White eyed

I recall a sunny day in 1979, so bright and luminous it literally hurt my eyes. We’d ventured out as a family to a local farm for what looked like an impromptu summer fair. Several fathers were lobbing wellies as far as their soft stomachs would allow them, flexing their arms warily afterwards as they stepped to the back of the line.

I was left to my own devices as I ambled through the field, avoiding the numerous cowpats. I was looking down, not out of necessity or from any childish shyness, but simply because I could not look up. The light was so startling and violent my eyes were watering with the effort of keeping them open. My hand offered a feeble shade and so, blinking through my tears I stumbled towards an old faded parasol in the hope of refuge. As I sat down on one of the white plastic chairs my discomfort was cruelly intensified. Was there no escape from this white searing light reflecting all around me, burning the insides of my eyes?

My mother was impatient with me, and attempted to pull my hands away from my face, but the pain was too much to bear. Exasperated she left me with my hands clamped over my wet eyes, breathing in the cool darkness.

That was the day we should have all realised quite how light sensitive I am; or…I was.

Sunglasses have always played an imperative role in my life, an accessory that was more of a fixture, than an ornament. I never bothered with the one expensive pair of large A-list glasses, but instead focused on quantity. Sunglasses could be found in my car, stuffed into the creases of most bags (even in winter), and at least four pairs co-habited with all the hats and scarves by our front door. I wore sunglasses even on grey days.

The inevitable side effect of this was of course the tell-tale white line that caressed the bridge of my nose every summer. Even the canniest make-up couldn’t fully obliterate my glaring incandescent white tan line…

Now I don’t need sunglasses at all; not even on the sunniest, brightest, most vibrant of days. I can’t afford to lose even a slither of light; so squinting is not something I do anymore.

Of course the upside to this is that I no longer suffer that irascible white line that slowly develops between my eyes from June onwards.

I no longer look like my kids have had a go with white crayons after forgetting to top up my sunblock.

The irony of course is that I now don’t have enough colour vision to appreciate my new flawless grown-up complexion.

The comedic white tan line may be no more; but it has come at a price.

 

 

 

The in-patients

The taxi curves around a walled courtyard and I hear the tyres crunch on expensive gravel beneath us. A modern glass frontage titivates a nineteenth century house; typical of many boutique hotels I’ve seen before.

Mum and I attempt to extract ourselves from the back of the cab in a ladylike manner; but fail miserably. The height of the chassis is such that it means I end up hobbling on my knees doing an inappropriate dwarf impression whilst dragging our cases behind me; only to then explode out of the door in an untidy heap. The gravel is decidedly uncomfortable.

It’s not the most salubrious of starts.

We are sniggering children as we finally flounce backwards onto our co-joined single beds, piled high with unnecessary pillows and cushions. After we have inspected all of the cupboards in the room, and of course tried on the fluffy towelling robes over our clothes (why do people always do that?) we venture out into the sun, and across to the lavish spa building.

I am never particularly happy in these environments; I feel that everyone I pass is entirely aware of the protocols; except me. Do you wear the dressing gown and risk looking like a mental health in-patient, or do you rebel and stick to normal clothes?

Shoulders pushed back and chins out, we silently rebel.

That evening, the main hotel dining room provides a logistical nightmare for me. Dimly lit chandeliers combined with dark oak panelling leave me very little available light to play with. My eyes swiftly scan the room, not to assess my fellow guests (as they might be hoping), but to work out the room’s edges, where walls end, the gaps between the tables and the foulest of menaces – the hidden step. This duplicitous hazard is one of my worst foes, lurking in dark secret places, ready to make my teeth bite violently and my knees buckle should I miss a sneaky step down. Going up is an entirely different kind of jeopardy; here I risk sprawling unceremoniously underneath a table canopy, or even worse; on top of one. I can hear the imaginary china crashing to the ground as I gingerly follow the maître d’.

Even in these trying circumstances I lead the way. It’s how it has always been with Mum and I. Aside from her being vertically challenged and therefore slower paced, I have always donned my safari hat and played the trailblazer. These days though, it’s my own boundaries I am challenging, not hers.

At our crisp white clothed table, we survey the room, tummies growling. We have worked out that it is the extortionately priced drinks that achieve this hotel’s margins. Although idyllically nestled in the Cheshire countryside, this is not Mayfair, and even a Michelin star restaurant would blush at the numbers printed on the menu in front of us. It’s as if omitting the pound sign somehow softens the blow.

I have already spluttered my disapproval at the cost of a bottle of fizzy water earlier in the day, so my Northern frugality is tightly zipped behind my lips tonight. That is, until dinner arrived. At least I think my dinner arrived, but the portion was so small I did a double take at the plate. My immediate response was to hunt out the bread lady to wield her tongs again. I was acutely aware that my own children left at home with their father were probably consuming larger meals that I was.

Of course a considerable quantity of rose and a lack of sustenance soon led to much tittering and childish behaviour on my part. When offered my choice of a dessert some time later, I couldn’t resist the inappropriate reply of; “I’ll have the biggest one.”