Isabel Wolff
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The Trials of Tiffany Trott


      OK. Champagne - tick; flowers - tick; balloons - tick; streamers - tick; cake - tick; candles tick - Oh God, oh God, where are the candle holders? Blast - I haven't got thirty seven - I've only got, um... eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Blast. Blast. Where's that list gone? Oh here it is. Right. Where was I? Oh yes... candle-holders... Twiglets - tick; Hula Hoops - tick; Cheesy Wotsits - tick; assorted mixed nuts - tick; nosh - tick. Oh gosh. Nosh. Rather a lot of that. I mean how are we going to get through 150 prawn toasts, 200 devils on horseback, 350 cocktail sausages in honey and tarragon, 180 oak-smoked salmon appetizers and 223 spinach and cheese mini-roulades? How exactly are six people expected to eat all that? Plus the ninety-five chocolate éclairs? Just six of us. Half a dozen. Or precisely twelve per cent of the original invitation list. Bit of a disappointment really, and I'd had such high hopes for this evening. I'd had the sitting-room decorated specially. Terribly pretty Osborne and Little wallpaper and a hand-gilded chandelier. But then I felt like pushing the boat out a bit this year. Going the whole hog. After all, I've got something to celebrate - a Very Serious Relationship with a really nice bloke. Alex. My boyfriend. My chap. So nice. Lovely in fact. Really, really lovely. And there are still quite a few people who haven't met him yet and I really wanted to have this party for him as much as for me. And now it's going to be a bit of a damp squib. But that's the really annoying thing about entertaining isn't it? The way people cancel at the last minute, when you've already done all the shopping. Unfortunately I've had rather a lot of cancellations - 44 actually - which means my big bash for fifty is now going to be rather a discreet little affair. This means it is most unlikely to make the society pages of the Highbury and Islington Express. Blast. But then all my friends are having crises with their babysitters, or their nannies have resigned or their offspring are off-colour or their husbands are unhappy. It's such a bore when the majority of one's pals are married and family pressures take precedence over fun. For example, Angus and Alison cancelled this morning because Jack's got 'botty trouble' - did she really have to be quite so graphic about it?
      I'm terribly worried - it's gone all sort of greeny-yellowy-orangey,' she said.
      'Thank you for sharing that with me,' I replied, crisply. Actually, I didn't say that at all, I simply said, 'Poor little thing, what a terrible shame. Anyway, thanks for letting me know. Then at lunchtime Jane and Peter blew me out because their au pair's bogged off with the boy next door, and even Lizzie - my best and oldest friend - even Lizzie can't come.
      'Sorry, darling,' she said when she called me yesterday morning. I'm really, really sorry, but I'd totally forgotten it's half-term, and I want to take the girls away.'
      'Oh, well, never mind, I said, philosophically. 'Where are you going?
      Bird watching in Botswana. The Okavango's divine at this time of year.
      Crikey - some half-term treat, I thought - beats a day out at the zoo.
      'I've just managed to pick up a last minute package with Cox and Kings, she said, audibly drawing on a Marlborough. 'We're flying to Gabarone tonight.'
      Is Martin going with you? I enquired.
      'Don't be silly Tiff, she said with a loud snort. 'He's working.' Of course. Silly me. Poor Martin. And then Rachel phoned last night to say she couldn't face the party because she's got terrible morning sickness ('but my party's in the evening,' (I pointed out), and two hours later Daisy rang to say she's got funny pains in her lower abdomen and daren't come out because it's probably the baby arriving early. Then this morning Robert phoned to say his mother-in-law's ill, so they can't come, and then Felicity rang to say that Thomas is teething and won't stop blubbing and so that's it - now we are six. Six singles as it happens. Sally, Kit, Catherine, Frances, Emma, me and, of course, Alex. My boyfriend. My chap. I may not have a husband but at least I've got a bloke. Which is more than can be said for my other single women friends. Poor things. Must be so depressing for them. Being single. At our age. Dreadful. And incomprehensible - after all, they're so eligible. And so attractive. Especially Sally. She's really gorgeous. And she's loaded. But even Sally finds it hard to meet decent blokes. But luckily for me I've got Alex. Phew. And it's serious. In fact I've been going out with him for quite a long time now - eight months, three weeks and five days actually. In fact, well, put it this way - I've just taken out a subscription to Brides and Setting up Home.

      I'd like to say it was an unforgettable party. And in some ways it was. It started quite promisingly. Sally arrived first, at 7.30, which amazed me as she works 29 hours a day in the City, and OK I know she earns a fortune - I mean her half-yearly bonus is probably twice my annual income - but even so, she's so generous with it - she'd bought me a Hermès scarf. Wow! You don't spot many of those around here. That should bring the area up a bit. I can see the headline in the local paper now - 'Hermès Scarf Spotted in Unfashionable End of Islington. House Prices Hit New High.'
      'It was duty free,' she said with a grin. 'I got thirty per cent off it at Kennedy Airport. Oh Tiffany you've decorated in here - it looks lovely!' She removed her pale pink cashmere cardigan revealing slender, lightly tanned arms.
      'God I've had an awful day,' she said, slumping into the sofa. 'The dollar dropped ten cents in half an hour this afternoon. It was panic stations. Sheer bloody hell.'
      I always find hard to visualise Sally at work, yelling into her phone in a testosterone-swamped City dealing-room. 'Sell! Sell! Sell!' at the top of her voice. That's what she does, not every day, but quite often, and it's hard to imagine because she's as delicate and fragile-looking as a porcelain doll. Unlike Frances, who arrived next. Now Frances is by contrast rather, well, solid. Handsome I'd suppose you'd say. Impressive, distinguished-looking, like a Sheraton sideboard. She's alarmingly bright too - she got a double first in law at Oxford. I don't think this endears her much to men.
      'Happy Birthday Tiffany!' she exclaimed in her booming, basso profundo voice. It's an amazing voice, deep and reedy, like a bassoon. She was looking smart in an Episode linen suit, dark of course, for court, her auburn hair cut short and sharp around her fine-boned face. Anyway, she'd brought me this lovely book, Face Facts - the Everywoman Guide to Plastic Surgery.
      'That's really thoughtful of you Frances', I said. 'I'm terribly interested in all that, as you know.'
      'Yes, that's why I've given it to you,' she said. 'In order to put you off. The photos are absolutely beastly.'
      And then Catherine arrived, bearing a huge bunch of peonies, her fingers still stained with paint, a faint aroma of turpentine clinging to her long red hair. Catherine restores pictures, painstakingly swabbing at them with cotton buds and tiny brushes, eliminating the grime and dust of decades. Showing them in their true colours, I suppose you'd say.
      'Sorry I haven't changed Tiff,' she said. 'Hope we're not too formal.'
      'Well no, it's just the six of us,' I said. 'Everyone else has cried off.'
      'Oh good,' she said, with a glance at the dining room table, 'all the more for us! Gosh those sausages look delicious!'
      Catherine is very boyish. She usually wears jeans, and her lightly freckled face is always shining and scrubbed. And I have never, ever, seen her wear make up. Not even mascara. Not even lip gloss. Whereas I - well, the thing I seem to use most of all these days is concealer. Industrial amounts of it actually, which I carefully apply with a garden trowel, filling in the fissures beneath my eyes.
      Then at eight Emma turned up with a large box of Godiva chocolates. 'School was a nightmare she said. I've had the most desperate lot of delinquents all day. TGIF, as they say - Happy Birthday Tiffany - my God, what a lot of food - are you expecting an army?'
      'Er no, just a few regulars actually.'
      Last to arrive was Kit. 'Happy Birthday Tiffany! he said, wrapping me in an enormous hug and planting a noisy kiss on my left cheek. Thank God for Kit. I often think I should forget about Alex - where was Alex I wondered - and concentrate on Kit. My mother thinks I should marry him. My father thinks I should marry him. Lizzie thinks I should marry him. Everyone thinks I should marry him. Why didn't I marry him? I suppose because the moment when it might have happened came and went years ago. But he's still my other half - my creative other half that is. I do the words, and he does the pictures. He's my art director, you see. That's how we met - on the Camay account at Gurgle Gargle and Peggoty in 1986. But now he's my knight chevalier, my best male pal and, quite often, my colleague too. I love working with Kit. He's freelance, like me, and we still work together, sometimes, though what he really wants is to direct TV commercials.
      'Did you get the Kiddimint job?' he asked, as we sat sipping champagne in my tiny garden.
      'Yes I did,' I said, picking a few late lilies of the valley to put on the dining room table. 'Blow, Coward Spank want the script in three weeks. Haven't a clue what I'm going to do with it. Never done toothpaste before let alone kids' toothpaste. They want a cartoon. I might do something with Macavity, from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.'
      'You mean something like "Use Kiddimint twice a day kids, and Macavity won't be there!"'
      'Yes. Something along those lines. That sort of thing. If they're prepared to pay the royalties. What are you working on?'
      He grinned. 'I'm going to be - assistant director on a hairspray commercial!'
      'Kit, that's fantastic.'
      'I know. He could hardly conceal his joy. 'Cinema and TV. Big budget. It should look great. Head Start hairspray. For Yellowspanner. We're shooting it in Pinewood, sci-fi style. We've cast this Claudia Schiffer look-alike,' he continued. 'She's rather scrumptious, though of course she'll have to wear a wig. But she's terribly pretty. Gorgeous in fact. But I'm not telling Portia that,' he added anxiously. 'I wouldn't do anything to make her feel insecure.'
      Pity, I thought. It would do no harm at all for Portia - commonly known as 'Porsche' - to feel less than 100% confident in Kit. She walks all over him in her Manolo Blahnik stilettos, leaving a trail of bleeding holes. I don't know why he bothers. Actually, I do. After all, he's told me often enough. He bothers because he loves her and has done ever since she tottered onto the set of that vodka commercial eighteen months ago. Portia, you see, is a model, but she's hardly a model girlfriend. In fact, to be quite honest, she treats Kit like dirt. But he adores her. Isn't that funny? He worships her. And the more indifferent she appears, the more intense his interest becomes. But then I'm the same. I mean, I'm always incredibly nice to men - and what do they do? Treat me disgustingly. I don't know why. It's not as though I don't make an effort. I listen to them drone on for hours about their problems at work, and then I cook them supper. If there's a show they want to see, I'll get tickets for it, often queuing for returns. I buy them birthday cards to send their mothers, and I pick up their prescriptions. Sometimes, I sew the buttons back onto their coats, and collect their dry cleaning. And what do they do for me? Not ring when they said they would. Then not even remember that they forgot to ring. And sometimes - and this is really annoying - they don't turn up at all. All the ones I've really liked have treated me like that. Isn't that strange? All except Alex, that is. Alex has always been so sweet. So considerate. So thoughtful. For example, he got me a really good discount on my Nina Campbell curtains and he gave me some excellent free advice about paint effects in my kitchen.
      'Look, no-one rag rolls any more Tiffany, he said. And sponging is such, well, vieux chapeau. I suggest you go for a very simply colourwash in a pale colour, say duck egg green with the barest hint of teal. That's what I've just done for Lady Garsington - I could get some mixed for you too.' He also showed me how to accessorise my bathroom properly - with antique stoneware bottles and waffle-weave bath towels and lovely pebble doorknobs - no more naff ceramic fish and bobbly bathmats. Oh no. I've really learnt a lot from him. I mean, what he doesn't know about cracked glazes... but where was Alex I wondered again. He's usually as reliable as a Rolex. And then I found myself wondering what he'd got me for my birthday - probably a year's subscription to the World of Interiors, or something tasteful in the soft furnishings line. He gave me a pair of wonderful velvet cushions in chrysanthemum yellow for Christmas - typically thoughtful. But that's Alex all over - really, really kind and thoughtful although well... now I don't want to sound disloyal or anything, but there is just one thing I'd criticise about him, and that is that he doesn't play tennis - and I love it. In fact he's not very sporty full stop. Also, I'm not too mad on his buttoned-right-up-to-the-neck Winceyette pyjamas or his habit of playing Scrabble in bed. But then, well, you've can't have everything. It's all a compromise isn't it? That's what it's all about. Taking the wider view. And it was so nice to meet someone kind and nice and thoughtful after my miserable time with Phillip. Phil. Commonly known as Phil Anderer. No, Alex was such a refreshing change after all that.
      Suddenly Kit stood up and went and leant against the French windows. 'I'm sorry I didn't bring Portia with me', he said. A slight frown furrowed his brow. 'You see, she's got one of her headaches. Didn't feel up to it. But she said she didn't mind if I came on my own. Didn't want to spoil my fun. She's very good like that. Not at all possessive. I offered to come round and look after,' he said with a rueful smile, 'but she said she didn't need me. Said she could do without me.' What a surprise, I thought. Inside the house I could hear champagne corks popping and the squeak of party blowers.
      'Wahay - let's get sloshed,' I heard Frances say.
      'Yeah - let's,' said Emma. 'Let's get really plastered. I mean it's Friday. We work hard. And this is a party. God these canapés are good. Pass me a mini-pizza would you. I had the most horrible lot of fifth formers today - thick as pig-shit.'
      Sally, please would you put your laptop away,' said Frances. 'Relax. The weekend starts here.
      'I'm sorry,' I heard Sally say pleadingly. 'I just need to have a quick look at Wall Street to see how the pound closed against the dollar - won't be a sec.'
      'We're doing the Napoleonic wars at the moment,' Emma continued. 'I've just been supervising their GCSE project and one particularly dim boy managed to get a nuclear submarine into the battle of Waterloo!'
      'That's unbelievable,' said Frances.
      'Quite,' Emma replied.
      I looked at Kit. His black curly hair was looking a little long, his face looked tired and strained. He was fiddling thoughtfully with the stem of his champagne flute. Then he stood up, sniffed the lilac, and suddenly said, 'I don't know what to do, Tiff'
      'About what?' I said, though of course I knew. We'd had this conversation many times before.
      'About Portia,' he said, with a sigh.
      'Same problem?' I asked.
      He nodded, mutely. 'She says she needs more time,' he explained with a shrug. 'That she's just not ready for it. Of course I don't pressure her,' he added. 'I'm just hoping she'll change her mind. But I'd really love to marry her. I'd love to settle down and have a family. This single life's a drag.'
      'Hear hear!' said Catherine, stepping through the French windows. 'But you're a rare bird Kit - a man who actively wants to make a commitment - my God I'd marry you tomorrow!'
      'Would you really?' he said.
      'Yes. If you asked me. Why don't you ask me?' she added, suddenly. 'I'm sure we'd get on.'
      'Or me Kit,' said Sally, following behind. 'I'd snap you up in a flash - you'd better watch out Portia - I'm after your man!' She giggled winsomely, but then an expression of real regret passed across her face. 'I wish all men were like you Kit, ready to bend the knee, then girls like us wouldn't be crying into our hot chocolate every night.'
      'Speak for yourself,' said Frances. 'I'm not crying - I'm out clubbing. Much more satisfactory. And the music drowns out the loud tick-tock of my biological clock.'
      'I can't hear mine,' said Emma. 'it's digital.'
      'Mine sounds like Big Ben,' said Frances. 'Except that there's no-one to wind it up. But do you know,' she continued, peeling a quail's egg, 'I really don't care; because finally, after 38 years, I've realised that the vast majority of men simply aren't worth having. Anyway,' she added, 'who needs one? I'd rather go rollerblading in the park on a Saturday morning than go to Sainsbury's with some totally useless bloke.'
      'I don't think you really mean that,' I said. 'It's because of what you do - I mean sorting out other peoples' ghastly divorces all day would put anyone off marriage.'
      'It's not just that,' said Frances. 'Though after 15 years of establishing who threw the bread knife at who in 1979 you certainly do get a little jaundiced. It's simply that most men are boring. Except you, of course Kit, she added quickly.'
      'Thanks,' he said, peevishly.
      'I mean why should I go to all the trouble of pinning down some bloke,' Frances was still going on, 'only for him to bore me to death!'
      'Or run off with someone else,' added Emma with sudden feeling. 'Just like my father did.'
      'There just aren't any really nice, interesting, decent, suitable, trustworthy men,' Frances concluded, comprehensively. 'Yes, there are, I thought to myself smugly. And I've got one.
      'I'm just facing facts,' she said, with a resigned air. 'I've weighed up the evidence. And the evidence is not in our favour. So no Bland Dates for me, she said firmly. I, for one, have decided to give wedded bliss a miss.'
      'Better single, than badly accompanied,' added Emma.
      'Quite!' said Catherine.
      'Three million single women can't be wrong,' said Frances, who always has some handy statistic at the ready. 'Anyway, why bother when over 40% of marriages end in divorce?'
      'And why do they end in divorce?' asked Emma with sudden vehemence. 'Because it's usually the man's fault. That's why. It was certainly my father's fault,' she added bitterly. 'He just fancied someone else. Plain and simple. And she was plain and simple. But she was young. My mother never got over it,' she added, bitterly. 'So I don't intend to risk it myself.'
      'Men get far more out of marriage than women,' said Frances. 'Sixty per cent married women admitted in a recent survey that if they could have their time again, they would not have married their husbands.'
      'I'm really not enjoying this conversation much,' said Kit with an exasperated sigh. 'I mean it's so difficult for men these days. Women have made us all feel so... redundant.'
      'You are redundant,' said Frances with benign ferocity. 'What can a man give me that I don't already have? I've got a house, a car, a good job, two holidays a year - long-haul - a wardrobe full of designer clothes and a mantelpiece that's white with invitations. What on earth could a man add to that?'
      'Grief!' said Emma, feelingly.
      'Ironing,' said Catherine
      'Boredom,' said Frances.
      'Acute emotional stress,' said Emma.
      'Arsenal,' said Catherine.
      'Betrayal,' said Emma.
      'A baby?' said Sally.
      'Oh don't be so old-fashioned,' said Frances. 'You don't need a man for that. How old are you now?'
      'Well if you're that desperate to sprog, just pop down to the sperm bank or have a one-night stand.'
      'Alternatively, you could arrange an intimate encounter with a turkey baster and a jam jar,' added Emma with one of her explosive laughs. 'I hear they're very low maintenance and you wouldn't need to buy any sexy lingerie!'
      'Or, if you're prepared to wait a few more years, you can dispense with the sperm altogether and get yourself cloned,' said Frances. 'That day is not far off - remember Dolly the sheep?'
      'I'd love to have a baby,' said Sally. 'I really would. My parents would love me to have one too - they go on about it a bit actually. But I'd never have one on my own, she added purposefully. Cloned, turkey-basted or otherwise.'
      'Why not?' said Frances. 'There's no stigma these days. I'd do it myself only I'm far too lazy. All that getting up in the middle of the night would kill me at my age.'
      'For God's sake - you're only thirty-six, not sixty-three!' said Catherine.
      'What, precisely, are your objections to single motherhood, Sal?' Frances asked.
      'Well, I just don't think it's fair on the child,' she said. 'And then some poor man always ends up having to pay for it, even if he never gets to see it and it wasn't even his decision to have it.'
      'Then the silly bugger should have been more careful said Emma triumphantly.
      'Well, yes. But, speaking personally - this is just my point of view OK - I think it's unfair and I know that, well, it's something that I would never, ever Sally said. Suddenly a high warble began to emanate from her Gucci handbag. 'Sorry', she said, getting out her mobile phone. 'This'll be my update on the US Treasury Long Bond. It's been a bit wobbly lately. Won't be a tick.' She stepped into the dining room, where we could see her pacing slowly back and forth while she talked, with evident agitation, to a colleague in New York.
      'Lucky old Tiffany,' said Catherine, snapping a breadstick in half. 'She doesn't have to worry about all this sort of thing.'
      'No she doesn't,' said, Emma shivering slightly in the cooling air. 'She's got a man. It's all sewn up, and she's heading for a wedding.' She cupped her hand to her ear. 'I can hear the peal of bells already. So when's he going to pop the question Tiff?'
      'Oh gosh, well, I mean I don't...' Pity the sun had gone in.
      'Yes. When?' said Frances, with another gulp of champagne. 'And can I be your maid of dishonour?'
      'Well, ha ha ha!... Erm - I don't know... er...' I glanced at the sky. A thick bank of pewter-coloured cloud had begun to build up. Where had that come from?
      'Are we all warm enough?' I asked. 'And, er, who wants another parmesan and red pepper tartlet?' In fact, I was desperately trying to change the subject because, you see, I really didn't want to rub it in - I mean, the fact that I had a chap, and they didn't. Because, to be quite honest, I had been sitting there, throughout that discussion, quietly thanking God for Alex. Even if he has got slopey shoulders and a rather girlish giggle which, to be perfectly honest, does make my heart sink at times. But, still, I thought, at least I don't have to contemplate self-insemination or agonise about my ovaries because a) I've got a chap and b) I know for a fact that he likes kids. He really, really likes them. Loves them. I mean he's awfully good with his niece and nephew - spoils them to bits - and I'm sure he'd be a brilliant father. He wouldn't mind changing nappies. In fact he'd probably enjoy it. And OK, so I know he's not perfect - in fact there are one or two other things about him that I'm really not crazy about, including his goatee beard, his outlandish taste in socks, and his thin, unmuscular thighs. But then no-one's perfect. It's all about compromise isn't it? That's what enlightened and mature people do. And Alex is really charming. Absolutely sweet in fact. And certainly not the unfaithful type. Unlike Phil. In fact, when I first met Alex, he was such a gentleman, it took him three months just to hold my hand. Which was rather nice. In a way. Anyway, I was quite sure that Alex was about to pop the question. I could tell by the vaguely nervous way in which he'd been looking at me recently. And eight months is quite long enough isn't it? At our age? I mean, he's 38. I'm now 37. So what's the point of hanging around? Why not just, well, crack on with it? It's not as though he's got three ex wives and five children to support - he's totally unencumbered - another very big point in his favour, incidentally.
      So whilst the others continued arguing about the changing roles of men and women and the declining popularity of marriage, I did some mental shopping for the wedding which would be in, what... September? Lovely month. Or if that was too soon, December. I love the idea of a winter wedding. Dead romantic. We could all sing 'The Holly and the Ivy' by candlelight, and I could have tinsel put on the altar, and wear a captivating fur-trimmed train. Now where should I get the dress? Chelsea Design Studio? Catherine Walker? Terribly expensive, and in any case if Dad was spending that kind of money, I think Alex prefers Anthony Price. I know Alex would definitely want the flowers to come from Moyses Stevens. He's very fussy about his floral arrangements. How many guests? A couple of hundred. Well, 217 to be exact - I've already drawn up the list. And what about the honeymoon? Probably somewhere arty, like Florence. Alex would really like that. Or maybe Seville. Or Bruges. Somewhere with loads of art galleries and at least seventeen cathedrals. And...
      Tiffany, where is Alex? Catherine asked. 'It's 9.15.'
      'Er, I don't know,' I said. 'Maybe he's stuck at work...'
      'What's he working on?' Emma enquired.
      'Well, he's doing up this big house in Pimlico, it's a total wreck. Brown hessian on the walls. Formica kitchen. Exploding cauliflower carpets. He said he was going to be there all day, but... well, he should be here by now.'
      'Maybe he's ill,' said Frances, helpfully.
      'God, I hope not,' I said. I went inside and anxiously called his mobile phone 'Thank you for calling Vodaphone 0936 112331' intoned a robotic female voice. 'Please leave your message after the tone.' Damn.
      'Um, Alex, hi, um, it's me. Tiffany,' I said. 'And I'm just wondering where you are. Um, hope you're OK. I'm a bit worried about you actually. But perhaps you're on your way. I hope so, because it's 9.15 now and everyone's been here for quite a while, and to be honest it's getting a little out of hand - ha ha ha! In fact there's quite a heated debate going on about gender issues and that sort of thing and I think we need another man to balance it up a bit. So see you soon - I hope. Um. Tiffany.'
      'Gosh it's getting dark isn't it?' I heard Emma say. 'Ooh was that a spot of rain?'
      'Women today have appalling attitudes towards men, 'Kit was saying, as everyone strolled inside, 'and then you all wonder why we run a mile? It's totally unfair. You refuse to compromise. You don't want us unless we're perfect.'
      'No we don't', they all shrieked, as they flopped onto the chairs and sofas in the sitting room. 'Yes, but are you perfect?' asked Kit. 'Ask yourselves that.'
      'Yes we are' they all shouted, 'we're totally fantastic!! Hadn't you noticed?'
      'Er, yes,' said Kit, gallantly.
      'Well I'd happily compromise,' said Sally. 'But I hardly ever get to meet men, unsuitable or otherwise.'
      'But you work with thousands of men in the City,' said Catherine enviously.
      'Yes, but they never approach female colleagues because they're terrified of being done for sexual harassment. In any case, they don't regard us as real women - to them we're just men in skirts. And then when I do meet a nice ordinary guy from outside the City, let's say a doctor or a vet,' she continued, 'they tend to run a mile because I'm so...' she blushed. 'I'm so...'
      Loaded!' shrieked Frances and Emma in unison. Sally rolled her eyes.
      'Oh come on, Sally!' persisted Emma. 'Your luxury apartment in Chelsea Harbour, your colossal, six-figure salary - you can't hide it from us, you know. A lot of men would find that totally emasculating.'
      'I was going to say because I'm so busy, actually,' said Sally. 'Options traders work horrible hours - that's the price we pay. That's the compromise I've made. But the older I get, the harder it is. I'm at my desk by 7.30 every day, she said. And I don't leave it for 12 hours. I don't even have lunch, a woman comes round with a basket of sandwiches. And even when I'm not at work I have to watch the markets. So don't envy me my cash - I think I'd rather have a life.'
      As I lit the candles on my cake I mentally gave thanks for my freelance status. I work hard, but at least I can do my own hours and I don't have to worry about exchange rates and closing prices at birthday parties - nor do I earn the kind of money which some men might find threatening.
      Then, suddenly, I heard someone say, 'Tiffany... Tiffany! Phone!' Oh good, I thought as I lit the last candle, it must be Alex. And it was.
      'Happy Birthday Tiffany,' he said, quietly.
      'Thanks!' I replied. I could hear the pattering of heavy rain on the path, and, from the sitting room the strains of 'Happy Birthday'. Alex, I said. I've been so worried - where are you?' Happy Birthday to you...'
      'Well, actually, to be honest, I just couldn't face it,' he said. 'Happy Birthday to you
      'In fact Tiffany...' Happy Birthday Dear Tiffanneeeee...
      '...there's something I've really got to tell you.'
      Happy Birthday to you!!!'

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