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, 27 February 2012

Will you Wear Red, Jenny Jenkins?

'Will you wear red, oh my dear, oh my dear? Will you wear red, Jenny Jenkins?' enquires the traditional American folk song.  To which Jenny replies, 'I won't wear red, it's the colour of my head. I'll buy me a fol-de-roldy toldy toddy seek-a-double, use-a-cause-a-roll-the-find-me. Roll, roll, Jenny Jenkins, roll.'  We learnt that on Singing Together on the radio when I was at Primary School, and I never did master the nonsense bit at the end.  

On the whole, I'm with Jenny Jenkins here.  I seldom wear red.  Not because it's the colour of my head.  Though if I drink too much wine then it's the colour of my face these days, as many ladies at this interesting stage of life will also have discovered.  A bright tomato red has never been one of my best colours.  It tends to make me look a bit washed out.  I need a red that's more at the pink end of the spectrum than the orange.  Think dark red peonies rather than pillar box.

Last Friday, however, was National Wear Red Day for the British Heart Foundation.  I discovered this when I spotted it was trending on Twitter.  At the time I was sitting at my computer in my slobbing about gear, devoid of sartorial inspiration.  Right, I'll have a rummage, I thought.  And I found a pair of bright red plimsolls (sort of fake Converse from the late lamented TJHughes), a bright red 3/4 length sleeve V-necked T-shirt with a sprinkling of sparkly red glass gems down the front.  This was also from TJs.  I bought it a couple of Christmases ago to wear under an ankle length coat dress with astonishing fur trim at neck and cuffs in the manner of Cruella De Vil.  Darling, I LIVE for furs!

I wore this T-shirt on Friday in a more dressed down style, with a pair of slouchy boyfriend jeans.  All through the day I kept mistaking the glittery gems for crumbs scattered on my bosom.  That's peripheral vision for you.  I also wore a red heart-shaped pendant, a fitting tribute to the British Heart Foundation, who do a good job, and at whose boutiques I have found many a bargain over the years.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Cast not a Clout Till May be Out

Contrary to popular belief, 'cast not a clout till May be out' is nothing to do with hitting people.  It is not saying that the Open Season for Punching begins on May 1st.  The 'clout' referred to is 'cloth', or clothing.  Those of you who studied Romeo and Juliet at school may remember that the nurse compares Paris favourably with Romeo: 'Oh, he's a lovely gentleman.  Romeo's a dishclout to him.'  As in dishcloth.

The 'May' referred to is not the month, either.  It's the may blossom, or hawthorn.  So the saying means, don't start flinging the layers off until the hawthorn blossom is out.  These days this tend to be April, or earlier.  It's not out yet.  The wild plum is in bud, and that's usually the first to burst into blossom in England.  Another couple of days like today, and the hedgerows will be sugared with pink and white, and our hearts can unclench.  

I took a walk round Lichfield's Stowe Pool today, and found that I could believe in spring.

A blue true dream of sky, but no leaping greenly spirits of trees yet.  The weeping willows are golden on the far side of the pool, as you can see.  But it was so warm!  I saw a lass in sandals.  People were peeling off coats and jumpers.  I was in my customary winter wear of treggings, boots and big cardigan and I was regretting my merino wool base layer.  Maybe with global warming we'll have to rewrite the old saying: 'Do not remove your thermals until the wild plum is in blossom.'  Nah, it doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

What to Wear in Lent

What To Wear In Lent.  That sounds a bit like the title of a Ladybird Book. And what is the answer?  Sack cloth and ashes?  Purple?  Smudge of ash?  Unfortunately, Lent is not all about denying yourself treats, or I'd be feeling a bit smug.  After all, I've given up buying myself new clothes all year, let alone for Lent.  That's Iron Woman triathlon treat-denial that is, not just a footling little marathon.

Today I'm wearing black.  Readers of this blog will know not to read any significance into that choice.  I wear black roughly four days in seven.  In the winter, that is.  In the summer I wear a lot of white.  There's something to look forward to.  Black is smart, black is slimming, black is the default setting.  It is also traditionally the colour of mourning.  And I am mourning, as it happens.  An old friend died yesterday.  I'm guessing she'd prefer me to be in vibrant colours.  That would be a better celebration of her life.  But no, I'm in black, feeling bleak, wishing I could have gone across to the cathedral this evening to be ashed.  To hear the echoes of Allegri's Miserere chasing down the nave.  To remember that I am dust and to dust I will return.  

This is more what Lent is about.  One day it will be summer.  One day I will be wearing white.  I know this.  But there's a journey to be done first.  There's no fast forward to Easter.  

Sunday, 19 February 2012

DAY 50--Clothes Parcels (ii)

Woo hoo!  I have received my first clothes parcel!  Well, perhaps one garment doesn't quite count as a parcel, but I'm delighted with it.  I was tipped off in advance by my oldest friend (we met when we were 6) that she'd be visiting and bringing a clothes parcel.  Socks, I thought.  She's read my blog and she's bought me a pack of sports socks.  How kind.  

But no!  Here's what she gave me:

That is one LOUD coat.  Roses that size are normally seen on carpets.  But then, I'm a fairly loud sort of personality.  Never knowingly understated.  It's by Ann Louise Roswald, and I think it's made of raw silk, but I can't see a care label anywhere.  Bound to be dry clean only.  On this rare occasion I shall take that seriously, as it looks hand dyed.  It's also a perfect fit, and that might well be jeopardised by flinging it in the washing machine.  

When am I going to wear it?  As it turns out, evensong this afternoon might have been a good contender.  Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were in the cathedral for our celebration of the Queen's Accession.  A good deal of fine millinery and Ascottery was on display; as well as the usual parade of uniforms, frills, ruffles and bling that get dusted off for civic occasions.  Fortunately I was in a skirt and little tweed jacket not jeans.  But the fab new coat would have been even better.  Never mind, I shall save it.  One of my concerns at the beginning of this year was the unexpected posh do requiring an entire new outfit which I'd be unable to buy.  Now I have something in reserve.  Hoorah for clothes parcels and old friends! 

Here's the designer's website: http://www.annlouiseroswald.com/index.html

Saturday, 18 February 2012

DAYS 45-49--What to Wear on a Mini-Break

What to wear on a mini-break?  Oh dear, oh dear!  This subject can occupy a woman's mind for several weeks as she mentally packs and unpacks, buys new clothes, has a brainwave which requires the buying of yet more new clothes, then remembers the whole holiday capsule wardrobe concept, in which you take a small number of key garments and mix and match them in such a way as to create twenty different looks, and regretfully discards half the new clothes.

I once passed a woman in the street agonising out loud about packing for holiday.  'I thought if I took the smaller suitcase, and wore my boots, then I'd only need a pair of shoes for the evening, so I'd have room for the cords as well as the jeans...'  On and on she rambled, with her husband making the occasional noise here and there which implied assent.  Memo to self: never try and get a man on board about clothes packing, interior design, home made jam or trips to IKEA.  He's not really listening, he's thinking, 'If Reknapp takes the England job on part-time initially, then...'  

To be honest, it probably doesn't much matter what you take with you on a mini break.  A bunch of nice clothes, basically.  Don't fret, you'll be fine, provided you've got a) a pair of shoes/boots you can walk miles in, and b) something lacy (if you are going with a companion whose tastes veer in the lacy direction).  Apart from that, the only essential for a stay in a hotel is earplugs.  Never, never book into a hotel without them.  You cannot know in advance how thin the walls are and how noisy the neighbours.

The chancellor and I have just had a couple of pleasant days in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  We were staying in Jesmond, which is pretty much wall-to-wall student accommodation as far as I can see.  There are a string of hotels along one of the main streets.  They all have bars, and in the evenings this is where the students like to gather.  Hence the need for earplugs.  It is one thing to overhear the exotic street drama of Bologna being played out under your window; quite another to be kept awake by Daisy or Freddie asserting (in the tones of astonished uncertainty which are currently fashionable), 'I hate washing machines? I LITERALLY hate them?'

Back in the early 90s we lived in Gateshead.  It was odd to be back on the South bank of the Tyne enjoying the stunning views from the Sage, built on what was the Saltmeadows Estate in our parish.  Its inhabitants were just being rehoused prior to the estate's demolition when we left.  Back then the Baltic was still an empty flour mill, the Angel of the North was brand new.  I stood and looked across the Tyne and it felt as though I'd never lived there at all.  

Monday, 13 February 2012

DAY 44--Supermarket Clothes

Today I'm wearing mostly black.  Black is supposed be a terribly draining colour for the mature woman to wear.  But it is also meant to be immensely slimming.  So the answer, clearly, is to wear black, but add a rose pink scarf twined about your crêpey neck to lend a rosy glow to your complexion.

Something you learn when you are wearing black is just how many shades of black there are.  Bluey black, browny black, greeny black and by far the most common shade of black--charcoal grey.  This is black cotton after you've washed it a dozen times.  You still think of them as your 'black jeans' and 'black leggings', but they aren't really, are they?  Even if you devoutly launder them in washing powder for colours.  But who cares?  They're black enough.

So I'm wearing my black-enough leggings with a large long black cowl-neck jumper-tunic thing.  The label says 'TU', which means it came originally from Sainsbury's.  I can't help feeling that's a bit over-familiar.  It should be 'VOUS'.  After all, (as iPhone Siri says when you say 'I love you, Siri') you hardly know me, big black jumper-tunic from Sainsbury's.  I have now reached the age where I am addressed as 'Madame' in France.  This surely entitles me to the same degree of respect from supermarket clothes?

On the whole, I don't buy supermarket clothes, even from charity shops.  Sheer snobbery, I admit.  I've frequently gone through this thought process: Ooh, that's nice! Oh. George and put it back on the rack.  I'm not quite sure why I have this prejudice.  It's possibly because I feel a vague hostility to supermarkets in general.  The way they bombard you with so much choice.  Their secret plan to round up all the merchandise in the universe and put it under one roof, then hold you captive until you've bought it all.  They want us to buy supermarket everything. Bread, insurance, fruit, meat, garden equipment, pharmacy, dentistry, jumpers, weddings, pots and pans, DVDs, shampoo, tractors, foreign holidays, muffins, babies, the moon.  Every  little helps!

Oh shut UP, and leave me alone, supermarkets.

This is why I shop at Lidl, mostly.  It's the closest the supermarket world gets to a charity shop.  You never quite know what you're going to find there.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

DAY 43--The Leather Biker Jacket

Well, the velvet jacket was snapped up within 40mins of my tweeting about it.  That 40mins was long enough for me to picture people frowning in polite disdain at the thought of accepting a third hand jacket from me.  I was particularly pleased that it was bagged by a young person.  What greater accolade could be bestowed on a 50 year old, than that someone young enough to be her daughter (?granddaughter? Oh, banish that monstrous thought!) sees potential merit and stylishness in her wardrobe?  She tells me she will be handing on a Dorothy Perkins skirt to a skinnier friend.  There.  A nice virtuous chain has been established.

Today I've been wearing my biker jacket.  I was having another go at the long-tailed shirt look, and I believe I pulled it off rather better today.  The reason for today's look was the urge to wear a hat.  Well, not some much urge to wear a hat as urge not to wash my hair.  The hat in question is a sort of peaked beret, which has a slight steamer captain vibe going on.  It works well with the leather jacket.  I teamed it with pockets stuffed with tissues and cough sweets and sat rather glumly through the 10.30 service.  I hate February.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

DAY 42--Free Velvet Jacket

All right then.  You obviously like the whole clothes parcel/clothes swap idea.  So who'd like a free black long-line velvet jacket, then?  It's Dorothy Perkins, size 12, but would fit size 14 I reckon.  I bought it in a charity shop, and then a year later I mistakenly bought a near identical one in another charity shop.  I don't know about your lifestyle, but mine doesn't require me to have two velvet jackets, one to wear and one at the drycleaner's.

Here it is:

If you are a bit of a female dandy, this is the jacket for you.  It works well with jeans and boots.  (Sorry: it does not work well on a short-arse, this is a tall gal's garment)  If you'd like it, then let me know, either by leaving a comment below, or by tweeting me, and I'll post it to you.  There is one condition: you must agree to pass on one garment of your own, and tell me about it.  I know they say you shouldn't give gifts with strings attached, but this is patently nonsense.  Guitars, kites, helium balloons and yo-yos should all be given with strings attached, so I make no apology.

I have a pretty extensive collection of jackets that work well in the evening and make jeans look dressy.  Besides the black velvet one I have a black pinstriped velvet one, a teal shot satin one, a black satin jacquard one, a silvery jacquard one (which gives me a faint qualm I look like Cherie Blair in it), a tuxedo style one and finally, an ivory silk tweed one.   I also have several other jackets that are more casual.  Yes, I have too many jackets.  I have too many clothes.  I do not need to buy any new clothes.   I do not need to buy new clothes.  

Tonight I'm going to a concert in the cathedral and I shall wear the teal jacket.  It's the exact colour and sheen of a mallard drake's head.  Gorgeous.  I'll wear it with black everything.  All I shall do is remove the large jumper I'm wearing at the moment and shrug on my jacket.  Ready in a moment.  This is the brilliant thing about dressy jackets.  I commend them to you.

So get in touch if there's a velvet jacket-shaped hole in your life.  And pick out something of your own to pass on.  Ooh!  This could turn into one of those chain letter things. Within weeks you will receive 200 garments from all over the world! NOBODY HAS BROKEN THE CHAIN YET! 

Friday, 10 February 2012

DAY 41--Clothes Parcels

When I was growing up, there were few thrills to match the arrival of a large parcel of hand-me-downs from cousins, or from friends of my mother who had older girls.  (We didn't have a telly.)  Once we were sent a batch of clothes from a Canadian girl called Jane.  Clothes from abroad!  I remember a party frock, a pale pink gauze shift with long sleeves and ruffles down the  front and at the cuffs.  I adored it (although it was scratchy).  And that brown fake fur coat, with a belt and shiny plastic brown leather on the outside!  How I loved wearing that (although it creaked when I moved).  These were clothes which nobody else in the village had.  Jane from Canada, if you are reading this, THANK YOU.  You have no idea how impossibly glamorous your cast-offs were to us, back in 1970, in Pitstone, Buckinghamshire. 

Do people still send clothes parcels?  Maybe your church or favourite charity collects clothes to send to impoverished communities in Africa.  But to send them to your peers smacks of charity in the Victorian sense.  The kind of charity that the deserving poor were too proud to accept.  It was always the poor relations who are in receipt of clothes parcels.  Or the poor settlers in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  Remember how the pastor gave Laura a little fur cape and muff one Christmas which some rich little girl back in the East had grown out of?  And how it was prettier than Nellie Olsen's fur cape?  Three cheers, because she was a right cow, that Nellie Olsen.

The obvious exception here is maternity clothes.  We hand these on because we are so heartily sick of them after the last 6 months of pregnancy that we never wish to see them again.  Pregnant women accept them because they resent having to shell out for a new wardrobe they will only need while pregnant.  The other exception is baby clothes.  Which first time mum has not been in receipt of a bin liner full of clapped-out babygrows from some harassed but well-meaning mother-of-three?  The first-timer is inclined to turn up her nose.  Only the very best, the very newest and cutest of teeny-tiny clothes for her newborn, she thinks.  This is because the phenomenon of the Exploding Nappy of Doom has yet to impinge upon her consciousness.

But we don't send one another parcels of ordinary clothes.  We give the clothes to the charity shop, for fear that a parcel might appear insulting in some way.  It might look like a criticism of the friend's dress sense, or worse, she might think you're saying 'Hey, I've lost loads of weight! Want my old clothes, fatty?'

The reason I'm discussing this today is because earlier this week I sent a friend a pair of black boots.  (The student of this blog will be aware that I am hardly bootless as a result.)  They arrived this morning and she's delighted with them.  I think they cheered her up in the midst of this gloomy February.  Unless she's hiding it very well, she wasn't a bit insulted.  And nor would I be by a well-chosen gift of second hand clothes/footwear/accessories.  So I will bear that in mind in future when I'm about to pack up a load of stuff for the charity shop.  I commend this practice to you all.  Especially if you are my size and have lots of designer clothes you are getting tired of.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

DAY 40--Fake Fur

Confessions time: I have an inner Cruella De Vil.  When my sons were small enough to be beguiled by Walt Disney videos, 101 Dalmatians was a firm favourite.  Inevitably, I ended up watching it with them a few thousand times.  Secretly I was rooting for Cruella.  She was such a fabulous character, wasn't she?  Anita was such a drip in comparison. Remember Cruella's best line? 'I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn't?' 

Obviously we all know we can't say that any more.  We can only think it very very quietly, then repent afterwards if we have a Nonconformist upbringing.  The wearing of animal parts reached its apogee in the Victorian era, when hats were festooned with whole birds, fur stoles showcased the taxidermist's art, beetle shells shimmered on evening capes and butterfly wings gleamed in necklaces.  These days we can wear leather and sheepskin without getting pig's blood hurled at us in public.  Maybe a spot of rabbit fur trimming can be tolerated.  Although when the chancellor was a curate, he was once accosted from the pulpit by an angry Methodist minister.  She pointed and declaimed: 'That man there is wearing RABBIT FUR on his academic hood!'  I forget what the sermon was about now.  It was probably in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Well, the reason for this subject today is the fake fur gilet I'm wearing.  No rabbits or mink suffered in its production.  However, I bought it from Primark, so I expect some poor human or other suffered in a dismal sweatshop.  How else could it have been so cheap?  This being England, people are less churned up by that thought.  Ever noticed the bins in supermarkets where you can donate tins of cat and dog food?  There's never one where you can donate tins to homeless people.  As I said in an earlier blog, I no longer shop at Primark.  Somebody somewhere is not being paid a living wage.  The same is probably true of high end fashion, but I never buy that, so my boycotting posh shops would have zero impact.

My fake fur gilet is nice and warm.  But oh, it's not as nice as real fur would be.  Have you ever plunged your hands into the sleek depths of a real fur coat?  I once bought a real fox fur, complete with little dangling paws and accusing glass eyes.  I got it in a vintage clothes shop because I was going to a Murder Mystery party as a Russian countess.  It later emerged that I was an imposter.  In fact, I was a human cannon ball.  But by then I'd bought the real fox fur.  I no longer have it, you'll be relieved to hear.  It got infested with carpet beetles, so I put it in the wheelie bin, closing the lid forever on those reproachful glass eyes.

No, it is not right to ransack the natural world and deck ourselves in the spoils.  Wearing rare animal fur is only the crassest form of this, I'm afraid.  But oh...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

DAY 39--Cheap Jewellery

This, I hope, is a timely post; coming as it does ahead of Valentine's Day.  It may help to steer chaps away from one of the top 10 worst Valentine's Day gifts--cheap jewellery.  I can't help thinking that the people who compiled this list on the internet were a bunch of innocents.  Cheap jewellery? stuffed toys?  What about razor blade stuffed gateau? A dead kitten?  The clap?  But perhaps this is just me, the novelist, dreaming up worst case scenarios as usual.

I am actually a big fan of cheap jewellery, provided it's stylish cheap jewellery.  Diamonds are a girls best friend, true.  But only in the sense that you can flog them and buy tons of other stuff that you actually prefer.  I have never hankered after diamonds for themselves.  Here's the assortment of cheap jewellery I'm sporting today:

I took this photo myself as you can probably tell.  It was the second attempt.  The first unaccountably gave me several chins.  The green and purplish seed pod necklaces were given me by the chancellor.  He bought them on a trip to our partner diocese of Matlosane in South Africa.  I wear them with pride.  The other wooden bead necklace (the one with a big hoop) came from Internationale, and I fear faces may have been ground in its production.  I wear it with shame. You can also just glimpse a more delicate bronze bead necklace, which I believe came from Accessorise  a few hundred years ago.  It has matching earrings.  I know, tsk tsk, matchy-matchy.  There's actually quite a bit of brown-purple-green coordinating going on in today's outfit if I'm honest.

A small girl once asked me (when I was in a similar tangle of beads) why I was wearing three necklaces.  I replied, 'A girl cannot have too many necklaces.'  She seemed to absorb this wisdom, and perhaps she will live her life by it.  You can tell small children anything.  I spent a lot of my time trying not to lie too egregiously to my boys when they were little.  My younger son has never forgiven me for telling him that vanilla pods were dried tarantula's legs.  But he loves me anyway.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

DAY 38--The Joy of Socks

Today I'm in my cold weather writing gear.  You have seen it all before.  Pink cardie-coat, multiple black thermal base layers, black treggings, fake Uggs and two pairs of socks--Lidl yoga socks (black), under a pair of fluffy black bed socks with shocking pink hearts on.

Socks.  This is my subject today.  The humble sock, derided Christmas gift for the impossible-to-buy-for male relative.  But I'm beginning to think that by the end of this year it will be new socks I hanker after most.  Trends will come and go, but socks are a wardrobe constant for the trouser-wearer.  Is there any foot-related bliss to equal that of a soft new pair of socks?

There is?  And that would be...?   Really!  Well, I must remember to google that some time when the net nanny is on holiday.

One of my vivid childhood memories is of new white knee-length socks.  They were nylon back in the late 60s early 70s.  They came in various lacy designs and sometimes had a little row of pastel-coloured flowers running up each side.  For the first few times you wore them they were as soft as lamb's wool.  But they gradually stiffened up and the elastic went.  They then became 'slip-downs'.  You had to stop every twenty paces and tug them back up.  Alternatively you could secure them with a pair of rubber bands and fold the sock top down to cover them.  Some girls had loops of shirring elastic to hold their socks up, but a rubber band did the job of cutting off your circulation just as well.

Until now I have tended to treat my socks cavalierly.  If I lost one, no big deal.  But I'm being more attentive now I know they can't be replaced before next January 1st.  The loss of one of my lovely thick black Lidl yoga socks (what are yoga socks, I wonder? can they safely be worn by Evangelicals, or are they the slippery slope to the occult?) would be quite a blow.  I'm monitoring the back of the heels of my woollen walking socks--wearing perilously thin, they are.  Perhaps I'll end up adopting my younger son's sock stance.  He asks nothing of them beyond that there be two to wear on any given day.  He doesn't not require them to match, he doesn't require them to have a sole even.  

So there we are: socks.  Long overlooked, but looming ever larger in my year of not buying clothes.

Monday, 6 February 2012

DAY 37--What to Wear when You are Ill

If you are very ill, you have little choice about what to wear.  It will be one of those hospital robes that doesn't do up down the back.  These are the garments of nightmares.  In your dream you are walking down a crowded street and no matter how you clutch the robe behind you, your arse is hanging out.  But in hospital you are probably past caring.  If, like me, you are extremely short-sighted, just take your glasses off and nobody will be able to see you.  If you can't see them, they can't see you, remember?  This is certainly the rule when playing hide and seek with small children.  They conceal themselves behind a standard lamp with their eyes screwed shut.  The grown up seeker comes in to the room and says, 'Goodness me!  I can't see Tommy anywhere!  I wonder where he is?'  And it is not until Tommy gives away his hiding place with a loud giggle that he suddenly becomes visible again.

Fortunately I'm not ill enough to be hospitalised.  I'm just a bit under the weather with a cold.  What to wear under such circumstances?  Interestingly, your choice of clothes will determine how ill you are--not only in the eyes of those around you, but in your own eyes.  If I'd chosen to loll listlessly in Winceyette pyjamas and dressing gown, accessorised by a hot water bottle and lem sip, then I'd have felt far worse than I do now that I'm up and showered and dressed.

I decided to wear my cheeriest jumper to cheer myself up.  Obviously, if an unexpected parcel arrived containing a beautiful powder blue cashmere sweater I would find that even more cheering.  I merely float that idea.  My cheeriest jumper, as you know, is older than the alto lay clerks of Lichfield Cathedral.  It is also a lot brighter.  With it I'm wearing leggings and that black knitted tunic from the other Close Catherine.  Both the jumper and tunic are made of acrylic.

Acrylic.  How do you pronounce that?  I'd never been in any doubt it was aKRILLic until I overheard a woman in a charity shop In Leamington Spa say 'ACKry lick.'  From now on I shall be adopting that pronunciation.  I will eventually forget that this is wrong.  This is what has happened to the family pronunciation of 'cafetiere'.  I was once in a teashop where the waitress pronounced it 'kerFITTYay'.  These days I have to remind the chancellor that this is not right, so that strangers don't mistake him for an ignorant rustic.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

DAY 36--The Art of Wearing Tweed

Tweed is a difficult fabric to wear without feeling stuffy and middle aged.  Clearly at 50 I must consider myself middle aged at the very least.  If you are not middle aged at 50, then I don't know how long you're planning on living.  But can tweed ever be edgy and now, rather than itchy and yesteryear?

Itchiness is one of tweed's least attractive qualities.  To me, at any rate.  There may be many people who seek tweed out for precisely that reason, perhaps to mortify the flesh in Lent, or too gee the flesh up for reasons I will not begin to speculate about.  There are doubtless tweedophilia websites out there if you care to search.  Itchy clothes were one of the miseries of childhood.  Who cannot remember squirming in some lovingly hand-knitted woollen jumper which you were forbidden to remove because you'd catch your death of cold?  Some jumpers could itch you through two layers of shirt.  So why, in a world of fleece and brushed cotton, would I choose to don a tweed suit with the tactile appeal of crumbling brillo pads?

Yes, you've guessed it.  Because I got one cheap in a charity shop and it looks rather fab.  It's by Zara, wide herringbone tweed, wide leg trousers and tight little zip-up jacket.  It was once admired by a gay man.  This alone should certify its wondrousness in the eyes of most women; but honesty compels me to admit this was about 8 years ago.  If back then his admiration was based on the suit's cutting-edgedness, then he would probably curl his lip contemptuously now, in the manner of a hair stylist enquiring if you've been cutting your own hair.

And now another confession: I wore woolly tights as well.  There.  After all I said in an earlier post about the slattternliness of tights under trousers.  But I made that pronouncement without thinking through the implications of tweed.  I now offer tweed as an extenuating circumstance.  You may wear woolly tights under tweed trousers.  Unless you are a bloke.  If you are a bloke, just man up.  Take the itch.  Go for the burn.  Or buy yourself lined trousers.  In fact, if you are a wealthy banker, you could probably pay someone else to wear you tweed for you, while you concentrate on your bonus.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

DAY 35--The Dressing-Up Box

Look!  Look!

How about that for a fab stripy blazer?  I borrowed it from one of the alto lay clerks.  I will be wearing it in the cathedral tonight when I am taking on the role of narrator in our 'Come and Sing Iolanthe' evening.  Normally the narrator's part is played by Michael Fabricant, our MP, but he is unable to be with us.  I am his stunt double for the night, and that of course, requires me to dress the part.  Hence the stripy blazer.  I shall team this with wall-to-wall filthy innuendoes.  People will hardly know the difference.  I did contemplate going blonde or sporting a Marilyn Monroe wig, but in the end I decided that would simply look ridiculous. 

Please don't run away with the impression that all our alto lay clerks prance about the Close 24/7 in stripy blazers.  I believe this one came from the gentleman's dressing-up box.  He told me he bought it when he took part in a Murder Mystery party while still at school.  Quite recently, then.  (This is the fellow who so crassly pointed out that he is the same age as my oldest jumper.)

I think the world is divided into two camps on the issue of dressing-up.  When that fancy dress party invitation arrives, half will groan, the other half will already be mentally ransacking the dressing-up box.  I belong to the latter group.  I quite literally have a dressing-up box.  It's contained in the trunk I went up to Durham with as a callow 18 year old--a treasure trove of fireman's helmets, wigs, sparkly frocks, hats, mortar boards, velvet jackets, army fatigues, gloves, frills and furbelows.  

Dressing up is in my blood, and not being ordained, I have so few outlets for expressing it.  My sisters and I always won first prize in the local village fêtes.  Fancy dress costumes weren't something we hired.  No, they were cobbled together out of curtains and cardboard; adapted from charity shop and jumble sale purchases.  I inherited the fancy dress eye from my mother.  You need a cheap but effective costume?  Come to me and I'll sort you one out.  I was always insanely competitive on World Book Day.  But my sons went to a C of E Junior School, and we all know what that means, don't we?  Yeah, exactly--first prize goes to the poor kid whose parents are splitting up, not to the BEST COSTUME.  Which invariably was being worn by MY SON.  I spent hours scouring the charity shops to find those doe-skin britches that fit with never a wrinkle for his Highway Man outfit!  My mother made those flintlock pistols out of papier mache!  And they gave the prize to a kid in a factory made Batman outfit.  HELLO?  

Obviously, I'm over it now.

Friday, 3 February 2012

DAY 34--Yield not to Temptation!

'Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin./ Each vict'ry will help you some other to win.'  This is one of the good old Nonconformist hymns of my childhood.  My sisters and I were in the habit of singing it if we caught each other with a hand hovering over the biscuit tin.  And how I needed a bit of Nonconformist soul-bracing today, as I went round the charity shops of Leamington Spa, resolutely not buying myself any clothes.

I was not, of course, adopting a bold naturist approach to shopping.  It was cold, so I had some clothes on.  Usual winter gear: treggings, boots, big jumper, big coat, rictus grin of the half-frozen.  I can now confirm that the best way of not buying stuff is not to look at it.  Do not pick up that pair of interesting black ankle boots in order to satisfy yourself that they are, old, made of PVU, not your size and ridiculously over-priced.  Never do that.  Because you will find yourself holding a pair of nearly new black leather Clark's ankle boots in your size, with fashionable buckle and strap detailing, for £7.  AAAARGH!

A weaker woman without a good Nonconformist upbringing might have sidled up to her husband, boots in hand, and mentioned that it was almost Valentine's Day.  But no.  Get thee behind me, Stan! (as the chancellor once typed).  Reader, I walked away from those boots.  And then I walked away from a little black fur jacket in my size for £6, perfect for those chilly annual dinners when you are required to wear an evening dress--and I go to more than my fair share of those.

I am so in touch with my Baptist roots right now.  Mind you, I would also be in touch with them if I'd gone ahead and bought the boots and jacket.  I would be riddled with Nonconformist guilt.  Trust me, our guilt makes Roman Catholics look like  a bunch of lightweights.  We can't even get Mary to put in a good word for us.  So forgive me if you hear me wandering round Lichfield singing: 'Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue;/Look ever to Jesus, He’ll carry you through!'

Thursday, 2 February 2012

DAY 33--Winter Clothes

Today is a desk bound day.  I'm therefore wearing as many layers of thermal things as I can.  Silk long johns under leggings, thermal vest under merino wool sweater under big pink cardigan.  This is nice and cosy for me, but rather dull reading for you.

Tedium, that's partly what drives us into the shops or onto the internet.  We simply get bored with our clothes.  But as recently as when I was a child (my sons would guffaw at this contradiction) people had a much smaller clothes repertoire.  A few skirts, a couple of pairs of trousers, some jumpers and shirts, maybe a smart suit and a party frock. Further back, if you were really poor you only had one set of winter clothes, and your mum sewed you into them.  There were no centrally heated bathrooms and power showers to tempt you into the luxury of hygiene.  You stayed sewn into those layers till spring.

We used to have winter clothes and summer clothes.  My three sisters and I looked forward to the ritual of getting the summer clothes out of the trunk.  Would that coveted dress be ours this year?  Would we have to pass our favourite shorts on to a younger sister?  I couldn't possibly fit all my wardrobe into a single trunk.  But one trunk contained summer clothes for four girls.  We definitely had less stuff back in the 60s.  One pair of sandals in the summer, one pair of winter shoes, one pair of wellingtons, one pair of plimsolls which were only for PE, not for playing in the garden.

Too much stuff.  We all have too much stuff.  Within a generation buying new clothes all the time has become normalised.  Like drinking wine.  If we overhear this half sentence '...we try to get through till Thursday evening without...' we all know it's a cutting-down-on-booze conversation.  Who used to drink wine on Tuesday nights back in 1973?  But who thinks anything of it now?  We've been wound up like little clockwork consumers and pointed to the shops: Go, my pretties! Spend! Because you are worth it!

Yes, yes.  All this the world well knows yet none knows well to shun the heaven that leads us to this hell.  I still want new clothes.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Day 31--Retail Therapy by Proxy

Today I'm wearing things you've seen before, only in a different combination.  Boots, treggings, jumpers.  Winter stuff to keep warm.  That's it, basically.  But because you've taken the trouble to visit this page I shall write a bit more for you.  

I have a confession.  I haven't bought myself any new clothes, but last Friday (feeling on edge and a bit sorry for myself) I went round Lichfield's charity shops and bought a suit and a shirt for the chancellor.  If you are new to this blog and wondering why on earth I stand on such intimate terms with George Osborne that I can take it upon myself to buy him a second hand suit, be reassured.  I'm talking about the canon chancellor of Lichfield cathedral, to whom I'm married.

The suit was charcoal grey pinstripe, Jaeger, scarcely worn and exactly in his size.  I established this by a flurry of texting and a tape measure borrowed from the nice ladies in Cancer Research.  We no longer buy stuff that is nearly the right size, as we already have a whole wardrobe full of stuff that doesn't quite fit.  Top Tip: If it doesn't fit, it isn't actually a bargain, even if it's only £3.  So I bought it, reader.  It was on the pricey side, to be honest, at £24.99.  So I thought heck, I'll buy that nice Duck and Cover shirt for him as well.  This is how it works when you're clothes shopping, isn't it?  It's like dieting.  A kind of irrational fatalistic recklessness takes over.  I've eaten one biscuit, so I may as well eat the entire pack now.

The new suit got an outing on Sunday where it was much admired.  But was I cheating?  This was what the other Close Catherine seemed to be saying when I showed her my swag on the way home from the shops.  'So this is how you're going to get your retail fix?  By buying stuff for other people!'  There's an element of truth in this.  But surely we can put a positive spin on it?  When you're feeling on edge and a bit sorry for yourself you can get as much pleasure from buying something for someone else as from treating yourself to new clothes.