Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lose yourself

My daughter found something out about herself this week. After taking a narrator role in her school play, she discovered she rather enjoyed being in the limelight. Quite a departure for my shy girl who generally feels more comfortable observing life from the sidelines. Standing on the spotlit stage, she delivered her lines with aplomb and basked in the audience's attention like it was warm sunshine. For a few hours, she was free from the self-conscious strictures of pre-teenhood.

Two girls reading books on play equipment
Lost in a good book
The transformation came about because she was able to borrow the persona of another character and suppress her usual inhibitions. Wearing another personality for a few hours also meant she no longer had to worry about how other people might judge her. Like any spell in the sunshine, the after-effects have lingered, giving her a rosy glow of confidence. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The whips and scorns of time

I finally worked out who Bradley Cooper was the other day. Yes, I know - I have been living under a rock. Last Saturday, my husband and I watched him and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, a quirky rom-com about two young people with mental health issues who [spoiler alert] end up falling in love. The message we took away was that most of us harbour a little craziness, whether we paddle away mid-stream or occasionally sink beneath the flow.

"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday - that's guaranteed," Pat (Bradley Cooper) told us in the final scene. "I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday's my favourite day again."

Girl staring at her reflection in water
"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday..."
Credit: Will Lam

Oddly, I found this quotation comforting. We are not alone, I thought! The idea that life is about heartbreak and disappointment, as much as fulfilment and pleasure, is not a novel one but it teaches us that we can't always expect an easy ride. We have to embrace human experience in its entirety, the rough with the smooth. 

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Stop, drop and breathe

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Walking Toddler comes clodhopping into my bedroom while I am still lying in bed. Her little feet are balanced precariously on my high-heeled shoes left out from the evening before. 

"Mama, we have a soo-pise for you," she shouts gleefully.

She is swiftly overtaken by Middle Child who clouts her around the back of the head with his Viking sword. "Don't give it away, stupid! It's not Mother's Day yet!" 

A child wearing her mother's high-heeled shoes
Walking Toddler in my shoes
© Marikeherselman | Dreamstime.com
Walking Toddler lets out an ear-splitting wail, hurls herself to the ground and proceeds to beat the wooden floor with her fists. One of my vintage heels goes flying across the room and slams into the back of the bedroom door. 


Oh my God - where to start? Stop, drop and breathe. I repeat it like a mantra, though I can hardly hear myself over the full-body tantrum going on at floor-level. Stop (close your mouth), drop (let the issue go for a moment) and breathe (deeply several times). 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

May you be ordinary

I sometimes think that my life isn't really exciting enough to write a blog. Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all (as the band Del Amitri might have put it). If I'm to write anything, I generally have to stick to my interior life. You can do some clever things with your imagination.

A front door opening out onto a driveway
Safe in our bubble
When I look round at the comfortable existence I lead with my husband, our two children, the dog and the cat, I wonder if this is what we were striving for all those years ago. Hours of essay writing at university, playing office politics during our twenties, running drunk through Soho... it was all leading to up this: domestic humdrum in a Home Counties bubble.

But that is the trade-off when you have children. Any appetite for risk diminishes almost overnight. I love that scene in the Paddington film when groovy Mr Brown drives his pregnant wife to the maternity hospital on a motorbike and then picks her up the next day in a new Volvo estate. Safety first, wildly fulfilling life second


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A new kind of alchemy

A few months ago I had the pleasure of shepherding a group of excitable seven-year olds around the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The highlights of our trip, according to the consensus view, were Guy Fawkes' lantern, a mummified cat from ancient Egypt and the contents of our packed lunch. So when a glass case of Eastern porcelain caught my fancy, I knew I was going out on a limb. There was a typed notice inside the case that particularly intrigued me: 

East and West: a difference of opinion
In the West an object is considered more beautiful and valuable if it is in perfect and original condition. Contrast this with the Far East where imperfections and repairs can be considered to enhance the beauty and significance of ceramics. The dish [below], showing the rising moon, has been mended with gilded lacquer. The gilding draws attention to the restored area. A Western mender or restorer would have aimed to create an invisible repair.

Porcelain dish, Arita, Japan, 1600-1699
Porcelain dish, Arita, Japan, 1600-1699 
The rim has been repaired with gilded lacquer using a technique known as maki-e

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

All hail the new House of Winser!

People watching:
Kim Winser, OBE and founder of Winser London

So what do Yasmin Le Bon, Emma Watson and David Beckham have in common? In one way or another, they have all modelled clothes for Britain's very own queen of retail, Kim Winser. Yasmin is currently the face of Kim's newest and eponymous label, Winser London, while Emma Watson was snapped last year in a Winser trench coat (yes Winser, not Burberry!) on her way back from the Oscars. Back in 2000, when Kim was boss of Pringle, the Scottish knitwear manufacturer, David Beckham burnished the brand by choosing to don a Pringle sweater for the launch of his first book.

Yasmin Le Bon in a Winser London Milano coat
Yasmin Le Bon in that coat!
Many of us love poring over what the stars choose to wear, but sometimes the more interesting story is the person behind those clothes. Kim Winser, who has earned a reputation for reviving ailing brands, such as Pringle, Aquascutum and Agent Provocateur, has set herself a fresh challenge: to turn Winser London, her 2013 internet start-up, into a global brand. 

Kim founded Winser after she spotted a gap in the market. "I was passionate about an area... that was not being fulfilled, the area of fashionable clothes with a great luxurious quality but at truly amazing prices," she told me in a recent interview.

Although the brand started out two years ago as an online business, the clothes are now available in John Lewis and two of Winser's own stores in Gerrards Cross and Marlow. After running more established businesses like Pringle and Aquascutum, Kim finds she is back to being "seriously hands on" as she sets about transforming her vision into tangible success. "My whole career has been a learning curve for launching Winser London."