It is one of those cold, wet winter days consumed by grey. Where the sky seems to reach right down to the pavements and gardens in one vast wash of greyness. If I had a view of the sea at this moment the sea and sky would be indistinguishable from one another, just all grey, the kind of picture perfect for making a really tricky jigsaw puzzle from. I am in a loft room in the east midlands at present – a sea view a geographical impossibility. There are three roof windows cut out of the sloping ceilings, two on one side of the apex, one on the other, and the colour of sky is exactly the same shade in each. Farrow and Ball would list it on their paint chart as ‘nondescript grey’. Or perhaps just, ‘nondescript’. A slice of Victorian chimney can be seen through two of the windows, I could climb on a chair, open them, and reach out and touch the bricks, only it is tipping it down and so I definitely will not. In dry weather it’s rather lovely to open them up and peer out across the neighbouring roof tops, and to accidentally eavesdrop on snippets of conversation that drift upwards from people in the street.
It’s very noisy in here today, the rain isn’t so much pattering against the windows as throwing itself enthusiastically against them as if trying to smash its way in. Persistent precipitation! I don’t mind though, the effect is marvellously dramatic, like a scene from a film where the main character stands at a window wringing her hands, watching the bonkers weather do its thing, anxiously awaiting the safe arrival of… somebody. Or, she’s in a cosy log cabin in the middle of nowhere, and whilst outside the weather is very dramatic, the inside is absolutely not – with the occupant curled up in front of a roaring log fire, wearing a suitably fluffy jumper and chunky woollen socks, hands wrapped round a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Oooh, hot chocolate, I really fancy a cup now the notion is in my head. I could phone one of my offspring, who are somewhere about in the house, and request that said hot beverage be brought up to my garret. I say ‘garret’, obviously I am a hopeless romantic suffering from deluded-tortured-artist syndrome, picturing myself in a scene from ‘La Bohème’, or at the very least the attic in ‘Little Women’, with Scrabble, the rat, looking on. Delicious adjectives like ‘wretched’ and ‘dismal’, garret-defining dictionary definitions, float around in the garret of my imagination. In real life my twenty first century version has insulated walls, radiators and electric lighting, with access to hot beverages. Not very wretched.
Aside from the weather, my current personal scenario is undramatic. I am not awaiting anyone’s arrival, aside from a child carrying hot chocolate – nobody answered their phones, I left messages. Neither am I enjoying the romance of a log cabin or roaring fire. I am, however, wearing chunky woollen socks and a jumper, flat, not fluffy, and my writing trousers, whilst reclining on a futon settee. I’m sure that lots of people must own a pair of writing trousers, only they’re not necessarily called writing trousers. Comfy leg coverings worn multiple times until the knees stick out and the bottom hangs far below that of a moderately aged human being – generous elasticated waist essential. If you have chosen your trouser fabric wisely, a whizz in the washer magically returns all saggy overstretched parts to normal. My particular writing trousers were purchased specifically to aid comfort when writing for prolonged stints curled up in the enormous spinny chair, which is where I began this day, at the desk in my garret, and for no other purpose. They are not aesthetically pleasing, on or off my legs, and under no circumstances will they ever venture outside the front door. Not with my legs in them anyway.
I bought them last spring, when meeting a friend for writing trouser shopping and lunch in a café was a thing, before COVID-19 came into being. I’m not a big fan of clothes shopping for fun, I generally do it when there’s a specific something that I need, like a new gig top or some writing trousers – and it is always more enjoyable with a chum. Especially one who is blisteringly honest about what suits and what doesn’t. No need to ask her, “does my bum look big in this?” She will already have told me. The same goes for writing trousers. Her eyes swept over me appraisingly in the H&M changing rooms. “They don’t do anything for you, but they’ll wash well”, she was right, “and if they’re comfy then they’re perfect for what you need”.
When in town with this particular friend we often end up dipping into John Lewis, sometimes with a specific purchase in mind, but mostly because it’s just what happens. We’ll be walking through the shopping centre nattering away and then, by a kind of magic, we’ll find ourselves in the John Lewis hat department. I don’t remember the first time that it happened, but it’s been ongoing since our ‘A’ Levels! We both love a hat, and the fancy schmancy offerings in John Lewis never disappoint. Elegant silk hats, hats with little bits of netting, hats that need wing mirrors to negotiate doorways, hats that you can’t figure out which way round they’re meant to be. We try them all on. We just can’t help ourselves. The day of the writing trouser expedition it was the deely bopper head gear that particularly grabbed my attention. Delicate bits of this and that, feathers and shiny beads, all stuck onto a head band or fixed to the head by a clip. The fascinator. I like to think that I’m the sort of person that might wear a pretty frock on a random week day, just because, but a fascinator surely only comes out at a wedding, or a posh horse race. And how about the hatinators? The very name makes me smirk; I feel a nonsense rhyme coming on! Hatinators are like fascinators but with a doll sized hat attached, obviously.
The number of hats that we must have tried on over the years, and never once has a John Lewis person asked us to stop, or to hurry up and buy one – which is very lovely of them. I suspect that we are actually a pretty good advert for John Lewis millinery, as to the observer it is clear that we are enjoying a most excellent shopping experience, never mind that we don’t actually buy a hat!
My original writing intention was not to blather on about the weather or garrets, nor writing trousers or hats. My intention was to crack on with my current writing project – a kind of biographical story about my dad’s travels around the world as a young man. This loft room houses all of my ‘dad notes’, maps and photographs, with handily placed dictionary, thesaurus and pencil pot, permanently ready for writery action. However, when I realised that I had been googling divine, unaffordable designer boots for a solid thirty minutes, instead of knuckling down to my ‘book of dad’ and the Middle East of the nineteen sixties, I succumbed to the distraction of the rain. I rejected the large desk and serious black Mastermind office chair, and the Middle East, in favour of the futon settee and a snuggly blanket – dangerously soporific conditions, but excellently placed for sky gazing, of the nondescript kind, and for ignoring the row of Post-it Notes decorating the writing desk! Not that the office chair isn’t comfortable, especially when wearing one’s writing trousers, and it does have a very pleasing swivel, but a change of scene, and seat, is helpful when unexpectedly altering one’s writing direction for the day.
I lean back on the settee, letting my eyes cross as I stare up at the rain. A door bangs gently somewhere downstairs. A fascinating fascinator, that’s what I’ll buy when the shops are open again. I’ll have lunch in town with my hat chum and we’ll try on all the formal headwear that John Lewis has to offer, and I will buy a fancy, frivolous, fascinating fascinator, just because.
Above the sound of thrashing rain comes the clumping of feet up the bare wooden stairs, and with them, the unmistakable whiff of hot chocolate.