The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

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I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

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Listen To The Teacher

I work in education, but I’m not a teacher. I’ve got no teaching qualifications and I’ve never worked in a school, unless you count the three weeks when I photocopied 350 reports three times over on A3 at the school my dad was headteacher of in 2001. I don’t. But the work I do impacts thousands, millions of children’s lives and life chances, it infiltrates nearly every secondary school classroom in this country. When it comes to my line of work, I’m pretty knowledgable. I was going to say I am an expert, but I’m very aware, working where I work, that there are others far more expert than I, but it is my profession and I work hard to understand the complexities and ramifications of what we do for children and their teachers everywhere.

Amidst all that, the thing I always strive to remember is, I am not a teacher. I’ve been surrounded by teachers my whole life, my parents, all three of them, friends’ parents, my own teachers, teachers who became my friends, the ex-teachers who I work with, now my children’s teachers. But I wouldn’t profess to know much more about teaching than your average well-educated broadsheet-reading liberal/socialist. You see, the problem is that everyone who was once at school themselves, seems to think they know something about teaching. I’m not saying they’re not stakeholders, I’m not saying their experience hasn’t given them insight, but are they experts? No. Which is why it makes me so angry the way that government, of any colour, messes and meddles with education despite in the main, the people doing the messing and meddling having no idea about everyday teaching and learning and how schools actually work in the 21st century.

When a fellow non-teacher came back from observing a maths lesson at a local school and said “it was a masterclass on differentiating to seven levels, I mean, I was gobsmacked” I knew what he meant and I knew what that highly skilled teacher had achieved and I was also highly impressed. But I know I could no more stand up before a class of 30 and teach them something meaningful than I could do a length of the butterfly stroke. I haven’t had the training and I’m not sure I’ve actually got the ability. Teachers are highly skilled professionals, who undergo intensive training, have to maintain their professional development year after year. But we don’t value our teachers.

You see, teachers are an easy target. It’s so easy to dismiss the late nights marking, the weekend days sacrificed to planning, the preparation. I work in a comfortable office with free hot drinks on tap and I can go to the loo whenever I want. Not teachers. They work in buildings that are sometimes not fit for purpose, without resources they need. They’re not able to get to the loo, because they can’t leave their class because their TA hours got cut due to budget cuts. They then scarf their lunch to run a club during the break. After school they’re driving the mini buses to the netball matches, football tournaments. All the kindnesses, the comfort given against bullies, the book chosen especially for a voracious reader, the encouragement given to the sportsperson in their area of talent or skill, the nights lying awake worrying about the young people in their classes.

So is it any wonder when they do all this, against the backdrop of funding cuts, a national curriculum that regressed to the 1950s, which doesn’t value the creative arts, against Academisation, performance related pay, against a testing regime which is unreasonable, against qualification reform in all areas, that teachers are telling us as my friend told me “We’re on our knees”? Teachers are leaving the profession some in the early stages of their careers, others after long service. I read about a couple, who are quitting education all together, because of the “bland and joyless” curriculum they are forced to teach. My friends alerted me to this impassioned post on Facebook by a teacher, Rebecca Bee, which went viral, as so many of these posts do. There is something very wrong here.

Why is nothing done about it, when a large group of highly qualified professional people are telling us, over and over, that this can’t go on, that their job is getting harder and harder to do? Whether that group of people is doctors, nurses, teachers, carers… Because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Because it doesn’t fit those lovely emollient soundbites they want us to swallow. Because it doesn’t fit their ideological journey to a country that sounds fair and sounds reasonable, but where inequality and opportunity no longer exist. Rather than admitting that schools need more money, that teachers need more support, that children deserve better, the government is fannying about the edges with free schools and “bring back the grammars”. Bring back an education worth having for every child. Stop measuring educational success on an arbitrary set of assessments. Start thinking about what skills children need to become independent adults in a world of zero hours contracts, social media, automation, payday loans, revenge porn.

Why is it that those of us who read those Facebook posts and newspaper articles and talk to our friends and our children’s teachers, why is it that we don’t we do something? Why are we not marching in the streets, alongside our teachers, in solidarity? Why aren’t we adding Facebook buttons about how much we love our education system, in the same we declare our love for the NHS? On the one hand, for people like me, it’s because we feel powerless. Because it’s inconvenient, and uncomfortable. Because it might have greater ramifications. Because it might mean that all that soothing political pepto bismol we’ve been swallowing is wrong. Because it makes us feel guilty for our lack of care, motivation, when we have our own things to worry about or our own cosy existence to preserve. Maybe next time teachers strike, we should be there with them, not whinging about it on social media.

But for others, the reason they don’t declare their admiration for our teachers, for our schools, is that their own schooling experience let them down. They worry about their own kids at school, because they remember what it was like. Maybe they still resent schools and teachers a little bit. Because they hated school, they hated exams, they felt stupid or frustrated, or they were desperate to get into the world of work, or their skills and talents weren’t recognised. Their education wasn’t a staircase to a successful adult life. It was a fenced in prison and they couldn’t wait to jump the wall. For some it won’t have mattered that they didn’t succeed in conventional ways. For others, they’ll feel their life chances were forever stymied by the fact they hated double maths on a Friday morning. To those people, I want to say, we can make it better. We can work together to make sure no child feels the way you did.

I’m willing to accept compromises for the meanwhile, because I know that no matter which flavour of politics is in government is, education and schools will never be perfect in its current format. A change more fundamental, more dynamic is needed, and I believe we’ll get there, one day, hopefully before the human race has to abandon earth for one of Saturn’s moons. And hey, maybe June 8th won’t effect that change, but miracles do happen, and it could be a start.