Tuesday, 20 June 2017

15 Facts About Me

Months and months ago Rachel tagged me in a post on Instagram challenging me to share a selfie and 10 random facts about myself. And then I totally forgot about it until Sarah wrote a post recently with her facts. I've done fact posts before but I know I always enjoy reading other people's, so here goes trying to think of 15 new facts about myself.

1. My favourite subject at school was drama and I usually took the lead role in the school plays and musicals.

2. Show tunes are my not-at-all-guilty pleasure. I love listening to the Elaine Paige show on Radio 2 on Sunday afternoons, and on long car journeys will blast the soundtracks to Wicked and Rent while singing along at the top of my voice.

3. I also have a fondness for grime and, despite the incongruity of a 30-something white woman bopping along to Stormzy in a Ford Ka, it's another of my favourite driving soundtracks.

4. Speaking of age, I turn 40 next June and I am not at all happy about it. It sounds like such an enormous milestone (frankly, it just sounds so old!). So yeah, there's lots of denial of the ageing process going on around here at the moment.

5. I was once on local television talking about zines. I was only 17 and it was about as awkward as "teenager interviewed on local Bradford cable channel" sounds.

6. My mum is deaf, so I have (rudimentary) BSL skills. However, as she lost her hearing in her 50s, none of us are exactly fluent.

7. I have multiple diagnoses - Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Pain Syndrome - that impact on my life in various ways. At the moment, I'm trying to figure out how to get through the wedding and start my MA course without a combination of the three causing havoc.

8. I don't particularly like chocolate, and especially not chocolate cake.

9. The best gig I've ever been to was Joanna Newsom at Manchester Palace Theatre in 2010, closely followed by Joanna Newsom at Manchester Albert Hall in 2015. Whenever I see her live I spend the entire time completely rapt, so I'd heartily recommend trying to bag tickets when she next tours.

10. I secretly quite enjoy supermarket shopping.

11. Before getting Missy, I'd never owned a pet. Nope, not even a goldfish when I was a child.

12. I have too many disgusting habits to name, but probably the most unappealing is picking dry skin off my feet and then chewing it. I know, I disgust me too.

13. I've never been afraid of going to the dentist but, until a few years ago, I had a phobia of going to the hairdressers.

14. I've lived in three cities as an adult - Bradford, Manchester and Leicester - the latter for 20 years. I will leave one day... maybe?

15. Things internet people have recognised me by when meeting in real life: my fringe, my Feminist Killjoy bag, my tattoo, my red hair and, on one memorable occasion, by boobs.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

To Gift List Or Not To Gift List? That Is The Question

Recently a lot of people have asked us about gift lists: Do we have one, and if not, what do we want? And it's turning out to be a thornier issue than we at first thought.

When we started planning the wedding, Thomas and I were absolutely adamant that we didn't want a traditional gift list; asking guests to first pay to travel (90% of guests are coming from outside of Leicester, with 50% of those travelling from overseas) and then to splash out on some fancy kitchen gadgets from John Lewis just didn't sit right with us. Unlike in times past, when a couple getting married would almost invariably be setting up home for the first time, Thomas and I have lived together for four years and we have pretty much everything we need. So, no gift list.

We did ponder asking for charitable donations in lieu of gifts (I was particularly keen to support the at-risk-of-closure Leicester Rape Crisis), or perhaps for Canadian dollars ahead of our planned trip next summer. But, again, we came back to the fact that asking people to cough up cash in addition to plane fares and hotel bills felt unfair. While some guests would, I am sure, be more than happy to contribute, we didn't want people to feel obliged.

As we count a huge number of talented artists amongst our friends and family, we next toyed with the idea of going with the classic mum line, "Anything you've made would be lovely." But then how would those without artistic skills (or with the skills but without time to commit to a project) feel? Again, we didn't want there to be a sense of obligation.

A few alternatives have been suggested by friends: an Etsy gift list, perhaps, or sharing our Amazon wishlists and getting books as wedding presents. In the end, though, we've gone with what's probably the least satisfactory solution from a guest's perspective - an embarrassed shrug and a muttered, "You don't need to get us anything," when asked. But we're still not entirely sure if this approach is the right one, or whether our attempts to ensure people don't feel obligated to give us something are just making it more complicated for guests who do want to give a present. So let me know: what do you think of wedding gift lists? 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Planning An Anxiety-Friendly Wedding

With just eight weeks to go, the wedding is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, so prepare for a few posts talking about it. Today's is prompted by something a couple of people have recently asked me: how I've dealt with managing my anxiety during wedding planning and how I think I'll cope on the day itself?

It was an interesting question to ponder, because in all honesty we didn't approach the planning from the perspective of making the wedding anxiety-friendly. However, once Thomas and I sat down to think about it, we quickly realised that almost all of the big decisions we've made during planning have been prompted by or related to making it a comfortable experience for us. We have - partly on purpose but mostly by accident - planned the perfect anxiety-friendly wedding.

So, what have we done to make our wedding anxiety-friendly? Here are a few things that have worked well for us.

Staying Local
When we first began talking about a wedding, I was adamant about one thing: I did not want to have it in Leicester. My love/hate relationship with the city I've called home for 20 years is a whole other post, but at the start of the planning process two years ago I was in a 'hate' phase. So we looked, in a vague and noncommittal way, at venue options from Bristol to Glasgow, Leeds to Warwickshire. But nothing felt right, or affordable, or easy.

And then, a brainwave. Where do we feel most comfortable? The Lansdowne pub here in Leicester. Which building do we both think is one of the most beautiful in England? The Guildhall here in Leicester.

Now, having booked both places, I'm very relieved we chose to be have our celebration here. I'm (luckily) very much in an 'I love Leicester' mood of late, and I'm so excited to show the city off to people from around the world who would otherwise have no reason to visit. More importantly, it has made the planning so much easier, compared with trying to pull off a big event in a city we're unfamiliar with. So you can keep your destination weddings: I'm happy to be having a local one.

Saying "No" To DIY
It would have been so very easy for me - creative, imaginative, crafty -  to become completely absorbed in a thousand DIY projects to make our wedding look Pinterest-perfect. I can imagine an alternate reality where we decided to decorate a barn or a marquee from scratch and I spent every evening for the past 12 months sobbing over table centrepieces and hand-sewn bunting.

Instead, we embarked on wedding planning with a strict "No DIY" policy. This was largely for budgetary reasons but also because we explicitly wanted a stripped-back, simple wedding: no favours (which inevitably get forgotten about and left on tables), no elaborate seating plans, no handcrafted centrepieces to fit a theme. In fact, no theme at all. This approach has meant that our energies have been concentrated on the few things - music, clothes, food - that are important to us, and has saved me many a sleepless night worrying about craft supplies.

Making Google Docs Our Best Friend
From guest lists, to keeping track of when people are arriving and where they're staying, to budget and to-do lists, everything is contained on one many-tabbed spreadsheet. And having it as a shared Google Doc means that we can both access it anywhere, any time. Having a 2am panic about unbooked hotel rooms? I can quickly check on my phone without getting out of bed. It's made it so much easier to share the planning and ensure that Thomas - against my instinct to be a complete control freak and drive myself to a breakdown - is able to do his fair share.

Saying "Yes" To Offers Of Help
Chiefly, financial help from my parents. Because, believe it or not, Janet Brown - Fiercely Feminist Independent Woman - is having a wedding almost entirely paid for by my mum and dad. And yeah, that's pretty fucking weird and something both Thomas and I struggled with and debated for a long time. Ultimately, though, we realised that turning down their incredibly generous offer to match the cash they'd given my brother and his wife for their 2015 wedding would have been foolhardy. Could we have paid for it all ourselves? Yes, by scrimping and saving these past two years, during which we were also constantly fretting about Thomas not having permanent employment. But our anxiety levels were immediately reduced the day we deposited those cheques and it's taken so much worry out of the planning process.

Of course, help hasn't only come in the form of money from my parents. So many friends have stepped up to help with everything from collecting jam jars for flowers, to volunteering assistance on the day, to lending cake stands. Knowing people who work in the wedding industry has also been hugely helpful, meaning we got our invitations, cakes, photographer and music all sorted either for free or at mate's rates.

If you're planning a wedding and someone offers to help, it's always worth considering it carefully -  I've heard nightmare stories of parents thinking that giving money entitles them to control over the guest list, for example - but if you're comfortable with what's on offer, I'd say go for it.

Planning Time Together On The Big Day
I appreciate that for many people, getting ready separately and seeing each other for the first time as one of you walks down the aisle is all part of the magic. But for Thomas and I, the worst thing we could imagine was being apart until the ceremony. There's a reason we're getting married, after all - he's my person, the one I want by my side when I'm feeling anxious or nervous - and so it felt completely counter-intuitive to be apart during the build-up.

Instead, we'll both spend the morning at a family brunch before returning to our hotel to get ready together. And when the time comes, we'll travel to the Guildhall together ready to meet and greet people as a team. Taking the decision to do away with tradition and spend the whole day together was an easy one to make, and I am so glad I'll have Thomas by my side for the whole experience.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A Buyer's Archive: May

Since February 2015, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. 

This time last year I bought a pair of denim shorts that I later returned, a pair of sunglasses that broke just last week after lots of wear, a secondhand Topshop dress that I've sadly accepted just isn't my colour, and a basic black tee which I wear a lot, giving a total of £33.98. Could I beat that total this May? With a grand total of one clothing purchase, yes I could.
Vintage midi skirt, Sue Ryder Vintage £9
The Sue Ryder shop in Leicester is a great source of vintage goodies and I've picked up some brilliant retro fabric here over the years. It's rare, though, that I find clothes that fit me so I was excited to spot this button front midi skirt. I've already worn it a lot - with my denim jacket, tights and clumpy shoes when it was chillier, and with bare legs, sandals and a black t-shirt now the weather is better - so I reckon it will be a wardrobe staple in the months to come.

Total for May: £9

Total so far for 2017: £249.69

Total this time last year: £237.62

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

I have read some utterly brilliant books recently - prepare yourself for many 5 star reviews! - together with one absolute stinker, which is sometimes as much fun to write about as a great book. What are you reading at the moment? I'm currently enthralled by Kraken by China Mieville, after it was recommended to me by my brother, and although it's out of my comfort zone it's completely absorbing.

The Upside Of Unrequited*
Becky Albertalli
Rating: *****
Molly and her twin have always been best friends as well as sisters, but when Cassie meets the girl of her dreams and falls head over heels, Molly's suddenly left behind. It's not that she's never been in love - she has, 26 times - but it's always been unrequited. Luckily, Cassie has a cute friend, Will, who's showing an interest in Molly... so why can't she stop thinking about her nerdy co-worker Reid?

Albertalli's first novel, Simon Versus The Homo-Sapiens Agenda, is one of my favourite books ever and the one I'm most likely to press upon friends while shouting, "READ THIS!" so it's fair to say that anticipation was running high for The Upside Of Unrequited. But I absolutely loved this sweet, charming, funny romance. It's fantastically diverse and, best of all, Molly is the fat YA heroine of my dreams. What leaps off the page is that Albertalli knows teenagers - knows what makes them tick, knows the cadences of their speech - and, perhaps more importantly, likes them. Her characters are fully-rounded, interesting, flawed beings, with whom the reader cannot help falling in love. This book would have been so, so important to me when I was a teenager and I'm not too proud to admit that even now, I cried happy tears at seeing a fat girl (with lesbian moms! It me!) represented on the page. And for Simon... fans there's the added Easter Egg of a guest appearance by the man himself.

One Of Us Is Lying*
Karen McManus
Rating: *****
Five students enter detention, only four come out: the jock, the swot, the homecoming princess, and the rebel, leaving the much-disliked Simon Kelleher - the brains behind a devastatingly accurate school gossip app - dead. And so begins a police investigation that has the power to destroy all their lives and root out secrets they'd all prefer were kept buried.

One Of Us Is Lying is an absolutely brilliant read. Despite accurately guessing whodunnit at about 20% - I read a lot of thrillers and this is frequently an issue for me - I still felt compelled to keep reading. The characters of Cooper (jock), Bronwyn (swot), Addy (princess) and Nate (rebel) are so fully rounded that I was more than happy to go on this journey with them, despite knowing where we'd end up. Comparisons to The Breakfast Club are inevitable, but this is so very much more than that film: more complex, with more likeable characters, and with much greater tension and higher stakes.

The Pearl Thief*
Elizabeth Wein
Rating: *****
Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her grandparent's ancestral home for one last summer, after the death of her grandfather forces the sale of the house and land. This, together with the mysterious disappearance of the family pearls, followed closely by the discovery of a body in the river, leads Julie into a summer of self-discovery. Although The Pearl Thief is being marketed as a 1930s period mystery, in the vein of Agatha Christie, it's so much more than that. Yes, there's a mystery element, but it's less important than the exploration of topics as varied as burgeoning sexuality, disability, anti-traveller prejudice, and privilege. Julie - who could so easily come across as just another poor little rich girl - is instead winningly self-aware and willing to examine her own privilege, and the novel has a beautifully elegiac tone (the more so when you realise it's set in 1938 and that the shadows of war hang over all). A lovely book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sometimes I Lie
Alice Feeney
Rating: *
Amber, our narrator, is in hospital in a coma. We know this because she tells us immediately, along with two other salient facts: her husband doesn't love her anymore, and sometimes she lies. Sounds intriguing, right? Well, within the first 10 pages of Sometimes I Lie Amber had employed "rape" as a verb to describe something other than sexual assault, and used horribly derogatory language to describe a fat character, so it's fair to say I wasn't well-disposed towards it from the start and, unfortunately, it doesn't get any better. The plot - switching from Amber's hospital bed recollections of the days leading up to the accident that put her in a coma, to childhood diary entries - is utterly ridiculous and the only reason I read to the end instead of DNF-ing was because I was stuck on a train with nothing else to read. If you're in the market for a ludicrously far-fetched thriller, in which virtually every character is thoroughly unlikable and completely unbelievable, and with a laughably bad denouement, then maybe this is the book for you. It certainly wasn't for me.

The Lauras*
Sara Taylor
Rating: ****
Alex is 13 when Ma pulls them out of bed and into the car and embarking on a road trip across America, sometimes settling in one place for months at a time, at others staying briefly before moving on. The Lauras is so named for the girls and women from Ma's youth, which she spent in and out of foster care, and about whom Alex is regaled with tales. It is through these stories, told during their years on the road, that Alex learns to view Ma as more than just a mother but as a person too.

The novel has an episodic feel and, despite the potential for repetition inherent in the narrative moving from gritty motel to dusty road to gritty motel, each stop along their journey is beautifully drawn in immersive and lyrical prose. Neither Alex nor Ma have uncomplicated lives, and it's not a book that ties everything up in a neat bow at the end, but there was a sense of hope nonetheless. By far the best coming of age novel I've read in years.

Who Runs The World?
Virginia Bergin
Rating: ***
"They said that," he murmured, "They said you was lost without us."
"We are not lost," she said, calmly, "We are running the world."
Sixty years after a virus wiped out almost every man and boy on the planet, teenager River is being brought up in the Matriarchy, a place where war has ended, greed and violence not tolerated, and empathy is the prized quality in a person.

Who Runs The World? has a brilliant premise and it is, for the most part, well executed. Because it's a middle grade/YA novel it's not always as complex as, say, Naomi Alderman's equally feminist dystopian novel The Power. And as the pace picks up towards the end, things become over-complicated and under-explained. However, River is a great protagonist - well-rounded and sympathetic, although not always likeable - and the world that Bergin creates is entirely believable. A warning, though: it's impossible to read this without the Beyonce song cycling constantly through your head!

* This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Some Small Home Updates

You know when interiors magazine say, "You can jazz up a space with just new cushion covers!" and you think, "Yeah whatever, pull the other one." Turns out they're not lying. Something I've learnt since buying my home is how easy it is to update a room with comparatively tiny changes. 

Prior to moving to this house I'd lived in fourteen places in twelve years: I'd never really had the chance to get tired of a room or flat before it was time to move on. But I've stayed put for almost nine years, which is more than enough time to want to make changes, both big and small. We've just finished renovating our bathroom and I wrote about our kitchen on a budget last year, but it's the little updates that I enjoy the most and today I'm sharing some of them.
Living Room
Something I'm not crazy about in the living room is just how much brown wood there is. In an ideal world, I'd strip and paint the floorboards but just thinking about the dust and mess (and little cat prints on a freshly painted floor) makes me shudder. So I was lucky to find the perfect rug for the space, in simple shades of grey, from my favourite local homewares shop Harriman & Co.

As the living room is at the back of the house it can easily feel dark, so over the past 9 months or so I've collected sunshine yellow accessories to being a welcome pop of colour to the room. I picked up the yellow cushions from Habitat when they were having a discount event, the Hello Sunshine print is from Moonko in Sheffield, the retro-style yellow chair comes from My Furniture, and the vintage floral cushion cover (on grey chair) was from a local charity shop.

Total cost for this room's colourful new look? Chair, cushions and print all came to a total of £120. I've also re-used items where possible - "shop your home" as the fancy interiors bloggers call it - relocating a painted basket IKEA hack from our bedroom and the blue cushions (originally La Redoute) from the spare room, while my beautiful but broken 1960s typewriter sits happily in a corner with some of Thomas's vintage book collection.
Our Bedroom
Our room has always been a space that most reflects my tastes rather than both of ours; it was my pink-toned retreat for years before Thomas moved in and it's been slow to change. The addition of things specific to him - including the bear on a bike print, the custom portrait painted by Laura, and the (in-joke) All I Do Is Win embroidery - plus prints that he's chosen (such as the It's A Wonderful Life poster), and the introduction of teal and yellow as accent colours, are all my attempts to make it feel as much his space as mine.

The geometric cushion covers were a bargain £6 apiece from La Redoute, the Hello Sunshine cushion came from Tesco, while the battery operated string of ball lights are from Tiger and help to pull the different colours in the room together. At a cost of just £27, the room is now a light, bright, colourful space.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Buyer's Archive: April

Since February 2015, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. 

This time last year I went slightly overboard buying midi skirts - three, to be precise, only one of which (the floral charity shop bargain) I wear regularly - a Gap t-shirt that went into a charity bag long ago, and a tote bag that I still love and use all the time. This year? It's not looking like my stripes problem is going anywhere fast, let's put it that way.
Striped t-shirt, originally New Look via charity shop £2.49
I picked this up in a charity shop in Wells and, despite being a size 12, it's the perfect fit to tuck into jeans and skirts. I'm very happy with this purchase as my Primark top of a similar style has recently shrunk in the wash, making it almost unwearable. And as I've already worn this at least six times, I'd say I've got value for money, too.

Button-front chambray skirt, La Redoute £23.40 (with 40% off)
I cannot tell you just how thrilled I am with this skirt. I've spent the last four summers looking for the perfect midi length, button front, chambray skirt and so to find this one for 40% off - and with pockets! - was extremely exciting. I'm not crazy about the buttons so will keep my eyes peeled for ones I like better, then I just need the weather to improve and I'll be wearing it constantly with tan sandals and a white stripey tee.
Polka dot t-shirt, Zara £7.99
Another salutary lesson in not paying attention to size labels - this is an M (and a Zara - home of the tiny sizing - M at that) and fits me perfectly, so I reckon an XL would fit up to a 22 or even 24, depending on height. There's not much more to say about this, I don't suppose: it's navy blue, it has polka dots, it's very very Janet. I'll be wearing this in summer tucked into high waisted jeans and with a headscarf tied rockabilly-style.

Breton top, La Redoute £11.40  (with 40% off)
Funnily enough, last April I bought this same top from La Reodute but in a white/black stripe and had got tons of wear out of it, until a recent encounter with tomato-based pasta sauce saw it relegated to gardening wear. I'm gutted that they don't still do the original white top, but this navy and cream is a decent enough substitute in my wardrobe.

Overall, then, I'm still ploughing away at my blue, striped, polka dotted style rut, but it's not for wont of trying: I swear the shops are full of rubbish at the moment, it's either cold-shoulders or bell sleeves as far as the eye can see. That's my excuse, anyway.

Total for April: £45.28

Total so far for 2017: £240.69

Total this time last year: £203.64

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Thrifty Gift Swap: Summer Edition

My friend Rebs recently got in touch to ask if I fancied running a summer gift swap like my annual Christmas swap. Never one to pass up an opportunity to send and receive parcels, I leaped at the chance. So here's the Summer Thrifty Gift Swap! If you want to take part, have a look at the guidance below and then get in touch with either Rebs or me.

1. Send your name, address, social media links and blog address (if you have one) to jbistheinitial@gmail.com by May 31st. Please also include in your email as much detail about your likes and dislikes - including any dietary requirements - as possible, so your giver has a starting point.
2. Once you receive the information about your recipient , you can start putting together a box of bought, thrifted and handmade goodies you think your recipient will love.  In the Christmas swap there have been a huge range of thoughtful gifts exchanged: last year my haul included enamel pins, a tote bag, secondhand books, a beautiful handmade embroidery hoop, and zines.
3. Limit yourself to a £10-12 spend (not including postage).
4. Pop your parcel in the post by June 30th.
5. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Life Lately

Life seems so busy at the moment, between work and home and my busy staring-at-the-cat schedule, that I haven't always had the chance to blog as regularly as I'd like. Not that I think I, or any blogger, has a duty to keep to a schedule, but I do like to keep a record of what's going on in my life here. So, what have I been up to?

We've had some big celebrations in our house recently, with Thomas accepting an offer of a full-time, permanent lecturer role here in Leicester, and me an offer of a place on the Gender Studies MA at Leeds University. I'll be starting in September on a part-time basis, travelling up once a week for lectures and seminars. Meanwhile, the fact that Thomas has a job locally - and, more to the point, a permanent, well-paid job - takes the pressure off for the next few years. As he's only one year post-PhD, we feel very lucky (although his hard work and amazing talent have more to do with it than luck).

I'm really excited about starting the Masters - it's a course I've wanted to study for years and I spent the last few years of teaching saving like mad so I could afford the fees - but I'm apprehensive too. Nervous about the workload and the travel, the new people, the pressure I can tend to put on myself in academic situations (and my corresponding tendency to give up on anything I find too challenging).

Somewhat linked to this is that since the start of the year I've been challenging myself to do things that scare me and as a result my anxiety has been both debilitating and something I feel like I'm getting a handle on. Often in the same day. A lot of what I've been doing isn't big stuff - 'just' things like driving to a new place, or being the one who goes to the bar to order food - and I'm not always being successful, but I do feel like I'm making progress. I've also started being more open with friends about my mental health instead of pretending that everything's fine, which has been a massive relief.
Finally, travel-wise I feel like we're all over the place at the moment (in a good way).

I spent a really nice couple of days away this week, visiting Bath, Wells and Glastonbury with a friend. We pretty much ate and drank our way around Somerset: from afternoon tea to local cider to Glastonbury pasties, we tasted it all.

Now Thomas is in Wales, hiking and camping with a friend, before we head off to Barcelona next weekend, which will be a challenge to my travel anxiety but, I'm sure, a lovely trip. Then in May I have trips to London to release my inner rock chick at a Deftones gig, to Bradford to see my mum, and to Nijmegen to hang out with Thomas's friends for a long weekend.

What's new with you?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Eat: Oscar & Rosie's Pizza

Oscar & Rosie's has long been one of my favourite dinner destinations in Nottingham, so I was excited to discover they were opening a location in Leicester. So excited, in fact, that Thomas and I visited within 24 hours of them opening their doors last Friday.

Why all the excitement over pizza? I hear you ask. Well, although Oscar & Rosie's isn't the first independent serving decent pizza to open in Leicester, it is the first to offer vegan cheese and a huge range of vegan meats. It makes such a huge difference to eating out together when neither Thomas nor I have to compromise; when he can have great vegan food and I, well, don't have to have vegan food! 

The Leicester venue is smaller than their Nottingham branch, but offers the same mid-century-cum-junk shop style of shared seating along long wooden tables, and the same extensive menu of pizzas and both soft drinks and beer from small producers (although, at the time of our visit, no cider yet - unfortunately for me). From a menu boasting options as diverse as the beetroot, goat's cheese, & pesto Frenchman, to the Hamster (ham hock, mushrooms and ricotta), it felt a bit lazy to go for the Margherita, but with top-notch ingredients it was anything but boring.

Like all the best indie businesses, there's a slightly ramshackle feel to Oscar & Rosie's which is entirely its appeal; there's no slick corporate marketing needed when the pizza's as good as this. If you're local to Leicester - or even if you're not - I can heartily recommend you paying them a visit at Market Place, just off Hotel Street.

Note: this is not a sponsored post and  - more's the pity - I didn't get free pizza for writing about Oscar & Rosie's. I just really love the place!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A Bathroom Makeover

When I bought this house eight years ago, the bathroom was resplendent with peach & green floral tiles straight outta the 70s. Not having any spare cash at the time, I slapped some white tile paint over them, painted the walls grey, and hoped for the best. Over the years a combination of peeling tile paint, hair dye stains on the grout, and mouldy sealant had left the bathroom an absolute embarrassment; I dreaded people coming to stay and having to use it.

A makeover was well overdue.

My talented friend Abby, who also redid our kitchen, came to the rescue. With her handling the tiling and drilling, and me on interior design and painting duties, we turned this...
... into this (note - taking photographs of a dark room with a big window is extremely difficult).

This is one of the first rooms that I've done a complete makeover of; my usual approach is to change a bit at a time, as and when we can afford it. It was really fun to go into it with a clear vision - I wanted white metro tiles, dark blue walls, reclaimed wood, and the contrast of textures provided by industrial wire accessories and woven baskets together with lots of plants.
As much as I possibly could, I reused items we already had in the house. The vintage pharmacy labels came from an antique shop near my dad's in Lancashire years ago, while the plants and pots were all rehomed from elsewhere in the house. The chest of drawers - an IKEA cheapie - had lived in the bathroom for years and just needed a lick of paint, and the bathroom mirror is one I salvaged from a charity shop and repainted.

Abby found a section of old railway sleeper while walking her dog and wasted no time working her magic on it, cutting it to size to make two shelves before sanding and oiling them. The basket - a handy home for toilet rolls - came from Ikea and I painted it with a couple of coats of the same paint I used on the walls.

The only things bought new for the room - apart from tiles and paint - were a sparkling chrome shower curtain rail and riser rail, the industrial wire shelving for the alcove, and a beautiful print by Eloise Renouf.  To save money, we retained the wood-effect lino which, to my surprise, actually goes really well with the new look. Overall the total cost for the makeover came to about £600, however this includes the cost of a plasterer after half the wall fell off when the old tiles were removed. That hitch aside, we could have managed it for less than £300.
One of my favourite things in the room is this mobile, which my step-mum made from sea glass and driftwood. Can you see what shape each piece of sea glass is? I was so touched when she gave it to me.

Overall, both Thomas and I are completely thrilled with our new bathroom. Whereas before it was a room I avoided unless absolutely necessary, now I love to light some candles and lie in the bath to relax. The blue walls give the space a cosy, cave-like feeling at night, and during the day it's fascinating to see how light affects the shade - sometimes appearing grey-blue, at other times a brighter navy.

* Basket: IKEA * Print: Eloise Renouf from Mustard  * Window film: B&Q * 
* Shower curtain rail: Homebase * Shower riser rail: Homebase
* Metro tiles: Homebase *

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Why I Love Zines

In 1994, when I was 16, I made my first zine. My mum photocopied it for me at work, I put an ad in the back of Melody Maker, and before too long letters with 50p pieces sellotaped to them were arriving through the letter box. My life as a zinester had begun.

A zine, for those who don't know, is a homemade booklet or pamphlet. They can be fanzines (zines, as the name suggests, about something you're a fan of - usually music. My first zines were Britpop fanzines), perzines (personal zines), comics or instruction zines. What they all have in common is that they're a DIY form of creativity: more often than not hand-drawn, photocopied, and either sold for a low price or swapped.

After making both fanzines and perzines for four years I stopped when I was about 20, and it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I felt like I wanted to get back into zines. In the interim blogging had become for me what zines once had been - a way of communicating, of practising my writing, of meeting people with whom I had a lot in common but whom I otherwise wouldn't have met - but within the last two years I've felt increasingly less motivated to blog. Instead, I decided, I would make some new zines.
My first new zine was about abortion, telling the story (largely through cartoons that could kindly be called naive, otherwise known as crap) of a termination I had in my early 20s, and it took me two years to finish. Luckily, I picked up the pace after that and, since the beginning of 2017, have written and made two more zines: Barren, about being childfree by choice, and a perzine called, like this blog, Someone, Somewhere.
When Laura and I visited Sheffield Zine Fest last year, we promised ourselves and each other that this year we'd return to table. And so, at the end of February, we set up stall: Laura selling her My So-Called Life compzine and her comic about turning 30, and me with my little stash of zines and badges.

Zines don't replace blogging for me but they do complement it, giving me a creative outlet that's about more than just writing, and a space to share things I wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable sharing online. The zine world is as wonderfully welcoming and diverse as it was when I was 16, too, and I've met so many brilliant people through making, sharing and buying zines. As the blogging world becomes increasingly mainstream, and often focused on people trying to make money, I value the truly DIY ethos of zines and the sense of being involved in something so firmly outside of the mainstream.

I'm now working on two compzines and would love contributions: Mixtape is a 90s nostalgia zine that Laura and I are putting together, and Cherry is about virginity - the loss of it, the concept, the problematically heterocentric nature of the concept, whatever! Email me at jbistheinitial@gmail.com if you want to submit something for either zine.

You can buy my zines from a range of places: by emailing me for Paypal details (they all cost £1 plus 50p P&P), or alternatively Brick is carried by both Penfight Distro and Vampire Sushi Distro, with the latter also selling Barren and Someone, Somewhere).

I have also contributed to a number of compzines in the past year, all of which you can buy on Etsy: Laura's zine The Boiler RoomVersions Of Violence, a zine about heterosexism, and Yr Faves Are Problematic

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Buyer's Archive: February & March

 Since February 2015, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. 

This time last year I was buying a lot of polka dots and stripes (some things never change) and picking up beautiful jewellery in Cape Town. My buys from February and March 2016 have varied in wardrobe longevity - the black polka dot top (February) and the Breton top (March), both from La Redoute, have predictably become staples and I get frequent wear from the jewellery, too. However, both the Closet dress and the Dorothy Perkins one have been sold on, as neither fitted me properly. 
Striped top, Primark £3.50
I regret to inform you that after a month or two of cold turkey, I've fallen off the stripes wagon once more. As always, I had oh-so-many justifications for why I needed this top (it being scoop-necked where the rest of mine are crew- or boat-neck being the main one) but ultimately it comes down to the old addiction rearing its head again.

Mustard snood, Fat Face £12
Did I really need another mustard scarf/snood? No. But when I found this in the Fat Face sale I couldn't resist.

Washed black Jamie jeans, Topshop £42
It's so rare that I pay full price for anything, but I was in dire need of a pair of jeans and these Jamie jeans aren't always reliably in stock in my size, so I grabbed a pair when I saw them. 
Polka dot dress, H&M £12.99
H&M now go up to a 20 online in their Divided range, which is great news for those with boobs like mine, which generally preclude squeezing into even their biggest size in store.

Scallop collar top, Tu via Oxfam £3.99
Because it's navy blue and it has a collar. It would've been rude to leave it, right?
Black jersey skater dress, Simply Be via charity shop £2.50
I had a great jersey skater dress from H&M, which went AWOL a year or so ago. This is a great replacement, handy for those days you don't really want to think about what to wear: with a chunky cardigan and boots, it makes for a comfortable and easy outfit.

Organic cotton striped t-shirt, Mango £6.99
I have a lack of short-sleeved stripe tees to wear with jeans once it warms up, and this one is the perfect combination of fitted and slouchy. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
Red Pour Moi bikini top, Next £14 (inc. £10 off code)
Red polka dot bikini bottoms, part of set from Amazon £12.99
This has the potential to be the most expensive bargain bikini ever. Let me explain: it's extremely rare to find a bikini top that's both big enough for my HH boobs and and provides enough support. It's even more rare to find one for less than 40 quid. So when I saw (and fell in love with) this rather vavavoom top by Pour Moi, I needed it in my life. And then obviously I wanted bottoms to match. And now obviously I want to go on a holiday during which I can wear said bikini, and have talked Thomas into taking a late-summer break in the sun. Hence, this supposedly cheap bikini will end up costing me a few hundred pounds (totally worth it though).

Looking at this collection of purchases, it seems they continue to stick to the themes well established within my wardrobe: polka dots, stripes, blue, mustard, collars. I'm starting to feel like there's a very fine line, though, between having a defined style and being stuck in a rut, and I worry I'm the latter, constantly buying the same things over and over. Hopefully the coming spring and summer will see me in a more experimental mood.

Total for February & March: £112.96

Total so far for 2017: £195.41

Total this time last year: £149.49

So it seems like my whole "spend less in 2017" resolution isn't going to plan. Oops.

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

How I Use My Bullet Journal & Passion Planner

I literally could not think of a non-wanky title for this post: My Bullet Journal Journey? Vomit. From Bullet Journalling To Passion Planning? Bleurgh. The terminology is all ridiculous and eye-rollingly silly*, but the practice of it? Brilliant.

* Especially Passion Planner, which brings to mind dodgy sex tips from Cosmo.
Bullet journals: just hipster to-do lists?
Unless you live under a rock, the bullet journal craze won't have passed you by. At its most basic, a bullet journal is a fancy name for a book of to-do lists. Of course, for most people it's far more than that. They can be a home for reading logs, gratitude lists, and I know lots of people who find it an invaluable tool for managing their mental and physical health, using habit and mood trackers to monitor their weeks. The appeal of a bullet journal is the ability to craft something completely unique, flexible and suited to your needs.

However, that benefit comes with a cost: chiefly, for me, was the time it takes to plan and draw layouts, and the fact that my lack of artistic skills meant it never looked as pretty nor as neat as I wanted it to. I went from using it daily, to only remembering to pick it up once or twice a week, to barely using it at all.

And so, enter the Passion Planner.
I saw Ingrid talking about the US-made Passion Planners on Twitter and, as I was struggling to think of what I wanted for Christmas, I took a look at their website and decided to try one out.

The biggest and most obvious difference is that the planner, while not providing the unique flexibility of a bullet journal, has a pre-printed layout that gives structure for each week and month. Briefly, there are monthly planning spreads, weekly planning spreads, and then within the weekly spread each day is broken down into 30 minute intervals. The weekly spreads also have a space for To Do lists (both personal and work) and a list of Good Things That Happened (providing the gratitude journalling element I liked about bullet journals).
I personally find this method of organising myself enormously more beneficial than the bullet journal.  While my bullet journal provided so much opportunity for creativity that I became almost paralysed by it, the Passion Planner gives me a structured space and keeps me focused. I especially like the opportunities given to reflect on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. The Space Of Infinite Possibility at the bottom of each weekly spread gives a little of the flexibility of a bullet journal, too - I tend to use mine for habit and spending trackers (on the website you can print off - for free - trackers to stick into your planner). I suspect that the planner will especially come into its own come September, when I start a part-time Masters and need to organise myself to do things a little more complex than 'wash hair'.

However, I haven't entirely abandoned my bullet journal. Now, instead of using it daily to plan, I use it as a reflective space for longer pieces of writing than will fit into my planner; for keeping track of specific things (such as reading lists); and as a scrapbook and journal of important or notable days and events.
Practicalities & Details
- I have an A5 undated Passion Planner, because the dated ones ran from Sunday-Saturday and that's just totally counter-intuitive to me! I think next time I'll try the A4 planner, as the A5 - although super handy to carry around - obviously doesn't provide as much space for writing.

- Not sure a Passion Planner is for you? Brilliantly, they offer free downloads via their website, so you can print off a month's - or even a year's - worth of pages and give it a go without spending your pennies.

- For my bullet journal I use a Leuchtturm 1917 journal from Fred Aldous. I chose graph paper, which makes drawing layouts much easier.

- I write with Stabilo fine liners in both books, and don't experience any bleed-through in my Passion Planner and only a little in the Leuchtturm.

- Other supplies I use are washi tape, to stick photos, tickets and other ephemera into my journal, and To Do stickers (from Etsy) for my planner, to provide a visual focus for my daily lists. I also print the Passion Planner finance sheets and habit tracker sheets from the website.

This is not a sponsored post, I just really like the Passion Planner!