This week’s mid-week bonus archives special is dedicated to my brother Nick, as he gave me the best Christmas present I have ever had.
It’s a copy of Penguin’s new collected edition of the Molesworth books signed – personally to me – by Ronald Searle. Ronald Searle! An utter legend. The man who gave us the visuals not only for Molesworth but also St Trinians.
I got quite teary when I opened it and I still keep going to check I haven’t imagined it all.
So, thanks, bro, this one’s for you. xxx
In early adolescence, my brother Nick developed an unhealthy obsession with bikers. It was inspired by an unpleasant little paperback book called Hell’s Angel, which he read with great fascination. My mother said she was just glad to see him reading.
As a prissy, swotty, nine-year-old squit, I was appalled by the book (which I read as soon as I could lay my fat little hands on it) and the magazines that followed it into the house. They were called something like Hog and featured a loathsome cartoon character called Spider, and Spider’s Ol’ Lady, who was his girlfriend.
Horrid things happened to Spider’s Ol’ Lady, which were meant to be hilarious but which I always found upsetting – but it did not stop me making secret forays into Nick’s bedroom to read the latest issue when it arrived.
Hog also featured photos of recent biker social gatherings, which included lots of real-life “ol’ ladies” sitting on the back off chopped hogs (motorbikes) wearing leather shorts and no tops and smiling at the camera over a can of beer. They all wore rings on their forefingers, I noted. I found them fascinating, like the biker equivalent of the social pages of Tatler.
But the worst aspect of Nick’s biker period – even worse than when he “chopped” my bicycle for me, adding ape-hanger handlebars and removing girly extras such as mudguards and ting-a-ling bells – was his “originals”.
“Originals” are jeans and denim jackets that bikers get when they first become bikers. Part of the initiation into the “chapter” (according to Hell’s Angel) is for all of the other bikers to stand in a lovely fairy ring and urinate on them. You never ever wash your Originals – the stinkier the better – and you wear them every day.
Nick’s Originals were a nasty grungy denim jacket from which he had removed the sleeves and then lined the armholes with rabbit skin fur taken off his ex-army parka. Buttons were wrenched out and replaced with crude thongs. His “chapter” details were stencilled on the back in felt-tip pen.
I don’t think he quite went through the full initiation ritual, but by the time a 13-year-old boy has worn an outfit every day for several months (putting it on straight after school each night) and cycling at great speed on his chopped hog, it does acquire a certain hum.
He never allowed his biker gear to be washed and, not wishing to quash creative outpourings of any kind, our mother left him to it.
I was outraged by every aspect of Nick’s Originals. I had to look at them across the table every teatime and I had to sit next to them on car journeys.
But what made me really furious was that he was allowed to wear his Originals to the Rum hole on my birthday. (The Rum Hole was the nearest proper restaurant to our beach house in Wales and, with prawn cocktail in little aluminium cups, steak Diane, Black Forest gateau and plenty of doilies, was the acme of sophistication to me.) How could we be seen there with Nick in his Originals?
I can remember speaking to my mother in outraged indignation about it. “You’re not going to let Nick and his Originals to the Rum Hole are you?”
But it did not have any effect, Nick and his Originals were not to be parted until girls became more interesting to him than motorbikes.
So I can’t remember what I wore to my tenth birthday dinner, but I clearly recall shaggy-haired Nick in his Originals, with a shrunken brown T-shirt and horrid jeans that hung around his hips. I insisted on walking in separately.
All of which is a long way of telling you that I will not be embracing the “dirty denim” trend which is upon us. I don’t care if Chanel does make them.
They all look like Nick’s Originals to me.