Before we get started, I would like to clear up any misapprehensions concerning the title. Much as I love Australia and assorted rellies therein, this is not a timely warning about getting up in the loft and wrapping bandages round your pipes, on the off-chance of snow. The planet is fractious, no doubt of that. It got used to a sky full of polluting aeroplanes and rivers disgorging rubbish into the sea and then we went into lockdown and stopped. It’s like living on sweets and chocolates and then going on a health doodah, featuring mainly water, your skin will react. Oh yes, I speak as a person with troublesome intestines, who has lost nearly a stone and gained a zit the size of Cornwall.
But it’s not about that, you’ll be relieved to know.
It’s about catching up. It isn’t an age thing, I’ve done it forever. It’s fashion, diet, prevailing trends, in which I’m always playing catch up. The reason we are always playing catch up is the global nature of everything on the planet and commerce. In the sixteenth century you could be a wit in your own village and world famous as far as you were concerned, especially if you never embarked upon the arduous journey to the next village. What with sowing enough seed to have extra crops so you could sell some to hire a donkey and a pair of shoes, most people never bothered. Like some mediaeval Amazon, peddlers visited, sometimes as often as once a year. To make up for the deficiency, if you had a really massive village, as many as, say, five cottages, there might be several peddlers a year. They weren’t all fashionistas, though the original haberdasher was a seller of clothing for men. In a cod piece you never had to worry if you dressed left or right, you dressed up, which makes some of our shocking fashions seem a bit on the tame side. If you were a village woman a few hundred years ago, you’d be waiting for the chapman to call. He was an itinerant peddler possibly peddling the ribbons from the narrow weaver, or the stuff to tie all your clothes together, the cord made by the braider. If you were peckish you’d be hoping for an itinerant kedger, or fisherman, from whom we get kedgeree, which was the one complete dish I could eat in small amounts a couple of years ago, so I’d have been glad to see him. Less so for the duffer, a peddler of very cheap goods; the borler, who made cheap clothing and the raffman, who dealt in saleable rubbish.
They are, of course, all online now and it’s only a few hundred years since newspapers were invented here, in coffee houses, people not wishing to talk to each other early in the AM even then. Instantly influencers were on it like a cart bonnet: buyeth thy panniers, full hoops are so last century! Which must have been a blow to tranqueters everywhere. These makers of hoops may well have been sunk in gloom, ready to shuffle off their metal coils, not realising they only had to wait a century or so for the crinoline, or another century after that for the hula hoop. Never give up; in fashion what goes around comes around, eventually.
Which brings me back to the seasonal lagging. I have it, badly. It’s not just online influencers telling me purple eyebrows are so last week, it’s a lack of enthusiasm on my part. I think my desire to look forward in time was depleted by years of writing for magazines, ahead of time. Six months ahead, mostly. This is the reason we have Christmas in July on all the shopping channels; they’ve just finished making ten tonnes of fake snow and are bursting to flog it, or have taken delivery of six containers of fairy lights and only have a corner of the warehouse to cram them all into. Not that I am saying all such televisual peregrinators are raffmen and I do recall sitting in the garden writing a magazine pantomime in a heatwave and wondering if anyone would want it. When the festivities commenced, six months hence, I was lauded as being on the ball, in the spirit and generally up to speed, though I never had time to bask in the comments, I was too busy inventing beach umbrellas and dressing dolls in bikinis as the snow fell.
These days I just lack enthusiasm because of age. I have retired friends who wonder every year if it’s worth taking the Christmas decorations down. They are not alone, there’s a plethora of raffmen online who will sell you exactly the same strings of fairy lights for barbeques that they were selling for the tree a while ago. In fact, it’s the same picture, with a different caption. It’s always barbeque season somewhere.
I also lack enthusiasm because of weather patterns and changeability. When I taught at the language college everyone’s favourite witticism, that translated readily and that you could say in class, was that Britain has a lovely climate and dreadful weather. That really is the reason I am lukewarm and the heating is on. I can’t buy sleeveless tops in May, it’s just too optimistic. Thin pyjamas with tiny shorts in April? I’m not even going to try them on. But here we are in July and not only do I quite fancy a sleeveless top, the duffers are selling them for next to nothing because they are bursting to fill the chapman’s tray with winter coats. The other advantage to me is that recently purchased items do not lurk in a bag in a cupboard so that I am discovering a pair of bagged shorts in a clear-out in January. I retrieve the item from the drive where the delivery peregrinator has chucked it, disinfect the mailbag, don my gloves, get the tongs, open the bag and wear the item in three days, just like that!
There is also the surprise discovery that, as you get older, despite having more relatives than you used to have, you get pickier. You realise a preference for quality, which, coupled with the knowledge that Raffmen make clothing on the small size to save costs, so that anyone over fifty needs to go up about three sizes to have a chance of even getting a forearm into the trouser leg and waving without breaking their fingers. Better quality clothing lasts longer; if you still own six really good tee-shirts bought in a sale, why would you want a seventh from the duffer? Besides which I know I wear the stuff I have and don’t want to end up like Sam Pepys.
The honest (because he wrote in code and didn’t think anyone would read it) diarist bangs on for weeks about a suit trimmed with sliver lace, which he is having made. There is one very like the description in the clothing museum in Bath. On and on he goes about how he is going to put one over his friends, how very jealous they will be, how extremely keen the cognoscenti will be to be introduced to the man in the silver suit and so on. By the time he takes delivery of the suit we are all bored to tears. He tries it on, walks up and down his bedroom in it and asks the opinion of the wife, which turns out to be that’s it’s a bit OTT and will make her look dowdy.
He never wore it out. It possibly turned into his gardening suit, or maybe was donated to a peregrinator, who would not be able to beg in it, not even for cold kedgeree.
There are advantages to lagging. Not buying the item du jour, only to find by the time it gets delivered it is so last week.
I would like you to remember this, next time you go cruising up the Big River retailer and other places late at night when you are tired. I will endeavour to remember it too and, even, not act upon it! The raffmen now have ethereal container ships, on which they sit with the tills open, twenty-four seven, while we do the peregrinating.
Fashion is the same as it always was; a load of hoopla and tranqueters. I would sing Anything Goes if I didn’t know that a Col Porteur is a travelling bible salesman. Which proves there is nothing new under the sun, therefore it’s always better to lag.
Stay on top! Be behind! Back on out, the lagging is lovely!