At the end of last month punk-poet John Cooper Clarke gave this interview to Tim Adams of the Observer, and answered questions from “readers and famous fans”, as the article says. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time. My own experiences following Dr Clarke for over 40 years can be found in this piece from earlier this year.
The word that leapt out at me from the Observer interview was “jodhpurs”, in his answer to a question about his choice of trousers. His simple rules are “a narrow leg in a dark colour, with jean detailing”, and no pockets. As he notes:
“I learned a long time ago that if you wear trousers where you can put something in the pockets, you will put stuff in those pockets – and before you know it you are clad in jodhpurs. Capacious trouser pockets are like a new living-room shelf: the moment you put it up it becomes occupied not only by favoured ‘ornaments’ but by half-squeezed-out tubes of Neutrogena hand cream and stuff. And you will live with those items for years, halfway up the lounge wall. It’s the same with trouser pockets in my experience.”
I can confirm the wisdom of these words. My pockets are never empty. This evening the left front pocket of my jeans contains a travelcard holder (contents: my son’s and my Oyster cards), house keys, car key and an unused handkerchief. The front right pockets have a small fold-up magnifying glass, another unused handkerchief, two guitar plectrums, a lucky penny that my daughter gave me and a miraculous medal from Walsingham. The back pockets, as usual, contain notes and coins. The first holes to appear in any pair of jeans are usually in the back pockets, from carrying too much change. When this happens, I use a wallet. Recently I bumped into a friend we have known since antenatal classes (her children are in the same school years as ours) and rather than stand on the High Road chatting for 20 minutes we sat and had a coffee at one of the many cafés nearby. While fiddling with a wallet to retrieve some change I explained that I didn’t normally use one, but the holes in my jean pockets meant that I had to. She said that her late husband (he died in 2015) was the same: his jean pockets always had holes from carrying too many coins.
The amount of clutter in my trouser pockets might stretch the fabric to make them look more like jodhpurs but I have never worn, or been anywhere near, such clothing. The Oxford Dictionaries website tells me that jodhpurs are, “[plural noun] Full-length trousers worn for horse-riding, which are close-fitting below the knee and have reinforced patches on the inside of the leg.” It doesn’t mention that they were traditionally loose-fitting above the knee, which is the look that John Cooper Clarke is keen to avoid. The derivation is the town of Jodhpur in India, where this style of clothing was worn by the local men. The looser fit above the knee allowed for lateral leg movement while riding a horse, something I have never done. I have reached an age where it is unlikely that I ever will. You can put horse-riding alongside a whole range of other activities that I have never, and probably never will, engage in: skiing, snowboarding, sky-diving, hang-gliding, rifle-shooting. And wearing jodhpurs.