I WILL NOT
Drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week.
Waste money on: pasta-makers, ice-cream machines or other culinary devices which will never use; books by unreadable literary authors to put impressively on shelves; exotic underwear, since pointless as have no boyfriend.
Behave sluttishly around the house, but instead imagine others are watching.
Spend more than earn.
Allow in-tray to rage out of control.
Fall for any of following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.
Get annoyed with Mum, Una Alconbury or Perpetua.
Get upset over men, but instead be poised and cool ice-queen.
Have crushes on men, but instead form relationships based on mature assessment of character.
Bitch about anyone behind their backs, but be positive about everyone.
Obsess about Daniel Cleaver as pathetic to have a crush on boss in manner of Miss Moneypenny or similar.
Sulk about having no boyfriend, but develop inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend.
Drink no more than fourteen alcohol units a week.
Reduce circumference of thighs by 3 inches (i.e. 1½ inches each), using anticellulite diet.
Purge flat of all extraneous matter
Give all clothes which have not worn for two years or more to homeless.
Improve career and find new job with potential.
Save up money in form of savings. Poss start pension-also.
Be more confident.
Be more assertive.
Make better use of time.
Not go out every night but stay in and read books and listen to classical music.
Give proportion of earnings to charity.
Be kinder and help others more.
Eat more pulses.
Get up straight away when wake up m mornings.
Go to gym three times a week not merely to buy sandwich. Put photographs in photograph albums.
Make up compilation 'mood' tapes so can have tapes ready with all favourite romantic/dancing/rousing/feminist etc, tracks assembled instead of turning into drink-sodden DJ-style person with tapes scattered all over floor.
Form functional relationship with responsible adult.
Learn to programme video.
An Exceptionally Bad Start
Sunday 1 January
9st 3 (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year's Day),cigarettes 22, calories 5424.
Food consumed today:
2 pkts Emmenthal cheese slices
14 cold new potatoes
2 Bloody Marys (count as food as contain Worcester sauce and tomatoes)
1/3 Ciabatta loaf with Brie
Coriander leaves 1/2 packet
12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of all Christmas confectionery in one go and make fresh start tomorrow)
13 cocktail sticks securing cheese and pineapple
Portion Una Alconbury's turkey curry, peas and bananas
Portion Una Alconbury's Raspberry Surprise made with Bourbon biscuits, tinned raspberries, eight gallons of whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries and angelica.
Noon. London: my flat. Ugh. The last thing on earth I feel physically, emotionally or mentally equipped to do is drive to Una and Geoffrey Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet in Grafton Underwood. Geoffrey and Una Alconbury are my parents' best friends and, as Uncle Geoffrey never tires of reminding me, have known me since I was running round the lawn with no clothes on. My mother rang up at 8.30 in the morning last August Bank Holiday and forced me to promise to go. She approached it via a cunningly circuitous route.
'Oh, hello, darling. I was just ringing to see what you wanted for Christmas.'
'Would you like a surprise, darling?'
'No!' I bellowed. 'Sorry. I mean . . . '
'I wondered if you'd like a set of wheels for your suitcase.'
'But I haven't got a suitcase.
'Why don't I get you a little suitcase with wheels attached. You know, like air hostesses have.'
'I've already got a bag.'
'Oh, darling, you can't go around with that tatty green canvas thing. You look like some sort of Mary Poppins person who's fallen on hard times. Just a little compact case with a pull-out handle. It's amazing how much you can get in. Do you want it in navy on red or red on navy?'
'Mum. It's eight thirty in the morning. It's summer. It's very hot. I don't want an air-hostess bag.'
'Julie Enderby's got one. She says she never uses anything else.'
'Who's Julie Enderby?'
'You know Julie, darling, Mavis Enderby's daughter. Julie! The one that's got that super-dooper job at Arthur Andersen . . . '
'Mum . . . '
'Always takes it on her trips . . . '
'I don't want a little bag with wheels on.'
'I'll tell you what. Why don't Jamie, Daddy and I all club together and get you a proper new big suitcase and a set of wheels?'
Exhausted, I held the phone away from my ear, puzzling about where the missionary luggage-Christmas-gift zeal had stemmed from. When I put the phone back she was saying: ' . . . in actual fact, you can get them with a compartment with bottles for your bubble bath and things. The other thing I thought of was a shopping trolley.'
'Is there anything you'd like for Christmas?' I said desperately, blinking in the dazzling Bank Holiday sunlight.
'No, no,' she said airily. 'I've got everything I need. Now, darling,' she suddenly hissed, 'you will be coming to Geoffrey and Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet this year, won't you?'
'Ah. Actually, I . . . I panicked wildly. What could I pretend to be doing? ' . . . think I might have to work on New Year's Day.'
'That doesn't matter. You can drive up after work. Oh, did I mention? Malcolm and Elaine Darcy are coming and bringing Mark with them. Do you remember Mark, darling? He's one of those top-notch barristers. Masses of money. Divorced. It doesn't start till eight.'
Oh God. Not another strangely dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a side-parting. 'Mum, I've told you. I don't need to be fixed up with . . . '
'Now come along, darling. Una and Geoffrey have been holding the New Year Buffet since you were running round the lawn with no clothes on! Of course you're going to come. And you'll be able to use your new suitcase.'
11.45 p.m. Ugh. First day of New Year has been day of horror. Cannot quite believe I am once again starting the year in a single bed in my parents' house. It is too humiliating at my age. I wonder if they'll smell it if I have a fag out of the window. Having skulked at home all day, hoping hangover would clear, I eventually gave up and set off for the Turkey Curry Buffet far too late. When I got to the Alconburys' and rang their entire-tune-of-town-hallclock-style doorbell I was still in a strange world of my own - nauseous, vile-headed, acidic. I was also suffering from road-rage residue after inadvertently getting on to the M6 instead of the M1 and having to drive halfway to Birmingham before I could find anywhere to turn round. I was so furious I kept jamming my foot down to the floor on the accelerator pedal to give vent to my feelings, which is very dangerous. I watched resignedly as Una Alconbury's form - intriguingly deformed through the ripply glass door bore down on me in a fuchsia two-piece.
'Bridget! We'd almost given you up for lost! Happy New Year! Just about to start without you.'
She seemed to manage to kiss me, get my coat off, hang it over the banister, wipe her lipstick off my cheek and make me feel incredibly guilty all in one movement, while I leaned against the ornament shelf for support.
'Sorry. I got lost.'
'Lost? Durr! What are we going to do with you? Come on in!'
She led me through the frosted-glass doors into the lounge, shouting, 'She got lost, everyone!'
'Bridget! Happy New Year! said Geoffrey Alconbury, clad in a yellow diamond-patterned sweater. He did a jokey Bruce Forsyth step then gave me the sort of hug which Boots would send straight to the police station.
'Hahumph,' he said, going red in the face and pulling his trousers up by the waistband. 'Which junction did you come off at?'
'Junction nineteen, but there was a diversion
'Junction nineteen! Una, she came off at Junction nineteen! You've added an hour to your journey before you even started. Come on, let's get you a drink. How's your love-life, anyway?'
Oh God. Why can't married people understand that this is no longer a polite question to ask? We wouldn't rush up to them and roar, 'How's your marriage going? Still having sex?' Everyone knows that dating in your thirties is not the happy-go-lucky free-for-all it was when you were twenty-two and that the honest answer is more likely to be, 'Actually, last night my married lover appeared wearing suspenders and a darling little Angora crop-top, told me he was gay/a sex addict/a narcotic addict/a commitment phobic and beat me up with a dildo,' than, 'Super, thanks.'
Not being a natural liar, I ended up mumbling shamefacedly to Geoffrey, 'Fine,' at which point he boomed, 'So you still haven't got a feller!'
'Bridget! What are we going to do with you!' said Una. 'You career girls! I don't know! Can't put it off for ever, you know. Tick-tock-tick-tock.'
'Yes. How does a woman manage to get to your age without being married?' roared Brian Enderby (married to Mavis, used to be president of the Rotary in Kettering), waving his sherry in the air. Fortunately my dad rescued me.
'I'm very pleased to see you, Bridget,' he said, taking my arm. 'Your mother has the entire Northamptonshire constabulary poised to comb the county with toothbrushes for your dismembered remains. Come and demonstrate your presence so I can start enjoying myself. How's the be-wheeled suitcase?'
'Big beyond all sense. How are the ear-hair clippers?'
'Oh, marvellously - you know - clippy.'
It was all right, I suppose. I would have felt a bit mean if I hadn't turned up, but Mark Darcy. . . Yuk. Every time my mother's rung up for weeks it's been, 'Of course you remember the Darcys, darling. They came over when we were living in Buckingham and you and Mark played in the paddling pool!' or, 'Oh! Did I mention Malcolm and Elaine are bringing Mark with them to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet? He's just back from America, apparently. Divorced. He's looking for a house in Holland Park. Apparently he had the most terrible time with his wife. Japanese. Very cruel race.'
Then next time, as if out of the blue, 'Do you remember Mark Darcy, darling? Malcolm and Elaine's son? He's one of these super-dooper top-notch lawyers. Divorced. Elaine says he works all the time and he's terribly lonely. I think he might be coming to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet, actually.'
I don't know why she didn't just come out with it and say, 'Darling, do shag Mark Darcy over the turkey curry, won't you? He's very rich.'
'Come along and meet Mark,' Una Alconbury singsonged before I'd even had time to get a drink down me.
Being set up with a man against your will is one level of humiliation, but being literally dragged into it by Una Alconbury while caring for an acidic hangover, watched by an entire roomful of friends of your parents, is on another plane altogether.
The rich, divorced-by-cruel-wife Mark - quite tall - was standing with his back to the room, scrutinizing the contents of the Alconburys' bookshelves: mainly leather-bound series of books about the Third Reich, which Geoffrey sends off for from Reader's Digest. It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting 'Cathy' and banging your head against a tree.
'Mark,' said Una, as if she was one of Santa Claus's fairies. 'I've got someone nice for you to meet.'
He turned round, revealing that what had seemed from the back like a harmless navy sweater was actually a V-neck diamond-pattern in shades of yellow and blue - as favoured by the more elderly of the nation's sports reporters. As my friend Tom often remarks, it's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a grey slip-on shoe, a swastika, are as often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner.
'Mark, this is Colin and Pam's daughter, Bridget,' said Una, going all pink and fluttery. 'Bridget works in publishing, don't you, Bridget?'
'I do indeed,' I for some reason said, as if I were taking part in a Capital radio phone-in and was about to ask Una if I could 'say hello' to my friends Jude, Sharon and Tom, my brother Jamie, everyone in the office, my mum and dad, and last of all all the people at the Turkey Curry Buffet.
'Well, I'll leave you two young people together, said Una. 'Durr! I expect you're sick to death of us old fuddy-duddies.'
'Not at all,' said Mark Darcy awkwardly with a rather unsuccessful attempt at a smile, at which Una, after rolling her eyes, putting a hand to her bosom and giving a gay tinkling laugh, abandoned us with a toss of her head to a hideous silence.
'I. Um. Are you reading any' ah . . . Have you read any good books lately?' he said.
Oh, for God's sake.
I racked my brain frantically to think when I last read a proper book. The trouble with working in publishing is that reading in your spare time is a bit like being a dustman and snuffling through the pig bin in the evening. I'm halfway through Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which Jude lent me, but I didn't think Mark Darcy, though clearly odd, was ready to accept himself as a Martian quite yet. Then I had a brainwave.
'Backlash, actually, by Susan Faludi,' I said triumphantly. Hah! I haven't exactly read it as such, but feel I have as Sharon has been ranting about it so much. Anyway, completely safe option as no way diamond-pattern-jumpered goody-goody would have read five-hundred-page feminist treatise.
'Ah. Really?' he said. 'I read that when it first came out. Didn't you find there was rather a lot of special pleading?'
'Oh, well, not too much . . .' I said wildly, racking my brains for a way to get off the subject. 'Have you been staying with your parents over New Year?'
'Yes,' he said eagerly. 'You too?'