We're having a wedding in May. It's my first. "Help me. I have no idea what to wear," I said when I finally cornered a saleswoman. It was one of those posh shops where women of my age and shabby tournure suddenly become invisible.
"Wedding," she said with a perceptible flicker of interest. "What's your role precisely . . . madame?"
"Mother of the groom . . ."
"Oh well," she said turning away, "just try not to clash with the mother of the bride."
Wedding: now there's a word to conjure with. Whisper "wedding" to a maItre d'hotel, for instance, and that bottle of plonk, normally a fiver, magically doubles its price to a tenner. Wedding: two little syllables that give an ordinary posy the market value of solid gold. Delighted as I am by the imminence of this union, I myself never felt the need to marry anyone. Wedding: when I was young, I preferred a good funeral, where nobody wagged a finger at me and said: "You'll be next!"
A decade or two ago I was returning to London from a chat show in Manchester, where I had been sharing airspace as a fellow-panellist with Auberon Waugh. The redoubtable chap himself was seated with a minder from his publisher in front of me on the train; he had not seen me enter and, to be honest, he probably did not expect to be overheard by one such as I - plebeian agony aunt - in his first-class compartment. So he spoke to his companion in a careless, carrying voice: "I find an unexpected peril of this chat show business is that one finds oneself truly liking the improbable person one has been summoned to chat with . . ."
His puzzling words resounded in entirety between my ears the other day, when Carole Caplin and I parted in front of the ITV studio where we had met for the first time an hour earlier to chat together on camera. In the warmth of our spontaneous, sisterly farewell embrace, I took account at last of the smug, treacherous nature of preconceptions; and all these years later, I suddenly understood precisely what Bron meant.
A friend invited me last week to attend her call to the Bar. My friend is a young woman of extraordinary determination and energy, who has been working 12 hours a day for six years to support herself through her study of the law. Furthermore, she endorses idealistic social and political views with a passion that many ageing liberals and lefties have despaired of seeing again in younger generations, who are ostensibly mad for fashion, celebrity and money. Is it because I am American-born and an expatriate that I'm such a sucker for a good ceremony? The call to the Bar is low-key and restrained, replete with costumes and ritual and, except for the lack of a sackbut or two, immensely satisfying. The moment we friends and relatives of successful candidates were summoned and entered the splendid Middle Temple Hall, which was completed in the early 1570s, I could tell we were in for a good time.
Escutcheons of past notables cover the walls, and at one end of the room is a screen of glorious craftsmanship, reassembled scrap by scrap after its demolition in the Blitz. When the Master mentioned in his opening address that Twelfth Night had been performed for the first time in that very hall where we sat, I swear I caught a wink from the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I on the wall behind him.
After each new barrister had signed the roll at a table known as the Cup Board - made from the forehatch cover from Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind - we all took dinner at our "reserved mess". Later, walking home alone to Soho, I chose the quiet back streets, where London's history stirs in its sleep.
"What do you call a lawyer called to the Bar at the Middle Temple?" I asked myself.
"Off to a great start!" came the reply.
I loathe the notion of introducing apartheid into local classrooms and in effect into schoolyards, too, where it foments prejudice and cruelty. Apartheid must compound any problem; it is never a solution, for it is always a failure of humanity and originality. When I was a child we used to drive to Florida for holidays; south of the Mason-Dixon Line, public utilities were labelled: "white" or "coloured". Once, I sneakily sipped from a "coloured" water-cooler. I will never forget my disappointment that the water was insipid and neither pink nor cherry-flavoured.