Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I’ve just done something few people do: been on a visit to Peterborough, entirely of my own free will. Two young railway employees were checking the tickets of those leaving the station.

‘Sir?’ Click. ‘A pleasure!’

‘Madam?’ Click. ‘Pleasure!’

‘Sir?’ Click. ‘A pleasure!’

‘Oh, stop eating shit, you little twerp.’

I didn’t say that, just thought it. After all, the poor buggers are probably required by some management pillock to lay on this smarm, and this same pillock might well have been kibitzing nearby to make sure no boot went unlicked. I hope he was, and that otherwise these young lads would not thus have abased themselves. What sort of batty ‘personal touch’ will they think up next? Will they check that our shoe laces are tied, do up our coats, burp babies? (In Marks and Sparks lately, after the inevitable ‘thank you for waiting’, the check-out staff bid us farewell with the exhortation ‘enjoy your goods’. Oh, please.)

My purpose was to buy a jacket, and I went into Gap. Now, Gap are always very concerned with the customer’s ‘shopping experience’, and the kids who work there will not leave you alone to browse unless you make it quite clear from the off that you do not wish to be pestered. Even then, as you are leaving, a manageress will pounce on you.

‘Were our staff helpful today for you today, at all for you?’ she will ask.

‘Yes, they were.’

‘Anyone in particular at all today was there, who was most helpful for you today?’

‘Oh, I reckon the lad with the shaved scrotum.’

Leave her guessing. I hope I am not depriving kids of commission or anything by being so unhelpful. It’s just that this sort of manipulation makes my gorge rise.

I used to like buying clothes. Shoes are just boring affairs that I replace when they disintegrate, but shirts and trousers were always important to me. I’ve never been wholly comfortable with the body I inhabit, though, and after the age of about forty-five I found that I really could not stand the sight of the middle-aged grump who confronted me in fitting room mirrors. Fitting rooms are rarely adequately lit; one here in Stamford has just a little yellowish strip-light above the mirror and it makes you look as you probably will a couple of days after you are dead. The pleasure of shopping for new duds is much diminished as a result of all this, and self-confidence severely dented. I suppose I could get some therapy for this, but I fear the diagnosis would be ‘in fact, it isn’t body dysmorphic disorder. You are genuinely misshapen.’

(Incidentally, I wonder what they say to all the unsuccessful applicants for ‘Ten Years Younger’ and ‘How to Look Good Naked’? ‘Sorry love, but you really are a dog. Live with it.’)

I looked in Marks and Sparks and felt old. I was the youngest man there by quite a wide margin, and Blue Harbour stuff looks OK on plastic mannequins and the tanned and husky blokes whose enlarged photographs are all over the walls, but I’m not such a bloke, or a somatometrically perfect plastic doll, and everything I tried on looked wrong. I inhabit the No Man’s Land between medium and large, neither one nor the other, and you have to be tall and slim to wear all this stuff, not short, stocky and barrel-chested. This is a source of much repining to me, but no surgery will correct it, so there you go. I am not overweight, and that's official, but the way clothes hang on me, the casual observer would probably think I was. Actually, the casual observer, by definition, probably wouldn’t give me a second thought, but years of self-consciousness create the delusion that everyone is thinking, oh, Christ, look at that bugger, you couldn't bend wire that shape.

Well, after much debate internal I ended up with a Tommy Hilfiger winter jacket from John Lewis for £140, more because I was fed up of looking than for any more positive reason. It is sober navy blue and quite unadorned, not Ali G yellow. Mooching around other shops afterwards I saw jackets indistinguishable from my new purchase at half the price, but sod it, it will serve.

What I wear tends to be loose-fitting and voluminous, as I hide behind clothes rather than use them to draw attention, having nothing to draw attention to. I’m reminded of my grandma. Roominess was her main criterion, both in selecting garments and in appreciating those of others. ‘You look to have plenty o’ room in it’ she’d say approvingly, if one of us kids had some new item of clothing. If we could do a twirl while the garment in question remained stationary, she would commend it the more. I still feel strangled and self-conscious in anything labelled ‘slim-fit’, and I long for the day when it might become fashionable for men to wear black kimonos.


Bo said...

I am exactly the same. I wear the same clothes almost every day (blue shirt, dark jeans, suit jacket, brown Italian shoes) and eat the same lunch and dinner about three days a week (Pret ham and greve baguette, coffee, banana; mushroom tortellini with peas, broccoli and pesto.) Sad, innit?

vilges suola said...

Yep, I suppose it is. But when something comes along to disrupt the routine, I complain about that too.

Anonymous said...

The Shaved Scrotum??? I bet that stopped her in her tracks.

I wish I had the balls to make snide remarks like that.


Bo said...

That's showing spirit!!

P'house served curried scrambled egg after the ice cream today. No wonder I yearn for sensible, basil and pecorino flecked pasta.

vilges suola said...

AV, I think they ask for it.

Bo, curried scrambled egg after ice-cream? Presumably this was some sort of cock up rather than a Heston Blumenthal type experiment?

Does High Table get the same scran as the groundlings do? I remember the 'Formal Hall' in my day with the latin, gowns, candles and waiter service as something of an embarrassment - all that pomp and circumstance for the same fatty, overcooked slop you got at the earlier queue-up cafeteria style hall.

Bo said...

No, we get a four course meal, usually better stuff than the students. It's always fish, roast meat, pud, then a 'savoury' like a 1930s stately home---y'know, a devil on horseback or olives and bacon or herring roe on toast. :|

vilges suola said...

I say, how perfectly splendid! Port and cigars afterwards?

Bo said...

Port. And there is a snuff horn...

vilges suola said...

Amazing. I shouldn't be surprised really. I once heard Stephen Fry tell of a queenly old don relating to him over port the tale of a sexual encounter. 'And do you know, my dear, he had really the most...' at this point, a college servant enters the room, and the old don continues without lowering his voice '...enormous SEA-OH-SEA-KAY.'

Fionnchú said...

Ok, you two. Stop this Oxbridge scran banter. What I wanna know from the frontier: ‘Ten Years Younger’ and ‘How to Look Good Naked’?-- are these real TV shows? I suppose so. I guess AA Gill was right; I thought you pair watched opera on the Beeb or summat. At least hosted by whomever succeeded Alastair Cooke.

Fro the record, clothes hang on me like a wire hanger; I wear the same subfusc attire I got years ago at thrift stores to meet our school's dress code (!) of tie, slacks, nice shoes, coat optional for male faculty. Denim verboten.

One advantage of severe myopia is that I don't have to see myself (clearly) naked in the mirror. (Word verification: "bableoli."

vilges suola said...

@ Fionnchu: 'Ten Years Younger' is a make-over show where some female applicant who has smoked and sunbathed and swigged sugary tea to excess all her life will be paraded in a shopping mall and people asked to guess her age. Her average age will come out at sixty five, whereupon she will tearfully reveal she's only forty six. Then a team of plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, fashion 'experts', make-up artists and hairdressers are unleashed on her, and we watch as she is transformed. After she has submitted to their attentions, the poll is repeated and she comes out at thity-five, and there are tears and champagne and kisses all round. 'How to Look Good Naked' is a programme in which ladies with body dysmorphia are shown how to dress to accentuate their good bits. I's all part of a curious genre of British TV that portrays us as a nation of utterly helpless, shiftless bums, unable to clean, cook, dress or feed ourselves, bring up children or manage our money without some bossy {usually} female 'expert' to take us in hand.


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