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…..








Tumour Humour – Part Two

Image from

It’s alright on Esther Ward.   It doesn’t have the velvety quietness of your Premier Inn, but you can’t knock the location; within a spit of the River and right next door to The Shard.  Through the window there’s just the grimy brown brick of a railway bridge, but I still know it’s out there in all its spiky magnificence.   I may be pumped full of drugs and in unchartered waters, but the point is I’m not in poxy Oxford anymore. The thought of this makes me smile, just because I still can.

I feel like I’ve been here for a long time, but actually it’s only been a few hours.  In terms of my compos mentis levels, I am still totally out of it.  Progress so far has been shuffling to the toilet, avoiding mirrors and eating half a ham sandwich by knocking it back with water like I’m swallowing pills.  My saliva, it seems, has migrated.  Will it come back?  I am as bone dry as the Nevada desert.

The ward has been empty most of the day, but at 4 pm the first of the afternoon surgery patients is wheeled in.  I recognise her from the Admissions Lounge this morning where she was meekly following her husband around in a burka.   By the look of her scarring she’s had throat surgery and although her face is free, her head remains covered with a black scarf.   She reminds me a bit of David Bowie’s wife, so I think she must be Somalian.  She is still slipping in and out of conscious and every now and then, she theatrically hawks something up into a kidney shaped bowl.   Next to her is a Chinese lady who’s had spinal surgery.  She’s been told she can’t move for six weeks and administers her own shots of morphine by pressing a button by her bed.   She’s the only person on the ward who has no visitors and she is the most sick.

Ambitiously, I packed a notebook and pen in the hope I could write a few lines, but all I can do is take some fluffy mental notes for later.  Can someone please tell me where they put my head?  Because the one I’m wearing definitely isn’t mine.   I am Ms Potato Head with interchangeable parts and every now and then I feel my skull being squeezed like it’s in a vice.   It’s not painful, but it definitely isn’t pleasant.  Mum reads me bits from the newspaper, but it feels a bit like white noise.  Apparently the TV by the bed needs a £20 voucher to get it working.  Holby City anyone?

The Somalian lady in the opposite bed can’t be more than thirty six and has seven children.  They all troop in during visiting time like a sub Saharan Von Trapp family, with the husband – permanently plugged into an iPod – bringing the two sons in first.   The five girls follow on like an afterthought ten minutes later, all in traditional dress.  The children are keen to clamber and are clearly getting on the nurses’ tits, swivelling one of the chairs up so high it threatens to come off its stalk.  There are many occasions when I am relieved not to be a mother.  This is one of them.

By 6.30 pm there are two more new experiences to add to the smorgasbord; intravenous drugs whilst fully conscious and NHS catering.  Both can be described as something of a mixed bag.   My right hand is swollen up and I’m holding it like a paw.  It seems the vein is too fine and the antibiotic is stinging sharply up my arm, so the nurse tells me they’re going to wake me up at 1 am and rig up a drip for the next batch.   This should be a lot more comfortable.  All this and I get to eat florescent pink milk jelly.  Fling wide the gates of paradise.

1 am.  Bloody drip isn’t dripping.  The lovely night nurse is being very patient, but I’ve seen condensation gliding down the walls of caves faster than this antibiotic is moving. She keeps having to take the needle out and flush my veins with saline.  In terms of enjoyment, this is right up there with the time I sprained my ankle outside Macdonalds.

3 am.  The bag is now empty.  Can I go to sleep please?


It’s Wednesday morning and I’ve decided to brave it in the bathroom mirror.  How to describe the look I’m currently sporting?  Remember those turbans that Gloria Swanson used to wear in the 30s?  Well, it’s nothing like that.  It’s lopsided and with my hair flopping all over the place, it looks like a poodle rocker’s bandana with extra padding.   My face, I’m relieved to see, looks much the same, although what is going on beneath the bandage, I have no idea.   I’m sure I can see a red gash down my neck and I feel panicky.  Once again, my packing has failed.  There is no way I can get a T-shirt over this enormous turban and if Mum doesn’t bring me in a buttoned up cardigan, I’m going home bare-breasted in the taxi.

The Registrar arrives at around 10am and tells me the tumour was trapped between two facial nerves; one operating my left eye and the other my mouth.   I merrily move both for him. He says the trauma on my body has been enormous, bigger than an appendectomy, so the fact that I feel like I’ve been run over by a tram is entirely normal. He describes the surgery as ‘talented’ and it’s like I’ve missed out by not being there, like the time I didn’t get to see Al Pacino in the West End.

With the warm up act gone, the Professor arrives about an hour later and even the Matron gets a bit giggly.  There’s a bit more eyebrow waggling after which he confirms I’m an eight out of ten and can now be discharged, but will need to come back in a few weeks for a follow up appointment.   I tell him I think he’s amazing and he looks quite chuffed.  I wonder to myself what it must be like to do an important job.  All I’ve ever done is thrown parties and massaged the odd ego.

Mum arrives with a cardigan and after a lengthy check-out, we get a taxi back east.   Today is the opening ceremony of the Paralympics and I live right near the park.   Our driver, an idiot who hasn’t done his homework, has a fondness for hitting the brake, rendering the entire experience for me like doing the Oblivion ride whilst on mind expanding drugs.   Arriving home, I could kiss the ground.   I manage my first decent meal for 48 hours, although I still don’t have full movement in my mouth.   My mother informs me this is no bad thing.


By Day Nine, I am feeling considerably better.   I feel as though my head has now been returned to me and only the numbness remains where the nerves have not knitted together yet.  It’s a weird old feeling, but I’m told it will come back in time.  The needlework by my ear is miraculous – for someone who couldn’t hem a dishcloth, this kind of handiwork impresses me.  I’ve had a lot of time to sit and muse of late and my conclusion is I’m a very lucky girl indeed.   I am back on my manor, I can move my face and I’m still getting free theatre tickets.  So readers, without further ado, I will now raise the curtain on The All New Adventures of High Heels and Reprobates….but be warned.  It might get silly.