Ian McMillan: The write trousers

Ian McMillan
Ian McMillan
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Years ago my favourite columnist Patrick Campbell (you may remember him from early editions of Call My Bluff with Frank Muir) wrote about his favourite pair of Writing Trousers, by which he didn’t mean he had some magical trousers that could actually write his columns for him but that he had some very comfortable trousers to wear as he scribbled. They were corduroy, which meant that he could rub the knees for inspiration and they wouldn’t wear out. Well, not straight away.

As I write this I’m wearing my corduroy Writing Trousers and, like Campbell, I’m rubbing my knees for inspiration and tell-tale holes are starting to appear. I need inspiration because I’m trying to think of other garments that would be useful to the writer in their trade, because I know a lot of scribes and scribblers read these weekly words.

Well, first of all I think you need a good Writing Shirt, and the main thing about the Writing Shirt is that it should have lots of pockets, as should any Writing Garment like a Writing Jacket. The pockets are essential for the storing of pens (as many as will fit in, in case one or more of them runs out) and notebooks, and for keeping bits of screwed up paper on which you’ve jotted a sudden thought that flew past and threatened to escape before you caught it. The Writing Shirt should be roomy: a tightness across the chest or arms means that you can’t sigh deeply or flail widely, both of which are important to the writing process. This is why the writer also wears loose Writing Slippers and voluminous Writing Pants: the winklepicker and the thong don’t allow enough room for the sudden or elongated movements that are an essential part of the creative person’s day.

Then there’s the branch of the Writing Garment which is more for show. In this wardrobe I include the cravat, the beret, the bow tie, the toque, the ‘ironic’ flat cap, the harem pants, the huge silk shirt, the home-made badge that says ‘Shhh: Writer at Work’, the bandana, the dungarees, the chest waders and the Truman Capote-style fedora.

The last item is a clue because some writers simply want to look like other writers; they have a perfect image in their head of the kind of things a writer will wear and they hope, in the same way that someone might hope to become an artist by dressing up like Van Gogh, that 
by looking like a writer the writing will happen.

Klaxon, as the young people say: this won’t work. Writers can, in the end, wear whatever they want. I prefer the loose gear but if the restrictive Die Hard vest works for your sonnets, then wear it. Just write: just cover the naked page with the clothing of words and then you can be a writer, and you can go out and buy a cravat with your first cheque.