Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Committed (A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage)


Or perhaps this post should be titled "a sceptic makes peace with reading books that she thought she would hate but actually turned out to enjoy"...

Or, even, on a wider level, how wedding blogging and the blogging community made me think and challenge relationships and issues and turns out that I am not exactly who I thought I was 2 years ago...

Long before I got engaged or married I knew my relationship with my Husband was different. Instead of encouraging me to be dependent and obsessive and spend hours wondering why-he-hadn't-done-what-I-hoped-he-would-do-but-hadn't-actually-told-him-so-he-had-no-idea-that-was-what-girls-thought, he encouraged me to lead my own, full, independent, happy life. Lives which were gradually more and more intertwined but ones in which we were whole people forming a better, stronger life together. A twist rather than a straw, if you will.

I gradually started questioning issues which I had always taken for granted but the big stuff, that didn't really change. Whereas once people thought I was fairly conservative in my views (big and small C) I started to realise I was more liberal than I - or others- gave me credit for. I do have some core absolutes which I (still) think I remain certain about [although I fully accept that until - god forbid- the circumstances ever applied to me, I may not be so sure] but there are plenty of other circumstances and situations where I have changed my mind because (revolution here we come) I actually thought about it. Although I am still yet to be convinced about children and televisions. Say what you like, but I have never heard a convincing argument to persuade me that the two should meet for many years. Although, of course, I can still sleep through the night.

And whilst I credit Husband for allowing me the space to find this out, I credit blogging for opening my mind to other viewpoints. Perhaps it's because you can read these viewpoints in one's own time, rather than it being an ever-louder-ever-drunker debate. Not that opening my viewpoint hasn't caused me a fair amount of distress, mind you. Take, for example, my family. Once upon a time I thought that our way of doing things was the right one. Then I went to school and realised that there are plenty of ways of doing things. I was still convinced that our way of sorting out problems was good. Until I really started to think about it and question it. Now I am not so sure. Without going into specifics, there are definitely issues which I hope I will not be repeating if and when we ever reproduce.

Other things, I have come to later. I had always assumed that I would change my name on marriage, much like I just always assumed I would go to university (being the 3rd generation in my family to go to university I was surprised to find at school that some people there were the 1st). Later, actually, even after changing my name, I have thought about it. Especially in relation to identity. I am still convinced with my choice, which is fortunate. It has also made me aware of just how important a first name choice is for a baby.

All of which is a very long winded way of saying that I surprised myself by enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert's book. I found the concept of Eat, Pray, Love  difficult to get excited about. Not because of the advance or the film but because it didn't appeal. (Although Agirl may have persuaded me I should give it a go). Similarly, when I realised that the APW Book Club was reading Committed, I wasn't filled with a desperate urge to buy more books. But I am glad I did, because it has been an interesting read so far, I like Elizabeth Gilbert's writing style and I am interested in her reconciliation with the idea of marriage - perhaps because it is so far from what I know of marriage. I also am interested in reading about marriage around the world and her pondering as to why US marital and familial relationships are so much more isolated and so much more pressured to be something that perhaps they were never designed to be. More, I guess, when I actually finish it.

And lastly, because it was thanksgiving last week and I didn't say it then - thank you. For reading and challenging and informing.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Happy Holidays

Traditionally, the holiday season in the UK doesn't start until Advent does, which is on Advent Sunday. 28 November this year. In this more multi-cultural society though it seems the holiday season starts just about after Halloween. In the US, the holiday season, I believe, starts tomorrow, with Thanksgiving. For the 2 years that my family lived in California, we celebrated Thanksgiving and have done so on and off for the last 20. This weekend we will gather at my parents house to celebrate, not on Thursday, because we do not have a national holiday, but on Saturday. For the first time ever all three of us girls are bringing their boyfriend/husband and our Grandparents will be there too.

Slowly, in the UK, we are embracing what I see as 'US' customs and traditions: Halloween was the first one, grasped perhaps because of our national thirst for dressing up and for our multi-cultural society's desire to have faith-less festivals for everyone to get behind. Baby showers followed too - I attended my first one this year and was advised by an American friend I should take a card to say "you will be a great mother". Trouble is, the UK card market hasn't caught on and our cards are only suitable for once baby is born. Where I live, it's hard enough to find a card for twins... This year, I have heard that some retailers are having Black Friday sales. I'm not quite sure how these will work, given that Friday is not a day off in the UK, but it can't be long before Thanksgiving is marked in some way here (although I am not quite sure what we will attribute it to; we have plenty to be thankful for including a bountiful harvest - which is what wikipedia suggests Thanksgiving is for - but I cannot be alone in thinking it has something to do with Native Americans and the first settlers, and perhaps it is inappropriate us celebrating the fact that English dissenters left Britain behind for a better life).

Christmas, too, takes a more secular role in our calendar every year. Indeed, even as someone that was raised Christian, some of my favourite aspects of Christmas barely bridge the gap between religion and secular celebration: candlelit carol services, mulled wine, listening to Carols from Kings on the car radio on Christmas Eve as we drive across dark countryside to reach our families, the making of our now annual Christmas jam/chutney, the week off work to be with family. I guess these all do have religious roots: the carols, the journey from afar, the gathering of the family - all are present within the Story of Christmas, yet I am not journeying to worship a saviour born as a baby, or bringing a present to celebrate the birth. The centre of my Christmas is my family and a celebration of that. Yet peace on earth and goodwill to men are what we sing in church in celebration - adding to the peculiar mix that is the British Christmas: a mix of Christian symbolism, Victorian traditions (christmas cards, snow), European influences (christmas trees, father christmas) carried out with 20th/21st century tastes.

And, now that we are married, we blend our holiday traditions even further. To me Christmas is not Christmas without "Christmas Ham" and bread sauce, and stuffing and sitting around a darkening table, illuminated by candlelight, eating satsumas and Christmas pudding as the light fades and conversation ebbs and flows, accompanied by coffee. Only then, once a fire has been lit and tea made, can the present opening begin. By contrast, Husband's family open presents in their pyjamas in the sitting room and the Christmas meal is roast beef. Each perfect in it's own way and, until there are grandchildren, we alternate between these year on year. In time, we will have our own baby family blend on the day itself to accompany our own traditions: spending a weekend in December making our jam/chutney/etc (everyone keeps returning the jars throughout the year, we assume this means we should continue), hosting a 'Christmas' meal of thoughts for what we used to coin our "London Family", although clearly, that is now inaccurate, and this year, is going to be on New Years Eve instead. We have largely abandoned christmas cards, preferring e-mail. We made stockings last year for our first married Christmas which we filled for each other and which we hope will become an annual event.

I hope too, that Thanksgiving will become an annual event, perhaps, in time, hosted by Husband and I, with both families present. Elderly grandparents in disparate locations mean that this will not be possible for Christmases, and, in truth, until there is a change in personnel (incoming or outgoing, to put it bluntly) I don't see Christmas changing just yet...

Monday, 22 November 2010

One november weekend

We took a long weekend this past weekend. On Friday morning, we headed for Taunton and the cinema and Harry Potter. Popcorn and latte for breakfast whilst watching our trusty threesome begin their (sometimes tortuous and sometimes tedious occasionally exciting and even once rather touching) witchcraft related road trip to locate the horcruxes before either Harry or Voldermort wins. Definitely a film where you needed to have read the book. I would recommend reading it again before you go, by the way. Some while in, Dobby appeared. Dobby, I thought to myself, I must have misheard. I remembered him dead, books ago, weeping silent tears as I read him giving his life to aid Harry Potter, repaid by the digging of his grave by hand, not magic. Yet die Dobby did, in this book not the last. And then it ended, part way through, the kind of climatic end to half time as it were. And a year yet, until the finale.

Lunch in Taunton (don't bother with the place we tried, should you ever be in Taunton, looking for lunch and thinking that the olive tree looked in any way appealing. The soup was disappointing, watery, inedible. We, politely of course, pointed this out. The waitress pretty much ignored us, smugly charging us full price. Downstairs, the owner informed us that it was us that was lacking, not his soup. We left, outraged. Vowed never to return.

Drove north, to the Cotswolds, to Stratford and the naffest hired house I have seen in a long time. Decor from the 80s, child sized twin beds in every room. Bar the master suit, intended by a friend as a romantic gesture to his (relatively) new girlfriend. How romantic they felt in a bed dwarfed by dark floor to ceiling shiny wardrobes on every wall save the doorway to the ensuite, which had no door, I never did find out. No loo roll. Charged a non refundable £60 fuel charge on top of the rent plus any electricity above that - and being that they charged 17p a unit and there were no draw-able curtains - it was. Another place I shan't be returning (or recommending - New Inn House between Evesham and Straftord in case you should be planning a visit to the midlands).

And then, the wedding. A lovely, winter-y candle lit celebration of love and friendship and hip hop karaoke. Although there was less of the actual karaoke - that all went down at the engagement party. This was a hog roast in a converted barn with a massive open fire and old fashioned sweets on tables. Where best men read strange christmas carol style speeches and where french husbands watched bemused as people queued for the cheese table. Where there was a hat line in the foyer to the loo and cowshed toiletries and candles which said 'love'. And slightly drunken aunties posed suggestively for the photobooth which was on a balcony.

And where I wore my beautiful, Anathema Design-ed headpiece and a vintage crystal beaded velvet dress and won £20 on the wager for the length of the best mans speech. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Anathema Designs

I came across these amazing pieces last week, made by Anathema Designs. They are made from recycled products and the creator is a trainee architect which comes across in the structure and composition of the pieces. I also love the idea of her work as "an attempt to change perceptions about what is beautiful and what isn’t". It is very refreshing to see jewellery which is well made, chunky, satisfying heavy, recycled and unusual and not at excessive prices.

The top one photo is a necklace made from a steel zip and the bottom one is a pendant made from recycled watch parts.

I have commissioned a zip piece. I am going to a wedding next weekend and have asked for my zip to be on a headband to complement a velvet and crystal vintage dress. Part sort of 20s, part up to date fabric and styling. I can't wait for it to arrive...

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Persephone Ninety: Diary for 2011

I can't remember where I first came across Persephone Books. Someone else's blog no doubt. Every so often I go to the website and look through the books and the beautiful end covers and think about buying one. Or two. Or a whole stack.

And then, in about mid October, my thoughts turned, as they do every year, to next year's diary. Even in the midst of iphones and google calendars I am the girl who uses a Smythson address book and spends aeons deciding on the perfect diary every year. I might also be the girl who splurged her first post university paycheck on a box of Smythson stationery and was over the moon when I won a box of Hello Lucky letterpressed personalised note cards last year.

Every year I start looking for the perfect diary, trying to balance out beauty vs practicality vs expense. I can never quite justify the Smythson offerings, beautiful though they are. The address book, whilst a present, also lasts year on year. Even though I keep all my old diaries in a box, it still is only for the year. It's days are numbered from the moment it is opened. 

Last year, to celebrate my first proper grown up qualified job, I bought one from Liberty (only it was a bit smaller). It is stunning and came it a lovely box (nearly as important as the book itself) and the turquoise embossed leather cover cheers me up every time I open it. But the pleasure stops there. The paper is a disappointment. I write in fountain pen and it shows through to the other side. It also has a page to a day. Which would have been fine in London. But I live in the country now. I know which days I go dancing and which days I collect M from the station. My appointments I need to remember are fewer and further between these days. The lack of pleasure in writing on the paper and the disappointment of all those days with nothing to note meant, sadly, I needed a different option.

So, I was so pleased when I realised that Persephone made a diary. With endpapers from all their books as the opposite pages to all the weeks. And with the first line of each book on the page. And each endpaper being a vintage fabric from the same year as the book was published. And all for £10. I ordered one and waited for it to arrive. And it arrived bent. With a creased cover. With shiny pages that I cannot write on with fountain pen. But beautiful nonetheless. 

If you live in London and can visit their shop and you write in pencil or biro - go and get one. You will not be disappointed.

You may well be disappointed by the shop itself if this e-mail interchange is anything to go by:

Peacockfeathers: Thank you for my diary which I received on Saturday. I was pleased to receive it but very disappointed at the condition in which it arrived. Luckily, I purchased it for my own use and it doesn't overly matter that it is bent and has a crease in the back cover but had I bought it as a gift, I would have been unable to use it.  Also, whilst I think the diary contents are beautiful, I usually write with a fountain pen which would be impossible in this diary as the pages are shiny. I had thought about adding a book or two to my order but I will think twice about mail order now. Such a shame because the books are lovely.

PersephoneBooks: Hi - so sorry you do not like the diary. We did it in flexibinding because we did not want the diary to fall to bits, but we are very disappointed that you do not like it. Do put it in the envelope, write 'return to sender' and return it, and I'll refund the money. Apologies again.

 Peacockfeathers: Thank you for your e-mail. I am not sure whether you actually read my first e-mail.I at no point said that I did not like the diary. I was merely pointing out that the packaging was insufficient and it arrived bent and creased, which was a disappointment. I was pointing this out to you to allow you to do something for future orders so others were not similarly damaged. I was also commenting on the paper choice to give constructive feedback for future editions.

PersephoneBooks: Dear Rachel Lastname, oh dear, I was only trying to be helpful! Thank you very much for your advice, for which we are indeed extremely grateful and yes we will try to improve our packaging and our paper. 

 Maybe I am being extraordinarily sensitive and my e-mails were too rude or abrupt but I felt extremely patronised by Persephone Books. I'll let you guys decide whether you think it's worth it for the diary.

Photos 'borrowed' from Persephone Books website.