‘In the Cathedral we wear bands.’
I have been measured for a cassock. Two albs are being constructed according to the Cathedral’s unique design, possibly an inheritance of the local engineering traditions. Now I must find bands.
I go to Oxford. In the first shop, where I am addressed as ‘madam’, the very helpful man regrets that he has only morning bands; ‘but you couldn’t wear them now, madam’. It is ten o’clock in the morning. I am too much in awe of the authority of the shop to question this. The bands are two strips of white cloth suspended from a length of white tape long enough to tie round the neck of a hippppotamus. ‘Barristers would wear these,’ says the man, dropping his voice and adding ‘if the Queen died’.
I am in too deep here. I thank him politely and regret that they seem not to be the right sort of bands. He suggests trying their website. I retreat and try the slightly more populist shop a few doors down. Here they have another helpful man, this time with a beard, but they have no bands. The helpful man phones downstairs. Nothing there. He will phone their sister shop over the way. (Both these establishments are so masculine I have scarcely ever stepped into them. Naturally, then, it is a sister shop.) I interrupt him by asking what job I have to do to need the wide-brimmed red bowler hat on display with some black ones. That is a fashion item, he says, conveying the inferiority of this status, and it would cost me £30. I resist. He establishes contact with the sister shop and sends me over.
Here there is a choice of assistants. I am losing faith in helpful men, and I accost the woman. She says they have legal bands, but she’s not sure about clerical bands. We find the legal bands. I tell her about the mystifying remarks of the first helpful man. Between us we work out that he had somehow confused them with mourning bands. This is an advance in understanding. But they have no clerical bands. Her colleague mentions doctor’s bands. I say that I have a D. Phil., if it helps, but it doesn’t.
At last, in the fourth shop, there is a man who knows everything about bands, of all sorts. He produces clerical bands. I buy them. It seems far too straightforward.