• Charlotte Dallison

Millennium Summer

A coming of age tale on authenticity at the turn of the century.

I remember that summer near Golden Bay so vividly. We were staying in an old cottage as the guests of family friends. It was so picturesque, a sweet little weatherboard house on a sprawling grapefruit orchard. My younger sisters, our family friend’s children, and I spent the days playing outside in the summer heat whilst our parents looked on. They were so relaxed. We bought mounds of soil covered vegetables via the local “honesty box”, plucked blackberries from the garden which would stain our hands pink, and licked slices of the sour grapefruit which grew so abundantly around us.

It was the first time that I became aware of the culture surrounding me, and of the differences between children and adults. It was the first time I had ever heard an older person say fuck - our friend’s grandmother, Pamela, to be exact. She said it after my Dad had climbed an extremely tall tree in order to prune it (he was showing off). We all watched on with gritted teeth, envisioning his probable death. The dawn of the millennium was approaching, anxiety was heightened. 90s hipsters were congregating nearby to attend a wild music festival (a music festival I would eventually attend exactly ten years later) as our family was having an idyllic time in the countryside. Even though I was becoming mindful of these adults that surrounded me I was still a little girl.

I was chubby, with wild, long blonde hair. I had snow white skin, peachy pink cheeks and round, silly blue eyes. I was now awake to the fact that attractive grown ups on TV were not particularly pale or chubby or silly looking though. They were glamorous, suntanned, tall, slim, with voluminous yet tamed hair, all donning skimpy, spaghetti-strap crop-tops and casual, boyish shorts. If they were blonde they were streaky blonde and had regrowth - which I thought was heavenly. Even the children on television were bronzed and svelte. I didn’t want to look like them exactly, but I knew I didn’t look like them either. I had suddenly become aware that my appearance was relatively unique compared to the idealised appearance in the culture in which I was coming of age.

One afternoon Pamela took my sister and I up to the attic. I’d had far too much sun for a person with my delicate complexion, plus the sandflies were eating me alive, and thus I needed to be indoors. My dutiful little sister followed me in. I was scared to walk up the ladder to the attic at first, the house was a colonial cottage and felt totally haunted to me. But once we ascended it wasn’t a creepy attic at all, rather a sweet little room in the roof. Light was pouring in through the windows and the whitewashed walls were adorned with framed British Vogue covers from the 1920s - an unsurprising choice of decoration as this house had belonged to Pamela’s very fashionable and anglo-centric family for generations. My little sister, Lucy, played with a doll whilst Pamela took me through piles and piles of old fashion magazines.

As I plowed through the heap of paper before me the images I was experiencing were magical. These magazines were filled with enchanting illustrations, ads for cigarettes & fur, and articles containing daring society commentary. This alien world of unapologetic glamour was so apparent across the pages I was flicking through. I remember it all so vividly that I even remember the way the musty scent of vintage filled the room as I turned page after page. Now I often equate the scent of vintage clothing to that of old books - dusty with a strong scent, sure, but full of stories just waiting to be told. That afternoon changed my life without me even knowing it. It sparked my curiosity in the past so strongly. It exposed me to the world of vintage, which would eventually become my core obsession and my career.

Little did I know that as an adult I would become a vintage seller and a writer - and on the way to becoming this I would forget that these were indeed my main passions, and get distracted with other professional pursuits instead. The fluctuations of self throughout my twenties have bounced all over the place, but now I am back where I belong.

That afternoon in the attic was to set me up for a life filled with treasure-hunting, vintage shopping and storytelling. I have since become a collector of old things, a champion of vintage glamour and now contribute my words to fashion magazines. The irony of authenticity is that we lose it as often as we come back to it, sometimes for mere hours, sometimes for years. Equally we must never forget that we have it all along - from childhood to old age. Sometimes all we need is a nudge to get (back) on track, or a moment of reflection thinking "what was I drawn to as a child."

After a couple of hours in this hypnotic state Pamela, Lucy and I went back outside. The sun was going down and I was ready to brave the elements again. We walked outdoors into the overgrown garden, my mother was lying in the grass, flicking through some English gossip magazine, though nothing nearly as sophisticated as what I had just been experiencing. I looked over her shoulder at what she was reading and for the first time I saw myself in adult form in Sophie Dahl. She was fair, voluptuous, blonde. She had plump, peachy-pink cheeks and round, silly blue eyes. Not only could I see my physical future before me but she was Roald Dahl, my favourite author’s beloved granddaughter.

I found the first piece of myself that day, and that night I stayed up past midnight, for the first time in my life. It was the 31st of December, 1999, and 20th century was over just as I didn’t want it to be.

An original piece by Charlotte Dallison for Vocal Media.

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