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

Spring Fever

Galanthus nivalis
Image via Wikipedia

It’s no wonder they call it Spring.  All of a sudden things are springing up out of nowhere, as if someone’s put nature on fast forward without telling me.

How come I never noticed the snowdrops until they were in flower?  They can’t have just appeared overnight fully formed.  And did those daffodil shoots, now four inches high in my front garden, really pop up like a jack-in-the-box the minute my back was turned?

It’s not just flowers that have been miraculously materialising. When I took my daughter to her tap-dancing class yesterday afternoon, two sisters in her class had gained a baby brother since last week – and I hadn’t even noticed that their mother was pregnant.  It’s bad enough that the weekly tap-dancing classes seem to take place every other day.  To miss a whole human gestation period is beyond the pale.

At this rate, I had better make sure I get out and about in the next few days, or before I know it, the wild garlic and primroses will have come and gone.  Those unlikely roadside bedfellows are my favourite sign of spring.  I’d hate to miss my annual treat of driving down the country lanes with open windows, invigorated by the pungent spring air.  And I can’t get by without seeing that gorgeous blue carpet that will be unrolling in local woodlands any day now.  The delicate scent transports me back to the spring of my childhood, when no classroom was complete without a jamjar crammed with bluebells on every windowsill.  It doesn’t make sense to me that in the days when we were all allowed to pick them to our hearts content, there was never any shortage of wild flowers.

Blink, and I’ll miss the violet haze of flax that briefly rests, gossamer-like, over too few fields round here.  It’s such a welcome respite from the garish, choking rape that seems to take over the countryside for a few weeks each spring, like a horrible bully that wants everything its own way.

In no time at all I’ll be wondering whether I’m too late to admire the sumptuous pinks and mauves of the Arboretum’s rhododendrons. Nor do I want to miss the spindly-legged lambs skittering about fields that were once home only to  sluggish, chubby sheep.  All too soon they’ll have turned into sturdy teenage sheep waiting their turn to go to market.

The trouble is, when you live in an area like this all year round, it’s all too easy not to notice what tourists travel miles to see.  If your chief shopping destination is the Coop rather than the Highgrove shop, and your shopping list is for groceries rather than rare antiques, you’re bound to have a different perspective on the local landscape.

So when are they going to mend all these potholes?

(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2011)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let It Glow

A set of fluorescent Christmas lights
Image via Wikipedia

You don’t need me to tell you that the autumn colours have been fantastic this year.  Each day late October, early November, I kept thinking “I really must bring my camera with me next time I’m out”. Everywhere I went, breathtaking treescapes of gold, amber and bronze, dramatic as fireworks, rose out of rich, dark, newly-ploughed hills.  Then, overnight, they disappeared.   Strong winds stripped the trees bare, leaving muddy heaps of compost at their feet. It was as if a herbicidal maniac had been on the rampage.  Suddenly it was winter. The clocks had gone back.  And it was dark.

My sense of loss at this overnight tragedy made me less dismissive than I might otherwise have been when a day or two later I spotted my first Christmas tree of the year in the front window of a house near my mum’s.  Not only had the occupants put the tree up on the wrong side of Remembrance Day.  They’d also sprayed lavish drifts of fake snow on the windowpanes, as if egging on the winter to do its worst.  The shiny red stars and golden bells were a garish echo of the subtle russets and auburns of the departed autumn leaves, but boy, was it a cheery sight.

All at once I found myself looking forward to the rash of Christmas lights that would inevitably follow.  Nothing cheers me in winter as much as bright lights.  In a former life I must have been a Druid.  For the rest of the year, my usual mantra is “Put that light out!” (So maybe I was once an ARP warden?) My husband and daughter treat our household like a Christmas tree all year round, in terms of lighting, and for the rest of the year, I go round turning unnecessary lights off, muttering disapproval.  But when it comes to midwinter, I need a burst of light to stop me hibernating.

Certain local routes round here provide a real tonic at this season.  Last year, the white-lit Christmas trees, hung proudly like flags above the shops through the centre of Tetbury, were as cheering to me as any Olympic opening ceremony.  And who can resist the uplifting annual switching on of the Christmas lights?  Passing by the Arboretum, I’ll slow down to savour the “shop window” for the Enchanted Wood, which revitalises bare trees with coloured floodlights.  And just a little further down the Bath Road, there’s an ever-growing beacon that takes many by surprise.  The first time I passed that way after dark, I was convinced that I was about to come across a major conflagration on the road ahead.  I listened out for sirens, but there were none.  Rounding the bend, I discovered it was actually just Willesley’s cattery and kennels in all their electric glory.  Their furry residents must feel ever festive by Christmas Day.

In the past, I’ve shied away from too lavish a Christmas lighting scheme at my own home.  Think Ikea candle arches, and you’ll get the picture.  But this year, in the depths of this dark winter, I feel the need to throw caution to the winds.  That’s appropriate enough, as my electricity comes from the wind-powered Ecotricity in Stroud.  If their profits suddenly go up next quarter, you’ll know the reason why:  I’m planning to splash out this year on the festive lighting front.  Now, can anyone tell me the best place in Tetbury to buy an illuminated reindeer?

Wishing all Tetbury Advertiser readers a very merry Christmas, and a New Year filled with light.  Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow…

(This post was originally published in the Tetbury Advertiser)