On a hot summer afternoon, after I’ve done an honest morning’s labour in the vegie garden, I love nothing more than to relax with a cup of tea (yes, even on a hot day) and something to read. Magazines are my weakness, whether something full of pretty dresses, or envy-inducing interiors, or I-want-one-like-that-now gardens.
But sometimes one requires more substantial reading, so this summer I started re-reading the Phryne Fisher novels. Granted, Miss Fisher is not War and Peace, but I enjoy being swept away to a world full of the silky clothes, deeply perfumed baths, treacherous situations and, it must be confessed, handsome lovers that Phryne surrounds herself with.
My friend B, who first put me onto the novels, has theorised that Phryne’s vamp life is the perfect antidote for our modern-day grind. While fiercely independent and inspiringly self-sufficient, Phryne also knows the essential restorative powers of a good hot dinner and steamy bath full of pine salts … provided by her loyal hired helps. After one scrap or another, there’s always someone to serve a substantial salade russe or scrub one’s back in the bath. Admit it, isn’t that your end-of-day fantasy? Someone to spoil and cosset you a little?
Glamourous Phryne, who applies perfume before sleep, wears lobelia-coloured gowns, and understands (and calculates) the devastating effect she has on all before her:
‘No, find me the Chanel — no, a dress. Something light and springy — the azure one and a light wrap. That Kashmir shawl, and the silver shoes. I am feeling like a siren, today.’
When was the last time you felt like a siren? It’s something worth pondering when you get dressed tomorrow.
I also read — okay, looked at the pictures in — British gardener Alys Fowler’s book ‘The Edible Garden’. Google for images of Alys and I hardly need tell you that she’s English, do I? All wild red curls like a Rosetti, vintage floral frocks and hand-knitted granny cardigans, looking distinctly feminine in a cottage-y can-do kind of way.
Just as Phryne never surrenders her femininity while solving murders, Alys maintains her sweet girliness while wearing gumboots and digging in the compost. I wouldn’t have a clue what her gardening philosophy is — as I said, I merely looked at the wonderful pictures of chooks running amok in a rambling vegie patch — but her lovely style is just as inspiring as Phryne’s, if totally the opposite.
Yes, it’s practical to wear old Relay for Life shirts and trackpants while gardening, but where is the joy in that? If I’m going to be amongst blue larkspurs and lazy bumblebees and yellow zucchini flowers for a few hours, why not dab on a little lipgloss and look the part? And if getting dirty (and perhaps a little smelly) is on the cards, wouldn’t a printed frock be sweeter armour instead of King Gees with holes in the knees and paint splatters elsewhere?
I will say, a pretty sundress requires more sunblock, and sometimes an overshirt is essential to protect one’s arms against scratchy bushes. But it’s quite cooling and comfy to wear a skirt while gardening. And it does look rather fetching when one’s ensemble is completed by thick socks and blunnies. It’s a sort of don’t-let-these-sweet-looks-deceive-you outfit — I can dig out sheep poo with the best of ’em.
So this summer I have been flitting between who I want to be when I grow up: mysterious dazzling Phryne and sweetly earthy Alys. I can tell who I’m more likely to turn out like – who you’re more likely to find Chez Dig In! A girl can — and should — have heroines to aspire to.