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Me, my old trousers and the Queen

I've gone through life with women moaning about my clothes. For 20 years I didn't have a suit
ONE OF the purposes of the Royal Family is to be mocked for their taste in clothes. Yesterday, some of the Sundays were having a go at Princess Anne for wearing the same frock she wore 26 years ago.

Can't see the problem. I have frocks - sorry, pullovers - going back 26 years, full of holes, but I still wear them. I also have trousers 30 years old, which I only wish I could wear, but I had a 32in waist then and 36in now. Well done, Anne, I say, still able get into your old clobber.

As I write, sitting in my Boer War khaki shorts, sandals and Carlisle Utd T-shirt, my dear wife is smiling at a photo of the Queen that appeared in the Cumberland News. You probably didn't see it. Their circulation is rather exclusive.

The Queen, plus hubby, has been at the Lowther Horse Trials and she is seen being presented with a bouquet. She's wearing what looks like a skirt made out of a shower curtain, a white cardie, a 1950's headscarf and large, old-fashioned specs. Looks fine to me, yet my wife is now cutting out the photo to show to her chums, so they can all have a laugh.

Correction. She says she is smiling, but not mocking. In fact, she loves the Queen's clothes, loves the way the Queen has absolutely no interest in clothes, never has done. She simply waits for them to be laid out, then puts them on, not caring.

"Unlike you. You pretend you don't care. But you do."

That pulled me up short. I don't care. I honestly don't. Never have done. There was about 10 minutes in the Sixties when I did care. I was in charge of the women's pages of The Sunday Times at the time, influenced by people such as Molly Parkin, the fashion editor. I wanted to impress Jilly Cooper, our star columnist, so I got my hair cut at Vidal Sassoon and bought silly clothes in Carnaby Street. I still have the snaps. They used to give my children such hysterics that I've hidden them.

Since then, I would say I have never thought about clothes. For 20 years I didn't have a suit, till I got one for our son's wedding, and I never wore shoes, only trainers. I gave them up, when everyone over 50 started wearing trainers, but also because I got this bunion on my toe, doctor, and moved into sandals (the Velcro expanding type).

Here's a fashion tip for you: To keep your bare feet warm and dry when wearing sandals on these chillier mornings, try rubber gardening socks. You know, those ones from mail order catalogues. I think they are meant to be overshoes, but if you get them small, you can wear them inside sandals. No need to thank me. I just like to help.

My daughter will refuse to be seen out with me, when we return to London, but hard cheese. I've gone through life with women moaning on about my clothes. My wife, when we were courting, used to pray that I would not turn up to meet her at Burton's corner wearing my Dad's overcoat. I still can't understand what she had against it. OK, it didn't fit, but then so what? It was jolly warm.

I have a tweed winter coat today they all hate, bought second hand in Camden Town. Cost me pounds 10, which was a lot. Mostly these last 20 years, I've bought jackets and coats at charity shops, when the old ones have totally fallen to pieces. One of the arguments for looking scruffy is that you can't go into second-hand shops and haggle if you're well dressed. But basically, it's because I don't care about clothes. I have far more important things to worry about, such as Dwight Yorke. So what are you on about, woman?

"Well," she said, "when you're going out, you say what do I like, expecting the answer to be `Terrific, you look great.'"

What's wrong with that? It would be nice if you said so, now and again, but it doesn't worry me if you don't.

"You ask because you are vain. And someone who is vain can't say they don't care..."

But at the same time, I can't be vain, if I go around looking the way I do?

"That's because you guy yourself, deliberately being scruffy just to annoy."

I got lost in the logic of that one.

It is true that on the very few occasions I do make an effort, put on a suit and stuff, I can feel people thinking weh-hey, he looks smart. People thinking you are smart does make you feel smart. It's the basis of all fashion - wanting to feel good, combined with having people thinking you look good. But what a drag, having to make that effort. I'm with the Queen on this one.

"It's OK looking like a tramp when you're young," so my wife said, "but someone of 60, looking like you, well... people will think you smell. You don't. But you do look, how can I put this, old."

That was the clincher. Moi, old? So I put on a clean shirt for Sunday lunch. Well, we did have company.