I also jointly dedicate my song today my Facebook friend, Chuck Braxton from Nashville, Indiana who also celebrates his birthday today. Have a nice day, Chuck and leave room for lots of cake and a birthday drink. Thank you for being my Facebook friend. Bill.
Today’s song is ‘Handbags and Glad Rags’. This song was written in 1967 by Mike d’Abo, who was then the lead singer of ‘Manfred Mann’. D'Abo describes the song as "saying to a teenage girl that the way to happiness is not through being trendy. There are deeper values."
In November 1967, singer Chris Farlowe was the first to release a version of the song, produced by Mike d’Abo. It reached Number 33 in the United Kingdom. In 19732, Rod Stewart recorded his cover version and released the song, but it peaked at Number 42 in March 1993 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart. Although it was never a hit single for Stewart in the UK, it experienced some renewed popularity following its use for television series ‘The Office’
It is easy to sometimes criticise people for spending all their spare money on fashionable clothes and other garments, and the young have always attracted their fair share of criticism in this regard. For a young person, clothes are one of the prime ways of establishing one’s own identity within one’s peer group and distinguishing oneself from their parents and other adult groups.
I know that as a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave school and get into work. Being the oldest in a family of seven children, I spent much of my earlier life before starting work in a mill at Cleckheaton, being unfashionably shod ( having to wear wellingtons to play out in during warm weather while I saved my shoes for school attendance), and wearing jumble sale clothes on my back, which like the cat, had often seen nine lives and had been passed on too often to be graced with the title of any longer being classified as ‘second hand’ garments.
My memory of earlier life was one of ‘live and make do’. However badly holed my socks got with wear, being woollen, they could always be darned by the nimble fingers of any mother of the day. But worn shoes with holes in the sole were an entirely different matter! My dad was a collier working at the coal face in the mines ten hours a day, but he wasn’t a cobbler. So, I learned to do what every other boy from poor households also did; I had to ‘walk on air’ like a hovercraft. When the soles of my shoes wore thin and started to hole, mum would stuff the insides with stiff cardboard. This would help keep out the cold but not the wet ground when it rained too hard; and if you ever walked down a stony path, your feet would frequently be pierced through the cardboard.
Whenever the occasion came around that new shoes were bought for me through ‘Littlewoods’ catalogue (approximately 3 years to pay at 300% interest), no sooner than the agent had delivered them to our house, my father would go to work on them in the garden shed before handing them back to me for wearing to school. I never had two pairs of shoes that were called school shoes and ‘Sunday Best’ shoes. My new shoes catered for every day of the week and every occasion in it. My new shoes would be heavily styled like a part-boot and be of the robust kind, made to last. By the time that my dad had tipped the heels and capped the toes with steel, I looked more like a miniature miner than a nine-year-old boy going to school.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t an unhappy child, growing up in a large family with little money, but even children born to poor and loving parents sometimes feel that life can be unfair. After all, there are only so many times that a schoolboy without a school satchel can credibly claim to have either lost it on the way to school or had it pinched! Being the firstborn in a materially poor family encourages one to cry in private and tough it out in public.
Because of being unable to walk for three years after a serious life-threatening accident at the age of 11 years, and the numerous operations I then had on my damaged legs (over 50 operations), I grew to regard my feet and legs as being the most important part of my body. Though my legs had been badly broken and mangled after my body was twisted around the main axle of the wagon which knocked me down and ran over me, and although the medics said I’d never be able to walk again due to a spinal injury, my old legs never gave up on me. When my damaged spine miraculously regained its proper functioning, my legs were able to once more get back into limping action, despite one of them having no kneecap and the other being three inches shorter than its mate.
Just as soon as I started to earn my own money from being a worker instead of a scholar, I swore never again to wear cheap shoes or dress in any garment that didn’t feel good to wear. It didn’t matter if it was underpants concealed beneath my trousers, socks hidden inside the shoes I wore, or a handkerchief concealed inside my pocket; each of these items were of the finest and best quality that money could buy. Had I been a woman, I’d probably have gone out to work in silk knickers every day! I became determined in adult life that never again would I wear anything substandard.
As a working teenager, I spent the whole of my first wage package on a new pair of fashionable shoes. In the 1950s, one’s parents allowed a young person to keep all of their first wage package, however poor the family was. Thereafter, one tipped up the weekly wage packet unopened to one’s mother and she would give you a small amount back to spend on yourself. No teenager objected to this practice, as their mother was only expecting the working children of the family to do what they’d witnessed their working father do all his life. That was the way it was. Until well into the 1960s; one tipped up their unopened wage packet to their mother as a working teenager, and when they married around the age of twenty-one ( barring shotgun weddings, when they wed earlier), the son-turned-husband carried on tipping up his unopened wage packet to the new woman in his life; his wife.
Given that women have always been able to make one pound stretch farther than any man ever could, it has always amazed me that we don’t have more female Chancellors of the Exchequer looking after the nation’s finances. I suppose that the shopkeeper’s daughter from Grantham (First Lord of the Treasury as well as Prime Minister) was the closest the country ever came to witnessing household management in Government at its best. It’s little wonder all the women in the land liked her and voted her into Government. Whatever their menfolk thought of Margaret Thatcher’s overall policies, all the mothers in the land understood her financial logic inside out!
I recall as a teenager, that I would get in gang fights weekly. Often, such fights would either be over a young woman’s honour or occasionally, her dishonour. Even an ‘excuse me’ gesture on the dance floor to another young man whose partner you wanted to dance with, would be considered enough of an insult to start a gang war instantly. However, fights could also start over something trivial, like looking too long at the wrong person or spilling his coffee as you accidentally bumped into him in a crowded coffee bar.
In all the physical fights I had between the ages of 16 years and 21 years, I never once worried about getting a black eye or a broken arm in battle. There was, however, something I always feared much more; scuffing my good shoes or getting my expensive clothing torn or soiled.
The single thing that made me the maddest I could be would be to get a new suit ripped whilst fighting and rolling around on the floor or someone stepping on my fashionable, highly polished shoes. Whenever any of these things happened
(between the ages of 15-17), I would go berserk and might finish up breaking my opponent’s arms and legs or damaging some other part of his anatomy out of revenge. Then, after a friend of mine had half his ear chewed off in a fight in a dance hall ‘free for all’ as he grappled on the floor with his opponent, I became determined that in any future fights I ever had, I would stay upright and never go down again.
Between the ages of 17-21, I attended a Judo Hall in Heckmondwike three times a week, as well as becoming a member of a Boxing Sport’s Club in Batley once a week. I also engaged in every sport that my uneven-sized legs allowed. While I played rugby every Saturday afternoon, I frequently got sent off the field for fighting more times than I finished a game. I engaged in these activities for two main reasons. One was to regain better balance of my body after my two legs had been left of unequal lengths after my numerous operations, and the second reason was to be able to win a fight stood up throughout, where there was less chance of me damaging my clothes or scuffing my shoes.
Today, I unashamedly always have the best of shoes and the most fashionable of clothes, although I had to wait until after the children had all grown up and left home before I could indulge my dress tastes to my pocket. I am probably a snob now when it comes to wearing the best. If asked to choose between the two, I would always wear more expensive shoes on my feet before having the dearest clothes on my back, and I’d rather be seen in a good jacket and trousers without one penny in my pocket than wearing some run-of-the-mill garments with every pocket stuffed with £50 notes.
I guess it’s very much like a woman I once knew, who, when she felt a bit fed up or depressed, would go upstairs and put on the most glamorous pair of knickers she owned and then go out for a walk. It mattered not that the fine undergarments were concealed and wouldn’t be seen by another; it just made her feel the ‘bee’s knees’ to walk about in swanky knickers beneath the plainest of dresses. I guess she felt about her knickers the same way I felt about my fine shoes, and for similar reasons to me; making up for what she materially missed out on as a growing child.
I also recall my mother carrying a red leather purse with her whenever she went out shopping. The purse wasn’t a cheap one and was made from the finest and softest Moroccan leather. If opened, one could see that the purse never held more than mere pennies or a few shillings, but it made my mum feel good to carry a purse fit for the finest of ladies; a purse that looked expensive enough to hold £1000.
I’ve never understood how any woman could spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a handbag, especially if one knew what rubbish such expensive fashion items usually contained. If you asked me to guess the contents of a woman’s handbag, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea; but, if you pressed me to speculate, I’d guess it might hold a few wrapped toffees (soft sweets if the owner wore dentures), pieces of crumpled tissue paper (used and unused), and some chap’s telephone number scribbled on a business card (perhaps a plumber who once fixed your leaky pipes or a good-looking painter and decorator who wallpapered your bedroom to satisfaction the three months your husband was working away on the oil-rig platform in the North Sea. Ensconced somewhere in the corner of the handbag might be a half-eaten apple that is on the turn! Whatever the expensive handbag contained, I’d bet my bottom dollar that it would be nothing of any significant value? No doubt, you ladies will soon tell me if I’m way off the mark.
So, if there’s any woman out there who is down in the dumps and feeling a bit depressed, nip upstairs, get out your most expensive handbags, pop on your glad rags and finest pair of knickers, along with your smartest pair of shoes; and hit the town with one of your lady friends. And if one of your lady friends doesn’t want to paint the town red with you, fish out one of those telephone numbers in your handbag and I feel sure that good-looking painter and decorator and he’ll gladly paint the town any colour you fancy!
Love and peace Bill xxx