Spectacular Ruination

Last Saturday night we had a resident’s party in the garden. I was on the organising committee and did a spectacular job of almost ruining it all. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ against numbers – I find them a bit stressful and confusing. For context, I’ve specifically come to find the month of July hard to see as the 7th month, because Noah’s birthday is on the 18th of July and so July ‘feels’ like an ‘8’. It doesn’t feel like a ‘7’. You get me? No, probably not. That’s fair.

But anyway, I was in charge of booking a caterer and there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing about what we/the committee wanted (a bbq, obvs), and what price and would there be halal and vegan options and was that excluding VAT and would there be pudding, etc etc., on and on which is hard for me because I like a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Details are a bit boring and conversations about costs are particularly painful. But we found a place that promised the right amount of meats and salads and dips and crucially could do the following Saturday because it is peak season and by this time any real choice of caterer was pretty much nonexistent.

But then we discovered that my numbers problem meant they were booked for August, not July. I booked them for the 8th month, which is what July should really be known as by caterers and party-organisers alike. As a solution/explanation this really didn’t fly, and with a week to go, after sending out polls and a series of emails enticing the 350-strong neighbourhood households to buy tickets and after giving them an actual menu, we were stuck with no caterers at all. So I apologised, died a little bit, hit myself on the forehead muttering ‘sort this numbers thing out, you adorable dimwit’, put on some lipstick and found another bbq company. And no one really knew how close it had all come to being Mark and I burning sausages for 150 people on a balmy Saturday night.

It turned out to be not just balmy but also magical. This was less about the (perfectly nice) food (phew) and more about the people, the lights, the music. We had on decks the saxophonist and songwriter from Sade. I mean. Sade! We also had, amongst the assorted guests, Amy Winehouse’s old manager.

Here’s me and the most softest, fluffiest Amanda:

Mark and Joan under the lights:

A little Fleetwood Mac:

What else? Only that I have a proper fulltime job as a Content Manager for KPMG Law starting in a few weeks which feels mostly wonderfully exciting with only a slivery wedge of terrifying.


I feel like maybe my time is now, in a careery-kind of way, and eternally grateful to the succession of women who have championed me and said ‘yes, you adorable number-illiterate dimwit, you can do it’. As much as that sounds like a bad Oscar acceptance speech, it is entirely true that I’ve been helped and supported by women bosses, colleagues, and friends and that is an entirely humbling, wonderful thing.

By September, the adorable baby will be fulltime in nursery and things should be firmly on the road, as it were. I will be managing content like a content managerial superstar and might have overcome some of the imposter syndrome that dogs me pretty much constantly. Here’s to finding a proper job in your mid-40s!

I’ve also been to a filming of Antiques Roadshow which was sunny and nice in Clissold Park, a glorious East London place full of well-dressed people and genteel cycling. Charlotte, her husband and I were there to discuss the painting that Charlotte bought on Friday morning from a dealer in Portobello Road. It’s a sexy kitschy 70s portrait of a naked starlet in a beige linen mount, covered in glass. A big old thing, difficult to sneak into the house, bypassing husbands who are wary of their wives bringing in more household clearance items of junky joy. Charlotte tried to get the painting in and tucked away safely for a few months so that when she did finally stick it onto the wall she could confidently say ‘Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages’ but her husband met her at the door, portrait as tall and as heavy as a ten year old child, and he busted her. He liked it, luckily, as did I, especially when Charlotte did some rudimentary googling and discovered it was by a Czechoslovakian count, strapped for cash but good at portraits, and the painting is of a young Helen Mirren.


I then really wanted it for myself, but Charlotte has a whole house with actual wallspace (plus, it was actually hers) so I had to make do with stalker-buying one of his paintings of an anonymous person at auction, just to lessen the FOMO.

Here’s a funny story. The producers at Antiques Roadshow tried to get Helen Mirren to come along to see the portrait of her in her nipply Bardot-esque youth, but she wasn’t in the country and so we had no surprises awaiting us. BUT, while we were nattering away on camera, a woman passed us and the painting which she recognised because she had been the artist’s girlfriend for 10 whole years. Oh yes. And so she told us all about Count Nicholas Egon and his mad portrait-making, his nice face and his way of paying people with his work. Here they are, reunited all, in the tiniest photograph known to humankind:

Here’s me and Charlotte and an Antiques Roadshow superstar whose specialist category is apparently “Miscellaneous”:

Barnaby and his glorious girlfriend at our party. If he sees this he will kill me with his angry betrayed eyes/a hammer so if I soon don’t respond to whatssapp/texts, that’ll be why. But it’s so worth it – look at them! The youth! The hair! The eyeliner! LOVE LOVE LOVE:

The neighbours have bought up a massive old two-storied flat and the builders knocked through a sealed-up room under the road and found an 18th century toilet for the guy who powered the electrics. I am mesmerised by this:

And finally, because it is sunny outside and I have wasted too much time trying and failing to make Charlotte and the Young Helen portrait download in a bigger size, here’s your last shot. The baby, no longer a baby, in his sunglasses collection:

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4 Responses to Spectacular Ruination

  1. For the past few days I have been compulsively reading through your archives (I no longer remember the link that brought me here, sorry, too distracted by the joy of reading) and am sorry to have reached the present day, because now I will just have to wait for the next post like everyone else. It’s been brilliant, like a combination of Emma Beddington and Gil McNeil, with a splash of John Verney, and I hope eventually you get that novel sorted out because I would love to read it too. Also I love the clothes. Thank you for a delightful read, and I hope it doesn’t sound horribly stalker-y. I am a long way away and unlikely to run across you IRL.

    • theharridan says:

      Thank you and I love this so much….just when I think I maybe should wrap the whole thing up I get encouragement like you’ve just given me. I really appreciate it!

  2. rose says:

    PLEASE do not wrap it up! You are part of the structure that got me through the times of the past 7 years and holds me as I look at what may be coming down the pike over here.
    It is shocking how much your children have grown and how many years things have been so bleak and scary. I loved your posts before that time but honestly…… well.
    You make a difference and bring humor and reality and wonderful stories and pictures. You have a gift and you are a gift.
    PS: your eyes are gorgeous.

  3. Clare says:

    Congratulations on the job! And on pulling off the lovely looking party. I can relate hard to the numbers thing, filling in dentist forms this morning and felt the familiar flash of doubt on my kid’s birth month/year. One day I will get them wrong and then the shame… Just back from hols and decided while there that euros and pounds were the same and didn’t bother with any mental conversion gymnastics- freeing! And also expensive. Or did I save money by overestimating? See, no idea! Numbers shmumbers.

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