01.08
Underwear goes inside the pyjamas

Travelling at 19.6 mph on my matt black Bad Boy Cannondale along the most beautiful urban cycle track in the world, I listen to the silence of my bike.

The Chicago skyline looms large in front of me. Majestic, towering, sleek, chrome, black glass, and rust coloured brick buildings cluster on land reclaimed from lake. It’s a City where architects rule and it still takes my breath away every time I pass in its shadow.

I weave between fellow cyclists, skateboarders, volleyball players making their way to the ranked courts on the beach (just opposite the outdoor ice hockey rink) and become transfixed by the many shapely roller-bladers swaying from side to side as they maintain an improbable speed along the cycle track. The warm breeze sweeps off Lake Michigan. I begin to drift off in a semi-conscious reverie. Another couple of bikinied roller-bladers pass me in the other direction.

Breasts.

My unconscious loses itself in contemplation of the American breast. Bigger and more rounded, it seems here on Lakeshore Drive, than elsewhere. Can it really all be silicone? If so, what an under-rated material that is. But no, I’m fairly sure these must be the handiwork of the Grand Designer in the sky rather than synthetic enhancement. If ever there was a reason to believe in God this must be it. The American breast in its perfect form, as found in its natural habitat on the body of a roller-blader by shores of Lake Michigan, is indeed an artful construction.

A sudden movement only a few feet in front of me… Jesus Christ, I’m going to die!

A small toddler, Middle Eastern extraction, has embarked on an unsteady suicide mission across the two heavily congested, fast-moving cycle lanes.

He’s whipped out of harm’s way milliseconds before causing a car crash of a pile-up between cyclists, roller-bladers and skateboarders. Looking back, I see the toddler had been headed for a baby wearing what might have been nothing more than a cloth to protect him from the sun, but looked rather like a skullcap. The baby had been throwing sand at the toddler. What had I done, I wondered, to get caught up in this local territorial dispute? Must have been those impure thoughts.

I’m wide awake again. Eyes on the road. With the program (programme).

Minutes later I’m locking my Bad Boy to some railings outside Grant Park and joining sixty thousand other twentysomethings for a three day festival of Alternative Rock. This crowd of unwashed barely pubescent youths is where I belong. I struggle to convince the beer monitor than I’m old enough to drink. To be fair, this probably had more to do with my forgetting to bring my ID than with my appearance, but it took me right back to the time twenty-five years ago when I talked my way into Chicago bars I was three years too young for, by explaining that the English don’t carry ID. Why would we need to? A gentleman’s word is enough. I pulled the same stunt here at the Lollapalooza Festival, but my excitement at being challenged for possibly not yet being twenty-one begun to be replaced by a looming panic that I was running the very real risk of not being allowed to drink beer for the next three days. Only when I hitched up my T-shirt to reveal that my boxers were completely hidden under my shorts did I conclusively prove that I was old enough to drink beer.

Nothing demonstrates to me, as much as I want to deny it, that I belong to an older generation more than the fashion of wearing one’s pants (trousers) around one’s knees. Why anyone would choose the belt-less jailbirds who inadvertently inspired this trend as their fashion role model is beyond the ken of my grey cells. Given the opportunity to inspect a vast array of boxer shorts at close quarters, as I sat waiting patiently on the ground for The Flaming Lips to take the stage, I couldn’t help but notice that they weren’t even colour co-ordinated. If you were going to make a feature of your underwear, then surely you would at least want it to match the shorts that are halfway down your thighs. Wouldn’t you?

Underwear is important. Not only does it define your generation, but it also defines your nationality.

Americans, it seems, wear underwear under their pyjamas.

I know this because my wife told me.

She knows because she makes it her business to know every detail about her clients. It does sometimes occur to me that maybe I should be a little concerned that my wife knows what her clients wear in the privacy of their bedroom, but to be honest, I’m so intrigued by the insight that I don’t really care. (The client, in this case, is Marketing Director of Incontinence at Kimberley Clark. All glamour, my wife’s work).

They may talk funny, they may not know how to kick a ball, they may think they rule the world, they may be a little brash, but somehow the notion that they slip their pyjamas over their boxer shorts every evening makes them seem more foreign than anything else. (Presumably teenage Americans wear low-fitting pyjama bottoms.)

I find it hard to understand why they would do this.

There’s no mention of pyjamas in LazyBoy’s song, ‘Underwear Goes inside The Pants’. This contemporary social satire explores the issues of the day – obesity, octogenarian sex, chemical dependency, suicide bombing and the career-limiting prospects of a homeless guy who wears his underwear outside his pants. Scuppered in its chances of ever becoming a hit in the UK by the apparent tautology, it offers no explanation as to why underwear also goes inside the pyjamas.

Can it really be true that the very same people who voted in The Terminator as one of their mayors are a little coy in the bedroom? Maybe they feel they need added protection in these troubled times. I can see how a nation who once believed that Reds were under the bed might take the added precaution of overdressing for a nocturnal encounter with a communist. You wouldn’t want to find yourself face-face with a trench coat clad Ruskie in one of those big beaver hats at two in the morning if you had nothing more than a nightie on.

Despite coming from an authoritative source, I have to say I’m fully expecting to be refuted on this, either from American readers who tell me it’s a fabrication or from British readers who tell me its normal behaviour back home. When it comes to nightwear, I have to confess that I’m on shaky ground.

Our tumble dryer operates at heats of four hundred and fifty one degrees Fahrenheit and has thus reduced my two pairs of pyjama bottoms, as well as a number of my Ralph Lauren boxer shorts, to Teddy Bear clothing. And so (and please don’t swoon at this, ladies), on occasion, I have to confess, I wear nothing to bed.

But let’s suppose that it is true. Let’s suppose that Americans really do wear underwear under their pyjamas and that the English don’t. What does it mean? And what are the implications of our Special Relationship.

If we’re going to get into bed with the Americans, what are they going to make of our loose-fitting and barely concealing attire?

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