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Backwords: Vested Interests

Liberty bodices, balaclavas, vests, long johns - Mike Shaw remembers the warmth-bringing garments of his younger days.

It’s donkey’s years since I threw off my little liberty bodice.

But the memories remain of the extra layer of warmth which preserved us tender toddlers from winter’s penetrating cold.

For the benefit of younger generations, the good old liberty bodice was a fleecy extra vest worn in the first few years of life.

We were, in efect, wrapped in cotton wool until the time came to discard it for good. Then I knew I had graduated from babyhood to boyhood.

Mind you, winters seemed harsher then than they are today. Ne’er cast a clout till May be out was a maxim most people followed religiously.

After bidding farewell to the liberty bodice, our winter warmers took on a new look as we moved towards puberty.

So Wellingtons and balaclavas became the battle order of the day. An apt combination, seeing as both were born in military ranks.

Wellingtons are still around of course. But it’s years since I spotted a balaclava, first worn by soldiers in the Crimea.

Now there was a sensible piece of winter headgear if ever I saw one. Knitted in one piece to cover your head, ears and neck, with just a round hole for your face stretching from just above your eyes to just below your chin.

In the 1947 winter of winters which froze the country solid for weeks, I scarcely had my balaclava off from getting up in a morning to going to bed at night.

With schools shut and buses stopped, we were free to indulge in sledging and snowballing to our heart’s content.

Scarves - some of them many a mile long - and gloves or mittens were also essentials before our protective mums allowed us out in the arctic conditions.

Some lads and lasses up the Colne Valley wore clogs instead of Wellingtons. In fact, a few seemed to wear them all the year round.

Nothing wrong with that, though. Clogs still take a lot of beating for young feet. My own children wore them with enjoyment and I’m reliably informed that my grand-daughter will have some as soon a she’s old enough.

Vests, although they still die hard with my generation, are only a shadow of what they used to be. Then they were twice as thick and not to be discarded,, even on Blackpool beach with the temperature well into the eighties.

My father was a great believer in long johns, those white woolly underpants that came down to your ankles.

I never wore them myself, despite what some of my young colleagues at the office might think as they chuckle over my dinosaur-like recollections.

But traditionalists, do not despair. Long johns live on, as I can say with certainty after an evening in a Dales pub.

It was in the middle of a dominoes foursome that Matt, the benign old farmer holding a watching brief from his seat in the corner, decided to pay a call.

As he rose to his feet, he suddenly remembered that he’d unfastened his belt after a few pints of his cherished draught Guinness.

But the thought hit him a split second too late to stop his trousers sliding down below his knees, revealing a distinctly greyish pair of long johns.

With all the phlegmatic poise of a male Gypsy Rose Lee, Matt slowly hoisted his britches back up as his audience made token effort to suppress their fits of laughter.

“He’s not bothered, they’re always coming down,’’ said one of his mates by way of explanation.


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