No clothes: it’s a controversial stance.
That, of course, depends on where you are, and indeed when you are. The Ancient Egyptians wore as little as possible, and with their climate one can appreciate precisely why. The Spartans had a rigorous code of training in the nude.
But by the time of the Romans, this whole let-it-all-hang out business was considered rather de trop.
Interestingly two of the extreme ideologies of the 20th century went through their moments of naked glory. The Nazis held the human body as an idealised form, a perfectly honed machine. A look at the prologue for Olympia, by Leni Riefenstahl, shows how nudity is viewed with the same uncompromising pride as the Spartans.
And then there was Bolshevism. According to The Atlantic, family was a bourgeoise institution. It needed a good shakeup.
Russia’s first move was to abolish the term ‘illegitimate’. All children had the same rights: so far, so good.
Then they passed a law which meant it took only a few minutes to get divorced.
Anyone who didn’t want to take part in anything as temporary as these gossamer-thin legal arrangements was seen as bourgeois and prejudiced. Finally, in 1924, the League of Communist Youth arranged a series of nude marches to dispel bourgeois attitudes forever.
It didn’t catch on. The streets of Moscow and St Petersburg are now filled with Russians snugly clad against that intemperate climate.
Occasionally, public nudity is inadvertent. And it is this type which informs my tale today.
Let us time travel back more than a decade, to the time when Phil and I were new parents. We were on Planet Infant, jumping to the imperatives of a small foot-long bawling thing. We lived in a new-build house at the foot of an ancient Devon tor. Its location was lovely: we could fling first floor floor-ceiling windows outwards onto a balcony and gaze at the green hills and the rocky crag above.
That was in one direction.
But the kitchen also had patio doors. This was a town house, and it was Britain. And the gardens in new-build British townhouses are usually miniscule.
They opened onto a pocket-handkerchief of land barely bigger than our first floor balcony. It was bordered by a traditional dry stone wall. And beyond the wall? What we call here a T-junction. A road running parallel to the wall; and a road which met it at right angles, so that anyone sitting there in their car might wave cheerily to us.
Daytime privacy was a cinch. We put up a gauzy pale blue curtain which masked our day-to-day lives, yet let the light through. Problem solved.
We had been without children for about eight years and developed the habit of padding about our lair without a stitch on. We were still getting used to the rediscovered tyranny of nightclothes.
Maddie would wake in the middle of the night and need milk heating gently, or water bottled; and she, Phil and I slept in a big master bedroom at the top of the house. It was a long way down stairs, and Phil often volunteered to prepare supplies while I held the baby.
Three flights down he would pad: and because the kitchen was dark, and outside was dark, the curtain did its job well enough. Cars rarely came that way at night: it was a quiet neighbourhood.
One unbearably sultry night, he had a warm bottle in hand, ready to retrace his steps, and paused by the kitchen windows. It was dark. There was a pleasant breeze coming off the moor. Quiet lay like a blanket over everything.
And then suddenly, with paralysing speed, the light levels in the room shot up. A car had screeched up to the T-junction and its headlights were making short work of those little gauze defenders of my husband’s modesty, the curtains. They might as well have disintegrated.
Frozen in the headlights like a startled deer, Phil realised that this was no ordinary car.
No: it was a member of the local constabulary. A police car.
There are some moments which are endless, even though you fervently wish they weren’t. This was such a moment. The sharp eyes of the law freeze-framing Phil, completely unattired, with only a baby bottle to shield him.
Can one be arrested for not having any clothes on in one’s own kitchen? Large sections of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists flew through Phil’s mind, leaving blank panic behind.
After what seemed like an eternity, and probably after the occupants of the car had finished bellowing with laughter, the car turned right and headed off, past the sheep fields, and away, leaving my horrified spouse to flee upstairs to the sanctuary of a bedroom on the third floor.
No clothes: it’s a controversial stance.
Even- or perhaps, especially – when it’s inadvertent.