Wednesday, 30 January 2013


"I can't do it" are words that I rarely utter these days. I don't mean that because I am particularly talented in everything that I turn my hand to. Nor is it that I have a preternatural determination which ensures that nothing is beyond me.

No. The reason why I am almost never faced with things that I can't do is because as I grow older I find that I never put myself that far from my comfort zones. Most of the things that occupy my time form a variation on a theme of things that I discovered I can do moderately well earlier in my life. I never excelled at team sports so I don't bother with them. I wasn't brilliant at maths so rather than challenge myself by understanding concepts that my children are struggling with, I bat them straight on to my husband.

But sometimes things come along that you just can't ignore. A bete noir raises its head and it must be vanquished. In these situations "I can't do it" just fails to cut the mustard.

So is it with me and poems. As part of my module this year I have to write forty lines of poetry. I have to. If I don't I will fail. I have no option. But I simply can't do it.

Well, when I say I can't it's all a question of degree. Of course I can produce forty lines of words, either with rhymes or without. I can ape the metre that I have read elsewhere. I'm sure I could even put a sonnet together if my life depended on it. What I mean is that I can't create something that speaks to me. Nothing that I have written thus far makes me feel proud and in my book if you are not proud of what you have achieved then you haven't tried hard enough to achieve it.

I have always struggled with poetry. I have been forced to study it twice in my course already so I know a bit. I've read The Ode Less Travelled! I can spot spondees and trochees and I know about iambic pentameter but it all leaves me cold. So when it comes to writing my own I am left with a similar empty feeling. I am simply going through the motions and it shows. But I have to get beyond this. I have just over three weeks to find some kind of inner soul and allow it to leak on to a page.

All of a sudden I have far more sympathy with my children. I had forgotten what it feels like to be defeated by something; how, when no matter how hard you try, it just doesn't sink in. I have trotted out glib responses to them when they encounter something challenging for the very first time. "Of course you can!" I say as I continue with the washing up. "There's no such word as 'can't. You're just not trying hard enough."

Well I'm trying really hard and it's not working. And I don't like it!

Saturday, 26 January 2013


OK. So this post is going to be unapologetically girly so if you aren't a girl you may wish to look away now. Alternatively you may be just as fond as I am of packaging or curious for an insight into the female psyche in which case you can hang around.

One of my favourite fantasies when I was a little girl was to be bought a dress. I didn't want just any old dress. It had to be the kind of dress that makes you draw breath when you first see it. And that was not all. It had to come in a box. In our house and I suspect in many others clothes tended to come in bags. Whether they were new or hand-me-down, they generally made their way to me in a garish plastic bag in which they lay all scrumpled up at the bottom.

In my dream, the dress was in a box with delicately coloured tissue paper protecting it from creasing.  And there was more. The lid of the box was held on by a large satin ribbon, preferably in a gently contrasting or toning colour. And here comes the clever bit. You could lift the lid of the box without having to disturb the ribbon. When I was little I had no idea how that was to be achieved but when my favourite actresses opened their dress-containing boxes they never had to faff about with the ribbon. They just lifted the lid so that's how my fantasy went too.

Little did I know at that stage that this was the beginnings of a lifelong love of packaging. I don't really shop in the kind of shops where they wrap your purchases in tissue let alone place them in a box but these days it is easy to get the same effect in other ways.

For a while, whenever I bought something from The White Company I used to have it gift wrapped - just for me. It was an extravagance I know but I couldn't resist those beautiful little white boxes. These days it's Jo Malone's packaging that sets my heart a quiver. You don't even have to pay for it. Your purchase just comes with elegant ribbons, scented tissue paper and beautiful cream and black boxes. You even get a little gift bag for which I have absolutely no purpose but which I struggle to throw away.

My house is full of boxes. They always come in handy, don't you find? And those gorgeous little velvet bags that come from Annie Haak. I have them in a drawer just waiting to be filled with lovely, tiny things. I have the most exquisite vintage inspired hand cream box with a magnetic lid flap. It is entirely the wrong size to be practical for any other purpose than then one it was designed for but it's far too beautiful to throw away.

At this rate I will soon have more boxes than I can possibly ever have uses for simply because I hunt out the products with the nicest packaging and then squirrel them away. I have all manner of tiny things stored in them. I swear that our collection of Lego figures has the swankiest digs that you'll find anywhere.

I'm still waiting for the dress though. In my head it's red with white polka dots and a halter neck but it could just as easy be an elegant evening gown. As long as there is tissue paper and a big satin ribbon.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


(Reader's note : This is not actually an ode. I just liked the title.)

This is the Winter of the Onesie. They are everywhere, unavoidable. Just like Uggs and Crocs, the Onesie is yet another example of any hint of style and aesthetics being thrown out in favour of comfort.

I first came across the Onesie this time last year. We were skiing and my friend,  already a confirmed Onesie wearer and, I may add, considerably ahead of her time, wore hers whenever we weren't coming into contact with snow. I had seen adult babygros, even had a couple of my own over the years but this was something different. It was thick, designed to be worn alone or over other garments and incredibly warm. Just the thing when you're half way up a mountain and it's -10 outside.

I came home if not inspired to purchase then certainly curious. I mentioned my discovery to my teenagers who were, of course, already aware of this new garment. I thought that it was just me lagging behind the times but many of my friends looked at me blankly when I mentioned the object of my interest.

But I had a problem. I really, really wanted one but:
a) they were quite expensive; and 
b) I couldn't shed the idea that they were quite possibly ridiculous on a woman in her forties.

My children caught me eyeing one up covetously on the internet one day and before I knew it a Onesie was winging its way to us for Child No. 2's birthday. Within twenty minutes of it arriving I had ordered another one for myself and before I knew what had happened we all had one from The All in One Company. (All except my husband who has steadfastly held on to his dignity.)

I have discovered that Onesies are akin to Marmite. I am most definitely in the love camp but I know many who say they would not be seen dead in one. Well, neither would I if it could be at all avoided. My Onesie is not meant for public consumption. Its purpose is entirely private. At the end of the day when all ferrying is finished and the door is locked against the night, when all danger of visitors has passed and we are truly alone (barring my eldest's boyfriend) then I slip out of my jeans and into my Onesie and suddenly, as if by magic, I am relaxed. It is as if someone flicks a switch. Jeans = on duty. Onesie = me time.

There are those that argue that the Onesie represents a slip in standards, a letting go of something that should be held on to but I disagree. Why make life uncomfortable? I do my best to be presentable all day but you can't keep that up all the time. And to me the Onesie has the added advantage of not being a garment to be worn in bed. Putting pyjamas on when the day is not yet over has always struck me as giving up. Wearing a Onesie does not mean that I have sleep in mind. It is simply the most appropriate attire for the next selection of activities - reading, tv, knitting, the things I do to wind down.

I suspect that all those who scoffed at the Onesie are now regretting it a bit. I cannot believe that there isn't a part of them that wouldn't like to snuggle down in a super warm Onesie with a glass of wine and a really good book. Well, fear not. I am big enough not to mock if you change your minds. After all, the joy of the Onesie is something that should be shared by everyone.