Saturday, 26 February 2011

Idler and Idler

Went to the opening party for the 'Idler Academy' which has just opened in Notting Hill on Thursday night. It was a fabulous party - lots of beautiful and interesting people and 'slebs (including Emma Thompson who I elbowed in the face, accidentally, obviously). Saw someone I thought I knew and kissed them hello (on the cheek) before realising it wasn't someone I knew, it was just someone who comes into the shop sometimes. Got called 'Violent' for about two hours by a drunk man. Kept needing to pee. Saw the Latinist and author Harry Mount and quite fancied him. Managed to walk in my high heels all night EVEN THOUGH they are very high and the floor was very uneven and I was very drunk. Told A and S that I loved them about a zillion times, which is true but perhaps didn't need to be stated quite so often. Spent a lot of time walking from the front of the shop to the garden at the back in case there was someone fun I was missing. Flirted a lot. Left party and weaved around the surrounding streets with a group of other hungry revellers looking for an open restaurant, couldn't find one, went to a pub, felt very cross when the last order bell rang almost instantly. Then went back to local friend's house and insisted on him slaving over a hot stove for forty minutes to make me food, didn't eat it and fell asleep in my dress. All in all a lovely evening, and one which precipitated much idleness the following day.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Things that don't suit me and never will

Body-con dresses: I am too womanly and fertile i.e. pear-shaped and pot-bellied.

Palazzo trousers: particularly sad as they look so darned comfortable.

Neon pink lipstick: emphasises that weird patch on my chin that's a different colour to the rest of my face.

High-waisted jeans: see 'Body-con dresses' above.

Beanies: in fact, any hat. Or headband. My face needs to be mostly obscured by hair to be at all presentable. This can create problems in the winter - maybe a balaclava might be the solution.

Sexy lingerie: makes me look cheap, however expensive it is.

Cropped t-shirts: see 'Body-con dresses' above.

Pink, purple or red eye-shadow: makes me look like I've been in a fight / crying / have conjunctivitis / all of the above.

Those adorable plaits above one's head like a German milk-maid: try as I might, and believe me I do, I can never get these to look good. It is the thing about me that most disappoints my mother.

Bikinis: see 'Body-con dresses' above.

Monday, 14 February 2011

I Dream of Spring

It's that time of year again... After four months of being constantly swaddled in winter clothes (I'd like to pretend it was all fine-knit cashmere in biscuit colours, but actually it was moth-eaten Barbours and long-jonhs under jeans), I am ready once again for tea-dresses and bikinis. The fun bit of winter is over - Christmas and its attendant snows have come and gone, New Year's Eve is a distant (and blurred) memory, mince pies are, alas, no longer readily available.

Now the dullness sets in: the February detox (going cold turkey in January isn't the done thing any more); the unrelenting, unrepentant cold; the momentary hope in the morning when one sees a clear blue sky, only to step outside and be plunged instantly into icy misery. All any of us want is summer by now, yet God refuses to give in even a little bit and shift it back to earlier in the year. And, worst of all, spring itself is such a false dawn - yes, things look prettier and you're less likely to die of hypothermia on your way to buy a pint of milk, but - let's face it - England doesn't really get warm until mid-June, and even then not really and not for very long.

So, a little cheering up is necessary. After my woes of last week, I have been on a self-care mission, modelling myself on my friend B from school who is undoubtedly the most sorted girl I know. She recommended tom yum soup as the perfect comfort food: my fridge is now replete with nam pla and chicken stock. I have been having hot baths with lavender-scented bubbles and going to bed by ten every night. Treats include leave-in conditioning masks and trips to art galleries. I have been reading up on Jung and have just ordered Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity'. There has been lots of DVD watching - currently, the boxed set of The Tudors which is utterly compulsive in a sixteenth-century-Gossip-Girl way. I have been wearing my nicest silk blouses and high heels instead of leaving them languishing in the back of my wardrobe. I do yoga stretches before bed, for goodness' sake!

And I am feeling absolutely fantastic. The feeling of potential inherent in waking up every day without a hangover is perhaps the greatest revelation of my life. My mind, soul and psyche feel nourished (yes, I know this is bullshit terminology, but it's good for all of us to suspend our cynicism every once in a while). My body is my temple (utter bullshit). I feel bright-eyed and bushy tailed and a whole host of other insufferable clich├ęs. Instead of hankering after spring, I am living in the moment in a very zen way, embracing winter's root vegetables and maxed-out central heating. Best of all, I bought a fabulous bright yellow top with scalloped ruffles from H&M. Even in the zenith of non-materialistic self-care, what girl could resist a primrose coloured t-shirt?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

From the mundane to the silly

Feeling rather down at heel as I left work yesterday - hungover from a heavy weekend, tired from waking up at the crack o' dawn to catch the milk train from the country and with a streaming cold to boot - I was cheered up in a most unexpected way. Walking through central London towards the bus stop, feeling oblivious to everything except the need to get home and into bed, I suddenly felt a tug on my pocket. Looking down, I saw that the loo-roll I had nabbed from the bathrooms in the office to cope with my copious nose-blowing had fallen out of my pocket and unwound itself all the way from the middle of Bond Street to Piccadilly. Tears sprung to my eyes, but so did laughter to my lips. An amused queue outside a cash point started giggling as the loo-roll was whipped by the wind and fluttered across the window dispays of Moschino, Armani and the like. A Chanel clad woman with a dog-in-a-handbag got some caught in her hair. Some wound itself around the railings outside a smart hotel. There was nothing for it but to laugh - and in those moments of laughter, as the wind blew the white stream up towards Oxford Street, it blew my blues away too.

Friday, 4 February 2011

T. S. Eliot Prize

The weekend before last, I went with my dad to see the shortlisters of the T. S. Eliot poetry prize reading their work at the Royal Festival Hall. Due to various inanities on my part, we missed the first two speakers (Simon Armtiage and John Haynes - I was particularly bitter about the former, on whom I have harboured an enormous crush for years, despite the fringe). The performances we did catch were all wonderful, though; I particularly loved Robin Robertson's wonderful descriptions of the natural world, as in these lines from 'Abandon':

That moment, when the sun ignites the valley and picks out
Every bud that's greened that afternoon; when birds
Spill from the trees like shaken sheets: that sudden loosening
Into beauty...

Heavenly, too, was Daljit Nagra's charming and witty reading of the winner Derek Walcott's poems. In the car on the way home afterwards, my dad and I discussed the power of poetry, and all the things that it can do. It is at once utterly superfluous and completely necessary for the soul, we agreed; the medium where sign and signifier seem closest, where emotion and intellect are fully in harmony. We both found ourselves inspired to write poems in the next couple of days. Mine was profoundly silly about the Queen taking a taxicab, but my dad's was absoutely lovely. So, here it is:

Letting Go

You gave me a poem,
a pebble warmed by your hand.

Words smoothed
by the reach of moonlight on water,
or the dappling of sunlight
on the shoulders of a girl.

Words that carried their own weight
polished by the use of others,
but in them, you set a spark
like a striking of flint
a fire set alight
passing from one to another.

What was certain,
what confirmed this transaction
was the light.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Brideshead Rehabilitated


In my mind, I miss Oxford. I miss the width of the streets, the quality of the light, the smell of the Radcliffe Camera LRR. I miss the view of the Dragon School playing fields from my bedroom window, the sandwich shop where I didn't even have to say my order out loud they knew it so well, putting my hair in a high ponytail and feeling smugly academic. The parks, the pubs, the libraries.

So it was with great excitement that I went back on Sunday to visit my best friend R and her brother for tea in the Union. It was a beautiful day for a train journey - clear and crisp with a premature hint of spring. Steaming away from London, snuggled up with a hot chocolate and the Sunday Times' 'Stlye' supplement, I felt like I was leaving horrid, hectic modernity and returning temporarily to the Waugh world of Morris Minors, champagne picnics, naked river swimming and all the other charming attrirubutes of louche undergraduate life between the wars.

Imagine how bitterly disappointing, then, to find Oxford not nearly as nice as I'd remembered it. The buildings are pretty, yes, but that cold biting wind! Oxford has always seemed to have a microclimate that renders it much chillier than yer average town, perhaps because of two rivers meeting there. Or something. I have never been so cold as when I lived in Oxford, when me and everyone I knew would wear at least five layers until mid-July, when it was generally safe to come down to three for a few weeks.

And Cornmarket - urgh. The blandest, ugliest shopping street in Britain, yet full of people even on a January Sunday afternoon. I'm talking Oxford Street levels of people; I'm talking - wait for it - Christmas shopping levels of people. The confluence of two fast food joints in ten metres lends the street an ungodly smell of deep-fried fat - chips, burger buns and chicken nuggets squelch underfoot.

Worse still, far from the Dior-New-Look bedecked gilded youth of my imagination, the students all seemed so... young. Slightly hopeless looking, generally quite spotty, all clutching books about biochemistry to their too-narrow chests. Where were the glorious men declaiming Tennyson and the fillies fainting at their feet? The eminent tutors deep in conversation about the nature of the soul? The champagne corks puncturing the air?

The conclusion I'm forced to reach is that Oxford lends itself to a peculiar, particular type of anachronistic nostalgia. The mythologising around the city is such that it is impossible to see it clearly when you live there, or when you think back to it. It is only by visiting it that you can realise that, yes, it may be the greatest university in the world, but as a town... it's not up to much. And as a fantasy of a town it stands up even less. Or maybe I should've just ignored everything else and gone straight to the Bodleian.