With the mercury nudging 25C – that’s a heatwave in Scotland – it’s ‘taps aff’ time, so the easily offended should look away now, writes Hugh Reilly
The death toll in Gaza reaching 500 in just two weeks, along with the repercussions for Russia following the shooting down of an airliner by a pro-Putin militia, dominates headlines across the globe. However, as always, the main topic of conversation in Scotland is the weather. A recent “yellow” alert of heavy rain served to reinforce the notion that anyone who enters the Dragons’ Den pitching the concept of a flat-pack, easy-to-assemble Ark is sure to get Duncan Bannatyne on board.
Just as the panic-buying of rain ponchos posed a significant threat to public order, the Met Office in Aberdeen issued a warning that the country is about to experience a heatwave, that is, three or four days of persistent sunshine. I predict that Reporting Scotland and other dumbed-down news outlets will give the oxygen of publicity to milk-bottle-white health experts muttering about the dire consequences of being exposed to deadly solar rays.
The more gullible of the vitamin-D deprived public will hunker down inside their shaded dwellings until the danger-laden glowing orb dims, amazingly always at night time. The majority of folk, though, will embrace the soaring temperatures with a fervour akin to that of Aztec priests welcoming the hot sun after putting in a hard shift eviscerating hearts from hundreds of reluctant human sacrifice victims.
Watching the mercury climb faster than a monkey with ADHD causes tremendous stress among the educated elite. Sociologists have discovered that 25 degrees is the tipping point for the man-in-the-street to decide it’s “taps aff” time. From Thurso to Moffat, men sweating more profusely than an exhausted top-weight Grand National winner feel compelled to cast their upper clothing, except, that is, in Ayrshire ex-mining villages where the “taps aff” regime is an all-year-round affair.
Anthropologists are split over whether this behaviour is learned or genetic. Scientists who believe in the former point out that this in-your-face display of male nipples is unique to the British Isles. In 1922, following its bloody fight for independence against the United Kingdom, Ireland had the opportunity to throw off the imperialist yoke and make a daring statement by instructing all adult males to keep their donkey jackets on, no matter the risk of heatstroke. In the event, Eire’s male citizenry stuck out their stout chests and their stouter distended Guinness-filled stomachs in a show of kith and kin solidarity. In my view, strolling around naked from the waist up is not genetic; Turks, Greeks, Spaniards and other assorted southern European bucks do not feel the need to advertise their torsos.
The irresistible rise of Metrosexual Man has brought a modicum of change to the traditional vista of hirsute blokes swaggering the streets. Many young men clandestinely avail themselves of beauty clinics where a helpful beautician will give pecs a “Brazilian”. My scalp has the hairiness of soft down or, if you prefer, the slightly erotic texture of the surface of a ripe peach; by way of contrast, my upper body looks as if the hair cuttings of Ken Dodd have been haphazardly pasted on to it. Apparently, some women find this an attractive feature – if I’m being honest, encountering such creatures is proving somewhat elusive.
The prevalence of “taps aff” is on the increase, perhaps due to the lack of suitable lightweight attire available to the male demographic. While young women can wear skimpy crop tops or strapless numbers, young males only have the choice of going topless or sporting a silly T-shirt with an even sillier slogan upon it.
I hanker for the time when, as a callow youth experiencing premature male-pattern baldness, I strode the Saltcoats promenade, like a brooding Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, clothed in a summer-friendly semmit. Normally I’m a modest fellow but I have to admit to catching admiring glances from unaccompanied tattooed girls pushing prams filled with greeting weans. Never a dedicated follower of fashion, I derided the decision of my pals to switch to the then novel string-vest variety of that garment. These days, despite my urges, it’s impossible to recreate those days of my youth on account of men-haters declaring vest-wearers to be “wife beaters”.
A spell of bright sunshine is the catalyst for half-nude men to start working on their lawns, mowing for victory as they strive for brownie points from their wives that will enable them to gulp down pints with other Neanderthals in the local beer garden. It matters not a jot that startled neighbours believe the lawnmower is being pushed by a circus-trained upright hippopotamus. Meanwhile, the shirt-wearing meeker of the male species is dragged along to Dobbies to stare at plastic furniture and job-lot BBQ kit. Despite having a “please kill me” look in their haunted eyes, no-one offers to put them out of their summer sales misery.
In the summertime, there is the usual stampede in the supermarket to buy own-brand cheap sun cream rather than pay over the odds for poncy brand-name aromatic varieties that can only be afforded in the aftermath of significant quantitative easing. For those with Celtic antecedents, a concoction of Factor 50 is the minimum requirement. In the section of the aisle helpfully marked “Ginger Plus”, it’s rather disconcerting that redheaded individuals seeking sun protection see not a cream but a hoodie.
Any talk of the sun having its hat on makes me nostalgic for the halcyon days of my childhood. If I close my eyes, I can still see, and unfortunately hear, my exasperated dad endeavouring to erect a deck chair, a striped prototype of the Rubik cube. When I close my mouth, I feel the grit of the sand from the, erm, sandwiches being ground amid, erm, sandwich spread and Stork margarine. If I look down, I imagine my legs turning that strange hue on entering the cold waters. If I cock my ear, I hear my mother repeat the lie that a jellyfish sting is nothing to be afraid of.
I’m thankful that my mum and dad made sure I enjoyed my sunny salad days – perhaps they had a vested interest.