E Jane Dickson: 'My nine-year-old style adviser urges me towards a sparkly look'

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I am fascinated by the woman sitting next to me on the top deck of the No 31.

I am fascinated by the woman sitting next to me on the top deck of the No 31. I'd guess her to be in her eighties, but she fairly skips to claim the front seat, scanning the mean streets of Camden as if they were the New Jerusalem. We get off at the same stop and, having negotiated the swaying, lurching staircase as if it were the best fun in the world, my fellow traveller starts to heave a suitcase from the bus's luggage bay.

"Thank you, dear," she beams once the suitcase, which is roughly the size of a family fridge - and just about as manoeuvrable - is deposited on the pavement. "Which way to the Citadel?"

For a moment I think she must be psychic, a Bunyanesque busybody tuning in to my Jerusalem musings, but I remember that there is in fact a shiny, new Salvation Army HQ two bus stops further along Chalk Farm Road. I haul the case, while Lilian (we are now on first-name terms) trips along beside me, fresh as the flowers in May. "So, Jane," she asks brightly, as we wait at the traffic lights. "Are you saved?"

"Mmmhh," I reply, non-committally. Usually in this situation, I just say "yes", finding it much the quickest exit line, but I can't fib in the face of such sunny candour. On the other hand, I don't particularly want to share my views on the smugness of the "born again" tendency. "I knew it!" says Lilian, clapping gloved hands in triumph "You have that look about you!"

I do my best to look pleased, and we part company in a shower of blessings.

Evangelical Casual, however, is not a look I aspire to and I wonder if maybe Clara is right about my needing a sharper image.

At the weekend, while shopping in M&S, my nine-year-old style adviser urges me towards a sparkly, Ruritanian look, all ruffles and mirrored fabrics, which I commute to a plain white peasanty top. A lady who looks like Lilian's worldly twin - drop-dead chic in cigarette pants, pea-coat and beret, but with the same vital spark - compliments me on my choice. "Thanks," I tell her. "Though I think it's probably 20 years too young for me."

"Nonsense," she says. "I'm 90 and I wear what I want. They all do, you know, on the Continent."

"I am inspired by my two third-age encounters, the certain joy of one, the defiant style of the other. The world, suddenly, is full of marvellous old women, though I suspect, even as I plan my own marvellous old age, that my new role models probably started being marvellous some time before their 43rd birthday. Still, if I start practising now...

"That's what I want to be like when I'm old," I tell Clara, as we say goodbye to the jaunty nonagenarian.

"Well, you're not coming to school for me in a beret," says my judicious daughter. Clearly, rehearsal time is running out.

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