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I thought I’d be wearing a robe or something.

“So, this just swings over your jacket, and just hook this bit under your… where’s your tie?” The spindly man from Ede and Ravenscroft held some form of heavy, black wool cloth and cordage out to me.

“I’m not wearing one. I don’t own one. Wait, do I need a tie to graduate? I thought I’d be wearing a robe or something?”

“Well, the hood goes over your robe and hooks under your tie.” He reiterated, staring at my throat. He wasn’t offering me alternatives. He didn’t see a way out of this situation without my wearing a tie. Also, I was starting to worry that he was looking for more than a tie under my chin – maybe an artery? He did strike me as the vampire-type. He seemed ready to spring, and had pale, bony hands sticking out of his double-cuffed shirt and three-piece suit. Cold hands in a stifling basement room? And, Ede and Ravenscroft? Definite vampire.

“OK, look I think I saw ties in the college shit they’re selling at the entrance. I’ll be right back.” I didn’t want to draw attention my lack of jacket – the tie problem was enough.

Shit. I thought I had this sorted. If there’s one thing I’d learned over the past three years, it’s that any event in London would be uncomfortably hot, cold, wet, or crowded. Given the season – and past two weeks of watching parks turn into sandlots – I banked on it being hot and crowded. So, two weeks before the date, I made a special trip to Marks and Spencer on the train, and picked up what I considered to be a smart shirt. I didn’t know that a button-down collar on a short-sleeved shirt isn’t something one wears to a graduation. Especially – it seemed – one’s own.

Everyone I ran past was wearing a suit or posh dress. I was starting to reconsider my lifestyle. A five-foot eleven, 18-stone, bearded transvestite would certainly draw attention, but at least they’d be less warm in a thin cotton dress. Maybe off-the shoulder? Definitely better than doing up the top button, and essentially wrapping a thin scarf around their neck.

“Hey, do you know if they sell ties from that stand with all the college shit?” I asked my mate, having run the half-mile from the basement to the entrance. “And, what the fuck is a barbican, anyway?”

“I’ve no idea, but I think there’s only one. This one: The Barbican.” I could hear the capital letters.

“And yes, I think they have ties. Why, did you forget yours? Are you sure you didn’t leave it with your blazer.”

“My what?”

“Never mind.” He eyed my bare forearms. “Yes, ties – College ties, I think. Over that way – run. Are all Yanks like you?”

“Oh hell no. But, remind me to tell you about trailer parks in the desert and why we don’t wear fucking ties and wool coats in the summer. Also, isn’t your country supposed to be grey and rainy? It’s like 90 degrees in here!”

“No, it’s 30. And, run.” He pointed toward the foyer.

The exchange with the man – also besuited – selling college shit was essentially more of the same back-and-forth about ties, jackets, and telling glances at my now-sweat-beaded, bare forearms.

“We have several ties. You can have the colours, or the arms, or…”

I grabbed a nice blue one with shields on, and balked at the price tag.

“Er, I don’t suppose there’s a student discount… no? OK, I’ll take it.”

Tying and jogging is a skill I discovered on my way back to the basement. I presented myself again to the gentleman’s tailor to the Duke of Edinburgh, or Prince of Wales, or whatever. “I have a tie.”

“Quite.”

He waited while I donned a robe, and hooked the cord around my throat. He struggled not to use it as a garrotte.

“Right, don’t forget your hat. And remember, you’re not to wear it indoors.”

“OK. Wait, are we going outside?” I asked, hoping I could at least catch a breeze.

“No. This is an indoor graduation ceremony.”

“OK, I’ll just leave the hat then.”

“Your hat is required. Just don’t wear it.”

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