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Objets Trouvé: Shopping mojo

Posted on: Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Somewhere, sometime, I lost my shopping mojo. 

I used to be a horror for shopping. My early 20s were littered with birthday cards from my mother with 'hilarious' jokes on the front re: the amount girls spend on cardigans and bags and whatnots. 

I was one of those girls. 

Then...well, I don't know what happened. I lost a little bit of weight, and I grew up a little bit, I suppose. Suddenly H&M's Divided range wasn't all that hot anymore. I started to freak out in shops. I didn't have a clue what suited me. I forgot how to dress. 

And then I stopped really caring. 

Or maybe I did, but I stopped thinking about it so much. 

I wore lots of stripes. And navy blue and grey. Like a sort of preppy sailor. 

And then, I discovered shopping in Brussels. 


These chassures are loafers. I know not the French for loafers, so let's make it 'loafres', oui?

They are freakin' aubergine. They are the comfiest things I have ever put on my feet. 

I am experiencing early-20s purchase-related joy for the first time in years. I love them. This deserves some sparkle. 

I have just bought an entirely new work-wardrobe. I know. I am bad

But it really doesn't help that everyone at my new place of work is a) a bit European and b) ergo, is a bit smart 'n' sexy. And that it's a bit less formal than my last place of work, where 'Power Dressing' translated with very few exceptions into 'Ill-Fitting Boxy Suit From Next'. 

If only those clothes could talk. 'Hello, I'm DEVOID OF PERSONALITY!' they would scream. 

So I went a bit mad. 

This is not even everything I bought. And I could have bought more. I had to come home in order to stop spending money. 

I rang Bedders. 'Bedders, I could do this EVERY WEEK!' I squealed. 

'Please don't,' he croaked. 

Ah, the irony. Last week I was writing about a feminist handbook. This morning I was tweeting about the very funny reviews for Bic's ladypens. This afternoon I'm doing a BIG SQUEALY POST ALL ABOUT CLOTHES!

I'm nothing if not a contradiction. 

Recommended Reading - In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Posted on: Friday, 24 August 2012

When I was showing you around my snazzy new apartment, I promised you a book more addictive than crack cocaine.

And here it is - In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. 

In theory, this is not a book that I should like. It is well-documented that I am not a person who is All About The Facts. I don't like logic puzzles. Sudoko is not my thing. I thought, therefore, it would follow that 'true crime' writing, or 'murder mystery' type stuff, wouldn't appeal to me. 

Turns out I was wrong. 

The premise of the book is a bit like those tasks that you'd find in an ancient English textbook. 'Find a story in the newspaper that interests you. Rewrite it in the style of a short story, with yourself as one of the characters'. 

Which is pretty much what Capote did. Except he only wrote himself into the book very subtly. 

Forgive my ignorance, but I didn't know too much about Truman Capote before I read this. I had 'A Capote Reader', and I'd dipped in and out of it. I knew he was a bit of a New York socialite who mated around with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I remember a beautiful description from a short piece he wrote about them - he said that the sight of Burton illuminated Taylor's eyes like a chain of Japanese lanterns. I thought that was lovely. 

I also knew he was pretty much abandoned as a child, and grew up with his aunts in Alabama where he met (Nelle) Harper Lee and was written into To Kill a Mockingbird as Dill. 

Well, let me tell you some more. With In Cold Blood, Capote wrote the original non-fiction novel. The process started when he read in the New York Times about a brutal killing of a wealthy wheat farmer and his family in Holcombe, Kansas. Apparently, he'd been looking for some inspiration for a non-fiction piece for some time, and it was a toss-up between the Holcombe murder and shadowing a maid working in a fancy New York hotel. He chose the murder and the rest, as they say, is the birth of an entirely new genre of writing.

You see, my initial assumption - that it was a 'murder mystery' of sorts - was actually wrong. Tom Wolfe summed it up ideally - this book isn't a 'who-dunnit' or a question of 'will they be caught?' The reader know from the outset that "four shot-gun blasts...ended six human lives" - four in the murder, and two at the hands of the penitentiary service by hanging. Instead, Wolfe insists, the suspense relies on the promise of gory details

I paraphrase, but that's the gist. 

So, Capote travelled with Nelle - Harper Lee, that is - to Kansas to begin to investigate the crime. Initially, doors were closed in his face - he was too pompous, too effete for the plain-talking people of Holcombe. But it seems he won their trust - or perhaps it was Nelle's soft Southern manner that encouraged them to open up to him. Whichever way, the opening Acknowledgements thanks certain persons for allowing Capote access to interviews and crucial documents, many of which are reproduced fully or in part in the book. The book took almost 7 years to write, and was only published after the execution of both murderers. 

This is what really appealed to my inner voyeur, I think. When Capote quotes from 16-year-old Nancy Clutter's diary, it's represented accurately. When the nature of Perry Smith's childhood and upbringing is slowly unfurled (the murderer with whom Capote developed a questionable degree of empathy), it's done so through various documents and personal accounts: a grammatically-clumsy letter from his father to a parole board; an interview with his one surviving sibling.

It's real

This hard-working, God-fearing family that Capote brings alive before the reader's eyes really existed. Herb Clutter, the staunch Methodist who had a policy of not employing men who drank. Bonnie Clutter, the matriarch of the family afflicted terribly with a nervous condition, had raised four children in the house her husband had designed and built. Two had flown the nest and two, Nancy and Kenyon, remained at home. Although it sounds like the most archetypal of American stereotypes, Nancy really did have a boyfriend called Bobby; they were 'going steady'. Kenyon was good with his hands; at the time of the murders, he was in the process of finishing a wooden trunk for one of his older sisters. It was to be her wedding present. And somehow their wholesome, All-American lives crossed paths with those of two criminals - one of whom had overheard in jail that there was a wealthy farmer out West by the name of Clutter who had $10,000 in a safe at home. 

There was no safe. Herb Clutter didn't carry money on his person. Smith and his partner in crime took somewhere between forty and fifty dollars from the house. 

This - the reality of it all - is probably the reason I ended up googling images of the crime scene as soon as I'd finished it. 

It was midnight. The pictures were pretty gory. Probably not my brightest idea. 

I had to watch the film, too - I'll be teaching this book alongside the film for one of the International Baccalaureate modules. Needless to say, it's nowhere near as good as the book - it simply can't hope to convey in an hour and three quarters the depth of detail that Capote does in the novel. Unsurprisingly, given the title 'Capote', the director's chosen direction is to probe the man behind the writer's flamboyant persona. It's undoubtedly worth a watch, but if you choose to watch it before reading the book (how very dare you), be aware that it makes far more of Capote's apparent infatuation with Smith, and only scratches the surface of Smith's background or the Clutter family.

At one point, however, it illuminates an interesting point about Capote's possible motivation for writing the book - and the reason he's become so consumed by the case and by Perry. At one point, Capote is questioned about his interest in Smith. He answers matter-of-factly about his own 'lost' childhood - being passed from relative to relative, being misunderstood, feeling 'different'. 'It's as if,' he says, 'we grew up in the same house. And one day he got up and went out the back door, whereas I went out the front.'

This has a big, fat 'RECOMMENDED' stamp on it. Just don't google the murder scene pictures. Or at least don't do it at midnight. 

** Do, however, have a look at the chilling photoshoot Capote arranged with of the two murderers with a known fashion photographer. Just two murderers looking eerily normal; showing their tattoos, smoking, smirking. 

Chez Bedders

Posted on: Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bonjour. I 'av been 'aving ze French lessons, yes? So that I can speak like the natives, yes?

Today I have been learning the language of 'Objects in the Office' and 'How To Say Where They Are In The Room'. I can, therefore, tell you that the paper bin is green and it is in the corner. I can also tell you that there were two pairs of lunettes dans la salle this afternoon and one of those pairs was purple. And I can also inform you that there is a tree outside the window.

I tell ya, when there's a paper bin emergency and you need to know where that bin is pronto, you'll be glad to have me around. 

We also talked about our likes and dislikes and what we do every day. And I now know that Lewis, my fourteen year old classmate (yes, this is what I've been reduced to) likes Greenday. Beaucoup. And Nickelback. Beaucoup. Christina, the Spanish girl who works in a Cuban bar, is my favourite classmate. She speaks approximately 70% of the time in a Spanish/Catalan hybrid and barks 'QUE?' at the teacher periodically. 

Mais maintenant, allow me to show you around the apartment, oui?

First of all, those of you in need of a 1st wedding anniversary present (that's PAPER, folks), look no further than here. You may have seen previously that, amongst other things, Bedders enlisted the help of a YouTube tutorial in order to make me some origami paper flowers for our wedding anniversary.

I repeat - a YouTube tutorial. That, my friend, is love.  

I ordered address cards from the Rifle Paper Company. We have an exciting new address, and the cards are beautiful and printed in GREEN ink. I heart them.

Heart, you say? The hearts are actually a little leaving present from a lovely lady I used to work with at my old school. She tucked them inside a card with a sweet note and I was very touched.

Alors, and here is the desk at which I type. A bargain from a Leeds-y shop. Note, paper flowers on display. And our much-loved bookcase in pride of place in the dining room. 

OK, so this is what all the Pinteresting of picture frames was all about. Clockwise from centre bottom we have an Alan Stones print (Immediate Family), our Swimming for Children book framed, a trio of Irish writers (Joyce, Kavanagh and Yeats - my brother has all 6 which makes me sick with envy, quite honestly), a Guinness advert that I found in an ancient Country Life magazine and framed and then Bedders' Bathing Places Fat-Man-Diving print which he got in the Side Gallery in Newcastle many yonks ago. The blanket is my Donna Wilson BEAUTY

Old faithful favourites have been finding new homes...

I'm currently suppressing my inner OCD nutbag and trying not to worry about our luscious new chair being bleached by the sun. Err, hello turning-into-my-mother! No worries - the  John Lewis voiles will be arriving soon. Err, definitely turning into my mother. 

I've had to adapt to the fricking crazy weather we've been having here. When I say adapt, I mean STOP WEARING TIGHTS. Believe me, this is a big deal for me. I swear to God, last week it was so hot I was worried about expiring. On the street. Just giving up. It was SO. VERY. HOT. It was actually a bit disgusting how hot it was, but I won't go into that. 

Another Side Gallery Print on the wall. Benefits of high ceilings (even higher than Leeds) = LOOOOOADS of picture space. 

So there we go. A sneak peek around the apartment. I am as giddy as a kipper. 

It's probably obvious. 


Oh, look-see. I did a smiley. Yup, definitely giddy as a kipper.  

More coming soon - amongst all of the reading I'm doing for school I came across MORE ADDICTIVE THAN CRACK COCAINE so I'll be penning a few thoughts on that and I'll also do a Brussels: IT EXISTS OUTSIDE OF THE APARTMENT! photo post. 


Recommended Reading: The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf

Posted on: Thursday, 9 August 2012

**no pretty pictures on this one I'm afraid as I'm on holiday and typing furiously on an iPad-I'll add a few when I return to Bruxelles!**

The Beauty Myth was on the periphery of my literary awareness. AOW's Anna K named it, however, in her 'Books That Made Me me' piece, and I therefore registered it internally on my 'Books That I Should Probably Read' list - mainly because Anna seems so well-informed on feminist issues and so enviably 'together' in her sense of self. And so I ordered it and began it and, somewhere between a Eurostar from London to Brussels, a Ryanair flight to Barcelona and a train ride to Valencia, devoured it completely. 

Her formula is pretty simple - and this is one of the book's strengths. After an introductory chapter of some of her key views and her self-coined terminology outlined, Wolf divides her argument into six clear sections: Work, Culture, Religion, Sex, Hunger and Violence. After such bombardment - and, believe me, it does feel a bit like a siege at times - she finishes up with 'Beyond the Beauty Myth', which (thankfully) offers some 'OK, so women have historically had a horrendous deal - now here's how to channel your fury and outrage into some kind of productive change!' pointers. 

'The Beauty Myth' is a term that probably requires definition before I continue, so I'll attempt one and hope that Wolf would proclaim me 'on the money'. The Beauty Myth, the author asserts, is a conspiracy - a sometimes political, sometimes money-making plot - designed to cheat women out of real equality by ensuring that they measure themselves constantly against an ultimately unattainable 'Iron Maiden' gold-star standard of generic beauty. As a result, the average Western woman spends up to a third of her salary on her appearance. She flagellates herself over her weight, her nose, her breasts, her skin tone. She faces a barrage of sexualised images everyday - beauty pornography - where models dictate that only if she looks like that can she feel like the model does, i.e. eyes half-closed and mouth agape in an intimation of sexual ecstasy. She faces constant scrutiny - from men and from other women, similarly conditioned by the omnipresent beauty myth. 'Ahah!' say the Powers That Be. 'Thought you were free? Well, you thought WRONG.' And this is where I hope I don't start to sound a Little Bit Mental. Bear with me.

You see, Wolf says, women have always had a raw deal. It serves male-dominated-society for women to Know Their Place (remember those Harry Enfield sketches?) - to keep quiet, to not rock the boat, to stay at home, to look after the children. And, over time, different organisations and agencies have done admirable jobs at keeping the fairer sex adequately sedated and constrained. The Christian Church did a marvellous job for quite some time with its lectures on its founding principle Original (that is, Woman's) Sin. Victorian doctors spoke sagely of 'women's illnesses' - hysteria, paranoia, nervous exhaustion - and warned women (or rather, warned their husbands) of the inevitable 'atrophy of the womb' that would occur in those women who 'read too much'. Literature told stories of women who met desperate ends because of immoral behaviour - 'immoral behaviour' that might merely translate to a provocative glance and a difficult-to-define attractiveness (see my much-hated A-level text Tess of the D'Urbervilles for further details). Very simply, the high percentages of women's death in childbirth until well into the industrial age provided a constant reminder to females of their fatality, whereas scientific advancements simultaneously tempered this awareness of mortality in men. 

But then there was a revolution. The 70s arrived and women - having burnt their bras, gone into Higher Education and armed with the contraceptive Pill and the right to a legalised abortion - showed real signs of making real progress for the very first time. They banded together in organised Women's Groups. They petitioned for women's rights and causes at universities and in the workplace. They were a force to be reckoned with. They were loud and they were proud. The future looked bright. 

However, this jubilation was short-lived. Now society has adopted a new angle to ensure that, despite recent strides, women still Know Their Place in this supposedly equal Western world. It's adapted its words to make use of the controlling language of those oppressive forces still remembered as potent - the language of religion, the medical language of woman as invalid - but orientated it around 'beauty'. Women do guilt well, says Wolf. It's strong in our collective memory. We have made strides, it's true, but we still feel undeserving of it. You can have your high-powered job, but you need the right clothes, the right face and definitely the right weight to feel like you're doing it well. 

Wolf does a fine line in articulating truths that, once read, seem patently obvious and yet earth-shatteringly profound at the same time. On women's magazines - an issue that's resonates particularly with me, as I'm sworn completely off them - she writes, 'On the one hand, the aspirational promise of women's magazines that they can do it all on their own is appealing to women who until recently were told they could do nothing on their own. On the other, as sociologist Ruth Sidel points out, the American Dream ultimately promotes the status quo: it discourages those at the bottom from developing a viable political and economic analysis of the American system [substitute the Beauty Myth], instead promoting a blame-the-victim mentality...a belief that if only the individual worked harder, tried harder, he [she] would make it.' One of her interviewees puts it brilliantly: 'I buy them...as a form of self-abuse. They give me a weird mixture of anticipation and dread, a sort of stirred-up euphoria. Yes! Wow! I can be better starting from right this minute! Look at her! Look at her! But right afterward, I feel like throwing out all my clothes and everything in my refrigerator and telling my boyfriend never to call me again and blow torching my whole life.'

And where are men in all of this? Frustrated, mainly. I could recount anything from pages 169 and 172 in quotation here but suffice to say you'll be screaming 'HOW TRUE!' Lots of talk on how men don't understand how an otherwise confident, intelligent woman can morph into an unfathomable, unreachable emotional wreck trapped inside something so utterly pointless. And, worryingly, the recent rise in male eating disorders and psychological referrals suggests that this unhealthy preoccupation with an unrealistic, unattainable image sold to us as the only life worth living by fashion and cosmetic brands might take over men, too.

Ok, so sometimes her rhetoric is a little, shall we say, extreme. I suppose her defence would be that she's shocking her readership out of inertia, and that takes some tough talking. Or some cringe-worthy talking, anyway: on skincare, she ponders whether 'women are feeding their skins as a way to feed themselves the love of which many are deprived.' (I wrote 'Come on!' in the margin). I also found some of her stats a little difficult to digest, too - particularly on rape, where she suggests 1 in 6 women have been raped and 44% of women have been victims of an attempted rape. I was left wondering whether all the women I'm close to have been particularly lucky to escape such assaults. I mean, it is possible that we're all just on the right side of fate, and that's bloody great, but I have to admit to a little cynical 'hmm'ing.

So, I recommend that you read it. I hope that your copy ends up like mine - covered in scrawl and underlinings - and you finish it feeling a little bit more cynical about beauty advertising and a little bit warmer about your fellow woman. Hurrah for us. 

A quickie - oo err, Matron.

Posted on: Sunday, 5 August 2012

Just a quickie as we're a complete pair of penises (peni?) who leave all the washing, ironing and packing until the night before we're due to go on holiday. Why, why, why?! 

The Brussels apartment is beautiful. Actually beautiful. I thought I might be being a bit biased but Adam's colleague Katie has verified that it is, indeed, a lovely apartment. She came around today to translate our inventory from our caricature of a capitalist European landlord. He has the kind of tan it's only possible to achieve when skiing in Aspen and a very expensive watch. I had a day of Sorting Stuff Out on Friday which included a trip to the post office to pick up my (entirely-too-expensive-but-stuff-it-you-only-move-to-Brussels-once) DONNA WILSON BLANKET. It looks a ruddy TREAT on the sofa. Even Bedders conceded that it is, in fact, stunning. 

So. I shall do some proper pictures when all is up and running but suffice to say I'm turning into an interiors BORE. The low-point came when we started pinteresting before we could decide how to hang the pictures on the front room. 

BORE OFF, MCDONAGH. So this is what we've been up to. 

Humming and hawing about where to put pictures (pinterest assistance required)

Worshipping at the altar of iMac.

Bedders MADE me paper flowers for our first wedding anniversary. Using a YouTube tutorial. If he was a wrestler he'd be The Ultimate Husband. They're really deserving of their own post, but time is pressing. I've been rearranging them and resisting the temptation to pick them apart to see how he did it. 

Rediscovering my I'd-save-you-from-a-burning-building possessions (like this Alan Stones print).

Today we had a mooch around a market at Place de Jeu de Baile which was Right Up Our Collective Street. Reproduction Eames easy chairs everywhere. And then we built a barbecue on the decking. Then we fell out, then we drank some beer, then all was right with the world. 

The only blot on my otherwise pretty peachy existence at the minute is my ever-growing collection of mozzie bites, including one beauty which has turned my wrist into a big fat swollen mess. However, I'm prepared for Spain with a supply of Avon's Skin So Soft body oil, which Jeremy Vine claims the SAS use as a repellant (incidentally, this is the only useful bit of information I've ever garnered from Jeremy Vine).

So. Barcelona and Valencia tomorrow. I've only been to Barcelona once and stayed in a depressingly shabby youth hostel with a group of girls. A dirty old man followed us down onto the beach and in my 'I'm abroad! I'm 22! This man is scary!' panic I could only shout, 'Non! Non!' at him in a curious half-French, half-Geordie accent. Nevertheless, it was a grand few days and I warmed to its edginess and its culture.

In other news, the baby name saga rumbles on. Now we're down to Rufus, Rohan/Rowan, Rupert or Ralph. So we're on 'R' now, it would seem. Hopefully there'll be a resolution before Christmas. I'll keep you posted. 

Bon vacances! 

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