We’ve just had supper.
The three of us sitting round the kitchen table, Bob James on the stereo.
I’m wearing dungarees I bought in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells over twenty five years ago.
They are faded and frayed. So frayed, in fact, that the braces are shredded, they only fit into the adjuster, on my shoulders, by dint of a wing and a prayer.
There’s a rip to the right of me, a safety pin holding up more threaded fabric to the left of me and the bib is stuck in the middle, no longer attached to the waistband.
Despite their faded tattiness young people stop me, a lot, asking where I bought them.
‘Baldock’s’ I reply, but the shop is no longer on Camden Road. Most shops have disappeared; a sign of the times, although we do have a few cafés, a collection of charity shops and HELIOS a brilliant Homeopathic Pharmacy.
‘Baldocks’ had shelves of workmen’s attire and, without being sexist, I was the only woman buying their royal blue dungas for £19.99 a pair. Back then they were male garments made for painters, decorators, and the occasional shabby chic gal like me.
I’ve worn dungarees since I was 23 on account of my shifting weight, lack of money and convenience. I have a framed photo of me and the old git taken on Brighton seafront. My hair blowing, my dungarees hiding a striped tee-shirt, and my face looking moody, others may say my face looks like a slapped arse.
Before the small screen beckoned I was an actress working wherever I could get a job, as well as in a theatre group called ‘Belt and Braces’ – named after a drunken night in ‘The Lord Palmerston’ pub in Tufnell Park – I was a working actress for years. We toured up and down the British Isles, dotted across Europe and drove around Scandinavia. My dungarees were lauded from the Arctic Circle to Lund, a university town in the South of Sweden, where I fell in love with the old git and tasted my first Knackerbrød.
Television was not a happy home for my bib and braces. When I started in television, in the early 80’s, clothes were bought on expenses. A fancy, schmancy wardrobe designed to engage the viewers. I look liked a round shouldered version of Noel Gordon from ‘Crossroads’
When I joined ‘LWT’ I was cast in various roles – presenter of lifestyle programmes, presenter on studio based shows, and presenter of a Gardening Roadshow alongside
Sir Roddy Llewellyn, the 5th Llewellyn Baronet. Yes, you saw him in ‘The Crown’ played by Harry Treadaway. I had no idea he’d had an eight-year relationship with Princess Margaret. Such was my interest in the atristocracy I had no idea who, or what he was. We got on famously, as it goes. I was like the country milkmaid and he was like my squire- we shared the same sense of humour and Tommy K’, Roddy’s name for tomato ketchup.
After a particularly testing shoot where I had to dig up earth to lay down the ashes of the contributors mother, I was hauled onto the 18th floor to be interrogated as to why I thought it was ok to wear dungarees, on television, and like Charlie Dimmock, do it sans brassiére. I defended my self by speaking plainly. “I was doing a fucking gardening programme,” I said, “digging for England whilst gurning into the camera and mulching a grave in Buckhurst Hill.”
They offered to buy me a new wardrobe. I declined. My agent, at the time, offered to come shopping with me – I sacked him on the walk from South Bank to Waterloo East.
The big boys told me the men who watched the programme didn’t fancy me because of my attire. I told them the men who didn’t fancy me couldn’t get it up and they could all go and fuck themselves.
I wore dungarees in the second series.
When I did ‘Good Food Live’ dungarees were categorically banned, my lovely boss preferring me to be sexy and female. So for years and years dungarees became my go-tos after recording two shows a day.
I have custom made dungarees, stitched by a beautiful man called Shakeel, one pair in shiny material, a metal grey fabric with a chain holding the bib up around my neck.
I have blue velvet dungarees, with orange beaded straps.
I’ve got an all in one purple jobby, that ties up over my chest. Were the string to give way I would be shamelessly naked, as the purple outfit requires no undergarments.
I have workmens’ denims from America.
I have Dalmatian patterned ones from a 5 star restaurant in Little Washington near the White House.
I have brown ones from the internet.
I have pink striped ones and green striped ones the make me look like ANDY PANDY.
I have blue striped ones.
I have green linen ones
I have white painters overalls that are heavy duty.
I have a dark blue pair that are real painter’s overalls. If I pull the straps up on the suspenders to keep the gusset from hanging too low, the neck strangles me. So I have to wear them baggy like a teenage rapper from Peckham.
I have two pairs of fitted denims from Dirty Harry’s in Brighton. Two rails of authentic dungarees stood outside the shop for years; now they have only one rail and the old bib and braces are around £60 – they used to go for half the price.
I have boxes of dye in the cellar from when I used to buy white dungarees and dye them from purple to green, to yellow, to brown. Now, as long as they slide on and off, I couldn’t care less what the colour is.
The Yiddish for an untidy person is a ‘schlock’. And that I am. A schlock with a wardrobe of clothes that I don’t wear. The clearance de-clutterers say, ‘if you haven’t worn something in two years then chuck it’. But I have dresses and shirts, trousers and skirts that may come in handy for a telly job, or when I do decide to wear a Stützbüstenhalter on a fancy night out.
It occurs to me that dressing up is now a thong – sorry – thing of the past.
Covid saw us all wearing our night-ware in the daytime.
Attendances at fancy do’s also feels like a pass time from the past times.
Gigging, when a proper sense of attire is necessary, happens less frequently.
Now I don’t fret if I never ware any one of my 231 pairs of high heels ever again, but, remove my dungarees and I would crumple. I roll the legs up, wear thick sox and have footwear that can take me over fields, into coffee shops and even a National Trust visit.
The one thing I could not do without, however, is an appropriate scent whatever my costume.
Woody, earthy, expensive and memorable. I have several on my shelf at any one time.
I met a lovely man today, with chunky fingers, three sons and an adorable wife. As I left their comfy house he shouted down from upstairs, asking what scent was I wearing.
In a split second I thought to keep my scent close to my chest but in the end I shouted back what it was.
An expensive perfume, even though I dress in my frayed, faded dungarees, gives me an air of mystery.
So there we are, spray yourself with expensive cologne and your trashy dungarees will take care of themselves.
Mid-whiffery at its best.