Friday, April 23, 2010

Charmless garments: 4

Let me introduce this latest contender in the pantheon of Charmless Garments by stating that in my view it should only ever be worn by children under the age of 5 or by people trying to ingratiate themselves with the same (children's TV presenters or paedophiles?). Yes, it's the dungaree. A boundlessly unflattering item, to be sure, proven to give the wearer absolutely no waist, to contain unnecessary accoutrements of straps and buckles and the like, and sad to report, now featuring, in leather and in a wholly unpleasant shade of brown, in a modern style yet still absolutely vile (see for yourself!), in the window of ChloƩ in the Mandarin Oriental building in Des Voeux Road.

I confess to owning a pair when I was old enough to know better: they were from the legendary What Every Woman Wants, and were pale purple, slightly shiny, and made from brushed cotton with a zip at the back. I must have been 14 and had just started at a new school where everyone was cooler than me. One day I picked up on a strange atmosphere of barely concealed hysteria during a morning lesson. I had no idea what was going on; it just seemed as though suppressed laughter was crackling in the room. It was only some months later that someone kindly enlightened me that the hysteria had been caused by my dungarees: the zip at the back had begun to creep down as soon as I sat in my chair. The person behind me spotted this and alerted everyone else within view; as I sat oblivious and innocent, the zip continued to descend, helped along by a ruler wielded, gently but presumably with much pantomime, by the person behind me. (Oh the cruelty! That this should have been the only person I had ever wanted to impress only added to the retrospective, woeful, mortification.)

But you don't need me to tell you that the dungaree is rotten to the core. Just look at the picture.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Play misty for me

The view out of the cab window on Tuesday morning as we left Stanley. I did feel like asking my taxi driver whether he might not be getting a bit too old for this sort of caper: we crept along as he squinted uncertainly out of the window and tentatively tapped the accelerator as though he had no idea how to drive. It has been cool and very misty for a few days: I was absent in Singapore for a week, during which time my beautiful healthy plant grew sticky white mould on its formerly glossy green leaves, the couch got strange patches on it, and everything feels damp to the touch. I've had the dehumidifier running (I recycle the water into the cistern, never fear) and it fills in a day while I'm out at work.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Red hair got me into brawls

Aside from a period of around 8 years' duration when I dyed my hair black (although I emphatically wasn't a goth, I favoured pale skin and red lips, as well as black clothes, and consequently earned myself a cheerful greeting from a stranger in a Glasgow street: "Hello Morticia!"), I have been hennaing my hair since 1983.

I started at a new school at the age of 13, having been experimentally educated "at home" for the preceding four years. I was out of practice at being normal, and every day I was taunted by the sophistication of my new classmates: barely into their teens they might have been, but they knew things, they smoked cigarettes, they went to parties, they drank too much and they had lovebites bestowed upon them. Every day was terrifying to me.

With the money from my Saturday job I'd saved up and bought new clothes from the dirt-cheap fashion store on South Bridge, Edinburgh, What Every Woman Wants ("What Everys" for short), and emboldened I giddily acquiesced to my sister's suggestion one Sunday night that we should henna my hair. We mixed up the henna with a fork as instructed and piled the hot, stinking, red-brown vegetable matter onto my head. It stayed on for a long time, much longer than instructed because we had no idea what we were dealing with, and when we washed it off, in an astonishing transformation my hair was bright, shiny, and suddenly very red.

As bad luck would have it, I was late for school the next day. As I crept to my desk to sit down, I felt eyes on me in the silence. Then someone hissed loudly, nastily: "What's she done to her hair?"

"Probably dyed it", came the contemptuous answer. I shrank into my seat.

Early over-enthusiastic disasters behind me, I still henna my hair from time to time. The side-effects are always the same: it creates a terrible mess, with glops of muddy matter dropped everywhere by my careless hands; it's very strong and can dye your scalp if you let it; and it has a powerful smell, which doesn't wash off for a few days. But henna leaves my hair feeling soft and looking healthy, in pleasant shades of red which shine in the sun enough to gladden my shallow little heart.

[Picture from Tim Burton's fashion shoot for Harper's Bazaar]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)