Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Shopkeepers

Like their friends Patsy Pottle and Tiffany Lampwick, spinster sisters Joan and Betty Crumblewick were members of the advance guard of Bunty Pargeter’s original liveries. They had been ever-present since the opening of Vaysey Pastures.

Through good times and bad, they had borne with dear Bunty, not that there had been many of either. In truth, the intervening years had been disappointingly unremarkable.

The Misses Crumblewick were horsy to the core. They had a particular interest in the arcane rites of side-saddle, for which they employed the services of ancient and placid chestnut mares, Winnie and Sannie – short respectively for Wincarnis and Sanatagen.

As well as donning the veil and bowler periodically, the Crumblewicks earned their living from horses.They were proud proprietors of “Bits & Bobs”, a “high class purveyor of riding habits to the discerning equestrienne”, next to Mrs. William’s off-licence on the village green in nearby Wibble.

Their emporium was a time capsule of old-world gentility and charm. It had a reassuring haberdasher’s smell of new cloth and lavender tinged with Silk Cut.

Its window always had a seasonal display and elegant costumed mannequins. There was a glass-topped counter with trays of wares.

Neat shelves contained everything from top hats and boots to cotton reels and thimbles.

A clever contraption still sped a brass capsule of change across the room with a satisfying whiz and ping, when it would probably have been quicker to hand it over in person.

Bits & Bobs – or “B & B”, as it was known to its aficionados – was a truly feminine establishment. It catered particularly for ladies of a certain age.

Joan and Betty were of the generation that swore by well-cut foundation garments. Each admitted privately that she owed a great deal of her success in the cut-throat world of side saddle to erect posture, which in turn owed much to strategic support from whalebone and extra strong, pink elastic.

The more mature liveries at Vaysey Pastures enjoyed dropping in at B&B. They could sit comfortably on the wicker chair placed by the counter for the convenience of customers, hear all the news and put matters to rights with the Crumblewicks.

Their world was in a time warp. Ladies to be admired were obviously Her Majesty the Queen and the late lamented Queen Mother. Role models included the legendary Pat Smythe, Marion Mould on Stroller and
HRH the Princess Royal.

From within their chintzy bubble, they found modern girls so hard to understand.

Betty readily agreed with Joan that: “Anneli Drummond-Hay didn’t get to the top on Merely a Monarch by spoiling herself with piercings and nose jewellery. She made do with a plain silver crop pin, warm flannel comforter and a nice clean snood”.

They grudgingly respected Lucinda, Mary King and Pippa, and since her successes at Blenheim and
Aachen were now firm fans of Zara, having overcome their earlier concerns regarding “that tongue thing and the jockey”.

The younger element at the yard found the atmosphere at the shop rather intimidating and rarely ventured over the threshold. They preferred baseball caps and tops in pastel shades to serge wrap-overs and corsetry for the fuller figure.

Amongst Dorinda’s set, Joan and Betty’s soto voce gossiping and forty a day habits led to the nicknames of “The Hoarse Whisperers”. For them Bits & Bobs was either “Bots 'n Boobs” or “SnoodsRus”.

Fortunately, the Crumblewicks never heard of this.

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