Today another part of my history has been chipped away never to return. This bit of history is not a statue of some infamous blackguard, toppled and hurled into a harbour. No, this is a part of my personal story, not formed out of stone, but out of something much less tangible and which some might at first sight find strange, perhaps even slightly weird.
This was the website of clothing retailer Long Tall Sally today:
Long Tall Sally is closing; shutting up shop for ever. It is a sad day when any business closes, but why should the closing of this one bother me? After all I am a man and this was a business which sold women’s clothing, specialising in the requirements of the taller woman. Do I have a secret cross-dressing fetish? Is there a dark recess of my mind that quietly harbours the desire to don women’s clothing? Off with the trousers! On with the panties and summer dresses! Am I secretly a sort of stroke survivor’s answer to Grayson Perry?
Before some moral crusader stumbles on this blog and has it banned for affronting public decency, I should clarify all of the foregoing statements.
To do so, I have to take you back to the years when we lived in Orkney (the 1990s). On our infrequent trips south together, my wife and I would indulge ourselves selectively and sparingly in city shopping. In Edinburgh or in Glasgow, Johanna’s must-have choice of shop was Long Tall Sally where she would luxuriate in the racks of decent length trousers, dresses and jackets any of which could easily accommodate her legs, arms and tall elegant body. Certain shoe shops where size 10 ladies’ shoes were available were also an important port of call. The children and I would accompany her on some of these visits, and watch as she joyfully selected items unavailable in Orkney. Along with the other tall ladies striding around the shop, she generally left the premises with a smile on her face, gratitude for thoughtful staff, a collection of carrier bags and, of course, a lighter wallet. Those bags were colourfully printed in large letters with the words LONG TALL SALLY. For many tall women the shops must have been a godsend.
That collection of Long Tall Sally carrier bags followed us around for years as useful repositories for all kinds of goods, from supermarket shopping to sweaty trainers. It was one of those bags that brightened up the many monotonous months I spent in the Woodend stroke unit in Aberdeen. If you have ever endured a long spell in hospital, you will know that visits from friends and family are just as important for your welfare as the professionalism of the staff who are looking after you. In the Woodend stroke unit, such visits were a life saver for me, breaking up the long empty gaps between therapy sessions.
Every day Johanna would visit, accompanied by Hamish, our whippet, and she would usually be carrying a Long Tall Sally bag containing messages, cards and gifts from friends and family. In fact, those bags became so well-known to some of the nursing staff that I would hear them referring to Johanna herself as “Long Tall Sally”.
I would be alerted to her approach down the long hospital corridor by the scraping of Hamish’s paws on the flooring as he dragged her towards the ward, and frequently by a nurse calling “Here comes long tall Sally.” There would follow the soft pad of Johanna’s feet and Hamish’s panting and I would know that the day was going to turn interesting, at least for a time. Your horizons get narrowed in hospital, so there was also the anticipation of what that Long Tall Sally bag might contain today – it represented a beacon of hope, a connection with that other world I had not seen for so long. While Hamish lay at full length, panting on the warm floor, Johanna would reveal one by one the contents of the bag.
This, then, is a sad day. It is sad, I am sure for all those who worked for Long Tall Sally There will be challenges for them in finding new employment and there will no doubt be challenges in winding up the business. It is probably of little comfort to them to know that the name of their business still resonates with some of us and made at least one hospital patient happy for a while.