On How Not to Tan


You know you’ve turned into a Pom when you fail completely and utterly at your attempts to render yourself a sophisticated, svelte golden young woman, instead burning yourself horribly in strips so that you become, initially, like a piece of red-and-white striped candy cane and then, when you brown and flake, like a cicada crawling out of its skin.  Yeah, it’s bewdiful.


Or perhaps I was always a Pom in terms of sun-sense.  Last year in Thailand, having spent two weeks rigorously applying sunscreen, I was just as white near the end of the holiday as I was when I stepped off the plane, so at Railay I decided to dispense with sunscreen and sit on the beach for an hour.  Bad move.  By that afternoon I was burning up and had to go to bed draped in wet towels, and by the time I got back to London I was, once again, shedding my epidermis.  A few years before that I sat on the beach in Oz at midday for two hours, also sunscreenless, read Harry Potter, and got so burnt I couldn’t sit down.  You’d think one would learn, wouldn’t you?


This time I have.  The ignominy of being a peeling piebald, together with the horrifying melanoma ads currently on TV, have ensured that I will ’embrace the whiteness’ as my sister suggests.  My only consolation is that Brother H has been pretty much as useless as I.  This year he also baked himself, but instead of having strips created by the failure to apply a second layer of sunscreen, he missed an egg-shaped section between his pecs.  He also roasted himself in Thailand: I have photographic evidence of him standing in the sea kitted out in snorkling gear, as red as a brick.  I’m keeping it for his future husband.


So, aside from undertaking radical dermabrasion, I have removed myself to my sister’s in Brisbane.  It is very hot, to the point of being debilitating so that I am required to take post-lunch naps to remain sentient, but I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time because I can write. 


My sister’s kids are also a constant source of entertainment, not least because they can be teased, confused, and thrown about a room.  My niece begins school next week but already has her aunt’s perspicacity (and good taste, having appropriated auntie’s Prada sunglasses), for she asked me at dinner last night, ‘Auntie Jess, why do you need another pair of shoes when you already have so many?’


I was briefly flummoxed, then replied, ‘Well, a girl can never have too many pretty things, and besides, the shoes under my bed are only a small selection of the shoes I own.’


Her brother, meanwhile, is a charming little fellow, and shares his mother’s delight in watching me stagger out of the bedroom in the mornings and struggle to raise my consciousness to a functioning level.


‘Mummy, Auntie Jess is AWAKE!’ he broadcasts to the world.  I grimace and make myself a cup of tea while he prattles on, and it’s at times like these that I’m truly glad I’m deaf.




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