Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Lady

My father-in-law got me a very curious Christmas present. It was a subscription to a weekly magazine called “The Lady.” I had never heard of it before, and before the first issue arrived, I received a letter notifying me of my gift. “It's a funny old magazine,” he explained. “Very English. I hope you'll like it.”

The first issue arrived. The cover model was Dame Maggie Smith. I thumbed through and took in some of the advertising. This particular issue was heavy into chair lifts, retirement properties, baths with accessible marine doors for easy access, and a full-page ad for matronly cotton nightwear featured on the glossy back cover. My heart went out to the target demographic of advertisements by benevolent societies for “gentlepeople” fallen on hard times.

“It's a funny old magazine,” said a co-worker by sheer coincidence, who reminisced about finding an au pair placement while at university by consulting its advertising section. Sure enough, many pages of ads were devoted to most likely obscenely wealthy families looking for cooks, nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, house minders, and a nebulous term called “mother's help.” I imagine this last one is a particularly thankless job when I reflect on all the gross things my mother got stuck doing in my own childhood. Would the job description include extracting small pairs of soiled underwear from the washing machine after they had somehow become stuck in and completely disabled the agitator? The pay didn't seem particularly good, with sometimes the only remuneration being use of a “cozy” cottage on the estate. Some of the ads were very specific about the type of hooligan they were specifically trying to exclude from the applicant pool. “No one under age 45 need apply,” read one, the drafter apparently painfully unaware of a concept called reverse age discrimination.

Despite its fussiness and my urge to place it on a piece of furniture covered with a doily, next to our Queen's silver jubilee Wedgewood plate, I continued to enjoy reading it, if not for the entertainment value. I became rather well-versed in the various forms of stair lift and mobility scooters available. I enjoyed sidebars devoted on where to source the patterns for knitting one's own Royal Wedding action figures, complete with a small fleet of woolen corgis to surround the Queen. The article on England's Best Marmalade contest was light and breezy, as was the fashion feature on what outfits were sleek and stylish to wear to one's second wedding. I was knee-deep into an article on Colin Firth while on the train to Cambridge, with a lady of The Lady's target demographic age sitting directly across from me.

“I have that nightdress!” she said exuberantly, as a flipped the back cover to spy the usual raft of cotton nighties The Lady peddled on a monthly basis. “So comfortable, and great value for money.” I smiled and nodded in agreement to pacify her, while noting the asking price was £79 for something with a pattern I saw on a tea towel, and her certain clinical insanity for thinking that way. The matching robe would only set her back £139. Only people who took their loungewear very seriously would consider paying this king's ransom for what amounted to a wearable tea cozy. I continued to thumb through my copy, all the while catching her occasional pained glances and what looked like a trickle of saliva forming at the outer edge of her mouth. She was either in the throes of jealousy, or passing a gall stone. As the train pulled into Cambridge and I gathered my things, I was compelled to do my Christian duty.

“Would you like my copy?” I offered. Her eyes lit up with megawatt brilliance. “Oh, I couldn't,” she feigned in protest, as if she were asking me to drive her to her next crochet conference in Belgium. Her hand started to twitch in anticipation. “Really, my new issue arrives tomorrow,” I parried, “and the article on Colin Firth is well worth reading.” That comment sealed the deal, and I left a very happy pension-aged English woman in Coach A amused all the way to Stansted Airport.

1 comment:

Denise SEVIER-FRIES said...

Any magazine with Colin Firth in is my kind of rag. And the notion of knitting ones own Royal action figures is, well...mind-boggling! :)