Friday 21 January 2022

Body Of Evidence Series: The Psychology Of Man

Captain James Cook
Who knew both his seas and his men
Nathaniel Dance Holland, 1776

History is a marvellous wellspring for Your Correspondent, since I find much within its pages both enlightening and oftentimes amusing, and shall not apologise for the impulse that propels me to mine it to furnish the very pages of Flying With Hands. Such forms the Body of Evidence from which will inform topics both of the high- and low-brow, viz. last week's, ahem, well-informed Opinion Piece re the Shape of Man, and today, Dear Reader, the entirety of the Psychology of Man shall be boiled down to a single incident.*

Wiser men are credited with the aphorism that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. But, while it's all very well to know about the bare and bold facts, that's often not enough, and one must rootle down the back of history's metaphoric sofa for some lost and forgotten details to really appreciate the nuances of the episode that brings forth the Lesson. 

Hence, I bring you a choice nugget which illustrates how best to get Man to do your bidding: 

The History Lesson:

During the 1760s, the English Navy's overlords were rather fed up with the lethal and costly pestilence known as Scurvy that bedevilled their sailors and embarked upon a nice early example of the Clinical Trial. They sought to find an effective solution by enlisting four sea Captains to experiment by feeding their men with various long-storage foodstuffs on their long journeys. 

One Captain James Cook had amongst his experimental victuals for the three-year journey on HM Bark Endeavour around 7,800 pounds of sauerkraut. Unfortunately, for the keen Captain-cum-scientist, the common sailor merely turned up his nose at the offering. 

Our man Cook, who well understood the Psychology of Man, simply made it known that the sauerkraut was a delicacy only for the Officers' Table. Lo! a great stampede was made for the pickled cabbage and not a shredded leaf was left when the Endeavour came home nor a single case of scurvy in the Captain's log.

The Message:

It is simple. To persuade a Man to take his Medicine, whether it's experimental in nature or not, the example must first be set by those he considered his Betters. Add a bit of Forbidden Fruit notion into the mix and Bob's your uncle.

Marketing gurus understand this implicitly, and whether they enlist for a goodly sum of pesos some sporting hero to sell double-glazing to the masses, or a self-described social media Influencer flutters a patented brand of false eyelashes at their Followers (for only $49.95 if you click now!), it is with the knowledge that consumers are at heart aspirational

By all means, you can try to lure the punter by setting an example and eating the proverbial sauerkraut before their very eyes, but to really work the special magic to get the punter across the line, the luree must in some way wish to be in the shoes of the lurer. And that usually means the lurer is in someway enviably attractive or in a position of enviable power.

To sell something that might be also Good-for-You, earnestness alone is not enough, for the yokels standing about with their fingers in their noses would otherwise be gladly chomping down the mung beans extolled by the home-woven-&-tie-dyed-hemp-shift-wearing non-ironically-bearded hippy sitting cross-legged at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, and not wandering off to listen to the glossy-maned tanned-and-muscular telegenic football star with a proprietary brand of protein powder that is the secret to his success with nubile ladies. Or such like. But let me illustrate this as a modern Fairy Tale.

And to do so, we must fast-forward two hundred and fifty years, when the subtle psychological detail behind Cook's Sauerkraut Experiment seemed to have fallen down the back of the sofa like an old button for one Grand Poobah of an island nation when a new and global pestilence swept across the land ...

The Fairy Tale:

Once Upon A Time ...

A Great Pestilence came upon the world. All the Grand Poobahs in all the Great Nations lowered their respective portcullises and wrung their hands wondering what to do next as their subjects clamoured for salvation. 

After a time, two Hausfraus in aprons in a faraway land said "Fear not, we have studied this kind of thing before and it could be a nasty kind of Scurvy. We are experts in the making of Sauerkraut, however, and we think it might prove useful, so we're going to make a tonne of it and send it out to the peoples of the world who have access to a fridge."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at the idea, for they were kindly Hausfraus with kerchiefs around their heads, to boot. And most people said that they had had cabbage before and it wasn't the worst thing in the world and it generally seems pretty good-for-you and luckily they had access to a fridge. 

"So, okay I'll have me some", some agreed. And some Grand Poobahs put in an order with the kindly Hausfraus.

At the same time there were some fancy TV-chefs with spiky hair and no aprons because it covered their muscles and tattoos and they said "Pshaw! Sauerkraut? That's old hat. Any old housewife can make that. We're working on our own Magic-Brassica™ which is made with Cavolo Nero and has secret umami ingredients like anchovies in it and whatnot** and is so fantastic that we're going to sell it to the peoples of the world who can afford it and the fancy cryogenic storage facilities they'll need."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at that idea, too, for they were terribly fancy TV-chefs who made loads of pesos all the time thinking up delicious-sounding recipes. And there were even more people who said they hadn't eaten Cavolo Nero before and didn't know what umami was but what the heck they'll give it a try and they really liked the idea of a fancy cryogenic storage facility to store their brains when they died. 

"Mmm-mmm, umami, I'll have me some", some agreed. And yet other Grand Poobahs put in an order with the fancy TV-chefs.

One Grand Poobah of a small island nation said to his clamouring people, "You ask when you're going to get some of this Scurvy repellent? Fear not! You are the people of a Great Nation and will be given first dibs on the Sauerkraut when the kindly Hausfraus bottle it up". 

And then he consulted widely across his viziers and decided the Magic-Brassica™ looked pretty delicious too and then went back to his people and said "Oh, p.s., the VIPs will be getting first dibs on the Magic-Brassica™ when my good friends of the TV-chefs give them our order". 

Meanwhile, there were more TV-chefs making their own proprietary batches of brassica mix and the Patents & Trademarks Offices got rather busy with so many interesting recipes that there was quite the choice for Scurvy repellent out there, whether with ™ attached to their name or not. 

So the Grand Poobah of the small island nation got in a muddle and became so rather indecisive about what kind of Scurvy repellent his goodly people might get that he forgot to put any of the orders in at all and, in the meanwhile, the Grand Poobahs of other Great Nations got on with it and the people of the small island nation saw this on the news.

The clamouring of the people subsequently got a bit louder and the Grand Poobah said to his people, "Oh, botheration! This is not a race, peeps! It doesn't matter when you get your Scurvy repellent, it'll come eventually. The portcullis is still down so you're not going anywhere, anyway".

And then the Grand Poobah thought he needed a holiday and might like to do some genealogical research into his Grand Family in a faraway land and organised for a camera crew to document him getting to try the Magic-Brassica™ that he somehow got his hands on, with what looked like a little bit of fear in his eyes for he wasn't sure about the anchovies since he didn't like them on his pizza, before climbing aboard a fancy unicorn to fly away over the still-down portcullis on his heartwarming mission.

When he came back he said to his people, "Thanks a bunch, that Magic-Brassica™really hit the spot. I really needed that little holiday. And you really have to see how terrible things are beyond our fortress. This is the lucky country! Oh, and by the way, some Sauerkraut has arrived so get in a line."

And the people went, "What?? Sauerkraut??! We are VIPs too! And we want to climb aboard budget unicorns ourselves and go and be culturally insensitive in some more tropically island nation than our own. We want me some Magic-Brassica™ and we want it now!"

Thus ensued some unseemly chaos within the fortress walls of the small island nation. And given the Grand Poobah was supposed to have had a background in Marketing before he rose to power, this was unfortunately handled. The pestilence continued to go round and round everywhere and many people in many Nations, Great and Small, are no longer around as a result and it was a sorry tale.

After a long time, some of the people of the small island nation got to try*** the Sauerkraut and said it tasted just like it did last time they had some; some people waited it out until they were reclassified as VIPs and got to try the Magic-Brassica™ and then couldn't decide if it really just tasted like fancy cabbage or if they had been imbued with some magical power and were micro-chipped for future greatness; others said their Great-Uncle Horace had had Scurvy in the Olden Days and said it was no big deal so they didn't need any repellent, thank you; others said their own divinations would be repellent enough; others that a wholesome diet and fresh air means they've never needed fermented cabbage and never will for it is just capitalist hype; and still others said that if they got a bit of scurvy and their teeth fell out it would be a good excuse to get the porcelain implants they've always dreamed of. 

The End.

* Let it not be said that Your Correspondent is afraid to embark upon such epic undertakings between household chores.

** And sounds so suspiciously like Pipistrello's own Covid-greens that I smell a rat. 

*** And are still waiting to be allowed a last spoonful of anything that may eventually come their way.

Image credits: 1: Wikimedia Commons; 2: Flying With Hands

Saturday 15 January 2022

Body Of Evidence Series: The Shape Of Man

Swiss poet photographer Gustave Roud documented the vanishing way of life of the farmer, celebrating the athleticism of agricultural work from circa 1930-1950
The pitching form of a Swiss farmer
Gustave Roud photograph, circa 1940

   Mr Colville's horsekeeper, who read the sky instead of books, learning that I came from London, said, 'I have a brother lives in London.' We were riding out to the fields, each on a plough horse; I was going to have a lesson in ploughing. I asked, 'What does your brother do?' The man replied, 'Bless you, he don't do no work; he just sit a-writing all day!'

    I discovered that he was in a responsible position in the office of a suburban Water Board.

    'He comes down here for his holiday sometimes at harvest-time. I tell him he ought to pitch some sheaves. He's got a belly on him like an old mare in foal. So should I if I didn't do anything.'

Adrian Bell, Corduroy, 1930

Another New Year: a time for reflection and perhaps some solemn undertakings, a.k.a. Resolutions*. One such trope invariably involves some, ahem, reworking of the Shape of Man, especially if that shape is somewhat not as one expected after the Feasts of the Seasons and stands in contemplation before the pristine empty calendar, wondering ... The time is thus nigh to air some Opinions on a subject about which Your Correspondent is eminently unqualified. So today, Dear Reader, I bring you the topic of Gentlemens' Exercise.

Take a poll of your average Gentleman Gym Attendee, asking him for why he toils so vigorously at the pulleys and levers of his equipment or shakes the great heavy python of a shipyard stevedore's rope that I see sometimes in the window of the gym next to our greengrocery, and I would hazard a guess he is not trying to consciously replicate the physique of our labouring forebears by play-acting their working day and would be frankly offended by such a proletarian suggestion.

But whatever his answer may be, the bare fact remains that the ceaseless walking riding fighting tilling ploughing threshing building woodchopping &c. &c. of the pre-Industrial Revolution Man led to a physical profile** much like what the gym-goer generally aspires to. Modern Life has more or less undone the elementary Shape of Man from what was quite unremarked upon in Olden Times. Hence so much of the equipment appears to replicate the former tools and actions of the chores of the past. Just with mirrors and loud music and for short bursts instead of mud and muck or raging seas for hours at a stretch.

One of the Two Peas once invited me to her own gym a few years ago, at the height of Poldark-fever, wherein they had a poster exhorting some extra commitment to the machinery with the infamous image of Aidan Turner as my former amour standing bare-chested scything in a field, captioned 'Get in Shape for Summer'. It wittingly or not constituted a knowing wink at the true design of the expensive equipment.

Early C16th engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi of the Vatican-owned circa C2nd marble copy of the bronze statue of Apollo attributed to the elusive Leochares, circa 330 BCE. So named the Apollo Belvedere as it lives in the Vatican's Cortile del Belvedere.
The Apollo Belvedere
Sans pants to best show off his Poupart ligament
Marcantonio Raimondi C16th engraving

But we can cast back even further for some manly shapes as inspiration for today's gym-goer. Indeed, once even to the epitome of aesthetic perfection itself, in the words of Mr. Wiki. Some two decades ago, as a mania for Ancient History swept over me, I undertook several courses at the WEA under the expert tutelage of an historian and archaeologist whose font of knowledge on the subject was as gospel to me. 

Until one day when he was presenting some images of classical statuary, including Dear Apollo above, and I heard words to the effect that the ancient artists sought only to create idealised versions of the human form, for there is indeed no musculature foundation for what later might be termed as the Heroic Cuirass

My pen stopped suddenly on the page. Hullo, what ...? You, Sir, need to get out a bit more! For sure the ligament above the groin to which he was pointing on the overhead slide may have been rather crisp along its line and a bit exaggerated in its bold baldness but I'd seen one or two in my time. In the flesh, as it were. 

The philospher-thinker not likely to be a model for Polykleitis
[But a very likely template for the Lockdown Physique]

Not to mention that the likes of Polykleitis, whose work we were probably discussing, would have used a live model for their bronzen glories. Perhaps not your sit-around philosopher-thinker but likely the soldier-athlete or perhaps even a fetching farmer-labourer variety for whom either the gymnasia or the baking fields incubated such muscly forms. Of course, neither pointing out this bit of obviousness nor an unseemly digression into the private life of a front-row student was about to happen on my watch, so I let the matter slide uncorrected. 

But I was left wondering about the very nature of the human condition in that we can become ignorant, or just forgetful, of our natural physical potential once we leave the slog & toil of an agricultural and labouring past and settle down evolutionarily-speaking onto our sofas after a long day at a desk.

In the century before the canny Suffolk farmer, too, made his observation about the physical effects of abandoning the fields of toil for a desk job to city-boy-farming-apprentice Adrian Bell in 1920, in Bell's lyrical 1930 memoir Corduroy, another made his mark in a more remarkable way. Enter one Dr. Gustave Zander, inventor of the Medico-Mechanical Gymnastic Devices that sought to rectify the enfeebled bodies of the Modern Man with an hour of targeted exercises a day.

Zander's Abdominal Kneading Machine a.k.a. H1
Prescription: 2 minutes of piston-powered pummelling of the tummy

The Swedes had been all over the subject of a scientific basis for exercising the body of desk-jockeys for health and vigour in the nineteenth century, starting with one Pehr Henrik Ling who invented gymnastics, calisthenics, physical education and also Swedish massage as the sweetener for all that exertion. Dr. Zander then took these ideas further in the 1850s by properly marrying them with the ingenuity of the Victorian age and invented machines to isolate muscles and work them in a controlled environment.

Zander's Vibration Machine, a.k.a. F1
Take a seat for some lower leg vibration or sit astride for a perineal shake
While your gym buddy stands up for a spot rub

Zander Mechanico-Therapeutic Institutes sprang up around Europe and the Americas, and people even bought individual machines for the home, the F1 being rather popular. 

Zander Velocipede Motion Device, a.k.a. B7
No instructions required

Some of the devices were more familiar to any modern gym-goer today, while others required a close reading of his published description of his apparatus to figure them out. Yet others were specifically designed to help iron out the skeletal wrinkles of scoliosis sufferers, which was a pet subject of his.

Zander's Abdominal Rolling Machine, a.k.a. J6
This apparatus "vigorously" promotes emptying of the intestines through
Circular abdominal friction

The Kellogg Sanitorium was one of the institutes which embraced the Zander Method and had a "Swedish Movement Room" full of his machinery, looking not too dissimilar to a modern Pilates studio.

Plenty to be getting on with at the Battle Creek Kellogg Sanatorium

While some of this looks to verge on quackery, our Dr. Zander was short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1916! but, sadly, there was no banana that year, what with a war going on. Which was rather a pity as he and his methodology may have had more of an influence on modern exercise than just being reinvented as today's Nautilus machine, for he also had some rather interesting things to say about the etiquette for engaging in a bit of gym time:

Viz.: Arrive quietly and in good time; perform your movements quietly; focus on what you are doing with no chatter or reading; if you are exercising to assist general debility, dancing and late nights are to be avoided; no big meals beforehand, just a cup of tea, coffee or milk and a roll, which are essential if you are elderly or enfeebled; and loose, comfortable clothing is to be worn, as illustrated throughout, avoiding tight neckties, tight garters and corsets. 

As the machines were driven by steam, gas or electricity it would no doubt be rackety enough inside the Institute, so I do like the emphasis on solemn shush as you go about rectifying your enfeeblements. 

He was also wise to the chronically lazy ("patients whose weariness is obstinately persistent") and forecast that many would "abandon the cure too soon". Sounds all too familiar even today. A man truly ahead of his time.

Zander's Foot Friction Machine, a.k.a. J4
Modelled with regulation active wear

* Or not, as a piece in the news today concerned the plight of the fitness instructor and gym operator bewailing the unlikelihood this year of the annual bonanza of the New Years Resolution of Getting-Into-Shape with a gym membership that never amounts to anything.

** Before it probably broke the said Man. As they say, too much of a good thing ...

Image credits: 1: Gustave Roud; 2: Metropolitan Museum; 3: Flying With Hands; 4-7, 9: Internet Archive; 8: Willard Library

Bats In The Belfry