Sunday, September 16, 2007

Are You Being Served?

The little kids are not the only ones going back to school. Among the class of “returning students” we have characters such as Lucy who are looking to “retool”. Here she is on her first day as a student of art and design. Any of you familiar with her work in the last seven or eight years know how much the scientific, legislative and policy writing is at odds with the creative part of her nature. No more dull journals, now the house is enlivened with frothier writing!

Among the magazines I have found lying around is the New York Times Fall Fashion Supplement, with the article about “The Wonder Room” in Selfridges. That brought back memories of summer 1962. Several of my college friends lived in a house off Haverstock Hill. There were two flats, each with beds for four, one on the ground floor, one in the basement. That summer I moved with Anne, Maggie, Jan, Sylvia, Penny and two others whose names will doubtless come back to me. To pay the rent I got a job at Selfridges, in the “better dresses” department. I don’t remember applying for the job and I certainly don’t recall what I could have put on my application that indicated I knew anything about high fashion. Anyone who knows me will laugh at the pairing. In fact “better dresses” meant “more expensive” and certainly not more cutting edge. It was the era in which Mary Quant was taking over from Hardy Amies, but neither name sprang readily to my lips—and neither designer was in evidence in that department. I have two memories of my time there: one is standing on the selling floor watching my friend Sylvia sidle in with an envelope containing the results of my degree examinations, the other is of selling a depressing outfit to a dreary woman who wanted something to wear for her wedding.

There wasn’t a large staff. The head honcho was Miss Gladney and she was assisted by Miss Potter. Miss Gladney was one of those top-heavy middle aged ladies who mince along on high heels, and in appearance she was not unlike Mrs. Slocombe on the British comedy which is a wacky depiction of a department store and the epitome of the double entendre, Are you being Served? Miss Potter was somewhat younger and rather dowdy. Rumor had it that she was “carrying on” with a married man. If that was the case it was a joyless affair—she always seemed rather glum when she returned from her extended coffee breaks. For some reason the department had its own bookkeeper and what a delight she was. Kathleen and her husband Miklos and their son lived in Hampstead and they frequently invited me to their lovely house full of reminders of their native Hungary from which they had fled a few years before. (To read the text, click on the image.)
Strange that I remember these characters from Selfridges so very well when I have forgotten people from the past I knew much better. The space I worked in has been given over to other endeavors, but maybe I will duck into “The Wonder Room” next time I am in London and pick up something for old times’ sake. Maybe a Tiffany diamond.

1 comment:

candyschultz said...

I am sorry to say at this point I do not lend books to anyone, even my children. I never get them back. I have some books I have replaced six or seven times. I finally learned my lesson.