What I Did On Holiday

So, let’s catch up a bit on the past fortnight. We went to Cornwall because it’s a lovely part of the country, and it’s been years since we did that long journey kind of family holiday, carting buckets and spades, or at least in our case, fishing nets, overland to the sparkling blue sea (as opposed to the pewter gray North Sea, which is not so far from our door). We rented a teeny cottage in a pretty community called Charlestown, where the television series Hornblower is filmed (for those of you who know it). And I packed lots of books.

There were some truly memorable moments. On the way down we broke the journey by stopping off for a day in Bath, one of my favourite cities. It’s so gloriously elegant and I just love the shopping there. There were several things we needed – my son needed new shorts, my husband needed holiday books and I needed underwear. Now, sensitive male readers may wish to avert their eyes; no need to upset yourselves unnecessarily. I’ve never been that bothered about underwear, preferring to spend my money on the garments that the other 99% of the population sees. I can cheerfully hook my elderly off-white bra out the washing pile which makes my husband sometimes suspect that I am not a Real Woman. But I draw the line when the underwiring starts to stab me in the heart; I mean, what is it with all the scaffolding in bras these days? I have no need to be cantilevered into position. Anyway, I was calmly headed off to Marks and Spencer, as per usual, when my husband began to steer me in a completely new direction, and before I knew it, I was being ushered into one of those small, scary little shops that have three silver-sprayed torsos in the window displaying wispy, frilly numbers that calculate out to an outrageous price per metre of fabric, and have apparently no stock on the inside.

‘My wife,’ said my husband firmly to the lady seated on a little velvet stool behind the cash desk, ‘needs underwear. Nothing fits her. Please help.’

The assistant was a woman of German origin with a business-like platinum bob and steel-rimmed spectacles. She guessed my size through the shirt I was wearing, and when I demurred, said, ‘Na jah, I think ve try something on, and you will see I am right.’

So, I was invited with steely kindness to undress in a tiny but compassionate changing cubicle with low lighting and nice furnishings. There’s an advert on the television here for Bravissimo, which is a firm specializing in underwear for the larger lady. An endless array of well-endowed models present acres of cleavage to the cameras while cooing ‘Bravissimo – how does it make you feel?’ To which I usually respond, to my husband’s amusement: inadequate. I don’t look at myself undressed much; I’m thin as a whippet which was probably okay in the lengthy era of rationing that followed the second world war, but which nowadays makes me look in comparison to most normal folk like a victim of famine. Believe you me, it is no fun being thin; people feel they have the right to insist you are anorexic and make snorting noises when I point out that I eat three meals a day plus snacks. Well, abandoned to my body in this little cubicle, I felt remarkably like Eliza Doolittle, some waif and stray recently picked out of the gutter by a benevolent benefactor and brought to the big city to be spruced up. Whilst that same benevolent benefactor sat up front on a spindly chair having the time of his life, a pig in muck, legitimately achieving his life’s dream of being surrounded by ladies’ lingerie.

My German assistant returned with armfuls of underwear (where did she get it all from?) that turned out to fit me perfectly, which was a shock as I’d given up all hope of that kind of miracle about a decade ago. And I began to quite enjoy myself. Almost everything I tried on was coloured, which was unsettling as I only ever wear white (no issues about matching), but it was all so pretty, and so beautifully made and, biggest surprise of all, so comfortable.

‘I speak viz your husband and tell him you have an expensive body!’ my lovely assistant crowed. At which point the woman in the next door cubicle, also being attended to by another kind and charming assistant piped up, declaring, ‘I wish someone would say that about me! I’m sixty-one and a grandmother and the only way I’m expensive is if I charge for flesh by the pound!’ I tell you, it’s quite a party they have back there in these shops.

So, I left with three new bras; one cream, one black and one pink. I refused the knickers, though, on grounds of rampant impracticality. ‘You really should have ze pink knickers,’ my assistant reproached me. ‘You’ll never get a precise match of colour.’ ‘Oh I know,’ I said, but they are so frilly; they just wouldn’t be comfortable to sit around in all day.’ At these words both assistants, as of one woman, took a step backwards and threw their hands up in despair. Had they taught me nothing in our brief but significant acquaintance? ‘It’s not just about comfort!’ they declared, and my husband shook his head sadly in a you-see-what-I-must-put-up-with kind of way. Still, I’m the one having to sit on my bottom with (most of the time) a hot laptop on my thighs, and I know my limits.

Goodness, that took a long time to tell, didn’t it? Sensitive men may return to the fold now. The other story I must tell while I’m recounting the good bits concerns my son. Ever since he was little, he’s had a genetically untraceable fascination for fishing. My husband is always trying to redirect it towards boats and sailing, thus coinciding with his own cherished interests, but my son stubbornly hangs onto his rod and his net and has quite a surprising degree of success. Charlestown has a tiny working harbour that expands, at low tide, into a shingle cove with good rock pools. Initially my son began with his fishing net in the pools and returned (dodging the heavy showers that plagued the holiday) with a brimming bucket full of crabs and prawns. I would forget the bucket was there and be suddenly freaked in the kitchen when that day’s crab started up chattering its claws. Then he decided to move into sea fishing on the incoming tide, something that happened about nine in the evening at that point. It was getting dark by then, and was raining, and blowing a gale, but he ventured out doggedly with his resigned father. An hour or so later, they returned triumphant. As ever, my son had the luck of the devil and, to the chagrin of the massed fishermen sitting patiently by, had plucked a pollack out of the black waters. It was quite a reasonable sized fish, glossy gray and sinuous, staring up at me out of the bucket with wide, trusting eyes.

‘He wants to eat it,’ said my husband.

‘Must you?’ I asked. ‘It would be so much kinder to throw it back.’

‘I caught it,’ said my son with determination, ‘and I’m going to eat it.’

Not of course, that he had the stomach to gut it. Instead, he wanted a few moments of quality time with his catch, in which he stroked the pollack’s bristly back and pronounced a fond, touching farewell, then went to sit in a different room while his father, thanks to a rural Suffolk childhood full of nature red in tooth and claw, did the necessary. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the combination of compassion, squeamishness and gruesome intent. Still, the pollack fulfilled its destiny and my son had it for lunch the next day. Plain fish isn’t something my son will usually accept on the menu, and it made me wonder about the power of hunting your own food. If only broccoli ran wild and had to be tracked down and overmastered. ‘Broccoli with eyes?’ said my son, aghast, when I suggested it. ‘I don’t think so.’

Well, those were the more entertaining moments of the holiday. I think I will have to make this a two-parter and discuss the rest on another day. So, more later!

26 thoughts on “What I Did On Holiday

  1. I’ve always longed to go to one of those fancy underwear boutiques but have always been too shy. Perhaps if I could visit the one you did…
    Congratulations to your son for catching and eating his own fish. I think I read somewhere that if kids are encouraged to choose and grow their own vegetables, they actually DO eat them more readily (I find that hard to believe, but who knows?).

  2. Your description of buying bras cracked me up — that could so easily be me, although there’s no way Hobgoblin would ever be brave enough to steer me to such a place. I just bought some bras online and was disconcerted to see that the black one is lined with pink on the inside. Why? I think it’s perfectly sensible to focus on the clothes that people actually see. I’m looking forward to the second installment! (I can’t imagine killing and gutting a fish — ugh.)

  3. Sounds like a fabulous holiday so far. Bravo to Mr Litlove for getting you into the underwear shop – sounds like you had some good finds there, though I too was disappointed not to hear that you had the matching knickers.

    I grew up around fishermen, who brutally murdered and gutted fish before my very eyes, and as a result, I struggled to eat fish for many years. I have now come round to fish as a food option again, but it must come in rectangles. Anything with eyes, fins or tails is too realistic for me to swallow.

  4. Litlove, as a sensitive man who has shopped with women for undergarments, I can identify with your husband, and also recognize your own concerns about weight versus fit, from the concerns of female friends. A particular friend of mine had her eyes opened to colour and matching garments a few years ago and has never looked back. You might want to revisit bath sometime.

    As for your son, I fished with my father for a few years – nothing Hemingwayesque, just trout from a river – when I was a boy, and one day, one day only, outdid him in the catch. I was pretty amazed by that. But it did make me feel a fleeting happiness when we got home that day and displayed our catch.

    I didn’t like fishing because the flies and mosquitoes were fierce and the only face netting available to me was built for a man, so it clung to my face in the heat of the day. The bugs weren’t kept off me so much as given grids of my cheeks, nose and forehead for easier targeting.

    Whenever you catch a fish, you hit its head against a rock – not smash it – so it goes unconscious before dying (or else it dies). You club baby seals once or twice for the same purpose, and their meat and pelts are – but I’ll stop here, lest your site get splashed by a PETA person. What to do with shellfish is a mystery to me.

    Sounds like a nice time away.

  5. Sounds like a fun holiday so far. Glad that you survived the underwear boutique with your sense of humour intact. And well done to your son and Mr Litlove for showing their masculine fishing prowess.

  6. Your anecdote reminded me, somewhat tangentially, of a story my mother’s friend tells about an upscale lingerie boutique here in Portland that specializes in creating cleavage where none existed previously. Evidently the owner, a woman of Teutonic origins and proportions, encases the customer in a cage of steel and elastic, and enlists the support of every spare ounce of flesh on the customer’s torso in order to sustain an illusion of mammary bounty. This person is referred to colloquially as “The Tit Nazi,” which may be questionably PC.

    Glad you didn’t meet her counterpart in Bath.

  7. *sigh* I wish my husband would usher me into an expensive underwear shop. It sounds like you had fun!
    As for your son’s fishing prowess, it took me back to my childhood when we used to catch fish and take pride in our ability to scale, gut, and clean what we caught. Fast forward to today, and I’m almost too squeamish to take the hook out of a fish’s mouth.

  8. The Tit Nazi has many sisters, I’m pretty sure. I’ve never had any help buying underwear before, and really think it’s about time to let someone with a German accent help me out.

    I’m with Charlotte on the matching underwear, by the way — it need not be uncomfortable and even though no one can see that you match, you DO know it, and sometimes it can give you courage and/or comfort when you most need it.

    xoxoxo

  9. Hi, I came from a link in the blogroll of third storey window. I’ve enjoyed your holiday tales, especially your purchase in Bath. I was there December 07 (from Canada), and I particularly remember the Marks and Spencer, cause my husband and I spent almost an hour there. We came out with a couple of sweaters… it was so cold that day. But I’d go back to Bath any time.

  10. Emily – I’m sure my lovely assistants would cheer to see you approach! You would look splendid, I know (I’ve seen the photos!😉 ). And it IS supposed to encourage children to eat veg if they grow them first. I’m cursed – I tried to grow strawberries and they produced about three tiny fruit. Sigh!

    Dorothy – lol! My husband wouldn’t dare go in without me, I’m sure! And I agree with you about the pink lining – what’s that all about? As for the killing and gutting, I was hiding upstairs, well out of the way!🙂

    Charlotte – ugh, I cannot imagine that I could have eaten something killed before me when I was a child. I generally agree that I like all animal products rendered unrecognisable – square is good! Aww and next time I’ll get the knickers, and think of you.

    JB – Shellfish have to be plunged into boiling water where they scream horribly, no?😉 I think my husband did knock the fish on the head, but I was hiding at the time… There aren’t many men I could imagine shopping with, but I know you’re one of them. I’m glad to hear of the encouraging experiences of your friend. And that sounds like a fine moment when you caught more fish than your dad, important for any growing boy, but the mosquitoes sound bad, bad, bad. It must have been a lesson in stoicism to withstand them!

    Pete – I hadn’t thought of it as machismo, but maybe I should? My son makes all his victories look like triumphs of stealth rather than all-out conflict! The boutique was fun, really it was. What a shame men don’t get a similar experience – equal rights, right?🙂

    David – oh that’s hilarious! I can assure you I would have run screaming from such a woman but the story is just wonderful.

    Apiece – oh husbands. It’s all swings and roundabouts. I’ll bet yours is fab at something mine wouldn’t dream of doing in a million years! And I find it quite comforting somehow that you developed squeamishness over time. I can recall watching my grandmother clean and gut a pheasant when I was small, and I would try not to be in the same county now, if possible!

    Bloglily – yes, I can imagine how nice that secret knowledge might be in times of need! And I think you should definitely find yourself a delightful store with some encouraging help – you’d look stunning, I know. Hugs xxx🙂

    Arti – hello and welcome! I love that ds and her friends are warmly welcomed here. How nice to think that you know Bath! It’s a great M & S there, very big and full of good stuff. But you’re right it can get chilly down in that valley!

  11. Oh what fun to read about your holiday. I’m also quite wary of frilly boutiques and my husband is way too shy to ever steer me inside and then, horror-of-horrors, speak to the assistants. But a good fit is priceless in my opinion, being a slender one myself🙂

    And here I must admit that I was a tomboy as a child and LOVED fishing as well as LOVED gutting my own fish. I particularly loved seeing what the fish had just eaten and would steal my sister’s trout to get at their stomachs.

    Glad you are back!

  12. I love your stories! I need to visit Bath and meet your German assistant. I hate bra shopping so much because I can rarely find anything that fits. I definitely don’t need any cantilevering. Bra shopping sends me into such a pit of despair that my husband has taken pity on me and does it for me. He’s a saint.

    As for the fishing, I grew up fishing and until I went vegetarian loved it. My Dad’s philosophy was that if I was going to catch it I had know what to do with it afterwards so when I was old enough to be trusted with a fillet knife I had to clean my own catch. I didn’t have to do it very often though because whenever my Grandpa was fishing with us, which was most of the time, he’d clean my fish because he didn’t think it necessary for me to get my hands dirty.🙂

  13. Glad you had a good time! I am completely intimidated by underwear places – I went into Victoria’s Secret once, ages ago, and they hadn’t got the bra I wanted in my size, and when I asked if they had the next size down, the shop assistant looked down her nose at me and said, “We don’t have one that small.” It was completely crushing, and even though I believe I have filled out since then, I am still terrified of going to those shops. I wish I could go to your one!

  14. I suppose catching fish could be macho but it does seem to require a lot of persistence and stealth so your son is in no danger of becoming Rambo. Sounds like excellent father-son bonding too.

  15. Oh, I am drooling with envy. Cornwall! And the seaside town where Hornblower was filmed. You can’t get much better than that in my book!🙂 I love your stories–they always crack me up. How is it that lingerie store clerks can size a customer up so well? And those wires can honestly be deadly–why is women’s clothing so complicated (and often uncomfortable!). I’m looking forward to more stories and you must share which books you read, too!🙂

  16. Please direct me immediately to that lingerie shop and the German woman who knows her stuff at a glance. My husband will pay her well, I’m sure to have have me “outfitted” AND comfortable without yanking and pawing at straps or ill-sized pretty things.
    What a hoot! Glad it appears to be a universal thing, this lingerie shopping and hoping for a “fit.”
    As for your son’s fishing escapade, did he enjoy his meal? Not at all thwarted by the reality?
    Wonderful tales, here Litlove and will be back for more!

  17. Oh my GOD, LItlove, in fits about the lingerie and in COMPLETE AGREEMENT regarding same. Complete and utter agreement. Don’t get it. And lingerie shops – which my husband loves, and frequents, and comes bearing gifts from – make me incredibly anxious. Actually, my husband’s insistence on buying me things from these stores makes me incredibly anxious. It makes me feel inadequate and unwomanly, because he clearly wants to see me wearing it and I just as clearly would never, ever, not in a million years, go in there and hand over that kind of money myself. It’s making me anxious just writing about it.

    Props to your son for his successful hunt! I think there is something very basic and intensely satisfying in finding your own food. Holiday is sounding lovely – not to mention hilarious – so far, but oh so glad to have you back.

  18. Holidays!! Always a source of inspiration and astonishment!!

    And while I’m on, I seem to have had multiple comments from your good self, LL – I think my system has gone peculiar, unless it was the one you tried to put earlier and it’s come up again??!!? In the midst of attempting to save one, they seem to have all vanished, alas – so I apologise in advance if you fail to find your message … unless the system can recover it? Oh lordy it’s too much for me. I shall go and lie down …

    I need a holiday

    ==:O

    Hugs & stuff

    Axxx

  19. Verbivore – how nice to find another slender person! It’s not always as much fun as people think – you get cold in winter, have less resistance to infection, etc, etc. And getting underwear that fits is no easy matter! I am hugely impressed by your ability to study fishes’ stomachs. Wow. I would never have guessed you have that talent, but it only adds to your admirableness in my eyes!

    Care – you are such a sweetie. It’s very lovely to have you visit!

    Stefanie – your Bookman is indeed an absolute treasure, but I would have been extremely happy to find you in the next door cubicle!🙂 I’m so comforted by so many friends having this same problem fitting bras – it’s just not intuitive, is it? And I love the stories of your early fishing days. I am mightily impressed by your ability with that fillet knife, and rather charmed by your grandfather’s old-worldly courtesy!

    Jenny – what a mean assistant!!!! These are the times when one truly hopes that karma will do its job. No wonder you don’t want to go in a fancy underwear shop again. Well, I can assure you that if you are ever in Bath, in The Dressing Room, the ladies there will sort you out with exquisite kindness. Hugs to you!

    Pete – lol! No, he has no interest in the Rambo role, although he is very keen to grow taller at the moment (he is already taller than I am). You could tell him a thing or two about that, right?😉

    Danielle – do you know what would have made it better? A glimpse of Ioin Gruffudd! But a girl can’t have everything. It really was a very pretty spot, but I actually didn’t get much reading done. That was the great tragedy of the trip. And lol about those wires – deadly is just the word!🙂

    Oh – so nice to have you visit, and you would have a lovely time and emerge utterly splendid from the tender care of the ladies in Bath. It really does seem a problem for the women of the world, this business of fitting underwear. You’d think the manufacturers would introduce further distinctions in sizes. But what do I know? As for the fish, my son declared it was ‘very tasty’. This goes to show how great the role of the imagination in eating, as it looked very plain white fish to me, but still! There wasn’t an awful lot of it in the end, though, not really that big a fish!🙂

    Doctordi – oh my friend, I feel your anxiety! And empathise completely. If the ladies hadn’t been so kind, I might have run from there, screaming. And fortunately nothing more unusual than bras and knickers were offered me; that might have proved an experiment too far. Your husband sounds remarkably like mine in this respect – lol! And oh it IS nice to be back – I did miss you too.

    Anne – I apologise – the multiple comments are my fault! I tried to leave one, failed to notice the banner saying ‘comment will be visible after owner approval’ and thought it hadn’t got through. So I commented again, noticed said banner, thought oops! And commented once more to apologise for the mistake. Well, it’s classic Essex girl stuff.🙂 If all comments got lost in the scramble, I can easily write it out again – although it was mostly waffle!

    Hugs to you! xoxox

  20. Those stories are hilarious! Comfortable eh? (It makes me sit back, mouth open with amazement). Broccoli with eyes. Wouldn’t do for us vegetarians, but for the meat eaters… GMO’s?

  21. Oh I love Cornwall, had many childhood holidays there and hope to take my husband there on one of our UK trips. I also love Bravissimo, I get all my bras from them, and honestly, the knickers are not uncomfortable at all! Unless one buys the wrong size, I presume. Good lingerie is definitely worth the money, it makes the clothes that people see look better. Glad you enjoyed your break, and welcome back!

  22. Oh Litlove! I commisserate with your bra-fitting experiences. My body type could best be described in nice terms as “zaftig”. Even when I was much lighter, I still was buxom and had difficulties with finding properly fitted bras. To find something that fits me in any of the stores in my home city, I’d have to get a band that was 10 inches too large. This is not an exaggeration. I could almost wrap it around my body twice. But, to find the proper band size with a large enough cup, I have to go bra shopping in New York or Chicago. Ordering on line doesn’t seem to work for me — styles change to frequently and there is disparity between brands. People laugh at me; some think that I’m a bit obsessed over lingerie, but once I went to an expert bra-fitter — and someone who can size you without a tape measure as your German shopassistant did is an expert — I’ve vowed to never settle for something that squishes, pulls, tugs, rides up, slips, or pokes you again. Once I was a convert, I told two of my friends about my experience. They looked at me sternly and told me that it wasn’t only large busted women who had this problem. This was eye-opening to me. We’ve since had the shared pipedream that we might open a lingerie store — one that would fit every body type and would never make any woman feel intimidated or depressed about her bust size. Our inside joke name for such a place describes each of us, tongue-in-check fashion: Big, Small, None-at-all.

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