Two’s a Shake, Three’s a Wank

Given the rarity of my blog posts at present (something to do with the position of the moon) I had hoped to write something that might stimulate the intelligence. But content has a habit of finding you, not the other way around. So, I am compelled to write about a short text written in marker pen in the toilets at Dewsbury College of Art. Not that these words are unique to that place, I never heard of anyone travelling to see them.

‘Two’s a shake, three’s a wank.’

I laughed when someone reported the graffiti to me, but I laughed for the wrong reason. You see, I thought it was a play on taxonomy.

At this point I hadn’t read Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, which begins by citing an article by J L Borges called The Analytical Language of John Wilkins (1952). In the original piece we are told that the Encyclopedia Britannica has failed to include anything about Wilkins, a person interested in, ‘theology, cryptography, music, the building of transparent beehives, the orbit of an invisible planet, the possibility of a trip to the moon, the possibility and principles of a universal language.’

Foucault’s interest was in the description within the article of Dr Franz Kuhn’s account of a certain Chinese Encyclopedia (a book that is said to be comparable in approach to the structuring of Wilkins’ own devised language system). ‘[A]nimals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.’

As I said I hadn’t read this at the time, so I can’t claim my confusion to be the fault of Foucault, Borges, Wilkins or Kuhn.

‘Two’s a shake, three’s a wank.’

I considered this – I remember – whilst eating a hash brown sandwich, a standard at the time.

I thought the phrase was funny because it played on the convention, ‘One’s a wee, two’s a poo.’ (This is an essential code for parents and children. The answer to the question, ‘Is it a one or a two?’ determines whether one is really taking about: (a) using a hedge (b) reading the opinion section of a newspaper (c) requiring assistance (d) sorting it out later (e) using the facilities in someone else’s house (f) calling the fire brigade.)

I wasn’t a parent at that time either. So, I really just thought that the person who penned the Graffiti was offering a glimpse of a taxonomy, allowing users of the facilities to speculate as to what the rest of the series might be or even – should the inclination take them – make up their own.

If (2) is a shake and (3) is a wank, what is (4)? Or (5)? For all one knows you might be dead by (6).

Then of course, the innovation of the artist is to leave out (1). So, this offers a degree of working backwards.

But the actual joke – for those of you who are as slow as I was – is about the number of motions a male makes at the toilet to rid their penis tip of excess urine (waft their pecker bare; convulse their phallus ‘til nought but barren; disturb the unwanted moisture off their prick; roil arid their cock. I do apologise, I’ve become overly involved in these catalogues to compensate for the fundamentally puerile subject of this post). More specifically it is about the line between utility and pleasure, and has something of a Victorian sensibility about it. Two shakes is plenty, three becomes an indulgence.

Of course, the Graffiti doesn’t specify whether three shakes is comprised of (a) two forwards motions and one backwards motion (b) two backwards motions and one forwards motion or (c) three complete motions. Research suggests that male release is connected to insertion rather than retraction and so in terms of pleasure, from most to least, those variables could be ordered: (c) (a) (b). This spells ‘cab’, a word that is etymologically linked to the definition, ‘a leap like that of a kid goat.’ But this is irrelevant information and certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me at the time.

Here we have walked open eyed into the onanistic world represented by the literature in a men’s’ toilets (again I can only apologise, I had such high hopes for this blog post once upon a time). And one situated in an establishment built for the education of 18 to 19-year-olds.

It is hard to know if the Graffiti could be reworked for a female context, the difficulty being to translate the shake.  And the same problem with a gender-neutral option too, although that may be debatable. But we might have reason to suspect that masturbatory patterns in men and women vary.

‘Two’s a shake, three’s a wank.’

What if this isn’t just a joke, but an acknowledgement of the distribution of sexual attitudes across the public and private spheres? The Graffiti is based on the fact men regularly touch their genitals every time they urinate (number 1). Cock Graffiti is also common place. Perhaps for the young men who enter the toilet the words do not so much condemn them should they shake too much (number 3) and too vigorously (number 4?), but condemn them to always consider their sexuality as a public function. One wonders if this isn’t part of the repressive division of men and women – established in the middle-ages – whereby capitalism has split the work force.

At the time I hadn’t read about Foucault, Borges, Wilkins or Kuhn. I had seen men beaten with billiard balls on Christmas Eve, smelt the aggression in the air at the local club – curb stones covered in blood and vomit – a man lying in the road to end his own life; pub crawls to destroy brain cells and excrement pushed into hand dryers. Vomit, pain and sadness, an iterative list that makes no room for joy.

‘Two’s a shake, three’s a wank.’

The numeration of utility and pleasure is part of the mechanism of control, in the same way pornography breaks the body into organs in order to pulverise any pleasure out of it and then sell it back as a corpse. So, this slogan marks a threshold, not between utility and pleasure but between innocence and a world in which utility and pleasure sit on the same number line.

‘Two’s a shake, three’s a wank, four’s a dandelion.’

dandelion

 

 

 

 

 

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