Suzi Feay: At the Sharp End

'These days, thrift isn't just virtuous, it's fun – if austerity has you tightening your belt, well, your waist will look smaller'

Share
Related Topics

Ah, the joys of having an attic! Anything you can't find an immediate use or space for ends up there. Go to fetch a suitcase and you'll be there for hours, browsing your own personal junk shop. Dusty gardening equipment, framed posters, old pots and pans, a heap of records, a box of classical CDs... this is saving me a fortune. I get the same buzz of acquisition from finding something I didn't know I had as from buying something new. (And have you seen the price of old Vogues in vintage-magazine shops?)

These days, thrift is not just virtuous, it's fun. The new austerity enjoins us to bake bread, switch off lights, make do and mend, and enjoy it all in the process. Pull in your belt; it'll make your waist look smaller. But of course, you don't have to go back to the days of food rationing and beyond to note that none of this is new at all. Confirmation came when I discovered, under a heap of old carpet, a stack of the long-defunct style magazine The Face. "Hard Times", screamed one coverline, across a male bottom clad in a pair of raggedy-arse tattered jeans. What did the new austerity look like in 1982?

The cover piece was written by Robert Elms, the Baudrillard of the Beat Route club, never a man to make a flippant comment when the width of a trouser leg or height of a collar was at stake. In these days of the blog and wide media coverage of everything indie, it's almost impossible to get across the huge influence of characters such as Elms, one of the High Kings of youth culture. Every word was scrutinised, so it's unsurprising that commentators elucidated the trends in such serious terms. "Bear with me for a while, this first bit may be hard but it is important," Elms begins, breathlessly. "Read it twice if you have to, because there is something you are going to have to grasp before we can go any further. And that is the notion that Youth Culture now represents not a rebellion but a tradition, or rather a series of traditions that ... continue to grow along a compound continuum of action and reaction."

It's quite hard to see what's going on in the thickets of Elms' mystical prose, but, disappointingly, he turns out to be talking not so much about the depredations of the evil Thatch and the miserable state of Britain as about the necessity for a dramatic new look after the panstick-white faces and lace collars of the New Romantics. (The sub-head, "Whatever became of the Zoot suit?" would take some explaining today. In fact, I'm not even sure I remember what that was about myself.)

"Sweat has replaced cool as the mark of a face ... Leather [dominates] everything ... Leather caps, leather jerkins, big boots or no socks and espadrilles. Trousers are getting tighter, T-shirts ripped and torn," Elms reports from the front line. Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Well, there may not have been any blogs in those days, but there were letters pages, and at a time of genuine deprivation I remember that Elms' final line, "With any luck there's even harder times ahead", caused a brief flurry of outrage. For all his bombast and portentousness, Elms failed to predict that, actually, the Eighties would come to be seen as the Loadsamoney era, all big hair, big shoulderpads and braying Sloanes. Yet it's poignant at this distance to read something so genuinely egalitarian, without a single reference to a celebrity. This is a glimpse into the long-ago world of the Dirtbox, a club above a chemist in Earls Court (£1.50 entry), which will, of course, "almost definitely have ceased to exist by the time you read this". It was probably filled with people whose idea of frugal chic was blacking your scuffed old boots and wearing your 501s until they disintegrated into a cat's cradle, rather than buying a sweatshop dress for a fiver and throwing it away in a fortnight. Passion is a fashion, as they used to say.

I was in Vancouver in September last year, and again a month ago, and I was curious to get a catch-up on one of the most mysterious news stories I've ever come across. "What happened about the feet?" I demanded. "You're not gonna believe this," my brother said. "Another one washed up a couple of weeks ago."

The mystery began last August when, within a week, two severed feet washed up on two separate islands, Jedediah and Gabriola. The obvious conclusion was swiftly discounted when they turned out both to be right feet, each still clad in sock and trainer. The coroner played down the mystery, claiming a boating accident as the likeliest cause, and suggesting that the feet might match bodies already recovered. This conjured images of morgues filled with unidentified bits and bobs, but in a province with serious terrain, where people seem continually to be messing about in boats and bobbing around in float-planes, perhaps that's to be expected.

So, as my brother said, a third right foot washed up on Valdes earlier this year, and now, amazingly, a fourth has washed up on yet another island. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are playing down the weirdness by stating that the four feet do not seem to have been "forcibly removed" – but then, the hilarious "Moanties" took years to work out that a deranged farmer was murdering prostitutes from the Lower East Side and feeding them to his pigs.

"The fact of them all being 'left' on the islands is too much of a coincidence for them to be just random surfacing bodies," says my brother. Too true. I like to think there's some Canadian Sawney Bean or Procrustes operating his grisly trade from a deserted cove. Don't think I'll be going boating on my next visit.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice