Glamour

It was as my neck cricked while being told by an agitated director to lurch into Russell Howard’s groin for the twelth time that I thought “I’m beginning to suspect this job isn’t as glamorous as I thought.” I tried to shake it off so I could get the take right, but it was hard – because now I was aware that the liquid glycerine sprayed on to make me look ‘clammy’ was now running into my eyeballs and stinging like a wasp stuck in a tent.

I know several teenage girls who would disagree with me and think that having any sort of proximity to this man and his bits would be the height of glamour, (the scene was loosely based on the ‘scientific discovery’ that oral sex cures morning sickness – I’m guessing the scientist was a man…) but the truth is I mostly just stared at the Diesel tag on his jeans pocket and thought “I like that font.” In between takes Russ would continue a story of when he was delirious in hospital and tried to buy the male nurses for his premiership football team, while I laughed and repositioned my pregnancy suit which was permanently on the wonk and make me look like more like the elephant man that an expectant mother.

Later, I sat eating a jacket potato in the dark and thought about the nature of glamour. I’d switched the light off because the dressing-room bulb was blinking. There was no natural light and no air because we were deep in the bowels of the studios, shooting in the labyrinthine halls of an old hospital set. The tap dripped, and I wondered if this is what prison feels like after lights-out. It was quite meditative actually, eating a potato in the dark. The dressing room walls were as thin as paper, and to my left I could hear the producer briefing an old lady how to be a Jamaican gangster, and to my right the costume lady talking a ‘glamour model’ through the lacing procedure of an all-body thong. I was glad I wasn’t old and being made to practice how to say “WAGWAAAN” – and that I had started saying no to all the excruciating ‘sexy’ scenes which always made me want to die. I never thought I’d be glad to just do a simple hospital bed fellatio scene.

So if doing glamorous things like telly isn’t glamorous, what is? Beautiful clothes, illustrious parties, rich successful people swanking off with each other? I’ve been to lots of parties that are supposed to have been glamorous, but when you get talking to people, they’re all just ordinary dudes wearing stuff they don’t normally wear, feeling uncomfortable, on display (or invisible), or worst of all – bored. Or they’re cretins who truly believe that wearing an expensive jacket and walking past someone famous while holding a martini glass negates every suspicion they’ve ever had that actually, they’re just ‘ordinary’. Mostly, these parties just feel like work – which surely must be the antithesis of glamour. Lots of secret politics and connived networking and faux-modest gloating and bitching. Bleurgh.

Perhaps glamour doesn’t really exist; perhaps it’s only ever an illusion. Perhaps it’s the unattainable; the worlds we’ll never be invited into, the people we’ll never be. Our perception of glamour in others never lasts when we see that they are real; once we’re inside the worlds and see how they work, they’re not magical anymore. And those who are seen as icons of glamour know the truth inside and are troubled by it; they still look in the mirror and see the nose they’ll always hate and the gathering crow’s feet and the mean thing they did to someone that didn’t deserve it.

I tried to remember when I first was aware of the notion of glamour. I was transported back to sitting on my mother’s bed, aged seven, watching her get ready to go out. I was transfixed by her hair and make-up and clothes, the smell of her Avon creams and her Chanel Number 5. I couldn’t imagine ever being grown up enough to wear heels or nice underwear, or having enough stuff to warrant a handbag. She was a goddess to me; the most beautiful luscious thing I’d ever seen. That was glamour – because I was too young to see that it wasn’t real; that actually, underneath it all, she was sad at the time. That glamour was the cloak of something beautiful, pulled over something ordinary and frail.

“OK, CAN WE HAVE SADIE FOR THE SPEAKING TOILET SCENE PLEASE?”

I stopped pondering, finished my potato, and shuffled down the hall to make-up, where they bronzed my feet for a knicker-dropping scene in a toilet cubicle. I did that, then took a handful of mini-Crunchies and some baby wipes for the train home. And that felt good, because it was the opposite of glamour.

 

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The Corridor Bus-Stop

Down a quiet lane in Rochford, by the muddy bank of a river’s dead-end,  nestled in the shadow of an old flour mill and half open to fields of long grass, is an old house.

Like many old houses which became too expensive to run it is now a business. Broomhills Care Home. It is not, as you might think, limited to those who are old. There are younger residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s, and here they are – all tying up their histories in a house which must surely have almost forgotten its own by now.

I found myself at Broomhills last Saturday for a summer fête. My boy’s Nan had just moved in so we went to visit. Matt was understandably nervous of seeing someone he loved in an unfamiliar place, and I was a little nervous too, because I’d never been to a care home and I was afraid of seeing difficult things, and of seeing my boy manfully trying not to be sad.

Let me tell you something. If you ever want to dispel your fear that all care homes are sad places, actually go and visit one. I suppose the bad ones (the ones to be feared, preferably inspected and shut down) don’t have nice events like fêtes. But the nice ones have open doors and open hearts. And jam roly-poly.

It helped I suppose that they had lovely grounds to hold the fête in. Helped too that it was a gloriously sunny day, and that a barbecue was billowing in a corner, manned by a cheery fellow wielding a spatula and a girl gesturing to the mustard and ketchup like a game-show assistant. There were tombolas and cookie stalls and lucky dips and piles of jumble. The garden went from a modest smattering of people oozing familial obligation to a hive of people happy to be there. The care home was fun; who knew?

Nan-Nan, or Isabella Georgina, or Bella for short, is a tiny Welsh lady with huge bright eyes. I felt like I sort of knew her from all the stories I’d heard, but I also felt shy. I didn’t want to fawn over her or be patronisingly polite just because she was old and in a home. I said hello, then mooched about a bit knowing I’d talk to her later. I looked at the stalls. I ate a burger. Then I spilled mustard on my boob and had to go inside to try and clean it off, even though Matt’s mum joked that I was in good company. It was nice of her to say so – but as far as I could see, I was the only one with any stains.) It was as I nosed around that I saw two things that I will never forget.

Further down the corridor where I scrubbed mustard from my ashamed right boob was…a bus stop. A bench with a timetable and a bus-stop sign in a little alcove in the corridor. Apparently some of the residents are so used to getting buses and having routines that they get anxious not being able to carry on as normal, and having a bit of a sit-down in the corridor bus-stop helps. They sit and they wait and the anxiety passes. My heart exploded quietly at the aptness of the metaphor.

Then, as I went back into the garden, I saw a hearse. “Uh oh”, I thought. This was starting to get a bit overwhelming – and not even winning some Dove Satin Bath on the tombola was going to make it better. I looked closer and saw that the hearse was full of balloons. I thought they might be trying to sneak a corpse out without spoiling the party. WHACK SOME BALLOONS IN, BETTE – NO ONE’LL SUSPECT NORRIS IS DEAD TIL TOMORROW. Balloons in a hearse. God. Apparently you had to guess how many there were to win some amazing prize. A free funeral for a loved one of your choice or something, I dunno. I was deeply unsettled. But then I laughed. It seemed like the only thing you could do; laugh at the paraphernalia of death, laugh at all the stuff that scares you.

I ate a cookie, made Matt win me nice smellies on the tombola, and I chatted to Bella. She gave me some sage veterinary advice for my sick dog, and I rubbed some Sanctuary body lotion into her tiny hands while she smiled round at her family. Matt left happy that he’d seen Nan-Nan at a fête, in the sunshine, and we spoke of going back for a visit soon – because we knew it wasn’t a place to be scared of anymore.

To be honest, mustard is more of a threat than death at the moment. That stuff gets everywhere.

(There were 101, by the way. Balloons.)

Eventually We Get There

It was about this time last year that I was stood in a giftshop at Washington’s Dulles Airport, looking for a souvenir to try and encapsulate one of the best trips of my life. I’d just spent a week on a ranch in Colorado with my friend Susie, playing at being cowgirls with real cowboys. I’d galloped at the top of the Rocky mountains on a mad horse named Pebbles who seemed intent on killing me, I’d made a garland of flowers and pine cones on a flat rock by a stream as a memorial to my Dad as an eagle soared overhead. I’d swigged smuggled margherita mix from a lemonade bottle while making a load of reserved Christians bellow Bohemian Rhapsody under the moon on a hay-cart. It was one of those trips which couldn’t rightly be named a holiday because it wasn’t just a break away – a pausing of normal life – but a trip which actually helped to move my life on, a trip which spurred a vital shift in my heart. I had broken up with someone a few months before, and was dealing with all the guilt that comes with having the courage to end something that is not right, even when it’s hard. I needed a break, but I didn’t expect what I actually got; an affirmation I was free. It happened slowly throughout my time there, like a slow sunrise in my heart. I left some stuff behind there in the mountains, and I came home fresh and new.

How could I go about choosing a souvenir to sum this up; a trinket that would remind me every time I looked at it of all the strength I had felt in that one week of my life? Gift shops aren’t usually inspiring places. They are cynically-placed tat-lined hubs of corporate opportunism, tricking you with faux-nostalgia to part with extra money. A truly wonderful trip should need no physical reminder; it lives in the heart. But I wanted to prolong every bit of the experience until I had to board the plane which would take me home. (I was also a bit tipsy on the free champagne I’d supped in the first class lounge Susie and I managed to blag our way into.)

The shop was full of the usual stuff – nodding Reagans, ironic bumper-stickers, patriotic mugs with go-getting slogans and Bush figurines that I wanted to ‘accidentally’ smash to the ground with my bag. There was virtually nothing I wanted, but I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. I wanted to spend my last dollars. So in the end, without really thinking why, I bought a White House toothbrush, an Abraham Lincoln fridge magnet saying “It is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years”, and some Michelle Obama mints. I thought if I was going to suck a spearmint, I’d like to do it in the style of the First Lady of the United States.

It’s only now that I see these were the perfect souvenirs. Abraham Lincoln lived in different times. He fought for the abolition of slavery; a battle without which we would never be watching a black woman making a rousing speech such as Michelle did last week to the Democratic National Convention. Some say it was the best speech to have been made in a long while. Only sixty years ago she would have been made to sit in silence on her own section of the bus while people spat the N word in her face. Michelle Obama’s speech was amazing for many other reasons aside from the fact she was there in the first place, but it was mostly amazing because it was still demandeding that thing which is so hard to achieve; change. She spoke of her husband’s grass roots, his dedication and tenacity. She spoke of love and bravery and family values, and none of it sounded trite or overwritten. It sounded true – and it reminded me of the way I felt a year ago, while I was giving my heart a break in America.

“He reminds me that we are playing a long game here and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once. But eventually we get there, we always do.”

I was glad that I had chosen a souvenir with her face on it. I was glad I had made the changes in my life that I knew were right. I was glad I got to ride a horse on a mountain-top, even though I thought I might get hurt. Every time I need to be reminded that from time to time you have to be brave and make things fresh and new, I will suck a Michelle Obama mint.