Saturday, 31 January 2015

Good stuff: Links & likes

Storage pot DIY: image source & © Make Do & Spend

There's been some pretty great stuff around the internet these past couple of weeks. Sometimes, when I'm putting together a links post, I struggle for material. Not so this time.

First up, Buzzfeed's piece imagining Hermione was the main character of the Harry Potter series -  renamed Hermione Granger and the Goddamm Patriarchy - is nothing short of genius. "Not all wizards, right?"

I loved E's post on getting organised, especially her super easy DIY storage pots. How great does her spare room look now?

The Militant Baker's article, about why people hate happy fat people, is just brilliant. I loved her notion of 'body currency' and the ways in which people feel ripped off, cheated, when someone doesn't participate in the expected battles with their body; when they don't strive for a media-created idea of perfection. Anyway, instead of listening to me summing it up, go read it.

Louisa's Tunnock's teacakes coasters look amazing, and simple to make too.

This piece - How Should An Abortion Be? - from Gawker is a much more nuanced and detailed look at some of the issues I raised in my post a couple of weeks ago. Essential reading.

Sarah wrote a superb take-down of the argument that feminists shouldn't care about the #NoMorePage3 campaign because 'there are bigger issues to worry about'.

Elise's series on her favourite blogs is a great source of new reading (and no, I'm not just mentioning it because she name-checked me. Although that was nice).

I know I definitely fall into a blog rut - not so much with regard to writing here (although that happens too!), but in terms of the other blogs I'll comment on or the bloggers I interact with on the regular. This post about blogging acts of kindness was therefore a welcome reminder of the nice things I can do as a blog reader (via Becky).

A MASSIVE thank you to all of you who've posted and tweeted about the Big Blog Clothes Swap. Don't forget that sign-up is open until 9th February, and we're especially in need of size 14+ swappers.

Finally, I've been having a tough time at work lately. I think all educators go through phases of wondering why we bother; feeling like the battle to get kids learning might not be worth the cost it inflicts on us. And then Humans Of New York began a series about a middle school in Brooklyn and every night I get home from school, look at his latest pictures and read the captions, and cry. It's an incredibly powerful series, one that really reminds me just why I do the job. If you haven't been following, scroll back to 20th January and look at the first photo of Vidal speaking about his principal, Ms Lopez. Then work your way forwards, through each incredible story, and the fundraising that's gone on, and I defy you to stay dry-eyed.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

January reads

1. My favourite book this month was also the first one I read. First the bad: So Much Pretty is told through multiple POV narrations, as well as extracts from police transcripts, all of which at first seem to be in no particular order, and I personally struggled for a while to get to grips with this. But I really believe it's worth persevering, as this novel is truly unique in terms of the crime/thriller genre. Whereas most books of this type use the endemic violence against women of our society for entertainment, in So Much Pretty Cara Hoffman seeks to interrogate and criticise it. When a local woman goes missing and is later found tortured to death, the small rural community of Haeden, New York State - which would clearly like to look the other way - is forced to confront some harsh realities by two women, local high school student Alice Piper, and newspaper reporter Stacy Flynn. I loved the sense of place: from grungy Alphabet City in the early 90s, where Alice's idealistic anarchist parents live, to the claustrophobic small-town atmosphere of Haeden, Hoffman evokes wildly diverse places and people perfectly. There are some brilliant twists that make the reason for the odd, scattergun structure of the narrative fall into place slowly. I'd love to go back and re-read some of the early chapters, knowing what I know now.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts was, again, a book I felt like giving up on after a few chapters and then was heartily glad I'd continued reading. In a post-apocalyptic England, an army base is home to a small collection of children, who are kept in cells and treated with the utmost care by the soldiers set to guard them. When ten year old Melanie begins to develop a friendship with one of her teachers, the consequences are far-reaching. An exciting and pacey read, I raced through it despite it being a hefty doorstop of a book, and the ending was just fantastically audacious.

3. Broken Harbour is the second Tana French Dublin Murder Squad novel I've read, and it followed the format of the first (In The Woods) in focusing on a murder detective with a dark past being affected by a current case. In this sense, I thought it could have surprised me a little more, and like In The Woods I felt it took a long time to get to where it was going. Those criticisms aside, I did really enjoy it: there was a real creepiness to French's creation of a half-finished and run-down housing estate on the coast, and the central conundrum - who killed a man and his two young children and left his wife in intensive care, and why does their house have mysterious holes in the walls? - was interesting and tense enough to keep me reading.

4. When I found a classic orange Penguin edition of The Code of the Woosters for two quid in a charity shop, of course I bought it. An enjoyable but exceedingly silly romp featuring Bertie Wooster and his inimitable butler, Jeeves, this was full of delightful period details but had me rolling my eyes a few times at the ridiculousness of the storylines, which include a gravy boat heist, an engagement that's more off than on, and a stolen policeman's helmet.

5. A collection of David Mitchell's columns for The Observer, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse was a cheap Kindle buy and well worth it. Perfect to dip in and out of, Mitchell is predicably hilarious but also knowledgeable, whether writing about coalition policy or television.

6. The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessey* is the follow-up to Rachel Joyce's bestselling debut, The Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, and although I hadn't read the first book I was still able to get into this pretty quickly. Queenie is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed when she gets a phone message from a man she hasn't seen for twenty years - Harold Fry - saying he's on his way to visit... and walking from Kingsbridge in Devon. As he tramps the length of England to get to her, Queenie tells her story: why she loved him, why she left. I particularly enjoyed the parts about the hospice and the other patients but was slightly less engaged by the flashbacks to Queenie's time in Kingsbridge.

7. I was pretty cynical about Uncovering Ray**, I have to admit. My perception of New Adult fiction is of badly written, cliched romances with added sexy times (Jenny Trout's brilliantly funny read-alongs may have contributed to this perception), but when I saw a Netgalley tweet trailing this NA novel featuring a genderqueer protagonist, my interest was piqued. And you know what? I thought Uncovering Ray was a delight. The characters - from Ray zirself to love interest, fratbro-with-a-difference Wyatt and little brother Dave - zinged with realism and I found myself truly caring about them. Engagingly written, witty and, yes, some hot sex scenes: I'll think twice before I pre-judge NA fiction again.

8. The Ship* was the Curtis Brown Book Group book of the month for January and, sorry to say, I was not impressed. It had all the makings of a good read: post-apocalyptic setting; teenage heroine; mystery to be solved. Unfortunately, not one of those elements were fully realised. The 'heroine', Lalla, was accurately summed up by another character as, "a spoiled little brat." The mystery element, such as it was, was blindingly obvious. And the post-apocalyptic society was never properly explained to the reader, with key ideas (such as The Dove, a device or system - I was never quite sure - which Lalla's father invents) left completely to our own imaginations. Ultimately, the whole thing just felt rather... pointless. But, from what I can tell on Twitter, a lot of other book group members loved it, so maybe it's just me.

9. Manna From Hades was a gift from Kezzie in my Blogger Snail Mail parcel. Eleanor Trewynn has recently retired to Cornwall after being widowed. When a body is found in stockroom of the charity shop she helps to run, mystery is afoot. This was a very gentle murder mystery, not quite successfully harking back to the Golden Age of crime (although with a 1960s setting that felt somewhat forced and fake at times; a lot of the main characters have very modern sensibilities). I kept reading because I liked the characters, and there's some gorgeous description of Cornwall countryside and weather, but the mystery element alone wouldn't have been enough to capture my attention.

10. Murder In The Mews is a collection of four Poirot short stories (but fairly long ones, if you get what I mean). Even as a die-hard Christie fan, I was slightly underwhelmed by these. Poirot works best when allowed to slowly deduce and detect; putting him into short stories did nothing to allow the magic to shine through.

* These books were kindly given to me by the Curtis Brown Book Group but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley, but all opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Why we're getting fake-married: On planning a feminist wedding

As I said to The Boy the other night, "Oops." It wasn't that our plans for a wedding were secret, as such, but only our families and my best friend knew. And then I go and blurt it out to the whole internet, in an aside on a post about my 2015 goals. Oops indeed.

Round here, we refer to it variously as 'our fake wedding' or 'the love party' (which sounds somewhat, ahem, questionable in English but better in Dutch). There are a few reasons why we'll be doing the wedding without the legal bit. The Boy, when I met him, was adamant that he never wanted to get married. Turned off by the pomp and ridiculous expense of weddings, troubled by the fact that weddings are a perpetuation of patriarchal power structures, indifferent to declaring a commitment in front of God or the state, they were something he wanted no part of. From my perspective, I'd long been vocally opposed to the many elements of traditional weddings that are decidedly dodgy from a feminist perspective.

However, once we'd been together for a while we realised that it was actually important to us to have something to mark our love and commitment. Call it a yearning for a pretty dress and a big party or call it abandoning our principles, we'd started to suspect that this whole wedding lark might be something we wanted to be part of.


And so the question arose: how would we go about getting wed without subscribing to the archaic patriarchal traditions that we were both so opposed to?

First off, the idea that T would be the only one who gets to decide when the wedding planning began by getting down on one knee is frankly laughable, as anyone who knows us will realise. Instead we talked it over, for about a year in total, building up to the decision that yes, we wanted to have something: a fake wedding, a love party, a commitment ceremony, call it what you will. And slowly, over the past few months, we've been telling our family that, no, we're not engaged but, yes, we'll be having a wedding.

Going the fake route means that we can be completely in control; with no legalities to worry about, we can have it wherever and whenever we want. So there's no ring. There'll be no giving me away (hah!), no first dance. Speeches, yes, but from the women as well as the men, and not formal in any sense. There'll be lots of vegan cake, and good music to dance to. There'll be vows of commitment, with all of the people we love there to hear them. It will, in short, be all the best bits of a wedding with all of the crappy anti-feminist shit taken out.

Because let's face it, most wedding traditions are fucked up from a modern perspective. The part I find most troubling is the way in which they completely erase womens' agency. From the proposal right up to the wedding speeches, in a traditional wedding a woman's role is to look pretty and stay silent. She is treated as a possession, something to be passed from father to husband, and the name she's had since birth is whisked away in the blink of an eye. And you know what the mad thing is? These traditions are so ingrained within our culture that lots of kick ass, intelligent women (and indeed, kick ass, intelligent men) will often go along with them, without giving it a second thought.

Now, let me clearly state that I am in no way judging anyone else's choices about their own weddings: I completely understand why people want to go the traditional route on their wedding day. My criticism is of the traditions themselves. I'm excited to be able to design our own ceremony and party, one that can follow any structure we wish and be completely free of those pernicious traditions. As for the rest of the details, like date and place? Well, that's all to be decided. But one thing's for sure: as much as I'm looking forward to our kick ass, feminist fake-wedding, I'm looking forward to the rest of our life together far much more.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Big Blog Clothes Swap

I think most of us have those clothes in our wardrobe: the dress we can't quite work out how to style; the trousers that were a sale bargain... if only they fit properly; the shoes that don't go with anything. Stuff you can't bring yourself to donate or eBay, but haven't actually worn in months or even years. Clothes swaps are the perfect home for those clothes.

I've wanted to run a clothes swap for ages but was intimidated by the amount of work I'd potentially have to put in to secure a venue, promote and run it - and the fear that, after all that work, no-one would turn up. So I put the idea to the back of my mind until I was chatting to my soon-to-be-sister-in-law, Steph, on Twitter recently and had a brainwave: what would happen if we tried to organise an internet clothes swap?

I'd seen Steph, in her guise as The Wardrobe Angel, run individual swaps for her own clothes, and looked on in envy at Donna's regular frock swaps (envy because none of her dresses would fit me!) and I started to think about trying to do the same thing, but on a larger scale. Gathering together as many bloggers, and blog readers as possible, pairing them up according to clothes or shoe size, and letting the swapping commence.

And so here it is: the big blog clothes swap!

Want to take part? To sign up, all we need is the following information emailed to by the 9th February:

Blog address and/or social media:
Clothes size (if you need to split this for tops/bottoms, do):
Shoe size:
Swapping preferences (for example, Do you want to swap one item only or more? Do you have specific clothing preferences, e.g. dresses only? Would you be willing, or prefer, to swap shoes, bags, accessories, etc?):

I am especially keen to ensure this swap is inclusive for all sizes, so please do sign up whatever size you wear. I don't fit the 'typical' fashion blogger body type and often struggle to find plus size clothes at swaps, which is partly why I want to run my own.

Once we have all your responses, Steph and I will wade through them and pair you with someone of the same size. You can, if you wish, then use social media to get to know your partner and their style, or you may already have planned ahead about what you want to swap. Either way, you'll be responsible for parcelling up your swap items - be it one top or a whole horde of goodies - and posting them to your partner by the deadline of March 10th.

So, what are you waiting for? Off you swap!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


TRAVELLING to a freezing cold and snowy York at the weekend. We had a lovely time wandering the streets, buying secondhand books and clothes, eating amazing vegan food, drinking cheap cider and looking at trains in the Railway Museum (this last one somewhat more lovely for The Boy than for me). Sadly, the walls were closed due to frost and ice, so I think a return visit is in order some time soon.

GETTING the best gift ever from my step-mum, who was getting rid of some old crockery and wondered if I'd be interested. I was sceptical until I opened the box to find a perfect condition Meakin coffee set! The jug has already been repurposed into a vase for some early season tulips. Also, the most exciting post ever: a parcel of books from the Curtis Brown Book Group. I've already finished one and still have three to go... better get reading.

TRYING to keep my 2015 goal of swimming and walking more. I've not really managed the walking (apart from many miles of pavement pounded in York at the weekend) but I've been swimming twice a week for the past few weeks and am really enjoying it. It is playing havoc with my dyed red hair though, so any advice on keeping up both my hair colour and my swimming schedule would be gratefully received!

COOKING some exciting vegan meals (vegan fish and chips anyone?), the recipes of which we really need to get up onto The Hungry Vegan. But with T busy with exam marking and me in the midst of back-to-school chaos, it's not been easy finding the time to blog.

PACKING up my Blogger Snail Mail parcel (a few weeks late - oops!) to send to Kezzie. It's one of three swaps I'm doing at the moment, and it's been nice to continue the gift-buying and -making into January for a change.

DRINKING the addictively delicious Belvoir raspberry cordial with soda water.

EATING some amazing meals at Goji and El Piano in York - I can heartily recommend them both for veggie and vegan food.

MAKING many many zippered pouches. To my shame, I'd never sewn a zip until last week, so now I've figured out how (and realised how easy it is) I'm making all the pouches: purses, pencil cases, make-up bags. I sort-of-winged it and sort-of followed this tutorial from Martha Stewart. It's been nice to spend some time in the craft room and has reminded me how much I like making stuff.

BUYING yet more books: I found four books I'd been looking for, including a beautiful Penguin Classics edition of a Jeeves & Wooster novel, for the princely sum of £2 each from the local secondhand bookshop, and then I picked up a few more in York from the lovely Little Apple Books (with a Christmas book token so I haven't broken the spending ban, don't worry). I've otherwise been pretty good at not spending much, although my winter coat has just given up the ghost with both a broken zip and a huge rip in the arm, so I may need to splash the cash to replace it.

SEEING lots of friends for meals, which has been great fun if rather hard on the wallet. But January is so grim that I feel justified in spending some cash on catching up with mates for evenings of good food, a few drinks, and lots of laughter.

FEELING tired: very very tired. I'm almost completely better now - apart from trouble with my voice at work - but am still feeling like I could sleep 12 hours a night if I had the chance! Any evening not spent out with friends has been spent in my pyjamas, hibernating on the sofa and watching bad TV.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The soundtrack to my life

It feels like it's been years - in fact, it actually might be years - since I last wrote about music here. When I started the blog, my regular Music Monday posts were a big part of what I did, but since that finished the music content has sort of petered out. 

Music is and always has been a massive part of my life: my parents met when they performed together in a Gilbert & Sullivan opera in Johannesburg and between my dad's organ-playing and my mum's guitar and piano, there was always music at home. My siblings and I were all musically involved as children, whether it was learning instruments, singing in the church or school choirs, or putting on shows at home (I used to harangue my brothers to be my back-up dancers in performances of Jesus Christ Superstar).

When I hit my teens I gave up on church and discovered rock music: grunge, indie and Britpop were the soundtrack to my youth. I started a music fanzine and got the chance to meet my heroes, bands like Placebo and Gene, Ash and Longpigs; acts mostly long-forgotten except to 90s kids like myself. At university I started listening to the somewhat weird combination of heavy rock - Marilyn Manson, Deftones - and conscious hip-hop - Common, De La Soul, Mos Def. Then, in my mid-twenties, I was introduced by my brother to American folk and alt-rock, artists such as Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, which is a large part of what I still listen to today.

All of which is to say, if I had to make a true soundtrack of my life it'd be a very confused playlist, running the gamut from my parents' Simon & Garfunkel records to my current favourite band, chillwave duo Tennis, via Take That, Hole, Blur, the Manic Street Preachers, Korn, Dr Dre, Bjork, Ben Folds Five and The Smiths. But when I saw the Soundtrack to My Life tag on Elettravelle, I knew I wanted to at least give it a go.

I'd also love to know the soundtracks to your lives - use these tag questions or hit me up in the comments.

Song you listen to when you're happy?
This changes constantly but at the moment I really like Mean The Most by Nehruvian Doom, which is just the loveliest and most romantic slice of chilled-out hip hop.

Song you listen to when you're sad?
It depends whether or not I want to wallow in my misery. If I'm content to lie around and weep, then Beck's Golden Age is one of the saddest songs I know. If I need something to cheer me up, then nothing is better than pure pop music. I still love 2012 Eurovision winner Loreen's Euphoria, and my 2014 obsession was Nobody To Love by Sigma.

What song will you have at your wedding?
I've long wanted Aretha Franklin's beautiful version of the soul classic You Send Me but I also have a soft spot for At My Most Beautiful by REM. Unfortunately, The Boy is most fond of quite terrible 80s hair rock ballads (think Bon Jovi, Poison, Alice Cooper) so god only knows* what we'll end up with.
* Also a lovely wedding song.

What song do you dance around the house to?
Party Hard by Andrew WK. I honestly don't think it's possible not to grin while headbanging away to it.

Song you play on your headphones when out and about?
Beach House's Bloom album makes a great soundtrack, especially in sunny weather. Same goes for any of Tennis's three albums. If I had to narrow it down to one song each, I'd go for Beach House's Troublemaker and Marathon by Tennis.

Song you listen to when you're angry?
Gutless by Hole is a great song for getting the rage out by singing along to. All together now, "Just you try to hold me down, come on try to shut me up."

Song you'd have at your funeral?
My brother and I used to play this game where we'd try and name the most vastly inappropriate song to play at a wedding or funeral. Shoot The Head, Kill The Ghoul by Jeffrey Lewis might be pretty funny.

Song that makes you lose your shit at a party?
Ah, so many! Boogie Wonderland by Earth Wind & Fire (that bit where he sings, "All the love in the world can't be wrong..."? Musical perfection) can always get me dancing, as can Test Icicles' indie disco classic Circle Square Triangle or Reptilia by The Strokes. And, more embarrassingly, Papa Roach's Last Resort.

The last song you listened to?
Playing on the iPod as I write is Of Moons, Birds & Monsters by MGMT. Completely random shuffle choice, but it's reminded me of how much I like MGMT.

Your karaoke song?
I've only ever done karaoke once and it's not a performance I'm proud of. Picture the scene: a bar full of my fellow trainee teachers - one too many white wines - a karaoke machine - the Devinyls song I Touch Myself. I'll allow you to fill in the details.

What song do you work out/exercise to?
Arctic Monkeys' Brianstorm is great for picking up speed on the cross-trainer.

Song with the most memories attached?
It's a great sadness to me that the beautiful Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley is forever tainted by memories of my awful ex-boyfriend.

Song that makes you cry?
Weird, because I'm an atheist, but Oh Holy Night gets me every time. Pretty much any version, but bonus points if sung by an angelic child or if it's Sufjan Stevens' arrangement.

Song you hate the most?
There are a few songs that, if I hear them on the radio, I'll turn straight over. Blurred Lines, obviously, Timber by Kesha and Pitbull, or anything by Chris Brown.

Your favourite song of all time?
This is completely impossible to answer. I could just about give you a favourite song for each year of my life, but we'd be here a long time. So I'm going to throw out the first few that come to mind and then internally curse myself for missing other stuff out. So...
Cosmia by Joanna Newsom
Olympian by Gene
Elephant Gun by Beirut
Rocket by the Smashing Pumpkins
Hot Fun In The Summertime by Sly & The Family Stone
About Face by Grizzly Bear
The Shining by Badly Drawn Boy
Sonnet 29 by Rufus Wainwright
Dry Lips by Lightspeed Champion
Grown Ocean by Fleet Foxes
Branches by Midlake
To The End by Blur

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Why talking about our abortions is important

"I have yet to meet a woman who was 'pro-abortion,' the same is true for 'pro-mastectomy' or 'pro-hysterectomy.' Unfortunately, these procedures are sometimes what a woman needs."
                                From Every Third Woman In America by Dr. David Grimes

When Nicki Minaj shared the story of her abortion in a Rolling Stone interview recently, I wanted to cheer. Why? It's not like an abortion is a happy time in a woman's life, so why would I be so glad Minaj was discussing hers?

Here's why: it's estimated that in the US and UK, one woman in three will have an abortion at some point in her life. And yet it's a topic almost totally shrouded in secrecy, our personal decisions made shameful by silence.

Abortion happens for all sorts of reasons: the stereotype of the feckless teenager who didn't use contraception is far from the truth. In fact, the 'typical' abortion patient is a woman in her mid-twenties who has experienced contraception failure*. There is also a significant number of women in their 30s and 40s who seek abortions, and in 2013 in England & Wales, 1% of abortions were carried out due to fetal abnormalities**. Although abortion rates are falling in both the US and UK - due largely to improved access to free contraception - that statistic of one in three women has held true for the last twenty years. It is therefore extremely likely that a woman close to you either has already had, or will have, an abortion.

When I was 21 I had two abortions, very close together. The first because we'd been careless with contraception (yep, I was that feckless stereotype I'm afraid, albeit not quite a teenager); the second because the contraceptive pill - taken religiously since the first abortion - failed. For very many reasons I was not capable of becoming a parent at that point in my life. Safe, legal, free abortion provision meant that I was able to move on from a bad relationship, get help with my mental health problems, graduate university and become a happy, fully functioning member of society.

There is currently a cultural dialogue - especially prevalant on 'mommy blogs' - around miscarriage that suggests it's important to talk about it when you experience it, so people can understand how widespread pregnancy loss is. Sarah wrote a brilliant post in which she interrogates that idea and persuasively argues that it's all down to personal choice: you get to decide who you tell and when you tell them, not some internet strangers insisting it's important. And I wholeheartedly agree with this in relation to abortion too. Some women will never feel comfortable discussing their abortions, and that's fine. When we talk about being pro-choice, that must include women having the choice of what they divulge. However, for those of us with big mouths (like me), or who don't mind talking about their abortions (like Minaj), it's important to recognise that by doing so we can help further the pro-choice movement while perhaps making things easier for other women to talk about their own experiences.

I've always talked about my experience with abortion. At first, when they were a recent memory, I worked through my feelings by talking - often relentlessly - about what had happened. Now I try and be more circumspect, mostly because so many women I know are facing fertility problems and/or pregnancy loss. Even so, I will happily refer to my abortions in general conversation: on a recent blogger meet-up, for example, we were chatting about tattoos and I casually referred to the ones I'd had done as a sort of memorial, post-abortion. Only once the words were out did I stop to consider whether it was appropriate (at which I mentally shrugged my shoulders and decided I didn't care).

As anti-choice*** legislation (almost overwhelmingly put forward by male legislators) becomes an ever-more pressing a problem in the USA, Europe and even the UK, it's important that women start to talk about their experience of abortion. Studies have shown that one of the single biggest factors in making a man pro-choice is when they learn that women close to them have in the past accessed abortion services. By silencing ourselves we reinforce the idea that abortion is something shameful and secret, and we lose the chance to demonstrate just how essential having agency over our own bodies is.

* Source: Every Third Woman In America by Dr. David Grimes
** Source: Department of Health Abortion Statistics, England & Wales 2013
*** I use 'anti-choice' because I believe the term 'pro-life' to be a misnomer for a movement that prioritises the survival of a cluster of cells over a grown woman's life (see, for example, the tragic case in Ireland of Savita Halappanava, who died in hospital after doctors - fearful of the country's stringent laws that ban abortion - denied her request for a life-saving termination)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Good stuff: Links & likes

Image source here and © Rachael

One of my goals for 2015 is to make more, so this cross stitch writing tool will be perfect for doing some cute cross stitch quotes (via Rachael).

Weirdly, the same day I posted a piece about PETA on The Hungry VeganFat Gay Vegan also wrote a piece. If you've ever been disappointed that an organisation purportedly interested in social justice perpetuates the oppression of women in their advertising, I'd suggest taking a read.

How amazing is this book clutch how-to, from A Beautiful Mess? Definitely goes to the top of the to-make list.

I loved this piece by author Jenny Colgan on the "little parcels of cheer" that make her happy.

Kirsty has very kindly made a free-to-print version of her recent mini-zine about how to organise a clothes swap: go forth and swap!

I'm a bit late with this, but Sarah came up with an ace list of 31 things to do in January. I find small goals like this so much more achievable than vague resolutions such as, "Get fit."

An inspiring piece from The Guardian about the local men and women working on the frontline of Ebola care in Sierra Leone.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

What I wore: Collared

There are a handful of styles that I love and will buy repeatedly, and the Peter Pan collar is one of them. Whether on blouses, jumpers or dresses, I really can't resist a collar and if that collar should be crochet then so much the better.

That's why, when I saw this dress from ASOS Petite, I bought it straight away - despite already owning a navy blue, crochet collar skater dress. Oh yeah, and also a black one (as seen in my profile photo in the corner of this blog). It's subtly different, is what I tell myself. Rather than the usual stretch jersey skater dress, this one is made from a fine knit. It's super comfy, and I love the retro feel: part-late 60s Mod, part-early 90s kinderwhore. I've worn little else since I bought it in October.

Common fashion advice has it that a high neckline is a no-no for enormo-boobs such as mine, but I reckon this shape is actually really flattering (although in the final close-up photograph they do look comically huge). Just goes to show: don't listen to what the magazines tell you.

This is also the first peek at my new shoes (well, not so new now - I've had them for about two months). Chunky-soled and incredibly comfortable to wear, they're a cool twist on my favourite Mary Jane style, and remind me powerfully of a pair of shoes I had in about 1993. Is it wrong to be wearing this outfit when I'm old enough to have worn it the first time around?!

* Dress: ASOS * Shoes: Office * Ring: Handmade *
* Slightly awkward look: As always, model's own * 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

My goals for 2015

In the past I tended not to make resolutions or set goals at the start of the calendar year; as a teacher, September is much more redolent of new beginnings (and anyway, it's so much easier to make positive changes when the sun is still shining than in this dark, cold days of deepest winter). However, at the start of 2014 I wrote a list of 10 goals for the year as part of the #52lists project (which seemed to peter out halfway through the year) and it turned out to be the only list of goals I ever completed! Maybe there's something to this whole new year thing after all.

After the enormous adventures and changes of 2013, 2014 was an altogether calmer and more stable year. However, 2015 promises upheavals: at work, as my school merges with a neighbouring one; at home, as The Boy completes his PhD and begins looking for an academic job; family-wise, as my extended maternal family converge on Canada for a reunion (all 40+ of us). The goals that I've set, then, reflect the fact that this probably won't be an easy year. I'll need to make time for myself and the things I enjoy doing, ensure that we're in a good financial place to deal with possible short-term unemployment, spend time on the relationships that strengthen me.

1. See more of my mum, and my family generally.
Both this goal and #3 reflect the fact that 2014 was mostly about one person - The Boy. After a long time in a long distance relationship, we made the most of living in the same place last year. 2015 needs to be the year I reach out again to see more of the people I'm closest to.
2. Swim and walk more.
My natural state is one of extreme indolence interrupted by bursts of energy, which I tend to channel into doing things around the house (baking, tidying, making stuff). I always feel amazing when I get some 'proper' exercise but yet I'm terrible at actually getting myself out of the house to do so. I walk a lot to get me around, but I want to do more 'proper' walking in the countryside this year, which is a hobby that's fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years.
3. Dedicate time to friends, both old and new. 
See #1.
4. Continue the spending ban.
At the moment I have four major life goals, and all of them involve money:
- Become debt free;
- Have a lovely wedding to The Boy;
- Go back to university to study for an MA;
- Pay for my mum and I to visit South Africa together in 2018, to celebrate my 40th (gulp) and her 70th.
The only realistic way to achieve any of those goals is to save, save, save instead of spending all my cash. So the spending ban continues until the end of January, after which I'm going to tweak the rules slightly but then continue with it in some form for the rest of the year. Char is doing a complete spending ban this year, which is amazing!
5. Have one night a week that's gadget- and TV-free.
Self-explanatory really. Both The Boy and I love to draw, read and play games but - reading aside - we rarely make time to do so. Having one 'switch-off' a week will give us time to do the things we enjoy without the lure of "just one more episode of Buffy...".
6. Write a will.
Although we're planning a wedding we have no desire to get legally married, which makes it all the more important that we have wills. I also want to set up power of attorney; after seeing the chaos lack of it can cause when a friend of my mum's had a stroke this year, I'm all the more determined to get it sorted.
7. Look into becoming a Nightstop host.
Nightstop are an organisation that provide short-term emergency accommodation for young people who have been made homeless. I'd first read about them in The Guardian last year and thought, "I've got a spare room - maybe I could do that in future." When, this weekend, I saw on Twitter the story of a young trans teen who'd been thrown out of home just for being trans, I became all the more determined to do something. Luckily The Boy is completely on board and so we've just started the process of volunteering.
8. Finish the zine I started working on last year.
I was so excited to get this started and then my enthusiasm sort of fizzled out. Definitely top of the list to do on one of our switch-off evenings.
9. Go to a clothes swap.
Self-explanatory this one. I had a few planned to go to last year and it never happened. The Wardrobe Angel and I are also considering trying to set up an online bloggers clothes swap - give me a shout if you're interested in being involved.
10. Make more.
I want to take part in more craft swaps (I'm starting with Hannah's #DICraft Swap this month) and do another Week of Making, as well as doing more sewing on my days off. I've also promised Sarah something for Baby Rooftops... better get sewing!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2014: A year in books

Best Book You Read in 2014. If you need to cheat you can break this down by genre.
Of course I need to break this down! Impossible to narrow down otherwise (and pretty bloody difficult even now). So...
Contemporary fiction: A Song For Issy Bradley. This story of a Mormon family in mourning for youngest daughter Issy was brilliantly written. Each character comes alive on the page, each has a distinct voice in their point-of-view chapters, from teenage Al, constantly needling Ian about his Mormon teachings, to seven year old Jacob, who believes in miracles and is just waiting for one to happen. Fascinating, too, are the insights into the Mormon religion, and the ways in which their faith both helps and hinders them as they struggle to recover from Issy's death.

YA fiction: The excellent Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I fell hard for all the characters, who are so well realised that they felt like friends by the end of the book, but especially heroine Cath, a writer of fan fiction who is trying to navigate her first year at college without her identical twin sister.

Crime fiction: Sneaking in during the last days of 2014, I absolutely loved Sophie Hannah's new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders. Full of the brilliant deductions and period details you'd except from Poirot, plus the dry wit of the originals.

Non-fiction: How To Be A Heroine was the most wonderful evocation of what it means to be a girl and woman who loves books. I adored it.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t

I awaited the release of the final Tales Of The City novel, The Days Of Anna Madrigal, with baited breath: sadly, it wasn't as perfect as I wanted it to be.

Most Surprising (In A Good Way) Book of 2014

After reading Val McDermid's reworked Northanger Abbey and really not enjoying it, I was pleasantly surprised by Joanna Trollope's Sense & Sensibility. 

Book You Read in 2014 That You Recommended to People Most.

I think probably Fangirl, although I've fangirled (sorry) about so many books this year - I think all of the ones I'm mentioning here have been recommended multiple times.

Best Series You Discovered in 2014

I've liked all of Louise Welsh's novels, but A Lovely Way To Burn is definitely her best so far and - oh happy days - is the first in a series. I loved the idea of a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a mysterious virus that has Londoners dropping dead (and reading it in 2014, with Ebola panic in the media, felt particularly relevant). Protagonist Stevie is believably flawed and Welsh convincingly - and chillingly - portrays a society crumbling in the face of fever, death and chaos.

Favourite New Author You Discovered in 2014

I discovered Sarah Moss thanks to a review on What Hannah Read and am very glad I did: I devoured her first two novels this summer and am eagerly anticipating reading her new one, Bodies Of Light, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Best Book That Was Out of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre For You

Economics & politics journalist Paul Mason's superb book, Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere, was a fantastic look at the uprisings and protests that have marked the post-recession global climate.

Book You Read in 2014 That You're Most Likely to Reread Again Next Year
I adored My True Love Gave To Me, a collection of festive YA romance short stories, and will no doubt re-read it over Christmas 2015.

Favourite Cover of A Book You Read in 2014

How To Be A Heroine has the most gorgeous cover - and the book itself is amazing too.

Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2014

There's so many I could mention here, but I'll go for Mrs Hemingway, which I read over a couple of sun-soaked days in July. The stories of the four women who married Ernest Hemingway, the author's description of place was astounding: I felt as if I could see and smell every detail of a lush Florida Keys garden, the Antibes in the roaring Twenties, and 1940s Paris at the end of the Occupation.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact On You in 2014

Two books by Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things and Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism. Both full of righteous anger and a desire for change, Penny's work can be uncomfortable but is nevertheless essential and exciting reading for anyone interested in leftist or feminist politics.

Book You Can't Believe You Waited UNTIL 2014 To Finally Read

Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, which I picked up from a Book Crossing point and absolutely loved.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read in 2014

Shortest, at just 40 pages, was Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile.
Longest, with 1045 pages, was A Dance With Dragons, the last (so far) in the A Song Of Ice & Fire series. A fantastic read, but rather hard on the wrist when reading the hardback edition.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The ending of E Lockhart's brilliant We Were Liars: I shouted "No!" and then burst into tears.

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2014 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

Cath & Levi in Fangirl. If you've read it, you'll know why: if you haven't read it, you really should cos it's ace.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2014

Oh gosh, too many to mention, but Agnes from Burial Rites and Jack and Mabel in The Snow Child particularly stand out.

Favourite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You've Read Previously

Gossip From The Forest by Sara Maitland is a wonderful book about fairy tales, forests and folk traditions.

Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else

I didn't think Love, Nina - a collection of letters written in the 1980s by London nanny Nina Stibbe - would be at all my thing, but when I read a glowing review of it on a blog I decided to check it out. And it's wonderful! So glad I overcame my prejudices.

Genre You Read The Most From in 2014

I'm too lazy to do the maths, but from a quick glance through my ...Reads posts it looks like crime/thrillers might just take the crown.

Best 2014 debut

The Miniaturist has won all sorts of accolades and they are richly deserved. There is so much that's great about this novel: the sense of secrets bubbling under the surface, the tension in the household as Nella attempts to assert her authority as head of the house, and especially the vivid descriptions of 17th Century Amsterdam and the way in which Burton precisely pins down the Dutch national character. It's hard to believe it's Jessie Burton's first novel.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2014

Hyperbole And A Half had me howling with laughter. This collection of Ally Brosh's cartoons is just about the funniest thing I've ever read.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014

Oh gosh, probably loads of them - I'm a crier - but most definitely We Were Liars.

Book You Read in 2014 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out

I'm going to go with A Song For Issy Bradley again - I was sad to see it missing from most end-of-year round-ups, as it's just brilliant.

Total number of books read in 2014

127. My target was 100, so I'm pretty pleased with that.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2014: A year in review

I know I'm a little late with this - I've only just started feeling well enough to blog again - and that everyone and their dog has already done a round-up post, but forgive me. I love having a chance to look back over my year, and 2014 was a good one. I feel like I finally found my blogging groove: built a community around me, improved my photography, started doing outfit posts, became more explicitly feminist and political, wrote some pieces that I'm really bloody proud of. Here are my best bits of 2014...


The Boy and I went to Manchester and Liverpool to eat all the vegan food and admire the street art; I gave some advice for anyone considering going part-time at work; and I set myself a goal for 2014: Don't Worry, Be Happy. Hmm, not entirely sure how well I achieved that: I'm a worrier by nature.


For Valentines Day I talked about how miraculous it is that The Boy puts up with memy shitty health finally got the better of me; and I did a scary thing and survived. Seriously, overcoming my social anxiety to meet up with other bloggers was the single best thing I did in 2014. Becks, Laura, Elle, Becca, Sarah and Elise turned out to not be scary at all - huh, funny that - but instead lovely, warm people whom I am happy to call my friends.


We spied some awesome pavement art by a local proto-Banksy, I shared my 10 wardrobe essentials, talked about why I've always been a feminist, and explained why I was joining the NUT teachers' strike


We went to Glasgow to visit The Boy's hometown and were greeted with beautiful blue skies as we mooched around the stunning cemetery. I also wrote one of my favourite ever posts: What came first, the music or the misery? Inspired by a quote from High Fidelity, it's incredibly personal but I'm super proud of it and think it's one of the best things I've written.


The sun finally shone and we went into the woods for a picnic. I did my first outfit post, embarked on a week of making and wrote about why I can sometimes be perceived as a 'bad' friend.


We celebrated my birthday with a weekend in Bristol (and took my favourite picture of us - I just love this photo!), my tattoo was finished and I wrote about how it had changed my body image, and I discussed how The Boy's veganism had changed my own dietary habits.


I took a break from baking my friend's wedding cake (extremely stressful: do not recommend) to take a trip to Cambridgegave you all a tour of our new-look living room, which had been updated with some vintage and secondhand midcentury modern finds, and redecorated our kitchen on the hottest days of the year (also do not recommend).


Our summer holiday was a couple of days in the Netherlands followed by a short break in Copenhagen, after which I wrote a guide to vintage shopping in Amsterdam. And I published one of those pieces that you work on forever and never quite get right: I still don't feel I properly expressed what I wanted to in On Queerness: about being a queer girl dating a cis gender guy.


I started my spending ban (total saved so far: £800), wrote about memories of my incredible grandfather in When a Chair Is Not Just a Chair, and became the kind of person who goes to blogger meet-ups.


We spent a long weekend in Norfolk, and I wrote a series of posts about sponsored content, having big boobs, and posting half-naked pictures of myself online. Everyone was lovely about it, too, which was ace.


November brought some busy but rewarding weekends. The Boy and I started a new joint venture, The Hungry Vegan, a blog about being vegan and, well, hungry, offering recipes, reviews and rants. I also did something which would have been unfathomable to me a year previously: posted some extremely embarrassing pictures of myself in How Bad Outfit Photos Taught Me To Stop Fearing The Camera, and, in one of my most-viewed posts of 2014, gave you some ideas on how to have a conscious Christmas.


For all that 2014 was a pretty good year, the last three weeks of it weren't that great. First a flu virus, then bronchitis, completely floored me (I'm still not un-floored actually, more like dragging myself up from the ground slowly and painfully). As a result, blogging fell by the wayside somewhat, although I managed three makes: Christmas cards, an evergreen wreath, and a festive blackboard.