Friday, February 22, 2013

A. A. Gill on Tweed

From Previous Convictions, by A. A. Gill. The chapter is "Shooting". (For the Brits, "hunting" is performed while riding a horse (e.g., fox-hunting), while "shooting" is performed without a horse.)
Shooting clobber is that peculiarly English thing: studied, posed, rubbish. ... Every single bit of shooting kit should look like it has been put on in the dark by a depressed Method actor. To look this ridiculously ghastly takes great application, and just in case you're ever caught out by an invitation to shoot stupid birds in England, here's a tip: the central mystery of shooting is not skill — nobody gives a fig whether you can shoot or not as long as you don't kill someone who was at school with your father. And it's certainly nothing to do with food or hunter-gathering, or love of fresh air, or nature, exercise, or, heaven forbid, male bonding. Male bonding is one of the things Englishmen carry guns to deter.
The central mystery, the core belief of shooting, is tweed ... Compared with the lightweight, temperature-controlled, breathable, waterproof, utilitarian, stylish and comfortable materials readily available for all sorts of outdoor fun and games these days, tweed is antediluvian lunacy; it's like wearing thatch.
Englishmen will tell you with tears in their eyes that because it works for sheep and their grandfathers, tweed is unimprovable. This is a hairy, ignorant lie. ...
First and last, tweed is hellishly uncomfortable ... It's invariably far too hot, except for those mornings when it's bloody freezing. An Englishman claims tweed is magically water repellent. It's not. It's water absorbent — not the same thing. And as shooting takes place in the Arctic monsoon season, it gets an awful lot to absorb. A decent tweed jacket can suck up three times its own weight in liquid and then retain it like a miserly camel. It will also smell like a miserly camel. ...
Ideally a tweed should be inherited. You should wear your father's or the remnants of your grandfather's. There is no such thing as tweed that fits — it just sags. There is, though, one big plus with tweed; the cleaning. It's very simple. You can't do it. You can't dry-clean tweed, because it turns into chipboard; you can't put it into a washing machine, because it morphs into a dinosaur's fur ball. The recommended method for cleaning tweed — and I'm not making this up — is to "lay it in a cold bath and then dry it flat." Well, I'm sorry, but what in all creation was ever cleaned by being laid in a cold bath? And it would take eighteen months to dry out laid flat.
... The English also make their keepers, beaters, pickers-up, flagmen and stops (all servants) dress up in tweed, like extras and suspects from an Agatha Christie mystery. ... Shoot servants all have to wear the same pattern so they trundle around the heather and the bracken looking like a game of hide-and-seek played by scatter cushions.

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