Archive for the ‘WPlongform’ Tag
The day my cat died…
He was put down. Or put to sleep. Or any of those other euphemisms that mean nothing – until you watch him mainlined to a quick and peaceful death as part of veterinary procedure. The small patch of fur shaved – an annoyance that at any other time would have inspired an irritated swipe of his paw. Reliably followed by a gummy, knuckle-gnawing bite that would wrinkle his nose while serving as warning: the full sharpness of his teeth saved for the next time you were foolish enough to overstep the mark. This time nothing… only muted resignation. His warm, softly-wrinkled pink skin exposed in readiness for the calculated overdose of the anaesthetic injection. His nose slumping onto still paws then head rolling gently as if in slow motion onto the cushion of his favourite sofa bed. Quiet; unresponsive: cold. His transport out of this world complete and the vet’s calm confirmation as if coming from another place; another reality Then the sudden tearful void… when the guilt that you have killed him kicks in. As your world changes – subtly at first; but irrevocably.
He seemed indestructible. A spirit and heart that – despite a murmur identified many years before – coped with the list of ailments and conditions that come with age in much the same manner as he brushed off unwanted attention. As with all things – engagement was on his terms or not at all.
His name was Nutmeg. He was a moggy; an alpha male: a big tom cat. It was a bright and breezy October day and his passing wasn’t out of a clear blue sky. It was reluctantly expected as his powerful back legs – the ever reliable springboard of ligament and tendon that made him cock of the local walk succumbed to the passage of time. An inconvenience unwillingly accepted as the slowly failing kidneys – that it seems every elderly cat is to be cursed by – eroded his weight and imperious prowl.
The changes to his behaviour came like shadows in autumn. The high spot in the window he usually coveted was suddenly out of reach – even with the positioning of an extra chair as a launch pad. The toggle of a jacket usually irresistible was now worth only a perfunctory tug. String became an indulgence easily ignored. The journey to his favourite sofa cushion eased by stepping stones of occasional furniture that rose to the occasion.
His strength began to fade but it never cut his desire to go outside and seek the sun that was his lifeblood. Nutmeg could find the sun on a two-pence piece and his passage around a summer garden – both mine and those directly adjacent – was an exercise in hedonism to shame the most devoted Mediterranean sun worshipper. A passing dog walker and her husband whose daily ritual was enhanced by his presence in the early morning rays confided they had christened him Mr Sunbather. It was almost possible to set your watch by his calculated progress.
He had been on his own for two years… the last of the gang of four who have shared my house and life for nearly a quarter of a century. There’s little doubt they contributed more to the realm of human happiness than that similarly christened bunch of Chinese political scoundrels. Nutmeg certainly had an inscrutable gaze that started just above his stubbly broad pink nose and ended with green eyes that peered deep into your soul. It also put you firmly in your place. It was as if he was letting you know that you were the lucky one to have him… but I knew that already. And that he was ultimately tolerating you – not the other way round. Tenuous connections apart… a hint of communism intruded only in that I did my best for the common good; to give all four a great and – in all but one case, which was mainly relative to the extreme longevity of the other three but still exceptional in any generalised consideration of moggy maturity, a long life.
“Anyhow; trying to rap my arms around that big firm belly to attempt a pick-up always felt as if there were three of us involved in the operation and that two weren’t co-operating.”
Capitalism reigned supreme… toys were bought: mice of course, spiders and other unrecognisable scraps of man-made fur that dangled and enticed; and colourful cushions and Scandinavian bean bag beds and perches constructed from wood, rope and carpet tiles that were supposedly the last word in feline entertainment centres. The last word came from them as they exercised choice like children at Christmas – discarded cardboard boxes providing the most fun and as in any relationship what was mine – the sofa and the armchairs and my bed were theirs but what was theirs was a waste of money.
I often felt it was only a matter of time before the call – no; not the big man upstairs but from representatives of the main pet food manufacturers. I imagined them ringing for my valuable opinion: keen for the inside track on pussy preference. Twenty-five years gives anyone a unique insight into the developments in the market. The packaging of cat food went from bog standard large tins of pink/brown gristly composition to sachets of adulterated pink/brown composition called mousse, culinary casserole and pâté; often alive with herb tastes; all disguised as human dishes and full of delight – apparently – to what are in any case genetically pretty limited taste buds.
In their lifetimes they, and I – because I had to carry the considerable weight home from the supermarket every week: more pallets than palate – witnessed the gourmet makeover of cat food. The circle was complete as their ailments took in expensive, special vet-approved – veterinary available only – urine and kidney diets. My social life was booming – check out that cute veterinary nurse in her crisp white polyester – along with my muscles as the weekly supermarket trip now involved a regular detour to the surgery. Some people went to the pub on a Friday night… hmmm… The new emphasis on quality was reflected in the ever decreasing portions. The tin opener discarded for ring pulls and foil trays. A quick inspection of the proportions of the ingredients suggested emperor’s new clothes with added vitamins.
As well as the developing power of marketing this also serves to illustrate the remarkable quality of feline hearing. Their ears could pick up the sound of a cupboard opening, or a tin being shifted from plastic bag to said cupboard from what seemed the deepest of sleep and against a cloak of the loudest of music/TV soundtrack. What one of them didn’t eat the other did which was a wonderfully convenient natural order of service; as what today was nectar to the palate, tomorrow – in that maddening way given to all cats – was as tasty as cat litter.
Nutmeg was the least frenetic at mealtimes. He had a control; a patience to his demeanour that eluded his three housemates. Open the door after a group night out and he was always last to amble in… He didn’t hang from the kitchen draw handles like Tarzan (Alfie) with a tail made from jungle vine or twist in and out between my legs (Sid) while using them as a scratching post. Neither was he small enough to wriggle under the others in expectation like a longhaired reptile (Marmite). He was cool – and just cool with it.
For him feeding time was punctually observed – unless it was a summer’s evening when a few more rays could be crammed in as he turned his coat a distinctive and predominantly lighter sandy colour. Any attempts at postponement on your part were not welcomed however. Delay then produced his characteristic meow; except it wasn’t a meow more a quadruple syllable a-rat-a-row given extra stress with the typically accompanying nod of his round head that punctuated the customised rat and the row. His only preference beyond the norm was for dry cat food – the biscuits whose rattle in the box brought him from anywhere; a habit of a few laid on the backdoor step enlivened his movements at any time of the day or night.
Despite a heavy build he had a studied disdain for being carried even in his twilight years. Anyhow; trying to rap my arms around that big firm belly to attempt a pick-up always felt as if there were three of us involved in the operation and that two weren’t co-operating. He always magically arrived to slump and roll at my feet for a belly rub as if appearing from nowhere by dint of mystical all seeing eyes. I didn’t always know exactly where he was but he knew where I was with that special sense that is given only to animals – and cats in particular. Life with cats is as much about sixth senses as nine lives. They are acutely aware of your movements and habits as you are of theirs despite their genius at affecting disinterest. Like living radar they operate in a rarefied sphere beyond the hours of the day spent with us mere mortals who must appear clumsy and needy to them at the best of times.
Those to whom such things are important or who are overly concerned with pedigree and breed might call him red or a marmalade tabby… but he was ginger – and proud! An orange glow on a dull grey evening, a flaming meteorite at twilight and in winter like an out of season African marigold. Unlike his cousins on an African plain he hunted out of genetic default rather than feeding necessity; warping our games of chase – which were only ever preambles or practice for the main event – into that particular cat mix of feline ballet and ritualistic torture; a grand brutality that never let you forget which gene pool he had been dipped in. I attempted rescue many times – sometime with success – more often than not simply prolonging the agony. That’s when the full meaning of letting nature take its course became evident. I also reluctantly had to engage in mercy killing which gives your conscience precious little mercy in the following days.
All of the gang of four were unique characters… Alfie, Marmite, Sidney and Nutmeg – none of which were names of my own choosing – each came to live with me as young cats from troubled, chaotic unwanted beginnings of varying degree. A broken home that as cats they probably – if not helped to break – then certainly frayed at the edges when no one was looking. Each was to become as much a part of the fabric of my life as any other family thread. There was a reason they all made the journey to my doorstep. And the cat grapevine must have been hot about the sucker at number five who could always be relied upon. They might not initially have been the chosen ones but they definitely chose me.
Even the pet names became shortened to er, pet names: Nutmeg answered to Ginger Nut, Meggy, Nut, Nutty, Nutgut – when he obtained his 8kg plus supersize in the prime of his life – and Snuggers when resplendent in full winter coat and a ball of a face with thick ruff on his cheeks and on the top of his head. Even though a big cat vertically his tail was to always drag the ground in horizontal pose as a legacy of the unexplained lump at its base. Caught once in a door perhaps? Other than that he always seemed caught on a catwalk: as he strolled toward you with the tell-tale swing of his back which was appreciably higher to contain those already mentioned powerful back legs. All became painful and marked as age, weight loss and frailty took hold and his demeanour and movements resembled a pinched old man – which at twenty-one he was. To see him run at his peak was comical – back legs kicking sideways in unison much as a cartoon character; round belly; tail flying. A ginger looney tune running on as the music played in my head. That’s all folks is now a painful reality.
“I still find an odd ginger hair that has got into the most unlikely of places – a miniature replica of him in life. Now their discovery is just a small tributary to an ocean of melancholy.”
There are those who don’t get it. There’s no point feeling sorry for them. They betrayed themselves when they asked – as his hold on life was getting increasingly tenuous – if I was going to get another cat; much as you do a new sofa. These were the sort of people to describe another human being as an animal for the fundamentally evil excesses that an animal would never do. It was sad to lose him – sadder still for this sub-species who can’t or are somehow inhibited or afraid to make that connection. Sometimes he met these people… I could always tell – it was nothing that an hour skulking and breathing with relief in safe familiarity behind the sofa didn’t cure. Ego and security reinstated he’d come out like nothing had happened – a resilient ball of fur always bouncing back. Contrary to the last – bin lorries, speeding cars, sirens and fireworks never bothered him in his daily rounds and meditations. And blackbirds hopped around him more intent on worms than avoiding the slow dying light of his physical disinterest and disinclination.
There have been moments when I prefer animals to people: with the exception of those with designs on a new sofa – who hasn’t? There are times when anything is preferable to people. It’s the love that’s different that’s all; certainly not better or worse but unique and special because they are 24-7 companion; point of reference; unabashed physical contact, welcome mat, guardian angel, sounding board, solace provider, source of motivation, comfort, precursor to the best in you, exercise partner and playmate. The ultimate stress-buster guaranteed to lower blood pressure – furry physicians with the perfect bedside manner. They don’t argue; they’re almost always willing and free with love and unlike humans don’t say things to cut you to the core just because they can. Which they can’t… but that’s beside the point. Plus it’s always easier to forgive those eyes and that appealing big-eyed bundle of fluff anything. They’re loyal and there at any time of the day and night. Especially if food’s involved! But hey; that’s the positive exchange mechanism for a good home and a good relationship: right?
So it’s goodbye Nut… from the kitchen window I can see his resting place by the side of the greenhouse – in his favourite strawberry patch. The last in the line: the last on the escape route from next door to die. Refugees never found a better life. Every two panes of glass a cat is buried. That’s the maths. But numbers don’t do the reflections justice.
I stuck a lone Rudbeckia in the top of his grave – the late bloom of a poor summer. And what was an even poorer season for his passing. It reminded me of him – the sunshine boy: a walking/sleeping reason for optimism – an animal almanac. From thin strip of grass at the front of the house; by garden gate or dividing conifer hedge to the hot glass top of the cold frame; brief sojourn in the greenhouse on in-between days – out when it became too uncomfortable – and into the strawberry patch on the straw bed laid to protect the fruit that was a yielding duvet for a summer afternoon’s idling. From there to the concrete and tarmac for a quick top up of heat reserves as the sun disappeared. Summertime he was straight out after breakfast – winter required more thought and logistics: the sun a less reliable friend. Unlike most cats the rain held no fear. When it drizzled or poured he would sit impassive just under the hedge, often in the middle of the lawn; that thick coat and thick skin impervious.
The house and the garden is now empty but for the gliding impish ghosts of memory. There’s not an inch of bed, or floor, or sofa, or armchair, or shelf, or wardrobe, or airing cupboard, or hallway, or plant, or tree, or fence, or path, or blade of grass that doesn’t tell a story of fond traffic and daily passage and yet none can convey the whole drama… the privilege of having shared my life with them. It hurts more because he is the last of the gang of four and yet it hurts no more than as each of them was lost.
So goodbye Nutty – no more disdainful looks as I interrupted your progress to somewhere really important. No more timely comfort when he just knew; no more taking over half the sofa while squirming on a broad back – an illustration of his total trust in me – and then a cheesy smelling, hot foot with burning pink pads protruding onto my newspaper. No more fishy sweet yawns. No more fiddle played – double bass with his long legs: nor laidback contented washes that had the same calming effect on me as I watched. No more keeping the radiators warm as mobile insulation unit.
No more cries at two in the morning as if in distress – only for you to yowl excitedly while proudly displaying the mouse you caught: a brief moment of shared triumph as you marched in the front door deposited the bundle at my feet for the accolades and then exited just as quickly out the back. No more mealtimes; or wet feet to be wiped – collapsing on the door mat as part of the ritual. No more wanting to be on the other side of a shut door for any other reason than it wasn’t shut before or waiting imperceptibly for me to settle before you simply had to go outside. No more – he’s behind you! – as you crept up on me unnoticed. No more lofty perch on the shed roof like a lion up a tree in a savannah documentary.
“He was a moggy; an alpha male: a big tom cat. It was a bright and breezy October day and his passing wasn’t out of a clear blue sky.”
No more rising panic when he didn’t appear or that comes with every squeal of brakes. No more ginger fur on my clothes to be found during the day: raising a gentle inward smile. No more wake-up calls three times a night; no more turning up – just as I was going out or being there waiting to mark goodnight when I came in late. No more meow at six in the morning: better than any alarm clock as you peered up to the stubborn shape in my bed. No more head nodding double cries of recognition or demand. No more surreptitious little nudges for action, or acknowledgement; or simply shared moment. No more cool nose warm bodied love. No more vet visits; cat basket psychology; worry of operations and the accompanying unsettled days at work waiting on a call; or cat food expeditions, or concept of feeding times even though the clock now seems to be missing a hand; or checking out the window to see him settled and that all was right with the world. No more interruptions at any time. Has a decent night’s sleep ever been such a poor trade-off?
Of course there were occasions to get annoyed – but never angry. Pet owners everywhere will recognise the false chastisement, the mock lectures as to future behaviour that is part of the game… going through the motions was never more pleasurable. A cat is much like a mirror… the two-way devotion even when you don’t like what you see. It’s not all sunshine – only when they’re around.
Old age turns cats into dogs: with a kind of creeping gentle dementia he increasingly sought reassurance any time of the day or night with random cries like a child in distress. It’s a deeper relationship that evolves: it becomes more intuitive with an older cat – we both understood each other’s actions completely and could anticipate accordingly.
The striding oligarch aloof and determined to do his rounds transformed into the wise old man when the spells of just sitting and looking gained a whole new currency. He had perfected the twenty yard stare to a level of reflective meditation that required several seconds stood in front to break… only then came the familiar greeting. Our communication definitely went up a notch. He nodded and talked all the time: asking directly for things – like the water can to be delivered to his tired body when he needed a drink outside. We had more and more subtle chats built on intonations on a few syllables as complex in emphasis as an Eastern language. It’s like making peace with an elderly relative; a renegotiation of a relationship.
Although in the pet shop window of life kittens are the big draw the relationship with an elder cat is uniquely special with abundant examples of trust and expectation: the days of all-nighters fulfilling instinct, chasing string, bounding upstairs three steps at a time, pulling along on his back underneath the bed by his claws and the unexplained animal presents might have disappeared but hints remained of this to the end. A few weeks before he died he triumphantly caught a mouse and still forced his wobbly frame into a valedictory display of what passed for a chase as an intruder was spotted on his territory and dispatched over the fence.
Goodbye Nutmeg… I buried him at a spade depth so that he would be undisturbed by cultivation or construction of any temporary garden structure… A clod of soil bounced from the nearby heap onto his fur – disturbed as I lowered his lifeless body into the dark from on my knees. As I let go of him at the full extent of my arm he curled naturally in the tiny space at the bottom of the hole as if settling routinely on any of the scores of evenings we shared. I stupidly, forgetfully stretched and brushed it off… a few seconds later after a last lingering look and a final resolve to get on with it – three quick shovels of sand and stone covered him completely and deprived him of the sun for the last time. I placed the rest of the soil from where it came carefully, reluctantly; tearfully as if not wanting to hurt him. As with digging any hole there is some spoil left; enough to suggest his supersize bulk. I scattered it around among the garden and the memories.
I still find an odd ginger hair that has got into the most unlikely of places – a miniature replica of him in life. Now their discovery is just a small tributary to an ocean of melancholy. After the long winter the spring heralds of gentle warmth and days stretching out – Nutmeg days. What I wouldn’t give now to disturb him and his three sleeping bed fellows as the strawberry plants gain new life by the greenhouse glass.
The swish of a flower head; a bird’s flight or just an object left out of place only to creep into my peripheral vision makes my heart sing – then my stomach turn still. It’s not him or Alfie; or Marmite; or Sid. There they are reflected at the back of the mind: a fleeting image on the retina; a stop motion film from what now seems so long ago – looking for food, fussing, fighting, exploring, hunting, playing or just hanging out; making time suspend in the special way that only a cat can. And there’s truly nothing peripheral about that…
“Hey son, come on … over ‘ere! Come on – that’s it, get your spot nice’n’early eh? Good lad. High fives? Come on son… give us yer hand: I don’t bite – at least when I’ve been fed and I’ve already had a couple of the audience this mornin’! Hya! Hya! There that didn’t hurt did it? Gangsta! How about tryin’ this… eh… oh shit, never could get me hand like those rapper guys. Never did like doin’ for their audiences much either. Naah, I’m not racist or nothin’ – most of ‘em are white middle-class kids driven to the gigs by a yummy mummy, and the music’s shit anyway – innit? Cool.
“No, don’t put that there! Oh; and if you insist on that bottle of Jackie D we’ll have to confiscate it won’t we? Dangerous object an’ all. You could drink someone to death with that. Hya! Hya! Sorry lad, it’s not me who makes the rules. And don’t hang that over the barrier unless you want it nicked. The crowd?! No…security that’s who! Bunch of bloody reprobates every one of ‘em – me included! I’m the worst – me – so Big Dave says. Yeh; I know… ironic ain’t it! Ironic? Doesn’t he play on the right wing for Croatia? That’s one of me mate Big Dave’s jokes. Wait a minute… you a student son? You are? Okay: well he does play on the right wing but only for a scratch team! D’ya get it? I don’t. It’s one of Dave’s interlectual jokes…
“I did for that Alanis Morissette once you know. Naah, not in that way – Hya! Hya! Protected her from the riff raff, I mean – like you. Never liked her much though – always wearin’ jeans or one of them long skirts like a bloody librarian: music’s ‘bout as interestin’ too! I much preferred that Girls Aloud… for one there was five of ‘em, and for two; you could see right up their skirts from down ‘ere. And for three the second made me forget the third! Hya! Hya! I used to tell Big Dave – he’ll be along in a minute – that I had such a good view I knew which one of ‘em was on! Naah, not that I’m sexist or nothin’. Ah, the legs on that Nadine – eh? You don’t like ‘em son? What’s that? Manufactured shite? Maybe… but I bet you would have done wouldn’t ya?
“Polly Jean Harvey… that was another one with good legs; did her at Glastonbury – Britpop era it was – dressed up like a tart she was. There I was havin’ a bloody good look durin’ that Fifty foot Queen Bee song and she comes over and threatens to splatter me balls wiv her guitar. Feisty? No, it was definitely fifty foot. Anyway she must be a bloody lesbian! Naah, not that I’m homerphobic or anythin’ – just that it’s not right; is it? Cool. Hey, son better change the subject… look at that walkin’ this way… Oh; it’s your girlfriend…
“Er, yeh… should be a good gig. I prefer the outdoor stuff, yeh, I think it’s the more liberal attitude yer know; that sort of vibe. Big Dave said I’m too liberal for me own good – I told him I must be the most relaxed member in the whole of the BNP! What you laughin’ for! Did I say it was a fuckin’ joke?! There’d be no Ironic in my bloody team let me tell you that! Hello darlin’ he’s alright, he’s safe – he’s wiv me ain’t he? Aah, young love eh? I could tell you some stories… many? Loads of ‘em… been around me… I should fuckin’ coco! Oh, festivals!? That’s what you was on about. What a prick eh? What you say?! Don’t yer even think of fuckin’ agreein’ wiv me on that! I’m not a psycho or anythin’ just a bit sensitive me ol’ mum says. It’s alright love – come on, come back, I’ll let him go; I was only jokin’ – Hya! Hya!
“…Ri Ri? Me! Me! Madge? Got the badge! Gaga? Drive my car! Adele?! Go to fuckin’ hell!”
“There yer go, it’s only a little tear… tell yer friends you did it surfin’ to Biffy! It’s alright love; I’ve put him down now… er, as I was sayin’, loads of ‘em: I’ve had me back to them all: Coldplay, U2, Oasis – that Liam Gallagher hit me in the back of the ‘ead once: threw his bloody tambourine when he was busy tellin’ Noel where to go! Don’t look back in anger – eh son? There, that’s it … you can still see the dent. No? Oh, must be the bright sun, eh son? Hot son? You wait ‘till the other sixty thousand arrive! Don’t worry love, we’ve got plenty of water to pass out – phew, she’s a worrier ain’t she? Always spit in it first though! Naah, don’t tell her that son she’ll do her nut. Keep the peace like I do eh? Only a joke anyway… I would say I predict a riot but if she passes out the first aid tent’s a bleedin’ mile away in that direction. One bit of advice though son, Big Dave always, I mean always pisses in the buckets of water he chucks over yer. Right? Cool.
“Hey darlin’… where is she?! Gone to get somethin’ to eat you say? Sensible as well as gorgeous – eh son? Yer, need somethin’ inside yer. Unless yer a real man of course! No really, she’s a nice lookin’ gal, you’ve done well. Festival virgin is she? Or just a virgin eh? Hya! Hya! Go on get her in the tent later, no one’s gonna hear yer we’ve got megawatts of power – drown out a nuclear explosion it would – even yours! See that stack over there, I had to stand right there for the Motorhead set yesterday – ‘what a delight it was to see the prototype exponents of British speed metal receiving a belated welcome into the bosom of a new young audience, as a legion of festival goers greedily surfed on the contagious cacophony created by a leering Lemmy and his cohorts in aural crime’ – that’s what The Times critic said. At least I can still read… can’t hear a fuckin’ thing though! Big Dave’s the same. Deaf. I said he’s deaf!! Sorry son: that makes two of us – mine are still ringin’ from yesterday, right? Says he’s glad of that when that world music shit is on. He’s smaller than me: double ironic eh? I found it blowin’ round the toilets – not Big Dave! The paper stupid! I always liked The Times – plenty of arse wipe for your money. Must be all them long words they use. Not much use now though. I should have written to the letters page and complained. Give us back the broadshit – signed: caught short of Glastonbury. Hya! Hya!
“Madchester? Baggy? I should say so – me trousers looked like they’d divorced me balls!”
“As I say; I’ve done ‘em all. What’s that son…Ri Ri? Me! Me! Madge? Got the badge! Gaga? Drive my car! Adele?! Go to fuckin’ hell! Robbie? Yeh. He put his foot on me shoulder. Left or right? How should I fuckin’ know! Twat! ‘And through it all she offers me pro…’ then he got off. Next night I was in the same place and he did the same thing only this time he gets up to ‘protec…’ I flogged the t-shirt to some little honey that I pulled out of the front row for thirty-notes. Perks of the job son! Isn’t much I haven’t seen. And done. Best girls? Easy; the ones who go to see Robbie. Worst? That’s easy too; too easy if you know what I mean – heavy metal bitches. It’s all them devil signs – it’s the only horn I get from them: makes me feel like a chicken at Colonel Satan’s takeaway. Naah, it isn’t just people like Robbie what gets the groupies, we do too you know! We make ‘em feel safe – then we shag ‘em! Count to three – fingers that is – then if it doesn’t work force entry: that’s the security code! Hya! Hya! What you fuckin’ laughin’ at!? Mysogernist? Who’s she when she’s at home? Some woman rapper or summat? Naah, don’t worry; I’m not a violent man. I’m like one of them martial arts gurus me; I channel the force – I wouldn’t hit no one with this lethal weapon as it would compromise my pacifistic morality. That’s what Big Dave says and he’s got a lethal weapon too. Yeh, we get our share of the girls… mind you that one wouldn’t let me put the t-shirt on her – bloody bitch: should have charged her fifty-notes! Laugh again son and I’ll knock yer fuckin’ head off! Okay?
“See, I haven’t actually hit you have I? And those red marks fade real quick – go on have a drink of this – get your breath back. Plenty of Big Dave’s special ingredient in that. Hya! Hya! Yeh… you get blahsay to the job in the end. Yeh; the stars become your friends so to speak. They see you grapple some crowd surfin’ git off the stage so they ask for you again. I had a Christmas card from that Chris Martin once – asked for a donation to make poverty history. I’ll make him fuckin’ history, bloody tight wad! I’ve got a collection of sweaty towels at home: Mick Jagger’s is me top one – he signed it for me. Elton John’s towel’s got a silk monogram on it: E.J. it says. Strange that. Got one off one of them riot grrrl groups back in the nineties. They were some harsh girls them. Kick you in the balls as look at yer. Or was it that Tori Amos? Hmmm; could have been Courtney Love now I think of it. Whatever, it’s got blood on it – not yer menstrual though otherwise it might have been worth summat. How do I know? Big Dave’s brother works in the lab of an STD clinic. That’s how! Very civilised that Chris Martin: tight but civilised. He wouldn’t have blood on his towel. Probably come up smellin’ of roses in any bloody case! Moral spokesman for a generation and Gwyneth Paltrow for a shag! Mind you their music’s dismal shite – ain’t it?
“Talkin’ about smell… you ought to be this side of the barrier facin’ you lot when the wind’s in the right direction! Phew! Big Dave says he can smell the excitement. And the rest! ‘I love the smell of excitement in the mornin’’ he says. He’s always quotin’ that Apocalypse Now. He plays it over and over when we’re on the road – that and ‘is Lethal Weapon too. Says his only ambition is to do security for Napalm Death – then he gets to say – ‘I love the smell of Napalm Death in the mornin’’ The Horrors? The Horrors? Naah, never ‘eard of ‘em.
“Me? Strangely enough I chill out by goin’ to see bands. Proper busman’s holiday eh? Favourite? What of all time cross me heart swear on the Bible me mother’s life look at the tits on that kind of way? Oh that’s easy absolutely no doubt… Stone Roses or t’Happy Mondays: did you notice me slippin’ into a Manc accent there son? Can’t help it. Yeh, I was there then: ‘avin it large; poppin’ pills. Madchester? Baggy? I should say so – me trousers looked like they’d divorced me balls! Spike Island. Yeeurghaaaaa! Bez?!!! What would I have been wearin’ one of them for! Shaun Ryder – just like that, eh? Twat! Students eh? All that money and what do they know?
“Did a stint on the door of the Hacienda for that Tony Wilson once. Naah, not long… stayin’ at the same venue all the time was like working in a factory. I didn’t hang around. So it goes. No, never liked that earlier Manc stuff. Joy Division? Ian Curtis? Enough to make yer top yerself listenin’ to that dark shit! Only time I concentrate that hard and jerk like an epileptic is when I’m comin’ either that or I’ve got a Tazer up me arse! Big Dave’s got one – illegal it is. He collects weapons – he got it off an internet site: it’s just like the ones the Met have got. He wants to bring it along one day he says: mix work and pleasure he says. Naah, I don’t mind New Order. Blue Monday? Great porn flick that! We watch that for a warm up, right. Yeh; I like a good time… which is why Quo’s me real favourite. What? So I lied! Oh, and I’m not religious. And me mother’s dead in any case!
“I much preferred that Girls Aloud… for one there was five of ‘em, and for two; you could see right up their skirts from down ‘ere.”
“Went to see the Quo about a month ago, yeh; another one of their farewell tours. Not so Sweet Caroline it was. Yer see son, I forgot meself… I goes down the front hops over the barrier and starts doin’ me job of all things! What happens? I gets ejected… yeh, me… that’s what happens! Ironic eh? Broke his jaw though… case comes up in the autumn. Cool.
“Jeez, look at that lot just arrived over there! Twenty of ‘em; twenty’s about the oldest I’d say too! Wall to wall crop tops and bikinis and the hormones to fill ‘em! Yeh, as I was sayin’ son, I love the outdoor ones! Wait for the crowd surf… I’ll be draggin’ ‘em out very slowly if you know what I mean! Time I was movin’ on out… movin’ on up – over there!
“Nice talkin’ to yer son. I’ve met worse. Have a good one? Yeh: and you; and a havin’ it large one or in my case a stiff one. As we say in the security game: break a leg… and an arm… and a nose too if you can! Hya! Hya! High Fives? Naaah? Oh, your arms still hurt… okay. Coooool.”
I bought a waistcoat once. It was a long time ago. A youthful misdemeanour. If it was simply an adolescent crime it would have been forgotten; long wiped from the record. However, the cyclical nature of fashion means we are regularly reminded of our crimes. Not only that but we have to confront the victim of that crime every time we look in the mirror. I bought a waistcoat once and it’s still there – in the back of the wardrobe between the paisley shirt and the ill-advised boots that I had to have but that were ultimately too big – and I never got round to taking back.
At this distance it’s hard to remember that one day when owning a waistcoat was the epitome of cool desire… any more than it’s possible to concede that legwarmers, stonewashed denim or harem pants must once have seemed like a good idea to someone.
There has to be an explanation. If I was superstitiously inclined I could go back and check the confluence of moon and tide and time. I could plead temporary insanity. But that was evident enough in the act. I tried it on again recently. For the second time. But only when the house was empty; the landline taken off the hook; the cat – who knew something embarrassing was about to occur – had gone out to fill next door’s borders and the Jehovah Witnesses were sent forth to multiply from this house of Satan’s waistcoat.
I closed all the windows, drew the curtains, shut the bedroom door and opened the wardrobe that creaks provocatively speaking of a secret stash and slowly exposed the fashion faux pas from its lonely refuge. Had the years mellowed my perspective? Had I grown into my impulse purchase? Was I reaping the benefit of waiting half-a-lifetime – for the right time? Was it now rakish? Raffish? No – just rubbish. Irredeemably naff in a way that well, only the truly irredeemably naff can be… not an open wound – no extravagant thirty years of hurt – more an uncomfortable place from a scab thought long healed over.
In the Seventies when suits had large lapels, flared-trousers, uniquely awful colours and were made of even worse fibre mixes – the waistcoat was like an early incarnation of the Bogof. You took your purchase home and made it comfortable in the wardrobe prior to one of its rare outings and discovered what looked like an off cut with three buttons at the bottom of the bag. Oh; this is for me? I thought it was for a colour-blind dwarf feeding an outsize messiah complex.
The waistcoat was fashionable in an age of the deeply unfashionable – cheesecloth shirt anyone? Stripy tank top? Cloggs?! All representative of the Noel Edmonds school of fashion circa the Multicoloured Swap Shop era.
Weddings and funerals only… everyone turning up with sideburns stretching like hairy rope ladders to meet paunchy midriffs that were either perfectly enhanced or unnecessarily constricted – it was all about perspective and how much beer you had drunk – by the ace in the hole dimension of the three-piece combo. The super-tight waistcoat contrasting sharply with the billowing sails of trousers fit for an America’s Cup challenge, whose flaring routinely began from the bulging crotch, and the regulation polyester shirt with a hideous motif spilling/exploding from the gaps in the buttons like high street psychedelic vomit.
Once in a while I have a feel-good charity sweep around the house – fill a plastic bin bag from the competing monthly pile that drop through the letterbox as confetti confirmation of economic belt-tightening. No matter what the good cause I still hold on to the waistcoat. It’s like a dark secret… prison, bankruptcy, emotional breakdown, body odour, sex change operation, recurring nits, thrush, secret Steps reunion album? No problem – just don’t mention the waistcoat! I fear the fashion police will somehow trace my kind donation to the down and outs and hold me up to eternal ridicule… “These poor homeless people have suffered enough: do you really expect them to wear this!”
What really happens to all the waistcoats that are stuffed in plastic collection bags for faraway places? It’s true… I haven’t ever seen a Big Issue seller in one. There’s desperate and then there’s desperate. Maybe they’re the height of fashion in outposts of post iron-curtain eastern Europe? Is Africa full of them – all pulled over the top of last year’s Premier league shirts on the rare cold nights in what’s left of downtown Mogadishu? Or is there a secret anti-fashion sect of hipsters who meet in a dingy basement in an up an coming part of east London to celebrate the retro-cool of the hot colours and even hotter sweat-inducing cut and fabric? Maybe… I just don’t go to the right places?
“Relive what appeared the psychological clothes prop of the taste-less… the waistcoat was easier but no less sinister than clown make-up.”
Then one night I have a bad dream and see them all… All the waistcoats that ever existed – floating in a dubious cultural landfill in my tortured subconscious. Like a suicidal Willy Wonka in a fabric factory I twist and gasp and cry out in my troubled sleep…
Welcome to the nightmare provinces of comedians, magicians, lounge lizards, seventies entertainers, poker players and Butlin’s redcoats. When waistcoats screamed – “I’m here; I’m tired of just a supporting role!” Relive what appeared the psychological clothes prop of the taste-less, of anyone who had to put on a front; to con, or disguise who they really were – or convey the simple folly of acting jolly: the waistcoat was easier but no less sinister than clown make-up.
For a long period the tighter the waistcoat the smaller the mind. The Union Jack on overweight John Bull characters – symbols of empire – gorged on colonial plunder: red-faced and florid with divine right wing on their side. The local politicians and councillors – the mini John Bulls of planning disputes; car salesmen; racist comedians with certifiable mother-in-law issues – “It’s the way I wear ‘em!”
Snooker players too boring for words but for whom no waistcoat was deemed too bright and primary-coloured; too sparkly or patterned to dance like queasy interference on your TV screen as an incarnation of the style devil to contrast Ted Lowe’s whispered reverence. The clack of balls referencing painfully awkward efforts in bringing garish “character” exhibition to the green baize matches in a manner echoed by Tie-Rack and Sockshop in later decades when their products were worn by stuffy commuters on dress-down Fridays.
This was the era when waistcoats were cool but only to the terminally unhip: those who dressed in the dark or had a wardrobe set on random. The dark days when wasitcoats ran through the fields of fashion suit-free. Among the lollipop ranks of children’s TV entertainers – stand up Timmy Mallett: oh, you are – and those who turned up at private birthday parties to unsettle young minds in person. Beardy folk singers and Morris dancers: MOR crooners with names like Dickie, Des and Matt. There were soul hipsters who nearly pulled it off and a young Jackson Five whose sense of fun and rhythm almost closed your jaw as their robin rocked.
In Hollywood fiction… DA’s in waistcoats met cops in a hurry – “You’ve got twenty-four hours to solve the murder or I take you off the case!” I wish someone had given me that ultimatum all those years ago when I murdered any taste I had accrued. Eighties’ yuppies: in the City boys with ties askew, sleeves rolled, up to their necks in takeovers – awkwardly adjusting waistcoats that barely concealed the unleashed greed. The straining spare-tyre advertising their trading floor prosperity: nouveau riche but stylistically bankrupt. The nightmare only ends as I stride the high street in my own green waistcoat – didn’t I tell you it was green? Hmm… must have slipped my mind. It was the garment that launched a thousand quips. Comments that build to a crescendo before I sit bolt upright in bed sweating like bad polyester.
But somewhen, somewhere, somehow… the waistcoat must have risen above this file of contrary cultural evidence. How in step, or deluded, I must have felt on the fateful day I visited that old school jeans emporium. Lee and Brutus; Levi and Wrangler: the four horsemen of the denim apocalypse. Green (double indemnity!) cotton drill. Mock metallic buttons. But definitely not cowboy style: I draw the line dance on that!
Perhaps I was exploiting the small window of opportunity in the careers of Status Quo – the nano-seconds when Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt were hip instead of just shaking their arthritic hips to the factory grind of blues rock riffs: as if the double denim wasn’t bad enough guys? Hard to suspend disbelief? Yes – but then no more so in retrospect than Mrs Thatcher getting Meryl Streep to portray her at the cinema.
Look around today and who is pushing waistcoat chic? There are the usual suspects on the high fashion catwalks. Daniel O’Donnell and Sir Cliff – who both exist in a parallel universe of uniquely awful taste in clothes – fight the good fight and probably have God’s forgiveness in any case. Brand Beckham hasn’t really worked his magic on them to any great extent.
No, the likeliest recipient of the garment/accessory/proof of vacuity these days is the porky member of a boy band making up the numbers – come in number five your time is up! More likely to be Vestlife than a resuscitated waistcoat. Let’s introduce them to the adoring girls: here’s cute Kyle, hunky Harry, bulging Brad and delicious Dane oh, and er, Brian in his waistcoat. That’s right B-R-I-A-N. The fifth corner in a newly tight four piece. Still won’t make me a Belieber or a dedicated follower of the fashion…
The sea, clocks and spherical objects in the night sky have moved on… The colours are now relatively muted in comparison but the question still remains… What is it about waistcoats? They’re less a fashion statement as a form of silent swearing. A murmur. A fart at a social gathering that everyone struggles to ignore. A gentle excuse me in a world of loud look at me flatulence.
Some people have been known to keep their kids as hostages and sexual playthings for twenty five years; others still have their first porn mag dog-eared under the bed, a fully-functioning train set layout in the attic, their National Front membership card or everything Donny Osmond ever committed to vinyl… I have a waistcoat in the wardrobe.
“It’s like a dark secret… prison, bankruptcy, emotional breakdown, body odour, sex change operation, recurring nits, thrush, secret Steps reunion album?”
The boots? Well, I admit it was the colour really – not the fit. The paisley shirt? Whether I wear it or not there will be another psychedelic revival – I’ve lived through at least three already. But the waistcoat is like the terminally sad kid at school. Anxious to forget the past; no comfortable memories; no retro-cool – no reason to go to a reunion.
I bought a waistcoat once… It’s back there again – safely ensconced in an institution: my wardrobe – for my and other’s safety. Fashionably medicated to forget. Whisper… I can still get it on… oh yes; second time around it still fits! I can still cram two Mars bars in my mouth while stood on my head against the bedroom wall but like other colourful remnants of the past – would I choose to?