27 - Window spotting
It’s carnival week. The carnival is cancelled this year, but instead the shopkeepers in my seaside town have organised a competition. Look for the big red dots on their windows, then “spot the unlikely item and you may win a prize.” The only problem is that, in a town like this, likely items in shop windows and elsewhere are a rarity. We are so used to the unlikely every time we step out of the front door, distinguishing the likely from the unlikely becomes problematic. On 27 February 2020 at 15:48, coming home through town at the end of a walk, I took a photo of a charity shop window. What had struck me about this window display, on this cold winter’s late afternoon was the incongruity of the outfits modelled by the pair of shopfront mannikins. No chic and cosy puffer jackets for them. Instead they were striding out in striped polyester long-sleeved tee shirts, one in a pair of faded red cords, the other in jeans. The outfit of one was topped off, on this winter’s day, by a floppy beribboned linen sunhat, the other sported a jaunty wide-brimmed straw boater. The styling was incongruous and I just had to get a picture. But I was frustrated by the awfulness of my own photography. The square ceiling lights inside the shop and the reflections of windows, chimneys, bricks and burglar alarm casings on the buildings opposite pockmarked the image. And yet, there was something haunting about that scene that made me want to print it out in black and white when I got home and keep it. It has been displayed in a little stand in my studio ever since, and every so often I’ve looked at it and drawn the dummies and the reflections of reflections of reflections. It yields more treasure every time I glance at it. Those android faces, what do they express? Inexpressible wistfulness, inexpressible hope? A hankering after style and glamour amid the groovy floating squares of the bright shop lights? After a year and a half of looking, I’ve only just today noticed an ethereal shape hanging like a speech bubble at the right shoulder of one of the mannequins. Indeed, I can make out some words in it… something about island people. Both mannequins have a faraway, slightly hallowed look, enhanced no doubt by mirrored glimmers from that setting February sun. In the reflected windows set into their breasts and throats, reflected clouds burn like flames, sparking those synthetic breasts and throats with life and passion. Their bodies are taut, as if ready to spring to life at any moment and answer the call of far pampas plains the vast skies and galloping horses of which I can just make out in the shapes of those clouds, beaming me up, up and away.
I returned this week to see what the mannikins are wearing, indeed to see if the same ones were still there. In the summer heat both had kicked off their footwear, black and white chequered patent court shoes for one and a pair of neat shiny harlequin sharp-toed zip-up ankle boots for the other. One wore a shapeless red woollen dress, their companion’s bare legs waited to be reunited with their top half which was being dressed at the counter, ready to go.