LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Come Tell me How You Live by Agatha Christie
[Agatha Christie is shopping and packing to go to Syria]
Life nowadays is dominated and complicated by the remorseless Zip. Blouses zip up, skirts zip down, ski-ing suits zip everywhere. ‘Little frocks’ have perfectly unnecessary bits of zipping on them just for fun.
Why? Is there anything more deadly than a Zip that turns nasty on you? It involves you in a far worse predicament than any ordinary button, clip, snap, buckle or hook and eye.
In the early days of Zips, my mother, thrilled by this delicious novelty, had a pair of corsets fashioned for her which zipped up the front. The results were unfortunate in the extreme! Not only was the original zipping-up fraught with extreme agony, but the corsets obstinately refused to de-zip! Their removal was practically a surgical operation! And owing to my mother’s delightful Victorian modesty, it seemed possible for a while that she would live in these corsets for the remainder of her life – a kind of modern Woman in the Iron Corset!
I have therefore always regarded the Zip with a wary eye.
commentary: There’s already been one entry on this charming little book, a memoir of Agatha Christie’s trips accompanying her husband on archaeological digs during the 1930s. I said then: ‘It’s an entertaining and informative book, with very funny anecdotes and a feel for the area they visited and the history they uncovered’. This extract comes from the very beginning of the book, where she describes trying to shop for the expedition, and the difficulties she has finding the right kind of clothes.
I was intrigued that she mentions something called a double terai, and assumes her readers will know what it is: it is a kind of hat for visitors to exotic parts, with two layers, a deep crown and a wide brim. The easiest way of describing it is ‘it’s the hat people wear in films and book illustrations set in tropical places, when they are not wearing a solar topee. It’s the other one.’ Here’s a picture:
Agatha Christie is very self-deprecating in the book, tells many stories against herself, but has a sharp eye for other people’s foibles too. But you would say tolerance and interest were major traits, and she is very nice about many of the locals she meets, and interested in the different attitudes among, say, Kurds and Arabs, and religious differences. She sounds like a game old bird, putting up with quite dramatically uncomfortable conditions and situations, when she was in her mid-40s. Some of it was written contemporaneously (you would suspect she kept a diary) and then she completed the book during the war, when trips to Syria were a distant memory and she scarcely saw Max. There is a very well-done air of regret at the end of this book…
Christie’s mother must have been rather ahead of the game in trying out zips on corsets – they don’t seem to have become a regular feature till much later: the one above is from the 1940s. Mrs Miller died in 1926.