INSTANT ELEGANCE FOR A NIGHT OF XMAS EXCESS
It may be the naffest event of the year, but the Christmas bash is not an excuse to let standards drop. Farrell keeps men looking sharp with tailored jackets, traditional shirting and just a hint of stylish rebellion.
That time of year again.
Graham, the boss, is in his office slowly turning the colour of beetroot as it dawns on him that the deadline that “simply has to be met” has wilted in the face of that all-consuming enemy, the staff Christmas party. Should he ring the MD now to break the bad news or do it after the Secret Santa? Only one answer to that.
Out in the “breakout space”, Farrell sips the Lambrini that Faye’s brought in. He knows too much about wine and the provenance of the grapes to drink this stuff, but it doesn’t half bring out the taste in his Tangy Toms.
The rest of the team – they’re actually called that – are preparing to leave for the party.
Graham’s booked the Greek restaurant near the station, plenty of plates to smash and ouzo to drink, clarion calls of a good time for people for who don’t know how to have one. He checks his box of northern soul 7”s – why is he DJing for this lot? ’Cos if he doesn’t someone else will.
He buttons up his cropped frock coat, wraps the fringed scarf round his and sticks on his felt trilby, a nod to the effortless style of his granddad, who even did the gardening in a shirt and tie. Faye catches his eye and smiles, topping up the Lambrini.
“I know it’s not Jacob’s Creek,” she says, giggling. “But it’ll do.”
“And so will you,” he says. “Cheers!”
A NAVAL TOUCH ON THE NIGHT BUS FROM HELL
THE NIGHT BUS HOME
When you’re surrounded by the sort of people you’d rather not share the planet with, never mind public transport, it pays to wrap up in a beautifully cut Farrell pea coat. After all, standards must be maintained no matter what the environment throws at you.
How long has he been on the night bus now? Half an hour? Forty minutes? Farrell rubs the fogged windows of the top deck and looks outside. Where is he? Somewhere in deep west London – not natural territory for an exiled northerner.
Going to Jen’s flat in faraway Gunnersbury is hard enough, but on a night bus in the week before Christmas, a virtual impossibility – especially as he’s sharing his space with a gang of very drunk, very loud louts.
He fantasises about bludgeoning the group’s enormous leader (“Big Benny”) into a bloody pulp, but as his only weapon is the yellow polystyrene box his kebab came in, it’s probably not wise. Taking on people obviously harder than you is something for the brave or stupid – and he’s neither.
Farrell sinks into the warm confines of his pea coat, flipping up the collars against the sound of his travelling companions. At Earl’s Court they get off, and the bus, now mostly empty, turns left before stopping suddenly, the diesel engine’s satisfying throb replaced by silence.
Someone sighs. It’s him.
“All change!” shouts the driver. Farrell shuffles off, sticking his hands into the pockets of his herringbone wool trousers.
He picks out a hankie and goes to blow his nose. Except it’s not a hankie, but pair of rather flimsy red knickers courtesy of a certain waitress from the office party the other night. So, that’s where he put them.
Jen will go mad if she finds out. She prefers him in black.
He starts to walk.
COLLAR AND CARDIE FOR A FORTIFYING FULL ENGLISH
THE MORNING AFTER
It’s said that if an Englishman wants to eat well three times a day he should just choose a cooked breakfast. This outfit means you’re dressed for the world’s best dining rooms, from Claridges to Keele services.
“And what room number are you in, sir?”
Alice – this is the name on her badge – looks down the list and makes a mark.
“Very good, sir. Please, help yourself.”
Farrell nods, smiles and wanders off to the buffet, a copy of The Wall Street Journal folded under the arm of his grey cable-knit cardigan. The contrast of his blue shirt with its white collar merely cements the impression that he’s a businessman at leisure – as opposed to a well-dressed oik who’s just walked in off the street.
Someone once told him that most guests in upmarket hotels don’t bother with breakfast.
Follow them out of their rooms and see who goes straight out, this bloke said – there’s your free breakfast.
And this really is a breakfast. The bacon is dry and smoked with a golden ribbon of crunchy fat down one side. He places three rashers on a slice of heavily buttered sourdough bread and lets the two intermingle. The butter starts to drip until he can hold himself back no longer. He dives in – bliss!
Of course, he doesn’t stop there. Sausages, eggs and black pudding are placed on the plate alongside the not-quite-so-necessary beans and mushrooms. He washes it down with a lake of strong Italian coffee, remembering that asking for Mellow Birds may mark him out as being a charlatan.
Sated, he reads the paper for a while, then gets up, the last of the diners to leave. Alice looks up from her list and smiles.
“Going anywhere nice today, sir?” she asks.
“Ooh, I might just stay in and relax, thank you, Alice.” says Farrell.
“You should try the spa.”
“I’ll do just that. Can you lend me a pass? I’ve left mine in my room.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll just get you one.”
Now, where can he find a pair of trunks?
A GREAT COAT FOR SOME GUILTY GIFT-BUYING
CHRISTMAS EVE DASH
Last minute shopping’s a doddle when you’re properly attired for the task in hand – especially if one’s entering a better class of boutique.
“Can I help you?”
Normally when Farrell’s asked that, it’s usually code for “Who are you?” or “What are you doing here?”. Today, though, this shop assistant really does want to help him – or at least sell him something.
“It’s about that bangle,” he says. “The dark brown one with the gold leaf design on it. I’d like that, please.”
“Oh, so you know what you want, then?” says the girl – posh accent, must be a holiday job to pay for her predictable year out in south east Asia. Wonder what she’ll make of the ladyboys?
Unlike a lot of men, Farrell has no problem about shopping for his lady’s presents. It’s second only to walking round with a sprog for attracting les femmes.
The bangle is bought, tastefully wrapped and placed in one of those upmarket cardboard bags with the shiny exterior. Just one more present and he’ll have reached the accepted level of (non-patronising) generosity. He’s read Grazia enough to know the score.
Out onto the bitingly cold street, his woolen great coat is backed up by his favourite red cardigan – almost an exact replica of the one his granddad used to wear when he went to the Legion on a Friday night.
“Farrell!” someone shouts out. He turns around – an old mate from back home, Greg. Lives down here, and they sometimes meet up.
“Alright, Greg, how are you?”
“Fine, mate. Just finished shopping for the missus. You?”
“Same. One more present to get.”
“That’s a shame, I was just going to have a pint.”
“Right… Coach and Horses?”
Farrell takes that first sip of pilsner and feels a twinge of guilt. For now, the bangle will just have to do. Well, until the garage opens up in the morning.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES FOR THE INSATIABLE IN-LAWS
CHRISTMAS DAY AT THE IN-LAWS
If you’re going to marry their daughter, the least you can do is show up at your new family’s place looking respectable. Even if respectability is the last thing on your mind.
“Farrell, so good to see you, darling. Come in, you must be freezing.”
He makes a mock shudder but the icy blast of the Christmas Eve wind has been kept at bay by the chunky cardigan he’s wearing underneath his great coat. Jen follows behind with a,
“Hi Mum!”, not noticing the longer-than-strictly-necessary meeting of eyes between her fiancé and her mother.
Mr P, ever the stickler for what he calls “good form” – ie, cataclysmic levels of boozing – is in the process of opening a bottle of beer with a picture of a goblin on it. He pours the liquid into a glass tankard, the sort people drank out of in the 1970s before the advent of microwave ovens, iPods and grime music. The head fizzles out quickly – a true southern pint.
“Afternoon, Farrell. Got this little number at the specialist beer shop in Bath. Here you go.”
“Oh, thanks Brian,” says Farrell, all mock chumminess and forced enthusiasm. He takes a gulp – it tastes like liquid soil.
“It’s… er, certainly hoppy.” Hoppy? That’s what they say, isn’t it?
“Indeed it is.” says Brian. “And there’ll be plenty more where that comes from when we’re watching the rugger on Boxing Day!”
“Oh, Daddy you’re so naughty!” Jen giggles and gives the old man a hug.
“Right, everyone,” says Mrs P. “The roast ham’s been ready for half an hour, so take your coats off and let’s eat.”
They go into the dining room – and this is a proper dining room that’s used a lot, as opposed to the one at Farrell’s nan’s that’s only opened for “best” – ie funeral wakes and when Father O’Brien comes round.
They sit around the table, Mr P nodding his approval at Farrell’s raffish cravat and classic granddad shirt.
“To us!” toasts Mr P and they all raise their glasses.
“To us!” they reply, and Mrs P’s stockinged foot makes its familiar way up Farrell’s calf.
What a lovely family.