TV and radio presenter Nick Ferrari argues that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recent elevation to political rock star has a limited shelf life and should not be taken too seriously. Nick hosts the weekday breakfast show on LBC from 7.00-10.00am and enjoys 1.2m daily listeners
Right-on comedian David Mitchell earnestly asks in The Observer: “Where do you stand on farts?” Oh how we all tittered. Fart is of course a word to describe a bodily function that was almost as taboo as ‘See You Next Tuesday’. Now it seems to be enjoying a second wind (you knew that was coming didn’t you?)
Still, passing wind in polite society remains bafflingly unacceptable. I say “bafflingly” because so many of life’s conventions in the areas of behaviour and manners have now been abandoned. With bad language now rarely frowned-upon and proper dress codes for men and women a distant memory, why is it that farting remains the wind that dare not speak its name?
Like other boys I found farting a source of raucous humour and was jealous of peers who could produce frequent or nosy explosions. As a lad growing up in Ireland, I frequently heard the familiar thunder clap of escaping wind from my father and uncles, but girls and women never passed wind, at least within earshot and, to this day, I have never heard my mother fart.
In my early teens, deprived of a proper sex education, I studied magazine advertisements for tampons and concluded that these rocket-like insertions were actually silencers to suppress the sound of female farting and as I’d never heard a feminine escape of wind, my theory had to be correct. I am wiser now but an alert ear has yet to detect a lady “cutting the cheese”.
So why a discussion now on flatulence? There has been renewed interest in the 66-year-old French inventor Christian Poincheval who has invented a pill, made from natural ingredients including fennel, blueberries and seaweed that can imbue wind with the smell of roses, violets or chocolate. It apparently also helps ease indigestion.
On his website pilulepet.com (which translates to “fart-pill”), Poincheval says that the medicine works by regulating digestion. The pills cost £8 for a jar of 60 and there is also a powdered version that can be given to “dogs that stink”.
Poincheval says that the idea came to him at a dinner party with friends who had become so flatulent that “we were nearly suffocated”. He determined that he would create a solution.
The tablets have been on sale since 2006, but Poincheval, who is based in the village of Gesvres in western France, devised a new version in time for last Christmas that made farts smell of chocolate. He claims that he sells a few hundred jars a month.
“I have all sorts of customers,” he says. “Some buy them because they have problems with flatulence and some buy them as a joke to send to their friends. Christmases always see a surge in sales.”
But in the dog days of January and February we continue to fart. It was ever thus. Indeed, it surely began with Adam in the Garden of Eden even though there is no mention anywhere in the old or New Testament of Eve ever letting rip.
Historical comment on the ability to fart at will is observed as early as Saint Augustine’s The City of God written in the 5th century AD. Augustine mentions men who “have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing”.
Intentional passing of gas and its use as entertainment for others appear to also have been well known in pre-modern Europe, according to mentions of it in medieval and later literature, including Rabelais.
The social acceptability of flatulence-based humour in entertainment and the mass media varies over the course of time and between cultures. The Whoopee Cushion was invented in the early 20th century, while today a farting app for the iPhone earned nearly £6,000 in one day.
A farting game named Touch Wood was documented by John Gregory Bourke in the 1890s. It existed under the name of Safety in the 20th century in the US, and was still being played in 2011, a year in which the Malawi Minister of Justice, George Chaponda declared that Air Fouling Legislation would make public farting illegal in his country.
On the stage, Le Petomane (‘the Fartomaniac’) was a famous French performer in the 19th century who, as well as many professional farters before him, did flatulence impressions and held shows. Mr Methane carries on le Pétomane’s tradition today, while the 2002 film ‘Thunderpants’ revolved around a boy named Patrick Smash with an ongoing flatulence problem since he was born. He eventually overcomes his problems and fulfills his dream of becoming an astronaut. Sadly I have been unable to unearth any evidence of farting on the US Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. Presumably, even in space it is frowned upon.
But I will leave you with what Debrett’s, that bible to proper behaviour, grabs the nettle and offers advice on what to do in the event of an unexpected and accidental fart escaping during conversation. “Make your apologies and ask to be excused.” Sound advice!