This might be conceived as a very male–oriented postcard but in this unisex, gender-fluid world in which we live, I suspect we all wear trousers at some stage – real or metaphorical!
Originally in Britain the word pocket was used to describe a sack containing a measure of hops, some 168lbs, about 76kgs – or, if it was wool, a half sack. Feels like a lots of hops to me!
The other morning changing for our online yoga session, I decided to put the trousers I had been wearing into the washing machine, a process which requires diligence so not to wash a tissue or somesuch. As I emptied the contents of my pockets onto the bed, it struck me how habitual I am, and I suspect I am not alone? From my front right pocket I retrieved my house keys and my handkerchief, for I am sufficiently British to feel naked without one there in case of sniffles. It always amazes me when people who don’t have a handkerchief in their pocket sneeze – watching how they deal with any discharge, for sure there is always some, is intriguing – mostly they try and suggest nothing happened. Hopefully their disgusting personal habit will have changed post-Covid.
Normally my front left pocket is empty, a place for the wallet or mobile phone should I venture out.
In my back right hand pocket I always have a couple of monetary notes and a few coins. Despite losing two folded £20 notes many years ago from this rear pocket, I still take the risk! The advent of plastic notes has actually increased this risk, for they don’t fold as well as the old paper ones. In what used to be a virgin pocket, the left hand back one, I keep a reasonably clean face mask, ready when needed and hopefully not for much longer.
I remember a story from my childhood. A chap not too fond of flying boarded an aeroplane and found himself sitting next to an older man dressed in a three piece suit. As the plane taxied down the runway he observed the guy moving his hand, touching his forehead then following the line down to the waist, then from right to left across his chest. Imagining him rather religious, he asked whether it helped to pray.
“Pray? Oh! No! I was just checking: spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch!”
As a schoolboy one essential pocket item was a penknife – the older you got the bigger and more versatile was the penknife; the search for a horse to help with that stone in its shoe was never ending. Carrying a ‘knife’ these days seems problematic.
I grew up being told it was the correct thing to brush my hair, using a comb to create a parting, so a comb, however grubby, was another essential pocket item.
That’s how it was, seemingly forever. Then I left the Army, grew my hair a little and decided it didn’t need a parting and a proper comb, just a comb through with my fingers. I am lucky, still retaining my hair and never carrying a comb.
And of course, as a smoker, a packet of Marlborough Reds and a cigarette lighter was always in a pocket; well, until 1994! No wonder the man-bag came into being – for a while!
The word accoutrements, as in an additional item of dress, is seldom used today but off to a business meeting that’s exactly what I needed to check in my pockets. Business cards in a little silver case in a side jacket pocket and my half-hunter pocket watch in the outside breast pocket complete with silk handkerchief; if I failed to put one in I felt naked and hoped no one would notice – not about being naked, but about no silk pocket handkerchief!
In the army in our field ‘now you see me now you don’t’ disruptive pattern uniform, there were pockets everywhere. Especially useful was one on the outside of the sleeve for chinagraph waterproof crayons, to mark onto maps symbols that didn’t’ come off in the inevitable rain. Not to be confused with the look of the mad scientist with his pens in his jacket breast pocket.
Funny how phrases can be slightly contradictory; if you described someone as in-pocket after a deal, they had made some money, if they were out-of-pocket they had lost money. And if that had been the case it might have been because someone pocketed something dishonestly. Then of course we all remember pocket money?
Military historians amongst you will think ‘pockets of resistance’ and remember the Falaise Pocket when, two months after the June 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, 50,000 German troops were trapped in and around the Falaise/Chambois area of Northern France.
The original encirclement was penetrated a number of times by the Germans but eventually closed and they surrendered; their loss of men and equipment was enormous. A week later the Allies liberated Paris.
The original meaning of the phrase ‘pocket sized’ was that something was small enough to be carried in ones’ pocket, like a notebook. Not so the design of warship that was somewhere between a heavy cruiser and a battleship, the ‘pocket battleship’; the most famous of these perhaps the German Navy’s Admiral Graf Spee.
Over the years, starting at school I guess, I have played many games of both billiards and snooker, although not so obsessed as to watch the championships played here in the UK at The Crucible. Each billiard table has six pockets; the word can also be used as a verb, to pocket a ball, ie driving a ball into a pocket!
A corner pocket
Needing an outside jacket with lots of pockets when out with my Labrador Tom, I dropped into Farlows on Pall Mall opposite the IOD in 2004. I am not a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ chap but my Aigle angler’s jacket is perfect; pockets galore, even one at the back – possibly to bring back the stolen (poached?) trout – but used by me as somewhere to put the detachable sleeves.
And who hasn’t suffered air turbulence of some sort, some times worse than others? Those bloody air pockets into which the aeroplane seems to fall, your body straining against the seat belt.
Finishing these random thoughts about one’s pockets, I found this from Italy around 1850: ‘Shrouds have no pockets so money is for spending, not hoarding; you can’t take it with you!’
……. and no hands in pockets!!
Richard 28th May 2021