Authors: Emma Tennant
Confessions of a Sugar Mummy
To the friend who reminded me of the saying âDying is easy. Comedy is hard'.
You might ask what a woman in her sixties wantsâa question Freud forgot to ask. What do women want? he wrote, but it's possible, like most people, he didn't see women in their sixties as women at all, so it wasn't worth trying to find out.
I certainly have had Sugar Mummy proclivities for a long time. (And I know it's a common affliction, although most Mummies keep quiet about it.) Seen an old woman forcing stale bread into a reluctant duck in the park?âshe's a thwarted Sugar Mummy, too repressed to swap the duck for a Younger Man, too nervous of rejection to turn the soggy bread into gold and go shopping at Browns with him for an entire new wardrobe (for him, of
course). It's a nerve-wracking business, being old-enough-to-be-his-mother. At least Freud touched on that with the Oedipus complex. It was just that he never bothered to try and look at the situation from the point of view of the poor innocent incest-provider's mother, Jocasta. Did she get what she wanted from the stranger who showed up one day and then turned out to be her son? Did she at least have a good time for a while?
I'll tell you how it happened for me. Compared to the tragic queen of myth, I'm a straightforward case: Alain is not my son, he's no relation. Apart from waitersââWould your son like the bill, Madam?' and drivers of expensive cars hired to take us round London in search of property to buy (don't ask)âwho expected me to wait in the car (too old to get in and out quickly) while Alain skipped up vertiginous steps, I was really pretty free of obnoxious comments.
But then, why should there be any? The joke is, I'm in my sixties and Alain is his forties. He's twenty years younger, but maddeningly he looks young (unless he's been drinking)âbut older women aren't in a strong enough position to remark on that, because getting someone to the doctor is the primrose path to actual motherhood.
Alain has dark hairâif there's any grey I'm blind to itâand he's French/Polish/Jewish, which appears to me to be an irresistible combination: there's the French, which to a woman of my generation means embarrassing memories of being seventeen in Paris and wearing dresses in the 1950s that were all whalebone and artificial flowers; there's the Polish, which is somehow Roman Polanski and
Knife in the Water
and the promise of sex; and there's the Jewish, which is better than Freud at understanding exactly what you want and even helping you to get it. The fact that Alain doesn't live up to any of these expectations is one of the main problems faced, I'm pretty certain, by every Sugar Mummy.
How can someone with all these romantic origins failâexcept perhaps at being French (but actually he does fail there because, as I discovered, he isn't really French at all, just had a French stepmother and after the age of seven went to live with his father's brother in London). The sex and the deep psychoanalytical grip on what I'm like look as if they're frankly not going to happen â¦
So how did I get hooked on Alain? Am I likely to survive the orgies of spending, the guilt and the sickening feeling he doesn't want half the things I buy or do for him anyway?
It happened throughâdon't laughâinterior decoration. I do a bit of doing up people's houses and then I sell them onâand it was in Bandol in the south of France that I met Alainâand, yes, his wife Claire. They live in the kind of fabulous place you see in the Sunday supplements. A
and outbuildings all set round a courtyard, vines spreading away in front, pine trees, view of the sea, the lot. Alain and Claire make terracotta pots and tiles, and I went there last year to find something for a flat I was doing up in Nice.
The best way to summarise the lunch is to set out a list of rules, what to do and not do when you know you're about to become a Sugar Mummy:
If you feel an instant attraction (as I did that day in the south of France) don't sit staring at your preyâI can't think of a better wordâall the way through the meal his wife provides. Look interested only in the pots and tilesâat my age it's all you're allowed to be interested in anyway. (Or maybe the latest P D James crime novel: old ladies are supposed to like crime.)
try to make an assignation. It will be met with a blank stare.
On no account rush to the loo and apply Touche Eclat or whatever the ruinously expensive
foundation is called, the one that claims to remove your wrinkles and fill in the vertical lines down to your mouth, the result of a fifty-year nicotine habit. You will look strangely different, it's true, but certainly not for the better, as they claim.
Ditto with bright lipstick. The aforementioned lines just love racing down from your nose to meet a streak of scarlet that's already smudged on wrinkled skin.
Don't stare at the pot belly which has mysteriously recently appeared. Wear a loose-fitting garmentâyes, it's depressing, but the âbump that stills desire' really does do just that.
So there you are, Alain the handsome, Claire the lovely, hard-working wife (she makes all the pots, Alain makes the odd tile) and it's only as we're picking at pears in a wonderful red wine syrup that I begin to understand that this perfect couple are deep in the shit (as those less refined than Alain and Claire would say).
They are stony broke. Claire's half-brother is the owner of the fabulous
and he's remarrying next month. He wants Alain and Claire out of the place.
They'll have to move and they've nowhere to go. Pots and tiles, however tasteful, won't pay the rent.
I didn't know then why I was let in on all this, but maybe I do now. âI will show you my new designs when I come to London next week', Alain says. He has a great line in the self-deprecating shrug and smile, and I literally felt my heart turn over.
âYes, I'm looking for some tiles', I ad lib. âA big house in â¦ in Holland Park â¦'
âSo I'll come and see you', Alain says.
That was how I crossed the line from someone wearing old shoes (how
I have not bought new sandals before I came out here?) to a hobbling wreck in totally unaffordable Manolos.
But I had to do it. I had become a Sugar Mummy.
What is it about this part of London? It has a trendy name, âMaida Hill', which makes it sound like Maida Vale on speed. It's described as being âclose to the bars and restaurants of Notting Hill', but, however many Hills get thrown at it, the grid of dreary grey streets stays just the same year after year: the Land Time Forgot.
I live on the ground and basement floors of a house someone tried to gentrify about thirty years ago. Like the rest of the neighbourhood, with its betting shops, unappealing pubs and occasional corner shops selling identical frozen foods and redtops, it has an apologetic, âtired' look (the estate agents' favourite word when viewing property
round here). Abandon hope all ye who live in a bedsit in this region, the place seems to sayâand the funny thing is that, despite the Moroccan carpets, the Balinese chandeliers and the multicoloured cord from Crucial Trading, my flat still looks like a bedsit and I've got to look temporary as well.
But now is the time of change. My face is going to go upâI don't care how much it costsâand just as I'm deciding this the prices go up round here as well.
I've never had money (if I make it, it's blown while the bank is still putting it in my account) and I'm amazed when the letters and cards and other junk mail start coming through my letterbox. Suddenly my flat is worth a fortuneâand there are boards all the way down the street as well, offering the previously despised houses and maisonettes and broom cupboards for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds. I mean, I can take a minicab down to Notting Hill and choose the trattoria of my dreamsâon paper at least I'm worth half a million pounds.
Of course all this leads to major fantasising about my future with Alain. I run over in my head the obvious drawbacks to a love affair. Why would a man who already has an older wifeâalthough she
doesn't look it, the lovely Claire is ten years older than he isâleave her for an even older woman? Answer: why indeed?
Then there's worry over the logistics of my wonderful coming life as a rich woman. If this dump has gone up overnight like a magic mushroom, then where am Iâand, I add to myself a shade coyly, perhaps Alainâgoing to live when this is sold for a staggering sum? Won't everywhere be the same? (But no, comes another reassuring answer: all at once this has become a âprime area' close to Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant and all the world's bankers. Maida Hill will soon be Notting itself into zillion-pound propertiesâhooray!)
It doesn't take me long to realise there's a real undercurrent of anxiety in my jubilation. And it takes me all morning and a trip to the still-depressing local Patel (I can see the coming deli with the prosciutto and the mango ice-cream and tables on the pavement with people drinking a latte or kir, but it sure ain't happened yet) to work out what's gnawing at my vitals.
It's this: what will Alain want to do with my money? Start a tile business? God I hope not: the picture of bank-busting lorries carrying terracotta tiles across Europe plus the rents in boutiques in
Kensington where the bloody things will lie unsold for months on end simply brings me out in a sweat. Yet he can't do nothing â¦ or can he? Didn't I fall for his lazy charm a whole week ago in Bandol? Couldn't he just â¦ stay at home in bed with me?
My reverie was broken by a phone call from Harvey Nicks. I'd called the Beauty Department earlier and had a fascinating chat with Georgina there, who told me firmly that surgery was so yesterday and she had the creams and âfillers' for the bomb crater that looks back at me in the mirror every day.
âMaida Hill?' Georgina says and she sounds impressedâthe first time anyone has reacted in this way to where I live. âI can come over with a selection, madam, I'll be with you by twelve.'
So it is that I admitted Georgina to my newly desirable abode, home of a happy Sugar Mummy with plenty of hope and smiles. âMy mother swears by this cream for under the eyes', says the guileless Georgina, and I have to hope she doesn't see my smile turn to a scowl, which of course leads to a deepening of those lines around the mouth and a sag in the jaw that resembles a collapsing sponge. âI'll try it', I say, gallant to the last. Georgina may think I'm no more than somebody's mother, but she can't
know the Sugar bit of my coming life.