Winning Ways With a Scarf

Apparently, the above knitted monstrosity represents an Ewok, which is something to do with Star Wars. It certainly looks cosy. I just don’t think I could carry it off, particularly at the Gulbenkian Theatre.

I’ve been thinking about clothes again. This is because tomorrow – yes, tomorrow (silent, childlike handclapping) I am due for one of my thrice-yearly outings. NB: apparently it is now considered poor English to say ‘thrice’. You can say ‘once’, you can say ‘twice’ but when it comes to ‘thrice’ you are only now allowed to say ‘three times’. B******s to that – it’s my beloved language, and if it was good enough for Shakespeare it’s good enough for me.

Tomorrow I am going to meet my friend N at the University of Kent for The Bletchley Girls. I have written about my friend N before. N used to be my boss but by some miracle we managed to stay in touch and become friends after I left the firm. I have written before about student productions N and I have attended at the Gulbenkian (a theatre on campus at the University of Kent) and also of the illicit amusement to be had from student productions, in Some Fairly Substantial Fairies. (It seems to be a day for links today; what a fiddle links are). This, however, looks like a nice change from that. It’s an evening with two ladies, Ruth Bourne and Pat Davies, both now in their nineties, who were part of the predominantly female work force at Bletchley Park during the last war, working night and day to intercept messages and break codes. Ruth Bourne was eighteen at the time, a naval rating selected to operate the Bombe – one of genius Alan Turing’s machines.

It sounds good – nothing to be sniggered at over coffee in the interval there (unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream). However, my mind has turned to more mundane matters. What to wear for it.

I was never very good with clothes, even when I worked for N in a posh office. It was always something of a struggle to compose my ‘look’ for the day, and sometimes I got it wrong and had to cower around all day in the wrong dress or even – more than once – non-identical shoes. You have to just keep your feet under the desk when you do that. Another tip – if yoghurt spills down your office blouse just before a client comes in – on with the cardigan and clutch it casually around you. Yet another – if skirt hem starts to unravel and no handy sewing kit in desk, staple said skirt. Aim sharp side of staple outwards otherwise – if tights ladder, arrest that run with a blob of nail-varnish or – if really desperate, soap. Soap tends to let you down.

The only thing I did get complimented on was my scarves. Year upon year there used to be a class advertised in the prospectus for the Adult Education Centre – Winning Ways With a Scarf, by Mrs Minnie HaHa, or something similar. Every year I planned to sign up for it, but never did. It sounded so like the one in the Joyce Grenfell monologue – Useful and Acceptable Gifts. I just seem to have a natural gift for impressive scarf-flinging. My niece taught me a new one a few years back – the back-to-front one that makes you look like Lawrence of Arabia. The trouble is, you can’t exactly venture out in an impressively-flung scarf and ‘nowt else.

arab scarf

Gosh, that’s a monster of picture. I thought it was going to be teensy.

[My father, by the way, danced with Joyce Grenfell in India. During the war. She would have been 106 if she hadn’t died in 1979. And drove her back to the railway station afterwards. Thought you’d like to know that. He was so proud.]

But now of course, there’s the money situation. I always wondered why old ladies’ clothes looked as if they had come from charity shops. Now I understand. It’s because they haven’t been able to buy any new ones for many, many years and the clothes have become… limp and vaguely grey. Eventually, presumably, if you carried on wearing them for a century or so, they would actually be all the same colour. Grey is the new… everything. Garments are quite substantial nowadays. They don’t tend to wear out, whatever Marks & Spencer would have you believe. They just gently, sadly, wilt.

What one has to do in this situation, Gels, is aim for the least unacceptable and/or least noticeable look. This will probably involve faded black leggings and the sale-reduced black ‘going out’ dress again. It’s so old it just kind of dangles, miserably from the hanger – no perk left in it at all. Or maybe I could aim for trousers and a cardigan with… something or other, possibly a tee shirt, under the cardigan. With a scarf to disguise or at least distract from its tee-shirt-ness. And footwear – well, it’s probably going to have to be the boots, even though it’s May and the sun has inconveniently started to shine. It’ll be evening. Bound to be a bit chilly and boot-suitable by evening. Or the flat shoes that start to pinch after half an hour but can be taken off in the car. I can drive barefoot. Except there’s all those bits of glass lingering around from when the neighbours’ ridge-tile crashed through the windscreen in a gale. It’s a toss-up between cuts or blisters, really.

No doubt one will cease to worry once in there and safely ensconced in one of those midget, itchy theatre seats. Have to stack the legs sideways to avoid pins and needles… No doubt Joyce Grenfell would have had to do the same.

But then of course, Dad being 6 foot 4, height wouldn’t have been a problem…

grenfell.png

Where have all the widgets gone?

Well, today, or to be strictly accurate yesterday at around 4pm, I finally entered the… what century are we in, now? That century.

The Amazon delivery man arrived with my Kindle Fire.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it would do. I had a Paperwhite, for reading books, and I thought that was pretty swish, but this…

My niece has got one, you see – the one with the kidneys/dialysis. I hardly ever see her but she has taught me, unwittingly and by example, a number of useful things. Or maybe I just mean I copy her. Yearning for my long lost youth. She showed me once how to drape one of those chequered Arab scarves round one’s neck and look like an art student. In her less seriously ill days, at any rate, she wore Doc Martins with skirts, and tattoos, and jewellery in her tummy. And you never knew what colour her hair would be. I remember at Dad’s funeral it was neon pink. She used to make me wish I’d been born a couple of decades later. Well, she has a Kindle Fire.

Apart from niece-envy, there were a couple more grown-up reasons. I had it in mind that anything resembling a computer, however mysteriously little, would cost £squillions, so I didn’t even bother to check. When I did check – although technically nothing is affordable – it was within my grasp. And then there was the failure with the smart phone. I think a smart phone is probably a step too far. It’s just too small, and scary. And the one I got – I don’t know – it just didn’t match my brainwaves. I do things one way, the smartphone did it another.

But as soon as I got started on the Fire I knew we were going to be friends. Ridiculous – because it has all the things a smartphone has – apps and whatever. I wasn’t even sure what an app was (though my nephew designs them for some hi-tech company – they snaffled him straight from university) until I started downloading them. Most important was the WordPress one, but I also found BBC i-player, Zoopla, Heart radio, a thing where you could tune into classical music from all over the world and something called Spotify.

So, at 2 o’clock in the morning I was still wide awake, tapping and swiping away and going “Aha – it does this” and “Aha – it does that” when it occurred to me that the delivery man, in bringing this little black box to my door, has in fact made obsolete in one fell swoop my television set, my generic mp3 player, my desktop computer and who knows what else? Maybe even the microwave.

Although of course I’ll still need the desktop for my 90 mph blog-post typing in Word (I prefer to cut and paste – less chance of losing the whole lot). And I’ll still settle down in front of the TV set with the cats of an evening. It’s just that now – I can watch TV anywhere! If I want to. I can check my emails anywhere! I can…

But how long my blog posts look, scrolling down and down and down. And it took me a while to work out where all my widgets went – all those neat little mini-programmes on the right hand side – Calendar, Category Cloud; Most Popular and Most Recent Posts. I mean, it’s not absolutely intuitive to turn a computer on its side.

Is it?