Friday, 15 January 2010

Of chocolate, Horlicks, and furs


So, my son arrived home safely, via Virgin, and term has started again, and the days are getting a little longer, and slowly, slowly, the winter nights will move toward spring.
I am not good at the winter, but have been doing my best to see the bright side, after feeling (literally) under the weather. (Such a true expression, when the skies are low and grey.) A very kind friend brought me a large box of Celebrations and a jar of Horlicks, both of which are good. I've discovered that Horlicks Light is not the same as the real thing (you add water, yuk, instead of mixing a paste with milk, like in the old days), but Horlicks Original still exists, hurrah.
Have also been much cheered by I re-reading I Capture The Castle, and laughing about the episode with the fur coats. Chapter 6: Rose and Cassandra visit London for the day, after the death of their Aunt Millicent, who has left them her furs. This is a surprise, as Cassandra has always believed that Aunt Millicent disapproved of furs. Anyway, they go to pick them up from the storage department of a shop that sounds to me like Harrods as it once was:
'The pale grey carpets were as springy as moss and the air was scented; it smelt a bit like bluebells but richer, deeper.
"What does it smell of, exactly?" I said. And Rose said:
"Heaven."'

However, Aunt Millicent's furs are revealed to be very unheavenly: 'We shook them out and examined them. There were two very long coats, one of them black and shaggy and the other smoothish and brown; a short, black tight-fitting jacket with leg o'mutton sleeves; and a large hairy rug with a green felt border.
"But whatever animals were they?" I gasped.
The white-haired woman inspected them gingerly. She said the brown coat was beaver and the short jacket, which had a rusty look under its black, was sealskin. She couldn't identify the rug at all -- it looked like collie dog to me...'

All this from the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmations. I'd love to have had the chance to ask Dodie Smith what she really thought about fur... She writes about the desire for it (the fur department of the heavenly shop smells different, 'an exciting smell') and its ugliness, as well as its dark allure. She wrote 'I Capture The Castle' on the West Coast of America, at the end of the second world war, while terribly homesick for England; the Dalmations came later, in the 1950s. But where on earth did Cruella de Vil spring from? Perhaps not earth -- she is too Satanic... but I always thought it intriguing to discover that as a schoolgirl, Cruella drank ink.

27 comments:

kairu said...

When I was 16 I went to London for the first (but I hope not the last) time with a much older, glamorous flight-attendant friend in the midst of reconciling with her 30-years-older then ex-husband. (Long story). She wanted two things: a diamond ring (we spent hours in every jewelry shop on Bond Street, old and new, trying on headlamp-sized diamond rings), which she did not buy, and a fur coat, which she did.

It all comes back to me now, the small shop selling every imaginable kind of fur, coats of every shape and style. We tried on dozens of them. On me they looked horrifyingly unflattering, thick and heavy, rendering my already shapeless body (in baggy cord trousers stolen from my elder brother and a too-large sweater) into a furry blob.

I remember the shop being quiet and warm, smelling of expensive perfumes and the undefinable soft scent of animal skins. My friend still wears her coat, a reversible rain trench lined in soft fur.

jaywalker said...

Apropos of nothing except on the subject of what you are reading, has anyone else read "Uncommon Arrangements - Seven Literary Marriages in London from 1910-1930"? Half way through and finding it fascinating. It's mainly the Bloomsbury lot of course but a few others as well. The author writes a very interesting introduction on the subject of traditional versus "progressive" marriage.

enid said...

I was amazed when in Prague at all the little old ladies in fur coats which somehow were not glamorous at all. I also remember my grannies fur stole complete with animal heads which which fascinated her grandchildren but which also gave us nightmares !!! So glad your son is safe and back on English soil. So glad you're back blogging.

Justine Picardie said...

Enid, I agree, those fur stoles with weird little heads are really spooky -- there's something of a voodoo doll about them. Thanks so much for your comments -- apart from everything else you bring to this blog, you always make me think of my childhood visits to my grandparents in Cape Town.
Kairu -- I love reading your scenes from a life. I hope you're threading them together into a string of pearls.
Jaywalker -- thanks for the recommendation. I'd really like to read the book. Are the Garnetts in it? My mother was related to that (very large) Edwardian clan, and the story goes that David Garnett (the Bloomsbury Group writer) got his nickname Bunny from his rabbit cloak as a child. Not sure if that's truth or myth, but it relates to my fur post, in a satisfyingly circular way!

harriet said...

I love Horlicks and I loved I Capture the Castle so much -- your extract reminded me what a great book it is. I have a fur coat bought in a charity shop in France a few years ago for about £10. It is grey Persian lamb made in Paris, beautifully lined, and has seen me through many a freezing winter including this one.

Justine Picardie said...

We're immediately on the same wavelength, then! Dodie Smith rules...

jaywalker said...

Yes, the Bell/Grant/Garnett story is included. How fascinating that you are related. Six degrees of separation! I'm a bit of a Bloomsbury voyeur and when you read about them it's almost unbelievable how connected in various ways they were. One example - Katherine Mansfield's cousin Elizabeth von Armin (My German Garden) had an affair with H G Wells in whose spare bedroom Angelica Bell lost her virginity to Bunny!! When we're in London we stay at the Tavistock and I love wandering round and finding the relevant blue plaques. I'd also heard the story of his name but can't remember where but Wikipedia includes it in its bio.

Justine Picardie said...

Have you read Angelica Garnett's memoir? I think that the overlapping of Bloomsbury relationships was, at times, damagingly incestuous. I love Charleston -- and the literary festival there is a joy to speak at as a writer (I did an event there about Daphne du Maurier), but for all the beauty of the houses, the paintings, the women, the ideas -- there was a darker, uglier seam that ran through the Bloomsbury tapestry.

Justine Picardie said...

Sychronicity -- in today's Sunday Telegraph (same magazine in which I write every week) there is an interview with Angelica Garnett. I just opened it now... It's by Tim Auld, and annoyingly, not online, so I can't post a link, but definitely worth reading if you can get hold of a copy of the Sunday Telegraph. Also, a sensitive review of Angelica Garnett's new quartet of short stories, The Unspoken Truth. It's by Jane Shilling in the Telegraph, published a few days ago:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/6947134/The-Unspoken-Truth-a-Quartet-of-Bloomsbury-Stories-by-Angelica-Garnett-review.html


By Jane Shilling
Published: 12:00PM GMT 11 Jan 2010

The Unspoken Truth by Angelica Garnett
Angelica Garnett is a child of Bloomsbury; the daughter of Vanessa Bell and her lover, Duncan Grant, the niece of Virginia Woolf. It is a heavy legacy, especially for someone who is a painter and a writer, and in her prizewinning memoir, Deceived with Kindness, Garnett described her attempts to escape from the Bloomsbury group’s stifling unconventionality. She returns to this theme in her quartet of stories whose title, The Unspoken Truth, hints at the source of the malaise that seems to have followed Bell throughout her long life.
Truth is something that Bloomsbury was not good at, preferring the glancing, the ironical, the half-grasped nuance beside which truth seems clumsy. Garnett’s four stories depict what seems to be a lightly fictionalised version of herself at various ages caught in a series of relationships in which she longs for, but cannot achieve, true intimacy.

jaywalker said...

Thanks, Justine. I will definitely look for the memoir but not likely to see the Sun Telegraph here in Tasmania so thanks for the quote.
Funny that it says they were not good at the truth yet in some ways it was their insistence on the 'truth' about their relationships that got them into trouble. The author of 'Uncommon Arrangements, Katie Roiphe, does take care to point out the pain they caused and the hypocrisy in some cases such as not telling Angelica about her father. And their absolute belief that following your feelings was imperative but worrying about others' feelings was not so paramount!
We visited Charleston on one trip but the house was closed but I had a good look through the windows and round the garden. I'd loved to see it again inside.

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Karen, Surrey said...

I have just begun to notice bird song at dusk and at dawn (up early again for the school runs). It does feel just a little bit like spring is around the corner. On the literary front I just can't seem to get into anything at the moment. Not even my book club book which was my choice! I have Gaskell, Woolf and Peter Ho Davies on my bedside table and I can't get going. Any ideas?

With regard to the fur have you ever visited the fur department at Harrods it is amazing. A couple of years ago I saw a fox jacket for £6000. But who would dare wear such a thing in London?

Knitting Out Loud said...

Horlicks sounds lovely! Years ago one could get malteds at the lunch counter in the 5 and 10. And wonderful story, kairu. Edward Gorey looked good in a fur coat and high tops. Does anyone remember the Lillian Hellman Blakglama ad? One day many years ago when I worked in an office in downtown Boston, I came to work with cat hair on my sweater and standing around the coffee machine brushing it off I noticed a co-worker had cat hair on her sweater too. I said I was glad not to be the only one and she looked down at herself and said, "Oh this is from my lynx." Parallel Lives, published some years ago, is an interesting study of Victorian wives.

Justine Picardie said...

Was that a dead lynx (as in coat) or live lynx (as in exotic pet)?

Young at Heart said...

Horlicks is definitely high on the list of top ten most comforting things. A summer time alternative is to sprinkle crushed Maltezers over vanila icecream. So glad your boy is returned safe and sound. Am now losing sleep over mine who has threatened to join the army. I don't think even Horlicks is going to sort out this one...

Justine Picardie said...

Mine has also done that from time to time. It would be completely tormenting to have a son in Afghanistan... as you say, well beyond the consolations of Horlicks.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Our thoughts are with you, young at heart.
Found an interesting story about Horlicks here: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/exhibits/horlicks/
Lastly, it was a coat (rats! would have been much more fun live).

Lesley-Ann said...

I think I am feeling like you did, and need the Horlicks and chocolates, any offers? I remember my grandma having a fur coat, bought by my grandad, I think from abroad, it was dark brown and filled the air with the smell of mothballs!
Love your blog, and really enjoyed Daphne, one of the best books I had read for a while, absorbing and thought provoking.

lillyanne said...

I Capture The Castle has been one of my all-time favourite books since I was a teenager in New Zealand many yonks ago. I still love it, especially the furs bit you quoted, and the descriptive perfume bit (the real Penhaligon bluebells disappointed me when I finally smelled it in London). And I still laugh at the memory of Rose holding high a glass of creme de menthe (which she has no intention of drinking) because it looks so stunning against her hair. It was all so eccentrically exciting, somehow. Thanks for reminding me and allowing me a burst of happy nostalgia.

Justine Picardie said...

So pleased you enjoyed Daphne, Lesley-Ann. Perhaps you should try I Capture The Castle, as well as Horlicks and chocolate? I recommend all three at once... Probably a better remedy than creme de menthe! Thanks, too, lillyanne and everyone else. Here's to the lengthening of the daylight...

oxford-reader said...

I knew reading I Capture the Castle would cheer you up! I love the fur coat episode, particularly the mayhem they create on the train pretending to be a bear! I'm going to have to watch the film.

Unrelated to this, but just wanted to let you know I've finally blogged about the perfect actress for Zuelika Dobson .... not Lily Cole in my humble opinion!

colleen said...

I have just been re-reading a diary I kept in 1978 while living on a farm in Herefordshire and the entry for January 27th ends "Had a Horlicks and went to bed". I seem to remember that it was critical for getting through the chill of January. Did they have it in the Castle? I don't think so.

Sarah Standalone said...

I am going to the Swiss mountains in Feb half term. However, I don't ski. So I will be taking my trusty camera, walking boots and a copy of I Capture The Castle to go with the other treasures I have accrued to read, after reading the other comments I feel I have missed out.

Justine are you planning to go to Hay this year? I will be there for the last 4 days and was wondering if you would be making an appearance - with or without Coco?

JaneGS said...

I kept on thinking about my mother's fur coat when I read the scene you described in I Capture the Castle. And your comments on Dodie Smith and fur make me smile because I love my mother's fur coat because it's hers, but it's also a pretty weird article of clothing and I wouldn't actually ever wear it.

My fave scene, btw, is when they dye their arms as well as dresses green. It also has one of the v best opening lines: 'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.' :) Must reread...

Maggie said...

Many moons ago I found a follow up to I Capture the Castle, called Return to the Castle. I very much regret that it went off to a charity shop after I'd read it. I have tried and tried to find a copy ever since my (now grown up) daughters read I Capture the Castle in their teens, with no luck. Has anyone read it? I'm sure I didn't imagine or dream it.

As to fir coats, in the recent cold weather I've been wearing my mother's mink coat to garden in. Would be too scared to wear it to go out or shopping in (despite its toasty warmness), but it's perfect for pottering round the garden in the snow. After all, that coat was made back in the early 70s, when it wasn't politically incorrect to wear furs.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

What always stuns me about I Capture the Castle and One Hundred and One Dalmations is how different they are from each other, despite having the same author.
My personal favourite testament to Dodie Smith's amazingness is the fact that one of my male friends (who has an absolute phobia against female authors unless they are JK Rowling- sorry to be saying that!) is desperate to borrow my copy of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I have a battered old 1960s copy, and I love it.

Carmina said...

some of the things I really like are chocaltes, cupcakes, horlicks, ice cream, Sildenafil , and desserts and your post just made me want to eat all that right now!