A big weekend

Went to a wedding with a couple of llamas alpacas this weekend. It was a blast.

‘Do they do many weddings?’ I asked their handler.

‘It’s his first,’ she said, pointing at the white one. He was called Rufus but I can’t remember the other’s name.

I asked my friend Katie to take a picture of me with them and then realised my eyes were closed in every single one, but Katie wouldn’t take any more because she wanted to get to the reception for a drink. I don’t think a delay would have harmed us tbh. I felt so grim yesterday morning that I had to leave the hotel breakfast to get back into bed with my shoes still on. So a year older but not much wiser.

Anyway, column below, about the joy of eavesdropping as I went round the Dior exhibition.

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‘Looks like a t-shirt from H&M and a skirt from Primark,’ said a disenchanted fashion student to her companion, standing in front of a mannequin in the first room of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Christian Dior exhibition.

I didn’t disagree about this particular mannequin, as it happens. The fashion student was a more interesting spectacle. Black platform lace-ups, purple hair, the sort of make-up which might make a small child cry.

I drifted to the next room where Princess Margaret’s 21st dress fans out in its own glass cage and marvelled at the tiny waist, alongside a pair of middle-aged ladies doing the same. ‘Goodness me, we’re so fat these days. Look, Jean, look at this waist. Aren’t we so fat nowadays?’ hissed one to the other. Jean, not much of a friend to a lettuce leaf herself, nodded wordlessly.

It was like this the whole way round. A magnificent exhibition which made me long for a wardrobe of Cinderella ballgowns even though I’ve never been hugely into fashion and am bad at clothes, but made more enjoyable by the snippets I heard as I pushed my way through the rooms of couture.

‘I think my mother wore that to my brother’s bar mitzvah,’ said another woman to her friend, as they stood in front of a pickle-coloured silk dress from the 1960s. In the garden room, where the ceiling drapes with paper wisteria and roses, a visitor stood frowning at an exquisite 1957 dress, tiered with Lily of the Valley bells. ‘My mum made me wear a girdle when I was 13 or 14 and it made me feel right sick,’ she said. Meanwhile, teenage girls took selfies in front of their favourites.

In the penultimate room, where a row of dresses stand proudly above photo captions of the celebrities who wore them on the red carpet, an elderly lady was explaining who Rihanna was to a man I reckoned was her husband. ‘She’s an American, I think,’ she said, with a touch of uncertainty. (Close, but Barbadian.)

Bad to eavesdrop, of course, but I learnt more about Dior and the label’s impression on society by taking in the commentary I overheard from the punters than from any official exhibition literature. And you can hardly help overhearing jolly crumbs of conversation when you’re packed into the rooms like matchsticks.

It reminded me of going to see Ho Chi Minh lying in state in Hanoi some years ago. My Lonely Planet guide advised that the Vietnamese leader resembled a waxwork, and it was more informing to trudge slowly around the mausoleum while watching the Vietnamese people in the procession. And so it proved. In front of me, a wizened Vietnamese lady with a face like a prune fell to her knees in front of his casket and started wailing. A couple of guards swiftly appeared, hoiked her up by her armpits and dragged her off through the exit. But her reaction, her clear devotion to Uncle Ho, was more enlightening to me than staring at the human candle lying in his box.

Do go to Dior (if you can, get there first thing before everyone from Hampshire starts arriving for their time slot and a scone in the café afterwards). Just keep your ears alert for anecdotes. Sometimes, what you go to see isn’t the most revealing exhibit.

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It’s the Oscars tonight which means more fawning about The Favourite, a week of coverage about the dresses and, also, supremely vulgar goody bags. The main nominees are always given goody bags worth about $100,000 and, this year, the bags will apparently include expensive moisturisers, vouchers for holidays in Greece and a cruise along the Amazon. Plus, cannabis chocolates. But it seems awfully grabby, if you’re Olivia Colman and up for the biggest award of your career, to be fussed about swag like this. So can I suggest that Oscar organisers take a leaf out of my mother’s book? We were never allowed party bags at our birthdays (too naff). Instead, Mum made a gingerbread man for each child and iced it with their name, ready by the front door for when they went home. I’m sure Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper would much prefer a gingerbread man anyway.

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Talking of Mum, she taught me how to clip a chicken’s wing on the weekend. One of her two chickens, Victoria Peckham (so-called because she pecks) had taken to flying over her wire fence at night, causing alarm that the fox would get her. So, down in Sussex, we rounded her up and I gripped her left wing between thumb and forefinger and winced as Mum cut her feathers with a pair of kitchen scissors. It seemed a tribal punishment to me, but Victoria Peckham pottered back into her pen very happily with Professor Green (the other hen, because she lays pretty green eggs), and I drove back to London feeling very Bear Grylls. Except that night a fuse went in the sitting room and I had to get my flatmate to change it because I wasn’t sure how. But still, if the sky darkens and we face an apocalypse on March 29th, I feel ready for it.

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