Open Letter To The World

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Dear World,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

Sorry, that was abrupt. I really jumped right in there; no pleasantries, no small talk. I just feel that we don’t really have time to catch up right now. Judging by the activities of the past week, you seem to just be barrelling through all the conventions and tacit agreements we’ve had for the past generation. I mean, things hadn’t been perfect up until now, but this is too much. This is not okay.

World, I’m worried about you. I’m worried about all of us.

I see we’ve committed to the whole rotten-orange-as-leader-of-the-free-world thing, even though he is thoroughly awful (I mean… just… gross).  I’ve covered this already. It’s likely that in time the people who made it possible will realise that maybe it was less of the shot-in-the-air they intended it to be, and more of a shot in the foot. Still, as always, I just want what’s best for you. Now that we all find ourselves in the same leaky boat, there’s really no point in going back over it.

Although I would just like to quickly point out that we already have at least one delusional narcissist in charge of a country (North Korea), and I can’t say I ever read a news article about him and thought, ‘We could do with another one of those… but BIGGER!‘ Bigger is not always better, World. I know America likes to supersize everything, but upgrading a run-of-the-mill self-obsessed moron to President of the United States of America was a really bad idea. Like, tremendously bad. In one week this oversized, oversensitive caricature of a man has managed to throw you into total dissarray.

There have always been assholes. There will always be assholes. Assholes are a constant. The danger now is that not only are some assholes in positions of great power, but the common, everyday assholes feel legitimised. They feel like it’s okay to go on national television and speak hateful words that hang in the air like a scummy fog. World, this is not acceptable. We need to do something about this.

I know. I know what you’re going to say. Already, there are great people doing great things. There is resistance. There are people fighting to keep things balanced, and keep human rights protected, and keep things from sliding into a heap of chaos. This is true, but we need more. We need more great people. We need more resistance.

We need more love.

That sounds so cheesy, but too much has gone horribly wrong in the recent past to ignore the fact that what we need is a lot more love. Too many families are waking up unsure of what is going to happen next. Too many families are waking up to deaths, or deportation, or denial of entry. Division and hatred seems to be sprouting everywhere like an unwelcome, tenacious weed. We need love, and a lot of it. We need the industrial-strength, Gorilla-glue kind of love that links us not only to our friends and families but also to our neighbours next door, our fellow citizens, and total strangers from foreign lands.

World, do you remember the game Red Rover? We played it as children. We’d link arms  in a long line and then a player would try to run at us and break through. If they were successful in splitting the wall, they won a couple more players for their side…

I feel like we’re playing an Alice-in-Wonderland adult version of Red Rover.

The good and decent people are linking arms and putting their game faces on, and a few rogue elements are coming at us with a great deal of force, trying to split us up, trying to win people over to their side (don’t listen to them – the whole thing about them having cookies is a lie).

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Frankly, not enough time has passed since World War Two that we can use ‘forgetting’ as an excuse.

World, link arms with me.

I’m ready for Red Rover; Global Edition.

Q.

If you’re feeling helpless and have any money to spare this month, please consider donating to ACLU or subscribing to The Washington Post or The New York Times, even if you’re not an American citizen.

Life’s Little Disappointments

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I am big into art and crafts.

I’m not into all crafts. I’m not even into useful crafts, but I really enjoy making new things with my own two hands. I go through phases of intense focus where I NEED to learn how to decorate cakes/use watercolours/pyrograph/découpage/make jam. Then, as soon as I’m good enough at it that I’m satisfied I could gift the results to some unsuspecting victim without having my skin fall off from the holy mortifying shame of it all… I lose interest. No sooner am I happy with the results of my jewellery-making than I’ve dropped all my beads and picked up some oil pastels, ready for my next challenge.

I’m like a tiny, fickle, Martha Stewart but without the multi-million dollar empire and the tax-evasion and the facial expression that implies she is perfectly capable of killing you with her own bare hands.*

For about two years now I’ve wanted to make a dreamcatcher. Yes, I’m talking about the tragically uncool, yarn-and-feather, possibly culturally-appropriative things that everyone used to have on their wall. They weren’t very useful for catching nightmares – or whatever it was they were supposed to do with your dreams – but they were a surefire sign that you were probably a girl growing up in the ’90s.

I have tried a couple of times to harness the power of the dreamcatcher, but every time I’ve just ended up with my fingers tangled in yarn. For about five glorious minutes, my creation looks like something spun by a drunk spider, and then it unravels completely, spilling beads across the floor. Every few months, I try. Every few months, I fail. You know what they say though; if at first you don’t succeed, just keep trying until you almost amputate your own finger by means of an accidental yarn tourniquet.

With this in mind, imagine how excited I was when I received an e-mail from Ikea telling me they were having an activity day during which there would be a craft class for how to make dreamcatchers. I was excited. I mean, I was really excited.

I put it in my calendar. I planned my weekend around it. I knew I wouldn’t have the car and Ikea is a trek away, so I plotted my route accordingly. When D-Day (Dreamcatcher Day) arrived, I set off on my adventure with high hopes. I took a bus to a place I had never been, and then walked to another bus stop where I took a second bus to a stop about half an hour from Ikea. I then walked (bounced, really) the rest of the way. I was going to CRUSH this! I would finally, finally, learn how to make a dreamcatcher. You know when cartoons think of money and dollar signs flash in their eyes? If I had been a cartoon in that moment, my eyes would just have been a series of potential dreamcatcher colour combinations.

I walked in the entrance to IKEA and looked around for my craft class. I was bang on time, so I knew it should be starting. It took me a couple of minutes, but eventually I found the sign for the dreamcatcher crafting crew. Once I realised I had found it, I stood, blinking, trying to comprehend what I was seeing.

The people making dreamcatchers were toddlers.

The “dreamcatchers” were big circles made of cardboard.

The “craft class” was actually just a sort of advanced childminding station.

Paralysed with disappointment, I watched as a dozen toddlers scribbled fiercely on their cardboard circles with fat, washable Crayola markers. A couple of IKEA employees moved from child to child, wiping snot and spit and encouraging them not to draw on the table. Tongues poked out in concentration as they pushed their markers back and forth, squiggling thick lines of colour all over the place.

When I could bring myself to move again, I glumly trudged to the homeware section and picked up a candle and a potted plant to soothe my soul.

Then I left, and got my two buses home.**

 

*Seriously. Does nobody else find her smile completely terrifying? I think it’s a combination of the smile and the wrinkle-free shirts. There’s just something very Patrick Bateman about her.

**To this day, I still have not mastered the art of the dreamcatcher.

Learning As I Go

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Adulting is hard.

When I was very small and found out that Santa was a huge secret, and that everyone around me was in on it, I accepted it with good grace. I thought, ‘That’s some good secret keeping! Good job, adults.‘ Then I watched my parents sort through taxes and insurance, bank accounts and mortgages and doctor visits, and I decided – I’m still not quite sure how – that this must be part of a different, separate adult conspiracy.

Clearly,‘ I thought, ‘this is We’ll-Tell-You-When-You’re-Older material.‘ Teachers never touched on this Very Important Serious Stuff between classes on soil erosion and the Irish civil war. Over time, I developed this notion that when people turned 18 they were invited to a place where they were given a crash course on Adulting. They would emerge on the other side knowing all these things that adults seem to just mysteriously know.

Imagine my disappointment when I realised that we’re completely on our own.

There is no Adulting Hogwarts. There is no manual.* We learn things by osmosis, mostly. A lot of things seem to happen due to a peculiar domino effect; one friend gets engaged, and then suddenly, before you know it, you have seven weddings to attend in the upcoming year. Or one friend moves abroad, and suddenly you have five far-flung addresses saved in your phone. Or one friend bought a house, and now it is completely normal to discuss where people bought their rugs/couches/lamps/sideboards and you hear the words “I really like that kind of tile” coming out of your mouth and floating in the air like a damning indictment of your age.

It’s frightening, honestly.

So here I am, officially an adult, e-mailing people about insurance and fumbling my way through taxback forms. I get my hair cut about once a year. I have never in my life been to a nail salon. I’m not even entirely sure what they do there or why cuticles are a bad thing. I’ve been meaning to go to the dentist for about two years now. I’ve had friends over for dinner parties (the first of which felt extremely mature until we consumed six bottles of wine between the six of us… and one person wasn’t drinking), but haven’t yet managed to come up with a way to consistently keep my room tidy. I am a Child-Adult collision. I listen to bluesy jazz in the evening to wind down, but dance to pop music when I’m home alone. I own a few very sensible pairs of boots, but my favourite shoes are holographic rainbow glitter high-tops. I have a drinks cabinet, but I also have a sweet drawer.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an unwelcome amount of pressure to get engaged, and get married, and have a baby. Relatives who went straight from adolescence to adulthood without the twenty-something FIND YOURSELF phase we have today are getting antsy, warning me about my biological clock despite the fact that I hear absolutely no ticking of any kind (maybe it needs batteries?). They’re more bothered about the state of my uterus and what they see as my impending spinsterhood than I have ever been.

Now, friends have started to have children. Quite cute children, really; little chubby-cheeked, sweetly-named children with huge eyes and grabby hands. In order to give appropriate Welcome To The World gifts, I’ve had to knuckle down and learn more adulting stuff. I’ve had to learn about why people swaddle their babies like burritos, and how an Ergobaby is useful, and (shudder) what a Nosefrida** is. It’s been an education.

… And while I’m clicking ‘add to cart’ on all these things, and happily playing with the stuffed toys that I get to purchase for future babies, in a separate tab I am researching cat toys, or dog beds. I am not ready for a baby. Babies are HARD WORK. They don’t fool me with their gummy smiles and tiny adorable shoes. They cry! And they wear nappies! And they don’t let you sleep past 6.30am!

No thank you. Not yet.

So for the moment, I am happy to continue in the Slow Learner group, moving one adult-sized baby step at a time, to the tune of Gold Dust by DJ Fresh.***

*In some ways I guess you could say Google is our manual? I have no idea how people learned things in the age before Google. Imagine having to rely on your friends, family, and the encyclopedia Britannica for all of your life lessons. Just the thought alone is alarming!

**If you’ve never heard of it, don’t Google it.

***At the same time if anybody has suggestions on how to deal with concerned relatives please leave a comment below.

The Black Dog and The Importance of Words

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Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I have Bad Days.

These are days when the usual voice of reason is there somewhere in the background, like, “Heeeeey, heeey girl….,” but it’s getting totally drowned out by this onslaught of constant self-criticism. Things I would never dream of saying to another human being just expand and fill my head like a thick fog. It’s horrendous.

I think most people probably have days like this to some extent. I think that’s just the human condition, and there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it really. Sometimes those doubts and insecurities and straight-up fears start crawling up your leg and before you know it, their needle-sharp claws are digging into the sensitive skin of your inner thigh and you just. can’t. shake. them. off.

Some days are worse than others though, and my Bad Days are… pretty bad.

I grew up in an environment of what I suppose could be called ‘constructive criticism,’ although often it was just your regular, run-of-the-mill, own-brand criticism. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not about to delve into the pros and cons of critical parenting here, constructive or otherwise. I would just like to point out that as a grown adult of admittedly questionable adulting abilities, to this day I still hear those criticisms. They are the safety net that my self-criticisms fall into when I knock them off their perch with a deftly placed ‘don’t be ridiculous.’  So for example, the conversation of the inner mind goes a bit like this:

Self-criticism: You are useless.

Me: Don’t be ridiculous.

Self-criticism falls a few steps back, grabs a memory from the past, drags it into the light and shoves it under my nose.

Self-criticism: You are useless. You see? I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THIS. I HAVE BACK UP. THIS IS PROOF!

…And just like that, I’m outnumbered.

Words matter. When you say them matters. How you use them matters. Whether you use words to manipulate (I see you, Spicer), or use words to make your voice heard at a time when you feel helpless, or use them to criticise, or even use them to support someone who needs a boost… they matter. That’s the wonderful thing about words – they’re spoken, or typed, or written, or signed, and then they’re out there taking on a life of their own, to be used and interpreted and felt by the person who’s hearing them. You have no control over them once they’re out. You cannot take them back. They can’t be erased or expunged. They can only be forgotten, and that’s not something you have control over.

Sometimes though, sometimes they can be drowned out. Sometimes hateful words or false words or bitter words can be drowned out by other words. Better words. Loving words. We saw that on Saturday when millions of people took to the streets with all their words and made some serious noise, shouting down the words of division and bigotry that have been all too prevalent over the past few months.

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I’ve decided to take a leaf from their book. I’ve see their success and it gives me hope for the years that are coming. I see them drown out the Bad Day of the inauguration, and it helps me come up with the perfect plan for how to deal with my own Bad Days:

I’m going to hand my voice of reason a megaphone so she can properly drown out my bitchy self-criticisms.

The End Of The World As We Know It

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Yeah, you all know what this is going to be about.

I had something else in mind to write about today, but then I remembered that an egotistical bloated orange is being sworn in as president of the United States, and so this is possibly our last day of blessed normalcy for a while.

So here I am, writing about that instead.

I spent some time in San Diego just before the election. In the run-up to my trip I felt cocooned in my safe web of world media telling me that Clinton had it in the bag. Wonderful, I thought. Worst case scenario, America will have their first female president, and the human goldfish will go back to reality television where I can go back to ignoring his existence.

I won’t dive into what I feel to be the extremely problematic voting system in America except to point out that the United States has a population of almost 319 million people – 319. million. people. – and yet from a country that large, that diverse, with that many citizens, Hilary* and Donald were chosen as the two best candidates for the job.

Now, it’s not my country, and you could claim it’s none of my business, but I think I speak for the world at large when I say we would like to suggest that America see this as a sort of gentle nudge, if you will. Except, perhaps not so gentle. In fact, more of a forceful shove, because when your presidential election cycle whirls by like an East Asian typhoon causing nothing but chaos and disruption, it might be a good idea to call a Time Out and reassess your political process.

Just saying.

Anyway, so I’m in San Diego, and I’m feeling pretty good about life because let’s face it, San Diego is beautiful, and the streets are clean, and the weather is sunny, and the people are gorgeous, and the Nordstrom Racks are caves of treasure, and the roads are wide enough that a Boeing 747 could probably land without major concern, and there are dogs EVERYWHERE**… and then, suddenly, my little bubble of happiness is popped rather unexpectedly by a gathering of boisterous Trump supporters heaving giant placards onto a bridge crossing the freeway.

I begin to look around me and take note of the fact I haven’t seen a single Hilary bumper sticker.

Sidenote: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Americans, it’s that they love their bumper stickers. I cannot pretend to understand this phenomenon. Every time I saw a bumper sticker I would crane my neck to get a good look at the driver, and then picture them monologuing to themselves:

“I have bought a car! It is a lovely car, and when I drive it, everyone will think, ‘that person is driving a lovely car!‘ But that’s not enough. I want them to know more about me. I cannot happily make the drive from my front door to the car park at Target without the people behind me at every single red light knowing that I love Jesus/my cats/surfing, or that I support the United States Marines/Donald Trump/the legalisation of marijuana, or that I hate Mitsubishi/idiots who can’t drive/Shania Twain. This is the one thing that truly defines me – that gets to the very essence of me – and I must print it on a sticker and slap it on my rear window for all the world to see. YOU WILL KNOW ME!”

And then I would sit back and wonder what my bumper sticker would say if I had one. Maybe ‘You do you!‘ or just a thumbs up emoji with ‘You’re doing great!‘ to try to spread a bit of positivity. I have the same feelings towards bumper stickers as I do towards tattoos; I don’t think there’s anything I really feel strongly enough about to have it as the one standout feature on my car/skin.

/Sidenote.

I had seen multiple cars purposely defaced with Trump slogans in crude white marker or neon pink paint. I had seen Bernie stickers by the dozen. I had even seen a ‘Giant Meteor 2016’ sticker.

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I hadn’t seen a single Hilary sticker.

I started to feel a chill up my spine. I turned to Scrubs, wide-eyed with apprehension.

“We haven’t seen a single Hilary sticker,” I said gravely.

“So?”

“So what if Trump wins this thing?”

“He won’t,” Scrubs reassured me, patting my hand.

“WHAT IF HE DOES? This is like when we were in London just before the Brexit vote, and we saw David Cameron derided on national television and realised it might actually happen! This is just like that! Trump might actually win! We won’t be able to move here and live our dream life of sunshine and dogs if he actually wins!”

Scrubs fanned my face. “There, there” he said. “Shhh. It’ll be okay.”

It was not okay.

It was a mess.

People bought into his rhetoric despite his proclamations having absolutely no basis in reality. They cheered his “plans” despite there being no plans, actually, if you paid attention. I transcribed a number of his speeches, and the thing that struck me most was the feverish enthusiasm of a crowd that was hearing the words coming out of his mouth, but not listening. They chanted fervently, drowning out the fact that his sentences barely made sense, and if they did make sense, they were impossible pipe-dreams.

He could have been saying anything at all, and their earnest loyalty would have carried them along on a wave of devotion, their blind hope making it possible to paper over his contradictory statements. It was impressive. It was inspiring, in some ways.

And it was frightening.

Today, Donald Trump, a man with no plan beyond inflating his own ego, takes office in one of the most powerful countries in the world. He has shown complete disregard for tradition. He has shown complete disregard for the White House press corps. He is unpredictable, he is hypersensitive, and he will now be president of the United States. He could have chosen to surround himself with more experienced, bipartisan people in an attempt to bring the country together, but instead he has chosen to surround himself with cronies and right-wing fanatics. He has the capacity to sever diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. He has the capacity to pull out of trade deals and international organisations. He has the capacity to sink the world economy into another recession.

Of course these are worst case scenarios. I hope that none of them come to pass. I hope he is reined in, and his twitter account is taken off him, and that the people in government remember they serve the people – all the people – and not just their own interests or beliefs. I hope that America can find a way to knit itself back together and be true to its self-styled identity as ‘home of the free, land of the brave’.

And not just because I would love to live in San Diego.

For now, I’m off to find some butter popcorn so I can watch the inauguration in style. Let’s all cross our fingers tightly and wait and see what tomorrow brings.

*Despite the fact that I believe almost anyone would be a better president than Trump, I really don’t believe any candidate should be the son/wife/cousin/grandchild of a previous president. Again, there are 319 million people out there! It’s just downright lazy. Pull your socks up, America.

**I have a theory that any place with a lot of dogs must have lovely citizens. Dogs make people happy, happy people are nicer people, therefore dog-friendly places have nicer people! Q.E.D.

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Life Skill Unlocked: Cocktail-Making

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When I was about seven years old, I used to sneak into my grandfather’s study. I would tiptoe past the piano, crawl behind the burgundy leather Chesterfield, feel along the bookshelf for the small metal key, and slip it into the lock on the cabinet below.

I would turn the key feeling like Alice down the rabbit hole, and I would slowly open the small mahogany door to reveal a glittering array of crystalware.

The “bar” was really quite small, with one glass shelf dividing the space, but the back and sides were lined with mirrors, which multiplied the decanters and glasses and bottles of alcohol until it looked, to my young eyes, like a sparkling wonderland. I never touched anything, not even the apothecary jars at the back filled with sugared almonds.

I just liked looking at them.

I fully expected that by the time I turned 21 I would know everything there was to know about this magical cabinet, like what that funny silver thing was, or why anyone would need that many different kinds of glasses…

Sadly, at the age of 21 I was still drinking WKD Blue straight from the bottle, so apparently my expectations were both too high and too premature.

I no longer drink WKD (‘Thank God,’ say both you and my liver), and I now have a space in my apartment that functions as a drinks cabinet. I have alcohol. I have glasses. I have what I think might be whisky tumblers. I even have my grandfather’s apothecary jars, which I keep stocked with sweets in his memory. And then, over Christmas, I received a cocktail shaker set.

I pulled out a familiar-looking funny silver thing and read the description: ‘cocktail strainer.’ I ran my finger over the spring and then waved it back and forth. Mystery solved! I placed it over the empty cocktail shaker and pretended to pour out an imaginary drink. Then, as I sat cross-legged on the floor of my sitting room, I cast an eye over the rest of the unfamiliar instruments and realised I still didn’t know how to use most of them. And this, my friends, is the long and winding explanation as to how I ended up in The Blind Pig on Saturday for a cocktail-making class.

If you enjoy vintage cocktails and you ever find yourself in Dublin, Ireland, The Blind Pig is the place to go. It’s a prohibition-era styled speakeasy with live music, delicious cocktails, and a secret entrance. I’d been once before so at the appointed time, I made my way in (I won’t tell you how!) and sat at one of the two tables in front of the bar.

Paul Lambert, the award-winning mixologist who would be our cocktail teacher for the afternoon, stood confidently behind the bar. As my classmates filtered in, he mixed up ten Dark n’ Stormy cocktails for us and told us a bit about himself and The Blind Pig. We listened. We drank. I briefly regretted my decision to skip lunch.

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Paul made this.

He explained to us that he would be teaching us how to make three cocktails. First he would demonstrate, and then we would all get a chance to try our hand at replicating the drink. He pulled a few bottles from the bar and launched into the history of the Cosmopolitan. At this point I had swallowed down half my drink, and was starting to feel very content. I forgot about lunch. I watched him pour things into the shaker. I opened up the Keep app on my phone and typed:

Clear triple sec

Lemon

Gin

Raspberry syrup

Then I took another sip of my Dark n’ Stormy and watched as Paul showed us how and when to use a cocktail strainer (!), and why some drinks should be shaken and not stirred, (and vice versa). When it was my turn I made a decent, although definitely pinker, version of his Cosmo, and carried it back to my table with pride.

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I made this.

I drank it quite quickly.

He showed us how to make an Old Fashioned, and then moved on to how to make a Corn and Oil. This revolting-sounding concoction is actually their bestselling cocktail, which just goes to show you can’t judge a drink by its moniker. I’m not sure where the name comes from, but I can promise you that the drink itself is delicious. I am the ultimate lightweight, so by the time we got to the Corn and Oil I was smiling happily at the rest of my table, floating on a cloud of citrus spray, rum, whisky, and gin. Paul pulled out the ingredients and announced the name of each one as he placed it on the bar.

“Velvet Valernum,” he said.

Velvet Valernm, I typed.

“Lime juice.”

Lime.

“Sugar syrup.”

Sugary srup.

“Bitters.”

Bitters.

“Rum.”

Run.

I closed the app confidently, feeling like an excellent student, and watched as he made magic happen. Then I got up and managed to make the same cocktail, only I ended up with twice as much of it. I’m not sure how that happened. I side-eyed my classmate’s cocktail, which filled half her glass, then looked down at my own which was close to spilling over. Paul’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. My classmate’s husband leaned over and grinned, “That’s the way to do it!”

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I med dis.

Glassy-eyed, I carefully carried my double cocktail back to the table and sipped on it as we swapped restaurant recommendations and alcohol-related anecdotes. The class ended, and we all decided to stay for another. And then another. By the time we stumbled out onto the street I was ready to hunt down the nearest, largest Margherita pizza and inhale it cheese-first.

The next morning I checked my “notes” and discovered a few spelling mistakes and a curious lack of instructions.

But at least now I know how to use a cocktail strainer!

Clothe Me, Olga! (Part 2)

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I arrived for my meeting with Olga, my personal shopper, about twenty minutes early.

Before you tell me how impressed you are by my incredible time-keeping skills, I should admit that this really had more to do with my spiking levels of anxiety than my sterling punctuality. If you’re wondering how I even got to the point where I was meeting a personal shopper, click here. Regardless, I actually ended up having to take a walk around the block to try to burn off my nervous energy and kill some time before coming back around to the meeting point.

So that was a promising start.

Olga is a tall, stunning woman with cheekbones that would cut you if you got too close. She had long Nelle Porter-style* blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed head to toe in black and carried a very professional-looking clipboard. She looked at me over the top of her black-framed glasses and, in a clipped accent, ushered me briskly in the direction of a door marked ‘Personal Shopping.’ I’m not sure what I was expecting really. I walked towards it with an enormous sense of trepidation. What lay behind the door? A laboratory? A scene from A Clockwork Orange? Graham Norton’s Big Red Chair?

None of the above.

I walked through the door and stepped into a very private, very plush-looking room with two armchairs and a full length mirror. At the back, a changing room beckoned. I sat stiffly in one of the chairs and tried to tuck my Adidas trainers out of sight.

Olga perched herself on the windowsill and gracefully crossed her long legs. She started by explaining that she hadn’t been able to access my online profile – which, let’s be honest, is really for the best – and then asked me what sort of clothing I was looking for and what kind of budget we were working with. She asked for my measurements, asked my age, tapped her pen against the clipboard and said, ‘I will be back in fifteen minutes’ before whisking a large black clothing rail out the door.

While she was gone I tried every single one of the eleven perfume bottles that lined the windowsill.

In what felt like no time at all, she was back. A professional through and through, she didn’t comment on the expression of horror I must have had on my face as she flew through the door with her battering ram of clothes. The rail was jammed with tops, trousers, dresses and sweaters. She skimmed through a brief introduction to what she had chosen, and then wheeled the rail into position in the changing room and motioned for me to join her.

The changing room was almost as big as the room next to it. It had a long, full-length black velvet couch along one wall and a frankly enormous mirror at the far end.

“We will do tops first, yes?”

It was phrased as a question, but really it was rhetorical.  Nevertheless, I nodded dumbly.

“I will stay here with you if you don’t mind,” she said, flicking through the hangers at frightening speed. “There is nothing I have not seen before, believe me!” I blinked in surprise. So much for my plan to send pictures of each outfit to friends with an actual sense of style! There wasn’t a hope of me trying to surreptitiously snap a selfie with Olga in the changing room; I had a sneaking suspicion she’d have no time for that sort of nonsense.

She pulled a hanger off the rail and thrust it at me with the sort of brisk efficiency you would expect from an army medic. “This one.”

So began a whirlwind of outfit changes. If you can picture a typical changing room movie montage but fast forwarded to about five times the speed and with absolutely no goofing around. That sounds like I’m saying it was no fun, but that’s absolutely not the case. It was by far the easiest shopping outing I had ever been on. I would pull something over my head and no sooner had it hit my shoulders that Olga would elegantly bark, “No! No, no no! Off. Off!” and I’d be on to the next one.

Every so often I would pull something on and Olga would exclaim, “Yes. YES. I adore it. Yes.” If I tried on something that she had no strong opinion about, she would look at my face in the mirror and say gently, “If you do not LOVE it, do not buy it. If you do not LOVE it, there is no point.” I would make a non-committal face, or shrug my shoulders, and she would shake her beautiful head and make the decision for me. “No. NO. Off, off off!”

In this way we got through the entire rail of clothes in an astonishingly short space of time. A truly embarrassing amount of clothes just didn’t fit me, which led her to repeatedly proclaim, “You are just so TINY!” I actually hear this quite often, but Olga wasn’t saying it in the usual, look-at-you-aren’t-you-adorable-you-human-armrest kind of way people usually say it. It would instead erupt out of her in a verbalisation of frustration after I had made the fifth sweater in a row look like an expensive snuggie.

“Yes” I would nod, guiltily. “I’m really short.”

She would whip around, her golden hair flicking back. “Not SHORT!” she would snap. “PETITE!”

At the end of it all she had gone on three more rail runs, and I had divided the black velvet couch into two halves. On the left was a veritable mountain of inside-out discarded clothing; dozens of the aforementioned snuggie jumpers, trousers with baggy folds that had enough space to smuggle small exotic animals into the country, dresses with sleeves that were almost wider than my waist, and tops that made me look like an aspiring snapchat pornstar.

On the right was a humble stack consisting of two pairs of trousers, one skirt (!), one pair of jeans, three knitted jumpers with inbuilt collars (they’re detachable!), and two tops that defy categorisation. This is the pile I ended up buying and bringing home.

… And so here we get to the point of this exercise. On a normal day, had I been left to my own devices, I possibly might have picked up the olive green pair of jeans. Possibly. Maybe. Never in a million years of Sundays would I even have looked at the rest of the clothes, never mind tried them on. This is why I would recommend the personal shopping thing, even if you think it sounds scary. Even if you think you would hate it.

Somebody who doesn’t know you from Adam is looking at you without bias, and that same somebody is finding items they think would look great on you. It offers you the chance to fall in love with things you might never have known about otherwise. I mean, who knew I could look kind of sweet wearing shirt collars (not sweet like a cabbagepatch doll, but sweet like Wednesday Addams with a tan)? Or who knew I could find a skirt I genuinely liked? Olga pulled, and tucked, and showed me how best to dress myself. She explained why certain garments looked good on me and told me which styles to avoid, and I never felt like she was pressuring me or being anything less than honest.

When it was all over and I left with my two bags of carefully wrapped clothes, I realised I’d actually enjoyed myself. Usually after a day of shopping I feel like I’ve been drained of the will to live, but it turns out that when all you have to do is try on whatever is handed to you… it’s not so bad! I tried new things and I learned a lot.

One thing is for certain though…

I still hate ruffles.

*For any of you young ones that don’t know who that is, Nelle Porter was a character played by Portia De Rossi on the show Ally McBeal and her hair was objectively fetish-worthy. I tried to find a gif of her letting her hair down but it was not to be. You’ll just have to trust me when I say she was #hairgoals before the guy who invented hashtags was even finished school.

 

If you’re based in Dublin, the personal shopper service takes two hours and is free (so what have you got to lose?) in House of Fraser. The service is available for both men and women and it definitely gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me. Dundrum Town Centre also have their own personal shopping service; they charge €65 for two hours but throw in a make-up consultation and free parking.

Clothe Me, Olga!

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Today, I have a date with destiny.

Okay, that’s not strictly true. I just said that for dramatic effect. Today I have a date with a personal shopper, which is much more terrifying. I am not good with clothes. I’m actually terrible with clothes. I dress half my age because it’s easy to pull on a baggy jumper and jeans and be done with it. I don’t know how to wear skirts or scarves. Anything that requires actual thinking (“Where does this arm go? How does this belt close?”) doesn’t belong in my wardrobe. Neither does anything that requires ironing, anything that has to be dry cleaned, or anything with prints. I don’t wear prints. Unless I one day find myself in a scenario in which I have to camouflage myself against brightly-patterned wallpaper in order to secure state secrets, I highly doubt that will ever change.

So I am meeting a personal shopper. She sounds elegant. Her name is Olga. She calls me ‘My darling’ on the phone, and the last time we spoke she ended the call with a “See you on Friday, my darling. I love you!” which was a nice touch.

Although I’m pretty sure that was accidental.

In so far as going in prepared, I don’t have a plan in place for this meeting. The aim is to get some clothes that look more I-am-successfully-adulting, and less teenage-boy-with-moobs. Since I clearly cannot be trusted to pick out these sort of outfits for myself, I will be deferring all authority to Olga. The only thing I have asked of her is that she bring me no ruffles. NO CAPES! And no ruffles.

After making the initial appointment, I had to answer a few questions online. The e-mail link called them ‘a few simple questions.’ I should have suspected something, but instead I blithely clicked the link and started to scroll down the page. The questions started off fairly straightforward – they asked for my height and my weight, my favourite colours, my favourite brands and my size in different items of clothing. I answered them all with ease, feeling pretty accomplished. YES! I thought. I KNOW THIS! LOOK AT ME GO!

Of course, no sooner had I clicked onto the next page than I realised the form wouldn’t be the cakewalk that the first page of questions had led me to believe.

“Who is your style icon?”

Grumpy Cat.

“What body shape are you? Oval? Round? Rectangle? Square? Hourglass?”

Fearing the trapdoor to hell that I imagine instantly opens beneath the chair of the egotist that clicks ‘hourglass,’ I went with ‘rectangle.’ I am not rectangular in any sense of the word but neither am I square, oval or round. I am an hourglass that has been slowly compressed from above until it bulges out the sides. I am a stumpy hourglass. I am the hourglass that they sell with 70% marked off because it’s misshapen and inelegant.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

“What is your colour direction?”

Here they offered a long list of options, none of which made any sense. I mean, what does that even mean? When you google it, the search results are all clustered around some sort of hair dye, which wasn’t of any use. There were no ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Help!’ options so I closed my eyes and clicked at random. Very helpful I’m sure. Sorry Olga.

I clicked the ‘Finish’ button with no small measure of relief.

So today is the day. Today Olga and I come face to face. Mano a mano. I’ll be wearing my trusty Adidas superstars with faded black jeans that have seen better days, and an oversized grey knitted jumper. I want her to get a real, honest look at what she’s working with here. I don’t want to dress up and have her lulled into a false sense of security. If we’re to give this thing the chance it deserves, she’s going to need to truly grasp that I know absolutely nothing about clothes. Our working baseline needs to be down around ‘colourblind clothes-bank raider’. Just about half a step above ‘toddler with velcro light-up trainers’ but a step below ‘child who knows how to wear a skirt.’ I’m actually feeling quite nervous about it.

Olga, bless her heart, has her work cut out for her.*

Please wish me sartorial success, I suspect I might need it!

 

 

*UPDATE: You can find the full report here for anybody curious about how the process works and whether or not I bought velcro light-up shoes.

Hyyge-ldy Piggledy Life

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My best friend gave me a book for Christmas called The Little Book of Hygge*.

The book begins by explaining that ‘hygge’ is a Danish term that is not easily translated. Hygge is an atmosphere, an experience, a feeling… It’s toasted marshmallows on a fire, it’s snuggly socks, it’s hot chocolate when it’s snowing outside. It’s a night in with friends playing board games and drinking wine, candlelit evenings with a good book, building a fort out of pillows, it’s wearing pyjamas straight out of the tumble dryer. It’s enjoying good food with good people and the feeling of soft heavy blankets that feel like a knitted hug… It’s also a verb?

This year kicked off with serious amounts of hygge. I was hygge-ing all over the place; lounging by the fire chatting to friends, going for brisk walks by the sea before coming in to thaw out over a game of Heads Up, drinking wine and dancing around the ping pong table… It was a hygge kind of time. I loved it. I want an entire hygge year. I want a hygge life!

The first chapter in this little book is about lighting, and how important it is not to have blindingly bright white lights illuminating every facet of your life. Bright lights, apparently, are so not hygge. Luckily – and coincidentally – Scrubs and I had already gone out and bought the Philips Hue lighting system. I’m hoping this will make dimming the lights and creating a warm glow much easier and a lot less of a fire hazard than lighting fifty candles and dotting them around the apartment. We haven’t actually unboxed them yet because we need socket adapters, but I’ll let you know how we get on with them once we have them installed!

This year is going to be a hygge year. I left it off my resolution list because I didn’t actually know it was a thing until yesterday, but I’m adding it now. Belatedly. Ten days late, but sure, what harm? I want more cosy nights in with the people I love. I want to simplify my life, and streamline it so that I can spend more time doing the things that are actually important to me. I know (at least I hope!) that this year has exciting things in store, and I want to be ready for them. Basically I want to get my sh*t together, but, you know, in a hygge way. In a sense my aim is to have both feet firmly planted on the ground this year, but I want to be metaphorically barefoot, sinking my toes into a deep, deep pile rug.

So hygge.

Now I’m off to make myself a hot chocolate and sit in front of the stove. I have some planning to do involving brightly coloured felt-tip pens and my journal, and there’s no better place to do that than in front of a heat source on my sheepskin rug.

See? I’m already on my way.

 

 

*The Little Book of Hygge is an adorable hardback book written by Meik Wiking and can be purchased from Book Depository orAmazon.

Pilates? I Thought You Said PIE and LATTES!

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I took myself to a pilates class on Friday.

My friend asked if I wanted to join her, and instead of going with my usual gut reaction to an invitation to exercise (“No thank you, I would rather boil my own eyeballs”) I decided to accept.

I changed into leggings and a sports bra, dug out a pair of pink Flashdance wristbands (mandatory), and pulled on a pair of those ultra-low socks with elastic that either digs into your skin like a cheese wire or is so ineffective that the sock slips off and crumples uselessly under the arch of your foot.

I was ready.

We arrived at the pilates in extremely high spirits. The elation and novelty of having decided to do exercise was giving me the sort of insufferable feeling of magnanimity I usually only feel after donating to charity. I practically bounced into reception. Pale ash floorboards and white walls immediately gave me the feeling I should be whispering, and the two expertly made-up and manicured receptionists raised their false lashes in slow synchronisation to stare expectantly at us. We mumbled our names in the hushed tones reserved for church or, apparently, health studios with minimalist decor, and tripped our way down the stairs to the room of mirrors.

Now, I realise that there is a reason for the mirrored exercise room. I understand that it serves a purpose, and that the purpose is to keep an eye on your form. It’s important when practicing yoga to make sure that you look more like a swan and less like an inbred inner-city pigeon that just survived an aggressive encounter with a housecat.

That being said, isn’t there something profoundly unnerving about having to maintain eye contact with yourself while your entire body threatens to seize with cramp? Other people may be able to do curtsy lunges while looking like fierce, fit princesses of the modern age, but when I do them I look like a deflating balloon. It’s hit or miss whether I’ll make it back into a standing position. Since watching abject failure makes me uncomfortable, I try to avoid looking in the mirror positioned mere inches from my face. If I happen to accidentally catch my own eye, I flush red and shake my head apologetically.

Sorry, Gym-Mirror Me, I think. I’m doing my best here. These muscles haven’t been used in about a decade. Can we move past this mortification and pretend it never happened?

Gym-Mirror Me exhales deeply and ignores me, shaking with the effort of sinking into another curtsy lunge.

After class had ended, I lay on my mat and tried to ignore the silent screaming of my abdominal muscles as I thought about the year ahead. There are so many things that I want to accomplish in the next twelve months. Last year brought some pretty adult changes to my life and involved a lot of google searches that started with, ‘How do I…’ and ‘What does it mean when…’ and ‘Why do I need…’.*

I know this year will be bumpy. Aren’t all years bumpy in one way or another? I don’t think I’ve ever had a year that was uninterrupted smooth sailing the whole way through. I’ve had years where I’ve encountered setback potholes the size of craters, and challenges that loomed over me like the vertical face of K2. I’ve also had years that felt like studded paths, with nothing too drastic, just little bumps in the road to slow me down.

I’m hoping this year will be the latter. You know, traversable potholes. Surmountable challenges. Nothing that will blindside me at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

I left the pilates studio feeling like an astronaut in space, on an endorphin high that didn’t leave me until the following day when I realised going up or down stairs would be a challenge for the rest of the weekend. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I enjoyed it! I think I might actually go back and hand over more hard-earned money in exchange for another forty-five minutes of punishment.

This year is already full of surprises, and we’re not even ten days in.

What next?

*Thank God the internet took off before I reached my teens. How on earth did people manage before Google?!