Sun makes men lose their minds – and tops

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
6:30 AM

It is said that one of the reasons that women go through the agony of childbirth twice is because the mind erases the memory of how painful it was.

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I can empathise. For, having endured the torture of my wife’s nails digging into my wrist when our first child was born, I bravely went through the ordeal again for son number two. Ladies, please don’t call me courageous – it was all in the line of duty.

While returning for a second bout of searing pain might seem like the exclusive preserve of women, I think there is a male equivalent –sunburn.

Come the all-too-brief outbreak of summer, and many men eagerly strip off their tops, clutch a pint of something cold and flavourless, park their bodies in direct sunlight and grill themselves to get that perfect range of pink, red and purple skin tones.

For the next few days, it is impossible to move, sleep, put on clothes or have a bath or shower without unleashing agony.

Fortunately, one of the remarkable characteristics of a human being is its ability to learn and adapt.

If I take a dish out of the oven, it burns my hands. So the next time, I wear oven gloves.

If I hesitate when asked “does my bum look big in this?”, I might suffer the chill of a marital deep-freeze. So I nod, smile and say “you look beautiful, darling”.

But there is a blind spot when it comes to sunburn.

When the annual heatwave comes round again, last year’s agony is forgotten, and the mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun once more –and seem surprised by the painful results of their folly.

Last week, I stoically ignored the effects of a virus to spend two days at Cambridge Beer Festival. The ales were amazing. But not nearly as amazing as the reckless examples of suncream avoidance.

With skin at the lily end of the Dulux range, I slopped on the sun cream, slapped on a hat and slipped into a shaded spot to sup my beers.

All around me, men who should know better were exposing their pasty flesh and daring the sun to do its worst – which it duly did.

It’s hard to explain how much I loathe the English male habit of going “topless” in the sunshine. It’s ugly and undignified. The exposed human body should only be seen by others if they are your wife or husband – and even then only with the lights off.

I suspect Mr Sun shares my view, and I admire him for dealing with offenders by burning them to a crisp.

Beer bellies are bad enough when covered by a Fairport Convention T-shirt and the end of a straggly beard. But when revealed in all their horror and adorned with a sheen of sweat and a lobster hue, they can put you off your pint.

Having returned, traumatised, from Cambridge, on Sunday I saw a good friend who has just completed a rigorous physical and mental examination to qualify for the RAF.

He had been for a day trip to the seaside with his RAF pals (I cannot say where, for security reasons) and was redder than Sir Alex Ferguson’s face after Manchester City snatched the league title from under Manchester United’s noses. I pointed out to him that I am now relying on him to defend me against overseas aggression – but I can’t even rely on him to defend himself against the sun’s rays.

Judging by the habits of our male population, who lose all judgment as soon as the mercury hits 20C, if Al Qaeda launches an invasion of Norfolk on a hot, sunny day, we are in trouble.

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