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, 26 March 2012

What to Wear to a Wedding

What you wear to a wedding depends on a lot of different variables.  If you aren't the bride then a big whoomfy white dress and veil looks a bit attention-seeking.  Many couples issue guidelines about dress.  They might, for example, stipulate morning suits for gentlemen.  If they are complete control freaks they will even tell you which colour waistcoat they want you to wear, and how much it will cost to hire it from Moss Bros.  Morning suit hire is more than I feel inclined to shell out for a present, so my view is they'll get one or the other.  An entire reception full of blokes in matching morning suits, but no towels or toasters.

Usually the couple are a bit more relaxed.  Most men will wear a lounge suit to a wedding.  No problemo, they think.  I have a suit in the wardrobe which I wore to be Dave's best man 5 years ago.  Still, a wise man will try the suit on a good week before the wedding.  And a very wise man will try it on even if someone says to him 'Aren't you going to try that suit on, darling?'  Because it's a well-known fact that suits can shrink if left hanging too long in a wardrobe.

This kind of masculine wardrobe fiasco is a mere airy nothing compared to the horrors faced by most women as a wedding approaches.  This brings me back to those variables I mentioned earlier.  What you wear depends  not least on how close you are to the happy couple.  If you are the mother of the groom you will approach the whole outfit question in a very different frame of mind from an old college friend.  Sisters of the bride may well end up being a bridesmaid, or Bag of Honour, as it was called in my family.  In this case you will not be able to choose your dress at all.  The best you can hope for is to head off anything disastrously unflattering.

Other variables are more subtle.  Is there going to be an ex-boyfriend there, who needs to be taught what an utter loser he is for no longer going out with you (even if you ditched him)?  Will the wedding be full of people you went to school with (NB start diet 4months in advance)?  Or are you only being invited because you are the vicar's wife (in which case no significant expenditure or effort is called for and you'll be on the  same table as the children and mad aunts)?

Then there's the hat issue to decide.  I used to adore wearing hats before they became de rigeur.  These days I seldom bother, unless I can be sure my hat is bigger than everyone else's put together and all will drop to their knees at my sheer millinery awesomeness.  Plus hats squash my hair.

But here's an oddity about wedding clothes which I've noticed: the no matchy-matchy rule is suspended.  Colour co-ordination is permitted at weddings, indeed, it is positively encouraged.  If you wish to wear salmon pink everything from fascinator to sling-backs, you may do so with impunity.  This is why I allowed myself to wear white trousers, black-and-white patterned top, black-and-white necklace, pink earrings, pink pashmina and pink shoes to a wedding last Saturday.  And I'm not ashamed to say it felt good.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

What to Wear on the First Day of Spring

This is the first day of spring.  (Here in the northern hemisphere, obviously.)  Today is the spring equinox, when day and night are of equal length.  What should one wear to mark this happy day?  Look how lovely it is in Lichfield: 

Blue, blue sky over the cathedral, and the weeping willow trees in leaf at the end of Stowe Pool.  I went out for a walk specifically to check whether the May blossom is out yet, with a view to casting a clout.  It doesn't seem to be, so just as well I was still in my winter garb of treggings, boots and jumper.  

But I was also wearing sunglasses.  Yes, sunglasses are what to wear on the first day of spring when it's a lovely day.  Especially if you have blue eyes, like me.  I was once accused of being a poseur for wearing my sunglasses on a cloudy day.  I replied, 'If you have blue eyes you have to take care of them!'  I may possibly have made some kind of grand queeny gesture as I said this.  But it's true: people with light-coloured eyes are more likely to develop cataracts. So look after those baby blues, people.  Wear your sunglasses with pride, even in a thunderstorm.

I glanced about me as I walked and noticed that others seem to think that on the first day of spring you should be wearing shorts.  Everywhere I look at the moment: shorts.  Morning, noon, and night: shorts.  Shorts of all kinds are very fashionable at the moment.  Often they are teamed with woolly tights.  Sometimes they are teamed with nice pins.  Many times, however, they are teamed with legs best kept out of sight.  This may be completely lardist of me, I admit.  

I do own a couple of pairs of shorts, but I only wear them under my judo trousers.  Long years of experimenting have proved that a snug pair of shorts are the best way of anchoring your white T-shirt.  Half your time on the mat as a female judo player is wasted in tucking your T-shirt back in.  If you are wearing shorts this figure goes down to around 10%.  That, my friends, is the only use I have for shorts.  

Sunday, 18 March 2012

What to Wear on Mothering Sunday

Over the years I have worn some strange things on Mothering Sunday.  For example, a necklace made of wooden beads from a car seat cover, interspersed with gold plastic buttons and threaded on a long orange bootlace.  Many mothers on Tyneside wore a similar necklace on Mothering Sunday, 1995.  I doubt many of us have worn them since.

My sons are now 20 and 18, and have observed their father closely over the years and learnt that flowers, cards, and special meals are what mothers really like (even though Mum swore blind at the time that the car seat necklace was the most beautiful piece of jewellery in the world and she would keep it forever).  This means that I am free to choose my own outfit and accessories on Mothering Sunday these days.

So: what to wear on Mothering Sunday?  Well, help is on hand from the liturgical calendar if you move in cathedral circles.  Mothering Sunday is also Laetare Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday, the Sunday midway through Lent on which we traditionally lighten our penitential burden.  Lenten purple is softened to rose.  This is only in more rarefied high church circles, you understand.  The kind of place where you have to suck boiled sweets during the mass so your ears don't pop.  I looked on Google images at rose vestments, and there plenty of gorgeous examples, any one of which I'd gladly use to upholster a small ottoman in my new deanery.

Obviously, I am too lay and too low to be prancing about in rose vestments, but I did wear pink.  Pink socks with brown mid-heeled shoes.  I've seen young people doing the sock and heeled shoe thing, so I think we're OK with this, aren't we?  I also had on my high-waisted wide leg 70s style jeans (hence the need for heels), a pink vest top and a pistachio V-necked sweater, the one that so nearly got taken to the charity shop before I knew pastels were big this season.  Over this I wore my big pink cardy-coat.  I spotted several other people in pink in Lichfield cathedral today.  Possibly just coincidence, but it did look rather nice.  Clashed hideously with the little bunches of daffodils that were given out, mind you.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

When in Doubt, Wear Black

I was asked, quite rightly, what it was I actually wore at the Grand Unveiling Ceremony of the new dean of Liverpool last week.  Clearly I raised some expectations by calling my last post 'What to Wear in Liverpool'.

It took quite some time to decide, let me tell you.  There were many clothes tried on then tossed pettishly on the floor.  Tears were shed.  Bitter words about stupid New Year's Resolutions were muttered.  I had decided on my outfit a long time in advance.  After all, we'd been keeping the dark secret of the chancellor's new job for 6 weeks until the official Downing Street announcement.  Crown Appointments are like The One Ring.  Gandalf sends you an official letter saying Keep it secret, keep it safe!  Every week the Nazgul come and peer in your window to see if you are on the phone blabbing.  So I had 6 weeks to ponder what to wear.

On the very day of heading off to Liverpool, right before packing, I decided to try it on, just to make sure.  And by some evil hormonal machination, an outfit in which I have looked stunning on any number of occasions suddenly made me look CHUNKY.  This catapulted me into a frenzy of trying-on, until finally I managed to feel happy in a pair of wide-legged jersey trousers, a slinky black top, and my magic black jacket.  Here it is:

It's a Betty Barclay piece, from a charity shop, and I believe I went mad and shelled out £12 for it.  It's made of black cotton and has a cool biker vibe to it, and most important of all, it looks nothing like the kind of thing a dean's wife ought to be wearing.

We all need magic garments that we simply have to put on in order to feel world-conquering.  This jacket is one of mine.  Even viewed through the evil prism of pre-menopausal self-loathing, this jacket is a winner.  Conversely, there are other garments which look fabulous on the hanger, are bang on trend, the right size, colour and price, which tick every imaginable box, but which make you feel like a plate of cold mashed potato when you put them on.  These should be given at once to a sister or dear friend.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What to Wear in Liverpool

DAMN.  I picked the wrong year to give up buying clothes.  What did I say at the outset?  What did I predict would make me abandon my resolve?  I believe I said that losing my entire wardobe in a house fire might do it.  Or some big function deserving of a new outfit.


So now the chancellor is going to be the next dean of Liverpool.  This means a HUGE installation service in Liverpool cathedral requiring a shopping spree WORTHY OF MORDORRR, as Saruman almost said in LOTR. 

And horribly, while we were on the M6 yesterday afternoon heading for Liverpool (for the grand unveiling of the new dean this morning), the chancellor's phone rang.  It was his PA to say there was a major fire in cathedral school adjoining our house, and the Fire Brigade wanted to know was anyone at home?  The IT room had gone up in flames.  Nobody was hurt, and the school's evacuation proceedures were impeccable.  I had to ring our son and warn him he wouldn't be allowed into our house when he got in from school.  Five fire engines in the Close.  Our son overheard the precentor say to the dean 'Well, let's hope there's no CRISIS before you go off on sabbatical the day after tomorrow.' 

Well, eventually the fire was brought under control, our son was allowed in to the house (but not out); while the verger who was out of his house was not allowed in.  Lath and plaster walls and timber framed buildings will now always send a shiver through me when I think about them.  There is serious damage to the school building, and great sadness about that, but immense relief that it wasn't any worse. 

And not for one single moment did I think That would have been a cast iron excuse for clothes buying.  Any more than the chancellor thought My bible commentaries! 

But pity me, people.  I'm moving to Merseyside; home, surely, of Britain's smartest women.  Women who are rumoured not even to put out their bins unless they are in heels, make up, and they've done their hair.  I'm going to look like a bag lady.  Just like I predicted back on January 1st.

But hey.  Sad though I'll be to leave Lichfield, I'm going to love Liverpool.  I can feel it in my bones.

Monday, 5 March 2012

How to Wear Pastels

Pastels are huge this season.  This is a bit of a bummer for me, as I don't own much in the way of pastel clothes.  This season is all about sugared almond colours; pale pinks and lemons, baby blues, pistachio.  Apparently, we are not supposed to team these pastels with black, or that will kill the look.  A riot of pastel from top to toe.  Normally I'd solve this by a quick zoom round the charity shops, but alas.  

I own a pair of pale pink jeans. I have a sort of putty coloured long hoodie. If I rootle through the shirt drawer I will probably unearth a pale green vest top.  But that's about it for pastels.  Dammit, I used to have a pale blue long-sleeved T-shirt!  And a pale pistachio V-necked sweater.  But they were culled in the last wardrobe clear-out in autumn 2010.  I thought (when will I learn?) I'll never wear those again.  That phrase is a powerful spell which you can use to manipulate the tides of fashion.  You bundle up and banish your peplum jackets and pussy bow blouses and bang! we are in the midst of a Mrs Thatcher moment.

But here's a happy, happy thing: I had only got as far as bundling up those pastel garments.  They never made it to the charity shop.  I found them today in a carrier bag in what we refer to as 'the en suite', because that's what we were told it would become five and a half years ago when we arrived in Lichfield.  Little by little, as hope dwindled, it became the overflow wardrobe-cum-home gym room.  Interestingly, the precentor was lured here with a similar promise.  Perhaps he still believes that one day he'll have an en suite bathroom and not have to hike quarter of a mile through a freezing house on a winter night when he needs a wee.

Oh.  I've wandered off the subject.  So, to sum up then: I have the pastels after all.  Soon I will construct an outfit of utter confectionery loveliness and get back to you.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Give Me Something New to Wear!

OK, admission time.  Today was the first day when I've thought I'm totally fed up with this not buying new clothes malarky.  I'm bored.  But because I was brought up a Baptist, I'm always alert to the whispers of conscience reminding me that thousands of people know about my New Year's resolution so I can't cheat because I'll be found out.  

Well, the next best option was to wear something I haven't worn for such a long time it has almost passed back into the 'new' category.  The warmer weather is just starting to bring a whole swathe of my wardrobe back into play.  So I had a rummage and here's what I wore:

It's a silk tunic top from a charity shop.  It may be from the M & S Autograph range, but the label was cut out before I even bought it.  Do you like it?  It reminds me of the marbled end papers from old hardback books.  It did have a belt made from the same fabric, but I accidentally left that behind in the shop.  The only thing that saves it from being a shapeless sack on me is the fact that it's cut on the bias.  I wore it with skinny jeans and my dark brown suede desert boots, brown coat and blue pashmina scarf.  This all-too-familiar lapse into matchy-matchy was heightened today by the presence of the chancellor.  He had failed to consult me, and was in jeans and a brown shirt, shoes, fedora and coat.  

Off we sallied to the charity shops of Historic Warwick, which I can never see on the road signs without thinking 'Histarwick Warwick, Historic Woric' and then wasting several minutes failing to come up with another place that has an equally satisfying rhyming adjective.  

I can only hope the chancellor and I didn't look too twee in our matching colour scheme.  The rules of non co-ordination are not so rigorous for men, I suspect--like so many other rules, even in this age of equality.  I have never heard anyone apply 'mutton dressed as lamb' to a bloke, for example.  And don't get me started on women bishops.