One of my pet topics on this blog and in other assorted ‘rants’ has been the Brits abroad and their conspicuous lack of clothing. After my recent trip back to Blighty, I can verify that the Brits don’t just wear insufficient clothes abroad: they do it at home too. There I was freezing my… um… mits off in 18C and breezy conditions but because it’s August, some unnamed central fashion force has dictated that “Everybody Must Wear Sandals”. Hence, insubstantial footwear of every style and colour was in evidence at the Fulking Country Fair on 1 August, even though it was less than balmy that day.
In the distant past, I was brought up in Newcastle upon Tyne where we Geordie lasses weren’t shy about venturing on a January pub crawl clad in nowt but miniskirts, strappy cropped tops and stiletto heels. Having exposed bellies, arms and legs on display was par for the course. I can vouch for the fact that several Diamond Whites later, we might be falling off tables but we couldn’t feel the cold outside. Possibly, by that stage in the game, we couldn’t feel anything at all. Ah the folly of youth, etc…
Sadly, the condition of being ‘comfortably numb’ can’t be applied to visiting a Brighton seafront play park on a weekday afternoon, where I stood shivering in a borrowed full-length cardigan and sandals (my trusty canvas boots had been left elsewhere that day). As I glanced at my goose bumps, I couldn’t help wondering how girls who haven’t even consumed one Diamond White can wander about in mini-shorts and flip flops when it’s only a couple of degrees warmer than the legal minimum temperature for the British workplace. Just to recap, if the temperature dips below 14C in a factory setting, etc., everyone can presumably go home to toast themselves in front of their own radiator. There wasn’t a handy radiator at the seafront, much to my annoyance.
To my mind, we Brits should dress for the prevailing weather conditions and not just don sandals because it’s June, July or August or because the style editors at Marie Claire at Cosmopolitan told us so. Or perhaps I’m just becoming a middle-aged bore.
Upon returning to Spain for a child free “holiday” (if you call cleaning and painting a house ‘sin ninos’ a vacation), I decided to put myself to the “too boring for your own good” test at Lanjaron’s medieval market. Inspired by the svelte and beautiful belly dancer, Serena, who entertained the townspeople with her light-footed and well-coordinated wiggles and jiggles on the Saturday night, on the Sunday I decided to get into theme and wear harem-type pants and a cropped, sequinned halter top. This might not sound at all brave or challenging but, believe you me, my belly is a region that has remained under cover since – oooh – at least 2004, unless you count visiting the swimming pool (and I don’t count that). So I duly wandered outside with three inches of exposed stomach showing. I looked around furtively. Was anybody staring? Would the ‘belly police’ be called? I monitored passers-by and was vaguely worried that the only other belly-out females were size zero teenagers. Would my belly look bigger if I drank a smoothie containing bananas or ate a tapas containing pork (oink)? After warily consuming both, I positioned myself in the town square to watch the act, Al Caravan, featuring the undulating Serena. Would my one belly fold itself into two or more bellies when I sat down? I wagered that Serena’s belly would never do that. At least I didn’t hear anybody muttering “gorda” (fat) - what a relief! But perhaps they were distracted by the entertainment.
A woman and her belly can have a strange symbiotic relationship. Like bottoms, there’s often the (sometimes unvoiced) question: “does my belly look too big in this”. That question is a dangerous question if it actually spills forth from a female’s mouth. If you’re a male of the species, you’re required to make the ‘right’ noises (‘right’ meaning conciliatory, as opposed to the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God!). Saying “yes, it looks huge in that – you even look pregnant” could unleash a Pandora’s box worth of deep-seated body hang-ups and may lead to your partner hating you / not wanting to sleep with you that night, if ever again. The correct approach to the belly question is to venture a non-inflammatory opinion such as: “I really liked your longer top with that outfit” or “it’s but a bit cool outside – I think a jacket is required”. If you know what’s good for you, it’s best to consign the concept of ‘Fat Fighters’ to where it belongs – the TV show, ‘Little Britain’.
I remember taking a holiday in Portugal with a group of friends back in the mid-90s. I’d over-indulged hideously on bread and vino and, strolling around our rented villa, I bumped into the Portuguese cleaning lady. She eyed me enthusiastically. “Ah bambina!” she shouted, rubbing my stomach with glee. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my friends creasing up in hysterics. I didn’t have the heart to tell her “no, it’s just gas”.
More sinful… when I was actually three months pregnant with my second child, I told a man who asked “are you pregnant again” the ‘lil white lie “no, it’s “just ham”. This embarrassing falsehood was later proven wrong, of course, and I had to make light of “my ham joke.” But at least he didn’t ask me “have you turned into a beached whale and/or an elephant”. That would have been embarrassing: and isn’t it interesting that the Spanish word for pregnant is “embarazada”, which appears to be a derivative of the same form.