Wax On, Wax On | Pushing the Wave

Wax On, Wax On

Opinion, 11 November 2022
by L.A. Davenport
Reborn as a Waxed Jacket
Reborn as a Waxed Jacket
After the gentle reintroduction to home life last week, I was hoping that, if the gears were to shift this week, then it would be only by a little, and on my own terms. How foolish. Have I not learned anything from the past nearly 20 years of being a freelancer?

As usual, just when I thought I had a handle on everything and I felt I could turn to my projects in earnest, a metric tonne of work descended on me like a blizzard on a winters day. It’s mite frustrating, as I had to drag myself back up to speed much quicker than I wanted and do a huge amount of research at short notice, at which I was surprisingly rusty, considering I had not had much slowdown time. And naturally the various writing projects I wanted to tidy up and make progress on have had to be put on hold, at least for a few more days.

I did, however, get a chance to add some features to this site that had been lacking for a long time. It is now possible to rate the content, with a simple star rating at the bottom of the page. More than that, you can also share any page you like on Facebook, Twitter (if it lasts much longer) and Pinterest, as well as send the link via email. It’s not in any way an innovation, and I should have included it a long time ago, but I’m going to go with the notion of better late than never.
On top of all that, being away for so long means that I have a lot of jobs around the home that have built up over the past few weeks and months. Some of them are rather tedious home improvement tasks, but one job I set myself I have found particularly enjoyable and rewarding.

To explain, I have had a rather nice waxed jacket from Jack Murphy for several, maybe even getting close to eight or nine, years. It had become apparent of late, however, that it no longer was sufficiently waxed, as it had lost its sheen, as well as its ability to protect me from the rain, which one might argue is its chief function. At first, it didn’t occur to me that it might be possible to replace the missing wax, and rather naively assumed that the jacket was no longer for this world.

But then I must have read somewhere an article about caring for older clothes that included a snippet about waxed jackets, as I realised that the jacket was in fact not ready for the skip but only needed to be reproofed, ideally with the same type of wax. I soon found myself inspecting the Jack Murphy website to see what brand they use in their clothing. That led me to Halley Stevensons, and the discovery that, happily, they sell tins of their wax on their site to the general public.

Easy.

Seeing as their reproofing wax comes in batches of one, six, twelve or eighteen tins, I decided that buying only one may not be enough, but that six was definitely too many for my single waxed jacket. Cue a lengthy and deep internet dive into waxing and reproofing, after which I had not only seen enough YouTube tutorials to allow me to wax a jacket blindfold (and even make my own wax, should I have the time or inclination) but also learned that anything of the right material can be waxed.

My mind immediately sprang to a rather chic raincoat I bought a while ago in Paris but which was neither wind- nor rainproof and had left me wondering about its future in my wardrobe. I also thought about a cotton worker jacket I had bought in olive green that was really just a slightly thicker version of one I already had.

Of course, having the tins of wax at home and getting around to doing anything with them are two very separate things. After a couple of months, I nevertheless reproofed my original waxed jacket with a great deal of effort (who knew it would require so much elbow grease?) but also with great results. I then turned to the Parisian raincoat, turning it from a disappointingly faded black to a much deeper hue in the process of waxing it. More importantly it made the coat as practical and warm in inclement weathers as it is stylish.

It was only this weekend, however, that I got around to waxing the worker jacket. This, my third attempt at waxing, was a much more straightforward affair. Plus I was much more confident in applying the wax, and in knowing what to aim for. Yet, with all the effort it entails, I wondered, as I got about half way down the back, why I was going to so much trouble and cursed myself for having started on it.

But I saw of course that there was no turning back, and so I persevered until the whole thing was covered in a relatively thick layer of wax, made as even as possible.

What they don’t tell you on the tins of wax but they do emphasise on the internet is the need to melt the wax into the garment after application with a hairdryer. This is the weirdest part of it, as the wax on the surface liquifies and then sinks into the surface of the material, darkening it and immediately changing its properties (see above). It is quite impressive how much wax cotton can absorb, and going through the learning curve of waxing has made me understand why waxed jackets are so expensive. It’s not just the raw materials, but getting the right effect that takes the time and effort, even in my own home-based amateurish way.

I have yet to road-test the worker jacket out there in the world, as I am waiting for the wax to absorb a little more first, but I am really looking forward to enjoying its new lease of life.
If all that’s a bit too hipster-ish for your taste, I have a philosophical conundrum for you.

Have you ever eaten dates, olives, or grapes? I am sure you have at some point. Did it ever occur to you that, in the UK, they have the stones taken out, or typically come seedless in the case of grapes? No? It might have done if you have ever been to France, as there they have the stones and pips left in.

I didn’t really notice this when I first started spending time in France back in the 1980s, and may not have remarked on it much until I had a half-French child. Stones in things become a thing when you have a little one, as of course there is a much greater risk of choking than with an adult. So you’re very protective and fish the stones out of everything before you give it to them.

But then, around two years of age, it all got a bit boring, plus he wanted to take over the stone management part of the process himself. A few carefully observed training sessions later, and he was off, happily eating olives, dates, apricots, plums and even grapes with no concerns, and with great pride when he fished the unwanted part out of his mouth.

I think that most, if not all, British people are just as capable as a two-year-old at dealing with stones and pips, and yet you should have seen the panic in people’s eyes, especially when he was at that age, when he grabbed an olive and popped it into his mouth, without a thought from him or us. I saw British children twice, three times his age having stones and pips taken out of things for them as if they could choke to death at any second. In France, that would be unheard of, in my experience.

So here is the question: Why do manufacturers go to all the trouble of producing stoneless olives and dates, and seedless grapes, for the UK market but not for the French? There are potentially lots of possibilities, although personal taste, and differences in the eating apparatus between British and French children, cannot be among them, as those sorts of things do not cover population-level differences. But as I travel back and forth between France and the UK, I see differences in the way in which these two ancient peoples eat in the second decade of the 21st century. In short, food in the UK has become more and more infantilised over the past twenty or thirty years, and adults eat increasingly in the same way as children.

It’s not just the profusion of sweet things, as there are many exquisite patisserie in France (although they are tiny and consumed in very small quantities), but its the sweetening and softening of adult food in general. What was called, when I was young, grown-up savoury and bitter tastes, and harder textures, are being lost from the collective British palette. One sees it in everything. Breakfast cereals used to be only for children, bread has become sweeter and softer, prepared foods have become mushy and are noticeably more sugary than their French counterparts, and even olives and other savoury preserved foods have lost their bitterness and sharp bite, due presumably to differences in the liquids they are preserved in. Restaurant food is sometimes so sweet it’s practically inedible if you don’t have a sweet tooth. And let’s not get started on the noticeable sweetening of wine for the British market, or the appallingly sugary cocktails that you get served nowadays.

And then there are the stones and pips.

Not so in France, for any of it. The distinction between children’s and adult food remains. As one gets older, one moves from sweet to savoury, from childlike to grownup. Why would an adult wish to eat to drink as a child? Some do, of course. The relentless Americanism of popular culture means that more and more French people are turning away from traditional ways of eating and adopting the mores of a culture that one could argue is based around the rather childish notion of satisfying the most simplest of one’s desires in the shortest possible time. (This is the side of America, a country I love and deeply fascinates me, that I do not like at all, even though it has driven so many innovations we nowadays take for granted.)

Are these observations all part of a drift away from any form of challenge in food, or even life in general? I hope not, as it does not bode well. A country that eats like a child acts like a child, which means being needy, oversensitive and rather lazy, even while being capable of moments of incredible wonder and delight (and humour).

For me, I think I will keep my bitter, sharp olives with their stones, and I’ll toast you with a nice glass of dry, unsweetened Prosecco.

(Ps, I should point out for balance that the French have plenty of issues of their own, just not this one.)
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Wax On, Wax On | Pushing the Wave