pumpkins and glass slippers
Let me tell you about my 'Lady Day'. After panicking a bit about what one should wear to a designer and vintage clothing sale in Chelsea Town Hall (nb. for the Yanks - Chelsea is very much the posh nobs' end of town) I got dressed (tailored black wool skirt, grey shell with a yoke neck, black sandals), hunted high and low for an A-Z and finally set off with directions hastly copied down from Streetmap. I found said event and gleefully pottered around for an hour or so - I tried on a Victorian-style white blouse with buttons up the back, but it swamped me and a beautiful Katherine Hamnett black velvet frock coat that was sadly too small for me. I thoroughly enjoyed poking through rails of outlandish costumes from yesteryear...particularly the clothes that had belonged to a sixties caberet chanteuse - judging by the size and length of her dresses she was more she-male than female. I was tempted by neck to ankle sequins but in the end sense prevailled and I decided that this would not be the best look for a barrister friend's black-tie fortieth birthday celebrations. I was also sorely tempted by the most amazing pair of tan Victorian boots - tight lacing and a tiny but sturdy kitten heel - but feet back then were small and narrow weren't they? (They looked much better than these, but sort of the same style) The time had come to brave the King's Road.
I'm quite a nervous shopper and, without TA to insist that I have every right to be there and hold up possible items for me to look at, I easily become disheartened, intimidated and bewildered. I'm not too bad when I know what I'm looking for, but all I knew yesterday is that black tie means posh and dressy but not a ballgown (annoying, since I already have one of those). I'm not a fan of SatC but still my mantra was - what would Carrie Bradshaw do? I'd more or less narrowed it down to a little black dress with strappy, glitzy sandals - but where was I to find these articles of attire? What would Carrie do I mumbled to myself as I stumbled in and out of boutiques. Then a ray of light - a helpful shop assistant asked, very humbly, if perhaps I was looking for a special occasion and could she perhaps help me. After I had explained my predicament she led me over to a rail I had not noticed before and pulled out what can only be described as a perfect princess dress. It was little, it was black, it said Carrie Bradshaw whimsy with its floaty diaphanous overskirt, black silk-satin ribbon that tied under the bust with a bow and a slightly ruched bodice. I tried it on and even with my heavy walking-around-town sandals, bare legs and no bust support garment I could see that this was a dress that did things for me. It was not in the sale and was, as you'd expect, pip-squeakingly expensive, but within fifteen minutes it was mine nonetheless.
Next stop: shoes.
I carried on down the King's Road but no joy. I had a 3pm appointment in Holborn so decided to stop off first at M&S to get some sheer shiny tights and then at the Clarks on High Holborn to see if they had a black strappy, sparkly sandal with a heel that wouldn't cripple me. And do you know what? They did! Comfy fit, glamorous detailing, not too heavy, not too precarious... But then I spotted another pair of shoes and there was just something delicious about them. Strappy sparkly sandals are a bit cliched these days aren't they? It's a look I've been working on and off ever since my first university ball. These shoes were different, the tiny heel and round toe stopped them from looking too eighties (and the fact that they were satin rather than velvet). After trying on both the champagne and the black variants, I walked out of the shop the rather amazed at herself owner of a pair of Calvados shoes.
Next stop: Aveda!
Thanks to my passion for Shampure, I'm a member of their loyalty scheme and they'd invited me to come in for a cut-price makeover and mini massage. As I was having my make up done the wonderful make up artist asked if I'd like to have a free wash and blow dry with one of the stylists - of course I would! Then we were discussing eyebrows - I never really touch mine apart from putting in a centre parting - and the lovely, lovely make up artist got the resident threader to squeeze me in (I paid for this bit of the day) mid-make over. Oh. My. God. The transformation was/is amazing. My whole face looks different - more angular, my eyes look more open and, quite simply, I look prettier. And although it hurt the feeling was so odd, so unlike what I expected, that I was too busy being fascinated to worry about the discomfort. I now know what a hedge feels like when it is trimmed with a chain saw; what a weed feels like when it is whacked with one of those contraptions. After she finished threading she even gave my Denis Healys a trim with scissors. Apparently it lasts three to four weeks - I think this is going to have to be a regular indulgence - it's cheaper than surgery or teeth whitening and the difference/improvement is of the same magnitude.
The blow drying was slightly less successful in the transformation stakes than the rest of the day had been but it was still fun. He set my hair on enormous velcro rollers and created lots of glamour with soft face-framing waves and glossy body. Unfortunately, my hair just will not hold any kind of shape except for straight and hanging - it had slumped before I reached the tube.
I'll tell you if the party was worth all this time and expense tomorrow.
pumpkins and glass slippers (part deux)
As soon as I left Aveda I knew I was running late – it was already nearly six in the afternoon and I was pretty sure the party started at seven. I know it’s okay to be a little late but still I was worried that I might get there so late that I’d only have time to say hello before needing to catch the last train home.
I ran from the tube to the Palais, freshened up a little and put on my (strapless) wedding corset and new posh frock. Oh dear. In the shop the assistant had helped with the zip but now I discovered that it was nearly impossible to do up solo. I worried that the corset was adding an imperceptible but ruinous extra millimetre to my circumference, but frankly the idea of going to a party with an unsupported bust was too terrible to contemplate. I gave up on the struggle and started to hunt for the invite so that I could check the address – I turned the bedroom upside down and became frantic, but no joy. Wait! Their address was stored in my phone – all was not lost, but then I remembered that I’d left my phone in the office. I called directory enquiries and got a phone number for what I hoped was their house. The phone rang but no one answered. I returned to tugging at my zip, trying to get the thing done up – at last, success. I put on my glossy tights and cute shoes while wracking my brain – where is the invite, how can I find out where they live, how am I going to get there?
I had to resign myself that I wasn’t going to the party. All that effort, expenditure and glamour wasted. My eyes fell on my laptop bag; it has a mesh pocket at the front and, would you believe it, there was my mobile! There was their address! I grabbed my coat, pocketed my phone and purse and headed for the door. Wait! Feck! I’d forgotten, in all the joy of spending money on me, to get the birthday boy a present. And now I come to think of it a suitable present – a very nice bottle of wine, a pair of cufflinks – would add another forty pounds to the day’s expenditure, not to mention take even more time and make me even later. I feel bad about this, like I’ve been stealing, but it had to be done. I took the Chateuneuf du Pape that TA had brought back for me from duty free when he went to the wedding in Ireland from the shelf and ran for the door.
Tube to Waterloo and – miraculously – there was a train waiting at platform four about to leave for Kingston. I ran to the platform with minutes to spare not worrying about getting a ticket as there are usually staff on the platform to sell tickets. Nope, no one there. Okay, so there will be a ticket person on the train. Nope. I got off at Kingston and asked the helpdesk person where I could buy a ticket and for directions to the road where my friends live. His directions sounded fairly straightforward. I went to the ticket person and told her I joined the train at Waterloo only to get a twenty-pound fine for my honesty – must buy ticket before getting on the train at Waterloo apparently – I hadn’t got time to argue, I paid the fine and fumed. (I’ve been to S&M’s house twice and both times due to train problems it’s ended up costing huge amounts of money) I try to follow the directions but am lost within minutes of leaving the station. There is a car with a big aerial pulled up in what looks like a taxi rank – a minicab? – I knock on the window, but no it’s just a man sitting aimlessly in a car with a big aerial. I ask passersby for directions to the street but get lots of blank looks. I then ask where I can get a cab, get directions and head back towards town. The taxi rank is empty. I consider turning around and going home but look up in time to see a welcome orange light approaching. Desperate, I hail the black cab (a miracle since we are so far out that the streets are empty of cabs) by literally standing in the street in front of it until it stops.
S&M live in a large and immaculate Victorian town house, they are barristers and quite posh. I met Shanthini when I worked in media sales. She was taking a six-month break from her pupillage to earn some money. I was useless at telesales but she was fantastic at it, she did indeed earn money. However, in that six months we also spent a fair amount of time chatting and bonding – she’s a great raconteur and her family background is so different to mine that I was transfixed by her stories. S is Tamil and her family comes from Malaysia, her father is a pharmacist, at the time she was living in a flat on Sloane Square owned by her parents, she went to a private school – she wears her privileged background lightly and is great fun. However, I do sometimes feel a bit in awe, particularly when I meet her other posh friends and her fabulous family.
I gave Martin his bottle of wine. A girl on the door took my coat another girl got me a glass of champagne. I was shown through to the garden where a marquee has been erected it was almost the exact length of the garden and the sides were open to show the flowers. Thankfully, I am not the last guest to arrive but already the party is in full swing. Anxious not to be a burden I ask M if S’s cousins are at the party and get ushered to their table. I met the cousins at S&M’s wedding (which TA couldn’t attend because he was sick) and had a whale of a time with them. I reintroduce myself and take in the sight of eighty posh people mingling and sipping champagne. Shanthini and her cousin Sarita are both wearing the most beautiful saris while everyone else is wearing full-on formal black tie: the women are elegant and immaculate; the men are smart and tailored. As far as I can tell, no one has resorted to Moss Bros – these are men who own their tuxedos and dress shirts and wear them with ease. I had briefly worried that I might be over- or inappropriately dressed, but actually the lovely shop assistant and the miracle workers at Aveda had ensured that I absolutely looked the part.
I start to make small talk with the people at my table – Sarita and her husband I remember are a GP and a paediatrician, respectively; Sarita’s brother is also a paediatrican; Shanthini’s brother, Bala, works for the NHS and designs/engineers medical devices. There are two people at the table I’d not met before, Bala’s friend and his girlfriend. “Legal or medical?” I am asked. Neither, I work for a PR agency I reply sheepishly. I discover that the three of us are pretty much the only people at the party who are neither legal nor medical – he works for a film studio as an associate producer while she does something hush-hush at security firm staffed mainly by ex-SAS hotties. She’s American while he’s Scottish-Nigerian. Later we are joined by a neighbour from down the street who, it turns out, invented his own field “public health impact analysis” and contracts for multinationals, most recently Shell, that want to minimise the impact of their operations on public health. I’m glad my dress and shoes are glamorous enough to pass muster since my career clearly can’t.
Food was served – a delightful and delicious blend of Indian and traditional English finger food – smoked salmon sandwiches vied with samosas and spicy mutton nuggety-type things (called mutton rolls by Bala). The champagne flowed. I missed the last train back to Waterloo. Coffee was brought round by the waitresses and decadent petit fours. Cigars were smoked, although not by me. The numbers thinned; eventually it was me, Martin’s friend (who was best man at his wedding), Shanthini and a friend from her law degree days. We sat around drinking brandy until three in the morning. I hadn’t planned on staying and didn’t have a toothbrush or change of clothes but by that point there was little option. I slept in the converted loft, M’s friend slept in the study, S’s friend slept in the blue room, the nursery was empty as S&M’s eight-month-old daughter was staying with her grandparents. I got about three hours’ sleep, breakfasted on strong tea and, mid-morning, made my way home exhausted but so pleased that I’d managed to go and go in style.
After all that excitement I needed an early night and turned in at eight last night. The phone rang at around one in the morning. “Hello,” said TA quietly, “I’m sorry, I know it’s late, I just wanted to hear your voice.” I was in high spirits despite being woken up with a start and regaled him with stories of pretty ribbons and bows, diaphanous dresses, champagne and posh people. He told me about his shopping trip in Montreal - to Aveda! - and wished that he could have accompanied me to the party. I told him how pretty I’d looked but that, no, there were no photos to record the event. I cradled the phone and curled up under the duvet. “When are you coming home? I miss you.”