The racecourse is packed. It’s the second of June and Ladies’ Day, the highlight of the racing calendar. The sun shines warmly down on the massed racegoers. The racing is finished for the day. For the members of the ‘Magnificent Seven,’ as they are dubbed by other, envious, employees of the Garforth Marketing Company, it has been a grand occasion. Fay wins a hundred pounds on Hornets Beauty in the three ‘o’ clock, Cara thirty when Hyperion drifts in second in the four-thirty and Tina sixteen after the odds-on favourite Salmon Trout finishes third in the same race. Gemma drinks a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee champagne and removes her shoes. Anne, emboldened by several glasses of vino blanc, thinks about Jimmy Macintosh from work and decides a direct approach would be best.
Alison knows her outfit is more glamorous than those of her friends, especially her hat, an extravagant creation containing more flowers than Kew Gardens. Eva wins nothing, doesn’t drink, is happily wed, but still finds the day enthralling. The extraordinary thing about these thirty-somethings is how similar they are in appearance, if not clothing. They are all very attractive, blonde, buxom and comely. They might have easily been clones of each other. The company chose well, for they are all excellent at their jobs.
Post-racing, six hundred pounds is on offer to the ‘Queen of Style,’ and the selected shortlist of expensively clad young women stands on a podium in the centre of the course. The Magnificent Seven, four standing on a bench thoughtfully provided by the Race Committee in the centre of the racecourse, and three on the springy turf in front of the bench, wave and cheer excitedly.
The master of ceremonies for the judging is the chief executive of the racecourse, Major Jeremy Willoughby. He’s fifty, tall, straight-backed and entirely lacking in humour. The five lady finalists are wheeled on one by one. The major asks each the same questions.
‘How old are you?’ ‘What are your hobbies?’ (He forgets this is not a beauty contest). ‘How would you describe your dress?’ ‘What make are your shoes?’ ‘What theme is represented by your hat?’ ‘Can you describe why you chose that style of handbag?’
At least the first two questions are easy for the entrants to answer: ‘Mid-twenties, travel and helping old people.’
The panel of judges includes a fashion designer, a lady sculptor and a bricklayer, for the purposes of equality between the classes. This mismatched trio selects a young woman named Bonnie Delaney. She wears a strapless, sleeveless, backless white number with black piping and a hat shaped like a huge poppadom. Perhaps the judges are hungry.
The Magnificent Seven leap up and down in ecstasy, for Bonnie Delaney is one of their own, an advertising executive with the Garforth Marketing Company.
Even as Bonnie clutches her cheque, signed with a flourish by the Major himself, it is time for the crowds to depart. They drift away slowly, but the Magnificent Seven have booked a minibus to take them home, so they are obliged to leave as quickly as possible.
‘What a day,’ says Eva, when they are all seated comfortably.
‘Isn’t it exciting about Bonnie?’ says Cara.
‘Of course, the result was rigged,’ remarks Fay. She adopts an expression of someone ‘in the know,’ lips pursed and perfectly plucked eyebrows raised a fraction. ‘What do you mean?’ asks Tina.
‘You know that the sculptor is her aunt, don’t you, and the bricklayer built her aunt’s garden wall?’ replies Fay.
‘A coincidence, surely?’ asks Anne. ‘I mean, it wouldn’t sway the judges’ decision, would it?’
‘Do you think Bonnie was the best?’ asks Fay, in response. ‘That other girl, with a Marilyn Monroe figure, blonde curls and a primrose mini-dress was streets ahead.’ ‘Come to think of it,’ remarks Alison, ‘Bonnie’s dress was pretty ordinary.’ ‘That’s nothing,’ says Cara, ‘you don’t have to work next to her.’
In unison, the other six ask what Cara means.
She mouths: ‘B.O.’ She is too genteel to speak the dreaded words. ‘Never,’ cry the girls.
‘Have you seen Bonnie’s makeup?’ asks Anne. ‘Enough face powder to plaster a decent-sized wall.’
‘Hides a few pimples,’ says Fay, who is liberal with her own maquillage. ‘I think you’re all being perfectly beastly,’ says Eva. ‘She’s one of us, after all.’ ‘She’s not one of us,’ replies Fay, ‘She comes from Dewsbury.’
‘I was born in Featherstone,’ says Eva, defiantly.
‘Ah, but you’re different,’ says Cara, ‘you don’t need breeding if you’ve got brains.’ ‘And that hat,’ says Anne.
‘What hat?’ asks Cara.
‘Bonnie’s. There’s not much taste goes into a hat like that.’
‘A giant corn flake,’ remarks Tina.
‘A poppadom, surely?’ says Cara.
All the girls except Eva giggle.
The minibus rolls on and the group fall momentarily silent.
‘Stop the bus. I’m going to be sick,’ says Gemma.
‘Typical of you,’ says Fay. ‘You always drink too much and show us up.’ The driver stops the vehicle and Gemma crawls out. They hear various retching noises then Gemma crawls shamefacedly back in.
‘Better out than in,’ observes Alison.
‘And, of course, there was the incident at the Christmas party,’ says Fay. ‘Incident?’ asks Anne.
‘Bonnie in the stationery cupboard with Brian Broome and his blow-tickler.’ ‘Enough said, soonest mended,’ says Cara. ‘We girls should stick together.’ ‘All I mean to say is, Bonnie shouldn’t have won that contest,’ says Fay. ‘And I suppose you think it should have been you, Fay, with your hundred-pound Raybans, your Santani slip-ons and your Diane Von Furstenberg dress?’ Tina sounds bitter. She, too, would like to have been worth a thousand pounds on the hoof.
‘Girls, girls,’ exclaims Alison, ‘Don’t let there be any discord. What was it Margaret Thatcher said? “Where there is discord, I will bring harmony, where there is tum-ti-tum, I will bring…tum-ti-tum.”’
‘It has been a glorious Ladies’ Day, hasn’t it?’ says Eva, and the girls, as one, agree.