Hard as (painted) nails

It didn’t start as a fashion statement. My girlfriend just thought that I had very ugly toenails and, as a bit of a wheeze, decided to paint them. I didn’t think that they were that ugly; they were just sort of boys’ toenails. They certainly weren’t like an old man’s: long, yellow and untouched for 20 years. OK, the big one was a bit black, and another one had fallen off some years ago and always grew back a bit odd, but surely they were no different to any other lad’s.

Maybe we were at that stage in a relationship when the girl likes to test out just how far you are prepared to let her go; just what you will do for her. It was clearly enough. We are now married.

Whatever, I immediately fell in love with the varnish thing, and my nails have been painted ever since. At the time I was working for an ultra-conservative company which had made me take out my earring. The appeal of the toenail varnish was perhaps the idea that they would hate it, but would never see it and could do nothing about it.

And it just became a part of me. It’s not something that is ever noticed outside the summer, or our house. Oh, and the football changing rooms.

Only in my fantasies have I ever been paid £100k a year, let alone a week, to parade my football skills. But – like David Beckham – I am the captain of my side, and this does lend one a certain cachet and standing in the changing room, even if it isn’t quite Old Trafford.

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Occasionally new players join the team. In that mixture of camaraderie, bonhomie and embarrassment that is the footy changing room, the floor is a good place to look, particularly if you are the new guy. Before long they will notice my toenails and do a double take, but will usually refrain from saying anything at first. After a few games they will feel that they belong enough to mention it. By then they will also have realised that much of our dressing-room banter involves taking the mickey out of each other, and me in particular. They usually look relieved when my opening line is something along the lines of: “My wife started it.”

That’s about all I have in common with Beckham, to be honest. By force of talent, looks, personality and the fact that he is a nice guy with a good-looking missus, he has made himself into a national hero. He is clearly secure about his sexuality, but he is also in touch with his feminine side. Remember the sarong? While the tabloids briefly took the mickey, the fact was that he looked good in it. Soon afterwards, briefly, in the privacy of our hotel room, I tried on my wife’s sarong to see if I could get away with it. Through her hysteria I became painfully aware that I couldn’t. Not really in Beckham’s league when it comes to looks. And, more importantly, my arse is too big. You need slim hips to get away with that look.

There was also the time Posh suggested that Becks wore her knickers. Most folk knew this was just Victoria’s mouth running away with her again. Because most men must have noticed that G-strings just wouldn’t work for them. It simply would not work physically. End of story.

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This weekend I discovered that a friend of mine shaves his legs. He is a cyclist and could have claimed it was for aerodynamic reasons, but was man enough to admit that he regularly hacks through ankle stubble out of sheer vanity. In the ensuing hilarity, he revealed his father-in-law’s new penchant for chest-hair shaving. This, naturally, was derided as evidence of a particularly virulent midlife crisis, but was considered to be just about socially acceptable in a younger man. As a Manchester City fan, it will be hard for my cyclist friend to accept that this social acceptability owes much to a United player.

We discussed the idea that at some point he may even try waxing or Immac-ing his legs. This beautification thing certainly leads to all sorts of new retail excitement. For a while, at the beginning, my friends took to giving me nail varnish as birthday and Christmas presents. My wife bought me all sorts of trendy Hard Candy blues and greens. But it was her chief bridesmaid who, two days before our wedding, presented me with L’Oreal’s Jet Set metallic lilac. This is my favourite – subtle in appearance and quick to apply.

As a treat, I thought that I could go for a pedicure on the morning of my wedding in Northumberland. My Geordie mate explained that he didn’t think it would go down well in a room full of girls getting their nails done. That sort of thing might be all right in trendy London, but not necessarily in Newcastle, he explained.

It’s true that there are boundaries which it’s better not to cross. I recently experimented with my wife’s red varnish. She told me to take it off because it made me look like a tart.

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Fingernails are clearly more frequently visible. I’ve never really fancied the fingernail look, but Becks’ weekend indiscretion made few waves. Perhaps it was because, as a style icon, he can get away with whatever he likes. Or, more likely, in the wider context of ridiculous celebrity behaviour, it paled into insignificance alongside Liz Hurley’s decision to give her son Damian six godfathers.