Je suis Charlie

      No Comments on Je suis Charlie

Christ, what a terrible day. Je Suis charlie

What can you say about these people? 

What can you say about people who will kill a man just because he thinks differently? Who will shoot in the head a defenceless man lying on the ground? Who will kill a man who does nothing but draws a line on paper that disagrees with their world view? 

Yesterday was a shocking day for France. These terrorists are not just killers but murderers. Not just murderers but executioners. Not just executioners but assassins. They chose their targets carefully, and through sheer hatred – men who had committed no crime, but reserved the right to say, and draw, what they thought, as is their right in a democracy. 

As fellow journalists, we feel it keenly. The victims were like us. These were people sitting in an editorial meeting, on an ordinary day, as we ourselves have done so many hundreds of times in other newspaper offices, in other cities. The ordinariness of such a day, ending in fear and tragedy for no good reason at all. It beggars belief. So many bereaved and orphaned children, for what? Who kills cartoonists, for Christ’s sake?

France has long defended freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo takes the piss out of everyone – Jews, Christians, Buddhists, politicians. It reserves the right to be offensive. It is one of things for which it is loved. And never, ever, has this offence been a killing issue until now, with these Islamic extremists.

Now it is the moderate Muslims who will pay for it as the right-wing nut-jobs exact their revenge on everyone they can get their hands on – the housewives and the taxi drivers, the shopkeepers and the children. This terrorist attack plays straight into the hands of the Right.

And perhaps we British too will suffer – because there are plenty of Le Pen scum who would love to kick us out of this country. My own commune did not shift to the National Front in recent elections, but all around us are communes that did – something we would not have thought possible when we moved here under Mitterand’s Socialist government so many years ago.  

Life in France feels bleak today. We can only hope that they catch these murderers soon and bring them to something approaching justice. 

 

Project 333

      No Comments on Project 333

Could you stick to 33 items of clothing for the next three months? fiske hoody

I thought I’d write a bit today about Project 333.

Project 333 is a minimalist clothing concept developed by blogger Courtney Carver. Basically, you commit to wearing only 33 items of clothing for the next three months. Anything you didn’t wear by the end of that time, you donate or sell. Then for the next three months, you do the same again. There exists a website where people can log on and commit to the idea and post how they’re getting on, along with daily photo diaries of all the different combinations that can be achieved with just 33 garments. 

I thought 33 items (including footwear and accessories but not including undies) was a bit tight, but actually it’s quite do-able. However, many of the participants don’t seem to need very different winter and summer clothing the way we do here, so I know that my four three-month tranches would vary quite widely.

As anyone who follows this blog will know, I live in a big old draughty house in rural Normandy. This morning, it was minus-6 outside and 11 degrees in the kitchen. Right now, in front of the woodburner in the living room, it’s more like 18 degrees. Sitting here in my ‘nightie’ (a knee-length merino wool dress plus fleece pjs and Uggs) I feel quite warm. But in summer, it could easily reach 28 degrees in our bedroom and I’d be in my thinnest silk or bamboo nighties. 

On a daily basis in winter, I wear thermals, fleece pants and a fleece polo plus big socks from Corrymoor and trainers indoors. Outdoors I wear black jeans and either a waterproof coat for walking the dogs, with wellies, or a nice wool coat for going into town, with boots. Add a grey felt toque and some hats and scarves, and that’s about it. I have zero requirement to look ‘smart’. 

Now that Christmas is over, my 33 items for the next three months might look something like this:

Eddy teeshirt from FinisterreStarfish pants from Lands End

9 merino tees

Black Eddy tee x 3

Grey Eddy tee x 2

Linen Eddy tee x 2

Grey Fiske sweat

Grey Fiske hoody

5 bottoms

Black jeans x 2

Grey fleece pants

Black fleece pants

Black fleece Starfish pants from Lands’ End 

Bezant cardi from FinisterrePipistral coat

4 knits/warm tops

Grey Oxford collar lambswool cardi from Woolovers

Grey Bezant cardi from Finisterre

Black fleece polo from Lands’ End

Charcoal Aran Crafts long cardi with hood

4 coats

Taupe Pipistral coat from Finisterre

Black Squall Stadium coat from Lands’ End

Pink mohair vintage coat

Lemon mohair vintage coat

11 other

Grey fleece gilet from Lands’ End

Grey pashmina (gift from my sister)

Grey toque hat

Waterproof hat bought in Finistère

Shivling gloves from Rohan

Pearl necklace

Gold and pearl earrings

Uggs

Brown trainers

Walking boots 

Wellies 

Sticking to a colour palette based on neutrals simplifies things a great deal but let’s see if this lot gets me through till the end of March.  

A streamlined wardrobe

      No Comments on A streamlined wardrobe

Twenty sacks and counting.

My massive declutter continues and I’m beginning to see light and space in the house. Twenty 100ltr sacks of clothes have now hit the kerb one way or another. 

Organiser Marie Kondo recommends that you do your clothes first, because these things definitely belong to you and are easy to make decisions about, though I confess I am also doing it in a light way with books from time to time, just to take a break. For instance, I just boxed up all my remaining classics books from college and gave them to a friend (it felt great – haven’t looked at the damn things for 30 years).

When it comes to clothes, though, this process been a lot less painful than I thought. Instead of weighing up the pros and cons of each item – is it useful, how often do I wear it, etc, I simply picked up each garment and felt it in my hands. Your fingertips tell you the truth – this is too old, this is too stiff, this is too tired. Or this is snuggly, this feels delicious, this is silky and delectable.

I’ve found that quite coincidentally, the process has narrowed down my wardrobe to a palette of grey, black, taupe and teal, with the odd very dark brown piece, and pastel colours such as pale pink and light, leafy green and soft blue (mainly thin sweaters) for summer. There are one or two white things and some brighter coloured scarves and winter coats for a jolt of energy in a dark season. 

I still have too many clothes – my ultimate aim is to get them down to a single standard wardrobe’s worth – but it’s an improvement. I’ve taken 18 100 sacks to the charity drop-off point, given a shedload to friends and put aside a small pile for Ebay (is it worth the hassle, I ask myself, and the answer is no for anything worth less than £20, which is the vast majority of my stuff).

My vintage clothes, I’ve packed separately, as other than cashmere sweaters and coats, these are really more about inspiration than wear these days, when my clothes lead a hard life of mud, dogs and woodburners. Meanwhile, for daily wear, there is a handful of brands I rely on:

* Finisterre, for merino thermals, tees and hoodies, knitwear and my new Pipistral coat – the best coat I’ve ever owned.

* Lands’ End, for fleeces and walking shoes – their cashmere is also good.

* Wall, for Pima cotton dresses and wool trousers.  

* Boden, for grey cotton crewneck tees, which are 27 inches long, and linen and silk dresses for summer.

* Armor-Lux, for thick cotton Breton tops, which I own in navy and grey.

* M&S, for plain black denim jeans with black stitching, which I much prefer to a contrast stitch. 

* Sloggi, for cotton full briefs – the only knickers I now own.

* Bali, for minimiser bras, which converted me to underwires for the first time in 20 years. 

* Aran Crafts, for traditional knitwear, including my favourite long hooded coat. 

* Woolovers, for simply everyday knits in lambswool and merino.  

There is also a sprinkling of other brands: Orvis, Pringle, Braemar, Adini, Woolpower – mainly country or specialist clothiers rather than high street – and most of the unique spark is provided by vintage items: a lemon-coloured wool bouclé coat from the 60s, a bright pink 1950s coat in bouclé mohair, a cream polar-bear coat, a grey Persian lamb by Calman Links, etc. 

This Christmas was wick with social occasions, but with a trimmed-down wardrobe it proved sartorially easy. I mainly wore black cotton drill baggy trousers from Wall that look and feel like the finest wool, black leather ankle boots from M&S and a range of different tops and wraps – a silver textured fabric vintage jacket that my sister calls my ‘panscrubber’ jacket; a black wrap I made myself from silk fabric covered in shaggy beaded fringe; a scarlet Chinese silk embroidered vintage jacket from the 50s; a vintage sequinned cardigan with cream and black harlequin pattern; and a screaming magenta velvet vintage coat. 

This is how occasionwear looks in this neck of the woods – a nice coat that makes an entrance, some long, baggy trousers you can get your thermals under if need be and a top that looks interesting over the dining table.  

A room of one’s own

      No Comments on A room of one’s own

I’m creating a Zen space for myself.

So, it’s 2015. 

I wonder what the year will hold in store? Good things, one hopes, but much of it is out of one’s own control.

Last year was a good year for us workwise: this year starts with unemployment. But on the bright side, perhaps less exhaustion from overwork to go with it. I will have to take back the gardening in-house this year as we can no longer afford to employ someone, the dogs are back on dechets, which will save us 80 euros a month, and I aim to put myself under a new-clothing embargo in the interests of economy.

Ideally I would spend nothing all year on clothing, but I think that’s a tad unrealistic – but I’m hoping to manage the first three months without spending any money on clothes. Because the truth is that I have no clothing needs, only wants. 

Because I do not believe in resolutions, only in intentions, I will not commit to something like Project 333 (I’ll blog more about this later), but I hope to stick to something similar myself, along with my other intentions for 2015: to lose weight, to gain fitness, to do more yoga, and to practice more zazen. 

In the interests of not spending money on clothes, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks diligently unsubscribing from five email feeds each day. It’s remarkable now little crap is now coming into my inbox. Some of these firms, such as Finisterre and Lands’ End, I did sign up for, but there were many that I did not – I’ve never bought a damn thing from Next, for instance, and yet there were their email offers, endlessly cluttering up my inbox. 

In the interests of doing more yoga and zazen, I’ve also stopped looking at the news, listed some Zen and simplicity blog favourites to read over breakfast, and clawed back a dedicated space for myself in the house. Our ‘second’ bedroom, which has in turns been a guest room, a sewing room and a winter bedroom, is now going to be ‘my’ room. Weeks of decluttering and discarding furniture (25 sacks of clothes and fabric so far, plus a double bed and a marble washstand) have resulted in a space large enough to accommodate a nice daybed for lounging and reading, plus a huge area to put down a yoga mat. Most of the rest of the room is empty and I am using the money gained by selling furniture to have another closet built in.  

Earlier in the year, we had closets built into one half of the room, which we exchanged for our vintage Karmann Ghia, which was rusting away in the garage. I think I got the better part of the deal, with floor-to-ceiling storage 60cm deep now running along the whole of one wall. Following Marie Kondo’s advice, I also put a bookcase in the back of the hanging section, which freed up space on our landing as well as providing me with storage for sweaters, shoes, etc.   

The room is now starting to feel very Zen, and will be even more so by the summer, I hope. Here will be my singing bowl, my rune stones, my scented candles, my miniature Zen garden and my SAD lightboxes. Everything white and calm. And no-one allowed in except by appointment… 

The big declutter

      No Comments on The big declutter

Decluttering is an exhausting but fulfilling process.

I am in the middle of a massive declutter. 

Since I am not currently working, it seemed like a good opportunity. The total so far? I’m not quite sure, but certainly 12-13 100-litre bags of clothes sent to Emmaus, Le Relais, and various friends, plus I don’t know how many boxes of bric a brac and junk.

I’m not quite sure how long ago it was that I decided to get rid of 10 per cent of everything I owned, but the task was accomplished in days. Kinda galling, but now I’m on the hunt to jettison about 50 per cent, or if not 50, as close to it as I can get.  

To help me in my quest for a lighter life, I’ve been reading every decluttering article and book I can find, and so far, the Konmari method has been among the most useful. The author, Marie Kondo, is clearly a bit off her rocker, but also very funny and very right about a lot of things. Not all of your clothing has come to you to be worn threadbare, she says (this is something I am constantly guilty of), and if something doesn’t suit you, it’s already done its job of teaching what not to buy – there is no need to hang onto it just because it’s new – let someone else get the benefit. 

Being Shinto-ist, Kondo is rather animist and believes in touching everything you own to see if you still get a thrill from it – if not, into the bin it goes. Doing this, she claims, her clients discard a good 50 per cent of everything they own fairly painlessly, and only have to do it once.

Well, the latter part remains to be seen – I am notorious for yo-yoing between decluttering and squirrel-Nutkin-ing – but the first part is certainly true. I have indeed found this latest bout of decluttering remarkably painless because the Konmari method means you act on your instinct rather than your rationality, thus answering an emotional need. 

Emotion, after all, is why we buy stuff in the first place. Not simply for its usefulness, more because it answers a call within us. Very few of our purchases are made purely rationally: we buy things because they’re useful, sure, but also because they’re gorgeous, beautiful, pretty, sexy, because we ‘just had to have it’. Using the Konmari method, however, I’ve been able to sort the wheat from the chaff much more easily – discarding the blouse that was too floral, the jeans that were too small and hadn’t been worn in years, the colour that I now find too bright, the clothes that are fine and solid and probably have years of wear but that are so familiar that I’m sick of them.

She suggests that you start your decluttering with clothes because these are personal and therefore easy to make decisions about, and I’ve done just that, keen to whittle down to what will fit in my new gorgeous set of built-in wardrobes, which I swapped for my old car back in the autumn. Kondo’s method of folding is also a revelation, enabling you to pack far more into a small space, so my drawers are now full of beautifully folded cashmere sweaters, tees and knickers, all arranged like sushi in a box. 

The result is, suddenly, space. This is a big house – too big, really – and over the past 18 years we’d stuffed it to the gills with crap. But now there is space on the shelving, space on the hanging rail; drawers full of beautifully co-ordinated items in black, grey, taupe and teal; space to move around in. I’ve been able to bin most of my cashmere knits, acknowledging at last that they have been worn to death, and only retained the best items. And friends as well as strangers have benefited from the offload. 

Overall, I feel much lighter and happier, and in better shape to face the coming year.  

A calmer environment

      No Comments on A calmer environment

We recently stayed in the most beautiful holiday place we’ve ever booked and it’s inspired me to change my home. Gite at Treompan

The DH and I are back from Brittany, where we just spent a holiday in a gîte on the dunes. 

Our destination was far Finisterre, up on the coast between the lovely old port of Le Conquet and Roscoff, in a duney place called Treompan. And in booking our gîte this year, I had a cunning plan.

For some years now, I’ve been trying to persuade the DH to move house. I love our old and rambling house but it’s far too big for us, murderous to clean with its gaps and beams, and impossible to heat. I now fancy an easier life with less cleaning and maintenance (and a garden that isn’t a hectare on a steep slope, too). My ideal is to buy a plot of land and build a wooden house on it, to what the French call BBC standard – highly energy efficient – or even to Passivhaus level. Smooth wooden floors, huge windows, double glazing, insulation a foot thick – that’s my wishlist.

The gîte I chose was right on the dunes and appeared to be a wooden building, though when I talked to the owners, it turned out to be a former concrete clubhouse for a local campsite, which the owners had insulated both inside and out and then clad in wood siding.

View from bedroom

The layout was wonderful. You entered through big double doors into a single-storey windowed porch that ran the full length of the long, low building, and which was furnished with a daybed and a picnic set – an ideal place to store coats and boots and wood, and to allow visitors to sit and wait if you yourself were out. Our side was neat whereas their side was full of drying clothes and saddles, the lady of the house being a horsewoman. 

Then came the front door proper, with a punchkey lock as well as a ‘proper’ lock, which led to the living room/dining room/kitchen, all open plan. Cream ceramic floors with a step down to the living room with its matching black leather sofas, and a step up to the kitchen, with its wood-topped breakfast bar. A roaring Godin woodburner welcomed us on arrival, along with the fantastic views from the living room’s full-length glass panels and French windows, of the dunes and the sea. Off to one side were a ground-floor bedroom whose walls were mainly glass, and a walk-in shower-room, and there were also rooms upstairs, though we had little need for those. 

Tray and table

I just loved the way the place was decorated and set about analysing it so I could pinch the ideas when I got home. Although the building was modern and the walls and floors were basically white, it was not at all stark, due to the comprehensive use of natural materials. There was rattan and wicker, bleached wood and hardwoods such as walnut and oak. Some wood was painted white and there was liberal use of coir and seashells. The trays were driftwood-coloured wood and the glass coasters sported images of pebbles. The curtains were white cotton sheets and the headboards were simply padded grey fabric panels hung from pewter-coloured curtain poles on the wall. All of the paintings and photos were of the natural world – patterns in the sand, sprouting bamboo, granite boulders, etc – and the fabrics were either plain or stripes in subdued colours such as beige and grey-blue. 

Shell bottle

The owner had kept the colour scheme very tonal – white, cream, sand, grey, black, beige, and natural woods, echoing the colours of the landscape outside with its silvery-white sand and bleached marram grass leading to the green-grey sea. There was a giant glass bottle on the landing filled with seashells, the walk-in shower was tiled in non-slip pebble tiles, the vinyl bathroom floors had a fake coir pattern and the bathroom units were wooden with fabric-lined wicker baskets on the shelves. The atmosphere was almost spa-like in its tranquility.

Daybed

It made my chintzy home suddenly seem very busy and annoying. So when we came back, I set about creating a calmer atmosphere.

Our bedroom has white walls, a yellow ceiling and black beams (both soon to be painted white) and magenta bedding, which I love because I find the colour welcoming and boudoirish. Lately I’ve introduced the same magenta, along with violet and crimson, into the kitchen. It works well here, although the colour is unexpected, because it’s an ‘energy’ room, but in the living room I knew I wanted a more tranquil atmosphere.

When we bought the house 18 years ago, the plan was to do it all white and blue, with stripes, but the sofa we ordered came with turquoise jacquard covers. It proved a difficult colour to match, but I prided myself over the years in finding turquoise velvet curtains and turquoise-painted log boxes, turquoise throws and whatnot to go with it. The terracotta floor is something we’re stuck with, but most of the dark grey exposed granite has now been painted white, along with the wooden furniture, while the other soft furnishings are black and brown leather.

There is also a lot of other colour. Three years ago, when I realised I needed to see flowers during winter, I bought lots of 1980s chintzes with white and yellow grounds – English Rose by Jonelle and Avening by Sanderson being particular favourites. So our curtains, which we only hang in winter, are in shades of white, cream, primrose, pink, soft green, blue and dry brown. This has produced a very pretty and quite colourful shabby chic effect that I really enjoy but had lately begun to find too stimulating. 

Coincidentally, I am once again going through a phase of stripping the colour out of my wardrobe and returning to a palette of grey, laced with taupe, black, beige and white, so it’s interesting to realise I’m doing the same thing in the house.

Inspired by our gite, I quickly set to work to remove the colour in the living room, and it took surprisingly little doing. I chucked a textured cream throw over the turquoise sofa and a taupe cover over its large seat cushion, then topped the whole lot with some plushy grey fleece throws I’d bought for the dogs. I took the emerald and orange obis off the walls and exchanged them for creams and taupes. I removed all the colourful pictures and photographs, and hung a single silver-framed mirror instead. And I exchanged the magenta tiebacks for soft grey-green ones.

The effect was instantly soothing and it feels, in my present frame of mind, a lot easier to live with. Who knows? I may find in the depths of winter that I have a sudden longing for crimson velvet or loads of pattern, but I have now decided that I would rather do this with a throw or a cushion rather than anything bigger, and will keep the really bright colours for small accessories such as my turquoise poubelle de table. 

 

Dog happy

      No Comments on Dog happy

You can’t be precious with dogs in the house.

I love my dog. I really do.

Total damage this morning, one straw hat, one cloth hat, one poster, numerous bits of cardboard, miscellaneous bits of plastic and a packet of old spectacles earmarked for the optician.

I swept it all up with the dustpan and brush he’d also eaten. Yesterday it was my husband’s Regatta baseball cap and a pair of trousers. The trouble is, he’s now tall enough to reach the table and pull stuff off, so clearly back into his cage he must go at night – he cannot be left out and about. 

I was hoping he was over the chewing-everything-in-sight phase, at eight months, but since he had the snip a week ago, he seems to be reverting to puppyhood somewhat.

Thank heavens, the castration itself has been problem-free, unlike poor Zola, who developed a hernia. We kept Cézanne dosed up on Zylkene for a couple of days and he lounged about on cushions, out of his box. When we allowed him out it was only to toilet, and strictly on a lead.

He took it surprisingly well for a dog that is normally out of the house like a greyhound from the slips. Our normal routine is to rattle the key in the lock, open the door, shout ‘Rabbits’ as a warning to the poor prey creatures in the driveway, and off he goes. Zola is down to a stately trot now, conserving his energy with his failing heart, while Cézanne is boundlessly bouncy. 

Nevertheless I’m finding owning him surprising easy. I was warned that spollies were ‘mad and thick’, which is true, but he’s still delightful. As long as he gets about 45 minutes tearing round the countryside off-lead, he’s as happy as a clam. I’d really like to get him up to an hour or 75 minutes, as this is the walk I used to do with Zozy before his heart began to fail, but I’ve also worked out that if I walk a bit more slowly, Cézanne gets more exercise as he tears off in one direction after deer or partridges, then back again to me for a lovey. 

As I type, both dogs are charging round the living room, play-fighting. Zola used to be the boss at this, but Cézanne has topped him out now and he finds it more difficult to put a paw on his shoulder to assert his top-dog status. We have to be more careful than ever to preserve the status quo, feeding Zola first, biscuiting him first, allowing him on the furniture and the sprollie not, allowing him upstairs and sprollie not. 

When we got the sprolls, we weren’t sure for certain sure that it would be a good idea, but our cunning plan to give Zola a new lease of life, and spare ourselves the terror of an empty house when Zola goes, for the time being seems to be working out just fine. Just keep bones, balls and food out of the equation…

 

 

Rohan

      No Comments on Rohan

Rohan has been around a long time, but it’s a new label for me. Shivling gloves

I thought I’d write today about a ‘new’ clothing label I’ve found – Rohan. 

Rohan isn’t new, of course. Hikers and ramblers have been wearing their clothes for 40 years, but I bought my first things from them only recently. Aside from the horrendously difficult ordering process (about which I ended up in an email exchange with customer services), I have to admit that I’m impressed.

It was my friend J who put me onto them. J and his wife are dedicated ramblers and have been wearing Rohan clothes for over 20 years – some of his trousers are still going strong after that length of time. Rohan have a reputation among younger hikers of being a bit fogey-ish, which suits me fine, to be honest. The last thing I want is to trek across the landscape in fluorescent pink jammers and Rohan have a history in hill-walking gear, relatively long and roomy, rather than the modern skintight Alpine look. 

The range is relatively small – this is not a fashion brand, after all – and quite expensive, so I treated myself first off to some bits in the ‘souk’ sale section.

First up, I was looking for a waterproof and lightweight country (not town) coat that comes below my knees. (I would’ve liked a longer one, but it was over 200 quid.) Why manufacturers haven’t worked out that it rains in summer, I don’t know. You can get great waterproof coats for winter, but in summer, you’re stuffed if you want to keep anything below your knees dry. 

Rohan Windshadow Mac

I was looking specifically for a country colour in order to blend into the landscape and this sage green Windshadow mac in ‘Conifer’ is really nice – I can now nip behind a bush for a pee without alerting every passing driver to my presence. I also really like the fabric, which is a sort of dry, matte finish that I can’t really describe. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the weight, or lack of it. I didn’t know, but Rohan are well known among the walking fraternity for the light weight of their clothing, and this coat weighs 240g, which is eight ounces. I hardly know I’m wearing it.

I expected to keep this coat for dog-walking and rambling but in fact I’m wearing it all the time because it’s actually smart enough to wear in town after all. And it packs up so small and tiny that I can stuff it in a handbag for a quick pac-a-mac style coverup. By the way, it has a drawstring waist, so when I wear it, the shape is very different. 

Spark vest

I also wanted a country-colour gilet with a more waterproof finish than my fleece ones. I have a few soft fleece gilets from Lands’ End but they are really only OK for indoors – when outside, you need a bit more slick if the rain hits you. They are also a bit too brightly coloured for hiking. The Spark gilet met these criteria – I got it in a nice chocolate brown colour, which is reversible, once you remove the label, to a sort of pinky-burgundy, though I don’t actually see myself wearing that side. Once again, it weighs nothing – at 125g, it’s like wearing a feather, which could be important when trekking back up a hill at the end of a long day.

My final purchase was a pair of thick fleece gloves, the Shivling, in a brighter colour. I go for brightly coloured gloves because they’re easier to find when you drop them, is all. These are very thick and nice quality, so I will be getting more in the future.   

Rohan don’t only make rambling clothing. They also make general travel clothes for town and country that repel mosquitoes, are uncreasable and can be washed out in the sink. Next on my wish list is their ‘troggings’, which are pull-on outdoor-fabric pants in a jogging style, which sound just about right for my shit-up-to-the-eyeballs life. 

 

No to this

      No Comments on No to this

I sometimes think there’s nothing at all to wear…

It hit me this morning when I was paging through the pages of the Celtic Sheepskin Co’s clearance section how much I now say No to clothing. 

I rather flatter myself that it’s partly because I’ve got my style down pat but it’s also that with increasing age, I find there is so little in the shops or catalogues that suits my life and shape.

My lifestyle I’ve already gone into in some detail on these pages but when it comes to shape, I am a short woman (5ft 1.5in), with a curvy figure – something the designers seem to think doesn’t exist. I’m titty and like to hide it, not show it off. My waist is usually 10-12 inches smaller than my hips, so clothes are always too big at the waist and have to be taken in. I also like to keep things fairly simple or I look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. 

I don’t show my legs or arms and I like my skirts long so I can go bare legged (I don’t tan and haven’t sunbathed in over 30 years, and my lily-white legs aren’t something the public needs to see). I also have problems with my feet due to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, and have terrible trouble finding shoes.

There are some things I look for: a pretty collar in a face-flattering shape that shows off a nice necklace and earrings; a good scoop neck on a tee – not too high, not too low, not too wide; long sleeves that don’t squeeze the arm like a sausage skin; flat elastic waists for the sake of comfort; pockets(!!!); bootcut trousers that balance my hips. Oh, and pockets. Did I mention, I like pockets?

But there are loads of things that seem very hard to find, such as attractive shoes that offer good support (I live in trainers and walking shoes but why are they always so garish? I go over them with black boot polish and colour in the brand logos with magic markers, but it doesn’t last); flattering waistcoats or gilets that would offer a layer of warmth without too much bulk; long gilets that come down to mid-thigh; teeshirts that are long enough to go over your bust and still come down to the low hip. Pockets. Please, pockets…

The result is that I end up in a sort of boring daily uniform: black denim jeans or black Starfish straight-leg pants from Lands’ End; long (27in) merino tees from Finisterre in shades like black, grey and linen; and fleece gilets from Lands’ End, which I kind of hate but they lend the warmth I need. So unflattering is this getup that I almost long for the days of winter when I can pull on my fleece trousers and polonecks and forget all pretensions to style until March. 

In between-weather I also often wear a grey marl crewneck tee from Boden (I have a bunch of them because they are nice and long) but the neckline is slightly too high (and the scoopneck is too low) and I have to cheat it by wearing a necklace or scarf. For cardigans, Woolovers has proved useful, with its long (LONG, LONG, can you hear me, manufacturers?) lambswool cardigans with pockets. Oh yes, pockets…

In summer, life is easier: I just slip on one of a number of bias-cut or tulip-cut linen and hemp dresses I’ve run up over the years and top it with some sort of linen blouse or jacket, most of which are now heading for 20 years old (Hobbs, mainly), and I’m good to go.

All of which means that 99 per cent of clothing I see in the shops or catalogues or online is just unfeasible. Among the items I say ‘no’ to are: 

* Sleeveless or short-sleeved garments. I haven’t shown my arms in years and there’s no sense in asking me to.

* Openwork or lacy knit jumpers – these look terrible on any woman with tits because the lacy bit stretches right over your boobs giving a look the equivalent of underwear show-through.

* Boatnecks. Really? Where are you meant to put your bra straps? A slinky bra strap may look attractive on a 100lb teenager, but it’s not a flattering look on a middle-aged woman with the strap cutting into her ageing skin and causing a bump either side. Gimme a break.  

* Three-quarter sleeves. Well, OK in summer, but not a useful length at this time of year. I’d always prefer the option of rolling up full-length sleeves rather than being forced into three-quarter length. Don’t kid yourself – manufacturers do this to save on fabric yardage, not because of anything to do with you. 

* Crewnecks. My tits (and those of 90 per cent of British women) are far too big for this.

* Wrapover tops or dresses with Lycra. Far too clingy. Not a single one of those wrap-style things is wearable by anyone with breasts unless you also wear a camisole and even then you still have to pin yourself together to avert catastrophe. Hopeless. I have wrap clothes from the 50s and 80s that fit perfectly well, however, because the styles in those days designers actually knew how to design for women who looked like women. 

* Leggings. Obviously…

* Jeans, on the whole. If trousers fit me at the hip, they’re about four inches too big in the waist and jeans are a nightmare to alter because of the heavy fabric. One day, I keep promising myself, I will make my own and until then, I make do with crappy looking jeans that are too big, or denim jeggings.

* Breast pockets. Picking up a theme here? Me in breast pockets looks like twin battleships have hoved into port.

* Pencil skirts, which walk straight up my round hips and in which I can’t sit cross-legged anyway.

* Knee-length skirts, which make me feel horribly exposed when I sit down – I prefer a floaty mid-calf length skirt cut on the bias or A line.

* High heels, which foot problems have made a thing of the past.

* Ballet slippers, loafers and most sandals, which although flat, give insufficient support to a pronating foot.

* Shorts. God give me strength… What woman over 40 is brave enough to wear these?

It is galling, because I can’t be the ONLY woman who has these issues of trying to force a real woman’s body into clothes designed by gay men for teenage girls. It is totally unrealistic. I am not six foot tall with a flat chest. Models today seem to have bust measures between 31 and 33 inches, while the average British woman has a 39in bust, a 40in hip and measures under 5ft 4in in height. 

However, fortunately, there are still companies I can rely on, even if it does mean having deep pockets: Finisterre, Rohan, Wall, Toast, Orvis, Celtic Sheepskin Company, Aigle, Armor-Lux, Craghoppers, Woolovers, Seasalt, Boden. By picking and choosing between these brands, and even still occasionally at Lands’ End, I can hopefully find enough things to actually wear.

 

The end of the maize

      No Comments on The end of the maize

The last harvest of the year is upon us. Maize

They are taking the maize. 

It’s always with a touch of melancholy that I write that phrase each year – though this year it’s later than usual, due to the wonderful long Indian summer we’ve all been enjoying. The end of the maize is the signal to hunker down for winter, to make sure the woodpile is well stocked, the oil tank is filled and the velvet throws are back on the sofa. 

The maize in this part of Normandy is for animal consumption only – we simply don’t get the sun and heat that would ripen it enough for humans to eat. All day long and all night the combines have been running for the past few days, as hunters gather around with shotguns in case of the wild boar or deer that hide within the maize fields. The farmers don’t own the behemoth machines, which cost hundreds of thousands of euros each: no one farmer can afford one, so the plant is hired out, hence the 24-hour work schedule. 

The maize is beautiful when it’s standing, forming great tunnels 8ft high, turning country drives into something of an adventure (when lost, head uphill – at some point there’ll be a church and then you can find your way again). But the harvest brings consolations with it as the landscape opens out again and fills with light, restoring a view that was lost for months. 

In normal progression, then will come the rain, which turns the stiffly stubbled fields into something resembling the paddies of South East Asia – on a bright day, the reflection from the water is like walking on a landscape of mirrors.

This autumn, though, it is particularly beautiful, with china blue skies above, the golden maize, and all the trees still in leaf, turning shades of gold, russet, ochre and saffron. Walking the dogs means crunching over acres of chestnuts – one of the biggest crops I’ve ever seen in our 18 years here. If only they weren’t so fiddly to cook… I always feel it’s such a waste that these trees, planted originally by the Romans that came this way as food for their troops, are so little harvested – and when we eat chestnuts, it’s usually the Italian bottled variety. 

The apple crop is bumper too this year, at least for the late bloomers, and the whole district smells of apples and pineapple weed and camomile.  

The maize is the last harvest of the year, barley being the first. Our land is entirely surrounded by the fields of one farmer and this year he planted barley for his chickens – my favourite crop because of the achingly sweet smell when it’s ripe, turning every day into a honey-dipped festival. Every other year he plants wheat, which takes the longest of all crops to grow – the farmers plant it in November or December and by Christmas, it’s coming up like a lime-green pelt clothing the furry landscape.

The barley is taken in early summer, the wheat in late, when cutting through a field smells like walking through a loaf of brown bread. Between may come oilseed rape with its insistently bright flowers and sickly honey smell when in bloom, followed by the rotting cabbage stench of its leaves, usually ploughed in for green manure when they shoot again after the seeds are taken. Occasionally the farmers plant oats – a tough grass that will grow almost anywhere and which I dread a little because the next year it will come up all over our courtyard. 

So, just a few more weeks to enjoy nature’s bounty and then it will all be gone, the morning walk with the dogs will be in wellies over ploughed brown earth, the silhouettes of trees will be like black skeletons and the colour will drain from the landscape, leaving the eye to frantically seek out colour when it reappears again in spring.