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The Prom Dress, The Paracetamol and the Patience of a Saint


I don’t really do femininity. I love being a woman and am comfortable in my own skin but I’ll admit there are certain aspects of being a girl that have completely bypassed me. Pink in any form, for example, is neither pretty nor acceptable within a 50-mile radius of me. Flounces, frills, frippery and finery leave me completely cold. I am partial to a nice shoe or handbag, but that is about as far as it goes. I don’t wear much make-up, I rarely bother with perfume and yes, the stubble left languishing on my barely-can-be-bothered-to-shave legs is occasionally responsible for the scarring on the Man-Hog’s calves and the tears in his manly eyes.

Hence the past few months have been a trial to say the least. The Teen has a prom to go to in July. A rite of passage must in the Teen’s social calendar. It all began back in February when said Teen announced it was going in a long dress and “Oh, by the way…” you’re buying it, Mum. Hours spent searching the internet (instead of revising for one’s GCSEs) resulted finally in a dress that the Teen thought was acceptable and I didn’t think looked like she’d gone on the game. We agreed on it, I ordered it on-line, slapped down my credit card details and that was supposed to be that.

Of course not. How silly of me. I should have realized once the email arrived from the very perky and completely unintelligible Nancy Lee “confirming order for dless in plurple size ate”. This was the first clue that all was probably not what it seemed. The second clue was that the same dress appeared on multiple similar websites – something the Teen had failed to mention. My only comfort was that I had paid through PayPal on-line and was therefore hoping that my fears of fashion fraud were unfounded and the site was entirely reputable.

How naïve can one 45-year-old non-girly woman be? Three months on and with no delivery in sight, I sat on-line for over an hour waiting for a live 24-hour chat operator to be with me shortly. As the clock ticked towards the second hour it was clear the operator was not live. In fact, dead was probably nearer the mark or at the very least tied to a chair with a sock in her gob because it was clear that no-one was coming to the party to chat with me. I hung up and then sent a frustrated email to my old friend Nancy Lee, also to the address on the website and to one random email I found on my receipt from PayPal. You guessed it – nil response from all three. The end result was a complaint raised with PayPal and a reimbursement of my money. That was the good part.

The bad part was the Teen frothing at the mouth as July is around the corner and she had no dress. Pressure was mounting from her prom date who had apparently bought a tie in “plurple” to match her Chinese creation that was now never arriving. I had no choice – I had to take it shopping. Next to pink dresses and daily skin care regimes, shopping has to be my least favourite activity. I would rather mud-wrestle multiple Chinese chat room operators in a live on-line paddling pool for days on end than go shopping.

Probably not best to choose the day following the riotous, amusing yet completely pointless Netball Awards night, then. The day when I woke up with a hangover and a mouth like the just-raced crutch of Usain Bolt’s lycra shorts. A day when all sensible people except me were lying horizontal until their heads stopped pounding, their nausea faded and someone had produced a hearty fry-up to aid their recovery. Not me. No. I was on a train to London in 30 degree heat, rattling with paracetamol and sweating hideously. Oozing the smell of last night’s Chinese into the garish seat cushions and cursing all things oriental that had brought me to this point. The Teen was attempting to jolly me along with a proposed route plan for which shops we would visit first. All I wanted to do was lie down quietly in a pool of my own sick. Not only that but I had to suffer the wholly inappropriate chirpiness of the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pig who came with us as far as London en route to visit the Science Museum. My only comfort was that during their trip they might actually find a scientific answer to the god-awful gaseous gut explosions which seem to accompany any hangover I have these days. To anyone who was on that train with us, I can only apologise.

London. Sweltering heat. A tumult of Jubilee fetishists and early Olympic tourists to add to the usual summer contingent of gigantic Middle-Eastern women piling en masse into Selfridges. The Teen forged ahead in search of fashion Nirvana. Me – I weaved tearfully behind her through the make-up counters, trying desperately to escape Sandra from Yves Saint-Laurent who wanted to pounce on my ageing skin and rub me free of blemishes. I told her exactly where to stick her Touche-Eclat and I sincerely hope it hurt when she did.

Three stores, seven dresses and a nervous breakdown later, we had bought a dress. It was not plurple, it was pleacock-blue. Actually very nice if you like all that girly crap. But by then I was slumped into a corner of the changing room, gibbering slightly with eyes rolling like a maddened horse. Not one person offered me a medicinal gin and the Teen showed even less empathy by demanding I sit up straight and take some mobile phone shots of her in the dress. For the love of God, why? Did she not realize I was one vapour attack away from A&E?

But thank the Lord! – the dress is purchased. And it was 20% off day which was a bit of a result. As we were leaving London accompanied once again by the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pig fully scienced up and having displayed what I firmly believe was the patience of a saint, the Teen casually mentioned that her date for the prom is quite challenged in the height department and she didn’t want to tower above him, so could we go again next week and look for some flattish shoes? Grabbing her by her pink and flowery shirt, I pulled her across the train table and hissed “Don’t…even….think about it!” through gritted noodle-stained teeth. I think she’s got the message.


Toddler Taming…for Adults

I have just spent the last weekend trawling the local stores for the new school uniform my boy will need when he starts secondary school in September. We did quite well – I’m £150 lighter in the bank, but have only a couple of items outstanding. Oh, and I have the ritual nightmare that is shopping for school shoes for both girl and boy still to look forward to – not. That torture I am saving for when I’ve had three Weetabix one morning and have been religiously mainlining neat vallium with vodka for the preceding two weeks. Only then will I have the mental and physical strength to get through it.

So we’re just paying for the boy’s new blazer at the counter when hubby decides to try on a polo shirt lurking in a corner next to the gumshields. His incessant whining that he has no decent summer clothes had reached a screeching crescendo of late so, as the shirt actually looked really good on him, we bought that too.

Now maybe I’m just being a ratbag because it’s Monday and I have to be at work instead of sucking down rosé in the garden, but this fairly tasteful purchase got me thinking about what happens to the average British male’s fashion sense when the sun finally emerges from its long winter hibernation. There are, it has to be said, some absolute shockers going on out there. The merest glimmer of UVA turns our normally sensible chaps into overgrown toddlers in the wardrobe department. And we girls are somehow letting them get away with it! Here are some of the worst offenders I have noticed:

Naked Toddlers: Now I have nothing against showing a little more skin in hot weather. I’ve been known to shuck off the odd layer of fleece myself. But what is with these men with more than a little -ahem – girth, shall we say, around their middles suddenly deciding that shirts are no longer necessary AT ALL. If they are about to have a water fight with the kids (or each other) then, yes, by all means remove your top. But on the London Underground? In the rush hour? With my unfortunate face at armpit level? Er – no. Thanks. But no.

“Vesties”: These, I have noticed, are habitual offenders in the summer toddler fashionfest. It is just my personal opinion, but frankly I don’t believe anyone not currently playing major league basketball for a living has any justification displaying their mozzarella-pale, flaccid bingo wings through baggy holes in their tops where their sleeves should be. Especially when seated at a table next to the salad counter in the Harvester. As underwear on a cold winter’s day, by all means. But NEVER as a fashion choice in 30 degree heat whilst shopping in Sainsburys. I do not want to see inside your shirt and get an eyeful of your man-boobs every time you bend to reach the yoghurt on the lower shelves. It puts me right off my Pimms.

Professional Toddlers: These are men who wear sensible work wear all week, then insist on slipping into three-quarter length cargo pants which hang halfway down their arses and leave their luminously white, skinny, hairy ankles on show. These men are predominantly in their late forties/early fifties, if you look, and really should know better. They compound the crime by teaming these cargos with comedy T-shirts: usually Homer Simpson or South Park characters with some “amusing” quote on the front. Occasionally they go the whole hog and don comedy socks too. With sandals. Holy Moly.

Toddler Twins: Finally, there is the group who like to dress in larger versions of what their little boys are wearing. I can only assume these chaps have been dressed by, or are scared of, their wives. Why else would you hit BlueWater or the Trafford Centre looking like Tweedle Dee/Dum? Perhaps to avoid a telling-off? Well, it doesn’t work, it’s not at all “cute” – it’s just sad and makes me want to hit the back of their legs with a hairbrush. Therapy may be the only option for these desperate fellows.

Now I’m not saying that everything we girls wear is perfect – Hello Kitty adult clothing is a classic example of toddler styling for those who choose to embrace their inner child. But as wives and mums we should surely be setting an example to our little ones by refusing to let our menfolk – their parents! – leave the house looking like one of the above. A Mr Bump T-Shirt is all very cute worn to bed as a beloved Father’s Day gift. But not out in public at the school fete or PTA barbecue.

I’m old-fashioned, perhaps, a great believer in men being men. I think past the age of 15, there is really no excuse for any of the above. Together with combovers and badly applied fake tan, toddler styling is an abomination which we must work hard as girls to eliminate. Help me out here. Go upstairs, now. Go through your man’s closet removing all offending articles, including those boxer shorts YOU bought him that say “Mummy’s Little Helper” on the front (what were you thinking??). Use them as dusters or turn them into cushion covers for the kids rooms. But do not, under any circumstances, allow him outside to play in any of it.

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Fashion – turn to the left. Fashion, turn to the right. Oooooooh Fashion! (David Bowie stylie)

So last week goes down as the time when my long friendship with Sue was sorely tested.

Sue and I have known each other for 8 years, and set up a local village netball club together. We compete in a nearby friendly league in separate teams. Sue is ambitious to win all her matches, I try to pick the positive out of every result. Our captaincy styles blend and it works. Our youngest sons are the same age and in the same class at school. I helped strap her into her wedding dress on her big day and we have shared many a silly, giggly evening over the years. You get the picture – Sue and I are good friends.

Er – scratch that. Were good friends.

For Sue is responsible for my attendance at the Pampered Food Fetishist party (thereby showing me up as a domestic devil, not goddess), the subject of a recent blog. Last Friday, blind trusting fool that I am, I went to another Sue-prompted event – the PTA Fashion Show.

Now what I know about fashion can be written on a grain of rice. One that’s been nibbled by mice to half its original size. Then ground into dust. My own wardrobe consists of sporty jeanswear that I am possibly too old for; workwear in any shade you like so long as it’s black; some dodgy butt-covering cardies; and a series of hideous evening outfits bought for one event, hated beyond belief and never worn again. And pyjamas – there is a glut of pyjamas going on. Not sure why.

I adore shoes and handbags. But that has nothing to do with fashion. I like what I like – simples.

So the usual sense of my impending failure as a normal woman began as we entered the village hall. Ten minutes previously I’d been ensconced in front of a warm fire, hubby had been lightly stroking the stubble on my calves and the kids were, for once, watching TV and not bickering. Now here I was, ten minutes later. Ripped from the bosom of family life. Slightly soggy from a cloud burst that, of course, erupted the minute I stepped outside the front door.

Oh my days. It was worse than expected. The lighting made you wince in its unflattering brightness. One girl had a definite greenish tinge to her and will now forever be known as “Shrek”. Someone else tall and thin thrust a raffle book in my moo-ey before I’d even taken my brolly down and picked the twigs out of my cleavage. The walls were lined with an assortment of hanging rails not a million miles from a church jumble sale (albeit on hangers instead of on the floor). The audience assembled was an average age of 72. And there SHE stood next to the microphone, waiting with evil anticipation and crinkly hair for the show to start.

What is it with the women who run these type of events? Chirpy, overenthusiastic, vocal in the extreme and – if they only knew it – alarmingly threatening. A sort of Fashion Commandant.

So Frau Fashion kicked us off, and some of the braver school mums strutted their stuff in items rejected politely by several High Street chains. The models were a little hesitant and the outfits were – ahem – challenging on occasion but under the blistering command of the head of the Fashion SS, overall they conducted themselves well. One poor love seemed to have been labelled as the “Fashion for the over 60s” model – she has a great figure and would have looked good in anything, but was type-cast into elasticated slacks and drapey net thingies in a myriad of garish colours, designed to cover a multitude of sagging bosoms and varicose veins she did not yet have. Bless.

Once Der Fuhrer had finished her patter and the “show” was finished (plus my illicitly snuck-in bottle of white wine), we were encouraged to begin a cat fight over the items around the walls. A couple of women did actually sprint to the nearest rails. I worried for their hip replacements.

I did not run. Instead, a friend and I sought out the rails to find the worst item of the night. And it was hard, believe me, with so much to choose from! But my quiet competitiveness rose to the fore, and not to be discouraged I found the piece de resistance. A handbag!

In a beautiful shade of diarrhoea tan, with a matching fringe that should catch nicely on fire at any BBQ or firework party, there it sat. I was immediately drawn to it. Not because it was nice. I didn’t want to own it, you understand. Or use it in anger for the purpose for which it was intended. No. I wanted to give it a name and a decent home – it was an ill-treated animal needing to be rescued. The name came to me instantly. I would call it “Smelly Monkey”. It would be looked after all its days and go to the great unpicking factory in the sky when its time came to be reincarnated as a butt-covering cardi in the next life.

I was only stopped from purchasing it by my friend Kate who said “Sarah – put it down. It’s probably got fleas.”

At the thought of having to de-louse it, I lost interest. Despite knowing that I was consigning him to a life spent with Eva Braun and her posse, I walked away. Who knows where Smelly Monkey is now – I hope wherever he is, he is happy.

As for Sue, she and I will be discussing what constitutes a good evening out as somewhere along the way, she has clearly lost her way. The Pampered Pickling party I can allow – it was fun with friends and pink fizz – but this – well. I have no words.