Me, a socialite? It must have been the paint fumes

Fiftysomething: I found myself fantasising about a different life while decorating recently


I was laying out old newspapers on the floor to catch the drips from my paintbrush; I was painting the wall yellow. Not a particularly restrained yellow, not a yellow anyone is going to want to live with for too long, but the colour chart said “sun blast”, or something equally innocuous, and I’m anticipating a long winter.

It won’t last, this spell of searing sunshine and startling downpours, this monsoon summer, this nervy, unpredictable, thunderous season that has finally catapulted the moggie into pussycat psychosis. During a recent spell of cackling lightning and painful rain interspersed with flesh-frying heat, I found her in the underwear drawer, cowering under some baggy Y-fronts and whispering the rosary. Lose your dignity, you lose the lot.

Anyway, “sun blast” was looking a lot like “undercooked yolk”, and was adhering to the walls with a similar consistency. And now the carpet, like a dry tongue in a greasy-spoon cafe, was flecked with the spittle of egg-yolk yellow too. Hence the fresh tranche of old newspapers.

Kneeling on the social column
I found myself kneeling on the social column, and in particular on a group photograph that included a handsome woman whose honey-tone hair colour was the shade I was originally hoping for on the walls. She was wearing something subtle and geometric, and she had lovely teeth and nice refined knees and jewellery that she probably took out of a velvet box rather than rescued from the pocket of a sweatshirt in the bottom of the laundry basket. The caption gave the attractive woman’s name and informed the reader that she was a “socialite” and the wife of a prosperous-looking man, who was also in the photograph.

There were little yellow paw prints over by the window, a flurry of spores underneath the sill. I had used a stick from the garden to stir the paint, and aphids and white fly were now drowning in the sun-blast matt emulsion.

I was wondering whether the term “socialite” was one the woman in the picture had used to describe herself, or if it was just some journalistic catch-all that social columnists throw around like silk pashminas at an after-party.

“Hi, what do you do?”

“Me? I’m a socialite.”

“Yeah? What does that involve?”

“Oh, you know, aperitifs, cushioned insoles, a working knowledge of politics, arts and equines, and a reliable pair of support stockings.”

A socialite for 24 hours
In the sickly light of sun-blast yellow, I wanted to swap lives with the elegant lady in the photograph, just for a day. I craved 24 hours to bounce on her pocket-sprung mattress, pour scented oils into her bulbous bath, eat mung beans and alfalfa sprouts from her metallic refrigerator, count her shoes, check her diary, discard the unseasonal, embrace autumn lines, get my roots done, hire a shagging decorator.

There is an expensive boutique not too far from my home that I regularly walk past in my ugly sweatpants. There is a sign in the window at the moment that simply reads “BLITZ”. I went in. The sale rail was sparse and largely fluorescent.

Elsewhere in the shop there were beautiful clothes, soft shirts and sculpted jackets, tailored suits that have degrees in aesthetics and speak three languages. These non-blitz clothes cost so much money that I was moved to ask the gracious assistant if I was allowed to touch them. Who, in the name of the divine Jesus, I asked her, can afford to spend an air fare on a T-shirt?

“Oh,” she said, “you’d be surprised. Our ladies know exactly what’s coming up. They pre-order for the new season. We can hardly keep up with demand.”

I don’t understand this country; I don’t understand anything.

I do know, though, that I haven’t the stamina, physique, inclination, income, self-control or wardrobe to be a socialite. Hell, after two glasses of Chardonnay I’m weeping and wailing about the state of the nation; after three, I’m asleep in a taxi. God alone knows how I’d handle a diary full of glossy commitments requiring that I keep up with the restless art of fashion.

“Would you like to try anything on?” the assistant asked cautiously, noting the splatters of dappled sun blast across my knuckles and under my nails.

I pretended I had an urgent appointment, somewhere terribly important I had to be, not just a messy bed of newspaper under a migraine-inducing wall. I jogged out of there, all bonhomie and mismatched ankle-socks.

I’m in the underwear drawer with the cat on this one. As soon as this wall is painted, I’m off to hibernate under last year’s thermals.

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