Man in the Middle – Chapter 30: Has Covid made pants pointless?

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.30: Has Covid made pants pointless?

I’ve given up wearing trousers. They’re superfluous in the current situation. Unless I have to go outside to the shops or for a walk, I can’t see any benefit in them. The same applies to shirts and shoes. Neither are necessary in this indoor world.

Pyjamas, on the other hand, have become more valuable than ever.  They’re the ultimate all-rounder, like Ben Stokes. You can rely on them to come good in different situations: bedroom, kitchen, sitting room. You can even work out in them.  Pyjamas will never let you down which is why I’ve been in mine for several days.

I’m explaining to the family that Covid-19 is challenging the very fabric of our society and posing profound questions like: are clothes pointless? I wouldn’t be surprised if in some louche parts of London, like Mayfair, where people can afford good underfloor heating, many families have moved beyond the pyjama and embraced nudism. We’re still conforming to Bourgeoise timidities, however, and haven’t reached that point yet.

‘I’m just saying that Covid-19 makes pants pointless. They’re an affectation like shaking hands or kissing when you meet.’

‘OMG. You’re becoming a student again,’ says my wife, her voice trembling between horror and despair.

‘You’re rewilding,’ says my son. ‘Like an ancient forest being returned to its natural state.’

‘On Zoom, no one can see your chinos,’ I point out. He nods in agreement.

‘What about socks?’ asks my son.

‘Good point. The only reason I’m wearing socks is these wooden floors. They haven’t been varnished for years and I’m worried about splinters.’

‘Fair enough. Plus there’s an environmental upside to your approach: reducing the clothes you wear means fewer wash cycles which means reduced use of chemicals and water. It’s a virtuous circle,’ says my son.

‘Please don’t encourage him,’ my wife scolds my son.  ‘He hasn’t even put his T-shirt on the right way this morning. How long have you been wearing that, anyway?’

‘Two, three days?’

‘It’s the crack in the dam,’ says my wife.

‘The decline of the Roman empire,’ says my son, chipping in on his mother’s side now.

‘You have a responsibility, as a father, to maintain decent standards of dress. And to set a positive example to your son. Do it for your Mother, at least.’

Mother looks up from her toast and jam.

‘He used to blow his nose on the curtains when the vicar came around. He’s always trying to shock people. His brother is worse.’

‘I’m just saying there’s a case for temporarily relaxing some of the usual social norms. We spend most of our time on different floors of the house. What does it matter what clothes we have on? Or even if we have any on?’

‘Is there any Government guidance on Covid and nudity?’ asks my son.

‘How many naked health workers have you seen recently? You idiot,’ says my wife.

I feel a lecture coming on from Mother about the Blitz spirit and what King George VI would do in these circumstances. I start to edge out of the kitchen, shoulders sliding along the wall, like a drape on a curtain rail. This way, I maximise the distance from the others who are splayed across the kitchen like a star fish.

Later, I Zoom with my daughter, who is in Cardiff. I hope she can explain why my pyjama policy isn’t winning votes from the clan. She says research proves communities become more conformist when threatened by disease. It makes people psychologically reject outsiders and embrace conventions. It’s a psychological version of our biological immune systems.

‘Clothes enforce gender stereotypes. The gender convention in clothing is that men should ‘wear the trousers’’. Right? By not wearing trousers, you’ve broken that gender convention. You’ve sent them a sign that you are surrendering your position as the family’s patriarch. Symbolically, you’ve emasculated yourself.’

‘Emasculated myself?’

‘Yes. You’re behaving like a pathogen.’

‘I’m a pathogen?’

‘Yes. You’re as bad as Covid-19 because both of you are a threat to their conventions.’

‘I’ve managed to emasculate and debagged myself at the same time without even realizing it?’


‘What can I do?’

‘Put your trousers on?’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 31: Can you be Hygge without hugs?

Read the previous one – Chapter 29: Mother’s birthday

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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