Party frock hell

We are officially entering the party frock season. Now I no longer have a proper job and have started to call myself semi-retired which is code for I am no longer in full time employment but I’m still fucking amazing (clearly a strategy that is fooling no-one) there are admittedly fewer Christmas party frock do’s in the diary. Which is just fine and dandy by me. I ventured into the modest black, sequinned, sparkly, silver section of my wardrobe fearing that most of them would no longer fit. Yep, fears confirmed with only one of them fitting but with a speed bump type arrangement all down my back fat. Nice.

The scale and speed of the physical fall out is taking me by surprise. Now that I have turned 60 it all seems to be sagging, cracking, puckering or frizzing at a rate of knots. Even my toenails have gone weird on me and are starting to look like pork scratchings.  Older and wider is a good way to describe the state of play, kind of me but on a bad day.  I’ve cottoned on to the large jewellery trick. Wear things chunky enough and you trick the eye into thinking that the rest of you is quite svelte. However even necklaces the size of house bricks aren’t fooling anyone any more. The only way to fit into the largest of my party frocks would be to have nothing to eat until two weeks on Thursday. Which I am now old enough to know is not going to happen. My need for regular food is now absolute. If I am forced to skip lunch, or supper is substantially later than scheduled, I get physically edgy. I’m like a rhino who will attack anyone who stands between it and water, but in my case it’s between me and my food. It could get ugly. I carry little snacks in my handbag. Packets of oatcakes, or a stolen packet of hotel biscuits just in case.  Last time I tried the fasting diet it was more like the 363/2 diet than the 5/2 one. I simply find it very hard not to eat. A lot.

The combination of physical changes and my newly accelerated need for food, and plenty of it, means that my sexual currency is lower than it has been since I wore a confirmation outfit at 13 with a lot of frills when I was old enough to tell my mother to bog off. And here’s the really depressing bit. The Christmas parties (such as they are) are going to have to be undergone with no sexual chemistry at all. It struck me that just about all the good parties I have ever been to (we’re talking small numbers here) have involved a lot of sexual chemistry. Flirting is actually rather a life saver at parties. Even feeling someone’s eyes on you at 60 can liven things up.

How on earth will I get on at parties with just small talk and some party size mince pies when really I would rather be catching up with The Missing in front of the fire with a plate of normal size mince pies?

The search for a new party dress has taken place and I found a gold stretchy one covered in sparkly stuff. I mean covered, as in glitterball. Subconsciously another attention seeking ploy (or cry for help perhaps).

I went to my first party last Friday and danced all night. Now, this is the way to go with parties. I danced and danced. I decided to ask everyone and anyone to dance. No-one was churlish enough to say no. Trouble is the dress was pretty cheap and the house has a trail of gold sparkle everywhere and will have for the foreseeable future. Every man I danced with also had gold glitter on his sleeve. Just as well I am not in the market for bed-hopping as the evidence would be clear to see. One can dream.

The beautiful south

I have recently emigrated from the North of England to Oxfordshire.

When I say the North I mean seriously North as in virtually Scotland not namby pamby Leeds or even Derbyshire or some such nonsense that some Southeners call The North.  We’d lived in Northumberland near Hadrian’s Wall for 16 years but last year we downsized, decamped and de-Northed to settle in a tiny village called Sutton near Witney. Last weekend we went up to see our fabulous friends and get a dose of the North, and I came home a little set back with tears in my eyes. We’d been planning the escape tunnel for a while since neither of us are actually properly genetically Northern. I love lots of things about the North – in truth I wrote an entire book about it called It’s (not) Grim Up North. It’s cheaper for a start. The houses are so much cheaper they are ‘buy one get one free’, we could afford a virtual castle for the same money as this modest but lovely place in Oxfordshire. We had a garden that was so large our friends from the South described it as a park, and a drive that virtually had its own post code. What’s more the North has got posher. Some of us soppy Southerners will be surprised to hear that you can even buy balsamic vinegar and organic vegetables!

However there were things that got me down about the North. I mean you can’t say them out loud when you are actually up in the North for fear of  locals setting their ferrets on you, but I feel I have migrated home since I was brought up in the South.  The big problem for me and it’s one that just didn‘t go away over 16 years was the weather. You get a lot of weather in the North. My disenchantment with the weather up North began the first Easter. I went to the garden centre and asked where the tomato plants were. “Do you have a green house?” I was asked. “No”, I answered. “You’re not from round here are you?” was the reply. I persevered for several summers trying to grow tomatoes outside on my sunniest most sheltered wall and two years running the net result was a garage full of  jars of green chutney.

I would go to meetings in London in my winter coat only to find I would get there and everyone would be in their flip flops. Burdened with my coat which screamed “I’m from up North I am”. I became obsessed with the North/South weather divide.  Watching the news I would be oblivious to the content but instead shocked to the point of throwing something at the screen when I noticed that I had been in my coat that makes me look like a lagged boiler all day and they were sitting at pavement cafes in full sunshine. I would call relatives or friends in the South to find they had been in the garden all day, or just had breakfast outside. Alas not us. Despite our gorgeous enormous park of a garden some summers I can honestly say that sitting outside after 6pm might only happen three times a year. Southerners will find that hard to believe.

What struck me immediately about the South is how much more middle class it is. I have been spending a lot of time in Summertown in Oxford recently which I swear is middle class mission control, and is the most expensive place to live in the UK relative to earnings – yes even more expensive than Notting Hill, apparently. It has an ENTIRE Farrow and Ball shop. Trouble is with 16 years in the North and working class blood in me I consistently get the colour choice just wrong. I know in order to appear posh I need to buy my paint from there, but get it on the front door or the window frames and realise I have not quite got the shade that all the middle class get. I’m just one or two shades too bright or too muddy.  It’s as if God is saying to me “you know what lady you are not as middle class as you think you are”.

And the charity shops in Summertown are so upmarket I mistook most of them for actual proper shops. I recently discovered the most astonishing garden centre on my way home. Organic, obviously. I bought some leeks, a loaf of artisan bread, some eggs, a jar of marmalade and some broccoli and it came to over £20. As it got in the car I felt I’d been mugged, and yet simultaneously delighted with my purchase.  And the dental bills! Having been used to the NHS dentist I have spent over £300 on two fillings this year.  No more toffee or brazil nuts for me!! I simply can’t afford to take the risk.

Village life so far is proving much more friendly than I had anticipated. I’ve joined the Sutton Singers (more performers than members in the audience so far) and the local dance troupe, and have fabulous neighbours. … so I have to say the signs are genuinely good. I feel like I have moved into an episode of The Archers.

Here is my husband with his new Southern best friends.  I still miss our gorgeous Northern friends but our new Southern ones are gorgeous in a slightly different way, and with a strict hat code.