The knot

If I am going to run for President (see previous Idlepost), it strikes me I will have to dress better, and shave more frequently. To which end my little sister — the success in the family — dragged me along the spiff section of Bloor-by-Yorkville yesterday. She had decided I would need a couple of Brooks Brothers shirts, and goodness knows what else, if I were going to make a favourable impression at, for instance, the wedding I shall soon attend of my wee tiny boy (only six-feet-eight-inches high, and suddenly shot past thirty; the spittin’ image of my father sometimes). For I shall be her date on that occasion, and father-in-law to a bride, and ladies don’t like to be seen with tramps.

What could I say? She was channeling our late mama, who was on my case to the end. Languishing in the nursing home, she caught me on TV (I was still semi-mainstream then), and when I appeared by her bedside later, she frowned upon me.

“You weren’t wearing a tie, your shirt looked baggy, and the rest of that grey cardigan should be surrendered to the moths.”

Forty-seven years have passed since that mama dragged me along Dundas Street in London, Ontario, to a high-end tailor’s. I was just-turned seventeen, and off to a new job at a small squalid newspaper in Asia; still a fairly fresh high school drop-out. She thought I should cut a figure on arrival. A photo of me, besuited at Malton airport, is still in my possession. (I look very young.) I still have the boar-bristle hair brush she bought me on that day, and use it every morning (honest, mama!) while saying a little Catholic prayer for her immortal soul. Indeed, the brush seems immortal, too: few signs of wear. It is amazing how long things last when they are made properly.

Once upon a time I was rich and jet-set. Well, propeller-plane perhaps; but I used to know how to dress well. Shirts bought in Jermyn Street, London (the real one) whenever I passed through; blazers and flannels made by tailor in Hong Kong, from fine British wools. “The magnificent man does not count the cost,” saith Aristotle, and while this is not Christian, it is getting there.

I was subjected yesterday to the humiliation of a salesman, showing me how to adjust a tie. He knew everything that could be known about the clothes he was selling, but there are limits. For as my papa taught, the dimple in the knot of a silk tie must be blithe, understated. Too, the tie should hang a little off true — a very little, and never so much to look like a fashion statement.

Papa also taught me how to knot a bowtie, how to wear cummerbund and tuxedo, how to polish shoes, and fold socks away in rectangles for storage. How to stand like an Officer of the Royal Navy. Moreover, that it was all a joke, life on this planet: be prepared for the punch line. Never let your self-possession slack. Learn to drink without making a fool.

He had other tips on how to be a gentleman, regardless what one is wearing. When to speak and when to shut up; moments to take charge, and moments to fade into the wallpaper. That civilization depends on vowels; and on behaviour consistently benign. That remarkable things can be accomplished by the man who does not seek the credit; that what we now call “virtue signalling” is the mark of the ill-bred. To live simply whether rich or poor, cheerful in sacrifice for the good cause; but with constant attention because, Le bon Dieu est dans le détail. Finally, the need to kill Communists and Nazis.

Now, I’ve forgotten most of this, but as my little sister reminds, there is such a thing as family. And one bears a grave responsibility to them, because as mama said, it shows.