I’m off to London this morning – to the cultural melting pot where every nation of the world is represented. Eight and half million people getting on with it in a city where anything goes, where it’s hard to stick out or to provoke a raised eyebrow. At least, that is my notion of it, but I wonder if it’s really true. Is it easier to be different and follow a counter-culture in a large city than in a small community? Maybe it’s hard to be alternative anywhere. And what is it to be alternative anyway? Is it to be a hipster, that ubiquitous breed that blew in not so long ago like sand from the mistral with their beards and waxed moustaches, fixed gear bicycles and sourdough bread? In fact, I’ve looked up the origin of the word ‘hispster’ only to discover that it’s probably a derivation of the word ‘hepster’; a word that began appearing in the late 1930s, and primarily referred to a person who is knowledgeable about or interested in jazz. I wonder if the 1930’s jazz aficionados sported beards? Hipsters did seem to be alternative for about 10 minutes in Shoreditch in 2006 until the whole look was jettisoned into the mainstream lifestyle and fashion factory, which then churned out production line look-alikes in lots of one thousand. The marketer’s dream, telling youngsters to: look like this, eat this, drink coffee here, travel there (don’t call it a holiday), listen to this music, and – whatever you do – don’t think for yourself. I realise I am sounding terribly cynical, and I know that ‘twas ever thus, the rebellious quickly becomes mainstream (mods, teddy boys, etc.) But surely the pressure (especially the younger you are) to have a ‘look’ is stronger than ever. There are many reasons I would love to be young again, but navigating the minefield of fitting in is not one that would take me back to 1988 in a hurry.
M. met a man on a station platform the other week with a fresh flower in his hat. She took time to speak to him, told him how good it looked, how she appreciated his effort. She said he was pleased to be admired – of course he was, his gesture had had the desired effect: to be noticed and to bring joy. A dandy, he was, except we don’t use the term much anymore and few people bother to make themselves look dandy. Why do we wait for weddings to wear a button-hole? Why are flowers in one’s hair the preserve of the young or reserved only for those who think they have a monopoly on flair? It’s time to release your inner dandy – and if other people think you look ridiculous, let them, it’s just their opinion. One of the great benefits of growing older is that, please God, we start to care a little bit less about what others think. I might have got this entirely wrong, but I think there is a fondness, a veiled pride in Carol-Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Mrs Icarus’.
‘Mrs Icarus’, by Carol-Ann Duffy
“I’m not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.”
Who knows what the man in this poem has been up to – putting his back out doing forward rolls down a hill with his children, tempting certain death with a flying machine made from the cardboard box the new tumble dryer came in. But the notion that someone is having fun for fun’s sake and they don’t give a toss what they look like or how they come across to others – well, don’t you just love that?
I live above a shop that sells men’s kilts (match that) and they change their window display regularly. For me, it’s all about the accessories; they are what catch my eye. The belt buckles, the sgian-dubh (the wee knife you stick down the side of your sock in case you need to slay a stag at that formal wedding you’re attending), the ornate kilt pins, and, of course, the sporran. Time spent looking at the window display is never time wasted, I have a become a sporran expert: the day sporran in plain leather, unadorned; the dress sporran, often silver plated, thistle design is popular; the animal mask sporran, with an animal’s head for the closing flap – not everyone’s cup of tea (in fact a badger staring up at you from his lap might well put you off your tea); and finally, the horsehair sporran, used by military and regimental bands. I thought I knew them all until they changed their window display this week and put on show pink, purple and royal blue fluffy sporrans. I reckon there is going to be a mad Easter run on them.
Be true to yourself, dare to be different, and gents, if that means going out a treating yourself to a pink fluffy sporran, go right ahead, and don’t let anyone call you a pillock. I’m off to catch my train south and I am going to wear something flamboyant and fabulous!