I wander into the shop. A bright young thing leaps at me, eyes wide with the expectation of commission.
“You okay today?”
“Yes, yes, fine, fine. I am, yes, FINE. Fine, yea, just, yep, fine.”
He’s looking at me strangely. Am I on drugs? Maybe I am on drugs.
I’m waving my hands around like a scarecrow in the wind. Am I pointing at something that makes it look as though I’m interesting in buying a specific item?
“Thinking of anything in particular?” Oh God, he’s dying behind the eyes
“No…just…..yes, no..Just..thinking….around…Fine. I am FINE.” Stop pointing at specific items you idiot
“Oh you’re thinking of buying that? I mean..I was thinking of Bonnie Tyler the other day but that doesn’t mean we all have to live in the 80s, does it?”
Three…two…one…..Out of the shopping centre, on the next bus, home…
Clothes shopping is an absolute nightmare, my personal Room 101, walls plastered with models and designs and preening, judgemental assistants who are more willing to make an assumption on your suitability as a human faster than the Head of HR at an interview. I’m surprised TopMan hasn’t employed security guards on the front door.
“And how old are you, mate?”
“There’s nothing for you here, pal, move on…”
It is because of the instant deflation in confidence which comes from needing clothes that a) I indulge in round-town wanders whilst I build up the cojones to walk into a shop, and b) I make choices woefully inappropriate just to get out as quickly as possible.
I remember a Victoria Wood sketch in which men ask for a fire extinguisher to be wrapped up in giftwrap rather than focus for too long at the underwear department of a major store; (“Yes, that one, red, it’s in her size”, “That’s a fire extinguisher, sir”, “Yes, yes, put a bow on it, wonderful, bye!”). That’s me in most shops that aren’t Primark or TK Maxx. In my misguided youth I meandered inside Reef (clothes made for young people who look like anime characters), scaring the assistant into thinking I was stealing. “Sorry, are you…do you want to try that on…at all…?” “No, I’m just queuing to pay!” “…Oh…”
People who get clothes deserve an award. I don’t know what the Latin is for “purchasing items of clothing” but stick “-phobia” on the end and that’s my diagnosis. I have tried the “spoonful of sugar” technique only for that to become increasingly laborious by age. Have you tried buying anything from Burtons? It’s good for suits worn as a one-off by boybands at award ceremonies, and if you fancy having the eyebrows of strangers raised in response to you merely brushing your hands across short-sleeved t-shirts.
One result of all this is my wardrobe of doom – a time-capsule for every time I grabbed-and-ran something without looking at it twice. The sky-and-cloud design shirt, the beige hooded jacket, the over-sized ‘skater’ jeans…Oh yes, and the jumper (£90, cheap at half the price) bought from a place far fancier than I should have ever wandered into but it was either that or another meaningless confidence boost stroll around Manchester City Centre so what you gonna do?
I would like, in keeping with the mindset of most men of my mindset, for all the horror of shopping for clothes to be improved by the actions of other people. Turn every shop into a clearance warehouse so the people I pay care less than I do. Or if it comes to it, and this goes against all my principles, get the State to provide everything. If the High Street were to be nationalised maybe I could have a chest of drawers so stuffed full of plain t-shirts it’d look like a Uniqlo store room.
Or North Korea. That’s it – instead of feeling inadequate everytime I so much as stroke my chin near Duffers, I’ll order everything I need from Pyongyang…
Good design lasts a life time. Bad design tends to hang around as a warning to others; Private Eye filled columns every week showcasing how the Consignia rebranding of the Post Office involved a logo which resembled water running down a plug-hole. An entire episode of Points Of View obsessed over the decision to spend licence fee money on introducing the Gill Sans typeface to BBC television. “It looks like you’re broadcasting programmes on ‘BB CONE'”, said one viewer. They had a point. Indeed, they still do.
If any symbol of good design still does its job today, it is the sign you’ll notice but not realise you’ve become accustomed to, the logo which has been adapted and adopted by groups far beyond its original organisation, and one which has outlived numerous changes to the structure for which it was intended. The most remarkable characteristic is how, years after rail privatisation, the British Rail ‘two arrows’ has remained in every place it was originally put and countless more besides. Each new multi-storey car park displays the logo in over sized lozenges, every new build railway station uses in signage, councils still use it on direction signs.
First seen in 1965, the ‘two arrows’ is an iconic reminder of an era long gone, and design vision which remains at the heart of exponents of classic works today As easily recognisable as the O2 bubbles or the Nike tick, the ‘two arrows’ have long since survived the selling off of British Rail in the tail end of John Major’s Conservative government. Amongst the mess of private company logos and rebrands, this 60s landmark is a proven survivor.
Following the collapse of Railtrack, a new company was set up to look after anything trains ran on, in, under or through. Network Rail could have been the ‘new’ British Rail, a national touchstone and branding exercise to revitalise the industry. Its logo has not seeped through the consciousness of the nation, its attempt to ape the BR original looking both obvious and weak.
Why has the BR original survived? It is simple, effective, pure – the directional arrows may have been mocked as proof of “indecision” back in the day, but now there is no realistic alternative. The Network Rail version has an unapologetic corporate look, the triangles and rectangles are too clever-clever, badly thought out, almost ugly. What do we trust most – rails running off into the distance, or arrows pointing the way?
With the great soup of private companies and TOCs trying to bury tradition under a mesh of their own typefaces, logos, emblems and symbols, it is refreshing to see those 50+ years old time capsules surviving at railway stations across the land. “Railway” font is used almost everywhere still today, though new build railway stations have been grasped by the hand of ‘modernisation’. As long as the ‘two arrows’ point the way, we should always know where we are. Very few alternatives from any other field are so brilliantly resilient.
Cards on the table – though by now regular readers should have fathomed this out – I am not the biggest fan of the Labour Party. I was struggling even as a child, when my dad would sneer at the very sound of the word “Kinnock” and I’d be given very compelling reasons why the son of a Wiganer whose entire working life was down the mines was no more ‘socialist’ than a goldfish.
It doesn’t help that the current Labour leadership is so ineffectual. Remember Ed Miliband telling us that the strikes earlier this year were wrong “while negotiations are still going on”? (It’s the video in which he tells us again and again and again and oh sorry my ears have run away). Now he’s using the same drone-voice reasoning for this U-turn. I presume the Union leaders have sharpened their poking sticks. He must be one of the few walking talking humans whose voice doesn’t change when goosed.
Ed Balls doesn’t help make the Opposition very attractive to me either, and that’s not a personal insult against his face, though it does resemble a sack of cauliflowers. I would appreciate Balls admitting that the Labour Party is partly responsible for the mess we’re in, though that would be less forthcoming that admitting he dresses up in Yvette’s clothes of an evening, so instead we’re faced with an economic “5 point plan” that’s more insane than a cheesecake made from Ritalin.
During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s bunfight, two things happened. One – John Bercow signed his resignation letter. Two – D-Cam used “left-wing” as an insult. It was obviously the soundbite he wanted because he used it twice, including the bit at the end where he can say whatever he likes because Ed has used up his six questions. It wasn’t much of a soundbite anyway, because the flow was all wrong – “Irresponsible, leftwing and weak!” sounds clumsy and without any rhythm. It’s not an insult so much as a shopping list.
“Red Ed” still gets used against the Labour leader, and despite its accuracy has not stuck. Political labels are difficult to sustain as insults. “Liberal” in the United States might as well be “Baby Eating Whore”, though that’s very much a product of the polarised political situation over there. “Liberal” in this country has never caught on as a disparaging label. “You’re too liberal!” sounds almost effete and camp. “You can protect my civil liberties any day of the week, you jolly old eek.” “Fascist” has taken to wearing on the damp cloak of “Tory!” and “Thatcher!”, not so much an effective swipe to the ego, more a measure of the man saying it. “You’re just a Yellow Tory!” is something I am often accused of being, though it does paint a picture in my mind of an elderly conservative woman having trouble with her bodily functions. But that’s just me. And in any case, I am no Tory. Okay, I’m a bit more economically conservative than I am socially liberal but I point honourable members to my dad for that one.
Cameron’s use of “leftwing” as an insult landed squarely on the floor in a heap of damp tissue and I suspect he knows this. Nobody denies that the left have their loony tendencies, or being a slogan-shouting anti-everything socialist does tend to have you marked down as potentially unstable. “Tax us more! Spend more! Borrow more!” – it’s like being shouted at by a drunk Open University lecturer, one whose still trapped in side your television in a beige box room, strangling himself with his kipper tie in your nightmares.
If “leftwing” sticks, it’ll be accident and not design. One time socialist micro-grouplet “Left List” tried and failed to win elections some years ago in the London Assembly elections, the word “left” seeming unusual and out of place. We know “Labour” and we know, at a push, “socialist”. The slow beating to death of ideology in the years following Margaret Thatcher’s fall from power probably did for the extremes to do much good in the identity stakes. It took Tony Blair the Iraq war for some members of the Labour Party to remember that they were, in fact, on the left wing. Hence the birth of the Socialist Alliance and Respect and all the other far out placard wavers.
Both sides of the political spectrum agree with each other more than they think, or would dare to admit. It’s expediency to use each others stance as a beating stick. It’s also potentially damaging to a discourse already reduced to its most shallow forms. We’re supposed to do democracy different in this country, and Cameron had vowed to end Punch and Judy politics. If Ed Miliband is wrong just for being “leftwing”, than Cameron has missed the point entirely. Labour is wrong for all sorts of reasons. Using political labels in this way is inaccurate and insulting. It would just have to be a fluffy, fence-sitting liberal to point that out.