Posted in Personal life

Tattoo or not tattoo? That is the question…

Female Shoulder Flower Tattoo
Image by David Schexnaydre via Flickr

Unleashed from their hibernation by the recent summery weather, tattoos are appearing all around us. Even in the famously stylish Cotswolds, I can guarantee you’ll find one on a white shoulder near you. And even when that shoulder is sun-burnished to hot pink, the dark, brooding tones of the tattoo will still shine through.

Tattoos are constantly taking me by surprise. The most unlikely people have been showing me their latest acquisitions. On occasion it’s been as surprising as discovering that a polar bear has black skin – one of the many fascinating facts I’ve learned this term from my daughter’s school topic, “Pole to Pole”.

Taking a dip in a local public swimming pool, I was alarmed to discover that I was the only adult uniformly flesh-coloured. Surreptitiously surveying the other swimmers, I began to feel as undressed as if I’d forgotten my swimsuit. Even the children were not unblemished, thanks to the invention of the (mercifully) temporary tattoo. The closest we had to these when I was a child was “transfers”, all of which were small and square, and we’d buy them in great sheets from the paper shop for sixpence.

My small daughter Laura discovered temporary tattoos on holiday in Greece a few years ago, when she was 3. She spent a happy hour on the beach adorning her parents’ lazy bodies with colourful little pictures. I’ve always liked tiny vehicles for art. I’m a long-term collector of enamel pin-badges and I love postage stamps: Borrowers’ paintings in frilly frames . So at first I found the temporary tattoos not unappealing. Only that evening in a smart taverna did I realise that, to the uninformed observer, there is no discernible difference between the temporary kind and the permanent. The festoons of flowers adorning my husband’s shoulders attracted quizzical looks.

But at least we were on holiday so it didn’t particularly matter. Not so lucky was our friend Ida, who at a dinner party succumbed to Laura’s entreaty to put a tattoo on her forehead. The wine that had made this seem such a good idea at the time had lost its influence by the Monday morning, when she had to sit through an important business meeting, the tattoo still firmly in place. (Sellotape is the answer, by the way, should you ever find yourself in this position.)

I cannot imagine ever being prepared to commit to any one design for permanent adornment. There’s no item of clothing or accessory that I’d wear day in, day out, so how do people choose tattoos? Ignoring the obvious foible of etching your current partner’s name into your flesh (“current” being the significant word here), even a favourite motif might lose its appeal in time. Tinkerbell on a twenty year old’s calf is not quite the same on a sixty year old’s.

But it’s not just the ageing process that takes its toll. I might once have thought a bee would be a time-proof emblem for me. My name is Hebrew for bee, and I am such a busy person that friends buy me bee-themed presents without knowing the significance of my name. But had I plumped for a bee tattoo in my youth, I’d have been heading straight for the lasers once Sarah Ferguson adopted it for her coat of arms as part of her metamorphosis into the Duchess of York. (I reckon that’s why we see so few bees about these days – the supposed bee-killing virus is a myth, they’re just all keeping a low profile out of embarrassment.) I’m very fond of daisies, and my bathroom is strewn with them in various forms, but I’d soon change my tune should Kerry Katona bring out a “Daisy” perfume as part of her new, fresh, clean image. To avoid tattoo traps, you have to expect the unexpected.

But then in Tesco’s the other day (always a fruitful place for the summertime tattoo-spotter), I caught sight of a truly timeless tattoo. A swan-like pair of angels’ wings filled the bare flesh above a young mum’s white strapless vest. “These will see me out,” I can imagine her thinking in the tattoo parlour. “And I’ll be all set for heaven when I get there.” It’s got to be the ultimate fashion statement.

(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser’s May 2011 issue.)

Posted in Personal life

Mix and Match

Marks & Spencer
Image by jovike via Flickr
Checking my inbox today, I find it peppered with emails from clothing suppliers trying to persuade me to buy a new winter wardrobe.  The thermometer having plummeted in the last few days, we’re all going to need our winter woollies by the time we come back from half term, so I take a look at what they’re offering.First on the list is a message from Marks and Spencer highlighting their new “coatigan” – a combination of a coat and a cardigan.  It sounds just right for inbetweeny, Halloweeny weather.

I’ve never seen a coatigan, but I don’t need to.  This portmanteau word conjures up a precise vision. I’m intrigued by the cross-breeding that fashion retailers believe is going on in our wardrobes.  First came the skort (is it a skirt? Is it shorts?).  Then last year the shoe-boot (no explanation necessary).  This was swiftly followed by jeggings: the spawn of jeans and leggings.  Whatever next?

If the trend continues, here are my predictions for your warmer winter wardrobe this season….

The Jumpover – as sleek as a jumpsuit but practical as an overall, this all-in-one  outfit will keep the fashion-conscious woman clean but elegant while working around the house.

The Underall –  not dissimilar to old-fashioned combinations, this underwear features the added benefit of practical overall-style pockets for storing essential tools.

The Shocking – a seamless, streamlined cross between high-heeled shoes and fishnet stockings for the girl who really wants to get noticed at the office Christmas party.

The Harf or Scat – a hat with scarf attached around the lower edge to avoid the annoying gap that lets the draught in between conventional hat and scarf sets.

But my favourite this winter will be Pyjippers – ending chilly ankles when I go down to make the tea first thing in the morning.  I wonder if I can get them patented in time for Christmas?

(This post originally appeared in the November edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)

Posted in Family, Travel

Travelling Light

A toy saxophone, two rag dolls, three cuddly toys and a life-sized toy border collie: these are my daughter’s ideas of essential items for in-flight hand luggage.

We’re supposedly travelling light, flying to meet my husband in Inverness where we will begin our Scottish holiday.

He’s joining us from Durham, where he’s been attending a week-long residential course in geology.  He’s travelling in our camper van, which we packed before his course with our main holiday luggage.  This included Laura’s complete collection of Barbies and their clothes and other essential toys.

Eventually I negotiate her hand luggage down to a harmonica, a meerkat keyring and her iPod,  with the rag dolls tagging along on condition that she carries one in each hand.

My husband, despite being several hundred miles distant,  manages to swell our streamlined hand luggage with a few last-minute requests.

“Can you bring my kilt in case we go to a ceilidh?” he drops casually into a brief phone call, conveniently forgetting the weight and bulk of his authentic Scottish woollen plaid.  “Oh, and my waterproof.”

This from the man who has just spent a week on a field study course in the north of England.

“How did you cope in Durham without your waterproof?” I enquire.

“Oh, don’t worry, I went through all your things in the van and found yours – I’ve been using that.”

I dread to think what state my neatly packed bag will now be in.

My own essentials for travelling light are more obvious than Laura’s, though the list has been reduced by the latest anti-terrorist restrictions.  I reluctantly set aside my tiny Swiss Army knife, hardly a lethal weapon.  I pack lipsalve, moisturiser,  iPod stuffed with podcasts and, most important of all, the notebook and pen with which to while away any delays. Travelling alone, I’ll happily scribble for hours for my own amusement, but with my daughter in tow, it’s more likely to be used for her current favourite game: Consequences.

If you’ve never played Consequences, it’s a great game with which to fill any idle moments.  Each player takes a sheet of paper and writes, in order, an  item from the following list:  boy’s name, girl’s name, where they met, what he said, what she said, and what happened next.  After each entry, you fold the paper over to conceal what you’ve written, and pass the sheet to the next player.  After writing the final item, you pass it on once more.  Then each player unfolds their strip of paper and reads the resulting story.

It’s a delightfully silly game, suitable for all ages.  Children soon fall in with it and write entries that appeal to their age and sense of humour.  When playing with a seven year old, toilets, kisses and vulgar noises feature frequently.  It’s guaranteed to stave off cries of “Are we nearly there yet?” on any journey, and I’m hoping that our flight to Inverness will be no exception.

But, thanks to Laura’s packing, if Consequences fails to keep us amused, there is an alternative – she can always get out her harmonica.

Posted in Personal life

It’s So Last Century

My sister-in-law Janet’s famed theory (“The best way to get something done is to do something else”) strikes again today as I take my car to the garage for repairs.

My objective: to cure the car of making an odd scraping sound that suggests the exhaust might be about to fall off. While the mechanics try to diagnose the cause, I’m restricted to a range within walking distance of the garage. So I hit Chipping Sodbury High Street with nothing to do but keep an eye on my phone for an update on my car’s welfare.

My achievement: one new skirt, one new waistcoat, one new jacket, one new blouse, plus a bill for £68 (so a bit of a bargain, then). This is, of course, excluding the garage costs.

A frequent target for comedians as the ultimate in rural backwaters, Chipping Sodbury High Street is actually quite a pretty place, with an old-fashioned marketplace centre and a range of shops untouched by the global brands that dominate most other high streets. Until I ran out of cats, my most frequent missions to Sodbury were for the sake of the veterinary surgery. Until the wonderful Mr Riley retired a few years ago, he seemed to spend almost as much time with my menagerie as I did. He particularly looked forward to appointments with Floyd, whom he pronounced “the most amiable cat I’ve ever met”. Even when taking an animal on a one-way trip to the vet, I always enjoyed the fact that Mr Riley’s surgery was situated in Horse Street.

Our house now being a feline-free zone, I spend today’s visit meandering down the High Street. I check out the charity shops, as you do, before wandering into a clothes shop that I’d never been into before. Having previously written it off as a shop for old ladies, I soon find myself enthusiastically trying on half the shop. At one point another customer asks my permission to try on a dress. I am carrying so many clothes that she thinks I must work there. I leave with a surprisingly full carrier bag, trying not to consider the possibility that the chief reason I nowlike this shop is that I’ve evolved into an old lady.

My car, incidentally, does not get fixed. The required part will not arrive until Monday. So my sole achievement this morning is to revitalise my wardrobe.

This comes not a moment before time. Recently I rearranged my clothes. Usually I oscillate between hanging them in order of colour and pairing them up in outfits, in between the odd bout of chaos. I flirted with the idea of putting them in order by date of purchase, until I realised that a shocking proportion of items were bought before the turn of the millenium. Never mind them being “so last year” – “so last century” was nearer the mark. Carbon-dating would not go amiss.

But one thing’s for sure: Janet’s theory is proven beyond all doubt.

Posted in Personal life

Why Pay A Grand for A Handbag?

Leafing through the Sunday supplements, I wonder how many readers actually buy the extortionately expensive items featured in the fashion pages. £100 for a moisturiser? No thank you! I expect change from a tenner when I buy a facecream. And how can any handbag be worth £1,000? I would never pay that much for an item I couldn’t drive away or spend a family holiday in.
The most I’ve ever spent on a handbag is just £35, and that was extravagant by my standards. Admittedly my standards are very low. My handbag collection features far too many bags that started life as free gifts attached to women’s magazines.

But I can certainly justify this relatively lavish purchase. It brought to a satisfactory conclusion my lifelong quest for the perfect handbag. Pillar box red, with a scattering of cheery retro flowers over practical dirt-repellent oilcloth, it has soft leather-trimmed khaki handles that make for comfortable carrying, even when it’s stuffed full with all that my daughter and I need for a day out. Its depths are positively Tardis-like.

Strangely, it also appears to spread joy to those about me. Walking around with this bag on my arm is like going out with a celebrity. People stop me to admire it, ask me where I got it, tell me they’re planning to put it on their Christmas list. I even had a shy-looking teenager call after me in a superstore toilet yesterday, just as I was leaving, as if unable to help herself: “I like your handbag!”

So if you’ve been tempted by the Sunday supplements to splash out, think again. Nip into Cath Kidston instead and buy a handbag like mine for £35. Then invest in a notebook to make a list of how you’re going to spend the £965 you’ve just saved.

Post Script on 12th May
A whole new take on my Cath Kidston bag yesterday in the supermarket.  The check-out assistant, mid-scan, fixes her gaze on my handbag.

“Is that one of those expensive bags?” she asks.

“I suppose it depends what you’re comparing it to,” I reply.

In the context of a free plastic carrier or a 10p Bag for Life, I suddenly feel positively extravagant.