Thursday, 19 December 2013

Festive Finery

The text to accompany these photos can be found in this piece I wrote for Guardian Students on alternative ways to source a festive outfit, from customising old clothes to swapping with friends. My own favourite find for this year is a vintage taffeta skirt from Reign in Cowley, Oxford. Here worn with various vintage and second hand accessories, the stripes and length call to mind a Victorian circus. It was such a joy to return to the playfulness of packing a large basket full of clothes and jewellery to suspend from (still growing) Christmas trees. We had to tramp across several fields, wrapped up in many layers, to reach the plantation - all the while listening out for the sound of tractors or landrovers heading in to chop down a few more for the festive market.

Talking of unsustainable consumerism, Izzy wrote this wonderful post questioning buying habits and the power of an individual's action.

I hope your next week is filled with food, family, friends, warmth, laughter, parties and long walks.

Thursday, 12 December 2013


At the end of my first short-but-frantic term, I had to finish packing fuelled by a mere two and a half hours' sleep. At 5.30am I’d been eating beans on toast before stumbling off to bed. Fun as it was, I regretted the near all-nighter as I eyed up the pots, pans, folders, books and oddments still to be stowed away in suitcases. The detritus of the last two months would have to be swept away much faster than it had taken to stack up. Still so much to do and so little time to complete it all.

I have to move in and out again twice more this academic year, vacating my room over the holiday and bringing back more stuff with which to fill it each term. Part of me relishes the challenge. Each return means a different set of clothes, decorations and study materials. When I first arrived I had a crate of Victorian novels and silk scarves in shades of pink, yellow and turquoise to smother my pin board. Next time it’ll be Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter accompanying me, with collages and magazine clippings for the walls.

Oxford has been an experience of opposites. Wonderful and difficult. Exhilarating and exhausting. Satisfying and disappointing. University is often cited as one of the best times of your life - an unsurprising claim. The intensity of those three or more years; the close proximity to other students as you live, work, play, party, eat, drink and have long conversations together; that enclosed sphere of the city or campus where you’re based; the intellectual gratification of finishing an essay or hurdling a particularly tricky question. But I also wish that more people might say, “Hey, it’s ok if you don’t immediately enjoy it, if it doesn’t always live up to expectation. It’s fine if you struggle from time to time or just want to cry and go to sleep. That’s completely natural. It is hard. It takes a while to adjust.”

The rigour of a new workload has to be taken on at the same time as the mantle of personal responsibility. Being pretty independent and self-motivated, I assumed that I’d adapt with ease. But, as the old adage goes about ‘not appreciating what you have until you lose it’, there were things previously taken for granted that I quickly missed. Not a sense of homesickness as such, but a deep awareness of the lack of family breakfasts and lengthy discussions with my parents over coffee. No more long walks along the backbone of hills with valleys stretched beneath. No room bursting with arts materials and an overflowing wardrobe.

I had to re-calibrate, and that took time. Of course, there were plenty of new and exciting opportunities and experiences. So many plays to see, bookshops to browse, lectures to attend, people to meet, societies to join, cafes to sit in and soak up the surroundings. Wine and dancing with friends. Snatched hours of combing through Cowley’s charity shops. Staying in the library until midnight, the walk back to my room scattered with stars. Consolidating how much I love cooking. Cycling under both moonlight and lamplight. Spontaneous cocktails and evenings spent talking and listening to music.

But the activities above are embellishments. It’s oh-so-tempting (both in terms of memory and writing) to condense two months into a series of lovely snapshots. They’re only fragments of the full picture though. Most of each week revolved around vaguely frantic reading, essay writing, Old English translation and language classes. For every late night socializing there were two or three spent working. The breadth and depth of two months’ work is startling. English literature is all-encompassing: not only including the inevitable study of authors, poets and playwrights, but also history, philosophy, politics, science, religion, art. I’ve arrived back home with a sense of my thoughts sharpened, my responses honed and an extreme appreciation of any breakfast cooked by someone else. 

But home is not home in the same way any more. The contained timeframe of summer - the transition point between sixth form and moving away, has been left behind. Now I straddle two places. As I sit by the fire with a free day stretching ahead, I can enjoy the sedate pace of life in the hills. At the same time I already miss that newly tasted liberation, possibility and tug of a complex city.  

This vintage Christie’s trilby is testament to the saying that wherever one lays one’s hat is home. Here it's accompanied by a delectable vintage coat (£15 from a charity shop) and a sixties cocktail dress I stole from my mum's wardrobe - she originally bought it from Beyond Retro. The chelsea boots are second hand, as is the bag. Photos taken in the University Botanic Garden by the delightful Dina. Jump over to her post Stomp and Circumstance to see some snaps I took of her in the backstreets of Oxford. 

It has also been amazing in the last two months to meet a few people who read my blog. An unexpected delight. 

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