It was suggested recently that we could start to wear a tee shirt with the shop name on it. The thought gave me chills. It would, no doubt, be some black polo shirt affair & could, it was suggested, bear our names on it, too. Oh, dear! My face curled. I’m quite an easygoing and like to think of myself as quite open to ideas, but I have to draw the line at a uniform. The last time I wore such a thing was in 1980, my last year at school.
“It’s not a uniform, it’s a tee shirt with the shop’s name on it. Think of it as branding.”
“It’s a uniform. And the thought of such a thing makes my lip curl. Do you see my lip?”
All of this was not the expected reaction to what was considered an inspired and reasonable idea. “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to wear it all the time. I’d pay for it. Maybe just wear it every so often.” Thing is, I know what I’m like. I just couldn’t wear something like that. In fact, if there was to be a deal breaker, that would be it. It’s just the way I am.
The idea is presently on hold. But it has got me wondering about my aversion to being ‘branded’, ‘uniformed’, ‘boxed-in’. Essentially, I think that I just find the idea, at a base level, demeaning, embarrassing &, more so, bullshit. It’s a bugbear of mine. I find myself cringing whenever I see someone in a pretend uniform – this usually takes the appearance of, as I mention, a black polo shirt with a name tag embroidered over the place where their heart should be. Soldiers, police officers, paramedics, nurses, firefighters, traffic wardens, railway staff, flight attendants, postal workers, football teams, prisoners, schoolchildren, yes, these people should wear uniforms. The uniform denotes the position, signifies the remove from the rabble (yes, we). To a no lesser sense we shall now include those with offices such as building site workers and almost every other person to be found in a yellow tabard these days. By their very nature these types of job require, 1, a safety aspect &, 2, a protection from, I don’t know, brickdust? Even then i would argue against the case. Then there are civil servants, include here, Mayors, Kings & Queens, etc. These types enwrap themselves with the symbols of their position – badges, chains, crowns and the like – I would not argue for them. In fact, I insist that these individuals do wear these shiny accoutrements so that the rest of us can spot them from a mile or so away. And avoid them. For the likes of civil servants, the salesmen, the suit & tie johns, well, I feel sorry for them. I gave it some thought and remembered that actually I had worn a ‘uniform’ briefly – it didn’t agree with me.
In 1989, I befriended a couple at Glastonbury Festival. It turned out we lived only a few miles from each other. I was dressed as a mouse (is a mouse outfit a uniform?) and had managed to lose my bag somewhere along the way. These kind folk gave me a lift home on the Monday morning, which was handy as my train ticket and cash were in my lost bag. We kept in touch and as the following summer approached they asked if I’d be interested in joining them at the festival as they had managed to wangle some kind of work as stewards & litter pickers, etc through Michael Eavis. The role would include free entry, backstage camping, four hours work per day, free dinner & access to the backstage bars. Well, I had struck gold! I went on a day’s First Aid course and met them in Glastonbury town some days before the actual festival officially opened. This period, to me, was the best part. It enabled us to arrive long before the main bulk of people, set up a backstage area and watch the festival grow around us over a period of days – the arrival and set-up of marquees and stages, bars, stalls, etc. By the time Thursday night rolled around there was a sense that you had just been continually joined at a party by thousand upon thousand. The work was easy, laid-back and everything was done on a trust basis. After 1990 I managed to get in to Glastonbury for the next 7 years free under this guise. But as the century folded in on itself the nature of the organisation I was working for (I hadn’t realised that I was working for an organisation as such – so subtle was the grip -) began to change its face, its role, its structure. It is obvious to me now that some corporate minds got involved. When I arrived in 1997 I had to produce copious amounts of paperwork. In return I was presented with copious amounts of more paper (or ‘literature’ as these types seem to have it) detailing my role within the grounds. Along with the surprise of the workload now being 8 hours per day, the withdrawal of the meals, the backstage access, now we were issued with numbered yellow tabards that ‘must be worn at all times.’ If I remember correctly I had become disillusioned with the whole shebang by Friday night. I remember walking out of the Dance Tent with the idea of sliding away and catching Pavement, when, of a sudden my name (and number!!) was announced over the tannoy in the Dance Tent with the request to return. For some years there had been a scaffold tower set up in the midst of the huge marquee – its purpose was to house the mixing desk, etc and double as a rest place for any stewards and/or folk in need of rest. Over the last couple of years it had become something of a watchtower.
Feeling suddenly ridiculous in my tabard, in my ‘official’ role, I took off the yellow vest, handed it to the nearest outstretched hand and disappeared into the crowd.
I was never asked back.