Posted in Family, Travel

The Travelling Wardrobe

Tibetan Prayer flags
Tibetan prayer flags, reminiscent of my husband's holiday laundry (Image by Oliphant via Flickr)

Packing the ideal holiday capsule wardrobe for a 28 day tour of France in our camper van, I am torn between taking old clothes that I can jettison en route after wearing and aspiring to the well-groomed appearance of the average French woman.

I don’t want to clutter up the van with dirty laundry as space is at such a premium, nor do I want to use precious time and water (our tank is a small one) washing clothes.  This is a holiday, after all.

I compromise and take smart casual dresses and separates, but ageing underwear that I can bin with a clear conscience.  I’m gratified to discover that I have sufficient for the whole month and am bemused by the notion of leaving a Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail of discarded knickers across the country.

I’ve bought three dresses expressly for the holiday, floaty linen and cotton frocks that are easily rinsed and dried overnight in Provencal sun.  I abate any feelings of extravagance by remembering the experiences of a former colleague on her very first holiday abroad.

Margaret was about 22 and had never travelled far from her native Bristol.  In anticipation of a week-long package trip to Spain, she invested in seven outfits from her catalogue, so that she’d have something new and special to wear every single day.  The whole office was regaled with a detailed description of each outfit as the catalogue delivered it, and after waving her goodbye on the Friday, we looked forward all the following week to an account of her adventures on her return.

Sadly her investment did not pay great dividends.  Pressed for a description, she just shook her head.

“I think abroad’s very over-rated,” she said sadly and would not be drawn any further.

I have higher hopes for my holiday in France.

My packing strategy for my small daughter Laura is similar to my own and I look forward to a month without laundry.  Until Day 5 of our trip, when my husband announces, to my surprise, “Oh no, I’m down to my last t-shirt.”

Terse questioning reveals that he has brought with him just 5 t-shirts, 5 pairs of pants and 5 pairs of socks.  Considering he has approximately 40 t-shirts in his wardrobe at home and more underwear than Laura and I combined, I am not sympathetic.

The situation is partly remedied by persuading him to throw caution to the winds and wear his sandals without socks.  But I cannot extend the same philosophy to the other items of clothing in question.

And so for the rest of the holiday, the interior of the camper van is adorned at every stop with a varying array of his drying laundry, like a Tibetan prayer flag offered up to the god of hygiene.

So at least he can be considered hygienic.  Not so, it seems, his swimming trunks – but that’s another story…

The next post will reveal all – well, nearly all.

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

Dressing Down

Two days to go before I leave my job and I cast a critical eye over my wardrobe, earmarking my dark green suit for the charity shop.  I’ve vowed never again to have a job for which I have to power-dress, so a suit will definitely be surplus to requirements.

I’m planning to go through my whole wardrobe next week and prune it down.  It’s too full of dull black tops and brown jumpers, crowding out the things I really love to wear: soft, comfortable vests and cuddly, yielding cord or denim skirts in lush, lively colours – watermelon, lime, sky blue.  When I’m my own person, after Friday, I’m going to dress just for me.  So charity shop here I come.

I’ve always fancied a capsule wardrobe, but in its present state, a warehouse would be more appropriate.  Reducing my clothes on the old 80:20 principle will make getting dressed so much simpler and quicker. Actually, it’s probably more like 95:5 in my case – a tiny 5% of my clothes certainly get 95% of the action.

This streamlining won’t solve all my sartorial problems, though: I’ve just discovered I’ve been wearing my brown jumper back to front all day.  Never mind, at my current rate of progress, getting progressively more casual as my day of departure approaches, by Friday I’ll be pitching up at work in my pyjamas.  Well, that will certainly brighten up the office.