Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue.... The shiniest colours of the beauty-counter rainbow had been an unattainable pot of gold for all of my 34 years. Nature or nurture had intervened and although it seems unfair to always point the finger of blame at my mother, it is an undeniable fact that in my infancy my nails were kept in check by her teeth so the joys of nail polish were denied me.
Who'd want to draw attention to these: they were my shame, bitten to the quick and beyond, hideous, ragged and frequently bleeding culminations to short and less-than-elegant fingers. Through various phases of overwhelming teenage vanity, I did all I could to grow them. Stop 'n' Gro became an acquired and cherished taste to one who had been imbibing rare liqueurs produced by monks since birth. But it wasn't the urge to bite that fed the habit; it was the fact that as soon as I'd got anywhere with the wretched things, they'd break and then that would be that. Not now, though. They have been transformed by unsurpassed nail technology, and the endeavours of a woman who, though she doesn't realise it for I would rather die than scare her off, means more to me than almost anyone else in the world.
For eight months now, CC at Super Nail of Los Angeles has taken control of my hands, applied acrylic tips, fibre-glass wraps, filed, buffed, resined, encouraged, painted these glorious creations the word applies, for while they are now mine, real, they owe nothing to nature that now make typing near impossible, but, oh, that satisfying click-clicking noise as they miss the keys.
The experience of having the manicure (cure, you see) is so much part of the pleasure and it is no small commitment to travel right across London in busy lunchtime traffic, and back again, to keep an appointment that really cannot be justified as work-related. I have long wondered at the blind devotion of those who willingly return to the same hairdresser, amazed at such loyalty when I find the trimming and pulling and checking and neatening almost too tiresome to give time to. But this is different: I have discovered the beauty of loyalty it is CC or no-one and it's so reassuring to discover that it is not a fear of being touched that has provoked my hair-stylist antipathy. For what could be more intimate, more touchy-feely than having your hands held and pampered for an hour and a half?
Now my fully formed claws have seized these delights and along with them the childish glee of rummaging through a new box of polishes, looking for that perfect colour to create jewels that will amaze by their number, the joy of polishing up long unworn rings, the unappealing but now necessary quirk of using my hands and fingers and nails to emphasise speech. And they're a pleasure to be shared: women obsess on the colours, and envy my pride when I tell them how new this is; and men... well, men seem to like them. The products used at Supernail are made by a company called Backscratchers in a less-than-subtle nod to the invisible half of their target audience.
The polishes delight off the nail, too. A multicoloured array of little pots, with their shiny gold, silver and black tops, dominates the dressing table, leaving your scent bottles standing. There's the instantly recognisable classic style of a Chanel or a YSL bottle, for instance, and the unashamedly girlie hearts-and-flowers packaging of Anna Sui's range. The ultimate, though, has to be Estee Lauder's oversized ice-cubes encasing a nugget of colour an effect that's particularly bewitching in the molten-pewter shade called Ice Storm. Mac's matt frosted glass bottles are a joy to handle, although perhaps not very practical as the colour becomes slightly too mysterious to be true: the spectacular electric-blue swirls of Cyber suggest an effect rather like a photograph from the Hubble, so the pinky-purple reality of the polish is a disappointing fall to earth. And of course this is about colour: from the luminous, sweetie-shop shades to the grown-up array of perfect blood reds. It's that endless choice that's the best you can have it all.
So while the rest of my beauty routine becomes more and more time-consuming, and thus more and more depressing, as age makes its presence felt under my eyes, on my skin, on my lips, I can take comfort that my nails, with their camouflage of fibre-glass and polish, are forever young, stuck in that ideal non-deteriorating state that we are all conditioned to crave.
Super Nail of Los Angeles
10 Crawford Street, London W1
Telephone: 020 7723 1163