ABOUT A month ago I received an e-mail from a friend in America. It said simply: "Cargo shorts will change your life." I didn't reply at the time because I understood not one word of that cryptic sentence.

But then last week my wife went out shopping and returned with a pair of these so-called cargo shorts, which she presented to me. Then she attempted to persuade me that they were extremely fashionable. I was suspicious. She has done this kind of thing to me before.

I examined the shorts, which are nothing more than knee-length corduroy trousers with pockets on them, a style which was last fashionable when I was seven. My four-year-old son has several, which he calls combat trousers. Actually he calls them "comeback trousers" which always makes me think of Boy George standing in front of a mirror and shouting "Come on, me lovely Jekylls! Let's tour Japan!" "Cargo" is obviously a euphemism for "combat", designed to mollify people who don't want to be seen in trousers of aggression. Cargo shorts are peace shorts. Certainly there is no less war-like fabric than corduroy. Except perhaps tulle.

It's hard for me to swallow the idea of fashionable shorts, since at this time of year newspapers are always filled with articles by women saying that grown men should never ever wear shorts, because grown men have skinny white legs and unattractive knees. While I can't argue with the facts, I think it is no bad thing for men to go about looking purposefully unattractive. In an age where men are being encouraged to buy exfoliating scrubs, what could be more refreshing than the annual march of the defiantly short-trousered? I myself have extremely nasty legs, and I still wear shorts. Like many men I also struggle with a vanity so powerful that it threatens to take over my life. If I didn't voluntarily go about in shorts looking like Pinocchio, I'd become a monster.

I asked my wife which was more unattractive: my obsession with my personal appearance, or my legs? At which she looked like someone who'd just been handed a cake. She thought for a bit and said, "Your obsession with your personal appearance." I asked if that meant she thought my legs were attractive, and she said no. Of course, she's the one who has to put up with both, which is a kind of revenge, I suppose.

I put on the cargo shorts and I liked them immediately, although it would be fair to say that they do nothing for me. All week long I have been gathering up stuff to put in the pockets - rubber bands, magnifying glasses, pencil stubs and a few things I found in the road. I'm even thinking about getting a hook to dangle a penknife from, just like when I was seven. I hate to admit it, but these cargo shorts have changed my life.