Yesterday morning started off in the way all mornings should start - in fancy dress. School wanted the children to come "dressed as a character from a traditional tale or nursery rhyme such as Cinderella, Goldilocks and the three bears, Bo Peep, Jack and Jill, Robin Hood, Tom Thumb, Mother Hubbard etc." My six-year-old dressed as Captain Hook. I thought we were slightly pushing it interpreting Peter Pan as "traditional" rather than as a "classic". We were definitely pushing it with the four-year-old's tiger outfit which he said made him Shere Khan from Jungle Book - again, I think a "classic" rather than a "traditional" tale. I wanted to make him a cardboard fiddle to be "the cat and the fiddle" as in "Hey, diddle, diddle". He said: "No way. I'm Shere Khan or I'm not going." I decided Jungle Book was fine. As soon as the boys started dressing up, the baby girl wanted in. She demanded the red satin-look coat of Captain Hook. I had to bribe her with Superman's red polyester cape and a Santa Claus hat to be Red Riding Hood.
I admire her taste. Hook's red satin coat was my best dress ever. I wore it in the eighties, hence the shoulder pads. The V-neck promised glories if you would only watch it long enough while every time I took a step, the skirt split wide open to reveal taut, shiny thigh. The entire dress was held in place by two buttons at the waist. As I looked at it in the cheval mirror, I would think: "If I undo those two buttons, just those two buttons, the entire dress falls to the floor." Sometimes, I would watch myself undo the buttons to see the dress shimmy from my shoulders, feel its brief caress before it folded itself into a flimsy heap at my pedicured feet. I do not think I ever looked better in a dress but the days of taut shiny thighs and shoulder pads are long gone. There came a moment, a couple of years ago, when I thought: "The days of this dress are over and I have a boy desperate for life as a pirate." I laid it out on my bedroom floor, took up a large pair of dressmaking scissors and scythed into my vamp past. I remade it; tightened up the waist, shortened the skirt, blanket-stitched narrow sleeves from the scraps and attached them to the ex-frock with white cotton. I did not think my son knew what it was I did. I thought he watched me cut and sew because he was anxious to be a pirate king. Yesterday morning, he hauled out the dressing up trunk and dug around among the soldier's armour and green clown curls for the crumpled red coat and a battered black hat with a broken red feather. He pulled on the coat, said: "You made me this. It was your best dress." I picked up a black and wetted paintbrush to colour in his piratical moustache and beard; I took his chin in my hand and tilted his beautiful boy face to the morning light, I said: "Once upon a time."