I have just been to see the latest musical comedy. Of course, I feel in love with the heroine. Could I help myself? Even women have fallen in love with her–so what chance has a mere male, and one at the dangerous age at that? But what struck me almost as much as the youthful charm and cleverness of the new American “star” and the invigoratingly “catchy” music, was the way in which all the young men on the stage put both their hands into their trouser pockets the moment they put on evening clothes! They didn’t do it in their glad day-rags . . . or, at least, only one hand at a time, anyway. But immediately they appeared en grande tenue, both their hands disappeared as if by magic! C’etait bien drole, j’vous assure! Perhaps . . . who knows? . . . they were but counting their “moneys.” . . . For the chorus ladies are certainly rather attractive, and even a svelte figure has been known to hold a big dinner! But the fact still remains . . . if one night some wicked dresser takes it into his evil head to stitch up their trouser pockets, every one of the young men will have to come on and do physical “jerks,” or go outside and cut his own arms off!
But then, most Englishmen seem at a loss to know what to do with their limbs when they are not using them for anything very special at the moment. Have you ever sat and watched the “niggly” things which people–especially Englishmen–do with their hands when they don’t know what to do with them otherwise? It is very instructive, I assure you. I suppose our language does not lend itself to anything except being spoken out of our mouths. Unlike Frenchmen, we have not learnt to talk also with our hands. We consider it “bad form” . . . like scratching in public where you itch! Well, perhaps our decision in this respect has added to the general fun of existence. In life’s everyday, one doesn’t notice these things, maybe. One has become so habituated to “Father” drumming “Colonel Bogey” on the chair-arm; or “Little Willee” playing “shakes” with two ha’pennies and a pen-knife–that one has ceased to pay any attention to these minor irritations. And, when we are among strangers, we are so busy watching that people don’t put their hands into our pockets, that we generally put our own hands into them for safety. . . . Which, perhaps, accounts for the Englishman’s habit . . . who knows?
But on the stage, this custom is an almost mesmeric one to watch. We certainly do see other people at a disadvantage when they are strutting the Boards of Illusion . . . men especially. But to a foreigner, who is not used to seeing a man’s hands disappear the moment he is asked to stand up, the sight must come with something of a shock. For my own part, I think his amazement is justified. Surely God gave a man two hands for other needs than to pick things up with or hide them?
Personally, I always think that it is a thousand pities that men are not expected to knit. They grew up to be idle in the drawing-room, I suppose, in times when every other woman was a “Sister Susie.” But the “Sister Susie” species is nowadays almost extinct. It requires a German offensive to drive the modern woman towards her darning needles.
In a recent literary competition in EVE, the subject was “Bores, and how to make the best of them.” Well, personally, I could suffer them–if not more gladly, at least with a greater resignation–if I were allowed to recite, “Two plain; one purl” so long as their infliction lasted. As it is, I am left with nothing else to do except furtively to watch the clock, and secretly to ring up “OO Heaven” to send down a bombing party to deliver me.