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Thursday, 22 August 2013

I was a victim of The Changing Room Horrors yesterday. I tried on 3 dresses in the massive Manchester Primark: one was the most bizarre fit ever, one was pretty much see through and the other one was alright but a bit shoddy and not worth spending £17 on. So far, so average, at least for a Primark trip.

Then I made the bold move of trying on dungarees. Big mistake. Huge mistake.

Admittedly, this cute polka dot dungaree dress almost looked nice. If it hadn't been about 6 inches too short, I'd have bought it. But I also tried on the dungaree shorts (ohhhh, that wasn't a pleasant reflection in the mirror) and the proper full length dungarees (it would have been funny if I hadn't been virtually crying at how awful they looked). No matter what the style, they're clearly never going to suit me and it makes me sad. It also makes me curse my stupid body shape that just won't suit anything at the moment unless it's a particular cut of dress.

Looking at the bright side, at least I have some nice frocks to distract me.

This pretty one came home with me from the trip to Warwick. It wasn't one of the hundreds that Sarah was getting rid of, it was one of Char's castoffs. I love having generous friends with lovely taste in clothes.

These glittery shoes are so much fun that they're almost distracting me from the destruction of my dungaree dream. Sparkly toes!

Dress - Topshop, via Char
Cardi - H&M
Jewellery - all from various Dorothy Perkins sales
Flats - TK Maxx
Bag - c/o Brit Stitch

Project Polka Dot

Thursday, 15 August 2013


Why yes, I am shouting about it. I'm flipping proud of myself.

At least, I am now.  It's taken a while to appreciate the finished article, mostly because it took me about nine years to make it and I'd been staring at polka dots so long that I was sick of the very sight of them.

Why did no-one tell me that cutting all the pieces out takes so long?  I naively thought it'd take about half an hour to snip a few bits of fabric.  Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, good one Alex. Admittedly I had the twin handicaps of a marauding cat getting in the way and an utter inability to get my head around patterns (I take one look at the instructions and my brain goes NERRRGGGHHHHHHHHH), but still.


 I was drained. Drained, I tell you.  The pieces remained cut out but unsewed for a good number of weeks before I could muster up the energy to crack on with it. Never let it be said that I'm quick to finish a project.  Then when I did start, I reckon I spent more time moaning about how hard it was than actually sewing.  God love all of you who put up with me during the process.

Those of you who can actually sew are probably laughing at my utter feebleness.  It's not even a complicated pattern. But trust me, when you don't really know anything about sewing and are still a bit shit at the basic stuff like, ooh, sewing a straight line, it's HARD. So it took me ages to finish it.

I did, eventually.  Yay me, right? Celebrations all round, wearing it to bed because I loved it so much? Not really. I'd been looking at the bloody thing so long that I honestly wasn't excited about the fact I'd eventually finished it. I sewed the final stitch, ironed it, flung it on a hanger and went to bed feeling a weird mixture of disappointment and relief.  (I've been assured that this is normal with crafty projects)

It's now a few weeks later and I'm sure you'll be happy to know that the feeling of gloom has lifted. I love my frock!

I don't particularly love these pictures of it though - it was a Bad Face Day. Also, apologies for the fuzziness. The picnic bench I prop the camera on was in the sun: the brick wall was in the shade. It's not a good combo, even when you edit the crap out of the photos afterwards.  I only had ten minutes to grab the photos though so it's this or nothing.

I shall attempt to distract you from the crappy photos with better ones.

Look, look, POCKETS.

And look, look, darts and pleats. I'd never done either of them before I started this.

Dress - Simplicity 2444 (with a thinner waist bow and about 4 inches off the length)
Cardi - Topshop
Heels - Dorothy Perkins sale

If the frock looks familiar, it's because I also have it in toile and Victoria Plum fabric, courtesy of Char. She gave me the pattern and told me it'd be easy to make it myself this time. HA! Bet she was regretting that when I was trying to get her to explain darts to me via a stream of stressy texts.

Polka Dotty

Monday, 12 August 2013

I shall blame the purchase of this jumper on two things: my love of Harry Potter and Gem's persuasive ways. When we were living it up in Warwick we got chatting about how much I loved the jumper when she'd blogged about it and then she revealed it was in the sale on The Orphan's Arms outlet site. Well, I had to buy it, didn't I?

It arrived and I was torn between thinking "ZOMG I love you" and "Waaah, something this short won't flatter my awful stomach". Normally my sensible head would make me send it back but my impractical head won out in this instance. I'll just have to be careful what I wear it with. It's starting to turn into the right sort of weather to wear thin jumpers over frocks, so that's what I did.

Chuck in a nice pair of heels and I think that makes it dressy enough for work, don't you? Irregular Choice shoes always improve an outfit. This is why I own so many of them! These particular ones are very old but a real favourite of mine. Just the perfect heel height to wear all day and not end up with ruined feet.

I felt like this was an appropriate level of owl/literary themed rings for one outfit.
Dress - Matalan £5 sale
Jumper - The Orphan's Arms
Heels - Irregular Choice via ebay
Owl ring - Landbaby
Once Upon A Time ring - MerCurios
Owl & book ring - present from Char

A Blogging Good Read - August

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Morning all! Welcome to the August edition of A Blogging Good Read. Joining me this month are two of my special internet friends, Lucy from Lucy in the Clouds and Becks (aka The Girl) from Just Me. I finally persuaded them to join in with BGR. Hurrah!

Onto the reviews...

My choice for the month was another of my Persephone favourites, Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson:

This book is a little similar to my beloved Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in that it's a slice of sheer escapist fairytale fiction. It's sweet and sentimental but in the very best possible way and, similarly to Miss Pettigrew, there's a layer of bitter realism undercutting it all. The story starts when three people arrive at an unoccupied Scottish stately home and are shown around by the caretaker, Mrs Memmary. As their visit progresses, Mrs Memmary tells them the life story of the last owner of the house, Lady Rose. She was a child that led a charmed life, growing up almost as a princess in a castle: wealthy, indulged and surrounded by royalty and aristocracy. Delightfully naive when it came to marriage, she was quickly trapped in a loveless, stifling marriage to Sir Hector, owner of the neighbouring estate. He died (hurrah, I hear you cry) and then she met the love of her life on a park bench in Edinburgh. It sounds romantic, doesn't it? Well it is but it's also a decision that rips her away from everything she loves. Her world is so tightly bound by societal rules and restrictions that she can't remain in it after making the choice that she made.

This isn't just a beautiful story, it's a love letter to Scotland. Lady Rose's passion for her home and her country are as important a theme as anything else expressed in this book. I adore Ruby Ferguson's 'Jill' pony books but although they're great, it's odd to think that this was penned by the same author. It's got such a light, deft touch and a way of expressing bittersweet sentiments so beautifully that it's a crying shame she didn't write more adult fiction.

What did Becks think of it?

This book belongs in a fairy-tale land somewhere. Lady Rose is a lovely little girl who is charming and lovely despite her cold and uncaring parents who send her away to boarding school. She marries the mean-spirited Lord Galowrie, equally cold-hearted, and endures a 10 year loveless marriage before he is killed. She finally gets what she deserves and falls in love with a new man. Such is their love that it transcends the society that shuns them and they live happily ever after. Or at least as happily ever after as you can hope for.

It is emotional without being sentimental and sweet without being saccharine. Ferguson manages to make the point that life for a woman was tough in the late 19th century, without having to resort to heavy handed tactics.

The beauty of the book lies in its simplicity. There is no need to over-egg the pudding and it is proof that less is more when it comes to invoking an emotional reaction in your reader. If you can make it through the last chapter of the book without getting a tear in your eye then you are a tougher person than I am.

How about Lucy?

This was my first Persephone book! I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I tend to shy away from older books as I find the language quite hard to decipher and it’s exhausting having to concentrate so hard on every sentence. I was pleased to find then that Lady Rose was very easy to read, but without being poorly written – perfect. I found the character of Rose extremely likeable, even if she was ever so slightly precocious as a child. The story moved along at a good pace and I found myself not wanting to put the book down, and although I guessed the small twist from the off, it didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment of the book at all. There were also several points where I laughed out loud, “…marriage with the right kind of man will soon take the romance out of [romantic girls]” on page 118 for instance. It makes a change to see the darker side of high society and it certainly got me thinking about how even now, even in our own (lowlier) social circles, we are still all bound to a certain extent by convention and expectation. Like Never Let Me Go, I think this is another book that will remain in my thoughts for a long time to come.

Lucy's own choice was The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood:

I’m a huge Atwood fan and this was the first book of hers I read after not particularly enjoying dissecting The Handmaid’s Tale for A-level (I’m yet to re-read this and am certain I’d enjoy it a lot more now). Reading The Edible Woman for the first time, I remember being surprised as a somewhat na├»ve nineteen year old at how far women’s lib hadn’t got by the mid-sixties when it was written. Given that women got the vote in 1918 (both in the UK and Canada, where Atwood is from), I was shocked to find women’s careers, fashions and expected roles in society still so restrictive and restricted.

The book is about Marian, a young woman in her early 20s, living an ordinary life with an ordinary job and an ordinary boyfriend. Once she gets engaged though, she feels a growing sense of suffocation, of being ‘consumed’ by her boyfriend and by a patriarchal society as a whole. This feeling manifests itself in her appetite – starting with meat, then eggs and gradually even vegetables and cake – she becomes unable to stomach any of it.

Atwood’s prose is, as ever, wonderfully evocative and yet somehow seems so effortless – it’s so easy to be swept away in her imagery (e.g. “she always looks as though she is coming unravelled”, “[the cake felt] spongy and cellular against her tongue, like the bursting of thousands of tiny lungs”) and that’s what I love her books so much. What I loved most about The Edible Woman though is Marian, because she is somewhat flawed and awkward – the cringe-worthy passage where she hides under the bed (p77) particularly resonated with me as it’s certainly something I could imagine myself doing (really). 

It was interesting to re-read this book as an adult woman and consider how far feminism has come since this was written, but also how far we still have to go in some ways. It’s a nice little reminder not to let yourself become ‘edible’ or do something just because it’s what’s expected.

I do struggle slightly with this sort of book. Not because of the writing, simply because it horrifies me to think of just how limited women's lives and choices were even a couple of decades back. It's somehow easier to accept in Lady Rose because that book is very Victorian but this is much more modern. The author's introduction in my copy summed it up very nicely: this is a book which both starts and ends with the main character having a choice between a career going nowhere or marriage as an exit from it. That's how life was. It scares me.

So, how interesting can a book about frustration and lack of choice be? As it turns out, very interesting! The extended metaphor of consumption and destruction is cleverly done and Marian's awkward, odd progress during the course of the story is compulsive to read about, even when her actions slightly turn your stomach or make you cringe. I've never read any of Margaret Atwood's books before, despite The Blind Assassin having been in my TBR pile for an absolute age, and I was really pleasantly surprised by how readable and gripping this was. I read it in a morning and I'm looking forward to discovering more of her books.

Did Becks feel the same?

I had to keep reminding myself to remember when this book was written as it was a little tempting to give the main protaganist a bit of a slap and tell her to get a grip. But of course this slap is coming from 2013 whilst this book is based in the 1960s and oh what a different world this was for women. Unimportant, disposable and indeed, edible, able to be consumed/subsumed by men and the world in general. Unable to do work she really enjoys but work that she will be forced to give up once she's a married woman. Unable to find happiness with the man that she's with but unable to take the exit by any door other than the marriage door, Marian's life is not to be envied.

Atwood cleverly uses a change of narrative throughout the book, starting off in 1st person at the beginning of Marian's story, switching to 3rd person when Marian loses her way (and hence her voice), before switching back at the very end of the book when Marian becomes her own woman again. This isn't my favourite of Atwood's novels. I wanted to like it but it felt a little clunky and I found it hard to put myself in Marian's shoes because I have the fortune of being a child of a later age who find it difficult to envisage the life that faced women in the terrifyingly not too distant past.

Becks picked Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro:

Kathy is our narrator in this book and, as she talks about her life as a 'carer', everything appears to be normal. However when she talks about the 'donors' she looks after and what happens once they 'complete' you start to get a feeling that all is not as it seems. She talks about her life with two of her school friends, Ruth and Tommy, and their lives at Hailsham school and it is soon revealed that they are one of goodness knows how many children who are clones and have been brought into the world for the sole purpose of being organ donors. Chilling. But what is really chilling is that Ishiguro doesn't go into the minutiae of detail about the how and the why of this - it just is and you accept it and go along with the story.

The only frustrating thing about the story is what you actually don't know. You want to know how this came about and how they react with 'normal' people and more details about the donating but you never find any of this out. Instead the focus is very much on what it means to be human. Tommy, Ruth and Kathy are like any other group of children who grow up to be adults - their emotions and tribulations are all the same, despite the purpose to which they were born, and it is this that is both comforting and heartbreaking. It is comforting that what it means to be human is not something which can be manufactured in a laboratory but also disturbing to think that there could be a situation where people are there to exist to be donors and nothing else.

It is hard reading in so many ways and leaves you with almost a feeling like you want to shudder, much like Madame in the book, who shudders when the students of Hailsham come near her. For me, I don't want to shudder because of the thought of the clones, but shudder at the not necessarily impossible thought that one day...

I don't know at what point a book becomes a Classic, but for me this book has to be one in the future.

What did Lucy think?

I listened to the audio version of this book in my car to and from work and it had me gripped; I’d head into the office on a morning with my thoughts still in this other version of England and the book has haunted me so much since, that I’ve actually just gone back and upped my four star rating on Goodreads to a five. The story starts off pleasantly enough: a nostalgic memoir of a seemingly idyllic childhood in an English boarding school, which must be easily relatable to anyone who grew up in the UK and beyond, but a sinister undertone begins to creep in with the mention of Donations and Carers. The intrigue keeps building as the children grow and leave school, I guess reflecting the piecemeal way in which they gather titbits of information themselves… What is a Possible? What exactly are they donating? And why? I love that not all of these questions are answered, or not answered fully, leaving you hungry for more and pondering the moral questions in the book, and indeed our own society, long after you’ve finished reading.

I saw the film of Never Let Me Go before I read the book and I still can't quite work out whether that was a good or a bad thing. For what it's worth, I really liked both of them.  Usually I'd always prefer to read the book first but somehow it didn't matter quite so much here. Yes, I already knew the twist and the way the plot unfolded because I'd seen it on screen but when you're reading a story by an author as talented with words as Ishiguro, it somehow doesn't matter that you already know the plot. Nothing is spelled out explicitly to the reader here; this alternative world and its differences to ours are fleshed out by slight, subtle mentions throughout the course of the book. It still hasn't been totally explained by the end but it doesn't need to be. Sections of exposition would be utterly out of place here and the process of gradual discovery that we're led down alongside with the main characters is written in a masterly fashion.  Never Let Me Go still manages to cast an eerie shadow over my thoughts.  It's that sense of "what if..", combined with the atmospheric nature of the writing that make it such a good read.

Well, wasn't that a good month? Three excellent books and I suggest you go out and buy them all. Here's hoping that next month is as enjoyable. We'll be reading All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman, Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill and Spares by Michael Marshall Smith. See you then!

All The Pretty Shoes

Monday, 5 August 2013

I was going to launch another hideous shoes post upon you, I really was. But during an epic hunt for a birthday present for one of my best friends, I discovered that the sales are actually quite full of beautiful shoes that I want to buy. This never happens!

Because it's me we're talking about, naturally all these nice things appear when I've got no money cos I've spent it all on jaunts to Edinburgh and Dublin and tedious things like passport renewals (how much?!), so I'll just have to admire from afar. Oh well.

It's kinda killing me that these Dolcis ballerinas are so flipping pretty and not available in a size 6. Waaaahhhhhh! I'd totally have found the money for them.

I've turned into such a magpie lately. If it's glittery I want it. Case in point: these Jessica Simpson heels are pink and I still want them.

These Kurt Geiger ones are a little more restrained but I still couldn't really walk in them. I'd just stroke them every now and then. That's not weird.

Hello there sparkly green shoes. Why do you not live with me already?

I am also being vaguely sensible in my admiration though. These ASOS beauts are super classy.

And I really like this two-tone pair, also from ASOS. They get some stick in my hideous shoes and hideous frocks posts but I'll be fair - they also have some lovely, lovely stuff.

It's not long till autumn and my perennial hunt for knee high boots that will fit my massive calves continues. Perhaps this Moda In Pelle pair will do the trick?


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you can't have avoided hearing about O2's Be More Dog campaign. The tv ad is brilliant and the associated social media campaign has been equally fun with bloggers being sent off all over the country on a variety of exciting pursuits.

It all started with two locked boxes and one question. Did I want to be more dog or be more cat?

Despite being a massive crazy cat lady I succumbed to the lure of the unknown and the promise of excitement and thrills. I chose dog. I immediately regretted it. My dog experience was high wires and combat fitness, both of which would have made me sick, not excited. I'm odd - heights don't scare me per se but if I don't have a solid surface under my feet then I'm Little Miss Fainty Vom. High wires are my idea of hell.

I was in luck though. They were kind enough to rearrange it for something I could do and so this past weekend saw me crossing the border into Wales and going karting (or Cartio as it's known in Welsh. Much more fun!)

They go so fast they are a BLUR. Or I have a crap camera on my phone. One of the two.

I'll be entirely honest with you here: I was terrified when I got in the kart. Partly cos those seats aren't designed for ladies with hips and I had the horrors I wouldn't fit in it, but mainly because I was terrified I would stack it into a tyre wall and die horribly. The whole point of the experience was to challenge yourself though, so I swallowed the fear and hit the accelerator pedal.

My nerves were swiftly overtaken by WTF-ery when the kart wouldn't start. It then broke down three times on the first lap. I was too busy thinking "Oh FFS, this is typical" to have any time to be nervous. In the end, a man came and blew in a tube which magically fixed things. Clever eh?

Stats would later reveal that it took me 3 mins and 33.9 seconds to complete my first lap. Not an auspicious start. Once the kart was finally working I proceeded to zoom my way around the track, somewhat hesitantly at first but eventually picking up a bit of speed. It was still chuffing scary. I'm not a naturally fast driver and I must have had a terrified death grip on the steering wheel cos christ, did my arms ache the next day. But it got more fun as I went on and in the end I was doing some spirited wheel squealing round the corners and going much faster than I ever thought I was capable of driving.

Yes, I got overtaken quite a lot at first (I was racing against lads who'd clearly done it before and were much better than I was) but the important thing is that I DID NOT CRASH.

Fastest lap time in session 1: 35.713 seconds
Fastest lap time in session 2: 33.456 seconds

Woop! The important things to note are: a) I got better (I was tons faster overall in the second session), b) I didn't crash even though pretty much everyone else did, c) I successfully overtook someone and d) I came THIRD in the second session. And not even out of three. Out of SEVEN. Plus I beat my brother (he crashed, haha). Woohoo!!

The big loser.