It is around 1955, I have become engaged to the lovely Ann, and since we have been together, Ann has suggested that I dress a bit smarter. Young people are now much more interested in clothes and how they look. There are shops that cater for ‘The modern Man’. Such a shop is ‘Cecil Gee’ in Kingston. We go to Kingston quite often as it is a nice town. We were looking in the window of Cecil Gee and I saw this great jumper. I liked it straight away but Ann wasn’t so sure, she said it was a bit over the top.
Looking back I suppose she had a point, but at the time I just had to have it. I tried it on and even Ann thought it looked better on me than just hanging on the display. It was quite expensive at two guineas—two pounds ten pence. But as Ann would say, “You have to pay for quality”.
The style according to the label was ‘A Batwing sweater’, a very good description. If I stood with my arms stretched out, it looked just like a bat wing. The sleeves started from the waist band and continued in an arc down to the cuffs. The jumper was red with a wide black stripe stitched along the top of the sleeves from the collar to the cuffs with big red stitching. I loved it.
My brother David and another Ann had just got married and they were living with us for a while. They were both very young and Ann was very helpful to my mother in running the house.
I came home from work one day and was greeted by the jubilant young bride, she pointed to the washing line and said.
I’m never very good at this guessing game, so I looked to where she was pointing. With what can only be described as my heart hitting my bladder, I saw my lovely red and black batwing jumper with the black stripe and black stitching, hanging from the washing line by the sleeves, the body is lmost touching the ground.
“I’ve done your washing and it’s dry already”.
It may have been dry but not as dry as my mouth, as I said.
“That’s very kind of you Ann, I didn’t know it needed washing though”.
I looked in dismay at what now looked like a large Manta Ray that some fisherman had hung up to display his prowess at fishing. In a moment, the enthusiastic Ann, had removed the jumper and was urging me to try it on, actually it wasn’t too bad. It was just the sleeves that I could see might be a problem. They were always a bit long, but now they were about a foot too long, but the ever-resourceful Ann, said.
“All we have to do is roll the sleeves up a bit.”
This, she helped me to do, I had the feeling that she had begun to realise that all was not well with the sleeve department, and I saw the jubilation drain from her face. To save her feelings I said it all looked great— the rolled up sleeves looked like something that Anna Karenina would wear as a muff in the Russian winter.
“At last” I said. “I may be at the forefront of men’s fashion, by leading instead of copying.”. But it never caught on. I am slightly colour blind, so hadn’t noticed that the lovely scarlet sleeves that had caught my eye in ‘Cecil Gee’s Outfitters For the Younger Man’, had lost their vibrancy and were now a sort of rusty colour.
The heavy knitted woollen texture of the whole jumper was more like a cheap wool mixture. After Ann’s thorough washing, most of the wool was missing, this made it all rather floppy. I soon found another problem with this loosely knitted material. It made cycling more difficult in an unexpected way
The ‘batwings’ would flap, even at quite low speeds, and if I was in a hurry, the whole jumper would inflate, causing a large hump on my back. All this plus the ‘Anna Karenina’ cuff’s was not the image I had originally sought.
Like all my clothes, once I had tired of them or more likely they had become just tired, I would then wear them to work. This was a common practice and some worker’s could be seen riding their bikes dressed in clothes not at all meant for cycling or for working at a factory bench.
The ride to and from the Vickers Armstrong factory was always an exciting affair. With so many workers arriving in the morning at about the same time— eight thousand of them— it was always a race to ‘clock in’ at eight.
One of the most inappropriate of these garments was a single-breasted, charcoal grey raincoat, which a year or two earlier were all the rage with the local youths. Now these younger workers could be seen with these cheap coats flapping around them, racing to work on their bikes. They looked like ‘Doc Holiday’ being chased by a a posse in a cowboy film.
As if this was not enough of a pantomime, some of the older worker’s had invested in a little petrol engine. This was fixed to the rear wheel of their bikes. With these, they were more than capable of overtaking the ‘posse’. They looked a grand sight with their ex army waterproof capes billowing in the wind at twenty miles per hour.