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.

Get the Party Started

Ah, autumn! Season of woolly tights and canapés! Actually, scrap that first part because I wouldn’t be seen dead, but give me a ballotine of pancetta wrapped guinea fowl, wild mushrooms and truffle oil and I’m in heaven.

Welcome to the time of year when you find yourself pummelled into submission by a variety of openings and happenings you feel you have to attend for Fear of Missing Out.  Hold on tight because FOMO, to use the acronym, will be the thing that propels you along a funnel of activity until you reach the screaming point that is Christmas.  By which time if you see another chocolate covered strawberry you will be forced to set light to your boob tube and retreat to a cave until the January sales.

How I’ve missed it all.

In honour of the upcoming festivities, I have put together the High Heels Guide to surviving the Canapé Season without flinging yourself off a food station. The basic principles may also be applied to Am Dram First Night Parties and anywhere small bits of food are served on trays.

West End Press Nights

The Venue: Waldorf Astoria, Adam Street Club

The Crowd: Actors, Producers, Downtrodden Assistants, Twirlies

The Canapés: You’re joking, right?

The Conversation: who’s got some telly, who’s got Harvey Weinstein’s skiing lodge for Christmas, how many times they’ve cried at work this week, the new pole dancing instructor’s abs at Pineapple.

Oh, what a strange and complex animal this is!  The dynamics going on at this party can keep you entertained for hours.  We have insecure, neurotic people, overworked, on-the-edge people and monstrously competitive people all in one room!  I would say crack open the bubbly, but as this is theatre the budget does only stretch to Chenin Blanc. Likewise, head to the nearest take-away outlet to stock up on carbs post show.  You will not be fed.

The most important thing to remember as your eyes scan the Palm Court for amusement is that the room is full of rival producers and they all despise each other.  They don’t want a party.  What they really, really want is a photo in the Standard of Robert Pattinson clutching a souvenir brochure of their show and proclaiming it theatrical dynamite.  Sadly, what they got was Vanessa Feltz and Lorraine Pascale looking rained out on the Whatsonstage red carpet. Lean back against the opulent pillars and breathe in the resentment.

Now you’ve got the lay of the land, you need to befriend the staff.  And I don’t mean the production staff.  They are also being starved and told they can’t drink much, so are no use to man nor beast. No, you must make a beeline for anyone in a black pinny and charm their socks off.  They are almost certainly looking for an entrée into this strange, dark world and who knows?  A promise to put a word in the right ear might even result in the magical appearance of a bottle of prosecco.  Once you have this, you are king.

The Blockbuster Exhibition Opening

The Venue: V&A, Tate, NPG

The Crowd: Fashionistas, Cultural Movers and Shakers, People who’ve slept with Vivienne Westwood

The Canapés: Foie Gras Parfait & Peach Wine Jelly in shot glasses, Lobster and Artichoke Hearts served on an antique mirrored tile strewn with rose petals and a night light.

The Conversation: The dismantling of DCMS, Tracey Emin’s knickers, certainly NOT the exhibition.

Now we’re talking.  Proper cocktails, proper nosh and some excellent lighting.  Loiter by the door of the kitchens to ensure you get first pick of the spoils.  It is 6.45 pm and you are on your third Jamaican Mule.  Unless you soak this up with a seared scallop and some quails’ eggs, it’s all going to get a bit TV Soap Awards.   No matter how hungry you are, please do NOT double dip.  Swine flu and gingivitis still stalk this world and just because this is the V&A, you are not immune.

Do not get involved in any conversation that hovers more than two degrees above shallow.  Before you know it you will be cornered by someone intent on boring you senseless about Arts Council cuts until you have turned into a pillar of salt grasping a clutch bag.  If you do get trapped, try not to recoil in horror at their champagne breath.  The only way to build immunity to these noxious fumes is to swap to said champagne and drink plenty of it.  The science behind this alludes me but trust me, it works.

Finally – and this is a very important part of the masterclass – never let anyone know the balls of your feet are burning like a volcano.   You bought the shoes, now commit to them.  And don’t even think about Scholls Party Feet.  They don’t work and they’ll only slip out like miniature panty liners on some hallowed, marble floor which is not the talking point you are looking for.

No, readers, it is resilience that is required here.  So, as those invitations start rolling in over the coming weeks, get your stamina on, gargle with some Berocca and embrace the madness. There’s only seventy four quaffing days until Christmas.