Parties and the art of giving
Last night I put on my glad rags to totter down to the community centre where my friend Allison had organised a ladies’ night to raise money for Breast Cancer Care. Fittingly, the night was supporting two causes, not only raising money for research into cancer but also signalling the revival of our lovely old community centre as an evening venue – although buzzing during the day, it has been sorely neglected after dark.
The hall, which earlier in the day had been filled with soft play mats and 50 shades of Duplo, was transformed into a prom scene from Glee – pink balloons hovered over white tablecloths on which were twinkling tea lights and silver confetti in the shape of the Breast Cancer Care ribbons. Meanwhile, Malcolm, our local neighbourhood pool attendant-come DJ, was belting out Bananarama – magic. Allison’s best friend, Jackie, had rustled up lasagne for 100 and everyone else had rallied with sandwiches, salad and quiche plus pilau rice donated from the local Indian restaurant. The table was laden with enough food for three weddings, never mind a funeral.
And funerals were the last thing on any of our minds – we were there to eat, drink and be merry – thanks to a 7ft drag queen with the legs of a chorus girl and a tongue so sharp she made Joan Rivers sound like Betty Crocker. Allison had to stand on a chair to make eye contact with her. She picked on us all, even Margaret who is in her 70s, as demure as Audrey Hepburn and just as beautifully dressed. Thankfully Margaret, having been a seamstress for Hardy Amies in her day, remained unfazed by anyone in sequins and stilettos.
But despite the laughter and the dancing, we all knew why we were there and that was because of Allison. Not just because she’s a whizz at organising a party but because we might so easily have lost her. Three years ago, when she was barely 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer – the tumour was so small it was almost missed, and would have been until a few years ago. For almost two years she went through chemo and radiotherapy, her trademark blonde bob replaced by scarves for months at a time. Her hair came back – first as a pixie cut, then in inexplicable curls and finally, as it was on Saturday night, restored to its former glory as if it had never been troubled by a sea breeze, never mind pesky chemo.
And yes, there were some empty seats. My friend Anne would have loved to have come with her sister Lynn, who would have adored it all, but Lynn died of this same horrible disease, which came and went and came back again. In between she had seven blissful trouble-free years where she worked and played and lived it up in her beloved Scotland and Brighton. Whenever we met she never once let me think she was feeling anything other than on top of the world. She was her perfectly groomed, wicked-humoured self, coordinated, accessorised and made up, complete with discreet false eyelashes when necessary. One of the last times I saw her was at our local beauty salon where Katy, the teenage beautician, was tending her toes. Lynn’s heels were sore from chemo but she was determined not to let a thing like that stand in the way of her routine. Katy was there last Saturday and made a beeline for Anne, taking her by the hand and leading her onto the dance floor, her pink tutu and even pinker wig brooking no argument.
This morning, as I was walking my own Katy to school with Doughnut, I bumped into another neighbour I haven’t seen for years – Eleanor, now fully recovered from her own breast cancer. She waved and dashed off with nothing but the wonderfully mundane rush to work to worry about. As she passed, a text came in from Allison saying, “We raised £2,281.91!” Not enough to cure cancer, but enough to pay for more tests to keep a few more of us out of its clutches.