By Veronica C Wilkinson for The Sunday Times
A penetrating new book traces the ups and downs of the usually floppy bit of flesh that dominates the male psyche, writes Veronica C Wilkinson
If the thought of shoving a sock into your codpiece gives you the willies, reading Tom Hickman’s latest book God’s Doodle – The Life and Times of the Penis is unlikely to disappoint on any level.
Valuable points like “Do men think with their penises?” and comparisons between racial groups that span time and the globe made this reader weak-kneed with laughter and very grateful that I don’t have a todger.
Subversively scholarly, Hickman straddles his subject with the finesse of a latter-day Casanova as he explains some intricacies of seduction, fertility rituals and even fashion.
Accessible English makes this book a must-read for the wrinklies who, hopefully, will wean themselves off Viagra when they learn what distress a broken “gear stick” can cause. Younger generations still unable to work out what hormones and emotion have to do with marketing may be in for rather more than they bargained for.
My days behind the wheel are easier now that I’ve read Hickman, who writes that research proves aggressive drivers have small penises – this news is much cheaper than paying to see a therapist about road rage. Perhaps, in a strange way, it explains why some women drivers are so impatient too. The cross-referencing includes nuggets from literature and art history – remember Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and the salvific perfection of those proportions?
“Whether long, short, thin, stumpy, straight, bulbous … swerved left or right or up or down, circumcised or not, smooth or as wrinkled as a shar-pei pup,” Hickman writes, “every penis is a special snowflake. Each even has its own personality; which is why practitioners of phallomancy in India and Tibet read penises like fortune-tellers read palms.”
American actor Robin Williams is quoted as saying: “God gave every man a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to make one work at a time.” Oliver Reed’s response to a female interviewer’s remark, “Is that it?” was: “Madam, if I’d pulled it out in its entirety, I’d have knocked your hat off.”
From ribald royalty to Sammy Davis jnr, who remarked about his member that “even down it’s world class”, wit and dry humour make this a sophisticated volume packed with knowledge and research.
Hickman, a Sussex-based writer and journalist, is also the author of What Did You Do in the War, Aunty? the story of the BBC during World War 2, and The Sexual Century, which is about the effects on our sexual attitudes of war, the cinema, the sexual revolution, and the surge in gay and women’s rights.
On page 66 of God’s Doodle, I read that the Phoenicians named their chief god Asshur, meaning penis, “the happy one”.
“Greek, Roman and other cultures sculpted penises on the walls of their cities, houses and public baths to ward off bad luck just as they protected their fields with replicas – and sometimes the real thing, removed from executed criminals and enemies,” Hickman says.
Visitors to Thailand today will notice the preponderance of penises displayed in public as protective amulets and symbols, while Hickman’s book informs us: “Victorious Roman generals entered the city with a replica penis of great size suspended upon their chariot: symbol of victory but also a talisman against the envy of others.”
Another passage says that “as the Middle Ages merged with the Renaissance, the codpiece was the flamboyant focus of male attire and modesty never came into it”. Now all we have is the Y-front and boxer shorts.
No matter how powerful the possessor of a penis might be, he is still “chained to a madman”, according to Greek dramatist Sophocles (496BC-406BC); at the mercy of a pecker that is the seat of his deepest neurosis.
It is reassuring that the flesh is a great leveller when it comes to equal gender status. Could it be that our carnality, reinforced by religion and belief systems, just complicates our lives?
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