Being Clothed Entirely By Bennett

Sunday afternoon in our house was usually eventful, there would always be either some second rate club turn asleep in one of our chairs, second rate club turns from outside the area using our house as a handy stop-over to sleep off a Sunday lunchtime session before their Sunday evening bookings, or the fat swimming pool manager would drop by unexpectedly, also drunk from a Sunday lunchtime session and sleep off his beer while farting in his sleep, such a marvellous advertisement for a fit and healthy lifestyle, no wonder Chris Rhodes shit in one of his cubicles and you know, there were times when I’m sure the fat swimming pool manager thought that he recognised me from somewhere.

Or Sid and Irene would drop by to see what fared and usually left with some bargain goods from our dads current stock for cladding our cousins in…

…and then Bennett would always turn up, like a bad penny.

Bennett was an acquaintance of my fathers, an also-member of the Meanwood Con Club, the social club where you could buy anything, anything at all, cheap, Bennett had a “proper” job in a factory somewhere but there is no doubt that his more nefarious ways earned him far more remuneration than a proper hourly paid job could ever do.

To imagine what Bennett looked like then you only have to think of Private Walker in “Dads Army”, Walker the spiv who could sell you anything, anytime, that was Bennett, tall, gaunt, clad in a camel-haired-car-coat, the sort of camel-haired-car-coat he’d sell you in an instant and tell you it fitted perfectly while he held a big bunch of spare coat around the back, and a trilby, for your local spiv is nothing if he doesn’t own a trilby.

Bennett was rumoured to be able to access any of the multitude of clothing manufacturers via legitimate or not-quite-so-legitimate means, not that he ever entered these establishments through the roof on a night-time, oh no, Bennetts access to these premises was via bent doormen and security guards, for most of the clothing manufacturers in the city (and Leeds was a city renowned for clothing manufacture) had factory shops  where their staff could purchase end-of-line or “seconds” stock cheaply, none of these factory shops were open to the public they were strictly there as an employees perk for the manufacturers did not want their end-of-line or “seconds” diluting the retail trade and so access would only be via a payroll number or “employees discount card” – none of these precautions took account of the bent doorman or security guard, and Bennett had bent them all.

He’d visit a different factory each Friday afternoon and buy up huge job lots of clothing that no-one else wanted, very cheaply, then sell it in various pubs and clubs on Friday and Saturday night, by the time he arrived at our house on the Sunday afternoon he’d have a car full of the real crappy stuff, stuff that no-one wanted, not even cheaply, and my father would take it from him, pay him his cut from the previous weeks rubbish, and sell this current stock through the week until next Sunday – or he’d give it to me to wear.

My father could sell anything to anyone, even stuff that you never realised you wanted, even stuff that you DEFINITELY knew you didn’t want, you’d buy it all off my father, he never had a moments trouble shifting all of Bennetts rubbish stock through the week and was always waiting for more every Sunday, they both made a small fortune on shifting rubbish clothing around the pubs and clubs of this fair city and our holidays every year were paid for by persuading people that they really needed this shirt that had six different types of buttons on it and one sleeve in completely the wrong pattern to the rest of the shirt, you’d buy it after spending five minutes with my father, believe me you would.

Bennett once GAVE me a sweater with matching cardigan, in brown, with beige collars, nice. It was so rubbish that Bennett actually GAVE me it, incredible to think that I actually thanked him.

It was all the rage that year, to wear a turtle neck sweater and matching cardigan, even a brown and beige combination, what can I say, this was the 1970s, and I rushed to my bedroom to try it on and pose in front of the mirror inside the wardrobe door like those handsome men in the knitting pattern adverts did, yes, the ones who looked a “bit queer” but also handsome in a knitting pattern sort of way.

I brought the combo back to Bennett, “It smells of smoke” I told him, he handed it to my mother with instructions for her to wash it and smiled at me before reminding me it was a free gift, the subtext being “and its probably the last one you ungrateful little bugger”.

It didn’t matter how many times my mother washed that turtle neck sweater and cardigan combo, it still smelled of smoke, I mean strongly of smoke, I went to school in that brown turtle neck sweater and cardigan combo stinking like a 120-a-day smoker and attracting some very strange looks from my Primary school teachers who couldn’t decide whether to pity me for living in a chain smokers house or cane me for having such a filthy habit.

I found out much later that the brown turtle neck sweater and cardigan combo was part of Bennetts fire damaged stock, remnants that had been pulled from the wreckage of a former clothing factory after fire had raged through it one night and the stock room had been buried under the collapsed roof then doused with a million or so gallons of fire engine water until it was out, no wonder my mother could never wash the smell of smoke out of them, the smell of smoke having previously been professionally washed-in to them by the Leeds City Fire Brigade.


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