Like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. It has gone from a black & white ‘Joan Collins switching the Regents Street lights on’ snap to a Hollywood 3-D movie with people jumping out at you on Oxford Street.
For me it’s the time I feel incredibly lonely, even when I’m surrounded by lots of people at a flash party. That’s the worst. Yet, when I’m alone in my little cottage curled up in front of the fire reading with Sophie on my lap, I’m never lonely. There is also that feeling of relief like when you are taking off your Spanx after a night out. All your fat that has been held in captivity can go back to its natural habitat. It’s just so tiring having to pretend you are somebody you aren’t, even down to your muffin-tops.
With me, it’s always the solicitous ‘are you okay?’ small talk. How many times can I say to people I’m okay. One day I’m going to reply… You know what I’m NOT OK, I feel like crap and I’d like to hang myself with the fairy lights, but the ceiling would collapse on me, and I’d have a hell of a repair bill. The only good thing to come of it would be is that they’d never ask me again.
This was also the season of having to make the command performances at my in-law’s holiday parties. I was trotted out as their last link to their only son, which was fine because they were my last link also.
When I first met them at their home in Grosvenor Cottages, we fortified ourselves at The Antelope round the corner. I had been warned I would need it. The minute we drove up into the cul-de-sac, it was obvious this was an area frozen in time. You could tell the homes had been passed down throughout the generations, and not inhabited by Russian tycoons, Middle Easterners and the worst kind ever – football stars.
Their living room was traditionally decorated with ivory oversized sofas and chairs with fringes; red walls; high ceilings with white crown molding and extremely large ornately framed paintings of their ancestors standing next to hunting dogs. Jamie’s father was as they say an “heir” and looked like Roger Moore circa now . He was so welcoming, kissing my hand but not in a smarmy way. His mother – an Honor Blackman doppelgänger – looked like her face was frozen in time. Jamie told me her life was about being ‘maintained.’ She’d go around the corner to Dr. Greenburgh’s office (where he had two entrances so the wife wouldn’t run into the mistress) getting some sort of injections to stay young, then the hairdresser, facials and gym. Not a life I saw leading.
As I sunk into the chair, I whispered to Jamie to get me a drink and cheese/crackers for fear my mini-skirt would ride up if I got up. Honor slithered next to me, so thin she could share the seat, taking my hands in her translucent hands with bulging purple veins (reminder: put on hand cream twice a day.) In a polite whisper instructed me that women get their men drinks and if need be, their food, not the other way around. It was like a page torn out of Courtesan 101. I wanted to say for gods sake, I was from Surrey, not plucked from selling flowers in Covent Garden, but stopped short. In Surrey the men got women drinks, this just was another world to me.
Luckily Jamie wanted to escape that world, and who he grew up to be was an enigma to his parents. He had no interest in hunting, polo, yachting or someday moving into their house. Simply put, they were SW people, and we were NW people and never the twain shall meet. My life was never about “maintaining” but more about how to carve out who I was when all anyone cared about was talking to my husband. Thus, the wine throwing incident which landed up on the cover of The Sun.
When my husband died, I felt horribly insecure since in most people’s minds I’m sure, he was the only thing interesting thing about me. At Oxford, my game plan was by forty I’d change the world, then marry. I’d done it all reverse. I was also starting to become invisible. Slowly fading away like women my age did. Men didn’t do a double take anymore, nor women give me the once over glance. I had no discernible talent and now was carving out who I was standing alone.
I’m off for Christmas Eve dinner at the Connaught with the General. Maybe he’ll smack some sense into me.