Mary Woodward has published poetry in magazines….Poetry Ireland, Stinging Fly, the North, Southword & others. She has one full collection The White Valentine 2013 Worple Press (highly commended in Forward Prize) and one pamphlet Learning German Smith Doorstep 1993 as a result of winning the Poetry Business competition that year. She also published freelance fashion pieces in the Guardian as a result of winning their fashion journalism competition in 2003. She had some success with short fiction..one story ‘Russian Tea’ was a runner up in a competition judged by Michel Faber and published in All the Kings Horses Fish & the Historical Novel association 2005. She had short stories shortlisted by the Asham Award and by Liars League in London.
Vogue Pattern 1216
By Mary Woodward
‘I’ve seen a pattern I like,’ said Maureen, one lunchtime. We were sitting in our form room because it was raining and we couldn’t go out for our roam around the shops. Instead we sat there, Jo, Yvonne, Pat and me, with our hair combed over our faces searching for split ends; split ends, while not quite as destructive as curls, threatened the perfection of straight, shiny hair, and had to be singled out and cut off. With the focus and precision of a group of wild primates we groomed away.
‘Yeah?’ said Jo, ‘What’s it like then?’
‘It’s a Vogue pattern.’
This silenced us. We all stuck to Simplicity or Butterwick as trained way back in the distant days of being thirteen and doing needlework. Sister Claire Rosario had Vogue patterns right off limits; they were too expensive, too fashionable, too ambitious.
‘It’s long sleeved and it fastens at the side, and it’s got a hood, a kind of loose hood, and braid round the edges.’
A hood? No-one wore hoods. Well, Carthusian monks possibly. Hoods then still evoked a kind of early eighteenth century On Her Way To An Assignation, glamour. You’d need confidence to wear something like that. Maureen was confident: her father was the chairman of the school governors, and they lived in a large red brick Edwardian villa in a leafy street near school.
The next lunchtime we went to Owen Owen to offer our opinions on the pattern, though it was clear that Maureen’s mind was decided. She opened the mighty weight of the Vogue catalogue,
‘My mum can help with the difficult bits,’ she said.
She was lucky the book was available; it was usually in the scented clutches of some Finchley Dowager clawing through the cocktail wear section.
‘There,’ she said, flattening down the page with as much triumph as if she had designed it herself. ‘Look.’
We looked. There was a stylish fashion drawing, nothing as honest as a photograph. The dress looked as if it were loosely attached to a gazelle in sunglasses, one hand touched a hip, from the other dangled a striped Copacabana style beach bag. Her feet were criss-crossed with strips of no doubt nubuck leather, she had a slight smile which hinted at travel, yachts, a New York apartment and a house in the Hamptons, a smile which said beauty, money, sophistication.
‘I thought I’d do it exactly like the drawing, all in white, with black braid round all the edges,’ said Maureen.
Maureen was five foot high, not slim, round faced and freckled. Her hair was long, admittedly, but it was also very wavy, and flat on top. She had worn it in tight plaits for the last twelve years. But I said, along with the others, ‘It’ll look lovely.’
January to May before the upper sixth form trip to Stratford-on-Avon had been spent thinking about what we would wear. We’d been there the summer before, and knew the town would be full, of not just bored sixth form boys, but also, (incredibly) fairly bored looking young actors who were there as extras, spear carriers, etc. We wanted to make an impact. You might think we should have been taking a detailed interest in the plays we were studying, which were King Lear and Twelfth Night. And, yes, we did quite like the texts. But Stratford connected less with work, than with how we should present ourselves.
How should we look?
It was clearly going to be a summer of centre parted long hair, and short skirts. But there was a hidden tension between the Marianne Faithful/Jane Asher romantic look and the undertow of Mod chic and discipline which was also on the streets. There were subtle fashion problems here, tangling with the unspoken arguments of the zeitgest: as a result our lunchtime trips to Lewis Separates were thoughtful, so much was nearly right, but not quite. Often the only way to have exactly what you wanted, was to make it. We were all of us adepts with the ‘Singer’.
I had a blue and green silky high waisted dress from C & A’s, for the Stratford trip and a navy crochet top and hipster skirt which would do for travelling. By then, in fact, Stratford wasn’t bothering me that much. I had a boyfriend; and Shakespeare was somewhere in the background. It was still exciting to be going somewhere with my friends. No parents. No nuns, just the one liberal English teacher, who trusted us to behave ourselves.
How Shakespeare would have appreciated the fact that most of the people who trailed round his home town were seventeen year olds whose last thought was taking a scholarly interest in the sixteenth century. Seventeen – the same age he had left Stratford-on-Avon. The age when life is at its most alluring, and irresistible. I expect he couldn’t get away quickly enough, I bet he was more than eager to abandon its little streets, probably barely kissed his mother goodbye before heading for the Great Drama awaiting him with a touch more promise than it does for most of us.
The summer before, on our first visit we had blamelessly spent most of our time rowing up and down the Avon. As often as we dared, we would navigate a wobbly course past the Memorial Theatre. The bolder among us would wave at the actors hanging over the rail enjoying their cigarette breaks. Memorably one or two waved back, but only one or two. How comic we must have looked, with our careful, backcombed and lacquered, hairstyles; our neat little outfits that no one in their right mind would wear for rowing; our oars splaying out at spectacularly life-threatening wrong angles.
Later, after each performance, we would cluster at the stage door and bleat gently at any passing actors for autographs, though I guess most of the cast escaped out of another door or stayed in the bar until late.
David Warner, Maureen’s favourite actor, was to be in a play this summer. We had learned that the actors hung out in the Dirty Duck pub. Almost old enough to get away with going there ourselves, we planned to go there on the first night. The play began at seven thirty and we thought we’d have a drink at six.
Even getting ready was exciting, in our huge room in the B & B. Frances (Fanny) McCleod, generally acknowledged to be the prettiest girl in the school, (well she was the blondest and it wasn’t bleach), stood there, in her gingham bra and knickers (so cool), ‘Look’, she said, ‘Just run the eye pencil around your eyes, but you just put on a teeny weeny smear of cold cream with your finger tip first, like this’. Then she looped up her long, silver-blonde Western Isles hair into a black velvet ribbon, ‘What I really hate,’ she added, ‘are those old men who come up to you in the street and try to talk to you, as if you’d be interested in them.’ Then she pulled on a broderie anglaise blouse and a tiny skirt, yawned, and was done, perfect.
Fanny was wise. She had a beautiful boyfriend called Oliver. No one had actually seen him but then any boy called Oliver had to be beautiful, you knew that. Once, she had chucked him over the phone and he had cried, actually cried! There was no point in trying to compete with Fanny. I put on my blue-green dress and buckled my sandals. A ritualistic scroll of mascara, and I was ready. It was time to worry about being challenged in the Dirty Duck, and thrown out and made to look like idiots, with no boys with us to dilute the embarrassment by joking and jeering.
Maureen came in suddenly from the bathroom where she had been getting ready because she was so proud of the dress that she of course wanted us to see it with the maximum effect. She had the hood up, a black bag casually slung over one shoulder, and she was wearing big black sunglasses. Her face had that look every woman recognises with a sharp ache: the ‘please, please tell me it’s worked and I look nice’ look.
‘Wow,’ we said. ‘You look fabulous, it’s fantastic.’
The evening was drenched with sunlight and the scent of lime blossom, the old brick walls glowed with a honey sheen, and at that moment growing up seemed simple – graceful and sweet like the leaves on the trees. We walked in to the Dirty Duck with as much breeziness and lightness as if we were a group of starlets ourselves, and everyone in there was lucky to be getting a glimpse of us.
Fanny led the way. She could easily pass for eighteen, and she had the hauteur to face down any barman. Anyway we were only going to ask for lemonade shandies. The place was full of handsome young men in white shirts and hip jeans. Heads down, we followed Fanny. A dozen sets of male eyes followed her too, I noticed, as I trailed in her glorious wake. She ordered five shandies, smiling gently; the barman gazed back at her as if she were a particularly beautiful dawn coming over the horizon. Transfixed, he didn’t demur, just reached for the glasses. Success, we’d done it, we’d arrived.
The others were sitting down half way along a far wall when we made our way back with the drinks and packets of crisps. A strangely muted dark silence met us. Yvonne was looking stricken, the same look she used to have whenever told off by a teacher.
‘Th, th, thank y, you’, she said, her stutter, last heard in year four, had come back. Maureen, the white hood now pushed back from her face, and still wearing her sunglasses, said nothing. We sat down. Jo redid and undid the buckle on her jacket. It was beige and white check, and had come from C & A. Jo had the knack of looking French and expensive in anything; it was a talent.
A tear slid slowly from underneath Maureen’s sunglasses, leaving a gleaming slug’s trail down her cheek. Then she pushed her hood even further back as if it were hurting her neck.
‘They laughed when I came in.’
‘No, who?’ we said.
‘Them. They all laughed. And one of them said, ‘Oh look it’s Friar Tuck.’
She nodded her head towards the door. Towards the group of men in white shirts; a blur of interesting fine jaw lines and brown skin, the presence of real, grown up men; actors, with David Warner at the back. Two of them turned around then and looked over at us, turned back and said something to the others. They laughed. Rather loudly.
‘Of course they’re not laughing at you,’ Jo said. ‘Don’t be so silly.’
The play was Twelfth Night. Sitting in the theatre in the warm darkness I suddenly hated Maria and Toby Belch for their trick on Malvolio. I kept seeing the white dress in the bathroom doorway. Was this not what we would all go through life trying to achieve?
‘In yellow stockings, and cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on. Jove and my stars be praised….. I will smile; I will do everything that thou wilt have me.
Maureen wouldn’t come with us after to ask for autographs; and when we got back to the B&B the hooded dress was slung in a heap on the floor at the end of her bed. She was asleep, or pretending to be.