Caught between a frock and a hard place

The most awful thing has happened, so awful that I can hardly believe it. You know the man? Come, come. I have mentioned him often enough. The dreadful man, down in the basement, hammering away, bash bash bash bash WHEEEEEEEEE bash bash ...? The one who spent so many months, well over a year, wantonly ruining my life in his desperate attempts to get his shop going?

Well. The man - the terrible man - has finished his shop, and the appalling, horrible thing is that it looks splendid. What's even worse is that the clothes he is selling there are just gorgeous, my dears. He is obviously a genius, so I must swallow my pride and eat worms, a diet to which I am now thoroughly accustomed. From now on all my womenfolk will be dressed exclusively by the terrible man. "Honey," I shall say, handing them a fat wad of banknotes, "you been good to Poppa, now Poppa goin' to be good to you. Slink downstairs to Warren Griffiths and buy yourself something impractical. Da little black skoit in da window? OK, baby. Buy dat skoit. And by the time you get back, Poppa will have finished his business and you can come in and show it to me. With the lace-top hold-ups. And the 4in heels. And maybe a velvet ribbon round the throat, not to mention the picture hat and opera gloves, hmm?"

A pleasant scenario, you will agree, but it's not enough to blind me to the grim consequences. Soon the Fashionable World will be beating a path to the terrible man's door, believing that here, at last, can be had that essence of allure which will transform their raddled, lumpy, jittery, hyperactive, scrag- boned, ardent, horrid, little bodies into objects of unquenchable desire.

Then the contagion will spread. Lesser artisans will say, "Gracious me, that must be the now and happening place to be, we must go there too! Let us take over the lease on one of those charity shops or a defunct launderette or failed sandwich bar! We can do it up! To hell with Brompton Cross and South Molton Street, we want to be where Warren is."

So in will come the builders and carpenters and shifty-eyed malcontents with power tools and skips, and the street will echo all day to the thud and whine and rattle and hum of Doing Up, and at night the dust will settle on my eyes, and, unable to work, I shall grow poorer and poorer, and the area will become Frocksville, and the butcher, the greengrocer and even the bleak supermarket will close, and I will starve, because there will be nowhere to buy food and nothing to buy it with.

And thus I will die, in the most literal sense a fashion victim.

But for the moment, there is peace where I live. Not for long; some unfeeling bastard has bought the house two doors down and is so lacking in simple human decency that he is planning to get builders in, and do it up, and make it nice to live in. And some unconscionable property company has bought the office building on the corner, which has stood empty for three years, and now is - guess what? - planning to get builders in, and do it up, and turn it into flats. And the flats will be bought by Fashion People, and pavement cafes will flourish, and the street will echo to the sound of jolly laughter and the rustle of fine crepe de Chine cut on the bias, and suntanned people in sunglasses and severe black clothes will stroll arm-in-arm up and down the pedestrian zone, and the evenings will be murmurous with contented frockistes and needle virtuosi discussing Balenciaga and Schiaparelli, and it will all be utterly lovely and I will be dead.

Well; bloody typical, what? All the noise and disruption and inconvenience and horror, and I don't survive to reap the rewards. What I really want is the other sort of life, where you get the good bits without the suffering which invariably precedes them. Paradise Now, that's the ticket, and in a strange way my experiences with the terrible man and his exquisite shop have left me with a curious sympathy for Disney, Herriot Country and the Middle Age travellers (they used to be New Age travellers but they've been around for years).

We all share a common cowardice; a desire to disconnect effect from cause. I want to live in a peaceful, prosperous street populated by elegant, civilised people, but I don't want the noise and the striving and I don't want to be dead. Disney wants (vide its latest horror, The Hunchback of Notre Dame rewritten by a committee of syrup-dealers, snivelling PC-cowards, minority-interest groups and thick bastards) to purvey emotion without passion and profundity without suffering. The tourist- board fools who thought up Herriot Country want people to experience some sort of fictional rural idyll without having to endure the sort of society in which such idylls are possible. And the Middle Age travellers want to enjoy the simple certainties of tribal life without its aboriginal dangers of starvation, violence, disease and death.

The list is endless. Clergymen who want the structure of belief without the difficulty of actually believing. Businessmen who want success without acquiring qualities. Politicians seeking power without statesmanship. The poor Festival of Mind and Body sorts, who seek the numinous at third remove, who ache for the sense of immanence of a Tibetan peasant from the comfort of a Purley semi-detached. Misinformed egalitarians who believe "equal" means "the same". We all want to arrive at our destination without making the trip.

A bit sad that it took a man building a frock shop to teach me this lesson, but I suppose I should be grateful. I'll try not to go mad, to starve and die, when the hammering starts up again. It would be silly. Real life, the one that's leaking away while I sit and fume, is the hammering, the shouting, the drilling and the dust. As for the rest: sic transit pax mundi !

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