With homage to Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson – two names I’m not sure I’d ever have put in the same sentence!

This morning when we got dressed my wife said ‘Are we wearing our lock down jumpers today?’

Now – as well as being a tragic little insight into the level and nature of our ‘lovers morning sweet talk’ after 30 years of marriage and 4 weeks of lock down – it is, to be fair, only slightly more tragic than the other more common morning sweet talks

‘The cats been sick’

‘There’s no milk’

and the classic – ‘Well that was another rubbish night’s sleep thanks to your bloody snoring’ … it got me thinking about the long list of my favourite jumpers over the years – man and boy.

So – just to be clear and to get past the whole whole cobs, buns, baps, and barm cake debate for jumper – I mean pullover, sweater, sweatshirt and or hoodie.

Ok?!

Right at the start I’ll put my bias and prejudice out there, up front right from the off… I’m not happy with the word ‘Top’. I’m not sure if there is a gender thing here but when my lovely wife says she ‘fancies a new top’, that she’s ‘trying to choose which top to wear’, that she ‘has a mark on her top’ or ‘that’s a nice top’ – gotta be honest I’m a bit irritated. For me using the phrase ‘a top’ in this context is right up there with ‘off of – as in ‘I need to get the mark off of this top. ‘Was/were’ as in ‘We was in town looking for a top’ And of course possibly the worst offence ‘there/they’re’ as in ‘There off into town to choose a top to wear tonight’.

So for the purposes of this romantic wistful reminisce of great jumpers from my past – the word ‘Top’ shall not be used.

Top of my list of favourite jumpers goes to Auntie Eileen as it was and it shall be (to borrow lyrics from John Miles) my first real jumper love.

Orange Aran – two words in the same sentence only about as common as Iglesias and Nelson as two words in the same sentence – and just as perfect as it sounds imperfect.

Soft but strong. Round necked. And as I put it on I was Orlando – and if you don’t remember Orlando on. Holsteins TV you have my permission to skip to the end of this blog with your other millennial friends

We were a perfect fit from that first date – Christmas 1966. We just clicked. I realised immediately that my previous serious relationship with my West Ham football sweater – albeit that was a passionate, torrid ups and down emotional roller coaster relationship – was over.

But this first great sweater love was hedonistic, it was unrequited – I loved my West Ham shirt – I was obsessed, but it was not a love of equals – it rarely gave back and much that I dreamed of being Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters – it never helped me slide tackle Jairzhino, score a hat trick even against the other kids down the cup-de-sac, let alone propel me 10 years ahead of my time as I languished about a year behind expected levels even before there were levels.

No – this Orange Aran jumper love was mutual – it loved me as I loved it. On first sight. Our first embrace as I pulled it over my sticky-out ears and pulled it down my string-skinny torso was the commencement of an enduring, mature, mutual love.

We were rarely apart. Well apart from those dark moments of electric blue – early nylon primary school jumper hours each day. But home from school we’d embrace each other Orange Aran and me – share our stories, snuggle and soothe each other and then hand in hand – or rather arm in sleeve we’d take on the world.

What a jumper. What a friend. What a team we were – Invincible. Loyal. Comfortable in each other’s skin. It was as if it would never end. Could never end. Should never end.

But there were, truth to be told – signs.

Within a year things began to unravel a little. Actually it was the hem. But soon repaired, we carried on, perhaps even stronger for the experience but then again, soon after,

There were more signs.

An immovable smudge of gloss paint from the newly painted wrought iron front gate glistened on the jumper cuff. For evermore – perhaps to this day – there was to be a marker to a great love – way before the padlocks on the Pont de Arts bridge in lovers Paris – resistant fibres of Orange Aran stuck fast on the curly bit at the top of the gate by the latch.

And then sadly but irrevocably holes began to appear in this once solid relationship – the right elbow to be precise, and though we tried to patch things up – the signs were there and I guess you could say as adolescence approached I just grew out of the relationship, we spent less time together.

There was no one else involved, I just wanted more than Orange Aran and as those turbulent times of adolescence and all the pain of more but lighter blue polyester jumpers and bright-nylon school shirts of secondary modern school impacted upon me – it came to pass that Orange Aran and I parted company.

(Doing research for this homely I was delighted to discover and I’m even more delighted to report that after a long and happy time serving as a skirt for a toilet roll dolly, woollen balls on the fringe of a poncho and a teddy jumper for the daughter of the new neighbour, Orange Aran went on to serve the country and local community well until retiring – in bits – to various charity shops across the less posh parts of Estuary Essex.

I moved on too.

Not much happens by way of jumper love during secondary school – or The Acrylic Years as they became known.

But then acceptance into a once prestigious 6th form college in Grays – the fashion epicentre of the slightly posher part of Estuary Essex, I dreamed above my station. Tempted by all that is bad and seductive of American culture – I fell in love with a sweatshirt!

My first ever sweatshirt – quite possibly the first in deepest dankest Essex, well certainly the first and only sweatshirt in A level Philosophy and Ethics where the only other student was into fish-cloth and Laura Ashley lookalike floaty things of fashion.

I was in a different league man (as I started to say)

I had, I believe, indeed become a man.

It had a logo!!

…in American College Font!

This was arm candy!

This was trophy garb.

This came from Basildon!!!

To be fair ownership of this mighty sweatshirt coincided with what would now be £1000’s of dental work that delivered the smile to launch a thousand PowerPoints in later years, but this sweatshirt – a Kingswood Squash Club sweatshirt no less was … how can I put this for the less well informed … this sweatshirt in the corridors of 6th form resit classes (a small academic hiccup of no consequence to the reader!!) was way beyond the cool and exclusivity a real Supreme hoodie holds for today’s indulged youth.

A Kingswood Squash Club sweatshirt with its bold, full-chest American college font logo was my golden ticket to love and innocent, awkward adolescent fumblings better and more numerous in my memory than in reality I suspect. But all the same – suffice to say – I’m indebted to that sweatshirt and the cool confidence it gave a lanky spotty, nice-but-dim 16/17 year old with aspirations of a Harrington jacket one day – (an unrequited dream to this sad day.)

But 16/17 isn’t the erudite, calm all-knowing manhood of a 19/20yr old – when – as a less spotty, limited addition male student in a predominantly female college l secured the financial wherewithal and the ‘outdoor-man’ ego to strut my stuff in an iconic Helly Hanson full zip fleece.

Oh yes!

I was there at the very front of the fleece revolution that would serve me well as patient parent in the coldest part of the north of England known as ‘the playground’ at my daughters primary school at home time.

But on those hazy fleecy days of college my beloved Helly Hanson was the perfect coming together of Aran and sweatshirt and logo – I’d come home, I’d found True Love.

Beyond inseparable – apart from those days of smart but casual Teaching Practice attire when a jacket was required, now was the time to carve in stone

PH❤️HH4EVER

Lectures, library, popping out, going – OutOut, dating, celebrating, partying, dancing, eating, sleeping … HH and PH we were utterly inseparable – ask anyone!!

What a jumper.

Didn’t need washing for 4 years!!!

Got soaked in spilt beer in the Golden Rule,

Dripped vinegar from the Smithy Fish and Chip shop,

Paint splashed in the clouded rainbowed SU office,

Sweated in on Echo Beach on Friday night college discos,

Mopped up instant coffee in post disco manoeuvres … enough said!

…and regularly, daily, drenched in Cumbrian rain.

What a friend that HH was to me.

They say your college/ Uni friends are the best of all – they see you at your best, they see at your worst, they see you first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In your highs and at your lowest. Sharing hysterical laughter and the deepest heartbroken depths and HH was with me all the way, every day. We shared everything. We had no secrets… and given how it must have smelt I’m surprised we had any friends!

The donning of a graduation gown was to bid farewell to HH as PH ascended to the ILEA.

THE ILEA gave PH the opportunity, nay the need to shed his Cumbrian waterproof tog rating for a new urban, militant, key worker – metro (well pre Canary Wharfe Isle of dogs) sophistication.

These really were however the Jumper Wilderness years.

Nothing to report here of any particular sartorial jumper elegance. I became more of a duffel coat and ‘Coal not Dole’, ‘Save the GLC, ILEA, Red Ken …Whales’ kind of guy. Passionately, loudly evangelically chanting ‘2-4-6-8 We don’t want to radiate’, ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – OUT OUT OUT’ and rather like my name sake thrice, perhaps more than thrice I did deny my love of jumpers!

It was a long time of soulless searching for merino.

The wayward lost years of false goods.

Jackets

Ties

Suits

The casual relationships of the Gap years

The sensible M and S years

The not really me Next years

And these troubled times slowly morphed into

The colourful expensive Joules years

And then on the rebound from safe and sensible M and S there was the mad fling and the crazy madness of the early TKMax years.

After which I languished in Jonnelle and the too safe sanctuary of The JLP years

In amongst all these relationships there was a fling with a sexy Italian by the name of Benetton, and a rather sophisticated if awkward relationship with the posh Barbour,

Throughout M and S was always there as a friend with benefits – you could always take the jumpers back and get your money back or a voucher for food if the receipt was lost.

Life had all gone all a bit safe, all a bit round neck this, V neck that.

There was a complete absence of any Aran in my life and Merino wool was but a poor expensive substitute.

There were of course some mad crazy holiday romances and the exotic appropriation of jumpers and jackets from lands far afield that never felt quite right at the till in Sainsbury’s, The British Council Offices, the PTA quiz night.

And then – when I was least expecting it.

They say opposite attracts.

When far too old for a holiday romance – Bam! – out of nowhere a streak of lightning, like a moth to a flame I bought a hoodie.

My first hoodie… at my age!! (and hey before you judge … it you haven’t tried it – don’t knock it) I’m old enough to make my own mistakes.

A hoodie.

A hoodie with a front pouch pocket to hide(?) the paunch.

A hoodie with a logo!

A hoodie with a screaming-in-your-face-right-across-the-back logo.

An embarrassing ‘You’re not wearing that dad’ hoodie.

Me with a hoodie!?!!… if only it was Merch (I’m with the kids – ask a teenager for translation) with a Julio Iglesias Willie Nelson tour date logo emblazoned across the back could this be any more incongruous.

Knitted tie and crease proof travel suit guy now wears a hoodie’

I don’t just wear it.

I live in it.

I wear it to visit my mother-in-law and my suited and booted father-in-law.

I wear it when my disgusted daughter has friends round.

I wear it to the tip.

I wear it to the doctors.

I wear it to our accountants.

I wear it on long car journeys.

I wear it on late night train journeys.

I wear it on the plane.

I wear it to watch Normal People.

I’ve even worn it to Zoom!

I’m ‘locked-down’ in it – just as I was ‘loved- up’ in all those wonderful soulmate jumpers of my past.

This hoodie therefore stands on the shoulders of giants but to be fair I think we’ve all put on a bit of weight these past few locked down weeks.

I’ve worn it to the fridge.

And I’ve worn it to the biscuit tin – more than once.

I’ve worn it to watch the news.

I’ve worn it in quiet COVID bereavement.

I’ve worn it on my walks.

I’ve worn it to clap our Key worker hero’s.

It is my lockdown jumper.

It is my love and comforter in these isolated days.

I wear it when I blog.