Noth­ing fancy for me

Jan Ether­ing­ton gives a dress­ing down to dress­ing up

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

Jan Ether­ing­ton is off to the vil­lage fete, but she’s leav­ing the funny cos­tume at home

IT’S AU­GUST! School’s out and we all go barmy, with bunting and bouncy cas­tles. Yes, my vil­lage fete is on Au­gust Bank Hol­i­day Satur­day and this year’s theme is ‘We Are Sail­ing’. Great idea, for a coastal vil­lage - but then, an edict went out from the fete com­mit­tee sug­gest­ing not just stall hold­ers but vil­lagers should wear ‘nau­ti­cal’ fancy dress, to re­flect the ‘theme’.

Im­me­di­ately, I had a flash­back to my par­tic­u­larly awk­ward, pre-teen years. My stom­ach churned, my cheeks flushed scar­let. Please don’t ask me to talk about it. Oh, al­right, if you in­sist.

It was the end of term and some de­ranged teacher de­cided it would be ‘fun’ to hold a fancy dress com­pe­ti­tion. She chose a sea­side theme (hence my trau­matic déjà vu). I ringed the date in my Jackie di­ary and added ‘DO’. I told my mum, (who read my di­ary, as all mums do) that I was mak­ing a list of things To Do. It ac­tu­ally meant Day Off. I knew I could rus­tle up a con­vinc­ing stom­ach ache over break­fast and with any luck, Mum and Dad wouldn’t be any the wiser.

Un­for­tu­nately, the school sent A Note to Par­ents and my dad, who loved both a pun and a chal­lenge, came up with what he thought was a bril­liant and hi­lar­i­ous fancy dress for me. He cut out a sand­wich board, in the shape of a pas­sen­ger ship, popped it over my head, handed me my bal­let tutu and a wand, and told me I was go­ing as the Cross Chan­nel Fairy.

Had there been a Child­line, then, I would have speed­di­alled them. I re­fused point blank, un­til he of­fered me a sub­stan­tial hike in pocket money, and I won first prize.

I still hated fancy dress but I didn’t want to pass my pho­bia onto my chil­dren, so when my son said they were hav­ing a ‘Juras­sic Park’ theme day, I ran him up a di­nosaur cos­tume. It was a snug fit (I only had one green cur­tain). As he shuf­fled, gamely, to­wards the school gates, I watched proudly and ob­served to one mother, “I hope ev­ery­one’s made as much ef­fort.” “For what?” she said. “Juras­sic Park day.” “Oh, that’s to­mor­row…”

As he dis­cov­ered - “I had to be a di­nosaur all day!” - the trou­ble with fancy dress is that you have to stay in it, un­til the event is over. One of my boyfriends de­cided we would go to a party as a for­ma­tion danc­ing duo. Not to­tally em­bar­rass­ing, I de­cided. I wore a big frock, he, a black tie. But then he said: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we Selotaped our hands to­gether, so we have to do ev­ery­thing as a pair?” What could pos­si­bly go wrong? First trip to the loo, for a start. I thought, later, he was show­ing early signs of a bondage fetish but he grew up to be a para­medic, so that’s al­right, then.

Some peo­ple love fancy dress so much, they wear it to work. I re­coil from ‘re-en­ac­tors’, those folk who pre­tend to be some­one from the past. Visit many his­toric sites and you can’t fail to be ac­costed by a hoop-skirted ‘Lady’ or a me­dieval knight (prob­a­bly a mo­tor me­chanic from Es­sex) de­mand­ing: “Prithee! Who goes there?” There’s al­ways lots of ‘prithees’. Some re-en­ac­tors are delu­sional. I was once trapped in the kitchen of a stately home, by a mop-capped dou­ble for Mrs Patmore, in Down­ton Abbey, who in­sisted that she was pre­par­ing roast swan with turnips for Henry VIII.

My sis­ter has a ‘fancy dress’ wardrobe and zips up her shiny, ‘Agnetha from Abba’ jump­suit for most fam­ily par­ties. She was thrilled when her golf club din­ner had a western theme. She went as An­nie Oak­ley, with sticky-out plaits and black­ened front teeth. First on stage, for the karaoke, she slapped her thigh and launched into ‘I’m just a gal who cain’t say no…!’, and an im­promptu, gal­lop­ing dance rou­tine. Can­ter­ing off­stage, she ex­pected to be con­grat­u­lated by her hus­band, only to be told: “Tony just rolled his eyes and said he’s get­ting a taxi home.”

She’s com­ing to the fete as a mer­maid (Abba jump­suit, with a tail at­tached) and many of my fel­low vil­lagers can’t wait to strut about, as Cap­tain Hook or Billy Budd. I shall sim­ply nod to the theme, in a stripey top and bell­bot­toms. And don’t ask me to put a par­rot on my shoul­der.

Above: The Wal­ber­swick Vil­lage Fete, this year on Satur­day, Au­gust 26, from 1pm

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