In my head, All That Jazz is playing on a loop. I think it’s because I watched Halston on Netflix and I’m slightly obsessed with the actress playing Liza Minelli. I had to look up Liza Minelli, just to make sure she was not dead. (I’m at the age when I can’t remember who is still with us and who has gone to the great Studio 54 in the sky.) I’d forgotten how dramatic-looking she was. There are pictures and pictures of her with Halston; she is wearing wild, sweeping dresses and fake eyelashes that make her look like a happy-sad pierrot. He always seemed to be in black tie. I love the thought of them going out to dinner in all those glad rags, before dancing the night away.
It’s a little weird, watching programmes like that at my age. When I was young, all I wanted was city lights and high glamour and the wail of sirens and hard pavements and anything might happen. I never had a Studio 54, but there was dancing all night. What Halston lived is not a million miles away; I saw the very edges of that world, from the sidelines. I was seduced by the eccentricity and the beauty of it. Even by the tragedy of it.
Now, I’m fifty-four and the shoes I most use are gumboots. Even my old Converse sneakers are literally gathering dust. I can’t remember the last time I wore a high heel. (Some time in the noughties, perhaps. Or the zeros, as I sometimes called them.) I look at the fierce, hooting, lovely New York on the screen and feel passionately glad that I have fields and hills and no traffic outside my window. I look at Halston’s ridiculous apartment and think auntish thoughts like, ‘Oh, that would be so depressing if someone didn’t hoover it every day.’
Actually, it’s the kind of apartment that always would have depressed me – all modern and black and hardly any decoration except for the orchids. I like things. I like books and pictures and curious, reminiscent objects. (I picked up a tiny, delicate bottle the other day in violet glass, and I looked at it and remembered the precise moment I bought it in a bazaar in Cairo. We’d been told to haggle and I was useless at it, I felt far too British and shy. Besides, the prices were absurdly low to start with. But my friend Lulu went at it with almost pantomime relish, and at one point the stall holder looked at me and said, ‘You are very lucky to have this friend. She is funny.’ I laughed and laughed. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am very lucky to have this friend.’)
I think some people might look back on those wild, uptown-downtown days with nostalgia, and the programme does a beautiful job of showing what it was like before the party was over, but everything seems simpler with the misty haze of hindsight. I remember my friend Teddy whom I thought would live forever because he was the kind of person that you might read about in a book, and AIDS took him and got him and did not care. They capture some of that, just a little. Maybe the people who loved Halston thought that. Maybe they still remember him like I remember Ted.
There was something beautiful and damned about that time, something Scott Fitzgerald would have recognised. There’s not so much beauty now, although there’s still plenty of damned. I think of all those stories in the naked city, and how I used to want to read them all, and now I don’t, not so much. I have a safe harbour, in these quiet green fields. Is that a function of age? I love my mares and my lurchers and my gumboots and my quiet things. I’m glad I don’t have to dance all night any more. My party ended in such a gentle way; the orchestra just started playing a different song.
I have no idea what I’m trying to say, but I wanted to write this down all the same. I loved watching Halston and Liza and it was funny and sad and it reminded me of things and it made me realise the huge, stupid luck that brought me to quietness. There’s no more All That Jazz; there’s the sound of the oystercatchers and the low whicker of thoroughbreds and the high hoot of owls in the night. Stupid, crazy luck. I think: how did I get here and what did I do to deserve it? And the dogs yawn, because they are bored, and I stop typing so that I can take them out.