Some Thoughts on Plus Size Fashion – And a Request

It is an oft quoted fact that the average size woman in the UK is a size sixteen. I feel like I’ve known this all my adult life. It’s usually followed by the information that despite this,  most clothes shops stock a really poor selection of plus size fashion. Like many things to do with women and their place in the world, the change to stocking decent, beautiful clothing in every size has been as glacial as the gender pay gap. I’m forty six this year, and still, on the high street, is a fairly parlous choice for plus size women, for a problem that was identified over thirty years ago.

Last year I had a personal shopping client who was a size 16. Again, let me stress, the average size for a UK woman. She had very specific requirements for her new wardrobe, and my job was to cater for them. I was up for the challenge.

Here’s what I learned. Years of shopping in charity shops for myself and my children has always yielded fruit. I rarely ventured to the plus size of the rails, because I didn’t have to (this is not bragging. This is just fact). Extolling the virtues of charity shopping to friends and family I was repeatedly told that it is much harder to find plus size stuff, and that it is depressing to scan rail after rail and find nothing. I could only take their word for it until last year when I had to look for my client, although I believed it.

First of all, let me tell you that I did it. I shopped a wardrobe with her, and for her, that was exactly what she wanted, and at a fraction of high street prices. She was delighted. I was delighted. It was all good. But, I have to agree that it was much harder to do, and not just because she had very specific needs and didn’t want to compromise (understandably).

Here’s what I found, which is probably obvious, but I sometimes find that the obvious needs saying anyway.

The further up the rails you go in size, the less there is. So shopping for a size 16 is much easier than shopping for a size 18, or 20 for example. Yet, 16 is the ‘average’ so it stands to reason that there must be a considerable number of women looking for these sizes and who are not being catered for in an appropriate way and who should be getting choice, rather than a resigned, ‘I’ll have it because that’s the only one they have.’

There seem to be two ends of the spectrum for plus size in terms of quality, really shoddily made, or really great quality. There is very little available in the the middle. So, heaps of mass produced, Primark quality stuff, or the odd piece by Boden. Rarely anything at a say, Zara type price point. Don’t even get me started on designer clothes. It’s a black hole of despair.

There also seems to be two ends of the spectrum in terms of the look of items. At one end of the spectrum they seem to be going for what I call the Princess Diana maternity wear idea (i.e. hide everything with an enormous Peter Pan collar and hope nobody looks at the rest of you), which means endless colour clashes, terrible florals, lots of glitter, ‘hilarious’ slogans, cutesy animals etc. At the other end, we have just black. Everything in black, black or black to be more slimming.

The cut of things is mostly terrible.

There is too much nylon.

Why do they always assume that larger women have larger boobs? Mind you, they also assume that small women have no boobs.

Why do they always assume that larger women are also tall? And conversely small women are short?

It strikes me that too many men are in charge of designing, buying and stocking women’s clothes, or too many women who have bought wholesale into toxic ideas about women’s bodies and are happy to perpetuate them.

This infuriates me. Absolutely incenses me.

What I have also noticed in charity shops is what I notice when I’m sourcing boy’s clothes. That a  lot of it I have to discard because it is absolutely worn to death. I assume that it is so unusual to find plus size clothing that someone loves, or that fits properly, that they wear it to death and give it away only when they absolutely have to, because the chances of finding something else that is as nice, or fits, is miniscule, and the shopping experience on the whole is depressing and degrading.

Am I wrong about the conclusions I have drawn here? Tell me, if I am. Please.

Here’s my current take on it.

Fat shaming, for let us call it what it is, is happening at a mass consumer levels, with the buy in of most people in the fashion industry.

I find this astonishing (not in a good way) at two different levels. Firstly that people are so fricking judgmental. Secondly that purely from a business perspective, you would be aware that you are missing a key market sector, and even if you were a total fat shamer, on a greed level, you’d want to make money, no matter what size someone is.

I am determined that this should change. I do not see why any woman, no matter what her size or shape, should have to put up with rubbish to wear, should have to be punished in any way, or feel degraded by the simple act of opening the wardrobe and getting dressed.

A few days ago, whilst on my usual, treasure hunting rounds, I found a whole wardrobe of clothes had been donated to a charity shop I visited that were plus size. As I sorted through the rail I was delighted to see a whole array of really rather beautiful items. I bought everything I could lay my hands on. I was chatting to the lady behind the till as we bagged stuff up, and I said that I thought the clothes were fabulous and it looked as though they had all come from one home. She confirmed this for me, the lady is a regular customer, who has just moved house and had a clear out.  I thought about how carefully she had curated the things she had bought, and compared to standard high street shopping, how long it must have taken her to source all these things. And she was lucky, because we live in an internet age where you can simply order stuff now. Fifteen years ago, what I took home with me, would have been impossible to find.

The tide is turning, it seems, if you’re prepared to hunt stuff out, and mail order. On the high street, things are still lagging behind.

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I posted some of my finds up on Instagram, and within hours, had already begun to sell pieces, which is good for me, and good for my buyers. As I have washed and ironed over the last day or two, I have decided to focus a lot more of my hunting on finding good quality, plus size fashion, not only because I think it’s business savvy, but also because I think women deserve to be able to find well priced, beautiful clothes, whatever size they are. Everyone deserves to feel fabulous.

As you know, I am not a plus size woman. This is not down to hard work or an enviable life style of coconut water and spiralised courgette. This is down to sheer luck*. I come from a long line of plus size people, and one day I am fairly sure that my ‘luck’ will run out. I am not bragging. I do not feel superior to anyone. I genuinely want to help, but I know I might put my foot in it with the language I use to try and help, or things that I might not know, or things I might not understand, so I would like your help.

Tell me, if you are a plus size shopper, what is good and bad, what would help and what wouldn’t, what I can do, if anything to help you and other clients have the best shopping/buying/wearing experience possible.

Thank you.

N.B. I am posting this on both my regular blog and my Boostique blog as I’d like to get a decent range of responses if possible.

*I am amending the post as I go. For example, I know saying that I am ‘lucky’ in terms of my size is not the right word, as someone has kindly pointed out. I don’t mean that it’s brilliant to be thin. I mean that I am lucky that I have naturally fallen into society’s idea of what is a desirable body shape. I need to find a better way to talk about it, so I will have a think and edit when I have come up with something.

Wattle Woes

There are many times in the last week I have thought about blogging, and then the tide of life has swept me off and away, and I have only just managed to get round to chatting to you.

As ever, my life has been a rich tapestry of stuff and things. Monday saw me frantically getting the smalls ready to go back to school, faced with the: ‘Mum! I really need £18 in non-sequential bank notes, four hair nets, a small vole called Kevin and some trousers,’ thing that every parent dreads. I congratulate myself for no murdering having taken place, and the fact that I managed to get all the things and do all the stuff that was required.

On Tuesday I managed to stay in and welcome the man who was supposed to be fixing our French windows, but who actually sucked his teeth and told me he couldn’t possibly fix them until February 13th. Again, I congratulate myself for the lack of murdering. I also managed to remember to take two, small tablets at midnight, as part of another crazy ass requirement for the weird set of hormone related tests I am having at the hospital.

On Wednesday I had to get up ridiculously early and go to the hospital to have more tests, including one which required me to lie down for half an hour before having a blood test taken. I presume it was to let all the hormones they needed, rise to the top like cream on milk. I do not know. Anyway. That was the end of that set of weird tests, and now I wait.

Things got better later in the day when I went to a wonderful second hand book shop in an old barn just outside of Bedworth. Bedworth is a murderers sort of place and not really somewhere you associate with terrific second hand book shops with wood burners and squashy sofas, and a terrific tea room, but there you have it. An everyday miracle. I went with the parental units, and we browsed and oohed, and ahhed and I bought books because you know I would. Then we ate enormously delicious sandwiches and all was well.

Thursday was another day of highs and lows. I woke up with a weird lump under my chin/throat. Sort of like a really sore turkey wattle. It had appeared a few days earlier but I thought it was a spot. It was not a spot, and it grew and grew like Topsy, and by the end of the day it was really hurting quite a lot and I was rather concerned that I had some strange chin cancer, which would be about my lot, because what I haven’t had in the last twelve months isn’t worth talking about, frankly, and what’s one more bizarre lump when all is said and done? I ended up going to the emergency out of hours doctor, to get an appointment with whom was rather like being on The Crystal Maze. It turns out that a split at the side of my mouth that I’ve had since before Christmas and which keeps re-opening, had got infected, and instead of infecting my mouth, had taken a small journey into my chin. Which was nice. I also have an infected ulcer in my throat, which got all swole up and exploded. This, along with my wattle of doom and my scabby lip, is making me gloriously attractive and if it weren’t for the fact that Jenn came and did my hair on Thursday morning and I am now gloriously magenta and indigo, I would have had to shoot myself in the face.

Eventually, I got antibiotics from a small, heavily fortified shed, in a rough area of town. I managed to drive the wrong way towards it and ended up abandoning the car in a deserted bus stop at 10.20 p.m. Hot footed it across a muddy quagmire and made it to the pharmacy/shed with moments to spare before they closed. It was all very stressful, but it got sorted, and now I am dutifully trying to take my medication. Which is not easy when you have to take four a day on an empty stomach, and you eat as much as I do.

On Friday I spent the day nursing my wattle and plangently moaning. In the evening, I wrapped the wattle up and took it out, because Tilly and I had a hot date. We went and ate delicious food at the new Pho restaurant in town (called Pho, amazingly). We learned it is pronounced ‘fuh’ which is quite interesting. You say it a bit like a cat sneezing. Anyway, we opined that nobody in Leicester will ever call it FUH and we must keep calling it FOW, even though it is wrong, or we will never be able to meet anyone there, ever, and that would be a  shame, because the food was great. Then we went to see Three Billboards at the cinema, which was amazing and brilliant and if Frances McDormand doesn’t win that Oscar it will be a mockery of a sham. I felt very grateful for such a lovely daughter, and amazed that eighteen years ago I was cradling her against my chest and letting her throw up all over me, and now we’re going out on a date. No tongues. Not with my wattle.

On Saturday, my lovely friend Kim, who has moved away for a bit, and who I miss a whole, very lot, came to Leicester and we had coffee, and ate biscuits and caught up on all the gossip, and it was lovely.  In the evening, my lovely friend Andrea, who has also moved away (I think it’s me, probably I’m too diseased now for people to live near me for long) came, and ate dinner with us, and stayed over, and we caught up on all the rest of the gossip, and it was brilliant. Also, my wattle had gone down, so I was mostly only scabby, which is better, all in all.

Today I have been sorting out my Depop shop and sorting out my EBay, and parcelling things up to send off to people tomorrow, and listing new things, and feeling good that I am slowly getting back into the business. I’m feeling particularly glad that I invested some of last year’s earnings in a tailor’s dummy, given that I have not been in the best shape to be modelling anything at all in recent weeks. Smart move.

I have been getting back into cooking in the last week, after a month of basically living off of Christmas snacks of one kind or another. It has been really, really nice to be making things again. I decided today, pottering around my house, making beef stew, baking bread, listing clothes, that if I had to do this for the rest of my life, I would not be in the slightest bit sorry. So that’s good.

Our Only Hope

It may be because last week lasted about twenty years for me, due to the caffeine withdrawal, but it feels like January has already been going on for much longer than a month, don’t you think? I checked the date today and was absolutely horrified to find out it was only the 7th. To be fair it’s also that my kids haven’t gone back to school yet. Tilly goes back to uni tomorrow, but the other two aren’t back until Tuesday, so things aren’t in their regular groove, and I’m a bit lost.

Did I tell you I’ve had two dates this year already? That may also be adding to the confusion. Usually, what with one thing and another (largely being crap) we manage about two dates a year. We have unorthodox dates all the time, like sneaking off to the supermarket, or hanging out in Screwfix, but these were actual, real dates. I got taken out for lunch on Friday, which was very nice indeed, and then today we not only went out for lunch again, we also went to see The Last Jedi together. Alone. With no children. I did ask him what he’d done wrong (nothing, apparently). I also insisted he tell me if he was dying (he isn’t). These were just because dates. The best kind.

The novelty never fades. By the time Jason and I met, I already had the girls. Tallulah was one and Tilly was four when we moved in together. There has never been a time when our lives have not been festooned with children, so love them dearly though we do, we treasure any time we have together, alone.

We went to see the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. I absolutely loved it. It was so good. I cried almost all the way through thanks to Carrie Fisher, who I still miss quite viscerally, which is weird, I know. I can’t help it. Thank God I didn’t try to go and see it last week. I would probably have exploded. Anyway, I’m no film critic, but it was everything I wanted in a Star Wars movie. It was true to the original films. It was funny and sad and full of shooting and adventure, but also thoughtful and hopeful, particularly in today’s depressing climate. The only thing that could have improved it for me was some kind of Han Solo flashback, because he was always my favourite, although he did get mentioned a fair bit.

It also had loads of excellent roles for women, who did not have to get their kit off, or have massive boobs, or be helpless. Also, there was a decent, more reasonable representation of people just generally in the film, i.e. people of all colours and ethnicities as well as a better ratio in relation to gender. I said to Jason in the car, that if the whole of the human race was wiped out, and alien anthropologists only had films to go on, they’d be mistaken for thinking that anyone other than a white, male, was a rare bird indeed for the most part. It is wonderful to see such mainstream, popular films, doing something to address this imbalance.

My only criticism is that I’m not really that worked up about Kylo Ren as the bad guy. Partly I think it was because I was trying to place who he looked like through the film. I finally worked out that he’s part Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and part Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Also, he was very sulky teenager and I wanted more ravening evil for my money. But it was a small thing and mostly I could ignore him, so that was good.

Also, I want a Porg.

And Carrie Fisher to still be alive.

 

 

I talk about wee

I note I didn’t even bother with a title for my last post, which just goes to show what headfuckery giving up caffeine does for you.

Chaps, chaps, chaps. It was only for four days. Yet it felt like about seven lifetimes. Seriously, I think I’d rather have another hysterectomy. It was hella horrible. The main reason it was grim was that I had a migraine. A migraine that went on for about twenty years. There was vomit, and shaking, and splitting, splitting pain. As I haven’t had a migraine since the summer when my evil hormones were stopped at the point of entry, this was a shock to my system to say the least.

The good thing was that it made me grateful for the fact that now I only sweat and cry a lot, whereas before I would go blind, have splitting head pain and vomit a lot, plus sweating and crying. So all in all, hysterectomy for the win.

Some people, it appears, sail through caffeine withdrawal. When I spoke about it before I had to give it up, I had an even split of ‘ah, you’ll be fine if you just have decaf, it will fool your system.’ and ‘farkinell, have Jason and the kids got a safe space to hide in?’ It transpires that my body is not fooled by decaf, and took it upon itself to re-enact Renton’s come down from heroin in Trainspotting. So that was nice.

I’d be a shoe in for the part, if they ever decided to do an all female version.

Anyway. I had to give it up for three days prior to a twenty four hour urine test, and for the duration of the test. I also had to give up paracetamol and alcohol, which was not even funny. I also had to give up pineapple, aubergine, walnuts, peppers and tomatoes, but frankly, once you’ve given up drugs, drink and coffee, you might as well be dead, and throwing a no pineapple clause into things is neither here nor there.

Then there was the piddling into receptacles. I drink a lot of water. If there’s one sop to health I do try to adhere to, it’s keeping vaguely hydrated. I have a strange fear of becoming a husk. It might happen. So I am vigilant, vigilant about the water. They gave me a jerry can to pee into, and I could sense it probably wasn’t going to hold 24 hours worth of my wee, but you know, I nodded and smiled, and bought a plastic measuring jug from Wilkos with which to decant the widdle, because peeing into the neck of a jerry can is no fun, especially when you’re a swivel eyed, lunatic because of all the things you haven’t been allowed to have.

So I weed for all I was worth, and decanted, and weed and decanted and it was very boring and I was still feeling like shit, so I stayed at home, which was much less taxing than carrying around a giant jerry can swilling with pee that smelled like a field of rotting cabbage (ewwww) and your own personal measuring jug, so small mercies and all that. And lo and behold, by half eleven at night I had filled my can to the brim with life enhancing piss, and was clearly going to wee more. I thought about whether I needed to get an even distribution of wee, and whether it would be worth tipping some of the earlier wee out and giving a middle of the night, early morning wee a chance to be full of, or lacking in whatever the hell it is they’re testing for. Then I thought I’d probably end up pouring wee down my sleeve because I was tired and emotional and am always clumsy and really I just put the lid on and chucked the jug away and hoped for the best.

In the midst of all the Heart of Coffeeless horror I did think that as I’d got this far with it, I might give caffeine up for good, and power through and become a paragon of health. I thought it might help my blood pressure. One website I Googled on the second day of withdrawal, just in case I was actually having some kind of hideous seizure and mixing it up with caffeine withdrawal (I wasn’t) said quitting could bring blood pressure down. As we know, my blood pressure may rise up in the night and strangle me at any time, so I thought it could be good and healthful and new year’s marvellous to just keep on trucking with the no caffeine thing.

On Friday morning when I woke to the realisation that my jerry can was overflowing, my heart too, overflowed from the bed, took me downstairs and made me a cup of fully caffeinated coffee. I drank half of it, and frankly people, it was miraculous.

It was a bit like that bit in the opticians where you’re squinting into his weird goggle things, and he’s sliding lenses in and out of the frames and it’s all blurry, blurry, blurry and then suddenly everything is in crystal sharp focus and you feel amazed and euphoric because you can see, and it’s all very crisp. That. That is exactly what even half a cup of decent coffee does for me. I was all sharp and crisp and focused and I felt bonkers, but good bonkers, and like I didn’t want to kill myself/sleep for the rest of my life. So I’m back on it, and no more widdling into household receptacles for me, thanks.

 

Good afternoon on the first day of the New Year. The rain has rinsed all the remaining slush away and it is currently sharply cold with high, pale blue skies and sun. I do not have a hangover. I put this down to the hundredweights of toast I ate last night, which deadened the effects of the champagne. Also, staying up until half three in the morning to watch Supersonic on iPlayer. Great film if you like Oasis by the way. I think it’s still up there.

I do have a headache. This is due to the fact that one of the raft of tests that I am required to have to probe my endocrinological issues, insists that I lay off, amongst other things, caffeine for three days prior to the test and then on the day of the test itself (I have to pee into a jerry can for 24 hours and transport this fragrant delight to the hospital, so they can do voodoo on it). I am also banned from eating tomatoes, walnuts, aubergines and pineapple. I can live with this, but despite some very palatable decaf this morning, I am beginning to feel the pinch. I predict insanity by Friday, and a possible resurgence of rage related issues. I have already told Jason and the children to move out if they feel unsafe.

In order to distract myself I have finished reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which is the book chosen by a local book club I may try out, as their January read. I have avoided it up to this point because I am suspicious of books which are over-hyped and popular. Many times, this is a wise idea as they generally fall short of the mark with me as a reader. This time, however, I was utterly delighted to find a super tense, well written, thriller which had some really clever and fresh plotting and which I thoroughly enjoyed. You’ve probably all read it already, but if you haven’t. I recommend it. Given that there are about nine million copies floating around in charity shops up and down the land, it will be a very satisfying bargain if you do decide to read it.

I set my new Goodreads reading challenge today. I read about 170 books in 2017 and went over my 150 target. I’ve set myself 150 again this year as it’s both achievable but not ludicrous (for me). I’m happy with that.

Finally, here are my top ten picks of 2017 for you, in no particular order. I am pleased to see that I read widely last year, and a lot of things I wasn’t sure I would enjoy, actually ended up being in my top picks, which just shows you I am absolutely useless at predicting anything. I started doing regular book blogs in recent months, so I will already have mentioned a fair few of these, I expect.

The Pier Falls: And Other Stories by Mark Haddon – Gripping, devastating. Wonderful writing. Short stories that are perfectly crafted and absolutely addictive to read.

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood – I read this way back at the beginning of the year, but it’s a book I have recommended over and over again since then. Funny, sharp, beautifully poetic, rude and devastatingly powerful. It’s one of the best things I’ve read in years, let alone last year.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Another book I read much, much later than everyone else. I’ve been reading Atkinson since the Behind the Scenes at the Museum and loving her. I’ve no idea why I didn’t gobble this up when it came out. It’s strange and wonderful and so heartbreakingly sad and brilliant.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – In my defence, I thought I had read this. I hadn’t. I just had it mixed up with Anansi Boys. Gaiman at his best, scurrilous, gossipy, clever updates on mythology in the modern world. Funny and twisted.

The Art of Flight by Fredrik Sjoberg – This is one of those difficult to pin down books. The author starts talking about Swedish painters and his attempts to buy a piece of art in a sale, and this morphs into his obsession with entomology as a child, and his thoughts about nature. It is a book consisting entirely of delightful tangents which somehow manages to remain cohesive and utterly absorbing.

21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox – I contributed to this book by pledging with Unbound, and when it arrived I was doubly excited. I was desperate to read it, and also thrilled to see that I had played a small part in it ever existing at all. Cox is best known for writing about his cats, and golf (this would have pleased Alan Coren enormously), and this book, rather like my previous pick, does talk about these things, but also about family and nature and landscape. It’s well crafted, well written and thought provoking without being dry or preachy. I particularly love the stories about Tom’s dad, who is quite a character. I kept reading bits out to the family over Christmas, which made me happy and drove everyone else nuts.

How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb – Robert Webb is probably best known for being one half of Peep Show. In this book he writes about his childhood, growing up without a mum, with a troubled relationship with his dad, and what that did to him as an adult. It’s part memoir, part musing on how toxic our ideas of what being a man are. It sounds terribly worthy. It isn’t. It’s funny even when it’s being dark, and it gets pretty dark. It’s absolutely brilliant.

The Break by Marian Keyes – I love Marian and have adored her writing ever since I read Watermelon, about a million years ago now. She writes so fluently about every day life and I love that she manages to address important issues in her fiction whilst losing none of her humour or her ability to be absolutely on point when it comes to domestic life. This book is about a marriage in crisis and what happens when they decide to take a ‘break’ from married life. It has a really powerful sub plot about the abortion laws in Ireland that is almost as absorbing as the main plot. As ever, it’s funny, page turning and perfect.

Hagseed by Margaret Atwood – This is a reworking of The Tempest by Shakespeare. It’s absolute genius, funny, sharp and super clever without being impenetrable in any way. I started reading, utterly intrigued as to how she would make what is one of Shakespeare’s most magical and strange plays, fit into the modern day world. I spent the rest of the book uttering little bat squeaks of delight as it unfolded before me.

Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler – Maybe there was a theme to this year’s favourites, as it appears I like books that purport to be about one thing, but which actually contain a multitude of tangents. In this book, gardener, Alys Fowler, takes to the waterways of Birmingham, using a collapsible boat that she drags into all kinds of adventures. As she maps the canals of Birmingham, talking about how the urban landscape is gradually being seeded with the wild, she also charts the collapse of her marriage and the discovery of her wild self.

Honourable mentions this year include:

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaranovitch

Through Your Blood by Toby Campion

Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce

The Choice by Edith Eger

Year Ending

Gosh. I have so much to tell you. This is the problem with living, it sometimes gets in the way of writing, but I’m ok with that to be honest. I hope you had an absolutely marvellous festive season and are about to have a wonderful start to the new year. Here’s some things wot I dun recently.

I went on me olidees. It was lovely. Quiet, quiet lemon quiet. As promised, we ate a lot of food, we read a lot of books and we did a lot of sleeping. We did a bit of wandering around in the wet and the fog. I was so pleased I had actually managed to go on holiday I burst into tears when we arrived. It lived up to all my hopes.

My husband re-proposed to me on the day we came home. Last year was our tenth wedding anniversary and we were going to have a high old time to celebrate our decade of nuptial bliss. Instead, I had a hysterectomy. So he got down on one knee, in the rain, outside our favourite bakery and asked me to marry him again in 2018 instead. I cried, he cried. The rain bucketed down. He got a wet knee. Three old ladies stopped to watch, and we got a round of applause from people in the bakery who were watching through the window. It was very funny, and very romantic, and very perfectly us. I said yes. So we have a wedding to plan in the new year. It will be suitably eccentric I think.

Christmas was quiet. This is perfect for us. We lolled around. I cooked a beautiful piece of organic beef and my roasties were absolutely perfect and all my Yorkshires rose. The only fly in the ointment was that after six and a half years, the cat has finally worked out that she can climb on the kitchen cabinets while we are absent. I had put the remains of the beef on the side, wrapped in clingfilm. When I came to clear the kitchen up before bed, I found the cat looking anarchically at me from the middle of the kitchen table, a sizeable hole in the clingfilm, and what beef she hadn’t eaten, all over the floor. She flicked us the ‘v’s’ and scarpered. Little bugger. No cold beef sandwiches on Boxing Day for us. Also, a flare up of IBS for the cat, who is only allowed to eat dry biscuits because otherwise she craps through the eye of a needle and bleeds, which is what she has been doing since then. She is perfectly fine with this state of affairs. I am not. We have the kitchen on permanent lockdown and she is on a warning that she will have to see the V-E-T if she doesn’t behave herself. She has been uninvited from the wedding.

Boxing Day saw us hosting my mum and dad and various friends who were around. I had the Christmas Food Fear on Christmas Eve and went to five different supermarkets to bulk buy supplies in case. This meant I had enough to feed the five thousand on Boxing Day. We are still eating leftovers.

I finally got to London to see The Box of Delights at Wilton’s Music Hall with my friend Claire. We were meant to go before Christmas, but I was snowed in and she had the lurgy, so they kindly moved the day for us. It was most excellent, although it took a little finding (it’s down a murderer’s alley, by a murderer’s railway cutting in Whitechapel). It was very festive. We ate there, and the food was great. The play was creative and imaginative and all the best bits of the book (which is a little turgid) and the television series. If it’s still on, you should try to get tickets.

We went to Bristol for the day to see my lovely sister and brother in  law in their new house. We ate enormous amounts of Lebanese food and drank pink champagne and laughed a lot. It was a day well spent.

I went to Bromsgrove to meet my friends Kate and Rachel, who I have known forever and a day, and we ate lots of food and drank lots of coffee and caught up with all the news. I met Rachel when I was 13 and we met Kate when we were 18. Our lives have been entwined now for so long, and hopefully will be for even longer. Between us we have nine children. When we all get together it is absolute bedlam. The best kind.

Today, I am in my pyjamas, cleaning the old year out of my house and making way for the new year to come. We usually party with my friend Kim, but it is not to be this year (double party next year), and we are having a quiet one. My brother very generously bought me a bottle of Veuve Cliquot for Christmas, and we’re having that and bacon and eggs for our dinner. It will be splendid.

I don’t make negative New Year’s Resolutions. I intend to give up nothing and do nothing punitive. It makes things so much less stressful. There will be no diets, no gym membership and no setting impossible goals that are really a stick to beat myself with. I do like to set achievable goals sometimes however. My goal for the coming twelve months is to get better, and be kinder – to myself and everyone else. I wish you joy and more importantly I think, peace. Peace in yourselves and with yourselves, and may it spread far and further.

Much love.

Me Oliday Readin

I took a ridiculous amount of books on holiday with me. This admission comes after having spent two days before the holiday, whittling down the pile of actual, physical books, as well as having a fair few to get through for Netgalley.

In the end, I read seven, which wasn’t bad going all things considered, although I did feel disappointed that I didn’t somehow develop superhuman powers and manage more. Before I get on with a post or two about what we actually did, apart from read, here are the thoughts from the Leicester jury on my holiday reading material.

The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 by Tina Brown – given that these start the year I was eleven, I was most assuredly not the target for a Vanity Fair readership. Had I been older, it still would have been doubtful I’d ever have picked it up. Wrong social circles (nobody in VF ever goes up the Asda, or indeed, down the Aldi). Looking back on the decade however, is absolutely fascinating. Brown is intelligent, scarily ambitious and driven to write, write, write. Given she never seems to stop working, quite when she had time to write these diaries, I really don’t know. They chart the years that Rupert Murdoch started his ascendancy, Donald Trump was trashing his first marriage and moving on to his second amongst various monetary upsets and scandals, and even young Boris Johnson shows his face. It’s a time of excess, corruption and sexual sordidness only rivalled by today’s political and economic shenanigans and reading it now is a bit like reading some prime sooth saying. You can already see the nightmare saddling up on the horizon.

The Story of The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit  – I read this over and over as a child, along with her other works, and loved them all. Coming back to it after three decades I am struck by how fresh and funny her writing is. Despite the fact that this was written in the Eighteen Nineties, it works because she knows and writes children so very well. This is the first volume which tells the story of the Bastable children and their desperate attempts to restore the fallen fortunes of the house of Bastable. Their various adventures, although dated in places, are still very, very funny and in parts I was actually laughing until I cried. I tested this out on the children, and they got me to read half of it to them in a day. Top work. The version I read is through Netgalley and published by Dover. It’s not out yet, but there are a billion versions available if you simply can’t wait. I will review this over on the children’s book blog too, but it’s so good, you’d be sad to miss it, even if you do consider yourself all growed up.

Miss Stephenson’s Apprenticeship by Rosalind Brackenbury – This is a strange little book, sent to me by Netgalley for review. It’s not out until March. If you don’t know anything at all about Virginia Woolf and are interested in finding out how she became the writer she did, this may be a good place to start. It charts Woolf’s early years and each chapter lays out what Brackenbury believes influenced her writing. It’s a fairly short book, and if you are interested in Woolf at all, and have already read about her, I don’t think this is going to cut it to be honest. It is perfectly nice, perfectly well written and reasonably interesting, but there is nothing new here, and it reads like a cross between a love letter, and a thesis.

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe – I bloody, blooming, blinking love Nina Stibbe. For me, this is perfect. Stibbe is from Leicester originally, and although a smidge older than me, she writes about the places I know, at a time I was growing up and that jolt of recognition and wonder means so much. It is very like when I first started reading Sue Townsend and realised that the place you live, despite not being in America or London could be written about in books. If you’ve not read Man at the Helm, you really should. This follows that, and gives us more of the story of Lizzie Vogel and her dysfunctional, yet rather wonderful family. Lizzie is fifteen and wants her own Linco Beer shampoo, and to not have to make do with Vosene (totally appreciate this). She gets a job at Paradise Lodge old people’s home, and despite still having to go to school, finds herself sucked more and more into the world of the home. It’s funny, affectionate, beautifully written and absolutely perfect.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – These are the diaries/memoirs of Kay, who was a junior doctor, specialising in gynae and obstetrics, until he gave up and moved into writing for telly instead. I won’t tell you why. You’ll find out in the book. It’s funny and devastating and sad and brilliant and it’s all mixed up together so you find yourself laughing one moment and crying the next. The worst bits are when you find yourself laughing, knowing that you really shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. I read this in a day, and then passed it on to Tilly, who also finished it in a day. We both loved it. Everyone should read this book. Particularly Jeremy Hunt.

No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – This was sent to me for review by Netgalley. This is a collection of writing from Le Guin’s blog. She admits in her introduction to the book that the blog format gave her a freedom to write whatever she wanted, and I totally understand that. She’s erudite, witty and brilliant. Not every post works for me, but that’s because she roams far and wide subject wise, and some are more interesting to me than others. It’s not to say that they’re not all superbly written, they are. It’s not to say that the ones I didn’t like are somehow lesser, they’re not. It’s just the nature of this episodic kind of writing. I particularly loved her thoughts on ageing and her rather sweet essays on her cat, Pard. She covers literature, politics, feminism, science, genre fiction and a whole host of other things that catch her eye, and if you love Le Guin’s writing, this is a cool book to stand alongside her novels.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx – I think, had I not been reading the Vanity Fair diaries, which were hefty, and then this, which was heftier, I’d have probably crammed in a few more books this holiday, but it’s no good ignoring wrist breakers on the grounds that you want to up your numbers. Particularly not when they’re as good as this. I’ve read almost everything Proulx has written (with the exception of one volume of short stories, I think) and have loved her since I first winkled out The Shipping News, many years ago. I am particularly interested in the way she mixes her interest the environment and its fate, with brilliantly absorbing stories that never seem too didactic or labour a point. Even here, with this vast family tale, spread out over a few hundred years, and which is as much about the fate of the trees of North America as it is about the people who populate the pages, you don’t feel like she’s forcing her ideas on you, or telling you off. Instead you find yourself learning all kinds of things as you read. In this way she reminds me very much of A.S. Byatt, who taught me a lot about snails through her Virgin in the Garden series. Barkskins is about the Sel family, starting with Rene Sel, a young man who moves to New France to start his life as a land owner, back in the days when Canada was mostly trees, and takes us through to the present day and looming ecological disaster, still following the descendants of Rene on their many and varied life paths. I loved it, but it is a commitment, so if you’re intrigued by Proulx, do start with The Shipping News. It’s just as good, but considerably shorter.