LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Father works in the Southern Railway in their Head Office at Waterloo Station. He loves his job because trains are his life. He can recognize rolling stock from its shadow on a wall. And his free season ticket in its celluloid holder allows us to live here where there are catkins and butterflies, away from London.
Mother is a self-effacing smiling lady who thinks that, outside her own home, everyone is better at everything than she is. Her dairymaid prettiness which Father carried in a sepia photograph through the war, is becoming contentedly plump so she has taken to salmon-pink corsets with laces. Now and again, when she has made sure that no-one will be calling, they glow on the washing line like a bright cotton sunset and the bones creak in the wind.
commentary: This is a gorgeous book. I got the tipoff from blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam, who’d seen a reference to it elsewhere - that description of the corsets on the line was what grabbed the attention of all of us.
It looks like a children’s book – text on one page, an illustration facing it - but I don’t think it is particularly. It is a memoir: Jean Metcalfe, a very well-known broadcaster in her day, is talking about her childhood in Reigate, south of London, and has painted beautiful watercolours to accompany her thoughts. Sunnylea is the name of her childhood home.
It’s just a straightforward picture of life in the 1920s in her family: simple, but immensely enjoyable, memorable and affecting. She remembers the arrival of their first wireless – she wasn’t impressed – and that this was an era where you wore your best clothes to go to the beach for the day. The book covers the 1920s – she was born in 1923, and in 1930 a little brother was born, bringing her memories to a close.
It is a beautiful, enchanting book, and someone should reprint it.
And of course this section covers two of Clothes in Books favourite things: hanging out the washing and corsets. (Readers’ favourites too – that hanging out the washing item was by far the most popular post of 2015, and corsets are perennial winners.)
The top left picture is by John Sloan and can be found on Wikimedia Commons. Next to it there’s one of Jean Metcalfe’s own illustrations for the book, and the two lower pictures are an advert and a photo from the era.