Thursday, July 29, 2010


D (bless him) came with me to tango on Wednesday - the first non-dancing friend to do to so - and, against the odds, took these pictures.

The hall was candle-lit, the only other light source a few glowing wall heaters. And flash would have ruined the atmosphere - for the dancers and the pictures. So the image quality is poor (and, in deference to my own and others' privacy, I have wouldn't posted these if any of us were recognisable).

I love this one - the isolation and intent of the couple dancing, the lone woman watching. Edward Hopperish, D and I agreed (notwithstanding the fact that D suspects Hopper might be over-rated). 

I don't know how affecting others will find these images because I know how much I bring to them - experience of the music, the atmosphere, the feeling of dancing - but for me they capture something. That brief intense intimacy; leaders and followers holding on to each other against the odds. 

Someone said to me months ago that people couldn't dance tango until they'd had their hearts broken. Unfortunately, the reverse doesn't necessarily apply - having had your heart broken, even several times,  doesn't automatically transform you into a terrific tanguera.

D said he felt as though he were in a documentary. He was fascinated. And touched.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fancy that

When does dress become costume, and costume dress? I supect it's not always a black-and-white-distinction but a gradation. What got me thinking so was that, at M's house the other day, we explored the contents of a hamper containing nearly two decades-worth of the fancy dress outfits she had made  her children.

This one is Snow White. The gold braid on the bodice, the detachable peplum, the ribbons on the sleeve, the little cloak - all lovingly sewn into a small girl's dream. And clearly a costume. To the grown ups anyway.

But for the child wearing it? She isn't merely dressed like Snow White - she is Snow White. Just as those little girls who go to the supermarket and the cafe as fairies - complete with tiaras, wands and wings - are fairies. You can see it in their faces, the way they carry themselves.

It would never have occured to me as a child that it might be possible to leave the house in dress-ups. It certainly wouldn't have occured to my mother to allow it. My public appearances were always as her daughter. Which, from my point of view, was also a costume, albeit one I was sentenced to wear for the foreseeable future.

But back to the dress-up hamper. Inside were firemen, dinosaurs, miniature showgirls, crusaders, princesses and various creatures, all waiting to be animated by a small body and a big imagination. We also spotted a couple of church-fair bargains in the shape of Margaret Thatcher jackets (which I wish I'd never seen), and two ball gowns of M's, both made by her own mother.  

This was her first. As you can probably tell, it's a Mother's Daughter outfit. The soft white un-structured cotton screams virginal ingenue, while its young wearer pined for sophistication. 

That came later - in the form of this one. A far more grown-up affair, now that M was a married woman.

I loved M's hamper. I don't want to come over all maudlin, but how wonderful that she (and her mother) not only made these outfits, but that M kept them. They are a colourful, crumpled testament to love and imagination.

And the ball gown she's making K? Another costume, really (as is my tango look). One in which C will be able to conjure up a self more glamourous than her quotidian one. A gown in which to spend an evening being what she wears.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You shall go to the ball

To M's yesterday, to witness her efforts to make her daughter K her first ball gown. Or prom dress, as the world (otherwise known as US tv) now seems to call it.

This item on the left, I hasten to add, has nothing whatever to do with M or her lucky daughter. It's one of a criminal array of ugly prom dresses over at The Fashion Police. See more of them here  The stout-hearted might want to venture further - into what the FP daintily label Ghetto Prom style, here

I digress. But only a bit. Because, a couple of days before, M had expressed disbelief that she hadn't just given K the money to go town and buy herself something from Slutshop. Instead, they'd gone shopping for pattern and fabric. K is well on the way to Style-Police status herself, so not only did she opt for a Vogue pattern, but it had to be this stunning 1955 Vogue Original:

Look at that devilish neckline, that sleekly fitting bodice, those profligate skirt panels and the hellish hem. Surely enough to make even the most loving mother and experienced sewer put her foot down. But M is made of sterner stuff. She got to work.

Unfortunately, at some point in the early stages of production, a mysterious stain appeared on the bodice. Slap-bang centre-front. M dabbed and sponged. The area dried nicely. But later, as she bent over it to confirm her first impression that the small stain had now become a much bigger and more alarming water mark, her nose dripped. The partially sewn bodice was now sporting three stains.

M went online (I don't think I need to describe her state of mind at this point), and discovered a world of desperate women who had spilled tea over their daughters' wedding dresses and smeared red lipstick on pale cashmere. The consensus was that sponging made things worse - only an overall dunking would do. So M dunked.

Then, just before I knocked, the overlocker decided to play up. The net effect of all this - coupled with a tight deadline, daughterly expectations of high glamour, and metres and metres of impossibly slippery blue stuff - was that M opened the door looking like this, only paler.

The half-sewn bodice hung damply on a towel rail. The stain jury was still out.

Blue starfish, red nails

My favourite Vanuatu photo. Although I need to point out that those fire-engine red nails aren't E's or mine.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

First prize

Only driving across town to last night's party did another danger of bad-taste dressing occur to me - I might have an accident on the way. My mother's recommended clean knickers and hanky wouldn't get me out of this one. Imagine the humiliation of being unloaded from the ambulance into a busy accident and emergency ward looking like an ageing Westie. On the hand, the need to explain that I don't always dress this way might have catapulted me back to consciousness.

First prize (a macrame objet of uncertain use and nil decorative value) was taken by an astoundingly bad taste outfit (those of a sensitive nature should avert their eyes at this point) - a Dead Diana. She wore a ice-blue, off-the-shoulder dress, blond bob and coronet, and a nasty head wound. Her partner had explored the gore theme to even greater visual effect - he had the remains of a brutal collision with a seagull splattered across his white tee-shirt.

Top marks to the Birthday Girl herself, whose outsize lapel button bore a portrait of Sarah Palin and the caption, "Thank god for a beauty queen who doesn't want world peace."

I can't go, though, without bequeathing you these two stunning demonstrations of the best that macrame has to offer our ideas of dress and personal adornment (and again, those of a sensitive nature etc).

Bad taste

Anyone - even given the constraints of budget, occasion, body type and so on - can make themselves look good. It's just a matter of wanting to. But it takes a special kind of courage to deliberately don an outfit that you and everyone else knows is all wrong. As far as I'm concerned, doing so challenges a life-time's habit, not to mention my pride, my taste, the very roots of self. Still, it's M's 50th birthday party and, at her request, I'll give it a go.

It's not that I despise fancy dress. Sometime in the 70s, D and I were invited to a fancy dress party by someone we didn't know well, and a few days beforehand we began entering into the spirit of the thing. I ransacked her wardrobe and mine for items that might turn me into a Principal Boy. And she resorted to her favourite place - the garden - to collect what was needed to transform herself into a Photosynthesising Person.

D, it will be immediately apparent, was an eccentric. Twenty years older than me, she was quite without personal vanity, and unwordly to what could sometimes be an alarming degree. She lived to garden. An incident which neatly illustrates all three endearing characteristics was the time we dressed up and drove into the city for a performance of The Messiah. In those days, we wore long quasi-hippyish dresses everywhere, and it wasn't until we were walking from the car to the townhall that D peered down at her feet and remarked mildly, "Oh dear, I'm still wearing my gardening jandals."

She wasn't all that keen on human beings, but adored her cats. So, since covering herself in fur was out of the question, becoming a photosynthesising person was a good second best. It was barely fancy dress at all, really - more, the outward expression of an unfulfillable ambition.

You might say the same of my own outfit, except that it was markedly less original. But it too was less a whim of the moment than an expression of an inner desire. 

Every year of my early childhood my mother insisted we attend, en famille, whatever pantomime was being staged at the Palace Theatre, Watford. We took a box so Nana and Grandad could come too. And every year I was captivated by the Principal Boy, whether s/he was Dick Whittington, Jack, or Buttons the Pageboy. Their ringletted and be-frilled love interest, and all that simpering, left me cold. I thrilled to the way the Boys strode about the stage unencumbered by silly clothing, being brave and decisive, and declaiming in confident, ringing tones.

Here's a trio of PBs - one is Vanessa Redgrave (you can decide which); the other two are anonymous. 

This was the look I aspired to that evening. Eventually I pulled together an embroidered, hooded, black velevet, hip-length tunic and broad leather belt, which I wore over thick black tights (not as easy to come by then as they are now) and boots. I contrived some kind of hat and furnished it with a peacock feather. I thought I looked rather dashing.

D, on the other hand, looked quite mad. She wore a green skirt and top, into which she wove various bits of foliage. But the piece de resistance was her headgear - a circlet of ivy whose  tendrils curled long and wild around her head and shoulders.

No sooner had we arrived at the party than I realised that we'd badly misculculated. We were wittily surrounded by nuns, queens, several Father Christmases, and a Jesus Christ toting a cross. No-one else was wandering about in home-made gear looking like escapees from a kindergarten do. They had all hired their gear. They also had the advantage that their alter egos were instantly recognisable, whereas we were forced to explain ourselves to the few guests who actually expressed any interest in our identities. The general feeling seemed to be that we were rather sad and probably best ignored. By the time D had explained to the sixth startled person that she was a Photosynthesising Person, we felt it was time to go home.

Many years later, the X and I took the sensible course of hiring outfits. It was my idea that we go as school kids, and I was perfectly happy in my pigtails, hitched-up black gymslip, torn stockings and panama. But he was overcome with self-consciousness and spent the evening looking utterly miserable in his shorts and cap. At that same do, one of our male friends, looking adorable in his partner's frock, was the victim of an unpleasant incident in the Gents.

On yet another occasion I happily dressed up in my brother's trousers, tweed jacket and cloth cap.

Stylish androgyny, as per Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria, still appeals to me - an older, more sophisticated and sexualised, and definitely more dangerous, Principal Boy.

Just this evening I admired a smashing pair of black wool trousers with braces in a second-hand shop in Cuba Street.

None of this, however, is bad taste. Earlier today, though, wondering what the hell I was going to wear this evening, it occured to me that what I wear for tango would, only six months ago, have seemed to me like bad taste. So it will be a very short red velvet skirt, worn with a horribly different red velvet jacket, black fishnets, and excessive jewellery.

Problem solved! Unless I'm the only guest who's made an effort, and everyone else feels sorry for me. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thank you, Vio

For the wonderful tango lesson yesterday. Wherein I learned to focus less on the leader than on me, less on his chest than my own contact with the floor. That the floor is where my balance and control comes from. The floor is what makes me a dancer.

Here's Vio dancing with Sebastian at the recent national tango festival in Wellington.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The divine dress code

The sight of this dress over at The Fashion Police prompted a spontaneous eukhh from this part of the world.

Not so far from me lives a small community of Brethren, and you see the women shopping in the nearby supermarket. They really go for denim, the younger ones, anyway (their elders favour navy polyester; the men, of course, look like ordinary men, the Lord apparently making no sartorial demands on them). Since they’re not allowed to wear trousers or short skirts, they opt for several metres of top-stitched denim in the vague shape of a skirt, and flap along like ships under sail.

The Denim Skirt is accessorised with a headscarf (female heads must be covered), clumpy shoes (stylish ones presumably being the work of the devil) and several small children, the little girls with their heads already covered.

And of course it's entirely their business. So why - given the tolerant attitude I recently expressed towards the wearing of the burqa and veil - do I always feel I want to seize these women and shake them til their teeth rattle in an effort to wake them up?

By which I mean, I know why I do, but I wish I didn't.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bags of bags

Until a few years ago I had one bag at a time. For those who think they must have misunderstood, I'll explain. I bought a bag, used it day in day out, sometimes for years, until it became too shabby or worn to tolerate, then I threw it out and bought another. And so on.

Seems weird now, even to me.

Said bags were capacious, neutrally coloured and/or vaguely ethnic, and had either one shoulder strap or two ie they were backpacks. I've been particularly fond of Hedgren bags. I didn't do handbags. Handbags reminded me of my mother, Mrs Thatcher and the Queen, who all wore gloves and carried handbags that matched their shoes. And who, incidentally, all had the same hair do:

Then, about five years ago, I bought a bag I didn't actually need, imagining I was putting it aside for when I would. A bag explosion followed.  I now change bags so often that, last time I was in Melbourne, S and I went hunting for bag organisers - plain, functional inserts with lots of sections, which can lifted out of one bag and plonked into the next, with minimum inconvenience to the owner. It works, up to a point.

I hasten to add that even now I'm no bag queen. I don't spend big money on them, and that's in good part because I don't see the point - they don't give me enough pleasure. Linda Grant's blog stands by the principle that "A good handbag makes the outfit", and when she says "good", she means expensive and designery - a real production. This sort of thing, for instance, which I grabbed at random off the net, and which is actually one of the less exhibitionist of the type. 

If you're connoisseur enough to see that it isn't designery at all, but just some nasty faux piece of plastic, you've made my point for me. I haven't a clue. It's just that this sort of pastel-coloured thing bedevilled with zips and bling and whatnot, does nothing for me at all, whether it's designed by Chanel or sold on a Hong Kong street. 

I do like leather, I must say. And, always my mother's daughter, will invariably pick up any bag (or shoe or glove) claiming to be leather, and give it a investigative sniff. The Shonk Test, Mum used to call it, and she also applied it to good effect on bottles of milk of questionable freshness. But these days, it doesn't matter as much if things aren't leather. One of my favourite bags is a wonderful green that doesn't even bother to pretend to be the real thing. There is no real thing anymore, is there? This is the post-modern era.

But - and now we get to the point - here is my latest bag purchase, an item my younger self would have regarded with derision. Indeed, I own nothing else like it. But The Wedding is coming up, and I was aware that I had nothing remotely suitable for accompanying a posh frock in which to carry a lipstick, a hairbrush and some money. I still nurse doubts about quite how to carry it and suspect I'll try to slip it over one shoulder to avoid holding it by its chain. I can't bear the idea of looking dinky.  

It's beautifully pleated black satin, with nicely understated hardware. The only other thing I'm going to tell you about it is that it cost $15. 

Every little girl's dream. Not

From all-over black to all-over white. And peach, pink and purple. As in wedding gowns. Clearly I have defective genes because not once during what turned out to be far too long a childhood did I dream of wearing one of these items for two minutes, let alone a whole day. I never was a cream-puff sort of girl.

Many are though, and all over the country they competed this month in More FM's National Bride Day. No prizes for guessing in which city this trio are battling a severe headwind in order to get to the event. And how delightful to read that one of them never even wore it on The Day - "I ditched him two weeks before the wedding."

Never mind the groom. It's the frock that matters!

I married in brown. It was vaguely tenty and zipped up the front. I accessorised it with a tangerine scarf, brown patent mary-janes, and a third-trimester bulge. It rained steadily. The groom looked like the walking dead, having drunk himself into a stupor the previous night and passed out cold on the path. The guests numbered 13. We couldn't afford a honeymoon. The marriage lasted seven years.

Maybe I should have worn white, after all.

Banning the burqa

An article by British journo Nesrine Malik was reproduced in today's Dominion Post, and is one of the most convincing I've read on the troubling issue of burqa banning.

Reduced to its simplest, her argument is that banning the burqa is as oppressive as the Islamic law that forces women to wear it in the first place. What makes her case especially compelling is her account of how she felt when, at the age of 18, she moved with her family from London to Saudi Arabia, and was forced to cover herself head to toe in shapeless black before the plane landed.

She found the experience "humiliating, violating, dehumanising". What's more, once she was veiled, her body language immediately became apologetic, withdrawn, subdued. She felt infantilised. The garment was hot and uncomfortable in 45 degree heat, and made public eating and drinking difficult.  

And yet ... she grew to appreciate it. She argues for its "charming egalitarianism" - the way it does away (on the street, anyway) with social status and beauty. I don't buy this one - the veil only works this way by differentiating women from men and dumping them together in the same under-class. Hardly a grand equaliser.

What I do buy is that banning laws probably spring from a rancid mixture of "Islamaphobia, busy-bodying feminism and resurgent nationalist sentiment", and that there's little to be gained from forcing women out of the burqa. Whatever the "disease" that causes women to don it, that particular "cure" is worse. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Go here - but promise you'll come back

You must see this, if you haven't already
Here's their mission statement:

The Fashion Police is a lighthearted look at the good, bad and downright ugly side of fashion, by people who love it, but don’t take it too seriously.

Tired of buying fashion magazines, only to find that all of the “must-have” items cost half your monthly salary, and would only look good on a figure like Barbie’s? Love style, but hate to slavishly follow trends? Confused by all those outlandish fashion editorials you just can’t relate to? (Why are the models always twisted into such weird and wonderful shapes? And how are you supposed to get away with sheer harem pants when you work in a library, anyway?) Don’t want to be a fashion victim? Well, this is the fashion blog for you…
They're right - it is. They've got it all ...
shocking shoes ... 
daft dresses ...

 and undesirable underwear.

Plus a few scrumptious items, like this ...

and this ...

and this ...
Thanks to Margot for bringing this pleasure-ground to my attention.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And in other news ...

That charmer Mel Gibson has been at it again - abusing, bullying and, presumably, terrifying a woman he was once powerfully attracted to. Not that he doesn't still require servicing by her from time to time, but she needed to know she was no longer his first choice for the task.

He was outraged that the mother of his eight-month-old daughter had fallen asleep before attending to his needs. So outraged that he felt he might have to burn down the house. After she'd given him his blow job.

While we're on the subject, you would think that, after all this time, men might have come up with more enticing terminology for what they want so badly. Don't they realise the extent to which they're decreasing their chances of getting anything at all from a woman by using the word "job"? Especially once her head has hit the pillow.

But back to Mel. How predictably dreary to read that he was especially virulent on the subject of Ocksana Grigorieva's appearance. The very same appearance that had once worked its magic on him. Her breast implants looked "stupid"; they made her look like a "whore"; she was dressed so provocatively that, if she got raped, it would be "her fault".

Mel Gibson, meet Andy Hayden. You guys just have so much in common.

Yes, I know you've read it everywhere

But I can't resist reproducing it again. It's what the astonished neighbour said on hearing of the arrest of the people next door:  “They couldn't have been spies. Look what she did with their hydrangeas.”

My own hydrangeas are looking dreadful - ergo, I am a true patriot. It's way past the time when they should have been pruned but who wants to get out in the cold and wet for hours with a pair of secateurs when there's tango to be danced?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Killing for non-violence

I caught sight of a bumper sticker that read "Keep New Zealand safe - kill all violent people". And I laughed out loud.

As I drew closer, I saw the smaller print beneath - "Bring back capital punishment".

The driver was what's commonly described as a nice little old lady. An executioner manque?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I don't "Love Love".

At least, not enough.

I mean, this is how they market it. That thing on the upside of the model's head that's topped off by the orange bill is its bottle. Not exactly targeted at women of a certain age, is it? I might have only recently lost my perfume virginity, but I do have some pride.

E and I had fun in the store, alternately sniffing those little paper strips and ducking our noses into the coffee beans.

I ended up with Davidoff's Cool Water. Which comes in this dignified  bottle.

 And look, my dears, at how they market the man's version.

 I'm off to have a cold shower.

Sweet-smelling, after all these years

Until late last year, I never wore perfume. No, not quite true. When I was on the brink of becoming a pregnant teenage bride, my husband-to-be arrived in London with a little box of six perfumes he'd picked up duty free, en route from Wellington. The only one I remember is Worth's Je Reviens (as indeed he had).  I also remember that within minutes of applying it, I felt nauseated and longed to escape its aura. No dice - it was the real deal, not eau de toilette, and it stayed and stayed.

This sickening effect survived the pregnancy. Any time I came into contact with a smear of perfume, I would feel squeamish. A feeling like motion sickness, or giddiness. As if, by being prevented from smelling my natural Plain Jane smell, I became disoriented and couldn't find myself. So for years I adeptly dodged those young women who try to ambush you near cosmetics counters. And, since the X claimed to dislike bottled smell too (well, he was an old hippie), odiferously unadorned I remained.

Until, late last year, I met M. M, for an impressive array of reasons, was a romantic disaster area, but the two lasting legacies of our brief intense liaison were tango, and, yes, perfume.

We'd been going out (as they call it) barely a week when he turned up at my house unannounced, with an armful of gifts (no, he wasn't Greek so I failed to beware). An array of tango dresses plus fragrance in a bottle.

What sort of a feminist lets a new lover shower her with perfume she doesn't use and five dresses (yes, five: they turned out to be symptoms rather than garments) of a type she's never worn in her life and never wanted to? My sort, apparently.

Getting any kind of present makes me feel loved, and since I'd been to a couple of milongas with M, I was already captivated by tango and thrilled by the dresses. I mean, look at them - what girly nonsense.

I was less certain about the fragrance, Armani's Mania (aptly named), but obligingly sprayed it on. I liked it. M, equally thrilled by the whole business, explained he'd chosen it because he too wore Amani and the two "fitted". More joy on the part of the naive recipient.

Within three weeks, M was a goner. But Mania remained. I spray it on when I go dancing or to any other social function. It smells of good times and dressing up. It smells happy. (The dresses are another story. Curious that I photographed them within a day to two of getting them, as if I knew they'd only be temporary guests. They became the subject of wild accusations that ended the affair and, under cover of darkness, were stuffed back into M's letterbox. I had worn two of them.)

A week or so after M's house call, we went shopping for tango shoes for me (which is another story). On the way, we called in at the store on Willis Street where he'd bought Mania. I tried a few other scents, between sniffs of coffee beans to cleanse the nostrils, and found one I really liked. Citrusy, happy (although I suspect that last adjective isn't included in the arcane lexicon of perfumology). Unfortunately, it was called I Love Love. Can you imagine striding up to a counter and asking for that? So far, I haven't managed it. I've investigated buying it online, but then I couldn't have another sniff to see if I still like it. So I shall have to go to the store and ask for it, sotte voce, by name.  I shall report back.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Parnell Woman

Two examples of the type were on our flights to and from Port Vila, and at the same resort in the intervening week. E and I first noticed them at Auckland Airport. One was tripping to and fro in her expensive black sandals, fussing about getting she and her friend out of the economy queue and into whatever the superior queue was called. She looked mildly batty. But not in an interesting way. And both of them were already togged up to the nines in resort wear.

Resort wear. Now there's a sartorial category to ponder.

It connotes clothing unsuited in every way for any context or activity beyond posing in the vicinity of a warmish body of water holding a tall glass festooned with lumps of exotic fruit and umbrellas, preferably with a smiling brown person hovering at hand. 

Resort wear is floaty. Designed for the heat, its fabric light to ethereal in weight. It billows and wafts, only now and then making contact with the body inside, which, it suggests, is cool, honey-toned, at ease.

It occurs to me as write, though (as E M Forster said, "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?"), that the essential feature of resort wear is nostalgia. However contemporary it appears, however much modern flesh it reveals, it's designed to call to  the minds of wearer and witnesses a Golden Age. An age of pink gins, long cruises, and far-flung colonies. An age when one could don a clean white garment as often as one chose and let the discarded one drop to the floor for someone else to pick up, launder, iron and replace in one's wardrobe. When nothing was required from its wearer but to languidly puff on her cigarette holder, swat the occasional mosquito and assume a slightly bored air.

Our Auckland fusser aspired to this look. Her three-quarter black and white checked pants were topped off with a piece de resistance comprising several lavish metres of white cotton lawn, which flew about her as she scuttled thither and yon. She might have got away with the look if the white cottony thing hadn't been so elaborate, so pleated and darted and overstitched and over-designed. So try-hard. But in the general airport melee of travellers and baggage, on a chilly day, she just looked weird.

People stared, their attention intially caught by her garb but held by her face. Everything about her demeanor and appearance - including the face - suggested she was entitled to national super. Yet the face had been the focus of many thousands of dollarsworth of work to make it look two decades younger. The effect resembled something you might disinter from the depths of the freezer and have to defrost in the microwave before you could identify it. The entire mask was tight and shiny, make-up coloured. The lower half filled - stuffed, actually - and set solid. No evidence of crowsfeet or wrinkles or smile lines. No evidence of anything at all. Its total lack of affect was what made her look batty.

If her friend, standing more calmly in the economy queue, had also had work, it was less painfully obvious. She was just as lavishly dressed - clinking silver bangles halfway up her arm, and more pale billowy clothing - but she still resembled a normal woman of a certain age. Both were, of course, blond and evenly tanned.

E and I, togged up in the winter clothes we'd arrived in from Wellington that morning, were fascinated. We immediately dubbed them The Monsters. Later they became Major Monster and Minor Monster. The fussing from Major continued at the resort, the first fare they were shown apparently being unacceptable. They were finally installed up the other end of the beach, and once or twice a day, one of us would announce she was off on Monster watch. E was impressively dedicated, sometimes veering shamelessly near their fare and squinting inside. Only once did we catch either of them wear anything but black, white or gray.

One evening we saw them in town, sticking out (as my ex-husband would have put it) like dogs' balls. The Parnell look on the rackety pavement of Port Vila - the capital city of a country with an infant mortality rate 12 times greater than ours, where only three-quarters of the adult population can read and write and children only go to school if their parents have the money to send them. 

I don't mean to take the high moral ground. Tourism is, for better or worse, one of Vanuatu's main income earners. And, though I doubt I will ever again want to spend time in a plush enclave in a third-world country, I was gladly taking advantage of what was on offer. But why would one want to flaunt one's privilege? 

Back at the airport the following Saturday, Major Monster was got up in a black playsuit affair that sported a big bow across the bust. Her conversation opener was, "There's a lovely Longchamps bag over there." She kept ducking off to the shop to examine it, but eventually decided that at NZ$300 it was ridiculously expensive. I felt a bit sorry for her when, having taken Minor Monster over to look at it too, Minor Monster promptly bought it "because I'm going to Europe in three weeks".

Minor Monster confided that, although she was married, Major was single - "So my husband lets me go on holiday with her once a year."

Lets me.

E and I were delighted to be single, to be dressed and holidaying at our own expense, and to be returning south of the Bombay Hills.