Window dressing

Evenings are now invading afternoon as the northern hemisphere tips into the darkest days of the year – a time of melancholy. I was born in the depths of winter and suffer from the loss of daylight.

Christmas is three months away, but already I yearn for the bright shop windows to herald the festive season. That may be why shop window displays fascinate me. Some are meticulously designed to help you choose. Our local butcher with, he says, locally sourced food, lays out a wide patchwork of chops, mince, home-made sausages and all sorts of roasts. Already a notice has appeared next to the till requesting early orders for Christmas. Others, especially clothes shops, are still uninspired. Dummies pose, impossibly slender with garments neatly gathered in at the back and out of sight, to suggest one might look equally slender and elegant if one bought them.

A French poet – I think it was Théophile Gautier – wrote a heart-rending poem about small barefoot children, snub-nosed at the window of a Parisian baker, entranced. Windows open into voyages of imagination. Yesterday, hurrying home in driving rain, a large Victorian window framed a scene fit for a 19th-century painter of domestic scenes. A balding man was meticulously laying the table, bent over a knife he was carefully placing beside a plate. On my way back he was still there, this time slightly shifting the position of a wine glass. Who would hold it that evening? What would they discuss, or try not to discuss?

Numerous are the scenes in films and, earlier, in novels where a glance or gaze hazardly directed at a window on street level or across the other side, has spurred a narrative on or changed its path. Perhaps it is because the frame arbitrarily cuts off the visual flow leaving imagination or fantasy to continue it at will, tailoring it to one’s private imagination.

A shop window cluttered with junk intrigues. How could people choose to live with such ugly objects around them? I pause. There’s time to go in. There on a shelf almost hidden behind a jug smothered in poppies is a tiny brass bell in need of a shine. It is just like the one my mother used to summon us to a meal. I picked it up surreptitiously and shook it. The sound chimed in my memory. No, I didn’t need it. Only £5. Well… It shines beside me now.

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