Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Macs by Romesh Mani

It drizzled a little here in Kottayam yesterday (no ice and snow), and out of the blue I got to thinking of the "Macs" we had in school.

No, not the McKenzies, McCarthies, McAteers, McDonalds or McFarlaines - not the computers either - what I'm talking about are those wondrous, sleeveless, waterproof accessories that were regulation issue in our day - khaki coloured canvas contraptions that were raincoats officially, but had many, many other uses too. The name 'mac' is an abbreviation of the name of the great Scotsman who invented waterproof fabric - McIntosh! Well they did serve to keep us from getting wet when it rained for sure - most of the water stayed out, but the fabric eventually would get soaked through and become damp and cold on the inside .... brrrrr!. I also remember that quite often we took off our leather shoes to prevent them from getting wet and spoilt and walked barefoot in the rain with these macs on. The lower hem of the macs with a thin coating of mud on the edge would rub against the achilles tendon (just above the heels) and usually rubbed them raw if you didn't reach your destination before that!
Macs had a whole lot of other uses too, they were great to keep the wind off you on a cold 'monsoon' day (or night) - just get the hood on and keep your back to the wind! Worked great when you had to wait somewhere in lousy weather! I remember walking back to Oakshott after prep in the dining hall late in the evening on cold nights, well wrapped in a good old mac to keep warm.
Macs also formed great ground sheets when you wanted to sit or loll around (or do anything else you wanted to do on the ground) without getting your uniform dirty. But it did get the macs rather dirty, and if your house matron saw it that way, you were promptly given some 'chunnamb soap' and a scrubbing brush and told to get it cleaned up - and that could be some job!
Macs made great tents when you wanted to keep out of the sun or out of sight of someone - especially when you had some yummy tuck with you which you wanted to eat undisturbed. Macs were also used for transporting some tidbit from the dining hall or tuck shop without anyone knowing. For this you either wore the mac - on a hot sunny afternoon arousing the curiosity and suspicion of your fellows - or folded the goodies into the mac and threw it over your shoulder as if it were just another day!
Macs made great weapons of war too. A tightly folded mac could be used for clubbing someone - without fear of any permanent injury being caused. If you did want to cause some injury, you rolled in a piece of euky firewood or a couple of stones into the folds to make it more lethal. Though I've heard of this, in all my school years I've never seen this being put to use.
Macs made great haversacks or collecting bags. It was usually just before the house parties that we went collecting euky bark for the traditional bonfires and brought them back in our macs. Guys returning from a spud or a pear raid also usually brought back their booty in their macs.
Macs made great camouflage gear too, but not always. I remember when I was in Oldham, someone saw something moving suspiciously in the bushes down the banks and told "Bunna" (David Todd). He went over to investigate and discovered that it was only Kenny Baker and Gillian Fewkes looking for a little privacy! But at other times if you were up to no good and didn't want to be identified, your mac was your best friend - with the hood on!
Macs also made great cloaks or capes. The inspiration for this came usually while returning to Oakshott or Lewis after a school movie in the dining hall - with some swashbuckling hero like Zorro or Morgan the Pirate. For this, the hood had to be tucked inside, the top button engaged, and the rest of the mac flung over the shoulders. You usually went charging down the slope to Lewis with your cape flying behind you, with suitable shouts and screams as vocal accompaniment. No, the macs (capes) didn't protect you if you fell, while on one of these charges. You could still get pretty badly bruised.
Then there were the creative types - I think I might have been one - who liked to make a toy we called 'zippo'. For this you got a good, large 'mac' button, threaded a twine through two of the holes, tied the ends of the twine, put your index fingers through the looped twine, wound it up and made it spin by rhythmically pulling on the twisted twine. One golden rule had to be observed here - 'make sure it was someone else's mac you cut the button from; and preferably someone not capable of clobbering you when he found out!
The art of folding a mac was a subject in itself! there were the sloppy guys who just rolled it up and threw it over the left shoulder. Then there were the guys who folded it into quarters - the easiest way to fold it - ended up about 10 inches wide. (Didn't have centimetres in those days!) then there were the buffs who would do a six-way folding and get it into a neat and smart six inch width. These guys really prided their abilities and were rather touchy about others checking the number on these macs to see if it was theirs. Some guys got over this problem by folding their macs inside-out so that the number tag was on the outside and could be seen without having to open up a neatly folded piece.
I've been around quite a bit since I've left school, but I've never seen anything so ineffective for it's intended use, but with so many other uses - or was it just that we were versatile and inventive?
Have I covered it all, or do you have something to add to this?
Regards ----- Romesh Mani Jan 2005

Hi Romesh,
Great coverage on the Mac. I think it was also used when we had to run the gonklet in the dorms. from junior dorm to senior, where many an enemy took revenge by as you rightly put it had shoes(clodhoppers) in them and did give the runner a good wack.
Paulc (74)

Hi Romesh...
A great coverage indeed.... however I do recall one other great use for the humble Mac... They were the best tool for collecting bark and twigs for the House end of year Party and Bon fires... A number will remember the keen competition between Oakshott and Lewis....which house could build a larger bon fire... Boy did those poor Mac's take a hammering....buttoned down with the hood in place to make a good collection sack....
Now I am wondering what other things Romesh was considering when he said...(or anything else you wanted to be doing on the ground...) ..I have no idea...but, perhaps that will stir some responses from those who had better uses for the Mac's on the ground...
I do recall folding and keeping my Mac intact... so when it came to wash day... it was clean for the most part... except for that very narrow area that was exposed... folding had its merits....
Thanks for that memory

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