Friday, May 18, 2012
Lately I have been thinking a lot about trains, and how ladies encumbered by them ever managed to back away from the royal presence after having been presented at court. Walking backwards with a train of between three and a half and four and a half yards in length surely amounts to a kind of dare that got out of hand, especially when the wearer carried the burden of sometimes mountainous quantities of jewels, including a tiara that could weigh almost as much as a motorcycle helmet, and was also obliged to hold in one gloved hand a large floral bouquet, and a fan in the other. Presumably the gloved fan hand was the one that doubled as a behind-the-back train manipulator when treading carefully backwards on high-ish heels. It seems remarkable that no account of any accident has survived, though it seems inconceivable that from time to time train-wearers did not topple backwards, or fall head over heels, with the consequent hazards associated with the regulation low bodice. Let us assume that the Lord Chamberlain’s department discreetly suppressed the news of any such incident, but it does remind me of that absurd anecdote about Queen Victoria in which on one occasion, before going in to dinner, Her Majesty urged one of her royal granddaughters: “A little rose in front, dear child, because of the footmen.” Another obstacle, especially when long trains were fashioned from velvet, was the unhelpful traction of the deep pile of silk carpets at the palace, especially heading up staircases. The physical effort alone must have been the equivalent of a jolly good work-out at Equinox or Crunch, which, I suppose, in our depressingly crude and metropolitan moment, strikes one as almost the social equivalent of being presented at court.