Ikea for Avians


My mother Sadie had only two coats, the black everyday one and her ‘best’ blue coat with the fur collar. My father, Solly, being a tailor, made all our clothes. I must have been almost twenty before I felt brave enough to buy ‘ready-made’ and take it home for him to make a critical assessment.

We weren’t well off. Sadie’s fur collar was very small but it had once been a real little fox: his tiny face sat on her shoulder and his soft tail swept across her neck. She was a very shy modest woman and didn’t put on airs and graces but in the 1930s her best coat meant a lot to her in the icy British winters.

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By the 1950s I was working. I had my own money and could choose my clothes. Solly was probably hurt by my rejection. Jaeger in Regent Street was the right place to make a stand, and a bright orange coat with a long sweeping skirt – Dior’s ‘New Look’ – announced my independence.   It went so well with Black Sobranie cigarettes too.

I wasn’t hankering for fur and my rabbit skin gloves were just a practical purchase against the cold. Once up in the ‘gods’ at Covent Garden, weeping over ‘Rigoletto’ I had a fright when a live rat ran along the velvet balustrade in front of me and I mistook it for my gloves.

After rabbit I moved up in the fashion stakes, although it was no doubt just a coincidence that the soft black wool jersey dress I wore to a party had real mink trim around the sleeves and neckline. It was an elegant ‘little black dress’ just right for the occasion; a gathering of ex-pat students and one wanderer, all Australians. As the quintessential British ‘Miss’ it was easy to scoop up the wanderer and decide to marry him. The dress is gone but I’ve kept the little pieces of mink. I’m nostalgic about the occasion but shamed to remember how unthinking we were about fur.

Sheepskin was used to line the leather jackets used by airmen and in an army surplus shop I found something to keep me warm as I explored Devon and Somerset on a Lambretta motor scooter clinging to the wanderer. ‘Come to Australia with me’, he said and so I ended up in the strange land of the ‘jolly jumbuck’. In our Elwood ‘studio’ flat – one room with kitchen alcove – we turned again to the sheep and spent our evenings sewing Ugg boots, those fur lined slippers peculiar to Australia. We thought we might make enough money to save for a house deposit but the work made our fingers so sore we had to give up.

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I admire vegans and vegetarians but cannot reconcile all the many issues: eating meat, wearing leather shoes and jackets, pinching eggs from chickens. Fur however is very straightforward; it’s no.

For many years now corgis have been the family’s choice and their coats are thick and double layered. There’s a lot of brushing involved and I roll the handfuls of fur into little balls and put them on the garden shrubs. The birds collect them for soft furnishing – Ikea for avians.