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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet

Second-Hand Rose

A delightful little charity shop

My dear mother was a strange creature in many ways and frugal. She had to be. There was never any spare cash for luxuries or new clothes though she always had an eye for quality. Her father was a London taxi-cab driver and had regular customers, among them a Russian lady who had fled the Revolution and had opened a second-hand dress shop called 'Pauline's'. These were no ordinary cast-offs however, they were high-quality outfits from film-stars and aristocrats and were shown off in beautiful glass cases and on elegant rails.

My mother was petite and slim and looked wonderful in the beautifully-cut outfits. Mainly it was evening dresses she purchased as she and my father taught Old Time Dancing as well as entering competitions themselves. I remember a number of the elegant long gowns, particularly an off-the-shoulder one with a boned bodice and skirt delicately beaded in amethyst on a soft green net.

A special out-of-the-ordinary treat when I was allowed to accompany her to London was always in store at The Angel, Islington. Called 'The American Shoe Shop', hundreds of pairs of glamorous high-heels were quite literally strung together and hung from top to bottom all around the walls. Pink suede, sparkly leather, peep-toes and ankle-straps. Everything English shoes were not, and with tiny feet Mum had more choice than most. I remember her wearing a pair of their ankle-strapped platform-soled high-heels with a little gold coin and chain at the buckle. A tailored black coat and close-fitting hat with an elegant tassel both from Pauline's made for a very classy outfit. She was with a group of ladies visiting the Houses of Parliament and looked more like she came from the Home Counties than from a council estate in outer London.

Such visits though from out-of-town Essex were a rarity and by the time I was school-age, most of my outerwear was bought second-hand either from the 'posh' houses nearby or from jumble sales where it was a sight to behold some women aggressively jostling others out of their way and rapidly up-turning heaps of clothing to snatch at anything that took their eye. Woe betide anyone who made a grab at the same time!

So, I grew up grateful that I actually had something to wear and fretful that my best friend (an only child), had everything new. I think my worst memory of being 'Second-Hand Rose' was during P.E. lessons one day at junior school when we stripped to vest and knickers, only mine weren't: they were pants with the opening sewn up, immediately noticed by the boys who teased me remorselessly.

Jumble sales are almost a thing of the past now and in their place are charity shops. Thousands of them. Gradually the realisation that they are very good places to shop on the cheap has been made acceptable. Trendy even. I don't think they are a sign of poverty either, quite the opposite. They are a sign of excess. Pointers that people by and large indulge themselves over-much in clothes and 'things'.

At the same time, the rise in high-street cheap clothing/furnishing shops means that factory workers on the other side of the world labour long hours to afford us 'affluents' cut-price goods which encourage wasteful multi-buys. At least with a growing concern for the health of the planet, many more items are being recycled via charity shops. Much better than dumped in land-fill.

So, thank-you Mum for your thrift. I too share the gene and am proud to say I still do my bit for the planet by 'up-cycling' and re-loving the 'pre-loved'.

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