School’s out for summer!

I hear from friends and family that it’s the end of term in the UK and finally schools are out for summer. Whenever I think of the end of term I hear the Alice Cooper song screeching “Skools out for EVER!‘” Schools here in Greece finish in mid-June, so for them it really is a long stretch of holiday before going back in in September. The local children are always playing around the village, zooming through the streets on BMX bikes, playing games and swimming on the beaches. It seems idyllic compared to when I think back to my childhood when those six magical weeks felt like an eternity of days spread out on the horizon. Mine were mostly at the mercy of UK summer weather and day trips to the coast, August bank holidays in Blackpool – and the longevity of the family joke “Beans or tomato’s, duck? Always delivered in a thick Black Country accent to impersonate the eccentric B&B landlady we stayed with near the North Pier aka ‘the posh end’ of Blackpool. Every few years these six weeks were punctuated by a holiday to Greece with my family. It was 1993 when we visited Crete and I came back with blond sun bleached streaks in my hair and freckles that joined up on my nose. There I was at age 11, the summer before starting secondary school when I developed a growing penchant for Greece. It was like the first kiss of a lifelong holiday romance with a country I just can’t break up with.

Also, look how cool I was with those 90s shorts on and I still dress the same…summer fashion has gone full circle!

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As holiday countdown starts for most families and the newspapers report on the gloom of fluctuating currencies (yes, pretty dire at the moment – every cent counts), it also the time of year wherever you turn there is a helpful list of things to pack ‘for the capsule holiday wardrobe’ and things that are the ‘must-have‘ fashion items for this summer. We met a couple last week who are travelling around the world over 12 months, starting with Europe and are here in Syros for a month. They only have hand luggage – yes, for a year! It’s really made me think about necessities. Since realising I have clothes and beauty items that I have discovered are entirely surplus to requirements. I have a pang of regret like I was tricked by that tiny voice of consumerism when packing for six months in Greece. A lot of what I brought was totally needed: jogging bottoms, yoga pants, jumpers, wool socks and a Northface fleece – absolutely needed for the cold Spring nights (and days, like the sullen afternoon in April I went out for a walk to the Aquarium in Kini just to stay warm). Then a lot really wasn’t necessary; dressy stuff just feels pointless –there are 3 dresses I may not even wear, just too ‘showy’, earrings and jewellery doesn’t get much of an airing, also that orange pair of H&M sandals – not even comfortable. Honestly though, most things clothes-wise seem to get a good use – but there is a full on staple of bikini/vest/denim shorts and flip-flops in regular rotation. But for anyone packing for a week or two in Mediterranean climes I would heartily recommend the less is more approach –think basics, mix and match dresses for day and evening, comfy trousers, shorts, vests and t-shirts – no heels, nothing bulky – cardie/jacket for the evening chill. A lovely friend of mine whatsapped me photos of her holiday purchases while in a sweaty high street changing room on Oxford Street – I tried to be constructive but shuddered at the horror of pre-holiday shopping!

Summer beauty routine
In the past 4 months away I have not only relinquished the overstuffed beauty bag with its various lotions and potions, stripping back to basics. First to go was my love of garish nail varnish, which just cannot withstand the reality of handwashing loads and daily applications of mosquito repellent, as well as gardening. I don’t miss it at all and my nails have never been in better shape – I have also ‘almost’ quit biting the skin around my fingers as a nervous habit…almost. Given that I thought I’d have to go to a hairdresser at some point, I have instead decided to let my hair go and do what the bloomin’ heck it likes. Apart from a treat of frizz ease every once in a while and some ‘silver-purple-shampoo’, my hair seems to relish the humidity and stays soft, in salty tousled curls. I have reached what beauty editors could describe as ‘untamed beach hair’ without the help of any products. Okay, I admit there may have been some lemon juice involved but that’s all-natural! The hair-straighteners still mock me from afar, having only been used once to ‘iron’ a shirt. All you really need is basic shampoo’s, a better grade conditioner and decent shower gel. Most branded beauty items are expensive here – nivea – johnsons – elvive,  all around twice the cost of at home. So I frugally scour the supermarkets and Lidl for special offers, having recently discovered the joys of the French-brand Le Petit Marseillais which is reasonably priced and paraben free, so I am embracing their shower gel and moisturiser. My other essential item is bio-oil- few drops on the face for a treat or dose on any dry patches of legs, elbows etc. Less is definitely more. Sometimes I think that my lax attitude to personal appearance is weather dependent – it’s hot, so why bother. But I think I have also been slightly freed from the tyranny of my appearance. I generally spend less time near a mirror, maybe I ‘look’ but I don’t ‘see’ my face under the same level of scrutiny I once gave it. Every day back in London you are accidentally confronted with your own reflection from a range of unflattering angles, from glimpses in the train door, the chrome toaster in the work kitchen, shop windows, hopping on the bus and the under the neon lights of the tube, then reflected down through ceilings as you stand on escalators, the revolving door of the office, and especially in the work toilet mirror checking your eyeliner in between meetings…it’s impossible not to be horrified with your sallow skin and tired eyes every hour of the day. But here, I have a mirror in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – and they don’t get much attention. Not that I have somehow lost interest, I think it just doesn’t matter. I might wear mascara once a fortnight and go ‘BOOM’ that makes your eyeslashes POP! But I like my lines, my ruddy red cheeks, the freckles that have joined up and the wild-hair (I saw a photo G took and said, “wow I have actually turned into Charlie Dimmock” and was quite pleased). The downy blond hair on my arms and legs is so bleached, I couldn’t bear to mess with it and I went through a phase of not shaving because I had a theory that the mossie’s bit hairy legs less often…I was wrong!  I seem to be reminded of the First Aid Kit song lyrics to ‘Heaven knows’ which captures this kind of daily obsession women face about their faces, especially as we age; “you spent a year staring into a mirror, another one trying to figure out what you saw, paid so much attention to what you’re not, you have no idea who you are”. I am about to start reading Selfie by Will Storr – so expect further thoughts on this soon. Anyway I digress – this piece was meant to be about summer beaches and bloody well not worrying what you look like in a bikini and it’s gone all over the place.

On body-confidence
I think I hate that word, ‘body-confidence’ it jars with me – wear what you want and enjoy the beach. Having spent a fair amount of time on the beach this summer, I can make the following observations from the shores of Greece.

All bodies are ‘beach-bodies’ and the Greeks are a nation poised for summer at all times. They enjoy the hot weather in all its glory, the sea, the beach, ready to pose, to swim, to tan (apply your factor please!) and even play slightly annoying bat and ball (the Greeks love this – it’s like a competitive sport!) Also, this year there is particular trend that must be gathering pace across every Mediterranean beach, yes, following on from last-year’s horror that was the inflatable pink flamingo, this year we have an even wider range of inflatable novelties direct from China. So far I have witnessed; ink iced donuts, ice cream lollies, white swans, and even 5ft unicorns (I shall not name the guilty purchasers you know who you are and you loved it!). Please avoid with care or harpoon these nasties at will!

The beach is a microcosm of the world at play. From the perma-tanned aging ‘Adonis’ in his tiny speedos to the teenage boys showing off at beach volleyball, sucking in their six-packs for photos. The pasty-newly arrived-holiday makers with sunburnt shoulders, snoozing after a bottle of retsina at lunch, hands clasping heavyweight novels in the shade.  I have watched elderly couples in their 80s holding hands and helping one another wade into the waves, paddling about without a care in the world. Their creaky joints relieved by the weightlessness in the sea. Ladies swimming in little groups wearing floppy sunhats and gossiping as they tread water – these old-timers care not what they look like, but are proud to be enjoying the sea.  I have seen babies and toddlers scream with both delight and fear as they paddle for the first time and learn to swim on this beach. Teenage girls, veering from shy to flirtatious in their skimpy 2 piece newly purchased swimwear ready to parade and tan. There is a growing trend for very skimpy bikini’s this year, high cut thongs and it takes a kind of sassy bravado to wear this style which I respect. But is surprising how popular they are in such a conservative country such as Greece. Those bums certainly attract attention! I have also seen a fair share of everything else on some of the ‘clothing optional’ beaches. Embracing the full spectrum of shapes, sizes and sheer grandeur of the human form is what being beach ready is all about. The best way to get over the body fascism that is peddled by the fashion industry and clothing lines to sell swimwear, is by celebrating what real bodies look like and what real bodies do. They save lives, make lives, give pleasure and pain, they grow, they heal and most of all, they change.

I am 35, I have cellulite, I am no perfect 10, but quite frankly I have never felt better on the beach. I feel the first step to being comfortable is defining your own body by what it can do rather than how it looks in a bikini – I can swim a kilometre, run a 10k and sometimes, hike up to the top of a mountain without passing out.

No matter what I dress it in, my body would always rather be in the sea than sat on the sidelines.

And wherever you go this summer don’t forget the suncream!

 

 

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