Only twice in my life have I managed to feel like a Victorian lady looks, corseted, frail and in need of shelter from the world. Once was after I hit a boyfriend a freak blow, square on the chin he kept offering me and as he fell, he hit his head on the living room wall, the mirror and a table underneath and came to with me crying, a la VL, on his chest because I thought I had killed him. I hadn’t. And it was definitely muslin skirts and lavender soaked cloths in a darkened room in that couple of very hot days. I wasn’t pretending to be prostrate, I was prostrate. A spring lamb in dry heat, humidity saps my energy and makes me stupid. I feel like my hair looks. I hide.
I have long acknowledged that I prefer the second half of the year. I love everything about autumn
– falling leaves and their colours, the smells which linger in the cooler air, the dusk that settles over the end of the day, the cold or the wet or the wind that begins it. And I like winter. I know what to wear, what to put on my face, what to eat, how to be.
The seasons are disturbed, the weather patterns fractionalised which compromises the hard work of farmers and food providers. And this year there is a strange sort of precursor of autumn where the flowers are blooming and the leaves are green, all utterly lovely, but there is a continual trickling fall of those leaves dried early, knocked off by sudden rain or assertive winds.
And winter knocks hell out of my nails.
It is a very long time ago that I briefly (oh vanity) had false nails put on. They looked lovely but taking them off was terrible. Every nail bed bled and I have tried ever since to heal them. This led first to the subculture of nail technicians, directly comparable to the study of witchcraft in remote islands. I didn’t visit these people compulsively but I did it over a very long time. And I tried remedy after remedy. I ate so much jelly I wobbled. But my nails remained the opposite of the mane where Samson rules, strong healthy heavy hair and nails like tissue paper.
There was a strange period some years ago (remaining in some quarters) where the nails of the feet and particularly the hands became a sort of sexual commentary all of their own. You’d see a woman with torrents of badly dyed hair, unflatteringly clothed and shod, with immaculate nails and feet. I was clean and decent, covered my feet and used a lot of handcream.
Over time, I found two manicurists who could help me maintain my nails but never anybody who could help me with their health. I probably didn’t know where to look without spending a great deal of money and I was very much once bitten, twice shy.
Finding a reinforcing nail polish type thing, I used it till it was suddenly no more. That was the last time I gave L’Oreal credit for anything. Why weren’t my nails worth it ? My rubric had long been that I could spend money on nail preparations but I must use them up and it was in this frame of mind that I remembered Christian Dior’s Crème Abricot. Dior had just had an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and I had just read his memoir which conceals at least as much as it reveals. And so I went rather shyly to an appropriate counter where the deep red goo in its monogrammed pot was revealed to me, first made in 1923. Nothing lasts that long in that industry unless it works. I also found a nail varnish type preparation in the same range.
I did not redesign the garden through three months of lockdown, or Zoom or exercise anew. I did not do an extra mural degree or learn Mandarin. I read books, watched movies and used Crème Abricot. The heat helped and the good God gave me my hands back, for which I am eternally grateful.