I have no time for ties. They seem to me to be, of all items of clothing, the most completely useless. They don’t keep you warm. They don’t have any function (as underwear does – I’m reminded suddenly of Ferlinghetti’s lines in his poem ‘Underwear’ – ‘Women’s underwear keeps things up/ Men’s underwear keeps things down’). They aren’t particularly glamorous, like scarves, although they do have the same Isadora-like ability to snag in something like a mangle (I know, I know, it’s a long time since I went near a mangle, but there we are, there’s nothing wrong with exaggeration). Ties, I think, are spurious assertions of formality and authority. I have a tie complex, as you see. Plainly there are dissidents in this matter of ties (my wife coos over Jon Snow and his ties on Channel 4 News). I have a black tie for funerals, and a blue tie for interviews, and an old tie from the 1960s, because I never chuck much away. But that’s about it. My neck is generally on view.
But my father had maybe a hundred ties, many of them with obscure crests, and he could probably have told you about each one. He may even have been hoarding some of his father’s ties, since, however I try to think of myself as different from my father, I recognise myself now and then.
When he died, therefore, he left an unwanted legacy. What was to become of all these ties? Even the charity shops didn’t want them (although charity shops were less of an industry in the 1980s). So I decided to make a bonfire of them. I wasn’t thinking straight, for obvious reasons. But I will pass on this advice to any tie-burners out there: it’s a bad idea. They do not burn. On about the fifth attempt, they smoulder. They smoked away, resentfully, for the best part of a day.
At this point, I am going to resuscitate another poem from the past. I think this one did actually net me a tenner in a competition, so someone somewhere thought something of it.
I tried to burn my father’s ties
(Myself, I wear a crew-neck shirt);
Although some sparks began to rise,
The fire smouldered, looked inert.
The proud Nuneaton rugby crest,
The logo from the TSB,
The old school stripes that crossed his chest,
The mourning black he lent to me:
All stubbornly refused to blaze.
I took a stick and tried to poke
The ties worn twenty thousand days
When he himself was long since smoke.
I buried them beneath the weeds,
Beneath the shadow of a beech.
Absurd, then, how my heart still bleeds:
His ties, more eloquent than speech.