This week I’m wearing… florals and spring boots

Autumn, traditionally, is the season of new boots, isn’t it?  Shops full of conker-shiny, Hallowe’en black footwear, ready for the onslaught of the rain, wind and cold.  

Yep, but something very exciting has happened to me this Spring… and it’s the SPRING BOOT.

Over the knee, pale and a bit slouchy, but smart enough for work.  Block heeled, bright and ankle length, and very very eye catching.  I have two new pairs of boots and I can’t wait to show them off.  Well, I already have, but just haven’t had time to blog about it!   Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been entirely dry, so it was lucky I had treated my new boots to lashings of suede protector spray, so much in fact, that I need to buy some more.

I’d been hankering for a pair of over-the-knee boots since reading Jess Cartner-Morley in the Guardian on them and feeling that I was ready to embrace them.  Like the pleather conundrum, I was concerned about the tart-factor, but you’ll see that I turned to my preppy, 40s landgirl inspired outfit from the previous week, jumper-over-tea-dress, to ensure that there was no inappropriateness, just not-cold-legs on a sunny spring day.  The trick to keeping these work-ok is to make sure that your skirt goes *over* the top of the boots.  However, I am quite looking forward to experimenting with making them non-work appropriate, and have been merrily Pinteresting “how to style over-the-knee boots” so no doubt there will be an update!  The floral dress wasn’t too cold on Monday, when combined with the boots and a mild day.  I sense it’s going to be a 2017 stalwart.


The second outfit this week, was styled twice, once with nude tights and once with navy. The nude tights made the outfit exceptionally attention grabbing, I know this because in the end my colleague consoled me with “if you’re going to get your legs out, you’re just going to have to get used to the comments”. So here’s a picture of the slightly less startling styled with dark legs, navy floral shirt dress, with military gold brassy buttons, and orangey red block heeled boots. There’s a reason all of these tone together – they’re all from the Next directory! All the sane, a triumph, I think you’ll agree. Like the other boots, I’m looking forward to styling these in different ways through spring, and hoping that in time these boots plus bare legs won’t be quite so controversial. Maybe in May…

This week I wore… all yellow

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah they were all yellow

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn
Oh what a thing to have done
And it was all yellow

Coldplay

Don’t scoff at the Coldplay reference, that song has been in my head all week! On Monday morning, I was feeling pretty uninspired. After the triumph of the statement lip last weekend, the dungaree goodness, how could I top that excitement when I had to dress for work? As a result, I didn’t really try, I went for a grey Boden jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boring, unthoughtful dressing. I did the statement lip to cheer myself up and… POP! Suddenly that yellow cardigan was looking awesome.

I love yellow. Apologies to Caitlin Moran, but yellow is a neutral. My feeling is that it works on the principal that because yellow doesn’t go with anything, it goes with everything. It is my favourite colour, I love it because of sunshine, happiness, daffodils, sandy beaches, sunflowers, autumn leaves, and champagne. It’s vivid mustard, warm and golden, or pale lemon, creamy, zesty… When I imagine death, I imagine yellow.

So I set myself a challenge – I shall wear yellow all week! I thought, and then immediately felt the pressure of the restriction. Luckily, I actually own quite a lot of yellow clothing, but I found in the end that the issue wasn’t wearing yellow per se, but styling it without black as the second colour. 


Day 1 – jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boden, both items, so the palette toned, and the grey and yellow are a fresher combination than yellow and black.
Day 2 – pleather skirt with yellow chunky jumper *tucked in*! Very exciting, until I realised it was a big work exhibition that morning and I had to keep my mac on inside as my skirt was really really short and there were lots of important people there.
Day 3 – Roadtrip day, so comfort. Jacquard shift dress in yellow, layered over black thermal top as I set off at 6:30am and arrived home late – didn’t want to be cold. I don’t normally wear midi-dresses, so this required a higher heel than usual (not shown) – platform shoe boots. 
Day 4 – cheating, really, a spring floral dress (M&S several years ago) with significant amounts of yellow in the floral, with a beige jumper layered over the top, and brogues for a change from my ankle boots. I love this outfit, loving the jumper-over-dress preppiness of it, but it was the least yellow of the days. Oh, and I was absolutely bloody freezing – not warm enough yet for a thin cotton dress!
Day 5 – Dress down Friday! Yellow cold shoulder top (New Look), over khaki jeans, showing ‘the sliver’ at the ankle (brrr!) and a black shawl cardigan over the top. I wished I’d had a pale cardigan with a shape that worked, to make the outfit a little less black, but my boots were black which sort of pulled it together.

And then at the weekend, trusty dungas and that yellow jumper again, AKA “the sexy minion” look.

I have actually gone into my storage bags to retrieve some more yellow clothes from my spring/summer wardrobe, although it is definitely too cold to be thinking truly spring-like clothing. thoughts. I could have done another week of yellow, but I’m thinking next week to go for a different challenge… maybe florals, which is also not too much of a stretch with my wardrobe. Probably the challenge should actually be “no black”- maybe that’s for another time when I’m feeling especially creative. 

Full Moon on Cambridge Station

Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same

Train in the Distance, Paul Simon

I met a friend after work one evening this week, and got a late train home. I found myself waiting on the platform, for a little while, because there’s only one train an hour. I had long enough to wait that I was able to get a seat, and the evening was mild. I had my phone, so I had music and reading material. The Norwich train was sitting at the opposite platform and when it departed the cacophony in the relative quiet of the evening was intrusive, unbearable. The train screeched away, the noise fading, and I found myself thinking, probably with some irony,
“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.”

Like magic, I pulled the song down out of the cloud. I’ve not listened to it properly for years, it’s not on Graceland or the compilation we kept in the car. I’d forgotten the story of the lyrics, and I’d forgotten the bridge, which I’ve copied above.

I watched trains come in and out on the far platforms. The London train arrived, streams of people flowing out. I saw someone I used to work with but didn’t know very well, from afar, and I wondered how he is, whether his new job makes him happy. I considered the people with the shopping bags, the parents and older children together, the commuters, the people in groups, the ones alone. As I grew tired of people watching, my attention was caught by the moon, glowing behind a misty veil. Hanging low, pregnantly round, fat and yellow against the industrial silhouettes cast by the train station furniture and the blocks of flats and houses. She was beautiful and mysterious, holding on to her secrets, casting rings of light around her in the damp air.

The song played and finished.  I listened to some more Paul Simon.  He is my favourite songwriter, ever, it feels like his songs are ‘woven indelibly into my heart and my brain’, to quote the end of the song. I boarded my train, the artificial light within the carriage hard on my eyes. The guard smiled at me when he checked my ticket, because I was looking especially pretty that evening, with red nails and my bright blue coat. I read a book on my phone but it was no sufficient distraction.

The lines kept on going round in my head, like tickertape on a loop.  Walking home, I glanced up again, the moon was half hidden behind clouds, but my heart was full and glowing with my own secrets and mysteries.  Thinking about my failed negotiations, the love songs I’ll never sing.  And thinking most of all about my own disappointed believer, the game we played, and the sadness that it had no winners but at least two losers.

This weekend I rocked… the statement lip. 

I don’t own these pyjamas, but anyone with kids recognises the sentiment!

Saturday morning I awoke to Persie sweetly whispering in my ear “I luff you mummy too”. Adorable. And we were up in plenty of time to get ready in a leisurely fashion and have breakfast and not be late for Rosa’s 8am swimming lesson.  So why then did I end up running out of the door, late for the swimming lesson with unwashed hair in a ponytail? Good question and definitely one of my truths of adulthood: the more time you think you have the later you will be! 

But it’s ok because I threw on jeans, a khaki coloured tee and my 90s throwback camo shirt/jacket, and I topped it off with true red lipstick, applied poolside (like my whole face of make up that morning). Pretty cool, I think you’ll agree. Real red lipstick, not a gloss, not a sheer balm, but gets everywhere red. Reapply frequently red. It’s a commitment. But it was worth it! Practical weekend clothes transformed into a look, simply by colouring my lips in! The transformative power of make up, etc. Plus the feminist reclaiming red lipstick thing. Girls dress and make up to please themselves and other girls, and my girl Rosa was in raptures. Mum glam, I was rocking it. 

Buoyed up by the success of the red, the following day I struggled to top the camo so went for monochrome – black dungas, striped Breton. Lip wise, I decided to go a bit Leonard Cohen (you want it darker) with a rouge noir/black cherries colour, another 90s tribute! Not quite as cheering as red, and definitely a throwback to the Rimmel black cherries and inside-the-eyes-liner, but it pleased me. 

Living in a small town

I thought I grew up in a small town. It had two main roads, lots of parades of shops, a big green which hosted cricket and the May Day fete with real Morris dancing, and lots of pubs, which in the late 90s you could visit and drink and vodka and coke and eat crisps, and be quite safe, and no one worried that you were 16 not 18. There wasn’t a train station, the buses were terrible, you were reliant on lifts from parents and getting your driving licence asap. The nearest town had a three screen cinema, and a couple of dodgy night clubs mainly populated by squaddies from the military school nearby. There were two supermarkets, including a Waitrose, two petrol stations, an Anglican Church and a Catholic church. We were half an hour away from Reading in one direction, Guildford in the other, next to the motorway to London and a short drive to a fast train to Waterloo. Classic home counties suburbia. I didn’t know how lucky I was, to live in a four bedroom house in a cul de sac, and to go to an Ofsted outstanding secondary school, or to be able to get a job easily in a shop on a Saturday when I was sixteen, or the relative safety of that underage drinking in the days before mobile phones, social media, etc. Three members of my family had their ashes interred in the cemetery in the town where I grew up, but none of us live there anymore. I visit sometimes.

Fast forward twenty years, and I now live in a small town. But it’s totally different. Not suburban, a market town, really, but unique, because of the industry here, and its history. There’s a drug problem, an inequality problem, a desperate need for more housing, a single train track to the nearest two big towns which needs to be expanded, the closest motorway is a good half an hour away. There’s still nothing for teenagers, no cinema, no late night coffee shop, and frankly all the chain restaurants and a nightclub don’t make up for the fact there isn’t a decent bookshop, but there are many bookies… There’s a Waitrose, a Tesco, a green where the work riders play cricket, and a brand new museum. It’s a unique place to live, there’s something special about hearing the scrape of horses hooves on the tarmac, or the music drifting on the breeze from the racecourse on a still summer night.

Like any place, there are people who are born, live and die in the town where I grew up, and in the town where I live, and there’s something in that that comforts me. Lots of people I grew up with don’t live far from the town I no longer call home, and I understand that, completely. Quality of life, proximity of family, jobs, security…

I remember meeting a school friend who lives locally, and she asked “aren’t you pleased you moved away?” and yes I am. Even though it’s taken years to put down roots, to find friends, to have any sense of belonging. Until very recently, all my friends were people who were also from elsewhere. I felt like an outsider. I thought I was anonymous, and unknown. But it emerged that wasn’t the case. My children came home from the hospital to this town. They go to school in this town. I planted us here. All we have to do is flourish. It’s not a hard thing to do.

My Eyelashes!

The girls at The Kimono are eyelash extension aficionados. I was always fascinated by their flirty, fluttery long lashes, but hadn’t realised that they weren’t natural. Then I was there when each of them made the effort to get a taxi across Cambridge to Salon at No. 5, the lash and brow bar, which also has a second branch where I live, and I knew then that both the lashes and the salon must be something special.

I resisted the lure of the lashes for a long time, but then one day there was a Groupon offer for a full set of eyelash extensions at Salon at No. 5. I can not resist a good Groupon! I snapped it up, booked myself in and (after a patch test) excitedly succumbed to having four fake eyelashes glued to each of my individual eyelashes in the spirit of flirty, flutteriness.

In a strange twist of fate, the day after my appointment, I ended up having a very serious job interview, but didn’t want to cancel the lashes as it had been a bit of a nightmare to book in due to my schedule and the salon’s. So I did actually end up being interviewed for my big important job role with slightly burlesque looking. I don’t know if any of the interviewers noticed or if the associated slow blinking (the lashes are a bit heavy) helped or hindered!

The extended lash look was indeed full and lush, but a bit too full on for me, for everyday. Plus there’s the fact that you have to be careful with the eye make up you wear. I like creamy eyeshadow, smudgy kohl pencils, and these are not your eyelash extensions’ friends – nothing with oil in is. You can’t wear mascara on top of them, for example – you have to really commit to just the extensions. So after an aborted infill session for the extensions, and a full and frank discussion about my love of eyeliner, Bella, the lash technician, recommended that instead I try an LVL Lash Lift instead. Pretty much, it’s a lash tint and perm.

After another patch test, I rocked up at the salon last Saturday and after removing all my eye make up with a baby wipe (effective but stingy!) the treatment took about an hour, and was actually very very relaxing, as you might imagine lying back with your eyes closed for nearly an hour might be! Like any kind of perm, you can’t get it wet for 24 hrs afterwards, and there was a touch of rain as I left the salon, but as recommended, I wore protective eyewear in the shower the following day, and I think that the effect is lasting very well.

I already have dark eyelashes, so I’m looking to enhance my lashes prior to mascara, rather than to be able to skip mascara altogether, which might be the aim if you are very fair lashed and don’t wear much make up. My next eyelash adventure is going to be with a very exciting product… but more of that another time.

Here is my before and after picture! Thanks to Bella for the photography!

 

eyelashes

This week I’m wearing… a bright blue raincoat

So Spring sprung, and suddenly the hooded, padded, sensible navy blue coat that I wore for most of the winter just seemed so blah and over familiar.

Luckily, I have this Hobbs mac that I bought from eBay for intermediate weather!  Not quite warm enough for no covering, and there is the risk of showers to consider, but for when a proper winter coat would be too warm.  I don’t do double breasted in general, and therefore shy away from classic trench coats (although I have seen a very fetching yellow version in River Island) so this simply cut raincoat ticks all my boxes.  Bright colour – of course! Heavy weight enough to provide light coverage and rain protection?  Yes!  Oh, and did I mention I bought it on eBay?  So rather than paying £200+ quid for a Hobbs mac, I think I got it for about £30…

My colleague was very obliging this week and did five minute mini-fashion shoot outside the office.  Notice how I tone with the Cambridge blue branding… The shadows were her idea!

IMG_1820

On Friendship

Friendships, like any kind of love, I suppose, strike when you don’t expect them. It can be a bolt from the blue, or a realisation that friendship has snuck up on you unawares.

Recently, I had had an impromptu dinner out with two girlfriends who I count as relatively new friends. I ran into them at what I thought was the end of my evening out, and they invited me to join them for a drink. Have you ever felt stupidly touched at the acceptance of others? I was that evening.

So we went and ate burgers, and each of us had one sensible drink, as we were all driving, and we talked A LOT, or at least I felt like I talked A LOT, and it was about therapy, and new jobs, and men, and relationship problems, and men, and clothes, and men, and finding your place in life, and self confidence, and the artistic temperament, and men… and did I mention men?

So apart from eating a very delicious burger, and drinking a sensible glass of wine, it was a fruitful evening, because in it I learnt how Music Girl gets people to be friends with her! I need to learn this trick! Firstly she described how she said to Oxford Classicist “Ilikeyourskirtweshouldbefriends” after a few weeks of sussing her out in the office and realising that, indeed, she was someone who she could spend time with.
Then we reminisced, with the sweet nostalgia of whole months past, on how she accosted me in the ladies loos by circling her hand over my left one, saying “What is this? We NEED to go out for gin and tonics!” And that, dear readers, is how I ended up passing out after drinking many many cocktails, on my own landing, and giving myself a black eye… *sorrynotsorry*

My oldest friends are still there through sheer tenacity, I suspect. There are the friends you don’t speak with for years then randomly WhatsApp them and it’s as if you were never apart. I still miss my best friend from when I was eighteen, she was so dear to me and if she didn’t live so far away, I’d get back in touch but… maybe it’s better in the past. Aussie Nicole is a best friend across the time zones; you always need someone who’s awake when you should be asleep but can’t, because your baby is awake, or you’re stressed about work, or have stayed awake for whatever reason. A lot of my friends are at work – let’s face it, colleagues often see you more and know more about you than your spouse. There’s that friend you never see, the friend you always see… don’t get me started on frenemies…

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence, one joke, and you know, this person is going to be your friend. Or it can be the slow burn. But you never know who is going to be the person who gets you through a tough time, who is going to be the person you can’t wait to tell about x, complain about y. Some friends are fair weather friends, others are best in a crisis. Some make you laugh until you cry, others make you cry until you laugh!

When the days are long but the years are short, you realise you’ve been friends with someone for over a decade. How did that happen? Or you can have known someone for a year, and they have an impact on your life in a way you never could have imagined, in your wildest dreams.

Occupational Therapy

When I graduated from university, I worked in the NHS for a year, part time, as a receptionist in an Occupational Therapy department. I no doubt got the gig because of my touch typing skills (thank you Legally Blonde), as I was not at the sharp end of critical services but spent a lot of my time typing up reports about elderly people who had broken their hips going home with raised toilet seats and being tested on their ability to make a cup of tea. I am being a bit flippant – for the people who were desperate to be allowed to go home, making that cup of tea was a life-chances level assessment. I’ve admired Occupational Therapists ever since – it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it makes a difference. In its truest form, it is all about helping people to actually live their lives.

I’m currently experiencing all kinds of therapy. Through my work I’ve been lucky enough to encounter Time to Change, and I think it’s really important to remove the stigma around mental health, so I have zero shame in admitting that I currently see a psychotherapist regularly. Luckily for me I also a psychotherapist friend, who was able to persuade me to stick with it after the first six session. In fact, I really enjoy my counselling sessions now, although enjoy is probably a strange word for something which often leaves me feeling absolutely wrung out, and I judge the impact of the sessions on the number of tissues used. But I feel the benefit. It was a conversation with my therapist that brought about “write more, live more” as one of my edicts for life.

Which brings me to writing as therapy – yes, there’s often a cathartic element to writing. A friend asked me if this blog was just therapy – well, I’m not confessing all my secrets here… but I know that writing takes me to a place in my head that is a good place to be. There’s been research on it – the state of Flow. I love it when I get there, and writing is the way I’m able to snap in and out of it.

Retail therapy is one of my weaknesses, and has a downside, which is the spending of money – my lipstick collection confirms this economic theory. I’ve always been a keen online window shopper, which has nearly all of the thrill of shopping without the costs incurred. Ever loaded up an online shopping basket with all the things you fancy and watched the total get scarily high? Just make sure you don’t have one-click settings enabled…

This week I experienced a bit of genuine Occupational Therapy! One of my friends is preparing to live abroad with her family for a number of years, only two years after moving to her forever home. I went round to offer help (and also wine and profiteroles), as she has a toddler and a five month old, and also a dog! And she is leaving an idyllic country cottage, that is currently surrounded by daffodils and snowdrops. After some chat and some dinner, and thoroughly failing to console the baby who didn’t enjoy my cuddles, I was beginning to feel that I was there under false pretences. “What am I actually going to do to help?” I asked… and I was led to two cupboards of plates and glasses and a very large roll of bubble wrap.

It turns out that when you’re not packing up your own life to a deadline, bubble wrapping and packing is surprisingly relaxing. Apart from being worried I would end up breaking someone else’s precious wedding champagne saucers, it was a deeply satisfying activity. I’ve read that one of the best ways to engage with teenagers (and anyone reluctant to talk) is to do an activity side-by-side, and I’ve always found walking and talking to be a good way to have a conversation. We talked, while I wrapped, and the baby was fed and snuggled, and before I knew it, there were three boxes full of wrapped breakables, and I felt immensely satisfied. Completing a task and helping others – very Gretchen Rubin style ways to feel at peace with yourself, but it certainly worked for me.

Spring is here

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

Did you smell it in the air? I did. Last week, walking through town with a friend, we both agreed, we could smell Spring coming. A gust of fragrant growth hit us in the still-light early evening, and then as we walked through one of the colleges we admired the swathes of crocuses under budding trees.

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For me, the calendar year doesn’t adequately describe the rhythm of my life. Even when I wasn’t in education or working in education, September was the new year for me. That sense of preparedness and organisation, laying down stores, anticipating a bit of downtime as the days get shorter. And yes, stationery and boots. But when the nights draw in, I can’t help but feel that I’m just girding my loins, getting ready to face the onslaught of winter and darkness. I don’t long for the dark days. I know that some people love Autumn and Winter, and I do understand why. A chance to go into hibernation, the cosiness, stodge and red wine, fires, Christmas, carols, lights, candles in the darkness. I like the tang of bonfire in the air as much as anyone else. But for me, December, January and February are something to be endured. Not to be glass half-full, but I think of cold commutes, leaving for work in the dark and getting home in the dark, days when you’re stuck inside and there’s nowhere to take the children for fresh air because it’s freezing and tipping it down. Wishing for snow, because it’s so pretty, but then the snow comes and it’s a national emergency, the stress and pressure of Christmas obligations, no Bank Holidays, dry overheating in public places… the list goes on.

And then… Spring! Sweet, sweet relief. The pleasure of seeing the bulbs I planted when we moved in burst forth once more, the blossom on the trees, the joy of sending the children out into the garden for a while to play, taking a walk outside and not needing a hat, scarf, gloves, the day you jettison your coat for a jacket. Suddenly more seems possible. Getting home in the daylight dampens the urge to change into pyjamas quite so immediately. Inspired by the thought that you might need to lose the winter insulation, that protective jumpers will soon be too warm, ensures that the consumption of stodgy sustenance decreases. The sound of the first lawnmower of the season, the smell of the first grass cuttings, the smoky tang in the air of the first dry bonfire of the year when the dampness subsides. And then Easter – a four day Bank Holiday weekend! Even better than Christmas!

As I leave for work in the mornings in the light, I breathe more deeply, lift my face to the sun, smell the potential in the air.

The dark days are over. Begin afresh.