Friday, 30 April 2010

The Fox, the Crocs and Alexa Chung

There are foxes in our garden. I bloody hate them. I hate having to check the garden for their 'offerings' before letting The Princess and Master C out to play, and hate hate hate having to clear up what I find. I hate the way they stop dead and stare at me through the kitchen window. I hate how they only run a few paces when I clap my hands to shoo them off. And I wasn't too keen on the fact that, last summer, they got stuck into the shoes that the children had left in the garden, leaving behind mangled, gruesome-looking shreds of straps and soles.

Where Master C is concerned, it's kind of irrelevant since his feet seem to have taken on the qualities of the Yeti with which he is currently obsessed; added to this, he's going through the boy-version of what The Princess went through at the same age - an insistence on everything being blue (predictably, it was pink in her case). So even without the fox incident, last year's khaki Crocs would have had to make way for new, larger, blue ones.

The Bearded One walks out of the surf shop, shaking his head. "None in his size. There's another shop down the road; they might have them."

"No point in losing the parking space," I say gallantly. "You wait here with the kids; I'll just run down the road and check."

Run? I skip. Straight into the charity shop where, you never know, a gem might be waiting for me. Gold!! A trench coat, pristine, more Chung than Dirty Old Man - well, one hopes. But you know what, for £4.95, I'll risk it: I've been eyeing them up on the high street for about 25 times as much. I mean, they're a bit British for me, and I don't like that Chung girl but you've got to hand it to her, she knows how to rock a trench.

No blue Crocs next door, sorry Master C. I tune out his half-hearted complaints by mentally creating outfits, topping each with the trench. All of a sudden I'm thinking satchels. Dammit, am I really that susceptible? Do I not have an original fashion thought in my head? I don't even like Alexa Chung, why do I want to 'channel' her? I don't. But I do like those Cambridge Satchels. I mean, they're classics, right?

A week or so later, we're en route to lunch past one of my favourite little vintage stores. My eagle eyes are trained on the rails outside, which would be fine, were it not for the fact that I'm driving. I spot something and swerve dangerously. Straight into a parking space outside the door. Wow! That never happens.

My radar was right. It's a tan leather cross-body bag, not a satchel, definitely with satchel overtones but not a satchel, which means it can be worn with trench and hopefully without allegations of wannabe Chunginess. And it's £25 but for some reason the assistant says I can have it for £15. I'm back in the car within minutes; The Bearded One is not sure whether to be impressed or terrified by my shopping skills.

There's a store down the road that sells Crocs. "No point in losing the parking space," I say gallantly. "You wait here with the kids; I'll just run down the road and check." Sound familiar? It does to The Bearded One; his look drips skepticism. I'm off. Result!! Blue Crocs!! Back at the car, Master C has fallen asleep. I ease his shoes off his feet and slip the Crocs on. Twenty minutes or so later, he stirs, stretches, whimpers. His eyes open, brow furrowed, grumpy and confused. Then his soul slips back into his beautiful big brown eyes as he focuses. On me, his dad, his sister, his brother. And then on his feet. The light that dances across his face is pure magic. "My Crocs!!" he gasps. "My blue ones!! Blue Crocs!!"

The Bearded One and I exchange a smile. "See how happy he is?" I mutter sideways. "You ought to try that one with me and a pair of Choos sometime."

The Bearded One has the smug, bottled-up look of someone who is about to have the last word. "Choos?" he questions. "Wouldn't that be Chanel clogs, Ms Wannabe Chung?"

Monday, 26 April 2010

No Woman is an Island

Not so long ago, I publicly and snottily declared that I had never knowingly bought an item of clothing from River Island. I had nothing against the chain per se: it's just that, in my mind, it's inextricably linked with the most muttonous female I've ever known, one for whom much of the joy of having a teenage daughter is about reliving those highschool days of pointless competitiveness on issues of weight, fashion, boyfriends and how-many-times-in-one-night. Notice I didn't say, 'reliving vicariously'. No no. Reliving. Competing. With said daughter. I mean, this woman is Not Nice. And she wears a lot of River Island. Hence my mental block about it.

But then came the holiday in Cornwall. What it lacked in opportunities for retail therapy, it made up for in time to read - oh, alright pore over - Net-a-Porter's black-bound tome to SS10. And that's where I saw her. No, not the River Island Harpy: heaven forbid. The Balmain Military Girl. All long, lean and olive green, leg pockets, slashed khaki tee, black biker jacket and black ankle boots. I am in love. Not with her, exactly, more the idea of me as her.

At this moment, The Bearded One comes in from his evening surf, all salty hair and neoprene. Since I'm on the ''thinking about how I can do SS10 by using pieces I already own" tip, I eye up his wetsuit, imagine it accessorised with heels (can do), Wang Plait (can do) and bushy eyebrows (def can do). Then I imagine how many times it's been peed in during those interminable sessions of "waiting for the wave" and decide that Sports Couture and I may not cross paths this time round. I turn back to the Net-a-Porter mag, but not before The Bearded One has clocked me checking him out and, judging from the glint in his eye, has wildly misinterpreted my motives. Uh, no can do.

Back to Mademoiselle Balmain. Leather biker and black ankle boots I have. Skinny khakis I need. At £1,105, the Balmain ones are not destined to be mine. J Brand Houlihans are damn near perfect but just, ouch, still too much money. I mean, it's not like I'm a model looking to 'perfect my off-duty chic". (I can dream. Not about being a model - bit late for that. About being off duty, I mean. Is that seriously another pile of laundry that has just materialised in the corner??)

So, back in London, some bright spark suggests River Island. I baulk, blanch, gag. And then scurry to the website. Oh my god!! Skinny khakis abound!! Oh my god!! Where are all the size 12s?? Oh my god!! Call customer service. What? At your Bluewater store? You'll get them to hold them for me? I'm there. I throw bathtime at The Bearded One, kiss the children goodnight and fang it all the way there.

Once in the store, I'm converted. Maybe it's the rare freedom - 8pm and I'm IN. A. SHOP. Not telling stories or clearing up the living room. I am in love with almost everything I see. My inner mutton is bleating riotously and triumphantly. My head bobs involuntarily to music I'd never dream of listening to at home. The skinny khakis are perfect. So is the olive tank with embellished shoulders and - oh my god!! - the maxi in the exact colours (pink & turquoise) I've been looking to find one in.

Two weeks and a nasty bout of illness pass. Time for Sick Cake to step aside and let Balmain Cake take the stage. The khakis slip on. Too easily. They hang down. They gather and sag in the wrong places. They are just 'too big' enough to make me look fat. I check the scales. Yep, it wasn't just my joie de vivre that was knocked out of me the last week or so.

I'm on hold to customer service, seeing if I can get my hands on a pair of 10s when, unbidden, a scene plays out in my head. "I thought I'd pass these to you, since I know how much you looooove River Island. After all, they're waaaay too big for me - so they should be about right for you then, no?" And an unbecomingly large smirk spreads over my face.

image Balmain 2010/ Harpers Bazaar.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Holiday Dysmorphic Disorder

My mother likes to think that she is blessed with the gift of prophecy. "You're going to meet someone," she uttered portentously as I departed sunny Sydney for the bright lights of London ten years ago. The fact that she didn't elaborate as to whether she meant some old tramp at the bus stop with a rat on his shoulder or a Savile Row-suited Prince Charming made not a jot of difference: she's taken full credit for the fact that I met and married The Bearded One ever since.

Fortunately, I seem to have inherited, to some degree, this gift. For instance, when The Bub failed to have a, ahem, bowel movement the day before the long drive west for our annual Easter holiday in Cornwall, I had the foresight to pack a change of clothes in my handbag in readiness for the poosplosion. A change of his clothes, not mine, I hasten to add: I wasn't expecting that much of a nappy disaster. Nor was I expecting him to scream so much in the course of changing him that a service station attendant would knock on the door to see if there was an abandoned baby within. Apparently it wouldn't have been the first time.

When it comes to packing my own clothes, however, my second sight is somewhat less acute. There's one part of my mind that knows full well what Cornwall at Easter entails and another - some might say unrealistic, I prefer to say optimistic - that insists on a pre-packing, end-of-bed pile of clothes that includes floaty kaftans, vivid maxis, rolled-up shorts, flat glads and a straw trilby.

The Bearded One enters the room, snorts, and turns to leave again. I grab his arm.

"Just remind me," I plead. "Just remind me. It's Cornwall, isn't it? Not Ibiza. Cornwall. Right?"

"Cornwall," he affirms. "Early April. Cold, wet. You'll hate it. You always do. You'll hate it more if you're cold. Get a grip."

"But what?? What do I pack?" I ask, eyes rolling wildly towards a pile of cashmere in my open closet. "This? This??"

"Jeans. North Face. Wellies. Uggs. Hoodies," intones The Bearded One. "C'mon Cake. You know this."

"Ugggggh. What's the point?" I whine pathetically. "What's the point of going on holiday if I can't wear my outfits?"

The Bearded One turns to leave the room again. "I'd get a move on if I were you. Leaving at 4.30am. You don't want to be too sleep-deprived - you'll be even crankier when we get there than usual. How much do you still need to do?"

I check the fingers of my right hand off. "Packing, wash hair, sort toys and stuff for the kids, defuzz legs..."

"I wouldn't bother with that," he interrupts. "You'll be in jeans all week. Who's going to see your legs?"

I ignore him and stay up until 1am getting everything - legs included - done. Sleep be damned, I am not setting foot in a beach environment - even a miserable, wind-swept one - with Neanderthal lady legs. And what do you know - four days into the holiday, the day dawns bright and sunny and it's off to the beach we go. I'm torn between delight in the face of real sunshine and fury that a chance to channel Jade Jagger has been denied me by the spectacularly unhelpful (not to mention hypocritical: it transpires that he has packed shorts and flip flops) Bearded One. What am I supposed to wear?? Retail opportunities don't exactly abound in this neck of the woods - the rather euphemistically-named Retail Park comprises a Boots, a Next, an M&S and a Costa, where all of my Sydney coffee-snob buttons are pushed by so-called baristas making dark noises about my lack of wisdom in ordering a flat white with soya milk. Deep breaths, Cake.

In Marks and Spencer, I unearth a pair of passable-if-they're-rolled-up khaki shorts for a doesn't-matter-if-I-never-wear-them-again £9.50. Later, on the beach, I stretch my (mercifully hairless) legs out in the April sun and relish the thought of airing my real summer wardrobe with base tan already in place. Nearby, Master C and The Princess run, squealing, near the water's edge and fill buckets with sand, and it's ice creams after lunch.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Keyhole of Opportunity

The school (or nursery, in my case) run isn't the most fun part of the day, not least because of the pressing issue of what to wear. There's the fact that the Princess's nursery is a good 15-minute drive away, which entails readying 3 recalcitrant children, grabbing packed lunches and changes of clothes, dragging everyone out to the car and then taking on the other school-runners in traffic. At the other end, it's the same in reverse, minus the traffic but with the addition of polite chit chat, children poking The Bub's head, the reading of a settling-in story which somehow results in half the kids at the nursery hanging around my ankles and finally, trying to extricate Master C, who's by now upset at least 3 other children, tipped out a few boxes of puzzles and is not happy about being parted from his sister for the day.

So on the all-too-infrequent occasions that the Bearded One starts work late, I seize the chance to leave the boys with him and relish the relative ease of one child.

Driving back through nearby Chi Chi Village, I feel relaxed; serene even. Ah, the freedom! I stop at a zebra crossing for a pedestrian. A boutique lies to the left of me; to the right, a gourmet deli. In front of me: a rare and golden opportunity. I reach out with both hands, and grab it.

"Terrible traffic ... I've barely moved in 10 minutes ... bloody school run mums. Yeah yeah, road works too " I say into the phone, eyeing the clear roads with not a shred of guilt. "Everything alright there? I may as well just pull over and grab some bread and a coffee - you want one? Back soon." I park, run into the boutique and tear clothes from the rails.

I'm just in Primark skinnies, an American Vintage tee and Ash hi-tops but a Vivienne Westwood Anglomania top is nothing short of transformative. I've never much seen the point of all that draping and asymmetry before but I look instantly longer, leaner, better. Hang on though: so does the assistant hovering at my shoulder - and she's not wearing VWA. I turn, stare at her, turn back to the mirror. Yep, as I thought: fairground mirror. Oh well, that's £160 that I don't need to spend, I guess.

It's not just the mirror that makes a Bobi maxi in Caribbean blue work, however - it's perfect: just the right weight for a flattering drape and a shade of blue that makes my olive skin look like I've been on holiday for a month. And if I were going on holiday for a month, that keyhole detail at the bust would be fine. Not so great, however, for a summer of local parks and sandpits, especially given the high proportion of dads around in these recession-stricken times. On the other hand, it might make me somewhat popular. Certainly more popular than I will be with the Bearded One if I don't hotfoot it home pronto. Bugger! The bread. I bolt across the road to the deli, buy a loaf and chuck it in the front seat of the car.

"Sorry," I pant, huffing in to a remarkably calm, albeit messy scene. "Those Village mums, all in the deli with their poncey coffee orders ... took ages ..."

The Bearded One looks at me through narrowed eyes. "Uh huh. So where's the coffee I asked for then?"


photo from