If ever there were two words that put the fear of death in me they are Fancy and Dress.
I actually shuddered writing that.
Whenever I get an invite to a fancy dress party my first reaction is to hide under the duvet and wait for it to pass. Call me a killjoy. I’ve never liked them. I used to think it was because I am a fairly introverted person who doesn’t like to be the centre of attention but this evening my mum reminded me of something that happened in my dim and distant past. Something so horrible that I had buried the memory along with my satin blue ra-ra skirt, 'Fame' legwarmers and wheelie-boppers (which I once wore all at the same time and thought I was the bees knees. No wonder Adrian Fowler never wanted to snog me.)
I was telling mum about the up and coming street party that’s being held at my friends to celebrate the Royal Wedding (thankfully only the children are required to dress up so my panic is over for the time being) The theme is “The Best of British” and Junior is going as Levi Roots. I was showing my mum the woolly rasta hat that he’ll be wearing and she looked a little anxious.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, worried that she might think it a bit unconventional.
“Well, it might be a bit warm for this” she replied.
“He’ll be fine” I scoffed, carefully untangling the black dreadlocks.
“You obviously don’t remember the peapod incident then” said mum, ominously.
It all came flooding back to me in a horrible rush.
Gala Day, Summer 1979. Not just any summer. The hottest on record – or at least the hottest I had known in my eight short years. My mum had had this brainwave to dress me up as a peapod for the fancy dress competition. It was a brilliant idea – me dressed all in green with three plump, green balloons tied down my middle in a vertical line to represent the peas. There was only one tiny hitch. The outfit consisted of thick, woollen tights, masses of crepe paper draped over a thick jumper and the pies de resistance – a heavy, woollen teacosy hat, decorated with sweet pea flowers fresh from the garden.
I can remember standing up on the settee while my mum fiddled with the hem of the flowing crepe paper dress so it sat nicely on the rim of my (fur-lined) wellington boots.
“I’m a bit hot mum” I moaned, as I scratched a leg through the 800 denier tights.
“Just another minute or two” said mum through a mouthful of safety pins.
Layer upon layer of crepe paper kept getting rolled around me until I was completely mummified. Then the hat went on but the sweet peas still had to be woven in. It felt like I stood for an eternity while mum carefully threaded the stems into the wool. My face was thumping with the heat and beads of sweat were trickling down my back. I started feeling desperately unwell as I watched my mum blow up the first of the balloons, her face alight with pride at her handiwork.
“You look fantastic!” she squealed “I think we’re onto a winner” but her voice was all warbled and distant and funny little pinpricks had appeared before my eyes.
Just as mum stepped back to admire her creative masterpiece I collapsed onto the floor in a sweaty, limp heap.
Of course we had to abandon the entire thing.
I remember, later that afternoon standing watching the prizes being handed out for best costume. First prize went to a girl in my class and her little sister who dressed up as “A pint and a half of milk” They looked rubbish if my memory serves me well but the crowd were laughing and cheering at the wittiness of their idea. As I sucked on my ice pole I thought about the plump green balloons, now redundant on the living room floor and all I could think was that should have been me up there getting the prize.
Story of my life really.