Thursday, 18 August 2011

And Tonight's Host Is...

In a desperate effort to get new content onto this blog, I have asked a couple of contributors to help out. First is Robert – never Bob – Harwoode. Robert has been a friend for many years and is the most immaculately dressed man I know. I’d like to thank him for agreeing to be the first ‘guest artiste’ on Tottenhamista.

Gentlemen, consider your ankles.

Travelling as I do on London Underground’s Circle Line each morning and evening, I cannot help but be drawn to other passengers’ clothing. As a man of refined tastes, it is to the male traveller that first I turn, though I assure the reader that the gentler sex receives equal scrutiny and shall be reported upon shortly.

The welcome return of the fly-fronted Mackintosh raincoat has been noted in recent weeks, sometimes in staid black but for the more daring, traditional fawn is the choice. These must be scrupulously maintained, as nothing mars the overall effect more than an unsightly stain from a rapidly-consumed Big Mac Meal on the breast, or the tell-tale greyness around the pocket flap that betrays overuse of the pockets.

Also to be greeted with inner gratitude is the passing of recent years’ trend for shoes to have one or worse two seams from instep to toe, and an elongated upper which gives the foot an appearance of some mis-shapen pasty or Arabian slipper. The Brogue and the Oxford – the latter sometimes with toecap, often without – are also making a comeback, though these must be polished and buffed like a squaddie’s parade-ground boot. Nothing marks a man as slovenly than does an ill-shone shoe.

Trousers maintain the slim silhouette that has prevailed for a decade or more, and rightly so. Pleats lend a boastful air to the upper leg and as such are vulgar. Turn-ups remain banished, and so the leg entire retains a modest slimness that suits the well-turned-out gentleman as would a furled umbrella, though please, never of the folding variety.

I am also pleased that shirt collars are no longer left unbuttoned, and that the hideous fad of fastening all buttons on the shirt without the wearing of a tie seems to be over. If we are to dress, we must dress entirely.

There are, sad to report, still those who wear three- or, criminally, four-button suit jackets. There simply are not sufficient negatives to describe this holdover from the years of excess. A simple two-button, single-breasted and cut in the Italian manner is the style of the day, although some bold souls dare sport double-breasted with no seeming concern for restraint.  Your choice of peaked or notched lapel, with the proviso that the former does lend an air of spivviness to the wearer which I am certain is, in most cases, not deserved.

It is, I am sad to report, in the matter of hosiery that the male commuter lets the side down. I believe Sir Michael Grade was responsible for the laissez-faire attitude to sock colouration, with his unchanging choice of bright red hose. This may be acceptable in Sir Michael’s choice of profession but ill suits the workaday male. In the past few days alone I have witnessed sky blue, emerald green and one occasion multi-coloured stripes in certain gentlemen’s feet, and to add insult to this sartorial injury the perpetrator seems always to sit with one ankle crossed over the other, revealing his eccentricity to the innocent eye of his fellow traveller. Pastel shades particularly emphasise the gulf twixt shoe and trouser and make obvious any misjudgement on the part of your tailor of inner leg length, be he Savile Row or Marks and Spencer. Woe betide the man with a inch-short trouser and a bright yellow sock, for he may as well dress in a flamingo costume and be done.

Plain black or dark grey should be the choice regardless of the colour of the rest of his outfit. I may possibly be lenient enough to allow vertical stripes in the style of Mr Jeff Banks, but again, monochrome should be the word to follow. One is, after all, off to one’s place of toil, not attending some polychromatic technicolour dream happening.

Also, the sock should be tight against the ankle and the calf. A sock that sags down over the top of the shoe is a thing of misery and should be avoided. This faux pas is easily remedied: a sock of sufficient length and elastic content, even allowing for Lyrca content in extreme circumstances, will grip the calf like a lover’s caress providing comfort, warmth and style during the most punishing of commutes. Be forewarned, though; bending to hitch up the sock in a crowded tube carriage is a sure indicator of a man with a surly disregard for his co-occupants.

The truly well-appointed male will take the necessary steps to prevent both sock slippage and its rough cousin, the over-long shirt sleeve.  A little assiduous researching among outfitters will surely provide those twin stalwarts, the elasticated armband and the sock suspender. The Prince of Wales himself is known to appreciate the rule of cuff: never more than one and one half inch of shirt cuff is to show below the jacket sleeve, and neither is to skim the knuckles and bestow upon the wearer the appearance of a besuited ape. Links, knots or buttons: the choice is yours, but please be restrained in your selection of these. Plain square or round, if you will, restraining double cuff or single, be it Bishop cut or French. No Union flags, jagged engravings or Lilliputian versions of motor vehicles. Your wrist should be a thing of classic elegance and not a miniature bazaar.

Finally, the golden rule for shirt and tie: one plain and one striped or patterned, or alternatively both plain. ‘Mix and match’ is the worst of crimes in the matter of colour choice. Please do not commit such atrocity. Also, bear in mind that as there is currently a mode for a pocket handkerchief to be worn in the breast pocket of one’s suit jacket –never, never in that of a blazer – such kerchief should be folded square and barely peek one quarter of one inch from its nesting place. Linen is the material of choice and must under no circumstance be used as a handkerchief per se. Should one need to attend to any nasal affairs, another square of equal material should be produced from a trouser pocket and returned immediately the necessity has been met.

I hope with all modest sincerity that those absorbing this advice adjust their attire to reflect my concerns. I retain the strongest conviction that should we all pay sufficient heed to our outer aspect, the inner man shall shine also.

RH, August 2011.

Monday, 8 August 2011

On The Passing Of An Old Friend

I was very young, maybe six, maybe even five, when my mother took me out, one bitterly cold day, wrapped in scarf and coat and Wellingtons, to the most magical place I’d ever been.

It was a bus ride away, which to a boy that age is like traversing the Arctic; it was even further than Nanny Bob’s house, and if going to Nanny Bob’s meant crossing the big road, and we were going even further from home than that, then surely we were putting our lives in danger even thinking about the trip.

I remember the dull yellow insides of the upstairs of the bus, the stairs so steep, each one so deep it took mountain-climbing gear, ropes, pulleys, and a smiling conductor at the top to pull you up the last few treacherous feet.

But we got there. And when we got there, my father was waiting for us outside, fresh from work, wearing his big coat with the dark collar. “Come on, son”, he said. “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”

That was when I first went up the two escalators, across the top floor, through gauzy curtains and tinselled pillars, to see Father Christmas. Other visits followed, but none ever felt as astonishing as that first trip.

On the way back downstairs, I looked around at the rest of the place. Huge refrigerators, big enough for me and all of my mates to hide in. Dresses so glamourous they would make even the old witch down the road look lovely. Shiny things for the kitchen and living room. A jacket that my dad really liked, but couldn’t afford, so he pretended it didn’t suit him.

When we came out, I turned around, reluctant to leave this amazing palace of wonders. I didn’t know it then, but it had a name. Officially it was Union Point. On the outside of the upper floor, above the window where, I was certain, Father Christmas was watching me walk away, there was a tower, and on the side of it were three letters, set in relief on the great white panel mouldings. LCS. London Co-Operative Society. Everybody knew it as the Co-Op.

I grew up. Union Point was still the Co-Op. Father Christmas wasn’t still Father Christmas but a man in a false cotton-wool beard. The Co-Op closed, leaving an empty building, boarded up against the indifference of shoppers who had been tempted away from the High Road by the sirens of the newly built Shopping City a few miles away.

It stayed empty for years, eventually becoming occupied by a carpet retailer who tacked garish greeny-blue plastic all over the beautiful original façade. The upper floors looked empty, old curtains hanging dusty and torn in the grimy windows.

I’d go past it so often it stopped registering. On the way to work, or off into town, or seeing girls from so many different parts of London, by bus or by car, Union Point was either the sure sign of a good night to come, or the last marker on the drink-blurred journey home.

Recently, life wasn’t good to Union Point, or to me, which meant we saw each other every fortnight as I went to sign on in the JobCentre that had been built next door to it, a modern redbrick slab butted up against its 1930s classicism. I’d walk through the park and along Lordship Lane, and there it’d be, its upper floors retaining their dignity despite the cheap nylon twist carpet offered half-price on the street level, the façade the same despite the modern flats that had been carved out of its interior. Always, always, the same three letters, LCS.

Everybody knows Union Point. It’s the place you saw on the news on Sunday morning, flames swirling from every window. You saw it today; mortally wounded, empty, broken-backed, its roof bowed under its own weight, aching to give up and collapse in on itself like a dying whale.  Union Point: destroyed, purposefully, by the people it had watched over for the last eighty years.

Tonight, there are cranes at the corner of Lansdowne Road and Tottenham High Road. Union Point is so badly damaged it cannot stand, and will be demolished. You might see it on the news. Many families will be homeless, their possessions devoured by the fire that destroyed their building. But until the wrecking ball swings, the last remaining part of Union Point that stays recognisable, defiantly unchanging even in its own death, the tower, staying upright only by its own will, and the letters: LCS.

I have no moral point to make. No symbolism, no analogy connecting Union Point with the social cohesion of this country. No ironic juxtaposition of its name and its origin against the selfishness that brought its end. My opinions over the last few days have swung, wildly, from hour to hour. I don’t know what’s happening, but I feel it will get worse.

So, for as long as I can, while the mobs and the flames stay just far enough away on the other side of the borough, so long as the sirens get no closer than the main road two hundred yards from my home, I’m going to sit and feel as safe as it’s possible to feel tonight, and I’m going to raise a quiet glass to those three letters that have there in the edge of my vision for most of my life.

Goodbye, Union Point, Goodbye, the Co-Op. Goodbye, you life-long lodestone. Goodbye, thank you, and sleep well to those unforgettable three letters: LCS.