Clothes-Peg by Susan Scarlett

Clothes-Peg by Susan Scarlett

‘Clothes-Peg’ by Susan Scarlett is a Cinderella story of sorts about a young and innocent woman from a close knit but poor family, who falls in love with a wealthy Lord. The story is set in pre-war London in the atmosphere surrounding a popular fashion house, in London’s plush Mayfair neighbourhood. Family values, fashion, snobbery and period details abound in this nove, published in 1939.

‘Clothes-Peg’ by Susan Scarlett is part of a new series, to be released shortly by Dean Street Press, and is one of twelve much desired Susan Scarlett titles that had long been out of print. Many thanks to Dean Street Press for my advanced e book copy.

Susan Scarlett is the pen name of Noel Streatfeild and she wrote a collection of cosy, romantic novels that have quite a different appeal to her more serious novels for adults published under the name of Streatfeild.

It was a joy to finally be able to read a Scarlett novel. ‘Clothes-Peg’ is the first novel to be published under that name in 1939. The book is set in pre-war London and more particularly describes the life and times of several young girls, working in an acclaimed fashion house in Hanover Square of Mayfair. The clientele are rich and entitled but the young, attractive girls who serve as models in such establishments are hard up for money and are eager to earn any stray penny that makes it their way, by fair play or foul.

The story is centered around a family of modest means, the Browns, who live very far away from the glitz and glamour of Mayfair. The eldest daughter of the family, Annabel, upon leaving school, finds a job as a seamstress at Bertna’s. Whilst she is working there, shop owner, Tania Petoff tries her out as a shop model and she catches the attention of rich Lord David de Bett, who visits the establishment with soon to be fiancee, the Honourable Octavia Glaye. Fresh faced and innocent Annabel, makes David have second thoughts about his life choices and there ensues a story with a number of misunderstandings, wrong twists and turns.

At the heart of the story are the Browns – a loving, very close-knit family who have their share of troubles, are not over endowed with riches, but who know how to pull together in fair weather and foul. Streatfeild, writing under the pen name of Susan Scarlett, surely knows how to emphasize the importance of strong family values and the poverty of the Browns is often compared with the more, glitzy, racy lifestyle of the rich and famous in London, but sometimes to the detriment of the richer class. It’s certainly a book that examines the difference in class that existed at the time, along with inspection of morals and attitudes.

Let me describe the Brown family to you. Father George is hardworking and has worked in hardware for the longest time. Mother Ethel is outwardly always cheerful, putting a brave face on everything and putting away the pennies for the next family emergency. Annabel the eldest daughter cares about the needs and wants of her family but for the first time is discovering the outside world with all its wicked ways. There’s a brother and a very spoilt little sister who gets into trouble for shoplifting and they all live in a modest house with a small back garden. The family have their own routines and rituals and this aspect of their life is rendered in great detail. It reminded me a little of the family life described in RC Sherriff’s ‘The Fortnight in September’.

I personally loved little details of the Brown’s cosy family life. There were plenty of domestic details to be enjoyed : descriptions of the house, routines, family customs, gardening endeavours, the joy of family meals. The family have their share of troubles and that is described too. Mostly though, Streatfeild describes clothes in books so well. The details regarding garments worn in the fashion house are so well done and worthy of praise.

The book is a walk into the London of yesteryear with all its delectable period details. I’ve often felt while reading the book that it would make a lovely black and white movie and these books penned under the name of Susan Scarlett certainly have a cinematic appeal. There is a Cinderella like quality to this book that I glimpsed and enjoyed. I read this book when I was going through a very stressful time and it really helped me forget about my troubles for a while. Highly recommend, for that cosy, romantic, escapist read.

Many thanks to Dean Street Press for the gift of the ebook of Clothes-Peg

An Ode to my Father

My Father was always the most difficult person to please when picking a book for him to read, from my personal library. This particular book was too descriptive, that book was too slow, another book had no plot or complicated language … and so every few weeks, a huge pile of unread books would be returned to me with a disappointed face. This would annoy me, no end.

And yet, there was one author who never failed to please my Dad; someone he would always read with pleasure … and that author was the Queen of Crime, the unparalleled genius that was Dame Agatha Christie. Every birthday and Christmas he was sure to be given one of these beautiful hardcover Christie classics and over the years – he had assembled quite a nice collection. Dad didn’t read a lot, but during lockdown and in later days, they were a huge source of comfort for him.

It seems strange to write about my Father in the past tense and somewhat naively, I had lead 46 years of my life believing that it was something I would not have to do … at least not in the near future.

The past two years had taken a toll on his health. First there was Covid and the following year, we found out that he had a malignant tumour in his throat and would need emergency surgery to remove it. The fight with cancer was long and hard. But he made a good recovery after several months, although he did lose his ability to speak. Ironically my Dad was an ear, nose and throat surgeon and had attended to numerous laryngectomy patients himself, throughout his long medical career.

Even though he lost his voice, my Dad never lost his ability to smile. I would often ask my Mum if he seemed sad and depressed and that wasn’t the case. He kept his days busy with a new found passion for gardening, cooking, reading and watching cricket.

He was the most uplifting and positive person in my life.

As a doctor, he would instil this positive spirit in the care he gave his patients. He took care of the poorest of the poor, sometimes visiting ailing people in slums and back alleys, even though they didn’t have the money for medical treatment.

My father was the life and soul of any party. My parents had an arranged marriage in India whilst my Dad was an NHS doctor in the UK. My mum went to England as a newly married wife to my Dad’s bachelor accommodation in Maidstone, Kent. She said, the entirety of his household possessions consisted of a large box of brightly colored felt pens and poster paper on which my Dad would announce news of hospital parties. In subsequent months, my parent’s landlady told my Mother thankfully that the doctor had calmed down a bit since getting married.

Last month, we had to rush him to the hospital in the middle of the night because he lost consciousness and his ability to move his left hand side. It was a scary time and despite the subsequent operation and days in the ICU I always believed that my Dad would rise again, like a phoenix from the ashes, as he had always done before that. We visited his bedside, day after day, willing him to open his eyes and gain consciousness. We talked to him about all the types of food he loved (he was a huge food lover) and I played him his favourite songs, day after day, but he decided to sleep on.

In the day’s following his cremation, I have an inexplicable feeling of surprise and wonder. As I walk the streets of our city, going about my daily life and mundane routines, I look all around me for the man who suddenly disappeared into the ether.

Is life truly this fragile and ephemeral?

Where has my father gone?

In the absence of any religious beliefs it is personally hard to reconcile oneself to the death of a loved one and their strange and mysterious disappearance.

I feel sad and cling on to the books he gave me, with his name written on the title page, the smiley pictures of him, the sound of his laugh in videos and the joy for living in his eyes. My father would not want me to be sad, I know for too long, because he was not a person to brood over things himself

And so, I’ll look for him in the world around me, the beautiful scent of the flowers that he loved, the trees that he would always be able to name, the taste of his best loved dishes, the sound of his favourite songs …

I noticed a beautiful spotted black and white butterfly the other day, weaving itself amongst the trees and the pink bougainvillea. I followed its motion and it flitted onward and made me look upward, towards the light in the blue monsoon sky. For me, my Dad lives on in all the beautiful things around me, he lives on in me as I write these words, and in Meli’s lilting voice, that she inherited from him, as she sings the songs of the seasons that have passed and which will recur in an ever moving cycle of life into the future …

It is some consolation …