Friday, April 25, 2008


Feeling too ouchy to crochet today, I realised that I could no longer postpone the inevitable. Whilst I love shopping for books and yarn, I abhor shoping for clothes and footwear. One of my feet has a deformed toe joint and my chunky limbs defy all but the most generous cuts. Oh, and speaking of cuts, I also realised that my hair had grown from birdsnest into haystack. So I set out into town with a traumatic day ahead of me. Agenda: have hair pruned, buy 2 pairs trousers, one pair comfy shoes, one sensible frock, with long sleeves.

Quivering with terror, I went to Hairy Canary (the only place in Cambridge that can cope with curly and wavy hair) and booked the only slot they had left: 5pm. The terror, I should point out, is caused by their prices, rather than their cuts! But this left me with 5 hours to fill. I did the best thing possible and went on a lunch crawl: a tasty baguette in a favourite cafe; a Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillies(eaten on Laundress Green) and a lemon tea in the coffee bar at the Grad Pad. The view from there is always beautiful but today my eye was caught by two ladies crossing the bridge on Silver Street: each was wearing a purple jacket and a red hat. Does that combination ring any bells for you? I immediately thought of Jenny Joseph's "Warning":

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

and decided that here were two women out for a day's anarchy. I stuck my head back into the paper I was reading (you can tell how keen I was to get the clothes shopping done!). Imagine my surprise and glee when, 15 mintues or so later, I saw another half dozen ladies dressed in purple, with red hats, congregating beside Queens' College. Suddenly, a dozen more appeared, one of whom was quite clearly a rebel, daring to wear a red ensemble with a purple hat. Then an entire coach load arrived, one of whom (total renegade) was in a red skirt, purple hat and leopardskin print jacket! All appeared to be post retirement age. As even more ladies in purple and red arrived I decided I had to rush over to Queens' to see what was going on.

By the time I reached silver Street, the ladies were posing for photos, with the Mathematical Bridge directly behind them. One held a banner aloft. I could only read the first word: "fiery", I'm guessing that the other word was women. The ladies then processed across the bridge, heading for the college hall. They were, alas, too far away for me to get a good picture, but I had to try:

I shot round to the tourists' entrance, flashed my University Card (to avoid having to pay £2 admission) and asked the ladies manning the gate if they knew what was going in. All they could tell me was that there was a big dinner going on. Of course, since I was in no hurry to do any clothes shopping, I took the opportunity to explore the college grounds.

Mind you, even a Uni Card can't get you into the Fellows' Garden: college members only. Hmm, I wonder what those ladies in red and purple thought, and whether they dared enact the line about picking flowers in other people's gardens?

Here's the poem in full:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Eventually I had to cave in and go shopping. And, whilst I spent plenty, I still don't have any trousers, comfy shoes or sensible frock. But I do have a sparkly skirt and some heels to wear with them! Oh well, I get paid again in a month's time. Now I must go and practice my spitting.*

*I bet I'll do better at that than spinning. I have two bobbins full of disaster waiting to be plied, once the ouching eases...

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks to Ambermoggie for pointing me to the Red Hat Society web pages: it was their Grand Eastern Gathering!


ambermoggie said...

red hat society:)
British red hats
probably more than you wanted to know:))

Mary deB said...

Oh, what fun!

And much better for you to stalk a bunch of ladies in hats than go shopping for shoes!

And how did the haircut go?

Daisy said...

I love that poem. We read it at primary school & then had to write our own versions of it (accompanied by pictures!). Totally sympathise with the shopping and haircut - I loathe clothes shopping and I've just realised I haven't had my hair cut for 5 months. Oops.

Jo said...

I cut my own hair, and as for shoes, I live and die in my crocs, I have 4 pairs and have been eyeing up new colours, don't care how unfashionable they are, or how many 'old' ladies live and die in there's all I need now is a red hat!

Jo said...

should have been theirs!