Monthly Archives: March 2012


Sun’s out. Daffs are out. I’m out. Shuffling along Berwick Street in my sandals in the search for cloth for a very lovely client. I love this. Finding things. I can feel my eyes twitching, taking it all in. I’m on the hunt for silk satin for a wrap over dress. Sadly, both things fill me with horror: ‘silk satin’ because it has a life of its own especially on the cutting table and ‘wrap over’ because it’s a devil to get the angles right so that the front piece sits perfectly across one’s cleavage without that dratted gape. And don’t assume that having a flat chest makes it any easier…

My jolly forays to the cloth shops on Berwick Street are always tinged by a bit of discontent, though. I’ve been coming here for the best part of two decades and must have spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small country by now, but still, in some places I get no glimmer of recognition AT ALL, even though much of the time I’m wearing their fabrics. In other joints I have goodly chat, put the world to rights, ask about their children (and am asked about mine) and come away very happy, having spent a vast amount of cash. No prizes for guessing which establishments get my vote of confidence and my business.  It doesn’t take much brain to recognise a regular customer and say ‘good morning’ does it?

Berwick Street has changed a great deal since I first started coming here. If you’ve never been, it’s a long, narrow, busy street closed to traffic at one end where market stalls are set out . One time mostly fruit and veg stalls, the old boys rasping  ‘twofr’a paand’  at full lung and there are still one or two but most are now pop up food stalls, a chichi baker run by boys with beards and the fish man. It’s a street alive. Coffee house next to chippy next to cloth shop next to hardware store. It’s one of my best places and where some of my ashes will eventually be scattered (the rest split between Liberty – clearly surreptitiously done as I don’t want to end up in an industrial vacuum cleaner, Primrose Hill and a field in Wigan).

Anyhow, I’ve found the most glorious silk printed with fuchsia pink and indigo feathers. Sounds grim. Sounds a bit Dame Edna. But it will make the most glorious frock. A swooshing frock that makes a breeze.

I just have to make it now……


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Something Missing

Today is the anniversary of my mum’s death, well, it’s actually tomorrow by date, but today is the same day. Twelve years ago. The same sort of a day, too: bright sunshine, milk blue sky. Some years I can manage today without howling too much….Anyhow, this is a joyous poem for Eileen ( I might post the sad one later)….

Evening Garden

I loved those days in autumn when you’d still be out at dusk,

breathing in the last heat,

smelling of green,

delaying dinner.

I’d take you a sherry and you’d take off your gloves.

We smiled at sherry.

We liked its warm descent.

I’d bring the bottle out and a cardi and we’d have another,

resting the bottle on the moss stump.

And we’d talk of plants and soil and muck and weeds

and argue about where best to put the poppies,

the new ones, the ones that shiver at the slightest breath,

petals the colour of old silk knickers.

And the bit we liked best?

The indigo powdered centre, the whorish hidden middle.

I’d leave you, shaded blue against turquoise sky

and I’d hear the clank of tool against wheelbarrow,

tools older than you

oiled and sharpened and cosseted.

I’d hear the shed door close, padlock click

and the blackbirds flicking their song into the evening.

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My dear friend, The Voice of Sanity, suggested that I post this…..there is a yellow connection, I suppose…..

The Delight of Writing on a Banana Skin with a Ball Point Pen

Feel that tiny metal ball

and the skin yielding to it, making dark lines, not of ink.

Your name.

The texture of each letter wholly satisfying.

Making those lines, those marks identifying you.

Has everyone who left a banana felt this core ecstasy,

this daily sensual pleasure?

The bananas pile high in the bowl.

Yellow grins.

And later these skins will be discarded like old slippers,

browned and untouchable.

Whoever it was that invented the curved plastic banana holder missed the point……


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I want to wear yellow. Not the wishy washy pastel but he full on, rich, egg yolk yellow. It’s everywhere. It’s the sun streaming into my bedroom as I wake and the daffodils which have punctured the brown and barely there green of my borders with glorious, luminous technicolour. It’s glamorous, impractical, rarely seen on anyone over the age of 5 and deeply alluring – for me anyhow. The trouble is, I look hideous in yellow: a jaundiced Big Bird with red lipstick. Not good. So, it’s been relegated to linings, in particular to the lining of the skirt with the boats….I know it’s there and that makes me  smile.

I have come to terms with my delusions of glamour, born of too many lazy afternoons as a teenager glued to old films: if Edith Head had a hand in it, it was the film for me. I thought that it was perfectly reasonable to spend one’s adult life in acres of organza, that dresses (multiple, for every occasion) were an essential and normal part of one’s existence. Jeans? Don’t be daft. Perhaps, if I had a car engine to fix or a haystack to build, I might consider….Life has a funny way of slapping you in the chops and saying, ‘get a grip’.

I don’t mind not conforming. I don’t mind standing out. I like my clothes to be noticed (it is my job after all). And I don’t always need approval, nice though it is: a raised eyebrow or the flared nostril of contempt is just as gratifying. I am curious to see the type of person who does notice, though and I’ve discovered that they’re generally women of a similar age to me, sometimes well-dressed, sometimes not. Sometimes they’re young women and I’m not quite sure what they’re thinking, perhaps they’re indulging an old lady’s whimsy.

And that brings me on to the people whom I notice and although I have an obsession with what people wear, I notice more whether someone is at ease with themselves. One may wear the tattiest garb but still ooze style and that comes down to self-approval, to quite liking oneself. And that’s the stuff of PhD theses….

So, although I can’t wear yellow because it makes me look dead, what does it matter if I do the school run in a froth of pink chiffon? I’m happy.

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Berwick Street

I’m still pondering colour and although I wrote this a while ago, it continues the theme……


Berwick Street


To Soho we went

that damp Saturday, flat London drizzle misting our faces,

silver-gilding our hair.

You, small girl, fat hand in mine.

To the fabric shop, to the one that smells of incense and old wood

a smell of somewhere not England.

I pushed open the door.

Your chatter stopped and you loosened your hand,

drawn to the  bolts of cloth, to the clashing colour dyed in Indian heat,

printed on ancient tables

by filigree henna-ed hands: deft, precise.

Could you see them? The women near the mango tree in the courtyard?

Pinning out cloth to dry in the hum of the sun,

murmuring their soft song language.

It came to Berwick Street tight-folded and wrapped in ordinary brown paper

then stacked bolt on bolt

and we smoothed our hands across its cockerel colours:

hot pink, scarlet, turmeric gold,

tracing the patterns with our fingers.



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It’s done. The Coat has made it to The Wardrobe. I’m pleased with the seamlessness of this project: no misplaces snips, no unpicking, no unfathomable differences in hem length. Just straightforward, logical, successful dressmaking. I’ve put applied-welt pockets on the front panels (the sort of opening you see on a traditionally tailored jacket. You slash the jacket fabric and attach a piece of cloth to the cut so that it stands above the opening. You sew down the sides of the flap with tiny elf stitches et voila!) and I’ve steamed the seams and hem to within an inch of their lives. Happy lady.

I’ve been thinking about colour. In particular, about how people seem to shy away from colourful clothes just at the time in their lives when they ought to be increasing the colour quotient. We wear colour as children, indeed anything goes, but by the time we hit our late teens, we reject all things vibrant for the safety of black and find it hard to emerge from dark seclusion the older we get. Grey seems adventurous, we might even push it to camel.

I went to the Picasso exhibition at Tate Britain this morning and took a good look around me. Having done a brief and unscientific survey, I concluded that the majority of people at the exhibition were over 50 and that black, grey and beige beige beige were the colours of choice. I’m a huge lover of black but even I realise that my ageing skin hasn’t got the stamina to stand up to it unless the cloth is of fabulous quality (I’m thinking of the sort of sheen that you get from really good cashmere or the depth of colour from a fine wool). And as for beige… there anything more likely than beige to make you look like you’re heading for your pension? There was one woman who made my smile with joy. Without being offensively rude and asking her age, I’d say that she had passed 70 but she wore the most beautiful shade of violet: a tweed jacket with wide kimono sleeves and I couldn’t stop looking at her.  I had on bull’s blood red patent brogues and a dark orange scarf and when I stood next to the Lady in Violet, the colours made me shriek with happiness.

Inwardly, clearly…..

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There is a half-made coat in need of attention hanging forlornly on my mannequin. It will soon be too warm to wear a coat and it will sag and gather dust and fade in the sunlight til the autumn when I shall consign it to the drawer because it will have become too familiar and will no longer be the shape of the moment. It is there because I’m spending too much of my time thinking about writing and then writing and not enough time sewing. The trouble is that I am enjoying myself and something else will have to give….housework, that’s it. I needn’t wipe so many surfaces so regularly or make the beds every day (they do need airing after all) and no one will see the dust under the table or notice the rather lovely handprint pattern which graces the staircase walls. Squalor. That’s it. Houses can be too clean…..

So. The coat. It’s navy felted wool, almost black, double-breasted, knee length and cocoon shaped. The sleeves turn back and are wide and come to just below my elbows. It doesn’t have a hem yet or buttons but it’s very nearly there and today will be the day that it is promoted to The Wardrobe.

Keep you posted…


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