With the new series just up on Newtflix, my crush on House of Cards character Claire Underwood continues apace. It began two years ago when my sister in-law, Fiona advised me to get my hair cut short after I complained it was getting thin and menopausal looking.
As a middle-aged woman, I was nervous about losing one of my last remaining feminine virtues. You lose so much as a woman when you hit middle age; hormones, eyesight, fashion-sense, fecundity — I won’t go on. Conceding to short hair seemed to signal a particular loss.
‘Going short in your Fifties looks like you’ve given up,’ I said. ‘Obviously, you’ve never seen Robin Wright Penn,’ she replied. The actress plays a character called Claire Underwood in House Of Cards on Netflix. ‘She’s a horrible person,’ Fiona said, ‘but she’s your age and she has great hair.’
And so, my relationship with Claire Underwood began. Despite, or perhaps because I spend my life writing fiction, if a well-written character comes on TV, they become completely real to me. I am friends with the writer Claudia Carroll, who is also an actress and used to play a rather nasty character on Fair City called Nicola. We were once in a cafe having lunch together, and after I had given her one of my bossy-boots, big sister speeches about her love life, Claudia looked me flatly and said: ‘You do realise you just spent that entire conversation calling me “Nicola”?’.
Anyway, the character of Claire Underwood, the fictional president of America’s wife, is just about the most brilliantly awful person you could possibly imagine.
She is filled with a terrifying passive aggressive rage which makes her a sexless, cold, conniving cow.
That aside, she is extremely slim and breathtakingly elegant with a wardrobe of understated dresses in muted shades of beige, navy and black — although being stick thin she can also wear cream.
She has a powerfully reserved manner that makes her sexy, but also means that any man would be utterly terrified to make the slightest suggestive hint he might actually be able to go to bed with her (including her husband).
What woman in her Fifties wouldn’t covet that dynamic? It was instant infatuation. Who cares if she’s a psychopath? I still want to be her!
After two years of persistent trying, I an proud to say that I finally have achieved Claire Underwood hair.
Not too thin, not too thick, tucked behind the ear with some subtle blonde streaks.
From the forehead up I am feminine, demure, age-appropriate and wonderfully elegant. Having achieved my glamorous heroine’s hair, however, now I want more.
In the fourth series, my evil heroine is coming into her own, marching determinedly about the White House in her kitten heels and pared back, tailored day-dresses.
She is manipulating, making demands and getting them met and I am determined to get a grip on myself, and the world around me.
In one kitchen scene, Claire says to a guest: ‘I haven’t eaten at all today.
‘I am making a salad. Won’t you join me?’ ‘A salad?’ I wanted to say. ‘After not eating all day? Really?’
Yes really. So, the next day, as I stood at the counter of Gala in Ardnaree I asked myself, ‘Would Claire Underwood consider a packet of beef flavoured Hula-Hoops and a Twix to be a reasonable mid-afternoon snack?’ The answer was a resounding ‘no’, so I put them back and got an apple.
Later, at teatime I asked, ‘Would Claire Underwood stuff her child’s leftover pasta into her gob instead of throwing it in the bin.’ Again — that would be a ‘no’. (Although, Claire doesn’t have any children. Thank goodness.) The next day, I wore tailored shift dress to the office. I can’t wear heels so had to wear my ‘good’ chunky sandals.
My legs were cold so I wore black tights with them. In the office lift I caught sight of myself and winced.
As the day progressed I became less convinced by my ambitions for elegance. By late afternoon I was in Gala buying the day’s last sausage at the hot counter. It looked lonely. It was calling to me.
That night, in a last-ditch attempt at being taken seriously, I stayed aloof all through dinner and worked on her scary, slit-eyed, glare. The boys were delighted I was so quiet, and my husband asked if I had something in my eye.
The reality is, Claire Underwood doesn’t exist. And when I try to be somebody else, neither do I. I have to find my own weight and my own style. Even if it’s chatty and plump and resolutely, unapologetically, inelegantly middle-aged. That being said, from the forehead up? I am sticking with my Underwood.