When I was a student, I had a tape (remember those?) of classic songs by great women jazz singers. Their world-weary, tender but insinuating voices hinted of a world of sophistication, a long way from squalid student flats and bring-a-bottle parties. One song in particular haunted me, and in a way still does.
I tracked down the tape the other day and played it again. Nina Simone – ah, Nina Simone! How 1987 does that make you feel? – singing The Other Woman, recorded live in New York in 1964. Now, I know the point of the song was that it was no darn good being the other woman, what with ending your days alone and probably being eaten by your cats, but whose side do you think Nina was really on?
‘The other woman enchants her clothes with French perfume; the other woman has fresh-cut flowers in each room,’ she sighs. It’s that ‘enchants’ that does it, I think. Who doesn’t aspire to live in enchanted clothes, surrounded by flowers and scent? By contrast, the ‘toys scattered everywhere’ sound distinctly frowsy. As an 18-year-old still wearing Body Shop White Musk, the Other Woman sounded like the role model for me. But that wasn’t all.
‘The other woman finds time to manicure her nails; the other woman is perfect where her rival fails; and she’s never caught with pin-curls in her hair, anywhere…’
Well, I can safely say I’ve never been caught with pin-curls in my hair, anywhere, either. But what about the rest of those high standards? I do find time to manicure my nails, but unfortunately only about once a fortnight, when they’ve become too long to type comfortably. I’ve stopped painting them, because they only last about a day, and nothing, my dear, looks worse than chipped nail varnish.
French perfume? Hmm, I do like a drop of French perfume. My gentleman caller lost his sense of smell a couple of years ago. For about a week I wondered what the point of wearing perfume would be, if my lovely chap couldn’t smell it. Then I perked up and realised I could wear whatever perfume I liked now, without worrying about whether he liked it too.
I’m currently flirting with Hermes’ 24, Faubourg, a delicious jasmine scent. But I may have to give it up, because I’m not sure how to pronounce it and there’s no fun in being asked what lovely perfume you’re wearing if you can’t say it right. I’ll return, like a guilty straying wife, to Guerlain’s classic Mitsouko. And not just because it was worn by one of the twins in Angela Carter’s sublime Wise Children.
But fresh-cut flowers, now that’s a real treat. I do love my flowers, and I’ve always tried to keep fresh flowers in at least one room, since I had my first little flat of my own. This week I was lucky enough to have flowers sent to me by a very kind friend, so my mantlepiece is graced with a bouquet of narcissus, mimosa, Angelique tulips and more (see above), sending wafts of heavenly scent towards me as I type.
Maybe that’s the answer. Scent for myself, flowers from a friend. Manicure for practicality. Thankfully I’ve never actually been an Other Woman, with all the undoubted heartache that involves. I did consider whether I could handle it, for one particular man, one time. I’m very glad I decided against. After all: ‘But the other woman, cries herself to sleep; the other woman knows she’ll never have his love to keep.’
Silly other woman. Like Mrs Dalloway, she should buy the flowers herself.