Aurora.

day13

On day four of this course I penned a tale of loss, which was the first instalment in a series of posts. In today’s second part, I have scribbled a tale of something found…

 

Aurora.

The stinging winced across Laura’s ankle every time she made contact with the concrete. The sapphire velvet chafed incessantly against skin that was now blushed pink, as pin pricks of rose red began assembling at the surface, ready to spill. A paper thin layer of skin cells started to get up and leave their quarters on the inside arch, exasperated at being continually hassled, they escaped in mounds, leaving droplets of red behind.

After untold strides, Laura liberated her feet from their evening of incarceration. Inside, the rich velvety fibres were seeped in scarlet, a prophecy to every foot that ever dared venture inside again.

When the world tells you there is no way back at six years old you believe it.

Can’t Buy Me Love.

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Over the coming years I was to become privy to the eccentricities of a few notable ladies, some with a surprise or two up their sartorially splendid sleeves…

In a fashion house commended for its attentive, one-on-one service, it was somewhat overwhelming when we were faced with numerous customers vying for our attention. My most challenging to date came courtesy of a woman who strutted through the door with an air of majesty, and was very much the mother hen to a clucking dozen of beautiful twenty-somethings that trailed in behind her.

Possessing a presence that overwhelmed, this lady’s polished exterior was considerably rehearsed; her morning’s dressing was done with a well informed consciousness… From her status-bearing Cartier watch and her Chanel initialled earrings, to her Prada pencil dress and the gold Bvlgari band on her ring finger, she was every inch the epitome of an elegant woman of wealth.

Instantly she sashayed towards me, and in a demanding-but-politely-so tone she told me she needed several outfits for her girls; outfits that exuded sexiness but with elegance, that made one appear youthful but accomplished, and that were classy but dangerously so.

The gaggle stood, now silent and hanging on her every word, each one a living version of the girls that graced the pages of the Vogue magazine I was about to thumb through during my lunch break.

As she sifted through outfits and passed them to each appropriate protégé, our upper floor transformed into a scene akin to the backstage dressing area at London Fashion Week; a sea of semi-naked bodies, clad in agent provocateur, hips-a-jutting and making every outfit look a million times what it was worth.

Just an hour and a hefty five figure sum later, having danced circularly within my own head, I had failed to deduce exactly why these girls were being decked out in lavish clothing and I certainly couldn’t fathom what the woman’s relationship with them actually was.

For all the inventive, off the wall scenarios I had fleetingly entertained, the most realistic reasoning I could dream up was that these girls were in fact soon to have their own place on the coveted pages of my fashion magazines, and the matriarch was indeed their agent.

Nevertheless, when I joked to her that surely models were the one envied breed that were excessively showered in complimentary attire, she replied in her plummy, husky voice “darling, I think you and I both know that these ladies are no models, and I am no booker.”

As she and her tribe departed, I couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or flattered when she handed me her business card whispering provocatively in my ear “if any of you ever fancy a change in direction…”.

The card read “Leading London Escort Agency”. Madam she was.

A Cut Above.

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The fashion houses of Knightsbridge came hand in hand with Royal Ascot, Henley and summer wedding territory, and so I became accustomed to the prim and proper of London’s social elite: the ladies who vied for matching two pieces to be topped off with flamboyant fascinators or a theatrical hat.

I couldn’t help but find fondness for one particularly affluent woman who would visit us each season to ready her wardrobe for the social obligations of the coming months. Like many others, she would plump for traditional cocktail dresses and matching suits and jackets, but each time she dented her bank balance, she would ask to see the in house tailor.

I soon ascertained that this wasn’t the usual alterations request where the customary motions of nipping a hem in here or tucking a dart in there were followed. This lady required something I imagine many of these socialites yearned for amidst their restrictive pencil skirts and their wiggle room only seams. She wanted each and every hem hacked at within an inch of her derriere.

As was deemed appropriate by the vast majority of our customers, the length of our dresses was accustomed to falling just below the knee. Nevertheless, this particular shopper, whom, might I add was some 70 years old, was not satisfied with anything that didn’t brazenly skim her knicker-line.

During their first encounter, the seamstress was understandably weary of cutting into several hundreds of pounds worth of fabric to create something she wouldn’t let her own teenage daughter wear past her front door, but nevertheless, after just one season we knew the drill: if all and sundry was not being flaunted, then this eccentric pensioner would not be satisfied.

In the decade where Ascot’s rules of dress were being published in every newspaper to avoid the faux par of a heaving bosom or an unashamed pair of bare shoulders, I only wish I could have witnessed one of her entrances into her world of cocktail parties and canapés.

Bare Faced Cheek.

Confessions9

Just a couple of months of working in SW3 and I had almost settled into the rich comforting cradle of this borough. That said, it was as though the powers that be were aware of my contentment when they decided to prescribe me with a dose of reality, giving me a ruthless reminder of the antics I thought I had left behind in Soho.

In this designer boutique for ladies, once again I was mainly in the company of women, so I was surprised to greet a tall middle-aged man on this particular day.

Hurrying through the door he hastily ventured to our lower floor, one that was softly lit with skylights and favoured amongst the more private customers who wanted the very best in sales attention.

Following the man downstairs I asked if he would like a hand; a turn of phrase I would unquestionably regret just minutes later. At his request to find a dress, I ventured deeper into the basement into our luminously lit stock room, which sat beneath the pavement and the footsteps of the well heeled.

Triumphant in my search I rushed up the stairs, dress in hand, to be greeted by the customer, lingering in the centre of the room, his outfit having seemingly disappeared from sight. The stoic response I had so carefully perfected in Soho scrambled out of the window, as I stood, jaw ajar, staring at the man I’d assumed was lovingly hunting for a gift for his betrothed.

An unfamiliar wail whipped through the room, startling the visitor with its decibels and astounding me when I realised it was emanating from my own throat. As I continued to shriek, I wandered robotically to the changing room, retrieved his clothing, walked upstairs with the pile and hurled it onto the pavement outside. Leaping up the stairs behind me, the visitor hurried outside, bent at the waist, tiptoe prancing and covering himself as though he’d been caught skinny dipping in the Thames during the coldest of Januaries.

As my screaming subsided and I witnessed him cowering on the pavement, I wished for a passer by with an oversized palm to make contact with the cheeks of his bottom, but then again, that probably wouldn’t have been deemed punishment for someone who obviously got his thrills from the most bizarre of acts. He thrust on his socks and scurried along the street, worriedly glancing back as though I could add insult to his injury at any moment. I saw his hand flailing in the air as he drifted… I wonder if he did ever manage to flag down that taxi.

A Class of Their Own

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Once I had left the limits of the salacious Soho I found another job to wage against the destitute reality of studentdom. I got an upgrade, to a designer boutique that shimmered amidst the golden glow of Knightsbridge.

One may have thought that with this geographical change I would welcome an absence of the strange behaviour I was used to, but as it turns out, these customers were in a class of their very own…

Whether it just came with the territory, or it was a contributing aspect of their extreme wealth, a lot of the ladies I was to come across (many of them officially Lady’s) were not bashful when it came to a spot of bartering. My past negotiations over pennies in the souks of Marrakesh were to seem trivial when compared to the haggling hands of this new calibre of customer.

Consistently I was asked if a ‘better price’ dangled within my grasp, a question to which my taut lipped smile would plead futility but there was, without fail, those who wouldn’t accept ‘no’ as a satisfactory response. Admittedly my smiles were consistently counterfeit, especially when my mind compared my morning’s tube journey spent thrust between a greasy window and a clammy chap, to the spacious back seat of a Bentley, which would typically unload said customer just a Louboutin clad foot from our front door.

With the bargain hunter’s beady eyes closely watching I would repeat the laborious process of telephoning every tier of the management ladder that towered above me, nodding and smiling with the receiver shoved tight against my ear for fear that they would hear what a “money grabbing, tight fisted, miser” the powers that be actually thought they were.

For all the trouble it may have gotten me in I was often tempted to accidentally-on-purpose nudge the loudspeaker button and watch contentedly as the bartering customer made an embarrassed getaway, never to be seen again.

That said, knowing the thought process of this particular breed, this would only have armed them with ample bargaining power to get what they really hunted for.

A conclusion would only be achieved after an explicit no from the company MD, at which point the Louis Vuitton purse would be presented from the Chanel handbag, and the bank card would grudgingly be thrust into my hand… and I could guarantee that it would always say Coutts.

Dragging the Queen.

Confessions7

Saturday mornings were always the most interesting when it came to wandering to work. The daybreak sunshine would cast quite a different light on Soho than the previous evening’s starlight and neon blend, and as I wandered to work I would witness the remnants of debaucherous nights spent getting up to no good.

Besides the usual nocturnal mammals queuing up for coffee and retracing their steps in a bid to find the nearest escape, more often than not I would unearth something a little more eye catching.

My most memorable morning moment came courtesy of a gentleman I shall call Sue, for no male name would be worthy of the feminine spirit and the ladylike attire he was emblazoned with when we first met.

When I approached the doorway of my little girly boutique workplace I noticed something awry. Just like the side bobbing head one witnesses when a film character overtly double-takes, I glanced back and forth several times before I noticed a slender heel sticking out from within the recessed doorway. As I got closer I noticed that one of the previous night’s revellers had decided to give in to his impending coma and slump between the pink framed entrance of my shop, buried in baby like sleep and dressed in an outfit that was definitely deemed x rated.

The Pakistani man from the paper shop opposite smiled at me from his doorway, muttered something about the cesspit of today’s society and its interpretation of fun, and then retreated back inside, helpfully leaving me and the drag queen to settle our differences alone.

After a lifetime of prodding, poking and shoving, this night time reveller definitely wasn’t waking up. Grabbing his stiletto, I pulled. His head slid down the door and curled onto the floor, and across the cobbles we went, an image of sweet and sour, his blonde wig trailing behind him, my pastel chiffon dress getting more creased by the second.

Just as we reached the square of concrete that I had appointed his home for the next few hours, his faux lash adorned eyelids flapped open and his eyeballs danced full circle before focusing on my face.

“Are we in heaven?”

To this day I cannot decide if he was referring to the pearly gates or the nightclub a few doors down.

A Piercing Sight.

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By now it had become apparent that many of the bizarre wanderers of Soho were prowling for some sort of thrill. From what I could gather, it was not in their actions that they gained rapture, but in the reaction of those they would play to, which more often than not, was me.

This couldn’t have been demonstrated more so than in my next tale…

It was a glorious sunny day in London, which is such a rarity that I longed to be doing anything other than being slumped inside waiting for customers. Through the sun drenched doorway another eccentric ‘Soho-ian’ graced me with his presence.

Looking like a throw back from the eighties, with a Pat Sharpe mullet and dazzling MC Hammer trousers, he drifted in, instantly looking at odds with this girly dreamland.

To my already pricked ears he told the tale of a looming Rocky Horror Picture Show party; that he was in possession of the obligatory stockings and suspender belt, but that he needed something extra special to ice the cake of his guise.

I pondered on the matter for a second or two, hoping he would realise that our image was the polar opposite to the tranny trash fabulousness of Rocky Horror, but he seemed genuinely enthused. It is a pity I was all too unaware of the real reason for this apparent enthusiasm, for after selecting a sheer chiffon blouse, he had a slight surprise up his sleeve…

Disregarding my initial reluctance I agreed to his trying on of the garment. After all, at our current rate of trade I couldn’t expect a visit from a girl who’d be surprised to see this strange looking man dressed in the blouse she’d had her eye on.

After some time I grew anxious, and it was through gritted teeth that I asked him if he was ok; for I did not want this question to prompt his exit from behind the dressing room curtain. Lo and behold, it did. But instead of the eighties darling in floral chiffon I was expecting, I was confronted with a middle aged man, his curly blonde hair in pigtails, his cheeks rouged, his lips painted, his eyes adorned with fake lashes and his lower half absolutely unclad, the see-through blouse grazing the top of his thighs. The blouse was so see through in fact, that my eyes were consequently violated by the detail of a terribly personal piercing. I believe a Prince Albert is its official name.

As he stood, punch proud with his hands on his hips, belly protruded and groin thrust outwards, I knew this was my very own Horror Show performance.

Extremely careful not to bat a single eyelid, I instead shrugged my shoulders, as though this were an every day occurrence and said “Not very Rock Horror though is it? Maybe for something else though?”

With that I shut the curtain over a very disheartened face.

Out of all Proportion.

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The Soho factor seemed to influence many a customer of this decidedly girly boutique. Whether it was the nature of the clothes, or the nature of the area, we seemed to attract a certain amount of unwanted attention of the male variety.

My first insight into this world came courtesy of a man in his fifties, who was looking to buy a gift for his so called girlfriend. I hoped she was more of a trophy sweetheart than his age equivalent, seeing that our clothes would have embarked on their voyage to mutton parading as lamb on any woman a day past twenty five.

As he thumbed our threads, indiscreetly perusing mine at the same time, I asked him what size his girlfriend was.

Nonchalantly he replied, his answer followed by an impolite demand that I try on the get up he had selected. Towards me he thrust the most miniscule skirt we stocked, and a barely there bikini top.

Horrified at the prospect of having to parade around in what barely constituted clothing, giving this tactless visitor grounds to be gawking, I informed him that my size was really rather far removed from that of his girlfriend. He grimaced and urged the clothes into my arms regardless.

“Try.” He commanded, whilst waving towards the fitting room and stunning my painstakingly composed manner with a tiny tap to my derriere.

As a vivid vision of me thwacking him across the cheek invaded my head, I grappled for a moment with what would have been my inherent response had this not been my place of work.

Eyeballing his unaffected stare it was through gritted teeth that I asked him where his girlfriend was. Awkwardly, his gaze averted to his feet, disappointed at my reaction.

“You’re not going to try them.” It was more a realisation than a question as he sheepishly hung his head, sidestepping my gaze.

“No.” I replied. “Definitely not.”

With that he let out a small, high pitched groan and wandered hastily out of the door.

Fortune’s Fool.

Confessions4

After keenly acclimatising with my novel city surrounds, I started to become accustomed to the spiced variety of London’s inhabitants. Among these peculiar, habitually eccentric individuals, were the crystal gazers of Soho…

I often alluded to the fortune tellers’ apparent aptitude in glimpsing the future, by pointing out their inability to gauge my imminent refusal of their services. Surely they could save themselves the trouble before even crossing the threshold of my frosty reception? After several encounters I did advise one particularly persistent woman that she should put her skills to good use and increase her trade by only selecting the people who sought the telling of their fortunes. In response, she glared at me with her Romany eyes and muttered something under her breath. She then brandished her dirt ridden hand over my head and I suspected I had become subject to a deadly curse.

I was somewhat unbothered by the thought of having a curse cast upon me by a woman I deemed ‘un-psychic’, until one day during another unwelcome trip she informed a colleague of mine that her baby was going to die. I took great pleasure in telling the old woman that with no baby to speak of, her information was fatally flawed. Singing her mother tongue obscenities she retreated, and the girl I was working with, not quite triumphant in her fight to conceal her tears, made a dive for the back room.

In sympathy I shouted my opinion of our guest towards the girl, ‘silly old bat’ and ‘institutionalised’ making a definite appearance in my description.

It was then that she confided in me that she was indeed with child, but that she was yet to tell a single soul. This little nugget of information was to spark a spine tingle, in what felt like a slow motion reveal in a Hitchcock film whereby the femme fatale realises her time has come; the moment I considered that my card was well and truly marked.

Regardless of the subsequent eight months that the expectant mother bore with a nervous disposition following said prophecy, both mother and baby have since become and have remained healthy and happy. As for my cursed existence from there on in, it might have plunged and peaked here and there, but it has done so much akin to everyone else’s. Be that as it may, a couple of times a year, when things might be looking particularly troublesome, the clairvoyant’s callous sounds will dart into my head and for just a few seconds, I will be left wondering if my judgment day still looms in the distance…

Whispers in the morning

Confessions2

In a tiny town such as the one where this particular baby boutique was based, the same familiar faces were often churned up in the daily grind. No one was more memorable however, than the lady who features in my next story…

 

Nestled next to the children’s shop was a quaint tea house that made its fortune though yummy mummy caffeine doses and senior specials. It was on my first working weekday that I was going about my morning routine when I heard a high-pitched sound surfacing from outside. After ignoring it for a second or two, I was coerced into caring when it grew several decibels, and it dawned on me that it was someone attempting to sing. Regrettably this voice was neither soothing nor relaxing, but once I had conquered the initial prickly pierce to the ears it was somewhat entertaining.

I wandered over to the window in an attempt to see from whom this jumbled up version of Fly Me To The Moon was coming from. I’m not entirely sure of where my expectations existed, but they certainly weren’t to be found in the image I was about to set eyes on… A white haired lady dressed in a polka dot patterned dress and soft soled shoes. Contently she sat with her mug of tea, oblivious to the stares of the other, calmer, coffee morning customers.

After watching her for a while, attempting to guess her choice of song every time a new melody hit the airwaves – a much meaner feat that it sounds – I noticed that I was the only local who had been distracted by this ruckus. This, and a few consecutive days of being presented with the same act,informed me that this was no alien presence of a weekday morning. This lady, whether one liked it or not, came hand in hand with the OAP coffee break.

I also quickly learnt that her morning routine would include an amble around my shop. She would open the door, I would greet her, she would ignore me, but she would murmur tales of a troubled past beneath her breath. Besides her piercing warbles, these whispers were the only thing I would ever hear leave her mouth. It was perhaps her only means of stopping the memories, for when she wasn’t whispering she would sing, and when she wasn’t singing she would whisper, there was never a moment of silence in between.

She would go from garment to garment, grazing fine velour with greasy fingers and often leaving traces of ketchup behind. Then she would walk away ahead of audible trails of wind, prompting me to realise why there was a can of air freshener behind the till.

Until one day she stopped. Her clockwork routine was no longer inclusive of me or my efforts of cleaning in her wake. I must say it was a relief. Nevertheless, to this day she still attends every coffee morning, eats her over 60’s special and sings. Some days fairly loudly, other days rather softly, I guess it depends on how haunting her whispers are that day.