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Thursday, 5 November 2015

Confessions of a hobbledehoy

The chair of Hereford's Courtyard Theatre would like to see me, and guest, in early December for a Christmas drinks reception. There'll be canapés and wine and the event will take place on the set of Beauty And The Beast, the forthcoming panto.

I'm a patron of the Courtyard, as well I might be. Movies (during the Borderlines Film Festival) and streamed events from worldwide centres of culture (Tannhäuser the day after tomorrow) form a significant element in what passes for my intellectual distraction and I have the Courtyard to thank for both. But there is a snag on the invitation card:

DRESS: Smart casual.

I feel a chill round about my belly-button. Let's take shoes for a start. I have three pairs. Two are black leather casuals, the younger of which was bought thirty years ago. Both pairs are reserved for funerals since the dead cannot be offended. Otherwise my everyday shoes are Velcro-secured suede casuals with tide-marks that speak of frequent immersion. Also the heel of one is starting to detach from the upper. The smell in shoe-shops induces an itching in my nose and I am - obviously - an infrequent visitor.

But it's the shirts that worry me most. Two years ago I was distinctly fat and fat people tend towards loose-fitting garments. Think latterday Orson Wells. Since then, courtesy of the 5/2, I’ve lost over 2 stones. Shirts that were once loose-fitting are now voluminous; the impression I present is that of a nomadic Arab, about to squat on the desert floor and start feeding himself, by hand, from the communal pot of goat ragout.

I have several fleeces but surely they cannot be classed as smart casual.

Should I refuse the drinks and canapés? I rarely socialise these days.


  1. My mother used to mention she had to visit Omar the Tent-maker to have her pregnancy frocks remade into ordinary dresses and tops. Perhaps one of his relatives lives near you?

    Then, go to the drinks and canapes bash. You just might meet someone new and interesting with whom to chat - perhaps a publisher of novels?

    (Thank you for the email, Robbie. I'm clawing my way out of a pit and needed your encouragement.)

  2. Of course you must not refuse the drinks, canapes, potentially interesting conversation etc. (etc beingthe unforeseen blog-post material.

    As for wardrobe: the funeral shoes will be fine and smart/casual (emphasis on casual) shirt and perhaps jacket can surely be located in your nearest M&S? Dare I suggest that you resolve to enjoy the process of shopping for this refill of your armoire? Consider it as research for a short story?

  3. Treat shopping as a "Task that must be done". Mary Poppins will tell you that there is an "Element of fun" in it. An oversized shirt can be attractive, but it must be white, have an informal cut and interesting buttons; shoes should definitely be attached to their soles. In our house, we call it 'smashual', which makes choosing what to wear much more fun. I usually go for the jeans without the holes ...

  4. Are you sure it's for social purposes he wants you, not for you and VR to understudy for the eponymous lead roles in the panto?

    Yes, treat yourself to a new shirt! I love the smell of shoe shops myself but a visit is unnecessary; the funeral shoes will do, they must surely have retro cachet by now.

    I would disagree with B2 about the jeans with holes, I am longing for my jeans to go into holes so I can practise some creative mending on them, but it never seems to happen. Come to that you could pass your oversize shirts to me to be transformed into elegant shalwar kameez or some such. Goat ragout, yum!

  5. Look at the bright side. You can attend as your smart self, without tie.

  6. I've consulted Wikipedia(smart/casual)for you and done a Google Image search of "smart casual for the older man". Would you be too warm in a sweater? A bold pattern would be best. Cut the sleeves short on one of the big shirts, and trim off the shirt body just below the armpits, leaving only enough shirt to support the collar. Sweaters too big? Bring to a boil and dry on "High". Wear the funeral shoes.

  7. Crow: Good to hear from you. Yes I might meet someone who publishes books but would I say the right things? Sitting crouched over a computer since 2008, writing inter alia about half-a-million-words-worth of novels (many more if one considers the re-writing) hasn't done anything for my social skills.

    I remember VR's pregnancy with Professional Bleeder, for which she bought a sort of expanding skirt. Post-pregnancy the first thing she did was ditch that skirt - never wanted to see it again.

    Natalie: I'm not sure. On the rare occasions I have attended social occasions in Hereford I sensed people shrinking away, being overtaken by an overwhelming desire to go to the loo - and to stay there.

    Buy clothes! Oh dear. I was under the unhappy impression I had enough.

    Blonde Two: I'm glad you don't imply that clothes shopping is a joy, rather that (to quote the same source) it requires a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Alas you raise more problems than you solve: I don't have a white shirt anyway but even if I did what on earth does "informal cut" mean? As for "interesting buttons" I am all at sea. Better to stay at home and read The Anatomy of Melancholy.

    Lucy: You see we don't live in the same world. "Treat yourself to a new shirt" to me is roughly the equivalent of "Book yourself in to half an hour of bastinado." No doubt I need a new shirt; you should know since you photographed me wearing one of the old ones (albeit from a three-quarters rear angle). But would it really profit me? Recall that photo again wherein I tower over M. Kervoaze, sizing him up before tearing off his head - resembling somewhat a calculating grizzly. Once I may have been described as a social animal but that tag never included grizzlies. Joe's funeral was different; I had a job to do and did it. On the stage of Beauty and the Beast (And how about that for symbolism!), without a defined role, I would be rudderless. Badly dressed rudderless.

    Nice to know that funeral shoes would be acceptable - but not, of course, on their own.

    Ellena: So there's a smart version of me, is there? You must introduce me to him some day.

    MikeM: I can see myself sweating into a sweater; wondering whence the next faux pas would come. The rest of your suggestion is certainly ingenious: arriving as if I'd just spent a boisterous evening out with members of the Taliban. An advert for the recently launched campaign: In Hereford deprivation is all around us.

    At least your recommendation "Wear the funeral shoes" is unequivocal. But suppose I met someone with whom I'd shared a funeral. Might those shoes represent a solecism?

  8. Oh, how I like that SOLEcism thingy.

  9. Two pair of shoes reserved for funerals, both black, meaning there is no concern for color coordination involved. Polish up with a reddish paste and get some new laces and you will no doubt fool everyone who has been scrutinizing your shoes during funerals.

  10. Does anyone ever look down at anyone's shoes? Apart from shoe fetishists, male or female.

  11. Natalie: I raised the shoes matter with VR; both of us agreed that men's shoes are rarely inspected, most are thought to be blah (but not, of course, Blahnik). However women's are the target of inspection, possibly the third most important feature after hair and breasts. Nor is this latter inspection confined to a single gender. Both men and women do it.

    A poignant memory arises: how tragic to see a young women wearing stilettos with visible damage on the heels. A true sign of poverty struggling with vanity; eloquent detail.

    As to DRESS Smart casual, the quest may be over. VR has offered - I should say insisted - to equip me appropriately. Never let it be said that making one's concerns public isn't worthwhile.

  12. Very flattered to see my name within an actual RR post after this. Also pleased that my M&S suggestion wasn't turned down. I know it's not cool to like M&S, let alone actually buy any clothes there, but I still like it and their shops don't usually throb with deafening "music". Glad you're going to the soirée after all and look forward to a report.

    "...A true sign of poverty struggling with vanity; eloquent detail." Indeed!

    True, all genders focus on women's feet/legs if they're wearing high heels. I understand the visual attraction and also the feeling of power that striding around in ridiculously high heels gives you but I just can't stand the agony, never could endure that cruel distortion of foot and spine. Blah blah Blahnik & Co. have a lot to answer for.