Friday, 28 May 2010

A Song For Europe

Living in Europe and not yet made any plans for Saturday night? Were you thinking of a nice, relaxing evening in front of the telly; take-away, wine, popcorn, perhaps? So tired from a hard week at work that you weren't even contemplating getting up from your armchair for the whole night? may want to rethink those none-plans. Say yes to the dinner invite, go to the pub, go to the cinema, go out for a walk. Quite frankly, go anywhere that will get you away from the television or I fear you might just melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Yes, tomorrow is Eurovision Song Contest night. One single night of collective musical misery from around the continent in every way, shape and form, ranging from dull, through all shades of mediocrity (with a lengthy stop-over at camp) and onwards into the surreal and ridiculously weird. The sad thing about the BBC's coverage is that there isn't even Terry Wogan's stinging commentary to laugh at anymore.

Anyway, if you want to see how it should really be done (UK entry, take note), watch Sébastien Tellier's performance from a couple of years back. I think the French (all credit to them) stopped caring about Eurovision a long time ago, and Monsieur Tellier gives a performance of Gallic insouicence and irreverance, complete with buggy, bearded female backing singers and a helium filled inflatable globe...

Sébastien Tellier, Divine.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Blue Room

Following on from A Peacock's Tale...

George knew that there were other shades of blue that graced Thoresby Hall...

...shades of vivid cerulean upon the walls. The passage of time had seen the coverings fade and rot as Thoresby crumbled and collapsed in upon itself and fell into a cob-webbed slumber.

But slowly, slowly and piece by piece, Thoresby reawoke to pristine rococo style silk upon the walls; to newly restored and gilded plasterwork and a thousand other wonderful things. Blinking at the splendour, George knew that the house, his house, had reawoken to life.

Through the long, elegant windows, George could now see that lunches were being taken in the golden afternoon light, and delicately ornate dinners consumed by candlelight as the wallpaper cherubs looked on. It was a beautiful blue, to be sure, George conceded...but it could never be in the same league as him...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

On Travel Essentials

I like lists. I write them on anything I can find, from post-its to notebooks. There is something really satisfying about scratching off a task, finding a piece of information, getting that crucial thing that's been forgotten for too long.

As well as to-do lists, my brain also likes reading lists of favourite things on other blogs and in magazines and newspapers. It's interesting to know what moves people and what motivates them. I enjoy reading Deanna Raybourn's blog for this reason, as she will often post a lists like these. Recently, she wrote about the items she cannot leave behind when travelling. Not for the holiday or trip, per se, but for the journey itself.So, what things do I invariably pack whenever I travel?

1. Lip Balm: I've read countless magazine articles telling you to take an entire beauty counter along in your carry-on; to remove your make-up, cleanse, moisturise, and change into your cashmere track suit...bla bla. Seeing as how I can't bring myself to do this (for many reasons, but starting with the fact that I don't fancy putting a million creams and potions into clear plastic bags and removing them at every security checkpoint), I settle for lip balm. I'm currently using one I bought from Rose & Co. that I bought the last time I visited Haworth. It's a rose salve that can be used for a million different reasons, and it works really well for me.

2. Reading: Usually a variation on a theme. Whatever book I happen to be reading at the time will go into my bag, and usually another book grabbed from my shelves at the last minute because I'm convinced that one book alone will not be enough. It will be a light and compact enough volume to fit happily in with the rest of my stuff, so a little Penguin Classic like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Jane Eyre or The Woman in White does the job. In addition, I get magazine fever at the airport and end up buying some kind of travel magazine, along with a weighty, advertisement-laden fashion magazine.

3. Water: This lesson has been learned the hard way. There is something about an aeroplane (probably the pressure) that gives me a thumping and persistent headache as soon as we're up in the air. Drinking lots and lots of water goes a long way to help, as painkillers do nothing to shift it.

4. A Scarf or something warm: Another lesson learned: I get cold on planes. Very cold. See-through airline blanket aside, I stuff either a light scarf and/or cardigan into my bag to stop me shivering.

5. iPod: Self-explanatory really, and completely essential to drown out any unwanted noise!

6. A Pair of Shoes: Always a last minute thing, because I am a panic packer. I pack sensibly and neatly, go away and think about it, then return to my case and start shoving in clothes, because "what if...happens?" Then I walk away again, return and take bits out, but always, always end up with a pair of shoes in my hand luggage (usually heels) because I want them but think that maybe they might tip the weight-allowance over the edge. Last summer, on the way to Canada for a good few weeks, I managed to squeeze a pair of heels, trainers and a pair of sandals into my bag!

7. Miscellaneous Stuff: Snacks, notebook, hairbrush, camera, pen, along with the unquestionable passport and ticket-shaped essentials, and the wish to always travel as elegantly as Audrey Hepburn. :)

Friday, 21 May 2010

Peepshow Reprise

Seeing as I'm not going to be living in this house for much longer, I've been taking spring cleaning to more extreme lengths in these past few weeks and throwing out piles of accumulated rubbish. Today it's been the wardrobe's turn for a sort out, and it got me thinking about the post I wrote a while ago in which I wondered about personal style. I always knew that I gravitated in very definite ways towards certain things, but when your whole wardrobe is laid out on your bed at once, it can be something of an eye opener!

Stripes: Narrow, wide, Breton, diagonal...

Polka Dots: On blouses, vests and pyjamas...
Prints: Lovehearts, anchors, stars, flamingos, Mickey, circles and weird trees...

In other house related news, today I also decided it was high time that the little ceramic fireplace in the bedroom needed a proper vacuum and clean. Pulling out the grate, it was then that I discovered two intrepid slugs had somehow made it down the chimney and had set up shop. It's not the first time I've found slugs in this house (unfortunately) and I have no idea how they manage it. I appreciate this house is a little bit on the vintage side and therefore has more gaps and hidey-holes for all manner of spiders and such, but really...slugs?!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Littlest Hobo

Why spend good money on a soft, squishy bed made of fleece for your cat when all she wants out of life is an empty shoebox? Lily, named after a beautiful flower. Lily, who in actual fact behaves more like Lily Allen than Lily of the Valley.*

*But is very much loved regardless.

Monday, 17 May 2010

A Little Ice-Cool Reading?

For all you cats who enjoy a little light reading at cocktail hour, please let me draw your attention to the wonder that is Ultra Swank. Here you'll discover retro delights from the 50s, 60s and 70s and everything from architecture and advertising to fashion and film. If you like your buildings Jetsons-style and enjoy a neatly creased pair of slacks, then click on the link and disappear for a good long while into the archives.

My favourites are the posts related to travel, as there are a number of brilliant old videos featuring mini-skirted air hostesses and nonchalantly smoking passengers. I hope you enjoy the video below. Just watch out that over vigorous dancing to this ice-cool music doesn't cause you to spill your Tom Collins onto your new shag-pile rug...

Image of Pacific Northwest Airlines Hostesses courtesy of Wired.

Getaway '68- Lounge Edit

Sunday, 16 May 2010


Rouge, it what you like, but this magic formula has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. I've always been a little afraid of it myself, convinced that I always ended up looking like Aunt Sally and never quite sure of exactly what colour was best.

Luckily for me, a recent trip to MAC in Toronto has dissolved my suspicions and made me a convert. I'm naturally very pale, and so putting a little colour into my cheeks is no bad thing at all. The key for me was to make it look as natural as possible (see above Aunt Sally related fears), and after being helped out at MAC by a brilliant make-up artist, I came away with three differing shades that are neither bright pink or red. They hover between a darker version of my own skin tone and peachy-pinks. I even have one with a slight glitter to it.

Eighteenth century ladies were no strangers to the application of a little (or a lot). With towering powdered poufs came white skin and furiously applied circles of rouge.

To a modern eye, this kind of complexion is sickly and feverish looking, but costume historian Aileen Ribeiro argues that this over-the-top use of make-up was simply a reaction to the every increasing artifice of womens' hairstyles.

As with clothing, fashion in make-up also changes. Boundaries are pushed until what at first seemed ridiculous becomes normal and accepted, and then a backlash will begin and it changes again. Blush is no exception to this rule.

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, heightened simplicity in dress also gave way to a simpler use of face powder and rouge. Softly glowing cheeks belied a modest and tender disposition, and fitted in with the fashion for sentimental jewellery and romanticised dress.

While moralists raged about the use of cosmetics, the preoccupation with beauty and looks, and the fact that prositutes and courtesans used rouge as a way of accentuating their sexuality, ordinary women were using it to great effect in their everyday routine. It would be simplistic to argue that it was only "fast women" who understood it's power. Along with darkened eyelashes and red lips, blush is one of the oldest beauty tricks in the book...and now I'm a convert, too!

Image I- Madame de Pompadour At Her Dressing Table, by Francois Boucher (1758).

Image II- Lady Elizabeth Laura in The Ladies Waldegrave (Detail) by Joshua Reynolds (1780-81).

Image III- Isabella McLeod, by Henry Raeburn (1798).

Reference- A. Ribeiro, Dress & Morality, (Berg, London, 2003), p 107.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Reader of Books

Childrens' publisher Puffin Books celebrate their 70th birthday this week, and when I read about this, I knew I had to join in with the fun as well. Sadly, I only have a few of the many, many Puffins that I kept on my bookshelf as a child. The others may well be still hanging around in my parents' loft, but of the well-loved and dog-eared paperbacks, I can still lay my hands on Matilda, The BFG and George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, and Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce.

I'll never part with these books; they are far too special. The pages are yellowed and the spines cracked. I've scrawled my name, address and age into the front page of every single one of them. These brilliant stories are as much a part of my own history as they are for Puffin. Only the slightest glance at Quentin Blake's now iconic Dahl illustrations takes me right back to my childhood. The words of Phillipa Pearce, Roald Dahl, and of many other writers no longer on my shelves transport me and make me grin from ear to ear.

In celebration, Puffin have released a list of their top seventy books. My own favourites from their list is as follows (All Roald Dahl books are on that list for me, too!)

Charlotte's Web by E. B White, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle...The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Meg & Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski, Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs...The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith, Good Night Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Five Children and It by E. Nesbitt and Bad Bad Cats by Roger McGough...

Happy Birthday Puffin! Here's to another 70 years of magical stories, and of publishing authors who inspire young children to write tales of their own...

Quentin Blake's Matilda illustration courtesy of Puffin

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Wedgwood and Politics

Reading one of my local newspapers a short while ago, I came across a letter to the editor written by Tom Wedgwood (descendant of Josiah Wedgwood - left- in a portrait by Joshua Reynolds). He had felt compelled to write a response to an earlier letter to the editor, in which one Jordan Huxley had claimed that Josiah Wedgwood had been involved in right-wing politics. Although this was only one comment in a letter otherwise written about The Wedgwood Museum and a political candidate for the general election (backed by Tom Wedgwood), it was this statement that spurred me to write this post,

"Anyone with an ounce of political knowledge would know that in early nineteenth century he was part of the far right," (sic) - Jordan Huxley.

Mr Huxley; might I give you one or two pointers before you pen your next letter? Above all, I would suggest that you firstly check your facts very carefully before going ahead. As any biography (or even the Wikipedia article) of Josiah Wedgwood would tell you, the man died in 1795, five years shy of seeing in the nineteenth century.

Secondly, Josiah Wedgwood was one of the most prominent advocates for the abolition of slavery. The famous anti-slavery medallion of a chained slave on his knees bearing the caption, Am I Not A Man And A Brother? is one of the most well-known images of the eighteenth century abolitionist movement. It was produced by Wedgwood. No wonder his descendant finds Jordan Huxley's remark, "deeply offensive."

The slightest amount of research yields a huge amount of information about Josiah Wedgwood. His story is not obscure or hard to come by; he is well documented, as such an innovative and remarkable figure should be. Jordan Huxley's views on local politics are as valid as anybody else's and I would never question his right to air his opinion. What I take exception to is his disregard of well-known fact, be it knowingly or not. It's an unsound and unsupportable way to put forward an argument, and unfortunately ends up falling flat...

For Tom Wedgwood's letter, click here.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Predator: Potatogeddon

Predator-Potato had been stalking the kitchen for days. No food stuff was safe from his malevolence. Carrots had been puréed, onions sautéed and peas...shelled. Chocolate had been mercilessly melted, cookies were crumbled... and the bread? It was toast. Predator-Potato had taken everything in his path. He had even tenderised the steak. The kitchen was decimated; there was nothing left and no trace of him, save for the starchy residue on the counter

Only one hope remained...

Col. "Spud" Schaeffer and his crack team of battle hardened commandos are sent in to deal with the problem. Spud and Predator Potato are set for a showdown that can have only one outcome.


Photos and styling by AB. All accessories- model's own.

**Who says because you're grown up you actually have to act like you are?**  

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A Rotten Candidate

Britain goes to the polls tomorrow, and as I ponder where my little pencil crosses will be scrawled, I wish my constituency had at least one candidate half as appealing as a certain Mr. S. Baldrick...

Blackadder III- Dish & Dishonesty.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

What I've Been Reading: Wedlock by Wendy Moore

I've very recently finished reading Wendy Moore's Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match. Published in 2009, this is Moore's second historical biography (The Knife Man being her first in 2003), and I felt compelled to write about it. A journalist of some considerable experience, Moore's investigative powers shine through in this book. 

This is the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes; born in 1749 to the wealthy coal magnate and landowner George Bowes and his wife Mary. One of the richest heiresses in Britain, Mary Eleanor was indulged and spoiled, but she was also rigorously educated. Her father held progressive views on the education of girls (and took the startling step of adding a clause in any marriage agreement for his daughter which meant that her husband was law-bound to change his surname to Bowes), and as such, Mary Eleanor was schooled as comprehensively as many aristocratic boys of the time. In time she became an excellent linguist with a vociferous interest in botany.

What Moore makes clear however, is that for all her superior education, Mary Eleanor unfortunately made impulsive and poorly thought out decisions. The first was her marriage (aged eighteen) to John Lyon, 9th Earl of Strathmore. Initially besotted, she was soon bored, unhappy and indulging in flirtations and relationships with other men. 

Although Moore's book charts Mary Eleanor's early life and first marriage, it is her second marriage and subsequent experiences that are the crux of her work (and the reason for the book's title).

In 1777, an Irish soldier by the name of Andrew Robinson Stoney entered her life. He charmed his way into her inner circle and fully aware of Mary Eleanor's huge fortune, set about ensnaring her. It seemed for a while as though matters would not go his way. Mary Eleanor was engaged and pregnant by her lover George Gray, but one morning, she was called to Stoney's bedside. He had fought a duel to defend her honour, and as he lay "mortally" wounded, he asked that the fair Countess grant his dying wish; that they be married. Mary Eleanor could simply not refuse.

Within hours, Stoney's (now Bowes) injuries had inexplicably healed. What follows is a story of unmitigated brutality and humiliation, as Bowes sought to break his new wife by all and any means. This is not a light read, and Moore does not shy away from revealing and catologuing every facet of Mary Eleanor's miserable existence. Within a few short years, the formerly ebullient Lady Strathmore had become a shaking, quivering shadow; desperately underweight, scarred, bruised, terrified, and dressed in ragged clothes (disallowed by Bowes from buying new clothes, shoes or underwear). And yet this is not the most extraordinary part of the story. As the title suggests, Mary Eleanor escaped and set in motion a course of events that would see her kidnapped, dragged about the country and dragged through the courts.

But did the Countess escape Bowes' clutches completely? I don't want to spoil the end of the story, so I'll leave it for you to read the book. Despite the descriptions of horrific violence, this is a fascinating book. Moore weaves the complexities of the English legal system and eighteenth century etiquette into her writing with ease. As a well researched social history, it's brilliant, but moreover as a moving and uplifting story of one woman's remarkable journey, Wedlock is a triumph.

Image courtesy of The Daily Mail.