Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Aquascutum loses the 100 Year War

Now I know that Britain is going down the toilet.  Aquascutum has gone into administration.

The 160 year-old company's highest profile customers  - Humphrey Bogart, Winston Churchill, The Queen Mother, etc. - all went into higher administration years ago, but the brand plodded on elegantly through the wind and rain up until yesterday or the day before.  You would have thought that if any company could weather the current climate, it would be Aquascutum, but it seems as though even it's erstwhile biggest customers - the Japanese - aren't buying enough raincoats to make the game worth playing.

I have an Aquascutum raincoat, but it is a little too small for me - I have stupidly long arms.  I bought it unseen on the net and was overly optimistic about the given measurements from shoulder to cuff.  It sort of looks ok until I give a Hitler salute, and then there is about 10 inches of exposed wrist showing beneath my Armani suit.  I know what you are thinking - Herr Hitler has also been dead for many years, so the opportunity to salute him has greatly diminished since 1945, but it would be good to at least have the choice to be able to do so without loss of dignity or a drop in sartorial standards.

Of course, in Germany, where I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few years, it is illegal to give the Nazi salute, but hailing a taxi has pretty much the same effect on the sleeve of my Aquascutum, so I have never taken it there.

Many years ago, I took a course in archery, because I was - for some reason - very interested in the weapon which won Agincourt many years before that:  the English Long-Bow.

After an initial chat about basic safety, the teacher handed us novices brightly coloured, plastic practice bows and started drilling us about stance and posture as we flopped a few arrows toward nearby straw butts.  The bows most commonly used by the club were hi-tech 'reflex' ones which are festooned with weights and balances, sighting mechanisms, 'pingers' to tell you when full-draw has been achieved, etc. but we never touched any of these in the few months of basic training.

An English Long-Bow is custom made from Yew wood and is very long.  The measurements are taken from the height of the owner, and the bow should be the same length as his height, plus his own fist on top of his head.  Practice bows are about four feet long.

Modern reflex bows have a pulling weight of about 35 - 40 pounds max, but the bows used at Agincourt took over 150 pounds of tug to get to full draw.  They were armour-piercing and so heavy, that the archer's bone-structure actually changed over the course of his life, from a novice of 13 years old to a battle-ready combatant.  They know this because of examining various skeletons and bows from the 'Mary Rose' Tudor war-ship which sunk off the coast of Britain and is still undergoing restoration.

The weight of a practice-bow should be about 20 pounds, but because my arms are so long, it was estimated that I was pulling more like 60 pounds, and threatening to snap the bow before I could release the arrow.  Also the arrows were so short for me, that I was constantly running the risk of pulling it back until the tip rested against my left hand, then releasing it, skewering my palm like a spatch-cock.

When I finished the course, the teacher told me that I needed to get my own aluminium arrows especially made for me, because the longest 'off the shelf' ones were 32 inches, and I needed 36 inches. There was a company just over the bridge in Wales that could make them, he said.  I never bothered, nor did I ever bother to learn long-bow archery either.  Hitting the gold in the centre of the target was consistently achievable with the modern bows, but the long-bowman counted hitting the butt at any spot from 40 yards as a success.

The other draw-back (pun intended) to archery practice is that the more you do it, the longer your arms get.  This is true.  It's not that your arms actually get longer, but your shoulder-blades move further and further apart, increasing your span.

When I did that course, I had a span of about 6 feet 6 inches - three inches taller than my height - so it's a good job I didn't carry on with it.  Not only would I have had to get another set of arrows made for me even longer than the 36 inch ones, but the chances of buying an Aquascutum raincoat that actually fitted me would have become more and more remote.  Now I will never know, either way.


  1. I packed the archery in too, years ago, after accidentally killing my third slow moving pensioner with an errant arrow.

    Regarding the coat - just cut off your hands!

    1. No, hang on a minute. How would you fasten the buttons?

      Forget it, stupid idea.

    2. Yeah. Just silly, Chris.
      But full points for enthusiasm.

      I never had the strength to draw back a compound bow. I kept getting distracted by the potentially slaughtered pensioners in my sights and, being a girl, I think the blokes were pretty happy with my girly inadequacies anyway!

      A shame about the raincoats.
      Arnotts went down in Australia recently.
      It's more nostalgia or yearning for a status quo, yes? But life goes on. Folk go broke. Wars come and go but I guess the long time stayers should be seen out with a trumpeting of 'Respect and Goodbye'.
      So. Thanks for that.

    3. I've already forgotten it, Chris.

      They use metal detectors to identify which pensioner has been shot, but only to retrieve the arrows.

  2. So has Jaeger been making huge losses, and has been flogged off to some 'venture capitalist'. Soon London's main streets will be littered with pawn brokers, charity shops, rag-n-bone men, pound shops, chuggers, and PERHAPS the occasional M & S.

    1. I think Jaeger were also part of Aquascutum.

  3. Another passage, and ten years' hence a new group of young adults will wonder why this particular name causes some older folks to sigh.

    I never tried using a long bow, although we did have an archery stint in gym class. I always figured if i could hit anywhere on the target, i was doing all right. I had long arms for someone my size, but since i never made it to 5'2" (1/8 inch short), i could always find arrows and bows that fit. Everything else seemingly needed to be hemmed.

    1. They make 'breast guards' for women archers - stops the string from rasping against your boobs, and saves the trouble of going to Amazonian lengths to achieve Olympic standards. Don't think Aquascutum made them, though.

  4. Oh dear - I still have an Aquascutum raincoat - must have had it twenty or more years. Maybe that is why they have gone into administration - their marvellous garments last too long.

    As for long arms - the farmer sports the longest arms I have ever seen and is fond of standing in doorways with his hand over the top of the door - monkey like - but is not too pleased if I point out the similarity.

    1. Don't show your teeth when you smile at him, Weaver - it is misconstrued as a sign of aggression by them, and they tend to start screaming.