Preston College Students Union office, before “the troubles”. A friend of mine has suggested I am in someway showing off by turning up, head to toe, in clothes bought that weekend with my wages from my first ever job. Maybe I was. No, scratch that: I was not. Assuming it was a joke, (it was a joke), showing off was the last thing on my mind, given I was wearing a fisherman’s hat, skin-tight army-print t-shirt and a corded jacket. Jeans, certainly, but they were old. Or so I assume.
But purchasing clothes, then and now, is not something I do with great haste or enjoyment. It is something of a chore, like buying shoe-polish or replacement lightbulbs. I remember the incident with a grey jumper really clearly, not least because my mindset (behaviour?) remains fairly similar now.
The store was Officer’s Club, which exists today but not where it once was. The original store was tucked away in another part of the Fishergate Centre, above what once was the cafe (what was this called? The Station? No…The Platform? No…It was called, WhistleStop, I remember now. There was a miniature train which ran along a track fixed to the ceiling. It did not whistle. Or stop.)
So, then, Officer’s Club. It was from there I bought a blue jumper, sky blue, with a design like a jagged rainbow on the front. “Oh Jesus,” said my dad. “Oh God,” said my sister. My dad was not one for bothering with the purchasing of clothes, with the kind of attitude suggesting that any bloke who spends more than a few minutes down the market buying a jumper is showing the kind of behaviour which would have him expelled from the army. At the back of my mind then and now such a forceful piece of Wiganer logic remains. Absent-mindedly checking out the fabrics and prices of every rack in the store is a worrying trait in anybody not a grandmother or teenage girl.
So, the jumper. I had walked in, spotted the familiar sense of feeling ‘watched’ and ‘scrutinised’, and how awkward I felt being in a clothes store, even if it was Officer’s Club with its constant discount offers and endless sales. I would have liked a grey jumper, found one, bought it, left. On discovering it was sleeveless, a kind of tank-top affair, my mother did not take “It’s fiiiiiine” for any kind of excuse, taking me back to the shop to exchange it for something more suitable. She actually said to the guy behind the counter, “He thought it was a jumper”. Maybe I looked away at this point, studied my shoes. Else I was already looking away.
Lessons have been learned, but not heeded or remembered all the time. Only two years ago I returned from a retro clothes store in Manchester with a yellow-and-blue Adidas top (and very nice it was too), in the size “oh eck this is a bit tight”. Refusal to try clothes on in store (for fear, and it is fear, of resembling someone who wants attention from staff) will forever be my downfall.
Dad was right, though.