Archive for September, 2011

September 27, 2011

Fast Fashion.

Fashion designers used to produce two collections a year. Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. Plus sometimes a Cruise collection to appeal to those lucky folk who were escaping to the Caribbean during the European winter. These days, we have mainline collections, pre-collections, limited editions, diffusion lines, accessories, shoes, collaborations with the High Street. It feels relentless to me and I bet they’re exhausted!

The number of these collections has the effect of making everything feel as though we’re speeding up, although for what I’ve never been sure. Making more money, presumably. There is little time to appreciate the clothes of the season we are in, before thinking of the next. At the moment, my body is in need of a new winter coat, but my mind (having seen some of the collections) has already been thinking of what I’ll be wearing in Summer 2012. Which, for the record, will be florals. As I said in a previous post, it’s time for me to embrace some more colour and print.

One of the other things that has created the feel of speeding up is the way that we are now exposed to so much more of the fashion shows. Recent weeks have seen the major fashion cities of Paris, New York, London and Milan host their Spring/Summer 2012 catwalk shows and we have been lucky enough to see photographs, read reviews and in some cases watch live streaming as it is actually happening. Whilst I applaud the opening up and democratisation of this (and I was as excited as anyone to see some of the shows, especially Jonathan Saunders and Prada)  it does mean that there is less mystique and anticipation around what’s coming up. By the time we actually see the clothes in store to buy, they will feel like yesterday’s news as we will already have moved onto Autumn/Winter. I don’t want my new clothes to feel old before I’ve even got them on my back!

There has been something of a backlash against this. Tom Ford, always a leader, has closed his shows to wider publicity for the past few seasons. Clever marketing, but none-the-less, it has caused a huge buzz of anticipation. However, I do think that we have reached a point of no return, and that we will continue to see, via various media channels, many of the collections as they are being shown.

I just hope that we also take the chance to slow down and embrace the season we are actually in, and the clothes we are wearing in it.

A bad photo of a great winter coat!

(My winter coat is the London Coat, by French Connection)

September 25, 2011

An apple a day…

The apple might not be the most exciting fruit on the supermarket shelf, but there’s a reason for that. Of all the varieties of apple that are still available today, the supermarkets only sell a handful. So, if you only shopped there, you might think that your only options were these ones, chosen for many reasons, but one of them is without question, their hardiness and suitability to be transported all over the globe. Taste is not at the top of the list, so there is no wonder that other fruit would be more appealing.

However, the humble apple gets more exciting when you realise the truth about it. The truth is that there are ( wait for it) 2,000 varieties of apple still around today, all grown at the National Apple Collection at Brogdale, Kent. Amazing!  They have a huge variety of tastes, shapes, perfumes and textures, not to mention wonderful names. Who could resist a Bloody Ploughman, Peasgood’s Nonsuch, Norfolk Beefing, Cornish Gilliflower or Doctor Harvey? All old English varieties with stories to suit their names. I have yet to see a Catshead variety but when I do I will be looking to see if it lives up to its name (which apparently, in profile, it does!)

I am fortunate enough to have four varieties on my plot:

I planted these myself and chose a combination of old heritage varieties and modern types, because the modern ones tend to be hardier and are more prolific. Often heritage varieties of any fruit or vegetable have something about them that has led to them being commercially  unattractive, but are still of huge value not only for their fruit but to preserve our biodiversity and heritage.

Blenheim Orange

Blenheim Orange – an orange- red flushed variety producing large fruit. This was originally found growing against the boundary wall of the Blenheim Estate by a man called Kempster, and known as Kempster’s Pippin, the Duke Of Marlborough gave his approval for it to be made commercially available under the name of Blenheim Orange. This variety produces beautiful fruit, but is biennial (only fruits every other year) and can be erratic.

Katy

Katy – a modern hybrid (James Greive x Worcester Pearmain) which produces bright red fruit with pink tinged flesh. It’s really prolific and has a really sweet variety with strawberry undertones. Once picked, they quickly go soft so need eating up, so it’s a good job they’re so popular with my kids!

Court Pendu Plat

Court Pendu Plat – an ancient variety, with a history across Europe. My tree was originally designed to be a step-over but I wasn’t timely enough with training it so now it’s just a tiny tree with its first equally tiny fruit (and I mean ONE fruit!) growing this year. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is going to ripen successfully, as the fruit is intensely flavoured with a pineapple acidity which will keep until February. The day I eat it, I will be sitting down and just concentrating on that taste…

Kidd’s Orange Red

Kidd’s Orange Red – another hybrid (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Delicious) produced by an amaateur breeder in New Zealand. Has a lovely flowery taste, stays on the tree longer than Katy ( so I don’t get a glut) and is another prolific fruiter.

I have space for a fifth tree, and will be planting a different old heritage variety this winter. Possibly one that will be good for cooking with – but keep its shape when cooked. I’d like to make my own Tarte Tatin, one of my favourite apple recipes. Luckily these days, a much wider variety of apple trees are available for sale as interest grows in our heritage varieties so my only problem will be choosing which one!

If you’re interested in learning more about apples, or in fact just having a lovely day out, the wonderful organisation that is Common Ground hold Apple Day every October, with a wide variety of events up and down the country. I usually go to the one held at RHS Harlow Carr, which is always a great event, with a room packed with rare varieties to view, bags of different apples to buy and specialists on hand to help you identify the variety of apple tree you might have in your back garden! Plus, lots of activities, the stunning gardens to walk around, Betty’s Tea Rooms and a brilliant bookshop.

More wonderful apple resources:

‘The Apple Source Book’ by Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground (Hodder and Stoughton) has recipes, history and an index of varieties.

‘The New Book of Apples’ by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards (Ebury Press) is a comprehensive history of the fruit and indexes more than 2,000 varieties.

‘Tender Volume II’ Fruit (Fourth Estate) by Nigel Slater. Some of my favorite apple recipes and beautiful writing from my favourite cookery writer.

‘An apple a day keeps the Doctor away’  

J.T. Stinson. Address to the St Louis Expedition, Missouri 1904 

September 19, 2011

Fragrance: Part Three

These days I don’t have a signature scent. I prefer to wear a different fragrance depending on my mood. During the day, I might wear something lighter and greener, unless I need to feel grown up, then I’ll head for the Chanel Les Exclusifs, of which I have written before.

My perfume choice is also affected by the time of year. Summer has me wearing florals such as Balenciaga. I’ve worn this since being introduced to it by Roja Dove and I love the young, summery and violet scent of it. I also love Prada’s ‘Infusion de Fleur D’Oranger’ with it’s neroli and bergamot – which feels pefect for hot summer days in Italy.  As this is the fragrance I wore the last time I was there, it’s linked in my memory with this:

The scent of Italian Lemons

Night Swimming

Il Giardino Garzoni, Collodi.

All of this reminiscing has renewed my passion for travel and made me look all the more forward to next summer’s trip to Rome. Better get the Earworms back on!

In the meantime, I’m going to hunt for a new perfume for Autumn and Winter. Something that I can wear for everyday, so not too heavy, but I do tend to wear things that are woodier, muskier and generally more grown up in the Autumn and Winter. Perhaps it’s time for a classic. Maybe Mitsouko, by Guerlain.

September 13, 2011

Autumn: A new start

I love the changing of the seasons. One of the best things of living in Britain is that we still have distinct seasons, bringing different foods, activities, and changes to our natural environment. Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. Partly because it’s the time for apple harvesting,watching the leaves turn colour and sitting on the sofa under a cosy blanket, but also because it means a new start. Although Spring is the usual time for us to think about new beginnings, I think Autumn, with it’s memories of new school terms (and new books, blank white pages of paper and fresh pens) is a great time to think about what is coming next.

For me, it’s looking forward to the lovely run up to Christmas, with Apple Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Eve’s birthday all to come before then. Now that I’ve completed one of the biggest physical challenges of my 35:35 Challenge, it’s time to take stock. I have got a long way to go to make all 35 and not all of them can be as brutal as Yorkshire 3  Peaks or I might not make it. So my thoughts are turning to challenges based around the gentle arts – baking, making, and craft-type activities that seem to suit the early days of Autumn.

‘Katy’ apples on my allotment

As the recent winds have given me rather too many windfall apples, I won’t be able to keep them for eating, so apple recipes are needed for a start.

I also have a desire to learn some new crafts – I am very good at thinking up ideas, but pretty awful at completing things. I can spend hours dreaming over Jane Brocket’s book, ‘The Gentle Art of Domesticity’, (or actually all her books and blog, I think she’s wonderful) but I rarely make anything – apart from endless baking with Eve, sometimes from Jane’s book ‘Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer’, which, in a work of genius, combines food and children’s literature – two of my favourite things!

Anyway, I digress. In order to complete a few ‘gentle’ challenges, I am looking for a teacher. I hope to attempt a bit of crochet, perhaps knitting, who knows? So I’m on the hunt for people to teach me some of these things. To start with though, I’m going to try to find a simple dressmaking pattern and use some of my old Liberty fabric to make something!

If you’ve got any fantastic apple recipes, simple dressmaking patterns or other Autumnal loveliness let me know!

September 12, 2011

Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge for Bliss

As part of my 35:35 Challenge and to raise some money for a special charity I climbed the Yorkshire 3 Peaks this weekend, with my lovely husband and my sister-and-brother in law. 26 miles of walking and climbing, with a total ascent of 5000m, this isn’t a challenge to be taken as lightly as I might have been taking it…

We arrived at Horton-in Ribblesdale in the early hours of Saturday morning, to be met by a full car park and lots of other walkers. Seeing everyone there, mostly supporting charities of their own, was very heart-warming, although did rather spoil any kind of feeling of being intrepid – it felt more like the walking equivalent of a motorway in rush hour. The light-hearted jolliness and chattering soon wore off, as we all set off to the first peak – Pen-Y-Ghent. Quite a shock to the system, as you start climbing as soon as you leave the village, this was the first point at which I started to question the wisdom of my decision! It felt like one minute I was still in bed and the next I was scrambling halfway up a giant hill. It progressed from a gentle ascent to a true scramble, holding onto the rock as you climbed. No wonder I was feeling somewhat  nauseous at that point. I was also really hot, as although the weather itself was still cool, climbing was making me warm in my thick waterproofs. Hence the red face in this photo, at the top of the first peak.

Pen-Y-Ghent peak

After the descent from Pen-Y-Ghent comes a long walk to the next peak, Whernside. It’s often quite boggy there, and so we walked along a stretch of the Pennine Way to avoid the worst of the bog! Approaching Whernside, we could see a long line of tiny ant-like people walking along the path and up to the ridge. The climb to the top of Whernside seemed to take forever as you have to walk around to the right before ascending, and so we could see the peak a lot sooner than we actually reached it. There was still quite a bit of traffic, although by this point people were stopping for rest breaks and in some cases stopping entirely. In truth, it was a good job that I was doing this challenge for Bliss, as it gave me a reason to keep going when otherwise I might have been quicker to give up. That, and the experience of completing the Lyke Wake Walk (42 miles across the North York Moors, taking 17 hours) the previous year,  which definitely brought to life Churchill’s famous quote ‘If you’re going through Hell, keep going’…

Finally we reached the summit of Whernside.

At the peak of Whernside

A shorter descent from Whernside, and after a nice break for a drink, we set off for Ingleborough, which was looming dark and cloud-covered in the distance like some semblance of Mount Doom, despite the fact that where we had actually stopped was lovely and sunny! Hence my ill-fated decision to leave my waterproof coat off…

We started off walking towards Ingleborough National Nature Reserve towards the peak of Ingleborough, but as we walked along, I could see no sign of a recognisable path to the top. I could see a steep waterfall running down the side of the hill in front of me, and as we got closer, still at this point in sunshine, I realised that the steep waterfall was in fact, the path. With a true waterfall next to it, the steps of the climb were running with brown water from the top. The crowds of people at the start had really thinned out to a hardy few who were going to finish this challenge, no matter what.

We reached the bottom of the real climbing part, and David put on his waterproof. Still warm and, after putting on and taking off my thick coat one too many times, I decided to leave it off for the climb to the top. Bad decision. Very bad decision. We started climbing, very slowly, pausing either for breath or for the person in front of us and using the rock to hang onto. Then it started to rain. Obviously, I didn’t have the chance to put my coat on as there was no way I was going to mess about taking my rucksack off halfway up the sheer, slippery rock to try to get my coat out. By the time we were close to the summit, we were walking up what had rapidly become a true waterfall of rain water. I was soaked to the skin, and the wind was driving the rain into my face. We finally got to the top and then, seeking the Trig point, had to walk along the top, barely able to see, and then stop for a photo (“let’s get the formalities over with’)  before I finally got to put my coat on!

Ingleborough peak

Leaving Ingleborough with a huge sigh of relief that all three peaks had been reached, we then had quite a long walk back to the official clocking in cafe – where we needed to be back within 12 hours to qualify for 3 Peaks of Yorkshire Club membership – which I was determined not to miss out on, having done so much to get to that point.

We walked on, until we finally reached the end, clocked out with only 15 minutes to spare ( but a very important 15 minutes!) and we’d done it! A quick clothing change for our final photo, then off to get some very well deserved chips and a cup of tea.

Still smiling at the end!

I have to admit, I cried tears of relief and exhaustion at the end. Once I was sitting in the car, wearing a nice dry outfit, and looking forward to my cup of tea, I was struck by how much of a true challenge this had been for me, as someone who has to fit in exercise alongside a full time job and two small children. I’m glad that I’ve done it, and very glad that I’ve raised some money for a well deserving charity, but for now, I am hanging up my walking boots!

September 9, 2011

Fragrance: part two

Fragrance is an emotional subject, although when you enter a department store to be assaulted on all sides by the latest offerings, it is easy to forget to really take your time and make sure that you love a perfume before parting with your money. It is important to wear a fragrance for a while to fully experience the longer lasting middle and base notes which are the real heart of a perfume and do not truly arrive until after the fresher, louder top notes have disappeared. This is not something that is uppermost in the minds of people trying to get you to buy whatever new scent they are trying to sell!

For me, there are a handful of perfumes that will be forever associated with specific people and moments in time.

The first of these is ‘Eternity’ by Calvin Klein. My perfume bible (Perfumes, The A-Z Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez)  describes this as a ‘ screechy and soapy’ rose. Which it is. For me,  it is also the smell of Rhodes, a greek island that was the location for my one and only foreign holiday as a child with my parents and younger brother. My mother bought a bottle of Eternity at the airport on the way there and wore it every day. Infused in my memories with the sun, sea and Greek hospitality, this perfume is the one I wear to feel close to my Mum, even though she doesn’t wear it these days.

Eternity, anniversary engraved bottle

‘Envy’ by Gucci fares better with Turin and Sanchez, as a five star green floral. Sadly now discontinued (although you can still pick it up in a few places) Envy was one of the first perfumes I bought for myself,  as I was lured into the undeniable glamour and luxury of the Gucci house, and intoxicated by the smell. I wore this for a long while, and my oldest friend bought some for me, so it will always remind me of her, which is now a memory tinged by sadness as she emigrated to Canada. Rather amusingly, ‘Envy’ is really similar to ‘Pleasures’ by Esteé Lauder. Considering the contrast in the marketing of these two fragrances, it makes me smile to think of how similar they smell.

Another perfume that will always remind me of old friends is ‘Poison’ by Christian Dior. Famously loud, this is not a fragrance to wear when you are going to be in close contact with other people and certainly not out to dinner. We all wore it to dance in night-clubs, pretending to have an air of sophistication beyond our years. It formed the backdrop to many a memorable evening and in my mind is part of our coming of age. We also used to wear ‘Tendre Poison’, a lighter, greener version, which is also now discontinued. Lura Turin says of Poison, “This is the fragrance everybody loves to hate, the beast that defined the eighties…” (Although I’d like to point out that we were wearing it in the 1990’s in case anyone is trying to work out my age!) Apparently, it’s back in style, along with other loud eighties favourites this winter. If you choose to wear it, do so sparingly!

These days, I take great care in choosing new fragrances, and I’ll be writing about new favourites soon. If you’re interested in buying a copy of my favourite perfume guide, take a look here: Perfumes: The A-Z Guide: Amazon.co.uk: Luca Turin, Tania Sanchez: Books.

What are your sentimental perfumes, and why? Do tell…

September 7, 2011

My Daily Uniform.

I’ve never posted an outfit photograph before, but this photo taken by David at Sandsend on our camping weekend pretty much sums up my daily wardrobe. I tend to wear a uniform of sorts. I try to shop so that everything in my wardrobe can be worn with everything else, which means that there is always something that I can throw on without much thought, and that I can chase after my two year old son in! It’s mostly black or other neutrals, and as I’ve written before, very rarely do I wear a print or anything bold. I’m going to try to change that, but it will mean that I have to put more thought into my daily uniform…

I am wearing:

Navy wool cardigan and trousers from Gap.

Cream (washable!) vest top with broderie anglaise edging from J Crew at Net A Porter.

Mulberry Antony bag, which is usually slung diagonally over my body so I can run around without losing it. The hands-free bag is a totally necessity when you have two small kids. Honestly, I have worn this bag every day since my lovely husband bought it for me one Christmas.  So, as far as fashion maths is concerned (which, as we all know, is cost divided by number of times worn) it’s one of the best bargains ever!

3.1 Phillip Lim sunglasses – giant glasses hide a multitude of sleepless nights, especially useful after sleeping in a soaking wet tent, which was my misfortune the night before this photo was taken.

A grumpy expression. Hmm…again I think this is lack of sleep. Or possibly hunger. We got fish and chips shortly after this was taken which were lovely.

Ash high-tops, I love Ash shoes, they’re always a slightly quirky but comfortable choice. Is it wrong that I need comfortable shoes? I do buy heels too, but I wear them less often, my life just isn’t cut out for them at them moment. The current season of Ash high tops are available from www.my-wardrobe.com and I’ve already got my eye on this pair.

Seal Virgin High Top Leather Trainer by Ash

Ash | Seal Virgin High Top Leather Trainer by Ash.

What is your daily uniform?  Are there pieces of clothing that you couldn’t live without? Do you find it liberating or stifling to wear the same thing every day?

September 5, 2011

Cycletta training

On Sunday, I went out on the bike for a 15 mile ride as part of my training for Cycletta, a 40km women only bike ride.

I’ve written before about my fear of riding a bike, and it’s only because of Cycletta, and my 35:35 Challenge, that I find myself riding at all. Since a childhood accident, I’ve spent such a long time thinking that I couldn’t do it, that cycling was just something that wasn’t for me, and yet year after year, I’ve sat glued to the TV for three weeks watching Le Tour De France knowing it was one of the greatest sporting events of the world.

We set out on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and thanks to my lovely husband, who has long been a keen cyclist and a Rights of Way officer, did a beautiful route, mostly off road along bridle-paths, parts of the Trans-Pennine Trail, and following the Aire and Calder Navigation. Although he is obviously much faster than I am, I was happy to ride along behind him, negotiating all the A-frames, as well as avoiding all the wayward Labradors and small children that such a sunny afternoon had produced. I even managed to go at a decent pace downhill, having finally realised that if I go at a snail’s pace with the brakes on, I am actually more likely to fall off.

Cycling, unlike running, doesn’t seem to leave me in such a pink and breathless state, as in between the hills and the difficult parts, come other bits where you can coast along to catch your breath if you need to, so at the end of the 15 miles I didn’t feel as though I wanted to keel over. Along the way I’d realised a few things. Firstly, that I am not actually as scared of riding in traffic as I’d thought. Having adopted the attitude of being brave, bold but mannerly, and assuming that if I am these things, and ride according to the rules of the road, that drivers will do the same, I am finding it a lot less worrying than I’d envisaged. Of course, I know that there are going to be drivers that don’t see me, don’t care or are just not very good, but by keeping myself as aware as I can of my surroundings and of upcoming traffic, I can do my best to account for such drivers.

The other thing that I realised, is that I am already becoming a better cyclist than I am a runner. I started running after the birth of my daughter. As I posted before, she had to be delivered very early because of my pre-eclampsia. I’m doing the Yokrshire 3 Peaks for Bliss, the premature baby charity, this weekend. When she was two, we decided that we would love a sibling for her, and I went to see a consultant about my chances of suffering with the condition again (which they said was one in ten) and what I could do to reduce that. I was told to to get fit. Running helped me to do that quickly, cheaply and outside. Cycling is helping me to do the same, but without the horrible pressure on my joints and feet. It suits my body better.

Plus, I’m having so much fun. It feels intrepid, especially cycling off-road or downhill. The things you get to see when out on a bike are lovely – I’d never seen parts of the route we rode on, and it’s such a pretty area, and so close to home. The main danger is that I get so carried away looking at my surroundings, I forget to look where I’m actually going. Horses, gardens, old Land Rovers, sheep, allotments – these are the things I look at. Nosiness and envy are rather a dangerous combination when you’re on a bike, and I often find myself riding in one direction, whilst peering desperately in the other. I suffer from severe allotment-envy, despite having one of my own that’s had a decent summer. My newly re-energised passion for horses also had me looking in every field and stable yard we passed. Plus, if anyone can dream up a new career that justifies me having an ancient, held-together-by-baler-twine Land Rover, do let me know, because I’m desperate for one!

When I think of the years I’ve wasted being too scared to ride a bike, it makes me sad. Cycletta has given me a chance and an opportunity, not just for one 40k ride in October but for the rest of my life, and I am very grateful. Plus, just think of the fashion opportunities. Liberty prints, Superga pumps and a Pashley Princess. Or perhaps Alexander Wang, a courier-style bag and an urban hybrid. Not to mention the new Henry Holland bike jacket for Skyride!

September 5, 2011

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair in Leeds

This weekend Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair came to Leeds. As well as curating the vintage event of the year – Vintage at Southbank, Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fairs have heaps of events across the country. Join their mailing list or ‘like’ them on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheAffordableVintageFair to find out if there is an event near you.

Based in the beautiful surroundings of the Corn Exchange, this was two days of great vintage clothing, accessories, books and homewares. I had rather a whistle-stop tour of the whole Fair, as I was accompanied by Eve, who at the age of four has the attention span of a flea, nonetheless I managed to have a good rummage around the stores and although I didn’t manage to buy anything this time, I didn’t quite go home empty-handed as I have details of some websites that I plan to visit in the near future for jewellery purchase. The store holders were a lovely bunch of people, very knowledgeable and passionate about vintage and happy to chat.

Outfit of the day.

Decided to wear my new Peter Pan collared shirt and 3.1 Phillip Lim sunnies, which hide a multitude of late nights and interrupted sleep!

There was plenty of stock to look through and some very stylish folk shopping, many of them wearing their vintage finest and beautiful hair and makeup to suit.

Colour blocking, vintage style

Stylish shoppers

We finished, as usual with a cake and a cup of tea – how very civilised!

Cupcakes for Eve