Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Elementary, my dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes often wore an "ear-flapped travelling cap". That’s right - there was never any specific mention of the iconic accessory we most associate with his character. That particular head-gear was first dreamt up by illustrator Sidney Paget - who took this description to mean a deerstalker hat. Thus it was that a hat, alongside the memorable images of cape, pipe and magnifying glass came to be linked with only one literary character. Indeed, not only is it not necessary to have read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle to recognise Sherlock Holmes, his appearance is so familiar that one needs only to look at the silhouette on the tiles at Baker Street tube station to know whose profile it is.
Sherlock Holmes is often regarded as one of the most recognisable literary figures of the late 19th Century, with only the occasional curiously named Dickensian character to contest his fame. In fact, his renown spreads far enough that one knows who he is, regardless of whether or not they have read any of the stories. I for one have never indulged in ‘A Study in Scarlett’ or ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – although the complete works is looking immensely tempting in my local Waterstones. And yet, despite my ignorance in most things Holmes-ish, I still know plenty about his appearance and attire.
There seem to be certain books, authors/poets and characters that transcend their pages to take on a life of their own. What they come to represent is something beyond the original work. Someone who is a “bit Brideshead” could be thought of as part of the privileged aristocracy, an Oxford-ian or aesthete perhaps, or simply a religious noble with a little too much appreciation of champagne. Furthermore, ‘Byronic’ and ‘Heathcliff-like’ seem to have become rather interchangeable when it comes to descriptions of dark and brooding types. Such phrases, among countless others, are indicative of one of the ways that literature has infused day-to-day life.

Similarly, we often rely on books to inspire us. A fashion shoot somewhere wild could be deemed as having a ‘Wuthering Heights’ feel, while anything even vaguely whimsical is assigned an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ comparison – regardless of whether or not blue dresses and Cheshire Cats are involved. Although the same books can be peddled over and over again, becoming more repetitive than the adverts one sees on the London Underground, there is a certain joy in using words and descriptions as a creative stimulus. And so here I am taking my style credentials from Sherlock Holmes, complete with a second hand (charity shopped) deerstalker hat and vintage leather gloves. Not sure what he would have made of the Laura Ashley velvet shorts though - even if they were cleverly customised from some too-short trousers. The jumper is vintage Jaeger, the shoes were a present (they’re Office), the tights are from Next and all other accessories are vintage.

Oh, and the title? I’m afraid to say that Sherlock Holmes never uttered those words – it’s actually “exactly, my dear Watson”. It’s like a glorified version of Chinese Whispers.

Do you have any other literary or film inspirations and references you use? I would love to hear about them. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Swan Lake

We have a set routine on Saturday mornings at home. Family members stumble downstairs in various states of sleepiness, in hope of finding my dad serving up breakfast and coffee. Then my parents and I fight over who reads which part of the paper, while my brother stays out of things by burrowing into a Beano. Today, despite being Christmas Eve, was no exception – although there was a little more discussion over who got to look at the TV schedule first. As my mum wisely pointed out while I circled listings in a purple felt tip: “It’s not Christmas until the Nutcracker is on”.
Ballet, Doctor Who and Absolutely Fabulous all make for extremely festive viewing (that and the perennial favourite ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’!) – thus making it the only time of year I really take notice of the TV. To pirouette back to that first mention though, there is nothing more cheering than immersing oneself in watching The Nutcracker (with a score by Tchaikovsky). The sequences remind me of a pastel kaleidoscope, with the spinning fabric of the skirts and the imaginative wonderland sets.  See the Foolish Aesthete for a fascinating analysis, alongside an interesting photo edited by Jill.

Aside from the incessant need to mention dressing up boxes in every other post, I am sure that my determination to maintain an appreciation for ballet would suit my six-year-old self. Like many, when I was younger I nurtured the idea of becoming a ballet dancer – although I must admit that this daydream was influenced primarily by the pretty tutus. Nevertheless, I did my Grade 1 ballet exam and received a stamped certificate with a slanted signature. This exam largely involved ‘graceful’ running from one side of the studio to the other, and the occasional plié in front of the mirrors. However, ambitions swung around as easily as a revolving door, and so on being told I would be “too tall” ever to be a professional dancer, I declared instead that I would make wedding dresses (noticing any kind of froth and frippery theme here?) When young it's simple to skip from one aspiration to another, as easily as hopping over puddles.
Having recently watched a documentary on the working lives of those individuals who choose dance as a career path, I was left both full of admiration and rather glad that I was not one of them! The level of rigour and the expectations that come with the career would be beyond me. If there's any industry that expects perfection, it is ballet. And yet, I am still utterly enthralled when watching the work. Perhaps it lies in appreciating the strength and capability of the human body – to think that it could perform all those jetes and spins! Athleticism and elegance are combined, and the effect is jubilant.

Therefore, it might not come as a surprise that one of my favourite films is ‘The Red Shoes’ – with its title aptly suggesting the profusion of colour, (better than any Christmas tree) in each shot. It's perfect Christmas viewing, and worth buying for the costumes alone. The protagonist, played by the magnificent Moira Shearer, is captivating as she dances her way through a ten minute condensed sequence of the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name. Andersen was adept at portraying the darker side of dancing, with destructive potential also suggested in another of his stories: ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ – in which the soldier and his paper ballerina are engulfed by flames. However, I’m hoping that the only fires seen this weekend are the ones warming houses filled with festivity, community and appreciation. Plus, it's the only time of year when it is perhaps permissible to dress up as an actual sugar plum fairy!

I must admit that the outfit link is as tenuous as they come – I nicknamed this shoot with my friend Flo ‘Swan Lake’ as - well - the photos were taken next to a lake that has many resident swans. I'm speaking from bias, but isn't her photography fantastic? I could argue that my white and black lace dresses are redolent of Odette and Odile, but that might just be reading into things a little too much. 
If you are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, then I hope you have a warmly wonderful day with family and friends.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Wintery Sunday

Whenever I put on the jacket pictured, I am immediately transported to my only brief trip to Paris in early 2010. As detailed below, it was bought on a very wintery Sunday. 

My mum and I arrived late on a Friday evening, puffing out spirals into the freezing night as we waited for a taxi.  As the car then sped around the city, we played ‘spot the landmark’ – pointing to the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, lit up like golden velvet.
The next day I was up early for a modelling assignment for an Italian magazine known as D Mag. One of the strangest things about modelling is that you never know quite where you are going to end up – a blessing or a curse, depending on the outcome. That time I was more than lucky. The shoot took place in the top floor apartment of what looked like an otherwise deserted building. Our initial qualms were abandoned once we saw the interior. It was like stepping into a perfect replica of the seventies, from the sliding door revealing shelves and shelves of vinyl records to the cream sofa I was asked to recline on in a cheesecloth skirt. The owner, (a doctor if my memory is correct), had rented it out to the team for the day.
 I count the hours spent there as being one of the highlights of my very short-lived modelling career.  It was my first big, ‘proper’ job – I was a nervous fourteen year old surrounded by a number of people who were constantly adjusting my appearance and discussing it in a wonderful mixture of languages. I did have one reason to be worried though. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis some months previously, and the physical effects on my torso were already noticeable. When styled in a striped swimming costume and long, clingy skirt, my mum and I silently wondered whether the photographer saw my lopsided-barrel ribs. However, if the team did notice anything amiss, then they gracefully didn’t let on. I attempted to use my rudimentary school-learnt French (taught purely to pass exams) at lunch. I smiled gleefully as the Italian stylist chose each garment. Almost flirtatiously I would flutter my eyes at the Stella McCartney skirts and Chanel boots, like a girl waiting for a dance partner to choose her. It was my first glimpse of the way those clothes looked and felt in ‘real life’ – my previous perception was a purely visual one, influenced by the images from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I softened up as the day progressed, and left having thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – and hoping that I had done my job well.

Sunday offered the chance to explore the city – my mum and I taking in the sights at high speed. We walked to the Sacre Coeur, and later took a rattling metro train to the Notre Dame. The two grand churches were bookends, with ‘Les Marches Aux Puce’ (the flea markets) sandwiched between in the afternoon. We made our way through stalls selling CDs and the men touting fake Louis Vuitton bags to the ‘vintage quarter’. We knew we were near when the surrounding shops started displaying antique furniture, giving prominence to items that I didn’t know I desired until I saw them: crystal doorknobs, individual sparkling droplets from chandeliers, ornate keys covered in curlicues, feather fans.
We trod along alleyways and cut through passages, slowly losing ourselves in the catacomb of clothing. Places selling leather jackets sat alongside cave-like rooms that one had to stoop in to examine vintage satin hats and snakeskin shoes. Recognisable names (and less recognisable price tags) fluttered by – Madame Gres, Chanel, Alaia and a green fur Dior.
There was a lot of fur, most of it sported by the elegant, elderly French women. It was a freezing February day, the coldest in years (according to the conversations we overheard), and these women looked smug and warm. Some of the pelts were accessorised with the glowing red tip of a cigarette, or bright lipstick bleeding into the tributaries of their lips.
I found the cropped, blue jacket pictured in a stall located at the top of a set of stairs. The rails of Bell Boys’ jackets and delicious looking dresses were riffled through having just enjoyed a hand-warming crepe.  I sprung at the snatch of blue boiled wool and military style buttons visible among the heaving coat hangers. It was one of several in varying sizes and styles, with some kind of insignia stamped on the brown, slightly faded lining. I would love to know whose uniform this was; what they did and where.
This piece of clothing now serves as a souvenir, not only from Paris, but also from modelling. It hangs in my room alongside a Charlotte Taylor top as a memory of a dizzy and fleeting immersion in an industry that was both tantalising and curious.

We later dashed to catch a glimpse of the Louvre in the melting sun, before leaving for the airport. It was too quick an introduction, but I’m sure I will be re-acquainted when the time is right. 

The dress was from a favourite charity shop of mine, as was the hat and the chelsea boots. The turquoise necklace belonged to my mum (I put it on the circular torque) and the scarf in the first shot belonged to a family member. 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Grey Day

The current colour du jour for the weather is a rather classic charcoal grey, with cloud banks adding some eye-catching texture to the flat light.
Basically, it’s miserable.
Overblown descriptions aside, the three simplest adjectives are: cold, wet and horrid.
My home for the day is a large red armchair next to the well-stocked fire. If I’m extra-chilly I can swing my legs over the grille to warm my toes like some 19th century fictional character. However, today I resemble a mad professor in a lime green cardigan - the hours have been spent scattering our carpet with history timelines, revision notes and piles of books. I have only retreated from my warm lair to make cups of tea, eat meals and fetch further materials. Oh, and I managed to snatch a brisk stroll across the fields at twilight.
Nevertheless, the small slivers of daylight seen today reminded me of icicles – such a novelty that it felt justifiable to reach out and grab at them (or rather, hurriedly put on wellies and dash outside in the hope of fresh air). Yet the minute such effort was made, the light melted and disappeared behind another layer of rain. These last few weeks of the year feel ripe for hibernation – a fortnight of unbroken sleep would improve my mood no end. At the very least things should be restricted to only the most gentle of activities: drawn out games of scrabble perhaps, or some light baking and heavy reading. A further week of college and commuting must be waded through first.

So, how to conquer the grey feelings that all too often accompany the grey daylight? I like to think of it in terms of inverse proportion – the duller the day, the brighter the clothes. And this vintage Betty Barclay jumper, reminiscent of the famous YSL ‘Mondrian’ dress, is the brightest of them all. The black velvet shorts were customised from a pair of rather nasty jogging bottoms. I wore a variation on the pictured outfit to college recently, replacing the high heeled Mary-Janes (a gift) with long black boots and adding an M&S reversible black cape for warmth. A friend told me that I resembled a French art lover – surely the best possible response? When the jumper was donned again for the photos at the seaside last weekend, the day was not so much morose as downright temperamental. The wind was bitterness personified – colder than Scrooge. My brother sat miserably on a rock while my dad attempted to shield the camera lens from rain drops and sea spray. Finally, we admitted defeat, zipped up our rain coats and trudged back. Unsurprisingly, we were the only people on the beach.

Yet, alongside the opportunities for bright clothes-wearing, there are other advantages to this weather. Lucy wouldn’t have found her Narnia without a grey day to while away. Similarly, no childhood classic is complete without a rainy afternoon providing the opportunity for hide and seek. Ideally, said story should also include a grand house big enough to run amok in and well-stocked dressing up box. Now there is something I can lay claim to -  my wardrobe (ie an extended dressing up box) is never knowingly under-stocked. And the clothes within it are useful tools for combatting seasonal melancholia in the dark evenings. Plus, if all else fails, then there are always pink silk pyjamas to fall back on.

What brightens up a dull day for you? Suggestions, memories and well-tested methods are all appreciated. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Strange Phenomena

I discovered Kate Bush’s music when I was about six – or rather, I was in the room when my mum put on ‘The Red Shoes’ CD to play. There was no musical epiphany, no obsession (at that point), or deep connection to the music. I just knew that ‘Lily’ and ‘Rubberband Girl’ were two of the best songs in the world to dance to wildly.
Ironically, that is now the album of hers I play least. Perhaps as a result of obsessive listening to the point of over-saturation when I was younger, to hear it now is akin to putting on a well-worn, overly familiar coat. There is a certain comfort to it, but nothing particularly new or exciting.  However, the thrilling ‘Hounds of Love’ and the languorous ‘Aerial’ joined it on my iPod early last year – both CDs unearthed from the darkest recesses of my parents' CD drawers, (filled with music ranging from Punk to Jazz). That was when I had the moment of realization – the woman is a genius.
I can now sing along to roughly eighty songs of hers (including 'Strange Phenomena' - this post's title), with '50 Words for Snow' being the latest addition. This new album typifies ‘slow-burn’ – perhaps ironic for a set of distinctly chilly songs. It takes several listens for the meanings and melodies to thaw, at which point the icy beauty hits. Hearing the tracks is like a mixture of sending spirals of breath up into the costume jewellery stars, lying in a snow drift at twilight and sweeping down a steep hill in a red plastic sledge. It almost makes winter desirable, despite my current feeling that the short days and cold should stick around for a maximum of three weeks and no more.

However, a favourite form of procrastination (among the many up my silk shirt sleeves) on these dark nights is obsessive watching of her music videos, from Cloud Busting to Army Dreamers. Each film is like a short narrative in itself. She is perhaps the best example of what it can mean to be an artist: original, intelligent and outrageous.
She is also fascinating in her approach to the creation and publicizing of her music.  Her first, and only, tour was in 1979. It is a rare and lucky day when one can read or listen to an interview with her, and she by and large avoids the public eye. Thus we are left to judge her music objectively, without any back-story splashed across tabloid pages to manipulate our opinions. This is especially fascinating in the wake of the ongoing Leveson inquiry, with the questions it has raised about press accountability and the role of the ‘celebrity’. With Kate Bush, one gets the distinct impression that all she cares about is her music – her writing, singing and recording. Long may it continue.

There is a very wild quality to many of Kate Bush’s songs, and this was the basis I used as inspiration for this shoot with my completely stunning friend Evangeline from Storm Models. She and her family typify the words wonderful and welcoming - and I'm sure that she will go far as a professional model. I thought her long hair and extraordinary look called to mind the musical maven herself. When I told her about the thought process behind my suitcase bulging with red lace and seventies nylon, Evangeline laughed and revealed that her party trick when she was younger was to put on ‘Wuthering Heights’ and cajole guests and visitors into watching her perform it. She was obviously born to fling herself dramatically against trees in the autumn light!

The vintage (rather fragile) red lace dress was bought from eBay, and the 60s red velvet one belonged to my mum - as did the orange hat. I pulled out the green velvet skirt from my dressing up box, and all other accessories are vintage. The shoes and coat are Evangeline's. Doesn't she look gorgeous?

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Bloomsbury Black

Rarely a month goes by without a newspaper (tabloid or broadsheet) smugly declaring that Oxbridge is ‘elitist’. "The intake from disadvantaged backgrounds is too low; the humanities courses designed only for those who think themselves superior; the universities serving as little more than reminders of Brideshead Revisited".
The first point about intake is valid. Unfortunately the standards of teaching experienced do have an impact on grades, and thus on University application. The only solution I can see to that particular problem is for the Government to work on genuinely improving state education (and therefore life chances) nationwide. Pigs might fly. But in some sense Oxbridge cannot help being selective – as they require the best exam results and commitment  - and even those won’t guarantee you a place.
Despite initial reservations over the jaw-slackeningly high fees, I still want to apply to some of the leading Russell Group Universities next year – preferably to study English Literature. I might change my mind again at some point, but I wonder if this aspiration makes me appear almost ‘snobby’ to some – as though my decision to aim high is a personal affront to any other life choices.  

Why do some consider it elitist to devote time to the in-depth study of great works of literature? If I do pursue this, it means I'll leave with a greater knowledge of literature than others might have gained, but I do not accuse a cabinet maker of elitism for understanding more about the construction of a cabinet than I do. Maybe it’s because the humanities and arts subjects – English, history and philosophy to name three – are more concerned with ideas and analysis than practicality. They don’t yield tangible results in the same way that maths and science do. There are no great discoveries that can be publicized and praised by a Government that is only concerned with the short term – the same Government that has slashed Arts Council funding in a way that denigrates the status of the humanities. Let me tell you Government Ministers – my history GCSE exam was ten times more challenging than my science GCSE. The former involved months of revision and preparation; the latter required about three evenings in which I learnt the contents of a revision book by rote, with the information it contained floating straight out of my head the minute the exam paper was closed.
And yet this pervasive anti-culture attitude continues. Those who enjoy art house movies and galleries may find themselves labeled as ‘pretentious’ (although this one is clearly subjective, as there is plenty of modern art – I’m looking at you Damien Hirst – that I loathe), while those who write for and read, say, the Guardian are accused of not understanding the real world.

These musings are centered on what many see as superfluous, as the arts are arguably not one of the necessities of survival. But who would wish to live in world without music, paintings, films, sculptures, dance, theatre, books or poetry? Furthermore, when did it become sadly true that three in ten UK households own no books? Stories are one of the most imaginative and exciting releases from day to day life.They instruct and provoke thought as well as entertain.

One reaction to this criticism is that it doesn’t matter what people are reading, so long as they are still casting their eyes over words in some form.  Really? So basically twitter is the same as Tolstoy? Who needs ‘War and Peace’ when you can instead concentrate on texts and misspelt Facebook statuses? I hate this argument for the simple reason that it makes no differentiation. We don’t equate a three-year-old’s finger-painting, charming as it may be, with Leonardo da Vinci.

One set of individuals who understood the power of literature was the Bloomsbury Group. Perhaps best known for including Virginia Woolf and EM Forster among its numbers, the group expanded and contracted in size during the 20th Century. As a collective they had many criticisms leveled at them, both at the time and in retrospect. One of the words most frequently thrown at the group was ‘elitist’. Maybe shades of this were true – everything has its grey area. I can’t pass judgment, as (much to my regret) I was born far too late to be a part of something like that. And yet, I am unashamedly drawn to the idea of a group of individuals who met to discuss literature, aesthetics, economics, feminism and other current issues of the time. My romantic notion of how I would like to live my life involves a lot of time spent drinking good coffee whilst debating the merits of classics or current affairs.
 Are there any examples of similar groups in the 21st century? I’d be interested to know, as they so far seem unparalleled in their values and aspirations. They lived in a time when a far greater emphasis seemed to be placed on the value of reading, writing and ideas.  

And so to my outfit. The main part, the dress, was probably created at that same time as pacifism and poetry were being vociferously debated by the Bloomsbury Group: the primary outfit inspiration in this post. It is also the final installment of my Bertie’s styling series. This original thirties' translucent beauty of a dress was loaned to me temporarily by the wonderful Bertie's Vintage shop. It reminded me of sweeping staircases and decaying cinemas with velvet curtains. From the collar to the ruffled detailed on the sleeves, it deserved to be styled dramatically. And so I obliged with a simple slip, shoes from a charity shop and the other pair from Next, and for two shots a vintage boater, sunglasses and satin sash.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Autumn Queen

If autumn were a fabric, it would be yellow taffeta. Or perhaps orange velvet mixed with brown tweed. Okay, maybe the analogy would be better suited to a whole basket of material scraps in marinated colours.

It’s a tricky season to write about without resorting to clichés or endless tropes. How to sum up the mists, the leaves, the wood-smoke, without parroting what others have already said? I could quote Keats or Elizabeth Jennings – make some poetic reference. But maybe for once I shall just accept the experience of autumn without articulating every little detail. I love it, and shall leave it at that.
However, as with any time of year, it brings its own sartorial challenges. The temperature fluctuates between balmy crispness and downright freezing. The latter is experienced while slowly icing over at the station in the morning, waiting for a train half an hour late. Thus my attitude to outfits resembles  an onion – endless layers. Cardigans, long socks and faux-fur hats are all utilities rather than style statements. Bulky coats can be taken off when I am red-faced from my trek up the hill to college, while scarves are stowed in bags.
However, in my head at least, I would always dress like these photos once the birds start migrating, taking the warmth of summer with them. I'd wrap myself in gold pleats and khaki silks, adding seventies shoes (though in an ideal world the soles would not disintegrate on contact with the outside world, as these ones do – a worthy sacrifice nonetheless). The jackets would always remind me of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, and I could even artfully arrange leaves in my hair – assuming the persona of an ‘Autumn Queen’ who spends her days drinking home pressed apple juice and jumping in piles of leaves. Hmmm... Maybe. But for now I'll stick to my velvet miniskirts and cable knit jumpers for sixth form.

Just to go back to that Roald Dahl reference for a minute though, the other ‘branch’ to this outfit’s inspiration was the Mulberry AW11 collection. Put ‘British’ and ‘iconic’ in any description and my interest is more than piqued; especially when this is combined with a campaign by Tim Walker (who is still unbeaten in his role as my favourite current fashion photographer) and delectable looking clothes that are one part English aristocrat, one part Owen Sheer’s novel ‘Resistance’ and one part childhood rural fantasy. Famous Five meets Wuthering Heights. (Talking of which – I am really looking forward to seeing the new British adaptation of this Bronte novel in the next couple of weeks. I think it will be worth watching for the cinematography alone).

The two ‘Berries’ of the London/British fashion scene, Burberry and Mulberry, have experienced huge success in recent years. Perhaps I should create a brand called ‘Blueberry’ or ‘Raspberry’ to make it a trinity of labels? A lack of technical skill and general clothes-making ability would be a hindrance though. As would the lack of expertise in fashion design. So, I’ll leave that to the experts and stick to writing and photography and wandering through fields in hazy light...

Finally, if  you haven't already then please take a moment to look at According to Annika. In the last few months I have been honoured to talk to and get to know this extraordinary woman who is stunning inside and out. Annika is immensely encouraging, compassionate and all-round wonderful as well as being an amazing writer. She has already had way more than any fair share of trauma, and so I was devastated to hear that she was very recently diagnosed with cancer. Her situation utterly demonstrates the arbitrary unfairness of our world, and I cannot pretend in any way that I recognize what she will be going through right now. What I do know is that she thoroughly deserves the deluge of love and support pouring from her many, many readers.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

High Society

Lady Tallulah Lock-Likely was jolted out of sleep by a screeching. She opened one hung-over eye to see a fast retreating smudge of brown feathers. A pheasant. How disgusting. This was why she hated the countryside – it was full of nasty, smelly, noisy things. They were only of use when they were being shot at.
She wiped her face with gloved hands. Her upper arms were covered in stippled marks, as though she were the product of an overenthusiastic sculptor. As she stood up, she heard a clink and grimaced. Two champagne bottles and an empty glass were lolling on the grass. That explained a lot.
Tallulah had loved the champagne the previous evening; bottles of bubbly served up underneath neo-classical statues tastefully arranged around a cavernous ballroom. High heels had staggered across the polished floor all night. Everyone who was anyone had been at the gathering: the Smethwycke-Smith-Smiths, the Chatterquales; even the Curlicue-Fripperies had made a cursory appearance.
And her: the Rt Hon Lady Tallulah Lock-Likely the 2nd, in a pink satin dress. Mind you, after her arrival, memory was little more than a fogged camera lens.
There was dancing, laughing and enough air kissing to power a hot air balloon. Then there were some very reckless decisions. Hers was thinking it was perfectly normal to commandeer a horse at 3am in the morning. The members of the party had spilled out into the garden, confetti-bright in their gowns. Tallulah was the first to spot the grey shape in an adjoining field. All it took was a dare, and a call of “chicken!” for her to take her skirts in her hands and vault straight onto the startled beast.

She had been riding since she was old enough to sit upright – as a girl she had not only asked her daddy for a pony, but also a customised saddle and reins, a large paddock, stables, a horse-hand, riding gear from Saville Row and an engraved hoof pick.
However, Tallulah wasn’t so used to holding onto a rapidly galloping horse with one hand, and clutching Bollinger and Moet in the other, while also pondering whether the hills actually did have eyes. The shrill call of voices behind her was soon hushed by the trees she sped through. On and on, until - with a sudden, dull thunk - a low branch swept her sideways. She was lying on her back, listening to the soft thud of hooves growing faint.
For the next few hours she had wandered, finally arriving at the edge of a forest, with unfamiliar valleys rippling dimly under the moonlight. What a squalid place. She hummed to herself.
“What to do darling, what to do?”
Tallulah did what any respectable member of the aristocracy would do – she slept on it.

The honking alarm clock chimed with the rising sun. All around her the birds were doing that awful singing business. Couldn’t they learn something a little more melodic? Mozart, say? Tallulah couldn’t make any decisions on an empty stomach, so she raised the champagne bottle to her lipstick smeared mouth.

Feeling better, she tried a tentative call.
“Hello there, umm, locals? Does anyone know the way to Stipplehuff Hall? No?”
A sheep bleated. Right. Time to put great-grandaddy’s safari skills to use. She was sure there must be a path somewhere, or a sign. She plucked up her fur coat and strode in what she assumed was the right direction.
She hadn’t remembered a stream. Or a clearing. No matter. Her blue blood was used to chilly conditions, and her feet were repulsively muddy. A quick splash would rejuvenate her. She felt like Captain Scott in a dress – going boldly where no lady had gone before. That was what he had done, wasn’t it?

Odd feelings pursued her through the trees. It seemed such a long time since Tallulah had left Chelsea. She wasn’t up to the tweed-jacket-and-dog-breeding-and-weekends-in-the-country lifestyle. Too much bother, too little noise. And yet, and yet... How long had it been since she had paddled in wild water?
There were sunglasses in her pocket - she slipped them on and scrambled up a hillock.

The chilled air was more bracing than any spa plunge pool. No houses. Well, unless one counted the tiny little hovels in the distance that appeared to be – eurgh - bungalows. Her eyes widened at the sight of a grumbling tractor and a hairy looking man in overalls heading in her direction. She doubted she would understand a word he might utter. The only sensible option was to flee back among the trees.

Ragged breaths matched the ripped hem of her dress. The sun hid behind bruised clouds. Tallulah wasn’t sure why, but she had the strangest urge to start spinning: to let the bottles roll away and the feathers in her hair take flight. She tried swishing the dress.
She felt as though she were back at the party – but instead of a muscled arm clad in a dinner jacket twirling her in pirouettes, it was the breeze that gave her a helping hand.  Her sunglasses were whipped away as she shrieked in delight. It all felt so, well, dramatic. Nothing this exhilarating had ever happened before. She could have been in Wuthering Heights; a lovelorn Cathy staggering through the lesser known West Midlands. She was almost tempted to start calling for Heathcliff – but a dignified upbringing did have some use.

The dizzy dancing grew faster and faster - she was a whirring record, a roulette wheel. Her bare foot snagged in a root and she slipped over. Delight was replaced with disgust. Clichéd swaying grass or no clichéd swaying grass, Tallulah didn’t want to know what she had just landed in.

“Ms Looooock-Liiiiikely?”
About bally time. How long did it take to find a befuddled aristocrat? If the rescue party hadn’t brought any freshly ground coffee with them then they’d be sorry. Tallulah put her arms behind her head, stared up at the sky and happily envisaged being found. There would be tears of course, and apologies. She would make absolutely sure of it with the amount of shouting she was about to do...

Disclaimer: No friends were harmed in the creating of this post. The champagne bottles were already empty and merely used as props.
Thank you to my ever-lovely, ever-gorgeous and effervescent friend Ellen for donning a vintage dress and necklace, gloves and feathers from the dressing up box and my faux-fur coat and sunglasses. She has previously appeared in my short photo-stories as a zombie and a painting.

In other news, I was featured on here and the Laura Ashley blog here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Seaweed Green

The notion of slithering into a wetsuit and battling with towering August waves seems so very long ago now. As does having time to relax on the beach with a book – or rather, ignoring the wind-whipped sand while clutching at pages.
Instead, my last few months have been meted out in a rhythm of food, essays, sleep and choosing outfits for sixth form (oh yes, that last one is just as important!) My inner metronome currently ticks away through word counts and Latin vocab lists, with only the occasional beat reserved for personal writing. I do love my new sixth form college though, despite the limits it has put on my free time.

To recall the sense of summer for a minute, here are some mermaid themed photos – styled with a vintage green dress and hair made curly by salty seawater swimming. My mum took them in a beautiful little village on the Welsh Coast called Llangrannog. The sand under my bare (and I must say rather cold) feet was steeped in recollections. A sprawling set of houses is fronted by a cove encircled in rocks like protective arms. It was the place that my family and our very good friends holidayed every year when I was considerably younger. This summer was the first time I had returned since.
It’s odd re-visiting locations that make up childhood memories. Sometimes the disappointment can be overwhelming – perhaps we would rather keep recollections untainted and free of new experience. On the other hand, I left Llangrannog this year loving it more than ever. I stayed with the same family friends in the same cottage we always used to rent. There was a new kitchen, but the apples in the garden tasted the same. Hairline cracks in the front room showed where I had once inadvertently pulled down the curtain rail and a large chunk of the wall with it (in my defence I was being a “brave explorer”). But my friend Esme (she of the backbone brooch) and I no longer discussed our barbies’ attire, but instead how early we could drag ourselves out of bed to complete a sunrise-over-sea shoot.
The various rooms and furniture in the cottage felt smaller. However, the height hierarchy among ‘the kids’ has remained roughly the same. We re-created a snapshot of me, Esme and our respective younger siblings taken 8 years ago, perching on the wall in ascending height order outside a cafe that serves ice creams tasting of summer. The original photo is blue-tacked in our kitchen at home, with our gap-toothed grins and ice-cream smeared faces offset with faintly tacky t-shirts and jelly sandals. This time I was wearing vintage culottes and a cable knit jumper.

Nevertheless, being teenagers has not hardened us to the delights of childish activities. As the sun melted over the waves on the day we arrived, Esme and I decided the smartest thing to do would be to paddle. This jumping over waves turned into fully-clothed swimming, until our hands and feet were thoroughly chilled. We emerged to eat hot chips, with our wet hair leaving pools in the sand.

Aside from trying to give ourselves colds, and the occasional bout of excited dolphin spotting, our families also re-trod in the echoes of clumping wellies. A journey to the nearby headland, which I recalled as a trek worthy of Scott and a team of husky dogs, was reduced to little more than a stroll with pit stops for handfuls of blackberries. The location reminded me very much of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Blackberrying’:

“Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries.
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks and a sea, somewhere at the end of it, heaving”.

Like the blackberries, my time spent revisiting various places and moments of the past was almost always sweet. The only sour note was a result of coming face to face (well, foot to fin) with a weaver fish – a spiny little beast that loves to hide under the sand on the British coast line and sting people’s unsuspecting toes with a venom that feels ten times worse than that of an angry wasp. Although they are technically harmless, neither my purple, swollen foot nor I were very happy – especially not when faced with the prospect of immersing my foot in near-boiling hot water to draw out the painful poison.
Yet, two hours later and I was back with my family and friends scrabbling around with spades to build an intricate system of moats and sand walls. Our aim was to keep back the tide for as long as possible, but as King Canute could have told you, the water shall always win.

I also recently wrote a guest post for the wonderful and warm-hearted Bella of Citizen Rosebud. I was thrilled when she asked me as I have so much respect for her and her work. You can see my musings on buying vintage here.
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