Quite a lot of my friends have been having fun with Clovember, a month-long daily posting of their clothing. It’s been lovely, not just to see their different styles but to get to see photos of them each day. I see faces I love and interesting clothes and grumpy morning faces and people throwing silly shapes. I haven’t joined in because (a) I feel it’s a good day when I manage to get dressed and to the bus or train on time without adding photos into the mix, (b) my school has a blazer rule so my choices are rather limited to boring or very boring, and (c) I currently hate almost everything in my wardrobe.
I’ve been thinking a lot about clothing lately, as you do when the other 97.3% of your brain is occupied by teaching and can’t handle anything more challenging. My mother, who is buying me a gorgeous winter coat, put her finger on something that’s been bothering me lately about my style. What I realised was that a lot of my general blahs with myself comes from the fact that I find my wardrobe uninspiring these days. While I am never going to be someone who is fashionable or follows trends or looks like a model, I really like well-cut clothes in beautiful colours, and I appreciate that a striking outfit can make me feel immediately better about myself. I used to think I had a very definite sense of style, a combination of laid-back, preppy and vintage. I had certain stores that I shopped from and knew exactly where to go when I wanted something. It helped that I have been given a lot of my mother and grandmother’s incredibly beautiful jewellery, handbags, beaded clutches and scarves. Over time I have added to that with things I love, and with a rather massive shoe and handbag collection. When I moved to London, I got rid of a lot of things I knew I would never wear again, and the rest are in storage. I’ve added some warmer things to the mix since I got here, but it was mostly whatever I could find on the spur of the moment that I needed. As a result, my wardrobe over here is an odd mix of items clothing – just not my kind of clothing. I pretty much wear the same things each week, including the same jewellery, and as a result, I feel stuck in a rut. I decided to have a quick look at some of my favourite stores, both at home and stores I’ve discovered in the UK. I feel slightly relieved to discover that my style mojo has not completely disappeared…I can still find clothing I love and that excites me. Now to snag a few of these charmers before they disappear!
While I do love autumn, I have to admit that I’m finding November more trying than I remember it last year. It’s dark when I’m headed in to school, it’s dark when I’m headed home, and the darker it gets, the more I think of the sunshine at home. I find myself turning on all the lights I can, and when I find a sun patch, staying there and basking in it until it goes away. My cats would be proud of me.
I think there’s just something about this month that makes me homesick. This is the month of Thanksgiving dinners with family, Thanks+Giving potlucks with friends, the Macy’s parade, massive shopping sales, crispy red and gold leaves, Red Cup Day at Starbucks, and when Target puts out their Archers Farm mint hot chocolate.
Since that line of thinking leaves me nowhere, I’m doing my best to warm up November. Today I stayed near the stove, basking in its warmth, making some pumpkin chocolate chip muffins to make my lunch box a bit more cheerful. I watched a sunset and picked a few apples from the tree in the back garden. I commiserated about the dark with one of my housemates, who is Australian and also missing the sunshine. I strung fairy lights in my room for the first time since college, broke out the good tea from Fortnum & Mason, investigated my book haul from over half-term, binged on Bach, and lit all the candles I could find.
This weekend I buy cocoa and make a batch of soup, collect some more acorns and leaves for my window bowl, and hopefully begin my annual reread of Mrs Miniver. What do you suggest to warm up November?
After a rather hectic week back at school, I went into London to meet a couple of friends for the Renegade Craft Fair. It wasn’t the most welcoming morning; all I could tell when I popped my head out was that it was cold and bloody dark, and by the time I got into Waterloo, it looked like the scene in Harry Potter where the weather changes as the dementors board the train. I considered hiding indoors and having a quick coffee at Starbucks before I realised how feeble that was, and I headed out into the downpour. I looked at market stalls, popped into bookstores warm from the steam of generators, had a warm and delicious caff breakfast where the beans slopped into the fried egg and mushrooms with a delicious kind of rightness, and where my tea cup was constantly refilled with the kind of tea you can stand a spoon up in. I even poked my nose into iKnit London, which I haven’t been to for a few years now.
Eventually I hopped back into the station and made my way to the East End to meet Jane and Kat at the Old Truman Brewery where the fair was being held. It’s an amazing space, even if they were not still selling beer (or, in fact, any beverages in the hall…would have been perfect if they’d had some tea or coffee, and they would have made a killing).
Even without the coffee, though, the craft fair was splendid. There was such a huge variety of artists, and all of them with such lovingly presented tables and goods. I had gone with the good intention of buying unique Christmas presents for family and friends. What I went home with was all for me me me. But my spot of selfish shopping is fine, because I also took home a selection of business cards and can order quite a few of these things through Etsy or Folksy. And I can also have shipped some of the more delicate things that would have been a complete faff to try to get home on the Tube and train, like the amazingly beautiful lamp shade I covet like mad for my little flat.
When we’d exhausted the hall, we stepped across to Brick Lane for some much needed caffeine and a sit-down. The tea shop was held in a kind of antique/junk shop full of curious things. There was much trying on of hats, and I resisted the urge to pose with the silly mannequins who were shaped like Beyonce. We also popped into Spitalfields’ Market for a quick lunch and a browse of the market stalls. It’s a fantastic space, full of both vintage treasures and homemade goodies, and I think we all ended up getting something we had not planned on, and in Jane’s case, a tiny Lego version of herself, complete with purple hair.
This was my first trip to Brick Lane, and I’m going to have to go back soon. The street was full of men trying to entice customers into their curry houses, the street venders were selling various foods and mulled wine, and there was at least one shop crowded with amazing-looking bolts of fabric. I’d also like a closer look at Christ Church Spitalfields, which was striking in both size and severity. Definitely time to get out of central London and explore the East End.
I spent the past few weeks actively counting down to half-term. And I do mean literally counting down; I had a running tally of days that I ticked off before my week of freeeeeeedom.
After two days in Stratford spent enjoying hotel breakfasts and the biggest shopping mall in Europe, we caught the train back to Cambridge for a quiet week. It was absolutely lovely to have time to bake again. There’s something incredibly relaxing about standing in a kitchen, going through the motions of a familiar recipe, watching raw ingredients turn into something golden and warm. While I am trying to eat proper dinners these days, not the hurried sandwiches I had last year, I don’t have that much time in the evenings to think about or prepare meals, and almost no time to bake. So it was an incredible luxury to just stand in a kitchen and think about what I wanted. In the end I made a plum cake, and a few days later, made another to leave in the freezer for Paul to pull out when he needs a nice cup of tea and slice of cake. I also made more molasses cookies, again with black treacle instead of molasses, but this time browning the butter and adding the treacle before mixing, which created a crisper, almost toffee-like texture. I was going to bring some of those back with me, but got carried away buying books, and ran out of room in my bag, drat it.
I also spent my usual amount of time mooning around the garden. I’m lucky to live in a green and leafy suburb, but I do miss Paul’s garden. I went out to inspect the changing leaves, admire the hardy white roses which are still hanging on, eavesdrop on the fat birds that hang out around the feeder, and sniff at the cold air. It’s already starting to get dark early, so it also meant I was on hedgehog patrol most evenings, popping up to peer outside and see if I could find the resident hedgie who lives under the shed. No luck this time…
…and that was pretty much my half-term. Nothing exciting, just peace, quiet, music, books, bubble baths, big cups of tea, spending time with Paul, feeding him stodgy winter food, getting my incredibly long mane of hair chopped off, and the occasional trips into town to do some shopping and revel in the autumn colours on every corner. It was exactly what I needed.
I also made a point to go to evensong. I grew up listening to King’s College Choir and, although I’d passed the college multiple times over the past year, never managed to make it before. I almost didn’t make it this time, but in the end, found myself joining the long queue waiting in the dusk. King’s is always awe-inspiring, but there is something rather magical about seeing the lights go on in the quad and the slow ringing of the bells. The music was glorious, and the chapel, lit by candles, was dazzling. It’s impossible to be in there without thinking about all the people who have passed through over the years, and equally comforting to see the choristers, who look and sound like angels behind their golden lights, pushing and jostling each other on their way to communion. I gave one my patented Teacher Look until he piped down and then I went back to thinking about church mice (as you do).
Knowing I’d be in Cambridge for the half-term, I’d been making a list of things I needed to buy. I ended up getting quite a few things on my list, necessary things like a hair dryer, fun things like new nail polish and perfume, household things like candles and holiday decorations, and even some new clothing. It was also an opportunity to get some of the teachery things that run out quickly, like marking pens and stickers, and the things you don’t know you need, but inevitably do…like foam, sequins, and sparkly paper. There will be an English crown in my classroom.
And, unsurprisingly, I left Cambridge with a huge stack of new books. You know you have a problem when you arrive with one bag and have to buy a small suitcase just to get home. Paul brought me some book finds from the market, a copy of Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch”, which I would not let myself open for fear of getting nothing else done, and then I went mad at Heffers, The Haunted Bookshop, and various other stores. And the worst thing is, I now have nine new books on my wish list that didn’t buy.
Basically, the perfect half-term.
I was ridiculously excited this morning when I heard that Virago Press, one of my favourite publishers, will be reprinting L.M. Montgomery’s Emily books. I have to admit, these are not the Montgomery’s that I return to again and again for a good comfort read – that would be either the Anne series or the totally under-appreciated Pat series. But I know I’ll be snapping up these gorgeous books this autumn and having a lovely time rediscovering them with a steaming cup of tea.
I had meant to be so good this year about my blog…so good! Instead, I have neglected it as well as pretty much everything that doesn’t relate to teaching.
I had been warned by so many people that the first year as an NQT would be hard, but I was seriously unprepared for the ass kicking that this term has delivered. It’s been 6 weeks of frantic planning, learning, and ridiculously late nights, and I have wondered more than once if I’m cut out for this teaching thing. It didn’t help that Ofsted visited the third week of school. I would like to say that I’ve hit my stride, but I can’t honestly admit that. Every day feels like an enormous hurdle to be got through before escaping and trying to prepare and recover for the next day. This is Hunger Games teaching, ya’ll.
Still there have been some nice things this autumn, too. I’ve made a lovely new friend, had visits from wonderful people, made trips into London, including my first visit to The Globe, received my first paycheck in over a year, planned for a holiday to Copenhagen, shopped for new clothes and pretty things for my flat, and best of all, I have a lovely new niece to hold, even if I have to wait until April to do so. It seems like ages until I can go home, but it’s just 5 days until half-term and then I’m heading to Cambridge for a relaxing week with Paul, and all I have planned is reading and knitting and sleeping, oh my.
The past few days have been cold and rainy…so cold that I’ve pulled out my hot water bottle and started curling up under blankets. I love this time of year, but it can come with streaming colds and damp socks, so it’s best to fight these things by careful preparation. The clever people at Jones Design Company clearly thought so, too, and have offered the following “essentials” to help us enjoy the season.
I’ve been trying to think what I would have added had I a scrap of artistic ability. Starbucks cinnamon spice cider? Furry pompoms around the poor antler head? Picking up fallen acorns? A new cosy sweater to cuddle into?
I know that the new year starts for most people on January 1st, but for me, it’s always been the first day of school. Now that I’m teaching, this feels even more the case. I’m in a new place, in a new town, in a new school, with new students, and all kinds of new things to learn and teach. It’s all very exciting, except when it’s also a little “aaaaaaghh-ish!”. Fortunately, there’s always a weekend right around the corner when that happens. This past week was a bit rocky, so it was lovely to just flop on Friday night and not have to deal with anything that smacked of newness!
By Saturday, I was already feeling more myself, and a day spent shopping and walking around a rainy London only helped. It takes an hour to get into London from my new home, so I wanted to cram as much shopping as I could into the day. I walked up and down Oxford Street, browsing through the enormous John Lewis, popping into shoe stores, walking into anything that looked interesting, getting a few things at Boots, and eventually ending up at Gap, which seems both weirdly familiar and yet very different to the store I know from home. I eventually found some really lovely things for my home, so I walked into Marylebone to visit Daunt Books, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. The store is beautiful and temptingly stacked full of enticing books, but it’s the travel section that bowled me over. I love how it has been arranged by regions and countries, with biographies and memoirs stuffed into their relevant countries. I snapped up a small book on Copenhagen and ran through the rain to the Nordic Bakery for a warm and spice-filled cinnamon bun and an enormous latte, and read my book and munched while I sat out the worst of the downpour. (Many thanks to Miranda who first recommended the bakery!)
I’ve spent the rest of the weekend just trying to relax and clean and get ready for the week ahead: lots to do. Fortunately, so many of the new things in my life are also quite lovely. Like my generous, apple-donating neighbours.
One of the many reasons I love the essayist Anne Fadiman’s writings is that she is an unabashed lover of all things explorer, especially the Antarctic expeditions. It’s impossible not to be drawn to someone who writes so beautifully of their bravery and the poignant humour in their failure.
“Americans admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure. Given a choice – at least in my reading – I’m un-American enough to take quixotry over efficiency any day. I have always found the twilight-of-an-empire aspect of the Victorian age inexpressibly poignant, and no one could be more Victorian than the brave, earnest, optimistic, self-sacrificing, patriotic, honorable, high-minded, and utterly inept men who left their names all over the maps of the Arctic and Antarctic, yet failed to navigate the Northwest Passage and lost the race to both Pole. Who but an Englishman, Lieutenant Edward Parry, would have decided, on reaching western Greenland, to wave a flag painted with an olive branch in order to ensure a peaceful first encounter with the polar Eskimos, who not only had never seen an olive branch but had never seen a tree? Who but an Englishman, the legendary Sir John Franklin, could have managed to die of starvation and scurvy along with all 129 of his men in a region of the Canadian Arctic whose game had supported an Eskimo colony for centuries? When the corpses of some of Franklin’s officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield. These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by god, they were gentlemen.” – Ex Libris
One of the more intriguing museums in Cambridge is the Scott Polar Research Institute. Founded both as a memorial to Scott after his last ill-fated voyage and as an institute to continue his scientific goals, it is now a museum, research facility, laboratories, and home to the Shackleton Memorial Library. It is a gem of a museum with some very important, very moving collections. There are last letters penned to wives and parents, scientific and photographic tools used during the expeditions, and even birds brought back from more successful ventures.
These baby emperor chicks are a touching reminder of the kind of birds and wildlife these men found and introduced to the Western world. They’re also just very sweet.
Even more than the letters home, what I found most moving was the collection of everyday items found after various lost expeditions. The goggles Scott wore, based on an Inuit design, to help protect him from the glare on the snow. The balaclava knitted by a member of the royal family for the expedition, demonstrating the excitement the whole country felt for these explorations. The huswife that was probably used every day, with the original needles and threads, and pockets to store other necessary items. It’s a comprehensive collection of the various explorations, but the museum also includes sections on the climate, native peoples, and future of these areas. It also has a smashing selection of books, which I carefully edged away from, but I’ll definitely be going back to see it again and to snap up biographies of these amazing men.
One of my favourite ways of cooling down in Dallas was to stop for a bubble tea. I’m not exactly sure when bubble tea became so popular, but there have been fun and quirky tea houses popping up all over the state for the past ten years. I had missed it this past year so I was especially pleased to spot a small, bright shop in Cambridge’s city centre.
Ooshi is a small cafe on Regent’s Street with a colourful storefront. There is a staggering array of flavour options, and they have natural flavoured “ooballs” as well as pearls and jellies. There are also some luscious looking cupcakes and mini-cupcakes and other various sweets. My coconut bubble tea with pineapple jellies was absolutely delicious, with plenty of ice and a lovely froth at the top. The cup was sealed and the fat straw made a satisfying “plonk”, and there are comfortable cafe chairs and tables where you can sit back and enjoy your tea. I’m a bit dismayed that I found Ooshi right before leaving Cambridge, but I’ll be back to try some of their other flavours.
I’m not really much of a designer follower, but Orla Kiely is a rare exception. I like her bold geometric prints and her classic, elegant clothing. So I was more than a little pleased with her video unveiling her Fall 2013 collection.
The rotary telephones, vintage typewriters, beehive hairdos, bored expressions and terrible typing…what’s not to love? And the retro skirts and cardigans are great, too.
One of my favourite things to do in Cambridge is to visit the market in the centre of the city. It may just be me, but it seems every street and passage ends up there, so inevitably, I do too. (Please don’t tell me I’m wrong – I don’t want to stop going!)
Paul has a book seller he returns to each Thursday, but there’s usually at least one book stall available every day, and I’ve found some really good books there. There are also fruit and veg stalls, beautiful flowers, people selling music, vintage clothing, all kinds of homemade food, from cheese and coffee stalls that smell divine to a constantly hopping Thai noodle stall where I spotted Sriracha sauce being liberally added so I must try.
Most of the time, I just stop to look at the book stall and pass through quickly, noting new stalls (bubble tea…next time!), but I was struck by a small stall selling ceramics last week. They were beautiful pieces, delicate and slightly quirky, and with the loveliest colours and glazing. I ended up buying a necklace with the idea that it would be a nice gift, but I’m fundamentally selfish so I’ve kept it for myself!
The necklace is fun; lightweight, which surprised me, and the blues and grays and reds and white should make for some colourful and interesting additions to my wardrobe. I was also struck with how she packaged the necklace, in bags made from magazine pages sewn together to create small pouches. A really lovely find. I hope All Gone ceramics is there when I head back for some spicy Thai noodles and a jasmine bubble tea!
I had heard about The Haunted Bookshop long before I decided to move to the UK, and I have to say, the bookshop is one of the many reasons I love Cambridge. You step down a narrow passage that smells of coffee beans (I really must try the coffee shop next door), into a small store with a red door, and suddenly you are surrounded by beautiful old books.
The store is small but jam-packed with the most amazing books. Until last week, however, I’d only seen the ground floor. There was always enough there to entice me. However, some friends kindly pointed out that the best books are upstairs and I needed to have a look pronto.
Look at that bookshelf. LOOK at those Chalet School books! I’ve never seen so many Chalet School books in one place, and these were cloth editions, many with the original dust jackets. There were also Girls Gone By editions, including out of print titles, and the old Armada paperbacks. The room was stuffed, floor-to-ceiling, with Girls Own books. As well as Elinor Brent-Dyer, there was Enid Blyton, Josephine Elder, Elsie Oxenham, and so many more. There were even American authors like Susan Coolidge and Louisa May Alcott. It was basically paradise for anyone who loves girls school stories. I had gone upstairs with the intention of looking for an Angela Brazil I’ve long coveted, but I was so dazzled that I just wandered about finding more and more books to read. I must go back soon to find the last Fun in the Fourth book to complete my collection and to stand in that small room full of stunning books.
Alright, future niece…your cardigan is ready, you can come out now. (When you’re supposed to, that is; no scaring your parents with an early arrival!)
Pattern: Korrigan by Solenn Couix-Loarer, size 3-6 months
Wool: Wooly Wonka Fibers Ceridwen Sock in Twilight
Needle: US Size 4
This was a lovely pattern, although I still think the sleeves are remarkably big for a baby. My lower arm fit in one of them! I added only two buttons to give the cardigan an open, swingy look. The wool is one I purchased at the DFW Fiber Fest last year before I left Texas. I loved it at the time, and it’s even more beautiful knit up. The colour is almost impossible to capture, a combination of violets, grey-blues, stone, grey and a deep purple. Although my sister is having a girl, I didn’t want something that screamed pretty pretty pink, knowing she’ll get enough of that as she grows up, and I honestly think the stunning agate colours and sophisticated shaping are nicer anyway.
So, come on, little Bean! I can’t wait to meet you.
I have a soon-to-be niece, currently referred to as The Bean, scheduled to be born at the end of August. I’ve been working feverishly on Bean’s baby sweater all day so that I can get it packed up and mailed to Texas before she arrives. I was really too busy to do that much knitting last year while juggling school and university work, so it’s been lovely to just relax with something soft and woolly while I watch TV or listen to audiobooks. And it’s been especially nice to be able to do all these things in such a lovely garden. All I’m missing is a cabana boy to bring me drinks and chase away the spiders. Will work on finding one of those…