June 18: bring back the proper handkerchief

Yesterday I saw a youngish man on the tube take a cotton handkerchief out of his pocket and blow his nose. He then briefly examined the mucus on the cloth, folded the handkerchief up and replaced it carefully in his pocket. It struck me then that I had not witnessed such a moment for quite some time. Leaving aside the increasingly rare business of nose-blowing, the handkerchief as a personal accessory has now almost completely disappeared from our lives. As a child I was never without one and was told by my mum to keep it up my sleeve, even as she told me to keep chewing gum behind my ear. I never really took to this method of chewing gum storage, though I did always have the unsightly lump of a hankie under my jumper. When I lived in France I became familiar with the notion that the cloth handkerchief was an unhygenic throwback to bygone days and had now been superceded by the paper tissue or le kleenex. My English friend John , though, was forever getting a voluminous handkerchief out of his pocket and waving it around. This was greeted with much ridicule and some disgust by the natives. In the theatre in recent years I have often seen the cotton handkerchief as a signifier of pomposity and prissiness. They are unfolded to sit down on by eccentrics or used for effeminate dabbing motions by bowtie or waistcoat-wearing characters. Nowadays the cotton hankie has all but become extinct and le kleenex has triumphed. The middle classses have fallen in love with tissue paper. They take five luxury triple-ply out of the box at once just to apply a faint dab at their middle-class nose and then toss the whole handfull into the bin.  What they then go on to do is continue lecturing me about how they are contriving to save the planet. Bring back the proper hankie.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s