Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dress Down Sunday: Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn

published 1967  chapter 2



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES







There was a stack of Vogue and Queen magazines on the bedside table. [Bob] picked one of them up, and began to study the advertisements of underclothing and support garments. The women in the photographs all appeared to combine education and breeding with stunted pelvic development. Their eyes were soft and remote with the contemplation of spiritual things, and they seemed unaware of Bob’s sleepy libidinous eyes following them as they wandered through the long summer grass in nothing but their matching sky-blue underwear, or magnolia pink roll-on and crossed arms. They didn’t have bottoms. Well, all right, they had bottoms, but bottoms with sunken cheeks and spiritual expressions. A woman like that to grill his pork chops, thought Bob, and he would be reasonably content.





observations: What is it with these men and the underwear adverts? Recently we had the slightly loopy older gents of the Last Tresilians having a good chat about them, and here, a couple of years later, comes Bob, a bachelor pushing 40 – why is he even reading Vogue and Queen? His neighbour, Mrs Mounce, a bored married woman, is cooking his supper at the moment:
rolling her bottom importantly…. [she] emerged from the kitchenette, and glided about the room, her cigarette still up by her right ear, a fish slice in her left hand.
Later, she will meet Bob’s actual girlfriend and think to herself ‘A little of the old black-coffee-and-orange-juice, and a good roll-on, and she really wouldn’t look too awful.’ That means a diet, and a girdle like the ones above, for anyone in any doubt. Mrs Mounce is one of the better female characters, but she seems to belong in a Restoration Comedy.

In a previous entry I expressed doubts about how funny this cult book, by a very well-respected writer, actually is. The disastrous appearances on TV, the set-piece about a junket abroad with other PR people and journalists, the dire social events, and of course the women whose only interest is men – all left me cold. There is some entertainment: the man who is convinced the letter sacking him is a practical joke, the search for an up-and-coming area that you can just afford, and hoping that one day SW23 will become fashionable. But historical interest only, really, and not inclining you to mourn the loss of the good old days.

The pictures are, exactly, fashion adverts of the era.

12 comments:

  1. Love their idea of "wild"! This was the moment when women were burning their bras (or buying very light ones for the "natural look"), and wearing tights instead of stockings, so they no longer needed girdles. The manufacturers of restrictive corsetry worried that soon no-one would buy their products - and lo, soon nobody did!

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    1. Yes indeed - thinking about this, and about Xmas, I was remembering in a magazine of the time (Jackie maybe?) advice on getting a present for your Mum: buy her tights and stop her wearing draughty old stockings. It is not a new thing that young people know better and more than their parents....

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  2. I went back to stockings in the 70s, but you can't get proper ones any more! And "they" now make tights and socks that fit tall people. Only took them 30 years.

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  3. Moira - There's a fine line isn't there between what is witty and what isn't. And I have to say, although your review is fantastic as always, the book doesn't interest me (other than of course as a period piece).
    And honestly, I can't imagine wearing one of those girdles... Funny how what 'counts' as 'must haves' for women's underclothes has changed so much. I think I find the evolution of those views as interesting as anything else.

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    1. I know - the comparative freedom we have is amazing. The people who wore girdles probably felt they had freedom compared with those who wore corsets and stays, I'm guessing. You couldn't lounge in a corset. No wonder old chairs and sofas don't look that comfortable - women certainly couldn't relax in them

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  4. I can probably get through life without this one then Doesn't have me rushing headlong to the couple of Frayn books I do have though.

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    1. Col, many people love him and find him very funny, but he just doesn't do it for me. Which other ones do you have?

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    2. Spies and A Landing on the Sun.
      Humour is so hit and miss really, difficult to pull off and impossible to please everyone. Maybe I can read Spies for my as yet unset Espionage challange.

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    3. I read Spies - will be interested to see what you make of it. When is that scheduled - round about 2020?

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    4. Thanks for making me laugh on an otherwise rubbishy Monday morning at work........do I detect a hint of cynicism? 2020 indeed, I might have to delay it now to spite you!

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  5. Thank goodness, this does not appeal to me. I never (well, hardly ever) get humor anyway. I actually wore a girdle when I was very young... and did not need to. Archaic.

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    1. Yes this was more of a comment than a recommendation. And we're all better off without girdles...

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