October 26, 2010

Cornwall: In search of underwear

My yoga class isn't the perfect-poses-in-serene-silence kind. Our happy group does a lot of talking and laughing while executing our bridges, downward facing dogs or reasonable facsimiles. If a new person who appears to be a serious practitioner comes into the room we warn her (Walter's our only him to date) that ours is a pretty casual class and that we can get rambunctious.

Today we discussed underwear, or the lack thereof.

Joan started it off with a story about her grandson, who'd recently stayed at her house overnight. Joan's son came in the morning to pick up his son and said to him, "Make sure you put on clean underwear," to which the kid admitted he'd forgotten to pack any. So dad told him to put on yesterday's underwear. "I forgot to pack yesterday's, too," was the reply.

As we guffawed our way through some triangle poses, Sara picked up the thread and told about the day her son, who eschewed underwear despite his mother's pleas, changed his commando ways when an urgent, unplanned visit to the pediatrician left him, well, blushing in the exam room.

Linda recalled the day she was substitute teaching and was on recess duty with a group of third graders. One little girl in a dress had no underwear on, so Linda took her to the nurse, who called the girl's mother. "I have six kids!" she said. "Some days I just can't check everything!"

"Are you taking all this in, Lori?" asked Anne, the instructor. We often joke that the things we talk about while pretending to do yoga make good fodder for stories and articles.

"I sure am," I said. "I'm lying here writing a blog post in my head."

I was already thinking about my own underwear story. A travel story, of course:

We'd landed in London where we rented a car and drove to Cornwall for a week's stay in Polperro, a stone fishing town with a lively harbor and a dramatic setting behind and atop high, green headlands.

On the second day of the trip I discovered I'd packed only one pair of underwear. So, I had two: the ones I'd flown across the Atlantic in and the ones in my suitcase.

No problem, I thought. I'll just buy some. And I did. Five days later.

There was no underwear in Polperro. There were clotted cream and jellied eels, doilies and seagull statues, sun umbrellas and sand pails. No underwear. I looked in every shop; none carried undergarments of any kind. I would have bought men's had they been available. At this point, the underwear's gender mattered not a whit. If it fit my butt, I'd buy it.

So, I began a ritual of washing my personals out in the morning and hanging them in the sun to ensure they'd dry by the next morning, when I'd swap out my gear and wash the other pair. It became tedious very quickly.

As a family, we began an earnest search for underwear for mom. Each day we'd take to the road to explore new hamlets and villages and seaside resorts, always on the lookout for any place that looked like a promising potential underwear source. For five days, we searched in vain.

There were no knickers in Polruan or Bodinnick, St. Austell or Mevagissey, Feock or Cripplesease. No skivvies in Duloe, St. Just or St. Veep.

On day five we headed into Looe for Looe Carnival Week, which features a kids' crab-catching contest. After watching scores of kids lined up along the quay bait their lines with fish and toss them down into the harbor estuary 12 feet below the quay and chatting with the family that was clearly going to win the contest -- three crabbing kids and a plastic bin overflowing with 260 crabs at last count -- we headed to the main street to shop for souvenirs.

In a cramped shop stuffed with tourist geegaws, I saw a marvelous package: a plastic bag containing not one, but five pairs of ladies' underwear. One, single, precious pack of undies.

I grabbed them and rushed to the cash register where I thanked the owner for stocking underwear in his souvenir shop and gushed that I'd come all the way to England from America and had forgotten mine.

"Well, then," he said, as he smiled politely and took the pounds equivalent of six dollars, "you'll have a change tonight, dear, won't you?"