The easy answer… money. I wanted to work for the chunky hand-knit people, silk and cotton, 3D texture and colours like a butterfly’s wing – artworks of clothes that made my heart sing. They looked at my work - said, “We’ll hire you but we can’t pay.”
Do I sound bitter?
My ally was a Polish technologist with a sense of humour, too old or usually too high to care about politics, who feel asleep in meetings and smoked weed at the office party. I had a worrying moment with him in a car in
I remember your 21st birthday. You were as green as the avocado you had never tasted before. We took you out and got you drunk on pina coladas in St Christopher’s Place. You usually took a sickie on office lunch party days but we all knew you just couldn’t afford the bill and were too proud to say so. As proud as the tulips I chose for you from the flower stall at
What was my favourite colour, I remember you asking me. “White for Rolls Royce, black for women” I replied. You giggled and I resolved to make you laugh again. We all deserve to enjoy life. It’s what I have learnt during my time here. My god is a jealous god. He promised
The bosses did not have ‘engaged’ lights on their office doors for private and delicate staff appraisals of the written type only. I found I had seduced someone without trying when I naively invited him back to my hotel room for a coffee while travelling. His face fell as the hotel out the kettle, cups and instant, thoughtfully provided me and I realised how naivety both protects and exposes you.
The stories of what others had done were part of the mythology of the industry. The fashion trade invited a look at what was attractive, but also seemed temporary in every aspect of its collections of clothes, people, and relationships. One queen bee saw me admiring her diamond and ruby rings and scowling told me she had looked at a lot of cracks on the ceiling to get these.
Luna livesMost politics and people spotting, including the dating agency bit for the princesses went on in the dining room where we would spend half an hours having tea and crusty rolls with butter and marmalade in the morning about 9.30am. If you were travelling this ritual was transferred to the first class dining car of the 8/8.30 St Pancreas to Leicester where the boys ate kippers or fried breakfast - the works - but if you were a girl it was only seemly to have tea and toast. The latter was £4 and the breakfast was £7.50 and there was a hierarchy in what you could get signed off for your expenses. The hierarchy was most transparent in anything to do with dining. If you were a pleb you went for lunch a block away for warmed up TV dinners - fish and potatoes followed by a thick and creamy yoghurt was pretty good. However, if you were a big, clever, important and therefore short of time you were promoted to the downstairs dining room and you could see and be seen the other mover and shakers. Getting out for lunch allowed me to indulge my hobbies, especially when I was returned as a graduate on the riches of £10k pa to shop the whole of
Reviews were meetings where the girls got to show the boys the clothes they had poured heart and soul - or as much as was politic - into for the last 6 months. They were a chance for the bullies to put their feet on the table, swagger, and chat up the girls who were wearing what would make outsiders think this was a cocktail party. One selector was notorious for getting my range passed by the opportune wearing of a see-through blouse. Even if you did not buy into this you were still fair game. As I showed a £5 million baby wear range for the first time in my career, terrified in sensible investment black ‘all round’ pleated skirt and smart shiny new silver and white striped blouse the, very handsome, exec. On the front row of the massed ranks of our 20 strong buyers department and hangers on asked me “You are a nice little girl. Are you wearing suspenders?” - Again, the fear, embarrassment, anger and wordless search for a witty reply. The only way to save my dignity was to stick to my script - “This year we are planning to introduce a new line in extra soft white matinee for the high spending first time mother to swaddle her precious new baby…the handle of these garments is dreamily warm and tender for baby’s skin…would you like to feel…”
medallion man maroon
We talked about having our own collection inspired by the poems of Dylan Thomas which we discovered we both loved; as we sketched out ideas in my sketchbook, in my head I was making up names for his gorgeous skin:
chocolate coffee milk shake
I was starting to ache in places which reminded me that they weren’t supposed to be going to have sex as the whole conversation with myself about what is mating for if it does not lead to commitment and children would be way to scary for her in her blessed ignorance. Then he passed us a beer and she melted and they had to redo several sketches the next morning as the beer/noodle, secretions combination made the colours run. We worked together a lot after that and I was amazed at our ability to mingle work and pleasure and be so productive, although productivity of a more personal nature was never far from my mind.
As family was obviously so important; when we sold a collection to Whistles we cut out the lay of fabric on the sun bed at his mother’s hairdressing salon. After a baptism of fire by chillies in her supper - they all laughed as Stella turned pink then purple - I was part of the family and could turn up anytime, have my hair cut, be fed, get laid and make my own contribution to sorting out the swimwear franchise in the shed or stitching wedding dresses in the backroom.
I was enjoying belonging so much; made a friend of his menopausal mother whose thrifty therapy was to go to M&S, buy 3 outfits, put them away and gloat over them, then take them back next week and get 3 more. I was constantly re-inventing myself too. I got a reputation for helping with hair colouring in the Salon and soon boys skateboard-ed the suburbs with rainbows over their left ear.
I was obviously in the wrong place in my home-made clothes and wearing my dreams - intoxicated by my fashion friends at St Martins, wanting so badly to design. I was in the wrong place. Passed over for promotion again, subtly sent on a team-building course for being an unchangeable 100% stubborn super-plant and hearing someone observe I was the only gentile in that department. I was outside the loop.
I called a lunchtime cappuccino conference (hobby no 2) with my mate Sasha, a fellow design graduate who flirted better than I and had got promoted, and my cynical student trainee Fiona. The scene: small coffee house off
“What’s occurring?” asked Janet of Socks, the generous Australian - generous with her men’s socks and with her cleavage and her laughter and hence a favourite of my boyfriend. I explained. Janet countered that I had no business worrying as I had a nice life and should enjoy it, as she knew how to party. She had just received a letter from her Bank Manager pointing out that in view of her £2K overdraft £27.67 at the Finchley Tandori last Friday night seemed a little excessive. I did have a nice life.
But I wanted my patch, to make real in fabric and stitches anyway, all the pent up colour and design in my head. Yes I had a good life. I travelled a lot with my job; was wined and dined by people in the industry about which I felt a real passion. OK salary, non-contributory pension scheme, carriage clock, job for life (if you were really awful you got moved into broken biscuits or staff uniforms), company doctor, dentist, a head-swelling acre-age of desk, but no soul.
Then I got some horrid itchiness and whether it was an allergy to the chemicals at the Salon or just too much sex decided to take myself to the clinic. Cervical cancer and I was firmly in the sympathy seat. Tears and I blurted it all out to his Mum. They were lovely. Took me to the hospital in
And family was everything to them, so strong you could build empires on its Anglo-Indian foundations, and family was something we couldn’t do for him, for them, a son to take over the shop and look after gran. My guilt was eating away at her and making me edgy. She quit again, took the cowards way out and wrote a Dear John letter. He wouldn’t accept it, lets just fuck – you’ll feel better he said. But I couldn’t trust myself to feel better and not let him down.
Years later he sent us a photo of his firstborn - envelope postmarked
I felt wounded and too hurt to risk that loss again. We had a series of flats, cats and design jobs and I started listening out for healing stuff - homeopathy, spotting patterns - textiles and remedies were both about spotting patterns - and I was looking for a miracle cure so she could be whole again. And I wanted us to research our genealogy - where did that hole in our DNA come from?
I was looking for clues. Why us? Why were we born without all working parts? We had had glandular fever in our teens - that can make your periods stop - I remembered it was a pleasant time. Us lying around on the lounge carpet playing Mum’s Beatles, Stones, Simon and Garfunkel. A wistful, spacey, sexy soundtrack to our adolescent longings. Homeopathy said that every disease had an emotional/spiritual manifestation. Did my sister we spend our teens in a throw back music world instead of punk rocking with our peers as we were unable to face making a stand outside the pack? Our alpha-male was certainly dominant. And he had strong views about sex before marriage and babies out of wedlock. We were a church-going family. But there was more to it than that. I remembered first grope-ings at teen parties… out of her head with cider and guilt. Did we - could we - shut down my reproductive system as she was so shit-scared of getting pregnant?
I knew there was an issue in my Dad’s family. We weren’t close on that side like my cuddly huggy nana with her apple-pie goodness and my poor granddad dying too young from liver cancer like others at the lead paint processing plant he cycled to every day. “I didn’t have him for long enough. We were so happy together.” They cuddled up and ate fish and chips in bed as he convalesced. She told me your belly button was to hold the salt…
Her sister Lucy came to live with Nana after Granddad died (our little sister sent her a cheer-up card with granddad a pin man in a hospital bed like a dead bug with legs in the air. Straight to the point, and hilarious, tears and laughter - so close). Lucy said Granddad was adopted from a girl who was the maid at the big house and had the cliché bastard by the randy son. That explains the buck teeth and high foreheads that mingle with the salt-of-the-earth
So unfortunate fecundity there, and there was certainly no problem breeding on my nana’s side as she was the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters. Lucy didn’t have children but she said men made you do terrible things and she would give Stella extra pocket money if she didn’t do them. This was the extent of our sex education along with plant diagrams and looking up ‘rude words’ in the dictionary with my cousins, until a gentle biker in black leather showed her which bits fitted together and ever since I have associated the smell of burning rubber with that anxious dry pain and understood why seemed so relieved that widowed by the war she could stop doing those things. But with practice they became less frightening and juicier although I never like the rubber smell.
There was a different relationship on my Dad’s side - a distance, a sadness, not explained, only by a male parent’s lack of a vocabulary as underneath it I could sense a real hunger for family love, a desire to hold on to his daughters and never let them grow and go.
She was hotly pursued by many but found her-self unaccountably falling in love with the lodger form hell who had broken the washing machine. A recent divorcee he did not know to use one having been possessed previously of a first a mother then a wife to take care of domestic technology. He finally proposed when he tactlessly bought Sasha a table for her new flat when she was doing the cool independent woman bit and he was taken in by the ploy too much ‘till she burst into tears at the house-warming gift. The house was never warmed and they now live with the surfboards and the barbeque and his sister on Muswell Hill.
“Either you sell out, get a see through blouse and learn to down more pints than the next guy while talking pocket money with the boys, or you move somewhere they want a girl who has a unique sense of style which even her mate cannot predict from day to day”, said Sasha. So I bought the Drapers Record in the newsagent across the road and saw the ad: Buyer, children’s wear. Rose Hedges international retailer of printed dresses and furnishings. Double my salary, develop international product ranges for this new venture by the queen of florals and frills.
Luna is angry
“In the traditional African Community someone who is sick or troublesome is considered to be bearing the ills of the community. Healing the individual is to heal the community. A sense of the disease and disquiet with what we see around us is almost universal. If we could see the distress of others as the responsibility of us all we would begin to hear the message.”
Conventional wisdom –that is research paid for by the drug companies – says that a woman after the menopause is deficient in hormones that maintain her bones, keeping her strong. So a patient like Luna would need Hormone Replacement Therapy, especially as she is of slight build, so her bones would not be naturally strong from carrying a lot of weight around. I made the appropriate prescription.
“My moods fluctuate. I’m not in control of what I’m feeling. In the second half of the month I feel irritated by everything, and irrational. I can get really angry and take things people say to me way too personally. My anger comes out like a rash. I get all touchy and snap at the slightest thing, at nothing at all, and feel like throwing things. With alcohol it’s even worse, I feel trapped in my head like I’m going to explode.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking – it’s not me, it’s like I’m possessed. Something takes me over, intrudes on my life, my relationships, my personality. I feel drugged, out of touch with myself.”
I looked at her intently as she was telling me this. Her shoulders were tense, held high near her jaw. Her skin was spotty. She had put on a bit of weight. Her eyes were lightless.
“Early days! How long is long enough to feel like this. I want to feel how I do naturally, not be programmed by some pills for the rest of my life just because some drug company found an angle it could sell on some chemicals it was messing around with.”
I sighed; Luna had highlighted one of the shortcomings of modern medicine. “Let me have some time to do some research. Leave off taking this prescription. Come in and see me again in a couple of weeks.
Luna was pleased. She really liked the Doctor. She didn’t act like she had all the answers. She trusted her to really think about what to do, meanwhile she was going to look for some answers of her own, if her biology was her destiny, then could someone read the map of her palm and tell her what road to take?.
‘HRT is one of the worst blunders of the 20th century... Any benefits have been demonstrated to be statistical sleight of hand. When you look at the data, the supposed protective benefits fall away.’ (Lynne Mc Taggart of What Doctors Don’t Tell You.)
Fifteen years ago Dr. Grant wrote of a disturbing trend in
Today this worrying trend saw a sales total for HRT in
The principle of HRT is that it supplies us with hormones when our own production slows down. Thus we can avoid the hot flushes, night sweats and other symptoms associated with the menopause. The consultant who prescribed it for me after I was diagnosed menopausal in my 30s sold it on the basis of how embarrassing it would be for me and my husband if I had to go and visit the toilet between courses in a nice restaurant, (oestrogen helps keep the sphincter muscle at the base of the bladder tight, as oestrogen declines it can become weak). With that one message he introduced the spectres of aging, lack of control and loss of attractiveness.
Most women cope with this without the life crisis much talked about in the media, and are glad to do without the menses and the worry of contraception. These signs can be easily managed by diet and herbs, and if they are causing anxiety a remedy will get to the root of the problem. Contrast the supposed cure...
So, from the mafia to the taffia. They were either ginger men with freckles or dark haired with bears and business was done in pubs, in
“It was heavenly” I enthused to Sasha on the way to the Tube. “There were roses round the car park, a jungly hanging basket had taken over reception and nymphs in prints were padding around in bare feet under the sunny glass ceilings. My potential boss was wearing linen shorts and a white pique soft shirt.” Sasha appreciated these details as only another fashion victim repressed by a mega store giant can. We decided to take refuge in Jeeves for more chat. We waved at the barman and retreated past the execs in pinstripes to our leather clad refuge snug. He appeared efficiently moments later with our regular order of two large gin and tonics (easy on the tonic) and nibbles.
“So did you impress them” asked Sasha between slugs, lighting a cigarette and inhaling without even looking which always terrified me as she frenziedly waved the flaming match around to extinguish it. Sasha had been involved in daily consultation and three shopping expeditions re. the interview suit. It was a shop suit breathing success from the shoulder pads down to the slightly short skirt which said I’m comfortable enough about being a career girl to wear fashionable things. “Actually I think I looked slightly out of place”, I confessed. I had realised that when I saw the redhead receptionist with ponytail tendrils in denim chambray behind the antique desk. “So I rolled my shirtsleeves up, draped my jacket casually over one arm hiding my Fendi handbag underneath it. I was tempted to pluck a rose from the arch round the door and stick it in my hair but then decided I would look like a Hawaiian call girl.”
"Well, I think so. She smiled ever such a lot and I don’t think she spotted the little ‘lie’. Sasha raised her eyebrows enquiringly and murmured “oh no” sympathetically. “Well, I didn’t mean to but I think the agency had got the wrong end of the stick when I was telling them how I ran the ladies gloves single handedly, and they had provided this organisation chart with me as chief prima Donna and I just didn’t like to disappoint so I added a few details about my buying trip to Florence last month.”
“What, when you went with your boss “for inspiration” which turned out to be her buying three Benetton sweaters and shagging her new knitwear agent?” Sasha had worked this out from my account of them both going to her room ‘to look at swatches’ after dinner…
“Yes. Well I gave them the briefest outline so their imagination could fill in the details.”
Sasha looked shocked. She tended to blush to the ankles at the merest hint of an untruth. In fact her Art College Head told her she had taken her on for her sense of humour when she had stood up half way through her interview and said just forget everything she’d made up till now and asked if she could go out and come back in. They didn’t have time to hear her real academic history but thought she was ‘a sweetie’ worth having.
“Well, actually I don’t think she was very well. My boss had a sofa in her office and she came and curled up in a little ball in the corner of it and kind of propped up her head on a few cushions.” “Funny” said Sasha, “I’ve seen male executives do that. She didn’t pat the cushion next to her invitingly?”
“No, she just closed her eyes and murmured a few questions then said she’d look forward to me starting. Well, then I had to see the Personnel Manager.”
“I expect she gave you a camomile tea from a sprigged tea cut to soothe your nerves?” asked Sasha, who had clearly got the measure of the place.
“Well, no. Her office was all black leather sofas and those Habitat black wood desks and bookshelves with angled lights and she had on some kind of tight strapless top and a very short skirt with a blond bob. Needless to say my jacket was straight back on, legs crossed to show my black lace tights, a sample from
“I don’t know whether I’ll hear from them again. I do so want the job. My boss said it would be like having my own business - you know, complete control, not just polishing paperclips.”
I joined a team of three buyers compared to the 3000 I must be leaving... One was cute - there since the start - and wise. She did knitwear and whisky with the Scottish Border boys. The other new girl with me wore alarmingly little and tilted her pelvis towards you as she spoke in a way which suggested curiosity and a voracious sexual appetite. She did swimwear and sheer fabrics in
For the word ‘buyer’ was a misnomer. We were there to take orders from the merchandisers/shop girls. And now I learnt some lessons in International politics.
These British were atypical of the rag trade. In an industry where you were always working on a collection for a least a year ahead the dress code among the in crowd was to show a healthy disregard for this year’s colour/style, unless it was directional, read expensive, or a vintage classic - or a good rip off of the above. Hence the fashion editors’ enthusiasm for sleek dressing in black for all occasions showing you knew better than to waste your hard earned on the frivolous throw-ways we were selling to the hoi polloi.
But in the power dressing 80s, think shoulder pads and brief case and the pathetic ploy of dressing more manly than the men, the Rose Hedges girls were wearing frocks!
In their puff sleeves and lace collars, lawn dresses sprigged with flowers, implausibly teamed with navy blazers and BMWs they descended on our design office like a county wedding party. This group uniform looked strangest of all on their size 18 boss who fired memos like missiles from her Maidenhead office to the depths of
Now we had the power struggle after the death of the first designer manager whose name was her brand and her vision of a simple, pretty, comfortable country lifestyle - country living for the girl about town. In the design office we had a vision. And so did everyone else.
The scary Americans fast talking and Gucci handbag bludgeoning us into doing things the Texan way, the New York way, the mid-west way - for they wore the cult of the individual as their constitutional right and never agreed with each other.
The chic Europeans who intimidated us by their sheer style into delicious colour combinations which we would sell no more than 2 units of - for themselves to wear.
The inscrutable Japanese who would never tell you what they wanted as it would be impolite, as it may put you in a position where you were not in agreement with them, which could not be as they did not know what they wanted anyway.
The fun loving Australians who said it was all super and asked if you could supply it just for them in a beach neon palette of shocking pink, lime and orange.
And the British, with our innate snobbery which does not deign to explain why we know better than any foreigner how things should be as that is just how it would be best.
So we stood and showed our beautiful children’s wear in tasteful translation of the new coral from
‘I’ll take it in candy pink’ asserted the American fruitarian, delicately picking at the single strawberry which was all she ate daily, despite the protestations of our Maria (a super pasta chef who made our lunches a carbohydrate addiction,) that she needed feeding up. There was surely a danger than she would slip between the spokes of her exercise bike and have to miss a day’s work being expensively extracted.
For working 24/7 was the one cult the Fashion trade agreed on. Always chasing the next collection we produced 6 a year. You were always late; late with the new colour, notoriously late with the deliveries from Portugal when no rain meant no water to dye our fabrics; late to the next meeting of which there were double the amount you could meaningfully attend and achieve anything in between more than a coffee and a pee.
Various strategies were adopted to never miss a day from illness, jet lag or babies. The British boss swigged Bennelin from the bottle frequently, a firm believer in its prophylactic powers to prevent disease. If any of her assistants looked peaky the bottle was meaningfully pushed in their direction. Our samples came back from their offices stinking of the pharmacy.
The Americans never went on holiday, which was a pity. As we sat, soporific and stinking of garlic after another delicious bowl of pasta, the phones started ringing with the shrill tones of the angry, urgent American who had skipped breakfast to get in early to bollock you for your latest late, expensive and way too European delivery/non-delivery.
Delivery was constantly talked about of garments flown round the globe by women who would be rushed in an ambulance from a board meeting if her contractions started early - for her to get on the phone from the labour ward to chase things along, or ‘expedite’ in the jargon.
For the phone was our weapon against lazy, late suppliers of wrong colour, too big/small, poorly stitched/printed/pressed garments - and against each other. For as our personnel grew quicker than our sales in an empire building exercise which threatened to steal every dollar our loyal happy customers were paying, we wasted hours, pounds, dollars, guilders, yen, francs warring with each other as responsibility was chased from the offices of anyone with anything to do with the gentlest, most feminine brand name in rural idyll dreaming.
Consultants came and took more dollars without taking any responsibility to try to reconcile us to the business of doing business together. The word ‘strategy’ was added to every paragraph of any memo winging its way from or to
He - for it was still a ‘he’ was a jazz loving Dutchman who felt that girlies didn’t understand strategy and so it was best fro him to overrule our carefully judged sourcing policy playing to the quality and cost strengths of our suppliers and get on all our goods made in the US as he was concerned by the fall of the dollar to the detriment of the buying power of our darling US babes. Apparently the suggestion had arrived as an early evening command from the US, followed by the implicit assertion that to not comply would be cissy and the friendly threat - ‘I’ll touch base with you later’ meaning ‘I only want to hear ‘yes’. I’ll give you a few hours to sort out your little local difficulties’.
We had just visited a lovely factory in
I saw a future without the proud can do attitude of the Carnarvon factory. One where
And so it came to be until sitting in a lovely restaurant on a coral beach in
That would be Stella - let down by me - putting her in danger when I should have protected her - just because of my need to really feel... she closed down and stopped communing with me - does she even know I'm still here?
This tells me you were a tactile child; that you did like physical affection even though it wasn’t forthcoming as much perhaps as you would have liked, or even as much as it should have been. Feel is part of your learning experience and in fact you absorb an awful lot of information through your fingers tips - probably the sort of person who gets thrown out of museums for touching things!…..and as a child you’d have loved velvet cushions and fluffy thistledown and smooth stones.
That was that day we went to the Witches Museum in Boscastle - sad,dark, damp atmosphere - chilled us to the bone - at least we could talk about it then and keep each other company that night... Oh I miss our chats - psychic phenomena indeed! I'm as real as Stella is!!
A great believer in education I had 11 GCSEs, 3 A’s and a B at A Level, a 2:1 BSc in textile design, my Duke of Edinburgh award, cycling proficiency, Brownie homemakers badge, Guides knotting badge, Rangers canoeing bade. I had never seen a school like this. There was a brain washing in the heroism of work-all-night to deliver your epic 5000 word masterpiece on just how the world will beat a pathway to your door to buy your better mousetrap. Egos as big as Genghis Khan’s argued it out in study groups as to why they were so right they really had no need to be studying here and should tell the lecturers how things really were. I discovered the world of fashion was a narrow, inspirational privileged one and that I was ideally suited for it, being a plant - read ideas person with no interest in completing/finishing and solely dependent on my one technique of inspirational leadership. Great for enthusing designers, suppliers and selling to shop girls but singularly ineffective on engineers, accountants, strategic thinkers, human resource managers and marginally better on entrepreneurs looking for someone fool enough to invest with them in their big idea, which of course I did not want to do as I didn’t want to play in anyone’s team but my own.
Looking back I think that year learning about busy-ness as Dickens would have termed it, taught me how little interested I was in business. People, yes. Ideas, yes. Budgeting and pricing, just about. Anything else had me handing in a caffeine supported C grade paper and heading off to a party. I took refuge in my all time disguise - chameleon clothes and picked the perfect outfit for every occasion while writing a satirical column in the student newspaper about everyone else’s - it was a short column - there were only two possible outfits for the mainly male students. Tank tops for the geeky academics including some outrageous intarsia ones if they were from the class, which played golf, and blue jeans with, check rugby shirts for the engineers, marketers, salesman, strategic thinkers (jumped up marketers and salesmen?) accountants and entrepreneurs. For the girls there were all round pleated skirts for the human resource managers, blue jeans for the for the marketers etc and very short white shorts and tennis tops for the nubile Danish exchange students who were completing their MBA - God knows why - in the Bedfordshire marshes instead of Copenhagen.
The sleazy Irish course leader told us no one every failed. We would hope not having paid 15K and given a year of our precious time. For them to teach us everything you ever needed to know about how to run a successful business who could say what was the right answer to that little puzzler? No one. So instead they taught us ‘a tool kit’ of accountancy, statistical, information system skills etc. etc. and sold us cute cartoon books on product, price, promotion, place/how to do marketing which patronised us. Aged 25 - 50 we all had to pass a test on hard sums and regurgitate stuff out of books just like when we were kids. Fear is a great leveller and stress is a great aphrodisiac. We discovered the real point of the year out. Make friends and crib from the guy who can do strategy in the European Union. Once we all realised this is was one long party to the bemusement of the guys in tank tops who felt they were there to learn and important answer to an intriguing question, and would probably end up doings PhDs and joining the faculty.
There were some crap lecturers. One asked the assembled ‘blue stream’ - yes, that old boarding school trick of competitive houses was used - to look at a ‘paradigm shift’ image composed of a positive image - two faces and a negative one - a vase - “can you all see them?” “No”, a brave and embarrassed student put up his hand. “Which one can’t you see?” demanded the arrogant lecturer. Empathy was not his bag although he was supposed to be teaching consultancy skills. “What can you see?” would have illustrated his point perfectly with matching his customer’s viewpoint. To expect your customer to tell you what he/she doesn’t know is arrogance born of ignorance.
I survived the year with monthly purchases of Domestos to sterilise the increasingly disgusting shared bathroom and learnt some unarguable truths:
1. That you can never expect a man to clean up the mess which he cannot see and would not care about if he could.
2. That men are immune to hint and subtle nuances to sharing cleaning responsibilities.
3. That the battle of the sexes is only played by the fair sex and the other lot are too busy working/having fun to dispute territory in the domestic arena.
I got 70% in my Finance exam despite not adding up any of the numbers. I had a good eye for proportion and sums took me way too long. I passed Stats. too, after extra cramming with a lovely lecturer of the tank top and twinkly eyes variety. Bright as buttons and so wise he told me not to worry. For the rest of my life no one would care or even ask to see my Stats mark.
What are we doing here? It was a submarine. An Alice though the looking glass place where my kindly stats man had the smile of a Cheshire cat, the male students all seemed as alike to me as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Mad Hatters lecturers had their tea party daily in a corridor named ‘the Forum’ - echoes of carry On films… straight lines, roman arches, for in their eyes they were setting the rules, making the matrices which governed the game called ‘business’. “Ah busyness. It’s all a game” says my father. But more fool you if you think you now the rules.
One thing working in fashion has taught me is: nothing works better for making money than intuition, so show me who can teach you to use your third eye, your far seeing behind the eyes visions and make them reality.
The only lecture I remember now was on chaos theory. This described the world I knew. Keep changing; keep evolving. Watch nature… a dinosaur. Too old and slow; becomes extinct. How ants have the best organisations - have conquered the planet with their small scale ever moving mountains, curious unspeaking - no visionary leaders, no fat cats taking the profits, they are master engineers of a solution to every habitat they choose. Eat your heart out Enron. When you need food and shelter the only kind of numbers that matter are your brothers and sisters. How do you get an ant to labour with a crumb four times his size and return it to the ant hill? Offer him a pay rise? A company car? Promotion to an anthill in
Chaos theory… a butterfly's wings in
‘Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can? No grief or hunger for brotherhood of man’. But you see, I can’t do Buddhism. There seems to me an innate contradiction between the designer who wants to make her mark, describe her idea in reality whether colours, fabrics, words, bricks, sand (do you know some American Indians use sand pictures as medicine?) and the Buddhist who knows this life is all a mirage, a trial of how we do with our Karma. This time before we pass back into the greater whole, which we are all but many faceEd expressions of.
So here I was out of my element, on an airfield with no clothing retailers, no pocket money. So I acted on my sense of what kind of clothing retail fitEd with my developing spirit and offered Oxfam some free consultancy to be written up for the how to do marketing guru. He was an amazing ego. If he couldn’t attend a lecture in Bedfordshire as he had to be in
Underpaid earnest types in
· women’s potential and function are biologically destined
· women’s worth is determined by fecundity and attractiveness
Champions of the menopause as a ‘passage to power’ like Lesley Kenton contrast our prejudices today with the accepted role of the ‘wise woman’ in many cultures; historically she was the one who through whom the oral tradition of medicines like herbalism, as well as more spiritual approaches, thrived. In traditional Maori culture the older woman becomes a kuia who has the status to perform various rituals that younger women cannot perform. It is obvious to homoeopaths that the more positive experience of getting older, seeing it as a journey to power and respect within the community, will result in less, and less troublesome, symptoms. American anthropologist Marcha Flint argues that the relatively high incidence of menopausal symptoms experienced by women in Western society is a result of the negative status given to aging women in our societies so that menopause is a symbol of this and a transition from an acceptable role which I summarise as feminine carer and provider to an unacceptable and scarcely defined role, - a kept woman who is wrinkled and whose breasts sag? Flint contrasts our experience with that of women in the Rajput caste of North India for whom menopause is a liberation from purdah, a time to enjoy previously forbidden activities such as visiting other households and talking to, even drinking with the men. These women had virtually no symptoms.
As Sandra Coney writes of HRT in The Menopause Industry, ‘despite the lack of proof of safety or usefulness, these interventions are already on their way to becoming an accepted part of the health scene... women are duped by the apparent ‘normality’ of these interventions to believe that they must have been proved safe... they can be oblivious to the .. contradictory research findings and the biases of the various parties involved.’ In 1960 the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was allowed onto the US market on the basis of a trial on only 132 Puerto Rican women who had taken it for a year or more, three young women died without their cause of death being established. Despite the lack of evidence for safety soon what Dr. Grant termed ‘the greatest mass pill experiment in history’ was underway.
‘The person with a serious illness will be prepared to take risks for the chance of a cure; for the well person the risks have to be measured... against their present good health.’ This echoes the sense of Benjamin Franklin’s wise observation as true today as it was in 1787, that ‘There is a great deal of difference between a good doctor and a bad doctor but very little difference between a good doctor and no doctor at all.’ In making long term prescriptions for steroids how many of the medical profession can claim to be good doctors?
‘The pill... is a drug of such social and sexual convenience that its tragic consequences will continue to be disregarded until women fully realise what the consequences of such convenience are. Preferred ignorance has caused us to close our eyes to the enormous increase in ill health of young women since the pill was introduced and to the fact that the effects of the pill on allergies, vascular disease, mental health, cancer and congenital abnormalities are more powerful than smoking and show up in a much quicker time.’ wrote Dr, Ellen Grant, in ‘The Bitter Pill’, and the situation has not changed since she first published this nearly 15 years ago. Her testimony is remarkable as she was closely involved in the trial and development of the pill in a quest to find a solution to the problem of the spiralling growth of the worlds population, but she has become convinced that the health risks of the pill mean this can not be the answer and she has dedicated her work to pressing her case against the pill. She received an early warning on how this would be met by the medical establishment as she describes here:
‘At the beginning of the
She goes on ‘It is blocking brain hormones and acting on young ovaries. It is changing metabolism at a critical time of growth, sexual and emotional development. Human beings are not fully mature at puberty but go on changing until the end of their early 20s. The first, often irregular periods do not mean a girl has become a woman... We are assaulting our future genetic pool.’ Knowing what we do now about the vulnerability of young girls to hormones the current scale of the use of the morning after pill, which has a bigger dose of hormones than the oral contraceptive, for schoolgirls is a concern, for their future health and that of their children.
Dr. Kitty Little has described how pill steroids can cause abnormalities in bones, blood cells, blood vessels and stress coping mechanisms. In animal trials she discovered that young immature animals showed the greatest changes and her work has made her extremely concerned about the risk of long term osteoporosis, joint and back problems in girls given the pill at puberty. It is ironic that if her predictions are true these women will be offered more of the same - HRT - and spend their lives without a sex hormone to call their own.
This medicalisation of our lives is focused on women in an unbalanced way - where are the men who spend their lives taking synthetic hormones, who are called for internal examinations yearly, whom the media worries about hip fractures in old age? The ratio of published medical studies of older women is in the order of 100:1 according to Mc Kinlay, the principal researcher in the Massachusetts Male Aging Study; he warns of ‘the treatment of a typical physiological process as pathological’.
A treadmill is created for women, a process described eloquently by Ivan Illich: ‘Diagnosis... intensifies stress, defines incapacity... focuses apprehension on... uncertainty, on one’s dependence upon future medical findings, all of which amounts to a loss of autonomy for self-definition. It also isolates a person in a special role, separates him from the normal and healthy, and requires submission to the authority of specialised personnel. Once a society organises for a preventative disease-hunt, it gives epidemic proportions to a diagnosis. This ultimate triumph of therapeutic culture turns the independence of the average healthy person into an intolerable form of deviance.’
I heard exasperation with such deviance in the tone of Studd, consultant gynaecologist featured in Channel 4’s programme on PMT on 19.10.99 as he huffed and puffed about women denying themselves a hysterectomy, (his preferred ‘complete cure’ for PMT )by using alternative therapies ‘all useless,.. tragic... expensive, don’t work, women are denying themselves effective treatment’, he hoped they would receive ‘good sense’ and request a hysterectomy. His attitude is reminiscent of his predecessors who derived the diagnosis hysteria from hyster the word for womb.
I went and bought Drapers Record in desperation once more and scared off several possible
Really a nice girl from the classy side of the Mersey, I thought I had seen life in the factories of Leicester and the
Introduce some new designs, said my boss before he scuttled of for an important meeting…
So I was reduced to bargaining with the finishing girl who applied the transfers to let me experiment with some new tasteful middle class aspirational nostalgic images while she experimented with another of the delivery lads behind the stacked stock we seemed to loose to the East End markets.
The isolation I had observed at twenty of creative people in factories was even worse when you were allergic to wood shavings and sent to sleep by solvents. I looked for inspiration in Italian Vogue Bambino while the savvy sales girls observed which of the baby boutique managers our top salesman was laying by the trail of orders which followed his sexual conquests around the South East. Inviting them to try out our new coir cot bed mattress he soon had them debating whether pink or blue bedding would be the most sensible stock item this spring.
I developed an award winning range of furniture no one would ever buy as it was flat pack, self-assembly and if there’s one thing new mums don’t have time for and dads hate to waste their weekend on it is flat pack self-assembly…I decorated a new showroom by the Thames, assisted by a Jamaican who was never available after lunch due to a more profitable business on the side. I escaped seduction by one of the deliverymen who offered one on the coir mattress when I was working late one evening. His line was ‘You’re nice, would you like a go?’ Everyone else had fallen for his handsome just been working out in a white vest look, and I was so over-tired it almost seemed an attractive proposition but I got in my car and fell asleep on the M25 once again.
That place reeked of failure. I blew around Bow with a breeze which stank of the stagnant canal, the sharp scent of vinegar from the fish and chips van, the high smell of solvents from the factory, the reek of poverty, addiction and self-abuse from the cigarettes everyone smoked a less than healthy and safe distance from the wood shop. It was a disaster waiting to happen to those too tired, sad or optimistic to get themselves out of an industry past its time – hanging on as a habit in the order books of buyers too loyal or lazy to defect to the East-European cots; the quality was fine as long as you picked out the ones full of lead shot with a metal detector.
Of all the dumb things she had done – Stella was wrecking our body with the toxins she was breathing in – I could feel microscopic pieces of paint in her airways and tried to make her sneeze them out – she thought she had hay fever! What was she getting out of this apart from the pay check – waiting for the butterfly of her designs to emerge from an eternal chrysalis. Sad and lonely, Stella couldn’t any longer shut out my voice from her dreams as she curled up in her habitual half of the double bed.
Sasha and I decided to review what she termed ‘self-destruct strategy 2 in the warm yellow kitchen of her NW1 house. Over pasta with Sainsbury’s Carbonara sauce and white wine we reviewed the casualties of my split with my ex while her 2 year old traced drawings in the strawberry fromage-frais she had tipped over the farmhouse pine table in a desperate bid to get our attention.
“Call me old fashioned” said Sasha, “but I think he’s a really nice guy and you could do worse than call Dirk, go out for a beer, ask him to marry you and start a family.”
She made it sound so simple. And I so longed for a little girl of my own – so I went with my favourite fellow for the scariest date every.
What do you wear to attract someone who has found you attractive even in your painting overalls for nine years? Did I want to look glamorous, or would that seem tactless given the circumstances? Too casual may be interpreted as just don’t care which if he said no was all I could hope for. I was saved from deciding as he arrived early as I sat in my pyjamas getting some Christmas presents ready and he said we should make some babies instead of buying pressies for everyone else’s.
It was a wet spring in ’93 which saw me queuing daily round the M25 and through North East London where I watched tree campers with their banners and swampy style in message t-shirts trying to save the last local park from becoming a dual carriageway for the out of town commuters. For it was the 90s of the cone hotline and uncaring conservatives. I had come to care deeply about the mixed bag of people I worked with in Bow. In order to get samples made and delivered to Fairs and buyers I had nothing but charm to try to get production to switch from whatever sales were chasing to make me a chunkier cot or carve a cute shaker style routing onto a bed head. My boss seemed to think samples, production and orders required nothing but will power and a talent to kick ass. I used secret strategies, smiles, confidence and tears of desperate frustration Production got more expensive with short runs for John Lewis and our delivery mens’ runs got longer and slower as they took pity on housewives and showed them what you did with a cot widget.
Seeing bankruptcy looming I decided that one way to gracefully get out of this situation was to get pregnant and envying Sasha her mornings in the park and afternoons baking fairy cakes I came off the pill. Whenever in a meeting with my boss after that I flushed red repeatedly with what he must have interpreted as terrorist anger, but were actually hot flushes, as my hormones tried in vain to fight through the adrenaline I survived on and rebalance.
The annual company board brainstorm bun fight… Curled up sandwiches provided the ammo which no one dared use. The brave boys on the shop floor were blamed as the absent scapegoat in that honourable British tradition of management blaming the workers being too slow, lazy and sloppy to succeed with cheap materials, old kit, low wages and the most toxic environment and diet of grease buns and chips. The boss turned from the flip chart for a moment of truth “Is it me?” he asked. Silence. “Stella, you’ve been quiet”. About to speak up and do my best Cassandra act I was saved by the bell - the phone, in fact, for in true Thomas Hardy style the skies had opened and delivered a flash flood and lightning storm to match the electricity in the board room
and the factory were on the phone to say the canal was rising inch by inch over the shop floor. We got back just in time to see wooden cot bases floating off down the canal while the brave boys were saving cot mattresses at a pound a piece while the computers with our precious customer orders shorted out in an underwater office. Like a rat deserting a sinking ship I made a mental note to quit while the insurance money left enough to cover my extended sick pay. As I was feeling lousy, whether it was the fumes or the hormones I was falling asleep daily on the M25 and decided it was time to see my doctor.
I remember her. She was my rival. At the danger of sounding like a cheap horror film ‘she weren’t from round these parts’ she didn’t know the rules. Never played by them. She didn’t so much run with the ball as stick it up her jumper and take it off to play her own game. It was OK for her to bugger off to her nice house in Hertfordshire in her company motor (I laughed to see her BMW flood with reeking water when the canal overflowed) I can’t do that…wouldn’t want to…my cousin works here, dad worked here. There isn’t anything goes on in this place passes me by. It was me told her to get those green cots in boxes before the boss saw them. They don’t like green for furniture the cockney/Irish - just for St Patrick. We’ve got long memories you see, and green pain used to be associated with baby dying. Green pigment was made from arsenic in the old days you see…she didn’t know that…pure poison.