Thursday, 28 July 2011

The camisole and cream catastrophe

The lovely couple
Twenty years ago today, July 28th 1991 was a beautiful day. I remember it well.  Sizzling hot, clear blue sky, the perfect day for a wedding.
I was, to be honest, a little nervous about this particular wedding. I'd broken up with the bride's step-brother about a year beforehand, and although there was no particular animosity, it still felt a little weird to be going to a big family event. But the bride and groom (an ex flatmate) were both good friends of mine, not to mention the bride's brother (another ex-flatmate) and sister-in-law. Also my friend Laura (the fourth flatmate) had come over from America . It'd be fine, I reassured myself. I had a nice outfit, I'd know lots of people there. Laura and I could have a good catch-up.
I lived in Hammersmith in west London, the wedding was in Hertfordshire, north of London. Thinking about it now, the sensible thing would have been to go and stay with my parents (also Hertfordshire)  and get ready there. But my brain didn't work like that. Instead I arranged to drive right across London, west to east, to Laura's parents' house in Woodford. We'd get ready together, then drive to the wedding.
 It was the perfect plan, I thought, as I went out to my car, carefully hanging my outfit in the back of the car.
My outfit. It was great. I had a short black straight skirt, and a sheer black camisole. Over the top would go a silk jacket, patterned in red and blue and purple, a sale bargain from Monsoon. I loved it, shoulder pads and all. I was quietly confident. Never mind the old aunties clucking over me and my ex. I'd be the model independent single girl..who happened to work for The Independent. Go me!
The hair! The gardening top!
So I drove all the way to Woodford. It took about an hour. And it was great to see Laura. Here we were, just like old times, getting ready to go out to a party. There was just one problem. No camisole. A frantic phone call to my landlady later, and we worked out what had happened. It was lying on the dusty pavement, back in Hammersmith. It must have slipped off the hanger as I got into the car.
Disaster! Misery! Catastrophe! There was no time to go shopping (and I can't even remember if shops were open on Sundays back in 1991) Laura's mum had nothing suitable for me to borrow. 'There's nothing else for it,' said Laura. 'You'll have to wear this.'
This turned out to be a knitted black top. Luckily it was black and sleeveless, with (not so luckily) a plunging neckline. Unluckily she'd been wearing it all that hot and sticky day while she worked in her parents' garden. It was just a little moist and pungent. 'Never mind,' she said, peeling it off. 'Just spray yourself with a load of perfume, and no one will notice.'
So, when we arrived at the wedding, I was not feeling so confident, nor very fragrant or sophisticated. My hair was frizzy, my silk jacket wrapped firmly around me. Every now and again I realised that the neckline had slipped beyond the decent level, and had to give it a quick tug to get it back in place.
The ceremony was gorgeous, the perfect day for a romantic outdoor ceremony. The bride was beautiful, the bridesmaids lovely in  flouncy lilac, the mothers of the happy couple, glorious in papal purple. The groom was dashing in a top hat. I hung onto my jacket and avoided my ex.
Naturally I took a quick glance at the table plan well before dinner. I moved some people around so that Laura and I could chat more easily. But there was a name I didn't recognise on my left hand side, and I left him where he was. You never knew. Maybe he'd be the man of my dreams.
Time for dinner, I sat down and glanced to my left. 'Aaw,' I thought. 'Not my type.'  My type at the time was skinny, cynical, nervy and wise-cracking. Ideally working in the media. This man lacked that quality of nervous energy, plus I wasn't sure about his profile (oh, yes, I was that shallow. Forgive me). But, polite as always, I asked him how he knew Sylvia and Richard. 'I'm Sylvia's boss,' he said. 'I don't know anyone else here.'                                                                                                              
Well! My protective nature took over. The poor man! He needed looking after! Plus I remembered Sylvia telling me that I should meet her boss. 'He's into books and films and he's got lots of lefty friends,' she said. At the time, I made polite excuses. I was a media snob and they worked for a toothpaste manufacturer. But he was, it turned out, a nice person to talk to.
So we continued chatting as the first course was served. And went on talking through the soup and the salmon (it may not have been salmon, I can't really remember. I'm just taking a wild guess here). And we were still talking through dessert. Once or twice my neglected friend Laura leaned over. 'Can you repeat that?' she asked him, 'I didn't quite catch it.'  Startled, he did, and then we went on talking. And I forgot all about the camisole disaster, and the lurking ex, and just enjoyed myself.
Until, that is, the coffee was served. 'Would you like cream?' asked the waitress -  and poured a jugful into my lap. All over my black skirt! I was mortified, but my new friend lent his napkin and mopped me up. And then he asked me to dance.
Well, it was no surprise when he asked for my number. And he called me a few days later, and we saw a Woody Allen film, and then we went out for dinner and talked and talked and talked (and he told me the 11 plus story). And we've been talking pretty much non stop for the last twenty years, although it took us three years to get around to getting married, because believe me, nothing makes my husband go at any pace except his own. Which is one of the many things that I love about him, even as I am infuriated.
One thing I didn't do at the wedding was take his picture (although I have one of the ex, hiding behind a fan). And I waited some time before telling him about the camisole catastrophe. 'Didn't you notice that I had a really low cleavage?' I asked. 'I liked it,' he replied.
The jacket, twenty years on.

I still have the jacket hanging up in my cupboard, I never liked to get rid of it. The shoulder pads are drooping now, but the silk still shimmers and glows. How lucky I was 20 years ago (not to mention how lucky he was), and how clever Sylvia and Richard were when they plotted their table plan. Happy anniversary!

(apologies for the poor quality of the scanner wasn't working, so these are copies of prints)

PS I mis-remembered! Laura was actually over to get married herself! Happily the weddings were close enough together so she and husband Ian were able to attend Sylvia and Richard's wedding as well. And Ian's presence at the second wedding meant I wasn't neglecting Laura as much as it may appear...


  1. What a wonderful read Keren. Hearing for the first time in full your story of the day gives me a brand new perspective on all my delightful memories. I've just realised that as I write this a broad smile is spread across my face.
    Thank you.
    Richard (romantic fool that I am)

  2. Lovely post. I'm smiling in a dopey way.

  3. I remember that black top disaster. Just goes to show - the perfect outfit is not the thing that matters most.

  4. It was a very romantic day...even with someone else's sweaty top..

  5. Oh I loved reading this, Keren, how romantic!