Fancy Shirts

Openings, closings, launches: I’ll go to anything where there’s a chance of a few free canapes. And hopefully a glass of bubbly. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt have often spotted me adorning the society pages of this journal, invariably sporting one of my trade-mark Caribbean shirts.

I get the shirts mail order from Florida, where American sizes fit my copious form. On my trips to the Caribbean the market traders have usually been beaten when faced with my rotundity. ‘My, my, that’s a Jordan belly’ commented one stout stallholder, shaking her head. ‘What did she mean?’ I enquired of another nearby shirt merchant. ‘Well’ he said, looking thoughtful, ‘the river Jordan is indeed very wide!’ A blatant case of the kettle calling the pot black in my opinion.

Many of the events I go to have a dress code. ‘Lounge suit or uniform’ said one invitation to a civic reception at the Pump Room. I have neither, so on with the palms and pineapples shirt. ‘Why, I thought I’d be only person in fancy dress’ joked one gold-braided medal bedecked fellow. ‘That’s Ralph’s uniform’ said the mayor, putting me at my ease.

Mind, I’m always very careful that my socks match my shirt. I’m not that casual! Especially when riding a bike when one is obliged to tuck one’s trouser leg into one’s sock. I got a wolf whistle while pedalling along Pulteney Street the other day with some particularly bright pink hose on display.

And an old chap in a wheelchair told me that my shirts always cheer people up in Morrison’s cafeteria of a dull Friday lunchtime. (And so now I have to make sure I don’t wear the same one two weeks running. Ah, the stress of being a fashion icon.)

Actually, people complain these days if I do turn up dressed ‘normally’ by which I mean plain white shirt, jacket and tie. Even at my brother’s funeral I was told I should have worn the one with parrots all over it rather than the more tasteful brown palm fronds on a black background that I had chosen out of filial respect.

So it was with some surprise at a recent networking event, where indeed dark blue bankers’ suits were definitely de rigueur, that I was greeted by a fellow guest with ‘Sir, may I congratulate you on having the most ghastly shirt in the room?’ To which he added ‘I’ve only ever seen one more ghastly, and that was given to me. When I went to wear it, I found my wife had thrown it away!’ Thanks mate.

Bet it’s my picture in the society pages though, not his.

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