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London - There is a new craze among students, known as “milking”. It involves standing in a public place - on a traffic island, in a wheelie bin, at a train station - and pouring a container of milk over one’s head.
Needless to say, it is already attracting its share of online tut-tuts: “No morals, no shame”, “What a truly appalling waste, words fail me”, “Not very clever for students, are they?”
Yet I know that, if I were still a student, I would be outside pouring milk over my head. As crazes go, it is pleasingly odd, even rather beautiful: for some strange reason, pouring milk over yourself makes your head go black and white, while your surroundings remain in colour.
And, for all the instant indignation, there have been many more off-putting student crazes. In the spring of 1939, for instance, a craze for swallowing goldfish swept America.
It all began at Harvard on March 3, 1939, when a student called Lothrop Withington Jr boasted to his common room that he had just swallowed a goldfish. This gave rise to a modest goldfish-swallowing contest in the dining hall.
The word soon spread around other colleges. Frank Hope, a student from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, called Withington “a sissy” and managed to swallow three goldfish, having first sprinkled them with salt and pepper. The next day, another student swallowed six.
Harvard retaliated, upping the ante when a student called Irving Clark swallowed 24 fish. The contest then accelerated, with the University Of Michigan scoring 28, Boston College 29, Albright College 33 and MIT 42. Eventually, the record peaked at a truly horrible 300 before the craze died out, as crazes do.
Or do they? Some do, but some don’t.
Mouldy cardboard boxes in our garage are full of items which, at one time, were the Latest Thing but are now like relics from the olden days: a deflated Space Hopper, several Rubik’s Cubes, a Slinky, some Filofaxes and Tamagotchis, a toasted sandwich maker, various flared trousers, two Cabbage Patch Kids, three My Little Ponies, a Magic Eye book, a lava lamp, a Spirograph, a bean bag, and a novel by Margaret Drabble.
Some crazes look as though they are here to stay, but then, for no apparent reason, they disappear. Do you remember the craze, roughly ten years ago, for executives to huff and puff their way to work on tiny little micro-scooters? There were even calls to make special lanes for them on pavements but, ten years on, these scooters are only ever used by children. Any executive seen using one would earn himself some very odd looks, and perhaps even a police caution.
The same applies to those wall-to-wall carpets that looked and felt as though they were spun from old rope. There was a craze for them about 20 years ago, and, like thousands of other people, we had our entire house covered in them.
What on earth were we thinking? They were extraordinarily rough on the foot and fashionably uncosy; after a few years they became looped and frazzled until the characteristic sound in any trendy middle-class household was the bump-bump-howl of people catching their toes and falling head over heels.
So it’s wise to treat crazes with caution. Personally, I still suspect cellphones are a flash in the pan, and I refuse to invest in one until I’m sure they’ve really caught on.
On the other hand, everything starts out as a craze: on the day the wheel was invented, stuck-in-the-mud cavemen must have sneered and muttered that there was nothing wrong with their trusty cubes and oblongs.
“Oh my God! Why have you gone and blocked out the sun?” was doubtless the reaction to the man who erected the world’s first roof. Things take time to catch on, and it doesn’t take long before the outlandish becomes the mainstream.
Just imagine how wacky the first man to wear a tie around his neck must have seemed! Friends would have crossed the street to avoid him, he would have been blackballed from all the smartest clubs, and experts would have muttered: “It’ll never catch on.”
The train, the car, the newspaper and the television were all once just passing fads, and perhaps one day that is what they will prove to be; it’s just that some fads pass quicker than others.
Meanwhile, we should be wary of writing off “milking” as just another craze. Yes, it may go the way of other crazes, such as streaking and seeing how many students can squeeze into a phone-booth and swallowing goldfish. But who knows? In 100 years’ time, milking may be all the rage, and instead of gathering for a game of Scrabble or bridge, we will gather to pour milk over each other’s faces, before going in for dinner. - Daily Mail