Susie Rushton: The naked truth at lunchtime

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

You might not think that fine art and team sports have much in common, but, get seriously involved in either, and pretty soon all the clothes will come off. How you deal with the sight of bare flesh marks you out as a grown-up, or an immature prude. Layered over that is the natural British diffidence when confronted with non-pornographic nakedness. We're either excessively, throat-clearingly polite, or we write a stiff letter of complaint.

Several viewers of this week's Channel 4 lunchtime series Life Class: Today's Nude were offended by Wednesday's broadcast featuring a youthful model, Kirsten Varley, and complained to Ofcom that it shouldn't have been shown before the watershed.

Of course, in a real life-drawing class, the proper reaction to unclothed breasts and penises and backsides is to show no reaction at all. Perhaps you could let just a slight frown show as you pensively work out how to get the texture of the pubic hair just so.

The last time I tried to draw a nude model I was 16 years old. In the classroom, we acted sophisticated, and concentrated on scratching at our sheets of sugar-paper with thin sticks of charcoal. Sure, there might have been some sniggering afterwards ("She didn't shave her armpits!!! Gross!", that being an imprisonable crime in the eyes of a teenage girl), but there wasn't anything sexy about the experience, whether our model that day happened to be the scrawny red-haired woman or the mole-strewn, middle-aged hippie man.

Sports-based nudity, by contrast, requires us not only to reciprocate and strip off too, but to studiously avert our gaze at all times, certainly of the genital area anyway. It's easy to be nonchalant when your stark-naked locker-room companions are harrassedly towelling their hair while having a pleading phone conversation with their kid.

I thought I was totally cool in that situation until one evening last week when I went with a friend to an old-fashioned steam room in Paddington. In the coldest plunge pool was a naked woman holding on to the edge, her legs athletically akimbo, performing vigorous pull-ups. What was she doing? Douching? Whatever it was, it was too much.

If you're naked in public and you don't want to ruin everybody's day, either act nonchalant or stay really, really still. Anything more than that and I'll be writing a formal letter of complaint.

Getting value for your bug

I can understand why you might want to listen in to Max Clifford's answerphone messages ("Max, it's me, Gordon. I need your help again"), and maybe Boris Johnson ("Hi, it's your PA. Sir, to answer your question, your name is Boris Johnson and you are Mayor of London") and Nigella Lawson ("Darling, just popping into KFC, I'll get your favourite") would both be good value. But Patsy Kensit? She was once married to a medium-successful stadium rock star when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and she's in Holby City – but was that worth £1m?