I once met Sian Williams, the TV Presenter – you know the one. She used to do “BBC Breakfast” with Bill Turnbull but didn’t want to move to Salford and opted instead for the Sunday morning God slot. She’s small and perfectly formed and impeccably well groomed and beautifully turned out. The sort of woman you want to tread on. Anyway – I met her in the loos at Television Centre during the interval of Strictly or Find Me A Nancy or Be a Friend of Dorothy – one of those shows. She’d just had a baby. (Not in the loos, no.) Well it turned out that bumping into someone “off the telly” activated my imbecile button, big time. The sudden unexpected encounter turned me into cringingly over familiar idiot and I greeted her like a long lost cousin, gushing “ Sian! My God! You look amazing! So trim. No-one would know you’d just given birth. You’re wonder woman. I mean your stitches can’t even have healed.” (I didn’t actually say that last bit but, boy, was I was thinking it.) My “new best friend Sian” delivered a well-travelled smile and said “It’s all down to clever underwear.”
Every time I catch sight of her on the God Slot I think about her clever underwear which is kind of weird, I know. But recently I converted the thought into positive action.
I’ve never been an underwear aficionado. My mother wasn’t what I’d call “lingerie savvy.” She had a life. So there was nothing in my childhood to make me feel that knickers were all that crucial. Plus, I went to a Dickensian girls’ boarding school where our uniform inventory demanded that we had 12 pairs of knicker linings (big white flappy pants) and 2 pairs of grey flannel knickers (gargantuan affairs known as aircraft carriers.) The knicker linings had to be worn under the aircraft carriers. No, I don’t know why either. You were required to lay them all out on your bed at the beginning of term and Matron would tally them. This happened again at the end of term. Oh yes – the pants were counted in and the pants were counted out. After all, there’s no knowing how many knicker lining thieves there might be in a posh girls’ public school.
Three summer weddings are now looming and, as predicted, the optimistically anticipated weight loss has failed to show up. I do, however, have frocks – but they are of the “huggy” variety. “Huggy” is a bit of an experiment, inspired by having noticed how ladies of a larger carriage than mine seem to manage to pour themselves into “huggies” and carry it all off with a bit of a swagger. So, feeling insecure but keen to see this idea through, and remembering my best friend Sian’s “clever underwear” I braved the M& S website where there’s a lingerie section called “SHAPERS” – aka “PANTS FOR FATTIES.” (“Not just any pants for fatties, M&S pants for fatties.”) Here you can choose from a plethora of architecturally designed fashion items. First you have to put yourself through a questionnaire about your knicker habits and your favourite brands (way, way out of my depth already) and then what you have to do is to pick the shape you think you are and then the shape you want to be and M&S will magic you up the perfect piece of specially engineered apparatus to enable you to achieve your goal and then avail you of a ton of cash. By a process of elimination I decided that my end result should be “hourglass.” I still couldn’t really identify my start shape. “Demijohn” was not an option. I stuck in various statistics and measurements and other requisite snippets of information. Which bits did I want to have sucked in/smoothed out? Tummy? Thighs? Buttocks? EVERYTHING, of course. BLOODY EVERYTHING! But I was told on each occasion that there were no SHAPERS to match my requirements. (None of this, you understand, is helping the old self esteem re the “huggy” thing.)
In desperation, I thought I should brave an actual shop so I traipsed into our local town to the one establishment that vaguely resembles a department store but still has a whiff of 1950’s haberdashery. The lingerie section is run by a small team of post-menopausal suburban ladies, with glasses on chains, who presumably do it for pocket money to keep themselves in Clarins. I was shunted towards a dark corner behind the winceyette nighties and chirruped at (they always chirrup, don’t they?) Then I was left to clatter through a hefty rail of hostile looking support garments. I chose an all in one affair (given that I needed it to attend to BLOODY EVERYTHING) and I went for the most punishing looking choice – no holds barred, hard core, full drugs spandex. * It was basically a white wet suit with lace – to make you feel feminine.
Now let’s cut to the chase. I got into it – eventually – but virtually ruptured myself in doing so. Having achieved it I realised I had got myself into an instrument of torture and that I needed to effect a speedy escape. I also clocked that, it’s all very well wanting BLOODY EVERYTHING sucked in but EVERYTHING has to go somewhere. In my case it all travelled upwards giving me three pairs of breasts. It’s was a no, no. Off it came. Except it didn’t. I couldn’t get out of it. I was incarcerated in the corset of death on the verge of asphyxiation. I took deep breaths and struggled to peel the lethal stretchy evil rubber off . Upwards and downwards. Gnnnnnnnnn. Gnnneeeeeeeee. It didn’t budge. Aargh. I was a prisoner in my own pants! It was the most claustrophobic feeling I’ve ever had – well – apart from being in a burkah.
I’m familiar with burkah claustrophobia because I own a burkah. I came by it in a rather unusual way. A friend’s husband, back in around 2001, was off to Afghanistan, ostensibly to build bridges or some such. This, we all knew, was a cover for a far more exotic activity, but we always went with his story. Anyway, while cheerily wishing him a good bridge-building trip, I added “And bring me back a burkah.” This wasn’t a serious request, it was a rather lame topical quip, as John Simpson had just disguised himself in one to get across a border. However, when my friend, after a couple of weeks in Afghanistan, looked at his “to do” list ……..
- Find Osama Bin Laden
- “Deal with” Osama Bin Laden
- Buy Mel a burkah
….and realised that the first two tasks had eluded him thus far, he thought he ought to address the more achievable number 3. So he enlisted the help of the Leaders of the Northern Alliance, with whom he was hanging out, and set off for downtown Kabul to buy me a burkah. Which he did. And I put it on. And I looked just like John Simpson. It’s an obscenely stifling experience. But when our house nearly burnt down one Christmas, the bedroom being the biggest casualty of the flames, the only surviving item of my clothing was my burkah. Make of that what you will.
John Simpson in a burkah
The burkah was undoubtedly the most brutal piece of clothing I’d encountered prior to my brush with the evil buttock sucking miracle suit from hell. Back in the changing room I began to feel a rising tide of panic. Plus, I thought the entire shop would hear my efforts and I was sounding like Maria Sharapova. Gnnnnaaaaa! I tried to practise what little I know of mindfulness (almost nothing) and then had a brief rational moment where I figured that, if I stayed put for, say, three weeks, I’d be thin enough to escape. This only gave me momentary solace, however, and hysteria rose again. Was one seriously going to have to put out an embarrassing call to one of the “ladies of the lingerie?” Would they have to carve me out of my vanity armour with a Black and Decker saw? Possibly lubricated by perspiration, with one last yank, my Houdini moment had arrived and the lethal boa constrictor girdle finally set me free.
I emerged from the cubicle, as ashen as I was demoralised to be greeted by one of the ladies of the lingerie.
“Any good?” she chirruped. (She lived. But only just.)
After that resounding failure I’m faced with doing the “huggy” thing with no pants. Well – certainly with no clever underwear. Perhaps I’ll try the knicker linings and the aircraft carrier? Or, maybe I abandon the huggies altogether and go straight for the burkah.
*Spandex is an anagram of “expands.” But not enough, as it happens.