It is an age-old truth that men and woman react in different ways. So hand both the sexes a midlife crisis and the bloke will endeavour to consort with his daughter’s friends, buy a penis-shrivelling sports car and dye his hair an attractive shade of plum. While a woman… well, what do women do? Take up bikram? Get into tarot? Buy tit-increasing sports cars? Alternatively, they could have a liquid lunch and guff champagne breath all over the TopShop assistant who pierces their top right ear.
Or at least that’s what I did. Just before Christmas last year. Jennifer Aniston had had a rebel ear piercing and so had my old mate, Tatler Ed, Kate Reardon. In fact we discussed it once, over some stiff cocktails, when I told her a funky piercing was indicative of a woman in crisis. A tell. And she wagged her finger (a blue sky shellac at the time) and made me promise never to put that down on paper. “Otherwise everyone will know just by looking at us that we are two mad bitches six Black Cohoshes away from the menopause.”
But I am a disloyal cow and clearly not to be trusted.
So here I am four months later, a fully paid-up member of the groovy piercings club, rocking a bolt through my cartilage, feeling edgy and frankly a little bit cool. The mums at the school gate were impressed. They liked the diamond. “It’s just like a mini face lift,” one said, inspecting it more closely while attempting to frown. “It adds a bit of sparkle to your eye.” I could feel my cachet rising by the second.
Away from the school gate, my rebellion was not readily cheered. Most of my friends failed to notice – we have clearly reached the age where it’s not good manners to inspect each other too closely anymore. And my husband? Well, he was obviously not impressed which, I have to admit, only spurred me on a little more. Who wants the good opinion of someone they’ve been married to for over 125 years?
But it was this week, at my mother’s house in France when I suddenly felt a little silly.
“You’ve got a piercing,” remarked my stepfather, apropos of nothing, while passing the salad.
“Yes,” replied my mother, her gimlet eyes narrowing. “I thought it best not to mention that.”
Had I got a penis, it would have shrivelled more quickly than getting into a Porsche. That night, after a few wines, I decided to take it out. I pulled and tugged and failed and gave up and went to sleep, passed out like a starfish.
The next day it all kicked off. As soon as I awoke my ear began to swell, it throbbed, it went red and it BALLOONED. By the time I had eaten all the children’s ham sandwiches on the Bergerac – Southampton flight I was deaf, save for the pulsating heartbeat pounding in my ear.
Driving back to London, I began to sweat; my mouth went dry. By the time I walked through the front door, my right ear was purple and a dark maroon stripe had developed down the side of my neck. The pain was excruciating. I tried to pull the thing off again, tugging and yanking. I even attempted to hack it off with pliers. My heart was palpitating. I had a temperature; this was a proper infection that was spreading with every minute. I was about to be one of fashion’s real victims!
Walking into casualty with a purple ear due to a midlife crisis ear piercing has to rank up there - in terms of embarrassment - with farting on my boyfriend’s lap when I was 16. There’s no coming back.
They were very kind at the hospital. They didn’t keep me waiting because the infection was so rapacious, they were worried I might have to be put on an IV antibiotic drip and kept in overnight. It took a two pairs of forceps to remove the earring and I was given a dose of penicillin stronger than an escort with the clap. I now have to go back to the GP to see if my ear is healing properly, just in case it withers and crumples and turns into a cauliflower ear. Yes. You did just read that correctly. A sodding cauliflower ear! At my age!
And the moral of this story? If you feel yourself being blown a bit off course, drawn to TopShop after a languid lunch - stop! Buy the pink plastic miniskirt to the left of you. Don’t whatever you do copy that Jennifer Aniston. She knows nothing! And that Rachel haircut was always crap anyway.