E Jane Dickson: 'I'm not finding the sensation of half a bottle of Nivea dripping down my cleavage very relaxing'

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Clara is giving me a makeover. "Just lie back, madam," she instructs in soothing, Sybil Fawlty tones. "You'll find this very relaxing."

Clara is giving me a makeover. "Just lie back, madam," she instructs in soothing, Sybil Fawlty tones. "You'll find this very relaxing."

Madam, whose usual beauty routine involves a quick swipe with a Rug Rats anti-bacterial wipe, has opted for the deep-cleansing facial and full make-up. So far, she's not finding the sensation of half a bottle of Nivea dripping off her chin and down her cleavage notably relaxing, but the next stage, a slow, sticky mummification involving lengths of toilet roll wound about the head, is pleasant enough once you get into it.

"Even witches look like princesses after this treatment," says Clara, encouragingly. "They come to me, you know, for special occasions. Has madam got a special occasion coming up?"

"Yes, indeed," I reply. "Tomorrow I'll be taking part in the prestigious Walk to School, followed by a glamorous lunchtime event at Safeway. So I'd like to look my best."

"Mu-um," says Clara, dropping her professional manner and giving me a sharp jab in the jugular with lotion-slick fingers, "stop trying to be funny."

"Now," she goes on, with one-last-chance emphasis, "Will you be attending any balls or that kind of thing?"

I rack my brains for a sufficiently glittering engagement. "Well, I'm going to Glyndebourne on Wednesday," I offer.

"Ah, Glynde-bore!" trills Clara/Sybil "I adore Glynde-bore. Er, what is it exactly?"

I talk up the event as best I can, but Clara is unimpressed. "So you won't be wearing a sticky-out dress and dancing with a ta-ra-rah?"

I confide my fears that I am a little too sticky-out myself for the full meringue frock, but dancing with a ta-ra-rah sounds just my kind of thing. Who knows? If the champagne goes to my head, I may even throw in a boom-di-ay for good measure. And I try a few bars of the chorus, just to get in practice.

"Oh for god's sake," snaps Clara. " A ta-ra-rah's not a song, it's a little crown thing you wear on your head. Not," she goes on witheringly, "that you've even got one." Ever the professional, however, she moves on to the make-up stage of the treatment. Some 15 minutes later, she whisks the towel from my shoulders and hands me a mirror. "There!" she says, "What do you think?"

I look like Edna Everage the morning after a particularly rough one-night stand. Conor, who, up to now has been maintaining a manly lack of interest in the beauty parlour business, can contain himself no longer.

"Wow, Mum," he gasps. "You really do look heaps better."

Two days later, I am sitting in the audience at Pelléas et Mélisande, noting with quiet satisfaction that quite a few of my fellow opera-goers have followed Madame Sybil's style tips. Debussy's melodies fail to wash away the insistent "ta-ra-rah boom-di-ay" rythym in my head and I almost laugh out loud, but the memory of Clara's fierce little face recalls me to a sense of occasion. My girl will make a lady of me yet.

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