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  • Immagine del redattorePeter Byrne


Aggiornamento: 7 nov 2023

Beware the threat to our venerable beauties. Weepy busybodies are out to drown them. Unwanted tears embarrass the supposed victims. Take the case of a French double amputee who is being told to his dismay that he can no longer be called a cul-de-jatte. Why? Because his sensitivities are being bruised, even if he hasn’t noticed. He should, it’s urged, smarten up and embrace his right to victimhood.

The case turns on the lines of Georges Brassens’ immortal song, La Mauvaise Reputation.

Tout le mode se rue sur moi

Sauf les culs-de-jatte, ça va de soi

One Italian do-gooder simply turns away:

Quando ormai ti hanno classificato

Sarai sempre il disgraziato

Another tries harder:

Tutti si precipitano su di me

Salvo gli storpi ovviamente

But to be maimed is not to be a cul-de-jatte. Storpiare in Italian suggests misspelling or garbling a name.

English mitigations are even blander:

Everyone rushes at me

Except those without legs

That goes without saying

One even makes the poor balladeer an illiterate convict:

They all rush to put me in the pen

Except of course the no-legs men

The most wanting in guts and limbs:

Everyone pounces on me

Except for those without legs,

That goes without saying

A mercy that defending the tender sex it didn’t say he or she’s non-legs. Another solves the gender problem with people, the pits of all say-nothing words that the French wisely reduce to on dit:

Everyone rushes over me

Except legless people, etcetera

The conclusion for our day is to stop butting in and leave cul-de-jatte alone. But how were missing limbs dealt with in the past?

One example was Thomas Hood’s. The renowned English poet, 1799-1845, was an ardent lower middle-class literary bleeding heart who wrote poems in sympathy with the poor. The Song of the Shirt is often anthologised and Faithless Nelly Gray A Pathetic Ballad could be a cul-de-jatte’s cri de coeur.

O, false and fickle Nelly Gray!

I know why you refuse:—

Though I've no feet—some other man

Is standing in my shoes!

He also wrote three-hundred thirty-two brief poems in an unending gush entitled, Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg: a Golden Legend. (Available on the Project Gutenberg) Hood would be stunned to know that in the Third Millennium it has been singled out and praised on Foot Talk, the fetishist blog “dedicated to inform and entertain those fascinated by feet and shoes.“ Today’s British tabloid journalism, however, would not surprise him. It’s method is his own. In the name of virtue and within the current bounds of respectability, it spins as much soft porn as the hypocrisy of the day will allow. Hood, unlike the UK’s Daily Mail, did not sell some seven-hundred-thousand copies a day. The mild-mannered satirist was only a timid pioneer.

He begins Ms Kilmansegg’s story firmly on the side of the angels. His moral position stutters with exclamation points:

Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!

Price of many a crime untold

At the same time the auriferous shine fills Hood’s eye with authorial delight. When he remembers the poor and that he’s a moralist, he lets starvelings wander into his poem but soon shoos them out.

Poor Peggy hawks nosegays from street to street

Till—think of that, who find life so sweet!—

She hates the smell of roses!

For it’s the Miss Kilmansegg show. She was born an heiress to a father who had roll'd in money like pigs in mud.

Early in the morality tale—indeed at the girl’s birth—hints of lubricity creep in:

Hundreds of men were turn'd into beasts,

Like the guests at Circe's horrible feasts,

By the magic of ale and cider:

And each country lass, and each country lad

Began to caper and dance like mad,

And ev'n some old ones appear'd to have had

A bite from the Naples Spider.

No surprise that

she grew as a peacock haughty

and thought

that people with nought were naughty”.

Sidesaddle on her thoroughbred called Banker, she goes for a showy canter. The horse is panicked by the sight of a beggar in rags, takes off breakneck through central London and ends up roly-poly, leaving Miss S not a cul-de-jatte but an unijambiste.

But when it came to fitting the stump

With a proxy limb - then flatly and plump

She spoke, in the spirit olden;

She couldn't - she shouldn't - she wouldn't have wood!

Nor a leg of cork, if she never stood,

And she swore an oath, or something as good,

The proxy limb should be golden!

Will she hide the shiny prothetic

in petticoats stuffed or quilted?

Not she! 'twas her convalescent whim

To dazzle the world with her precious limb, -

Nay, to go a little high-kilted.

Indeed she stages a money-bucks’ ball to flash her thighs, the gold one and the other, plus her royal award, the Order of the Garter.

And her jewell'd Garter! Oh Sin, oh Shame!

Let Pride and Vanity bear the blame,

That bring such blots on female fame!

Don’t stare, but note

its thin transparent stuff,


the tunic was loop'd quite high enough

To give a glimpse of the Order!

On second thought

what have sin or shame to do

With a Golden Leg - and a stout one too?

Away with all Prudery's panics!

As always the the tabloid moralist has stumbled with delight into the erotica the epoch permitted.

Of course,

a few, indeed, of her proper sex,

cried "fie!" - and "forward" - and "bold!"

And said of the Leg it might be gold,

But to them it look'd like brazen!


the men sang quite another hymn

Of glory and praise to the precious Limb

While la Kilmansegg went party-girl

talk'd and laugh'd far more than her share

but heiress was her real calling.

Her favor was sought by Age and Youth -

For the prey will find a prowler!

She was follow'd, flatter'd, courted, address'd,

Woo'd, and coo'd, and wheedled, and press'd,

By suitors from North, South, East, and West

Along from a far came the Count to spark Brit xenophobia. Sound the antisemite alert.

With his eyes as black as the fruit of the thorn,

And his hooky nose, and his beard half-shorn,

Like a half-converted Rabbin

The foreign villain could sigh in an ear and make all the smooth seduction moves. He was like a snake in his coiling and curling as he

knelt at her foot—one needn't say which.

The reason

she yielded, without resisting much,

to homage so continental

overlooking the hooky nose and Mephistophelian underwear and got herself plighted

was that she was distracted by a dream. In sleep she had felt a

magical transmutation,

From her Leg through her body it seem'd to go,

Till, gold above, and gold below.

She was gold, all gold, from her little gold toe

To her organ of Veneration!

Then the good times ceased to roll. Otherwise how could virtue conquer?

Pass on the gilded marriage. In no time the new hubby proved no homebody to the new Countess.

In vain she sat with her Precious Leg

A little exposed, à la Kilmansegg,

And roll'd her eyes in their sockets!

He left her in spite of her tender regards,

And those loving murmurs described by bards,

For the rattling of dice and the shuffling of cards,

And the poking of balls into pockets!

He drank, lost heavy bets and cheated when he played cards with her using strange curses that made her fret.

Worse, as if we hadn’t guessed,

His title was null—his coffers were void—

And his French Château was in Spain

The crumpled Countess had another dream that—yes siree—she’d married the Devil. Awake, she took to the lawyers and changed her will. Life staggered on.

How often he waked her up at night,

And oftener still by the morning light,

Reeling home from his haunts unlawful;

Singing songs that shouldn't be sung,

Except by beggars and thieves unhung—

Or volleying oaths, that a foreign tongue

Made still more horrid and awful!

Feeling the pinch, skint, broke, the Count decided that the leg was indeed precious and “kept quite a sum lying idle”. In fact, it lay as always under the Countess’ pillow as she slept. The Count made a weapon of it and brained his one-legged wife, née Kilmansegg.

There was an inquest whose verdict was Felo de Se, ‘Because her own Leg had kill’d her!’

Enough of antiquities. Let’s get back to the Daily Mail and a fraughty issue of the day. The nosey tabloid is indignant over the immorality of author John le Carré, recently deceased. It reports on the revelations of one of his many former lovers. She’s sixty-six now, reheating memories in a B & B of a former mining village in County Durham. Her tittle-tattle concerns decades past.

The Mail finds le Carré a secretive, disloyal liar who was not above making his best friend a cuckold. The tabloid is shocked by the author’s hypocrisy in hiding his secret life from its smut-hound reporters for so many years. He’s an instance of the shredding of the nation’s moral fibre in the face of journalism’s crusade to restore decency to married life.

The Mail’s second wind then begins to blow, like heavy-breathing. After being teased that it’s “not for the faint-hearted,” we are served up the red-meat course. The County Durham exile tells of “Sex to the point of exhaustion, three or four times a day, frequently more. Prodigious were his powers of recovery.” They frolicked everywhere, “in bed, on the floor and even on his writing table after he had thoughtfully swept it clear of manuscripts and papers.” And when they finished, after champagne and caviar, “Our clothes lay in an incontinent heap on the floor, fastenings gaping wantonly, arms and legs tangled together, a tumbled conundrum of hotly vacated shapes to which our bodies on the bed were the answer.” Fastenings? Egads! Even their zippers and buttons were wanton. Only a Brit tabloid could serve up arty x-rated stuff like that for consumption on a draughty tube ride on a damp and drizzly London morning. No Miss Kilmansegg or cul-de-jatte could hope to compete.

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