Monday 23 September 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Why trousers maketh a man


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey

Who decided that Ireland's national costume is the fleece?

I'm not objecting to the fleeces, as such. I have one myself. It used to be blue but now it's kind of - well, dead. I wear it when everything else is on the floor or in the wash. It's comfortable and it does the trick. But here's the point: I'd never wear it when I'm going out.

I don't think you should have to dress like Omar Sharif when you're heading down to the local or going to the pictures with the wife.

But I think you should - it's mostly men I'm talking about here - make an effort. Iron a shirt, wipe the muck off the shoes: real shoes, not runners. Honour the bloody occasion.

When I was a kid, I hated Sundays. We had to wear our Sunday best and we could do nothing that might get them dirty, at least until after Mass.

One good shirt, one good jumper, one good pair of longers - that was it. Even the underpants and vest were clean for Sunday, left at the end of the bed on Saturday night after our weekly bath. It was terrible, like jail, but much more violent and oppressive.

There was always a fight for the underpants. We were all more or less the same size, so it was first come, first served. The only time I managed to grab the whitest- looking pair of kaks, I ended up with a black eye as well.

And the clothes - they were our Christmas clothes. They shrank but I kept growing. By October, the trousers were flapping above my ankles and I had to pray that the jumper wouldn't rip if I coughed on my way up to Communion.

So all my life, dressing up has been a physical and psychological torture. I nearly cancelled our wedding because I couldn't face getting into the suit.

Luckily, the wife saw through me. She said she'd strangle me with the tie I didn't want to wear if I wasn't up at the altar when her father walked her down the aisle.

- And come here, she said. - You'd better be looking at me adoringly or I'll break your head.

I believed every word, thank God. And looking at her adoringly came natural to me, even with her oul' lad's sour face there beside hers.


I'm not for a minute suggesting that we should go back to the days of the Sunday bests, and I'm not saying that we should dress like Liberace every time we fancy a quiet pint.

But we should at least wear a pair of trousers. There are men out there, strolling through their lives wearing only shorts or tracksuit bottoms. This is bad for them and it's bad for the country. Actually, it's a national emergency. There'll soon be no men left in Ireland.

This thought struck me when the little f***er in the fleece and shorts very nearly struck me.

What happened was this: I was out walking a selection of the dogs, just going past the shops at the top of the road. There was a parked van to my left, and I was passing it when its back door swung out in front of me.

I was holding all the leads in my right hand, so the left one was free and I pushed the swinging door back where it had come from - and heard a yelp. And the maggot in the fleece and shorts jumped from behind the van and stood right in front of me.

I'd just walloped him with the back door of his own vehicle, so I should have been scared - or at least a bit apprehensive.

He was about 40 and angry. But the fleece was zipped up to his chin and his exposed shins looked like things you'd find in a packet of chicken pieces - the same colour and all. He was like an ancient boy in a schoolyard, pretending he wanted a fight.

He could have kicked me to death and dropped me down the nearest shore but I still wouldn't have taken him seriously.

Because he wasn't wearing trousers.

What makes a man a man? It's not the DNA or the hair on his face. It's the trousers, and the fly on his trousers - his ability to command the zip or the buttons, his willingness to learn how to use them, his patience, his self-control - his self-respect.

A man's whole life - his past, his present, his future - it's all in the trousers.

But he has to be wearing them in the first place. And a man who wears baby clothes all his life isn't a man. That's my theory.

I hitched up my own trousers and walked past the maggot. The dogs didn't bother growling at him.

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