I was out and about in Oxford city centre with my new friend Iris. We were sight-seeing, and meandering in and out of the star-anise-scented, Slade-playing shops with little intention. However, a strange urgency emerged in Iris’ step when we neared Debenhams, and she could see, in emboldened signage, the word ‘Mac’.

“We HAVE to go in Mac!” she implored, in tones so fretful I was convinced that my life’s purpose had just been realised and that fate was compelling me to join the hand-bagged horde swelling through the automatic doors opposite.

Unaware of Iris’ real purpose in bringing us into the store, I calmly perused the portals of eye-shadow sparkling along the walls. I was aware of the tunic sporting ladies who were bustling around dabbing and blending, and who stirred up minute powder clouds as they went. I  was aware of my paleness alongside their heavily-bronzed faces, but this was only a fleeting concern.

But a sudden shift in Iris’ behaviour caught my attention. Before I could do anything to help myself, she had locked eyes with one of the makeup artists, Aleisha, whose face, if you carefully tapped at the temples with a chisel, would probably come off in a near-perfect replica of a Bafta award.

“My friend Ros here is wondering what shade of lipstick would suit her. Can you help her?”

I saw Iris as if in a dream. Her pink-painted lips were moving, but I could detect no sound escaping from them. The assistant’s eyes latched onto her prey, and I immediately coloured in the cheeks, naked in comparison to her own fawn cemented orbs. I was a blank, slightly red, canvas, upon which was about to be hurled every shade of cerise under the sun.

Dear reader, I am not a confident person. My hand-wave resembles a one-flippered penguin attempting flight, and I can never acknowledge people with the appropriate salutation to match their age and status. Example in question – I greeted an elderly acquaintance of my mum yesterday with a prolonged “Yo”. The other day at work, I responded to everything Geoff said in a Mexican accent, reason unknown. So to have a makeup artist studying every pore and contour of my face was about as uncomfortable for me as being strung up by my ankles and repeatedly prodded with a salad fork.

The first thing Aleisha asked me was what colours I generally ‘go for’.

“I don’t tend to wear lipstick,” I replied meekly. “I haven’t got a clue what suits me.”

This first honest declaration set her completely aback, and she looked at me with new-found pity.

“Well what colours do you tend to wear, clothes-wise?”

I replied that I wore blue quite a lot. And black. She was unimpressed.

“Hmmm,” she replied, chewing a matte-coated lip. We both stood staring at the rows of lipsticks in front of us, as if the perfect shade would summon itself and shoot out like an arrow. I prayed that it would, and that it might hit me right between the unlined eyes with force enough to end my suffering. In an instant, Aleisha’s face was directly in front of mine. Our noses were touching; my own very cold from the rain, hers delicately powdered and soft as a new-born calf’s.

“Eye colour is the best indicator of what shades will suit.” Aleisha informed me. I caught a brief glimpse into her own eyes and thought that I could see all of the secrets of the cosmetic universe.

“For green eyes like yours, it’s going to have to be a brown or purple shade.” I found myself nodding sagely. “Or an orangy-red.” She added as an afterthought, and I quickly nodded my head again in full agreement.

I assented to her picking out lipsticks for me to try on. All this time, Iris stood carefully overseeing my transformation. And all this time, I later realised, another shop assistant was trying to access the drawer of lipsticks in front of my legs. She whopped me in the shins with it just as I was applying Plum Dandy to my chapped lips, causing me to smear it down the side of my chin. This error was immediately vanquished by a wet-wipe which materialised out of Aleisha’s tunic with something of a matador’s flourish. For some reason, I remained clutching this wet-wipe in my hand for the rest of the time we were in the shop, and I probably would have carried it out too if Iris hadn’t delicately removed it from my white-knuckled fist and put it in the bin on exit.

“What do you think?” Aleisha asked me, as we stood examining my many-coloured face in the mirror. I was crippled with self-consciousness.

“I think it’s a shade too light,” Iris declared.

Back at the lipstick counter, I let my finger hover over various shades I deemed appropriate, only to have my hand gently nudged onto a different course. Aleisha and Iris settled on Velvet Teddy and Party Line.

“Okay, we’ll try Velvet Teddy first,” Aleisha said, taking one of the lipsticks in her hand and turning her back. I promptly picked up the other lipstick and applied it so poorly that I could have rivalled Heath Ledger’s legacy as the Joker. Aleisha turned around again.

“Right, I’ve cleaned Velvet Teddy ready for you to try on…” She drifted off mid-sentence when she realised that I was already brandishing Party Line.

“Well I think that one looks just great. Don’t you think?”

“Oh my God that looks soooo good!” Iris squeeled, clasping her hands together and squeezing my arm. I promptly went bright red in the face, such to the effect that the vivid impact of Party Line was entirely diminished.

Purely as a means to hasten my escape, I said that I would put Party Line on my Christmas wish-list. This idea had the full and quite aggressive backing of Aleisha, who probably thought that I needed lipstick more than I needed water. Then I headed towards the exit.

Iris intercepted me and restricted any movement beyond the lip gloss counter. She had a grip of steel, developed, I am sure, from years of measured mascara application. She beckoned to Aleisha.

“She needs foundation,” Iris stated bluntly, pointing, rather unnecessarily I felt, to my naked blemished face.

“NW15.” Aleisha fired back instantly. Iris, fully versed in makeup code, responded with a sharp nod. The ‘Mission Impossible’ theme started up, and I was steered towards the foundation pumps.


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