OUT OF THE BLUE I am invited to a ball. I immediately think of the last ball I attended and squirm. That was back when I had money. I didn’t actually have money of course but the excesses of those days were catching and occasionally I behaved like somebody who did.
Because, and this is what I would have argued back then, it’s impossible to find clothes for a ball when you are what retailers kindly label plus-size. (Plus what? Vat?) So obviously I rang a fashion designer I had met once in my life and asked her to make something up for me. When I think about it now I say to my old-self: “What were you thinking, asking a fashion designer to make you an outfit, you madser?” My old-self replies: “Look, I couldn’t find anything. Anyway, I’m loaded. I do my weekly shop in the fanciest grocery store in town. What? You know how I adore their chocolate covered dried mangos.” That woman is dead to me now, dead, thank Merkel.
Deep down I thought the designer might whip me something up for €20. She whipped something up alright but it cost quite a bit more. I happily produced the credit card, delighted to shell out completely unnecessary cash back then I was. These days you’ll find me in the vegetable aisle of Lidl wondering should I splash out on vine ripened tomatoes or just stick with the ordinary ones. Times change, you know.
It was black of course, the custom-made designer outfit, black being the plus-size ballgoers friend. I thought it was the business. I went to the ball and was not a bit surprised when almost immediately a photographer approached wishing to take my picture in my custom-made designer gear.
I was put in a photograph with another woman. I smiled a sort of enigmatic grin, conscious that eventually people might be gazing at the photograph in magazines wondering where I got my gear. The grin said: “Sorry babe, it’s a one-of-a-kind designer number.” The other woman in the picture was wearing dressy black trousers and a generously proportioned silk black top. When the photographer finished she turned to me and said: “Don’t worry, that photo won’t get used anywhere. They just put us together because we are fat and in black.” It put me right off balls to be honest. But here I am down the back of the coach on my way to another ball, trying to start a sing- song. I am wearing a sparkly, taffeta coat-dress belonging to my mother. Cost: €14 for the dry cleaning. There is a woman down the back of the coach called Melky Jean, a sister of Wyclef Jean, who has travelled from California to entertain the revellers. “Give us a tune,” I say. 99 bottles of beer on the wall, she begins, which is the American version of Ten Green Bottles. And that’s when I know tonight’s going to be a good night.
At the ball some fun things happen. Melky’s husband is a cool dude called Supreme and I call him Soup all night, which I, if nobody else, finds hilarious. A brilliant a cappella harmony group called Keynotes do a duet with Brian Kennedy. Melky sings a Tina Turner song and my rule about never dancing in public is momentarily forgotten. I’m rollin’ (rollin’) rollin’ (rollin’) on a river. I win something in the raffle. Suddenly, I love these events again.
But never mind all the high-octane messing, the thing I remember best about the night is a woman called Shirley making a speech about her son, Luke. It was the Make-A-Wish Ireland Ball. They grant wishes to seriously ill children and already this year they’ve granted wishes to 140 children. They want to be train drivers for the day, or go to the Paralympics, or ride a Lipizzaner horse in Vienna. Shirley spoke about nine-year-old Luke who was born with Prune Belly Syndrome, a condition that affects one in 40,000 babies, most of whom don’t survive beyond a few weeks. He was born with no tummy muscles, abnormalities in the urinary tract, end stage kidney failure, chronic lung problems – the list went on and on.
Luke’s wish was to be Sonic The Hedgehog. Not just dress up as him but be him, actually turn into sonic and flip and run at supersonic speed.
Impossible? That’s a dirty word in Make-A-Wish Ireland. They drafted in some IADT students and after months of meticulous planning Luke was able to star in his own adaptation of a Sonic The Hedgehog game. Luke was thrilled that his exact idea came to life on the screen and Shirley said it gave her and her husband “a day off from worrying”.
“It was a day where our whole focus was on Luke but only about what made him truly happy,” she said. “I can honestly say I didn’t think about medications, infections, future surgeries, battles with hospital and HSE or blood results the whole day. I just kept looking at his face, and every time he said ‘wow this is awesome’ it was like winning the Lotto for his Dad and me.”
The recession has driven a wrecking ball through the charity ball sector but I’m glad I got the chance to hear about Luke and to put on my mother’s best frock and dance like nobody was watching in support of a magical cause that’s well worth celebrating.
In other news . . .At the Leinster and Munster Rugby match today, Make-A-Wish Ireland with Bank of Ireland will attempt to set a new coin-tossing world record. At half-time, everyone seated in the Aviva stadium will toss a coin and the money collected will go towards helping to grant some of the 240 wishes on the waiting list. To donate, visit makeawish.ie