Has my generation been hoodwinked? Is our judgment fatally flawed by too many episodes of Sex and the City and too many romcoms? Has it been skewed irrevocably by too many articles in Vogue such as the recent puff piece on Claudia Schiffer’s country retreat, which contains the classic lines: ‘In the kitchen, micro-greens grow in a container’ and the fact that her husband, film producer Matthew Vaughn, ‘might take a helicopter to the set and come back, so he can sleep in his own house’? Do we now have such ridiculous expectations of how our life should be, how the men in it should behave, that nothing is ever good enough? Or are we simply expecting the best because we have set higher standards for ourselves? Is it self-delusion, or self-care?
So let’s examine this conundrum by looking at what happened on my birthday. I can’t decide whether it was lovely or simply not good enough. I think we need a people’s vote. I’m either a very lucky woman, or terribly disregarded and spurned.
In the preceding days, David had kept sending me gifts. Two vintage books on the Beatles (one of which, Shout!, he had borrowed in 1983 and never returned), followed by a curious gift, one which meant I had to get out of my oily bath to answer the door to the delivery man. ‘This had better be worth it,’ I growled at him and he backed away, frightened.
I opened the envelope, and it was a bookmark, made by David Linley. And a note: ‘Happy birthday, my darling Liz. X’
OK, so these were merely Holding Presents. Let’s not get carried away with the hanging just yet.
For my actual Special Day, I’d booked a raft of treatments at a luxury hotel near Harrogate. Hair dye, pedicure, waxing (not an extreme bikini, though, as in the North it’s regarded to be as evil and invasive as fracking) and a massage, followed by an hour in the hot tub on the roof. For the first time since the internet was invented, I had posted an ‘out of office’ notice on my email. I suggested to David, who was back home in London, that he join me for dinner at 7pm. ‘That sounds like a perfect plan.’
It was lovely, in the conservatory, waiting for a man. It certainly beat last year, when I’d had a drink in my local hotel The Fleece with the puppies on my own, and two readers had come up to me and exclaimed, to the rest of the room: ‘It’s Liz Jones. And is this Mini? Why are you having a drink on your own? Isn’t it your 60th birthday???!!!!’
The waitress brought me a free bottle of champagne. David arrived, after a drive that took six hours (one bonus point; made an effort), and he looked handsome in jeans and a jacket (two more points). He pecked me on the cheek, poured the champagne. I’d half expected flowers, but I suppose they would have wilted on the journey, and he must have read how I hate it when men bring flowers on a romantic date: it’s really naff and things always get knocked over. But something small to unwrap would have been nice. Perhaps he was waiting until we got home that night. (One point pending.)
We chatted. I had vegan curry made with oyster mushrooms. He had ice cream for pudding (minus one point. Can you imagine Claudia Schiffer allowing Matthew Vaughn to eat ice cream?). He drove us back to my cottage, where the dogs went mad. He brought in his holdall. I waited. And I waited. No gift. Not even a bottle of bubbly. OK, perhaps the gift is still in his car, and he will give it to me tomorrow. Which is slightly passive aggressive. Asking for trouble. Teasing me. But let’s not jump to conclusions quite yet.
I went to bed, wondering, well, perhaps the fact he bought dinner (£70; I gave the tip in cash) is present enough? Am I being unreasonable? But I couldn’t help but be a little put out. When he kept waking me up, I snapped, ‘Can you please stop moving around?’
‘OK,’ he said. ‘I’ll go and sleep in the spare room.’
Which he did. Now, you see my mum would never have said that to my dad. And she would have been content with a box of Milk Tray. So should I be happy, or should I be very upset? I honestly have no idea…
Anyway, it’s now my Birthday Boxing Day. Will he suggest we do anything? Will he cook? All will be revealed…