Saturday, 31 March 2012

Packing my bags

I'm off to London for a few days and looking forward to it.  I'll be...

- seeing my lovely friends, Cara and Dan, and their new flat in Crouch End;
- visiting Hampton Court Palace for a full-on Tudor geekfest;
- going to the David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery;
- having a lovely meal at Marco Pierre White's restaurant, the Kings Road Steakhouse;
- doing some touristy things (which I usually miss out on because of being in the pub!), such as visiting the British Museum, the V&A, and Liberty;
- visiting all the wonderful bookshops - such as Gay's The Word, Foyles, Housmans and Daunt Books - but trying to resist temptation to buy many; after all, I have a backlog of about 50 waiting to be read.

Any suggestions for what else I should see and do in London?  Tips for good craft shops, interesting vintage stores or unusual sights I might not know about would be gratefully received.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Bring me sunshine

Photo via weheartit

The lovely Laura from Make Do and Mend has given me my very first blogger award: the Sunshine Award.  Thanks Laura!  I have also just had some other excellent news, which I will share later this weekend.  But as for the award, it is meant to recognise positive, creative and inspiring bloggers: what a nice idea.  As part of the award there are 10 questions to post, so here are my answers:

Favourite colour: Blue: from shades of teal blue in my spare room, to baby blue in my kitchen, to lots of navy in my wardrobe, it's such a versatile colour.
Favourite animal: I am not really an animal person (too neurotic and convinced that they will bite/scratch/attack me), but I do like cats... to which I'm allergic.
Favourite non alcoholic drink: Tea.
Facebook or twitter: Facebook.
Getting or giving presents: Giving.  I love buying and making things that will make my loved ones smile.
Favourite flower: Daffodil.  They are such a happy flower, heralding the return of spring with their sunny yellow colour.
Favourite pattern: Polka dots.
Passion: travelling, reading, and music: I'm happiest while on a train, listening to my iPod and reading a book.
Favourite number: 19
The five blogs I want to pass the award on to are (rips envelope open...) Jenny Just Stuff, Using My Loaf, Says Ingrid, What Hannah Read and Pretty Much Penniless.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Lust list

After a somewhat serious post on Monday, something more lighthearted today.  It's payday on Friday and I am very skint until then, so have been spending more time than usual window-shopping on Etsy.  A few of the lovely things I have found...

Barry Bulsara is a local artist whose works adorn many a Leicester bar.  This screenprint of a Liz Lemon quote is amazing: "I want someone who likes musicals... and I want someone who thinks being really into cars is lame and strip clubs are gross," might become my new profile blurb on OKCupid.

There are so many cute dresses in Jennifer Lilly's Etsy shop but I especially like this pale beige bird print, which is only £28.99.

We learnt how to make tote bags at craft club last week, and it's so simple that I really don't have an excuse to buy more, but I love the canvas tote bags by Mystic Moose (which are a bargain at only £3.99 apiece).  Now the only decision is which one to get: this typewriter print is vying with the multi-coloured buttons one for a place in my collection. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Music Monday: Ben Folds Five

There are worrying things afoot in the UK at the moment in relation to abortion rights.  This article from Saturday's Guardian outlines some of the attacks being made on a woman's right to have agency over her own body.  Therefore this Music Monday could be subtitled, 'Why having an abortion isn't the worst thing that's happened to me'. 

When the news broke that someone had hacked the British Pregnancy Advice Service, purportedly to 'expose' the names of women who have used their services, I was enraged.  Angry because, once again, here was a man supposing he has the right to sit in judgement over adult women and the choices they make about their bodies.  Angry because the coalition government - with their inclusion of pro-life organisations on advisory boards, and motions put forward by resolutely anti-abortion Tory MP Nadine Dorries that threatened abortion rights - have created a climate in this country which edges ever closer to that of America.  Mostly angry, though, because his actions presuppose that the worst possible thing to happen to a woman would be to have the fact of her abortion made public; that it is something to be ashamed of.

Well, I refuse to be ashamed of one of the smartest and most sensible decisions I made in my early twenties.  I was not - emotionally, mentally or financially - in any position to become a parent.  Having an abortion at 9 weeks is far from the worst thing that has happened to me and I don't ever, for a minute, regret my decision.  Was it painful?  Yes.  Do I still think about it sometimes?  Yes.  But I don't ever wish I'd made a different decision.  Most women keep abortion quiet and it becomes our dirty little secret (despite the fact that an estimated one in three women in this country have had or will have an abortion).  This in turn gives power to the anti-abortion argument that it is inherently mentally damaging and therefore we poor delicate women shouldn't be put through it: remove the choice and remove the 'damage'.  And make no mistake, the voices of people who would like to remove our choice are becoming ever-louder in the face of government and media tolerance, even encouragement.
To return to the music (after all, it is Music Monday): with lines like "she broke down, and I broke down," Brick is not a song that pretends abortion is all flowers and smiles, but it also doesn't express regret.  I've always liked it for that reason.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The weekend ahead

Despite some fun plans here in Leicester, I am kind of wishing I was back in the north this weekend, due to two great-sounding events being held in Bradford and Leeds.

Tomorrow in Bradford you can visit the Zine Extravaganza, run by newly-formed zine collective Loosely Bound.  So, I lived in Bradford for 12 years and it was lame; when did it become cool enough to host a zine collective?  Colour me impressed.

On Sunday in Leeds is a plus-size clothing swap organised by Kirsty of Fatty Unbound blog and Make It Work zine.  There will be cake, which is all it takes to get me excited about an event.

Here in Leicester I will be visiting the vintage fair which regularly visits the cathedral tomorrow, seeing lots of friends, and going to see Gypsy at Curve on Sunday (I am hoping it will be very jazz hands; I do love a good musical).  Wherever you are, hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Living in the past

So, obviously I'm a bit obsessed with the 90s at the moment.  My current read (Everyone Loves Our Town, a history of grunge) is ace; so absorbing that I am almost believing I'm in early-90s Seattle.  It's a disappointment every time I look up and see noughties Leicester around me, I can tell you.  As a result, I've been collecting things to maintain my delusion that I'm a flannel-wearing teenager in America circa 1992 just that bit longer.

In my 'to read' pile I have Girl by Blake Nelson, a novel about a teenager discovering alternative culture in Portland, Oregon in the early 90s.  I read it years ago (having bought it for about 10p in a charity shop in South Africa) and loved it because it reminded me of My So-Called Life.  The recent publication of a sequel, Dream School, has prompted me to do some re-reading.  Also in the stack are the memoir by Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh, Rat Girl (published as Paradoxical Undressing in the UK), and Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life.

I have also been having a lovely time crafting a Spotify playlist to accompany all this reading: listen here and let me know what I've missed off.

My Band T-Shirt is a great blog where people submit stories related to... well, you can probably guess.  Funny, nostalgia-filled and moving, there are a number of grunge-related tales on there.  The Hole one only served to reaffirm my love for Courtney; the one about The Pixies seeming to follow a theme of band t-shirts leading to marriage.  Hmm, I'm still waiting for my Sonic Youth tee to attract me a mate.

It's embarrassing how much I love Reality Bites (and especially Janeane Garofalo's character, Vickie, who, with her little black book beside the bed, sarcastic wit and red lipstick seemed to me the very apotheosis of womanhood when I was a teen).  Set in Austin in the early 90s, it's a flannel shirt-filled nostalgic delight and will make a good companion piece to Singles in an early 90s film fest that I have planned for next week.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

How to be a good hostess

I found this gem of a book in amongst the boxes my mum and her partner salvaged from their recently deceased neighbour's house.  There's no publication date on it, but from the graphic design I'd put it somewhere around the late fifties.  Not dissimilar in style to modern 'How To...' books (the title alone put me in mind of Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess) but full of lines that make you realise the past really is a foreign country.  Just two of my favourites: "If you're going to the coast, make a gay beach party of it..." and the entreaty, "Why not make it a threesome?".  Yes, I really do have the sense of humour of a 14 year old boy. 

The 'What Shall I Wear' spread is amazing, with lovely line drawings alongside the most specific instructions: "a fork lunch is an occasion for friendly rivalry in smart hats," or (for a country weekend) "nylons should be the 30 denier, fishnet kind".  Detailed directions are also given for how to invite guests, by letter, 'At Home' card or phone ("only for a Christian-name friend!" the book warns).  Being a good hostess sounds exhausting; I think I'll stick to my usual routine of 'send a Facebook message and order in pizza on the night'.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Music Monday: Pearl Jam

I heard this song when I was in the pub on Friday night and it set me off on a weekend of reminiscing.  Pearl Jam were the first band my brother and I ever really bonded over.  I remember being dead impressed that he wanted to listen to them (in fact, I think he owned this album - on cassette, naturally - before I did), deciding that perhaps my younger brothers weren't total townie lost causes (sorry Richard!). 

I find myself thinking about the 90s a lot lately.  Call it a midlife crisis; call it the fact that everyone is wandering around in leggings, Doc Martens and grandad cardigans.  In reality I was slightly too young for grunge (I was only 13 in 1991, when Nevermind came out, and only started properly listening to grunge bands after Kurt had already died).  Britpop was more my era, but funnily enough I'm not finding myself getting misty eyed about Pulp or Elastica like I am about Nirvana and Pearl Jam. 

When I was in Seattle last summer I saw the exhibition Taking Punk To The Masses (nominally about Nirvana, but really a history of alternative music in the USA) and found it a pretty powerful experience.

Reading the book, thinking about the exhibition, remembering Seattle, watching the documentary Seven Ages Of Rock: Left Of The Dial (about the rise of alternative rock in the US, focusing in large part on Nirvana and REM), and listening to Pearl Jam.  My weekend was spent with my mind firmly in the Pacific Northwest, circa 1992.  Can you be nostalgic for something you didn't actually live through?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Good stuff

Good stuff this weekend...

Photo via The Guardian

This article about punk rock in repressive states in The Guardian yesterday was an amazing read.  The writer does dismiss Riot Grrrl as a "fleeting genre" and "overlooked" - erm, not round my house, mate - but otherwise it was a fascinating and humbling insight into how alternative and punk cultures can flourish even in the most repressive regimes.  My favourite line, which made me smile and cry at the same time: "many of their gigs are organised by a local punk impresario called Ko Nyan: his founding place in Burmese punk culture was sparked when he found a magazine featuring the Sex Pistols in a bin behind Rangoon's British embassy." 

I went to see Martha Marcy May Marlene this afternoon and loved the insidiously sinister atmosphere.  My attention was rapt for the full two hours, which is really saying something (I am the worst for fidgeting and wishing films would hurry up), and Elizabeth Olsen's performance as the titular Martha, on the run from a dangerously charismatic, Manson-like cult leader, was superb.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Make it work

I had the most amazing response to my recent post about fat and fatshion (my favourite comment was via Facebook, where my friend wrote, simply, "massive love for this mate.")  One fatshion blog that I've discovered recently and immediately enjoyed is Fatty Unbound and the blogger behind it, Kirsty, has just published a DIY fatshion/craft zine called Make It Work

My first forays into writing for an audience were as a fanzine writer and editor in the mid-nineties, when I published indie zine Venus, and rubbish poetry and teenage navel gazing zine Release The Pressure.  So it was with a Proustian thrill at the badly photocopied pages and typewritten text that I received my copy of Make It Work in the post earlier this week.  And Kirsty had me nodding along maniacally, muttering "YES!" under my breath, to her introduction to the zine:  To make it work... is an act of resistance.  It's refusing to be pigeonholed, to fit into the limited aesthetic offered to fat people.  It's about acknowledging that I have as much right as a straight sized person to experiment with colour, texture, pattern, silouhette and shape, without being made to feel inferior in the process.  I have no obligation to dress my body for anything else apart from myself.  Amazing!

As well as fat acceptance polemic, the zine has some fab how-to's, including crafting on a budget, how to organise a plus-size clothes swap, and instructions for DIY sweater clips.  It's fired my enthusiasm for creating (and not just clothes: I totally want to get back into zine making now).  Buy it here on Etsy.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Mag hag: the alternatives

Just before Christmas, I devoted a post to magazine reviews.  As much as I love whiling away the hours reading things online, it's just not the same as holding a magazine in your hand and having something tangible, beyond an internet bookmark, to keep.  But as my reviews showed, I had been feeling dissatisfied with what was on offer in terms of womens mags.  Even though this great post on sung the praises of mainstream media, this time round, I tried to seek out some genuine alternatives.

Oh Comely
Recommended to my by commenter Laura after my last magazine post, it took me a while to track down the independently-published Oh Comely in my local Smiths.  Issue 8 was finally located last weekend - yay!
Coverlines ... well, no traditional coverlines as such, just a blurb announcing, "We wondered how biscuits began, photographed tattoos with stories, confessed our secret crushes, talked about kindness with old and young, and dyed scarves with fennel and onion."
For women who aren't afraid of all things winsome and twee, and who dislike the term 'hipster', but (let's face it) are a little bit hipster themselves.
Wants you to buy a Lomography camera; Tatty Devine's new book How To Make Jewellry. 
Reading it I feel like I want to get another tattoo.  I was worried Oh Comely would leave me feeling like Mollie Makes - stressing about the number of craft projects I want to complete, and depressed that my house and life isn't as lovely as the ones shown - but it really didn't.  One to buy again.

I let my subscription to American feminist mag Bitch lapse a couple of years ago when I bought my house and was cutting out all non-essential expenditure.  A recent 20% off deal led me to renew again, and I'm so glad I did.  Bitch has been struggling to stay afloat over the past few years (a fact which is reflected in somewhat cheaper production values).  But I'm pleased to say that it's as interesting, thought-provoking and brilliant as ever.

There are articles about lifestyle blogs and the competition they can engender between women; a feminist summer school here in the UK (I take back everything I said about it being US-centric in my last post!); the always-amazing San Francisco writer and activist Michelle Tea; how disability activism has been helped and hindered by online communities... SO much great stuff.

Coverlines are short and sweet, not giving too much away: Busting out fatshion; Gunning for women; Michelle Tea.
For women who have any small ounce of feminist or political urge and want to read something amazing.  Can you tell I love it?!
Wants you to buy columnist Lesley Kinzel's new book about fatshion and fat activism, Two Whole Cakes; the latest album by St Vincent.
Reading it I feel excited, informed, politicised... and sorry I stayed away for so long.  Subscribing again is the best $40 I've ever spent: please support them at

The Big Issue
Not a womens magazine, obviously, but still worth a mention.  Since I stopped working in the city I buy it less, and haven't been too impressed with it when I do manage to get it.  However this recent issue (February 27-March 4) was a veritable treasure-chest of interesting articles: secularism vs. religion; community groups regenerating areas in Liverpool and Margate; a great, gossipy interview with Dame Eileen Atkins.
Coverlines... just one: rhetorical question 'The opium of the masses?' alongside a TV screen. 
For women  people who want to support the ideals of the Big Issue, giving homeless people "a hand up not a hand out", while also reading about activism, politics and entertainment.
Wants you to buy tickets for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; rechargable batteries.
Reading it I feel engaged and interested in the issues it raises.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Music Monday: Midlake

"As the spring is made alive the winter dies," goes the opening line to this lovely Midlake song.  One of the things I appreciate about living in the UK is the changing of the seasons, and as much as I love autumn/winter (opaque tights and woolly hats! hot chocolate! reading by the fire!), spring is a wonderful time of year.  Watching nature respond to warmer and slowly lengthening days - daffodils nodding their cheerful yellow heads in the breeze, birds chirping and building nests - it's hard to feel miserable.  Walking in the glorious sunshine yesterday, on top of a moor in the Peak District, I kept on singing this song to myself, a way of saying goodbye to the dying season and hello to spring.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Good stuff

Good stuff I've seen online this week...

A great article on about why feminists shouldn't hate on girliness, stumbled across after I googled 'girliness' to check the spelling for this post about New Girl.

After listening to The Civil Wars last week, this week I have been all about another girl/boy musical duo.  Blood Red Shoes are very different to The Civil Wars, but equally (if not more) awesome.  This video of them performing new single Cold for Radio One is incredible.

A Guy Recaps Lady TV is possibly my favourite feature on always-great website  This week's post was as funny and brilliant as usual: "This show offends me as a woman, and I'm not even a woman."  Noah did not enjoy Dance Moms, but who would?

Friday, 9 March 2012

In which I profess my love for New Girl

I'm a fan of all things cute, twee and 'girly' (although the implied pejorative of the phrase 'girly' bothers me); on a not-unrelated note, I'm a fan of Zooey Deschanel.  I was super excited when New Girl debuted in the UK back in January, and I have not been disappointed. 

This amazing post on a couple of days ago goes some way to explain why Zooey, and New Girl, are so awesome, but can be best summed up in the below quote from the show (from an episode yet to air over here, it's Jess responding to *spoiler alert* Nick's girlfriend (played by the equally awesome Lizzy Caplan) after she's bitched about her):

"I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children. And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. It freaks me out. I’m sorry that I don’t talk like Murphy Brown. And I hate your pants suit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something just to make it slightly cuter but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong."  I relate so much to that (the polka dots, the talking to children, the smart and tough and strong...) and it kinda says a lot of what I was trying to say here about why feminism and girliness don't have to be at odds with each other, but in a slightly different way.  It's so great that such an amazing female character is being written and put centre stage in a hit TV show.  I for one am keeping everything crossed for a second season of New Girl, and if you haven't checked it out yet, take a look tonight at 8.30pm on Channel 4. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Women who rock

International Women's Day was always a big event in my house when I was growing up.  My poor brothers: with a feminist mother and feminist (and bossy) big sister, they never had a hope of getting any attention on March 8th.  Some years, mum would take me to awesomely 80s consciousness-raising craft workshops for girls; other years, we'd go to mother/daughter events.  I have amazing memories of making friendship bracelets, bouncing on trampolines, going to drum circles and storytelling sessions, revelling in being in an all-girl environment.

In recent years I've tended to forget about IWD until it's upon me, but one way I do mark the day is by listening to women who rock.  Last year I enjoyed the Spotify playlist put together by Drowned In Sound.  This year I've made my own.

From PJ Harvey to Bjork to Tori Amos; Aretha Franklin to The Gossip to Cat Power, my favourite 40 tracks by women are all there.  But have I missed any off: what would your top 40 look like?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


My mum and her partner met Margaret when they moved into their house about 8 years ago.  Eccentric and cantankerous but friendly and full of stories, Margaret didn’t seem to bat an eyelid at the two middle-aged lesbians arriving in the house opposite hers.  Margaret had lived there for years, her home slowly deteriorating around her.  When she passed away recently after a short illness, my mum and Andrea went round to help clear the house and were allowed to take away some bits and pieces, much of which they have passed on to the one person they knew would appreciate the mix of vintage gems and junk: me.

Salvaged from the kitchen by Andrea was this incredible enamel bread bin. Now taking pride of place in my kitchen, it’s lovely to have a vintage piece that I know the history of. The set of scales needs a bit of gussying up, but a lick of paint should make them look better.


A stack of books from the 40s and 50s is a wonderful insight into life sixty years ago.  Seeing Margaret’s handwritten notes in recipe and dress-making books brought me up short: these scraps of paper all that are left of the larger than life woman who loved to cook and sew.  Finding hobbies in common with her after her death, I’ve saved a pile of craft books to read and use.  Some rather sad, tatty copies of classic novels will make nice book bunting.  One book, How To Write, Think And Speak Correctly, was too fascinatingly titled to throw away.  I'm looking forward to learning how to think correctly, cos I'm pretty sure I've been doing it wrong all these years.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Made by me

I found this great 'Made by me' embroidered tape at The Fabric Guild in Leicester recently, which reminded me of the name tape my mum used to sew into my school uniform.  It has gone on to adorn everything I've made recently, from a large order of draft excluders to this little needle case I whipped up for my mate Jen's birthday. 

Next on the 'to make' list: storage bags for the bathroom using scraps left over from making the blind, a cosmetics bag in vintage fabric for another friend's birthday, and masses of book and map bunting. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Music Monday: Micachu

Bizarre, 1 minute long bursts of sound abound on Micachu's debut album Jewellery.  I saw her perform with her band, The Shapes, at Summer Sundae festival a few years ago and was agog at the sheer brilliance of her songs, which are played on strange homemade instruments, empty bottles, and modified guitars.  This song, Golden Phone, is one of the longer and more accessibly 'traditional' songs on the album, which is well worth a listen if you like experimental tunes with a strong pop sensibility.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Good stuff

Some great things I've bookmarked recently...

Margaret Cho writing on Jezebel about hunting down the Twitter haters after being fat-shamed.  "I did not choose this face or this body and I have learned to live with it and love it and celebrate it and adorn it with tremendous drawings from the greatest artists in the world and I feel good and powerful like a nation that has never been free and now after many hard won victories is finally fucking free. I am beautiful and I am finally fucking free." Amazing.

Two interesting things in The Guardian's G2 supplement: an article by Alexis Petridis on how pop music lost its gay edge, and a review of the debut album by American folk duo The Civil Wars.  Definitely worth a listen on Spotify and a search

An incredible article about a book published in 1901, The Spinster Book, and the sad tale of its author, by Hannah Chutzpah on feminist blog Bad Reputation.