The Disastrously Fabulous column is back! This is where I share my journalistic triumphs, disasters, adventures, misadventures and inspiration. I am sorry that it has been a while. Death, taxes and survival got in the way. I promise that this column is going to be fun, scintillating and entertaining. So let's get started, there is so much to share, dissect and talk about.
This month's instalment is all about the lost art of flirting, the joy of bubble baths, hot pink Schiaparelli lipstick, early morning walks with Michael Mosley, the great fashion rebellion in Emily in Paris and why I love cafe society.
I Go to My Favourite Garden When I Need to Nurture My Inner Child
So, I have been up to my neck in the business of death. Never mind that it still hasn't quite sunk in that my mother and I are never going to pootle along quiet emerald lanes and fly over the humpback bridge near George Harrison's gorgeous Park Place and to Henley to go for afternoon tea where she proceeds to tell me I need a new coat, a nice man and a quieter life.
The whole concept of death is very odd. What is left of my mother is now waiting patiently at the funeral undertaker's until my sister and I collect her and embark on a day out to Wiltshire to bury mum them in the grounds of the pretty country church, close to where she roamed as a small girl, gathering wildflowers. It's also where she married my father.
As a result of feeling discombobulated and all over the place, I have suddenly found all manner of decadent and ingenious ways to distract and nurture myself. One of them is taking bubble baths in the afternoon or last thing before bed and watching a Golden Age movie like the dazzlingly clever Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. The film is fun and fizzes along with intellectual discourse, gallows comedy and ideas for dressing up I intend to steal. Did you know that Leslie Howard's plane was shot down by the Germans when he had been on some kind of secret propaganda mission for the war effort in 1943 and that he was an accomplished wordsmith writing for Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The New Yorker? He was also allegedly quite the ladykiller who ran off with someone else's secretary and set up home with her in Hollywood, no doubt to the consternation of his wife.
Ah, alpha male with an almost indecent beauty to match. They can be tricky to co-exist with.
Now rediscovering the pleasure of a bubble bath happened by accident. I had run out of my usual sensitive scalp shampoo when I discovered that Child's Farm make an organic shampoo from essential oils that multi-tasks as a bubble bath and shower gel in one. One whiff of the tangerine variety and I was hooked.
Yes, it is designed for kids, but so what. I have no intention of growing up as it is essential I don't. If I did, how could I continue to be a social commentator and write with a sense of wonder and excitement about bows, beaux, flying cars and Keanu Reeves without becoming a tad jaded? You are in the realm of Alison in Wonderland.
The last time I enjoyed a bubble bath was probably in my twenties, as I remember the not so gentle and clean formulas used to make my skin itch. Not anymore. I am now maintaining a two bubble bath a week addiction, sometimes more.
The moment I sink into the clouds of tiny bubbles, I imagine I am Marilyn Monroe with Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. It's amazing what bubbles, heat and the civilised peace of the bathroom can do for a girl. It calms the mind and feels sublimely luxurious, tranquillising and it is an inexpensive pleasure. Go to it and you will see what I am talking about.
This brings me to my next shocking revelation. I declare I have been flirting for England and it has been a sort of sweet, delirious joy and agony. It hadn't really sunk in until I had a delightful conversation on Twitter with a fellow editor about how and where to start flirting after Covid.
Then, I realised that I have been engaged in secret flirting with a total stranger in a favourite cafe where I sometimes go and work. I adore cafe society. For me, it is the closest thing I can get to the hustle and bustle of a busy newsroom. I thrive in that environment and find it easy to work and write.
Given I had a very upsetting break up from an ex three and a half years ago, and a year before the pandemic, this is a big step for me. I decided immediately after my breakup to never use online dating again. After far too many excruciating dates, I realised something very important. I had never met anyone online that got me or who truly behaved authentically.
I also realised something else. Love and attraction can't be orchestrated or manufactured, it just happens. Like lightning.
So, that's exactly how I met the first man I have wanted to flirt with, in more than three years. One day he was just there, sitting working in my favourite cafe and over the course of the month before Christmas, we would sit in companionable silence, and after a very decent interval, I became more aware of him and I was intrigued.
Reader, he is also very tall, with dark hair and there is something very attractive about his manner. He would talk to the founders of the cafe/arts hub and he exuded a laid back manner that was very appealing.
I was intrigued. And so it seems was he. We would steal looks when we thought the other wasn't looking up and I longed to have a conversation with him. If nothing else just for practice after two years of purdah.
As I was frequently away, our flirting activities progressed at the pace of a sloth. I saw him on Christmas Eve, after recording an interview at the hub, but I was so tired after a long day that I couldn't summon up the courage to just chat to him at the bar. It was almost as if I had forgotten how.
We resumed our flirting game in January and suddenly things started to pick up. I still hadn't spoken to him when the opportunity just came up naturally. We would sit facing each other for most of the day. He would sit every day at the same table by the door and me at a table facing him, with one table in between us.
It was thrilling and frustrating all at the same time.
I needed to swap my chair for a more comfortable one and suddenly I found myself talking to him to explain why I was commandeering the empty chair at the table between us. " Of course, you absolutely must have a comfortable chair," he said ever so warmly and with the kind of tone Mr Knightley uses on Emma when she is being good.
I could feel my heart flutter with excitement. I gave him my very best smile and then pretended to be deeply immersed in work.
Well after the slowest flirting games in history, things continued to get hotter in the same week. The next day I walked through the door to find that my secret swain has stolen my table!
I was so unprepared for this. I laughed with shock, nervously. Then he said, "Oh I have taken your table," and he was laughing and smiling pointedly, all at the same time.
I became paralysed with shyness. What should I do! It was like a game of chess. I didn't want to take his desk because it was right by the door. I took the empty desk in the middle and sat with my back to him so that I could calm down!
Did I blow it?! Oh, I know I probably should have turned into Lauren Bacall and asked him if he knew how to whistle and then sat right down in front of him and demanded to know what he was going to do to make it up to me. But I didn't do that because I didn't want anyone other than the two of us to know what was going on.
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
More than two years of absolutely no man action will do that. How I wished for the anonymity of London or any big city so that my flirting activities would be of no interest to anyone except me and my man of mystery. The situation reminds me of the intense, fleeting scenes in the station cafe in Brief Encounter where Trevor Howard's random act of kindness to Celia Johnson leads to an intense attraction which turns into stolen afternoons at the pictures and an adulterous affair.
Of course, the situation is different. I am single, and I understood that this man I felt drawn to was also single, as he always came to the hub alone, day or night, to work or relax, over the course of many weeks.
I guess the events of the last few years, including losing my mother made me feel very vulnerable. I got some work done and then fled home to consult my friends on what to do next. The first, a resting wild child suggested I go out to gather a bouquet of wildflowers to be handpicked by me (in the depths of January), present them to him and then say how about it? The romantic me thought this was very sweet, totally impractical, and too grand a gesture and I'm interested in courtship, not a brief encounter! The second friend suggested I just try and casually chat with him.
How life gets in the way. I didn't make it back to the arts hub until the following week. When I walked in, S, not his real name was on the phone and immersed in work. I smiled at him and got on with work too. The day flew by and suddenly at 5 pm he packed up his work materials and left. How annoying, just when I was going to try and chat to him. The next moment an acquaintance walked in and he asked me if I would stay and meet his girlfriend. He told me she has recently graduated from university with a degree in fashion textiles and business. I said I would love to. Almost two hours later, I was deep in conversation about fashion and magazines when S walked right back in, glanced over at me and went to the bar and ordered a drink. It was Burns night.
I was in the middle of a conversation, so I just continued. I could sense that S was looking over at me several times. Before I could finish the conversation he finished his drink and left abruptly again!
Reader I haven't seen him since. He didn't come to the hub the next day or the day after or the following week. Now I am away and while I feel frustrated, it was fun and I hope I will see him when I am back and that we will both be so pleased to see one another that one of us will just start talking. How difficult could it be? I'm prepared to risk it all to find out if he likes me or not.
What do you think? What would you do? Tweet, message or email me and share your romance woes and triumphs.
The One Thing I did get right was going to work dressed as if I was Emily in Paris, wearing a gorgeous Clements Ribeiro, candy-striped sweater dress and my favourite hot pink lipstick. Catherine Walker, the royal couturier once told me I should wear an intense shade of hothouse pink lipstick known as Schiaparelli pink to make my blue eyes pop and to turn my face into a painting full of colour and contrast with my pale skin. She was right. Hot pink is like a great kiss. It is also alluring, ultra-feminine and not for shrinking Violets. Don't wear it if you can't handle the attention it might bring. My favourite lipsticks are - Bourjois Rouge Velvet in the shade - Fuchia Botte 09 which glides on like paint and stays put or Antipodes Dragon Fruit Pink which is lovely, smells exquisite but will need to be reapplied after food as it is entirely natural.
Allowing ourselves to be open to another human is not without risks. During my flirting adventures, I felt the need to find balance and restore my equilibrium. After months of yearning to join a tai chi class, I finally did it and I love it. The flowing, elegant movements suit my sensitive, artistic personality. After an hour, I am floating in a happy cloud of centred bliss. I feel serene, energised and uplifted. Tai chi is excellent for mood, mental health, muscle strength, energy, flexibility and stamina. Find a class via The Tai Chi Foundation. Oh and one last thing. After listening to Dr Michael Mosley's wonderfully informative podcast Just One Thing on BBC Sounds, I am trying to go for a fast walk first thing in the morning and crucially before I start work. Just One Thing is brimming with short, fun and life hacks backed by science to improve our health and happiness.
A Tai Chi Movement in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The benefits are immediate. I noticed increased clarity, a very happy mood and great focus until lunch-time. The problem? I am a night owl and last night, I had almost finished writing this feature when it suddenly vanished. All 1,600+ words!
Being a pro, I sat and bashed it all out again until well after midnight.
Until next time, AJ xx
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