In which I buy a new dress

My boyfriend doesn’t like my new dress.

I know this, because when I appeared in it for the first time doing the purposeful, swishy ‘new dress’ walk, the walk that is an “AHEM” in movement form, he looked up and said, “Ooh. Yeah. It’s nice.”

In the algebra of this scenario, if nice = ‘unfortunate’ and ‘yeah’ = ‘no’, nice x yeah + a fixed smile and enthusiastic thumbs-up = a very definitely disliked outfit. 

“So you like it?” I replied, because he clearly didn’t. “Yes!” He insisted, eyes wide and voice shrill, like someone trying to shuffle their way out of a bear enclosure they’ve accidentally fallen into at the zoo. “It’s very cool.”

“Cool” is not necessarily bad, you understand. Some of my oddest garments he likes specifically for their coolness, as though his 19-year-old self would approve of him having a girlfriend whose clothing would confuse the average Nan. A dress I bought online from Hong Kong and kept guiltily in the cupboard for two months because it looked like bedsheets only got worn in the end at all because he found it and declared it “cool” so enthusiastically.

But cool can also be a consolation prize. In the case of this dress (bright pink, 80s, stripy, mid-calf, elasticated waist, buttons), ‘cool’ is the best it’s going to get. But it could have been worse. It could have been “snazzy”. Or, “what a lovely fabric,” which is basically worse than just retching and leaving the room.

Still, we’re still in the delicate aftermath of rucksackgate, the fateful day I accidentally referred to his well-worn brown Jansport bag as “horrible” when what I meant to say was “functional and sturdy,” so I can forgive him going all Anna Wintour on me. Weeks of cooing, “what memories this rucksack must have… and big enough to fit TWO board games in at once, wow…” have helped us reach a point of acquiescence, but I know there’s still bitterness inside.

Besides, I don’t care as much as he does. Since buying and subsequently discovering he didn’t like the dress, I have worn it five times in nine days. It is my new favourite dress. I love it so much that I’ve gone off three other dresses in order to make room for it in my heart. Every time I have it on, I feel slightly sad for him, not being able to appreciate its artistry. 

Meanwhile, after claiming my zero tolerance stance on flip-flops (they’re an insult to the noble name of feet, a total waste of a shoe opportunity) made no difference to him, he notably hasn’t worn them once all summer. 

So I win, sort of. I am a winner, in a very cool dress.

In which we're better together

If I’m honest, the thrill of having a Scottish boyfriend has never quite worn off. 

Without, naturally, wanting to regard him as a cultural novelty (I even let him take the tam o’shanter off for special occasions), I’ve an odd sort of pride in having a beau from north of the border.

Growing up as a simple Sussex gal, lacking in accent, cuisine or any other distinguishing features to set me apart from Surrey and Hampshire, I never dared hope I might one day have legitimate reason to throw a Burns Night party. I thought the closest I’d get to regional glamour was a thumping crush on David Tennant and a taste for Irn Bru on a hangover. At best I might manage a nice boy from the Midlands, but a fully-fledged dour Scotsman was a dream as distant as Gretna Green itself.

But, thanks to the internet and internal migration, I bagged one! And now we’re into our fourth year of rich cultural exchange and hilarious linguistic misunderstandings. “Swede? You mean turnip! HAHAHAHA” is usually how it goes. “You ‘amn’t’ hungry? AMN’T? That’s a MUCH better phrase than ‘I’m not’, I shall use it all the time!”  I say ‘orange squash’; he says ‘diluting juice’ - let’s not call the whole thing off. Etc.

So it’s in this spirit of British unity that I’ve begun feeling queasy about the referendum. It feels odd to care so much about something you have no say in. It’s a bit like pleading with someone who hasn’t quite decided whether or not to dump you yet. My own partnership might be going strong, but writing this on Monday, with only 100 days to go until Scotland makes its decision, the threat of a national break-up is looming larger than ever.

He can’t vote either, having long ago chosen the bright lights of the capital over the blanket shops of the Royal Mile. And though independence might not have an instant effect, no waking up to find all the oil and shortbread and boyfriends have been taken away in the night, it would be foolish to think our two countries wouldn’t pine for each other in ways we can’t quite yet predict.

“People living in London may not have a vote, but they do have a voice,” says Alistair Darling in tonight’s Evening Standard. I don’t know how my voice is going to make much difference – particularly as I’m most likely to use it to sing an off-key rendition of Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now, directed vaguely northwards – but I’ll say it anyway. Ooh-oo-ooh, Scotland, please don’t go.




In which he who asks most learns least

Facebook has found a new way of ruining everything. Not content with giving us all body image complexes and diluting the concept of ‘liking’ down so far that we think we like video tributes to people’s dead pets, it’s now introduced an ‘ask’ feature that allows friends to request info on, among other things, your relationship status. 

I say ‘friends’, but of course that’s a diluted concept too. A friend can just ask. A friend already knows. What we mean here is ‘creepy almost-stranger who has run out of socially-approved ways to hit on you’. The formality of it adds an additional level of creepiness – where a flirty message written with actual words would do the job, this takes out any semblance of effort by laying out tick boxes, notably without the option to say ‘err, no comment’. It’s like a Freedom of Information request, but horrible.

To be fair, in recent years things have got trickier for the Facebook romancers (whoever they be). Most of us have stopped listing a relationship status at all, because we learned that there is nothing more awful than changing it back to ‘single’ three months later and watching the concerned sadface emojis flood your wall. By the time a new courtship is solid enough to risk the change, it also seems daft to declare it. “HEY EVERYONE, WE HAD THE ‘WHERE IS THIS GOING?’ CHAT! WE SURVIVED! VALIDATE THIS,” it screams. Besides, everyone who knows you knows you’re a couple anyway and will just write sarky things underneath.

But just asking? There’s something so incredibly un-British about it. Everyone knows dating is meant to be a long, confusing dance of mystery and intrigue where everything is communicated through clues and euphemisms and accidentally turning up at the same events as each other until one day you happen to have three kids and a mortgage.

Asking is cheating. Just as us coupled people have to find the exact right moment to casually drop in the fact we’re not single – too soon and it looks presumptuous, too late and they’ve bought you a monogrammed dressing gown – prospective amours are meant to find better ways of registering interest than simply asking.

Of course, we all know the reason Facebook has introduced the ask feature too. It’s not to help shy people and bored 16-year-olds find eternal love – it’s so they can pass the info on to advertisers. Which begs the question: what would they be trying to sell to me if they knew I had a boyfriend? Spa retreats? Engagement rings? Bicycles made for two?

The adverts on my current Facebook feed are for skin products, bread, Topshop and Foxy Bingo. I definitely liked three of those things when I was single, and the other one I’ve never let myself try for fear I would like it TOO MUCH. Meanwhile my boyfriend’s feed is flogging him cars, glucose monitors, broadband… and, curiously, Foxy Bingo. So maybe Facebook knows we’re compatible after all.


Things my mother has taught me


On how to shop:

A gal needs two great shopping companions; fate and destiny. When dithering over a purchase, put it to the back of the rail and walk away. Then come back in a few hours (exact time is proportional to how much or little you are dithering), and if said item is still there in your size, it is meant to be. You must buy it or spend the rest of your life weeping gently in front of your wardrobe.

However, if it has gone then it clearly wasn’t The One and you must move on, free from resentment, full of purse and happy in the knowledge that someone else now has the problem of trying to match shoes to such a tricky hem length.

Also, nothing can ever be bought unless you can first name at least three items already in your wardrobe that it could be worn with. This has saved me from a fate worse than jeggings on more than one occasion.

On how to contribute to society:

Always vote. Vote because of the suffragettes, and vote because so many other people in the world can’t. Vote even if you are uncertain or unbothered, because otherwise only those with absolute views will be represented – which isn’t representative at all.

On household maintenance:

Dust adds character. And, to borrow from Quentin Crisp, after four years it doesn’t get any worse.

On ageing:

Even numbers sound older than odd numbers, to the extent that bigger odd numbers sound younger than smaller even numbers. So, 27 somehow sounds younger than 26, and 73 is preferable to 72.  

Also, you know you are getting old when the Blue Peter presenters start to look young.

On holidays:

The perfect way to spend the first night of any holiday is eating fish and chips, sitting on a harbour wall, dangling one’s legs towards the sea. The fish and chips can be swapped for pasties or ice cream if necessary; it is the dangling that matters the most.

On mealtimes:

Any time that could commonly have ’12’ in its name is a feasible lunchtime. Meaning 11:35am, AKA “25 to 12”, is a perfectly respectable time to eat a sandwich.

On music:

Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone is the best song ever written. This has been presented simply as fact since I was about eight, and I’ve never found cause to question it.

On marital bliss:

The smaller and cheaper the wedding, the longer the marriage will be. Probably. Britney’s Las Vegas one notwithstanding.

On life:

Things really do happen for a reason. Even if you can’t see it now, or in a month, or in a year, you will eventually look back and realise it was all for the best. In the meantime, have a cup of tea. Or some wine.

And one from my Granny...

On the first day at a new school or new job:

Just find out where the toilets are, and how to get out. The rest can wait.