Monday, 3 August 2015

Taking Chances

Some clothes are love at first sight – or near enough. Or whatever love at first sight feels like. Quite honestly, I’ve only experienced it with objects, sartorial and otherwise. Maybe this says something about the state of my love life thus far. Or perhaps I’m just more impetuous with my clothes (which, you know, makes sense. You don’t have to limit yourself when it comes to outfits…)

Other clothes though are subtler choices - ones made on the off chance that it might just prove fruitful. They’re more like ooh-maybe-it-might-work-but-I’m-not-quite-sure type affairs (probably quite a tad more accurate if we’re continuing with the whole relationships analogy, which of course I am). Often they’re bought on the encouragement of another, or because they’re ridiculously cheap, or because it’s a good combination of good day, good time, good garment.

Sometimes these decisions reveal themselves to be the folly they are the next day when you’re staring at a bright pink pinafore dress and wondering where exactly your discernment wandered off to. That’s ok though – that’s what eBay is for. And besides, it’s worth it for every time those unsure decisions prove themselves to be absolutely and exactly and utterly RIGHT.

Take this dress. It was fifteen euros from a second hand shop in Paris last summer. I’d picked up and put down several other things, but kept gravitating back towards this. It seemed a bit plain though. What merited it coming home with me? It was just a navy shift with some lace on it. And yet, and yet - perhaps it was the ideal shade of navy, the ideal placing of lace, the ideal fall of the hemline. And besides, my purse was still feeling a little heavy…

The upshot is that I’ve had it in Oxford with me all year, and worn it innumerable times. It goes with everything: grey Jaeger blazers, purple tights and velvet DMs; suede jackets and brown boots; turquoise socks and bright pink heels. You name it, somehow it’ll work. Well, maybe that’s a claim too far. But it’s about as versatile as it gets for me, and there’s a pleasure in dreaming up new combinations to play around with. Here it’s pictured with a yellow shirt that’s worn with similar regularity, to the point that it ended up with (now fixed) rips at the collar and sleeves.

It’s funny how this stuff works. I’ve had plenty of items I was convinced I’d wear until they were rags on my back that only get the odd outing. Others I nearly didn’t buy that get pulled out with increasing regularity. What makes the difference? What transports something from the ‘occasional’ pile to the ‘slip on whenever necessary’ one?

Maybe it’s partly comfort – it just feels good. Perhaps it’s about cut, and knowing that something will instantly flatter your body. Could be about the combination of everything else you own. As great as a garment is, if it doesn’t go with anything else (and yes, I’m bemused to say this does actually happen to me, despite my wardrobe’s best attempts to dominate the room through sheer volume), then it’ll stay folded in a drawer. Or maybe it’s just down to that odd-and-brilliant-and-weird thing that just happens with some clothes. It’s not quite magic. Not quite a superpower. Just a quiet aligning of everything, a moment of it all working out and looking subtly fabulous. This dress is definitely in that category. I spent my Euros well.

Everything I'm wearing here actually gets slung on with some serious regularity. I've had the heeled brogues for years, and they've cropped up on the blog many a-time. The shirt was second hand. And the provenance of the dress? Well, that's been covered already. 

In other news, I've had two articles published recently. First, this piece for Into the Fold discussing modelling and self-image. Second, this piece for Yahoo chatting about my curly hair, my mum, frizz, and the excellent website ThandieKay

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

I Capture the Castle

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.”

It’s years since I’ve read the book in its entirety, but that opening has lodged itself somewhere in my brain – as brightly imprinted as the dye Topaz uses to turn all of the Mortmain family’s clothes various shades of green. I’m talking, of course, of I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith’s magnificent novel published in 1949. Set in a rambling, crumbling, ever-so-ramshackle castle in Suffolk, it follows the fortunes of Cassandra (17) and Rose (21), their father (a once-successful novelist), their stepmother Topaz (an artist’s model with a propensity for wandering around the countryside wearing nothing but her boots), and younger (rather precocious) brother Thomas. They’re broke. There are leaks everywhere. And two rather intriguing American brothers have just moved in nearby…

It was just one among the many books I read in my early teens – a glorious period where I gobbled anything and everything on our shelves. Adult classics, teen chick lit, fantasy, thrillers (I made my way through every single one of the Alex Rider series), new proof copies that my dad brought back from events by the boxful, old tattered books that had belonged to my mum. There was little differentiation between genre or status, an almost delightful lack of snobbery. I just read and read and read.

It’s odd now to return to some of those books. Many feel incredibly cringey or dated. A few are appallingly written. Plenty are perfectly entertaining, but I have no need to reread them. A select few are gem-like. These ones are as wonderful as on first encounter. Perhaps more so – a few more years of aging allowing access to layers or depths that were previously closed off. I Capture the Castle is definitely in that category. I picked it up again recently after watching the film version on a whim. I’d all but forgotten the plot, marvelling afresh at the story (and the clothes, but we’ll get on to that soon…)

I wish I could say I’ve had the chance to reread the entire thing since. Sadly not. I’ve just dipped in and out. Full immersion will happen at some point. But in all the parts I’ve skimmed there’s a perfectly pitched balance of wit, charm and self-consciousness. Cassandra’s voice – for of course the entire story is mediated through her pen as she makes each journal entry – is sometimes naïve, sometimes insightful, never twee, and often wonderfully dry. It’s a story about marriage and money, status, idealized romance (well, idealism full-stop), sibling relationships, growing up, and writing. And housing it all, the castle – complete with a moat. The castle that we can all simultaneously wish we lived in, and recognize as being totally unsuitable for family life.

It’s a dominating presence in the film too – each scene gorgeous, even when it’s raining and everyone is grumpy and there are holes in the ceiling. Candlelight and artfully disheveled 30s costumes help. Every single bias cut and knitted jumper and set of stockings is glorious. Rose (played by Rose Byrne), all big eyes and even bigger red hair, is kitted out in wide-legged trousers, berets, gorgeous little dresses, and one rather amusingly froufrou ball-gown. Cassandra (played by Romola Garai) is magnificently gauche – with a straight bob, loose dresses, baggy cardigans, mary-janes, and a journal often in hand. Topaz (played by Tara Fitzgerald) prefers a complete lack of clothes, but still has a great line in all things floaty and layered. The entire thing is a visual delight.

It’s that delight I wanted to reflect here, complete with my own castle (well, ok, obviously not mine) to play around with. I decided to pay homage to all that green dye with this pistachio coloured cardigan, and a vintage dress that somehow just bridges the gap between nightie and acceptable daywear. Plus, I had the most important accessory – a notebook. However, unlike Cassandra, mine isn’t a detailed account of each day. Instead it’s a scattered mix of lists, ideas, jottings and the odd poem. And I’ve never written anything in it whilst perching in the kitchen sink – more’s the shame…

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Woman in Clothes

“I guess, and correct me if I’m wrong, clothes are important to you because of your work?”

The question came up when I was chatting with a friend the other evening. I’d surfaced for a little while from some rather frantic late-night typing and note making, and the talk had turned to what we valued.

“No, not really. Work comes into it, but it’s more about the clothes themselves. About dressing up, knowing I look damn good and deriving confidence from that. About playing around with the image I project, or assembling a persona from what I’ve got on. About looking at the narrative of a garment. Obviously it helps with the blogging and everything, but my work came from the clothes - not the other way round.”

Well, I replied with something along those lines. Possibly not quite as articulate (my brain was feeling a little frazzled after a full day in front of a screen). There were so many other things I could have said beyond that though: acknowledging pure pleasure in wearing a good dress; enjoyment in intelligent analysis of style; the cultural, social and historical role of clothes; that miraculous ability to shape how others perceive you on a daily basis; the room for craftsmanship and verve and serious flights of imagination. A hundred and one different reasons to adore or be intrigued by the contents of a wardrobe.

“I hadn’t really though of it like that. I just have clothes I wear because I need clothes, and nice clothes reserved for occasions.”

His response made total sense. It also made me realize that I have very little distinction between the two, and that the way I think about clothes doesn't always chime with how others view them. For starters, I rarely divide off functional from ‘dressed up’, unless I’m wearing wellies – and even then it’ll usually be with, say, a leather mini-skirt and impractical cardigan. I may wear flats all the time (my height + a bike + general dislike of things that impede striding), and I may plump for vaguely comfortable items (belts and me do not get on), but beyond that, every day is a day for nice clothes – regardless of occasion. Even if I’m not leaving the house. Even if I’m feeling shit – in fact, especially when I’m feeling shit. The powers of a killer outfit on days when it’s all too much are vastly underrated.

I used to say that I’d rather over-dress than under-dress, but I don’t think I necessarily measure my outfits in terms of 'dressiness' now. Much as I do love the occasional bout of incongruity, it’s more what feels right, what works, what aligns with my mood that day. Could be as simple as a shift dress or as fussy as matching my socks to my shirt collar and bag. As low-key as jeans, or high maintenance as this Chloe dress – with a suggestion of liquid gold in every movement.

That snippet of conversation above took up no more than around four minutes before we skipped on to other subjects, the brief mention of clothes strung in among talk of literary theory and summer plans. But I thought about it again the next morning while reading Women in Clothes (I’ve got into the daily routine of reading a portion over breakfast and coffee, savouring each page in turn.) It’s essentially an ethnographic study of women’s relationship to clothing, in all its many permutations. There are survey answers, interviews, written pieces, lists, snippets of conversation, diary entries, photo-series, old snapshots and illustrations. Together they build up an illuminating whole, a kind of shape tailored with innumerable tiny darts and stitches (sorry, was that image inevitable?) 

Along the way it covers every conceivable angle you could apply to clothes: sexuality, gender, confidence, aesthetics, body image, shopping, identity, uniforms, joy in a good outfit, factory production, hand-crafting, family stories, disguises, transformations, the balance of envy and admiration, attraction, intimacy, mistakes, and marvelous encounters. Lots beyond that too.

I think what I value most about this book though, above the delight in some serious sartorial stimulation each day, is the validity it gives to so many experiences – to story after story detailing different relationships with clothes. There is room for every approach, every way of dressing. It also quite amply proves the significant role that clothes have in shaping the way we see ourselves and how others see us.

It still feels like a slight revelation whenever I open its pages. It talks about clothes in a language I understand – one that isn’t couched in fash-mag hyperbole or 'hot new thing' speak. Instead it brings everything down, quite literally, to the fabric of everyday life. Just as it should be. Just as I love it most.

I was thinking about dressing up, dressing down, and everything in between when I rediscovered this Chloe dress (a wonderful birthday present) - previously worn on the blog here and, for the first time, here (in the latter I'm wearing the same shoes as above. Now there's versatility for you!) This time it had the addition of an incredibly sumptuous vintage velvet coat that my mum bought. I had an awful lot of fun strutting around a windy hill-top in it... 

Also, talking of clothes and stories, the tale of my grandma's Doctor Who dress went up on Worn Stories recently. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Witchy Vibes

Type ‘witchy vibes’ into google, and about 143,000 results come up. Admittedly some of them seem to be related to a racehorse of that moniker (what a name). However, a fair few are also devoted to the specific ‘vibes’ associated with all things pagan, magical and vaguely subversive: whether it’s hazy-grained images of tarot cards on Tumblr, or cackling girls dressed in floaty fabrics. I still find it a kind of funny phrase though. Why do those two words nestle alongside each other so often? Why is it 'vibes' rather than 'looks' or 'aesthetic' or anything else similar? 

Especially when it comes to fashion too, ‘the witch’ seems a kind of popular figurehead who pops up (or should that be swoops in?) every few seasons. I still recall with a particular clarity Luella’s AW08 collection, with crimped hair aplenty and the odd pointy hat in sight. It stuck out to me hugely, perhaps tapping in to my own childhood inclinations – harking back to a point where every Halloween I faithfully dressed as an ever-more elaborate witch, with swathes of lace and plenty of purple lipstick. I’d cast spells, hang fake spiders' webs everywhere and go trick-or-treating with friends.

Of course the fashion version of ‘the witch’ is often little more than shorthand for velvet, tulle, dark satin, and the odd scrawled symbol (one which the designer may or, as is often the case, may not have researched to any great length). Perhaps some crazy hair too. The odd nod to Kate Bush. Black layers. All the black layers. Maybe a Gothic outdoor location, all crumbling stones and windswept scenery. The witch is transformed into something sexy and gorgeous and usually all slender and young – perhaps vaguely threatening, but only within certain boundaries. More often than not, this is a conventionally attractive incarnation of the witch. No warts or straggly grey locks here. Arguably little of the outspokenness and independence that originally made ‘the witch’ such a figure of mistrust throughout much of history.  

If you want a far more comprehensive overview of pop culture, sex appeal, and the threat of ‘the witch’ though, go and read Zoe Coleman’s fabulous article here. It’s enviably good, and pretty much includes everything you’d want to know, moving from the Salem witch trials to Disney villains to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Incidentally, it’s published on a website called The Coven – an ever-so-ace website with the tagline ‘must be the season of the witch.’ All the articles are whip-smart great, their ethos being this:

‘The coven has long been a sacred space for women to do and say thing outside of the norm, and we’re not particularly interested in the norm… We want to look at serious things without being dour and to look at frothy things without being insubstantial; to publish fashion, beauty, travel and food writing as much as criticism or a meaty interview.’

I love any kind of space setting out to be embracing, challenging, funny and thoughtful all at the same time – a space where as you’re browsing you can excitedly agree with one article, disagree with the next, and be jealous you didn't write the third. They’re tip-top. Go have a look. Also talking sexuality and gender, I recently read Margaret Atwood’s NY Timeessay on John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. As with many of her essays, it’s a great mix of witty and insightful. To give a small taste:

‘Mr. Updike takes ''sisterhood is powerful'' at its word and imagines it literally. What if sisterhood really is powerful? What will the sisters use their ''powers'' for? And what - given human nature, of which Mr. Updike takes not too bright a view - what then? Luckily these witches are only interested in the ''personal,'' rather than the ''political''; otherwise they might have done something unfrivolous, like inventing the hydrogen bomb.’

This been a hop, skip and skim across the first few things that came to mind when I thought of witches – little more than a list of the odd thing recently remembered or stumbled across. There's so much else to explore and think about and comment on. But that’s partly because the history, symbolism and cultural significance of the witch is one of those MASSIVE subjects that takes up book after book. I think I need to go and read a few more of them, maybe appropriately dressed in this ever-so-witchy, wide-sleeved black dress…

These photos were taken by Paulina Choh, who is a whizz with her camera - previously taking these images of me scampering around in a silver dress. The black dress worn here was bought from Oxfam. I snapped it up the minute I saw it. The combination of crocheted bodice and wide sleeves was too delicious, despite its entire impracticality for anything other than photo-shoots. All the jewellery is vintage. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Tables and Chairs

I like unusual objects in incongruous places. That’s probably why I adore Tim Walker so much – entranced by the beds in the woods, the aeroplanes in stately homes, the tents in libraries. Many fashion photographers play around with these kinds of juxtapositions, making the ordinary slightly more bizarre or brilliant by introducing unlikely clashes of prop and location. Tim Walker just happens to do it with a particularly vivid, striking type of flourish. He’s made it his trademark, encompassing everything from a living room with a stream running through the middle to Lily Cole dangling on a huge fishhook above a river.

That kind of use of location – of making it new and odd – is also what I found so appealing about Punch Drunk’s The Drowned Man. Set over several floors in an abandoned warehouse, each level was transformed into something different: ballrooms, film sets, forests and deserts among them. You could wander between each in turn, stumbling across rooms full of sand and desks and birdcages, or locating the secret passage at the back of the wardrobe. It was my favourite kind of interactive theatre, the audience turned voyeurs as we craned forward to follow a lover’s argument or watched the doctor at work. It was less an unusual juxtaposition, more a suspending of usual boundaries - space made strange.

Perhaps my favourite example of incongruity though isn’t something I ever saw, but only heard about recently. Back when my dad was 25 and living in Bristol, he and a friend decided to do breakfast with a twist. Rather than your average dining table/ kitchen set-up, they took their morning meal to a nearby city centre roundabout - setting up a table and chairs complete with tablecloth, food, teapot and cutlery on this small patch of grey concrete. Both wore dressing gowns and read newspapers. You can see pictorial evidence here. A local radio station got involved, asking whether it was “political?” The police stopped to ask what on earth they were doing. My dad’s answer? “We wanted to cheer up the commuters.” This is what I appreciate most. It was street performance, for sure, but there was no intent beyond the two of them doing it because they could, because they were young and playful and thought it would be funny.

I’ve never managed anything on that scale. I’ve taken tables and bookshelves into fields. I’ve hung dresses in trees. I’ve got friends to wander along with picture-frames over their shoulders. These feel like tame offerings though, usually solitary – surprising only the odd dog walker or enthusiastic hiker. Maybe I need to up my offerings, do things on a grander scale. Or maybe I can just appreciate what others have achieved, and occasionally do my bit by wafting around crumbling Welsh cottages in lace wedding dresses, just for kicks…

Here's me in the slightly more prosaic setting of our garden, wearing all second-hand - including a vintage sixties suede pea-coat I nicked from my mum. I'm now off to go sit out there again with a glass of wine in one hand, and a poetry book in the other. Not really incongruous, but ever so delightful.  

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

'Vintage Style', and Other Minor Sartorial Conundrums

There’s been something of a recent pattern in my charity shop visits – an interesting, retro-looking fabric glimpsed, a hand reached out to disentangle the item from the surrounding coat-hangers, and then the moment of disappointment. It’s the moment of realizing that this is no hidden vintage gem, but an irritatingly good high street reproduction. The pattern or shape may resemble anything from a 60s baby-doll dress to a fifties fitted skirt, yet hold it up to light and the differences in fabric and construction quality become visible.

Maybe this is snobby of me. In fact, I know it probably is. I am a clothes snob (although only in relation to what I choose to wear myself, rather than in judging others). If I’m going for vintage, I don’t want pale imitations, but the real deal – proper seams, darts and all. Good fabrics. Possible backstories and previous lives. That’s not to say I’m overly selective with the labels sewn into the necks of the clothes I buy in charity shops. I can and do purchase plenty of second hand high street garments – although they don’t exactly dominate my wardrobe.

Yet the high street’s rather creeping embrace of vintage designs is something I find as fascinating as it is frustrating. It's been inevitable. Whatever appears on the catwalk eventually filters down to chain stores. The last few years have been a hotbed of references to each previous decade. About once every year and a half the sixties is trumpeted as “being back”, the nineties has been doing its damn best to infiltrate all areas of life with crop tops, mini-backpacks and pastel colours a-plenty, while the seventies seem to have returned in full suede-y, denim-y force.

It’s natural to raid the past for inspiration. I have no problem with referencing 30s high glamour or 70s louche layers – the 20th Century (in particular) is awash with all sorts of silhouettes, colour palettes and textiles ripe to use for inspiration. It would be incredibly sad if no-one plundered the archives or used pictures from the past to influence their designs – especially because at various points, it seems, designers actually knew how to cut clothes for a range of different figures and body types. Lots of modern day brands could learn from that. Plus, looking backwards is something creatives (across a range of industries) have always done, and will always do. 

So I still can’t quite put my finger on why the high street’s facsimiles of vintage designs occasionally rankle. I think it’s maybe because the end result is that ‘vintage style’ becomes just another trend – another search term on eBay, another possible look among the pick’n’mix selection of other keywords like grunge, hipster, normcore, boyfriend, girly or festival-chic (am sure you can easily think of other even more nauseating terms). It often seems to be a market response to the resurgence of vintage, rather than genuine celebration of a particular decade – which in turn means you have to be extra-careful when perusing the labels in vintage shops, for occasionally the odd thing from Topshop slips through.

There are other strands to this, many linking back to my self-acknowledged snobbery. Do I react more strongly if the label is high street rather than high end? Does my response change if I genuinely like the garment - especially if it seems like an inventive update of or homage to something classic? Am I merely perpetuating an attitude of exclusivism or style elitism? Am I being a hypocrite, as I definitely own a number of high street twists on vintage designs? Am I basically a tad irritated by something that doesn’t really matter at all? Probably 'yes' to every question. 

I do wonder though if it’s partly to do with that first fleeting instance of being disappointed that something which felt special to me – a particular style of a vintage top, shirt, or tea dress – has then become ubiquitous when one brand or another decided to make it their ‘look’ of the season, before discarding again. Suddenly certain sartorial decisions fit a trend, rather than looking like they were actively selected. But maybe my attitude should be ‘the more, the merrier’, rather than a whole lot of muttering and wittering here. And even in writing this, I'm aware of all the shades and nuances and alternative arguments I haven't even touched on... More consideration needed. 

These photos were taken by the lovely Monica several months back when we were in Bologna. I'm wearing a bona-fide fifties dress (and eighties belt), but accompanied by modern ASOS shoes. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Treasure, Trinkets and the Occasional Diamond

When I think of jewellery, I think of family: of the big green, glittery necklace passed down to me from my paternal grandmother; the strings of faux-pearls and dangling pendants from my late maternal great-grandma; the various brooches from distant cousins and Great-Aunts: all cameos and flowers and sparkly paste echoes of diamonds; the rings from my late maternal grandma. The latter remain especially significant, having been the ones my mum’s mum had made for her - after the end of a particularly awful relationship, she took jewellery from that period to be melted down and the stones re-set in newly designed beautiful silver rings. I wear them all the time now, the loops and whorls of metal contrasting with moonstones and turquoise. I have other rings too, like the two gold bows, one of which belonged to my Great-Aunt Eva – who died of leukemia aged nineteen (read more here). I relish these stories, as I do with all family garments and cast-offs.

I’ve always viewed jewellery as a part of dress-up, to a certain extent – badges and lengths of beads infiltrating childhood play from an early age. My brother and I used to play something called ‘the treasure game’, involving a motley array of trinkets, often broken or rescued from being discarded. We’d pretend to be pirates divvying up our wares, carefully choosing them, one at a time, from a pile in the middle until we each had our stash. Then the bargains began. Was that iridescent bracelet with the broken clasp worth giving up in exchange for a mother of pearl pendant and a hat-pin? What would it take to secure the single mushroom-sized, multi-coloured clip-on earring with its red, purple, green and blue stones?

At secondary school I went through a big Claire’s Accessories phase – buying the kinds of cheap stuff that left your skin green beneath the metal. The goody bags were the best, an unknown pic n’mix delight of possibilities for a fiver – no idea what you’d find when you dug into the plastic. It was all about the small details then – the ear studs you could get away with in school that somehow might still convey some tiny aspect of personality, along with a carefully chosen bag (mine was a Roxy backpack).

I’ve since taken my ‘treasure game’ a little more seriously though, securing plenty of the desirable jewellery, some of it from that early 'pirate' hoard. I mainly wear necklaces and rings (though am planning to get my ears re-pierced soon so that all sorts of marvelous things can then dangle from them once more). Currently I have a line of cocktail glasses in my room, all spilling over with my spoils, nothing new among them other than a charm bracelet from my mum (charms choicely including books, a coffee cup and a champagne bucket) and a few beautiful Bill Skinner items that I got in return for some modeling. Even the old stuff that didn’t belong to family members is also second-hand. One of my most-complimented pendants, usually worn on a silver torc, was from the local charity shop for 50p. Bar one or two precious things (including a very special locket) the collection is not worth much - but imbued with so many resonances and stories and places. 

Usually I’m content with this set-up, eyeing up my vaguely rag-tag assembly of chains, beads and stones, plucking things up according to colour and the day’s/ outfit’s mood. But then I got to wear Pippa Small’s jewellery for an afternoon during this set of portraits, and I felt like a magpie – entirely entranced by all those ammolites and opals and diamonds and tourmalines and amethysts and rubies and so many other stones that are so very satisfying to name. I sat as Susannah Baker-Smith chose each new combination, content to lounge in the afternoon light as my skin was adorned with all these turquoises and golds and greys and rainbow-scattered shades. Some of them seemed to transform when on, while others seemed to transform me. We worked carefully with angles and poses (jewellery is surprisingly tricky to photograph), Susannah moving around and directing my limbs, me holding my breath while I waited for the shutter-click. The shoot was a small, suspended interlude in an otherwise frantic week.

That afternoon also reminded me of the possibilities of modern craftsmanship (especially apt for Pippa – read all about her ethical projects and work with communities here) as well as the sheer, aesthetic pleasure of wearing truly gorgeous jewellery. It does something to you. Not sure exactly what, but it's quietly special. And although it's beyond my price range for now, a girl can idly dream…

Susannah is a marvellous photographer and even more marvellous friend. It always feels like a vague honour to work with her - as I have done twice before. I feel like she captures something of me that's very natural and relaxed. And you can see Pippa's website here.

In other news, I wrote something for Yahoo Beauty on Oxford, outside perceptions, and going my own way. You can read it here

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why Living in the Moment is a Trite Phrase for an Important Thing

The week before last I went to Hay-on-Wye, dropping in for an afternoon interlude at the literary festival. It was much too short an immersion, time only for a coffee, some book browsing, a single event, and a smattering of aimless wandering. The town was a-buzz; pavements crowded and queues everywhere. There’s something intriguing in observing a place you know well - briefly transformed, quiet streets suddenly full of racket.

I also had chance to meet the completely wonderful Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours (see my review here). We sat down for a quick talk, ranging over areas from Instagram to books to beauty standards. We both commented on how we already felt like we knew each other – Twitter providing a platform for conversation long before any face-to-face chats. She’s about the fifth amazing woman I’ve met through social media within the last month. The modern world is wonderful, isn’t it? Weird and odd and great, all at the same time.

I left Hay that evening feeling so utterly content. It did what so many exciting things do, whether it’s an event, a lecture, a two-way conversation, or a collection of poems. I relish anything that heightens my enthusiasm – reinvigorating and stimulating an idea, perhaps, or an ongoing piece of work, or a thought still buzzing with potential. There’s a sense that one could go and do anything: write something, create/make/ work and craft, or think and learn. We need those touchstone moments. They’re not so much grounding as elevating, a necessary form of uplift occasionally required when things are feeling bogged down. Hay also felt like a temporary shrugging off of responsibility, real life ebbing for half a day.

When have I had similar feelings since? At a barbecue in the park where we waited to watch the sun set over the buttercups. While drinking cold white wine in the burning heat, sitting on a sofa in a friend’s garden. During the weekend just gone, full of books, conversation, and bouts of slipping in and out of the river in my bikini - stretching and kicking and breathing (and avoiding the odd boat). Each morning as I make breakfast, brew coffee and spend half an hour reading Women in Clothes. An equal mix of social encounters and solitude.

Various things have been a struggle recently, requiring me to acknowledge my own vulnerabilities and limitations. But when anything feels less manageable, I always try to bring myself back into these small, significant experiences and ways of treating myself well. They are what remain important.

So much of the time we focus on work and achievement, forgetting the necessity of all the good stuff - of friends, family, lovers, food, long phone calls, whisky, a coffee in a café, reading a book because it’s enriching, writing something for oneself because it’s stimulating and full of possibility, listening to someone who needs an open ear.

Of going for a day trip, taking a walk, dancing until knees ache, listening to fantastic music, having fizzy conversations that make you dizzily content, sleeping in when the sun is reaching through the curtains, getting up early and cycling through near-empty streets, beginning a new project just because you can.

Of wearing a damn good outfit and several layers of red lipstick, buying things you don’t need at car boot sales because they’re simply too pretty, trawling charity shops all afternoon, talking to strangers on occasion, or enjoying your lonesomeness at others.  

Then there’s the pursuing of thrilling opportunities and new quests and intellectual challenges – perhaps pursuing in the knowledge that it will not necessarily be easy, but will certainly be satisfying in the end. You just have to recognize that as you work through things from hour to hour, day to day, some of those hours and days will be glorious and glittering, while others may prove really quite tough. I guess it has to be a specific kind of pursuing too, one tempered by the recognition that you are not solely the worth of your GCSE grades, your A-level results, your university degree, your inbox, your income, your work-life, your online image, your looks, your desirability, your status.

You can absolutely and utterly be bloody proud of any of those things, if you so wish. I am, with various things on that list. But for years some of those achievements were the only way I defined my worth – becoming a singular measure, rather than a set of contributing factors to an overall sense of self. Hopefully the equilibrium is a little more balanced now.

I spent this evening cooking a curry for myself, drinking red wine, and working out what I needed to complete before the end of the week. I took it moment by moment. Now I’m off to dig my nose into a book before bed. It’s taking time, but I’m getting there with each little anchor back in the present, each instance that lifts the day.

While in Hay I wore the most fabulous vintage tartan shorts I'd picked up the previous day in a charity shop for £4 - here combined with a second hand polo neck, a cardigan that belonged to my great grandma, and shoes from a charity shop. The notebook was bought on the day, and has now become the place for all my poetry scribblings and general notes.