|David 'Wide-Boy' Byrne|
There are three suits in my bedroom wardrobe: there’s my David Byrne suit with the loud check and improbable shoulders that I last wore for my 50th birthday party; there’s a beautiful oatmeal coloured woollen suit that I bought for 50 quid in a sale at Reiss in Covent Garden, which I haven’t worn since moving to France; and there’s my linen wedding day suit, another 50 quid Reiss sale job, whose jacket was purloined one morning in our old house when our very young child dressed up as Monsieur Petanque, a French rustic character she created out of the blue one memorable morning. I didn’t laugh quite so much when I discovered that she’d torn off a button, but I’ve forgiven her over time – even though I’ve failed to track down a replacement.
Periodically I look at my suits and maybe even touch them with a certain sense of nostalgia. Sensible people, like my wife, would have got sent them to the Croix Rouge by now, but I like to think that one day they will serve a purpose. I’ve already made a pact with my friend Dan that we will become dandies together in our dotage. Regardez! C’est Messieurs Sampson et Courtice, le Beau Brummel et le Beau Nash du Lot.
|A dash of finery|
I talk of suits this morning because I finally watched over the weekend the DVD bought in the July sales of Procol Harum live at the Union Chapel, Islington in 2004. I’ve long had a very soft spot for the finest of Essex. Briefly, during a misguided period as a schoolboy when my best mate and I believed that we were too cool for 7” singles, I perceived Procol Harum as a singles band and therefore rejected them a un-hip. But a long-haired ‘head’ at the Fridaybridge agricultural camp in the Fenlands waxed lyrical one summer about ‘the Procols’ to anyone prepared to listen. Prepared, I spent some of my hard-earned money on a couple of ‘two-fer’ albums of theirs on the Fly label.
It was a brilliant concert, even if Matthew Fisher the organist looked like a Fisher out of water, re-united with Gary Brooker, whom he would sue unsuccessfully a little later for a share of the considerable ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ royalties. Gary Brooker has a holiday home in the Lot and I caught him one memorable evening in Cahors, turning up as a special guest with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. It seems, though, that I missed him this summer, playing in concert with Andy Fairweather-Low.
|An underrated Procol classic|
Anyway, Geoff Whitehorn, the guitarist manfully filling Robin Trower’s considerable shoes, was sporting a T-shirt bearing the legend: Success is never having to wear a suit. I thought that was splendid. Enough to persuade me to overlook his unfortunate mullet hairdo and the Adidas sweat bands on his wrists.
It has enabled me to look differently at my underemployed suits. Maybe they can serve as a tangible vindication of the life of a countryman that I chose, quite against type, 18 years ago this September. Last time I was in London, I stayed with my most conventionally successful friend, who sold his shares in a PR firm and invested his money shrewdly. When we parted on the Saturday morning, he was bound for Craven Cottage, where he acts as a guide around the stadium of his beloved Fulham. He wore a beautiful Georgio Armani suit for the occasion and I watched him ride off, somewhat incongruously, on his scooter to negotiate the traffic. He’s in a state of semi-retirement now, but that immaculate suit will always serve as a symbol of his own brand of success.
Last week I had a visit from a young man who, like my friend on the scooter, is a politics graduate. But he has just spent the last five years in the Foreign Legion. As a reader, like many boys of my age, of C.P. Wren’s Beau Geste, I was intrigued. So while Tom quizzed me about the ins and outs of building in straw, I grilled him about his experience in the Legion. It seems to bear little resemblance to the stereotypical images of camels and crenellated forts in the middle of the desert. In fact, he spent a lot of time in and around the Lot – hence his interest in buying a land here on which to build a house of straw.
|At a cinema in the Lot very near you|
I’d forgotten to mention in my reply to his e-mail that I have resorted to asking visitors to buy a copy of my last remaindered book – to help me get rid of the box full that I foolishly bought with my author’s discount. While wondering how I would broach the subject, my charming and appreciative visitor produced a nice bottle of Cahors wine, which he’d thoughtfully brought as a peace offering. In the end I gave him a copy, happy to help out a fellow traveller on the road peopled with unsuited pilgrims.
Ironically, during my proper career, I never reached the dizzy upper echelons of the Civil Surface where suits are de rigueur. The few that I’ve owned in my life have been more fashion statements than uniform. My only realistic hope of wearing one here in my adopted country would seem to be at a restaurant. However, since we have more or less given up the hope of finding an establishment that serves up decent vegetarian food that hasn’t been whipped into a froth and wiped across a plate as a streak of edible colour, even that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Hey ho, then. It’s a countryman’s life for me. For now, my three suits will remain as unworn objects of desire for as long as the little pieces of cedar can fend off the moths. One thing’s for sure (now that the accursed hunting season is upon us once more): you’ll never catch me in the countryman’s olive-coloured uniform that goes with the peaked cap and rifle. If and when I sport a suit in my dotage, perhaps I shall take a cane on my walks with canine companion and with it I can fence off these menacing predators of our wildlife. A pox be upon you and your family, sir! Be gone in your 4x4 and never again darken these wooded paths! For I am Beau Sampson, defender of the Animal Kingdom!
Even hunters wouldn’t dare mess with a be-suited expatriate octogenarian.