Wednesday, 14 January 2009


Watched a 'Style' programme on BBC4, covering the fashions and habits of wartime Britain. Clothes were, necessarily, less ornate, but elegant, nonetheless, and certainly smarter than they are now in our infantile age of tracksuits and trainers. Food was scarcer and frugally used, but healthier and more democratic since even the 'best' restaurants were obliged to offer meals at a government-fixed price, equating the cost of a meal at The Ritz, for instance, with one at a Greasy Spoon in the old East End. There was a sense of danger, the Blitz making every hour an uncertain proposition. So people made an effort to look their best and get on with it. Ostentation and excess were out. You had to make do and mend.

I still have many of my grandma's things from the 1940s, including photo-magazines dramatically capturing The Blitz, and a whole trunk full of clothes patterns. (Such was grandma's skill at making do, I even have a few of her old wartime Clothing Coupons.) When I downsized here from her old house to my tiny one, my biggest regret was leaving her old treadle-operated Singer sewing machine, although I still wear the magnificent sheepskin coat she made on it (after the War) and one or two other pieces untroubled by the moth. Grandma always looked stylish, although her 'look' was probably fixed in the 1930s (and I still have her Twenties silk wedding gown and tennis dresses). She carried on making do and mending long after the War was over, guided by the less-is-more principle and the kind of 'investment' dressing that valued quality above all else. Her clothes were always made of the finest wool or silk or cotton, with the exception of her nylon stockings (after rationing had stopped, of course).

On Monday, on a two-hour break between trains in Reading, I wandered aimlessly around the Sales; but, in spite of the 70 percent reductions (which mean little, really, since most of these things were over-priced in the first place), I saw little of enduring value and certainly nothing to tempt me to do my patriotic bit and spend (how absurd that diktat is!). It was the same in Truro yesterday, which is now making me wonder why I am bothering to 'save myself' for London when I go up again next week. There are more interesting things to be had in many of the charity shops, my current favourite being The Salvation Army one off Regent St, W1. It seems as though we have become so used to an excess of disposable tat (a throwaway consumer society, sacrificing to to the gods of shopping every Sunday), we just can't cope when 'deprived' of unlimited opportunities to spend. God help this country if we were under fire like the people of Gaza. It has now become politically unwise for a Labour Goverment to start issuing austerity measures (though the Tories had no choice during the War), so instead, we get the likes of Peter Mandelson promising to shore up businesses (what businesses., I wonder - not bloody INDUSTRIES, I bet) with taxpayers' money 'to get the economy going'. I object to this. Sure, the Thatcher government did nothing to help the miners and everything to help Britain run down into the stupid, financial services-led economy that has got us into this current mess; but non-intervention can, sometimes, make people more resourceful - happier, even, in their own resourcefulness. As someone living on a fixed income, and recently a semi-invalid, I hated the excess of recent years. I longed for a time of more frugality, reflection, quality, genuine creativity, rather than the celebrity flim-flam kind (a la Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand - you know what I mean). Maybe the hour is coming. So let's make do and mend..

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