The Togs Blog

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Well, it seemed like a good idea, pinning my musings about literary and theatrical activities around the theme of clothes - and so damned metaphorical! (and thank you, Katy Evans-Bush) - but there are things I just can't talk about here without bending over backwards to force the connection, so I'm starting a new blog instead.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cheap skill

I am so ignorant. I had never set foot in Primark until the Bitch Lit publishers sent me there for a top for the photoshoot. Two summers ago, when I was producing my play O'Leary's Daughters for the 24:7 Theatre Festival, as we walked across town to our rehearsal venue, Hayley Considine (who played one of the daughters) waxed lyrical about Primark, how cheap yet how stylish! Well, Hayley was newly graduated then and still in effect a poverty-stricken student, so I smiled indulgently and said nothing, thinking, You won't get me through those doors to buy badly-made tat churned out in sweat shops.

Well, I can't say I'm ever flush myself, and I get my clothes in charity shops, and pride myself in paying little for beautifully-made garments, one of which I photograph here.

Now, I know about these things. My mother is a whizz needleworker, like the mother in my recently-finished novel, but, unlike the daughter in my novel, I don't despise her for it - I can appreciate a blinding skill when I see one. And unlike the daughter in my novel I let her teach me to sew. (Though I did have my moments: the time for instance, I tried to make a tailored tweed suit and ended up throwing it on the floor and jumping up and down on it.)

Well, this fine linen blouse is beautifully done. Tiny buttons, neatly sewn, beautiful buttonholes, the neatest gathers and every edge properly finished, not a loose thread in sight. It was only when I went into Primark the other day that I realised that its brand name was Primark's own, and that the four pounds I paid for it was probably not much less that what the blouse cost new.

Well, I know that Primark's 'ethical score' is not as bad as it was, but I wonder about the woman who sat at the machine in Thailand or wherever, spending the kind of care and skill over that garment which my mother would do. For what wages? And only to have it treated as a disposable item, dropped off at the charity shop when the following week's fashion replaced it...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Polka Dots of the Mind

Polka dots in all the shops and polka dots on the front cover of Bitch Lit, due from Crocus Books in September, a collection of stories about bitches, intended as an antidote to chick-lit.

There are of course many things of greater importance in this world to ponder, but I find myself pondering this: how did polka dots, hitherto a kind of symbol of innocence, become a symbol of bitchiness? Thing is, when I think of polka dots I think of children's telly. I think of my brother sliding on his bottom on the shiny kitchen floor in his spotted brown playsuit, I think of my mother with her hair done up washer-woman style in a spotty scarf, I think of buckets and spades and the dotted bathing suits my sister and I had the year we were eight and ten, and the sand in our sandwiches, and between our toes, and all that whining for an ice-cream, and the feeling sick when you got one because you'd had too many sweets before. Not exactly sophisticated associations.

Though I suppose there was always that element of in-your-face cheek: that fifties itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikini, named after the site of an early nuclear test and expected, or so Wikipedia tells us, to cause a mega-explosion of scandalised attention. And anyway there are not many symbols that can't be given a different spin, and this anthology is precisely all about subversion, in particular subverting the chick-lit view of women. I'm in the Bitch-Lit anthology, and we were sent to Primark to fight the crowds for polka-dot tops to wear for a photo-shoot, and the garments we found were of a whole different kind from the ones in my memories: black with white spots, plunge-necked camisoles and silky corsets with lace. Polka dots subverted for bitches and vamps.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Today He is Wearing a Cloud of Animals...

...and a veritable hot-air nimbus of corporate culture.

An image I came across yesterday on an outing to Chester Zoo, research for a play I must write by Friday... Yikes.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Joy of Disguise

Talking of transformations: last year for 24:7 I performed my own satirical monologue, Drinks With Natalie, an adaptation of my earlier radio play, Dry Sherry. This involved me getting dressed up (as the pic shows) as a latter-day Beverley (re Abigails's Party), and greeting the audience in costume and welcoming them to my 'drinks party'.

I was delighted to find that the sound crew included Dave Midgely, whom I'd met the previous year when he'd acted in a show. 'Hi!' I cried to him the first night, from my post where I was waiting for the audience with my bowl of crisps and my glass of 'wine' and my little finger sticking out.

He looked startled and responded a little coolly, I thought, in view of the fact that we'd gone after-show boozing the year before. When my performance was over and I emerged from behind the screens in my jeans he looked even more startled. 'God, it's YOU!' he exclaimed.

It's what we do in our heads all the time as writers, get inside the skins of other people, but there's nothing like the kick of doing it in the flesh - and hoodwinking others!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Diva in the Loo

On Tuesday I ushered for 24:7 at the Palace Theatre in the Grand Tier bar. Between shows I dashed to the loo, which meant going into the darkened Grand Tier itself, the steeply raked gallery of the theatre, with its red plush seats and the staircase like a cliff-face leading down to the toilets. I opened the door to the toilets and a women's voice inside rang out: 'Well, I am a gay icon!'

I glimpsed the speaker, a woman in shorts and heels and with a mass of blonde hair applying makeup in front of the mirror, before I ducked into the nearest cubicle, slightly embarrassed at bursting in on such a conversation. She spoke again, and it was only as I was shutting the cubicle door that I realised she was now speaking to me and that no one else was present. 'I'm going over my lines,' she told me. She was in the next play (which I had not yet at that point seen), the now-famous (and sadly finished) Divas and Double Glazing.

'I auditioned for a play of yours once,' she told me through the cubicle door, and I suddenly realised who she was: Stella Grundy. That other time she came for a part as a serious and academic feminist, but this week she played to perfection the mad diva mother of the young gay hero. Oh, the magical transformations of costume - and brilliant acting, of course!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Meanings of Black

Black for sobriety. That's what us black-dressed Front of House staff are meant to stand for, sobriety and safety. Showing people the way, pointing out the fire exits before the show starts, we're at strange uneasy odds with the colourful flights of imagination on stage and theatrical suspension of disbelief. The no-nonsense reality check. Except that in a fringe festival like 24:7 most of the box-office staff and ushers are actors really. One night this week Francis's black top had sequins; another night Becky wore a sash with silver threads, and Gerry wore gold pumps, subverting the uniform and switching the connotations: black for excitement and glamour.

And speaking of glamour: the scheduled performances of Colin Carr's Divas and Double Glazing have sold out, so by public demand there'll be an extra performance tonight at 10.15 in the Midland Hotel.