‘What a fabulous tan, where did you get it? said one of my fellow lunch guests as we entered the women’s powder room of a Mayfair hotel.
I get this a lot. I want to talk about where I have wintered, or summered, or springed, because although I am poor I am lucky enough to mix with people who are not, and I love people who are not. I will defend them to the death.
The poorer I get, the more capitalist I become. I can trace my attraction to Trump directly along the lines of my diminishing bank account and mounting credit card bills.
I think it is to do with the fact that when one encounters poverty it is so unutterably awful that one can bear it only by taking refuge in the knowledge that somewhere else there are people who are comfortable, some fabulously so. If I can’t have money, please God let someone else have it.
Socialism, the idea that everyone is going to be like me, is so abhorrent that I am just about made sick to my stomach by it.
Oh, but you have horses, people say to me, so you must be rich. Yes, that’s right. I have horses. I get up every day at 7 a.m. and drive to a nearby field I rent where I tend to my horses before returning home to wrestle with my wreck of a house. And in the evening I drive back to the field and see to the horses again. If that makes me rich, so be it. I am rich in the sense that, despite everything, I love my life.
But in terms of money, not so much. The horses get shoes when my shoes are falling to bits. The horses have dental appointments while my dentist has tired of sending me text reminders. The horses get their backs checked by a chiropractor while I cannot remember the last time I had a massage.
I say all that because if I don’t I will get horrible Facebook messages telling me what a rich bitch I really must be, together with retorts from fellow columnists over the coming months about how I am secretly upper middle class.
Anyway, I had been having lunch in Mayfair, which is lovely. I am lucky to get invited to lunches in Mayfair, but I always feel like a dreadful imposter. My dining companions are invariably talking about where they have been or where they are about to go and questions such as ‘Where will you summer?’ always put me in mind of myself as a little bird, flapping about in the sky wondering where to fly away to.
In reality, I will go up the road to the field twice a day. As I say, I like it. I’m happy with my lot. How to explain it in polite company, though? Because no matter what I write here, when I venture outside and people meet me they still ask me where I have been, as if there is some whole other life I live outside these pages, where I go to places apart from the field to do my horses. And there really, really isn’t.
I write about everything. I leave nothing out. When I say I went to France for a week a year ago, I mean it. I am not keeping some other nice trips from you.
The question sat in the air. ‘What a fabulous tan, where did you get it?’
I wanted to be honest. I could have said I had been wintering in the Bahamas and springing in Marbella, but I said: ‘In a field with my horses in Surrey, doing fencing and stuff. It’s an all-year tan. In winter, I get tanned by the wind. It’s why they call people weather-beaten.’
My companion was superbly polite and told me this was nice. But I have a feeling it’s not all that nice, generally speaking. It’s nice for me because I’m weird and I like that sort of thing.
When I got home, the keeper popped in to see me and to mend a few things I have managed to break in the past few days like the outside-tap hosepipe attachment and the side-gate latch. I told him about the lunch and he agreed that I do look quite a colour.
I stared in the mirror at my burnt brown skin, almost as dark as I remember my Italian grandfather being.
I stared again and it seemed as though the shade really was the most unlikely hue even for a woman who was part southern Italian. Instinctively, I licked a finger and streaked it across my face. I looked at the keeper. He raised his eyebrows.
‘You should have told the truth. It’s mostly dirt.’
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