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A man and his jacket

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Nearly four years ago, on my birthday, well, the day after my birthday, we were strolling around a fancy part of old London town, walking past cafes where Keira Knightley is a regular and looking in the windows of fancy shops, all the while being warned off buying anything by our host and notorious spendthrift Siggy. ‘You can waste your money if you like,’ he had shrugged the day before, as we set off to have birthday brunch at Ottolenghi, ‘but Charlotte can make us that food for a fraction of the cost.’

We were in an upmarket men’s clothing shop, the kind that sells American work boots, socks spun from fine silk and, weirdly, Palace skateboards. A bright blue jacket caught my eye. ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ I said. ‘It’s like the one Bill Cunningham wears.’ Rosie agreed that it was cool and told me to try it on. It was one of those perfect retail moments: the jacket slipped on like it had been made for me, the fabric so soft, the sleeves a perfect length. The mirror gave a similarly positive report. I suddenly looked smarter, yet relaxed. I put my hands in the pockets. I did up the buttons and undid them again: smooth. This jacket was amazing! It was ridiculously expensive, so I took it off and returned it to the rack, but even Siggy suggested that perhaps I should reconsider. ‘It’s a good jacket,’ he said, eyebrows raised, surprised at himself. Rosie was already at the counter, buying it for me as a late birthday surprise.

Old Bluey in the early days.

Since that fateful day, I’ve worn my blue jacket nearly every day. Part linen, part cotton, it’s perfect for all seasons, and its slightly longer than usual cut makes it ideal for a bike rider. I can see why Bill wears them religiously. Over the years, the jacket has aged quite a bit, to the point where the shoulders faded nearly to white and holes appeared in a pocket and on an elbow. I searched online for a replacement, but they really are an elusive item. Many brands now produce a similar ‘workman’ or ‘chore’ jacket — probably inspired by someone like me who wanted a new one — but none of them are quite as good as old Bluey. I even had a pattern made of it, but can’t seem to track down the right fabric. Regretfully, I moved on to other jackets and tried to kid myself they were worthy replacements.

A while ago, I decided to try to fix Bluey. I’m not sure why the idea hadn’t occurred to me earlier; maybe it was a part of emerging from the first year-and-a-half of my son Fred’s life, blinking at the sunlight, dizzy at the prospect of an hour or two to myself. I began looking into Sashiko stitching, a Japanese method of mending holes in fabric by hand. I did that at night while we watched Game of Thrones; I got in trouble for dropping pins on the floor. Then I bought some navy dye from the supermarket, but hesitated before using it. This was my blue jacket, old Bluey, after all. After more research and stuffing around, I ordered a natural indigo dye kit from the internet and it showed up in the post the other day.

My first attempt at sashiko stitching on the pocket. The French and the Japanese – what a great bunch of lads.

I dyed the jacket over the weekend just been. It was quite a production, but very enjoyable. The first dip was satisfying: when I pulled out the jacket and some other shirts I had committed to the process, they looked greeny yellow, but as I hung them on the clothesline, they changed colour before my eyes. It was magical! I had forgotten to wet the fabric first, so the garments that started out white had a marbled, crumpled, yet still lovely look to them.

But old Bluey looked magnificent. Over the weekend I dipped her back in the dye four or five times, though I’m not sure how much difference it made. She’s finished now, restored almost to her former glory, and I’m almost scared to put her on again. What if she’s not as good any more? Am I clinging onto the past too tightly? Is this all an elaborate form of procrastination from writing my stories? I almost prefer the shirts, because they’re so strange. Ah well. Fred just woke up.

Another unlikely recipient of the indigo dyeing process: our laundry sink plug.

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