Thursday, 30 October 2014

October reads

1. Fourteen year-old Johanna is living in a Wolverhampon council house and has just humiliated herself on local TV when she decides to rebuild herself as cool music journalist Dolly. The novel follows her triumphs, and failures, as she reinvents herself. How To Build A Girl was October's book group pick, and although the novel retreads familiar territory to anyone who's read Moran's other work, it was still a riotously funny and enjoyable tale. Worth it for the 'how to have sex with a massive penis' chapter alone, which had me crying with laughter.

2. Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by novelist and creative writing professor Roxane Gay, on subjects as diverse as reproductive rights, male violence, and pop culture - from 12 Years A Slave to the Fifty Shades Of Gray phenomenon. Perfect to dip in and out of, the essays made me laugh, made me angry, made me sad, but were never dull or badly written. Highlights for me include the essay on Gay's love for The Hunger Games and her horrifying and heartbreaking, but necessary, examination of rape culture.

3. A Lovely Way To Burn is to be the first in a trilogy by Louise Welsh. I loved the idea of a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a mysterious virus that has Londoners dropping dead (and reading it this month, with Ebola panic in the media, felt particularly relevant). Protagonist Stevie is believably flawed and the idea of society succumbing to feverish chaos is chillingly done. I particularly noted and appreciated the racial diversity of her characters: here is a London I recognised rather than a whitewashed city of the rich.

4. I read The Paying Guests to take part in the Two View Review over at What Hannah Read and thoroughly enjoyed it: head over to Hannah's blog to find out our full verdict.

5. The Rosie Effect was one of the biggest literary disappointments of the year. I loved The Rosie Project, and gave it a glowing review back in February, so was hugely keen to read the follow-up, which finds genetics professor Don Tillman now married to Rosie and living in New York. One of the joys of the first book was how much I liked the characters. However, in The Rosie Effect the character of Rosie is almost entirely absent; she appears on the page frequently but at no point did I have any understanding of her motivations nor why on earth she professes to love Don, who comes across as entirely charmless. There are one or two nice set pieces, but with little of the brilliant humour of the first novel it becomes much harder to care about what happens to anyone contained herein.

6. I ordered Dare Me from the library after enjoying The Fever, by the same author, over the summer. When Addy's cheer squad gets a new coach, frenemy Beth is soon plotting her downfall. Abbott excels at writing quite horrifyingly realistic teenage girls in all their barbaric, bitchy glory and Dare Me had me compulsively turning the pages, hungry to find out how it would all end.

7. In The Woods had a promising premise: a young girl's body is found on the site where, years earlier, murder detective Rob Ryan's two best friends went missing. French's writing is beautiful, raising this several notches above your average crime thriller. However, I was irritated that one of the two central mysteries was never solved: true to life, perhaps, where twenty-year-old disappearances don't suddenly become resolved, but a kick in the teeth to a reader who's committed to read a - needlessly and overly - long novel in the hope that questions will be answered.

8. The cottage that we stayed at in Norfolk was well-stocked with light holiday reading, and I picked up Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend and devoured it in an afternoon. I've always liked Jenny Colgan's writing; it's light, fluffy but genuinely funny and, if I did find the plot of this a tad predictable, it was nevertheless an enjoyable and relaxing read.

9. The Quarry was Iain Banks' last book prior to his death from cancer earlier this year and its plot - about a barely middle-aged man with terminal cancer gathering his old university friends around him - was obviously influenced by this fact. Elements of the book were enjoyable but at times narrative was sacrificed for political polemic and state-of-the-nation ranting. I quite understand how Banks might want to lay his cards on the table in his last months, but unfortunately it didn't make for one of his best books.

10. I have a fondness for any book set in Iceland, and even more so since I visited the country in 2011. I'd already read a couple of other novels by Arnaldur Indridason and not been overly impressed, so I'm not sure why I decided Jar City might be different. His novels are fairly predictable police procedurals with an Icelandic flavour; personally I find the prose a little dry and the dialogue stilted, but I can't be sure whether that's down to the translation or the original.

11. The Night Bookmobile is a short and rather sinister graphic novel about reading and obsession. Beautifully detailed illustrations make this a perfect quick read for anyone who loves books and libraries (although hopefully your love won't take you to such extremes as the narrator of the novel).

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

"Just you stood there only in your underwear"

My finger hovered over the Publish button. To press or not to press? I went back and deleted the photo. Then added it again. Finally, I published the post and shut my laptop quickly, before I could change my mind.

So if I was so unsure about it, why did I post a picture of myself in my underwear?

There were clearly risks involved in publishing the photograph. I work in an industry where a career can be destroyed quite easily by incautious actions (not for nothing are both my face and my tattoo out of shot in the image). I could have got away with just using the product photos I'd taken, perhaps combining them with the stock photo from Bravissimo's website. But as uneasy as I felt about using the photograph of myself, I felt more uneasy about not using it.

The biggest and most important step in my journey to becoming body positive was seeing bloggers who reflected my own body shape and size. The first fatshion bloggers I happened across, LilliBethanyKirsty and Claire, were women who experimented with fashion in different ways but never apologised for their size or talked about weight loss. I found - I still do find - that seeing images of women of all sizes is the single most essential element in feeling confident about how I look.

That's why posting outfit photos was an important step to take for me. If I can inspire just one woman to feel a little bit better about herself, then it's worth it. And that's also why I thought it important that I used an honest (albeit slightly blurred-out) image of myself in the underwear. I still remember the visceral thrill of seeing Bethany post a photograph of herself in underwear; how wonderful and rare and special it felt to see a real*, un-photoshopped, flawed body in all its glory. Or the moment I first saw Lena Dunham strip off on Girls and wanted to cheer out loud, or perhaps weep, so impossible did that simple action seem.

I talk a good game about being body positive and confident but actions speak louder than words. And the truth is, although I am pretty body confident, I am far more so in clothes than out of them. I actually think my body looks pretty great when dressed and I find it easy to be positive about it. Undressed... not so much. Suddenly there's no hiding the fat stomach or the flabby, pasty thighs. Sad, really, that even someone who's a pretty far way down the road of body acceptance still has so much internalised fatphobia.

But the truth is, my pasty thighs and less-than-toned tummy are simply a reflection of what some women look like. We just don't see that truth very often. A lack of diverse bodies in both traditional media and online media perpetuates the idea that there's only one way women should look. It's what can make seeing ourselves in the mirror so dispiriting: our real bodies, whether slim, muscled, fat, or a combination of all of the above, can never measure up to the idealised, heavily photoshopped bodies we see beaming from our screens and magazine pages every day.

If I want to be one of the voices demanding to see more diverse bodies, then it wouldn't be honest to censor my own body. I want to hold myself to the very highest standards. I want to, and excuse the cheese, be the change I want to see in the world. And so that's why I posted a photograph of myself in my pants.

* Please note than when I write about 'real' bodies, I am emphatically not supporting that 'real women have curves' bullshit, which is divisive and damaging. As I commented on Suzy's recent (brilliant) piece about the song All About That Bass, any liberation that relies on the oppression of others is not true liberation. Rather I simply mean bodies which have not been subject to heavy photoshopping.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

What I wore: Mod squad

I've wanted a Mod-style parka for quite a few years now, but hadn't found the perfect one until this summer. There I was, browsing the aisles of Sainsburys, of all places, when I happened across this lovely fella. Of course, with the unseasonably warm September it was only recently that I've been able to start wearing my new coat, but now it's a regular part of my wardrobe and I'm chuffed to bits with it. Warm and cosy, it looks great worn open over a dress but miraculously also zips up over the boobs of doom.

At the moment I'm mostly wearing it thrown over a dress (this is the heart print H&M dress I wore all summer, now styled for winter with thick tights and my trusty brogues) but it will be equally fab over skinny jeans and a jumper.

* Coat: Tu at Sainsburys * Dress: H&M * Shoes: Clarks *

Saturday, 25 October 2014

What I wore: Bravissimo review

Note: I've recently decided to remove the photograph I originally used on this post - of me wearing the underwear. I still think it's important that I included it (for reasons I wrote about here) but as a teacher of web-savvy teenagers, I have to be careful about what content I share online and after some reflection, the photo felt like a step too far.

Inside the new Leicester store, on Market Street

I wrote recently about how Bravissimo changed my life. It may have sounded hyperbolic, but having a company making well-structured, well-fitting, pretty underwear at a decent price point is genuinely a miracle for those of us with big boobs. I honestly don't think it's a coincidence that I began to feel a hell of a lot better about my chubby, huge-boobed body around the time I bought my first Bravissimo bra.

Go into a Bravissimo shop anywhere in the country and I guarantee the customer service you receive will be top-notch: I've visited stores from London to Glasgow, and everywhere in between, and never once felt let down. Their staff are knowledgeable, friendly and make shopping there an absolute pleasure. 

That's why, when I discovered that a new shop was opening in Leicester, I quite literally screamed with glee (it's true: you can ask The Boy). And when the Bravissimo press office offered to make me an appointment to visit the store, my joy was unbounded. My fitting was lots of fun, mainly because my fitter, Anna, was so great. All staff are trained to fit by sight and feel, rather than relying on a tape measure. This means you can be sure your chosen bra will fit perfectly, as each bra varies and what you think is 'your' size may not be the best fit in a different style. Standing around in your underwear could be an embarrassing experience but every fitting I've had at Bravissimo has been friendly and relaxed, and this one was no exception.

When it came time to choose just one set of underwear, I was torn. I loved the bright print of the Cherry Blossom bra but I have so many cheerful, fun bras (thanks, of course, to Bravissimo). What was really missing from my collection was a seriously sexy set. And so, after much deliberation, I plumped for the Mademoiselle half-cup bra set in navy.

The quality of all Bravissimo bras is excellent. The structure and engineering of the cups and straps takes into account the weight and size they'll need to support in a way which supermarket or high street +size bras just don't. But the Mademoiselle set is really something special. The dusky pink colour underlay feels silky against my skin and the navy lace is gorgeously soft. The detailing on the set is beautiful, with ribbing and detailed embroidery that is reminiscent of upmarket lingerie from Agent Provocateur or Rigby & Peller. My absolute favourite detail is the tiny pink ribbon rosebuds that decorate the bra straps and the back of the shorts.

I'm not at all used to wearing half-cup bras and suspect this one will be kept for special occasions rather than everyday wear, as I feel more exposed that I'm used to. But for the price -  £32 for the bra and £16 for the shorts - the Mademoiselle set is incredible value: high quality, beautifully designed lingerie with fantastic attention to detail, and all for a fraction of the price of an Agent Provocateur set. 

Bravissimo sell lingerie from D to L cups, and fittings are free (although you will need to make an appointment). 

I was gifted the bra and shorts set by Bravissimo in exchange for an honest review: all opinions are my own.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A long weekend in Norfolk

After catching a nasty infection and having to take most of the final week of school off sick, I was glad to finally be feeling better last Friday, ready for our half term trip to Norfolk. The Boy and I tend to give small gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and then spend our money on a weekend away to celebrate instead. For his birthday, he'd specified that he'd like to go to the seaside. And where better than the beautiful North Norfolk coast for a long weekend?

As you can see, we were incredibly lucky with the weather: the sun shone all weekend and although it was windy, it was still unseasonably warm for October. We stayed in a beautiful cottage in Wells-next-the-sea and spent our days walking the coastal paths and beaches, and our nights curled up by the fire or in the pub: bliss!

Brightly coloured beach huts at Wells. And I just love this photograph of T carrying my shoes like a gent.

We took two long walks - through the pine trees from Wells beach to Holkham, and around Sheringham Park - and the diversity of the plant life was incredible. At Holkham, sea lavender scented the air while the wind whistled through the pines.

A Saturday afternoon wander around Wells town. Autumnal pumpkins and a bevy of books to add to our collection.

On Monday we drove to Burnham Market, which is stunning. I enjoyed rummaging in Found (although its sister shop in Holkham, Bringing The Outside In, was better for those on a budget), which is above Gurney's fishmongers.

I feel like our three days in Norfolk barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer: we will definitely be back in future for another visit.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Life lately

I'm back! It feels like I've been away from real life and work and - most importantly - blogging for WEEKS (it's actually only ten days). 

I had a cold, which became a throat infection, which became a chest infection. One of those illnesses that seem to drag on and on, and leave you with no energy. I couldn't even really read (shocking, I know!) because I couldn't concentrate on books. I just stared at daytime TV and watched old Glee episodes and Gilmore Girls reruns. I was off work for almost a week, which is unheard of for teachers (we're stubborn old sods who feel guilty for missing a single class, let alone a whole week of school).

BUT! I'm feeling pretty much myself now, with only a persistent cough to keep me awake at night.

Because I was ill, I got really behind on reading blogs and my Bloglovin is now at about 300 unread posts. So if you've written something fab recently, I will get round to reading and commenting soon, I promise! I say that because one thing that's been really lovely is the amazing comments people have left here in the past couple of weeks. I was so nervous to tell you all about the Bravissimo review, and everyone was great about understanding my reasons for doing it. 

Even when I was too ill to blog, I enjoyed keeping in touch with people on Twitter and reading comments here. This is going to sound very soppy but I feel very lucky to be part of a such a wonderful community. I do feel like so many of the people I have 'met' on Twitter or here on the blog are my friends now. The internet is a nice place sometimes, innit?

And what else can I tell you? 

Well, not to brag but someone got 'Outstanding' on her performance management observation. Again. I know I shouldn't care about arbitrary judgement of my teaching, but it is nice.

The Boy and I went to Norfolk and had a wonderful long weekend. A full post with photos to follow soon.

At the moment I'm staying with my mum and step-mum, who also have my uncle & aunt visiting from Canada. I have a large (30+ and counting) family on my mum's side, and not one of them lives in the UK, so it's always amazing to have a rare chance to catch up. 

We also got a chance to go and see the house my brother and his partner - The Wardrobe Angel - have just bought, which has the most amazing view. Our own view, of the houses opposite, has never looked less appealing (and it was pretty unappealing in the first place!)

I'm still taking part in Sarah's Two Days The Same, and enjoying the challenge.

And I put up details of this year's Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap today - sign up is open until November 17th.

So that's my life lately, I think you're all up to speed now!

Sign up for the Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap!

Image source here

It feels like I've been away from blogging for ages, not just a week. First I had a chest infection that would just not shift (I've still got a rather fetching hacking cough), then I spent a long weekend on holiday in Norfolk. But now I'm BACK and ready to talk about Christmas.

What do you mean, it's too early to think about Christmas?!  By this time in October I have already begun making notes and lists, and the present buying is well underway.  I'm starting to dig out last year's decorations and thinking about what to use this year, and the temptation to begin listening to Sufjan Stevens' Christmas albums is building (every year I try - and fail - to hold off until December 1st).

Last Christmas was the second year that I ran the Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap, and it was great to have lots of participants making and thrifting cool gifts for each other.

I had so much fun picking out my gifts last year (I ended up giving a map-covered letter R, a book about Yorkshire Christmas traditions - my giftee lived in God's Own County -, a teacup candle, a mulling sachet for cider or wine, a book-themed tote bag, and a handmade Christmas decoration), and even more fun awaiting the arrival of my own box.

I'd love to run it again, and only need a handful of participants to make it work. Crucially, you do not need to be a blogger to take part: last year was about a 50/50 split between bloggers and non-bloggers. So, if you're interested, have a gander at the rules below and then contact me on the email address below to sign up.  (And if you're a blogger or on Twitter, feel free to reblog or retweet this post to spread the word!)

The Rules
1. Send your name, address, blog address (if you have one) and a couple of lines about yourself to by November 17th.
2. Wait to receive the details of your swapee (to be sent out by November 24th).
3. Put together a box of thrifted, handmade or secondhand goodies that you think your recipient will love.  Last year, gifts ranged from framed animation strips from the giftees favourite film, to Christmas mix CDs, to handmade brooches, to secondhand books. As a general rule, I'd say to limit yourself to around a £10 spend.
4. Pop your parcel in the post by December 10th (although try and be a bit more prompt if sending overseas).
5. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A budget kitchen makeover

When I bought my house, almost six years ago, there was a lot of redecorating to do and not much time or money to do it in. With the help of my awesome friends, I got rid of the more heinous paint colours (whoever lived here before me really liked puke-yellow) but the kitchen wasn't quite bad enough to do straight away, which I think was my mistake. After living here for a while I got lazy, and somehow the fact that the kitchen had disgusting, torn lino and dirty beige walls became something I looked past and put up with.

Until this summer.

I'd made sprucing it up number one on my summer to-do list, but we had a strict budget. The Boy finishes his PhD next year and after that, who knows where we'll be moving to. It's possible we'll end up staying in Leicester - in which case, spending money on a new kitchen wouldn't be a big deal - but it's also very possible that this time next year we'll be upping sticks to a new city or even a new country. The thought of splashing a lot of cash on a fancy new kitchen, only to sell or rent the house less than 12 months later, did not appeal to us at all.

And so a budget makeover it was...

Before: dirty beige walls, torn lino and a major lack of storage space.

... and after. Not my dream kitchen but a million times better!

A new floor was non-negotiable, no matter the cost. The old one was beyond disgusting and there was no way a buyer or potential tenant would look kindly on it. So at an expense of £300, we had a new floor laid. It's the only thing in the new kitchen that isn't cheap and cheerful, but we'd put aside savings for it so it didn't bust our budget.

The beige walls disappeared under three coats of matte white kitchen paint (Wilko's finest) and the combination of new floor and clean walls instantly lifted the whole room. The kitchen had always felt dark and gloomy, but now it's a bright and light-filled space despite the darker floors.

I found letter knobs (hee hee - knobs) in Tiger in the Netherlands, and with my love of typography they were a must-buy. They cost a Euro apiece, not bad to add a completely different look to the old kitchen cupboard doors.

Our kitchen doesn't have any top cupboards so storage space is lacking; these shelves (the timber and brackets came from B&Q) are brilliant for storing jars of dried goods together with my vintage crockery collection and some other random bits and pieces. Stretching across the back wall, the two shelves look fantastic and it makes it really easy to grab what I need while cooking or baking.

I used basic Ikea frames for a couple of prints we already had: a graphic Glasgow print (in honour of The Boy's hometown) and a Bikini Kill/Sleater-Kinney gig poster, because why wouldn't you have Riot Grrrl memorabilia in your kitchen?!

Scraps of bright striped Ikea fabric that I already had in my stash made quick and easy 'blinds'. I hemmed the fabric then literally nailed them to the wall above the window. You can't tell if you don't look too closely!

Finally, I think my favourite purchase was the blackboard paint from Wilko's. This was super easy to paint onto the back door, with just a little prepping, and makes it a real feature of the room (it's also a handy place to leave each other notes & to keep a shopping list).

Apart from the expense of the floor, we spent less than £80 on the new look. Yes, the list of what I'd still like to change is long - new oak worktops in place of the grey laminate, and pendant lights instead of the fluorescent strip light being the priorities - but until we know whether we'll be staying here there's just no point doing the work. Our budget kitchen redesign isn't going to win any awards, but I'm so happy with how much we were able to do with so little money.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

On brands, big boobs and Bravissimo

Just over a year ago I wrote a post declaiming sponsored content on blogs: "I'll never monetise my blog!" said I.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

When I wrote that post, I wrote it aware that there are very few brands whom I respect and trust enough that I'd want to spend time writing about them. I sort of assumed that, as I'd never get the chance to work with those brands and as my blog at the time didn't really lend itself to sponsored content, I'd get away with making grand statements and sticking to them.

And then things changed.

My blog has evolved a lot in the past year. I've started writing about clothes and posting what I wear, and continued to talk about what its like to be fat and into fashion. And what I wear is hugely influenced by one simple fact: I have massive boobs. As a result, bra retailer for the bigger-boobed, Bravissimo, is one of those rare brands for whom I feel a genuine love.

So, let's first talk about my boobs. These aren't some double Ds that can be squeezed into a bra from the supermarket. My HH cups are not merely big but ridiculously, comically massive. Boobs that requires some solid engineering to keep them in place. Boobs that are capable of wiping out a table of drinks at a single swoop. Boobs that have given me a split lip or a black eye on more than one occasion (see the above cartoon: it's so true).

Despite there being, in the media and society at large, a fetishization of big boobs, the reality of extremely large breasts is a life of discomfort and pain.  Bras are really not the most comfortable things for anyone, what with wires digging into armpit and sternum, but when the bra is holding up 10 kilograms of flesh you're talking about gouges worn into your shoulders and permanent lower back pain. 

Most difficult for me, particularly when I was a teenager and new to the whole boob-having thing, was the complete lack of attractive, fun or sexy underwear. M&S were generally the only place that did size DD+, but even then most of the bras came only in granny beige or practical white cotton. Their sizing wasn't suitable for extremely big-boobed women, either, as it operated on the notion that simply scaling up a small size bra would be enough (spoiler - it's not). As a result, my bras were universally ill-fitting, ugly, uncomfortable and unflattering.

Therefore, when Bravissimo arrived on the UK retail scene it gave me and a legion of other big-boobed women hope. More importantly, it gave us beautiful bras. Finally, my HH cups could choose from pretty floral options, fun and funky printed plunge bras, sexy balconettes, and more. I've been a massive supporter of the company from the beginning: a loyal customer not just because I can't get bras my size anywhere else, but because I truly respect and appreciate the brand. 

So that's why, when I heard Bravissimo were opening a Leicester store and offered me the chance to visit, I jumped at it. 

Now, if you're a long-time reader or one of many who wholeheartedly endorsed my previous 'No sponsored content' stance, you might be feeling pretty disappointed in me right now, and that's fair enough. You might think that I'm selling myself out for a free bra, which is also fair enough. Others may believe that I don't owe anyone an explanation, but I think I do. This little blog might not have thousands of followers, but I'm very grateful to the few hundred who do read regularly and take the time to comment.

In the original post I recognised a difference between doing any and all sponsored content that's offered and writing about products that tied in naturally with the blog's usual content, and I believe the latter is true in this case. I write about my size, and therefore my boobs, frequently. I've also written about Bravissimo before; it's inevitable when they're the only brand of lingerie I buy. That's why, when I was offered the chance of working with the brand, I agreed.

At the moment I'm not wearing anything more than my pyjamas, as I'm suffering from a chest infection, which is stopping me from getting dressed let alone trying on my fancy new underwear to write about it. But when I'm better, and I write my review, I hope you'll understand why I made the choice I did.  

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Good stuff: Links & likes

The real LGSM, 1985, pictured in the article linked to below

I've already made it pretty clear how much I loved Pride, and this in-depth look at the stories and the people behind the film was a fantastic read.

I took part in Hannah's Two View Review this week, looking at Sarah Water's new novel, The Paying Guests.

Laura wrote about our adventures in Nottingham last Saturday: if you're looking for cool places to visit in the city, she's always a reliable guide.

I'm still hugely fond of Sex & The City, even after those execrable films, so I thoroughly enjoyed Cosmo's recent list: 19 times Carrie Bradshaw was an impossibly awful human. I really can't disagree with any of them, despite considering myself a 'Carrie'.

Cute cat alert: E reminded me that this video existed, and it really is the best thing you will ever watch.

Kat's guide to dying your hair bright colours - and making the colour last - was really useful. I never made the link between my dye fading so terribly and my use of straighteners: time to cut down, methinks.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Two days the same

As I came to photography a complete amateur, Sarah has always been a great help in encouraging me to take more photos (and I still miss her excellent blog series about how to take great pictures), so I'm excited to be joining in with her Two Days The Same project.

The challenge in Two Days The Same is to take a photo every day for a month, which in itself is going to be a tough call for me. In my job, I can't exactly have my camera out as I teach, so I'll be restricted to taking photographs after school. And in October, my chances of getting out and about in some decent light are slim! But I like a challenge, and I've enjoyed taking my first 10 pictures. Hop on over to the blog to keep an eye on what we post and in the meantime, here's a sneak peek of today's photo (which, confusingly, is actually last Friday's: Two Days The Same runs a week behind 'real' time to allow uploading, emailing, etc).

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What I wore: At work

Stern, "who's talking when I'm talking?" look, model's own

So, you've heard a lot about what I wear at the weekend, but what about my work wardrobe? I keep my teaching clothes completely separate from my day-to-day ones, and although on paper what I wear to work - dress, tights, cardigan - isn't much of a departure from what I wear normally, it feels very different. I call it my 'teacher drag'.

There are a few essential elements in my transformation from Janet - tattooed wearer of clothes arguably designed for those twenty years my junior - to Ms Brown - respectable teacher of English to the teenagers of south Leicestershire. Firstly, a pair of heels. That they're comfortable enough to wear all day but high enough to give me an extra inch or two is crucial when dealing with recalcitrant teenage boys, who would otherwise tower over me. Next, a smart dress with a high neckline. I learnt this the hard way, by inadvertently flashing my bra to a riveted year 9 class (I assumed they were deeply moved by my lecture on Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter; it was a sad moment when I realised they were actually just staring very hard at my chest). Finally, a cardigan to cover said tattoo and assorted scars. This last element can make summer an agony.

This dress was an absolute star buy over the summer: the neckline is nice and high, the floral pattern bright and cheerful, and the cinched waist and pleating on the skirt incredibly flattering to my shape. It makes me feel professional, in control and comfortable, the last of which being particularly important when you're spending all day on your feet at the front of a classroom.

* Dress: F&F at Tesco * Cardigan: H&M * Shoes: Clarks outlet store *

Monday, 6 October 2014

Seen: July/August/September

During the spring and early summer we got out of the habit of going to the cinema. Luckily, over the latter part of the summer we've made up for it, once again becoming regulars at Leicester's brilliant independent cinema, Phoenix, and seeing some amazing movies in the process.

1. The first of two brilliant music documentaries I've seen recently, The Punk Singer follows the career of Bikini Kill singer and Riot Grrrl revolutionary Kathleen Hanna. Using a mixture of old concert footage, talking head interviews and lots of input from Hanna herself, it was fascinating to hear about her journey as a musician and as a person. The hardships and ill-health that Hanna has faced in recent years are told with a cool clarity that makes her seem all the more inspirational.

2. I just completely adored Mistaken For Strangers, which is less a rockumentary than a commentary on brotherly love and the dynamics of sibling relationships. The film tracks what happened when The National lead singer, Matt Berninger, invited his younger brother, Tom, along on tour. Ostensibly employed as a roadie, Tom (who is a failed filmmaker) decides to make a movie of the experience. By turns hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad, it's one of the best films I've seen in years.

3. Everyone I spoke to or follow on Twitter was all, "Pride's the best film evah," and I was all, "Yeah I've heard this claim many times before. How good can a film about a bunch of London-based lesbians & gay men raising money for the miner's strike actually be?" But honestly, it pretty much is the best film "evah". I fucking loved it. I loved it so much I want to take it home and marry it. Loved it so much that for the whole evening afterwards, every time I tried to recall a scene I was particularly moved by, I ended up crying again. Loved it so much that its very existence made my whole life seem just that little bit better. It's heart-warming and funny and incredibly moving and inspiring and all those other superlatives, and if you haven't seen it yet I urge - nay, demand - that you run to your nearest cinema and buy a ticket straight away.

4. I'm not particularly a fan of sci-fi or action movies, but I'd read so much praise for Guardians Of The Galaxy that I was curious to check it out. It turned out to be full of the expected explosions and fights but also silly and funny and with an ace soundtrack. I wouldn't say I loved it, but I'll certainly go and see the sequel.

5. Richard Linklater is hands down my favourite director. I love how different his films all are from each other, yet each contains the same essential essence. Boyhood has been much talked about and critically lauded - rightly so - so I won't bang on about it too much. I did get a tiny bit restless as the film entered its third hour, but as I have a notoriously tiny attention span (and equally tiny bladder) the fact that it took me that long to feel antsy is a miracle.

6. When I discovered that The Boy had never seen Dazed & Confused I was worried. It's one of my benchmark films: if you don't love this, I probably can't love you. Sitting down to watch it together was pretty nerve-wracking, but I needn't have worried. Who doesn't love Linklater's sun-soaked, weed-infused, stoner rock-soundtracked tale of the last day of school before summer break in a 70s Texas town? It's my absolute favourite film ever, one I've watched at least once a year for the past 20 years, and never got bored or liked less. To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey's deservedly famous line from the movie, "That's what I love about these high school [films], man. I get older, they stay the same age."

7. From the most sublime high school movie to the most ridiculous, GBF is possibly one of the worst films I've ever watched (and considering my appalling taste in cheesy romcoms - I honestly love the terrible Amanda Bynes vehicle She's The Man - the bar is set pretty low). Trying very hard to be the Easy A or Mean Girls of gay rights, it falls far short of the mark. I literally did not laugh once.

8. The East was one of those so-bad-its-good films. Sexy vampire Alexander Skarsgard mooching around with his shirt off did little to save a comically far-fetched plot about eco-terrorists. As people with genuine knowledge of activist groups, The Boy and I found the whole thing hilarious and enjoyed ripping it to shreds. All that piss-taking plus Alexander and Ellen Page to drool over? I sort of loved it, but perhaps not in the way the makers intended.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I have become the kind of person who goes to blogger meet-ups

Four bloggers, one photobooth: you'd think we'd manage to get one decent 
picture out of it, but no!

This is notable chiefly because I have such crippling social anxiety that some days it's a wonder I leave the house at all.

People are often surprised when I say that I'm incredibly shy and anxious. I've travelled widely, a lot of it on my own; I work as a teacher, which is pretty much nothing but talking; I do a pretty good job of concealing a lot of my issues and can come across as confident and chatty (an illusion no doubt helped along by the fact that I talk a lot when I'm nervous. I mostly remember my first few dates with The Boy as a long-running monologue by me, while he smiled and nodded).

But the fact is, I struggle to maintain that facade of normality.  If you're an astute observer, your might notice that I talk a bit too much; that I don't have a good grasp of the rules of conversation*. When I'm meeting people for the first time, I'm terrified that they're going to figure me out in some way. What terrible thing I think they'd figure out, I don't know. That I'm a social moron? That I'm really terribly dull and boring? That I secretly love Taylor Swift songs? Of course, the fact is that almost everyone suffers from some degree of social anxiety and, while I'm worrying about being judged and found wanting by others, they - instead of judging me - and probably worrying about their own stuff.

I wrote about this conundrum earlier in the year, when I'd just begun to meet 'internet people'. And yesterday was another meet-up, with Laura, E & B. What surprised me, though, is that yesterday wasn't scary at all. It felt, to my great surprise, just like meeting a bunch of old friends (no doubt helped by the fact that I'd met them all already!). We hunted for vintage goodies, ooh-ed at the treats in Nottingham's new sweet shop, drank tea, talked travel and tattoos and Bake-Off, and took some very bad photobooth pictures. The whole day was comfortable and fun and I'm already looking forward to doing it again. So it seems that, at the grand old age of 36, I have become the kind of person who goes to blogger meet-ups. 

* How I got to my age without understanding the social need for reciprocity in conversation, I'll never know. As a case in point, E asked me a question yesterday about my plans for Christmas, which I answered - at length, no doubt - and then stopped talking. It wasn't until this morning that I realised it's something that required a reciprocal question to her. I do this a lot, because somehow I've never learnt the rules. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A trip to the Botanic Gardens

Saturday was one of those weirdly hot, muggy, cloudy days we seem to be having a lot of lately. It's like the weather hasn't got the memo about it being almost October but instead of nice sunny days, we're getting the worst kind of summer weather. The forecast had promised some lovely sunshine so we'd packed a picnic and made plans to visit the annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition at Leicester's Botanic Gardens. When the day dawned overcast and grey, we decided to stick to our plans and off to Oadby we went.

We've been talking about visiting the gardens all summer and in a way it's a shame we waited so long, as the majority of the plants are past their flowering now. But the sunflowers were still spectacular and I enjoyed crunching through the autumn leaves.

The Sculpture in the Garden show runs every year from June until October and features a wide range of art. I love the way in which the natural surroundings of the garden blends with the sculpture; sometimes very literally, as with this spider web.