Monday, 13 September 2010

Ice Breakers and Heartbreakers

Being a mother can be kind of an ice-breaker; it gives you virtual carte blanche to chat to complete strangers in the park, at softplay centres, in cafes, in supermarket queues. It starts with a sympathetic, knowing look and quickly moves on to "Ooooh, you've got your hands full haven't you?" or "Isn't he adorable! How old?" - or, if you're the sort of person who used to go all the way on a first date: "When the hell is this bloody place going to get a booze license sorted out?" 

It's nice, mostly. In a day where the main people to benefit from my wit and sparkle (it's there after a few coffees, honest. For, like, a good half hour at least) are my three children, the eldest of whom is a tender 4 years old, it can be refreshing to exchange a few banal pleasantries with someone from my own age group. 

But even that can get a little dull (I mean, it's just more 'kids, kids, kids' isn't it?) - not to mention weird. I can't tell you how many times I've parted ways with a new acquaintance only to think: hang on. You tried for 16 months to conceive your child, eventually managed it by only ever having sex under the light of a full moon, and only in the missionary position with a spot of recumbent cycling afterwards, you tore horribly during labour and needed 38 stitches which was such a shock because you'd been faithfully listening to your hypnobirthing CD every night ... but, um, sorry, I don't actually think you told me your name

And anyway, I've got enough problems of my own without hearing about yours. Sheesh. Can't we talk something a little more superficial? 

So with the confidence born of 4 years of chatting with complete strangers, I make it a habit, these days, to always, always tell someone that I think they look ace, if in fact they do. "I love that dress", "Where did you get your skirt?" - so innocuous, but they love the compliment, and I love the chance to talk about something that doesn't involve the fertility-enhancing properties of bull semen. 

There was a gorgeous girl at one of the playgrounds in Italy last week. She looked amazing in clothes that weren't my style, and would never have suited me, but any chance to speak not only fashion but also in Italian is not to be sniffed at. I approached her and falteringly said, gesturing at her outfit "Mi piace molto il suo stilo." She looked stunned, and then delighted. "Io??" she said. And there followed a conversation as fashioncentric as my limited Italian would allow, including what we'd read and seen in the latest Elle. 

I wasn't expecting to make a new Fashion Friend in Starbucks the other day: it wasn't that kind of day. My new iPhone, needed after The Bub threw the old one on the floor after a 4-hour wait at Pisa airport (and who could blame him? Bloody Ryanair) wasn't in stock and we'd just had a fairly disastrous nappy changing incident. I was pretty much desperate for that triple shot soy capp. But when a girl walked in, all 6 feet, 8 stone and 19 years of her, wearing the faux fur gilet that I'd bought at Zara just a few weeks ago, I felt my mood brighten. She was wearing it exactly as I planned to - with skinny jeans and high lace-up suedy boots in a shade of camel. Except that, since she was clearly an aspiring supermoggle, she looked a million bucks. Clearly the baristas, forgetting my triple shot soy capp in the lunge to serve her, thought so too. 

I smile. "I bought that gilet the other day. I was going to save it until the weather got colder but it looks so great on you that I think you may have ruined it for me now." 

She looks me up and down. Smiles, but not in a friendly way. Raises one eyebrow. "Oh? Sorry about that." 

She takes her coffee and goes, leaving smitten baristas in puddles on the floor. I suddenly see myself the way she must see me - no supermoggle, not even supermum, just a frazzled 37 year old with no make up, unkempt hair, grey skinnies and a black sweater, balancing a baby and sporting a broken iPhone. I can't help but laugh: I should be miffed but actually she has made my day. 

A few nights later I accept that autumn is happening, whether I like it or not, and wear the gilet, complete with indigo skinines and camel boots, out to dinner with The Bearded One. As we leave the restaurant, a lady accosts me. She is possibly about my mum's age, wearing an ugly floral dress and a jacket that doesn't look good with it at all. 

"I love your coat! where did you get it?" she asks. 

Instantly, I am transported to a state of teenage petulance, a flashback to my mum expressing approval for an outfit choice or new purchase - if she likes it then it's going straight on the bonfire!! And then I remember the Supermoggle. 

"Thank you! It's from Zara. It was only about £40." I smile at her. "You should get one. I bet it would look great on you." 

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