Sunday, November 24, 2013

Modern Man

I swore I would never do it and, frankly, it was not something I worried about giving into temptation over. Like answering unsolicited e-mails promising to make various parts of my body larger, longer or more attractive to the opposite sex, or having Britannia tattooed across my chest, it was safely ensconced inside the “Don’t Go There!” zone and I never gave a thought to it sneaking out unawares. But then, quite suddenly, I did it: I bought a man bag.

Don’t judge me; it was my son’s fault.

While we were visiting America a few weeks back, my son came home from a shopping excursion carrying a man-bag (he called it a satchel) so I did the only reasonable thing I could think of: I made fun of him. He didn’t respond with “Well who the f*&k asked you? You don’t run my life! I hate you!” because he’s 32 now and gave up shouting at me some years ago. However, he also did not—as I would have fully expected him to—hang his head in embarrassment and quietly put his pocketbook aside.

Instead, he effused about the advantages of carrying a handbag—um, I mean satchel—as opposed to a backpack. It was less bulky, made you less likely to knock a display case over when you turned around in a crowded china shop and, if you needed to get something out of it, you didn’t have to remove it from you back, put it on the ground and tug at various zippers to find what you wanted.

I was impressed; my son had become a thoroughly modern man, something I would have wagered heavily against when he was 16. I was not, however, ready to go out and buy a purse.

But over the next few days I got to thinking: it was sort of a pain to carry my backpack around all the time. It was in the way and I had to continually take it off to put stuff in it or pull stuff out of it. I could, of course, hang it from one shoulder but then I had to hold on to it and that sort of defeated the purpose. A handbag—um, I mean a satchel—would solve much of that.

I also thought about when I was in school: back then, we carried our books—tons of them—by hand. The girls carried them cradled against their chest, the boys under one arm at their side; this was how it was done because this was how it had always been done and no one thought—or dared—to step outside of the established conventions. Only one or two real odd-balls put their books in backpacks and they were unmercifully made fun of. But by the time my boys went to school, everyone was carrying their books in backpacks, because it made sense.

Additionally, in days gone by (I’m talking many, many days here, not 1987), men used to carry purses (and they even called them purses) because it made sense. That has fallen out of fashion, but it doesn’t mean it no longer makes sense, which got me thinking that perhaps it was time to allow men to carry purses—um, I mean satchels—again. So, unable to embarrass my son during our first encounter, I did the one thing guaranteed to embarrass any child of any age: I went out and bought the same thing he had.

It's a SATCHEL, dammit!

The only unfortunate thing about this is that my newly acquired man-bag (it’s a satchel, dammit!) bears an uncomfortable resemblance to my wife’s handbag.

One's a Handbag, one's a Man Bag (it's a Satchel, dammit!)

I have to admit, it took me some time to work up the nerve to use it. It felt odd and embarrassing when I tried it on in the privacy of my office (that would be the spare bedroom for those of you thinking we live in a huge house instead of a small flat). My wife told me to just go out and wear it like I meant it; if I felt comfortable with it on, no one would notice. And then I thought of the brave (or misguided) odd-balls from high school who, heedless of convention and the backlash they suffered for breaking it, continued to do what made sense. So I went outside wearing a purse (it’s a satchel, dammit!).

And do you know what? It was not only more convenient and comfortable, but—when I looked around—I saw a fair number of other men, both young and old, carrying satchels, as well. It just makes sense.

Perhaps the era of the modern man has truly arrived.

I am, however, keeping “man-bras” securely within the “I will never” camp; wearing one of those can have unexpected consequences.

This is wrong, so very, very wrong.

Monday, November 18, 2013


The great thing about being retired (i.e. can’t be arsed to look for a job) is that every day is your own. You open your eyes to greet the morning thinking, “What adventures can I undertake on this day, what pleasures can I squeeze from these malleable hours, what joys can I uncover?”

It is, indeed, wonderful. Except for Monday; that’s laundry day.

Yes, today is earmarked for sorting, decoding tags, deciphering washing machine settings and wrangling wet laundry onto the drying racks. There has to be a simpler way.

Actually, there is: when I was single, I used to pop my weekly laundry—as a single load—in my American-sized washer. Forty minutes later I would toss it all into my American-sized dryer. Job done. Here, I suppose, it could be that simple; the altered variable in the formula is not the fact that I switched countries but that I got married.

Washing women’s clothing is difficult and time consuming (well, it you want to do it right, which I have recently proposed to do). I used to separate clothes into two piles – Kinda Light and Kinda Dark – and wash them on the same setting I use to wash my jeans. The results were not always satisfactory—especially for sheer stockings and woollen dresses—so, having conquered the basics, I decided I should try to up my game.

The first issue I encountered was one of laundry distribution: whereas a man (we’re talking generalities here, not about us specifically, but, well, you know I had to get my data from somewhere; just sayin’) might have half a dozen items of clothing in a typical overflowing laundry hamper, a woman will have approximately 87. And each one of them will have a tag with teeny, tiny writing on it that provides instruction for the care, feeding and cleaning of that item. And no two tags will contain the same instructions.

So this is how I spend the bulk of my Monday mornings, staring through a magnifying glass at indecipherable symbols on little tags. One appears to be a curling stone rolling over marbles and another apparently represents a target with an X through it, meaning, I assume, that you should not shoot the garment or lay it on ice if there is a curling game going on.

Seriously, I need to consult a decoder sheet in order to sort the laundry these days.
“Wash inside out at 40C only,” “Wash upside down at 30C only,” “Wash from front to back on months with an “R” in them and left to right if you have German heritage,” and my favorite, which I am not making up, “Wash Separately.” Do you know how many of the 87 garments demand to be washed in a private cycle? And this wouldn’t be quite so bad if British washing machine cycles took as long as US washing machine cycles. In the US, could just about watch an episode of The Wonder Years before the spin sequence ended, but here you can set the machine for a Synthetics wash, take a short vacation and arrive back just about the time the buzzer goes off. So, in short, I ignore “Wash Separately;” I can’t be bothered with these prima donna demands, so I just blindfold them and tell them they are alone.

Then, of course, there is “Hand Wash.” This has been rendered a little easier by the “Hand Wash” cycle on the washing machine—but isn’t that a contradiction in terms? At any rate, I Hand Wash most of the Hand Wash items in the Hand Wash automatic washing machine cycle, except for the ones that really look like they need hand washing. Personally, I think they give out “Hand Wash” tags a little too freely at the clothing factory. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a pair of denim jeans labeled “Hand Wash,” or, for that matter, a swimsuit marked, “Dry Clean Only.”

I'm pretty sure this is the only instruction label clothes
had on them when I was younger.
I did consider trying to save time by using a permanent, dayglow marker to print—in easily understandable language—the unique combination of washing instructions on each garment, but since my other idea of marking the sheets and blankets to assist in bed-making didn’t go over so well, this idea never made it out of the "just thinking about it" phase.

(NOTE: I actually did use a permanent black marker to delineate the halfway points of the sheets and blankets. The idea was, by matching up the marks with the halfway marker I carved into the bed frame with kitchen knife (don’t tell my wife) I could speed up the process of symmetrically arranging the bedding. Don’t try it; it didn’t work.)

Now, I’m not complaining because all this label reading/garment washing takes up the majority of my day (really, what else am I going to do with my time?) but I think you ladies should be a bit concerned about this, especially those of you without a layabout husband willing to do your laundry one garment at a time. I fear the garment manufacturing industry (or at least the division that hands out the laundry tags) is in a conspiracy to keep women so busy doing laundry that they won’t have time to take over the world. You should rise up and demand laundry-equality so you can do your laundry like men do.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to get used to the grey hue all your whites take on.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Anxious About Anxiety

I read something in the local paper yesterday that made me quite anxious. Apparently, the people who live in Horsham District—of which I am one—have been revealed as the most anxious people in the UK. And this makes me anxious.

Notice that Horsham is not the most anxious place in the south east of England, or in England itself, but the whole of the UK (there is a difference ). That’s a lot of responsibility to put on our shoulders. And this makes me anxious.

As a result of these startling finding, The Council is going to investigate why the anxiety level is so high. And this makes me anxious.

The reason this makes me particularly anxious is this: like everyone, I have my daily, run-of-the-mill anxieties, such as my eyebrows, whether we have enough pancake syrup in the fridge (apparently I am not anxious enough about this because, when I made pancakes this morning, I found we were out of syrup and had to scurry off to the Co-Op to get some, which really screwed up my Sunday morning routine) and how big the spiders lurking under my bed are (they are there, I just know it). These, however, are common to the entire population (aren’t they?) and merely put us on an even keel with the rest of the UK. But I, as an interloper, have a lot more to be anxious about than the average citizen.

Like corduroy, for example:

In the US, I knew wearing corduroy before Labor Day was a fashion faux pas, but as we have no Labor Day here (not even a Labour Day) there is no apparel-related starting point to let me know when it is culturally appropriate to take my corduroy shirt out of its seasonal retirement. My wife tells me to just wear it whenever I feel like it, but she is sort of laissez-faire when it comes to attire. And this makes me anxious.

Additionally, like everyone, I have my favorite pen (don’t you?) and mine happens to be the BIC round-stic fine point (black). The problem is, they are made only in the USA and were hard enough to get when I used to live there. Over here, they are impossible to get and I only have half a dozen left in my stash and this is making me anxious, especially considering that I was just over there and forgot to bring any home with me.

Likewise, my stock of note pads—what I refer to as my Perfect Paper Pocket Pads—is running low, and you have no idea how anxious this makes me (though, by now, I think you might be starting to catch on).

Really, what would I do without these; the very thought makes me anxious.
Another huge source of angst is the sudden disappearance of organic ginger cordial. Granted, other people are anxious about this as well but, as this is my drink of choice and is, therefore, used daily, I think I have more to be anxious about vis-à-vis organic ginger cordial than the average person. You see, after years of being my main supplier, Waitrose suddenly stopped carrying Belvoir Ginger Cordial, forcing me to go with the less-desirable Bottlegreen variety. But, because other people have also been cut short by the Belvoir brand disappearance, the Bottlegreen supply has been exhausted for the past two weeks, forcing me to resort to a Lime and Coconut cordial instead, which, predictably enough, installs that song in my head every time I take a sip of it, causing me no end of anxiety.

(I bet you thought life in a mid-sized market town was idyllic, didn’t you?)

And this is why I am anxious about The Council investigating the cause of our communal anxiety: I fear my personal anxieties are pushing us over the top.

What if The Council discovers I am the source of a large portion of the collective anxiety level and, without me, they would just have a middling level of angst, like Bognor? They might take advantage of this knowledge and move me to their neighbor and rival, Crawley, to make them the top worriers of the UK, and this makes me very anxious indeed. I don’t want to live in Crawely; I’d look silly in a hoodie and a Burberry cap.

Now I’m really anxious, and the only thing for it is to grab a cigar and a refreshing beverage and retire to the balcony. Although, the only beverage available is that lime and coconut cordial…