One Wardrobe Is All It Took

One thing that I learned pretty quickly when both of our daughters were born was the FACT that girls arrive into your life with a huge need for huge wardrobes matched only for the ever present desire to fill and refill those wardrobes with as many clothes as is humanely possible to own, my now all-growed up daughters each own more clothes than would have been considered normal stock for a clothing shop back in the 1960s when I was a boy, and when they were very young – and I am not exaggerating here – we gave clothes of theirs to various charity shops that still had the original shop price tags on them, my wife would buy them so many clothes as small children that they couldn’t actually get to wear some of them.

Ned and I had a limited wardrobe when we were kids and I use the word “wardrobe” in its singular form for one wardrobe is all that it took, for both of us.

I only recall ever owning two changes of clothes, there was the school uniform clothes and there was the playing out clothes, and then once a year from somewhere would appear the holiday clothes, the ones that you couldn’t wear for the rest of the year but which only came out when we went to Cayton Bay, I don’t know where those clothes were stored but they’d appear for two weeks and then be put away again, our Ned getting the holiday clothes that I had worn the year before.

That happened a lot and in that respect our parents only ever had to buy clothes for me, when I’d finished with them they got passed down to our Ned, I see nothing at all wrong or inequitable in this, its just a fact of life, suck it up younger siblings, you’re not as important.

Playing out clothes consisted of one pair of jeans that had a permanent rip across the knees, our mother would stitch up the rip every couple of weeks or so but within days it would be ripped again, god bless Levis Strauss is all I can say for without him our mother would have had to buy far more than the one pair of playing out trousers every year, jeans were a godsend for mothers of boys who played out in the old fashioned sense of the word, climbing trees, falling over a lot, getting dirty, falling in things a lot, that sort of thing, if we’d sat in front of X-Box’s all of our school holidays we’d probably have made do with one pair of jeans for the whole of our lives and never ripped the knees out.

If we ever needed to go anywhere that was considered to be “an outing” or even a bit posh we only had our school uniform to wear.

Our parents would take us to the cinema in our school uniform probably because we’d never be allowed in looking like two Victorian street urchins in ripped jeans and smelling of the cow pat that we’d just fallen in that morning, so the maroon Cookridge County Primary School would come out, a nice white shirt and school tie and off we’d go to The Lounge to see “Zulu” or some cowboy film that my father wanted to see.

I was once asked to be a groomsman at a cousins wedding, it would have been 1968 for I’d just started at Leeds Modern Grammar School and had the compulsory red and black striped blazer and tie, and so when my cousin asked my mother if I owned a black suit for the job of greeting the guests at the door of the church and directing them to their seats, my mother naturally said “Oh yes of course he does” but she meant it in a sarcastic way and my cousin thought she was being serious, “Oh good” said my cousin, “for the other groomsman is the same age and he has a black suit too, they’ll look lovely together”

Yes its true, in 1968 there existed a kid of 11 years of age who owned a suit of his own, really, a kid in a suit. My mother kept her mouth shut after that and we spent the next few weeks inventing all sorts of weird tropical diseases that I could catch in time for the wedding in order to avoid the inevitable and embarrassing admission that “our Gary” only had his stripy school blazer to wear for posh events like weddings.

We settled on “bilious”, a favourite fall-back word of my mothers when writing sick notes for school, “Our Gary can’t come to school today because he has bilious” she’d write, not knowing what “bilious” actually was but hoping that it sounded as though she knew what “bilious” was.

Bilious didn’t work and word was sent down the hill to our house that I should report to the church at 12 noon to be given instructions on how to behave like a groomsman at the door of a church, hand out the hymn sheets and ask “Bride or Groom ?” of the guests and then direct them to the left or right of the church dependant on the answer, see how well I listened to that lesson, I still know what to do if I’m ever a groomsman again.

I never have been a groomsman again by the way, I’m just saying though, I know what to do if you’re looking for one.

Yes it was embarrassing to turn up at the church in your school uniform at your cousins wedding when the other kid who was a groomsman had a proper suit on, I sneered at his proper suit all day long, I was a rather sarcastic kid, hard to believe I know, but I managed to make him feel quite uncomfortable in his suit while appearing at your cousins wedding in your school uniform because it was the only thing in yoru wardrobe that wasn’t ripped or smelling of cow dung, was made to appear to be quite normal.

“How many suits do you own ?” I’d ask of the other groomsman
“Just this one” he replied imagining that I wanted to engage him in conversation
“You look a right Jessie”” I’d reply in what I thought was a well crafted retort

I don’t know who he was and I’ve never seen him since, my cousin had a marriage that lasted a few years and then he got caught “playing away” and now no-one in the family knows where she lives, so none of this matters a tad except for the fact that even at 11 years of age I only owned a pair of ripped jeans and a school uniform.

And then Cyril-over-the-road noticed that I was just about the same size as a shop mannequin…


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