Sunday, 23 March 2014


Photos: Jacob Sacks-Jones/ Tinite Photography/

I caught the train back last Sunday. One of those spring afternoons where the temperature  is on the brink of hinting at summer – nudging you in the ribs as everyone bares more skin than seen in months. All the typical Oxford clich├ęs were out: full, pink blossom trees; buildings with warm stone shaded gold; river filled with punts. Already there had been a thinning, with the first wave of students leaving the day before. Boxes had been packed and cars loaded up, buses or trains taken by some, plane tickets checked for others. Not quite a complete dispersal. Plenty remained – exams to revise for, jobs to do, work to complete, for a (lucky) few a city to enjoy for a while without continual, impending deadlines.
I didn’t want to depart. I did, but I didn’t. There were things to look forward to at home: improved sleep, good meals, more head space,  fewer distractions, big hills to climb, friends to visit, adventures with my family. But what about all the adventures I was leaving? I didn’t want to make the transition from city to village, from close proximity to cafes to a car journey to reach the nearest small town, from social life to solitary wanderings.

Now I’ve been back for a week, the sedate routine I’ve returned to feels fitting - natural. It’s like slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes, the leather so soft they mould to your feet immediately; they may not have been put on for months, but there they are, just the same, ready for use once more. This particular half of my life is one that exists on a more expansive scale: more clothes to choose in my wardrobe, more books to browse from endless shelves, more space both in my room and beyond the front door, more food in the fridge, more time for writing, creating, talking, working, walking, and, as always, procrastinating. Yet at the same time it’s smaller. In this split existence, divided between two homes and two modes of being, this is the quieter half. No constant shifts from library to late night cocktails and vigorous dancing. No nagging feeling that every hour of the day should be spent doing something. No writing essays up until two minutes before the deadline. No sense that a night in is a night wasted. There’s still plenty to do right now – I’m balancing numerous projects ranging from academic to professional to creative – but it takes place at an altered pace, in a very different space.

When I'm in Oxford, I can’t imagine being here at home. But when I’m here, Oxford feels far-removed. The evening I got back, I sat down to family dinner, climbed into bed and slotted back in where I’d left off. Of course, it’s not quite the same. Wherever we go, we bring with us the accumulation of what went before. Each time I return home, it’s with a newly tuned perspective and set of experiences – in the same way that each fresh term at university will be informed by what happened in the holidays preceding it. I get to inhabit two lives in tandem. They blur of course, smudging into each other so that the separations aren’t always clear. But I’m happy with that.

For we are creatures of adaptation. Most of us are chameleons. We might not change our colours according to the background shade of our environment (tempting thought), but we can slide between different places, people and pastimes with relative ease. It’s done all the time on a small scale as we flit from one type of interaction to another, altering everything from behaviour to topics of conversation to language used, adjusted between encounters. The situation or type of relationship informs any number of choices we barely think about consciously. What register is used? What responses are given?  Body language? How much of ourselves do we reveal, how much do we conceal? Are we open or protective? Giggling as rude jokes are cracked, or business-like as serious things are discussed? A single day can require all these facets and more. They’re all part and parcel of the same person, but from slightly different angles according to context. None of us have just that one mirror image that captures and characterizes us – for the whole is made up of these multiple, ever-changing, always-expanding reflections. 

These shots are by the very skilled photographer and student Jacob Sacks-Jones (see more of his work on his website Tinite Photography). They were taken for The Oxford Student (one of the university newspapers). It was a rather glorious morning as Alys and I raided the bulging rails of The Ballroom Emporium at the bottom end of Cowley Road, seeking out appropriate items to style. The choice was pretty overwhelming. The shop is divided into two parts - one selling vintage, and the other selling and hiring ball gowns. Our eventual theme was a juxtaposition of masculine and feminine, lighter fabrics offset with heavier coats and, for the final outfit, blue velvet britches. That one did feel vaguely Robinson Crusoe, I must admit. The gold and silver shoes are mine (ASOS). 
The location being on the roundabout, we got our fair share of intrigued pedestrians and bus passengers staring out the window as they swooped past - and even a fleeting cameo from a builder who jumped into one of the frames. 

In other news, I wrote a piece on spinal surgery and my ongoing ambivalence towards the appearance of my back for beauty website ThandieKay - a brilliant platform set up by actress Thandie Newton and make-up artist Kay Montano. 
Also, my friend Flo very deservedly won a Dulux/Guardian competition photography category, with the winning images drawn from her rich, colourful archive of our collaborative shoots. You can see the announcement and photographs here - they will soon be published in the Guardian Weekend too. Rather fittingly, one is from the photo-shoot in the post below this. 


Emma Cherry said...

Beautifully written, thought-provoking and insightful - loved reading this....and the photographs are simply stunning too!

(Dear Thirty)

Closet Fashionista said...

Love these photos! They look like they're from a magazine :)
Yea, I know what you mean, during the week I go through so many different environments. Train, work, home, parents house, hanging out with friends...

The Pale Female said...

Such beautiful photographs as always, your blog is enchanting x

Abigail ~ said...

i adore this.

thats all i can say.

and, thank you.


Willow said...

These photos are so beautiful.How fun it would be to look through such a plethora of vintage to wear in that shoot! But can definitely understand it being an overwhelming choice. But the outfits you chose are gorgeous, I especially like the second one. I always love outfits with a mix of masculine and feminine, they often remind of the elegant style of Katharine Hepburn.

I can understand what you mean. Living rurally myself, I know that something like Oxford would be a huge transition for me and would require a lot of adapting. I loved your analogy of it being "like slipping into a pair of old shoes". You are so spot-on about most of us being like chameleons and how we show the multiple reflections of ourselves. This was such a wonderful post. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time at your family home.

Excellent post on the wonderful ThandieKay website (thank you introducing me to it!). I have scoliosis myself, I don't know the curvature (but my mum has a 12 degree curve and mine is worse than hers) my spine appears to be both twisted and curved, my doctor confirmed scoliosis but didn't think we should get X-rays. I slouched and used to have a very damaging position when I sat at the computer (which I did a lot), didn't get any exercise and grew very fast. My back is better than it was a year ago, due to the fact that I was still growing, was having regular Bowen therapy sessions, starting doing yoga and got more strength in my back. The left side of my ribcage used to stick out significantly more than the right, whenever I thought about it or got the pain in my back, I felt a very squeamish, scared feeling. So reading about your experience and how curved your spine (and how painful that must have been) triggered a lot of sympathy for what you went through, it was such a brilliant piece and I was so moved by your experience and your feelings about your back. I am so inspired by the way you embrace and show off your scar (which is like a mark of strength)in backless dresses and share your story.

Fashionistable said...

This is a great photo shoot Rosalind. It is amazing to think that term 2 is over already and you have packed up yet again are are back home. It sounds like it was a better term too. Lovely to see you beautiful as always. Xxxx

Jo said...

Gorgeous photos!

Fifties Darling said...

You are quite the writer, model, fashionista... love it! You look stunning and your blog is very entertaining and unique :)

May Loh said...

A very thoughtful post...I am sure it will become part of your treasured memories in the future. Hope you are having a lovely start to the week!
May x

Ainzuk said...

Please update the blog more often. Its great to read your thoughts.

Vix said...

Time is moving on so quickly, its scary! these photos are utterly enchanting, you are such a beauty! xxx

AVY said...

I never feel at home anywhere. Love the 4th picture.

/ Avy

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Lovely photos, as always.
I know the feeling that you're describing well. I've lived in so many different places and while I'm anywhere the other places always seam surreal to me. Like something out of a dream.

I've only been to Oxford once, a lovely friend to me to a university dinner. What a beautiful town and what a great uni!

Ivana Split said...

Your words are a wonderful description of that elusive land where our identity seem to wonder trough and where our consciousness chooses to dwell.... us human beings are surprisingly adaptable at times, sometimes flowing with the moment and being intoned with our surroundings like trained dancers with their favourite song ...and yet sometimes so much an island! so much separated from one another...

beautifully written!

The outfits are just dreamy!


It's a marvellous photo shoot and such a treat to see your post in my feed to read. I love your description, "like fitting into a pair of well-worn shoes." I know how that feels. Enjoy your creative projects and Oxford environment!

christian said...

Great photos!!!

Van said...

Goorgeous shots and outfits. I shall enjoy reading your blog for inspiration here on out :)

Rebecca Harasym said...

I always love being away but it is great to come home too. Your writing is beautiful! What a lovely photoshoot! It is like being back in time and every shot is gorgeous!


Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

My dear Rosalind!

It is really funny that I actually read this post and I didn't say anything... maybe I didn't have time.
But everything that you say is so much a big truth. It is an estrange feeling to be dived between two homes. I feel exactly like this living in Germany but still feeling really connected to my hometown in Spain. Sometimes it even feels tiring to readapt so often.

By the way! I translated the text of that post with the picture of the stars because I really would love that you understand it. Maybe I made grammar mistakes, my english is far away to be perfect. But you would make me really happy if you read it and tell me what do you think.

About the pictures... What can I say? They are just perfect. I love this british atmosphere that reminds me so much to David Copperfield and all this british movies that were shown on the Madrid television on Saturday afternoon. I always loved them.

You are beautiful. Inside and outside.

Anupriya DG said...

As they say....the only constant thing in Life is Change!
these changes from one surrounding to the other, from one place to the other, from one mental setting to the other, is what makes life so much more exciting & interesting for all of us!! :)

On the other hand, Florence's pictures are so beautiful! She definitely deserved to win!!

OrigamiGirl said...

Firstly I really love these photos. I think this style of clothing really suits you. I really enjoy the way you speak about Oxford, and I really must go for a visit. I've only been once to attend a conference and that is nothing at all really.
That way of sliding into a place as though nothing has ever happened in between sticks with you for years. When I visit my old friends from sixth form and we all gather together, the same jokes and friendship are almost instant - when it has been 6 months apart. Having the two homes, and the two lives is confusing but also lucky. You always have somewhere else to escape to if one of the two isn't going so well!
I've opened up lots of tabs from you post so I'll go read your links now. :)

his_girl_friday said...

Identity is kind of fluid sometimes, isn't it? Gorgeous, gorgeous photos.

Melanie said...

Lovely piece, photos and text. There is such a head distance between places. The saddest thing of all I have found is the realization that a place that once was home is now a place that magnifies all things negative. Fresh eyes are so powerful. Congrats to Flo and you for your piece in ThandieKay. Working on your first book...? How wonderful!

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