Belonging, the Waistcoat and the Working Man

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Great Grandpa Butler was a farming man. Here he is in his working clothes with my Great Grandma. The little girl in the foreground is my Grandma.

When I was around seventeen I shunned the loons and starry T-shirts (yes, I’m of a certain age) for a more eclectic style. My sister’s Levis were suitably faded and worn and, bless her, she let me borrow them. Topped-off with an old denim shirt, or a collarless cotton pull-on shirt, the whole ensemble was completed by a dark-grey waistcoat of impeccable vintage. It had come from my Grandfather (the little girl’s future husband), a coal miner and member of the colliery rescue team. I wore that waistcoat with a certain pride. I thought I looked the part (cool in that sense had yet to enter the vernacular), and treasured it, even sporting his old watch-chain from time to time. In time his old brogues came my way too.

Looking back I now recognise the true value of that grand old weskit. It wasn’t the simple cut of the cloth, or the somewhat bohemian air it lent me. No, it was the honesty of the thing, the blood connection to a proud line of working men, an unrecognised badge of belonging. Wearing it forged the link, that final link in the chain that binds me to these men. It eventually went the way of much from that time; I dearly wish I had it still.

Such belonging stays with you though; it seeps into your consciousness as sure as your awakening awareness of mortality. The need to re-connect assumes a more urgent necessity, subconsciously though inevitably. And as I trudge the highway from young to old fogey I retain a fond weakness for the honest clothes of the working man.

I placed an order this week, an order for a charcoal-grey waistcoat and a navy drill shirt from Old Town in Holt. Though my ancestors may dispute the fact, I reckon a writer’s some sort of working man.

Deep Harmony was my Grandfather’s favourite tune. I shall hum it when I slip the weskit on.

(First published on 17 January 2014 at Steven Hobbs Blog

Comments 2

 
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 18:07

The thing about genealogy is the light it sheds upon our own characters, why we (can) do what we do, what draws us. In the process, I think we actually start to befriend ourselves in a natural and wholesome way. The sense of continuity, too, is a comfort and an inspiration.

The kneading of dough is one of the profoundest things to stir archaic memory. My son at a very early age wanted to plait things, knew exactly how to do it expertly. (We have a naval history and, aside from ropes and rigging, the sailors would, apparently, sit in sideways rows and plait the pigtail of the guy in front!) Some were blacksmiths and ships' engineers and funders of railway companies. Chris has always been hooked on the steam age, the science and physics of it. What amazes him most is the craftsmanship and attention to detail, the pride in producing what was elegant and beautiful as well as functional. But to own and wear a piece of clothing must impart something special of the character and the times.

I must tell you an amusing story which happened a while ago in my local town. A group of young girls walking behind me were in discussion about their families and one was describing to the others how her great-grandfather still bothered to turn himself out nattily, insisting on highly polished shoes and a tie. 'He wears this thing over his shirt,' she said, 'underneath his jacket. It's like a body-warmer in the same material as his suit.'

Smart!

The thing about genealogy is the light it sheds upon our own characters, why we (can) do what we do, what draws us. In the process, I think we actually start to befriend ourselves in a natural and wholesome way. The sense of continuity, too, is a comfort and an inspiration. The kneading of dough is one of the profoundest things to stir archaic memory. My son at a very early age wanted to plait things, knew exactly how to do it expertly. (We have a naval history and, aside from ropes and rigging, the sailors would, apparently, sit in sideways rows and plait the pigtail of the guy in front!) Some were blacksmiths and ships' engineers and funders of railway companies. Chris has always been hooked on the steam age, the science and physics of it. What amazes him most is the craftsmanship and attention to detail, the pride in producing what was elegant and beautiful as well as functional. But to own and wear a piece of clothing must impart something special of the character and the times. I must tell you an amusing story which happened a while ago in my local town. A group of young girls walking behind me were in discussion about their families and one was describing to the others how her great-grandfather still bothered to turn himself out nattily, insisting on highly polished shoes and a tie. 'He wears this thing over his shirt,' she said, 'underneath his jacket. It's like a body-warmer in the same material as his suit.' Smart!
Steven Hobbs on Thursday, 02 October 2014 10:25

Fascinating Rosy - and I love the "body warmer" anecdote! Oh how times change :) Best regards, Steve.

Fascinating Rosy - and I love the "body warmer" anecdote! Oh how times change :) Best regards, Steve.
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