Sunday, 29 September 2013

Weekend in pictures

Bravely, The Boy ventured home to Yorkshire with me this weekend.  Despite a stinking cold on my part, we still managed to have a lovely and relaxing time.  I...

... Enjoyed a few ciders in Mooch, a lovely cafe/bar in Hebden Bridge (thanks to Lisa for the tip), where I was also lucky enough to meet my brother's girlfriend for the first time.  Nerve-wracking, but lots of fun;
... Shopped for vintage goodies, books and organic food in Hebden;

... Ate amazing vegan food, most home-cooked by my lovely mum;
... Walked in the woods (where The Boy made friends with a cat); 

... Rejoiced in the return to our screens of Strictly Come Dancing;
... Witnessed The Boy getting beaten at Scrabble by my mum (smart move, she might never have forgiven him if he beat her in their first match);

... Visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in glorious autumn sunshine.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

My impossible wishlist

Photo via weheartit

I really enjoyed Lisa's recent Impossible Wishlist on Mathilde Heart Manech.  Like her, I often write lust lists of pretty Etsy prints or nice dresses, but thinking about the things that you really want but can never have is somewhat more of a challenge.  Often, the things that seem "impossible" aren't really; a lot of the ideas I came up with were just difficult, not impossible.  To pay off debts, to travel more, to go back to university... those things might not be easy to achieve but, unlike my final three, they are all attainable with a bit of hard work.  These things, though, really are impossible.

1. For my mum to get her hearing back.
Although hard of hearing since she was 30 (something went "pop" when she was pregnant with me, and from that point on she was pretty much deaf in one ear), my mum was diagnosed with degenerative hearing loss in her 40s.  She always coped well and continued to play guitar and sing, became a manager of a large charity, and worked as a Relate counsellor in her spare time.  But when - after a slow process of hearing loss - she suddenly went completely deaf about ten years ago, it came as a shock.  No more singing for my music-loving mum.  No more long chats on the phone to update her on my day-to-day life.  No more enjoying rowdy family meals, with everyone competing to talk at the same time. The  impact going deaf has had on her is devastating.  She manages incredibly well, using a combination of hearing aids, sign language and lip-reading to communicate, but watching her struggle and become frustrated and exhausted by the efforts needed to 'hear' is awful.  I wish I could have the impossible and give her back her hearing.

2. For the Netherlands to be next to Yorkshire.
And yes, smart aleck, I know that strictly speaking it is next to Yorkshire, but I'd like there to not be a bloody great sea in the way.  Because when The Boy finishes his PhD in two years time, he wants to move back there.  And I want to be with him, so I will have to move too.  I'm up for the adventure, but the thought of being far from family in Yorkshire and friends in the Midlands and London does not appeal quite so much.  So if I could just pick Holland up and plonk it down - in the Pennines maybe? - that would be grand (although I'm not sure how well the Dutch would cope with all those hills).  Oh, and while we're at it, if I could become fluent in Dutch without having to actually learn, that would be handy too.

3. For my friends to be carefree and happy once again.
The last twelve months have been amazing for me but gruelling for others.  Whilst I've been falling in love, travelling Europe, and generally having a blissful time, some of my closest friends have been facing massive challenges in their relationships, careers and personal lives.  It's horrible to watch the people who mean the most to you going through things that you can do nothing to change.  If I could wave a magic wand and sort things out for them, I would do it in a heartbeat.  Luckily, the things that would make them happy aren't themselves impossible, and I'm very much hoping that with a bit of time things come right for them the way they have for me.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Made: Sloe gin

As much as I love spring and summer, I have a real fondness for autumn, "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," not least because of the glut of fruit with which to make cakes, crumbles, jams and this, the crowing glory of a fruitful harvest: sloe gin. 

You will need:
1 litre of gin (because of all the extra flavour being added here it really doesn't matter if it's quality gin or not: Aldi is great for cheap spirits)
1lb of sloes
3oz caster sugar
A large, air-tight jar or bottle

1. Pour the sugar into the bottom of the jar and top with the gin. 
2. Prick each sloe with a (clean!) pin and add, giving it a good stir (this is why I like to use a jar rather than a bottle, as you can fit a spoon into it).
3. Shake the jar/bottle daily for a week, and then once a week for at least two months, at which point...
4. DO NOT SHAKE before filtering.  Filter through a muslin cloth into sterilised bottles.  You should be left with a gloriously fruity, sweet purple liquor.  The thick gunge at the bottom of the jar can be used to add an unusual edge to a boozy trifle.

If gin is not your thing, sloe vodka works just as well using exactly the same method.  I'll be using the lion's share of this autumn's gin to give as gifts in Christmas hampers, but should you want to hog the whole litre yourself, it keeps for years and years.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

In pictures: Belgrave Hall Gardens

Yesterday I went to Belgrave Hall in Leicester for their annual Good Food Fair, which is always a great place to discover local food producers and stock up on yummy goods.  I did buy a few things (mainly fudge and cake, because my pre-menstrual sweet tooth was going slightly crazy) but, despite my best intentions, I managed to take precisely no photographs of the wares on sale!   Instead, I spent most of my time taking advantage of the sunny afternoon and wandering around the beautiful gardens, which were still lush with flowers even this late in the season.  You would never guess you were a mile from the city centre, or that a main road runs just behind the walls.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Why not fitting into a size x isn't the end of the world

I'm a size 16 - a curvy, big-boobed, big-bummed, hourglass of a size 16 - and while it is, theoretically, a 'straight' size (e.g. available from mainstream retailers rather than just plus size retailers or those few high street stores which sell size 18 and above), it can be difficult to shop for if you're not savvy.  Over the years, trying to dress a body that doesn't quite fit into society's idea of "correct" has meant that I've learnt all sorts of lessons about shopping, and I'd like to think that some of them are true of shopping at any size.

Even though it is common knowledge - and common cause for complaint - that sizing is screwy from one retailer to another, too many people seem to think that the little label inside their clothes labels them rather than the garment.  We may know that a size 12 from Marks & Spencers will not fit like a size 12 from Zara (with the former tending to run big and the latter ludicrously small), yet so many women invest a huge amount into those tiny scraps of fabric sewn into a collar or waist. 

It made me sad to hear, on a recent shopping trip, a woman say she wouldn't buy a dress that fit great and looked better because it was a size 16 and she was a size 12.  Partly because it implied that there was something wrong with being a size 16, but mostly because it meant she gave up the chance to wear a lovely item of clothing that she had really liked on the hanger.  This took place in H&M, which is notorious for weird sizing.  In my wardrobe, I have H&M clothes running the gamut from a t-shirt marked S, to size 16 dresses, to a pair of size 20 trousers.  Those trousers hang next to my New Look skinny jeans in a size 14, and both items fit me really well and always garner compliments.  Does the fact that one label says 20 and one says 14 mean anything?  Am I somehow magically thinner in the jeans, or heavier in the trousers?  No, and no, and no!

Still concerned about the size on the label?  Maybe this anecdote will make you feel better.  I used to know a woman who worked in a clothing factory that made garments for Dorothy Perkins (before all such work was outsourced to factories in China and Bangladesh, but that's another post entirely...).  Say they had a rail of 200 size 10 blouses, but only 199 size 10 labels left; well then, one of those blouses would be labelled size 8 or 12, whichever label they had spare.  I remember this story whenever a size 18 is squeezing me in places it shouldn't: most likely, it's not a size 18 at all.  But would it matter if it was?

When trying on something that doesn't fit, it is tempting to believe that the problem is you, that the issue is your body, and that if only your boobs were smaller, or your legs longer, or your hips narrower, then all would be well.  We almost never blame what is obviously at fault: the garment itself.  Designed for a narrow range of shapes (almost certainly none of which match your own unique and wonderful one), the clothes on the high street are the problem, not you. 

It is so much more important to know what styles suit your body and to have a decent idea of your measurements.  After years of making some fairly heinous fashion mistakes, I now know exactly what styles will look good on me and what styles just won't fit my body; this means I can flick through the rails and pick out things to try on that I know are likely to look decent, regardless of the actual size.  This is especially handy in charity and vintage shops, where it pays to look at all sorts of sizes that you wouldn't usually associate with your own body.  Who knows what gem you will find in the size 14 racks, even if you're a size 18 (or, indeed, vice versa).  It's because I have a strong sense of what will suit me that I have such a range of sizes in my wardrobe, from teeny tiny cardigans to stretchy smock dresses in a 12 to tea dresses in a size 18, all of which fit me perfectly and sizing be damned. 

Ultimately, there should only be two considerations when buying new clothes: do you think it looks good, and does it make you feel good?  If the answer to both of those questions is "yes," then the number on the label matters not a jot.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

In pictures: Southwell Workhouse

A Sunday drive to meet up with my dad found me in Southwell, a small cathedral town in north-east Nottinghamshire.  We'd chosen Southwell because he wanted to visit a National Trust property there, Southwell Workhouse.  Unusually for the Trust, this isn't a grand country house, but one of the first workhouses to be built in the UK.  We were lucky enough to arrive (by a happy accident rather than planning) on a Heritage Open Day, which meant we got in free, but the usual £7.50 charge would be well worth it.
The building housed both the old and infirm (who weren't expected to work), people of working age, and children. The men and women were expected to work for twelve hours a day - with breaks for meals only - while the children received three hours of schooling and worked for the remainder of the time. The work - scrubbing floors, digging the garden, breaking rocks - was deliberately dull, repetitive and exhausting. 
On a bleak and windswept day it made for a sobering visit.  The purpose of the workhouse was to provide accomodation and help for the very poorest, but to ensure that said accomodation was such hard work and so unpleasant that people wouldn't seek to enter it unless they were truly in need.  I was particularly struck by how similar much of the Victorian rhetoric about the "idle and profligate jobless" was to recent Coaltion scare-mongering about benefit 'scroungers'.  What with the recent controversy over the Workfare programme, I couldn't help but reflect on how little we have moved on as a society in the last two hundred years. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

I'm still here...

... just taking a few weeks out to settle into the rhythms of a new school year and - more importantly - to spend some quality time with The Boy.  Normal service will resume shortly.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Some thoughts about long distance relationships

At the time of writing, I have just two days remaining of being in a long distance relationship. Yes, Wednesday is the day The Boy finally moves back to Leicester!

After a long period of singledom (which you can read about here*), I met The Boy at the end of October 2012 (which you can read about here: ever get the feeling I overshare on the internet?!). We started 'going out' at the start of December and just a fortnight later he moved back to The Netherlands for eight months. We have done almost all of our falling in love from a distance of hundreds of miles.

We are lucky, I know, in that our jobs and our financial situations have enabled us to see each other, on average, every three weeks. Our longest break was four weeks, our shortest just two days. But whilst at the beginning I found the long distance thing a bit of an adventure - all that getting on planes and having romantic rendevous in European cities appealed to my sense of drama - ultimately, after eight months, it has become nothing but a gigantic pain in the arse.

I had ten years to build myself a really happy, satisfying life on my own, and so adjusting to living without The Boy hasn't been much of an adjustment at all. It's the same awesome life I've always led: I have an amazing house that I love pottering around, a ton of hobbies that keep me busy, great friends, family I love spending time with, a demanding job. But I now do a lot of those things with a tiny nugget of sadness inside me. My life is still awesome, like it always has been. But now I know how ultra-super-duper-awesome my life is with The Boy in it, I kind of want him here all the time.  I've also quickly realised that no matter how happy I am and how much I still enjoy having my own space and my own company, as soon as I feel a bit shit or have a bad day, a long distance relationship is suddenly the worst because I just want a cuddle.

The reactions of other people have been interesting too. Lots of people seem to think they know how long distance relationship 'should' be conducted (The Girl touched on this very issue in her excellent post Long Distance), and some of those people also seem to think that The Boy and I are not doing it right. I've been looked at askance when I say that, no, we don't Skype every day, as if that somehow means that we don't really love and miss each other. Honestly, both of us lead busy lives with schedules that often fail to match. Not to mention that I am chronically phone-averse and The Boy not much better. We are so much happier relying on a constant barrage of WhatsApp messages and Facebook conversations (and yes, a Skype date once a week), than forcing ourselves into awkward chats every evening.

However, the people that really matter have been nothing but lovely about my mooning around and my absence one weekend in three. It must be quite an adjustment for those close to me, to see me go so quickly from perma-single spinster to head-over-heels in love, but they've been incredibly supportive. My friends love him, and I reckon his friends think I'm ok too. We've managed to entwine our lives and begin building a wonderful relationship from hundreds of miles away, and I'm really proud of us for making it this far with no bumps in the road. I cannot wait for how good things are going to be when he lives ten minutes away.

* Related to this post - which was called 'On Being A Spinster' - someone recently found my blog by Googling "can spinsters be happy", which made me laugh. The answer is a definite YES!

Sunday, 1 September 2013


MAKING ooh, lots.  I fixed some curtains for a friend, then while my sewing machine was out I whipped up an iPad cover.  I upcycled a chair, baked some banana bread, made a birthday present for The Boy, framed some Penguin Classics postcards to put in my living room, made a collage on my craft room wall...  I hope my making streak doesn't end now school has started.

SITTING in the garden in the glorious sunshine, in between all the various makes and bakes.  It was lovely - after a summer full of activity - to have a few days at home over the bank holiday weekend, just chilling out and getting stuff done around the house.

PLANNING an autumn of trips, nights out, family visits and fun escapades with The Boy, because he finally moves back to Leicester next week.  Yippee!!!!

WEARING school clothes for the first time in six weeks :( 

READING stacks of magazines, which all seem to have arrived at once. I'm cancelling The Simple Things because even on second try, I don't like it that much. My subscription to Oh Comely has just finished, too, and I'm thinking I might try something different instead. Any magazine suggestions gratefully received.

EATING the aforementioned banana bread.  Yum.

DRINKING far too much at Leicester Pride yesterday.  It coincides with my friend, Liv's, birthday, so is a double celebration and therefore (in my mind) double the drinking is acceptable.  My head and stomach and liver all beg to differ today.

BUYING nothing except for food, drink, and a bargain £1.50 Persephone Books find in a charity shop.  The £100 challenge is underway and this week, I've spent £83.  When I first attempted the challenge this time last year, lots of commenters said that £100 a week was loads of money... and then  contacted me again a few weeks later to say they'd tried keeping track of every penny spent and been shocked at how easy it is to burn through £100 or more.