Shorts are not a man’s best friend

Fiftysomething: Ankle-socked toddler-man has all the sexual allure of a washing-machine manual

Shorts are no friend to middle-aged men on city streets

Shorts are no friend to middle-aged men on city streets


I drank too much white wine on Sunday. I blame the sun; it was shining, shamelessly. It had been shining the day before that, too.

On Saturday, watery but unabashed, the sunshine was hitting on Dublin’s Temple Bar like a kipper-tied game-show host on a flaxen-haired wannabe. The cobbled streets were thronged.

Teenagers with ripped fishnets and bovver boots and bottle-black hair were scrambling around looking for shade lest their death pallor freckle. Earnest boys with putative dreadlocks and baggy T-shirts were singing dirges on sunlit street corners and Italians in cashmere polo-necks and soft leather jackets were snapping up the ambience with their expensive cameras.

One could almost begin to forget the endless winter we’ve endured, the snow on Paddy’s Day, the frost-burnt leaves, the lakes of spilt rain that bit like scalpel nicks.

You can’t blame Irish people for getting a little over-excited when the sun shines. You can’t really blame a population starved of heat for the blurring of fantasy and reality that happens when they drag that battered suitcase of summer clothes from the back of the wardrobe and pull out their shorts.

Shorts: where does one begin? Shorts are very useful for toddlers, who can paddle in them, who can roll around on the grass and feel the daisies tickle their chubby little limbs. Shorts can accommodate ballooning nappies and even have pockets to keep small stones and dead things in. Shorts are also useful for cyclists, especially when they’ve secret pockets for glucose tablets and other confections.

Shorts are beloved of lady rock stars, who generally prefer theirs scant and glittering like disco balls. Shorts are also terrific on leggy teenagers, who wear them over opaque tights and with crucifying shoes tethered to their young hooves.

Shorts are even good on gnarled old men who tie theirs up with useful bits of rope they’ve had since 1963, and who walk their dogs along the water’s edge and recall events that happened 30 years ago like it was yesterday but can never remember where they put their reading glasses.

Shorts, however, are no friend to middle-aged men on city streets who tend to wear theirs with a paunch and a wife, two blue calves and knees like greying dough balls.

A woman’s cruelty
There is a kind of cruelty in women going into chain stores at the first sign of summer and buying their husbands pastel-coloured shorts and matching stripy T-shirts. All these perfectly amiable men end up trailing around garden centres after their wives on bank-holiday weekends in clothes that look like they were made for six-year-old boys who eat their own scabs and won’t go to bed without three plastic dinosaurs.

If you are somebody’s patient husband and your waist measures more than the circumference of Kyle Minogue’s bottom, put the damn things in the bin. Believe me: ankle-socked toddler-man has all the sexual allure of a washing-machine manual. It’s a conspiracy. Sooner or later you’re going to end up sleeping in a onesie and amusing yourself with a train set.

So, Sunday: convivial, warm, sun shining on decking, and I’m talking to a man who runs extreme marathons. He’s wearing shorts, which is entirely acceptable if you run 50 miles over a jagged mountain with nothing much more than a banana for company.

Anyway, I’m picturing the terrain as he describes it, and nodding enthusiastically as he explains the levels of endurance required, and how it feels to complete a double marathon. And such was my empathy that I could almost have been there myself, negotiating the topography in Spandex, rather than sitting in the man’s deckchair drinking the contents of his wine rack.

Monday dawned, as it inevitably does. A tentative glimpse beyond the cherry blossom revealed the sun, day three. Hell, this is starting to look like a season. Sprightly optimism quelled my fragility; I went for a walk to clear my head.

The entire short-wearing world had the same idea. Maybe half the country had been hitting the decking a bit hard the day before. The seafront was alive with cheerful pantalooning men running and cycling after their Lycra wives, only this time their outfits were augmented with high-visibility Dayglo vests.

Oh really, how much harm are they actually doing? Yes, there is a definite sartorial deficit at work, and it’s doubtful that you would catch any of those snap-happy, cashmere-clad Italians panting along the promenades in a get-up that Noddy would have been proud of; but hey, they’re happy. There they go, grinning like boy scouts at a jamboree, and the sun is still shining and their doughy knees are pinkening.

And really I’m one to talk; one more weekend of sunshine and I’m consigning these deeply attractive grey leggings to the Siberian wasteland of the recycling bin, and crawling into the wardrobe for my own battered suitcase.

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