We were usually taken clothes shopping as kids on set occasions. I used the word “taken” literally as I don’t think any of us enjoyed it.
C&A. A high street store. On a Saturday. 16 years old with much better things to do.
“Oooooh! These are nice Michael!”
My mother waving a set of blue speedos in the air.
This was back in the day when speedos were still an acceptable item of beach wear.
“Yeah mum. Fine. They’ll do.”
I had again given up the will to live on another shopping trip. Zone out. Get home. Make it ennnnnd.
“Just throw it in the basket mum and lets go. Enough is enough already.” I was thinking.
We were usually rigged out just before Christmas and/or around Easter. It was a matter of pride for my parents.
And I have to add here, that when I say it was a matter of pride, I don’t mean as a reflection of the fact that they could rig us out, but felt they had to rig us out. I do happen to know what my parents sacrificed to get us these things in life, how hard they worked.
And regardless of how this may read (Light heartedly I hope) I will forever be grateful, and hope they both know that. I hope I’ve instilled the same values and appreciation in my own children. In fact I know I have.
I’m a big believer in injecting my kids with guilt..
Easter or Christmas would be one of those periods that triggered the shopping frenzy, or if one of us was going away on holiday with school, then that would be another reason.
C & A opposite the Arndale bus station in Manchester, was a regular venue. I can’t say I have happy memories of the place. My mum would drag us around trying on various outfits. It was never something you really wanted, but something that your mum thought made you look smart.
And always, and I mean always, we didn’t waste time with changing rooms. It was strip right there in the middle of the shop.
“Try these trousers on. Never mind people will see your underpants. People have seen underpants on telly before.
That boy over there is only wearing his underpants he looks happy enough.
(Note small boy face like thunder on the verge of homicidal rage)
Everyone wears them. Starsky and Hutch wear them. I bet they don’t give their mums gyp. Get your bloody trousers off..”
Its like there were little islands of small boys stood around in clashing coloured underwear.
Things didn’t fit me like they fitted my brother. He could slip into anything and everything flattered him. Flares were in, then Drainpipes, and I can’t say I noticed a difference in style on my frame. I think Flares were Drainpipes on my sturdy figure. And Drainpipes just made my feet go blue.
My Grandad always said I had the thighs,
“Of a big strapping elephant!”
Which was flattering, but with the best will in the world, didn’t make a 7 year old body conscious kid feel better. I was just more aware of the fact that one sudden move on my part and I could trample someone to death.
So we were dragged round various shops, trying on all sorts. It took my mum probably 4 minutes to sort my brother out. Then several hours with me working out if she bought me something 5 sizes bigger, if she could cut a foot off the leegs and take them up a bit. I know my brother hated shopping as much as I did. I remember him as a small boy of around 5, saying to my mum after one of these trips,
“Mum? When I grow up,”
“I’m going to buy a shotgun and shoot you..” (true)
(Atari Tennis rage)
That, and another time, hearing a dull, rhythmic clanging from the front garden. Following my mum out to investigate, and finding him with my Dads hammer and her prize brass vase, some 2 foot tall, a big bulbous affair, Knocking the shit out of it.
To the point of having punched 3 holes in it.
And I remember standing there with my mum wailing, and saying “Awwwww Seannnnn!! Your gonna get murdered when Dad gets in!”
But secretly thinking,
“Yeahhh! Smash it! SMASH ITTT! That’ll teach the bastards to make us take our pants off in shops!! SMASH THE FUCKING THING TO PIECES!!!”
(You can see why I lied my way through confession now – see “Bless Me Father“)
One item of clothing I was forced into wearing, was a rather dapper overcoat, that had a tartan scarf through a hoop in the back of the collar. This may have looked good on Sir AlecfuckinGuinness, but on a 7 year old, well…I spent most of my time getting shouted at for hiding the scarf. I hated it, but my mum loved it.
“You look so grown up!”
I’m seven. Seriously. Why would I want to look like I’m a 4 foot 80 year old??
Its one of those items of clothing that just irritated the life out of me. It was tartan. It made me feel embarrassed and self conscious beyond belief. We’ve all, as we’ve grown up, been in put in a situation by an adult, who’s trying to tell you,
“Whooah there. Why so upset?! It looks fantastic! Your friends are going to be so jealous!
(God, please, please strike all my friends blind..)
You look like a movie star!!” (Alec Guinness)
Yeah? I don’t see you wearing the fuckin thing mate.
Its those situations where they dress us in things they like, but things that make us painfully anxious. And its either the fact that its itchy, tight or just plain horrible to the point of a foot stamping tantrum,
All because we’re worried someone we know will see us, and next day in school, well…
Its like when I was a small boy, my parents had a thing about woolly hats with huge bobbles on them, and safety mittens, with the string that connected them that ran up either arm.
For one thing, the bobble was usually bigger than the hat with my head in it, so I walked around with my head drooping off to one side. If I wanted a horizontal view of something I had to flick my head upright and balance it there whilst I took a normal look around. And secondly, if you were wrestling a mate and he yanked one mitten too hard, you’d end up knocking your own front teeth out with the other fist filled mitten.
And don’t get me started on rain.
Any rain on woollen hats or mittens added about 20lb. I was nearly licking my own knee during one particular down pour. And all but wore my knuckles to the bone from dragging them along behind me.
“Awhawww Mum! can I take them off now?!”
“No! You’ll get cold!
(Don’t worry about the chapped hands and sciatica then)
And you look so smart!”
I couldn’t even see her to ask her, without having a count down and launching my head upright.
Mind you, I had the neck muscles of a buffalo by 9.
The other adverse effect this huge satellite had swinging round on my head was, as I would be walking along, trying to flick my head level at strategic points (like crossing the road – didn’t think of that when you were keeping me warm eh mum?) it could develop its own unpredictable whip depending upon how much rain there had been. I wasn’t a physicist. I was 7. What did I know about water retention in wool?? I just had to hope for the best as I whipped my head straight and hope I calculated correctly and it didn’t pass right over to the other knee, and send me through a shop window or something.
Added to this combination was my overcoat and the tartan scarf.
If Someone yanked on this they could set you off like a spinning top And with that bobble the unpredictable momentum could make you carry on for days until you finally drilled your self to a standstill. Either that, or it’d develop a sudden loss of control. like you’d see on a racing motorbike as it corners, and suddenly fishtails left and right, until it whips the rider off in the opposite direction the bikes travelling.
A few times I ended up 20 foot away from my still spinning hat, thinking, Out! I’m Out! only to be told to stop messing about and have it rammed back on my head..I knew how Michael Carleone felt
God help any kid who came within arms length of the wildly flailing mittens as you span. You could flatten your favourite sidekick without even knowing it, until you finally regained control and discovered said buddy comatose at your feet.
The kid could be concussed for the next two weeks with only a knitted imprint stamped on his face to remind him that something had happened, and have no idea what it was..
I also seem to remember a pair of tartan trousers but that may have been over exposure to Rupert Bear books. I may have repressed that memory though.
That fucker Rod Stewart has a lot to answer for.
I didn’t actually get trusted to buy something for my self till I was about 16. Up till then I was dragged out on shopping sessions. So when I was going on a school trip to the south of France it was no surprise to hear the words,
There was always a dull thud to accompany these word. It was my heart hitting my boots.
So there we were in C&A, stripping off, trying all sorts on. It had got to the point of me just saying “Yes mum” as it didn’t matter what I wanted, if my mum thought I looked like Burt Reynolds in it, then I was wearing it. So, it was in with the shorts, the T-shirts, new under wear, Sun cream and some electric blue swimming trunks.
“You need a hair cut,”
I’d been here before. I once let my mum cut my hair before another previous school trip. Having tight curly hair isn’t the easiest thing to cut. You had two styles. Afro or not. I often settle for the “not”. And went to my local barber (Vinny – bless him) And then had to argue with him, on how I wanted it and on how he felt it should look.
He won every time and just cut it to suit himself. I always walked out with a box cut looking like a white Jermaine Jackson.
It was this or let my mum loose, and the one time I did, she took a pair of scissors to my hair, clutching lumps and trying to cut it close to my head. It occurred to me at the time, that the sound the scissors were making, working through my hair, wasn’t that dainty snipping sound Vinny made with his. This was a much more meaty sound. A sound of substance, like she was really getting value for money out of those scissors..
It wasn’t until I was sat at a dinner table in Italy, when I found one of my teachers staring fixedly at me, then asked,
“Are you particularly stressed about anything Michael?.
(Yeah, taking my pants off in public and letting my mum loose with big scissors.)
Because, you look like your starting with a touch of alopecia.”
Fast forward to the South of France trip.
It was a long journey by road, some 27 hours of travelling to reach our destination. A coach full of sugared up 16 year olds bouncing round they’re seats for the first 26 1/2 hours, until they started to pass out.
Amazing how revitalized 1/2 hours sleep can make you.
It also felt a particularly grown up holiday, because we were allowed to drink alcohol on that trip, as the age limit in France was 16.
When we finally arrived at our destination it was blue sky and glorious sunshine. And heat.
Straight away we were inducted in Do’s and Don’ts, shown to the tents we would be staying in then told to unpack, get changed – we were going to the beach!
So everyone rushed into they’re tents to get changed into swimwear. Clothes flying out of bags, sleeping bags rammed to the back of tents, and falling over trying to pull shoes and socks off. I finally found the blue speedo trunks my mum had picked for me, and pulled them on.
“At least they’ll look a good colour in this weather,” I thought looking for a positive.
Only to hear the lad behind me I was sharing the tent with mutter,
It turned out the trunks my mum had bought me were actually a thong.
What could I do? My shorts all more or less went see-through when wet, I reasoned I may as well bite the bullet and wear the thong.
I spent the following days allowing people to acclimatize themselves to my two pert buns framed by my electric blue eye patch. Lets face it, I wasn’t the elephant thighed 7 year old from years ago! Oh no!
I was a 16 year old in his prime!! Oh yes I was!!
So I would wear these nearly-budgie smugglers and be proud of them!
Because I had the buttocks to carry them off!
I managed a couple of days before sunburn took its toll, as it would on my expansive J-Lo like derriere.
It was big enough to catch a lot of rays. Near 80 degree burns in fact. I’m lucky to be alive!
“Died of BBQ buttocks” would not read well.
Common sense finally set in and I made do with wearing my shorts over them.
Obviously, I should have done this in the first place.
Which is why that particular colour Blue always reminds me of C&A and BBQ ribs.
Finally, when I heard C&A had finally disappeared from high street shopping, I can’t say I shed many tears. I can only say the thought at forefront of my mind was,
“Thank fuck. For that.”