old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

April 06, 2007

Not fit for public view

This site has now moved to Salut!

A friend recalls the utter embarrassment she felt when, during Cambridge undergraduate days, her parents arrived to see her one weekend, dressed in matching shell suits.

Although I have never met the parents, and am sure they are perfect in every other sense, it is difficult to imagine the scene without wincing.

And the scene always comes flooding into mind when I go to the supermarket in France.

Lurking around the corner of each alley, ahead of you whichever caisse you choose and all over the car park, there are men - especially men - in the French equivalent.

They are not always glossy, as I rightly or wrongly assume shell suits must be, so are probably closer to being track suits. Invariably, in recent years, the trouser bottoms will be cut short to add a hint of fashion consciousness.

But if they look like track suits, you know that their wearers - six times out of 10 - have almost certainly indulged in no sporting activity for years. There is something especially bizarre about this mode of dress when it is adopted by the elderly or obese.

Appearances may be deceptive, of course. There is, after all, a bit of pot calling kettle black going on here.

No one has ever mistaken me for a style guru. My wife once wrote to Hilary Alexander's fashion agony aunt column asking how she could transform me, from whatever kind of northern oik slob I am, into an ultra-smart and trendy Parisian.

Hilary promised a reply, or to deal with it in her column. But she clearly knew me well enough to be able to decide that I was beyond redemption and quietly forgot all about it.

Nor can I claim to be superfit.

I make an effort, playing badminton, using one of those Décathlon abdominals frames and walking a lot.

Each morning I am sent out to buy the baguette and Var Matin, an easy walk down the hill to Intermarché but a tough old slog back up.

To bypass the endless winding bends leading eventually to our house, I clamber up a steep grassy slope and then tackle the 139-step short cut. Lame dogs pass by with scornful looks and, if I have missed a couple of days, I am certain to be briefly out of breath by the time I reach the top.

It feels good later, though. As does the muscular pain the morning after I've played, say, seven or eight hard games of badminton singles.

But I promise my fellow early-morning shoppers, all the lame dogs of the Var and my badminton opponents that they will never be required to cast eyes on me in a cutaway track suit.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At April 06, 2007 7:10 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I remember an evening, lo, these many years past, when I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker at the motorway exit just outside Darlington in pouring rain. He was wearing one of those shapeless, army-surplus khaki coats and had a sodden newspaper over his head. I was a bit unhappy about what all this water might do to the interior of my car but I couldn't, in all conscience, leave him tempest-tossed.
The hitchhiker was, of course, your goodself returning to Shildon, I believe, from a weekend in London. You'd caught a couple of hours sleep, as I recall, in the back of les Cousins folk club.
A shell suit might actually have kept your dryer. And it certainly couldn't have looked any worse...

At April 07, 2007 7:38 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Shell suits and, in fact, all track suits are great to wear because you slide them up, they have elastic waists so are comfy and no zips. They are the perfect attire for the lazy clothes wearer. They have nothing to do with keeping fit... although they are perfect for that too, for exactly the same reasons. :)

At April 08, 2007 5:36 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

And admit it, Colin, we are at the age of elastic waists.
By the way, weren't you complaining recently that you didn't HAVE any badminton opponents? Perhaps investment in a cutaway tracksuit might be just what you need to turn the tide of rejection.

At April 08, 2007 9:44 PM, Blogger SH said...

Why on earth are shell suits so called? I always think of shells as attractive and delicately coloured. The same can rarely be said of the suits! I'm not sure they would be much protection against the elements either. But I'm glad to say I see fewer such garments being worn now.

At April 08, 2007 11:04 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Apparently, it's because they have an outer shell of nylon with an inner layer of cotton or some nameless artificial fabric. And I suppose they are sometimes quite delicately coloured (or multi-coloured) in pastel hues. I think the worst of them are the ones that aspire to "parachute silk" upward-mobility. Invariably paired with gold chains. Bling went the strings of my heart...

At April 09, 2007 10:27 AM, Blogger roadsofstone said...

A daily stroll to collect a baguette and a copy of Var Matin - now that sound like a very relaxing way of keeping fit, and one which I would surely like to emulate.

What are the journalistic characteristics of your newly adopted region's esteemed organ, Colin ?

At April 09, 2007 11:04 AM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Var Matin is pretty much like all French local/regional papers......strong on unnewsy parish pump activities, not bad on selected news - excellent report today on Chirac's last Easter visit, as president, to Bormes-les-Mimosas - but sparse on national and foreign events. And the Sudoku is too easy.

At April 09, 2007 2:03 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

You do Sudoku in French? Wow!

At April 11, 2007 6:04 PM, Blogger Halcyon said...

Should I be embarassed that I'm wearing a track suit right now?

I think it only makes me a good American. But since I bought this one in Europe, it's extremely more stylish than any you'll see over here.


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