Me, feeling mushy: “You’re going to make a lovely lady very happy when you’re all grown-up.”
I said eight years ago, when it was race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination that they wouldn’t vote for a woman, and so it proved.
I say now, when it’s a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the White House that they would rather vote for a backward-looking, divisive misogynist than a woman.
Let’s see if I’m proved right this time.
P.S. I’m very happy to be wrong.
I blame the 80s for a lot. Having your formative years in a decade where curly perms, fluorescent tank tops and one black lace glove were the height of fashion doesn’t bode well for the future. My sisters, who are a decade ahead of me, had 70s chic – one went dyed hair and punk make-up, the other hippy-chick centre-parting and denim flares. I had a grey sweatshirt with Fame written across it, a batwing leather jacket and the biggest collection of coloured plastic jewellery in the developed world. In ten thousand years, when all the history books have rotted away and the digital files have imploded in one huge power surge that destroys the human race’s collective memory, someone will dig up my necklace and matching earrings collection which hasn’t biodegraded and the whole time will be named the Synthetic Era.
The other problem with fashion is we women wear it even it if doesn’t suit us. The invention of Lycra was as much a blessing as it was a curse. Yes, tights stayed up longer than it took to walk to the bus stop, but clothes became closer fitting. Things that should be hidden are now on display – wobbly tummies, hips like a batch of cobs – and there has been the evolution of the four-breasted woman with her normal breasts cut in half by her tight top and two more spilling out over the top. Whereas in the 70s the larger lady had the kaftan now she has a crop top and leggings with not enough denier that they end up see through on really fat thighs. The 80s had hipster belts and baggy t-shirts; today it’s bras and rolls of fat showing through sheer blouses. And the old adage of only show cleavage or legs has been replaced with ‘why even bother with a dress? Your underwear’s fine’.
Apparently, it’s not the done thing to adjust other people’s clothing for them, especially strangers. You know that thing where someone’s label is sticking out or they’ve accidentally tucked their skirt in their knickers. Let me tell you, they won’t thank you for untucking them which, frankly, I think is a public service. Last week, I was waiting for the lights to change so I could cross the road when I noticed the woman in front of me had tucked the top of her ear under the arm of her glasses. That couldn’t be comfortable? Surely she could feel it? Waiting for the little green man, I became this crazed woman holding myself back from reaching forward and flicking her ear free.
I shouldn’t have been put in that position. There should be a dress law which lays out the standards we should all adhere to, like dress codes at work. In fact, the government should employ people to make sure we are appropriately dressed at all times. They could have the power to issue modesty patches –those little triangles of lace you can attach to a top whose neckline is too low. Although today all they wear out is the little triangle of lace so they would need to be issued with a top to go with it. These officials would also be charged with prevention of the wardrobe malfunction or at least limiting its results, and I’ve had a few of those in my time.
My worst was when I was 17 and wearing a muscle-back t-shirt and no bra; remember, this was the 80s and underwear as outerwear was still considered sloppy dressing. Anyway, I was carrying my baby niece around at my sister’s house during a family barbecue. I popped into the kitchen to get a drink before passing my brother-in-law as I headed back outside.
‘I think you’d better put that away,’ he said, pointing towards me. I looked down and found my left boob uncovered to the world where my darling niece had pulled my t-shirt into the middle.
Thinking about this in the years since, I’ve wondered how you can not know your left breast is naked. There should be some kind of alert system where your nipples feel fresh air and tell you about it, and not just on chilly days.
And I’ve even suffered severe embarrassment with clothes I wasn’t wearing. A repairman came to pick up my printer once and when he lifted it uncovered a pair of knickers that had been hiding underneath. There was no point explaining I used the printer as a folding table for my clean washing and a pair must have slipped over the back one day.
I never knew someone could gallop with a printer.
My worst experience was getting stuck in boots at Bluewater. Not the shop – that would have been a piece of cake (a piece of low-calorie cardboard Shapers cake, no doubt) – but spending the night giving myself a free Brazilian and a St Tropez whilst wearing a leatherette-look bikini and inch-long false eyelashes would have been a dream compared with what really happened.
No, I got stuck in a pair of boots in Bluewater. It was my own fault; I had deviated from the Clarks’ range for ladies with calves like an East German shot-putter and was very attracted to a pair of boots for normal people (or skinny cows, as I call them). I tried on the right and asked the assistant for the left. Now where some people have one ear slightly bigger than the other or possibly a boob, I have, apparently, one calf bigger than the other. So what was on the right a snug but do-able fit, on the left became a feat of dexterity and patience, poking in the next little bit of flesh oozing out before pulling the zip up quick before it escaped again. I inched the zip up to the top where I was left with a below-the-knee muffin-top on an excruciatingly painful calf. Luckily the assistant had wandered off and wasn’t watching as I tottered to the mirror.
Nice boots, wrong legs.
I sighed – that same sigh – and hobbled back to the chairs. I took off the right boot and tried to pull the zip down on the left. It wouldn’t budge. Not even a millimetre. You’d think the pressure of all that flesh inside would have made it burst open like a dead pig left in the sun but no, I was trapped.
The assistant wandered back. ‘Everything okay?’
‘He he he.’ (Girlish giggle.) ‘I seem to be a bit stuck.’
She knelt and gave the zip a couple of tugs.
‘Oh, yeah,’ she said. ‘I’ll get the manager.’
Lindsay appeared, all brisk efficiency. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you out,” she said.
She then did a neat little trick which you could try if you ever find yourself stuck inside a pair of boots. She took the lace off another shoe and threadled it through that hole that all zips have on the pull tab. She then took both ends of the lace, wrapped them around her hands and yanked down violently two or three times.
She tried again, even harder.
By now a small crowd had started to gather.
Five or six times she tried, each more violent than the last but the boot stayed welded to my leg.
Finally she sat back on her heels, slightly breathless, huge red welts over her hands, and said,
‘I’ll have to get Nathan.’
The crowd murmured its approval and parted to let her through. I looked to the shop assistant for reassurance but she’d wandered off again, having realised I wasn’t going to yield a commission.
The music to Rocky started playing as Nathan appeared from the stock-room in a light jog, throwing punches into the air in front of him as he came. Not really, but when I replay the horror over in my mind, that’s how I see it except he was more like Mohammad Ali, a black God; that he was honed to perfection under his work shirt was all too plain to see.
Ali, I mean Nathan, knelt down in front of me, the crowd closing in behind him, wanting to see what he saw, be part of the rescue. After a few seconds’ reflection, Nathan gave a small nod and reached for me.
His cool fingers pressed into my flesh as he gripped the soft leather, one hand on each side of the boot and ripped it off me with his bare hands. A ripple went through the crowd; a satisfied sound marking a gladiatorial battle won, an adversary bested.
Nathan grunted and left, leaving me with a stubble-ridden leg exposed to the crowd, a sense that I’d been in the presence of a real man, and little, if any, remaining dignity. I covered myself up like a ravished floozy and slunk away through the dispersing crowd thinking women would pay to have their clothes ripped off them by someone like Nathan. Maybe they did, and I’d just got it for free, I thought as I made my way down to Clarks.
I’ve reached an age where I don’t know if something is fashionable or not. The other day I saw a woman in her thirties wearing court shoes, jeans and white socks. Is that fashion? Should I be borrowing my daughter’s Disney princess socks to wear with my kitten heels? My fashion idols used to be Madonna and Cindi Lauper. Now, the person I aspire to dress most like is the woman on the sign for the ladies’ toilet; she’s feminine, she’s slim, she always wears a dress with an appropriate length skirt and long sleeves. The only thing I wouldn’t copy is her hair-do. It looks like she’s got one of those really tight pony tails pulling up her eyebrows. As we only ever see her in silhouette, we will never know.
The trouble with fashion is when you get older you still think it’s for you when actually it’s not. Not because older women shouldn’t be fashionable, far from it – more that your body has spread in strange ways which can’t then be squeezed into a piece of Lycra more suited to being a sleeve than a dress.
I remember once going shopping with a friend and both choosing the same dress to try on in Karen Millen – hers a size smaller than mine. We each went into a cubicle and once I found the zip – one of those ridiculous ones that go from the armpit to the waist – I managed to force it over my head, my shoulders and roughly over my hips. One look in the mirror told me all I needed to know. I looked like a bunch of badly tied sausages and there was no hope of containing the ten rolls of puppy fat falling out of the micro-zip like a Samurai who’d just committed seppuku. I crossed my arms and gripped the dress by the hemline, preparing for the Whip and Flap where you whip the dress up over your head, and flap your arms down to release them from the sleeves. Usually, this can be accomplished in one fluid movement in under 2 seconds. Usually.
The dress got stuck somewhere around the shoulder area, my arms bundled inside it, my head covered by the skirt. I jerked and twisted to free myself but I was stuck. I juddered and tugged but the dress was well and truly stuck. I stopped, panting heavily, naked bar a pair of knickers from the waist down, wrapped up tighter than a Sikh’s turban on top, and considered my options.
I could career out of where I thought the curtain was and hope someone took pity on me in the corridor between the cubicles; or if there was no one there I could stumble out to the check-in girl but run the risk of overshooting and ending up in front of that group of men who gather at the entrances to changing rooms, regardless of whether they have a girlfriend in there, or not.
Neither option appealed so, with a gargantuan effort and the sound of ripped stitching louder than an over-keen bridegroom on his wedding night, I released myself from its grip. I waited for the hyperventilation to subside before smoothing down my hair and rubbing at the chafing marks on my ribcage and upper arms. Back on the hanger the dress looked innocent enough, but its size 14 tag poked its tongue out and said, ‘Not in this shop, bitch!’
Feeling that all too familiar sensation of having tried on something too small – part humiliation, degradation, self-loathing, and avowal to diet immediately after having a mocha to recover from the shock – I put on my jeans and baggy top and went to find my friend, trailing the offending dress along the floor behind me.
‘How are you getting on?’ I said outside her curtain.
‘Mnmmmnmph!’ she replied.
I twitched the curtain aside an inch and found her, half-naked, spinning around like an escapologist in a straight-jacket with the dress over her shoulders and head. I nodded knowingly, which of course she couldn’t see, and yanked the dress off her.
‘Thanks. I thought I’d never get out of there,’ she said, reaching for her clothes. ‘How’d you get on?’
‘Nah,’ I said, ‘not my colour.’
Looking forward to appearing at the Written Aloud event at the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone, tonight. Tickets (£10) still available.
It is with great pleasure I can tell you my book on Whitstable has now been published and is available through Amazon – highlight the link below and right click.