The Writer’s Shirt

The Writer’s Shirt

What do the witches say to Macbeth? How do their prophecies influence his future actions?

The English curriculum is full of splendidly worthy questions – well, apart from this year.

That may or may not be one of them. I have no idea. I made it up.

Let me suggest an alternative. One that goes right to the heart of what it means to write. That defines the artist and his craft…

How do we know Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in his nightshirt?

Or that Dickens wrote Scrooge in his nightgown? That Ian Fleming wrote the early Bonds in a fetching pair of navy and white striped pyjamas?

Because every writer I know writes in his PJs. He gets out of bed, breaks wind, feeds the cat, runs a hand through his hair, scratches his nether regions and turns his laptop on.

I’d like to tell you that I’m the exception. I’d like to tell you I get up, run five miles, shave, shower, eat fruit for breakfast and only then reach for my laptop…

“At last,” my wife says. “You’ve managed to get dressed. I’ll alert the media.”

“I was in the middle of something…”

“Oh,” she says on closer inspection. “I see I’ve used the words ‘get dressed’ loosely.”

She may be right. I’ve now abandoned my black trousers/black t-shirt/black hoodie look of early summer. Instead I’m in black t-shirt/faded red shorts/khaki green top. Although my wife uses a different word to describe the shade of green. It has four letters.

The new elegance has not gone unnoticed. My wife has taken to wandering round the house muttering to herself. I occasionally catch the word ‘standards.’ And ‘slipping…’

But what do you know? She’s in luck. All nine planets are in line and I feel the urge for my annual bout of clothes shopping. A new shirt should do it.

What I really want is the shirt I had in my early 20s. (There are several other things from my early 20s I’d quite like back as well…)

Let’s push the sordid fantasies to one side – reluctantly – and concentrate on the shirt. It was cream. Lovely, soft fabric. With just four buttons. I pulled it on over my head. And I’ve spent the rest of my life searching for its direct descendant.

When I was a dull person in financial services a shirt like that was out of the question. And the children were small. Go home and anything I wore was immediately covered in mud, vomit or spaghetti hoops.

But now things are different. I’ve run away to join the circus. I’m a writer. I can wear whatever I like. When I finally get dressed, obviously…

And what I like are half-placket shirts. Also known as French peasant shirts. Henley shirts. “Most people call them grandad shirts,” my beloved said. They may do: I’ll save that for a few years if you don’t mind.

Put more simply, they’re the shirts Monty Don wears on Gardeners’ World.

Grey hair? Knackered knees? Nope. Nothing says you’re getting older quite like Googling ‘where does Monty Don get his shirts?’

I find out. And have a moment of pause when I discover how much Monty spends on his gardening shirts. I’d like the same please: but I was thinking of about thirty quid…

A furious online search ensues.

And guess what? The gentlemen of England are clearly following my lead.

Because however I describe them, they’re out of stock. None to be had anywhere. Not a half-placket or French peasant in sight.

Another one ticked off the bucket list. At last. I’m a fashion icon.

The cover of GQ can only be days away…

This one was written on Friday August 14th – just as I finished the first draft of Salt in the Wounds. That’s now gone off to get some feedback from my advance team of readers, and should be published by the middle of September. It’ll be available on pre-order by the end of this month. Meanwhile it’s just on four years since Alex and I finished our first walk on the Pennine Way. I’m always disturbed by how young I look on the cover of that one…