New Shirt

Well, I checked the post this morning and the agents’ contract is still noticeable by its absence. Sigh. Back to work today and it’s hot and sunny so the roof stays of my little car. I had planned for this blog to be a diary of the journey from the nod from an agent to buying the first copy in W H Smiths but I guess it’s time to wait and be patient. In the meantime, here’s a bit of doggerel I penned last year when my partner and I got hitched. Like my bit on the Simpsons socks, it approaches the whole subject indirectly but I think it hits the mark. Somehow, clothes seem to be quite a handy metaphor for major life events. I read out a bit at the dinner afterwards when we had all had rather too much vinho. Hope you like it:

I don’t often go shopping in the big city so when I do it’s a bit special and today I have some special shopping to do. The good people of Cologne surge around me in their woollen coats and feathered hats, carrier bags, bicycle bells and clanking trams, bustle and hustle and a symphony of idling engines in idle cars.

OK, first things first. Luis says that our wedding has got to be very informal. That means funky jeans and loud shirts to signify that conventions are only there to be broken. But the big idea is for everyone to have fun. He’s a total nutter, of course, but he has this ability to find the truffle hidden under the roots of adversity and I think that’s how he’s actually managed to survive for so long. When I think back on it, his entire life has been a lurch from crisis to catastrophe, but he always seems to have this ability to come out of it having had fun and bearing no malice to the world or anyone in it. If he could put it in a bottle, he’d be a millionaire.

As for me, I find myself watching from the sidelines as he dances through life, wondering why he can’t see those nasty things lurking in the undergrowth, as if it’s me that has to worry on his behalf. Well, he certainly isn’t going to waste much time doing it for himself. Sometimes I’m reminded of that biblical parable about the birds of the air (who do not sow, nor do they reap) yet they get by OK. Yes, well, maybe in the land of milk and honey they do, but in northern Europe they probably freeze their bollocks off.  Now, there’s the difference between us; he’ll be smelling the flowers whilst I’ll be worrying about the winter to come. Actually, that’s probably why we’re good for each other; he stops me from descending into a pit of angst and I stop him from going into a hyperbolic spiral of euphoria. If I’m honest, it makes me feel more secure, but I’m sorry if I put the mockers on his fun sometimes. I see the shades of disappointment in his eyes like a weak sunset but he never blames me because the sun always comes up again. He’s like that and I’ve never really understood why.

OK, the funky jeans I’ve got and the shoes to match. And an electric blue velvet jacket that cost an absolute fortune and has hardly ever been worn. But the shirt…the shirt is a problem, but it isn’t one to worry about because I know a place that looks like an explosion in a paint factory and it’s just up Mittelstrasse near Rudolfplatz.

I start in German and the manager immediately falls into perfect English making me feel guilty that my German is so poor. Still, I am British so I make my excuses and compliment him effusively which makes us both feel better. I tell him what I’m looking for and he says that he has four thousand of them, sir. I look around the shop and decide that he has mastered the British art of understatement. They’re everywhere, like an encircling army, stacked in neat ranks in compartments, floor to ceiling, like paint swatches, segregated into different colours and different hues of different shades and patterns and stripes, long sleeves, short sleeves, Italian collars, double cuffs, a fanfare of ties blazing against the wall like a sunbeam split by a prism. I almost want to salute.

There’s something Imperial about this shop, rather classy. The manager also has that air about him, silver haired, dark suited, friendly but respectful, as if my pleasure would give him an orgasm. I think of the surly gum-chewing youths that populate shops in the UK and wonder whether this man hasn’t managed to retain something rather fine. He lays a carpet of shirts before me. I check the collars and realise that it is a British label; Jermyn Street. Jesus. I don’t bother to look at the prices before I came in as it’s not a very British thing to do and if you need to ask, you can’t afford them.

OK, now, which one would Luis choose? I know that if he doesn’t like it, it’ll go into a cupboard and never be worn again. Having suggested three, the manager excuses himself and goes to attend to a gaggle of women. I pick up each shirt in turn and try to envisage how it will look with the jacket.

Six days away.  It’s closure to the endless and fruitless search for the perfect man; an end to the vacuous world of casual sex in dark holes, rutting like pigs and going home alone. Once, I’d thought it was a kind of freedom but it was more like a prison and we only did it because we’re men, after all, and there were no women there to stop us. I really love women; it’s only their touch that can civilise a man. It was hell really.

And, it’ll be a new beginning. We’ve been together for seven years, so what will change? He dazzles me and infuriates me but I’ve never wanted anyone else. Maybe that’s it – finally finding the perfect imperfect partner and accepting his imperfections as he accepts mine, few though they are. Mine, that is.

We’ve both got plenty of miles on the clock and although he’s pretty easy to love, I’ve never really felt worthy of it. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent so much time flitting from flower to flower like a bee. I remember trying the same thing with him once but he wasn’t going to take any of that shit. Now, that came as a bit of a shock. No one had ever done that to me before; to tell me that I didn’t know my own mind but it was the beginning of a process that would end in this celebration of life, a whittling away of my self-centred independence, a custard pie in the face of my arrogance.

‘Is it to be the stripes, the paisley or the plain one with the patterned collar, sir?’ The manager is hovering at my shoulder and I haven’t even been thinking about the shirts. I’m tempted to ask for one with a custard splash but yellow would so clash with the jacket. My eyes go from one to the other and I can’t decide. Strange how I can make decisions about life and death issues at work; just give me the facts and a few minutes and I’ll normally make the right decision, but ask me to choose my main course in a restaurant and I’m floundering.

I wonder how much control I’ve had over the choices in my life. I like to think I make the decisions rationally but, in reality, life isn’t like that. Things sneak up on you while you’re doing something else. Sometimes you get hit by a juggernaut when you’re picking a flower at the side of the road. And sometimes you take someone home and stay together because it seems right. But the decision to get married…was that mine or ours or did it just happen?  The law changed and it became possible, then it just seemed like the right thing to do. I think we both came up with the idea at the same time but it was a decision that we each made it in our own way. Now, I can make a decision like that. What about a shirt? It can’t be so difficult. I ponder and scratch my chin.

‘I’ll take all three,’ I say after a few seconds and the manager nods in satisfaction. I don’t even look at the price. What the hell. They’re carefully wrapped and put in an expensive-looking carrier bag. I pay with plastic and walk out onto the street. The sun has broken through the murk, painting the clouds yellow and the world looks new, fresh and colourful.

Yes. Luis is right; I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.


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