Monday, 15 February 2016

Barbour Jackets

When I was a young angler in the 1970s a waxed cotton Barbour jacket was part of the uniform. My first was a Solway Zipper. This was the Barbour to which my angling pals aspired. It was hideously expensive but absolutely essential to angling maturity, like a Mitchell reel or Bruce & Walker rod. When birding began to dominate my outdoor activities I was still in a Barbour jacket; a Barbour Border it was by this time. Still waxed cotton.

Waxed cotton...

Of course, it is still around today, but I cannot think of any other clothing material less deserving of such longevity. It was, and I imagine still is, absolutely foul stuff. It's okay when new, and even has an attractively rustic smell - in my mind's nose I can smell it as I type, in fact - but give it some time and out come its true colours. A waxed cotton jacket is about the most disgusting thing you can wear on a cold, wet winter's day as you sit by the river, waiting forlornly in the drizzle for a bite. Pretty quickly my Solway Zipper lost its supple, slightly-oily-cloth feel and became a clammy, stiff, shiny horror. It was like wearing barely articulated cardboard tubes; it could easily stand up on its own. It also rapidly became less waterproof. Not all over, I'll admit, just in strategically unhelpful areas like the shoulders and most seams. Naturally, being an uncultured oaf I wasn't going to 'maintain' my jacket with a regular dose of Barbour Thornproof Wax Dressing. And anyway, like that was going to make any difference!

Thornproof...

Yes, that was the Barbour tag line. To be fair I don't recall ever ripping a Barbour on thorns, but barbed wire went through it like a hot knife through butter. Never mind though, because Barbour operate a repairs service, or you can buy a repair kit with dressing, spare bits of tartan lining cloth, needles and some good strong thread. Please! It ain't gonna happen, is it! We're talking smelly teenage angler here. No, a coat simply needs to be robust, reliable and comfortable, without the need for human intervention every other day.

Oh, and the fit. Dreadful. I was (and still am) a gangly 6'4". Barbour jackets were not designed for such a frame. Even in XL the sleeves were still too short by some 2" or so. And the chest was simply immense. Finally, the hood. Laughable. It clipped on with four press studs. That was fine. It pulled tight with a drawstring. This was okay, though you had to tie a knot to keep it tight. But the thing was just so small! No peak, and it barely made the front of your hairline. The only way to get any funtionality from the hood was to wind in your neck like a tortoise.

Despite all this, when my Solway Zipper finally rotted to death I replaced it with a Border. More of the same. What possessed me? I don't know, but can only assume there wasn't much else available, or I was just a sucker for the label. Of course, the label is still going strong. Still very expensive, and please help yourself to waxed cotton if you must. But I don't see many anglers or birders wearing Barbour jackets these days. Perhaps they all owned a 1975 Solway Zipper and therefore know better...

Edit: forgot I had this pic. Solway Zipper in action on the Royalty Fishery, Hants Avon in Dec 1979. Evidence that, despite my recollection to the contrary, it did actually allow me to bend my arms.

13 comments:

  1. I never owned a Barbour jacket Gav. I was one of the birding youth that went for army surplus clothing. Not waterproof but cheap. East German my favourite jacket was.

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    1. You didn't miss anything Steve, and definitely saved yourself a few quid!

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  2. Gav, I well remember the first occasion I wore a Barbour. My dad had dropped me off at Springwell lake one winters morning, and even as he turned the car around to head off to work, I already knew I was unlikely to feel 'hot' wearing it. By the end of the day, even the capture of a pb Pike of 16lb's barely made an impression on the small ice cube I'd become. Indeed, the landing net froze solid in the time it took to put the fish on the ground. It was as though I had the Pike in an ice cage. Barbour coats! the crud under the finger nails!

    I remember the day of that Barbel well; and the evening where you remarked the 'bottom must be paved with Eels'.
    That's 'the' landing net behind you. I still have it, along with the cane handle.

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    1. For some reason your winter's day story reminded me of those hand warmers we all had Ric, with the charcoal sticks. My goodness, I can smell them right now! Ah, memories...

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  3. Blimey, quite the male model wasn't you, shame about the jacket.
    I think we all went through either a Barbour or East German army surplus phase and they were both bloody awful. After them I moved on to one of those nylon padded jackets with a fur lined hood, think they've just become fashionable again now.

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    1. The quilted jobs? Had one of those in the 80s. It was filled with down, which was a right pain when I holed it on barbed wire. Little trail of feathers...

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  4. Mine didn't have the feathers, it was filled with that white nylon fibre stuff and snagged very easily.
    These days it's a top of the range Craghopper.

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  5. Gav, I might still have some of those handwarmers (and sticks). I modified their use by judicious employment of lanyards, meaning I could place a couple down the back of my neck, positioning them in the small of my back. That kept me nice and toasty on a frosty day.
    However, nowadays I'd simply wear sensible amounts of clothing or stay at home until the sun warms things up. I'd also not have to keep moving about to avoid the carbon monoxide cloud around my head.
    Yes, handwarmers. Along with turned down waders (pictured) and Glacier Club outings (the following day).
    Glacier AC. Yes!

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    1. It all seems like a very long time ago Ric...

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  6. Back in the 1970's when we did a lot of eel trapping with fyke nets, to avoid a bare arm going numb feeling about under the icy water for the end of the nets, we used to carry a hot water bottle in the inside top pocket of our chest waders to warm the arm up again.

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    1. Well, you learn something new every day Derek - I'd never heard of a 'fyke net' so looked it up and discovered it's basically a Heligoland trap for fish. Thanks for that.

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  7. We used to stretch the fyke net across the ditch, completely submerged and taunt. the eels would come up against the net and work their way sideways and into the trapping end. As we were doing it a lot of the time on land without permission, we would lay the nets across at 100yds intervals with the first one marked with a discrete stick poking out of the water. Normally we would also be doing this at night to avoid being caught.

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    1. I'm trying to picture you doing this with your hot water bottles tucked into your waders...and I'm chuckling a bit...

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