Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in September ’14
Autumn is in the air, heralding the end of summer and the start of a new School Year. I have been busily preparing Lily’s uniform, which is unprecedentedly organised of me. I am usually tearing around the house the night before school starts in a frantic and futile hunt for errant jumpers, shirts, and of course the notoriously elusive socks. However, with a week to go before the start of term, Lily’s wardrobe is neatly filled with new, freshly laundered uniform, including a trio of shirts which I starched and pressed with such militant enthusiasm that they practically stand up by themselves.
As I sewed on endless name tapes last night, I was overcome by nostalgia, as I remembered my own childhood in Wales and the profound sense of melancholy that would assail me as the holidays drew to a close and I reluctantly prepared for a new term at the corrupt and fascist institution that masqueraded as a Public School.
The buttons and hems on Lily’s much-loved Dungarees have been adjusted to accommodate her summer growth spurt and an entire drawer has been filled with neatly folded socks, knickers and vests.
While admirable, such diligence lacks longevity. By the end of the first school week, at least half of the socks will have mysteriously vanished without trace, formerly pristine white vests will be battleship grey, having succeeded where I failed and found said socks and shared a wash with them. As I scrub frantically at a the runny egg yolk which has dribbled down Lily’s school jumper during breakfast, I will suddenly remember that she has two spare jumpers for emergencies such as this, only to realise that they are at the bottom of the washing basket/in the dog bed/at Grannie’s.
The following week, I will throw the remaining single socks in the bin because I’m too exasperated to look at them; two days later, the initial absconders will start appearing in such places as the compost heap/dog bed/filing cabinet and Granny will bring around at least half a dozen. I have a long-held mistrust of socks; there is something deeply untrustworthy, supernatural even, about their ability to vanish and appear seemingly at will. They are the magnets of the clothes world: opposites attract, similar ones repel.
Throwing things away unnecessarily is not a male problem. Jasper is, like most men, a prolific hoarder. There are certain objects and clothes from which he stubbornly, and inexplicably, refuses to be parted. The range of objects is broad and includes must-haves like broken Jubilee clips, rusty bolts, old receipts, holy buckets and a miscellany of non-functioning tools. He has an enormous ‘special box’ in the attic, in which he stores his collection and he likes to rummage around in it, or add something to it, when the mood takes him.
I find it rather endearing and a box in the attic is no big deal. The bone of contention is his hoarding of clothes. There is one item of in particular that I find objectionable. It came from a charity shop – an original brown sixties shirt with long pointy collars and lurid yellow flowers all over it. We both hooted with laughter when he put it on, but as he pointed out, it only cost 50p and it was just to wear on the farm.
Except he stopped wearing it on the farm and started wearing it around the house instead
Initially I was bemused. When he started wearing it to the shops and the pub I was mortified. I bought him some nice new shirts. They’re still hanging up, unworn.
His Mother had a word with him about it: ‘You do look quite extraordinary dear,’ but to no avail. In town one day, a group of men outside the pub whooped ‘Nice shirt mate!’
He just waved and smiled at them. He hadn’t realised it was a suggestion, not a compliment.
I tried throwing it into the wood burner, where it acted as a fire retardant, putting the fire out and escaping nothing more than a singed cuff. I put it into the kitchen bin and putting it out with the other rubbish bags on bin day. I came home later to find it washed and drying on the AGA rail. The last time I saw it, I decided enough was enough. I grimly shoved it in the second hand clothes bag and dropped it at the charity shop on the corner. That was a fortnight ago.
Yesterday Lily, who loves her outings, and Jasper went to the Co-Op An hour later she ran into the house beaming with pride and brandishing a Barbie doll.
‘Look what Daddy bought me from the charity shop!’
‘Oh God…which charity shop?’
‘The one on the corner… and Daddy bought another funny brown shirt. He wore it on the way home.’ ◗