Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

Why is this person such a heroine, you ask? Well, for a start, she's living proof that you can go stick all that pious crap about working mothers all being useless somewhere the sun doesn't shine. And she embodies my theory that you don't have to do corporate dressing to get on in the world.

Her name is Sharman Macdonald, and her plays include When I Was a Girl, I Used to Scream and Shout and, more recently, The Girl with Red Hair. She is also the mother of the actress Keira Knightley (which, as far as the male population of the world is concerned, probably qualifies her for instant canonisation).

There she was, pictured in the papers, shopping in New York with young Keira, who was looking gorgeous in tatty jeans and trainers, in the way that only anyone under 30 can. Ms Macdonald, on the other hand, was wearing cropped cotton trousers, T-shirt and Birkenstocks. It was her clothes, rather than her daughter, that caught my eye. Because that's my off-duty uniform. And, on lazy days, it's sometimes my office uniform, too.

My dress-code philosophy could be described, in the words of that DJ Casper song, as "How low can you go? Can you go down low?" Can I get away with wearing my Birkenstocks to the office? Yeah, why not. Can I get away with not wearing tights for the past, ooh, five years? Yeah, why not. Can I get away with wearing cropped trousers to the office? Yeah, why not. But could I get away with all this at parents' evenings? Good grief, no.

Because at parents' evenings, I would encounter non-working mothers, who - in Wandsworth, at least - look far more glamorous than the nose-to-the-grindstone variety like me. They tend to favour bright pinks and pastel blues, size-8 designer jeans, cashmere cardigans trimmed with ribbon and velvet, and the sort of shoes that would cost me a fortune in podiatry.

I see these non-working mothers on my way to work, sitting in coffee shops with their mates and their mobiles, scarves twisted just so, the latest thing in handbags parked neatly at their elegantly shod feet.

It's a south-west London thing, apparently - Fulham, Barnes and Richmond also breed cashmere-cardi cadres. Further north, there's "more of a lentilly thing going on", according to my friend Louisa, who lives in Camden, while Caroline, who lives in Islington, reports combats and Camper shoes at the school gate (designer jeans and bright colours are considered a bit chavvy in Canonbury, apparently).

I've never not worked, so I've always been intrigued as to how these women fund their lovely wardrobes. Do they embezzle the housekeeping? Do they shoplift? Do they resort to blackmail? "Jeremy, darling, I need some cash, the new Boden catalogue's out. Sex is off until you produce the readies." "OK, Camilla, I'll take out a second mortgage the minute I get to the office."

Jealous? Yes, of course I am. I would love to stay at home all day. But it's probably just as well that I have to go to the office. The strain of looking glamorous 24/7 would probably kill me.

MY FRIEND Carl has just had his house-number nicked. It is a rather stylish house number: a stainless-steel digit, about 12in high, bought by Mrs Carl during a trip to New York. Carl had unscrewed it while the house was being repainted and left it on a windowsill, but before he could put it back up, some toerag came along and half-inched it.

Carl is now going to scour the neighbouring streets in Walthamstow to find the culprit, who, stupidly, has already narrowed down the search. All that Carl has to do is look at the houses numbered 6. He's 6ft-plus tall and, if I were the thief, I would find the prospect of him investigating the provenance of my nicked numeral just a little intimidating. It brings new meaning to the phrase, "We know where you live."

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