There is one day on the kitchen calendar that is free from little notes like, “put the bins out” and “Worming tablets, milk, soy sauce.” It is the day of the summer ball. Oh my goodness, I become giddy and hand clappy just at the thought of this event. A night of glamour, a reason to shave past the knee, a feast of decadent food, glorious cocktails and swaying music. Men in uniform, women in ball gowns. There is magic in the air as you are transported back to the days of tradition, elegance and basic table manners.
This year was to be the first that I had attended since being pregnant/ breastfeeding/ consumed by “mummy guilt” and I was sure as kippers looking forward to it. He had organised it this year. It was sure to be a big hit. His legacy. Besides protecting his country. Obviously. But leave my husband alone with a booze budget and ya’ll going to have a good time!
For me, it is all about getting ready. Having returned from the hair dressers, the only one in Puddle* – attached to the old fire station, having had my hair back combed to the Sixties, I swish upstairs to our bedroom, ignoring the whining, the barking and the tennis on the telly, gently close the door and immerse myself in wafts of perfume and powder puffs of bronzer. Filling in and dabbing at the lines where my eyes used to be and pouting my way through a tumble of lipstick, some new, some my mothers, some from when I was quite obviously single … and drunk.
I glide around the room, my plunging lavender dress sweeping around my ankles, momentarily pausing to look in to the full length mirror to accept my Oscar and give a little speech, turning my head this way and that trying to remember my best side for photographs. “Hold your tummy in.” I whisper to myself as I practice three types of ‘natural’ smile.
There is music on in the background, sometimes it is a jazzy collection of beats that make me feel sophisticated and vaguely grown up, other times it is a rap artist out of Compton and I pretend I have fluid hips and rhythm, practising some moves to bust out on the dance floor later that night.
He eventually appears with Baby, proffering a glass of Prosecco which I gratefully receive as I dab at my post rap battle sheen. He oooh’s and aaaah’s at how thirteen layers of foundation, concealer and primer have transformed me into a goddess. Baby disappears under my gown to smack my bottom and call me a, “bad doggy”.
The babysitter arrives. Woohoo! Lets go! Three feet down the driveway and I decide that I don’t like my shoes, they have too much heel and not enough comfort. He says that I need to suck it up. He’s right.
I’ve forgotten to pluck my eyebrows.
Arriving at the Officer’s Mess we are greeted with a thundershower, flutes of pink champagne and I get called “Ma’am.” This little scenario in itself is perfect. Put a fork in me, I’m done.
As we air kiss our way across the room to where He has spotted more of the pink stuff the atmosphere settles over us. The twinkly lights, the elegant gloom of the gallant halls, the soft tinkling of music drifts around us. The buzz builds as more of our peers arrive, the compliments flowing as fast as the bubbles. The wives swishing their dresses and swooshing their hair, playing coy to all who mention their “fabulous shoes,” batting away the compliments of, “Gorgeous make up” or “darling earrings.” The Officers, all with a drink in one hand, their woman in the other, laughing politely at jokes and anecdotes, talking shop and looking dapper, Sir. The wet, warm evening breeze gently nudging the weighty velvet curtains cloaking the walls.
It isn’t much later, once we have all languished around the dining tables having eaten mounds of incredible food and chugged goblets of wine, that the dignity we came with disappears and we are all on the dance floor hoisting our gowns up past the line of no return, the line that distinguishes where the fake tan ends and the body shaping knickers begin. Heels have been forgotten, laughter now comes out in snorts and the young boy-ish folk band on the stage have garnered the attention of many a wife who has forgotten the kids and crows feet and are now groupies, one arm in the air, forefinger pointing heavenward belting out the chorus to a Mumford & Sons tune. The He’s are all in the bar, putting the world to right while bopping uneasily to the urban funk pouring from the speakers, cheering and cajoling each other.
Approaching midnight and this Cinderella isn’t what she was a few years ago (immortal) I sashay out of the heaving pit of oestrogen and slip my shoes back on. Then quietly slip them back off again. Painful buggers. Seeking out which side of the bar He is propping up I whisper to him that I am to pop myself on an early bus home. He attempts to argue my decision, until someone pipes up about something happening in Libya and I am free to go.
Before departing the Mess I am guided by a uniformed member of staff to a table baring piping hot, pulled pork baps and dainty pockets of pork crackling for my ride home. Got in Himmel. Yes. Slumped on the bus, the elegance and sophistication having been left on the middle of the dance floor with my soul and my fluid hips, I let my feet dangle off the seat and attempt to engage the (sober) bus driver in a meaningful conversation about the current government while licking pork fat from my forearm.
These are busses that are laid on for this particular night by the way, I am not just jumping on a random M17 night bus.
Arriving back at the patch, waving goodbye to the few other midnights Molly’s I walk the rest of the way home barefoot, the pavements glistening wet in the cool, clear night sky. I am deep in thought. It is serious. It has been playing on my mind since we left the house earlier that night. My heart is pounding.
If I bought a family sized pack of Cadbury mini rolls for the babysitter and she had eaten one an hour, how many would there be left for me by now?
Ladies Dress Code for Military Events:
Cocktail Party: One of the only times you will get away with wearing a dress above the knee. It’s an LBD night. Shave those legs ladies!
Formal Dinner i.e. Burns night, Battle of Britain, Guest Dining In Night: Dress below the knee. shoulders covered during dinner, formal hair and make up. Channel Duchess Kate.
Summer Ball/ Christmas Draw: Ball gown, Ankle length dress, shoulders covered through dinner, although this year some one did pull off an incredibly beautiful jumpsuit – wide flared legs and Audrey Hepburn up-do style. Think the Grammy’s, but more Beyoncé less Bjork. Keep it classy and fairly traditional knowing that shortly after dinner someone will end up doing the Dirty Dancing lift.
Until next time
Getting on the linky train!