Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What's in the bag?

1. Satchel from H&M.  My bag is the very definition of non-designer, but I love it for it's ability to hold my camera, all of this junk, plus assorted tampons and tissues (not pictured).
2. Sunglasses from New Look.
3. Oyster card holder (permanently in my bag despite not living in London, otherwise I forget it every time I visit) from Cath Kidson.
4. iPhone 4S.
5. Palmer's Cocoa Butter hand cream.
6. Burt's Bees Pomegranate lip balm (I have - no joke - about ten Burt's Bees lip balm tubes stashed in bags, in coat pockets, in make-up bags, in my car... I love them).
7. Assorted medications for IBS and jaw pain.
8. Rather tangled Sennheiser earbuds.
9. Mechanical pencil 'borrowed' from work.
10. Small notebook in which to make lists of books I want.
11. Mini hairbrush, with which to tame my fringe.
12. Purse from Cath Kidson.

What's in your bag? Go on, tell me; I'm incorrigibly nosy!

April reads

1. Gossip From The Forests: A Search For The Hidden Roots Of Our Fairytales is a lovely book, packed full of fascinating facts about both the natural and social history of British forests (really - she genuinely makes the history of our forestry sound incredibly interesting!) and how they influenced the development of fairy tales (and how fairy tales have, in turn, influenced the forests). Taken together with her own versions of the tales, this makes for a genuinely absorbing read.

2. Finally! I finished the currently published A Song Of Ice & Fire series with the behemoth that is A Dance With Dragons. If I found the first 400 pages hard going, things certainly heated up after that and I was soon just as much in love with the book as with the others in the series. But the final chapters: major WTF-ness! I actually gasped out loud while my eyes filled with tears.

3. You might recognise Longbourn from my December reads list, but in fact on the first time around I didn't quite finish the book before it had to go back to the library (I was also reluctant to finish it as it seemed to be on course for a heartbreaking ending and I'm too sentimental!). When it was picked as our April book group read, I returned to it with joy, as it's quite simply one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. The story of the servants from Pride & Prejudice, I loved how Baker gave the servants parallels to the events of the Bennett family, and it opened my eyes to the hardship suffered by those in service.  A lovely book.

4. The Humans by Matt Haig has been all over my Twitter feed lately and, perhaps because of the enormous number of "this is the best book evah"-type tweets, my expectations were extremely high. And I don't know whether I just wasn't quite in the mood for it, but I didn't love it. The story of an alien lifeform's attempts to fit in with humans after being sent to Earth, the book is full of great soundbites that sounded profound and meaningful when they were being tweeted by fans of the book but which, when read in the context of the narrative, I found a tad facile. It's a book I'll shelve and try again in a couple of years.

5. I was inspired to read Divergent after reading Hannah's review, which promised something in the vein of The Hunger Games. While the quality of writing doesn't come close to that - I found the constant repetition of Tris touching her forehead to indicate anxiety wearing - it is a largely a satisfying YA dystopian action adventure. I think I will, slightly reluctantly, end up reading the other two books in the trilogy (despite one of my pupil's warning me today that they decline in quality as the series goes on).

6. The Outcast Dead is the latest Ruth Galloway thriller and a welcome improvement on the previous novel, which I found a tad silly. Linking the exhumation of the body of a convicted Victorian baby-killer in the grounds of Norwich Castle with a spate of child abductions in modern Norfolk, it moved at a cracking pace and with the usual fantastic characterisation.

7. Jennifer Weiner can always be relied on for an enjoyable read. I suppose one could call her books chick-lit, but they're fantastically written with characters that are always believable and well-rounded. Then Came You was no exception. Like a few of her previous novels, this one featured multiple first person narrators, which is a very effective device for getting a reader to sympathise with a range of characters, and although the surrogacy storyline contained a few rather far-fetched touches, I nevertheless enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

8. When, a few days after the sad death of Sue Townsend, I found a copy of The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole in a Glasgow bookshop, I knew it had to be mine. There was much written about Townsend's genius after she died, and as someone who lives just a few miles from where she grew up, went to school, lived and wrote, it was particularly sad. I read all of the Mole books as a teenager and it was fun to revisit his world with an adult eye.
9. After reading a glowing review of Kiss Me First (and learning that it had been nominated for The Guardian First Book award - I basically take whatever The Guardian says as gospel!), I was really disappointed. The tale of computer whizz Leila, who is recruited to take over Tess's online presence so that the latter can kill herself, it sounded an interesting thriller and just up my street. However, it was clunkily written and had very little tension: the blurb pretty much tells you all you need to know about the plot. Although I quite liked some of Leila's observations (her description of going to Topshop was priceless) and her complete inability to understand social norms reminded me somewhat of Don from The Rosie Project, it wasn't enough to save the novel being, essentially, a little dull.

10. 11. & 12. I decided to have a Poppy Z Brite splurge and re-read three of her novels set in the culinary world of New Orleans.  In The Value Of X the reader is introduced to G-Man and Rickey as teenage boys and best friends, just figuring out their love for each other and their love for cooking.  Liquor finds them opening their first restaurant, while D*U*C*K is a novella at the end of the series.  If you've not read Brite before, I'd suggest perhaps starting elsewhere - her vampire novel Lost Souls , or the black-as-pitch romantic thriller Drawing Blood - but if you enjoy her writing and are a lover of food, or New Orleans, or both, then the Rickey & G-Man books will satisfy too.

13. Days Of The Bagnold Summer is a lovely graphic novel following a single mother and her teenage son across one summer.  Full of emotion and pathos, it reminded me forcefully of being a moody, black-wearing adolescent and made me want to apologise to my own mum!

Sunday, 27 April 2014


ADMIRING these beautiful tulips, a gift from my old boss when he and his wife came to dinner last week.

COOKING a very successful vegan lasagne for the aforementioned dinner.  As a rather reluctant vegan, I love it when I come up with a recipe that tastes just as good as 'real' food!  And with deliciously gooey vegan brownies & soy ice cream for pud, it really was an excellent advertisement for vegan food, if I do say so myself.

MAKING a simple flatpack Ikea Rast chest of drawers into something rather lovely for the bathroom, with the simple addition of some paint I had lying around in the shed and these fab knobs (hee hee, I said knobs) from Knobbles & Bobbles.

READING some really great comics and zines.  I ADORED Neil Slorance's Seven Days In Berlin, which I picked up from Plan B Books in Glasgow, and I also received Laura's This Is 30 yesterday, which is as brilliant as anyone familiar with her lovely blog would expect.

TRAVELLING to Glasgow on a sleeper train, which was a wonderful adventure, and then to my mum's in Leeds.  A sunny day trip to Otley, a lovely Easter Sunday lunch with the whole family, a peaceful walk through woodland while talking A Song of Ice & Fire with my brother, lots of home-cooked food thanks to my mum, four books read while sitting in 'my' armchair in the bay window of my mum's house... truly a wonderful Easter weekend.

BUYING a new car, which was bloody scary.  I feel like a proper grown-up now that I have a vehicle that doesn't rattle when going over bumps.  Also, thanks to a very fruitful shopping trip yesterday, a rather lovely floral skirt (a bargain at a fiver from H&M, seen here in my rather smudged and dirty mirror), a pretty green dress for my friend's wedding (another bargain - £20 down from £50), AND a £3 thrifted midi skirt. 

WALKING under the most beautiful blossom trees on the way to the pub with The Boy.

FEELING a surprising amount of pain and discomfort as my new tattoo heals.  It's the biggest piece I've got, and with about 12 years having passed since my previous inking, I think I'd forgotten how sore it can feel afterwards.  No photographs yet, though, as it still has colouring to be finished. 

But mostly, I have spent my Easter holidays completely forgetting about work!  Bliss.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

List #17: The things I am grateful for

1. If my uber-single, I-don't-need-a-man-or-woman-in-my-life-to-be-happy former self could hear this, they would cringe, but the thing I am most grateful for is The Boy.  We never fail to have fun together, even if all we're doing is the weekly shop.  He calms me when I'm manic and anxious, he makes me snort with laughter, he challenges me and pushes me to be the best I can be.  Because of him, anything seems possible.  I really do count my lucky stars every single morning when I wake up next to him.

2. To my old boss, for fighting to get me the job I now have and love.

3. My lovely house.

4. School holidays.

5. Being close to my family (emotionally if not geographically).

6. My excellent body image, which has been a hard won battle.

7. My mother, for instilling in me a love of books.

8. To whoever invented the following: Earl Grey tea, Aspall cider, honey & pistachio halva, pizza.

9. Having a stable income which affords me the important things in life (see #8).

10. The good health of those close to me.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A trip to Glasgow

And so to Glasgow.  I've spent precious little time in Scotland - a five day trip to the Highlands & Isle of Skye a few years ago apart - so I would have been excited about the visit even were it not The Boy's hometown.  But how lovely to visit a city with someone who knows it like the back of their hand.  How lovely to not be the one on holiday who organises the maps and the itinerary (I can feel my brother giving me the side eye: yes, I love being the one in charge, but it's also nice to take a break from it once in a while).  How lovely to be so close to home, but feel like you're in a different country.

I found Glasgow wonderfully 'other', a city of magnificent Georgian crescents and imposing Victorian architecture.  A city with world-class art galleries and museums.  A city which, with it's wide, grid-patterned streets and efficient subway system, can sometimes feel more like America than the UK.  A city packed with hip vegan eateries, secondhand book stores, record shops and vintage kilo sales.  A city where, I have to admit, I struggled to understand the accent: thank goodness for having a Glaswegian boyfriend to translate for me.

There wasn't a ton of street art in the city, but there were some wonderfully random touches, like this concrete skull embedded in the side of a building, or the ever-present traffic cone on the statue outside GOMA (the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art).

The Botanic Gardens, in the rather chic West End of Glasgow, were well worth a visit on a sunny spring afternoon.

Plan B Books was a treasure trove of graphic novels and fanzines: between us, we picked up three books and four 'zines.  Stereo is part of a local chain of vegan cafe/bars, and was a great place to grab lunch and hang out.  I also liked the 13th Note, a veggie/vegan pub with food.

Finally, one of the highlights of the trip (apart from meeting Sarah and Elise of course!) was wandering the hallowed halls of Glasgow University, with its spectacular Gothic Revival buildings and quiet grassy quads.  This is T's alma mater, and also the university where my grandpa was given an honorary doctorate for his work against apartheid, so it was wonderful to be able to have a nosy around the buildings and at the more bizarre exhibits in the Hunterian Museum.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Things that have made me happy lately

I've been in a bit of a blog slump lately.  My draft folder is full of half-written posts and ideas, but I can't seem to get anywhere with them and, although I'm proud of some of what I've written lately (I loved finally finishing the Music & Misery post, after months of writing a bit at a time), there's a lot that I'm not so keen on.  So, in an effort to break the slump, here are some things that have made me happy...

1. This cheery postcard.

2. A lovely lunch and tour of Nottingham with Laura of Make Do & Mend.

3. A fun sushi date with The Boy (who was most taken with his first experience of vegan sushi).

4. The programme for Hay Festival 2014 being released - only six weeks to go and I can't wait!

5. Another lovely lunch and shopping trip with B & E of Make, Do & Spend, on which I bought the most perfect summer sandals (which is basically the holy grail of my shopping trips - I'm obsessed with my shoes all being entirely plain and one exact shade of brown).

6. Bumping into old friends.

7. The end of term - hooray for two weeks off!

8. Finally cracking on with book five of the A Song Of Ice & Fire.  At over 900 pages long, it's quite a commitment, but The Girl and I have established a Twitter #GoTBookclub to read along together.

9. Preparing for a trip to Glasgow this week (and a meet-up with Sarah and Elise.  I am becoming quite social in my old age).

10.  Tattoo excitement - only 10 more days to wait!  Although I had a horrible anxiety dream last night about the design, so...

Friday, 11 April 2014

My goals for 2014: progress

Back in January, the first list of 52 lists was to outline my goals for the year. Now that we're a quarter of the way through the year (eek!  How the hell did that happen?!), I thought it would be a good opportunity to review my progress so far.  And I was pleasantly surprised when I took a look back and realised that I am doing pretty well...

1. Don't worry, be happy. This was my big goal for 2014, and I'm not doing terribly well so far! Two weeks of illness have left me too readily focusing on pain, medication and misery.
Progress: This was always going to be a hard one - partly because it's so abstract, and partly because it's just not in my nature to not worry!  I haven't done all that well so far, partly because my health has been pretty terrible (although it has improved over the past few weeks). Having The Boy around full-time definitely helps me to relax, though.

2. Streamline my email inbox, unsubscribing from the marketing emails that I never read.
Progress: An easily achievable one this, I think I did it straight after making my list.

3. Speak to my tattoo artist about the two new tattoos I've been planning for years.
Progress: Done!  My appointment is booked for April 23rd and I am very excited already.

4. Write in my new Q&A A Day journal every night before bed.
Progress: I sometimes forget for a night or two and have to catch up on a couple of days worth of entries, but I'm completely up to date at the moment and really enjoying having a quiet moment at the end of each day to reflect on the questions.

5. Save up to buy a DSLR or bridge camera and learn how to use it!
Progress: I bought a Nikon bridge camera a couple of weeks ago and have spent the intervening time playing around with it.  I'm really excited at the prospect of having a decent camera (although now I can't blame my tools for the fact my photos are rubbish!) 

6. Take more pictures of myself and The Boy, especially together. It's sad how few photos we have of our time together.
Progress: A strip of photobooth photos from Manchester apart, I haven't managed this yet.

7. Have a proper sit down to look at my finances: my mortgage, credit cards and savings accounts all need to be working for me, so I can save for some big trips in 2015 (family reunion in Canada AND my cousin's wedding in South Africa).
Progress: As much as I hate dealing with finances, I feel a lot better for having sorted all of mine out.  AND I've actually started saving every month, which is a good feeling.

8. Be better about what I eat. It's frustrating to come up against dietary restrictions when I come from a very fat-positive background of, "I can eat what the hell I want!" But I have to be honest with myself: getting my IBS and related conditions under control is so much more important than eating cheeseburgers as a quasi-political statement.
Progress: I'm a lot stricter about what I eat - no more pretending that the cream cake won't make me so sick I'll want to cry - and living with a vegan means I'm eating really good, healthy food most nights.

9. Empty the under-stairs cupboard, which is reaching critical levels of fullness. 
Progress: Completed at February half term - and it wasn't nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. 

10. Read 52 books. I'd initially wanted to aim for 100, but one a week seems like a more realistic goal. I managed 70 last year, so I'm hoping to smash this goal!
Progress: 31 books read so far, so I think 100 is starting to look easily achievable.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

List #15: The five tunes that kickstart my soul

That lifting feeling, when it seems as if my entire soul is as light as a feather and I can't wipe the smile off my face, is largely brought on by the combination of music and circumstance.  All I need to feel perfectly happy is the perfect tune + sunshine + good company (sometimes just my own).  So today, list number 15 is a playlist of songs that have kickstarted my soul.  None of them are necessarily my favourite or most cherished songs, but I love to listen to them because they remind me so strongly of those moments when I heard them and everything felt brilliant.

1. After a massive thunderstorm the night before, the sun is shining and we're sitting on the grass at Latitude festival.  I have a pint of cold cider in my hand, I have my friends around me, school broke up a few days ago and the entire summer holiday stretches ahead of me like a promise.  The Mummers are on stage, and when they launch into their lovely, fairground-tinged This Is Heaven (Glow) all I can think is, "Yes, this is heaven."

2. It's a gloriously sunny Saturday morning in spring, and I'm walking into Leicester, on my way to a second date with a guy I've met online.  Lone Wolf  by Eels shuffles onto my iPod and my spirits lift.  Instead of the usual pre-date nerves, I'm singing along with gusto (internally, at least.  I'm not quite that mad that I'd walk along singing aloud).  The choice of song seemed fateful, somehow: a reminder that I was a lone wolf and I liked it that way.  Internet guy was not the one for me, I already suspected, but hearing this song made it feel ok that he wasn't.  I stayed single - a lone wolf - for years and I'm glad I did, because when I met The Boy I was ready for him.

3. I'm standing on a street corner in Portland, Oregon.  My brother and I have spent the day apart - me in an extremely rewarding trawl through the vintage and book stores, Richard with a cultural day at the museum - and I'm waiting for him to come and meet me so we can go to the pub.  The sun is shining, I'm in the best city I've ever visited, and when Fleet Foxes' Grown Ocean starts playing on my iPod, I experience one of those perfect moments, when everything comes together to lift my spirit and put a huge grin on my face.

4. Grizzly Bear are absolutely incredible liveand when I saw them play in Nottingham a couple of years ago their final song, While You Wait For The Others, was one of the most perfect gig moments I've ever experienced, beautiful harmonies washing over me in waves of sound.

5. I didn't 'get' Sigue Ros until I went to Iceland, where suddenly their music made perfect sense.  Se Lest reminds me of watching the eerie, volcanic, strangely beautiful Icelandic countryside pass by the window of the bus.

Monday, 7 April 2014

What came first, the music or the misery?

High Fidelity Screenprint by Barry D Bulsara

"What came first, the music or the misery?  People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" 
(High Fidelity by Nick Hornby)

I didn't have what it takes to be a happy teenager.  Too many strikes - bullied, weird, clever, queer - against me.  So it wasn't that I was miserable because I listened to miserable music, not exactly.  I hadn't been all that happy before I discovered Hole, Nirvana, the Manic Street Preachers, but once I did start listening to them, it brought my own unhappiness into sharper focus. I could see my own misery reflected back to me in the lyrics of the songs and the actions of the musicians, both validating my feelings and - this is the crux - exacerbating them. The music normalised my misery and I've always wondered: did it contribute to what came next?

"I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here?/I don't belong here."
Radiohead, Creep (1992)

Bradford in the mid-90s was not the greatest place anyway, but if you had a southern accent that eight years of living in Yorkshire hadn't softened, a habit of coming top of the class in every subject, and "a shyness that was criminally vulgar", then it was not just dull, it was hell.  By the time I was 15, I'd worked out that I was never going to belong there and so maybe I could stop trying so hard.  I cut my hair, dyed it and started wearing the clothes I wanted to wear.  I began listening to the music I was interested in - grunge, indie, Riot Grrrl - rather than the house music that was de rigueur amongst my peers.  I quickly found that there was a comfort to be had in not just not fitting in but being declarative and open about my otherness.  I'd always been called weird, but embracing the weirdness meant it didn't hurt as much when they said it. 
"Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals/Colour my hair but the dye grows out/I can't seem to stay a fixed ideal."
Manic Street Preachers, Die In The Summertime (1994)

Somehow, the year I started A Levels, being weird on my own morphed into being weird with two best friends.  But rather than cheer me up and enhance my life, we plunged into one of those intense, crazed teenage girl friendships that thrive on drama and pain.  We wallowed in our misery, revelled in it. We aped the fashions of our outsider heroes, so why not ape their angst too? From Richey we learnt that to cut was divine, each slice into our flesh a rebellion against... what?  Oh we all had our own reasons to be unhappy, that's true, but the first cuts weren't made in sadness but in a twisted sort of hero-worship, egging each other on almost competitively.  And of course, once you've done it, the addiction kicks in.  A need for the adrenaline rush and the release and the sweet sweet feeling that this, this was something more real than life in a Northern town that they forgot to close down.
"Since I was born I started to decay/Now nothing ever ever goes my way"
Placebo, Teenage Angst (1996)

Alone in my bedroom, walls plastered with posters of suicidal rock stars, I would mull over the pointlessness of life and the terrible inevitability of death.  I would listen to The Smiths and the Manics, read Sylvia Plath poetry, pick at the scabs on my arms and write tortured 'zine articles.  I thought I was being 'deep' when really I was a total cliche.  I sunk into my depression and began a cycle of medication and therapy that was to go on for years. 

"So you go and you stand on your own/And you leave on your own/And you go home and you cry and you want to die."
The Smiths, How Soon Is Now (1984)

In 1996 I left for university.  If my depression at home had been somewhat brought upon myself, an experience that I almost treasured, the misery that came upon me when I moved was something else entirely.  A black wall, insurmountable.  Now that I didn't have buddies with whom to be sad, I did the unthinkable and went out on my own, reaching out blindly to find a human connection.  And I would, quite literally, go to clubs and stand on my own and leave on my own.  I would go home and cry and want to die.  I made an entirely half-hearted attempt at suicide on one such night, not so much a cry for help as a stupid drunken attempt to just feel something.  I felt a twat the next day, sitting in the dining hall with my pathetically bandaged wrist.

"For once in my life/Let me get what I want/Lord knows it would be the first time."
The Smiths, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (1984)

Do I think the music was to blame for my depression?  No.  A few years later I was listening to Destiny's Child and Dr Dre and I was still depressed.  An unhappy time at school as a young teenager and the fucked up biochemistry of my brain is what made me depressed.  But Laura Barcella wrote a great article on xojane recently about how The Smiths screwed her up and I do think there's something in the notion that, as impressionable youths, we took more from those songs than we should have.  That they normalised our alientation and made it seem glamorous and cool, something to aspire to.

"I'm a survivor/I'm gonna make it/I will survive/Keep on surviving."
Destiny's Child, Survivor (2001)

I'm fine now.  I get sad of course, everyone does, and occassionally I feel the black cloud hovering but I'm usually quick to get through it.  I still can't listen to a lot of music from those early days of my depression, though.  Parts of the Manics' The Holy Bible album will be forever off limits.  Olympian by Gene can still move me to tears.

When I look at the teenage girls that I teach, heavy eyeliner and long sleeves in summer, listening to My Chemical Romance and the Pretty Reckless, hanging out with other unhappy girls, I want to tell them that it does get better.  I want to tell them not to take the song lyrics as gospel.  That there's no glamour in depression, no matter what their rock star heroes seem to suggest.  That, for most of us, we come out the other side and survive.  But they'd think (with my own long sleeves in summer, all trace of teenage angst hidden), what do I know about misery?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

List #14: The things I want to do before I die

 First image source here, second here

Have you seen the Before I Die walls?  Established by artist Candy Chang, it's now a global art project with over 450 walls in countries around the world.  Asked to write, draw or scrawl on the wall, passersby come up with responses ranging from the mundane to the fantastical.  The combined effect of all of those hopes and dreams is awe-inspiring.

When it came time to make my own list, I found it difficult to write.  Like everyone, I have things I'd like to achieve, but those change as my life changes.  Ask me ten years ago, and I'd probably have said I wanted to have children; now, at 35, it's become clear to me that I'm quite happy never being a mum.  But, after much thought, I did manage to come up with a few ideas, all dreams that I have had for years.  One of the things I love very much about The Boy is that he makes my goals feel achievable rather than pie-in-the-sky.  He encourages me to believe in myself and we talk often about how to make both our dreams come true.  So I have every hope that, with him by my side, I will manage to achieve these...

1. Visit every continent: I'm three down and three to go.
2. See the Northern Lights.  It was disappointing, but not surprising, to miss them when I visited Iceland in 2011. 
3. Study for an MA in Gender Studies.
4. Do something useful in my working life.  I feel that the job I do now is useful and productive, I feel that I am contributing in some small way, and even if I leave teaching I know it's important that whatever career I choose, it serves a larger purpose.
5. Watch more sunrises.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Why I don't mind being called a hipster

Image sourced here

Time was, to have something be described as "cool" - a bar, a clothes shop, a city, a restaurant - in a guidebook or a newspaper, would have meant that it was definitely not for me.  Cool, in the later 90s and early 00s, usually meant an expanse of white space and house music playing and vodka cocktails in tall glasses.  It meant beautiful people dressed in designer clothes and perfect hair and all of the things that I, gawky and tattooed and clutching a book and a broken down satchel, was not.

And then, suddenly, cool - in the mainstream sense of the word - started to mean just what I had been for years*.

It was dressing in vintage clothes and shopping in charity shops.

It was carrying a canvas tote bag filled with organic vegatables.

It was being into photography and reading and films and art.

It was body art and beards, and bands with beards.

It was knitting and sewing and riding a bike.

And all of these things meant you were a 'hipster', except no-one wanted to be called that because it implied that you were trying too hard, that you were jumping on a bandwagon, that you were only dressing a certain way because it was fashionable.  There was a sense that all hipsters are the same, and how terribly tedious and uncool, how very un-alternative and fashion victimy it was to dress and act alike. 

However, within all subcultures there is a huge degree of uniformity.  As a teenage indie kid, my friends and I used to sneer at the townie kids at our school and call them "sheep", apparently oblivious to the irony of saying that while dressed in identical skinny fit band t-shirts, corduroy skirts and Adidas Gazelles.  When I worked in a rock club in Leicester, every single patron would no doubt have made much of the fact that they were 'different', they didn't subscribe to the mainstream, they were unique.  But in their little groups - skate punks, hair rockers, goths - they were just as homogeneous-looking as the lads in smart shoes and shirts going to the townie club next door.  Of course hipsters all look the same to an outsider: so does any subgroup (there was actually a great article about this phenomenon, called out-group homogeneity bias, on io9 recently).

And there has always, too, been an insistence within these subcultures that the members of said groups were into x before it was cool, whether x was a band (I once heard a skate punk at Alcatraz - the nightclub, not the prison - say the words "I was into Blink 182 before they were cool" with a totally straight face), or a brand of trainers.  Hipster is just another label, like indie kid or grunger or shoe-gazer before it, and like every label the people to whom it's applied tend to squirm and protest and say that, really they've liked this stuff for years so they can't be a hipster or an indie kid or whatever, because what they are is purer and more real than this fleeting fashion.

Unlike the other examples, though, hipster fashion has been appropriated by the mainstream in a way that is unprecedented.  Yes, back in 1992 Marc Jacobs took grunge onto the catwalk and into stores, but it still wasn't the prevalant fashion of the era in terms of what made money.  But just one glance at the summer's festival roster, or at the racks of clothes in Topman filled with flannel shirts, or the packed vintage markets around the country every weekend, will tell you that the hipster lifestyle sells.

And you know what?  I'm ok with that.  If the mainstreaming of alternative culture, now packaged under the hipster label, means that there's more vegan options on food menus, and more bars where I can listen to Grizzly Bear instead of house music, and more handsome men in beards and checked shirts, and more cute girls with tattoos and vintage dresses, then I for one am all for it.

It means that I can pick up a travel guide and know where to find places I'm likely to be interested in - London's Brick Lane, Manchester's Northern Quarter, Portland's... well, the whole of Portland.  All described as "hipster", all full of the kind of street art, independent cafe bars, record stores, vintage clothes shops and artsy hang-outs that I enjoy. 

So fine, call me a hipster.  I'll still be here, eating my organic vegan food and reading a battered paperback in the corner of the funky little bar that sells handcrafted beers, long after it stops being cool, and that's fine too.  Because for me, it's not about being cool, it's about doing the things I love.  I'm just lucky to be in fashion right now.

* And yes, I am well aware that this statement is the most uber hipster thing to say, like, ever.