Lying in bed this morning, at about 6.20am, Radio 4 touched on the latest financial news, and the scandal at J P Morgan was mentioned. Then in the same peice, the phrase 'open kimono', which in this context meant revealing all to the regulators and investigators: coming clean about what had been done wrong, so that the bank could move forward with its integrity restored.
Figuratively speaking, it refers of course to letting one's wrap-around robe fall open to show what lies beneath: some underwear one hopes; but if none, then the naked body in all its glory. Or in all its sorditity, depending on what it looks like.
And here we enter Forbidden Territory - Taboo Land - for, despite decades of openness since the Swinging Sixties and Sexual Liberation, and a raft of TV programmes that show Problem Bodies and discuss all the things that parents born in the 1920s couldn't tell their children, it's still a Very British Thing to be slow in getting one's kit off to Reveal One's Natural Beauty. Naked bike rides still provoke salacious reactions, a rush to the window to take a look at topless girls having a giggle. British Men still love to take a gander at a Nice Pair of Knockers, and say 'Cooooar, look at that, mate!' even if the socially sophisticated deplore such lewdness. The 'Bums and Tits' TV and film genre typified by 'On the Buses' - and especially by the now very dated 'Carry On' films - still raise a snigger in many quarters, most typically from uncouth beer-swilling men who haven't a hope in hell of attracting some lissom flirty young thing with lovely curves and an enormous bust. Presumably they would, in reality, and if it were on offer, settle for a plain dumpy older girl with much more cuddly dimensions - which is where the phrase 'open kimono' begins to have an edge to it. For cuddly women of sensibility are often fragile about exposing their assets in public. I for one.
But oddly enough not on the beach, nor in any situation where giving the sun access to one's skin is the most important thing. Different standards suddenly apply. For the sake of a golden tan, an all-over tan indeed, all the rules about modesty and reserve are temporarily suspended. It's nothing to see women who should know better progressively doff their beach outfits as they lie face down on the sand, until even blubbery all matrons are wearing almost nothing. On French beaches, when I last looked, frank nudity was (and presumably still is) de rigeur among those who worship the sun. And not just among tubby men of the naturist persuasion. Their wives and girlfriends aussi.
As I write this, I am becoming aware that I'm sounding just a little bit prudish. Let's try a thought-experiment. Would I strip off and join them, if the amiable French nudists just mentioned invited me to? No, I think not. It wouldn't be because I disapprove of nakedness in any way. Believe me, speaking as a person without religion or other conventional ties, speaking as almost an outcast, as certainly a marginalised member of a minority group, I have lost the need or inclination to disapprove of anything except ignorance and bigotry. And besides, I do pass muster: I'm a bit overweight, but not a horrible sight, and all my female bits are present and correct and nice to see.
No, it's my sense of modesty. And a reluctance to 'join in' - I'm emphatically not a team player. And also a conviction that if I want to cultivate those elusive qualities of allure and attractiveness, it's best not to fry myself to a cinder in suntan oil on a hot beach.
All right, would I open my kimono on a private patio, in romantic circumstances as the day ends? Ah, that's different. Although I don't know quite what I would do, if I really found myself in this situation.
Changing tack a bit, I don't possess a kimono. But the idea of wearing one appeals. When I see Madama Butterfly at the end of June, I'll study what the ladies are wearing.