Three or four decades ago, when I decided the time had come to replace a pair of shorts I had been wearing for the last 40 or 50 years, I suddenly ran up against the shocking recognition that, couture-wise, the world had moved on, leaving me as if living in the dark ages. My specific discovery was that the sort of shorts I had been wearing were no longer available, except in a swimsuit. What I had always called shorts were garments that came down to almost but not quite halfway on your calves, leaving you free to run and jump. But the only “shorts” available in the shops when I enquired were long, baggy, things that came down at least to the knees and appeared to be suitable only for those who had no intention of ever running or jumping anywhere.
I resisted for a year or two, but finally I surrendered, with the result that today I have a drawer crammed with five or six pairs, maybe even more, of baggy ugly things that I know are called shorts, but most of which I wouldn’t be seen dead in. (You might well ask how I came to have bought them, and it is something I have asked myself many times.)
Now, how I got on to this subject was like this:
This morning, a Saturday, I was out and about very early, wearing one of my classy, baggy, drooping khaki shorts that makes me look like an Army deserter, hoping desperately to establish this as a new trend for the older customer, making my way through the streets surrounding McGill University towards Le Castel, my favorite coffee shop at Peel and Sherbooke. I found to my surprise that the streets were full of young people, walking along, most of them, behind a leader with some kind of banner. Evidently, these were newly-enrolled students having their fun before going to the serious business of learning when the University opens next week.
Now, I am a trained observer, as a result of my lifelong practise of journalism, and I could not help but observe that whereas the male short has lengthened, the same cannot be said for the female short. In fact --- here I am treading into really really dangerous ground, but, for god’s sake, I am 90 and surely above all suspicion of prurience ---- what lay before my observant eye was what might be called a veritable festival of the female leg.
Now, in the interests of what is nowadays called full disclosure, I confess that in my younger days I was an enthusiastic admirer of the female leg, but all that means in the current context is that I developed a capacity for judgment that possibly makes me one of the world’s foremost experts in the subject. Of course, no one could claim that every female leg is admirable. In fact, many simply pose the question as to why their owners have chosen the unwise course of revealing them to the world. But I have to admit that a high proportion of the young women I observed --- more or less unwittingly, I didn’t go out looking for this, but merely stumbled upon it ---- seem to be in good shape, in rude good health, and seem ready, heads held high, eyes shining with hope and so on, to go about their search for The Knowledge --- this is how I normally describe the University as the place where eager young people search for The Knowledge from their elders, little knowing that this Knowledge they are searching for is already well along the way to destroying the essential systems, air, water and soil among them, that sustain all life on his planet Earth.
This, I believe is where my status as an earnest observer of the human condition should rescue me from the imprecations that might be expected to pour down upon me from the adherents of the feminist movement, for my having dared mention an item of female anatomy. For surely it is clear that my observations of these young people include that whatever the shape of their legs, they evidently are among the brightest and intellectually most successful members of their generation, for have they not already been accepted into one of the nation’s leading universities, admission to which is limited to only the best and brightest among us?
No matter that they seem to have been reduced to a state of economic penury, if I am to judge by the fact that their jeans are invariably worn down to such a point that they are full of holes, before being cut down to serve as shorts. Poor kids, having been forced to such extremes of poverty. One imagines them in their miserable hovels, slaving night and day over their books, desperate to make the admission standards. No wonder they were out in the streets celebrating.
The coffee shop of which I am an habitué is close to McGill University, and over the six years of my habit, I have spoken briefly to a large number of students, young people from around the world, asking them what is their particular field of study. I kid you not, it seems that almost a majority of the young women students are into engineering ---civil, electrical, whatever --- or biology, or geometry or chemistry, or physiology or any other of those technical subjects from which, during my high school years, I instinctively slunk away, preferring to pass my time on the football field, cricket pitch or tennis court.
In my recent peregrinations among the hospitals, I have been astonished by what high skills are needed in this technological world, even to be a nurse. And when one moves into the higher echelons, bright-eyed young women seem always to be prominent among the armies of doctors.
So, when push comes to shove, I have to admit that the shape of their legs is quite possibly the least relevant factor on which to judge any woman. But, wot the hell, I am a doddering old fool, slobbering my way to oblivion.