Q: where have all our Maiden Aunts gone? A: they've turned into Cougars, silly.

‘Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain’
Billie Holliday

That season is once again upon us when we find ourselves shivering in the damp embrace of the weather, which sputters over our spectacles and dribbles down our necks like an elderly maiden aunt.

Do such beings exist now, outside the pages of Wodehouse?  I can’t remember when I last saw one about the town.  I suspect the decline to be linked to their diminishing natural habitat: just try finding good peppermints, hand-knitted draught excluders or torrid Edwardian novellas outside the Cotswolds these days.  Ubi sunt the purple perms?  The house-coated harridans?  The cardiganned librarians in mismatched tweeds, pockets stuffed with petticoat shortbread?  Compelled to evolve into cougars, they have flogged their Agas and antimacassars on eBay to pay for lessons at the pole-dancing academy.  Retirement complexes are now exclusively peopled by high-heeled lovelies who flock to Botox parties, drink vodka, vape, and date on Tinder.

it’s bikinis and bandage-dresses all the way to the grave

The loss of the old model older lady is at once a triumph and a disaster; and an alarming prospect for females in our middle years.  I will have to up my game considerably in the next couple of decades if I am to hit the mark Susan Sarandon and Joanna Lumley have set.  It seems that I have kept my grandmother’s twin-sets and fur berets carefully mothballed for nothing – it’s bikinis and bandage-dresses all the way to the grave.  Moreover, we cannot skip a generation and outsource the spinster’s skill-base to the young: they’ve no patience for macramé or Thomas Love Peacock, though thanks to Bake-Off they can all at least knock up a Victoria sponge.

(Whisper has it that salvation may lie with the criminal fraternity.  Dealer friends confide that the auction houses teem with stubble-headed heavies rendered weak-kneed by the sight of cassolette vases and case-clocks.  They are not there to bid, you understand, merely to window-shop – by which I mean to smash and grab.  You may find it touching to see them strolling about the museums of a Saturday afternoon, painstakingly mispronouncing the catalogue with the aid of a trailing finger, but their desire is not to improve themselves, merely their collections; as the spate of thefts from the V&A in recent years testifies.  Hundreds of thousands of poundsworth pinched, almost entirely consisting of chinzily sentimental ceramics.  Doe-eyed shepherdesses, stubby putti, limp-wristed satyrs: the sort of thing better launched from the traps for shotgun-practice.  Given their proven partiality to a nice piece of Meissen, I wonder if the underworld may be persuaded – in the leisure hours allotted them, following the discovery of purloined pastoral porcelain in their possession – to develop a corresponding fondness for tapestry and teacakes, silver-polish, bed-jackets and the King James Bible.  O tempora, o mores!  But I digress.)

As I said before: in these drear days, the dismal senility of the year, it is easy to succumb to the siren voices of the warm hearth and decanter of red infuriator.  But you must stop up your ears!  Do not misunderstand me – as a nesh northdwelling Southerner, I require a daily tumbler of single malt just to prevent my blood from freezing, and I’d never dream of prising your fingers from the bottle.  But hear me out – it is just precisely when it is becoming miserably damp and cold that is the best time to head outdoors.  Why?  Well, if you’re anything like me you’ll find the usual weekend infestation of the average British high-street quite unbearable; the crowd seething slowly from shop to shop at a pace that makes even the least sportswomanly of us feel like Mo Farah.  And here you’ll find that foul-weather is your friend.

Thanks to the rise in festival culture (a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one), an entire winter wardrobe of wellies, waterproofs, down-filled waistcoats and as much fairisle and Argyle as you can fit about your person can now be readily and cheaply purchased.  The young, naturally, don’t wear any of it outside of Glastonbury or Bestival, and the greatest cachet, so I’m told, is attached to the stuff that looks like it was Grandpapa’s.  I recommend you all to do as I did – sell your old Barbours and Burberrys to your nieces and with your pockets full of crisp tenners treat yourself to some new high-tog togs in which you can saunter up and down the empty, drizzly town.

Waterproofed from fedora to foot, beneath my mackintosh in the autumn and winter months I am always stiffly swaddled in multiple sweaters of increasing ply; like the thickening outer layers of the onion.  It would require an archaeologist to uncover me.  And thus, adequately protected from the elements, I skip about the pavements kicking through puddles with all the happy insouciance of Gene Kelly – though without, I should stress, his umbrella.

I never carry one.

I never carry one.  Brought up in a Celtic climate where the wily rain sets about you from all sides and angles at once, I have always held to Chesterton’s dictum that ‘Shut up, an umbrella is an unmanageable walking-stick; open, it is an inadequate tent.’  You can be sure that the only light, well-engineered, windproof umbrella you will ever buy, you will instantly leave on a bus.  All the others are useless unless guaranteed a breezeless day and vertical downpour.  Worst of all, those who carry them do so like a Roman shield, buffeting all around them as they blindly charge ahead.

Sturdily hatted, however, one can greet the phalanx of inconsiderate umbrellarians with merry disdain – and moreover, see them coming with both hands free to swat them away.  They do not long relinquish their sofas, in any case – a brief half-hour of combat against the wind and their coatless arms are exhausted, their Uggs sodden.  They flee for the designer outlets; the only sign that they were ever among us, the wastebins littered with the sorry skeletons of their broken brollies.

You, meanwhile, are freed to reclaim the streets, your reflection trailing behind you over shimmering pavements as you pass from charity-shop to bookshop and back again before repairing, tired but happy, to the snug of your local with your copy of the Grauniad and a pint of Treacly Weirdo.  Here you can reassure the BA-student bar-lad that you appreciate his intelligence by tossing him the easy clues of the crossword while replenishing your Vitamin C levels with a few packets of plain crisps; as the pub dog settles down on your discarded knitwear and your coat steams gently by the fire.

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