You won't catch me gawping at models wearing nothing but their underwear

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you are reading this in bed mid-morning, it's unlikely you'll be making it over to Selfridges in Oxford Street in time to catch a glimpse of Travis in what calls his "tightie-whities". Shame. I think you'd have enjoyed it. But if it's any consolation, I'll be there.

Hard to imagine there's anyone who does not know who Travis is. But should you be living out of town, for whatever reason, there's a chance you won't have seen the poster campaign. So for you, allow me to explain that Travis is Calvin Klein's latest underwear model and that he's been pointing his package at the rest of us – "package" being another term that I've picked up from – for weeks.

Funny old world, ours. We do what we can to rein in our appetites in public places, try not to bare our teeth when we are angry, or our behinds when we are aroused, putting distance between ourselves and the primeval forest where we originated.

Civilisation, we call this: the finest tracery of etiquette and reticence, having regard to our own self-respect as upright beings, and the feelings of our fellow citizens whom we must regard as capable of embarrassments and compunctions as exquisite as our own. And yet we accept as normal a hundred thousand photographs, positioned where it is impossible to miss them, of a young man showing us his penis, or at least intimating the presence of his penis (its shape, weight, configuration) at a three-quarters diagonal slant, neither coming up nor going down, neither pendulous nor protrusive, in soft, clinging cotton tightie-whities.

It could be argued that for a man of the slackie-blackie generation to have paid quite so much attention, something about the promotion must have worked. I don't doubt it. When you prick me, do I not bleed? When you hit me over the head with a club, do I not faint?

I recall visiting Perth, in Western Australia, for the first time and being unable to escape the magnetic influence of a billboard that dominated the town, partly by virtue of its size, partly by virtue of its subject – a woman unsuccessfully holding down her unruly skirts – but mainly because it said LOOK NO KNICKERS.

I am squeamish about this sort of thing. I do not care for the word knickers. Panties neither. Should some alien power wish to extract secrets out of me, it would do well to forget thumb screws or Chinese water torture, and simply order me to say knickers or panties a hundred times on stage at the London Palladium. Rather than say knickers twice, or panties once, I'd tell them everything they wanted to know and a little more besides.

My peculiar fastidiousness apart, it is impossible to take a city seriously when the only thing you see on raising your eyes to its skyline is LOOK NO KNICKERS. Thereafter, in my estimation, Perth was forever in dishabille, a frisky, tarty little town with a bubbly personality, but only a fool would marry it.

And my fear is that Travis is doing the same to London. Forget the National Gallery, St Paul's, Westminster Abbey – welcome to Dick City. That Travis is himself an Australian only makes it worse. Not from Perth, as it happens, but from Melbourne, where civic solemnity is of no small account. It's because they won't have Travis flashing himself in Carlton or St Kilda that he's doing it here.

I say "he", but there is a girlish look to Travis, soft pleading eyes, easily bruised skin, a waifish twist of leather ("Find me a home, daddy") round his swan's down neck. For reasons buried deep in its national psychology, Australia throws up this appearance of androgyny effortlessly. Take my word for it if you haven't been there, every third person in Australia is a girl with a penis.

The actress Nicole Kidman is not, to my knowledge, kitted out in this way. But she is possessed of a freckled, hoydenish demeanour which ill-suits her for half the parts she's given. Whatever else you ask an Australian woman to be, you don't ask her to be a femme fatale, not even in jest. Every time I nipped indoors to escape an eyeful of Travis last week, I had the misfortune to catch snippets of Nicole Kidman on television, vamping it up for the Baftas in Moulin Rouge.

Now, I have admitted to strange sensitivities in the matter of the naming of women's undergarments, but nomenclature has nothing to do with the pain I feel when I see Nicole Kidman in her Parisian stockings and suspenders. Few sights on this planet are sadder – not a wounded elephant, not a tiger cub separated from its mother – than a woman who does not fill or look seductive in a stocking. No time here to plumb the mysteries of it, whether it comes down to actual fleshliness, the voluptuous swell of thigh (or not), or simply to consciousness of sensuality (or not); the fact remains that some women can and some can't, and those who can't are desolating when they try.

I wish they'd ask me first. I wish that middle-aged lady novelist with a trampy name had asked me how she looked in fishnets before letting the newspapers snap her in them, extended on a chaise longue. "Heart-breaking," I'd have told her. But then fishnets become no one. In fishnets a woman only ever resembles a fish.

And tightie-whities are no better. Down to our drawers, we are all pathetic. If I'm killed in the crush to see Travis, I'll admit I'm mistaken.