There isn’t room to hang all my summer clothes and as at the moment, it doesn’t look as though there will ever be summer again, they are in a large suitcase, suitably wrapped and mothproofed (see Susannah Frankel Independent 14.04.2012).
However, a friend was going away and although she assured me that the weather there was much as the weather here, I was looking for a garment I wanted to offer to lend her.
Unable to find it, I began unloading the whole lot to search – and found The Sundress.
It is among a small number of things, not all to wear, that I keep for talismanic purposes i.e. they mean something to me, inspire some hope; remind me of some vision of self or some aspiration that I can’t quite manage but I like the idea.
Every so often, I dump one of these objects having exhausted its magic, or pass it on cheering – but there are things I cannot part with.
I am the antithesis of a hoarder. When I moved from the family house to my present flat, a friend told me that I would fill a skip at either end and that I wouldn’t miss any of it. I miss a Prussian blue wool jacket from a shop called Les Deux Zebres in Covent Garden. Otherwise, she was right.
Though I wish I had kept more generally, especially in the matter of clothes for the days when what the fashion is means less to me, because the quality and colours of what I had were undoubtedly superior to what is currently predominantly on offer.
You do have the odd “find” but odd is the word: it is unusual.
Too many of the shops now offer rows and rows of limply similar dishrags. It is very sad when I remember how a stroll around the shops used to lift the heart, even if you couldn’t afford to buy anything.
And before you say “Oh, but you can shop on line” – I look, but I don’t very often find. The quality is the same and the screen is selling to a target audience and I don’t know that I was ever part of one.
I like to look and choose rather than fit in with everybody else because apart from the price and the quality, it is the tyranny of fitting in that is so depressing.
Stereotypes rule – fit in with your tribe.
What I can’t part with includes an old Jordanian kaftan, heavy with hand embroidery, for the terrace of my dreams: an Armani linen turban in which the proportions are wrong but the idea is good and I might get round to working from it one day – the longing to be chic doesn’t die: the sundress, neither skintight nor frilly, pure cotton, high waisted, French – to remind me that charm is not dead: and my father’s roll neck sweater. I cannot and do not wear these things beyond trying them on but touching them comforts me. I have some childish idea of sympathetic magic which suggests that, by their presence or just handling them, the qualities I think they embody will be reinforced in me.
I do the same with books. I had to stop buying the books I wished I could read (or absorb without reading) but occasionally (for example, the compendium on Chinese art, the new catalogue on ancient artifacts from Kazakhstan, a book on Jewish ethics) I find a book I just want to stroke, as I caress my two cherished pieces of Inuit art in the hope that what is within will seep magically through my skin into my soul.
I can read an article of journalism and so esteem what it encompasses that I want to lodge it in my mind – a mind burdened as minds often are with pin numbers and minutiae and birthdays – so you can see how I progress to the childish idea of absorbing it, as if by magic.
Not to forget is only part of the idea – the rest of it is that you remember when you need to – and that is just as magical. That, back through time comes an image, a taste, a feeling, a perception triggered by a colour, a line, a seam, a thought, a phrase…