Absolutely Fabulous, the long-awaited feature film, is finally out in London this week. (Canadians will have to wait until July 22.)
This major cultural event for sybaritic fashion-hounds everywhere also comes just in time for the international season of gay pride, in which marvellous, drunken, gender-bending renditions of Patsy and Edina will take to the streets of cities across globe – man-size Louboutins staggering under the weight of diamante water pistols and magnums of Veuve.
I was never, oddly enough, a huge fan of the series, which peaked in the mid-to-late 1990s just as Sex and the City began to heat up. I say "oddly" because to look at my unofficial résumé, you'd think I'd be the ideal viewer: worked for years as a fashion journalist, spent most of my 20s and 30s traipsing around to cocktail parties, lived intermittently in London, hung out with lots of gay men and the kind of women who prefer the company of gay men, drank too much, smoked too much, ate too much, dieted too much, travelled too much, worked too much and went to bed with a lot of men I probably shouldn't have. You know, the regular twentysomething urban trip before hipsters appeared and started making artisanal cheeses and wildflower ink for fun.
But rewatching some of the classic early episodes this week (the one in which they go to Morocco and the one in which Patsy tricks Eddie into drinking her own pee, particularly stand out), I suddenly understood why it must have once seemed so fresh and biting against the cable network backdrop of glossy ensemble cast sitcoms like Friends. Ab Fab, after all, was one of the first great shows about the life-affirming madness – and enduring sanity – of prolonged female friendship.
When I look back now – aged 40, and more than halfway through my second pregnancy – I think the fuel that carried me through the best part of my young adulthood was not sex or work or romance but the energy of girlfriends.
And it's a rich, free and renewable energy because almost without exception I am still good friends with the women with whom I shared all that hilarity, melodrama and pain. I talk to them, scattered around the globe, every day. And while the stuff we spent our time agonizing about has long passed and ceased to matter – men, work and men, in that order – our passion for each other's company has never abated.
And let's be honest, most of my best girlfriends are a little mad – if not totally off the rails, they are the sort of women who almost without exception have done one or all of the following: 1) had a passionate and totally ill-advised affair with someone 20 years outside their age bracket, 2) stolen a car, 3) quit a stable job with a pension plan impulsively by sweeping out of a meeting in a cloud of swear words, 4) had a full 1980s-style "nervous breakdown," complete with Valium prescription, 5) drunk their own pee on the advice of their yoga instructor, just to see if it cured their hangover (it didn't and it won't – you're welcome).
These days, given the mind-numbingly sober, slow moving, fetus-incubating sanity of my life, I am living vicariously through my mad girlfriends as never before. Take my girlfriend Dee who lives in New York. Having recently vacated a bad marriage to a bad man she is on a tear extraordinaire and we regularly have text exchanges that go something like this.
Dee: Last night was INSANE.
Me: Do tell!
After which follows an account of a night/morning of such startling pansexual hedonism and devil-may-care amorality it would make Lindsay Lohan blush. Now Dee is not a bad girl, nor is she a mad girl, nor is she actually even a girl – she's pushing 40 for heaven's sake – but this is just the way she needs to be for the time being.
And I, as her very conventionally married and pregnant girlfriend, fully support it. Because it was only a few scant years ago that Dee was the one in the happy, seemingly stable marriage and I was the one texting her tales of my broken relationship from the dance floor in Ibiza while she punched the air in "You go girl!" support.
In the new Ab Fab movie there is a funny moment when Edina complains to Patsy she is "now officially fatter sideways than I am front on," and Patsy says, "Darling, let me be your mirror." Edina smiles, then asks Patsy how she looks. "FABULOUS," she intones in that husky drawl, then proceeds to walk straight into a wall.
This moment, ludicrous as it is, sums up everything I feel about my maddest, baddest, bestest girlfriends: Cock-eyed and half-demented as we are, we are still each other's best mirrors. We are the force that's left – cigs, wine and loving words at the ready – when all else around us has failed.