Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does my arse look big in this tanda?

Ms Hedgehog blogs mainly on tango, and her most recent is on what it does for female bums. She says that:
[R]egardless of your shape, whether you have a fat bottom, a thin bottom, a round one or a flat one, squareish, prominent, pear-shaped, athletic, negligible, or enough for two, following well in tango is going to make it look fabulous. Callipygousness in motion. If you want to feel good about your bottom, this will work.
I agree. Watch any good follower and within seconds you'll be hypnotised by her bum. And I speak as a straight woman. God knows what it does to men.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A ponytail comes of age

I haven't yet tangoed through a summer, so it's a very recent discovery that, even in a climate as untropical as Wellington's, if you have 50 people dancing in close embrace on a small floor, the temperature fast goes through the roof. Mine, anyway. Right now this feels like as big a challenge as was learning to dance backwards in high heels at the beginning of the year.
As a general rule, I don't sweat. I wish I did - it might slow down the overheating process. But get me clamped (however nicely) in someone's arms, with the right side of my face against their head, and we're almost instantaneously glued together.
Men, by and large, do sweat. Plus, as leaders, they must work damn hard. So, after one tanda, I leave the floor with my hair plastered to my scalp, and my face damp, and an unbecoming scarlet.
Longish hair is therefore a problem. Last Sunday, P paused, mid-dance, and plucked some of mine from the region of his mouth. I didn't feel great about this, so last night I pulled it back into a ponytail. Which is cooler for me, too, since it isn't hanging down my back.
It's ... um, a very long time indeed since I publicly accompanied a ponytail. From babyhood, my hair was chopped to just below ear-level, parted on the left and the right captured in a ribbon. The classic 50s girl-child look.
Then, one day when I was about seven or eight and was going to the church fete, my mother announced that my hair was long enough for pigtails. With a degree of pulling and pinching, she managed to scrap it into two stubs and secure them with rubber bands (that's right - scrunchies had yet to be invented). She called my father to admire them, as I stared awestruck into the mirror above the fireplace.
From then on we were growing my hair. (If you knew my mother, you would understand that she was commander-in-chief of this project while I was a mere foot solider.) I progressed through plaits, and then, after intensive lobbying, was finally - around the age of 10 or 11 - allowed to graduate to a ponytail.
Sadly, it was by then too late for one of those perky little numbers so beloved of 50s girls. My hair was too long and straight and heavy.
I would lie on my back over the edge of the bed so that head and hair hung nearly to the floor, then, as if taking my hair by surprise, could corral it all into the rubber band. I would get to my feet convinced that this time I had done it - got my ponytail to bounce on the top of my head. But within minutes it had slipped from ponytailness to horsetailness.
I came to hate it, and my thirteenth birthday present was being given permission to have it cut off. But that's another story.
One of things I hated back then, apart from lack of ponytail perkiness, which was closely correlated with popularity, was that girls sat behind me in class playing with it and boys whizzed by in the corridors and playground and pulled it. Both, from a position of rock-bottom self-esteem, I interpreted as a subtle form of disdain, if not downright mockery.
How lovely it is to grow up! Last night at the milonga two boys pulled my ponytail and not for a second did I think that meant they hated me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A great dame

On Saturday evening, E's two grandchildren took us to the pantomime, and I had the best time I've had in ages in a theatre. It was Roger Hall's Robin Hood, staged by Circa (go here to read some reviews). Star of the show, as they so often are, was the Dame - Robin's mother, Trelise Hood, played in grand style by Gavin Rutherford.
If you live in this country, her name will alert you to the fact that this poor widow makes her living as a fashion designer, unfortunately one who designs entirely in green and embarrases her derring-do son with outfits made just for him.
It being a truth universally aknowledged that a poor widow woman must be in need of a husband, Trelise goes all out to catch one, refusing to draw the line at the wicked Sherrif of Nottingham (booo!) or innocent Bob in the front row.

The evening's only disappointment for this member of the audience was that the Principal Boy wasn't a girl. But that might be because his modern opposite number - Maid Marion, in this case - seems to have taken over all his/her splendid traditional attributes. This one was bold, assertive, a cracking shot with a bow and arrow, and sensibly dressed. No sign of simper or frill. 
Robin Hood runs until 23 December. Grab the nearest kid and get down to Circa.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Like many people, I've never been able to carry off a hat. Unlike most of them, I keep on trying, spurred on, at this point in my life, by the non-aesthetic benefits of hat-wearing - keeping warm and keeping off the sun.
When younger, I routinely made myself ill in hot places by refusing to sacrifice appearance to health (in the same way that many won't consider warm underwear in cold weather until they're past 35). Monte Alban, near Oaxaca in Mexico, comes to mind. 

I walked around these exposed ruins for several hours under a searing sun, and, not surprisingly, suffered a blinding 24-hour headache. 
Some people look great in hats. Ruth, for instance, who borrowed this one from me only minutes earlier and immediately made it her own.

It was bought for me last century by the X in a Sydney St Vincent de Paul's because I was trapped in the house by blazing heat. I didn't wear it then, I don't wear it now, and yet it goes on waiting for me to do so. 
I have more luck - or is that confidence? - with winter hats. Perhaps because they're markedly less ladylike and I don't feel such a fraud. 

I borrowed this one from E for a winter weekend at the Chateau last year and felt remarkably at home in it (I was, mind you, in love with the person weilding the camera, which probably anaesthetised me against all other sensations). E also gave me a nice wool cloche she bought at considerable expense in London. I don't feel too bad in that, either.
Sun hats, though, continued to elude me.
And then - drumroll - last year in Melbourne I found it - the perfect hat. Because I've spent much of my life in a state of hat denial, I don't know the proper names of various types of hat, so I'd better just give you a picture of this one.

Which doesn't go far towards illustrating how nifty it was in Kookai when I bought it. That's because within a day or so of getting it home I ran it over.
I must have rushed down the path to the car and plonked the hat on the car roof while I got myself and my belongings inside. I didn't notice the hat wasn't among them until I returned an hour or so later and found it flattened on the road. Tragically, it's never been the same since.
I suppose what I like/d about it is that it isn't ladylike. It appeals to the boyish in me. It makes the wearer look jaunty rather than as though she should be bedecked in muslin, carrying a willow basket of cut flowers and brimming with sweetness. 
This hat's other important feature is that it fits me. I have a small head and that, coupled with the usual onslaught of the Wellington wind, means your average-sized brimmed hat is off my head in seconds. This one is soft, rams on tight and stays put. Unlike a similar one, bought a year or so later, also in Melbourne but rather more cheaply. Which means it serves more as a bedroom decoration than a useful piece of headgear.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Slut-wear, again

A furore this week about whether or not a teacher was entitled to tell a uniformed 14-year-old that her short skirt "made her look like a slut".

Here's TV1's report, which also shows the length of skirt worn by various of her peers. 

And here's (some of) what media bloke Brian Edwards had to say about it all:
Ms Marshall [the girl's mother] appears not to understand that when you enrol your child in any school you automatically accept the rules of student conduct set down by the school’s board, including any dress code which the school may have. Her daughter, Amethyst, has been flouting Newlands College’s dress code for some time. ... Perhaps my favourite word in looking at any issue is ‘perspective’. Perspective has been lost in this matter. A kid was dressing inappropriately and was told so by a teacher. In seeking publicity for what happened, her parents have done their daughter and a fine teacher a disservice.
My favourite word would be "look it up in a dictionary" (sorry, favourite six words). Or, failing that (which I have, because I don't want to budge from the computer), Wikipaedia. This characterises slut as:
a pejorative term meaning an individual who is sexually promiscuous. The term is generally applied to women and used as an insult or offensive term of disparagement, meaning "dirty or slovenly".
This dual definition shows up in several online dictionaries too, and chimes with my own experience of the word's usage on opposite sides of the world.
In England, at least during the 50s and 60s, it was the second meaning that had currency. Your conventional housewife might have bristled to find it applied to herself, but plenty of others would shrug it off or even laugh and agree that that was indeed what they were.
My mother used to delight in Katherine Whitehorn's Observer column. I particularly remember her laughing over the one in which Whitehorn described herself as a slut. Sure enough, here's Wikipaedia again to back me up:
The British journalist Katharine Whitehorn wrote a famous 1963 article applying this meaning in The Observer: "Have you ever taken anything out of the dirty-clothes basket because it had become, relatively, the cleaner thing? Changed stockings in a taxi? Could you try on clothes in any shop, any time, without worrying about your underclothes? How many things are in the wrong room—cups in the study, boots in the kitchen? ... [this makes] you one of us: the miserable, optimistic, misunderstood race of sluts." This article prompted a flurry of correspondence, with many women writing in to describe their own acts of sluttishness.
This was back in the pre-tights Pleistocene era when women held up their stocking with suspenders. This - in case you're unfamiliar the mechanics - involves stretching a piece in the top of the stocking over a plastic or metal button and pushing it through a metal or plastic loop at the front (it was a lot simpler than it sounds). What I remember of that particular Whitehorn column is that she claimed to have once resorted to replacing the missing or broken suspender button with an aspirin tablet. Sluts were clearly pretty smart.    
So I was shocked when I arrived in the southern hemisphere at the tender age of 16 to discover that antipodeans mean something quite different when they call a woman a slut. It's an insult no woman is ever going to laugh it.
It's also, of course, another symptom of that social Grand Canyon - the double standard. No dictionary will ever tell you exactly how many men a woman has to have sex with before she can be definitively labelled a slut. Which means men (and sadly, women too) can apply it whenever they feel like it and on whatever grounds they like.
Note also that there's no parallel epithet for the men who sleep with so-called sluts, thereby creating the slutdom they can then condemn. 
Edwards has got the wrong end of the stick when he writes, "when you enrol your child in any school you automatically accept the rules of student conduct set down by the school’s board, including any dress code which the school may have".
Nothing I've seen or read has suggested that Amethyst's mother disagreed with the rule, only its method of enforcement in her daughter's case. I'm sure, in hindsight, the teacher does too. Fourteen-year-olds are some of the most annoying creatures on earth and to be surrounded by them day after day would push me towards far worse behaviour than name-calling (and while I'm here, why not give Amethyst's teacher and all her colleagues a raise? We didn't have trouble coughing up all those millions for Warner Bros).
When men use the term of women, it's a way of trying to control them. When this teacher used it, it was a way of trying to control Amethyst (which is, I agree, part of the teacher's job). That doesn't make it right. Or, to use the contemporary term, appropriate.
My mother used similar tactics on me when I was Amethyst's age. One Saturday morning showdown saw me banned from accompanying her into the village because I'd backcombed my hair to the point that, according to her, I looked "cheap".
I well recall my hurt and fury. And my sense of powerlessness. I was vanquished by this adjective in a way I had no idea how to combat. All I could do was refuse to comb out my hair, and burn.
To be told you're inappropriately dressed is one thing. To be told you look like a slut for not doing so is quite another. It's no way to exert your authority, no way to get kids to do what you want them to do.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Boob-tube debut

I dislike the word boob - it's so pantomime-y - but its alliterative effect when combined with tube is too compelling to ignore. Besides what else are you going to call this thing? Deborah in Madison Rose, where I bought mine this week, flourished bustier, which sounds classier but is, I think, inaccurate. A bustier is structured, often boned. Like this. 

Hmn, classier, did I say? This one from Victoria's Secret makes a liar of me. But compare it to this - your classic boob tube.
An item owing its existence entirely to the invention of lycra (which some might regard as the pinnacle of human achievement; and surely of more benefit to more people than, say, getting a bloke on the moon).
As you can see, your classic boob tube is structured entirely by the body inside it. And my point - yes, I've finally reached it - is that right up to two days ago, I'd always assumed my body simply wasn't up to the job. Well, two jobs really: 1. looking nice, and 2. keeping the tube in place. Both doubts stemming from the one root cause - a marked lack of what Sarah charmingly refers to as "boobage".
So what changed? The proximate cause was that, on Thursday in Madison Rose, I actually tried one on, although not as an end in itself. I was lured into the changing room by a delicious little black dress - Saba this time. I'm not going to describe it because in a couple of days it will be mine, all mine, and I'll photograph it. The essential point here is that it has one of those blouson tops that hangs open to the waist, and requires something appropriate to be worn underneath. Deborah handed me a small black sequined stretchy item, saying it wasn't exactly right but it would give me an idea. It certainly did. I loved it, both under the dress and on its own. 

No, I'm not modelling it, having no wish to let myself in for invidious comparisons with the pink shape above. Admittedly this one is rather more constructed than the pink one. That powerful band of swathing has both a bolstering and a flattening effect, which cancel each other out, but it does maintain a reassuringly tight grip on the torso. Still, I was a bit worried about how it would stand up, so to speak, to tango.
I wore it that evening and lived, unembarrassed, to tell the tale. I worked very hard at not hauling at it nervously on the dancefloor, mid-tanda. And, when the moment came that I couldn't stand another minute without doing so, I ducked out of sight into the kitchen and tugged away unglamorously.
All in all, I enjoyed wearing it. Shoulders are nice, even on women of a certain age, and I felt daringly Becky Sharpish.
And this revolutionary wardrobe step's less proximate cause? Tango, of course. Tango offers the excuse, the occasion, the confidence and the culture for such personal reassessments. I'm looking forward to more shoulderless evenings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So anyway ...

Back to the recent nuptials.

As you can see, the groom was unconventionally attired, although not as underdressed as he'd threatened to be several months before, when cut-off jeans and jandals were mentioned. He wore this fine, pale-gray Zara item - known officially as the Wedding Cardie - a new white teeshirt, his best jeans and new white trainers.

To my great admiration, the bride was more than happy to let him go his own way, although she had other ideas for herself and wore white. But let me hasten to add that she looked nothing like a meringue, let alone one of the type's lime-green variations, several examples of which we spied in shop windows in Kunming and Hanoi, before flinching and scuttling past.

S had asked her friend and maid-of-honour Winsome to make her a dress. Winsome has a design shop in Kunming, and her tailoring is knock-out perfect. When I was there in January she fitted me for and made - in a few short days - a beautifully constructed little black jacket. Her design for S was a perfectly plain, strapless, fitted sheath in crisp stretchy cotton. With it, S wore pale satin high-heeled sandals, a short veil she'd bought online, her mother's pearls and a few white lilies.

And the celebrant? At the last minute - and almost certainly prompted by an attack of nerves - he dashed out and bought that black Chinese shirt. The consensus was that it considerably enhanced his authority.

Tanguero wear

"If you come to a milonga, you will see a huge number of women, nicely made-up, in the most stunning outfits, wearing the highest and latest Comme-il-fauts. I've never seen so many gorgeous women as in tango and lots of them are quite decent dancers as well!

Unfortunately, I've never seen so few gorgeous men as in tango. Men are in a minority, often dress very carelessly and the average level of attractivity isn't breathtaking. Also the dance level is much lower amongst men than amongst women. And this is why every semi-decent male dancer can feel like a kid in a candy-shop and choose freely amongst the female population according to the check-list:
- Age

- Level of attractivity- make-over and shoes

- Dance qualities"
Not my words but definitely my opinion. The writer is tango teacher Melina Sedo, who blogs here.

On Friday evening, after class, two or three of we women were having just such a conversation about the low standard of male appearance and the need for them to up their game. The trouble is - why should they want to? As Melina says, they're kids in a sweetshop and get all the dances they want without changing their jeans or, in some cases, even applying a lick of deodorant.

My friend I wrote the other day from England that he'd been "dragging my mother through M&S in search of suits for tango". When I pointed out that he didn't normally wear a suit to milongas, he agreed but added, "Everything that I wear is chosen consciously though - if I'm wearing jeans, it's a deliberate choice.

"But you're right that I should lift my game, and this is part of an effort to move it up a notch. Yesterday's acquisition was an understated black wool and cashmere suit which feels lovely. Not sure when I'll be able to find the right occasion for the pink linen jacket I bought earlier ..."

Which is great but he wasn't one of the men we'd been talking about. He's a noticeably careful dresser, and has a great line in smashing shirts. Quite how you get through to the others his subtle point that jeans should be a deliberate choice rather than the default is beyond me. 
And no, I'm not advocating this as a look - or demeanor - not in Wellington anyway.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love ... Puke

"A true story that feels fake"; "charcuterie porn" - UK Daily Telegraph; " a two hour and fifteen minute ad for being rich; ... a smug, patronising travelogue" -; "a 140-minute shampoo advert" -

And, I'd like to add, a marvellous opportunity to unleash all the literary bile you can lay your pen to.

Friday, November 5, 2010

And weddings in general

Ms Hedgehog often but not always blogs about tango, which is how I caught up with her. But here she is on the subject of weddings:

I'm all for people getting married, if they want to marry each other. But a marriage ceremony (at least in the European tradition) is a very simple affair. It traditionally requires the couple, some witnesses, and some sort of official, and the conversation, with answers understood, is basically as follows: 
•Who exactly are you two?

•What do you think you're doing?

•Are you sure?

•Anybody else here got a problem with that? This is your last chance. No?

•Do you hereby marry each other?

•Right, then, consider yourselves married, and the rest of yous are not to interfere.

There may or may not be religious additions; I have no objection to sitting quietly and watching that part, although I'm not that keen on being expected to participate as a matter of course. But in my book, the meat of it takes about five minutes, or twenty-five with sitting everyone down and faffing about, and it should immediately be followed by some announcement functionally similar to this:

•The food is this way, the drinks are that way, the dancefloor is over there, and the band [or DJ, according to budget] will be on in an hour's time.

Or, alternatively:

•We are now going to the pub. Follow me.

Waiting around for five hours making small talk in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere without access to food or a cup of tea is not a party. And speeches, if any, should be after the food.
She doesn't mention if she minds travelling vast distances to attend weddings, but if that's no problem, she would have enjoyed J and S's swift and charmingly low-key event.

My own (and only) wedding - more than four decades ago (yes, I was a child bride) - was also low key, but in another, entirely uncharming way. I'll enjoy telling you about it another day, when I don't have so many irksome, income-earning chores to attend to. All I'm prepared to say now is that my groom and I did not look like this


or this


My divorce was a bit more entertaining. But that too will have to wait for another day.