Tuesday, April 01, 2008


I saw a sign in the local shop for dry cleaning; it costs £5.30 per item. Seeing that notice took me back to 1969, when I thought I was a woman - a fifteen year old piece of skin and bone with no breasts. Out in the wonderful world; my first a job was in a Glasgow boutique. Walls painted black, clothes rails hooked on chains that dangled from the ceiling and music on a loop so that we all knew which song came next; My Cherie Amour crawled through our minds, Proud Mary boomed, and Back in the USSR banged. We boogied Bad Moon Rising and blasted Alright Now out of the open glass doors; we were the biggest attraction in the street.

I was the youngest on the staff, and last in, so it became my job to take the shop-soiled merchandise to be cleaned at the nearest launderette with a dry-cleaning machine. I’d get on the subway with my bag, and a little pile of money. It was a good skive and got me away from the manageress! Shetland wool crew-necks had black lines across the shoulders from dust and customers’ grubby fingers, sliding the hangers along and along. I got to read my Mills&Boon in peace for an hour and smoke loads of fags before smoothing and folding and stacking the laundry back into the bag; the fumes from the chemicals would turn my head. Later in the day I’d have to iron everything and return them to the rails. I often wonder if shops still do that; or do they just sell off the soiled and damaged stuff cheap. That was another thing; I had to make repair whenever I could, invisibly – burst seams, hems, replace buttons…I even had to dye something once, I think; perhaps it had faded from being in the window. I’m sure I had to sign the official  secret’s act.

After a couple of months, and with a few wage packets under my belt, I became a fashion statement. We would strut out at lunchtime, and sail through Central Station to the chip shop - sure that everyone was staring at us and turning green with envy at our daring style. We wore midi skirts, maxi skirts, tightly-fitted corduroy bell-bottoms and long-sleeved, narrow T-shirts with stars on; were made up with Miner’s Face Shapers and Rimmel Black Tulip lipstick (my father told me that if I ever collapsed in the street people would think I’d had a heart attack…my mother was mortified every time I left the house). We could only afford chips for lunch; most days I brought in bread for the toaster upstairs; I needed all my money for cigarettes – Players No10 were the cheapest, and if I paid child’s fare on the bus to and from work I could afford a pack of 20 a day. Sometimes I just stared out of the window and didn’t have to pay at all.

The Look was everything; I’d never been so stylish in my life. At one time we all had page-boy hairstyles, and we’d dot a few freckles across our noses with a brown eyebrow pencil. False eyelashes spiked from top and bottom, like long spiders’ legs; underneath we’d either draw or paint spiked lines – eyes were the thing. I have a vague memory of leaning on the handbag counter and looking up at boys who’d come in with their girlfriends. I thought I was stunningly beautiful, and, the sad look was in. When I was sixteen I assumed the world had been created just for us. It was a private club and we were the only members; no-one else could ever be as fabulous as us - except those who could afford to shop at Biba or Busstop.

The window dresser began to train me up, and the window became my stage; I would strike a pose, sitting on the floor at the feet of my mannequins…a doe-eyed dreamer, catching the attention of passing boys, sailors and unbeautiful teenagers. A new girl took over the dry-cleaning, though I still spent a lot of time at the ironing board, getting the packing-creases out of window stock. After many months I felt I was in control of my environment; choosing colour themes and styles gave me the confidence to argue with the manageress about sale items of the wrong hue going in my display. She didn’t have a creative bone in her whole body. I stormed out of my beautiful career and took a job in a café on West Nile Street. It was late 1970 and things were never quite the same again.


writer girl said...

Stop being distracted and write this stuff in a book, woman! I'd read it. WG

ireneintheworld said...

you made me laugh out loud WG. i will. x

miss*R said...

I was searching for Black Tulip lipstick and found this post! thank God I wasn't the only one who wore the lipstick and also had the nail polish.. this post is terrific! It brings back lots of memories from my teenage years.. memories which i had forgotten!

ireneintheworld said...

hi missR. if you pop over to my biography blog you can hear the music from the links i've inserted.


irene x