News has reached mes oreilles of a ruling whereby pharmacists can refuse to dispense various items by reasons of conscience. By ‘various items’ one of course means contraceptives. There is a let-out, apparently – pharmacists might be obliged to tell patients where they can get such items instead, which seems to undermine the entire point of the exercise – it would be more pragmatic, as well as just plain sensible, to sell the stuff to begin with, and leave one’s conscience at home. Well, that’s my view.
But while I’m here, I should point out my papally infallible method of ferreting contraceptives in shops that do not choose to display them in plain sight, or at all. This is what you do. You march straight up to the spotty yoof behind the counter, and demand of said person
DO YOU PRACTICE SAFE SEX?
in cut-glass tones and preferably at the top of one’s voice, as if channeling Lady Bracknell.
Of course, it’s not always been possible to be so brazen when buying phylacteries prophylactics. In the not-so-distant past, one (and by ‘one’, I mean a man) could only buy such items in traditional barber shops, which were, and often still are, men-only environments, and even then in a highly elliptical and euphemistic manner. A man, having had a short back and sides, would sidle up to the till to pay, at which the assistant (invariably male) would ask the customer whether he’d ‘like something for the weekend, Sir?’ If anyone asked such a thing of me these days, I’d ask whether he’d like to come round to the Maison Des Girrafes and clean out the guinea pigs, a regular weekend chore. But what this sentence really means is whether the customer would like to buy a packet of penitentiaries phylacteries.
Phylacteries, recently. Goodness knows how you’d use these as contraceptives.
Many years ago when the world was young and I was at the University of Cambridge vainly trying to teach bees how to spell words such as ‘algorithm’ and ‘buttered toast’, I used to frequent a very old-fashioned barbershop of the type just described. Imagine my horror when the person assigned to cut my hair one afternoon was not a man, but – gasp – a woman, of the young and attractive variety, and not only that, a female person of the opposite sex. If that wasn’t bad enough, the woman, after the haircut, asked me, and I swear I am not making this up, whether I wanted something for the weekend. I was too shocked to answer in the affirmative, and if, were I to purchase such items, I could invite her to help me test them out at my place. I mean, there are such things as standards. Boundaries. Perhaps those religiously inclined pharmacists know a thing or two after all. Anyone like to lay some tefillin?