Stripping Off

26 04 2009

[You can listen to this episode here.]

Summer can be a most distressing time of year for many people. York has, this week, been smothered with heat, warmth and sunshine, and I have been reminded of just how unpleasant that sort of weather really is.

The ordeal begins as great beams of sunshine barge their way into your cosy, slumbering, peaceful bedroom. Of course this happens much earlier in the summer, inducing an even greater degree of guilt that you are still in bed – even it’s only seven o’ clock.

For a few moments the weather can, though, be enjoyed. Showering, shaving, taking breakfast are all activities gently suited to the accompaniment of chirruping birdsong and a refreshingly crisp sunlight.

Then we come to the first real dilemma – here you will have to excuse me, as we must assume a particular sequence: that one breakfasts before dressing. I must confess that this is not a habit to which I have ever taken, but nevertheless it is the favoured sequence taken by my housemates, and thus I presume a fair proportion of the rest of the population.

But it is in dressing for the day that all the romance of summer is extracted. So many variables must be considered: is the weather actually warm outside, or does it just look warm? The sun, you see, can be a deceptive body. Equally, even if the heat is quite comfortably in the high twenties, one must ask oneself whether such temperatures will be sustained right through the day, or whether they will plummet at lunchtime.

Well, even the most sophisticated weather forecasting systems rarely seem to provide any meaningful help on this matter. I, perhaps predictably, rely on the BBC’s website to relay the MET office guidance and this week on four days out of five I was either massively overdressed or woefully under-clad.

In struggling with this matter I don’t think that I’m alone. A straw poll of those I happened to speak to on campus revealed a startling range of outfits on any particular day. One took a remarkably sceptical approach, wearing a donkey jacket, jumper, shirt and hefty pair of jeans. As he stood before me, blotchy patches of sweaty redness covering his face, I felt it would be impolite to raise the issue of his sartorial dilemma. Consequently the matter passed without comment, even though we were both uncomfortably aware of his misfortune.

When I spoke to my mother last week, she was unfamiliar with the term ‘smuggling peanuts’. That is probably a good thing, and I made no attempt to enlighten her. However, many others will be conscious of that undignified condition associated with misjudging the longevity of the sunshine. And, of course, there plenty of singlets doing the rounds to demonstrate this in the recent days.

But if we put ourselves for a moment into the fiction that the weather is both warm and constant, we can see the myriad of further troubles it causes. One particular cause of discomfort for me is the apparent licence for nudity that Summer brings. As somebody who keeps only a modest figure – hardly toned to perfection but equally, not in any apparent need of surgery – I cannot help but feel unworthy when surrounded by so many half-naked beautiful people.

Of course, it would be unfair to resent the beautiful people for their sculpted physiques – mostly achieved through hard work and strict discipline. Not for me a ban on showing off such things when the weather allows. However, as with all our actions I suppose, we must be prepared to face their consequences. In this case the consequence is that a broader circle of the population – that is people who might not universally be classified as beautiful – are given the impression that the baring of flesh is a universally acceptable practice.

Unfortunately this then brings us all into contact with such phenonmena as ‘arse cleavage’ and the ‘man-boob’.

The problem is at its most acute when trying to eat lunch.

Now I would not wish to give the impression that summer is, for me, an entirely sartorial minefield. There are plenty of other areas which present difficulty. I am not ashamed to let you know that I suffer from a condition called ‘dyspraxia’. The relevant boffins tell me that it is rather similar to dyslexia, only rather than jumbling letters I jumble up instructions from my brain to my limbs.

Before you conjure up images of me stumbling about from calamity to humorous calamity, I might tell you that my condition is described as ‘mild’. Consequently my difficulties are focussed only around activities that require swift and precise movements. Shaving for example, though precise, can be done at leisure. Kicking, or indeed catching a ball, however, must be done at a speed directed by the ball itself.

You may ask how this is all relevant to the behaviour of man in summer. Well, the season encourages large groups of people to congregate in parks, fields, any piece of open space. These invasions of public areas go hand in hand with practice of playing football.

Now, as an experienced dyspraxic I have long established that getting involved in these games is a mistake. It will only ever end in public humiliation, or possibly in serious injury. However, whatever my chosen activity – be it gently reading a book, strolling amiably minding my own business or picnicking with friends – there is a profound fear lurking deep within me. It is a fear that a ball will accidentally be kicked over to me, and that I will then be required to return – either with a kick (the more masculine alternative) or with a limp attempt at a throw.

Of course, this very rarely actually happens, but when it does it is an ordeal not to be overlooked. And I suspect that I am not alone when I say that it is impossible to relax with such a potential situation ready to pounce at any moment.

One condition from which I am thankfully spared is hay fever. Being a country boy myself I have always had the utmost sympathy for sufferers of hay fever. It must be intolerably frustrating to spend the summer months entirely clogged up, teary-eyed and sore. What makes it worse is that there appears to be very little we can do about it. Mankind can get to the moon and back, but we can’t conquer a sniffly nose.

So, all in all, summer is a particularly dreadful time of year for many people. As you dash out into the sunshine, rejoicing in its balmy glow, spare a thought for the rest of us. We will most likely be cooped up in a library revising, or finding ever-more-imaginative ways to dress for the weather while resenting those who, it would appear, don’t need to bother with clothes at all.

Take some time to consider those of us who actually prefer to be indoors, whatever the weather, and who have to suffer intolerable social pressure to go outside.

Summer may well be presented as a glorious celebration of all things wonderful. To many it is a sticky, pollen-induced, social ordeal.

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