I believe I have discovered something which is heading for extinction. The item in question has been in existence since at least Roman times and yet society appears to have decided that it is now virtually redundant. I refer of course to the handkerchief.
Historically, handkerchiefs, which were first called simply kerchiefs, have been more than a utilitarian device for blowing one's nose. Waving a white handkerchief was a sign of surrender. In the Middle Ages, ladies would give their handkerchiefs to gentlemen who they fancied as a sign of their favour. In Victorian times kerchiefs were a brightly coloured fashion accessory as evidenced in the musical 'Oliver' where Fagin's boys were trained to 'pick a pocket or two' to relieve gentlemen of their pocket handkerchiefs. In modern times however, they have reverted to their practical function, although the smartly dressed gentleman may still be seen with a neatly folded handkerchief sticking up from his top pocket.
I myself, and those of my generation still tend to carry a handkerchief in our pockets and of course, they are infamous along with socks, as being the unwanted gift of choice. I suspect that carrying a handkerchief on one's person is less common among ladies who no doubt prefer tissues. Apparently, Americans in particular, regard the use of handkerchiefs as unhygienic and advocate the use of tissues as much superior to the good old hanky. No doubt they call them 'Kleenex' rather than tissues! My wife is I suspect, very typical of people who think this way. We have boxes of tissues scattered around the house in varying designs, colours and sizes. She also carries small 'handy' packs of tissues in her handbag which when she needs to sneeze, usually take about 15 minutes to find.
The 'hygiene' argument centres on the idea that rather than pocket your germ-ridden hanky, you should use a tissue and then bin it. This sounds compelling. However, I speak from experience in saying that the people (mainly women), who I see using a tissue, do not bin it. Instead, having used it, they tuck it into their sleeve or pocket for future use. Does that sound like you ladies? In my wife's case - and I'm sure she's not alone in this - she tends to lay little paper eggs which I find on the chair she has used, down the side of the settee, on the floor, even by my pillow in bed! These eggs freak me out!
We are currently experiencing a pandemic by the name of swine flu. The clear advice for stopping the spread of this disease, is to catch your sneeze in a handkerchief or tissue. Posters tell us that if you sneeze into the air, your germs hang around for several minutes during which time other unfortunates may inhale them.
When my daughter recently sneezed with a half-hearted attempt to put her hand in front of her face, I pointed out that she should have used a handkerchief. She laughed at me as if I was an old fossil. 'I don't even possess a handkerchief' she stated, almost with pride I felt. She pointed out that she had put her hand in front of her nose. 'That would be the hand which is currently on the back of that dining chair' I retorted. 'I shall be avoiding touching it'.
Might we re-consider before handkerchiefs become museum exhibits?