Downpours, poetry and post-war practicality. Leanne Cloudsdale champions the humble plastic rain bonnet and laments the waning popularity of this proud pensioner handbag stalwart. Will the bingo queues of the future ever be the same without this iconic piece of protective headgear?
Words LEANNE CLOUDSDALE Photography
I knew there was something dodgy about Philip Larkin, even at the tender age of 13. Like most whimpering working-class liberals, I grew to love him, but when our English teacher (Miss Taylor) first read us his 1961 smash-hit ‘Here’, I recall feeling slightly offended about his mention of Hull’s ‘grim head-scarved wives’. That cheeky, misogynistic, cheating miser was talking about the likes of my grandma Sadie, who wouldn’t have left the house back then without a packet of Park Drive and a square of silken paisley knotted tightly under the chin to keep that shampoo & set firmly in place. When rainclouds were spotted through the net curtains, she, and hordes of women half her age, would up the ante and slip a plastic rain bonnet into their handbags – the perfect cellophane defence against frizz-inducing drizzle. In an era of gravity-defying celebrity bonces, it was essential to clock-on with your beehive still intact, and if the follicular evidence seen in our family albums is anything to go by, thanks to the plastic fantastic, Sadie and her bingo mates were certainly giving Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black a run for their money.
Folded better than world-class origami, these iconic, transparent hoods are still available to buy at most chemists and decent corner-shops, which for me signals a small but significant glimmer of hope for the future of humanity. Mocked for being practical, stupid-looking and mundane, their design belongs to a peer group that survived a world war, raised families before the introduction of the NHS, and darned holes in cardigans instead of sending them to landfill. Far from comedic headgear, they symbolise strength, resourcefulness, grit and determination – everyday traits from a bygone era that we could all do with a bit more of these days. I worry though, that once the octogenarians have shuffled off this mortal coil, there’ll be generations of hair-straightening addicts wrestling with cheap umbrellas instead of enjoying the benefits of hands-free downpour protection. More fool them.