet at the time hundreds would have been running.ReplyDelete