I don’t know when exactly it became commonplace for flies to be left undone. I think it must have happened during the first COVID lockdown. All I know is by the time I started leaving the house again, I was routinely catching myself and swiftly zipping up (note this is a very different scenario to “routinely catching myself while swiftly zipping up”, which thankfully never happened).
Right now you’re probably thinking “Alan, this is not a problem anyone else had during lockdown”, and you might be right but let’s face it it wouldn’t be the first time my experiences outlined in this blog were, shall we say, non-standard (or oddball-esque).
You have to understand, I took lockdown extremely seriously. I didn’t leave the house for over three months. Like, not once, not for exercise, not for the shops, not for sunlight. I was so lazy (might change this to “terrified of being infected”) I stayed indoors from 3rd April 2020 to early July. I was such a hermit (might change this to “socially responsible citizen”) I didn’t even avail myself of any of the multitude of opportunities to scam lockdown with thrice daily visits to Tesco’s, and an exercise regime of running, cycling and brisk-walking around town all day.
(*if you are wondering why this three month period started early April rather than March when lockdown happened, it’s because on 2nd April I had to go out to buy sugar. I think that was allowed, but I wasn’t proud of it, and ran home as quickly as I could.)
It was in this climate (the indoor climate that is, I had no idea what the weather was like out there) that I think the routine of doing up zips and buttons on a jean became somewhat redundant. It was likely during a time when I was wearing particularly fiddly jeans; fiddly because I’ve had them ten years and I used to be much skinnier. It probably started by just not doing all the buttons, because who would see, and evolved into full on fly neglect. A lot of routines had to change in those crazy times, and this was just one of those. I never went out, my camera for work calls was always above the waist, and crucially, I did always wear pants, so it just fell off the priority list, really without me ever consciously noticing.
But I noticed alright much later in the year when I started going on occasional walks with my neighbour. To begin with I’d notice after I came home; this improved and I started noticing halfway through a local walk, or while in the queue at Costa.
The most brazen example was during a long walk through a local dog park (I don’t really know what a dog park is but it appears to be an area about the size of Wales just a few miles out of town with no buildings in it). I thought it would be hilarious to tell my neighbour that I seem to be in the habit of not doing up my fly anymore, and was halfway through explaining this when I realised FUCK I’VE DONE IT AGAIN. So there I was, in a dog park in the middle of nowhere with another man and my zip undone. I looked around, looked up to check for helicopters, then zipped up and continued my story.
I resolved that day to get out of the habit of not being in the habit of closing my fly, and for a while that was that. I enjoyed successful and productive days at work, occasional social outings, and even return visits to the dog park, all without the return of my “lockdown problem”.
That’s not to say my underwear was always appropriately concealed. There was an incident at the Chinese supermarket…
My neighbour and I had driven there, with him doing the driving, and as I previously described he has this snazzy little two-seater car which previously caused me to incinerate my leg with my e-cigarette. Well this time, just as we pulled up at the Chinese supermarket to pick up provisions, I was hauling myself out of the low passenger seat, and the entire arse of my jeans ripped open. I think this was an existing design rip in the back pocket, which set off a chain reaction due to the strains and awkward angle of me trying to extricate myself from the car. And so … I spent the next half hour perusing the Chinese supermarket with the back of my pants on display to all and sundry. Thankfully I was not challenged by staff or security over this exposure but I already had a comeback line ready: “Mate, I’m pretty sure you’re selling jellyfish dicks over there in aisle 4, so I hardly think you can complain about my pants showing.”
(As mentioned my camera for work calls is always above the waist, so yes I do sometimes still wear these jeans indoors – but if they rip any further then one of the legs will genuinely fall off at which point I think I’ll donate them to the local charity shop).
Anyway, more recently I was at work, enjoying another day in the office with verified trouser integrity. The end of the day approached and I packed up to set off home. “Good work today Alan, you’ve met both mine and the company’s expectations for a daily work unit” my line manager said. “Shit hot performance today Alan – you were fucking on fire from start to finish” our department’s in-house motivational coach added. “Solid job on keeping your jeans in one piece and fastened as appropriate for the workplace” everyone else seemed to say with a wave.
I left work with a spring in my step (I actually think it was a stone in my shoe), and made for the Tube station. It was busy and having lost the knack of weaving through crowds due to the relative rarity of this rush hour journey these days, I was bounced and knocked by unruly commuters like a pinball until I made it through the entry gates and toward the escalators.
It was when putting my ticket back in my pocket that I realised that my fly was undone.
The initial stomach-churning dread that my frequent (but not too frequent as to arouse suspicion or police attention) checks had somehow failed and I’d spent the whole work day in this state, quickly gave way to the realisation that I’d popped to the loo on the way out of the office, so this is probably where it happened. Now here I was in a congested public underground station and I had to act fast.
Leaving things as they were was no option; within minutes I would be on a Tube train. It would be standing room only. Not only would I be pressed up against many other commuters with my nether regions accessible, but there would be rows of people seated and the potential for me to be jostled into a position of standing over them, at literal eye-line with my trouserial malfunction. And I knew for a fact TFL had just brought in a strict zero tolerance policy of accidental or non-accidental flashing on the underground. If I didn’t fix this right now, I’d have plenty of time to do up my buttons during a stretch in HMP Belmarsh*.
(* the high-security and well-known Belmarsh was a useful institution to call out for the purposes of this gag, however for accuracy, and because I recently ear-read the audiobook of Jeffrey Archer’s prison diaries, I feel obliged to note that it would be unlikely for me to be placed in the Category A prison Belmarsh for an underwear exposure on the train, however much of an example Sadiq Khan wanted to make of me. Rather it’s far more likely I’d end up in a Category C prison like HMP Maidstone, or perhaps an open Category D establishment such as HMP Standford Hill**)
(** It’s been commented that I overthink things sometimes, yes)
Back to the matter at hand (NOTHING WAS IN MY HAND). In my favour, there were a lot of people around so any on-the-fly fly-buttoning should go unnoticed by the ignorant hordes; but on the flip-side there were a lot of people around, and any of them could spot me correcting my crotch, call a British Transport Police officer, or any large man, and have me taken to the ground and thumped or cuffed.
I had dashed to the safety of the nearest escalator. This was my chance, I’d stand on the escalator, with people standing in front and behind, and others walking down on my left side, there would be little opportunity to see me ‘adjusting my belt’ which is what I would be trying to pass it off as.
It took a little longer than hoped, these were indeed my fiddly jeans, which probably explains why I subconsciously left it when I had gone to the loo earlier. But by the bottom of the escalator I was sorted, and had done so unseen, with the exception possibly of the 18 CCTV cameras which had probably facial-recognitioned the fuck out of me and added me to a ‘watchlist’.
Flustered and still swearing about the whole thing under my breath, and occasionally over my breath, I dashed onto my Victoria line train, to go north to King’s Cross for my train home to Gravesend. In a moment of panic I made sure I listened to the voiceover to check I got on the right train – I had been very distracted and had been on autopilot. “Northbound Victoria line train to Walthamstow…” Yeap, that’s the one.
In all the chaos I hadn’t put on my face mask, which I usually do at least on a packed Tube, so I tried to breathe as little as possible. I don’t just wear this mask for COVID-reduction reasons, I had it custom-printed and it features a variation I created of the logo of netball team London Pulse (I consider myself to be their number one fan, and whilst this has never been confirmed in writing or in social media posts or half-time game announcements, I am at least confident I’m in the top 14).
The mask was in the back pocket of the backpack I was now carrying between my legs in the aisle of the congested train, and not accessible without being one of those people who fucks around with their luggage on a busy service. Ironically, the way I was holding my rucksack in front of me placed my hands just below my belt, which would actually have been a great way of covering my accident. I vowed to remember this trick for next time, and then vowed to remember that there must never be a next time.
I still had a nagging feeling about this train, I looked at the little scrolling display, it said the same thing – “Northbound Victoria line train to Walthamstow”. I was just being paranoid. Two stops into my three-stop journey, the feeling returned. I couldn’t see much of the station as we arrived, the train was so crowded, but I did manage to see VICTORIA splashed all over the platform. I was definitely on the right train, I don’t know why I was being so agitated.
It wasn’t until I got off at the next station that I really knew something was wrong. I was at Pimlico, not King’s Cross. I had been travelling southbound. The Victoria which I had taken as reassurance I was on the right line, was Victoria the station, two stops south of where I started.
It took a moment for it to sink in just how unlucky I’d been. In my daze, I’d gone on the wrong escalator and my autopilot had then taken me to the right line but the wrong direction. And this had happened on the one day when BOTH the automated announcer and the little screen in the carriage had gone wrong and were giving the wrong information. My jeans had not been the only malfunction of the evening.
So across the platform I went to get the reverse train three stops back and then a further three north to my stop. I had missed my Gravesend train, but all the dicking around with travelling back meant I might just catch the next one quite neatly. It involved a little running towards the end, but I made it. This train was pretty busy too, but I never really go for seats, so I ducked into the first carriage that had some space by the doors.
I took a few breaths; the ordeal of awkwardness was over.
Right, back to my tasks. I put my backpack down and opened the pocket to get out my face mask. I lifted it out and stood up, having a glance around me as I untangled the straps.
To my left, about three feet away, was Izzy Stibbs, actual London Pulse player, in her London Pulse training gear, with her London Pulse backpack.
She was looking the other way and so I snapped my gaze away before she looked over. I needed time to overthink this whole situation.
I couldn’t put the mask on, she might think I’m a stalker. I was pretty certain about this aspect, so I leant back down and tucked the mask back into my backpack pocket. If anyone had been looking at me I was clearly just untangling straps as a way of killing time on the train, nothing wrong with that.
I stood back up and made sure I didn’t make eye contact. This is where it gets very complex on the social awkwardness scale. You see, I’ve MET Izzy Stibbs. Only once, but I was chatting to her for some minutes at a season launch event, which sponsors and top 14 superfans were invited to. I am not for one second suggesting she, a world-class athlete, would remember meeting ME, but I did tell some good anecdotes that night, and I did have the same God of War backpack with me (which I had been very self-conscious of at the netball launch event as it was very off-brand, possibly disloyal, not to have official team merch on my back).
Out of the corner of my eye I saw she was on her phone. She was probably texting the whole team that she saw “so-called superfan Alan McCann” on the train and he hasn’t recognised her, he isn’t even wearing his custom-made mask, and he still hasn’t bought an official fucking backpack from the merch website.
Or maybe she didn’t recognise me. I would love to be recognised by sporting idols, but in this specific case, I did not want to be seen. Even though I was standing unobstructed three feet from the person.
Other option: do I say something? “Hi Izzy, I don’t know if you remember me but I…” No, absolutely not. This cannot happen. Absolute stalker.
Maybe I could just look over a couple of times and see if there is any recognition? No, I will look like a weirdo. Casually looking at people to get their attention is not a skill I have mastered. I come across as either a stalker, mentally unwell or a combination of the two.
I started to wish that I’d kept the mask out, maybe it could have been the icebreaker. I daydreamed situations where this could work. Like me dropping the mask, and she courteously goes to pick it up at the same time as I do, and I’m like “Thanks, I… Oh my God, Izzy! This is insane, it’s actually you… what a coincidence… How did this even… what are the chances! Wow!”
And she says “Alan, right? Our number one fan?”
“I see you still haven’t bought one of our backpacks. By the way, did you follow me to this train…?”
After that the daydream deteriorated and I gained confidence that my ‘pretend I don’t exist’ approach was the one to go for. This was only to last six minutes, till the next station. She was clearly going to Stratford, to the Copper Box Arena (home of London Pulse) for some team or training sessions. You must remember I specifically bought a house that had a direct train line to London via netball.
The only problem was I was standing by the door which would open at Stratford. As she stood literally inches in front of me, I had a change of heart, and tried to make eye contact. At this proximity the story that I hadn’t noticed her would just wear thin. But she was lost in her own netball world, and off she went.
A few months later, I was at the Netball Superleague Grand Final with my little sister, who had come down to avail herself of my front row seats at this elite sporting event (and possibly additionally to spend some time with me).
As we meandered around the venue before the match, I spotted the London Pulse merch stall, and a familiar face manning the busy trade. Izzy.
Forgetting my sister was with me, and possibly in that moment forgetting I had a sister, I bolted over. “Hi Izzy!!” She gave me a look like she might have sort of recognised me, but I just couldn’t be sure if she recognised me from the season launch event, or from some of the games…
…or as that awkward guy from the train.