There’s no anticipating when a midlife crisis will hit – nor what form it will take. Not for Adrian the mistress or the motorbike, the divorce or the dental implants. He liked his life – the two teenage girls of whom he was inordinately proud, the companionable married love he enjoyed with Hannah after two decades of marriage, the partnership at his city firm, and the spacious house in the Chilterns.
He was confident. He was successful. And he was still able at 43 to pass for a man in his 30s. But he knew time was nearly up: his hair was just beginning to thin, waistline just delivering a whispered warning of the coming paunch, the first exploratory nasal hair just testing the outside air…
Before it was too late he yearned for something that had never been within his grasp as a shy and swotty boy. He wanted to look… well… cool. Not publicly cool – he wasn’t into tear-your-life-up daring or anything like that. Just a bit of private, between-himself-and-the-bedroom-mirror cool. And how he remembered the impossible glamour of the cool kids at school in the 1980s. Their paisleys, their brothel-creepers, their drainpipe jeans and the tinny sounds of The Clash and the Pistols that issued from their Sony Walkmans or their ghettoblasters. He remembered how they looked at him, as he went past them in his pressed jeans and his Christmas jumper, holding his little sister’s hand. He was and would always be a creature of suits for work, Lands’ End chinos and Boden rugby shirts for the weekends. But in secret, what could it hurt? Absolutely no one ever need know.
So a free afternoon in town, one day, had led him to the stalls of Camden Market. He’d come home with a dream tightly rolled in a pair of old Ocado bags.
Every Saturday afternoon after that – while Hannah was out at Pilates and the girls were in town – was his special time. He reached his treasure from behind the shoe pile in the back of Hannah’s wardrobe, cranked up Clampdown on the Bose, and – drainpiped, leather-jacketed, bandana roughly tied and unlit cigarette bobbing from his sneering lip – he looked in the full-length mirror at what might have been. “You don’t owe nuthin’, so boy get running. It’s the best years of your life they want to STEAAL!”
Months went by, Adrian seemingly safe in his little deception, but what he didn’t know was that Hannah was onto him. Had been for quite a long time, in fact. A couple of times she’d come home and found him looking flustered, hastily doing up buttons. She’d noticed once or twice that one of the satin slips in her wardrobe had fallen from its hanger, as if it had been disturbed. These little things had stuck in her head, but meant nothing.
Then at the dentist she’d lit on a feature in a magazine – “I Caught My Husband Dressing In My Underwear” – and everything fell into place.
So one Saturday afternoon she came home early, let herself in quietly, and slipped up to the bedroom with purposeful swiftness. Ever since she’d read that article, Hannah had been searching her soul. And what she’d arrived at was acceptance. She was a modern, forward-looking, open‑minded woman. So what if he liked to wear her frillies from time to time? Wasn’t it so much better that he had that feminine side to him? And wouldn’t the marriage be so much stronger if she could share that?
She’d planned what she would say when she opened the door. She’d even practised it in the Costa round the corner from Pilates. “Darling, don’t be frightened. I accept you for who you are. I only wish you had felt able to share this with me,” she had said soothingly to her caramel latte. “And, maybe…” she’d looked out from under her eyelashes, “maybe it might be” – she’d flushed at her own daring – “maybe we could even bring it into our love life…”
In the event, she delivered none of this tender, caring, brave speech. Instead, she opened the bedroom door wide, allowed her mouth to drop open and, quite involuntarily, bellowed: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Adrian. Winklepickers?”