I suppose it’s an odd association to have: to think of one's own father when standing naked, but for a pair of paper pants, striking weird semaphore poses while being hosed down with brown paint by therapist in a mask. Nonetheless, I can’t help it. Every time I step into a spray-tanning booth, up pops his rather elderly, wrinkled face. Indeed, every time I so much as smell that odd, sweet, coffee-toffee odour of fake tan, I think of him.
You see, the morning of the night he died, I went to have a St Tropez . It was an odd thing to do, I grant you. But grief and nervous tension do strange things to people. Clearly, when the chips are down (or so I’ve discovered) I want to look as if I’ve spent 15 years playing golf on the ranges in Florida, or like an escaped extra from TOWIE.
Weirdly, it was also the day of my daughter’s fourth birthday. So, smelling like a week-old latte, I busily spent the morning making a virulently pink cake, cooking cocktail sausages and slicing cucumber, all to the gentle crunching accompaniment of scrunching paper-panties. Just as I’d kicked the last toddler into the street complete with balloon and bag of plastic tat, the phone call came. No time for a shower, my father was dying. I had to get into the car and drive two hours flat out, right now, otherwise I might not make it.
So drive I did, like a caramel-coloured Stig, up the M40 listening to woeful tunes on Magic FM, weeping as I went. By the time I arrived at the hospital I was the colour of an American Tan briefcase but the nurses and the doctors were far too polite to mention this. In fact the only person to say anything, derogatory or otherwise, was my father, who managed a chuckle and a mumbled: "Jesus Christ, where the hell have you been on holiday?" through his oxygen mask.
MORE GLOSS: Gloss Report: Fake tan
It was 8pm when I took up my position at his bedside, holding his very white, frail hand. Two of his oldest friends were also present, as we poured him a glass of his favourite wine, and talked to him and around him for the next ten hours.
What I shall never understand is why neither of his friends mentioned it either. It must have looked mighty strange, particularly in the harsh strip light of the hospital. But the longer the night went on, the whiter and frailer my old pa became, the darker I got. And when I say dark, I mean really dark.
By the time my father finally passed away at around 5am, I remember patting the back of his cold hand with my own, congratulating him on his bravery of finally letting go, only to be struck by the absurdity of what I saw. My hands had redefined the term "brown". They weren’t Katie Price overworking the bronzer down Stringfellows. They were way beyond that. They were so dark, even George Hamilton would have inhaled in admiration. I was creosote woman, the colour of mahogany, the colour of 80 per cent pure organic cocoa.
Weeping, I went to inform the nurses at their station that my father had died. Crying, I signed the death papers. Tears streaming down my face, I contacted the undertaker and spoke to the boys from the morgue. Then finally, Annie, my father’s friend, took me to one side. “Imogen,” she said. “I am not sure how to say this, but have you seen your face?” She took me in to the ladies lavatory and pointed me in the direction of a mirror. “It’s a little stripy,” she added helpfully. The mahogany, the tears, the creases, the great bit fat white stripes! I had never seen anyone look quite so awful. She looked at me, then my reflection, and started to laugh. ‘I wish you father were still here. He’d have found it very entertaining!”
“Do you know what's worse?" I replied with a rustling crunch. “I’m still wearing the paper pants!”