Health: Sexual fetishism in the home: a foot note

"Morning, Mrs Betts"

"Morning, doctor"

"All ready for Christmas?"

"Just got to crimp the figgy duff.

"Splendid. So what can I do for you?"

"My husband wants to smell my feet."

"And?"

"And his friend Percy's."

"I see. Why do you feel the need to involve your family physician?"

"I want to know if it's normal."

"Mmm. I did once attend a lecture on the functions of the foot, but I can't remember that as one of them."

"So it's abnormal?"

"I'm not sure. Why exactly does he want to do it?"

"He says he's locked his sexuality in the closet for too long, and it's time to celebrate his desires, not feel guilty about them."

"That doesn't sound like the Bertie Bell I know."

"What, you mean good Catholic upbringing, Sunday evening two-minute Missionary man?"

"I don't know him that well. In fact, I only ever see him in the cheese shop."

"Not lately, you won't have. He's been taking most afternoons off to go to car boot sales."

"For what?"

"Boots."

"Very good"

"No, seriously. He buys the second-hand boots of authority figures - policemen, soldiers, Jesuit priests - and he takes them up to the boxroom to sniff them."

"Anything else?"

"He's taken to masturbating into a sock."

"Well, we've all done that."

"Pardon?"

"You know, When you're young and excitable and pumped full of testosterone - and you want to experiment with yourself without leaving tell-tale snail's tracks on the sheets so your mother won't know."

"We buried his mother ten years ago."

"Yes, but I'm just saying that using a sock isn't unusual."

"Maybe not. But he only does it if the sock's really smelly and doesn't belong to him."

"And how is he generally? His weight, his appetite?"

"Fine."

"Passing water OK?"

"Far as I know."

"Bowels regular?"

"Yes. Where is this leading?"

"I've no idea. I'm just buying time."

"So you don't know anything about my problem?"

"I'm not even sure if it is a problem. Do you mind his new hobby?"

"Not if it keeps him in the boxroom. To be honest, we've been getting on each other's nerves a bit since he went semi-retired."

"Getting under each other's feet?"

"Doctor, limp word-plays are fine in sitcoms but they've no place in the surgery."

"Sorry. So the sock and shoe stuff doesn't bother you, you just don't want him interfering with your balls?"

"Oh, I like a foot massage - he's always been good at those - but I'm just not sure I want him sniffing them."

"But I bet he's been a closet sniffer for years without you realising. `Hard day at work, love? Feet must be killing you. Kick off those stilettos and let me snort your web spaces'."

"Come to think of it, he has always insisted on kneeling at my feet. I though it was the myopia."

"Well there you are. He's been doing it all his married life without you knowing - now he wants to share his pleasure with you, with your consent."

"But why was he hooked on feet in the first place?"

"Who knows? Maybe his Aunty Sybil used to tickle his feet till he passed out. Maybe his brother used to pin him down, stick dirty socks in his face and say `smell the cheese'. Or maybe it's because foot sniffing is still a cultural taboo in Chewton Mendip and he's on a mission to push back the boundaries of sexual experience."

"He is on the Parish Council. But why has he suddenly come out about it? What's given him the courage?"

"I've no idea. You say he's gone into semi-retirement. Maybe that's given him time to reflect on his life."

"Not with the time he spends on that bloody computer."

"On the Internet is he?"

"I'm not sure. But our phone-bill's through the roof."

"I think you'll find he's surfed to the Erotic Extremities Website."

"Does such a thing exist?'

"Oh yes. It's very useful when you've staggered back idea-less from a Christmas cider promotion with 800 words to knock off by dawn."

"You've lost me now..."

"Remember, `In human sexuality, the most profound taboos are often counterbalanced by intense longings to transgress the fragile borders between the permitted and the forbidden'."

"Thank you doctor and Merry Christmas. These are for you."

"Oh, a pair of socks. How lovely."

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