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Pelmets

We rarely noticed they were there and then one day they were gone. With no fanfare or mourning, with barely a wistful word spoken, the pelmet disappeared from our lives. An entire industry was silently buried. Men were laid off. Had those pelmet makers been miners or steelworkers, there would have been protests; demos, questions in the House. Dick Gaughan would have written a song and Billy Bragg would have done benefit gigs.

The pelmet, for those too young to recall, was a simple enclosure built of light wood and designed to conceal the tops of curtains. Why – no-one knows. Some say it was a throwback: the final chapter in a story of Victorian reserve. A reminder of times when shapely table legs were thought to ignite arousal and the tops of curtains represented the upper part of female thighs. (Indeed, short skirts are occasionally referred to as pelmets). But as times changed and morals loosened and little girls began to dress like prostitutes, there was no place for pelmets and their semiotics. It was as if the pelmet understood that it no longer had any function in these new, permissive times. So it withdrew from public life and now lives quietly in a retirement home, reminiscing with it’s old friends the valance, the antimacassar and the toilet roll doll with the crocheted skirt.

I’d like to see them return. And not just for the statement they make on our society. Let’s not forget that the pelmet was once king of the furnishings: it sat higher than any other thing in your room, it’s lofty position and demeanour lending some grandeur to even the most modest of homes. It’s physical location, it’s regal attitude and it’s arcane functions were rivalled by nothing. Except cornicing. But that’s a whole other discourse.

 

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