The Poles over the back have got a dog called Tony. To offset this, I’m thinking of re-naming our cat Zbigniew. The Palmers Green Poles are zealous worshippers of that big shining thing in the sky. They own a white, £67,000 BMW 6 Series Convertible in order to catch all the sun’s rays on their drives to the sklep. When the temperature edges over 19 degrees, the Poles’ back garden becomes a Central European version of the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince “Summertime” video. Their conversations are so shrill that I feel like a superhero with enhanced hearing – only I can’t understand a word other than “TONY!” Tony, God love him, barks and barks all day. He’s a fighting dog, fashionably illegal and will happily yap just to pass an hour.
The Pole’s intriguing blend of Gdansk techno and Wroclaw pop-reggae team up tantalisingly with the stereo of my English next-door neighbour. In the daytime, he’s as free as a dicky bird. I think he’s a barman. His musical taste is as wide as Poland’s borders, but all his tracks have to be played loudly, whether it’s The Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Ghostface Killah. An overlooked musical genius in the Jools Holland mould, he tinkles the ivories every hour, on the hour, replete with full-power vocals, always with his windows open at their maximum 90-degree gape. Ah, the joys of summer. I’m working at home today – well, I should be, but I’m writing this. Twenty-six degrees and the back door is fastened shut. At least the double-glazing acts as an effective sound muffler. However, it’s not easy to breathe in here.
I’ve got my shorts on today. That’s alright cos I’m at home, not the office. You should never wear shorts to work unless you’re a footballer – I thought you knew this already? – yet in summer, London’s offices transform into Rio-style poolside parties. Spring’s first shafts of sunlight release Havaianas flip-flops and skater shorts from hibernation. In a way, we were lucky this year to have had an extended winter. Those obscene extremes of cold and shiver-me-timbers Arctic blasts meant offices were free from hairy legs until 7 May – my wedding day, which was the first warm day of the year. But Britain’s ongoing Brazilification is back on track now. With the mercury rising, we’re dancing the samba.
Earlier today, I passed through London’s Soho and found that 98 per cent of male workers are clad in shorts. With all that hair, it’s Movember for the legs! Most of Soho’s media stock look like “Will”, that Mr Puniverse who was Chris Evans’ lackey. These days, wiry white legs and bulging Neanderthal toes are permanent fixtures in the office until 30 October. Women, meanwhile, wear bras and pants beneath perfectly see-through dresses. Most men revert to their Carry On base instincts at such sights, booming, “The girls, Sid, the girls,” like demented Bernard Bresslaws. Bras are for the bedroom! We’re walking through an endless lingerie section of Kay’s catalogue! The basic slips that women wear barely deflect the fierce yellow of the sun. They’re going home in the evening with sunburn even though they think they’ve been covered up. I don’t think I saw the clasp of a bra until I was 16… you can see one every 16 yards now.
The thing is with flip-flops is that they lead to full-on barefootedness in the workplace. What happens is, myriad sets of sweating monkey feet clasp hold of table legs between big toe and the next toe along, spreading advanced forms of canker and gym-derived infection. There comes a time where you have to make a stand against germ warfare. Some of you already know my drill. We should treat the barefooted in much the same way that the Royal Navy dealt with the threat of U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Mine the channels!
I found the most effective weapon against bare feet to be the drawing pin. Simply sprinkle a couple by the printer and then drop a pin every few yards. You’ll be amazed at their effectiveness. Just wait for an explosive scream and then try to maintain a straight face. Stricken vessels will naturally hop to a seat to inspect the damage, thinking they’re the most wronged individuals on the planet. They’ll see that a small hole has appeared in their calloused pads, a circle that quickly fills with their own homo neanderthalensis blood. Oh, he’ll shout and swear alright, but the next day he’ll be wearing heavy jeans and boots. In British offices, you should wear long trousers with appropriate shoes and socks. Where do you think you are lad, double-games?
Regardless of seasons, once you reach 40, all the clothes in your wardrobe suddenly feel like they’re from Mothercare’s toddler range. No matter how many times you flick through your logo-adorned shirts and polos, they no longer represent who you are or what you believe in. At first, you think you must be sliding down the same slope as Reginald Perrin prior to his mental meltdown, because all your clothes look comical and absurd. It’s like all your outfits have been designed for hanging out at the youthy.
If you’re from the North, like what I am, instinct tells you to wear your shirt hanging out, ie: not tucked in, because that’s how Bernard Sumner of Electronic wore his shirt on the Philippines-shot “Get The Message” video in May 1990. Clinging doggedly to the past, and with few sartorial options available, a few days after turning 40, I went into work with a shirt flapping around my backside, convincing myself that I wore my garment in such a manner purely for socio-cultural reasons – I was Northern, working class, remained a Factory Records idealist and I didn’t want to look like a Hooray Henry with my shirt tucked into hipster jeans. But I felt scruffy, like a bin man, like Eddie Yates.
I’ve met Sumner a couple of times in the last few years, and I have to say, I’ve never seen him with a shirt hanging out, not that I’m basing my entire wardrobe around his fashion teachings or owt. In fact, he seems to wear a lot of Adidas and Superdry, which is not my thing at all. When I turned 40, I had a ruck with fashion. I stopped wearing shirts completely because I didn’t know what to do with them. Our office at work is as hot as Haiti all year round, due to perpetually shivering women (cold hearts!), so you can’t wear long sleeves anyway – it’s like being locked in a car in Port-au-Prince with all the windows wound up. And regular polo shirts, like Lacoste and Fred Perry, seem too casual. My solution was knitted T-shirts; I was partial to a knitted Gio-Goi T-shirt around 1990-91, so I’m maintaining a link, of sorts. I get my versions from H&M, Banana Republic and Zara, all for under £30 a pop.
The days of splashing out £70 on a Lacoste are in the past. A polo shirt lasts for three months before it loses its shape, so it makes sense to pay modest prices. Also, when I turned 40, the thought of wearing a logo suddenly seemed vulgar and uncultured. And to think, 15 years ago, I’d have been stomping around lower-league football grounds in Stone Island, which I now consider the most vile fashion statement in the history of mankind. What a pile of s*** that label is. I once paid £120 for a Stone Island cagoule and it wasn’t even showerproof. It went translucent in drizzle and even struggled with fog moisture.
One of the major fashion transformations for a man in his 40s is a new-found love of proper trousers, the sort your grandad wore all his life. I refuse to pay over £50 for a pair of jeans as it is. I’ve become reliant on Uniqlo’s range of casual-fit denim. I’ve also noticed that lots of jeans brands have started scrimping on their arse coverage due, I assume, to yoot’s predilection for revealing the brand of their undercrackers. I don’t want to look like a bloody builder or rapper! Trousers have become the practical option, and the best leg coverings I’ve found in recent times have been at Banana Republic. Tony Wilson’s favourite label! Soft and comfortable, I hope mine last forever. The trouble with trousers is that they have baggier pockets than jeans, and this can lead to disastrous consequences.
Having DJ’ed at a Central London location the other Friday, I got on a night bus, with my trousers on, obviously, sat down and settled in for the journey. The ride seemed to last 40 seconds… I was drunk. I got off and as I put the key in the front door, I realised that my pocket was empty. My phone was travelling, without a valid ticket, towards Enfield. My baggy pocket had released its bounty and my no-nonsense Nokia phone, my constant companion since 2008, that had sent something in the region of 25,000 texts and never taken a photograph, because it had no camera, was gone. With a screeching hangover, head ringing with pain, the following day I had to call Vodafone to explain my loss. It proved a fortuitous cock-up because I was rewarded with a free phone and a reduced monthly bill. Even so, proper trousers demand respect. You need to keep your hands in your pockets more.
I’m often asked if I’ve ever had any fashion faux-pas in my stylish existence, and apart from the Stone Island debacle, my only outre purchase was a pair of white jeans in 1995. They were great, actually. White jeans are a young man’s game, but in ’95 I was young and single. So I bought the white jeans and wore them on a sweltering Tuesday, which was also the day that the music and football titles at IPC Magazines played football at dinnertime. It was 32 degrees, and I had pure water leaking from my armpits and forehead, such were the conditions. An hour of full exercise and I was as thirsty as a dog, so I jogged back to my office and downed a litre of Evian in little over ten seconds, then kept slurping to rehydrate. With my white jeans atop my sweltering legs, I was asked to run an errand as my junior position implied. Twenty minutes in, my arse turned into a crop spray. Without going into too many details, I had to bin my boxer shorts and remained in an IPC toilet for 30 minutes as my body expelled as much from my bowels as it could shift. I had plans that night; I soon wouldn’t.
It was a diabolical afternoon. I had acute diarrhoea and was wearing Daz-white denim. Inevitably, the strain started to show and a copper line developed around my Winnersh Triangle. I abandoned the evening’s meet-up and planned my homeward journey. I knew I was embarking on an embarrassing escapade, where schoolgirls and attractive women would crease up with laughter as their eyes spied my zebra’s rear. I sat wherever possible, stood against walls other times, then ran up Wimbledon hill to get indoors. I washed the jeans twice but the stains remained stubborn. In fashion, some things are not meant to be. The jeans were quickly disposed of.
When I was in Banana Republic the other day, buying some proper trousers, there were a few pairs of white jeans in the sale section, so I tried some on for old time’s sake. For a start, the legs were too tight. Anyone who came of age during the Madchester era can’t bear unyielding material against their skin. I thought I looked terrible in them – the wife wanted me to buy them. I knew that if I bought white jeans, at some point I’d be bent double in some godforsaken toilet feeling like I was the Space Shuttle on take-off. And I’d have left the burn marks! Having just seen a photograph of an albino zebra, that was the look I was rocking on that fateful Tuesday in 1995. Right, I’d better get on with some real work. And I need to feed Zbigniew.