London is bathed in glorious sunshine. Both young and old are in the parks and the streets with tentative smiles revelling in the apparent beginnings of spring. The chairs are being put outside the cafes once again and the daffodils are nodding their heads. The winter wardrobes are being packed away and the flippy floppy skirts are out in force.
Some have dared to bare some pasty skin to the air; pale legs which haven’t seen the light of day for six months are now on display. Woollen hats and scarves have been tossed aside and replaced by sunglasses perched atop pink noses. It may be sunny, but by Jove it’s still chilly! We have emerged from our hibernation full of cautious optimism for the start of a new season.
Girls sit outside bars drinking white wine spritzers rather than huddling next to the fire with a warmed heavy red. Boys drink … well, boys drink beer. (Yes, my tongue is firmly wedged in my cheek.)
I used to be a winter person, but now summer is my happy place. So with anticipation (and a little hope) of further warm sunshine and the frightening prospect for both myself and the general public of having to peel off the layers, I am having words with my pasty white body and am mentally preparing it for a day when a teensy trip to the beauticians is imminent.
“A leg wax?” my scrawny limbs scream in response!
“It’ll be gentle,” I say soothingly.
“Lying bitch!” they retort.
Indeed I am, but standards must prevail and I certainly don’t want my husband mistaking me for an orangutan again.
In the meantime, I shall clutch my hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and make another chicken pie to stock up the freezer. One can never be too sure when the weather will change, and frankly I cannot be having another argument with my legs again … they’re rebelling, on strike and refusing to move from the fireplace. Shame.
I am stuck between two stations in a dark tunnel and cannot therefore leave the train.
My fellow passengers initially started expressing their irritation by merely sucking (deliberately audibly) the breath between their teeth. Then, the sighs of annoyance became louder as if to alert everyone within earshot of their displeasure. Now conversations are being started between complete strangers and it must be said, that this is most unusual behaviour for the Brits. Each person however is relating why their own potential tardiness is of greater importance than the next person’s. We all want mutual sympathy, hand-stroking and a way of expressing our frustration … which is not being helped by the dreary voice on the loudspeaker telling us he knows even less than we do. Marvellous.
The lady opposite me who brought her entire makeup bag and had given herself a makeover is now repeating the exercise. Lipstick first – most peculiar. Now she’s plucking her eyebrows which frankly are sparse enough … I hope this won’t encourage any others to trim their nasal hair or cut their toenails.
Sadly the little boy who previously occupied my seat got off at the last station with both his parents. He entertained us all by telling us, complete strangers, with a deadpan and utterly sincere face about his holiday to the swimming pool yesterday and how he’d like to go again; but this time just with daddy because Daddy is more fun. This resulted in snorts of laughter around the carriage. Daddy smirked. Mummy didn’t look best pleased.
The man beside me has rather obviously cut himself shaving three times presumably due to a blunt razor blade. He has little pieces of loo paper attached to his chin, but one is rather dangling down, hanging on by a single whisker which he clearly missed .. I’d love to pull it off. Perhaps the lady with the tweezers could oblige.
I love people watching. Others watch me but I care not. A little observation is no bad thing, too much is deemed creepy and anything beyond that is obviously stalking! So I think I’d better get out my book and amuse myself that way …
If only I could just tweak that teensy bit of dangling loo paper off his chin though …
Are you a keen people watcher? What do you think people see when they look at you? (Don’t worry, I know that others see a batty, scatty, ditzy thing with a dodgy haircut when they look at me … if that makes you feel any better.)
I am about as British as they come. I am currently reading Kate Fox’s book, ‘Watching the English’ and as far as I can see, am the epitome of all things good, bad and plainly odd about the English. A few examples:
. I share the same rather dry, self deprecating and ironical humour of my fellow Brits.
. I cringe at the ‘too gushing’, ‘overfamiliar’ or ‘over enthusiastic’ preferring the British understatement. (Eg when suffering bronchial pneumonia, to describe it as ‘a bit of a bother’)
. I too endure the awkwardness of replying “how do you do?” when asked the same question even though it actually isn’t a question to be answered but simply to be repeated.
. And, after twenty painful minutes of goodbyes in various forms with promises to meet up soon with someone whom we know our husband loathes, we sigh a momentous sigh of relief and swear that we’ll never do it again … but we always do, after all, wouldn’t it be rude not to?
And I haven’t even reached the chapter on queuing which I am sure is imminent.
These are in truth, slightly strange foibles and yet having had them soaked into us by way of osmosis since birth, they are our “normal”. Nevertheless I am sure that to non-Brits they are also rather peculiar, even slightly irritating and without doubt, confusing.
And as someone who is soon to be moving to the States, I do wonder if my fellow Americans from across the pond have any interesting quirks that I should be aware of I should loathe to make a faux pas or twenty on the first day. To date I have found everyone remarkably jolly and inclusive, but perhaps they were just being polite to this strange English woman …
In order to err on the side of caution, I have therefore made some preliminary enquiries and so far have established the following:
Apparently we Brits work shorter hours, have more holiday and get up later in the mornings. However, supposedly we get more exercise and eat less pizza but drink far more tea.
Also, I understand that pants are not referring to ones underwear, but instead, to trousers.
A purse is a handbag, not a … purse.
And if you are pissed, you’re not sublimely cream-crackered or a teensy bit tipsy, you’re actually rather cross.
So with all this information to hand, I’ve told my husband to prepare himself for a long working day, to put the bowler hat into storage, and should I ever get pissed, to remind me to not try to hide my purse in my pants … it clearly wouldn’t work.
Just to clarify however …
a) I don’t get ‘pissed’ in case anyone is wanting to throw that at me (!) and
b) I don’t recall ever having tried to hide my purse down my knickers … my bra yes, but that was when I was travelling through some very dodgy areas on a particularly bad holiday many years ago … I did have to put a sock in the other side as I was a tad unbalanced and lumpy, but crikey, despite being rather broke, I found it was quite an impressively exciting sight.
Anyway, should anyone have any suggestions or tips, you could not find a more grateful recipient.
Now I fear I must discuss, or at least give my view on the slightly taboo and decidedly undignified subject of knickers.
Of all the advice that I was given prior to my cycling trip, and there was a lot, the common denominator from everyone was to invest in a good sturdy pair of cycling shorts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if mine were shorts or knickers. Whichever they were, they did the job well. But Mon Dieu, what an unsightly piece of clothing.
Lycra’d within an inch of their life so that they tightly suck in the wobbly bits like a vacuum packed chicken, and let other parts spill out over the top and underneath; the end result is one ends up looking like a rather badly stuffed Christmas stocking; all lumps and bumps but the only surprise with this stocking is whether one is able to take them off without the huge effort making one either puce in the face, or accidentally breaking wind.
As for the padding within, it is simply a large piece of foam which sits like a small yoga roll-mat between ones legs. However, the result? unattractive, however not a bruised botty in sight.
But, there is one piece of advice that I was NOT given, and that was to wear them from day one of said cycling adventure. If it is left until day three, you will discover that you can’t sit down without wincing, howling and yelping. Sadly this is really rather a case of locking the stable door once the horse has well and truly bolted and frankly is in another county. This was sadly what I did.
And, whilst trying to be delicate here, it’s not just ones ‘back bottom’ that becomes bruised, it’s the ‘front bottom’ area and for want of a better word, ones ‘fou fou’. This entire region becomes so delicate, that should you be travelling on a romantic holiday with your darling loved one, you can wave goodbye to any woo hoo for your fou fou for at least a week. Or if you do, he’ll find that he got more than he bargained for, with more wincing, howling, yelping and yowling than a night in a brothel with Madame Whiplash and her whippy-stick.
I think that just about covers it.
Any experience of cycling knickers? No? Lucky you … 😳
I am a sucker for beauty products. I have, shall we say, a fair few in my cupboard under the basin. Thankfully the Colonel and I do not share this cupboard. Indeed, if we did, he would be allocated two and a half square inches, or if you’re metric, ten square centimetres … or something along those lines. I know not; I am old school, or perhaps just old, hence needing the beauty products.
I see these sumptuous creams in their heavenly packaging with promises to erase lines, cellulite and imperfections and I drool. And from time to buy, when I’m feeling flush, I open my dusty purse and buy them.
And, as the Colonel waits for me to come to bed, I am still applying cleansers, toners, creams and serums as he scowls and harrumphs and the usual, “What are you doing in there?” can be heard through closed doors, occasionally, though not always, with volume.
I must be the only woman in the world to have cycled for twenty six days non-stop from the north to the south of France with the entire Clinique range in her panniers.
Why? Vanity, delusion and a smattering of hope.
And do they make any difference? I know not, but if I didn’t use them, I might look considerably worse and that’s too great a risk to take for a muppet like me.
Yesterday, I allowed myself an afternoon off from writing (and reading your blogs, sorry) and mooched around the beauty counters of Peter Jones in Sloane Square (the posh bit of London). No, of course I don’t live there before you even start to ponder. I’m from Wandsworth and not the smart part.
Peter Jones for the non-UK residents is middle class shopping for the yummy mummies, the rich, the poor-who-want-to-be-rich and now even for those who own a dog and can’t bear to leave ‘Fifi’ at home. This has allowed many a handbag pooch to enter and generally speaking they behave far better than the majority of the children.
It’s a safe haven where the older staff have worked there for donkeys years and the younger ones are doing a ‘season’ whilst on their gap year having finished at private school. Not quite the same as a ‘ski season’, but with equally well-off customers but obviously with less snow.
You can buy everything and anything there, and to be fair, it’s not all expensive. They take into account every type of bank account, healthy or ‘minimalist’ shall we say. (Although if you bank privately, you’ll feel more at home – handing over your Coutts card will give you no better attention from the staff however, but you’ll feel part of ‘the club’).
Sadly, I did my mooching yesterday whilst having a rather empty bank account moment. Of course this is a guaranteed disaster, for as soon as I have no money, everything looks so appealing. When on the other hand I’m feeling flush (a rarity I hasten to add) I can never find anything. C’est la vie.
So I went from one counter to another and foolishly let each and every beauty sales person try their hand and products on my unfortunate face. They rejoiced after having given me a full makeover at the transformation in my skin, spoke of how my eyes were ‘popping’ (WTF) and were craving for me to hand over my purse. I simply looked in the mirror and muttered about how lovely it was and that I should now see how it looked in the outside light, and hurried onto the next counter, begging them to repair the damage. And then the process began all over again.
Eventually I left Peter Jones, empty-handed, but with a face so covered in serums, moisturisers and foundations, that I resembled an oompah loompa who had fallen into an oil slick.
I welcomed the Colonel home who peered at me, frowned and looked faintly fearful as I kissed him hello, but was wise enough to say nothing, probably quite difficult anyway as our lips stuck together with my peachy lip gloss entitled, ‘Glamour Puss’.
That night however, whilst scrubbing my face clean of all the muck, which was quite some feat, there were no questioning words of why I was taking so long. Instead, as I did my usual leap into bed, putting my freezing feet between his legs to try to warm them up (NB The higher up your husbands/partners legs you can get your cold toes the better, but you may meet with resistance as apparently it’s painful in many ways). So with a yelp of apparent agony from the Colonel, he then turned to face me, breathed a sigh of relief, stroked my cheek and whispered, “Hello beautiful.”
Gosh! I think in future I shall stick to au naturel.
Ladies: Are you comfortable without makeup?
Gents: If you’ve read this far, your thoughts please.
You are in a well. A deep, dark well with murky, warm water up to your thighs. If you look up, you can see a tiny chink of light, but it’s a long, long way away.
You are not alone down there in the well. There are many others. It is not frightening because it’s familiar. You’ve been here before. It almost feels quite comfortable, perhaps even safe.
Around the inner sides of the well are ladders, ropes and the occasional handle of all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some long, some a little broken and some sturdy. But not one of them reaches the whole way up to the light at the very top.
And on every ladder and rope, there are people trying to climb up. There are young people, old people, black, white, rich and poor, all heaving themselves up, slipping down, knocking others off as they fall. It’s utter carnage. So it’s easier here at the bottom in the warm water, because anyway who really knows what dangers lurk up at the top? Life at the top can be a perilous place.
Each ladder, rope and handle represents a lifeline.
First you have to haul your heavy wet body out of the soft, warm water. It is now cold and uncomfortable and your body is heavy with all the water, but you try. You reach for the first lifeline.
The first ladder is marked ‘doctor‘. It is a solid, strong and quite easy to climb up but as you progress, the rungs become narrower. So you need to move one of your feet onto another ladder.
This one is labelled ‘exercise‘ and is a little creaky, but seems to be helping you up a little further. As someone falls beside you, you reach out to the rope with the name ‘social interaction‘ on it. You start to feel enthused and energised and begin to look for other ladders.
There are some little handles on the wall with the name ‘meditation’ on them. You grab them. And all the while you can hear a wonderful voice giving ‘group counselling‘ to encourage and teach you how to reach higher for the ladders.
Yoga, Pilates, medication, therapy, exercise, medication, reading, writing, fresh air, light, gardening, baking, cleaning, cycling, good food … There are dozens of them …
Yes, there are ladders all around, and they are there to be used. All of them. Because one alone will rarely work. Each of us is different and some ladders work better for some whilst different ropes work better for others.
But despite our individual differences and needs, there are two factors that unite us. And they are:
It’s up to us to WANT to climb out of the hole, and it’s up to us to DO the climbing.
Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety and was there a trigger?
It seems to me however that every family has their own dusty cupboard full of skeletons. And, within said cupboard, there is usually a black sheep, a matriarch and a faintly sanctimonious do-gooder otherwise known as Joan of Arc. There are sometimes other variations, but usually at least one lurking somewhere in the twisted branches of the family tree.
I am not deluded enough to believe that my family doesn’t have it’s own armoire full of rattling bones, but suffice to say I love it just the way it is. (Indeed, I am probably the “troublesome” one).
But what I loathe more than anything else, more than tax returns and eighteen year old yoga students telling me to find my inner wisdom, are those on social media who try to portray a life of perfection pertaining to themselves and their family. THEY LIE!
I watched a young girl on the tube the other day taking selfie after pouting selfie, photoshopping and then posting them on Snapchat or Instagram or … “whatever”.
Yes, I’m a miserable old goat, but if any of her 500 apparent “friends” were indeed to actually meet her in the flesh for the first time, they might struggle to recognise her. The fleshy-lipped, bosom-heaving beauty with cheekbones as sharp as a knife in her picture, bore no resemblance whatsoever to the girl sitting next to me. The confidence with which she posed, pouted and flicked her hair whilst completely oblivious to the other passengers, made me question as to whether this confidence was borne from the prospect of the inevitable “likes” that she was no doubt imminently due to receive; or from the pleasure that she was getting from making a perfect version of herself. As I said, I am a grumpy old goat.
Sadly I suspect that if I did the same on WordPress, I’d probably have you all in stitches of laughter at me as I tried to stretch out the wrinkles, hold in the muffin tops and hide the bingo wings. As for the bosoms, well, perhaps the answer is simply to do a handstand. I’d have bouffant hair if nothing else, except perhaps a cardiac arrest. The thought of that level of exertion is requiring a little lie down and some ginger nuts which won’t help the muffin tops, alas, I care not.
But, back to those skeletons. I wonder if those who pose for the happy family pictures in the luxurious locations that the majority of us can’t even pronounce, truly believe their own publicity. Is it a form of propaganda? Is it advertising oneself, and if so, for whom?
And when I see beautiful photographs of beaming happy families on a gin palace in the south of France, are they really trying to pretend that their decree nisi hadn’t recently been signed, or that the youngest child hadn’t just been expelled from a rather top-end public school for selling drugs? Why must we attempt to portray perfection?
To be clear, I am not perfect. I am annoyingly bouncy, irritatingly highly strung, scream with gusto if frightened, have dyed my hair which has resulted in a distinctly purple and yellow striped tinge, have lines, wobbly bits and am a grumpy old goat. I am not saying that I love my flaws, but I do the best I can with what I have been given and accept the rest. (Just call me Joan, Joan of Arc). Surely life’s too short to be worrying about what the rest of the world thinks? Isn’t it? As for the hair … there’s some work to be done me-thinks …