About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Monday, 31 December 2012


This year my challenge is to blog an entire novel in weekly instalments.  I will be doing that over on my other blog, which you can find here:  http://catherine-fox-novel.blogspot.co.uk/  Sunday evening will be the slot when I upload the new mini-chapter.  I will alert you all via Twitter.  Follow me if you don't already: @FictionFox.  If you can't be doing with all that scary social media stuff, get a young person to explain it to you and create you an account.  Or rather, a middle aged person.  According to my sons, Twitter is what middle aged people do because they can't get their heads round Facebook.  

So why blog a novel? For several reasons.  The first is that I've been living with this particular setting and cast of characters for about 7 years now.  I've had several goes at casting it in novel form, but without success.  This is deeply frustrating.  I know there's a band of loyal fans out there wondering when I'll stop faffing about writing martial arts books and tell them instead whether Harry and Isobel ever got married (they did), and what happened to Andrew Jacks (he's fine).  So after a lot of thought, and many tears, I've decided to stop trying to write a Big Important Booker Winning Novel about the Church of England, and play to my current strengths, which seem to be blogging and the gentle art of taking the piss.  With the occasional foray into being serious, of course.

Oh, it's awful grim times being a mid-list novelist these days, my dears.  How ever brilliantly your agent spins your writing career, potential publishers can access your sales figures in a nano-second, and see that they are being lied to.  So unless you are already a celebrity, or young and 'eminently marketable' (i.e. hot), you are not going to look like a good bet to the marketing department.  Obviously, if Justin Welby were abducted by aliens and the current dean of Liverpool tapped up to replace him, my agent could get a bidding war going for my shopping list.  I have concluded this is unlikely on several counts.  Hence the blog-a-novel idea.  

The world of publishing is changing rapidly.  Nobody knows what it will look like in 10 years time.  Paper books? eBooks?  One thing is certain, however: people will always be looking out for a rattling good yarn with convincing characters whose fate they care about.  There is a huge market out there.  There are a lot of good writers currently not managing to get their stuff out to their potential readers.  Understandably, these writers (who carry on writing in the face of failure and rejection, because they can't not write, poor fools) are beginning to think they may as well cut out the middle man, especially if the middle man isn't buying their stuff any more.  

So.  My new project.  For years I've been secretly jealous of Victorian novelists.  Back then you were allowed to be omniscient.  You were allowed to believe in things, to have a grand narrative.  You were not taken out and shot for telling not showing.  And you could publish your novel in serialised form.  Readers could lobby on behalf of their favourite characters and suggest possible twists to the plot.  They could point out the author's errors.  All this will be possible this year as I write ACTS AND OMISSIONS.  Initially, I will respond to any criticisms in the conventional manner of authors receiving a list of queries from a copy editor: Piss off and write your own book if you're so clever.  But when I've stopped sulking, I will try to heed your advice.

I will use this Close Encounters blog to tell you all sorts of writerly things about the novel as it comes off the press.  Things like 'Where do you get your ideas from?'  For example, I got the title from the small print of a job application form, which said something like 'You have a legal obligation not to harm yourself or others by your acts and omissions'.  It has a nice theological ring, I think.  Besides, 'Devices and Desires' was already taken.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Fast Away the Old Year Passes

Well, that's almost an entire year of buying myself no clothes or accessories.  What do you reckon? Will I go out at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to hit the Sales in an orgy of acquisitiveness?  No, actually.  I've sort of gone off the whole buying clothes thing.

And what have a learnt during the year?  I know--I'm going to do bullet points!  I know how to do bullet points.  One day I will know how to do spreadsheets and powerpoint.  But today I will rest content in the modest acheivement of bullet points. 

I have learnt that buying new clothes does not
  • fill the emptiness
  • make you clever and successful
  • change your life
  • make you thin
I have learnt that old clothes can be
  • worn ingeniously
  • mended
  • put up with
  • discovered in the back of the wardrobe when you move house
You can acquire new clothes without buying them by
  • borrowing them
  • being given them
  • nicking them off clothes lines
Here's a list of new clothes I have been given this year:
  • fabulous silk linen coat with big splashy floral pattern 
  • red long-sleeved T-shirt
  • pastel pink jeans
  • tiger print top
  • amazing long purple velvet coat
  • pair of sandals
  • two necklaces
  • pair of grey tights with stars on
  • cream scarf
Blimey.  That's actually quite a long list.  There are people in this world who don't get half that.  And yet compared with what I would have bought, but for my New Year's Resolution, that list is footling.  

Here's a list of things I bought for myself:
  • pair of £1 sunglasses
The main thing I've gained in the course of this experiment is an ambition to have nothing in my wardrobe but what (to paraphrase William Morris) I know to fit me, and believe to make me look fabulous.  This may lead me to spending more on less, I fear.  But overall, to spending and owning less.  That way I hope to avoid the anguish of standing in front of a mirror wondering if this outfit makes me look fat/muttony/weird.  And of being a mindless buying machine.

The other thing I've learnt is that, frankly, nobody but me much cares what I look like.  A dazzling smile is the best accessory.  It pulls any outfit together.  And with that uncharacteristically pious thought, I will bid you adieu for the year.  Next year I will be blogging an entire novel a week at a time.  Hold onto your birettas.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


Time slows down.  It's almost as if weeks not seconds have passed.  My breath hitches, and I finally step over the threshold into Pagan Purple's Purple Chapel of Prayer.

Oh. My. Holy. Eggy-bread.  My gaze swerves erratically round, like a silver ball-bearing in one of those machine things with buttons you press, but whose name eludes me because of the total panic I'm in. My inner thighs quiver.

No!  I gasp in shock.  What the heck IS all this stuff?  Hanging from the watered silk violet walls there's all kinds of hard core relegious paraphernalia.  Ciboria.  Dalmatics.  Chrismal sets.  Don't tell me he's into the High Church scene?  The air reeks of Prinknash incense.  I can see stuff outlawed since Vatican II.  Illegal Latin stuff.  

Triple No!  There's an icon of a woman bishop winking from behind a Monstrance!  In blatant contravention of General Synod's latest ruling on the subject.

Oh get me out of here! 

And then I see it.  Worse, far worse than the Anglo-catholic tat, I spot a hand-tooled leather-bound boxed set of the Left Behind Series!  Can this get any worse?  I reel back.  Then my horrified gaze takes in the gaping hole in the floor.  It's a full-sized adult baptistry.

My brain is exploding.  It simply cannot accept the evidence of my eyes.  He's an ecumenical.  The man I love is an ecumenical.  What kind of sick inclusiveness is he planning for me?

'So, Miss Boron,' he growls, 'what do you think?'

'Mff... nggng-mmff...' I splutter, because I'm biting my lip which makes it difficult to speak clearly.

He fingers his riding crop meaningfully.  'You're biting your lip again,' he growls.  'You know what that does to me.'  He reaches out a long finger and pokes me in the eye.  'Sorry,' he explains, 'I was trying to tuck a wayward curl behind your ear.  You were saying?'

'PERVERT!' I scream.  'You... you took an OATH to use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon!'  I sweep my arm jerkily round the room.  'So what's all this... this STUFF?'

'These are my devotional aids, Miss Boron,' he murmurs, his steely grip encircling my waist.  I smell his smell.  He smells of Pagan Purple.  My favourite smell in all the world.  Yummy.  'I'm a complex man.  I have complex requirements.  Sometimes they... shall we say they transgress the boundaries of vanilla Anglicanism?'

'You sick ecumaniac!' I spit.  I tear myself from his steely grip and blunder unseeingly out of his Purple Chapel of Prayer and run.  My inner goddess is sprawled on the purple carpet, moaning.  I kick her in the head and escape into the night.


Saturday, 17 November 2012


Well, hecky blimey to the max.  How time flies.  One minute I'm watching Pagan Purple's suave mauve helicopter taking off on 29th September, next thing it's the middle of November.

Good thing I know about advanced literary techniques like ellipsis... I tell myself.

So here I am, without further ado, back in Pagan Purple's palace.  I am dressed in posh designer clothes which feels a bit odd for a simple Yorkshire lay reader like myself.  The clothes were bought for me by Pagan Control Freak Purple, and after a bit of tedious argy-bargy via email, using the Mac Air Book he gave me in his control freaky way, I have decided to allow him to control my life.

You love this man, Analgesia Boron, yodels my inner goddess, punching the air, turning several back flips, and slipping a disk.  I leave her writhing on the floor of my subconscious because she irritates the heck out of me.

By now I am getting close to my destination.  I walk with shaky legs along the corridor, lined with leather crosiers.  My heart pounds and fizzy electric currents throb and pulse through my belly.  What is it about this man that affects me like this?  I can't make out why I'm feeling like this.  Is it because I am finally about to sign The Contract?

Criminy parkin!  The Contract!  My goddess is shouting for me to get an ambulance, but I ignore her.  In my mind I feebly go over the terms of the contract which Pagan Purple has prepared for me to sign.  I cannot begin to describe it!  This is because there's a confidentiality clause.  And anyway, it happened in the ellipsis, so tought titty, frankly.

Oh. My. Life.  There's the door!  The door to Pagan Purple's Blue Beard Chamber, the room I have not yet plucked up the courage to enter.  The door opens, and there he is.  His purple silk clerical shirt is open to the waist, revealing his yummy torso and his Tiffany diamond and cabochon amethyst pectoral cross.  His WWJD riding crop juts suggestively from his hand-tooled leather belt by Dolce and Gabbana.

Now you're for it, Analgesia Boron! sneers my inner Diocesan Director of Ordinands, who is always a bossy old trout.  

'Miss Boron,' says Pagan in his deep chocolatey tones, like a whole giant family sized tin of Quality Street melted down and poured out lavishly into a golden chalice.

'Archbishop Purple,' I reply.  My voice sounds strangely thick, as though I've just drunk a whole tin of melted down Quality Street and now feel a bit sick.

His mauve eyes linger over my curves, revealed by the very expensive clothes that I can't be bothered to describe, which he bought me.  My breath hitches at the way his riding britches hang from his hips so yummily.  I peep up at him from under my lashes, my eyes rolling back in my head the way anyone's would if they ever tried peeping up from under their lashes.  I chew my lower lip to drive him wild.

'You. Are.  Driving. Me. Wild,' he murmurs in that staccato way he has when my fullstop key has got stuck on my laptop.   Then he holds wide the door.  'Welcome to my Purple Chapel of Prayer, Miss Boron.'


Saturday, 29 September 2012


Hecky blimey O'Reilly times seven!

Now we're in trouble, I tell myself.  Here I am trying to write the next chapter and my flippin Kindle's downstairs!  Now how am I going to convince the reader that this is genuine, if I can't crib off the original?  Plus I've nearly got to the end of the free sample.  If it carries on like this, I'm going to have to make stuff up!

But here goes, Analgesia Boron, I tell myself.  Yorkshire lay readers are made of stern stuff.  It will take more than this to throw me off my stride!

Suddenly I realise that Pagan Purple's mauve eyes have been boring into me since September the 10th!  No wonder I'm weak at the knees with electric currents throbbing deep in my mysterious belly parts.  Giving myself a brisk mental slap, I lead him to the rope aisle.  

'Here you are, Archbishop Purple,' I say, in what I hope is a nonchalant tone.

'You are most kind, Miss Boron,' he replies, another privy smile lurking on his sculpted lips.  In the background I catch sight of another oddball.  He seems to be wearing a cassock trimmed with squirrel fur.  Some desperate lay clerk from Liverpool, I expect.  Poor fellow.

Pagan Purple begins to finger a length of rope knowledgeably with his long forefingers.  'Do you have anything more...' he hesitates, eyeing me lingeringly '...more silken, perhaps?'

'Silken?' I blurt.  Holy Pontefract cakes!  What is it about this man that makes me blush and blurt like this?

'No matter,' he says.  'I'll take three metres of this, please, Miss Boron.  I'm sure it will prove more than... adequate... for my purposes.'

And what purposes might those be? I want to ask, but daren't.  

'Doing some DIY, are you, Archbishop?' I ask inanely instead.

'Oh yes, Miss Boron.  I will be doing it myself.  I like to be in control.'  Once again his hand strays to his WWJD riding crop, in case the reader hasn't been concentrating.

Then we walk back to the till, he pays, and I put the goods in a carrier bag peremptorily, because I can't be fagged to dramatise everything in this narrative.

'Au revoir, Miss Boron,' he says Frenchly. 

'Tarra,' I reply commonly.  

A moment later, I hear the sound of his lilac helicopter taking off.  Once more my heart pounds.  Where is all this heading? I wonder.  I ponder the problem until I've tied myself in knots...


Sunday, 16 September 2012

What to Wear to an Installation

What to wear to an installation?  Clearly a lot will depend on what kind of installation you are attending.  If you are plumbing in a new gas appliance then overalls and steel toe-cap boots would be appropriate.  If, on the other hand, your husband is about to be installed as Dean of Liverpool, then that would be an eccentric sartorial choice.

With this in mind, I surveyed my wardrobe, which as you know has not been added to during 2012.  Or not by me.  Kind friends have given me the occasional garment, and for this I am very grateful.  It was one such gift that I chose to wear yesterday afternoon.  But first the anguish, the tears.  You need to hear about them.  (And I apologise to anyone who has visited this blog to find out what the archbishop was up to in the rope aisle of Laird's DIY, we will get back to him in due course.)

Back in the dying days of December I cunningly purchased a very smart silk wrap-over dress, just in case I ever had occasion to wear it.  All through the long months of clothing boredom I have resisted wearing this dress.  But then alas, a couple of weeks ago I tried it on and consulted a trusted adviser who was visiting from Australia (not for that sole purpose, admittedly) and she decreed that it was very nice, but not dramatic enough for the occasion.  Liverpool cathedral is the largest Anglican cathedral in the galaxy.  Subtle and understated just doesn't wash.  Why, the new dean himself had to get a brand new russet cassock!  And no girl of spirit likes to be upstaged by a mere cleric.

So on the advice of my Australian consultant I wore the fabulous coat dress I wore on Easter day (see left).  I teamed it with my black body con dress, a pair of black Jasper Conran tights (rather snagged, but people should have been concentrating on the prayers not my legs) and some stupid black shoes which required  me to take a couple of Ibuprofen at the end of the day.  I did not wear a hat.  There's no point spending a fortune on a haircut and then wearing a hat.  Besides, it was windy.  I would have been snatched up like Mary Poppins and assumed into heaven.

Well, it was a lovely day.  Mr Dean (clerk in holy orders, right trusty and well-beloved of the queen--you've got to love those Letters Patent) is the 7th Dean of Liverpool, which means he has special powers, rather like the 7th son of a 7th son.  He can levitate and bi-locate, and cause the bells to ring by thought power alone.  He has many rights and appurtenances too.  We don't know what they are, but we will be insisting upon them.

Monday, 10 September 2012


Holy Trinity!

What the heck is he doing here, looking all outdoorsy in his tight jodhpurs, his tousled hair and his chunky  cream cable knit sweater lovingly handcrafted by nuns in the Outer Hebrides, an open-necked mauve shirt in a silk-cotton blend from Liberty's of London showing his toned chest where his pectoral cross glints.  I can't help noticing the beautifully tooled leather WWJD riding crop stuck arrogantly through his belt.

'Archbishop Purple,' I whisper, unable to locate my voice.

'Miss Boron.'

Why do we always address one another so formally?  Is it because it's sexy? I find myself wondering.  That can't be right, because I know I'm not sexy, I'm just a simple Yorkshire lay reader with eyes too big for my stomach.

A ghost of a smile plays on his lips and his eyes are alight with some private joke to which I am not privy.

'I was in the area,' he explains.  'I needed to stock up on a range of suggestively raunchy items of hardware to whet your curiosity and flag up my proclivities to the reader.'  His voice is husky and warm like a great big hot melting oozing chocolate fondue laced with Vino Sacro.

I am blushing furiously for some ridiculous reason I cannot fathom under his steady mauve scrutiny.  Then all at once I remember my promise to besmirch people.  At that very moment I catch sight of the tragic defrocked Scottish priest, lurking at the end of the aisle.  Quite what he sees in this young astonishingly good-looking wealthy archbishop, I cannot say, but he flounces his clerical kilt and simpers at Pagan Purple.

I summon my cognitive functions.  'What can I help you with, Archbishop Purple?'

He smiles again, secretly, like he still has a private secret I'm not privy to.  It is so disconcerting.  A queue is forming behind him.  It seems to consist of star-struck clergy for some reason.  How did they all know the archbishop is in the area buying suggestive hardware?  One has driven all the way from Luton and he's wearing tight purple flares in homage to his hero.  Behind him stands a woman priest who looks like a stick man with a halo.  She sighs adoringly as Pagan Purple drums his long fore-fingers on the counter.

'I need some cable ties,' murmurs the archbishop chocolately.

Cable ties?

'Aisle 4,' I blurt, because it's been a while since I blurted anything.  'I'll show you.'  I set off for Aisle 4, nearly tripping over a very small tandem-rider who was lurking right by my ankles.

Get a grip, Analgesia Boron! 

I stumble clumsily past the garden ornaments, and see in passing that one statue looks like my sister Kate, who I've always been jealous of because her eyes are so small and dainty.  That would look nice with old fashioned roses trained over it, that would, I think irrelevantly.  

Purple gazes lingeringly at the cable ties.  What on earth is he going to do with those?  He smiles his oh-so-secret smile, and fingers his riding crop with his long fingers to tip off the inattentive reader as to the tendency of this novel.

'This will do nicely,' he says, selecting a pack, which I don't describe, not having a clear idea what cable ties  actually are.  'And now some masking tape,' he says.  

For some inexplicable reason, I fail to understand why he is looking at me like that.  I lead him to the masking tape and our fingers brush.  Hot buttered criminy times twenty!  A current zaps through my deep unexplored regions which I decide to call my belly, because I'm a lay reader from Yorkshire.


Friday, 7 September 2012


Ee, criminy hecky parkin to the power of 5! I think in italics when I am finally safe back home in my modest one bedroomed flat at the top of Ilkley-under-Wallop rectory.

No man has ever affected me the way Pagan Purple has, and I cannot fathom why.  Is it his indescribable good looks?  His immense wealth?  His phenomenal cosmic power throughout the entire northern hemisphere?  I simply cannot understand my irrational attraction to this handsome powerful young multi-millionaire.  

And he is so arrogant!  Such a control freak.  An involuntary shiver runs down my spine.  I think back cringingly to the interview.  I remember all my silly blurting, my clumsiness, my blue eyes which are too big for my face.  But pushing all this from my mind I type up my notes and file my copy for the Church of England Times.  I do this rapidly so as not to bog the reader down in reality, and because frankly I cannot be arsed to describe it.

Next I go off to work at my part time job in a local DIY store, where I know I will be safe from Pagan Purple and his long forefingers and penetrating mauve gaze.  My guts fizzle like ice and fire involuntarily at the thought.

What is it about that man which affects me like this?

When I arrive, Mrs Laird, the store owner, greets me.  She is a bit of a slapper, but I always feel relaxed in her company.  I know she doesn't judge me for my big blue eyes and clumsiness.  She sends me to aisle 7, and soon I'm happy as Larry stocking shelves.  I quickly hide behind a tarpaulin when the Poet Priest in Residence wanders past.  The Rev Ian Duhig is a bit of a weirdo, always opening his cassock to show the ladies his limericks. I know he means no harm, but he makes me a bit uncomfortable.  

Then I pause and eat a sandwich, wondering who else to libel in this episode.  I glance at the garden ornaments aisle and spot a metal vicar.  That'll never catch on, I think.  That'll rust in the rain, that will.  

Mrs Laird appears and asks me to serve on the till.  I obey, tripping over a few items as I go just to keep my clumsiness skills honed in case I meet another handsome multi-millionaire archbishop.  Sometimes I think there's something wrong with me.  I must be missing the boyfriend gene.  I've never felt physically attracted to anyone.  I spend all my time reading Victorian novels and the complete works of Tom Wright.  Nobody has ever made me feel weak at the knees, heart in my mouth, butterflies in my stomach-y.

Until very recently, whispers the small unwelcome voice of my conscience.  Well, at least I won't run into him in the Ilkley-under-Wallop branch of Laird's DIY, I console myself.

Then I look up... and find myself locked in the bold lilac-tinged gaze of Pagan Purple himself, who's standing at the counter staring at me with his bold lilac-tinged eyes.

Heart failure.

'Miss Boron.  What a pleasant surprise.'


Monday, 3 September 2012


Double hecky parkin!  This really IS Pagan Purple!

I'm blushing as red as a Series Three service booklet.  He smiles.  

'Miss Boron.'  He extends a long-fingered hand to me.  Cripes, he'd be a cracking spin bowler, I think irrelevantly.  'I'm Pagan Purple.  Are you all right?'

I dust off my crumpled blue cassock and get to my feet.  'I'm fine thanks,' I blurt.

Holy matrimony! 

So young.  So young and attractive.  I can't help myself, I break out into italics!  

He's tall, too, in his grey Cerruti suit with a subtle pale lilac stripe, and his unruly copper-coloured hair that ought to clash with his beautifully tailored pure cotton lawn magenta shirt made by the Vatican outfitters in Rome itself, but somehow doesn't.  His 22 carat gold pectoral cross with its cabochon amethyst surrounded by Tiffany solitaire diamonds glints in an understated and somehow upper class way, reminding me I am just a simple Yorkshire lay reader.

'Have a seat,' he says, and gestures with his long fingers to an L-shaped white leather and chrome pew lavishly upholstered in deep plush velvet the colour of African violets. 

Triple buttered pikelets!  Nobody should be this good-looking!

I sit.  His intense bright grey yet strangely lilac-tinted eyes bore into mine shrewdly.  I find my voice.  'Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Archbishop Purple.'

'You're welcome, Miss Boron.'

His study is way to big for one man, even if he is the archbishop of the entire northern hemisphere.  I glance out of the vast window with its panoramic view across the private deerpark and the City of London skyline in the background.

Then I reach into my Sainsbury's Bag-for-life and get out my ancient dictaphone, blushing for some reason.  I put it on the genuine Renaissance  Spanish marquetry coffee table and knock it over a few times in my clumsy yet endearing way, blushing as red as the piping on a canonical cassock.  

Finally, sensing that the reader is getting bored with all this pissing about, I tuck a lock of my unruly hair behind my ear and start the interview: 'Archbishop Pagan Purple, you are very young to have risen to this position of phenomenal cosmic power within the Anglican Communion.  To what do you owe your success?'

His smile is rueful.  'The church is about people, Miss Boron.  I'm good at judging people.  I know what makes them tick and how to incentivize them.  I employ exceptional priests, and I deploy them well.  And obviously I pray a good deal,' he adds, pausing and fixing me with his intense stare, stroking his mesmerising lower lip with a long fore-finger.  'But in order to succeed, one must master the scheme.  I make a point of mastery.'

He's so arrogant!  I can't believe how arrogant this immensely successful young multi-millionaire archbishop is!  

'You sound like a control freak!' I blurt in my blurty way, cursing myself for blurting and suddenly remembering how stupidly big my eyes are, and how blue.  It must be this room.  It's so swanky.  I feel out of place, like the simple Yorkshire lay reader and cub reporter I actually am.

'Oh yes, I like to control things, Miss Boron,' he replies without a trace of humour.

And suddenly I'm aware of the reader thinking Yadda-yadda-yadda, when do we get to the sex?  So I race on through the rest of my questions, pausing now and then to gush inwardly over how insanely good looking and rich he is, alternating this with cringing in mortification about my big eyes and blurting, to the bit where I ask him what he does to chill out.

'To "chill out" as you put it, I fly, I sail, I collect valuable 17th century icons and first editions of Tom Wright's scholarly works, and I indulge in various physical pursuits.'  He flexes his long fore-fingers.  'I'm a very wealthy man, Miss Boron, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies.'

There's a knock at the door.  It's the blond chaplain chap in the heather leather chaps.  'Archbishop Purple, forgive me for interrupting,' he says hesitatingly, 'but your next meeting is in two minutes.'

'Cancel it, Andreas. We are not through here with the meaningful pauses and innuendoes,' he says.

With a graceful genuflection, Andreas leaves us.

'So Miss Boron,' says Pagan Purple, steepling his fingers rather appropriately for a churchman, 'Let me offer you a job for no particular reason.'

Strange muscles clench in my belly, and I abandon the chapter to continue with my glass of wine before my brain explodes out of my ears at the sheer effort of maintaining the narrative.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

50 SHADES OF PURPLE: Chapter 2

Ee, double blimey!  I make my way along the plush corridor, staying in the present tense to give my narrative an air of breathless spontaneity, and wishing like mad I'd done a bit more basic research into this powerful archbishop of the entire Northern Hemisphere.  All I know is that since the re-structuring of the Anglican Communion Worldwide, archbishop Pagan Purple has become the most powerful churchman globally, unless you count the Pope of Rome.

I bet even the Pope of Rome doesn't have corridors this long, I quip inwardly to keep my courage up.  The suede-clad blond chaplain--I assume he's a chaplain of some sort-- continues to incline his head, waiting for me as I stumble clumsily towards the door he's holding open.  

The door to Archbishop Pagan Purple himself's private study.

Triple hecky thump!  My brain simply can't take in the fact that I, an ignorant young cub reporter from The Church of England Times and lay reader from Yorkshire with unruly hair and a crumpled blue cassock, can be going to interview Pagan Purple!  My heart pounds.  My knees are trembling.  What is it about the idea of him that gives me the willies?  I'm not normally like this.  Why am I even doing this?  I'm much more at home curled up with a Tom Wright For Everyone volume!

'Go right in,' says the chaplain chap.  'His Grace is expecting you.'

'Thanks,' I croak.  Then I clear my throat and say 'Thanks!' in what's meant to be a business-like tone.  Like I'm always interviewing important bishops. Although I'm not. I'm just a trainee. From Yorkshire.  I bundle my unruly hair away from my face, take a deep breath.  If only my eyes weren't so large and blue with such ridiculously long lashes, much too large and lashy for my face! I think irrelevantly.  I take another deep breath and step into the room.

Only I don't step.  I trip on the ultra-ultra deep shag-pile violet carpet and go headlong.  I cartwheel into a heap in front of a vast antique rose-wood veneer desk in the Louis Quatorze style with rather attractive knobs on, like one I'd seen only a week earlier in Period Homes.

Quadruple HECK!  Now I feel like an utter wazzock, with my cassock hiked up and carpet burn on my face.  

Then I feel gentle yet strangely firm hands helping me up with long sensitive fore-fingers.  I push back my unruly hair.

And find myself looking into the violet-tinged and oddly arresting eyes of a man.  They burn into me.  I feel weird.  An electric tingle buzzes through me.  What is causing this strange current between us?  No way is that carpet nylon, so it must be coming from him.  He's a young man, I suddenly notice with an inward quiver.  Hecky me, he can only be about 26.  That's 5 years older than me, I swiftly calculate.

This can't be Pagan Purple.  It can't!  
Or can it?

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Oh heck and crikey.  I'm only simple Yorkshire lay reader and cub reporter for the Church of England Times and yet here I am, about to interview the Archbishop of the Northern Hemisphere, Pagan Purple, in his sumptuous palace!  

Flippin' heck, I think, as the lilac limo sweeps me in though the grand wrought iron gates.  We pass through acres of deer park until we come to a bridge over a moat, where swans glide serenely. You've gone and done it this time, lass.  I clutch the ever so nice mauve suede seats as the chauffeur (an attractive young blond  chap) in his peaked violet chauffeur's cap, swings round a final corner and parks the Bentley in front of the poshest place I've ever seen. It looks like something out of House Beautiful

I get out of the car, knees trembling, suddenly worried that my blue lay reader's robes look shabby in the context of this overwhelmingly cool and wealthy ambience.  I grip my Sainsbury's bag-for-life containing my dictaphone and list of questions the editor has primed me with. I should have borrowed the curate's hand-tooled leather robes carry-case from Wippell's of London, with its gold detailing.  And I should have Googled the archbishop, I realise.  How old is Pagan Purple?  I assume he's really old, in his 60s with untamed wild eyebrows like every other bishop in the church.  

I mount the steps, my wild wayward curls framing my elphin yet somehow saucy face.  Well, Analgesia Boron, I say to myself, let's get it over with.  I ring the bell.  Another extremely good-looking young blond chap answers the door.  He's wearing a fine suede cassock of a divine heather hue.  Like Ilkley moor in August, I think irrelevantly. 

'Good morning, my name's Analgesia Boron, here to interview the Right Reverend Pagan Purple.  From the Church of England Times,' I add.

'Wait here,' he says, and goes off down the long corridor with its acres of purple carpet.  He trails some lovely expensive-smelling aftershave after him as his bespoke shoes sink into the carpet.  That's top quality Axminster, that is, sixty quid a square metre, or I'm a monkey's uncle, I think.  Where does Pagan get his money from, I wonder.  The source of his unbelievable wealth is shrouded in mystery.  It is one of the things I'm here to ask him about.

Hot criminy and hecky damn, it's all so swanky!  I'm just an insignificant little Yorkshire trainee reporter.  I'm here to interview Pagan Purple, for heck's flipping sake.  I don't even look the part!  I start to wish I'd borrowed the curate's hand-tailored black double breasted cassock with the princess seams.

But at that moment the door at the end of the long Jacobean oak-pannelled corridor opens and the chap in the heather leather cassock re-appears and beckons me with an inclination of his sleek blond head.  I stumble a bit on the ultra-deep pile carpet and head towards the distant door.  All along the walls I see short leather crosiers.  What on earth can they be for, I wonder?


Monday, 13 August 2012

What to Wear in Kavos

We have just come back from a fortnight in Corfu, the dean designate and I.  As you will be aware, packing for a beach holiday is a steep challenge, especially if it has been raining solidly for three months, and you no longer really believe in the concept of hot weather.  Then there is the tension between travelling light and still giving yourself a choice of clothes. And worst of all, the need to pack glamorous things that will get you through the 'Why do you walk through the field in gloves?' stage of the holiday ('O fat white woman whom nobody loves.')

When we arrived at the first place we'd chosen to stay, we suddenly understood our sons' hilarity when we'd told them we were going to Kavos.  The owners of the hotel took one look at us and clearly thought 'Uh-oh, they have no idea.'  They sent for the neighbours who led us away from the bar and the pool, where the 20 somethings lay drinking cocktails and reading Fifty Shades of Grey in a welter of sun tan oil and lust, to a nice quiet studio apartment with this view from the terrace:

You see?  Nothing 18-30 Club about it at all.  We wandered in to the seething hub of Kavos that evening and I can report on what to wear.  A bikini, a pair of micro pastel shorts with your bum cheeks hanging out, or perhaps a crocheted halter neck top, or indeed crocheted pants.  Tans are compulsory, or failing that, sunburn so severe that if you got that way by falling into a scalding bath you'd take yourself straight up to A & E.  The old grey-edged Copydex glue peel-away sunburn is on trend this season.  You might like to accessorise with an alcohol-inspired tattoo (we met a nice young man with parrots on his bottom), along with some kind of body piercing which seems to you like an excellent idea at 5.30am, when you might also be amused by one of the cheeky T-shirts on sale ('I'm in Kavos, bitch', 'Let's get fucking mortal in Kavos').

But really, by the time you are 50 the moment for cheeky shorts and impulsive tattoos has long gone.  Instead I opted for 50s glamour: a huge straw hat, a big pair of sunglasses, a sarong, and the only one piece swimming costume in a 20 mile radius.  Not forgetting sun factor 40 sun tan lotion.  The effect may have led the youngsters to stare and wonder, 'What's wrong with that poor woman? Does she have leprosy?'  But I'm playing the long game.  If you want lovely skin, follow these three simple rules: Don't smoke, stay out of the sun, and choose your genes carefully.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Print Trousers

Prints are big at the moment.  I have very few print garments in my wardrobe.  In fact, I secretly despise this trend, especially all these daft tropical skirts and parrot shirts.  I've been rather relieved to have the excuse to opt out of this particular fashion.  

That said, I've developed a certain hankering for tribal print trousers.  They look slouchy and comfortable, and like judo trousers, everyone's bum looks big in them.  Oh well.  Resist the devil and he will flee before you, as the Good Book says.  The hankering will pass, I told myself.  After all, whole days go past now without my even thinking about those ankle boots in my size I didn't buy from the charity shop back in January, those perfect ankle boots, in my size, from Clark's for £7, black with buckle detailing.  Hardly ever think about those.

It wouldn't be quite so bad if I hadn't once possessed exactly such a pair of print trousers until the fatal thought occurred to me I will never wear those again, and I slung them.  To be strictly honest, they weren't my trousers.  They belonged to the chancellor.  They were an emergency purchase 9 years ago in Bangkok when they wouldn't let him into some temple or other in his shorts.  How our sons and I laughed at him in his baggy tribal print trousers!  He has never worn them since.

But then, lo!  A miracle!  I hadn't slung them after all.  They were wedged at the back of the clapped-out sports gear drawer.  So I ironed them and wore them to church today.  Here they are, teamed with my 4 year old silver gladiator sandals: 

I also wore a navy blue vest, a dark denim shirt (Wrangler, via a charity shop), far too many tribal necklaces, and a completely non-matching chartreuse pashmina.  I probably should have teamed it with a floral shirt, but I'm pleased to say I don't own one.  Come to think of it, the chancellor has some.  Maybe another time.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Confession

I am now nearly halfway through my year of not buying myself any new clothes or accessories.  I'm happy to report that so far I have managed to resist temptation.  On occasion I've had to sing the old hymn to myself in order to stay with the programme: 'Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin!'  My sisters and I used to sing that to one another when we were growing up, if one of our number was seen near the biscuit tin.  We also used to get the money out of the Missionary Box with a knife, and Spoonerise hymns ('As with madness Glen of old').  Oh, you'd be amazed the naughty things that Daughters of the Manse got up to back in the 70s.

Yes, there have been times in the last six months when I have leant heavily on my Nonconformist heritage for support.  There have also been times when I have mentally explored the liberating realms of casuistry suddenly available to me as an Anglican.  This is what has enabled me to come up with the ruling that other people can buy me clothes.  Or that I can borrow clothes.  Nobody can bend the rules like an Anglican.  I know you're thinking What about Roman Catholics? but the C of E only came about by a piece of spectacular rule-bending by Henry VIII.  

I will leave better minds to debate the origins of Anglicanism, and move on to my confession.  I did, on one shameful occasion last month, bend my own rules.  I visited Liverpool on a grey and rainy day, only to have the sun come out.  There I was, stranded on Merseyside without any sunglasses.  So I bought myself a pair.  Here's where the casuistry came in: if you have blue eyes (as I have) you are at greater risk of developing cataracts.  Therefore you need to protect your eyes from UV light.  Thus an emergency pair of sunglasses are not an accessory so much as an essential piece of medical equipment.  

And anyway, they were a quid from the Pound Shop.  Here they are, on the car dashboard, with a glimpse of Lichfield cathedral in the background:  

My feeling about sunglasses is that you may as well buy cheap ones.  That way it doesn't matter if you leave them on the bus or sit on them.  Besides, if you wear them with panache, people will assume they are expensive.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Just to reassure you all, I have been wearing clothes in all the time I have been absent from this blog.  (Love the way that the Blogger dictionary doesn't recognise the words 'blogger' or 'blog'.  It suggests 'logger' and 'glob'.)  The reason for the lack of sartorial updates is that we are moving house in less than a month.  I've been de-cluttering.

But here I am.  And today we are looking at wardrobe malfunctions.  Let us focus on Trinity Sunday, or for most normal people, Jubilee Sunday.  You know, when the flotilla went down the Thames?  Yes, that Sunday.  The weather gods, noting the miles of bunting nationwide, were alerted to the fact we were planning some kind of large scale open air festivity, and duly obliged with wind and rain.  It wouldn't be England otherwise, would it?

Well, this meant that my planned outfit (the 50s style dress) needed to be supplemented with tights.  I am not good with tights.  Or with any kind of sheer hosiery, to be honest.  I was once given a genuine pair of silk stockings.  I did not make it to the front door without laddering them.  So the morning was fraught with tension.

As you may remember, I was proposing to wear a pair of open-toe tights with my sandals.  I have two pairs of these.  There may be more functions this year requiring such tights, so I knew I needed to be careful.  It is possible to buy 'hosiery gloves', which I imagine are for klutzes like me who can't put tights on without laddering them.  I don't own hosiery gloves, so I improvised with a pair of pop socks.  Actually, we don't call them pop socks any more, do we?  We call them 'knee-highs'.  But you know what I mean.  Carefully, carefully I eased on my pair of open-toe tights, wincing with every tug.  Mission accomplished!  

Every woman reading this knows already what happened next.  That's right.  A quick trip to the loo before leaving for the service, and BANG! Tights exploded as I pulled them back up.  Waistband sheered off.  Beyond remedy.  Buggeration!  Late bell already chiming.  Raced back upstairs, tossed tights drawer contents on bed, forked about, found a pair of 'sandal toe' hold-ups.  Hold-ups are quicker to put on in a hurry, I find.  First one on, no problem.  Second leg...  Buggeration!  Historic ladder up the back which I hadn't spotted.  Bells now fallen silent.  Raced out of house, with my big pink umbrella, reasoning that if anyone spends the Eucharist scrutinising the back of Mrs Chancellor's right leg, they have bigger problems than I do.

The first hymn had started, so I had to wait at the West End while the procession went past.  I pretended not to notice the lay vicars smirking.  It's all very well for them: their cassocks cover any ladders in their stockings.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Pastel Jeans

I must post more clothing hints on this blog.  My good friend Pat the Midwife (can she sew it? yes she can!) came to Lichfield on Sunday and went with me to the cathedral and then stayed for lunch afterwards.  And she totally brilliantly and fabulously gave me a pair of pale pink jeans as a leaving present.  This is all within The Rules.  I say that confidently, because I made The Rules up myself.  The Rules simply state that I may not buy myself any new clothes or accessories during 2012.  

As it happens, I already have a pair of wide-legged pale pink jeans.  In fact, Pat altered them for me because they were too baggy round the waist. This is the jeans curse for hour-glassy gals.  They never fit round the waist if they are snug round the hips.  So she altered them for me and now they are perfect.  Clearly she retained some dim memory of this, and perhaps recalled in the M & S pastel jeans section--panicky and overwhelmed by choice--that I like pale pink.  I do.  But I rather wanted another colour this time.    So I went to M & S in Sutton Coldfield and exchanged them for a lilac pair.

Pat will not be offended, I know, because she left the receipt in the bag on purpose.  In any case, she bought me size 12 long, thinking I'm tall and therefore need long jeans.  Not so.  I have a long back and long neck.  That's why I'm tall.  I don't have long legs.  I would prefer to have long legs, obviously, but I was not consulted, and the long legs went to my sister Ruth instead.  She, however, does not have a neck.  (A comment made light-heartedly some 30 years ago by my father, and which my sister has never forgotten.)

I should probably mention that these are not jeans proper.  They are 'jeggings' ( a hybrid jeans-leggings thing).  They are very tight indeed.  If you have ever worn neoprene knee supports for running, you will be able to imagine what jeggings are like.  To put them on, simply feed your thighs in a wodge at a time with a spatula.  You could probably adapt jeggings for use as a trebuchet.  If you wanted to fire a watermelon from the top of a cathedral, say.  I hope to wear them on Friday with out any high elasticity mishaps if I sit down too abruptly.  I'll let you know how I get on.

Monday, 28 May 2012

What to Wear at Pentecost

Pentecost, or Whit Sunday as we used to call it in the golden days of my childhood, is a fine day to wear red.  Vestments are red on Pentecost Sunday, which I like to think is symbolises the pentecostal fire falling from heaven with the sound of a rushing mighty wind in the second chapter of Acts.  No doubt some liturgical pedant will point out that we wear red on all manner of other high days and holidays as well.  We will leave such people to their amusements.

There's no obligation for the ordinary pew-fillers to wear red, orange or pink, but some of us like to get into the spirit of the thing.  It's a kind of sartorial priesthood of all believers.  While I draw the line at turning up in a chasuble, I took the opportunity to wear my most fiery-coloured shirt.  Here it is: 

You can't really see its full glory, but it's shot silk, and changes colour as it moves.  I wore it with white linen trousers (white for 'Whit').  This shirt is actually the only designer garment I own that was not from a charity shop.  It's by Paul Smith, and I suspect it would now count as vintage.  I was given it in 1997 on the publication of my second novel, by my then editor, Kate Jones.  Those of you who knew Kate, who died in 2008, will know how tickled she'd be to think that I'm still wearing this shirt.  I haven't quite got out of the habit of thinking I must tell Kate that.  I would tell her, for example, that the shirt is now beginning to fall apart, but that I've cunningly mended it with iron-on Vilene penned in with an orange felt-tip.  Except that to tell Kate this kind of thing was to prompt yet another sly burst of generosity.  

Damn, I still miss her.  She was an atheist, but she listened with great good humour to my accounts of the life of faith.  It was Kate who spotted and bought my first novel, a sprawling 600 page MS which wrestled with the mess of belief and doubt.  Sometimes my faith is pretty minimalist thing, resting on not much more that a persistent sense of presence, patchy, but not often completely absent, and never for long.  I sometimes think Kate was right.  But I hope she wasn't.  I hope death was not the end of that long witty, compassionate,  just and creative conversation I hadn't finished with back in 2008.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Make Do and Mend

Last night I altered a dress.  That is how on trend I am.  I am channelling the whole Make Do & Mend vibe.  I am Keeping Calm and Carrying On.  And just to round off this charming retro picture, the dress I altered is the one I'm intending to wear to the Big Lunch in Lichfield to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee.  Here it is:

A bit blurred I'm afraid, because I was obliged to take it through the home gym in order to get the whole dress in the shot.  But you get the general idea.  As you can perhaps see, it is a 50s style dress.  My friend Pat the Midwife (can she make it? yes she can!) sewed it for me, using an authentic 50s pattern and fabric we bought for a pound a metre on the Birmingham Rag Market.  The wonderful thing about having a garment made for you is that it actually fits.  Being a bit of an hourglass gal, I can seldom get things that are snug on the waist if they also accommodate the busk (as the lady in the local woolshop always said when we were little).  This has made me resolve--when my year of self-denial is over--to get more clothes tailored especially for me.  Anyone know a friendly seamstress in Liverpool?

Please to notice the exquisite detail of the self fabric belt:

That Pat.  Isn't she clever?  All I have done by way of altering is to shorten it to knee length.  It was originally mid-calf length, and we all know just how frumpy that feels even when it's in fashion.  I will wear it with white shoes.  This ought to demonstrate to the world that my legs are not actually white at all, they are merely deathly pale.  And if I chicken out, I believe there are a couple of pairs of open-toe 'barely there' tights lurking somewhere in the hosiery drawer. I do commend open-toe tights, by the way, for those times when you're wearing open-toe sandals.  Brilliant invention.  

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What to Wear When It Turns Warm

After the relentless grey of the last couple of months a strange bright object has been sighted in the sky.  After a flurry of googling, we have identified it as the sun.  Suddenly it's spring.  And it was sudden.  People went out in the morning in winter coats only to look completely foolish by the end of the day.

So.  What should we be wearing in this glorious weather?  That is quite simple for young women to answer.  They will continue to wear their shorts, only now they can leave off the black tights they've been wearing underneath.  Or, if they are idle young women, they can scissor the tights off at upper thigh level without troubling to get undressed.

When you reach an interesting age--and I think 50 must qualify--the wearing of short shorts probably needs to be confined to sporting activities.  But having noted the opaque tights+shorts combo, I will confess that I've contemplated an old pair of jeans and wondered about turning them into cut-offs.  But then I asked myself this one simple question: Do I want my sons to talk to me ever again? 

Which leaves me with a summer clothing dilemma.  My 'When in doubt, wear black' maxim doesn't hold up well here; especially if you're bored to death of wearing dark dismal wintery colours.  The answer, of course, is to wear white.  White trousers with some bracing colour blocking: that is my solution.  A rummage in my trouser drawer revealed a pair of white capri pants I'd completely forgotten about.  I also found a vacuum packed bag of light-coloured clothing lurking under a clothes rail, full of things not seen since the autumn.  It was all rather exciting, like the childhood ritual of opening the trunk full of summer clothes used to be.

One small caveat, however.  Don't wear white trousers when you are chipping 6 years of filth off your cooker prior to moving house.  Or if you do, make sure you team it with a nice long apron.  

Thursday, 17 May 2012

While Shepherds Watched on Ilkley Moor

And now, in a welcome break from my narcissistic fashion ramblings, I am turning my attention to hymns.  Hymns and their tunes.  Or rather, hymns which fit to tunes other than their own traditional one.

Ask most churchgoers about hymn-tune replacement and they will be able to tell you that you can sing 'There is a green hill far away' to the tune of 'The House of the Rising Sun.'  They will probably also know that 'While shepherd's watched their flocks by night' goes to 'On Ilkley Moor baht 'at'.  'The angel of the Lord came down (Lord came down)!'  By the same token, you can sing a highly florid version of Ilkley Moor to the tune of 'O for a thousand tongues'. 'Where hast tha be-e-e-een since I-I sa-aw thee? On Ilkley Moor baht 'at, on I-I-I-I-Ilkey Moor baht 'at!'  That was the tune 'Lyngham' rendered into prose, by the way.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Last night, in an idle moment I asked Twitter for more examples.  The result is that I have spent the day wandering around the house singing 'Immortal, invisible God only wise' to The Wombles theme tune.  I was also alerted to the possibility of singing that wedding favourite 'Love divine all love's excelling' to 'O my darling Clementine'.  Ooh! as I typed that, I realised it also goes to 'Now the carnival is over' as well.  

Both those tunes, however, have a slightly solemn church-appropriate ring to them.  They could work in the context of worship.  The same cannot be said of The Wombles.  Therefore for maximum subversive pleasure, the tune's style and associations need to be at odds with the hymn.  My suggestion for 'Love divine' would be 'All the nice girls love a sailor'.  Another high scorer here is the Medieval Latin hymn 'Tantum ergo' to the tune of 'I'm forever blowing bubbles'; along with 'O Jesus I have promised' to The Muppets theme tune.

Traditional hymn tunes are readily interchangeable because they are (usually) in recognisable metres.  The metrical index of a hymn book is a handy resource for the subversively minded.  Anything in common metre  (CM) fits to Ilkley Moor, for example.  This means that if you can identify the metre of a tune, let's say The Archers, you can then look up hymns that share the same metrical structure.  With a spot of shoe-horning--or as musicians like to say 'anacrucis'--'We plough the fields and scatter' (76 76 D and Refrain) fits.  Provided you sing the word 'plough' on the first 'TUM' you'll be fine.  Well, I think so.  I'm currently arguing with one of the lay vicars about this. 'we PLOUGH the FIELDS and SCA-a-tter the GOOD seed O-on the LAND!'  Where's the problem?

The church has been ransacking popular culture for its hymns for centuries.  Did not Bach himself pinch tunes from tavern songs?  (Needs citation, as Wiki says, but I think I heard that somewhere).  Twitter tells me of an Agnus Dei to Billy Joel's 'Just the way you are', indeed, of an entire Billy Joel Mass setting.  Also an Ave Maria to the Eastenders tune.  As a child in Sunday School we sang a chorus to the Match of the Day theme.  It goes on and on.  

Thank you to all the tweeps who provided these ghastly examples.  I would love to tell you all that 'Shine Jesus shine' goes to 'Who let the dogs out'.  But sadly, I don't think it's true.  Even with anacrucis.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Joy of Plimsolls

When I was growing up my mother had a strict rule concerning plimsolls.  They were for PE only, not for playing in the garden.  Looking back I can understand this.  There were four of us and money was tight.  The kind of white plimsolls we all wore in the late 60s/early 70s wore out quickly if used to climb trees, play on railway lines or scramble onto conveyor belts in the local quarry.  I merely pluck imaginary examples at random, you understand.

Given the choice, I would have lived in my plimsolls.  I was a tomboy.  I wanted to live in jeans as well, but ran into trouble at school over this one, where some teachers wouldn't allow girls to wear trousers.  Is there any surprise that at 50 I am still paying off that deficit?  Here's what I'm wearing today:

This is merely one pair from my plimsoll collection.  I also have a traditional white pair, a shocking pink pair, a purple pair, a navy pair and a silver pair.  None of them is actual genuine Converse.  Most came from the late lamented T. J.Hughes.  

My real anxiety is that David Cameron has delivered the kiss of death to my favourite footwear, just as Jeremy Clarkson killed off Levi 501s. I swore as a teenager that I would never wear crimplene dresses like the old women all seemed to.  Little did I know that last-chance-trendy Tory politicians would transform my own wardrobe choice into something equally frumpy.

Ah, know thyself, Catherine!  You are a 50 year old woman clinging to the sartorial tastes of your childhood.  You are contributing to the climate change that will bring funky coloured plimsolls to the brink of extinction.  There is, however, a quiet satisfaction in the thought that we are driving young people off this patch of sartorial turf.  Next, the hoodie, mwa ha ha!  But low-slung jeans?  They're all yours, dudes.

Monday, 14 May 2012

What to Wear at No Notice

What to wear at no notice?  The answer to this question is almost always going to be 'something black'.  By 'no notice' I'm talking about occasions for which you've had an outfit in mind, and therefore not left much time to get ready in.  And then--horror!  At the last minute you discover that the crucial garment is in the laundry basket or the ironing pile, and your beloved is already standing at the bottom of the stairs calling 'Are you nearly ready?' in that helpful way which instantly solves all clothing crises.

You then dash to your wardrobe, biting back tears of rage, and snatch the nearest black dress.  Next you  rummage through the monstrous tangle of hosiery which is your tights drawer for a pair with no ladders.  These you tug on, hopping round the room, whilst bellowing 'I'M JUST COMING!' to the solicitous enquiries from downstairs.  On goes the dress.  Off comes the dress.  On goes the dress again, right way out.  A burst of angry churning about in jewellery box locates some big silver jewellery.  Squirt of expensive signature scent.  Jam feet in black shoes.  Prod hair.  Snatch nearest brightly coloured pashmina, clomp downstairs.  Compose self.  Off to concert.

The great blessing is that you have had no leisure to be assailed by the conviction you look fat.  I recommend it.    Just make sure your skirt isn't tucked into your knickers, that's all.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to Work Colour Blocking

The colour blocking trend.  It's big at the moment.  If you see someone walking down the street dressed in bright purple, teamed with orange, or possibly lime green, don't worry, they've done it on purpose: this is colour blocking.

Looking back, I can see I should probably have asked the precentor to put a small notice in last week's service booklet, alerting the cathedral congregation to the colour blocking trend, and informing them of my intention to demonstrate it the following week.  That way we might have avoided any misunderstanding, and people calling out, 'Well we can certainly see you coming this week!'  Ha ha ha!

Here's what I wore: a pair of shocking pink wide-legged silk trousers from East (via a charity shop) with a jade green long sleeved T-shirt, and under this a turquoise vest top.  To be successful, your colour blocks must be vivid and clashing.  Think of it as the reduction ad absurdum of the non-matchy-matchy rule.  Having just read some advice in a colour supplement over breakfast on how to rock this look without ending up dressed like a children's TV presenter, I knew that the secret is to restrict yourself to two colours palettes (unlike the photo above).  I therefore did not wear my red platform wedges.  I wore my tan platform wedges, and a narrow tan belt.  The result was quite startling enough.  'Colour blocking.  It's called COLOUR BLOCKING.  It's a FASHION TREND,' I patiently shouted, as if to deaf foreigners as I left the cathedral.  

My timing was not great, however.  The Lichfield Mysteries were just about to start, and the Close was filling up with actors.  I suspect that a lot of people assumed I was part of the cast of one of the plays.  A large demented parrot from Noah's Ark, perhaps.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What to Wear in May

What to wear in May?  Or more specifically, what to wear in a crap May like this one?  The weather is like November, but somehow we feel an obligation to look a little springlike.  We ought to be in pastels and taupes, oughtn't we?  We should be twinkling down the street in sandals.  But it's too cold and wet.  Thus our emotional dress sense is in tension with our practical dress sense.  Which one wins will depend largely on age and whether we are trying to pull.  And May, of course, is a traditional pulling time.  Spring is when a young man's fancy lightly turns to the thought of love, wrote Tennyson in a politer age.

It is in this cruellest of months (April has been transferred to May for reasons of the weather and the liturgical calendar) I find my New Year resolution being sorely tested.  Common sense dictates that I continue to wear my boots and treggings and to don my extensive black and grey collection in increasingly ingenious ways.  But quite apart from the fact that I'm bored with all that, it feels all wrong to be dressed for winter when the chiff-chaffs are singing and the cherry is in blossom.

So what is the best way forward along this sartorial tightrope?  Here's my solution: skinny jeans and ankle boots, teamed with light coloured tops and a large umbrella.  The ankle boots look less January-ish than knee length boots, and you can tuck skinny jeans into them.  You can't tuck your wide-legged jeans in, as I have observed before.  Wide-legged jeans are usually asking for platform wedges, but it's too cold for that.

But here's the problem: my skinny jeans repertoire is very limited.  I have a dark blue denim pair and a white pair.  But everywhere I turn I see pastel coloured skinny jeans, jewel coloured skinny jeans!

And I covet them.  Ah well.  It wouldn't be much of a New Year's resolution if it didn't cost me a pang now and then, would it?

PS if you are offloading any size 12 skinny jeans in bright or pastel shades, get in touch.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

What to Wear on a Walk in the Country

Well, look at that.  I've nearly done 4 months without buying any new clothes or accessories.  Only 8 more months and I can run amok with a credit card in TKMaxx.  Or more likely, the posh charity shops of Alderly Edge, rummaging through the footballers' wives old designer duds.  In my imagination the charity shops of the North West glow like so many Aladdin's caves.  Exploring them is one of the things I'm looking forward to when we move to Liverpool.

But in the meantime, What to Wear on a Walk in the Country?  I ask this because I have recently been on a muddy walk in Shropshire, while tutoring a school's course for the Arvon Foundation.  The experience flushed out a gap in my wardrobe: wellies.  I do not own a pair of wellies.

So I borrowed a pair.  I found them lying about the Main House.  Maybe they are The Arvon Wellies, donned by many a great poet or playwright down the years who happened to have size 7 feet?  They were pretty and floral and very nearly my size.  I wish I'd photographed them for you.  The left boot fitted slightly better than the right, for reasons which became clear when I confidently strode into a deep puddle.  There was a two inch split up the back seam.  But it was a lovely walk.  I saw some cowslips:

And holey wellies were better than ruining my suede boots, which were my only footwear for the whole week.  I tend to pack light.  After all, I'm seeking to impress people by my superlative wordsmithery, not my wardrobe.  It matters not a whit to teenagers what adults wear, anyway.  We are invisible--unless we are their parents and we decide to dance at a party.  One of the girls admired a necklace I wore on Thursday, but that is a rare exception.  To be fair, the necklace draws the eye somewhat.  It's so chunky it could double as nunchucks.

Wellies will not be on my list of clothes to buy in the New Year.  I don't have a welly lifestyle.  This was an emergency.  Normally when I'm out walking I wear walking boots, or trainers.  Or else I wear high heels and book a taxi.

Friday, 13 April 2012

What to Wear When Jogging

Ha!  What to wear when jogging!  For some of you that's a bit like wondering what to wear when turning a pumpkin into a coach-and-four.  It's never going to happen, is it?  Well, never mind, you just sit back on your sofa and eat lard pasties while I continue with this post.

My first hint is that you wear running shoes.  Indeed, it is possible to go running in nothing but trainers, as has been ably demonstrated year on year here in Lichfield during the Buff Run.  The Buff Run used to be engaged in annually by our Choral Scholars, but currently we don't have any.  I believe some of our lay clerks have taken part in the challenge as well, round the cathedral Close in the noddy.  It is generally scheduled in the wee small hours to minimise the chance of running into the dean's wife, and to maximise the opportunity for Dutch courage.  I look forward to learning whether there's a similar tradition in Liverpool cathedral, when I myself shall be the dean's wife, poised to be shocked at the sight of naked young men.  In fact, I shall station myself at my front window with binoculars in order to be shocked properly.

Where was I?

Oh yes.  What to wear while jogging.  The second most important thing is a good sports bra.  In fact, if you have a large chest, it's a good idea to wear two sports bras one on top of the other just to tether everything, especially if you are a woman.  One of the worst problems I've hit with this not buying any new clothes malarky is in the sports bra department.  After a couple of thousand washes the elastic toughens up and is about as flexible as a steel tape measure.  My dears, the chafing!  I've started tucking a sock in the centre front under the band where it rubs raw.  How I suffer for this blog.

For outer wear I have an array of sports gear dating back some dozen years.  Most of it is black.  Much of it has magical wicking properties.  Moisture is simply wicked away! We believe that, don't we?  I also run in special running gloves with special metallic finger and thumb pads which would enable me to use an iPod if I owned one, or was stupid enough to listen to music while out running instead of being constantly on the alert for assassins lurking in the flowering currants like the highly trained martial artist I am.  Yes, I have indeed used my judo skills while out running.  I tripped over a bump in the road and executed an impressive martial arts rolling breakfall outside the cathedral school once.

My final piece of advice is that you don't wear tight lycra compression gear unless you are spectacularly fit (in both senses of the word) or have a good friend who is willing to cut you out of your shorts when you get back home from your run.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What to Wear on Easter Sunday

What to wear on Easter Sunday?  Somehow one instinctively feels the answer is white.  We should sally forth to worship clad like Housman's cherries, 'wearing white for Eastertide'.  This is all very well if it's nice weather.  But if the rain is lashing down and you have muddy paths to negotiate, then white starts to feel like a foolish choice.

In the end I wore two different outfits this Easter.  My first was thrown on in a hurry.  It comprised trackie bottoms, ratty trainers and a big pink cardigan.  I was also wearing my glasses.  My defence here is that it was 4.55am.  And anyway, it was dark and the rest of the congregation was half asleep.  After the Easter Vigil was over nearly 3hrs later, I went home to get showered and changed into my Acting Dean's Wife clothes.

The other instinct when it comes to Easter is the urge to wear something new.  In the old days ladies would wear their new Easter bonnets.  This tradition is gallantly upheld by the lady consorts, who were sporting some fine mother-of-the-bride type millinery this year in Lichfield cathedral.  We got a good look at it as they processed in with the chaps in tricorn hats, gold chains of office and all the civic regalia that comes out on such occasions.

As you know, I'm not in a position to rush out and indulge my passion for new clothes this year.  What a good thing my oldest friend gave me that stunning coat a month or two back!  I wore it with navy wide legged linen trousers (charity shop) and a sage green slink top (charity shop) and...

Ta da!  Pink shoes!  A Christmas gift from the chancellor.  How did he know exactly what I wanted?  So clever of him to glance up and concentrate for 5 seconds while I held my laptop in front of his face, open on the Office website.

So that's my answer: wear whatever makes you feel like rejoicing on Easter Sunday.  'My love, the crucified, hath sprung to life this morrow.'

Sunday, 1 April 2012

What to Wear to a Karate Grading

This is fairly obvious: you wear your karate suit.  A karate suit is basically a pair of loose white cotton pyjama things which you can buy from any martial arts shop.  I believe I got mine via Amazon.  The only thing to decide is how much you want to pay, and what size to buy.  Do make sure you buy a karate suit, not a judo suit, which is heavier and thicker.  If you are a novice and still not entirely sure whether you are going to carry on with this mad karate enterprise, then you will want to buy yourself a nice cheap kit.  It will come with a white belt, which is the first colour of belt you will need.

As anyone knows who has ever worn white trousers, white or 'nude' underpants are essential, unless you are something of an exhibitionist.  Personally, I think thongs are unwise, though you are less likely to lose your trousers during karate than judo.  Women and girls can wear a T-shirt.  In judo this has to be white, but as far as I can see, this isn't strictly policed at my karate club.  And that, my friends, is it.  Oh, apart from a good stout sports bra if you are blessed bosom-wise.  No jewellery, no shoes, no socks.  Undies, white pyjamas, T-shirt (women) and a belt.  (If you are sparring, you'll need shin/foot pads and mitts; and a gum-shield if you are under 18.)

Today I went to my second karate grading.  I wore my red belt.  By happy coincidence red is the correct liturgical colour for Palm Sunday.  This was some slight consolation for spending my morning at King Eddie's leisure centre rather than in Lichfield cathedral.  Despite cocking up some of my renraku waza (combination techniques), I managed to pass, so from now on will be allowed to wear a yellow belt.  It will be awarded at my next training session.  Again, by happy chance, this is the correct liturgical colour for Easter.  

Probably if you are going for a higher grade you will have some kind of totemic garment which you will don with trembling fingers as part of your preparation for the ordeal that lies ahead.  Your 'lucky' trousers, your old 1000 wash grey T-shirt.  But I am still dabbling in the shallows of karate and quite blithe about the whole thing. To be honest, after the adrenaline-drenched horror of judo dan gradings, when I faced psychotic teenage girls across the mat and got repeatedly slaughtered, karate gradings--tra la la--hold few terrors for me.  Sssh! Don't tell sensei I said that.