Warm sunshine puts me in a good mood. Well, at least a good mood that lasts for a whole twenty minutes before I realise that my day is going to involve swimwear. As you all know, I don’t really swim much. Admittedly, I have been known to move through the water without getting either my shades or my eyeliner wet, but these days the teenagers just laugh at me, so I don’t. Apparently my stately breast stroke is more of a frantic frog leap, anyway. I still haven’t got over the humiliation of my swimming instructor shouting “calm down! You’re not going to drown, for God’s sake!” as I performed what I felt were my finest strokes in front of the assembled OAPs and weird lane huggers at our local pool. Lessons were abruptly terminated.
Not being a swimmer does not excuse me from the annual swimwear panic. Once upon a time I swore that when I reached a certain age I would put aside childish things – and itsy-bitsy teeny weeny scraps – for the sort of outfits favoured by the screen goddesses of the ’50s. I saw myself as Gina Lollobrigida, reclining in a mature yet sensual fashion under a parasol, being offered something cooling by an impossibly handsome young man with a tray. In my own bathroom, I reckon I’m a dead ringer for Hollywood glamour.
Time for a reality check. Leaving aside the sad lack of impossibly handsome young waiters in my life, I am afraid to say that the comfort of one’s bathroom mirror evaporates pretty smartly in the bright light and hot sunshine of southern Europe. Here, most one piece swimming costumes mark the wearer out as irredeemably British, irrespective of body shape or A lister potential. I have conducted considerable research over the last few summers, and come to the conclusion that Southern European women don’t give a damn what their body shape is or how much of it is fighting to escape. If it’s time for the beach, it’s time for the bikini. Maybe the Germans have a point when they recommend austerity and self-discipline: it’s true that a toned and lithe body is a thing of wonder. But Italian, Spanish and Portuguese women seem to enjoy a more relaxed and life-affirming sense of self. Women appear to embrace the physical marks of their changing roles as wife and mother: the effects of childbirth, ageing and family feasts suggest not bodily insecurity but a deep understanding of transient pleasures.
This year’s annual swimwear panic – triggered by the Mediterranean weather of last weekend – has therefore resulted in me deciding to buy a bikini for the first time in ten years. (I can visualise the teenage eye-rolling already. Keep it to yourselves, children). Not brave or stupid enough to risk the changing rooms of a department store, I took myself off to my favourite little lingerie shop. I am reasonably confident that HN is never likely to track me down in there..
The problem with bikinis is that I can never rid myself of the feeling that I am actually parading around in a bra and knickers. And if I were insane enough to consider venturing out in a bra and knickers, I would be making pretty sure that nothing short of a fireman or two was likely to get me out of it. Which means that I was immediately spooked by the rows of triangles strung onto threads that pass for tops; and as for bottoms that tie on the hips – ‘humph’ as my mother would say. Luckily, Laura, the owner, is made of sterner stuff, and steered me to where a certain amount of architectural and engineering know-how was on display. Even so, I am deeply distrustful of small plastic clips which are all that will stand between me and a nasty scene poolside.
Having purchased this bikini, I am determined to wear it. At least once. But I’m not a confident Southern European mama with a warm smile and a personality to match. I mentioned my observations regarding older women and bikinis to His Nibs:
Me – So don’t you agree it’s great they feel able to wear bikinis?
HN – Sure. I had noticed. I’m not keen on looking at women’s wobbly bits on the beach, though.
Me – So who DO you look at on the beach, then, dearest?
HN – Er…… you, of course, my sweet.
Me – I’ve bought a bikini too.
HN – I’ll be looking at your wobbly bits, then..
HN – No, no, no…..I didn’t mean….
I have checked in the bathroom mirror. Berlin’s recommended austerity measures are unlikely to make a sufficient impact in the time available. I am just going to have to embrace my inner goddess and recline. A lot. Getting out of sports cars may no longer be a necessary life skill, but I can tell you one that is.
How do I get from recline to tautly vertical in nanoseconds? This is going to require some considerable practice…