Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Oh No She Didn't

I'm a list girl. Need to shop? I write a list, ensuring I don't have to painfully drag six heaving bags to the front door, plastic handles threatening to cut off circulation to half my fingers, only to realise I forgot something vital like toothpaste. Need to remember work assignments? Calendar list. Need to write letters to relatives to thank them for gifts I've temporarily misplaced? Post-it list. Need to plan a surprise party without leaving hints around the house? Phone list. It soothes me to know that anything significant in my life is likely to be recorded somewhere, waiting for me to notice it and take action.

Today I found a list from November 2013 of things I felt would be valuable enterprises in my life. Some of them were pretty basic, others fairly long-term aspirational. The thing that immediately struck me was that out of thirteen things, I've only done two and started working on another two - so that's what, about a 30% success rate? (Don't be mean, maths isn't my strong suit). Here's the list:

Re-learn French.

Latin dance classes.


New Zealand.

Write a book.

Finish knitting Stan's jumper.

Join a choir.

Become healthier/fitter.

Write to friends more often.

Move house.


Study something new.

Do a life drawing class.

I didn't write these in order of importance or intended achievement; it was more a case of as they occurred to me, and I'm sure there were - and definitely are - other items worth including. I don't realistically expect some of them to occur for a good few years, if even this decade. The ones I have achieved are graduating (four years late, that's another story) and moving house, while I'm currently working on my fitness and writing to people more frequently, so I can count some successes. But it made me sad to see how many of them should have been at least started by now and in reality hadn't been given more than a second thought since that list was penned. I just haven't got around to it.

There's an adage I could readily apply here: 'procrastination is the thief of time'. It was originally written by Edward Young in his poem 'Night-Thoughts', published in the 1740s, but it was probably Dickens who brought it more into common parlance when he had Mr Micawber reference it in David Copperfield. He added what I always thought was a valuable exhortation:

'Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!' 

It's a great Dickensian image - some grubby slip of a boy in a dirty shirt, dipping his slim hands into pockets and suddenly, we've lost an hour, a day, a month. Collar him indeed - that sly spoiler of our best intentions! Only when I move away from the imagery and really think about it, how do I collar procrastination? It's myself I need to grab by the scruff of the neck and march off to be disciplined - my own failure to manage my time that needs addressing.

My family and close friends will know I'm terrible for biting off more than I can chew. It's not actually that I'm incapable of achieving what I commit to, necessarily, just that I fail to plan properly to achieve it. I never allow enough time for the things that matter, either because I underestimate what is required or because I allow myself to be distracted by less important things, but things that shout louder. 'Pick me, I'm urgent, you need to do this NOW!' they squeal, and sometimes they're right but often, more often than I would like to admit, they're just the boggarts on the tasklist. I'm afraid that if I don't deal with them straight away terrible things will happen - they appeal to my lack of confidence, a victim mentality, the idea that all this is happening to me. The only way I can take control is to face those fears head-on, and stop shifting the blame onto external circumstances.

I'm going to re-write that list this week, and I'm going to find a way to make some of them reality in the coming months. I'm sure there will always be other important or urgent things to deal with, but the fact is that we need to make space for recreation, for relationship, for bettering ourselves, if we are ever going to be of any use in life. Please feel free to challenge me on this if you see me or write to me - I always need the reminder! I'll aim to post progress on the blog periodically as a little victory record, so I can turn my oh no she didn'ts into oh yes she did.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Working It Out

There's no obvious starting point for this one. I don't remember a moment of epiphany one way or the other, only brief glimpses of triumph and panic which have fed into this neurosis I'm forcibly shifting. Maybe it's in part the obsessive nature of my early relationship with it that has made the last few years such a challenge.

I'm talking of course about the gym - that hallowed realm of sweat, anxiety, and the smell of metal that you can't get off your hands. I still have to take a deep breath before walking in sometimes, like I'm heading to an interview and need to take a moment to put my game face on. There's something about exercising publicly that makes me more uncomfortable than most uncomfortable things I can think of (and I have a good imagination). 

Reasons? So many. It's the performance anxiety; people can see what I'm doing, what if I do it wrong? It's the music; why do they give you the option of plugging headphones into all the equipment and choosing a radio station when they're going to pump something loudly over the house speakers? It's the constant presence of the opportunity for self-criticism. And it's the mirrors - what is with the excessive number of mirrors?! I'm not weight-lifting, I don't need to check my form from three different angles. I definitely don't want to spend half an hour observing my own sweaty face bob up and down as I battle through the cross-trainer moderate aerobic program, trying not to accidentally make eye contact with other gym-goers. Maybe they're just as paranoid as I am that everyone else is judging them, but probably not. Inexplicably, in the back of my mind I am always fighting the idea that at any given moment someone might realise that I don't belong, that I don't actually know how to use some of this equipment, that I'm making it up as I go along. At least that's how it feels, even though I have actually been inducted and regularly working out for over two years now.

I remember when I first went to the gym it seemed like a very exciting grown-up thing to do. I was seventeen; my parents were in charge of a boys' boarding house at a school and we lived on site, so automatically had access to the school gym. Not being a natural athlete and with no one to force me into it, there wasn't really a sport or exercise routine I had got into in my teens other than netball. I only took up running at sixteen out of boredom while camping, when I would jog barefoot around the field in the drizzle and enjoy the visceral blood-pumping experience of it, reveling in my solitude. The gym in contrast was a big shiny adventure, full of challenges and companionship - I tended to go with my mum or new friends from one of the girls' boarding houses.

It was a different story once I actually joined the sixth form there. It quickly became apparent that the gym was a battlefield of adolescent posturing and perfection-obsessed youth, as time and again I heard gorgeous specimens bemoan physical faults I couldn't even spot, discussing diet plans while burning off as many calories as possible in a session. I was there to try and get fit (at this stage I was always at the back on my D of E expeditions) and while I had been losing weight, it wasn't my primary objective when it came to the gym. In fact I honestly can't remember ever consciously thinking that I was at the gym to lose weight, but steadily it became more than a healthy habit and more of a necessity. I wanted to go every evening, and if I couldn't there would be this latent frustration bubbling under the surface. The weight kept falling off and I felt powerful, like I had mastered my own body, but even while my gym obsession continued I caught the glances of my peers bouncing off the mirrors. What was wrong with me now, now that I was thin? What were they looking at? I never lost the paranoia.

Getting back into the gym after three years of university and the corresponding three stone weight gain took a lot of courage. It helped that the one I joined was usually empty of other people, and the staff there were the sweetest and didn't make me feel like an idiot, but now I've had to move to a busy gym it's almost like starting all over again. The fact is I might never feel entirely comfortable with it however much I learn to love the skin I'm in, or however many times I tell myself that it doesn't matter what other people think. My continued mantra of 'this is for me and my body's good only' might need to be on my lips every time I step in, every time I take that deep breath to walk through the door. But that's okay, as long as I don't give up.

In conclusion, I'd like to share a very short creative piece I published on my old blog last November when I was tackling running again. It sums up my recent feeling and experience of exercise, and I hope anyone undertaking the same challenge can find the sense of triumph and overcoming that results from facing our demons. 

Just Watch Me

A dull yellow stain was spreading through the cloud over the hill. Birds trilled their matins into damp air and their music hung in the vapour, exhorting the expanse, laudate. Dew seeped through the webbing of her trainers.

Heartbeat in time with her feet, the ground gave way to each footfall like sponge. She was heavy; she felt her weight in each stride yet she didn't slow. She was a force, a power. Her weight was behind her, not against - this wasn't about diminution, this was about strength.

The constant grey was breaking into slivers above and the trees were pulling themselves upright. Skyward was the aim of each living thing pushing out of the earth and she wouldn't look down, wouldn't give her detractors the satisfaction.

They might not understand the complexity of it, the duality. That it is possible both to accept and to improve; to be and to do things considered mutually exclusive.

Her breath came sharp as the hill rose to meet her, demanding a tribute of pain which she gave gladly, and laughing inside she hit the crest and made herself its conqueror. She planted her feet and her flag.

I can do this. Just watch me.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Parlez-vous Franglais?

'Franglais' is my dad's term for that curious mix of French and English we always managed to get by on whenever we headed across the Channel, so seemed appropriate for my next outfit - a French-inspired look in British brands.

Stripes are a trend set to continue into spring and summer and while it may not be the most adventurous example, I think this New Look bardot top is a perfect staple - it's thick jersey fabric with a good degree of stretch, and a nice on-the-hip length. New Look seem to have loads of striped basics at the moment; I'm tempted by the bardot-top minidress but I'd have to try it on to ensure it wasn't too mini for me!

 Cobalt Blue makes a bold pairing whatever you put it with - personally I favour a coral pink or crisp white shirt, but these Red Herring jeans are so versatile and I've worn them easily two or three times a month since I bought them last spring. It doesn't look like they make them anymore, sadly, but Asos have plenty of options and I rather like the look of this Evans blue skinny jean. Jeans are the one thing I never mail order as I'm really fussy about the fit on my hips and the length, especially if they're a bright colour and there's nowhere to hide!

Accessories above are a soft beige vintage 50s handbag that I got from a fair last year, black cat-eyes style sunglasses (which have never really suited me but I will eventually find some that work), and a multi-chain pendant necklace from Accessorize in soft gold.

 If I want to give this outfit a bit more punch I reach for orange which is of course blue's complementary colour, plus I have sunglasses with blue on the frame that tie it all together. I've kept the shoes a neutral colour and low heel; these are a StylistPick pair and they go with probably 50% of my wardrobe!

So this is my Franglais spring outfit - what clothes are you getting out when the frost finally disappears?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Winter Wardrobe - Weekend & Work

Ever since I decided my body shape and size didn't have to be factors that worked against me when it comes to dressing myself, I've been having a lot more fun with what I wear. Curves are now hugged instead of covered, and skinny jeans are not just for the skinny. This weekend I thought it would be fun to take some photos of a few favourite looks, starting with winter warmth and working my way into spring (seriously wishful thinking considering I was freezing when these pics were taken!). Outfits one and two  - separate ways with jeggings (yes really).


These Dorothy Perkins Eden jeggings in Merlot (find them here) are an absolute staple, even though I hated the very thought of jeggings when they first appeared. They're such good thick fabric that apart from the lack of front pockets you wouldn't really notice that you weren't wearing regular trousers. Usually I have to buy tall/long jeans - I'm a touch under 5'9" - but the standard length are right down to the ankle and unlike some skinny jeans they are actually tight enough to fit comfortably under my boots. Speaking of which, these beauties are from JustFab online. I always feel a bit like a pirate when I wear them, they've just got that swashbuckling vibe! 

 The blue jacket is from Everything 5 Pounds, a cheeky bargain site my blogger friend Leah recommended. It can be hit and miss in terms of sizing and quality but this is decent, if not perhaps the warmest for the current weather! I love the double-breasted design and the fact that the belt is long enough for me to tie a nice bow rather than just about getting it round me and reminding myself that I did in fact eat all the pies...

The tan leather gloves and faux fur neck wrap add some nice warm colours, not to mention keeping me snug. They were from tiny independent stores but H&M do similar gloves and the fluffy things are all over eBay. 


Jeggings again! I style these for work with a smart blouse and jacket:

Navy is always a safe option for a shirt and I used to think it was pretty boring, but I'm coming around to the view that it's quite a classy way to do dark without always opting for black, and it helps that there are some beautiful styles around (see here for Dorothy Perkins, here for H&M, and one I've got on my 'yes please' list from Asos). My jacket is from a Savile Row Company set so it's a beautifully tailored cut, which is a must for me with jackets because my waist-to-hip ratio is unusual and I find a lot of jackets too boxy.

My black suede New Look shoes with crossover detail make a change from a regular court, and if I'm not rocking massive earrings then this pendant necklace tends to come out - £3 in Peacocks, you can't say no to a bargain. 

I love these outfits for their combination of smart-casual chic, and how versatile the pieces are, especially for work when I'm seeing clients four days out of five and can't really have a bad wardrobe day. Having said that, I will be glad when I can finally get my dresses out again!