Am I too vain for fashion? For instance, the – let’s call it generosity – of my hips is no secret to me. But hey, at least I have a waist. Therefore it saddened me that, until recently, everyone in my region of Greater Vulgaria (W10) was gadding about in billowing tunics that resembled the symptoms of collective phantom pregnancy. I fought a rearguard action for the belt. Luckily waists and rears are back, thanks to that human Coke bottle, Saint Joan of Mad Men.
But I only want my bum to look so big. So how to make sense of arse-aggrandising peg-leg trousers? The name alone baffles. Isn’t it a politically incorrect term for the condition afflicting Long John Silver? The mere sight of these pantaloons makes me uncomfortable. I’m thrust back to childhood battles with woolly tights, their gussets unable to resist gravity. What has inspired this trend? Do designers wish to prevent frostbite in those teenagers who amble about, the crotches of their jeans at their knees, in baboon-like rump display? I’d rather see their Calvins.
My bum’s sizeable because I spend most of the day sitting on it, writing. HobNobs supply punctuation. End paragraph, eat biscuit, and so on. The upside of my backside is I don’t need cushions to ease the discomfort. Much of my writing is about conversation. This leaves little scope for real chinwags. However, I shouldn’t complain. Indeed, this whinge is a thinly disguised excuse to say my book is being published around the world. Thus breaking conversation’s vital rule: don’t brag. You’re right.
I should get out more. But it’s tough. Last week I played agony aunt to readers of The New York Times,dispensing tips for detonating bores who approach small talk as a sales pitch (a perennial Manhattan dilemma, exacerbated by the credit crunch). I also advised readers of Australian Cosmopolitan, listeners of shows likeMartha Stewart Living, and published a Valentine’s Survival Guide. My greatest challenge was giving a conversation lesson, How to talk to strangers, at The School of Life, near Russell Square.
I was nervous. Not least because, since embarking on this project, my social life has taken a downward slide. If you want to make conversation difficult, tell people you’ve written a book on the subject. First they gulp. Then they expect me to rate their conversational prowess. Or – and this is worse – to spout witty quips like Oscar Wilde. Hence it’s easier to stay home and write.
Preparing the lesson, I dreaded drying up and – yikes – having to engage pupils in free-form discussion. So I overthunk it, and came armed with reams of material. This was a mistake. Within minutes it became clear my class included no wallflowers. Their motive in attending was simple: to talk, and enjoy the wine and crisps. And natter they did, plunging into exercises, like ‘describe your kitchen in the style of an Italian’ (to show how easily we can perk up our delivery: more fun than it sounds, honest).
Once the event finished, there was no time for a Q&A. Fortunately my pupils seemed happy. And plenty more people seem to agree that our mothers got it all wrong: we should talk to strangers, whenever possible. I promise next month’s lesson will be leaner.
I’ll try to practise hobnobbing with my husband. You see, so busy have I been, with Valentine’s guides and whatnot, that he’s been neglected. Instead of discussing our Valentine’s plans, I bought a card, some truffles from La Maison du Chocolat, and a present. Like many romantic gifts these were selfish. (Aren’t fancy undies men’s way of demanding more sex?) The chocolates were to vary my biscuit diet. As for the present – from well-known luxury emporium, Oxfam – this comprised a heavy hint.
It was a book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. This suggests that love speaks in various ways, including ‘Quality Time’, ‘Acts of Service’ and ‘Receiving Gifts’. If these are languages, my husband is mute. February the 14th brought no breakfast in bed, no card, no witty yet thoughtful excursion. Instead we beavered at our computers all day. In the evening, we staggered to the video shop, then argued between a romcom and a soul-scouring indie flick about a woman, abandoned in middle age (his choice: another hint?). We went home with pizza. He snored through The Shield.
Still, at least he knows me. He recognised my gifts for shameless attempts to guilt him into buying me something. As he deduced, the book wasn’t originally intended for him, but as research for my next project, The Art of Marriage. Will this have the same impact on our relationship as its predecessor has had on my conversation?
As seen in ES Magazine