Yesterday I came home to the Historical House with my shopping in a cloth book bag. I don't think I was too dowdy a figure: I was wearing a black brocade frock coat, a black brocade kneelength skirt, electric blue tights and a green shirt. I thought of this at once when, approaching the gate, I saw a foursome of young women in short shorts crowding through it. They were laughing and noisy and looked fun, so I smiled as I waited them to step aside and make way for me.
They didn't. They lurched towards me, and I had to duck around them as they made their way, four-abreast, into the woods. This and something else I couldn't put my finger on changed my first impression of them as Nice Young Things. The short shorts, which had merely startled, now seemed a mark in their disfavour.
I went in through the gate and saw my husband in front of the House with a plastic bag and an annoyed expression, picking things up.
"Darling," I said, when I was in hailing distance, "have you been having a party?"
He had not been having a party. He had come back from his office to find the four girls having a drinks party on the 300 year old raised porch. There was broken glass on the staircase; somehow an empty glass vodka bottle had been broken. There were other empty bottles on the green apron of the lawn.
Here come the girls...!
Four female friends, walking four-abreast. Who did they remind me of? But Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda never dressed in uniform short shorts. They wore interesting, often classy, clothing they had obviously chosen with care. They were also older and, although they certainly drank cocktails, they never lurched around drunkenly before seven in the evening. They never blocked the way of an ordinary, less glamorous, woman on her way home to make supper.
But what have they engendered? It is a lot of fun, being in a group of female friends. It makes a woman feel powerful and, strangely, more free. So does vodka. I love few things better than getting together with three or four of my BFFs and chattering over a drink, even if that's only coffee. Three or four BFFs with two or three cocktails--that would be amazing. But there is a limit. Classy women remember to keep their voices down--not when they are decrying injustice--but when they are having fun. They don't sit on the porches of other people's houses--even when other people means merely a trust or "The People"--and smash bottles against the steps.
The world is not a stage set. It is not a telly advert in which young women, strong and free, stride out of the chemist's shop with bags of shampoo to a Sugababes soundtrack. The world is a community. Walkmans, CD players and now mobile phones and facebook have greatly blinded us to this fact, but we are noticed by those around us, and they judge us on our behaviour. Our lack of modesty--our virtual solipsism-- annoys and inconveniences others. It tears at the social fabric. It cheapens society. It cheapens us.