Last week while atendng a concert in the Brighton Dome we noticed that there was a sale of vintage clothes nearby and time to go to it. It was interesting.

I am a fan of charity shops. I often buy things there, which given the price you’ve paid, I then happily hack about, restyle, mend or do whatever’s necessary. Since I am small, any size can usually be adapted to fit me.

Vintage is a different matter however. For a start, the price you pay is significantly higher, almost as much as for a new article although in fairness, generally the vintage item has been, in its day, of superior quality.

Then the shape of woman, both in its natural form, and in its presented form, is quite different nowadays. Women used to be smaller, ie less tall, and thinner. Many older dresses are of such diminutive proportions there is no prospect of the modern woman squeezing into them. Undergarments are different too. Women wore corsets and had nipped in waists; they wore bust flatteners, or these peculiar pointed bras of the 1950s.

Plus lifestyle has changed. I can recall my own mother wearing a lovely suit to go shopping (for groceries). I have searched high and low for a similar material to no avail – it was of a fine wool, with a small houndstooth check in beige and cream. With this she wore high heels, cream leather gloves, and a beige pillbox hat with a veil. Well, we’re not going to grace Sainsbury’s in that ensemble, are we?

I tried on one coat (£175) because it was in a beautiful fine wool plaid that reminded me of my mother’s suit, in cream, beige and pale blue. It was immesely heavy to put on. It’s shape was peculiar – I don’t know what you would call it – the arms were sort of half magyar and didn’t hang well, and it came to my ankles. For £175 I’m not going to undertake a difficult re-making which may not be successful in the end.

But it was interesting to look at the clothes and reflect sadly that clothes one had worn in one’s youth were now ‘vintage’. There was a coat of that lovely colourful loosely woven tweed that was fashionable in the 1960s and which I coveted at the time (Bernat Klein); (it had sagged and was baggy, but I recalled that this happened to those worn at the time, so it wasn’t surprising); those brilliantly coloured psychedelic long dresses of the late 60s I think; pillbox hats; trim little duster coats with fur collars. There were some ladies shopping who were already wearing vintage. They looked – well, slightly odd; but interesting – adding to the gaiety of the nation.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that what I like is modern clothes, made to fit one’s actual figure, comfortable, and perhaps making a nod in the direction of vintage. Inspired by period pieces, but not actually one!


On Thursday 30 October, I went with John, Rory and Ewan to see the ceramic poppies surrounding the Tower of London this week.



As we approached Tower Bridge I was astonished by the crowds. It is difficult to describe the mood of the crowd. It was not, I think, sombre – it was a sunny day; people were on holiday.

Quiet, thoughtful, purposeful perhaps is the nearest I can come to – people had come specifically to see this sight.

It was interesting to look at. The backdrop of the tower, the huge stain at its foot of the ceramic poppies, the amazing juxtaposition of ancient buildings and very modern city, the River Thames, and the quietly moving crowd was quite spectacular and also surprising.

In one sense of course, a man made spectacle, however impressive (which this certainly was) can never overshadow a natural one. Real poppies would move in the light air. Their delicate beauty would take your breath away. Their fragility and transitory existence would be moving, and there would be the magic knowledge that they had flowered on this very day – this only day – when you by chance perhaps were passing through. Their blood colour and their association with sleep and death would be poignant.

This spectacle, while it celebrated the sacrifice and fragility of life, was about remembrance and faith, and physical effort. Every one of these ceramic poppies – there will be more than 800,000 by ll November, had been hand made by someone; had been planted by someone; had been purchased by someone in support of present day troops. As far as the eye could see, people stood looking at the scene quietly – they had each decided to travel to this place and witness this testimony. The soldiers whom the poppies represented – in their hundreds of thousands – had been laid waste, their blood spilt, their expectations cut off – but we had not forgotten them.

This was one of those days I was proud to be British, proud to be in our beautiful capital city, and happy to share the experience with a vast and diverse crowd. And to remember that over 450 of our sons have died in Afghanistan, and many more been cruelly injured.   We are still making these sacrifices.

Wear the poppy with pride and humility. We shouldn’t stop remembering. Remembering doesn’t mean we glorify war. We should remember the loss and the sacrifice – and the waste – forever.

(The photo is courtesy of John Armstrong.)