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, 29 May 2012

Pastel Jeans

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 May 2012

What to Wear at Pentecost

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Make Do and Mend

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What to Wear When It Turns Warm

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 May 2012

While Shepherds Watched on Ilkley Moor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Joy of Plimsolls

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 May 2012

What to Wear at No Notice

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to Work Colour Blocking

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What to Wear in May

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

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

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

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

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

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