Journalists likes to think they have the power to influence. It’s part of the appeal of the job; mass coercion. Shaping opinion goes with the territory, and by and large readers keep to their side of the bargain.
It’s why Kim insists, every time we encounter a group of holiday-makers tap tapping past our Cornish home, their fingers wrapped around polished aluminum walking poles, of the kind Sir Ranulph Fiennes uses for assaults upon far away wastelands, that I am responsible. But there aren’t any glaciers around here, and the pavement isn’t in bad shape either. Nevertheless, says Kim “your readers” (‘my readers’) “have read your columns and bought the gear.” She has a way of turning praise into mild condemnation.
The gear they’ve bought on the basis of ‘my columns’ doesn’t start and finish with those poles (I am particularly taken with the Leki Photosystem that doubles as a camera monopod). Gore-Tex waterproof over-trousers are popular (you can hear them coming a ways off), stormproof cajoles too, and boots imbued with more technology than smart phones.
You were there Sir Kev. You photographed many of the items I wrote about in The Sunday Times, so – persuasively. Do you think I should slip in a caution to the effect that unless ‘my readers’ on being a laughing stock they should just go to the seaside in what they’re wearing? You know, normal shirts and trousers and comfortable shoes.
Frankly, I’m not sure such a caveat would have had any effect. As a nation we are gripped with the desire to surround oursevles with appropriate gear. I recall David – who is the man, an old friend who sorts out my cars – upon learning I was spending increased amounts of time in the west country, suggesting I buy a 4×4. I had to assure him that there are surfaced roads in Cornwall; a regular car would do.
It is easy to make a mistake. Some time ago I accompanied shoemaker Oliver Sweeney on one of his favourite Dartmoor hikes. At the time he spent his weekends in a converted chapel in Devon. I arrived, dressed to the nines in high tech walking kit provided by one of those outdoors companies favoured by BBC foreign correspondents expecting Mr.Sweeney to be similarly attired. He was in shorts and a t-shirt when I arrived and when I suggested he get changed into something suitable for the hike he rubbed his eyes and told me he was going as he was – with the addition of a pair of his own Oliver Sweeney derby shoes. I learnt a lesson that day, I almost never forgot.
I say almost because as I think you know I am partial to a spot of Ralph Lauren. We all have our weeknesses, yours being expensive bicycles. After a visit to the Ralph Lauren store in upper Manhattan (described by a musician friend as the Eighth Wonder Of The World) I have picked up items at good prices wherever I can. Nevada’s Death Valley is an unlikely place to find a Ralph Lauren wax cotton sowester hat, it being one of the driest places on the planet. But that may explain why the green sow ester (pictured) – think designer trawlermen – was so heavily discounted. A little something to wear with the also discounted Ralph Lauren wax cotton coat bought previously. I wore the sowester with pride the day I returned to Cornwall only to be met with “you can tell you’re not local,” by one of the dog walkers on Harbour Cove. There was a similar reaction the day I stepped outside in my Mark Powell tweed suit: Leather golf ball buttons, twin vents and lapelled waistcoat; every inch the country gent. I hadn’t got further than the front door when one of the local fishermen – the real deal – said something unprintable.
People around these parts don’t do appropriate clothing. But holidaymakers do, perhaps in the belief that they will seamlessly slip into their new surroundings, and possibly be mistaken, if not for someone born and raised in these far away parts, then at least someone accomstomed to the rough and tumble of life in the teeth of the Atlantic Ocean.
First there were wax cotton, calf length, storm shouldered Barbour Australian drover’s coats. Very sensible you might think Sir Kev. And you would be right. But few around here can afford them. Proving perenially popular are white sailing anoraks with huge (we’re talking billboard dimensions) numbers on the backs so that yachting events marshalls can identify the wearers from several miles. To this panapoly of seaside attire add walking poles, usually used in pairs, as opposed to the single walking stick, and often employed by entire families and their friends. Plus a number of sub-genres: Crocs sandles, wax cotton biker jackets, sleeveless gadget vests (of the sort photgraphers and fishermen are thought to wear but rarely do), and my own personal favourite – waterproof ankle gaiters, the accessory of choice for enjoying the local park. “More of yours,” says Kim.
Forget the pen being mightier than the sword. In my line of work it’s only tougher than common sense.