One of the things I missed most when Princess Diana died, was that all the fun seemed to go out of fashion. Suddenly there was a vacuum, which wasn’t really filled by the celebrities who dressed to get attention – Royalty doesn’t have to dress to get attention..
But now we have another beautifully dressed woman to enjoy. Diana’s daughter- in- law, her son’s new wife. And Kate Middleton has assumed Diana’s crown with elegant ease. For the last year, frivolous empty- headed women like me who enjoy looking at exquisitely dressed, beautiful women, have had a feast for our eyes. The Queen’s Jubilee has actually been a banquet, because the Queen too, has looked a picture in the most wonderfully coloured clothes designed for the most part, by her dresser, Angela Kelly. Angela Kelly is a fashion story in herself, having been a housekeeper at the British Embassy in Germany. When she was introduced to the Queen on an official visit, when a gap occurred later, she invited the housekeeper to become her dresser. An amazing relationship has flowered between them, there is always laughter when the two are together, and Angela, rescued from organising embassy dinners and counting other people’s tea-spoons, took to fashion to the manner born. She has now started her own design house, with the Queen as a walking advertisement for her taste and flair.
The once infamous Camilla, second wife of the heir Prince Charles, has also blossomed this year, appearing in a succession of wonderfully over- the- top hats, and elegant unfussy clothes. Even notoriously under-dressed Princess Anne has taken the trouble to appear in some delicious pale pinks and eau de nil, and even some pretty hats during this time of national rejoicing for the Queen’s 60 years on her throne. The Royal women have looked like a bunch of pretty spring flowers, with their petalled hats, soft clear colours, and pale shoes at the various events where they’ve clustered together.
But Kate takes the biscuit. With her long dark hair and long slim legs, killer heels and cheeky hats, she always looks ravishing in the understated little dresses, coats and suit she chooses. Some of them are couture, some of them are cheap as chips. But it doesn’t matter who makes them, she always looks wonderful. It cheers up the morning when I Google UK newspapers and see Kate once again beaming across the front page, dimples flashing, slim, leggy, gorgeous.
It also cheers me up to know what she achieves in the way of style – not exactly on a shoe string, but shopping wisely and well. I do the same myself! There’s not a factory sale or a charity /opportunity shop I don’t know the inside of in various parts of the world. A real silk cream shirt in a Plymouth op-shop has taken me to various weddings and dinners, teamed with black velvet trousers bought in a factory sale in Auckland, and black shoes from the local Chinese import store. So cheap and comfortable I bought three pairs, which cost less than one good pair of shoes, and which lasted for three years – I was bereft when I had to ditch the last pair this year. However, I was able to replace them with a natty black patent pair found in a half- price, end- of -season sale.
So Kate and I have a lot in common! I used to think that thinking about clothes was the mark of empty-headed frivolity, but when I was 17, I had the good fortune to live with my step-grandmother for six months, and she lent me her favourite book. It was Vera Brittain’s ‘ Testament of Youth’, and I cried all the way through. It was about her fiancée and friends killed in World War One, and I felt I understood my grandmother much better after reading it. But the bliss of it was that Vera, a solemn, somewhat humourless early feminist, described her clothes in detail – I still remember the terra-cotta coloured hat and dove-coloured outfit she described wearing, when she went to meet the boat-train and the man she ended up marrying. It was a Eureka moment. I realised it was possible to love clothes and still think intelligently. Thank you, Vera.
So I continue to drool over Kate and her clothes. Today it was Kate and her sister, the famous bridesmaid, whose elegant derriere practically caused strong men to weep all over the world, and sitting together at Wimbledon they were an unbeatable combination. In the eighteenth century two similarly beautiful sisters, also from an ordinary background, took London by storm with their beauty. Crowds gathered wherever they went, and they needed bodyguards. The elder, Elizabeth Gunning, married one duke, and when he died, married another. Her sister Maria married an earl and died young. Probably from lead poisoning from the makeup she loved to wear.
The Middleton sisters remind me of this glamorous pair, and when Kate and Pippa sat in the Royal box at Wimbledon, the one in white, the other in a pretty blue and white flowered dress in a somewhat eighteenth century style, they looked as captivating as the legendary sisters. Beauty and fashion are still a fascinating phenomenon and still draw crowds.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets.
The cold weather and the longing for comfort food goes on. Soup warms us up, but sometimes it’s not a meal in itself, and that’s when a pudding comes in handy. Good old rice pudding is one of those standards that’s always welcome in this house, but it must be made properly, with the rice really creamy, and a good nutmeg topping to it.
You need two ounces of short grain or pudding rice, and a pint of boiling milk. Grease a pie-dish, and pour the boiling milk on the rice in the dish. Stir in two to three ounces of sugar, and dot the top with butter. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cook for an hour to an hour and a half in a slow oven, until the rice is soft and creamy. This can be eaten on its own, or with a spoonful of raspberry jam as we did during the war, or with some stewed fruit – plums are good.
Food for Thought
In the overabundance of certain things I find vulgarity. Thus I object to an overcrowding of furniture in the sitting room, to a whole bunch of writing brushes beside the ink-slab, too many images of Buddha in the chapel, too great a profusion of stones, trees, grass in a garden… Things that I feel can never be overdone are books in book receptacles and rubbish on the rubbish heap.
Yoshida Kenko, 13th century Japanese hermit monk, who was a soldier before retiring to his hermit hut.