Ever since it began, years ago now, I’ve bought frocks and stuff from the Toast catalogue and online. In their first couple of outings they even had some over-40-year-old models. They are long gone, but I’ve remained loyal even though, as a young friend said, their clothes look like a conscientious but ironic remake of Miss Marple. It’s hard growing old and still wanting to wear vintage-looking clothes. Two pluses so often make a minus. But recently, Toast has been alarmingly taken with its retro image, believing itself apparently to be more Virginia than Agatha. For some time now, I’ve been receiving emails which appear to be literary magazines rather than online sales pitches and paper catalogues in which whole pages are blank except for a single sentence of breathless vacuity about Life, with photo-shoots so ethereal and far away that there can’t be anywhere in the world left desolate and cold enough for their models to pose.
Nevertheless, I’ve averted my eyes and continued to buy the this-and-thats I can’t resist, because they do sometimes have very nice things to wear. Today, however, I got an email which consisted mostly of a picture of T.S. Eliot sitting at his desk at Faber and Faber, asking ‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ Clicking on his face took me to a page which offered to help me celebrate Faber’s new app of The Waste Land, though the quote is actually from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. I could listen to an extract of The Waste Land read by Eliot himself, and read a meditation by Lavinia Greenlaw on her ‘encounters’ with the poet on the page. Toast puts the frock in Prufrock and the magic in the journey of the Magi.
Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough or have too much ancient Hebrew in me to want my linen mixed with cotton, but I find myself dismayed at being offered poetry appreciation with my cashmere bedsocks. I don’t want to be sold clothes by people who wonder about disturbing the universe. Fine on their own time, wonder away, but in their commerce with me, I only ask that they let me send them money in return for their latest chiffon whatsit or white poplin nightie, and that they keep the deep thoughts out of my closet. I’ve emailed back begging them to stop all this crap. I just want them to ensure that I can see whether the faux-vintage chiffon whatsit is too see-through for this genuinely vintage woman.
If you want to hear Eliot read The Waste Land here’s a website that doesn’t sell frocks.