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.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

DAY 31--One Month, No Clothes Bought

There.  That's the first month done.  Only another 11 to go.  And February is a short month.

But to my shame, it was one of those I have nothing to wear days; where you try on all sorts of things and toss them petulantly on the bed.  The mountain of garments defies you to claim you have nothing to wear, but this is what it feels like.  Perhaps a nobler person could dismiss such feelings.  Perhaps this is one of the things I will learn this year.

The problem arose because I'd found a grey cord skirt hanging on the rail which I'd bought but never got round to wearing.  Driven by my need to be imaginative for this blog, I was determined to wear it today.  I admit it: I'm trying to impress you.  That was quite a costly admission.  The current orthodoxy demands that women claim they dress for themselves, not to please men.  This is usually asserted when we are wearing something more than usually slutty.  I am not wearing this minuscule scrap of nylon to make you brim with lust.  By no means.  I am wearing it because I simply want to.  This is empowerment.

Nobody is claiming that a grey corduroy below-the-knee 70s style A-line skirt is empowering.  But I do kind of like it.  But what to wear with it?  After many experiments I've settled on leopard print peep-toe thigh boots, (which I might more accurately describe as 'black boots', only I thought it might be getting a bit boring for you).  Plus a black long sleeved top and the dark forest green cardigan, which one of my readers has helpfully pointed out is 'waterfall' style, not ballerina.  There.

Monday, 30 January 2012

DAY 30--The Big Coat

Here you are.  You asked.  Here are my golden shoes:

As you can see, they are a style known as 'Mary Jane'.  I suppressed this fact yesterday because in principle I despise Mary Jane shoes.  'Oh look at me, I'm Looby-Loo!  I'm kookie and I affect to walk slightly knock-kneed whilst sucking a finger and looking cute!'  This is what Mary Jane shoes are lisping.  Especially if they are a bit Fair Trade-y.  This pair is obviously saying nothing of the kind.  What are they saying?  (Apart from 'Look at me! I was £5 in the Office sale because nobody wanted me!')  I think they are saying 'What's the use of worrying or feeling blue?'

Anyway, that was yesterday.  Today I'm in my black boots, skinny jeans and big pink cardie-coat.  I will not detain you with repeated descriptions.  These are old friends.  Instead I will tell you about my Big Coat.  Everyone should have a Big Coat.  A Big Coat has to be big enough to go over all the many layers required for an early start on a cold morning, such as today.  I had to catch the 8.02 train in order to get to Stoke-on-Trent in time to teach my 10am creative writing class.  I taught them how to do Crap Dialogue (see earlier post for details).

My Big Coat was made for me many years ago by Pat the Midwife.  (She can make anything, even Pikachu outfits for small boys.)  It's ankle length, unstructured, made of nearly black fake Astrakhan fleece, with a huge shawl style dark grey leopard print fur collar.  It falls in the same category as the golden shoes: it always gets comments.  If I tell you that someone once said I looked like a boxing manager in it, you'll have the right mental image.  It is the sort of thing you wear if you believe you are tremendously stylish.  If you walk with a swagger there's always a chance that you'll pull it off and everyone will believe you.  There's also a chance they'll just think you're bonkers, however.  Happily, if you are a writer there's a lot of leeway.  You might conceivably be both tremendously stylish and bonkers.  Who's to say?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

DAY 29--My Golden Shoes Day

Today I decided to spread a little happiness as I went by in the cathedral by wearing my golden shoes.  I got them in the Office sale a couple of years ago because they were only £5 and I didn't have any golden shoes.  I have eight pairs of blue jeans, nine pairs of black boots, but only one pair of golden shoes.  One pair is enough for anyone apart from a drag queen.  A drag queen cannot have too many pairs of golden shoes or too many feather boas.

My golden shoes have a chunky platform wedge sole.  The heel height is what the online shoe shops describe as 'mid'.  Mid heels are what you wear if you have more than 200 yards to walk, or suffer as I do from hallux rigidus (in layman's terms 'knackered big toe joint').  Shoe manufacturers seem not to know about this condition.  They assume we have renounced killer heels because we have set our dour middle-aged faces against glamour.  They assume we ask no more of a shoe than that we can get our dowdy beige middle-aged feet into them.  Navy blue court shoes.  Pah.  I spit upon navy blue court shoes.  What am I--a 1970s bishop's wife, or something?  Clearly this is what shoe makers think, or they'd be falling over themselves to make hundreds of fab killer mid heels.  We'd snap them up.  But as it is, most mid heels are irredeemably frumpy.  

Unless they are golden, that is.  Mine attracted a great many compliments at the 10.30 this morning.  Hmm.  Actually, casting my mind back, I should probably say they attracted a great many comments.  Comments which made up in voluble excitement what they lacked in actual praise.  Oh come on, we've all done it.  'Oh WOW!  Look at your GOLD SHOES!  Aren't they AMAZING?!'  

The height of the wedge opened up new trouser possibilities.  I was able to take another pair of my blue jeans collection for an outing.  They are 70s style high waist jeans, a style either immensely flattering or very cruel, depending on how tight they are on you.  Fashion hint: wear them with heels and you'll look taller and thinner.  Hence the golden shoes.  It is also still Epiphany.  If a girl can't wear golden shoes during the season of Epiphany, when can she?  


For the rest, I wore a navy blue vest top under a slinky print shirt (Diesel, from a charity shop).  This is beige with small navy blue, sage green and burgundy tadpoles on.  Or sperm?  Hard to say.  It looks a bit like the kind of fabric assistants in Woolworth's used to wear.  Not attractive, then, and I wouldn't have bought it had it not been Diesel.  Still, it was admired at a lunch time drinks party.  Genuinely admired.  I know this because the admirer said in tones of surprise, 'But this is nice'.  Implying, I fear, that she seldom thinks this about anything I wear.  I also wore a tan suede jacket, M&S (charity shop £4) and a tan skinny belt.  Skinny belts are what you wear with 70s high waisted jeans.  I read it in a magazine.

I've taken off my golden shoes now.  But if my agent rings next Monday or next Tuesday with good news about my book, I shall have another golden shoes day, tra la.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

DAY 28

OK, it's Saturday.  You know the routine.  Went for a run and now I'm in my slobbing about clothes.  No need to recap, it's all been featured before.  Instead I'm going to talk about essential peripherals.  We all have them.  The things we'd never leave the house without, or not out of choice, anyway.  I can conceive of emergencies so dire they'd propel you out of the house stark naked, without even a snatched-up dressing gown to preserve your dignity.  But short of this, there are always one or two things we need in order to go out and face the world.

I'm assuming that for all but the most flagrant exhibitionist, this will include clothes, so we'll take them for granted.  In my case I need the following:

And to save you having to peer and strain your eyes, I'll talk you through the selection in the picture.  (You may ignore the blue bowls and plants, by the way, they are simply there to give a tantalising glimpse into my lifestyle.)  What you are looking at here are mascara, contact lenses, hair product, and perfume.  Top of the list--the thing I can least easily do without--is the hair product.  Without it my expensively cut hair (choppy, lots of texture) lies flat.  I have a morbid fear of boring hair.  This drives me into the arms (metaphorically) of the lovely Andy at Francesco's, Walsall, roughly every 8 weeks.

Top stylists, even in the West Midlands, are not cheap.  If you normally pop round to Chris the Greek and pay £6, then I will shield you from the truth.  In fact, I will shield you all.  There is a myth in the chancellery that the chancellor has no idea how much my cut and blow dries cost.  We will preserve that myth.  But my point is this: why pay for an expensive cut and then not maintain it?  I NEED PRODUCT.  I alternate between the product in the blue tin: VO5 Extreme Style Matt Clay (for texture and definition with a matt finish, easy to wash out) and the product in the pink jar: Lee Stafford Messed Up putty for a choppy number.  Both of these are fairly cheap.  The VO5 used to smell vile, like 30 teenage boys after PE who have applied Lynx with a crop-sprayer.  Fortunately they've changed the formula and it's pretty inoffensive now.  Either of these products give my hair that choppy, textured look which you would only otherwise get by trying to retrieve a bagel from the toaster with a fork.

Contact lenses come second on my list.  I've gone out in my glasses, but I've never gone out with flat hair.  The last time I went out in my glasses was 4.55am on Easter morning last year for the vigil.  We all stagger out before dawn to greet our saviour's resurrection.  The precentor makes us.  He does this by the cunning strategy of pointing out that if it was the airport and we were going on holiday, we'd all be there.

Joint third on the list are mascara and perfume.  The mascara is Clinique (I'm prone to allergies) 'Lash Power Long-Wearing Formula'.  This only comes off with hot water and a good old rub, which means it survives the rigours of both judo and bursting into tears during moving church services.  Can't recommend it highly enough.  My signature scent at the moment is Czech & Speake's Cuba.  Don't go out and buy it.  You'd hate it.  It smells of rotting pirate.  Plus it's outrageously expensive.  Honestly, stick to something safe from the perfume counter at Boots.  I'll have to find another signature scent if you all start copying me.

Friday, 27 January 2012


For all you Creative Writing students out there: here's how to master the fashionable pared down style and pass your modules.  I wrote this specially for you:  

This is the Yorkie Bar school of dialogue writing: It’s not for girls
Here’s how:
  1. Do not use speech marks.  Speech marks help the reader understand when someone is talking.  If your reader needs help, they lack the cojones to read your stuff.
  2. Do not let on who is talking.  Again, this makes it too easy for the reader to follow what’s happening.  Make them work, make them sweat, make them weep.  Every half page or so you may include ‘he said.’
  3. Only use short words, short sentences, no sub-clauses.  Flowery stuff is for romantic novelists and nancy boys.  It has no place in Hard Man fiction.
  4. The subject matter must be bleak.  Eg death, guns, murder, rape, despair, horses.
  5. No colours may be used apart from black, white, grey.  Red may be used to describe blood or fire.
  6. Flowers may not be described, only rocks, deserts, ice, stones, guns, fire, cliffs, horses.
  7. Adverbs are banned.  Adjectives may be used but only 1 per 500 words, and they may only contain one syllable.
  8. No imagery.  Similes/metaphors are for pantywaists. 
  9. Verb form  –ing is not permitted.  No fancy punctuation.  Fullstops and commas only.
  10. Finally: hone, prune, hack back and dismember your prose till a single shard of bleached bone remains.  This is Hard Man fiction.  You can’t knock it.  It wins prizes.
Here’s how it looks on the page:

            Did you find her?
She’s dead.
            He turned his head and looked at the rock. Rain fell. 
            They killed her.
            And the rest?
He watched.  They’ll come for us too, won’t they?
            Ash rose from the fire where they’d burnt the horses.

DAYS 25-27

A quick catch up: over the last couple of days I have been getting dressed and not buying myself any new clothes.  There.  I see from my blog stats that most people would rather learn how to write crap dialogue than wade through my Lilliputian wardrobe dilemmas.  Well tough.  We're back to clothes.  

Today I set out as usual in my pre-outfit clothes (trackies, hoodie) with a view to going for a run.  Then I decided I didn't feel like running, so I got showered and dressed properly.  My inspiration today came from one of my oldest friends.  Oldest in the sense that we met at the age of 8. She is by no means my oldest friend age-wise--I believe that accolade must be bestowed on Bubbles, who in turn is by no means the oldest in terms of outlook on life.

This friend--I'll call her Gherkin-Sausage--was moved to email me yesterday to tell me what she was wearing.  I liked the sound of it.  She makes this very important point: 'Between the age of about 35 and 45 I convinced myself that the mature woman had to do things like decide on a palette that suited them. I thought browns and rust and khaki. I managed to stay within those shades pretty much for a decade. At the age of 45 I decided that the mature woman could do what she bloody well liked since nobody noticed her any more and returned to wearing as many colours as I could.'

One of the colourful things she was wearing yesterday was 'an emerald long sleeved T-shirt'.  Hah!  Good idea, I have one of those, I thought.  So I have built my outfit round it.  It's possible that my shirt is more jade than emerald, but I think we can safely say I am copying her.  Back when we were 8 this would have been grounds for bitter accusations and falling out, but now we are 50, we can take it as an hommage, can we not?  Or possibly a femmage?

So, a long sleeved jade T-shirt.  This has a bit of a bodycon vibe going on, and maybe it's supposed to be a dress?  The length (nearly covering the bum) suggests it might be the sort of thing a younger woman would wear with bare legs and a tan on a night out, if she wanted to feel empowered.  Not being young any more I'm inclined to think that the most empowering garment a woman can wear is a martial arts black belt. Obviously I haven't grasped the nuances of empowerment.  Here's a nice definition I came across recently of a humourless feminist: it's 'a woman who doesn't laugh when you say something that isn't funny'.

Being old, as I say, I've disavowed the bare tanned legs look and am back in my skinny jeans and black boots.  I'm also wearing that black knitted tunic from the other Close Catherine.  This has now made several appearances in this blog, and is on the way to becoming a favourite garment.  I stood in front of the mirror for quite a while wondering.  First I wondered whether I'd already worn and blogged this outfit.  Next I tried to work out who I reminded myself of.  Eventually I got it: Link.  Link from Zelda, Ocarina of Time.  If you have teenage sons, you will know what I mean.  For those who haven't here he is:

It's just a passing likeness, I admit.  But I hurried to add some chunky fake jade jewellery all the same.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


For those of you aspiring novelists out there.  I wrote this specially for you.

There is a 10 stage formula for generating crap dialogue.  It is as follows:
1. ‘(insert dull and mundane utterance which neither reveals character, nor advances the plot) followed by punctuation (use exclamation mark wherever possible, preferably several, and/or a row of dots….)!’
2. followed by he/she (or character’s name)
3. followed by a synonym for said (e.g. snapped, choked, snorted, ejaculated, burst out, whined, cried, sobbed, yelled, whispered, murmured, enquired, asked, stated, asserted, blurted, wavered, hooted, mumbled, stammered, stuttered, averred, pronounced.  You will find a thesaurus useful here.)
4. followed by an adverb, preferably a totally redundant one. E.g. ‘Sod off!!’ he yelled angrily. Or, ‘I love you,’ she whispered softly.
5. followed by a comma
6. followed by an action, which you should describe using as many adjectives as possible, and conclude with another adverb/adverbial phrase and a rubbish simile.  E.g. “…he snapped haughtily, running his long pianist’s fingers through his long black raven locks nervously, like an anxious cat with tummy ache.’  (Notice the repetition of ‘long’ there.)
7. repeat this formula with the other person in the dialogue, then continue, alternating for several dreary pages, making sure a)that you slow the action down as much as possible by clogging it with pointless descriptions and b)that nothing of any significance has happened and c)that your characters are at least as boring and flat as they were at the start.
8. remember to switch view point
9. include careless repetitions 
10. Finally, never read your dialogue over with a view to editing or cutting it.

Here’s how it looks on the page:
All of a sudden on a balmy spring morning in April they met in the supermarket fruit section unexpectedly without warning.
            ‘Oh, what are you doing here, Martin?’ she gasped breathlessly, her long auburn hair whipping round her rather attractive features as if some tropical storm was softly wafting them about, he observed, even though they were in fact in the fruit aisle.
            ‘Oh, I’m just buying some bananas!’ he exclaimed jauntily, fingering some slightly under-ripe bananas with his slightly grubby hands with bitten nails somewhat in need of a manicure, thought Alice meanly. He’d obviously been busy at his job of painting and decorating.  ‘But these look a bit under-ripe!’ he quipped quippingly.
            ‘Oh yes they do a bit, don’t they?’ she riposted with a happy trilling laugh, turning to look at the melons which were also there in abundance.
            ‘I might get some spring onions as well…’ he trailed off lingeringly, his dark somehow melting eyes lingering on her full red lips coated in glossy scarlet lip gloss on which a small strand of hair was stuck, like a fly on some flypaper. 
            ‘Really?’ she enquired, gazing up into his handsome face with her wide green feline eyes that always made her look a bit like a cat, barely noticing the other shoppers who thronged round them bustlingly.
            ‘Yeah,’ he answered hesitatingly with a slight pause, starting to fiddle with the somewhat greenish-looking not ripe bananas as if they were worry beads or a rosary,
like a nun in a convent, she thought rather inappropriately. 
            ‘Oh well, best be getting on!’ she burbled wittily, starting to push her trolley away past the melons and pineapples and other assorted fruit piled high in the fruit aisle like it was a tropical island besides many vegetables as well like broccoli.  ‘See you, Martin!’
            ‘Oh, see you then Alice!’ he burst out anguishedly, wiping his rugged brow with a nail-bitten hand that had paint on, not knowing when he’d see her again if ever and picking up a bunch of spring onions with unseeing eyes. 
            ‘Yes, bye then, I’ll be off now,’ murmured Alice, glancing once more lingeringly into his darkly melting eyes like chocolate buttons left out too long in the sun as she clutched her handbag which she’d got with her.
            ‘Yeah, see you around then…’ he choked chokingly, as he pushed back an unruly wisp of dark hair from his melting brown eyes with the bunch of spring onions unseeingly.
            ‘Yeah, bye for now,’ she replied with a little laugh, her shoulders shaking like a tremulous leaf on a twig, arms dangling listlessly it seemed to him.  ‘Time to go. I just need some teabags then I’m done.’
            ‘Oh, you’re buying teabags are you?’ he mentioned casually, gripping the spring onions with whitened knuckles.
            ‘Yeah, I’ve run out of teabags,’ she explained with a thoughtful smile, tossing her blonde hair out of her feline eyes with a giggle.  ‘How annoying is that?’
            ‘That’s very annoying, yeah,’ agreed Martin, agreeing with her every word with an amused smile playing on his finely-chiselled lips, as though he found the whole situation highly amusing.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

DAY 24

Here's one of my unbreakable fashion rules: Never, no matter how cold you are, wear tights under your trousers.  It is slatternly.  

This tyrannical judgement is partly why I spend so much time freezing.  But one has one's standards.  I could never feel good about myself if I knew I was wearing tights under my jeans.  It's like tucking your vest into your underpants, or wearing a thermal vest under your bra.  I'm capable of changing my mind over the years.  It used to be a law with me that visible bra straps were a no no.  And you have witnessed my attempts at lightening up over colour coordination.  But tights under trousers?  Never.

Silk thermal long johns under trousers, yes.  That is what I'm wearing right now.  I'd be the first to confess that silk long johns are not a glamorous garment.  The word 'silk' is better than 'thermolactyl', which is what Damart underwear so proudly claims to be made of.  'Damart Comfort, Warmth, Innovation & Great Value in Size 8-32!' says their website.  You will notice that the word 'glamour' is missing from that list.  When you are catering for that kind of size range, glamour will be your first casualty.

I've been trying to decide why I find room in my fashion scruples for silk long johns under trousers, but not tights.  What is the difference?  The lack of feet?  What if I cut the feet off a pair of old tights, or indeed, wore footless tights under my trousers--would that be acceptable?  Somehow I feel not.  Perhaps it's just my historic hatred of tights that's resurfacing again here.  Even though being a writer has its down side (no money, bad reviews, no reviews, abject failure for years and years) at least I can console myself with this thought: I never have to wear tights for work.

On top of my long johns I'm wearing a pair of jersey wide leg trousers with an elasticated waist from M&S.  These only narrowly escape being frumpy.  How?  Basically by being worn by moi, rather than by a women with less style.  (Self confidence, however misplaced, is at the root of style.)  Secondly, they are not two inches too short on me--a fashion error widely seen in the 50-70 age category.  Thirdly, they are black.  Fourthly, I am wearing them with a claret marabou trimmed cardigan.  Marabou trimming cancels out any incipient frumpiness lurking elsewhere in your outfit.  Commit this to memory: elasticated waist trousers, frumpy.  Marabou trim, not frumpy.  The cardigan is by East via a charity shop.  I'm also wearing my black merino wool skiiing base layer jumper and a big chunky claret necklace, which MATCHES, because that's the kind of dangerous mood I'm in.  Oh, and the silver baseball boots again, which like marabou trim, are fab at all times and in all places.  They are Cat's Pyjama clothes.

HEALTH & SAFETY WARNING: take care while cooking on a gas hob if your cuffs are trimmed with marabou.

Monday, 23 January 2012

DAY 23

I very nearly decided, Sod it, it's a slobbing about day.  I was feeling fed-up and I knew I wasn't going to have to go out again after my run.  Why not slump about in trackies in front of my computer?  It was the thought of writing this blog which galvanised me into making an effort.

So, I'm wearing jeans.  I've worn jeans before, as you know.  But so far you have only been introduced to one pair in my jeans collection, my skinny jeans.  These are currently languishing somewhere in the laundry system, so that leaves me a choice of 8 other pairs.  Yes, eight.  I just counted them  That's eight pairs of blue jeans.  I'm not counting the white pair, the pink pair (pink jeans had a middle class moment about a year ago, along with the Dukan diet) and any other pairs I may have forgotten.

Nine pairs of blue jeans.  That's rather a lot for anyone really, isn't it?  Especially if I only ever wear one pair.  No wonder she's not buying any new clothes in 2012, you're thinking.  She doesn't need to go to a charity shop: she owns one.  Well, it's not about need, is it?  It's about want.  It's about acquisitiveness.  It's about greed dressed up as self-gifting because I'm worth it.  We live in a bizarre era where self-indulgence has been re-branded as a positive character trait.

Today is exactly the kind of day when I would ordinarily have gone out and bought myself something new to wear.  I was feeling a bit bleah and grumpy.  Waiting to hear from my agent about whether he's sold my book, and powerless to do anything about it.  Plus I'm cold.  A new jumper, a nice Nordic style jumper.  I don't have a Nordic jumper.  That's what I NEED.  I deserve it.  And everywhere I look, this attitude is endorsed by advertising.  You'd think self-denial was a crime against humanity.  A triumph of rampant consumerism: here I am in one of my nine pairs of blue jeans still managing to feel a bit hard done by.

This pair of jeans is what we describe as 'boyfriend' jeans.  These days any boyfriends I have tend to be gallant octogenarians in the cathedral congregation, a group not known for their denim-wearing.  I dare say by the time men my age are in their 80s this will have changed, and jeans will be the clothing of choice for the older gent.  Jeremy Clarkson looms as a grim warning of this.

'Boyfriend' clothes are specially cut to look as if you've borrowed them from your boyfriend.  This is a cunningly contrived artifice.  If you actually borrow your boyfriend's jeans you will just look stupid.  Unless you are a gay man, maybe, and have chosen your boyfriend with an eye to ransacking his wardrobe.  On most women, however, men's clothes are just all wrong.  Boyfriend jeans are sort of slouchy and baggy, but only in the right way.  Notably, they are not baggy round the crotch, which genuine bloke jeans are on women.  My own jeans are ASOS, bought for £1 in a charity shop in Knighton.  They have many superfluous pockets and rivets and loops, implying that I not only have a boyfriend, but that he's handy with his tools.

Baggy jeans mean that your top needs to be tight-fitting, or you'll look fat.  So I'm wearing a tight black sweater.  But baggy jeans also mean you can't tuck them into your knee-length boots unless you want to look like a mad Cossack.  The Mad Cossack look is not having a moment right now, so I'm wearing a pair of silver baseball boots (River Island, menswear, because there weren't any women's silver baseball boots).  And because it's cold, I'm wearing a big olive green chunky cardigan.  Which makes me look fat.  In the battle between vanity and comfort, comfort tends to win more frequently after the age of 40.  Alas.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

DAY 22

Today I'm wearing my preaching outfit.  This is a bit of a headache if you are not ordained.  If you are ordained, you can just roll up your pyjama legs, pull on a cassock, and you're good to go.  But what should you wear in the pulpit if you are naught but an humble lay person?

Obviously, this will depend to some extent where the pulpit is.  If it's in a grand cathedral, an Oxbridge College, or a distinguished public school like, say Uppingham (to pluck an example at random), you can opt to go down the academic kit route: gown and bunny fur/silk hood.  In a way I'm a bit tempted by this, as I get to wear Ooh, Get Me! red doctoral robes like the scarlet whore of Babylon.  I believe I'm also entitled to wear one of those daft Shakespearian bit part squishy hats, the kind you'd team with hose and codpiece to declaim, 'Madam, I go with all convenient speed!'  But all this is irrelevant.  I've never got round to buying myself the gear, and now I can't. And in any case, I don't do enough academic poncing about to justify the expense.

Which brings us back to today's clothing dilemma.  Another obvious choice is a smart suit.  I do own a couple of smart suits, actually, but they are now fatally tainted with the stain of job interview failure.  We all have lucky clothes in our wardrobe, those magical garments that we rely on to make us feel like a million dollars.  Let's call them our 'Cat's Pyjamas.'  But we also have unlucky garments.  Garments that give you flashbacks to the vapid inanity you heard yourself blurt when asked, 'So, how would you see yourself developing this role in order to deliver the requisite outcomes outlined in our Going for Excellence mission statement?'  These we will call our 'Pig's Ear' garments.  My smart suits are Pig's Ears, not Cat's Pyjamas, I'm sorry to say.  Even though they fit nicely, suit me, and I actually had them dry-cleaned after I'd got them from the charity shop.

Instead I opted, broadly speaking, for the outfit I bought for my last trip to London to see my agent, a year ago now.  It will have the dread ring of familiarity to it: black boots, black treggings, knee-length jumper-dress in grey, with epaulette details (H & M sale) worn with  a broad black leather belt, my black and cream chunky-funky plastic necklace (cause of so many soup calamities) and that flappy black long cardigan which I earlier, and perhaps entirely erroneously, described as 'ballerina style'.  A riot of black and grey!  How supremely Anglican.

One final word of fashion advice.  There is no point wearing a long skirt if you need to mount pulpit steps.  Anyone who has ever attempted this in a cassock will tell you why: it's fatally easy to climb up inside your skirt, and end up with your nose on the top step.  Not a good posture with which to impress 700 bored teenagers.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

DAY 21

Never mind what I'm wearing now.  Just the same old slobbing about on Saturday gear.  You're not interested. But tonight I'm going to the theatre.  Stratford upon Avon, to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest production of Measure for Measure.  I feel fat and useless.  What shall I wear?  Whatever shall I wear?

Well duh.  Every woman knows the answer to this: black.  When in doubt, wear black.  That is the single most important fashion rule you will ever hear.  This is something that Anglo-Catholics have grasped which still eludes Evangelical clergy in their navy Action Man trousers and their navy fleeces and their grey or navy clerical shirts.  (Or in advanced cases of imbecility, their amusing Hawaiian clerical shirts.)  Listen carefully: brown is never the new black.  Navy is never the new black.  Teal is never the new black.  Black is the only black.


Tonight I will be wearing a black dress.  I bought it in a charity shop in November for about £4.  It was a case of instant recognition: that's me, that will work.  Jersey,  a bit drapey, not too low (a well-placed stitch in the cross-over neck prevents any wardrobe malfunctions), snug round the waist and rib cage, three-quarter length sleeves, mid calf length.  Classy without being frumpy.  In fact, a timeless classic.  That, incidentally, is the phrase women usually apply to a garment which is hideously expensive and they know they shouldn't really have splurged on.  It won't date, we tell ourselves.  It's an investment, really.  It will then be hidden in the wardrobe until we can say with truth that we've had it ages.

A bit of internet research has revealed that it was a bit of a designer bargain.

There we are, a nice blurry photo of the label.  'ARTIGIANO made in Italy.'  Hah, no wonder I feel good in this frock.  I could be a walk on part in the next series of Zen in this.  I'll be teaming it with lacy tights (black) and playing safe with black shoes.

Friday, 20 January 2012

DAY 20

Friday is the chancellor's day off.  On Fridays we like to drive to some town or other, buy a coffee, then trawl round the charity shops.  I foresee that this pattern may hold less charm for me as the year goes by.  Wandering round Kenilworth in the rain not buying clothes has a limited appeal, as I discovered today.  Yes, I could browse the bric-a-brac, scan the rows of books, rummage through the household linens.  But what about all those racks of tops, those dresses and jeans in my peripheral vision?  What designer bargains would hang there, undiscovered by me?

Oh well.

Today I'm wearing a skirt.  This skirt is making its first appearance in this blog.  It's a denim skirt I got In Asda (?) when we lived in Walsall.  This makes it somewhere between 6 and 12 years old, probably.  Originally it was just below knee-length.  This is a cruel length on me.  It's almost exactly where my legs are chunkiest, which creates an unfair impression.  Just above the knee I'm less chunky, but at this point we are straying in to mutton territory.  However fab your legs, after a certain age you need to keep them off display.  That's my view.  I also think that after 40 your hair should never look younger than you are.  A harsh ruling, but one which will save you from the dreaded 16 from the back, 61 from the front syndrome.

So a delicate balance has to be struck when it comes to skirt length.  I don't want to create the impression I have legs like telegraph poles, but neither do I want to be yodelling 'Hey, check out these wheels! Not bad for an old girl, eh?'  I therefore took a pair of scissors and cut a couple of inches off the hem.  After several washes, the raw edge now dangles threads, which admittedly is a look much too young for a 50 year old woman, but who says I have to be consistent?

With this possibly tragic skirt I'm wearing grey stripy tights.  The stripes are horizontal.  Let's lay to rest once and for all the myth that horizontal stripes are fattening.  The opposite is true. Check here if you don't  believe me: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/sep/12/slimming.stripes  I'm also wearing a long sleeved slinky purple top with a grey crossover front jumper and a brown plastic flower necklace.  The necklace was from Pat the Midwife (she was taking a rare break from buying me tasteless crap; which is something we compete over.  I'm current reigning champion with last Christmas's Mr Creosote vomiting sauce dispenser.)  I'm also wearing my tan boots, a green chunky cardigan, a purple scarf and a cream blanket.  NB. In Kenilworth I substituted a brown fake fur coat for the cardigan and blanket.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

DAY 19

I've learnt from yesterday's mistake and remembered to take a nice eBay type picture of today's key piece before I put it on:

There we are, a rather lovely top from a charity shop that didn't know Ghost was a designer label and therefore didn't charge very much for it.  This is always a bit of a dilemma for someone like me, brought up with a code of scrupulous Nonconformist honesty.  If I find money on the pavement I feel I ought to take it to the police, or put it in the collection.  I point out to shop assistants that they've given me too much change.  Likewise in charity shops when I see an absolute bargain, a little voice inside me (it's my mum's voice, actually) urges me to tell them they're undercharging.  'You do realise this is genuine handmade lace, don't you?'  Happily the reply is usually, 'Ooh, is it love? It's ever so pretty, do you want it in a bag?'  I then shrug and put an extra pound or two in the donation box to shut my mother up.  My rule of thumb is that I only snap up such bargains if I actually like them.  I never buy them in order to make a killing on eBay.  That would be scurrilous.  Unless I donated a portion of the profits back to the charity I'd just ripped off, of course.  Charity Shopping ethics: a whole subject in its own right.

As you can see, this black and white top tests yesterday's 'Never Wear a Smock Unless you are a Hardy Peasant' diktat.  To be brutally honest, I doubt if I'd have given it a second glance if it hadn't been for the label.  Shameful but true.  But as it happens, I was pleasantly surprised.  It does not make me look like a pillar box.  You can probably just about see in the photo that it has a series of tiny tucks just below that empire line black ribbon.  This has a merciful flattening effect.  The ribbon also ties round the back, so the entire garment can be pulled in nice and trim, rather than 'flapping about like Fanny Craddock's pastry' as my grandma used to say.  She had no opinion of Fanny Craddock.

With this... yes, I will be brave and call it a smock, I am wearing skinny jeans.  If I go out I will put on boots, but right now I'm wearing fake Uggs just to keep warm.  I'm also wearing a black cardigan which really does flap about like the proverbial pastry.  It's one of those ones with pointy bits, like a handkerchief hem on a dress.  Is it called ballerina style?  I have no idea.  But if you are wearing one, it's probably a good idea to stay away from working machinery.  I believe it's M&S seconds, bought from the New Life Charity Warehouse in Cannock.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

DAY 18

Today feels almost spring like.  The ice has all melted off the winter jasmine which is growing on our yard beneath a dripping overflow pipe.  I am sitting at my desk without the heating on, without a hat, without my glamorous hot water bottle and blanket combo.  It's warmer out than in today.  This is often true of these big old houses.   On Saturday I managed to warm up a bottle of champagne by taking it out of the pantry and putting it in the fridge.  But in a heatwave we're laughing.  Just you wait and see.

So today I was able to burst out of my ugly cocoon of base layers and fake fur and take to my pretty butterfly wings!  Here's a sort of blogging equivalent of a fabric swatch:

I should have planned ahead and taken another eBay style picture.  And warm though it is, it's not quite warm enough for me to remedy this omission right now.  The patterned garment is a 70 style top (on me) or dress (on a younger person).  The label says it's made by 'LOVE'.  Aw.  What could be nicer?  It has a V-neck, long tight cuffs and slightly billowy sleeves and is empire line. A word of warning about empire line dresses if the bosom gods smiled upon you at puberty.  Make sure the garment also displays your waist (if you have one).  Gravity dictates that the fabric will hang down from your widest point and you will look a pillar box.  This makes smocks a joke for the curvy figure.  Actually, they are a joke on anyone but a Hardy yokel, really.  This dress ties round the back, so you can nip it in at the waist.

Wearing something that suits your figure--combined with standing up straight and wearing a decent bra--takes a decade of your looks and half a stone off your weight.  I could be one of those annoying ads that pops up on the side of your PC screen.  'Lose 20lb of belly fat with this simple tip from a Lichfield housewife!'  I've always assumed these are really links to porn sites, so I never click on them.  Maybe they all just say 'Stand up straight and get a decent bra!'  Honestly, it works: try it.  I'm mainly addressing my women readers here, by the way.

Sorry, but that picture is annoying me.  The colours aren't quite true and you are not getting the full effect of my new skill of uncoordination.  The fabric does not have a green component to match the cardigan, take my word for it.  Though I will confess the scarf matches.  I'm also wearing brown treggings and those tan boots again. And when I went out to Lidl just now, I didn't even need a coat.  But If I had, it would have been a turquoise one.  With a red hat.  That doesn't suit me and doesn't go, as the poet says.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

DAY 17

Today there is but one consideration.  It's not style, it's not fashion.  Today is all about keeping warm.  They say, don't they, that you lose 25% of your body heat through your head.  Well, that depends on what you're wearing.  I imagine that if you are stark naked, you lose heat pretty evenly via your entire body surface area.  In fact, you probably lose less through your head, provided you aren't bald.  But in cold weather, a hat is a good plan.  Even indoors if your house is like mine.

That said, I'm not wearing a hat at the moment.  This is because I have finally warmed up by going out to the Post Office to post a friend's phone charger after she stayed here overnight.  It has been estimated that forgotten phone chargers now make up 63% of all UK parcels.

I just made that up, actually.

I'm now cooling down again at my desk.  This is despite wearing the following: black thermal vest, black long-sleeved merino wool base layer, jeans, boots, blanket, chunky cardigan, scarf.  All of these items have featured before in this blog, apart from the cardigan.  I believe this is the last of my chunky cardie collection to make an appearance.  It came, naturally, from some charity shop or other.  It's speckledy grey with three large black buttons.  After many months of puzzlement and twitching it about, I've concluded that it's supposed to be wonky.  In the sense that the placket (I type the word with authority, although it may be the wrong term) is meant to be slanted.  You know, the strip with the buttons and holes on.  We're calling it a placket.

Like other cardigan-coat things in my wardrobe, this one is a little troublesome.  Should it really flap open like this?  I have secured it rather fetchingly with a safety pin.  At school I used to staple up my skirt hem, or occasionally sellotape it.  Another thing they say when they aren't asserting you lose 25% of your body heat through your head, is that 'A Stitch in Time Saves Nine'.  Well, maybe it does.  But I'm all for waiting till the full nine are necessary.  That way you can feel like you've undertaken a real sewing project, rather than a bit of uptight knee-jerk control freakery.

I expect running repairs will feature increasingly as this year goes by.  Gosh, I remember the days when we used to repair tights.  It was usually black tights for Girls' Brigade.  In-wear repairs at the last minute.  It was either that or sealing the hole up and preventing further ladders with nail varnish, which as good Baptist girls we didn't have.

Monday, 16 January 2012

DAY 16

Well, I've regained my fashion mojo.  This came about after a surprise affirmation from the bathroom scales, a piece of equipment I have an occasionally tense relationship with.  Normally I play best of three, but today the reading was a full 3lb less than I feared.  YESS!!  I'll take that, thank you very much.  I suspect these fluctuations are as much to do with the whims of my electronic scales as my eating patterns and the monthly roller coaster which is womanhood.  I aspire not to take much notice, provided the underlying message is one of stability.  Rather than a careless muffin and WHOOMF! obesity strikes like an exploding airbag.  Which is what we fear.  And if we have a nonconformist background, it's what we think we deserve.

Anyway, today I'm wearing possibly the least colour coordinated outfit I've sported in many a long year.  I'm hoping that this lack of coordination doesn't spill over into the rest of my life.  If I start tripping and knocking things over, I may have to go on a strict regime of 80s style matchy-matchy until things settle down again.  But just look at my jumper, people:

Oh, sorry.  I should have rotated that.  Never mind, you get the blinding effect, I'm sure.  This is the oldest garment in my possession.  I bought it with some birthday money in 1977, and it's still going strong.  You can see that it's beginning to unravel at the cuff there, but apart from that, it's as good as new.  It had a long sojourn in the dressing-up box, when my small sons would occasionally team it with thigh boots, sparkly dresses and a Fireman Sam helmet; but I retrieved it during the first 70s revival at the end of the 90s.  Goodness me, what a cheerful jumper! people say, reaching for sunglasses or possibly a flame thrower.

With this iconic piece I'm wearing a green vest, my beige 8-gore needle cord skirt, brown woolly tights, black socks and a grey fur-covered hot water bottle, a cream fleecy blanket, a brown fake fur gilet (Primark, before it was banned) and a plum-coloured chunky knit scarf.  The look can be summed up in the following sentence: 'Would you like to sponsor an hour of central heating so that a poor clergy wife can stay warm?'

Sunday, 15 January 2012

DAY 15

Today I'm working the dandy look.  I'm wearing (or I was when I went over to the cathedral for the main 10.30 service) a long-line black velvet jacket.  It's the kind of jacket that should have a silk handkerchief in the pocket and a green carnation in the lapel.  It is a dashing jacket, a smoking jacket, a 'Get Me, I'm a Writer' jacket.  This is what you wear when you are stylish rather than fashionable.

And because we are also urban and edgy, we are wearing this statement jacket with jeans.  Skinny jeans and high-heeled boots.  These boots are as high as I can go and still walk, so not very high actually.  I got them from my big sister in a Boxing Day boot swap, you will remember.  I've had fleeting pangs of regret ever since.  Was I wise to let go of those killer biker ankle boots with pointy toes and kitten heels?  I bet my big sister won't ever wear them.  If I'd played my cards right and undermined her self-esteem, I might have ended up with both pairs.

That was an unworthy thought, especially on the Sabbath.

The jacket came from a charity shop in Sutton Coldfield on a trip I made with my mate Bubbles and a couple of other friends to buy one of them a dinner suit for the Cathedral Patrons' Annual Dinner.  I tried to explain that you can't just go out to a charity shop at short notice and buy something specific.  (Unless you want a video of 'The Full Monty', a copy of 'McCarthy's Bar' or the charity shop set of 5 matching sherry glasses, which are always in stock.)  But my friends wouldn't listen to me.  We made our way round all the charity shops of Sutton, before we ended up with frayed tempers in M&S, where I had a fit of extreme bossiness over trouser length.  But if I can spare one man the indignity of jack-ups, my life has not been wasted.

Still, on that same trip I was lucky enough to spot my black velvet jacket for £7.  Not a wholly wasted trip then.  I bore it proudly home only to find an almost identical one hanging on my clothes rail. If anyone would like a black velvet jacket (Dorothy Perkins, size 12), do get in touch.

With this ensemble I'm wearing a purple long-sleeved jersey top (New Life Charity Warehouse, Cannock, 5 years ago) black vest (Gap), red necklace.  In a fit of swaggering non-matchiness, I flung on a flame pink scarf as I left the house.  It was only during the Intercessions that I noticed the reason it was flame pink was that it was woven of purple and red fibre.  Curses!  It matched after all.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

DAY 14

I think I used up all my bold fashion impetus yesterday.  Today is definitely an 'Oh stuff that for a game of tin soldiers' kind of day.  And why not?  It's Saturday.  The only thing holding me back from a total slobbing about day was the fact that I have guests driving down to visit, all the way from the City of God, Durham.

Obviously, they are coming to see me, not run a fashion spot-check.  But a token effort is called for nonetheless, or they will go away with the impression that I've really let myself go, with my ratty trainers and trackies and my tragic St Johns college hoodie.  One of my guests at least will not take kindly to the hoodie, as she's Senior Tutor of the neighbouring college.  The very college from which my son rather brilliantly got himself banned for a term for pranking.  He nicked the sign off the principal's door, but was caught on CCTV.  A schoolboy error.  Honestly, what is the point of bringing your children up in Urban Priority Areas if they don't remember to wear a balaclava when committing a crime?

So, the dilemma: an outfit that doesn't look too slumpy, yet is OK for a cursory tidy-and-hoover.  I didn't want to have to get changed.  My rule of thumb when you are at a loss is to ask yourself 'What do I want to wear?' and this will be the right thing.  So, for example, if you want to don a LBD and marabou trimmed mules to clean the cooker, go for it.

As it happened, I decided I was a in a pink mood.  I find pink kind and consoling, and this was what I wanted as I had a migraine yesterday.  These days I only have micro-migraines, I'm glad to say, not the full-blown 36hrs of vomiting in a darkened room hoping to die.  I get the spaced-out feeling, the aura (in my case it's like the ziggy-zaggy decoration on Norman arches, which makes Durham cathedral's Galilee Chapel something of an ordeal for me), followed by a headache and feeling washed-out for 24 hours.  I try to see my migraines as my friends: they come bringing me dispatches from my subconscious to tell me I'm stressed or sad and not addressing it properly.  That said, I'd prefer an email.

So pink it is: I'm wearing that chunky pink cardie-coat with the big buttons, with black leggings & boots.  I couldn't summon any  colour unco-ordination beyond a red heart-shaped pendant.  Enough edgy urbanness already.  My friends will love me regardless.

Friday, 13 January 2012

DAY 13

I put my Resolution to the test today by going into Birmingham's Bull Ring.  Not a flicker of acquisitiveness, I'm happy to report, even though the Sales are on.  Doing most of your clothes shopping in charity shops does arm you with a protective shield.  Where most people would think 'Bargain!' I'm apt to snort, 'Fifteen quid?  For a pair of jeans?  I think not!'  A sterner test came later on, when the chancellor and I did a quick whiz round the charity shops of Lichfield.  Here my strategy was simply not to look at the women's clothes and shoes, but instead to browse menswear (for the men in my life) and the bric-a-brac shelves.

Today I'm wearing what might be quite an interesting outfit, or on the other hand, rather a disastrous one.  Yesterday while I was out and about I tried to keep an eye open for interesting fashion statements to see if I could gain inspiration.  Lack of inspiration is what drives us out to buy new clothes, whereas in fact we could simply combine existing garments in an imaginative way and gain a whole new look.  What we so often lack is the eye; the ability to see the potential in our wardrobe.

The outfit that caught my attention outside Superdrug was on a young woman (uh-oh! thinks the reader).  She was wearing leggings, two layers of long tailed shirt, lace-up work boots, and a black leather biker jacket.  It looked urban and edgy.  I could do that, I thought.  I have the stuff.  Kind of.  So here's my approximation: black treggings, black and white fine stripe long sleeved T-shirt under that chunky black knit tunic thing I got from the other Close Catherine.  I do have a very long cotton shirt with billowing tails (like the one my inspiration was wearing), but it needed ironing.  I have the leather biker jacket, but I don't quite have the work boots, despite my extensive boot collection.  So I opted for a brown (see how they fail to match!) pair which hover somewhere between 8-hole DMs and desert boots (Clarks, a cast-off from Pat the Midwife).  To this I added a red necklace and a dark plum chunky scarf.

Doubt assailed me as I stood in front of the mirror.  Did it work?  Did I look top-heavy, with my bulky leather-clad shoulders, and my over-layered top half dwindling absurdly down to tiny-looking feet?  Were my legs chunky?  Eek.  They were!  But was that actual chunkiness, or a hormone induced optical illusion?  To put it brutally, was this ensemble urban and edgy, or did I look like a tragic 50 year old art teacher?

Two courses of action opened out at this point: taking it all off and starting again, or donning attitude and a stylish pair of sunglasses and sallying forth.  Reader, I chose the latter.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

DAY 12

Today will be a Four Outfit day.  So far I've followed yesterday's pattern of lounge wear followed by running kit followed by proper clothes.  My fourth outfit will be my karate kit which I will wear tonight at my first karate session of 2012.

A karate kit is similar to a judo kit in that it consists of baggy white trousers and a loose white jacket tied with a long belt (and for women players, a white T-shirt).  Karate kits, however, are made of much thinner cotton, as there isn't as much in the way of pub brawling, scragging and grappling in karate.  If you wear a karate kit on the judo mat, it will probably be ripped by the end of the session.  At my first few karate classes I wore my judo kit, and out of professional courtesy I was invited to wear my black belt.  Unfortunately, anyone watching probably didn't think 'How brave! A judoka taking up karate at an advanced age!'  No, I fear they just frowned and wondered why that black belt was so comprehensively useless.  But now I have the proper kit, and a red belt, which is one up from novice.  I hope to get my yellow belt this March.  But before you ask, I will not buy myself a yellow belt.  It will be given me.

And now let's turn to what I have on right now: (stifles yawn) yes, it's the old treggings, boots and a big jumper combo.  But with subtle variations!  The treggings are black M&S, but something odd has happened to the waist which means I have to keep hoicking them up.  Maybe the elastic's shot.  A bit of clumsy stitchery may be in order.  Or else I will lay them to one side as consolation if I put on weight.  The old pale tan boots today. And a garment which is entirely new to you, the reader, though it is an old friend of mine: a black thermal vest.  I bought this for a couple of quid about 12 (is this possible? how time flies!) years ago on Walsall market.  It's in the classic old lady style--vaguely lacy, wholly unglamorous.  Short sleeves and an off-centre V-neck, which is probably why it turned up in the seconds pile on Walsall market.  It seems to made of some completely indestructible substance with a half life of 1000 years, like school blazers.  I hope still to be wearing it when I exit the 50-70 age bracket as it's nice and warm.

Over this I'm wearing a long green polo-neck jumper.  The style suggests that it may be genuine vintage (sleeves gathered into the slightly dropped shoulder seams), but as usual, it was from a charity shop and I cut the label out.  This blog has revealed to me how much green I wear.  This is a surprise.  I would have said green was a colour under-represented in my wardrobe.  This particular green hovers somewhere between 'black' and 'dark grey' on the Protect-All commercial flooring colour chart http://www.oscodaplastics.com/colors. Which just goes to show how imprecise this colour-naming business is.  I'd describe it as a mix of Lincoln green and Rookwing, but that's just one person's opinion.

A quick word about polo necks and the well-endowed woman.  If you are blessed in the balcony department you need to be canny about your polo necks, or you will end up threatening people.  All they will see is a terrifying expanse of bosom like the prow of a battle ship bearing down on them.  Some kind of chunky necklace is a good idea.  I myself am wearing one made up of large black and white interlocking plastic discs, which do not go with the rest of my outfit.  (Tra la!  See? I'm learning.)  It was a present from my middle sister and I'm very fond of it.  It has a nice funky 60s vibe going on.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

DAY 11

Back on the fashion wagon in a triumph of uncoordination.  I am actually in my 3rd outfit of the day.  Here's how that happened.  I knew I was intending to go for a run late morning, therefore there was no point getting showered and dressed properly.  I lot of writers do their best writing first thing in the morning in their pyjamas.  Then they get swept away on the tide of their narrative brilliance and it's 5pm and they are still in their pyjamas. Respect.  Can't do that myself.  If I'm in my pyjamas and not asleep in bed I feel either furtive
or ill.

So the compromise position is: lounge wear.  If you look in posh catalogues you'll see that descriptions of lounge wear are larded with such adjectives as 'pampering', 'luxurious', 'soft', which of course means 'hideously expensive and made of pure cashmere'.  Nowhere will you find words like 'clapped-out', 'saggy' and 'threadbare'.  But this is the kind of stuff we lounge about in really.  It's one step up from pyjamas, but a notch casual.  In my own case, it's almost indistinguishable from 'slobbing about wear' (detailed in previous posts).  The only difference is that if it's lounge wear, I haven't showered.

So: SoulCal trackies with grey cashmere hoodie.  The latter is slowly metamorphosing from genuine posh lounge wear (it was in the M&S Autograph sale and still expensive.  Wiped out an entire Christmas collection of vouchers in one go) into slobbing about wear.  It's probably my favourite garment at the moment.

2nd outfit of the day was my running gear, and now outfit number 3, which I was bigging up in my first sentence there.  First, a big shock: I'm wearing a skirt, an actual skirt.  My basic stance towards skirts is hostile.  Too many years of navy blue school skirts, I think.  Coupled with being banned from wearing trousers at primary school, which I felt keenly as an injustice.  Penis envy, schmenis envy.  Never wanted one.  But I did want to wear trousers.

My skirt today is a sort of pale stone colour, which is what we call it when we can't bring ourselves to say beige.  It's 8-gore needlecord and A-line.  Curiously, in my unhappy Domestic Science lessons at Grammar School before I was allowed to do Latin instead, I was haplessly attempting to make a brown needlecord 8-gore skirt.  I never finished it. Perhaps this is all about closure?  It's from Gap, via some charity shop.

I have teamed (as fashion types say) the skirt with black boots and grey woolly tights in an Argyll pattern.  They really don't go. And they really really don't go with the navy blue-and-white striped long sleeved T-shirt I'm wearing, or the denim shirt I put on over the top.  The latter is by Wrangler.  Denim shirts had a moment a year or so ago, which I'm afraid means they are over.  But Tush to that (as the Book of Common Prayer psalms often remark).  Happily, there's no such thing as being on trend in Lichfield.  Provided you  haven't got your trousers on backwards or your knickers on your head that counts as fashion savvy round here.

And then when I went out, I wore a brown coat.  Ta da!  And I carried my library books in a plae blue tote.  By Jove!  I think I've cracked it!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Day 10

I have to report a sorry relapse into the sin of colour coordination.  Deep down I'm just not fashionable.  But who wants to be fashionable when they can be stylish?  A highly intelligent, discriminating and thoughtful man once told me, 'I've always thought of you as rather a stylish woman.'  This was the writer Ian Marchant (whose highly intelligent, discriminating and thoughtful new book Something of the Night is just out.  Buy it, please).  He was attempting to reassure me after one of the students on the course we were co-tutoring told me I was dressing all wrong for my personality type.  Still, one of the other students very much admired my eyebrow grooming, so my confidence was not completely blighted that week.

To be thought of as stylish is surely the sartorial Holy Grail of women destined never to be a gay icon.  So my relapse is to be put in the context of my own individual stylishness.  Many women have wisely chosen to go down the route of discovering what flatters them and sticking with that, staying broadly within fashion's mainstream (re skirt length, trouser width etc) while avoiding of the vagaries of passing trends.  This way we will probably be safe from the worst of all fashion faux pas, looking like mutton dressed as lamb.  Far better to look like mutton dressed as mutton, provided it's stylish mutton.

Protesting too much?  Oh.

Well, anyway, today I'm back in a pair of black leggings, black fine wool sweater, black boots, and a long dark green lambs wool and mohair unstructured cardigan.  This is a garment type I find problematical to wear.  Is it supposed to be asymmetrical, or is it factory seconds?  Is this why it was in a charity shop?  It has no buttons, so is it supposed to flap freely, or ought I to hug it winsomely round myself as a sort of clothing equivalent of wrapping both hands round my coffee mug and trying to look like Meg Ryan?  I have solved this problem by wrapping it round myself and securing it with a wide black leather belt (from the late lamented TJ Hughes).  My concern is that I look like a bit part in a Mystery Play cycle.  All I need is a cockle-shell necklace and I could pass as a medieval pilgrim.  Instead I'm wearing a paua shell necklace because (sigh) it matches.

Monday, 9 January 2012


A bit of a break-through today.  I've managed to break free from the stranglehold of colour coordination.  Those of us who know a bit about strangling realise how important this is.  Strangles, unlike chokes, come on gradually.  When you strangle someone you are putting pressure on their carotid arteries in order to cut off the flow of blood to the brain.  This renders them unconscious in a matter of 5-10 seconds.  The temptation on the judo mat is to leave it a little bit too late before you do something about this.  Men in particular are inclined to think that a strangle applied by a woman is unlikely to be effective.  It is very satisfying for the woman to watch the slow realisation cross his face that he'd wrong about that.  He will either have to tap out or pass out.

So yes--breaking strangleholds.  Very important to do this.  (In case you're wondering, a choke is applied to the windpipe and is effective immediately.)  Today, therefore, I am wearing a pair of skinny jeans in a quite dark denim, a black vest (Gap) and a light/dark grey broad striped V-neck pullover (Karen Millen, charity shop somewhere) with a dark olive green chunky knit cardigan.  I know.  How unmatchy-matchy am I?  Black boots.  I suppose I could mix it up a bit more and wear one black and one brown boot, but that might look as though I'm taking the piss.  Or more likely, it might look like I'm a mad old bat who hasn't noticed she's wearing odd boots.

The cardigan was from a charity shop, probably one of the Lichfield ones.  The label says Atmosphere.  That's Primark, isn't it?  My good friend Pat the Midwife (can she fix it? yes she can!  Does all my dress alterations) has banned me from shopping in Primark on the grounds of slave labour.  She has to be right, doesn't she?  If the clothes are that cheap, someone's face somewhere is being ground.  But it's OK to buy Primark stuff from a charity shop, as it has then been ethically laundered as it were; and where, interestingly, it is usually more expensive than it was new.

I'm also wearing a blanket because it's colder in than out.  This is often true of canonical houses.  You wrap up warm, then emerge from the permafrost of your study to find spring has happened and all is balmy in the real world.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


Today is the sabbath, a sort of Anglican via media between slobbing about clothes and party wear.  I am wearing brown treggings.  Yes, brown.  These were absolutely my last purchase of 2011, bought on the internet on New Years eve from M&S with some Christmas vouchers.  We tend to get a range of vouchers each year, and there is an understanding that any M&S vouchers are rightfully mine.  It is my own understanding, but I am happy to impose it on everyone else.  Occasionally there has to be a bit of horse trading, in which I hand over book tokens and the like.

So: M&S brown treggings, £19.95.  Size 10.  In old money, size 14.  They are also long, because we must be constantly vigilant now we are in the 50-70 age bracket, that we are not wearing our trousers 2in too short.  Why this happens to people, I don't know.  You'd think with loss of bone density all our trouser cuffs would start trailing in the dirt, but this is manifestly not the case.

I am also wearing this top (which I can't be bothered to try and describe):
I decided against posting pictures of me in my daily outfit.  The thought of 366 dodgy photos appearing any time anyone searched Catherine Fox on Google images was too ghastly to contemplate--even if I am the only person ever to conduct such a search.  Instead I pretended I was selling the garment on eBay and took a rather bad photo of it hanging on the back of the bedroom door.  It's Oasis, size 12 and it came from one of the charity shops of the West Midlands region.

I wore it with my filthy pale tan boots, which I may re-brand as my mid tan boots because that sounds nicer.  And because I was venturing out, I wore a coat: dark brown fake suede, but with genuine shaggy crinkly fur (which has a proper name that is currently eluding me) collar and cuffs.  I bought this coat many years ago when I was going up to London to impress publishers into buying my judo book proposal.  It was from TKMaxx, and I don't know how much it cost.  Outfits bought to impress publishers belong in a separate moral universe where cost is no object (provided the total is less than the advance you subsequently receive).

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Already a depressing pattern is emerging.  I appear to have two modes of dress: slobbing about gear and chunky jumper/boots/leggings.  Apart from a rare foray into posh wear, like last night.  I forgot to say that with my black bodycon dress I wore a pair of 40s style fuchsia pink sandals.  This may have been a mistake, actually, but I'd lost a crucial pair of black shoes (hiding behind one of those pairs of black boots).  Besides, we don't want to be too matchy-matchy.  I did ask the chancellor whether the shoes worked with the outfit, but as I'd briefed him in advance which answer I was looking for, his opinion doesn't really count for much.

Anyway, another day, another outfit.  Well, all right, the same outfit practically.  SoulCal trackies (but brown this time, I have two pairs bought at the same CS in Church Stretton) and my St John's College hoodie.  I almost always wear this on a Saturday, because it takes me through to the afternoon when I go off to judo.  Under this I am wearing an amusing sleeveless T-shirt which bears the logo 'WARNING: Throws like a girl' with a cartoon of a woman throwing a bloke (morote seoi nage, if you're interested).  Plus ratty black trainers.  All in all, a triumph of colour non-coordination.

Later on I'll be wearing a a plain white T-shirt, a pair of Bay City Roller length royal blue cotton trousers, and a big rather shapeless cotton jacket in the same shade, teamed with a tough black cotton belt.  The belt is long enough to go round me twice and tie in a reef knot at the front.  I will not be wearing footwear of any kind, nor will I be wearing accessories, as they are verboten on the judo mat.  'No hard or metallic objects covered or not' says the rule book.  I will pull the whole look together by wearing an expression of someone undergoing a near-death experience.  This is quite usual at the first training session after a break.

That description may have surprised you if you assumed that all martial arts kit was essentially just white pyjamas.  It's what everyone thinks.  It sums up martial arts.  Robert Twigger, for example, wrote an excellent book about his quest for an aikido black belt in one of Japan's toughest dojos, called Angry White Pyjamas.  (My own book Fight the Good Fight was more Rather Cross White Pyjamas in comparison.)  But in judo these days you get a choice of blue or white kit.  This has filtered down from the highest levels of contest where it is crucial for the ref to be able to see who is doing what to whom, in order to be able to hazard a guess at what the score might be.  It makes things a bit easier if one player is in white and one in blue.  I think blue is kind of cool.  Also the bloodstains aren't as garish.

Friday, 6 January 2012


It's the Feast of Epiphany.  Therefore I must dress appropriately.  And this means clothes suitable for the taking down of Christmas decorations.  Yes: another 'slumping day'.  It's the old Soulcal trackies and manky black trainers, but this time with a grey long sleeved T-shirt (Gap, lost in the mists of time) and what my older son calls 'cheeky knitwear'.

In this case the cheeky knitwear is a big black cable knit zip-up cardigan with a hood.  I bought it a couple of winters ago with some Christmas money from Dorothy Perkins.  It's gone very bobbly and saggy.  And is now porcupined with Christmas tree needles.  Originally it had pom-poms attached to long strings, but I cut them off as they were a strangling hazard and soup disaster just waiting to happen.  Also, pom-poms?  Do I look like a pom-pom kind of woman?  What are small pom-poms trying to say, exactly?  I aspire to be a cheer leader?  I have no knackers, so I'll wear midget pom-poms to compensate?

But today will be a two outfit day.  This evening we are going to Muswell Hill for a 50th birthday dinner.  For this I shall wear a black bodycon dress.  What is a bodycon dress?  To save you the bother of Googling it, here's the answer: 'Bodycon is short for body conscious, which means it is really tight and close fitting to the body.'

My bodycon dress came from a charity shop, and is one of the very last clothes purchases I made before the Resolution kicked in.  I am confident that it will live up to its name and I shall be all to conscious of every bulge my body possesses in this cruellest of seasons (when abstinence has been miserably applied, but so far to no visible effect).  It was originally from Next,  and on the plus side, it has a lowish wide square neck (good--avoids the Ooh Matron effect) 3/4 length sleeves (good--avoids the bingo wings effect) and the length is just below the knee (good--avoids the 'built for comfort not for speed' effect).

Rather thrillingly, it is a size 10.  That's a new size 10.  We all know that this is about a size 14, though, don't we?  About 15 years ago clothes retailers saw which way the wind was blowing and stealthily increased their dress sizes.  M&S alone were completely open about this.  And we LOVE the new sizing!  It means that we are now a size 10 again!  By which we mean we can get into a size 10, though 12 is more comfy (i.e we are an old size 14).  But we'll call it a size 10, because when we've lost a few pounds we will be.  If you reject this theory of mine, try going to a vintage clothing shop and looking at a size 12 skirt.  If you can get the waistband round your thigh you will be doing well.

Bodycon dresses traditionally require a pair of stout control pants.  My experiments in this department have convinced me that these garments do not control fat so much as displace it.  Your tummy may be flat, but you will have a roll just under your bust instead, or a pair of fat ruffs halfway down your thighs.  Plus you will probably need a catheter as well if you plan to drink anything.  In an emergency you can call the fire brigade to cut you out of your control-wear, but this, as every women knows, is a situation of negative dignity.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Honesty compels me to admit early in the year that we will not be discussing underwear on a daily basis.  So if you are a pervert, you may as well stop bothering now.

Today we are working a black and green colour scheme.  I am wearing the same treggings as yesterday.  This is perfectly fine.  I know young people think that there is a 'wear once, put in laundry basket' rule at work in the universe.  Actually, that's a lie.  Most think the rule is 'wear once, drop on floor'.  They've been suckered by the Lynx adverts.  It is in fact possible to wear garments more than once without blighting your environment with BO fumes.  The treggings are good for another day.  I was not wading through mud or stroking a white cat yesterday, I was mainly sitting at my desk working.

Still, we don't want people to think we have so few clothes that we have to wear the same thing two days running, do we?  This is why we have clothes horses, to pile the once-worn but no longer pristine clothes on.  Eventually your entire wardrobe will be heaped on your clothes horse, and then there are two possible courses of action: putting it all in the laundry basket, or folding it up and putting it in your chest of drawers (well, it will have aired, won't it?)

This morning I actually feel as though I'm wearing something new.  It's not new, it's just new to me.  I was given it by one of the other Close Catherines, who is (half of) the Director of Music.  Those of you who live on the Close will instantly be intrigued, as we represent the two extremes of the Catherine height spectrum.  What could she possibly have in her wardrobe that fits me?  Answer: a black sleeveless chunky knit tunic with a wide cowl neck.  Perhaps on her it was a maxi dress.  On me it's about the length of an Oxford BA gown, referred to as a bum-freezer.  (Hence treggings, not leggings, see yesterday's post.)

Under this tunic I'm sporting a green vest and long sleeved green top, both bought new several years ago from the Italian underwear people, Intimissimi (who understand curves).  The precise shade is what I've always thought of as Lincoln green, the colour made famous by Robin Hood and his merry men.  However, if you search Lincoln green on Google, you'll find little consensus.  Just to clarify then: my top is 'Homebase Lincoln Green'.  I'm back to black boots.  I am not, however, wearing a wide leather belt.  Tunic+boots+belt always teeters on the brink of Peter Pan, and this is not a good look for a middle-aged woman, or indeed anyone other than Peter Pan.  I'm wearing a nice paua shell necklace which contains a range of blues and greens, and that pale aqua pashmina from Sunday.  Oh dear, oh dear.  Matchy-matchy again.  But I'll try really hard to put on a brown coat later when I take my older son to Tamworth to catch his train back to Durham.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Some people try to Dress for Success.  Here in Lichfield Cathedral Close we merely aim to avoid hypothermia.  And for me today this means the following: black treggings.  Treggings are like leggings only sturdier, a kind of hybrid trouser-legging, hence the clever hybrid name.

If you wear treggings you are doing the general public a favour.  They understand your intentions: you are wearing trousers.  Leggings can be misunderstood.  Is that young woman wearing black tights? the puzzled middle-aged adult wonders.  And has she forgotten to put on her skirt?  The problem with leggings seems to be this: the wearer has mentally categorised them as trousers, and is therefore blind to the fact that her dimply legs and knickers are entirely visible.  Sartorial hint of the day: Unless you have checked with an independent witness, always assume your leggings are see-through.  Treat them as you would treat tights.  Keep your arse covered.

My black treggings were bought new from Dorothy Perkins.  My base layer today--a black merino wool sweater--was also bought new.  From Lidl.  Lidl occasionally surprises with its range of merchandise.  Cheap food, cheap cosmetics, cheap wash powder--and then suddenly, leather welding gloves and apron kit!  This merino jumper was part of their budget ski wear range.  Over this rather shapeless garment I'm wearing a long speckly blue (the colour wrongly described in the wool catalogues I pored over in my childhood as 'kingfisher') sweater dress thing.  On reflection, I'd call it 'teal'.  Teal is terribly fashionable this season you know.  A younger woman (or a more deluded woman of my age)  might team this garment with tights and call it a dress.  It is mid-thigh length, has a big polo neck and is cable knit.  It came, of course, from a charity shop, but I don't know who made it.  As always, I've cut the label out, because it irritated the back of my neck.  Why are they always so itchy?  I also cut out those stupid loops of ribbon that always slip out of your neckline or sleeve and which you endlessly have to tuck back in.  Think how may forests of ribbon trees would still be standing if clothes manufacturers stopped putting loops in dresses and tops!

I've pulled the look together, as we fashion types like to say, with a chunky black-and-white plastic necklace of the type that swings disastrously into your soup when you are trying to impress gentlemen with your debonair wit over dinner.  And today, just to mix things up a bit, I'm not wearing black boots.  I'm wearing pale tan suede boots.  And very grubby they are too.  No wonder they were in the sale at Clark's a few years ago.  Nobody else was stupid enough to buy pale tan suede.

So there we are.  Let me know if you're bored and I'll start telling a pack of lies instead.  I am, after all, a novelist.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


This could get boring.  Me telling you what I'm wearing.  But for now we will press on.  Today, being a normal day (or what passes for normal when you are a freelance writer married to a cathedral canon living in Barchester) I am wearing normal clothes (see brackets above).

I'm going with a kind of liquorice allsorts colour scheme: black and pink.  Black leggings (from the New Life Charity Warehouse on Hemlock Way, Cannock), fine knit silk/wool jumper (TKMaxx) and big candy pink cardigan/coat thingy with a hood and huge pink buttons (CS) and a different pair of black boots from my extensive black boot collection (motto: you can't have too many pairs of black boots).  Today's pair were actually bought new in the scrag end of last year's winter Sale somewhere on Oxford Street (Nine West, £55).  I am also wearing a pink necklace.

Yes, yes, I know this is a heinous fashion crime, being all matchy-matchy.  But bear in mind that my fashion sense was formed in the early 80s.  I cannot easily rid myself of the notion that it's cool and clever to look sartorially coordinated--rather than as though you'd engaged in a blindfold rummage in the dressing-up box.  I realise I should probably go and swap my black boots for brown and put on a green hat.  But bollocks to that.  In ten years time the big wheel of fashion will have turned, and all those people who renounced colour-coordinated outfits will look back on the photos of themselves in plaid skirts teamed with floral blouses and howl 'What was I thinking?!'  Yes, I'm playing the fashion long game.  Plus pink goes with my kitchen.

Monday, 2 January 2012


Whatever shall I wear?  Well, first things first.  Today the first thing was going for a run, so obviously that meant a depressing choice of knackered grey sports bras and manky running kit.  This doesn't really count as wardrobe proper, so we will move swiftly on.

Post-run I posed myself the question What kind of day is this?  Answer: a slobbing about day.  Therefore slobbing about clothes were in order.  Being able to answer that question simplifies the daily whatever-shall-I-wear dilemma.  There will be days when you cannot answer it.  There will be days--especially if you are a lonely freelancer living largely in your head with no proper boundaries to your existence--when you can't even remember what day it is.  On such occasions the question What kind of day is this? leads seamlessly into What kind of person am I? and a morass of existential angst.  Then the answer to whatever-shall-I-wear is traditionally 'my duvet'.

But this has been designated a slobbing about day (for which my spell check ventures 'sobbing' and 'blobbing').  Hence I am dressed in a pair of Soulcal trackies (technical young person term, meaning tracksuit bottoms) in a nice airforce blue (from a CS in Church Stretton, Shropshire), teamed with that crucial base layer so essential in Arctic climes and listed buildings which you can't afford to heat.  The base layer is a long-sleeved CS top in fine navy/white stripe.  It's a designated base layer because it's actually a size too small and a little mind-boggling for outerwear.  Over this I am sporting a royal blue St John's College Durham hoodie which I stole from my older son.  He is OK with this as he now wears University stash (a technical young person term meaning sports wear), because he has a half-Palatinate (a technical Durham term, meaning half-blue, which is itself an Oxbridge term meaning 'rather good at sport').

I enjoy wearing this St John's hoodie.  After all, that was my college, plus the hoodie has my surname name embroidered on it.  So I feel doubly entitled.  The chancellor is inclined to think that a middle-aged woman wearing college stash is tragic.  'Your face is tragic'--that is apparently what I should have replied, according to my sons.  This is a technical young person way of being extremely rude.

To pull the whole look together I'm wearing what is possibly the rattiest pair of trainers in the West Midlands, if not the UK.  Black Nike, inherited from my son many years ago.  I wear them because I eschew slippers.  Slippers are frumpy.  I'm sorry, but however expensive they are, they will always remain frumpy and will bestow an aura of frumpiness on the wearer.  I tell you this for your own good, not to be mean.  Some slippers try to side-step frumpiness by being amusing.  Well, if you find it amusing to walk around with your feet apparently buried in the entrails of some furry creature, or Homer Simpson, then I have nothing further to say to you.