Picking On Pockets

Posted by in Articles, Blog on Mar 17, 2014

Rudolf Steiner, so we are told (and don’t ask me by whom; I’ve got anecdotes like this by the bucketload, all highly resistant to careful filing and cross-referencing) once asked an Englishman (which in those days could just as easily have meant Welshman, Scot, Irishman, Manxman, Cornishman, and probably even Australian, South African or Kiwi) why the English (see previous brackets mutatis mutandis) talk about spiritual matters with their hands in their pockets. At which, Steiner pointed out, no doubt with a twinkle in the Doktoral eye, the hapless bloke took his hands out.


What the Herr Doktor probably didn’t know was that the men of that generation – and a couple more after that, including mine – were repeatedly being admonished, by stern nannies, schoolmarms and maiden aunts with an overdeveloped sense of the proprieties, to take their hands out of their pockets, not to slouch, stand up straight, shoulders back, head up, and all the rest of it, as though we were permanently on parade. Though, for anyone who habitually wears trousers, in these islands at least, shoving your hands into your pockets is absolutely the natural thing to do. So when Dr. Steiner posed the question, he was touching a deep and highly sensitive nerve and setting off an interior firework of fairly obscure middle class guilt.


What, I wonder, did this do for earnest young male anthropops once the word got around, as no doubt it did? People hung on Steiner’s every utterance in those days, for very good reasons, no doubt.


“Look here, Blenkinsop,” I imagine some young seeker after truth saying to a like-minded chum, “the indications are that hands in pockets while discussing spiritual matters is not on.”


The implications could have been disastrous. I picture bits of chinoiserie and priceless vases being knocked flying by tweedy arms as young men, trying to do the right thing, strove to discuss spiritual matters without putting their hands in their pockets. And those trousers, flapping Oxford bags no doubt, in those days, once free of the sustaining hands holding them up from within the pockets, would be slipping imperceptibly down the waistline until they draped their turn-ups over the polished brogues, sending the wearers tripping and stumbling, caroming off the fixtures and fittings until brought to rest by an ottoman or fortuitously placed sofa, if not a flight of stairs. Unless the bags in question were suspended by braces, in which case it was necessary to push the hands firmly downwards into the pockets to prevent undue chafing and possible danger to generations yet unborn; I trust I do not need to draw pictures.


I mean, what did Dr. Steiner expect us Brits to do with our hands? Mediterranean style gesticulation doesn’t come naturally to us phlegmatic northern types, and standing at attention with thumbs in line with the seams of the trousers isn’t exactly conducive to the feast of reason and flow of soul. Just try it and see, next time you get drawn into conversation on serious matters. Another possibility is to follow the example of the male Royals, and lace the fingers behind the back; though you then run the risk of either being accused of lèse majesté, strolling around like Prince Philip trailing along in the fragrant wake of the Monarch, or of looking as though you’ve just been arrested, and are about to have your head pushed down into the back of a police car. (And that’s another thing: why do coppers always push the heads of their arrestees down as they get into the back of police cars? Do they want to avoid the suspect banging his head and blaming the resultant contusions on over-enthusiastic questioning techniques? But I digress.) Of course a lot could have been done with pipe-play, banging out the dottle on the heel, examining the chewed end of the stem, blowing down it to clear blockages and so on while sharing the fruits of one’s own considerations and preoccupations. Cigarettes only solve half the problem, because what do you do with the hand that isn’t holding the fag? Exactly. Straight into the pocket. Leaving us back at square one, and anyway, smoking is entirely taboo now.


No, whether tweed, corduroy, serge or even classless denim, our pockets are the best place for the hands of the male of our island species, and someone ought to have informed Rudolf Steiner of the fact, and no messing about.


Peter Snow