I had always assumed that by the time I hit 40 I’d have the whole Put Together thing sorted. I would have a wardrobe of quirky, well-cut pieces in coordinating colours; matchy, firmly elasticated lingerie and properly-maintained hair; I’d carry an air of carefree yet detached wisdom with my Birkin bag. I’d be the human equivalent of Lovely T’s Parisian apartment.
Instead I still buy clothes with the eye of a wartime grandmother (“that will last me a few seasons and afterwards it should make a nice set of curtains for the back room”) and the flippertigibbet eye for colour of a butterfly with Tourettes. I also tend to assume I am the same size 8-10 that I was fifteen years ago, and have to remind myself periodically that no, leather biker jeans are not necessarily a look if you have control pants poking out the top of your waistband.
I finally realised that I will never be that person on Day 3 in Paris. It wasn’t walking through the streets of St Germain en Laye, while accompanied by two 13 year olds who possess the kind of perfect coltish figures that make you simultaneously wince and glow with pride. It wasn’t glancing at the Parisian women, who, as my daughter noted, manage to look like individuals and wear clothes that actually fit. It was when the doorbell rang.
For here is one of the things I learned in Paris. If you are staying in an apartment based around a courtyard, and the concierge tells you where to park, and you park there but at an angle that may be – ooh – 3-5 degrees off the one he suggested, the woman downstairs WILL come up to harangue you in rapid-fire French. And she WILL be terrifyingly abrasive.
And you WILL be wearing a mad coral top without sleeves that works for the two days a year that you have a tan (ie not that day), a pair of lurid pyjama trousers from Anthropologie that manage to be both eccentric and slightly see-through, black knickers that will, therefore, be clearly visible through said pyjama trousers, and the evening pumps that you just bought and were trying on in the apartment. And no make up. And your reading glasses.
I hurried downstairs to move my car the said 3-5 degrees, while she stood there watching in purse-lipped Gallic fashion, pausing only to fold her arms and announce, of my car: “But it’s too big!” (yeah, Lady, like I can really do much about that right now). I should add here that with everyone who lived there having vanished to Le Sud for Summer, there were only four cars in the whole place.
Anyway, after – ooh – 67 attempts I finally managed to move my car to her satisfaction, and it was then, as I climbed out, that I caught her look. It was the look only a Parisian woman can give an Engish woman. A sweaty English woman in eccentric clothes wearing evening shoes and reading glasses. And in that split second her face changed. What does this woman know of parking? the look said. She is plainly an imbecile judging by that outfit. And her demeanour changed. She was nice to me. Not warm, exactly, but pleasant. She even wished us Bon Voyage (this may, admittedly, have been wishful thinking). It goes without saying that her outfit was, of course, immaculately cut and beautifully put together.
So now I’m home. This morning I am throwing out clothes. Clothes that would not pass Parisian muster. Perhaps even the orange and blue dress that I just got from the Mango sale that doesn’t quite fit and doesn’t go with anything I own and makes my husband ask if I’m about to take Sunday School classes. I may even make some nice curtains out of it.
I am going to be chic if it kills me.
I have, however, parked right across my drive, at a really, really annoying angle.