Prithee sir, where are ye goyng with that wooden staffe yn youre hand? Or, for those of you who have yet to familiarise yourselves with this summer’s more bucolic moment: what the hell are you doing with that massive stick?
Currently being brandished with a fervour not seen since those saucy pilgrims ambled towards Canterbury in Chaucer’s tales, the wooden staff has lately vaulted into fashionability to become the cult accessory of choice. Chief among its advocates is David Beckham, the football hero whose Instagram feed is fecund with pictures that find him leaning on a stick. Shot at golden hour during his daily perambulations around the £6m Cotswold property where the Beckham clan is based, he wears his wooden appendage with earth-coloured cords, a flat cap and farmer jumpers, recalling one of DH Lawrence’s rural bachelors, if Lawrence’s bachelors took baths.
Where Beckham leads, being the official pin-up of the prelapsarian movement, others have soon joined. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, was last week pictured setting out from his home in urban Islington as though off to tend a flock of sheep. The outfit — straw hat, linen blouson, designer jogging bottoms and blue Nikes — was odd enough to start with. Part impressionist painter, part druid. The addition of a giant wooden walking stick tipped it into the surreal.
People might accuse me of having an unhealthy obsession with Cummings’ appearance, a feature of a Tory administration whose wardrobe choices tend to force a second look. But I am powerless in his orbit — I must simply sit and stare. Frankly, I would argue, that’s exactly how he wants it. His ensembles are so fecklessly haphazard, so bizarro, that they seem painfully contrived. The Harry Styles of Downing Street, Cummings has a taste for headline-seizing rig-outs that seem just as stage-managed and craving for attention as those of any would-be social-media star.
But what does a shepherd’s staff symbolise in 2020, when the closest most of us will get to herding is in the queue outside the grocer’s to pick up a pint of milk? I suspect it’s symptomatic of the great shift away from all things metropolitan and the flight to the country predicted by observers of this pandemic. With a wooden staff, the new breed of urban farmer wannabes (or “furbanites”) can stake their claim on country soil.
It’s been a continuing feature of the co-Covid-19 lifestyle that we all might benefit from a closer bond with nature as a way to enrich our lives, and Beckham, as always, is bang on trend. His new-found iteration as a country bumpkin is just the latest in a string of many guises that have cast him as Peaky Blinder, sporting hero, sarong champion and stud muffin — in teeny tiny Armani pants.
In a world that for so long has used Beckham as a mirror for the current state of manhood, this latest agrarian wardrobe redraws the lines of masculinity once again. Where last year’s alpha male could chart his status via prestige luggage, hotel tabs and air miles, this year’s most coveted trophy has become a plot of land on which to roam. By perambulating the periphery of his boundary line, Beckham is subtly insinuating himself into a new narrative that aspires less to the material pleasures of fast cars and fancy restaurants, and appeals to the transcendental wonders of an on-site daisy field.
The urban male (or female) has little purpose in the current landscape, where one’s currency is only as hot as one’s sourdough starter, and at a time when many of us are revisiting traditional skills. If the Reset is a wardrobe, Beckham’s farmer uniform is it. The walking stick represents a passport to the new Utopia: a wand with which to conjure ancient wisdoms and speak of simpler truths.
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Cummings’ stick — bigger, blunter, decidedly less artisanal — recalls more biblical aspirations. Striding the streets of London last weekend, he looked like a Gonzo Moses on his way to part the waves. For Cummings, who is steadfast in his Brexit gospel and, by reputation, immune to the mewling of dissent, such a messianic symbol could suit him well. But while his stance was convincing, his hands appeared too untroubled by the hardy toil of manual labour to quite complete the look. Watching him, I was reminded of Alan Partridge (the genius creation of Steve Coogan) flinging his quasi-walking stick into the fens while walking in the Norfolk Broads. The stick was just a prop.
Neither Cummings nor Beckham can quite pull off the staff. You need to be an actual working farmer, or Charlton Heston. Or maybe both. But with these two early adopters, the challenge has been set. A wooden stick will be this summer’s shorthand to show your deeper love of nature, your evolved attitude towards the crazed pace of modern living, and a salary that has ensured you have acquired a spacious second home. Most importantly, and as is so often the case with status symbols, it’s the size that really counts.
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