Should men wear Alice bands?

man in white and gray stripe shirt
Photo by cottonbro on

My wife looks up and sniggers.

The children turn around, exchange a shrug of their eyebrows and swivel back to their cereal bowls.

‘What’s so funny?’ I ask myself.

Is the cat behind me moon walking on the hob or playing table football with the butter dish? He’s always trying to upstage me with his cute little pussycat tricks.

I look back over my shoulder. The cat is nowhere to be seen.

‘WhatsApp?’ I joke.

My wife looks at me and laughs again. But not at my joke.

The silence is pregnant

It feels as though I’ve walked into a bar and the music has stopped. The silence is pregnant like the pause before a punchline or a punch up. They’re ganging up against me. Have they hidden a whoopee cushion on my chair like they did on April Fool’s Day? 

‘Did you look in the bathroom mirror before you came down?’ asks my daughter.

‘No. What do you think I am? A sadomasochist?’ I reply. ‘I haven’t even cleaned my teeth yet.’

‘Oh, gross,’ says my son.

‘Maybe you should go look in the mirror,’ says my wife.

My PJs are on back to front

I squint down. My tee shirt is wrinkled and my pyjamas bottoms are on inside out and back to front. The pockets hang down my legs like elephant ears and because my pyjamas are on back to front my backside is peering out through the unbuttoned flap.

‘I look like Dumbo.’

‘Dumbo’s big dad,’ says my daughter.

My hair looks like Tintin’s

‘But your hair is tufty more like Segei the Meerkat than an elephant,’ says my son.

‘It’s quite a feat looking so ludicrous without a make-up artist,’ says my wife.

I could blame a heavy nights drinking for my dishevelled look. However, the truth is my poor dress sense is a genetic problem. The male line of my family has a flaw in its chromosomes which makes us dress badly.

At least, that’s what Mother has always told me.

‘If you gave the men in your father’s family a blank cheque and sent them to the best tailors in Saville Row, they’d come back looking like hobos in a John Steinbeck novel,’ she used to say.

Grooming is for horses

At my father’s funeral, my brother said Scotland Yard’s top forensic team would have struggled to find a trace of vanity in him even if they had spent ten years excavating the smallest molecules of his being.

My brother was right. Our father had no vanity in him and was suspicious of men who took too much care of their looks or clothes.

‘Grooming is for horses,’ he said. 

He distrusted the fashion industry. Clothes are the fashion industry’s way of making us slaves, he said. I was twelve and this sounded like an aphorism by Marx or Engels. It wasn’t. It came from his heart.

He rejected the idea that ‘clothes maketh the man’. He believed uniforms were acts of social repression. It was his time in the army or boarding school that made him believe this.

God bless him, he was probably the only person in the country who forgave Michael Foot, when he turned up at the Cenotaph in 1981, looking scruffy.

‘Pure snobbery,’ he said of the media rage at the time.

‘As if the war dead give two f***s about his overcoat.’

Why should anyone care what we look like?

He certainly didn’t give two hoots what he looked like. He would have gone to the local pub for his regular evening snifter wrapped in a Persian rug and his wife’s slippers if his clothes were wet in the wash.

‘Why would my friends care what I am wearing?’ he would say to Mother as she tried to smarten him up.

‘It’s the police, not your friends, that I’m worried about,’ replied Mother.  

I wonder what he would have felt about men wearing Alice bands or putting their hair up in buns? I know he would have thought Brexit is baloney and footballers are overpaid. But if he were sitting here this morning, looking at me with my pyjamas inside out, my backside open to view and a haircut like a meerkat would he have cared? I suspect not.

Should men wear Alice bands?

‘You do remember we’re going out for a walk soon, don’t you,’ asks my wife. ‘Or are you going to stand there all day?’

‘Just wondering what Grandpa would have thought of men wearing Alice bands,’ I say.

My son looks up at me. Tomorrow we’re taking him to tour a university. He thinks he’s spotted a ruse of mine to ruin his campus tour.

‘You’re not thinking of wearing an Alice band tomorrow?’

My wife laughs at the thought of it.

‘How about a bun instead?’ I say, sensing a wind up is possible.

‘Sadly, you don’t have enough hair,’ says my daughter.

She’s right. My wife took the clippers out two weeks ago and my hair is cropped closer than the centre court at Wimbledon.

‘Promise me tomorrow you’ll behave like an adult,’ says my son.

There’s a sudden crack as the butter dish crashes to the floor. The cat, who is on top of the kitchen island, looks down at the broken butter dish as if this has nothing to do with him.

Then he lifts a paw to his mouth and we can all see a smear of butter between his claws. His guilt is clear. But instead of being pissed off, the family leap up and rush towards him.

The cat has broken the butter dish

‘Stop him,’ says my son.

Is there a shard of broken crockery in his paws? Poor pussy cat. Are you hurt? Poor pussycat. They fuss over him like he’s just come back from the trenches with the Victoria Cross.

I head upstairs to dress, aware my buttocks may be visible through the flap of my pyjamas. But nobody’s looking at me.

The bloody cat has upstaged me again.

This post originally appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.

Published by Man in the Middle

Ecce Man in the Middle. The stale meat in the inter-generational sandwich.