How Undressing Changed the World

Chloe never had to buy her own drinks. Mainly because her cups always seemed to runneth over.  Her milky cleavage spilled out over her top, turning men’s heads and firmly putting the ‘up’, ‘to’ and ‘us’ in voluptuous. Chloe figured like an hourglass: she was totally empty up at the top and everything took an age to trickle through to her.  All of which made breaking up with her a task worthy of Sisyphus.

‘Oh crap,’ she said when I tried to explain this, ‘you’ve got an STD.’

‘No, it means this is like a really difficult thing to do.’

‘What is?’ she said.

We were sitting in a pub in Notting Hill.  It was my third attempt. Each time before, I had failed to get beyond her beguiling coquettish allure; and her overtly fetishistic taste in clothing.

This time I was determined; I had a plan. In five minutes my friend Steve would arrive, explain I had a family emergency and drag me out before Chloe moistened her lips and I changed my mind again.

‘I don’t think we can go on like this,’ I stuttered.

She played with the long zip on her tight dress that spiralled around her curves as the grains of sand gradually fell, ‘Are you trying to say we’re history?’

I was and, well, we are.

Last week, exactly twenty years later, I wandered in to the pub again. Just to see. I’d actually never been back and suddenly all that emotional charge, confusion and lust flooded through me as if history was repeating itself before my eyes; as if, for all those years, the pub had stored that rush of feeling, just waiting for my return.

But we don’t just deposit our memories and histories in physical places.  Anniversaries allow us to stow away significant events in time; so they don’t disturb our on-going lives, and yet we don’t fear forgetting.  We know that at a particular moment in the calendar, we will bring them up again just to go through the act of remembrance.

This year there’ll be big centenaries for the likes of Aston Martin and the Crossword. But little is said of two events that happened this month exactly a hundred years ago, even though they undoubtedly changed our world.

On the 3rd of April 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst stood in the dock of the Old Bailey accused of ‘wickedly and maliciously inciting’ the planting of a nail bomb in the house of a politician.  Sentenced to three years ‘penal servitude,’ Pankhurst went on hunger strike, was violently force fed and became a martyr to women’s suffrage. Her actions would ultimately lead to votes for women, autonomy and the right to make their own life choices.

Just three weeks later, in Hoboken New Jersey, Gideon Sundback engineered a revolutionary clothes fastener which, due to its speed of employment, would eventually be called the ‘zipper’.  And when clothes could be shed at speed, many of the life choices that Pankhurst fought for could suddenly be made without the lengthy consideration assured by the buttoned-up society they lived in.

In less than a month, a hundred years ago, the weapon and the opportunity to spark the sexual revolution had been supplied.  When the motive of post-war disestablishmentarianism emerged in the 1960s, the stage was set. The western world lurched away from the realm of female subservience and burka style modesty.

So celebrate Pankhurst and Sundback with pride. Without them we, and our parents, would probably not have been able to make the choices we’ve made, cherished the partners we’ve found or had the sexual experiences we’ve had.  And there could never have been a woman like Chloe, who could sit in a pub, in a dress that, when unzipped, cascaded to the floor in a long ribbon that stretched from her front door to her bedroom.

The fourth time, I was only giving Steve three minutes.

Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How To Forget is just £7.99 in all good bookshops now.


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