Monday, 30 March 2015

The Buyer's Archive: March

I did extremely well while thrifting this month, although arguably I could have been just a bit more adventurous with my finds: how many striped dresses and navy blue items does one wardrobe need? I was also very much dreaming of summer whilst shopping (ignoring the fact that it's still fucking freezing here in Leicester) so I actually haven't yet been able to wear a single one of my new acquisitions. But never mind, my wardrobe game is going to be so on point come warmer weather.

Striped jersey dress, New Look via charity shop £3
I was bemoaning my sucky charity shop luck when I stumbled upon this gem of a dress in the local Cancer Research shop. Navy blue? Stripes? In my size? I didn't even bother to try it on, just ran to the till to pay. Luckily, it fits perfectly and will be ace with a mustard cardigan.

Navy cardigan, Primark via charity shop £3
In the same charity shop as the stripey dress I found this cardigan, brand new with tags still attached. I already own this in cream so knew it'd be a great addition to my wardrobe: I love the openwork design, which is perfect for keeping me cool in summer when I still need to cover up my arms at work (scars + tattoos + teaching = not a good combination)

Vintage dress made into skirt, Sue Ryder Vintage £6
I had no need for another skirt in my summer wardrobe but I absolutely loved the print on this. Although it started life as an extremely unflattering 1980s dress, a few snips and a sewn up hem and waistband later, and it's now a super cute floral skirt.

Striped French Connection dresss, ASOS £33 (on special offer)
I'd never pay full whack for this, but at its sale price I pounced. It's got an interesting v-shaped back detail with exposed zip, which lifts it above standard Breton-striped-dress territory. It'll be perfect in summer with bare legs, tan sandals and sunglasses, and when I get bored of it in my main wardrobe it's also smart enough to wear for work.

Black t-shirt, H&M £3.99 (not pictured)
Because one can never have too many black tees, and I lacked one with a v-neck.

Black midi skirt, Primark via charity shop £3 (not pictured)
There's an Age UK shop in Leicester that is an absolute diamond for skirts. A black midi skirt has been on my 'need' list for ages, so when I found this I pounced. It was actually a maxi skirt, but half an hour with the sewing machine and it's the perfect length.

Overall, my total spend for March was £51.99, with 5 items coming to only £18.99 plus £33 for the French Connection dress at 40% off. Bargain hunter or what? This month has reignited my love for charity shops and given me faith that great wardrobe staples can be found therein. Now I just need some warm weather so I can get wearing...

Friday, 27 March 2015

March reads

I realise, looking at this month's round-up, that I've been working my way through rather too much genre fiction over the past few weeks. Nothing wrong with crime thrillers in moderation but, like any diet, a literary one benefits from a bit of variation and I think in April I need to make more of an effort to read books that require more than a modicum of thought.

1. Letters To The Lost** was this month's CB Book Group pick and guess what? I didn't hate it! January and February having not been exactly my favourite books, I was very relieved to pick this up and, within the space of a couple of chapters, be completely enthralled. Told across two eras - WW2, where Stella is in an unhappy marriage to the local vicar when she meets and falls in love with an American pilot, and modern day London, where Jess is on the run from her violent and controlling boyfriend - the characters are all sympathetic and the narrative moves along nicely despite the book's hefty size. I loved this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about the Second World War, and particularly women's lives at the time.

2. An isolated house, its inhabitants viewed as 'other' by the community. A family annihilated in once shocking night of violence, leaving two survivors: a young girl and the supposed killer. The same girl, returning to the site of the murders years later, looking for answers. The Crooked House has a basic plot which will be familiar to anyone who's read Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, but set on the sinister Essex marshes rather than the American Midwest. I found it a compelling read, although I wasn't quite convinced by the solution to the crime.

3. When a body resembling police detective Cassie is found, bearing ID in the same name as her former undercover alias, a plan is hatched to find the murderer by getting Cassie to go undercover again: this time, as the dead girl. The Likeness had echoes of Donna Tartt's The Secret History and was another cracking good read from Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series.

4. I love Tanya Huff's paranormal romance series featuring the vampire son of Henry VIII (they're great, trust me!), so when I saw The Enchantment Emporiumthe first of her trilogy about a family of witches, cheap for Kindle I started reading straight away. In the first book in the series, Allie Gale is getting a little sick of her powerful aunties trying to run her life, so when her grandmother dies, leaving her a junk shop out in Calgary, she jumps at the chance to relocate to a quieter life. However, she reckoned without the fey customers and the pigeon-scaring dragons. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast pace and humour of The Enchantment Emporium and would recommend them to anyone who enjoys the urban fantasy of Charlaine Harris, Lauren K Hamilton, et al.

5. & 6. If I find a group of characters I like, I tend to stick around and read my way through the whole series in quick succession. The Wild Ways puts Allie's cousin Charlie in the lead role, as she goes to Nova Scotia for summer of playing guitar at folk music festivals... oh, and saving a family of selkies whose skins have been stolen at the behest of an evil oil baron. And in The Future Falls, Charlie and cousin Jack are tasked with saving the world once again, this time from a deadly asteroid. Yes, I realise these summaries make the books sound ridiculous, but I really fell for the Gale family and their charms, rituals and humour. Occasionally Huff allows her flights of fancy to go a little too far, leaving the reader running to catch up (I was completely lost towards the end of The Future Falls) but nevertheless they're great, fun reads.

7. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway returns in The Ghost Fields*, this time investigating a local aristocratic family who are linked to the discovery of a body in a WW2 plane discovered buried on a building site. I absolutely love the characterisation of this series - Galloway herself, together with minor characters like druid Cathbad - are so well realised that it feels like returning to old friends with each new book.

8. Daughter was recommended to me by my mum, who said it was a cut above usual thrillers. And I'd largely agree with that, with some caveats. The story of missing Bristol teenager Naomi, it's told by her mother, Jennifer, with the narrative moving backwards and forwards between the days surrounding Naomi's disappearance and Jennifer's new life in Dorset one year on. I couldn't stop reading this, desperate to find out what happened to Naomi as secret after secret is revealed about her family. However, I was a little troubled by what I interpreted as implicit criticism of working mothers: so much of the blame for her family's troubles are laid at Jennifer's door, both by her own sense of guilt and by others. Ultimately, I struggled to agree that Jennifer deserved the criticism and punishments meted out to her by her family.

9. The Zig Zag Girl is set in a postwar 1950s Britain and the period details were particularly well done. Police inspector Edgar is stilled scarred by his experiences in the army and when a body turns up chopped into three, resembling a magician's act, he links the murder to his time serving with the Magic Men during the war.

10. I love Alison Freer's regular columns about clothes on xojane, so when I spied her book How To Get Dressed* on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I think perhaps it would work better as a physical book - with pictures - than as a digital publisher's proof. As it was, I found it a bit wordy and dry: a few illustrations would have better helped, well, illustrate what was being said. That being said, it's full of useful advice about clothing alterations, how to make garments fit your body and work with you, and a handy chapter on vintage and thrift shopping. It's also pleasingly free of the usual, "If you're busty, don't wear x"-type bullshit that so often appears in fashion guides.

11. Despite having seen the film recently, I still loved Wild. The story of Cheryl Strayed's summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is interspersed with her memories of her mother, who had recently died of cancer, sending Strayed into a maelstrom of addiction, destroying her marriage in the process. As a meditation on love, loss and recovery, this is a powerful read.

* This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley,  but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was sent to me by the Curtis Brown Book Group, but all opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What I wore: Polka dots & pretty frocks


This is one of my favourite dresses, a trusty old standby ready to be thrown on when everything else in my wardrobe frustrates me (I have a horrible fear of it developing a hole or other fault that would render it unwearable).

Bought from ASOS about three years ago, it features my favourite pattern - polka dots - and is so comfortable that it feels a bit like wearing a nightie. Teamed with my favourite mustard cardigan, a H&M buy a couple of summers ago (I fell in love with the openwork design on the pockets, which is repeated on the back of the cardigan), it makes an easy outfit. I wore it with this ace wooden banner necklace, a Christmas gift from my brother and his fiance. The only element I'm not sure about is the ballet pumps, which seem like a bit of a boring footwear choice, but I never know what other shoes to pair this with.

* Polka dot skater dress: ASOS (old) * Cardigan: H&M (old) * Ballet pumps: New Look * 
* Wooden banner necklace: Ladybird Likes via Etsy *

Monday, 23 March 2015

Photo an hour: 21st March 2015

Saturday was Jane and Louisa's monthly Photo An Hour, and for once I was actually doing something interesting with my day! Thomas was away, so a slow and relaxing start to the day was followed by a trip to Nottingham with the women behind Make, Do & Spend, E &B, to meet Laura of Make Do & Mend.

8.30am: A lazy morning in bed reading.
9.30am: Still in bed reading - almost at the end so I can't stop now! - and this is the view from where I'm sitting.

10.30am: Finally up and eating a late breakfast with the paper.
11.30am: What to wear? It's a choice of stripes, polka dots or blue in my wardrobe: today I went for my navy blue dress with a crochet collar.

12.30pm: Squeezing in a tiny bit of sewing before I leave the house.
1.30pm: A quick visit to the haberdashery before popping into a couple of charity shops (I struck gold, with an amazing stripey dress AND a lovely cardigan, for £3 each) and then heading to the station.

2.30pm: On the train to Nottingham to visit Laura, with E and B, for our semi-regular blogger meet-ups.
3.30pm: Vintage delights in the ace Hopkinson, a four-storey emporium of vintage loveliness next to the train station.

4.30pm: Browsing the records in Rough Trade. So much good stuff! I came away with Metronomy's new album and the Joanna Gruesome record.
5.30pm: Stationery heaven at Objects Of Use, upstairs from Rough Trade.

6.30pm: Amazing pizza at Das Kino in Nottingham. Last time the four of us got together we didn't have time to try their pizza, so it was out priority today, and well worth the wait. So delicious!
9.30pm: After a bit of a break with the photos (7.30pm - still in the pub, 8.30pm - in a taxi on the way home from the station) I'm home and catching up on replying to blog comments. And yes, I do have daffodils in every room of the house. At 50p a bunch, it'd be rude not to.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Good stuff: Links & likes

First of all, I just want to say thanks to everyone who commented or got in touch about Friday's post. I'm honestly fine, but I think we all have days when the crap stuff gets to us and that was one of those days! I was really interested to hear how many of you agree with me about honesty in blogging - people who are open about life not being all unicorns and flowers are generally so much more interesting to me, and it seems to you guys too. Anyway, I was really humbled by how many of you took time to reach out, so thank you.

The Poke's guide to washing machine symbols (above) had me snorting with laughter. "Too many tennis balls" might become my new catch-all phrase for a fuck-up.

Annika is writing some brilliant stuff recently: this, on body policing, is so great - I wish I'd had her confidence in my early twenties - and her open letter to cat-calling men is equally fantastic.

My friend Alice has been writing a series of raw, honest and powerful posts about being in recovery from an eating disorder.

Tattooed senior citizens prove that your ink will still look awesome when you're old. As I've just had the large piece on my arm extended - and wobbled slightly about whether I was making a mistake, while actually in the chair - this made me pretty happy.

I loved Sophie's nine ideas to brighten someone's day.

Yes, yes, yes to this brilliant piece: I'm queer no matter who I'm dating.

Alex is so right, we wouldn't talk to our worst enemy the way we talk to ourselves: Being less of a bitch to myself. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

The shitty bits

I sometimes think of blogging as life with the shitty bits removed. Anyone who falls under the banner of 'lifestyle blogger' does it, to some extent or other. Beautiful interiors shots, carefully styled outfit posts, tales of fun events and exciting trips.

So I'll post about our gorgeous new office space, but not photograph the worrying damp patch beneath the window.

I'll mention the delicious food I'm scoffing, but not the crippling IBS attacks that leave me prone on the bathroom floor.

I'll write about exciting travel plans, but omit the fact that I'm currently battling to be allowed into Canada this summer (some youthful indiscretions + insane immigration rules = I might not make it to the first family reunion in 23 years. And when your family all live on other continents, that's a big deal).

I'll describe a lovely weekend away, but leave out the bit about spending most of Sunday in a panic attack about work, with which I'm really struggling at the moment.

Now, there's a lot to be said for keeping a space clear of negative thought and actions, but I also know that what I really love about blogging - reading other people's as well as writing my own - is the recognition that life isn't perfect. I don't want to preside over a sleek, idealised lifestyle blog; I want a blog that represents me entirely, shitty bits and all.

And the problem is, I think that lately I've become less good at remembering that.

As my readership has grown, I've started worrying a bit too much about what everyone else thinks and not enough about what I actually want to get out of this. It's become my habit to spend hours on my days off trying to ape that particular style of blog photography - you know the kind, with the background beautifully white and items artfully strewn around the surface - and to stress when I don't achieve it, rather than to just write what I want and worry about the images later, if at all.

Now, I don't at all mean to imply that there's anything untruthful or inauthentic about a sleek lifestyle blog with lovely photography, far from it. Just that for me to curate something like that would be inauthentic. I'm a messy, clumsy, awkward person and I sort of think my bit of internet space should reflect that.

So here I am, then: at the moment, life is a bit too full of shitty bits and I'm stressed out. I know things will improve because they always do (not least because the Easter holidays are coming up, yay!), but right now... yeah, pretty shitty.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Seen & heard

1. I was very pleasantly surprised by Friends With Benefits. With some very funny lines and a central plot that, while not entirely blameless, is still less anti-feminist than many rom-coms, it's one that I'd watch again. Justin Timberlake is surprisingly winning as a romantic lead, and Mila Kunis is wonderful as always. Just... we keep being told that Kunis's character is emotionally damaged and fucked up, yet being shown no evidence of it. She's no more damaged than any other human being, as far as I can see. It's no use just telling your audience something is true, we need to see something to back it up.

2. In A World is such a fun film, but one I'd never have thought to watch based on the plot summary alone. It features Lake Bell (who also wrote and directed) as the daughter of a legendary voiceover artist trying to make her own way in what turns out to be a rather cut-throat industry and competing with her father for a prestigious trailer voiceover job. It's a lovely, quietly funny film, in the vein of other indie comedies such as Garden State or The Station Agent. 

3. Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed's 2000+ mile walk along the Pacific Coast Trail, following a descent into drug abuse and sex addiction after her mother's death. I loved Wild: beautifully shot, moving, funny in parts, and Reece Witherspoon is brilliant in the lead role.

At the moment I'm excited about new music in a way that I haven't been for a long while - years, even. With the exception of Father John Misty, I mostly want to be listening to music that sounds like it could have come from a circa 1992 Riot Grrrl mixtape.

1. Father John Misty is the latest alias of my long-time favourite, Josh Tillman (who's also recorded as J. Tillman) and I Love You Honeybear, his second album under this name, is a thing of beauty. Moving from electronica (True Affection) to the Todd Rundgren-esque 70s soft rock of When You're Smiling And Astride Me, to Bored In The USA and the lush orchestrals of the title track, both of which reminded me of Release The Stars-era Rufus Wainwright, this is a wide-ranging and eclectic mix of songs. I've listened to little else since buying it two weeks ago, with lead single Chateau Lobby #4 being a particular favourite.

2. Tuff Love are from Glasgow and make fast, scuzzy garage pop music. New single Thats' Right has been getting some airplay on 6 Music, but the rest of their Dross EP is also worth a listen for those into grunge-era grrrl bands.

3. And speaking of grunge-era grrrl bands, Colleen Green's new single, Pay Attention, sounds eerily like Veruca Salt. I love it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A day in Saltaire

Up at my mum and step-mum's house this weekend, Thomas and I had a day to ourselves and decided to take ourselves off to Saltaire to explore. I love Saltaire; it was a regular haunt of mine as a teenager, when my little gang of friends and I would convince a parent to take us to visit the art gallery and bookshop in Salt's Mill.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Saltaire is a model village built by Sir Titus Salt in 1851 to provide homes for the workers in his wool mills (revolutionary at the time for their huge windows, the natural light therefore providing a safer working environment). Beautiful streets of Victorian worker's cottages lead down to the canal and a huge park, and the mill complex has been redeveloped to house businesses , shops and the world-famous David Hockney gallery.

It's fitting, then, that Saltaire Canteen are doing something equally revolutionary in the town. Their mission is to reduce food waste by using what they call 'intercepted' food: surplus food that would otherwise be thrown out by local supermarkets and food producers. The food is cooked on-site to provide an ever-changing vegetarian menu for which customers can then 'Pay As You Feel' after eating. In other words, pay what you can afford and what you think the meal was worth. Even better, if you can't afford to pay anything, you don't have to. As their mission statement says, "Spending time in a cafe, eating a good meal, watching the world go by, is a simple thing, but it's often outside the means of many people we live in community with." All profits are fed back into the parent company, Shipley Food Project, which runs the local foodbank and healthy food initiatives in the area. Pretty awesome, right? The food was great, too, and there was a lovely atmosphere in the light-filled space.

After stuffing ourselves with pizza, stew and cake, we went for a wander round the many lovely independent shops that the village has to offer. I particularly love the Saltaire Vintage Shop, which is an absolute treasure trove stuffed full of homewares, records and books. We picked up the perfect vintage 60s magazine rack for our living room, and I was sorely tempted by the printing blocks, until I realised that the last thing my house needs is more letters. Finally, a quick wander around the art gallery before we drove home rounded off a lovely afternoon out.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

International Women's Day & the problem of solidarity

Image source here

It was wonderful to wake up this morning to a timeline of tweets about International Women's Day; I well remember the years when the day passed unremarked upon, except for the rare appearance in The Guardian or Independent. However, amongst the tweets discussing oppression and discrimination around the world and highlighting the work of amazing women, were one or two more abstract comments that troubled me.

"On International Women's Day, we need to help women work together not against each other."
"IWD is for all the women who support other women, not bring them down ."

I have several problems with such statements, not least the inference, common in discussions about feminism, that if only women would work together, if only we'd stop being such bitches to each other, then all our problems would be solved. While solidarity is important, there are far greater barriers to equality - namely the global oppression of, and violence against, women borne out of systemic patriarchy and misogyny - than women failing to be relentlessly positive about everything their 'sisters' do and say. There is something uncomfortably victim-blaming about the notion that if only women would be nicer to each other, gender-based inequality could be solved. It lays the blame for our oppression at our own feet and absolves men both individually and collectively.

I also think the notion of supporting women purely based on their gender is problematic. Am I meant to cheer the political advancement of Theresa May or Nicky Morgan, when their policies are so opposed to my own politics and so damaging to women generally? When May presides over a department that tacitly approves the sexual abuse of women refugees at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre? When Morgan votes for restricting abortion access while working as Equalities Minister? I have more cause for solidarity with Owen Jones, who this week was the victim of vile homophobic and sexual harassment by TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) for writing in support of transgender rights in The Guardian. Does placing myself against women who would perpetuate such hatred and harassment and standing in solidarity with a man make me a bad woman, a bad feminist?  Feminism is a movement as well as an individual label. While I will always have solidarity with those who fight - in word and deed - alongside me within that movement, expecting me to support all women based purely on their gender is neither realistic nor fair. It would be akin to expecting Tony Benn to show solidarity with Nigel Farage (the whole being-dead thing not withstanding).

On International Women's Day, I believe the focus needs to be on the fantastic and radical work of groups such as Sisters Uncut; the discussion about girls right to education around the world to which Malala Yousafzai has contributed so much; the pioneering work done by young women in their communities to tackle FGM. These are the women-supporting-women that I am interested in. This is with whom I stand in solidarity.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

What I wore: Old clothes, new tricks

You know those days when everything in your wardrobe sucks and you hate each and every item of clothing you own? Well, I'm having one of those days but it's been going on for weeks. I think it's the fact that we're coming to the end of winter and I'm just so bored of wearing all my winter clothes (also, the fact I've spent the entire winter on a spending ban means I haven't had much in the way of new clothes coming into my life recently).

Anyway, while throwing the entire contents of my wardrobe around the bedroom in a strop the other morning, I chanced upon this combination: as the floral dress flew threw the air and landed on the collared blouse, my eyes lit up. And so this outfit - which I'd categorise as a sort of preppy cosplay meets cute indie pop - was born. There's something deeply satisfying about taking items I've had in my wardrobe for ages and building a whole new look from them. This, combined with a recent post by Hazel, has prompted me to look more closely at the clothes I own and try to think of new ways of styling them.

The floral dress is an ancient A-Wear one which I hardly ever wear due to its weird puffy sleeves and strange neckline, but layering it with the Peter Pan collar blouse and the cardigan creates a whole new silhouette. The amazing Scrabble tile J brooch that Kezzie gave me stops the cardigan from being one massive expanse of navy blue boob. Finally, cosplaying at being preppy would be no good without the addition of a satchel. It made the perfect outfit for a cinema date last week (we saw Wild, which is ace).

* Blouse: Primark * Cardigan: H&M Basics * Dress (worn as skirt): A-Wear * 
* Shoes: Office * Satchel: H&M * Brooch: Gift (homemade) *

Monday, 2 March 2015

At home: A bedroom picture shelf

I'm ridiculously obsessed with pictures and prints. You know when you go round to someone's house and they don't have anything on the walls? Yeah, I find that really weird. My walls are crammed with photographs, posters, screenprints... you name it, I'll have framed it. So it was odd that for a very long time I had a huge blank wall above the bed.

In the end, it became a case of needs must: Thomas needed somewhere to store books as there's no room for a bedside table on his side, and I wanted somewhere for a plant and a few other bits and pieces I'd been collecting. So instead of a standard wall of pictures, we decided on a picture shelf. We could have opted for a specialist picture shelf but they're usually too narrow for books, so instead we went for normal shelving timber and brackets from B&Q. In the absence of the usual ridge on a picture shelf that stops the frames sliding off or toppling onto sleeping people, I've secured each one with a couple of sticky pads.

With fantastic timing, just as I was finishing up buying the timber eFrame got in touch with me to ask if I'd be interested in trying out a couple of their frames. eFrame offer a range of standard picture frames but of more interest to me was their custom framing service, which is especially handy when you have hard-to-frame prints and pictures in non-standard sizes or shapes.

I was especially keen to try their new Print & Frame service and had spied a printable PDF on Etsy featuring a line from Thomas's favourite song, Go Your Own Way, as a pretty art print. This seemed like a great opportunity to have it professionally printed and framed. The website allowed me to play around with different options for the frame, the mount and the size of the image: in the end, I went for a simple white frame with narrow white mount, and I love how it looks. I also popped a second frame - without mount - into the shopping basket, this one for my 30cm² Screw The Patriarchy print, which wouldn't fit into a standard off-the-shelf frame.

I was really impressed with the service I received from eFrame. Everyone I dealt with (there were some delivery issues - entirely my own fault, I hasten to add - so I had to get in touch a few times) was super friendly and lovely, and the frames themselves are great quality and a very good price for custom framing. I'd heartily recommend their service next time you have something tricky to frame.

Timber & shelf brackets - B&Q
Aloe Vera plant - Ikea (in an old pot)
Vintage shop sign 'K' - Bringing The Outside In, Holkham, Norfolk (it might be a little weird to have a letter that doesn't occur in either of our names, but k is the first letter of my mum's maiden name, a name (and family) which is very important to me)
You Can Go Your Own Way printable PDF - Etsy
Screw The Patriarchy print - Redbubble
It's A Wonderful Life poster - eBay
Black Ribba frames - all Ikea
Small white frame - Wilko
Custom square frames - eFrame

Disclosure: eFrame gifted me the two frames in exchange for an honest review, but all opinions are entirely my own. No, really... I would never be less than honest even when getting something for free (I think my rather scathing reviews of some of the free books I've received makes that clear!).