Friday, 28 September 2012

Rambling








“Let’s go for a walk” used to be a dreaded phrase. When I was eleven, and my brother six, we collaborated - spinning outlandish excuses and reasons why staying at home was the better option. It was largely a pretense, or maybe just an inevitable part of the routine – enacted between the making of sandwiches and the pulling on of wellies. Our protests melted away faster than icecream on a warm day once we were outside. We clambered through the next few hours, stick fighting and climbing trees, or chasing each other through fields in the evening light. And yet, the next proposed walk would be met with exactly the same response, and the cycle started again. We had to be tempted out by promises of blackberries or bags of sherbert lemons. We folded arms, deliberately left our anoraks behind and grumbled as we left the house.

The desire to stay inside has been thoroughly broken now. I love a quick pound up the lane before twilight, or an early morning visit to the lakes. What I most like about the countryside is its mix of the solid with the ephemeral. It’s comforting to know that whatever happens, the crops are sown and the hills sit amiably. Trees, fields and flowers are a constant presence. They remain after each generation has bloomed and gone. But nature, like a snake, is always growing and then sloughing off new skins.

Whenever I’m feeling wound up, I head outdoors. I’ll walk down the road, swerve around the edge of my neighbour’s house and along a path with sentinel trees on either side. There are steps hacked into the bank at the end, with a rather ugly silver gate at the top. But the two interlinking fields beyond provide just the right distance for quickly beaten footsteps. From the top I can gaze across the village.  Pheasants screeching further off are rusty saws, and the tang of fox hangs in the grass. Depending on the time of year, the view will be curled with woodsmoke, blurred by mist or bright in summer sun. Recently the scenery has been obscured. With a month’s worth of rain falling in twenty-four hours, leading to floods, cancelled trains and half-submerged cars, never has a decent pair of wellies been more needed.

The wonder of wellies: ideally they shouldn’t be too clean, but crusted with mud and spattered with puddle water. They will have stones stuck in the grooves of their heels. They’ll have been used to wade through streams, slide across fallen trees, and tramp along the edges of fields. Everyone has them, often stacked up - or more likely tossed together in a pile. They have a Russian doll–like sense of scale – going from huge to tiny as they encompass the foot sizes of the family.
For now though, my usual sage green wellies have been cast aside and replaced with this delectable Joules pair shown above. They have been on only one (dry) outing so far and are thus still very shiny and new-looking, but I can’t wait to kick them through leaves. It was hard to say no to an offer of a pair, particularly once the practicality was factored in alongside the style. I can escape cagoules and fleeces, but wellies are just one thing a country girl can’t be without. However, I can happily state that they are usually the only practical part of my outfit. I have clambered over barbed wire fences in long lace skirts, taken three hour hikes in tea dresses and capes, and even took a stroll last Christmas day in a full-length red jumpsuit with white polka dots. 

Big thanks to Joules for the Welland Women's premium lace wellies. It was difficult choosing from the many varieties and colours, but these laced blue beauties were the ones that absolutely jumped out. They arrived in a great floral-print box that I'm already re-using for storage and they even come with an alternative pair of dusky pink laces, which I will be making good use of in the future. Here's to many years of rambling and wandering around. 
You can see all the latest designs here.
Alongside the wellies, I'm wearing a vintage lace and cotton slip from a market stall. The jacket is Karen Millen (bought in a charity shop), the hat is vintage and the little blue bag is second hand. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Florilegium: A Short Story (Homage to Corrie Nielsen)












My outfit above is a pure homage to Corrie Nielsen's SS13 Florilegium collection. I immediately thought of this gold Edwardian-style coat-dress, which was made by an incredibly talented family friend, for the sheer joy of creating something. Thank you Heather! The silk slip was my great-grandma’s, the floral headpiece is vintage and the shoes were from eBay. 
The catwalk photos of Corrie Nielsen's SS13 show at LFW are from Vogue.co.uk - for more images and a review written by the lovely Jessica Bumpus you can see the link here. Photographer: Christopher Dadey. 

I was overwhelmed to sit front row at Corrie Nielsen’s mesmerizing SS13 show during London Fashion Week. Titled Florilegium, it was inspired by Kew Gardens – transforming botany into an art form through the shapes and details of the dresses. I’m always intrigued by the narratives behind Corrie’s work. Every collection tells a tale. There is also something about her designs that suggests and stimulates creativity in other mediums. She is supremely talented – for me, one of the most exciting current designers in the UK. I was also lucky enough to meet and talk with her several months ago, so I will definitely be re-visiting her work and vision in the near future.
Back in February, when I saw her AW12 collection, I was so awed by the theatricality and beauty that I wrote a poem. This time I thought I’d try my hand at crafting one of the many short stories that might lurk behind those stunning dresses…

Florilegium

The grass was wet, but the sun was warm. She could feel the damp breath of dew under her cheek. She opened her eyes to flowers.
She was close enough to stare through the petals and into the narrow core of each lily – stamen and pollen magnified in the early morning glow. She was resting on a lawn. Last time she had seen those beds of flowers they were just smudges in the dusk. They had blurred as she rubbed her eyes and sank down onto her knees. Now her papers and books were splayed around her, the pages speckled with water spots. She stretched, rubbing feeling back into her hands and arms. Her thoughts spun as she squinted, trying to remember how she had moved from sitting down to falling asleep in Kew gardens.
Thank goodness they had given her license to stay as long as she needed to study the greenhouses and gardens. She had felt a shiver of wonder pass through her when she was first set loose with her notebook, pencil and paints. Now everything looked different in the honey-coloured light, the gladioli softer and the peonies brighter. It felt out of place to resume the sketches of sepals and anthers, or listings of tulip variations. She left her materials where they were, instead untying her boots and stepping through the grass with curled toes.
Dawn soaked the sky. As she explored, rags of knowledge flapped through her mind. She thought of floriography - the language of flowers. She smiled as she snapped off a single white lilac. Youthful innocence – it was appropriate. She tucked the flower behind her ear, and sprinkled a handful of gardenia petals behind her. She paused as she reached the palm house, admiring the glitter of the glass, the white lines curving like the struts of a boat. The door gave way with a gentle push, and she tiptoed in among the humid foliage.
The place hummed with a heavy stillness. It was serene. She felt detatched from the Latin names, the impersonal lectures that wrapped everything in vines of definitions and diagrams. Life wasn’t in the study. It was all here, growing quietly.
Her fingers scrabbled towards the nearest plant. She peeled and plucked until she had an armful of fresh leaves. She began to tuck them around the edges of her dress, weaving them together into fans of green. Then she pushed back outside and ran towards the next display of flowers. Now she was frantic, grabbing at daisies and carnations, hibiscus and harebells, adorning herself in colour. Pinks, blues, creams: a frenzy of petals, ragged edges and frills falling across her face and arms. Finally she tore and tripped her way to the rose garden, determined to beat the sun as it climbed over the trees. She arrived panting and stood at the edge of the path. Her hair shivered in the wind, tangled. Pale yellow roses blocked the way, the thorns like claws. She reached over the massed bank to pull at one dusky coral rose behind. She caught sight of her delving hands and watched them in fascination. They were green, with faint lines running up towards her elbows. She saw her legs were the same. She turned pale as her body began to ripple. Silk turned into soft blossom, the satin of her skirts retracting and bulging into petal shapes. She wanted to laugh, but even whispers were impossible. Instead she stretched and bloomed as birds began to sing.

Some three hours later the gates were opened and the warden made his rounds. He had a flask of coffee swinging by his side and a cap pulled firmly over his ears.
His steady march faltered on reaching the rose garden. The hat slid from his head as he bent down towards the lawn, but he left it lying there, puzzled by the flower in front of him. It was new, unlike anything he had seen before. A slender column of white was topped with a peplum of downward facing petals in metallic grey-blue, while the stem was edged with delicate ruffles. It certainly wasn’t a rose or a lily, although echoes of both could be found in its form. He then noticed a small sign stuck into the grass. On it was a looping scrawl. It said: “Please do not pick. First planted: Autumn 2012. To Flower: Spring 2013. Origin: unique to Kew Gardens. Variety: Corrie Nielsen.”

Thank you so much for all the get-well wishes. I still managed to hobble to and from LFW, albeit in sensible flat shoes with painkillers in my bag!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind









The silk shirt is second hand, as is the skirt - which I shortened myself. The gold top used to live in the dressing up box, the hat is from a charity shop, the heels are Office and the copy of Keats' poems was stolen from my dad. All jewellery is vintage. 

So, once again, the wheel has turned and September is here. Given the distinct lack of summer this year, the possibility of a proper season – one of golden light, crisp air and dry leaves – would be welcome. Now is the time to brandish Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ and revel in the oncoming mists and mellow fruitfulness.
That particular description stands alone. It is the one most easily quoted – tripping off the tongue without thought. Perhaps this is thanks to Keats’ ability to distil a season into several words, or merely through appearing at the beginning of the poem. All three stanzas are equally rich – by turn describing, personifying and finally mourning the passing of autumn.
It’s incredible that we can read Keats today and find resonance and meaning relating to our own lives and times. The questions that he asks, and the areas that he explores, are still relevant today – from questioning whether it’s better to be frozen in a fixed moment or embrace the transience of existence, to suggesting that sorrow is only felt by those who intimately know beauty and joy.
His poetry treads the slightly paradoxical line of being both completely timeless, and very much of its time. The descriptions of faeries and dreams may seem contrived at first glance now, but only because such words have been rendered useless by repetition. Every cliché was once a fresh idea. When Keats wrote that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, it was new and extraordinary. The phrase has become hollow by reiteration, the words so subjective in modern society that it can be hard to grasp their precise message. The sublime quality of beauty that Keats aspired to has been replaced with commerce. ‘Beauty’ is now nipped, tucked, cut and airbrushed. It is also perceived as something often purely physical, rather than aesthetic – more Ode to the night-intensive-moisturising-gel than Ode on a Nightingale.
Nonetheless, those poems are timeless – still giving pleasure to readers some near two hundred years after his death. Their power lies in the ability to stir, to provoke thought, to make us question. Keats invites us to accept mystery, to celebrate beauty and simply to be awake.
For me, Keats speaks to the heart as much as he speaks to the head. Sometimes it’s easier to feel a poem than to fully understand it. I won’t lie – poetry can hard. It’s not always instant or immediate. It can take two or three reads to make sense of the meaning, and several more to even begin to address the various layers. But the pleasure of poetry is that it's possible to access it at different levels. Sometimes analysis opens new doors and ways of thinking. At other times, one can read Ode to Autumn merely to enjoy the sensations and images: “While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,/ And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue”.
What doesn’t change is the way that Keats appears to capture snatches and moments of Beauty in his verse – Beauty with a big capital B, the kind of Beauty that is eternal. 

I'm currently unable to wear heels like the ones pictured above, as I have a horrible infection in one ankle - meaning a general lack of mobility, a foot resembling a balloon with toes, and daily visits to hospital for doses of antibiotics by IV. It was rather laborious to type this up, as I have a cannula/ needle permanently taped into my left hand (managed to faint when they put it in). Am hoping that soon I'll be sufficiently recovered and able to run amongst hay bales once more. For now, I'm stranded on the sofa with Keats, Angela Carter and college work for company.