Friday, 14 December 2012

What Lies Beneath?

Everyone has secrets. Everyone. Every single person you have ever met has that one horrible, shocking thing that would kill them if you knew about it. Something they did in their youth, something they did half an hour ago. Something dirty and perverse. Something that, if you found out about it, would make you gouge out your eyes and then throw up on them. Everyone has secrets. And here are mine: I sometimes sing what I'm doing when I'm alone, I often speak to my dog in a series of "racist" voices, I like the band Eternal, when I sit on the toilet I often play air drums, I really like Shakespeare In Love, I sometimes exercise, Mandy Patinkin singing Sonny Boy makes me weep and I wear thermal underwear.

Can I justify any of those things to you? It'll be tricky, except for toilet air drums because that is so cool. Imagine it now. Me on the toilet playing invisible drums. Just imagine it. Imagine it now. Think of me doing that. There. Pretty cool, huh? I'm not sure I'd know where to begin to justify my secrets. Except one. Thermal underwear. Can't understand them? Try them. Your whole life will change.

Thermal underwear is for old people. That's what I thought. I was 24 and staying overnight at a friend's house. Her house was freezing cold and she was too poor to put the heating on. I'd have to sleep in my clothes. I don't like that. It's smelly. Then she offered me a pair of men's thermal underwear. Long johns and a tight top. I laughed. I'm not wearing that. I'm not a 1860's prospector. I'm 24 and hip and cool and into Marillion. Why would I want thermal underwear? Why would I ever wear thermal underwear? Why does she have a pair of men's thermal underwear? Actually, I never asked that last question because it's only just dawned on me. Why DID she have a pair of men's thermal underwear? Anyway, look, it doesn't matter. The fact is, she had a pair of men's thermal underwear and I reluctantly agreed to put them on. Well, why not. It'll be a laugh. I'll look stupid and we can both point and laugh at how stupid I looked. Maybe I'll pretend to be a 1860's prospector and go around her house looking for gold and cackling. Fuck it, it doesn't matter how daft I look, I'm putting these stupid things on.

I was quiet for a long time after that. Clothes don't normally mother me. Clothes just tolerate me, hanging on my body and looking embarrassed. I put on those thermals and it felt like they missed me. "There you are!", they said and they hugged, they held me. They held me all night. I was finally safe and warm. No adult feels safe and warm. Not until they have a moment like this. Cosy and protected. Loved and guarded. These aren't clothes. They're sanctuary. 

Waking up the next morning and taking off the thermals was awful. All those memories flooding back. "No. Not yet. It's too soon. I'm not ready. Please, Mum. The womb is so much better than what's outside. Don't let me go!!!".

But that was it. I had to get back. I didn't go home when I left, I went shopping. Thermal shopping. I bought three pairs. WHAT IF I WORE THEM ALL AT ONCE? No. No. They're all individuals. I have to respect that. God, this is exciting. I have something new that is brilliant and cosy and it loves me as much as I love it. Even better, they go under my clothes. No one will ever know how happy I am.

That's been it ever since. I don't wait until the weather goes cold. Just crisp is enough for me. Then the thermals go on. Under my clothes and out in public. Wherever I go, I'm getting attention. Maybe not from people but from something more important than people. It's always nice when someone asks how I am. "Fine", I lie. I'm not fine. I'm delirious with joy because, although I might look like I'm just standing there, I am being cradled. What an incredible secret to have. I know he lives in a fortress of solitude but I don't think that's the only reason Clark Kent wears his flashy blue thermals under his suit. He knows how brilliant it makes you feel. Sure, on the outside Clark and I are awkward and pathetic looking. But rip open our shirts and we are heroes.

That's why they all wear thermals. It gives you a secret confidence. Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner all have something underneath that gives them that boost when they need it. Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and cocky industrialist Tony Stark need to put more clothes on on top of their clothes if they want to get anything done. Two years ago I did a gig in Southend on a freezing cold night. Think I care about freezing cold nights? I look forward to them. I actively seek them out. My secret thermal two-piece is on underneath my ordinary, boring clothes and I march confidently from the gig to the train station to get back to London. That's when a youth tries to mug me. He has something in his pocket, or he's pretending to have something in his pocket, that might pierce my skin. He tells me to give him my wallet. There is no one around. So I walk briskly to the opposite platform where there's a train going even further away from London. He walks beside me constantly saying he's going to cut me if I don't give him my wallet. I get on the train and he still follows me. "I don't give a fuck if you're on the train. Give me the wallet now" he says. I think he's bluffing. I think there's nothing in his pocket, I think he DOES care that I'm on a train and I think he's a crap mugger. The train doors warn us that they're about to close. Nowhere to go. For either of us. The doors's beeping seems to get more frantic but I can't do anything yet. Just wait. His face is right up close to mine and the doors are screaming WE REALLY ARE GOING TO CLOSE RIGHT NOW! Just one more second and...I push him hard, he falls to the floor and I calmly walk off the train. Letting the doors close behind me. I see him getting up and try to open the doors. Too late. They're locked and the train is departing. He's shouting at me and giving me the V's and I smugly smile and wave. The slow, brass section-only introduction to the Superman: The Movie theme begins in my head.

Is that enough? Convinced now? Thermal underwear is nothing to be laughed at when we all should know that it's THAT good. Wear thermal underwear: Stay warm, fight crime.

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