24.9.09

Hot pants on high (or A bit more of Wee Me)

Buying our outfits for our first plane journey was a major event. These were the days of Vietnam, and the heady, hippy hangover after the Swinging Sixties (I was certainly into swings in the Sixties. And climbing frames and shutes aka slides. Roundabouts made me dizzy and there was always a risk of getting spun off and skinning your knees). The Beatles had not long gone their separate, long and winding ways, and Engerland swung like a pendulum do. Or did...Apparently.
My mother had decided that the situation called for The In Thing. Mini skirts were passé by now, and anyway, as we were growing girls on a budget, mini skirts were both a question of thrift and inevitability anyway. Besides, by this time, The In Thing was hot pants. Which should probably be hotpants, not hot pants, as the latter would suggest that a spell sitting on a sun-warmed pavement would have done the trick. And I guess The In Thing was actually hotpants or kaftans, but my beautiful, fashion-loving Mummy was adventurous where clothes were concerned, and besides, she didn't have to make the outfits this time, so hotpants it was.
In case you missed out on that particular stage in sartorial history, hotpants were shorts, or perhaps they dreamt of being shorts when they grew up, as they were very, oh but very very short. Glorified knickers, in fact. Not for the saggy-bottomed, that's for sure. And my mother was adamant (and not at all saggy-bottomed): we were going to England, world capital of hip gear and trendiness, encased in The In Thing.

The shop was more psychodelic than a yellow submarine or even a velvet underground, with half-dressed girls trying on fabric wisps and fringes which they pulled from shiny, white-and-gold boxes lined with coloured tissue paper. We had never in our short lives seen anything like it, and my sister and I hid behind a changing-room curtain, mortified with embarrassment and transfixed with fascination at the same time. I wanted a box. My two-year-old sister was happy to blow on the tissue paper and turn it into home-made confetti.
A lady not dissimilar to a triumphant opera-singer deposited a tower of shiny, white-and-gold, multi-coloured tissue-paper-lined boxes on a counter in front of our mother. She swooned. No, she didn't; I made that bit up. We raised the lids and the layers of floaty paper one by one as if a cloud of fairies might escape from within, and peeked inside, somehow terrified. Our mirror-plated hiding place in the changing-room was suddenly filled with glowing chrysanthemums, sugar-bright butterflies, vertiginous spirals, swirling paisleys, and exotic feathers. The fashion show began....

The great day finally came. Mummy had gone south some ten days earlier, to make sure that everything was ready for us in our new home in that scary place with the even scarier, English-foreign name of Maidenhead - good grief, what a name! - and we had been staying at her parents' home. My Magic-Puddings Granny had decked us out following her daughter's instructions to the letter: my sister wore a white, broderie anglaise blouse with short, puffed sleeves, and purple, paisley-patterned hotpants of the type with matching braces that crossed over in the middle of her back. Lederhosen without the front panel -and without the Leder, thankfully. I was truly ahead of my time, kitted out like a premature ABBA girl (the iconic Swedish group would leap sequin-clad onto the scene perhaps two years later), in blue, purple and white hotpants with a peacock-feather print. Over said pants, I wore a matching long dress with hundreds of tiny, fabric-covered buttons reaching halfway down the front, then open, rather like a coat, so that the hotpants were on display underneath. Totally vanguard, darling, totally 'in'. The It Sisters were ready to roll!

Daddy, modestly dressed in suit, tie and raincoat, came to fetch us in a taxi. "A taxi! Wow! Can I sit the wrong way round?" "Me, me!" - my sister was still a woman of few words at this point. Our grandparents, brave and proud, waving us off. "You both look very nice, dears. You will write to us, won't you?" Of course I would! There were still a few things I could do that my oh-so-cute sister couldn't; HA! But I was scared. This was it.
We slid past houses, gardens, shops, with their sad stonework and sadder, faded, grey window displays, a landscape of aging shooting stars whizzing past my nose pressed up against the window of the taxi, ghostly visions distorted by - by what? rain? tears?
Bye bye city, bye bye people, bye bye family, bye bye country. I'm going where the people talk funny. I'm going where nobody knows me.

This had been my world for eight years. A world of snowmen, lochs and Hallowe'en, smir and Santa, mashed neeps and Sunday School, rhododendrons and botanic gardens, great-aunts and fish on Fridays. My school, where we had built an Apollo moonshot from Ski yoghurt pots in July 1969; the dance academy where I had surpassed myself as an unconditionally inept tapdancer; the churches we had gone to to listen to my Reverend Grandpas; my cousins' house with the garden where the Easter Bunny lived; the West Kilbride sweet shop with its two counters, one normal height, one kiddy height for those of us with ha'pennies clutched in our fists and eyes only for chocolate spanners and spongy yellow and pink prawns, sherbet flying saucers and red licorice bootlaces; the Italian ice cream shops which were an integral part of Glasgow life. All this and a myriad of whirling, perfumed, stained-glass memories and emotions prior to that fateful day in the summer of '71, when they dressed me up as a gogo dancer and took me to live in England.

2 comments:

Language Garden said...

Beautiful.

MK said...

I have just read all your posts. Could not get enough of it. This is absolutely beautiful, rich and evocative, funny and deeply moving in a way. Please tell me there is more...

Mieke