Bringing Something to the Party

ShowgirlsEight years ago next week, I wrote my first blog on High Heels.  I was living in a studio flat in West London, depressed, profoundly lonely and recovering from the lacerations of a broken heart.   None of this was alluded to at the time.  I’d made a pact with myself never to do online confessionals and, as my chief philosophy was that parties were a panacea for all ills, I choose instead to write about one I’d recently attended.   It felt apt.  I was wearing high heels and the room was packed with reprobates.

I’d turned up in a hot pink wrap dress in the style of Diane Von Furstenberg, hoping to woo back my ex-boyfriend but instead attracted the unwanted – and fortunately harmless – attention of Rolf Harris who was there to play his wobble board for the irony-loving Shoreditch crowd.  In those days, this was merely embarrassing.

There’s been more than a few embarrassing party moments over the years.  Running full pelt after a taxi I thought still had my clutch bag on the back seat would probably be on the list.  At the time I was wearing a Gloria Swanson headdress, corset and floor length velvet cape and moved so fast the cape was horizontal.  People I’d never met before had applauded.  Later, one of our group had trumped me by being neatly sick into her empty high ball glass.  She’d placed it thoughtfully onto the (very ritzy) bar and retired graciously because it had been that kind of night.

Then there was the other kind of night with Jay the transvestite who owned his own London cab and taxied me about; him in rubber, me in sequins. He’d roll down the window onto a floodlit suburban garage forecourt and trill ‘Tranny Cabs!’ before stepping out, six foot five in heels, and striding into the shop to buy a can of Coke.  To me, this is still what courage looks like.

I’ve learnt a lot about human nature from going out.  It’s taught me things that I value like resilience, empathy and the ability to listen and entertain.  If I think about what’s changed most over the past eight years – apart from my career and owning my own home – it’s that now I go to less parties.  I still love going out, but I’ve found my tribe now and I know there’s not much that’s new under the sun.

Whilst we are no longer living in optimistic times, we don’t need to lose our mirth or take ourselves too seriously.  In fact, the more we hurtle towards hell in a handbag the more we should remember that sometimes it’s just about experiencing it.  I may not own diamonds but I could string these nights together and they’d all be like jewels.   Here is some advice and observations from years of dedication to the cause:

  • Be a contribution.  The best party piece I ever saw was a man diving into a swimming pool clutching two lit fireworks.  If you must have a party piece, it needs to be this good.
  • An arsenal of anecdotes is a bonus.  The man with the two lit fireworks told me the best one I’ve heard.  The day of his Dad’s funeral, he discovered two things.  The first was that his octogenarian father had had a twenty two year old Chinese mistress called Pinkie Chin and the second was he was now responsible for one million Chinese silk ties which were en-route to London with no particular forwarding address. ‘And Sarah Jane, I don’t know if you can envisage what a million ties look like….’
  • Parties are the greatest leveller.  They divide people into two camps – boring and not boring.  If it’s about how big your job is you’re in the wrong room.
  • Some of the most confident appearing people I’ve ever met are incapable of walking into a party alone.  Good to remember when someone is being overbearing or patronising.
  • Alpha females have no idea how to enjoy themselves.  Better be a Tango female.  Your only agenda is to dance and be merry.
  • There’s nothing more gratifying than looking expensive in cheap places.
  • Never go out hoping you might meet someone.  Go out thinking someone would be lucky to meet you.
  • The perfect party drink is a classic champagne cocktail.  Two will boost your allure, three will lower it.
  • Nothing attracts attention like a red dress.
  • When faced with a lack of gallantry ask yourself this simple question.  Would Elizabeth Taylor put up with this crap?
  • Wham’s I’m Your Man remains the greatest ever floor filler.
  • Don’t get cornered by strangers who want you to listen to their problems. This is a party, not a charity gig.
  • Being rude to people who are serving you is the height of bad manners.   The waiter is your friend and will bring you sustenance.
  • Foam has no place on food.
  • Overtly charming people who focus on you in an intense manner and pursue you like locusts are sociopaths.
  • Musicians are WAY more fun than actors.
  • If you need to resume the recovery position, Pretty Woman and a plate of Turkish eggs will get you through it.

 

I am thinking of perhaps retiring High Heels.  Although I imagine it will probably return like Liza Minelli on a come back tour…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Generation Game

VegasI love you millennials, I really do.  The older I get the more important it is to plug myself into the mores of the younger generation for a bit of rejuvenation.  No one wants to be a middle-aged duffer whose finger’s slipped off the zeitgeist trying to create a GIF of Chandler Bing’s’ face, but my god, you people are everywhere.

What a joy then to attend the 21st Birthday of Duckie last night and be surrounded by my own unique clan.  The cynical, aimless and ever-adaptable Generation X who lived entirely for the pursuit of fun and still would.  Never was a generation more dedicated to dancing like a demon on a podium than mine and that remains its defining esprit de corp.

To my mind, this thin filling in the baby boomer/millennial sandwich gets a bad rap.  We were told we were directionless slackers, over-caffeinated and self-involved, and fair enough, many of us didn’t have a permanent job until we were twenty seven.  We didn’t chase the corporate buck because we didn’t trust it, so we took our 2.1 liberal arts degree and did a McJob instead, waking up on a mid-week afternoon with our face in a pot noodle and no other ambition than to dish up last night’s shenanigans over a cappuccino.  Give us an Alison Limerick piano remix and a new top and we were in heaven.  Give us a Sex and the City box set and a painfully slow internet connection and we could be entertained for days.  Who cares if by this point we were thirty three?

For all our arrested development, Generation X has tenacity.  We might not be the natural heirs to the internet, but when others would have given it its P45, we stuck with it.  We optimistic gurners committed to its potential, dialling it up and downloading enormous files through a BT cable like someone trying to pass a fridge freezer. True, this was largely motivated by FOMO – which incidentally we invented before it even became a thing – but some of us managed *eventually* to harness this unreliable fledgling and change the world.  We are, if nothing else, the ultimate late bloomers.

So what of all this indolence and solipsism; this ‘shut up and dance’ mentality?  Curiously it is what makes us the best placed generation to cope with the upheavals to come, growing as it did from a sense of deep rooted insecurity and mistrust.  Generation X has been restructured, out-sourced and change managed within an inch of our lives.  It’s all we know.  Our parents are probably divorced and we’ve never had any time for authority.  We saw the rise of AIDS, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of apartheid so we know what fear looks like and we understand even things that seemed permanent can be brought down.

Recently I went to an event where one of the speakers announced we were living in dark times.  What struck me most about this remark was at the age of forty three, I have never heard anyone say this in my lifetime with such quiet conviction.  With so much at stake it’s never been more important to celebrate freedom, diversity and the joy of the now.  As every Generation X-er knows, not everything is about having a goal, but it is about having a value.   And there’s no greater one than liberty. See you on the dancefloor.

 

 

Mistress of Reinvention

Mistress of ReinventionRecently, I did a couple of semi-radical things.  Cut my hair off.  Left my job.  OK, it might not be the October Revolution but it’s still change and, to paraphrase Hilary Clinton, I think that’s a good thing.

I’ve never been someone who transitions seamlessly from one chapter to the next.  Something ends and something quite different begins. And although I don’t always know what it’s going to be, experiencing life as a curious mistress of reinvention is far more pleasurable than being a calculating card player.  It also does wonders for your character and gives you much more interesting stories to tell at parties and this, after all, is the point of transformation.

The luxury of time has allowed me to re-establish my flâneur status.  Truth be told, wandering aimlessly as a keen-eyed urban stroller is my natural demeanour.  And London is the ideal place to revel in flâneuserie; look at Virginia Woolf.   I read an article recently about her ‘sailing out into the evening surrounded by the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets’ so I thought I’d give it a go Dalloway-style in Green Park on a Tuesday lunchtime.  I walked through the avenues of trees, up to Hyde Park Corner, though the gaucheness of Knightsbridge and straight into You Say You Want a Revolution at the V&A.   Yes, I thought.  Yes, I bloody do want a revolution.   I want one right now.  And two hours later, rolling off one of the beanbags where I’d watched Hendrix nimbly strumming the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, I was able to confirm something quite fundamental about myself.  I am seriously pissed off I missed the 1960s.

Me and the 60s were made for each other.  Liberal, anti-authoritarian, a thorn in the side of the establishment, I can’t believe I had to wait until 1973 to exist.  Of course, you’d need to get the 60s at the right time – it wouldn’t have been much fun in a nappy – but I think in the spirit of reinvention I would have started out as a kohl-rimmed beatnik and unravelled to full hippie status by about 1967.  Cheesecloth, beads, incense cones, plenty of batik…..actually, I did do all of this in 1989 when the 60s saw something of a resurgence (a consummate smoker, I was able to retain my doyenne of glamour status by co-ordinating the colour of my smocks with my Sobraine Cocktails) but we still didn’t have Janis and craggy faced Keith.  Nor did we have the same desire to overthrow the status quo and create something new in its place.  The 1960s had the kind of bravery and idealism that changed the things it couldn’t accept, from the position that everyone is connected.  The irony then of Theresa May quoting Sam Cooke at the Tory Party Conference left me, to quote Victoria Wood, adjacent to vomiting.

Reinventing your world is a good thing.  It requires imagination and maybe some courage, but getting off the carousel allows things you didn’t know you wanted to make themselves known, something life’s plotters don’t get the privilege of experiencing.   A change is going to come.  But in the meantime, there’s always fun and cosmopolitan wandering.

It All Begins In The Fall

Image by Irving Penn

Image by Irving Penn

Some people think autumn has an elegiac quality, but I’ve always thought it signifies more of a joyful beginning than a sorrowful end. This misty optimism might have something to do with the fact that as a child I loved school.  It might also have something to do with the fact that as an adult, I love change.

We all know the drill this time of year.  Still cleaving to your kaftan and Aperol Spritz, you stand there with fading tan and slightly crispy hair, sniffing the spicy air like a hound dog, knowing that IT is coming. You’ve an idea that it involves game, pumpkins, Shiraz, funnel–like social activity that leads to the C word and maybe a few fireworks en-route.  You start to pick through a pile of ageing, bobbly jumpers, knowing that come the Equinox you will, yet again, be sartorially challenged.   Can you handle this year’s pussy bow and military wide legged trouser?  No.  Can you bear to recycle last year’s plether jeggings and assorted tweedy efforts?   You may have to.  You begin to feel tenser than Anna Wintour’s PA’s jawline before the September issue goes to print.  But then you remember.  The season of abundance too has its bonuses:

  1. One of the enormous pluses of autumn’s onset is the festival juggernaut finally grinds to a halt, spewing vintage, pop up twats back into their decompression tents for another year.  You don’t have to hear about it, you don’t have to see it in your timeline. Adieu to fairy woodlands and locally sourced ethically produced foodie masterclasses and open mic buttock-clenching spoken word nightmares.   For a while there will be no more unicorns.
  2. This will leave you free to pave the way for the more serious business of greeting the canapé season in something dark, velvety and dramatic.  If nothing else this is the time of high art and high fashion.  It’s about having a quick rummage through one of the second hand shops in W11 and getting into an opening at the V&A on someone else’s ticket.   Remember, you are an autumnal interloper and you are not ashamed.
  3. Next there’s the food.  Nature’s larder is overflowing, so tuck into regal venison, plump partridges, dim-witted pheasants and leaping salmons.  If you are vegan, you may feast on a blackberry or a gourd.
  4. Light entertainment is looking up. X-Factor and Strictly show their surgically enhanced, spray tanned faces for your edification and delight.  You’ve got more back story, ritual humiliation and social mobility than you can shake a stick at.  Plus Ed Balls in a spangly bolero shrug. Why go out?
  5. Dream Girls, The new Design Museum, You Say You Want A Revolution, No Man’s Land, BFI London Film Festival, Caravaggio at The National Gallery, The Red Shoes at Sadlers and truffles, that’s why.
  6. Keep your flip flops on, we’re heading for an Indian Summer…..

 

 

My Funny Valentine

Ellen Von UnwerthVD.  The most singularly repellent concept since the tall gladiator sandal.  ‘So what are you doing on Valentine’s Day?’  Well, actually I’m off to Carpets 4 Less on the Ring Road to talk about bedroom flooring.  After that I’m going to make some guacamole for lunch and watch Mr Selfridge on repeat.  I might even knock myself out and paint my nails.

Banal?  Not half as much as the morons who phone into Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs.  You’d be forgiven for dry retching over the couple who are sitting up in bed eating homemade heart-shaped jam tarts this morning.  Or the woman bleating about her rock, soulmate, king, kindred twin and yin to her yang, Derek from Luton.  ‘He’s my world’ she whines into the voicemail.   And you live that close to an Easy Jet terminal?  You need to get out more.

I’m floored by how many level-headed people believe in the concept of soulmates.  In a world population of 7.4 billion, the chances of meeting The One is enough to make the law of probability calculator burst into flames.  It suggests there’s some divine order and pattern to everything, which I know is a terribly popular viewpoint amongst people who frequent middle class festivals in a spirit of mindfulness and gratitude.

In my view, people come together for far more grounded reasons.  Opportunity and timing is a big one.  Then there’s shared values, sex, economic need and, of course, that big driver, dysfunction.  Believe in the power love, by all means.  That’s real, tangible and life-changing.   But soulmates?   The idea of ‘prescribed by the universe’ partnerships is a concept peddled by sociopaths, desperate seekers and people who carry special stones around.  It’s about as credible as the upcoming nuptials of Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall.  And there are so many elements of that union that I neither understand nor want to think about.

For any woman feeling bereft today, feel lucky you were born now.  I love a Pagan festival as much as the next non-believer, but the Roman three day extravaganza, Lupercalia, is where today’s cutesy lovefest actually originates.  Allow me to explain.  A group of weirdos congregated near a cave, sacrificed a goat and a dog and then whipped some women with the hides of the animals they’d just slain to ‘increase their fertility’.  After that they all put the keys to their chariots in a pot and drew lots on who’d get who for coupling.  Now that’s a shit Valentine’s Day.

Pass the Ben and Jerrys and Netflix yourself into a coma, people.  It’s only 24 hours.

Reasons to be Cheerful – Happy New Year!

f5bf470759bdc5994e0bec7578072313To paraphrase her Majesty, 2015 has been, for me, something of an annus mirabilis.  Or in other words, the first year that hasn’t been completely shit in about a decade.   I feel guilty saying this, of course.  People like me are allergic to smugness.  There is nothing more nauseating than someone eulogising about how wonderful their life is.  It’s insensitive to the suffering of others and ignores the unwritten rule that as soon as the words are uttered, a large cartoon hammer appears and smashes everything.  Did I mention before I have a tendency to catastrophize?

Looking around there’s not been a lot to smile about in the world.  I didn’t get through reading the Guardian’s Year in Review today.  Between the religious despots, widespread global terror and Donald Trump’s head weave, the annual round up made me want to run howling into Storm Frank.  I feel I grew up in a more optimistic time.  We had student grants and illegal raves and crystal healing.  We had the Stone Roses for god’s sake.  And there were proper belly laughs too, and strange happenings.  Like Tribal Gathering or the night we discovered Val Kilmer on the landing wearing a small, fluffy towel and thought we’d done too many recreational herbs.

But maybe that’s it. Maybe we all view our formative years through a fine gauze that makes everyone look like movie stars.  The point is we weren’t worrying. At least not about debt, disaster and Armageddon. However, looking back over the headlines of twenty years ago, shit still happened:  Fred and Rosemary West, the Kobe earthquake, the Brixton Race Riots, boots on the ground in Sarajevo…There’s no denying that events can feel like a Sword of Damocles dangling above our heads, but didn’t our parents and grandparents feel this way about the Cold War?

As long time readers of High Heels will know, I love New Year.  I love it like a kid in a sweet shop. There are many things to be grateful for, so here’s my top five list for the year that’s passing and the one that’s knocking hopefully at our door:

  1. Carrie Fisher is in the world and she kicks arse.  NEWS KLAXON.  Few people under the age of 40 ever did or said anything that revelatory.  You earn the right to be interesting over time.  At which point some idiot(s) with an opinion and an internet connection will bitch about your jowls and the width of your hips.  Obviously this would never happen to Harrison Ford.  Thank the lord then for the dark wit of Ms Fisher.  Anyone who writes lines like ‘my father was best friends with a man named Michael Todd.   Mike Todd was married to Elizabeth Taylor.  Mike Todd died in a plane crash, and my father consoled Elizabeth Taylor with his penis’ is my kind of woman.
  2. Chris Hemsworth is in the world and he’ll have to beef up for his next movie.  Look he’s under 40, OK?
  3. They might have guns but we have flowers.  The Youtube clip of the French father explaining the Paris attacks to his child restored my faith in humanity.  And in millennial parenting.  But don’t get me started on that. 
  4. People keep on giving.  It’s not been the best year for the reputation of fundraising, but there’s been many, many bright spots from individuals.  Katie Cutler and disabled pensioner Alan Barnes.  The Canadian school children welcoming Syrian refugees with a song in Arabic. These were my top *there’s something in my eye* moments.
  5. Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe is on TONIGHT on BBC2 at 9 pm.  Genius awaits us.

Writing this on a blustery afternoon, I’ve realised that High Heels is a whole six and a half years old.  A mere child. Thank you for reading and being the audience for this intermittent, slightly cynical, but fundamentally hopeful blogger.  Whatever you’re doing or however you’re feeling about the future, may you swing triumphantly from the chandeliers in 2016.

Happy New Year!  xx

 

 

The Dark Art of the Narcissist

Purple lipsNarcissism is an interesting phenomenon.   In a world obsessed with selfies and validation on social media we are all, in many ways, guilty as charged.   But real narcissism has a black heart that goes far beyond the desire for someone to think you look cute on Facebook.   All smoke and mirrors, the narcissist creates an illusion and gets you to buy into it.  They are shape shifters, constantly morphing into what they think you want them to be and, although they may share similarities, male and female narcissists operate in very different ways.

Recognise these people?

The Female Narcissist

A lot more difficult to spot than her male counterpart, the Female Narcissist seems super fun and rather harmless.  Maybe she has a baby doll voice.  Maybe she looks like a lickle fwuffy bunny, but don’t buy it.  It’s a ruse to disarm you because beneath the simpering, this sugar-coated Poison Ivy is always looking for ways to metaphorically slit your throat.  She’ll spread rumours about you, try and  sabotage your progress and all the while promote herself as the wide-eyed peacemaker, her eyes welling up with tears as if someone has flicked a switch.

Obsessed with her appearance, FN’s hackles will go up like a wolf if she sees another woman who’s prettier.   She lacks self-esteem, so her ability to attract is where she believes her true worth lies and as such, she’s almost never single.   The FN is an emotional vampire who feeds on the approval of others because without this she has no idea who she is.  All internalised rage she doesn’t know how to handle, the Female Narcissist is probably the reincarnation of Lucretia Borgia.  Don’t eat her food.  She’ll make you ill.

The Male Narcissist

What a rip-roaring relationship this is.  You’ve literally never felt so adored.  And so listened to!   The Male Narcissist has scoped you out and he knows all your dreams and aspirations.  Now he’s going to reflect them back at you in a razzle-dazzle display that will leave you breathless.  He’ll wine you, dine you and write your will across the sky in stars.  In fact, he’ll probably use this exact line and say he stole it from T.E Lawrence, whilst ordering you another martini.

He gets you, don’t you see?  You’re soulmates.  You’ve become this alarmingly quickly because a few weeks ago you didn’t even know him, but whilst you’re caught in the headlamps of his intensive gaze, everyone else seems frankly vanilla.

The honeymoon period of this relationship will be historic.  The Male Narcissist is obsessed with notions of idealised love and romance, so expect superlatives to fly around like dandelion clocks.  They’ll be hotels with marble bathrooms; they’ll be log fires and room service.   You can really talk to MN because as a perpetual bullshitter, he is a master of words.   The conversation will shine so brightly you’ll think you’re in movie and you are.  It’s called Sleeping with the Enemy and MN’s prowess in the bedroom is the only thing he’s not lying about.

It all starts going wrong with MN the moment he realises the game is won and he’s earned your trust.  Perpetually fending off boredom, he’ll start to create drama for no reason. He’ll tell you you’re mad or jealous or unstable and what was idolised before will be criticised with forensic intent.  You’ll think you’re in a play.  It’s called Gaslight.

If you’re unlucky, you may go several cycles with MN.  You may even stay with him for years and years because he’s created an addiction with him as chief supply.  If your luck is catastrophic, you may find yourself friendless, foreclosing on your house with your career in the toilet.   The Male Narcissist isn’t wired for empathy.  His humanity centre was shut down for renovation years ago.

Run.  Run like the wind.

High Heels in Seville

Sevilla blogIf Granada is a retired party girl, Seville’s a blousy reveller in the full throes of the banquet and she’s giving you everything she’s got. It’s an overwhelmingly feminine city, unlike London which is definitely a bloke, driven with purpose and not much cop on the dance floor.

I arrive on the first night of La Feria de Abril, the boldest, brightest and horsiest of all Andalucian festivals and I wonder who’s turned up the volume and the light.  Everywhere it’s like a Franco era postcard, mad with roses, combs, tassels, frills and fans.  There are long-legged elegant men driving carriages full of giggling teenage girls and proud matriarchs sashaying knowingly down the street looking for the carnival’s beating heart.

La Feria is probably what joy looks like.  Festooned with orange and white lanterns, it’s located on the far bank of the Guadalquivir River.  The fair is made up of row upon row of casetas, colourful temporary structures that are hosted by private families for wining, dining and carousing.  Some casetas are absolutely rocking whilst others look frankly dull, with elderly men picking bits of dried paella off a plate and stating into the middle distance.   Where can a girl go to get a glass of fino in this place?  I was told there were public casetas but I can’t seem to tell the difference.  I am an observer here and something of an interloper in this most Spanish of holidays, but everything is such a riot of colour I can’t take my camera off it.

It is now thirty degrees and rising and the smell of horse dung hangs in the air.  One of my ancestors died breaking in a race horse, so I have always been slightly nervous of equine hooves, problematic with senoritas galore riding side saddle across gleaming flanks and everywhere an opportunity to be ploughed over by a carriage.  I decide to get away from the madness and take a stroll down to the bullring where I discover things are also mad.

La Feria kick starts the beginning of the season and, although blood sports are loathsome to me, bullfighting is integral to Andalucian culture and I’m curious.   When I get to the ring I see a crane high above my head and at the end of it is a man with a TV camera.  Even from the outside the whole place bristles and the atmosphere is tauter than a matador’s buttock as they await the start of the fight.  As a spectator you have two choices, sol y sombra.  As the bull your two choices are win or die, with the odds firmly stacked towards the latter.  I remind myself that this is an all or nothing city.  Then a man with a thick moustache explains to me in broken English that its 70 euros to sit in the cheap seats.   I am appalled and turn on my heel.  I wouldn’t pay that to see Maggie Smith in the West End.

I’m permanently lost here.  I have no sense of direction and have never been able to read a map so I do everything by sight.  Trying to get to the Plaza de Espana, I pass through a park and encounter  several groups of boys in blue blazers politely sipping beer from plastic cups.  Sevillian hoodies are such stylish bastards.  I, on the other hand, have never looked more of a tourist.  Wanting to be handbag free, I’ve an overloaded bum bag that makes me look like I’m entering the third trimester.  I’ve bought a cheap trilby to keep the sun off my face which I’m starting to realise is Seville’s equivalent of a Kiss Me Quick hat. Who cares?  I am an Iberian flaneur and there is always cold sherry and tapas.  The Andalucians are not big on their five a day here and every vegetable I eat is deep fried and smothered in honey.   We teeter on the edge of Africa so the cuisine is spicier than inland but oddly, apart from the occasional seller of trinkets, there are hardly any black people to be seen.

My apartment is in the centre of town.  It’s immaculate with a private terrace and a view of La Giralda, the bell tower of Seville’s epic cathedral.  My hostess is Italian so everything is geared towards style rather than comfort – no carpets, no cushions and a purgatorial bed that’s as hard as an ironing board and impossible to sleep in.  She’s kind and thoughtful, but rather over-zealous in her communications, probably not realising that my idea of a holiday is getting a good night’s kip and not having to deal with other people.   I have cleverly managed to swerve British tourists since I’ve been here.  On the third evening I find El Rinconcillo, the oldest bar in Seville where they have been carving deliciously thin slices of cured ham off the bone since 1670.  The waiter grabs an entire leg complete with cloven hoof and expertly carves me up a plate.  Next to me, a northern voice says ‘Look at that Barbara.  If that were England health and safety would be doing its NUT’.   I order another glass of Rioja and the waiter chalks up my bill on the counter.   Please someone send me some flamenco and get me away from this mediocrity.

I first started getting into the idea of flamenco in Granada when I saw it performed in the squares.  If you are ever in Seville and want to go to the Flamenco Museum, don’t.  I went in, looked at every exhibit and watched every piece of film and still learned absolutely nothing about flamenco.   It does however have an excellent shop where I purchased a book called Duende, the heightened emotional state that results from watching great art.  It’s the true story of an Oxford graduate who runs away to Spain to immerse himself in flamenco culture by living with gypsies and learning the guitar.  En route to full enlightenment he has a torrid affair with the wife of an Alicante gangster, falls in with a bad lot in Madrid and spends his evenings snorting cocaine off the bonnets of stolen BMWs.  It’s not your average gap yah, but it does tell you a lot about where flamenco hails from and that it is primarily about being an outsider.

Bizet didn’t set Carmen here for nothing.   It doesn’t have the dark, primitive heart of Granada and its streets are bewildering to navigate, but when you step out in the evening and the sky is crazy with swallows and everything has such abundance and promise, you can’t help but admire Seville’s blatant audacity.

Talking of audacity, I arrive at the airport and Ryan Air fines me 70 euros for not checking in online.  Heading into the bar for a consoling beer, I am greeted by the ruddy face of Phil Mitchell in a black cowboy hat talking to ‘a mystery brunette’.   Something tells me the poetry has come to an end……

 

 

 

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

Jewish ChildThe woman who pioneered Mothers’ Day in the States and later inspired the UK to upgrade our own rather turgid ‘Mothering Sunday’ wasn’t even a mother. In fact, Anna Jarvis never had children and campaigned for a day of recognition after her own mother died in 1907.  Seven years later, President Woodrow Wilson made it part of the American calendar and then, before you could say ‘worldwide franchise’, Hallmark jumped all over it and made it part of the American Dream.  Ker-Ching.

Not that I’m being cynical about the spirit of Mothers’ Day. To me, every day should be Mothers’ Day. There isn’t any other job that is least rewarded, least supported and probably least understood. The plaintive cry of ‘Mum!’ is the most used word on the planet and yet, Italians aside, the status of mothers remains low.  Let’s be honest, if being a Mum was an actual advertised job, it’s unlikely there’d be queues around the block.

GENERAL LABOUR

Mother wanted.  Permanent unbreakable contract.   Hours variable, but mostly waking only.  It is likely you will be called upon to deal with: early starts, whinging, projectile vomit, curtailed professional development, head lice, tantrums, Idina Menzel, diarrhoea, loss of your sense of self, Lego bricks in your insteps as you walk down the stairs, uncontrollable guilt, back-to-back Peppa Pig and feelings of inadequacy because you can’t do French plaits.  Please be aware this will later lead to rampant hormones, thankless tasks, bolshy attitudes, general disrespect and a rapidly diminishing bank balance.  

Essential requirements: Resilience and a big handbag.

We regret we are unable to offer financial remuneration for this role.

In spite of all this, motherhood remains the Holy Grail for women.   You can make millions, address the UN or discover the cure for any genetic disease you like, your lack of offspring will always be seen a source of disappointment.  You are meant to feel bereft as if some essential component is missing.  God forbid, you should take a long, therapeutic look at your uninterrupted private hours, uncompromised ambitions and clutter-free home and wonder where it all went right.

There are two things that really fascinate me as a happily child-free woman of forty two. Firstly, the way I am treated at weddings, christenings and other family type occasions.   This is generally (but not always) the situation:

Me: So how is little Mia?

Mia’s parent:  proceeds to talk about Mia for roughly two hours with other parents chipping in with their own anecdotes.  There is usually a scrolling through of endless photographs.

Me: (politely) Isn’t she sweet?  Please tell me more about her first day at the Montesorri nursery.

Mia’s parent: continues to drone on without realising that in the course of this now three hour conversation, he/she hasn’t asked a single question about me.  My life is clearly unworthy of comment or investigation.

Listen up, people.  I don’t care how tired you are, this one sided conversation is rude and shows an unforgivable lack of social skills.  It’s bad enough having to go to a bloody wedding.   I’ve listened to your tales of potty training, you can hear about my night out at Sink The Pink.

The other interesting thing about not being a mother is you’re not supposed to have a view on the bringing up of children.  Odd really, as presumably you’ve had a mother yourself and have enough emotional distance to formulate a sensible opinion without having your buttons pressed.  Clearly, it’s best not to proffer this opinion to anyone’s actual faces.  Pointing out that your friend’s middle class inclusive parenting skills are bullshit is not advisable unless you want to incur the wrath of a sleep deprived Tasmanian devil.  Mentioning that it’s not OK for her three year old to push Play Doh through the zip in your handbag or insist, like some miniature dictator, that every adult in the room sings Let it Go in a six part harmony really won’t end well.   Keep a lid on it, but feel free to discuss with your other child-free friends from a place of lofty superiority.  It’s such fun!

As it’s Mother’s Day, I should probably end with something about my own mother.  When I was in my early twenties my Mum told me that there was nobody like me.  Looking back I’m hoping she meant this as a compliment.  Yet I’ve been lucky.  My mother doesn’t flatter or criticise my appearance or tell me I’ve ballsed up with an ill-advised life decision.  She’s cheered me on from the sidelines and taught me not to take any crap.  I’m not expected to marry, breed, earn a six figure salary, impress the neighbours or follow a path I don’t believe in.

She does however nag me about bleaching the plug hole and defrosting the freezer. Obviously I take absolutely no notice. When we are around our mothers, we are forever teenagers.

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time?

Russian WinerAh Christmas!  Season of over-crowded dining rooms bursting with low level resentment.  What is it about Christmas that we all feel we have to congregate in a critical mass and irritate the bejesus out of each other?  Even the TV endorses it. If life was a Lidl ad, you’d think having twenty seven smug faces round the table pontificating on the price of a prawn ring was de rigueur.  Far from being wrapped in the saccharine arms of a supermarket commercial, my festive fantasies are far more high-end and rather less populated with annoying people.

In this glittering world, there is no Slade assaulting my ears as I crowbar myself into a sweltering shop, the onset of other people’s flu shuddering through my bones.  Here there is only the gentle tinkling of sleigh bells and the cold, dry whoosh of air as I set off to another masked ball.  On my alternative festive planet, I’m wrapped in ermine like a Romanov princess, gliding gracefully around a twinkling ice rink.  I’m climbing into a horse drawn troika and dashing off through the snow, sipping mulled cider from a silver goblet with someone who looks and sings a bit like Hugh Jackman. Then of course there’s the three days of feasting, the ice palace, that cheeky not-so-little diamond winking at the bottom of my stocking…..too over-indulgent?  But isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Well, no not really.  If like me, you’re a merry and practical pagan, you’ll see it as a Festival of Light designed to brighten up the Winter Solstice.  You get to fatten up on the fruits of the year and take stock of where you’ve been.  It’s certainly a time to do nice things for others, but if you do find yourself spending Christmas Day alone watching The Chaser with your thumb in a bottle of Baileys, this is perfectly acceptable.  I would advise you invigorate this scenario with more stylish accoutrements (It’s a Wonderful Life and a bottle of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque as a little suggestion) but Christmas is what you make of it and if you’re a grown up unshackled by domesticity, you can make it exactly how you like.  This freedom is something worthy of celebration.

If you’re depressed and lonely though, it’s hard to be upbeat when you’re attacked on all sides by images of togetherness and faaairmily.  Christmas becomes a trial; something you just have to get through because you’re staring into the snow globe of someone else’s seemingly perfect life and finding yourself wanting.  Only nobody’s life is perfect.  If you’re lucky you may even experience some perfect moments, but once these too have passed, you’ll still wake up feeling bilious with your face in a bowl of pretzels.  This is probably the best analogy of Christmas I can come up with.

Because if this really is the most wonderful time of the year, how come so many Brits are being peeled off the paving slabs by overworked paramedics up and down the country?  How come our fellow citizens are so desperate to blot out the fresh hell of Chrimbo, they find themselves nine parts Jagermeister by half past eight?  According to official statistics, this weekend will see us collectively reaching Peak Pissed and this only proves my point.  Nobody loves Christmas. Only Michael Bublé, who frankly should take it up the aisle and make an honest woman of it.

People have often said that Christmas has more meaning when you have children and I’ve no doubt that this is true.  However, when you are the proud owner of your very own Casa High Heels, it’s also quite exciting.  Whatever you’re doing this year, whomever you’re doing it with – whether it’s a cast of thousands or with your own fabulous self – Merry Christmas!