Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Buyer's Archive: March, April & May

Since last February I've been tracking my spending by joining in with Elise's Buyer's Archive project. Having a two month blogging break means that this month I have a whopping thirteen weeks worth of purchases to record. But first, for last year's purchases.

Last March I was buying a lot of stripes. April 2015 found me spending a whacking great amount - £223.79 to be precise. And in May of last year, it was all about the polka dots.

Of what I bought a year ago, the polka dots and stripes have probable fared the best: I wear the French Connection dress a lot for school, and the charity shopped striped dress and C&A polka dot dress got a lot of wear last summer. Predictably, the I Like Big Books... tote bag has seen a lot of use, too.

Faring less well were the Cath Kidston skirt, gingham dress, bicycle print dress and Clarks shoes, which have all been sold on already, together with the Sugar & Vice necklaces. But the yellow scarf, an unseasonable buy last April, came into its own over the winter.

Overall, my total spending for the months March-May in 2015 was a frankly terrifying £386.78. But did I do any better in 2016? Let's see...

Mint green sunglasses, Claire's Accessories £3
I decided one Friday that I needed a pair of mint green sunglasses. A bit of internet research found plenty of expensive ones, but as someone who breaks most sunglasses within weeks there was no way I was spending upwards of £30 on some. A quick mooch around town later, and good old Claire's - purveyors of cheap plasticky jewellery and ear-piercing services - came up trumps. Only £3 for these beauties: bargain!

Denim shorts, H&M £19.99
I remain a little unsure about these shorts: they're very, well, short and although I am massively in awe of fat girls who rock short shorts, I'm yet to be convinced I have that confidence. But, with a couple of holidays coming up, I thought sod it.

Breton striped top, La Redoute £8 (with 40% discount) - no longer online
Sadly still not the Breton top of my dreams - when oh when will I find 'the one'? - but a pretty good approximation in the meantime.

Badass Feminist Killjoy tote bag, bought at Sheffield Zine Fest, £8
Because of course.

Turquoise & gold beaded necklace, street market in Cape Town, approx. £6
I love this colour and I love necklaces, so of course it was coming home with me.

Long gold pendant, Mungo & Jemima (in Cape Town), approx. £14
This is frankly pretty pricey for something in South Africa, but I'm constantly on the hunt for longer necklaces that hit just the right part of my chest, which this does.

Floral 90s midi skirt, charity shop, £1.75
The Age UK shop in Leicester is like a Room of Requirement* for me and midi skirts, I swear I just have to imagine a skirt and BOOM it appears in there. Previous skirt cravings have included a button front chambray midi (worn here) and a ditsy floral midi (worn here) both of which I merely had to wish for and, I kid you not, there they were. So I pottered into town on my aforementioned mint sunglasses hunt and thought, "hmm, I wonder if Age Concern will have an ugly/pretty 90s midi?" And they did! It's actually starting to freak me out. I don't think I've ever bought anything else from there apart from perfect skirts.
* Nerd reference holla!

Black t-shirt, H&M £3.99
A replacement for a much-loved black H&M t-shirt that finally went to clothes heaven last month. This is a great fit for tucking into skirts and will get tons of wear.

Collared skater dress, Topshop via eBay, £4
I already have this dress in navy blue and love it, so it was a complete no-brainer to buy it in mustard when I spotted it on eBay. It hadn't occurred to me that the thin jersey fabric would be a tad see-through in this lighter-coloured fabric. Oops. I haven't yet figured out a way to wear it without flashing my bra/pants/tights.

Grey jersey pleated midi skirt, Monki via ASOS, £15 in sale
I'd been yearning for a pleated skirt when I saw this one on ASOS. It's made of a very lightweight, crease-proof jersey fabric, and I've worn it a couple of times already with a black tee, denim jacket, and black clogs.

Black jersey midi skater skirt, ASOS £16.20 with 10% discount
My name is Janet and I have an addiction to midi skirts. But c'mon, when is a plain black skirt not a wardrobe essential?

Washed black Leigh jeans, Topshop via eBay, £8 (not pictured)
Leigh jeans are my must-wears for long plane journeys, so it was a bit of disaster when I couldn't find any in my size before I went to South Africa in March. Luckily, while browsing the eBay app one evening, I spotted these - not only my size but my favourite colour, too - and quickly snapped them up, so my next plane journey will be a more comfortable one.

Slouchy black t-shirt, GAP £14.95 (not pictured)
A panic-buy whilst hungover in Cheltenham with friends. Why I was panicking, I don't know: I wasn't urgently in need of a black tee, and this one is weirdly ill-fitting and has already stretched out. Not a good purchase.

All of which brings my grand total for the past three months to a not-too-shabby £122.88. I think that is beyond a bargain for thirteen items, to be honest, and for three months worth of shopping it's even better. Hey! Maybe I'm finally getting to grips with my over-spending! Now I just need some sun so I can wear my enormous collection of skirts...

Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise (of course), Hazel, Kezzie, Donna, Lucy and Charlotte.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Cape Town Travels

There is so much I could say about my latest trip to South Africa*.

I could tell you about the precious time my mother and I spent with each other on our first visit to Cape Town together; an opportunity at last for her to show me the places she grew up and to introduce me to old friends. I could write about the days with my beloved American cousins, a chance for us to hang out without husbands and partners. I could introduce you to my wonderful aunt Jenny, with her constant supply of wine and wit. And most of all, I could share with you the story of my beautiful cousin Caroline's wedding.

But I'm not going to. Those stories I'm going to keep to myself, memories to hold close and treasure, gem-like.

Instead, I'm going to share a few Cape Town travel tips. The first of which is simply, go to Cape Town. "But isn't it terribly dangerous?" I hear your murmur. To which I reply, "Bollocks." Which isn't to say it's an oasis of safety and calm, but what big city is? It's easy to be put off travelling to South Africa when you glance at the crime statistics, but important to realise that tourists, provided they behave sensibly - being aware of your surroundings, don't walk around with your wallet hanging out of your back pocket, keep rental cars locked, etc - are extremely unlikely to become victims. Visiting as a tourist brings with it the same risks that visiting London, or LA, or Paris would bring.

With that cleared up, here's why you should visit Cape Town.

Firstly, it's the most beautiful city in the world. It just is. Not merely the mountains (although they are spectacular) but the gorgeous beaches, the vineyards, the forest and fynebos on Table Mountain's slopes. At Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens you might even spy a dinosaur or two.

Long Street, which runs down from the lower mountain slopes and bisects the city, boasts ornate iron-balconied, candy-coloured confections of buildings which would look perfectly at home in New Orleans. Here, hip cafes and coffee shops rub shoulders with bookshops, chic clothing boutiques and vintage stores. While retail prices in Cape Town have risen in recent years, making goods less of a steal than they used to be, the cost of food and drink is still exceptionally low if you're travelling from the UK or Europe; an enormous lunch with cocktails or wine might set you back R150, or £6.

A couple of blocks south from Long Street is Greenmarket Square, home to a sprawling arts, crafts and curios market. Take a turn around the whole place before deciding where to buy, as many stalls sell similar goods, and be prepared to bargain.

It seems like every time I visit Cape Town, I discover some place new. On this trip it was Woodstock, a formerly down-at-heel district between the university and the city centre, now home to some great shopping. The Old Biscuit Mill is exactly what it sounds; an old mill, host to a farmer's market every weekend but during the week still worth a visit for the cute independent shops. My cousin and I (both shopping mad) may have spent rather a lot of money here...

* I've written at length about family's South African roots & anti-apartheid activism, about my previous trips to the country, and about the experience of being the child of South African immigrants. You can read those posts here, should you want to.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 21st May

After a few month's break, I was keen to join in with May's Photo an Hour. Unfortunately, as always seems to happen, I had very few plans for the day so my photos aren't the most exciting, but I'm glad to be back nevertheless. Thanks to Louisa and Jane for organising!

A cheeky Saturday lie-in followed by a cuppa and a magazine. I don't know why I can't resist buying The Simple Things, as it drives me potty every time I read it: too much contradiction between "objects don't make you happy, live a simple life" and "buy this £10,000 kitchen or this £100 cushion."

Hmmm, spots, stripes of florals? Dark blue or black? Decisions, decisions... (I went for stripes and black).

Brunch with friends at Frankie & Benny's (oh the glamour). My pancakes were amazing.

12 noon: 
Quick dash round the supermarket to pick up the things I somehow forgot on my two supermarket visits on Friday. We really need to start properly meal planning, instead of only thinking one day ahead and having to constantly pop to the shops.

Home just in time for the post to arrive, and the May Bright Paper Packages parcel had arrived. I'm really not well suited to subscription boxes (ironic, considering I work for a subscription company!): I like the idea of surprises more than I like the reality. As it turns out, the May box was lovely, but I'm still glad I've now cancelled.

Adding some new postcards and prints to our office wall. The 'crazy cat lady' one could apply to either me or Thomas, to be fair.

Catching up on blog comments. I'd been considering going back out for a walk up to some secondhand bookshops in Clarendon Park, but the heavens opened and I decided to stay in the warm and dry instead.

The best time of day: tea and cake time.

After having such a long blogging break, I now have three months worth of purchases to photograph for the Buyer's Archive. This little outfit made me positively desperate to go on holiday somewhere warm and sunny.

I bought Jes Baker's book whilst in Edinburgh last month and have just started reading it. There are so many quotable bits already!

Chopped vegetables ready for roasting. My standard weekday lunch at work is couscous with roast veg and feta, so I popped these in the oven while I was baking a Camembert for my dinner. A small one, I hasten to add. And I had it with carrots and cucumber, so it's practically health food.

Wine o'clock!

I finished a book earlier in the day and then struggled to decide on what to read next. Looking over my bookshelves, my eyes alighted on an old favourite, The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I haven't read for at least 10 years. So far, I'm enjoying it just as much as the first time around.

Yes, this photo is basically the same as 8pm's just with some candles. We hadn't moved from the sofa all night so I was running out of things to photograph! Not long after this we blew the candles out and went to bed, because that's how we roll on a Saurday night.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: *****
I'm really not exaggerating when I say I've been looking forward to the release of Eligible for years. Ever since the Austen Project launched with the news that one of my favourite authors, Curtis Sittenfeld would be taking on Jane's most-loved book, to be exact. So expectations were high, although adjusted somewhat after I hated Alexander McCall Smith's Emma so much that I couldn't even finish it. It took me a good few chapters to get into the rhythm of the novel, and especially to get to know the 'new' Lizzie, but once I had I loved it. Relocating the action from rural 19th century England to 21st century Cincinnati works remarkably well, with Mrs Bennet's transformation into a shopping addicted, casually racist lady-who-lunches being particularly well done. I flew through the short, snappy chapters with a grin on my face, delighted at the smart, witty dialogue, the small touches harking back the original novel, and the clever ways in which Sittenfeld has updated others. A wonderful read, and one I am sure I will return to.

The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Rating: ****
The Kind Worth Killing is a superior psychological thriller, much recommended if you enjoyed the plot twists and amoral characters in Gone Girl.

You Know Me Well*
David Levithan & Nina LaCour
Rating: ****
I love David Levithan's work when he's writing with someone else - Nick & Norah's Infinie Playlist and Dash & Lily's Book Of Dares (both with Rachel Cohn) are two of my favourite YA novels - and You Know Me Weldoesn't buck the trend. The book follows Mark and Kate, seniors at the same high school who bump into each other at random on a night out in San Francisco (a night which, for various reasons, doesn't go too well for either of them). Kate's storyline perfectly evoked that teenage feeling of growing apart from friends who used to be your whole world, while Mark's deals with the pain of unrequited love. I loved that both characters, and their friends, were portrayed flaws and all. Kate makes decisions that not only seem irrational but that hurt others, while Mark's best friend breaks his heart by not reciprocating his feelings, but we never judge them because we've all been there. It was especially enjoyable to read a contemporary YA novel which is much more about friendship than it is about romance.

Since You've Been Gone
Morgan Matson
Rating: ***
Since You've Been Gone was a surprisingly enjoyable novel set over the course of a summer. Essentially not a great deal happens - Emily's best friend moves away, leaving her with a list of challenges to complete, which she does with the help of the usual motley band of strangers - but I liked it a lot, nevertheless.

London Belongs To Us*
Sarra Manning
Rating: ***
I was so excited to read this book because I adore Sarra Manning and particularly loved her previous YA novel, Adorkable. In London Belongs To Us we meet Sunny, an engaging and sympathetic heroine who's seeking either revenge on or reconciliation with - she's not quite sure - her boyfriend after she sees a picture of him kissing another girl. We follow her on a madcap twelve hour race across London from Crystal Palace to Alexandra Palace, via Camden, Shoreditch, Dalston, Soho, Chelsea and Notting Hill, during which time she outwits a group of thugs, steals a bike, becomes an internet sensation, meets the terrifying Jeanne (fans of Adorkable will cheer), crashes a house party, and much more. I wanted very badly to love this book but didn't, perhaps because I read it hot on the heels of Since You've Been Gone, with which is shares some superficial characteristics (meek and well-behaved girl learns how to cut loose). That being said, the portrayal of London clearly bespeaks of Manning's huge love for her city, and the supporting characters, especially the posh private school kids - with shades of Made In Chelsea - are enormous fun.

Golden Boy
Abigail Tarttelin
Rating: ***
Golden Boy is a sensitive, if not always entirely believable, look at the life of an Intersex teenager. It made compelling reading and I enjoyed it a lot, but the chapters were notably stronger when narrated by Max, the 'Golden Boy' of the title, while those from an adult PoV were less convincing.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August
Claire North
Rating: ***
Thomas has been telling me for months that I needed to read The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August and I finally capitulated. This was the second time-bendy, multiple-life science fiction books I've read recently (with the first being Bone Clocks), and I found it an easier yet less satisfying read than David Mitchell's book.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Who Am I?

I am someone who needs to clean their mirrors better

I figured that a new blog needed a new introduction, a whistlestop guide to me. So, who am I?

1. I am the opposite of a perfectionist - an imperfectionist? - always seeking the quick solution rather than the best one. Shelf look straight? Ah, I'm sure it'll be fine, no need for a spirit level. Skirt need hemming? No need to bother with pinning, I'll just sew and hope for the best. This tends to work out as well as you'd imagine...

2. I tell people that the first gig I went to was Elastica at Leeds Metropolitan University, but that's a lie. It was actually Take That at Bradford St George's Hall.

3. I am enormously noise-sensitive (the scientific term is misophonia) and struggle to cope with a lot of noises, most notably the sound of other people eating. 

4. The book that changed my life was The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, because it was the first book that I read on my own. I must have been about five at the time, and I remember hiding under my bed covers to finish it after my mum had tucked me in.

5. My tipples of choice are Earl Grey tea, Prosecco, and Aspalls cider (although not together).

6. I suffer from the chronic condition, IBS. If I'm ever hanging out with you and I disappear to the toilet for an hour, this'll be why.

7. I absolutely detest vinegar. The smell of it, the taste of it, the thought of it, just bleurrrgh.

8. And while we're taking about things I detest, I have a deep-seated hatred of Shaun Keaveny and his unfunny, irritating early-morning schtick on 6 Music. Any time before 10am I just need people to STFU and play music.

9. The last few videos I watched on YouTube were Beyonce's Formation, Streisand singing Don't Rain On My Parade, a video about an orangutan and a dog who are best friends, Joanna Newsom performing Peach, Plum, Pear, and a recording from the long-forgotten (but not by me) UK series of So You Think You Can Dance?

10. I'm barred from entering the USA.

I am someone who likes stripes, as you can no doubt tell from these photographs

11. There's an eight year age gap between me and Thomas. He's a spritely 29, while I'm a few weeks off 38. But with a PhD and a proper job, he's enormously more qualified to be an adult than I am.

12. While we're on the subject of education, it took me six years to complete my undergraduate degree.

13. And my big ambition for the next few years is to start a Masters degree in Gender Studies, which will hopefully not take me six years to complete.

14. I've never come out to my dad. When I was starting to figure out that I liked girls as well as boys (and non-binary folk too: one of my first partners was genderqueer), not long had passed since my parents had split up due to my mum coming out as lesbian. I thought that coming out to him would be, at best, a kick in the teeth and, at worst, 'proof' that my mum was an unfit mother and a bad influence, blah blah blah. So I just left it. And left it. But my dad regularly reads my blog so I'm pretty sure he's at least partially aware that I'm queer. It's just... never come up in conversation.

15. Despite being most easily categorised as an indie girl, the music in my collection spans everything from Marilyn Manson, to the Rent and Les Miserables soundtracks, to DJ Shadow, to One Direction.

16. I think my best features are my eyes and my hair. And my eyebrows, when they're under control (which isn't often).

17. The worst job I've ever done was working in telesales making cold calls. I lasted about two hours, until my first break, and then ran away.

18. I'm frightened of sparklers. Not phobic, but I don't like holding them. Or being near them.

19. My patronus would be a sloth. Or a super lazy cat.

20. My one talent is extremely accurate impressions of singers. I do an immense Kate Bush (if I do say so myself) and my Brian Molko is pretty good too.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In Which She Accidentally Starts A New Blog

As recently as a week ago I was 100% certain that I would be leaving the blogging world behind for good. Over the past six months blogging had stopped being fun and become something akin to a chore. I felt huge pressure to meet self-imposed deadlines and targets, had started to resent the amount of time I spent putting posts together, plus I couldn't for the life of me figure out why people wanted to read my ramblings.

My old blog becoming irrevocably broken seemed like a sign of sorts, a chance to have a break from blogging and take stock. And I relished the time off. I loved not feeling like I have to sit down and write every day, no more getting frustrated with myself because I hadn't done an outfit post in months, or because I hadn't yet written a review of each of the 20 books I'd read in the past month. I was able to enjoy myself on days out without panicking about having enough good photographs for a post, able to dedicate some time to just living, instead of writing about living.

In fact, I've managed to do a lot of living in the past couple of months. Having got home from Cape Town, Thomas and I then visited Edinburgh (and I met up with Gwen, which turned out to be just like seeing an old friend, and was thus enormous fun). I finished the zine I'd been working on for two long years. I started volunteering with a project for transgender youth here in Leicester. I spent time getting my garden into shape and remembered how much I love gardening. And Thomas and I finally got ourselves organised regarding our wedding, set a date, and booked venues.

And yet...

Over the past few weeks I've had the urge to write again and, no matter how much I tried to pretend it was definitely possible to make 100 zines on 100 different topics, I had to admit that actually, it probably wasn't. So I started tinkering with Blogger and I remembered how much fun it can be.

So here I am. A fresh blog, a fresh start, and a new way of doing things. No putting pressure on myself to meet spurious deadlines. No fretting over everything being perfect. No trying to review every book I read or to write about every trip I take. No trying to keep to schedules or blogging for any other reason than because I want to. A more balanced and achievable approach. I hope you'll stick with me.