I have a childhood memory that makes me feel guilty. I have to be careful whom I mention it to because it can incite even the most mild-mannered person to absolute anger and possibly even violence, much the same way as discussing religion and politics can. You see when I was a child I liked fur. Real fur. Fur that came from animals.
Now before you start throwing red paint at me or reporting me to PETA, let me point out that in the 1960s and early 1970s there wasn’t the awareness of animal rights and the cruelty involved in the fur trade that there is now. There is absolutely no way I would wear fur now. The thought is abhorrent to me, but when I was four or five years old it didn’t occur to me that any animals had been harmed to produce the fur-covered things I coveted.
My Scottish Aunt (who married a very wealthy, very ugly, very overweight man) had a mink coat. She was the only person in our part of Glasgow who had one and she lorded it over the rest of us. That mink coat was a wondrous thing to behold. Movie stars wore mink – Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor – it was the height of glamour and desirability. I even thought that the fur coats that hung in the wardrobe at the entrance to Narnia must have been mink. It all seems so wrong now because we all know the horrible fate of those poor little minks.
My grandmother had a fox stole. She wore it like a badge of honour along with her camel-hair coat and her felt hat with the mother-of-pearl pin. My sisters were afraid of that horrible wizened fox face but I loved it. On the days my grandmother let me wear it – only for five minutes – I imagined I was a Countess living in a manor house shouting: You there, get me some sherry while snapping my fingers. Fox stoles were the bling of the 1960s.
And when it came to bling there was one fox stole that was the mother of them all. It belonged to my grandmother’s best friend, Mrs. McQuade. It was something that actually looked like the result of an unfortunate genetic experiment – a sight to behold, indeed.
The two headed fox stole. It consisted of two heads joined together by a length of body. You could single drape it so that you had a little head beaming at you on either shoulder or you could double drape it so that both heads met at your throat. It looked like something Harry Potter might need Godric Gryffindor’s sword to fight.
Mrs. McQuade wore that stole everywhere. It was the talk of the town. The funny thing about it was she actually personified the foxes by naming them Max and Addie. Everyone enquired after Max and Addie’s wellbeing. They were usually fine and dandy but sometimes they felt the heat or had a touch of damp because the boiler had been giving Mrs. McQuade gyp. They slept at night on a down pillow on Mrs. McQuade’s dressing table. I think that’s why I liked them so much – under Mrs. McQuade’s humorous hand it seemed as if they were still alive.
My love affair with the fox stoles continued until I was about eight or nine. It was then that I saw a little fox coming out of the woods, the dearest thing with his orange pointed ears and white-tipped tail. I realised at that moment that for that fox to get from the woods to being around Mrs. McQuade’s neck meant he would have to die. I was horrified and angry with myself for not making the connection sooner. I suspect that was where my interest in animal rights began to germinate.
I swore off all things fur from that moment even though my rich Aunt was talking about getting me a chinchilla coat for my birthday. I looked up chinchillas at the library and felt sick. I told my Aunt I would rather wear rags than a chinchilla coat. I suspect that was where my Aunt’s opinion of me as being too bohemian for my own good and a lost cause began to germinate.
It is funny what things allow us to begin to define who we are.
So now if I happen to wear fur it is definitely faux. No animal coats will sit in my wardrobe.
That doesn’t stop me however, from remembering the fox stoles of my childhood; and thinking of Max and Addie with a smile.