A reply to the poem ‘Legs’ by Keith Hutson and the Bronte’s bathroom cabinet

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I’ve been pleased to hear Keith perform his excellent poem ‘Legs’ on a couple of occasions now.  It always sets me thinking about our attitudes to the things that get us from A to B. Now, I don’t know what Keith’s legs look like sans trousers but I do like the way his poem praises them for their practicality.

We have good strong legs in our family- ‘The Ramsden Leg-acy!’ Sorry. Yet, as better weather approaches I find myself drowning in a sea of noxious toiletries dedicated to their ‘improvement.’ However, this ‘improvement’ appears to be a pervasive cultural construct of our age and I’m not comfortable with it.  I was fortunate enough to visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth on Saturday night to attend an exhibition of ‘Heathcliff Adrift’ by Ben Myers and Nick Small with a tour around the Bronte’s home. The sparse beauty of the house is extraordinary. Nowhere in this lovely home of incredible women did I spy a Gillette Venus Razor ‘especially designed for women’ or a tube of St Ives Apricot Kernel Exfoliating Body Scrub.  There was a conspicuous and dramatic lack of St Tropez and Fake Bake and not an epilator or ingrown hair treatment in sight.

Yet these women and their works are loved and revered across the world.  Their legs propelled them across the wild tussocks and peat-soaked moors for many miles, inspiring them, and others, to great literature.  Never once to my knowledge did they waste their precious hours scalding the skin on their legs with Veet, scrape it off with a kitchen knife, then spend the rest of the evening pretending they were ‘fine’ whilst suffering from third degree chemical burns. And all to conform to contemporary notions of feminine beauty. So, here below, my latest.

The Consolations of Autumn

June demands we women shave our legs,

 casting off the hairy lederhosen of winter.

These secret garments only women know,

grown by shaving only visible parts, depending on skirt length.

Shaggy shorts have kept thighs furry warm in snow and icy times,

but summers here, they have to go.

 

We buy those pink goddess razors,

The ones costing an excess of cash

to rid us of our excess hair.

We run ourselves a leisure bath,

the one with wine and scented candles and Kate Bush,

that never quite lives up to the ones on TV.

 

You do it to make the shaving acrobatics more palatable,

and anything is more palatable than ripping hair out at the roots,

if you choose the pain of the epilator,

otherwise known as the devils own combine harvester.

 

July begins the wedding season,

summer without enough sun,

to tan our legs sufficiently,

to abandon the safety of elusive nude tights,

that are closer to orange than naked.

 

 

We factor in tanning routines now,

embarking on exfoliation and the ritual flaying of skin.

Crushed Apricot kernels, micro-beads and salt scrubs,

form new deposits alongside the spiders legs,

already encrusting the baths plimsoll line.

 

The turmeric tanning solution stinks,

yet we worry more about the streaks,

or our white heels giving the pale game away.

All the cold starfish standing in the bathroom waiting to dry,

avoiding the best towels and the phone ringing at just the wrong time.

 

By August exhaustion sets in,

skirts give way to linen trousered relief,

as we fail in our fight against our unseemly, politicised body hair

and our god forbidden armpits.

We are still as hairy as when we began.

 

We gleefully greet our September,

the final clean of the baths hirsute tidemark.

Farewell to Venus, goodbye ingrown hairs and so long to the Saint of Tropez.

Opaque tights bring their own thick, black joy.

A shower, a bath, with no shaving routine,

and in no time we’re ready to go.

 

Freed up by the glories of autumn, our saviour,

a silent tradition unspoken,

Autumn releases her 60 denier season

with harvests, new pencil cases

and the last and most joyous surrender

of our feminine legs to the wild.

 

Louella Ramsden 2015

 

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