Gin, Amanda and I are all at Amanda's flat. We are hung over and none of us really feel like talking, so we're all reading. I am sitting in the basket chair with Amanda's well-thumbed Transmetropolitan trades. Gin and Amanda are sitting one each end of the vast sofa, propped up by identical purple velvet cushions. Their legs are entwined, Amanda's luminously pale skin against Gin's dark brown. Amanda is reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Gin is reading a magazine with a picture of Jennifer Aniston on the cover.
"Listen to this," says Gin. "They've made a list of 20 items every woman should have in her wardrobe. These are all the clothes you will ever need, right here in this list, to look well dressed at all times and on all occasions. Like, if you own these clothes, you'll be complete.That's it. You'll be done."
Amanda puts her book on her knee, face down.
"Tell me how to be complete, Gin," she says. "Tell me how to be well dressed at all times."
Gin flicks through the pages. "You need a classic white shirt, a pair of knee high leather boots, a trench-coat, a V-necked t-shirt..."
"This is such fucking bullshit," says Amanda. "They might as well call it 'how to conform to society's expectations of you' because God forbid you should ever wear something you haven't been told to wear."
"You need a basic black dress as well," says Gin, "and some classic black trousers."
"No, I don't," says Amanda. "I need a pink tutu skirt."
This naturally leads on to what items we would suggest as essentials if we were in charge of fashion. We come up with our own list of items we think every woman should have in her wardrobe, and write it on the back of Amanda's final demand for her council tax with an eyebrow pencil.
The list runs like this:
- Knee-length fake fur coat
- Full-length cheongsam with cap sleeves, because none of us have ever seen a woman who didn't look good in one
- Leather dog collar, with spikes at least half an inch long, because it'll give edge to any outfit
- Steel boned underbust corset (looks good under or over clothes)
- Opera-length gloves (you never know when you will need to go to the opera)
- Good quality feather boa, at least 180 grams
- Leopard print anything (leopard print is never out of style as far as we're concerned)
- A tight black lace top with sleeves (you can layer it or wear it on its own - versatile)
- Kilt (wear it with a ripped t-shirt and it's punk, wear it with a smart top and it's work)
At this point Gin and I get into a furious argument about whether to include high heels. I loathe high heels, she lives in them. She says they are empowering because they give you height and height symbolises power. I say they are the western equivalent of footbinding and you can't run away from rapists in them. Amanda sides with Gin. I point out she is over six feet tall in her bare feet and doesn’t need high heels. She tells me to fuck off. We all sulk briefly and then take a vote, which I lose.
We get bored with making lists.
"I think we should go and find the editor of this hack rag, break into her house and stuff our list up her ass," says Amanda, flipping through the magazine.
"I don't want to go to prison," I say.
Amanda looks at me darkly.
"You're already in prison," she says. "You can't walk out of the door, switch on the TV, go on the internet, without someone telling you about how you're not good enough. You need to own these 20 essential items. You need a pair of Louboutins. You need to learn to cook the perfect pancakes. You have to shave your minge or no-one will ever shag you again. Your taste in music isn't good enough, listen to this new band. These people are having a better party than you, drink Russian Standard. You need to dye your hair. You need to wear this perfume. You need to get married, then have a baby, and then you need to buy your baby a shitload of crap. You need to have matching plates. I am fucking sick of it! I'm not interested in being perfect! Perfection is death!"
"Chill out, Amanda," says Gin, sharply. There is a moment, a silent moment.
All three of us look at each other.
"It's OK," says Amanda, smiling. "I'm just having a rant, not a relapse."
One of the reasons Amanda and I are so close is that we have both, at varying points in our lives, been treated by a doctor for mental health problems. (My personal breakdown came when I was 27 and I was forced to acknowledge that I had been raped by Matthew. You see, your mind's primary goal is self preservation at all costs. If you can't cope with reality, it will keep it from you. This means that when I was 22 I would have told you that no, sir, thank you, nothing like that ever happened to me. Child sex abuse? Not ringing any bells. And I believed it, too. The day the memories started coming back was the most frightening of my life so far.)
Amanda's problems are very different to mine but our shared experience of therapists, various pills and their side-effects, and terrifying black cracks in reality is one of the things which keeps our friendship glued together.