Thursday, July 29, 2010


I’ve been on many exciting adventures in my 1979 Oxfam cape.

Flights of fancy, dances with wolves — even the odd stumble-prompted semi-hernia.

Let me tell you how it all happened, this cape thing.

In an age when charity shops come bolting from every high street frontage like horses chased by squads of intergalactic Geld-o-beests, it’s all to easy to forget the time when there was only one charity (Oxfam), and in most towns, only the one shop. By dint of Venn overlap, the one shop in my home town in 1979 was an Oxfam. Ah, the glory days when everything was made of wood and nothing ever needed recharging...

My Oxfam smelled of mothballs and old zoos, and was run by a thrice dead woman with skin like a diseased Nice biscuit. Dust clouds billowed from every surface the moment you ventured in through the door, and while you took a moment to figure out which way was up using only the lopsided staglagmites of clothes as a guide, she’d emerge from behind a Trilby clad mannekin with the zeal of a trapdoor spider and pepper your future nightmares with the halitosis spittle of the damned.

I used to go in for jackets and waistcoats — especially waistcoats. 50p each, they were — apart from the 75p ones (which were 75p). At the time, I imagined that only a select few souls knew of this place, and crept between the Woolworths and the Hepworths and the Lunn Polys as if some mock Transylvanian bloodline compelled them to feed on undiluted fustiness and odd shoes with wafer thin heels. In reality, of course, every sixth former in the country was undertaking similar forays into the wire coat hanger jungle, there to mix and match the choicest ragged 50s suits with their own state-of-the-art T shirts, flobbed on by Johnny Rotten himself (or for those inclined towards rock, lifesize cardboard cut-outs of Lemmy strapped to their backs with lengths of chain).

So, collude with me in my youthful illusion, lest my tie-dyed underwear run purple from the drip drop sobs of folly. For this was my Mr Benn costume shop, my secret bunker of crumpled Burton menswear, my 3rd hand pyjama Nirvana.

Whirl feeds the birds some time in the early 80s wearing an outfit modelled on Johnny Fingers and a beard borrowed from Peter Sutcliffe. And no, it’s not a hat.

And as you collude, imagine my excitement when my Mum informed me — because yes, the one glitsch in my Mr Benn secret fashion chic bunker thang is that she used to pop in to the selfsame Oxfam herself every Thursday before half day closing to browse the flowery nylon dresses — imagine my excitement when my Mum informed me that she’d seen a cape.

‘A cape?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘A CAPE’.

Oh, how I wanted that cape! I could wear it, don it, sport it! To the pub. On a Friday night. What a perfect match it would be for my snazzy white boiler suit, my clogs, and the Dr Who scarf my Mum knitted when I was 15.*
* I’m afraid so. And a pipe.

My blue cape! My beautiful blue velvety cape! So dapper, so wizardish, so moleskin soft it could almost be tamed like a hamster!

Now, before anyone accuses me of being colour blind (and let’s face it, were this to happen, it would be the least of my problems on the strength of this post so far), I have to make a distinction between the cape you see here in the photo — which will soon have its own hook on the door to my newly refurbished study/snug — and the blue velvety cape which inspired me to run with two crisp pound notes clutched firmly in my hand, all the way up Queens Road into town, in my clogs, till sweat dripped from my body as could drown a bucketful of voles.

The blue velvety cape was what I was expecting; this garish monstrosity was what I actually ended up with.

If you’ve ever been on a blind date, maybe you’ll appreciate the romeo — ohnomeo! scenario. The blond, blue-eyed athlete/scholar with the hip attire and bulging wallet turns out to be haemophiliac newt-breeding trainspotting lardarse, Cuthbert Vomit-Twat, two months into corrective surgery for the 220lb lump of bone and gristle slung between his legs since birth. Or if blind dates aren’t your thing, what about the hotel on the Costa del Patatasbravas which looked great in the brochure but in reality was actually a hollowed out horse’s corpse. Or if catch-all examples of shriekingly bombed out expectations are really what’s needed to sum up the essence of this particular form of disappointment, how about “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.*

* Huaaargh, goosetroughs!

Typically, these zealously overwitnessed figments of our expectation shrivel and die the moment their real-life counterparts appear. Pseudo-France, so lovingly abundant with faux Gallic charm, fades into a slurry of je ne sais quoi upon your arrival in cloudy Calais; the thrill of feeling like Tony Alva as you step onto your funky new skateboard turns to bruises, broken limbs, and mockery from the kid next door; and far from being the nectar of the Angels as you were promised, Dr Pepper tastes like a brew of all those medicines your Grandma forced down you as a kid.*

* Ambiguity check: I was the kid, and my Grandma was my Grandma. So forget the timewarp scenario where I meet my own grandparents as children only to have them bully me by forcing cough mixture down my throat with an old vole bucket. That doesn’t happen till the 2nd series.

Over the years, most of my dream shrapnel has poofed out like spent fairy dust — but my blue cape lives on, in all its regally hued moleskinniness. Some days I lift it from its phantom peg, slip it on like I’m climbing into a ghost spider’s boudoir, and pass into the world in discreet disguise. As I stand in the queue for the post office; or wander down the street marvelling at the daily honk of rag and bone men’s horns that have so disconcertingly come roaring from between the sparrow tweets ever since the Tories surfed to power on a wave of sycophantic Liberal grease; or simply lean over the sink and brush my teeth first thing in the morning, to all intents and purposes seemingly naked but for the skimpiest of I Heart Madonna thongs, my blue cape cheers me on like a mystic talisman uncovered from an Inca temple, and throws an invisible blue glow over the world.

I have it on now as I type this post, tied neatly about my neck with its wedding veil deliciousness trailed over the back of the chair.

Maybe I’ll go flying in it later this afternoon.


fairyhedgehog said...

You bring back memories of a bygone age.

I'd love to see you flying in that cloak!

sylvia said...

I looked at the first photo and thought, shit, the socks used to cover his entire legs!

Then I was distracted by the magnificence of the disappointment which was the cape. I have lived through both the blind date and Let's Dance *and* the disastrous first sip of Dr Pepper (what IS IT with that?) and so I was wondering why I never got a cape. How did I miss this one definitive piece of becoming an adult?

BUT then I remembered... in Cerritos, California there was a dark and dusty one-room Salvation Army store and it was there that I found the most beautiful, entrancing, unbelievably flimsy lavender faerie dress. It had a grease stain on the side which accounted for its unbelievably low price because obviously, otherwise the dress would have been sold long ago, it was so perfectly enchanting.

So I bought it and took it home and put it on and twirled. And my mother walked in and said "Why are you wearing stained scarves from the charity shop?" and when I ran from the evil woman to my best-friend-forever Cindy Hartman's house, she looked me up and down and said "Isn't it a bit soon for trick or treating? What are you supposed to be, anyway?" and when I dashed into the street in tears at the cruelty of those nearest and dearest to me, a car slowed down and a young ill-bred man shouted something wearing a nightgown in the middle of the day...

I packed the dress away on the top shelf and hoped that maybe one day I would become tall and thin and ethereal and could wear the dress without being laughed at. Needless to say, I'm still waiting...

(my word verification is tralingl which I am stealing as the last name for the woman I want to write a short story about today!)

Old Kitty said...

I reckon you should bring back that nifty hairstyle you were sporting with your pyjamas too.

And your cape. You can never dream too much is wot I say. Reality can just go hang!

Have fun!
take care

Aerin said...

I always get a little choked up and teary when you get sentimental, Whirl. Like drinking milk from a container you didn't know had been in the fridge for a year.

Though curdled milk could never be as endearing as you can be.

Peter Dudley said...

Not fair. You can't talk about an I Heart Madonna thong without providing photos.

fairyhedgehog said...

You can't talk about an I Heart Madonna thong without providing photos.

Yes he can, yes he can!

I mean a kilt, sure, I'd love to see that but a thong! Aagghh! It would be worse than Whirl's builders.

jinksy said...

I love cloaks, no matter what colour, and admit to having a velvet, green/black reversible one which has been known to tread the boards on more than one occasion...
And my son has hair just like that, even now.:)

Whirlochre said...

Prickly Wonderbeast
What's odd about the Bygone Age is that prior to the late 90s, there was no internet. I'm finding that an increasingly bizarre concept for all sorts of reasons.

I would be more than glad to raise a glass to anyone wearing a most beautiful, entrancing, unbelievably flimsy lavender faerie dress. In fact, I'll do it now — even though it's a mug od tea and even if you're currently decked out in denims.

Old Kitty
Nature's inbuilt folliclectomy has seen off most of my hair growing potential — apart from up my nose and inside my ears, which is very, very irritating.

Truly, I am a big girl's blouse.

Sage or desperado?

Hog Of Joy
Coming soon: Dave the Roofer...

I knew all along you were a woman of class.

As for your son's hair — he'll get over it (though maybe not very far through it without the aid of a machete).

sylvia said...

Depends, what kind of tea?

Whirlochre said...

Yorkshire Tea, I'm afraid — workaday Coronation St style broth, untinctured with quality or flavour.

Aerin said...

Pete, I bet Whirl would show a thong pic if you show the World-Cup-bet pic of you in an apron and nothing else.

Whirlochre said...

But what's the bet, Aerin?

Kiersten White said...

And now I feel compelled to quote yourself back to you. I can't help it. I'm sorry.

"...apart from the 75p ones (which were 75p)."

"(and let’s face it, were this to happen, it would be the least of my problems on the strength of this post so far)"

Also, the entirety of your ambiguity check--although the Dr Pepper bit was amusing as well.

Having just come up from a party teeming with hundreds of (sufficiently and occasionally excessively alcohol-soaked) writers, this was by far the most delightful thing I've encountered all day.

Huzzah. Super powers indeed.

Whirlochre said...

Glad to have been delightful.

You make me feel like an iced lemon bun.