What message am I sending out?
Neil Pickford worries about something else.
I have started to ponder on what message I may be sending out to strangers or people who don’t know me very well.
Oh, please don’t think that I’m in any way vain or worried about my appearance – I’m as capable as anyone of looking in the mirror and realising that the image staring back is not that of a gently-decaying Adonis, but instead of a decayed ape-like descendant to whom time has not been kind. No, it’s more to do with what I wear.
Specifically, it’s my wristwatch. Until a few months ago I used to wear a nice one that had been a birthday present some years ago. However I eventually got tired of having spend about £45 every time I needed to replace broken watch glass after inadvertently tapping it against a piece of Minster stone so I splashed out a fiver on a cheap one. There was a choice of white or vivid purple and, for some unexplainable reason, I chose purple.
“At least,” I thought, “it won’t be easy to lose – and who’s going to steal it?”
So, content with my dazzling but otherwise unremarkable wrist decoration I went back to work. Over the next few days several people commented on it – far more than have ever said anything about my shoes, clothing or even hair (a stylish pony tail, if you didn’t already know). Yes, this purple band was attracting a disproportionate amount of attention.
It wasn’t just the attention; it was the kind of comment that came with it. “That’s an interesting colour – did you choose it yourself?” in a very serious tone. Or: “Why are you wearing that colour?” in a challenging way.
I started to worry. Had the purple watch been adopted as a symbol of some controversial campaign or other? Was purple the colour of a particular street gang that was trying to take over southern HU17? Did it resemble one of those curfew tags that criminals and drunken MPs are supposed to wear in public? I started to walk around with my left hand rammed in a pocket – which makes stacking chairs rather more difficult than it needs to be.
During the recent very hot weather I wore long-sleeved shirts to keep my guilty secret. I stayed away from the swimming pool (although I was going to do that anyway). I avoided sun-bathing (ditto). I started to disguise myself in public.
I know that some of you will ask why I didn’t just go into the shop and slap down another fiver on a different coloured timepiece, but if you say that you fail to understand the regime of frugality that surrounded me as a child.
“What do you want another one for? You’ve already got one.” This was one aunt’s typical response when my uncle wanted to buy today’s newspaper instead of rereading one from last week.
Having two watches would condemn me as: “no better than I ought to be” (whatever that meant) and so I can’t. In any case, what if the new colour was even more damning? Maybe a white wristband would plunge me innocently into a territorial turf war that could only end in tears.
Jargon and the secret language of the gang is designed to make gang-members feel part of a special group and, often, to keep others out, and sometimes I think we’re becoming inadvertent victims of that in the Church of England.
Not so many years ago the special phrases of Anglicanism were taught to every child in the country – it was part of our common educational heritage.
Now formal Christian religion has been banished from most primary schools and words like communion, Lent, Advent – even ‘minister’ – are no longer part of our shared vocabulary. And that makes it just a little bit more difficult for people to understand what we’re talking about.
But, of course, I can always use this ignorance to claim that a purple wristwatch is actually a sign of great status in the Church of England Guild of Vergers. With any luck that will stop complete strangers making unpleasant assumptions about me (he said, ‘wristfully’).
Hahahahaha – sorry