Friday, March 14, 2014

A Uniform Muddle



AT an impressionable age of eighteen, I was absolutely bowled over the photograph sent by a family matchmaker, to my parents. It was of a handsome young man in a spotless white uniform and peak cap. My grandmother took one look at it and dismissed him as unsuitable, because he was a ‘driver’. I patiently explained to her that he was not a ‘driver’ but a naval officer and pointed out the epaulettes on his shoulder. Not too convinced about the difference, she reluctantly agreed to my parent’s proposing me to the man in a ‘driver’s dress’.  
Only after the honeymoon, when we came down to earth, did I realize who had to keep the uniform white. Bidding goodbye to the ‘bearer’ of his bachelor’s den in the mess, my husband expected me to take over ‘preparing’ his uniform every evening, for the following day. It meant fixing the epaulettes right (for a mistake could mean standing a round of drinks to all those who discovered the muddle), avoiding a double crease while pressing the shorts and shirt, shining the tiny brass buttons and fixing the name tally straight.
Quite overawed by all this, I sought the advice of senior’s wife at a coffee morning. “My dear girl, use your intelligence”, she admonished. “Don’t get stuck with this routine. Fix this epaulettes wrong a couple of times and let his shirt sleeves get a double crease. He will then take over!” I thanked her for the wise tip and, I was spared the drudgery of ‘preparing the uniform’.

Keeping track of various uniforms was also a problem. Shortly after our marriage, I was going through a steel trunk containing some of my husband’s old uniforms. I found a white, netted piece which looked like a backless, sleeveless blouse. I bundled it up, with the discarded clothes and exchanged the lot for a stainless steel water jug. A week later, we had to attend a formal party at the Admiral’s house and my husband searched high and low for his ‘Marcella Front’ – a part of his uniform. He never forgave me for getting rid of it!

Then there were those oil-stained overalls, which I gifted to our scooter mechanic, only to learn later, that It was the overalls my husband wore on board the ship, when he went to the machinery spaces. It took  me many years to decipher the secret code of uniforms. The 6’s are to be worn for formal functions, the 6A’s to informal ones, the 8’s and 8A’s are for everyday wear and the 2’s are for ceremonial occasions like funerals, investiture ceremonies and court martials. But given my tendency to muddle, I had nothing to do with them.
One day, he was quite excited about his transfer orders. I found out why. In his new assignment he didnt have to wear a uniform! “At last,” he sighed, “You can get my clothes ready every evening. You can’t go wrong with civvies.” I never found a strategy to wriggle out of this one.