Thursday, 24 March 2011

Of Spring Shoes

I popped into Marks and Spencer today to buy some tights, after a visit to the doctor to get the results of my second blood test. He confirmed that I have had glandular fever, but although it's nice to have a definite diagnosis, there is no treatment apart from rest, so he simply reiterated the need to take things gently over the Easter holiday. Luckily the weather in Oxford has been absolutely glorious over the past few days, and apparently it is set to remain this way for the rest of the week. I certainly hope so! The warm sunshine and blue skies are so cheering, and today I slipped into this outfit, which remains as good for seeing in the Spring this year as it was last!

When I was in M&S, my eye was drawn to the shoe department (well, if they will arrange the store so I am simply *forced* to walk past the shoes to get to the tights, it would really be rude to avoid paying them proper attention, wouldn't it?). Not least because it was looking particularly eye-catching this afternoon as the new season's stock had obviously just arrived. I have long been a fan of M&S shoes, finding that they tend to produce several tempting pairs each season, all reasonably priced and relatively long-lasting, and as such they are one of my go-to choices for every-day footwear. I didn't actually buy anything today, but I did have to exercise a certain amount of restraint (yes, I am capable of it sometimes ... just don't tell anyone that I might go back again tomorrow...). Three pairs in particular tested my resolve, but I contented myself (for now) with trying them all on and then replacing them carefully on the shelf.

The sudden outburst of sunny weather this week has reminded me that Spring really is just around the corner (I'm particularly looking forward to the clocks going forward this weekend), and I'm feeling a corresponding urge to inject some brightness into my wardrobe. These would certainly do that! The red suede positively popped off the shelf, and would be a marvelous way to add a bit of colourful fizz to any outfit:

(Autograph Suede Peep Toe Platform Shoes, £49)

I was also taken with the somewhat nautical feel of these heels, which look perfect for pairing with something cool and airy for a bit of relaxed chic:

(Peep Toe High Heel Platform Shoes, £25)

Finally, I couldn't resist slipping my toes into these cheeky platforms, which have a lovely 1950's vibe about them. I normally avoid slingbacks, finding that they have a tendency to sling themselves off, but I paraded around the top floor of M&S in fine style in these to take them for a test drive, and they clung to my heels like limpets. So, who knows, perhaps they could even persuade me to give the style another go. The neutral colours mean they would go with so many things, after all, although I also like the naughty little jolts of red on the soles.

(Limited Collection Peep Toe Flower Platform Shoes, £29.50)

I always think it's fun to update one's wardrobe with a new piece or two every season, and shoes are a good way to do so. I might just pop back into M&S tomorrow, anyway, just to *see* whether any of these look as pretty as they do in my memory (and as they do on the ever-tempting website). After all, if I'm going to be putting my feet up over the next few weeks, I might as well put them up in style!

In the meantime, I'm going to slip my feet into something rather less spectacular, and head out into my garden to make the most of the last of today's sunshine. For, as Sir W tells us in his 1601 essay 'Of Solitarinesse and Company',

'the Sun [is] not carrying his Lanthorne for himselfe but for the world'.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Of Small Pleasures

I'm back in Oxford now, after a week's rest at home, and I'm pleased to report that the penicillin and steroids worked their magic and my throat cleared up very quickly. I'm still extremely tired, and had to have another blood test yesterday to try to clarify whether or not this *is* glandular fever or just another nasty infection. I won't have the results back for another week, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying some of the small pleasures in life while I am forced to take everything very quietly for a while.

As I'm going to be spending most of my time in my flat, I thought I would brighten the place up a little, and yesterday I paid a visit to Daisies, a delightful florist on Walton Street in Jericho, just around the corner from me.

(Image from the Daisies website)

I've peeked through the window several times before, but this is the first time I've actually bought anything there, as usually I frequent another florist in the Covered Market in the centre of Oxford. I decided it was high time I investigated my local flower shop, however, and I wasn't disappointed. The stock in Daisies is stunning, and I've just discovered that it's even possible to order some of their spectacular displays online and have them delivered anywhere across the UK, which is something I might bear in mind for future special occasions!

(Image from the Daisies website)

Although I was tempted by half the shop, I did eventually manage to make up my mind, and bought enough to fill one big glass vase in the sitting room, and a smaller porcelain one in my bedroom. Tulips are always a favourite of mine, and I thought the yellow heart peeking out of the orange petals made these particularly pretty:

I love both the look and the scent of hyacinths, so when I saw the gorgeous deep purple of these beauties, I knew I had to have them. They provide a wonderful dark contrast to the fiery splendour of the tulips...

... and really brighten up the sitting room:

I went for more delicate option for my bedroom, with soothing blues and creams fitting in nicely amongst some of the oddments on my dressing table.

When I was growing up, my mum would always make sure that we had new cut flowers every week, and since I've come away to university this is a habit I've enjoyed turning into my own. It's such an easy way to inject some freshness and colour into a room, and I love the way in which they provide an ever-changing ornament.

For now, I'm curling up on the sofa, admiring my bouquet and enjoying the divine smell of the hyacinths wafting towards me. It's having to compete, however, with the scent of Earl Grey, as I've just made myself a big mugful to go along with this morning's postal delivery: Dandy Gilver & An Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson. This is the latest in the series which started with the wonderful After the Armistice Ball, and I can't wait to read about Dandy's latest adventures!

Sir W warns us in his 1601 essay 'Of Humilitie' that,

'beauty is but a colour, and not reckened amongst the substantiall',

but as I settle down with my book and tea and gaze upon my lovely flowers, I feel content in finding pleasure in the transient vibrancy of their beautiful, colourful petals. And who knows what I'll find in the florist to tempt me next week?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Of The Unexpected

Well, life really is full of surprises, isn't it? I did not expect, this time last week, that I would now be sitting in my bed at home, dosed up to the eyeballs on penicillin and steroids, and awaiting the results of a blood test. But here I am! Last weekend, I developed an incredibly painful sore throat, which resulted in my barely being able to swallow anything, even water, without feeling as if my throat were being cut through with razor blades. I was generally weak and pitiful, and on Monday took myself off to the doctor, who took one look inside my mouth and recoiled, exclaiming 'Nasty!', before diagnosing me with suspected Glandular Fever. I was packed off to have a blood test the following morning, and should get the results tomorrow. In the meantime, my mum shot down to Oxford and whisked me away home to be looked after and pampered as I do my best Wilting Victorian Lady impression, and flit piteously between the bed and the sofa. My health has not been great for a few months now -- always a worry with my history of M.E. (which I suffered from badly between the ages of 14 and 18, with the odd relapse since) -- and obviously I need to be extra careful as I recuperate now. So it's going to be brake pedal on for a while, with regards to work and play. It's difficult having to miss out on the things I want to do, but several years of M.E. means that I have learned the necessity of listening to my body and not pushing myself to breaking point, and the doctor is hopeful that with catching this early, and throwing lots of medication at it, we can keep things contained.

To cheer myself up in the meantime, however, my mum and I have just arranged a couple of London adventures for her birthday at the end of June, by which time I hope to be back to something approaching full working order. We will be having an afternoon and evening filled with the best food and entertainment the capital has to offer, even managing to fit in a little bit of fashion as a matter of course -- in the best frivolous manner.

We'll be starting off with the Pret a Portea afternoon tea in the deliciously named Caramel Room at The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. I've been desperate to go here since I first heard about the fashionista fancies on offer at the tea table, and I only had to show a couple of these photos to my mum before she was completely captivated too:

(Images from The Berkeley Hotel's website)

Mmm. Doesn't it all look divine? Almost too good to eat. Almost...

After polishing off our pretty platefuls, we'll then be heading off in the evening to the Garrick Theatre to see their forthcoming production of Pygmalion. I saw Peter Hall's brilliant version of this at the Old Vic in 2008 with Michelle Dockery (recently so good in ITV's excellent series Downton Abbey -- if you get the chance do watch this if you missed it before Christmas!) as Eliza and the ever-dependable Tim Piggott-Smith as Professor Higgins. I am still wildly excited about this new production, however, as it stars one of my favourite actors: Rupert Everett. I am really looking forward to seeing what he brings to the role of Henry Higgins!

(Image from here)

For now, however, I am curling up under the duvet and making the most of my unexpected rest by (finally!) finishing my Persephone Reading Weekend book (watch out for a review soon, as well as a belated description of my time in London the other weekend). As well as this, I am (also finally) catching up with The Killing, a Danish crime drama which has been showing on BBC4 over recent weeks. Luckily for me, there is still some of the series to go, and the rest of it is still (just) available on the BBC iPlayer. I've heard so many good things about it, and have been wanting to watch it for ages without managing to find the time, so some enforced bed rest seems like the perfect opportunity. I have mentioned before how Sir W tells us in his 1600 essay 'Of Sleepe' that

'Fame neuer yet knewe a perpetuall bedpresser',

but for now, Fame will have to wait, as bedpressing is exactly what the doctor ordered!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Of Dressing Up In The Kitchen

I'm rather behind on my target for Persephone Reading Weekend, as my very busy weekend and return to Oxford means that I've so far only managed to read the first three of Irene Nemirovsky's Dimanche and Other Stories. I'm pleased to say that I'm very much enjoying the collection so far though, so I hope to be able to bring you a review at the end of next week if I keep up with my lunchtime reading! Once I've sorted out some pictures, I'm also really looking forward to telling you all about my first experience of the ROH, as well as my delightful day in Hampstead (and other places, as it turned out...) on Sunday.

In the meantime, I couldn't help but share these breathtakingly elegant aprons (of all things), which are available for pre-order from the ever-wonderful Natural History. Apparently they've been causing quite a commotion in the States, and the canny people at Natural History decided they couldn't let the opportunity to bring them to our shores slip by. Can you blame them? These look like something I'd be quite happy to wander down the street in (although I assume that I might be in need of a little cover up from behind if I were to try that!). They might be a little pricey at £52, but perhaps such beautiful kitchen ware (wear?) is worth it. After all, I'm sure everything I turned my hand to at the oven couldn't help but come out just that little bit more perfect than it already does (ahem) if I adorned myself in one of these...

Rollings of Cinnamon Apron, £52

Morning Bun Moments Apron, £52

Frosty Tin Marshmallows Apron, £52

Even the names are good enough to eat. Although Sir W, in this sentence from his 1601 essay 'Of Virtue', would caution me against placing too much importance on outward appearance, I have to say that there are some moments I just have to pay him no heed!

'Mee thinkes, this same vanity of clothes hath done vertue wrong, for wee discry great men as much by their clothes, as actions, which is very improper'.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Of Persephone Reading Weekend: The Beginning

Today marks the beginning of Persephone Reading Weekend, run by Verity and Claire. If you haven't already, do pay a visit to their blogs and check out their Persephone-related posts and competitions over this weekend. As I mentioned before, I'll be reading Dimanche and Others Stories over the next couple of days, as I never did get round to starting it before! It's one of the most recent publications by Persephone, and I'm really excited about reading it. I've never read Irene Nemirovsky's most famous book -- Suite Francaise -- but have heard so many excellent things about it that I plan to seek it out once I've finished these short stories. If I like them of course, but my past experience of Persephone tells me that I'm likely to! The last set of short stories published by them that I read was the utterly entrancing Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers, so I am eagerly anticipating my next grey-covered venture into this genre.

I've had rather a painful few days with a wisdom tooth coming through -- and it's not over yet, unfortunately! -- so relaxing with a good book is exactly what I need. Although I also have a busy weekend coming up: a trip to consult some manuscripts at the British Library tomorrow, followed in the evening by my first trip to the Royal Opera House to see their exciting new production: Anna Nicole. I'll be reporting back on what I think of it next week! Then on Sunday it's up to Hampstead for a long overdue catch up lunch with skirmishofwit. All in all, it should be a lovely weekend (presuming my tooth allows me to eat!), and Dimanche will be the perfect travel companion on the train to London and back.

Until then, I leave you with a sentence from Sir W's 1600 essay 'Of Discontentments'. It might be my dentist, rather than Philosophy who told me to expect my own current tooth-ache, but I can't say that such preparation makes it particularly easier to 'entertain'...

'when any of these Tooth-aches of the body come, shee [Philosophy] teacheth that they are to be entertained, not as straungers, but as Familiars that we haue long expected'.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Of Love

Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (c.1579 - 1614), 'Of Loue' from Essayes (1600):

It is a pretty soft thing this same Loue, an excellent company keeper; full of gentlenesse and affabilitie; makes men fine and to go cleanly; teacheth them qualities, handsome protestations; and if the ground be not too barren, it bringeth forth Rimes and Songs full of passion, enough to procure crossed armes and the Hat pulled down. Yea, it is a very fine thing, the badge of eighteene and vpward, not to be disallowed. Better spend thy time so than at Dice. I am content to call this Loue thou I holde Loue too worthy a Cement to ioyne earth to earth. The one parte must be celestiall or else it is not Loue.

I hope I shall not offend Diuinity if I say the coniunction of man & wife is not Loue. It is an allowance of God's and so good, and the name of it, I thinke, two honest Affections vnited into one.

If this bee so, what becomes of all the rest, which are counterfaits & yet begge vnder the passe-port of Loue? Loue thy neighbour as thy selfe. That which comes nearest to Loue is this: man with man agreeing in sexe. I cannot thinke it is so betweene man and woman, for it giues opportunity to lust, which the pureness of Loue will not endure.

Among all Affections that of Socrates was the best, who sought to better the mindes of all his familiars, and loued a good witte and inclinations to good, and sought to confirme them in that.

I laugh and wonder at the straung occasions that men take now a dayes to say they loue. If they meete with a fellowe at a Feast or in a Potte, if their Delights bee any thing a Kinne or their Faces any thing alike, if their Countries be one or their landes near adioyning, if they be both rich or both poore, or indeed, if their new-fangled inuentions can finde out any occasion, they are sworne brothers; they will liue and dye together. But they scarce sleepe in this mind; the one comes to make vse of the other and that spoyles all. He entred this league not to impaire but to profit himselfe. I can compare prosperity to nothing so rightly as to the promising plenteous fields of the Egyptians, which were deuoured by the numberlesse troupes of Flies. You cannot haue the one without the other. Flatters deuoure the Inheritance of Fortune, who, while she hath no neede of them, looke like Bees that will not be vnprofitable; but be once driuen and let Pouerty be your Arithmetician, you shall then see they brought nothing to your stocke but fed vpon it, and then you shall easily discerne them to be Drones. There is no Loue vpon the earth. God loueth vs vndeservedly, and some good men loue and so feare him. It is Loue from this last because God is a partie, or else it might be affection, not possibly Loue. Loue is diuine & eternall; Affection, like our flesh, momentary & mortall. If I could be sure of them, I would say I loued too and make men say they are my friends. But it is an vncertain trade this louing and stands vpon such a company of circumstances as I like it not. I make no difference between common louers and common whores; they both flatter and make the name of Loue their Bawdes to serue their particular pleasures. For my choyse of friends, vertue shall be the groundworke, and so I may build surely. Let his fortunes be what they will, I care not; yet if I might choose, I would haue him poore, for so I might easiest shew my affection to him and profit my selfe by him with least cost. For I hold obseruation more precious than wealth, and I will rather giue him my purse than my tyme.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Of Persephone Reading Weekend

Although I didn't exactly do very well with my report of the last Persephone Reading Week, which unfortunately arrived just as I fell off the edge of the blogging world, I am extremely excited by the prospect of the forthcoming Persephone Reading Weekend, hosted once again by Verity at CardiganGirlVerity and Claire at Paperback Reader. The Weekend is running from 25th - 27th February, and it seems to me that reading one of Persephone's beautiful dove-grey books is the perfect way to round off a month which has been a rather duller shade of grey.

Despite what is says on the side of this page, I haven't actually started reading Dimanche and Other Stories yet, so perhaps I'll save it to enjoy at the end of the month. Although, of course, if I do happen to get through it before then, well, I'll just *have* to pay the Persephone Books website another visit, won't I?

Whatever I end up reading, I promise that this time, I will actually tell you all about it! For I intend to follow Sir W's advice in his 1600 essay 'Of the obseruation, and vse of things', to

'Here stay thy selfe, and read with attention'.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Of Tea and Crumpets

I spent most of my life thinking that -- unaccountably for an English person -- I Didn't Like Tea (shock! horror! perhaps it's the Greek blood!), or coffee, for that matter. When I was little, as my mother made one of her own copious cups of tea, I would be offered a little mug of my own, brimming with a steaming, milky beverage. In my mind, this was -- to paraphrase Mark Twain -- nothing more than a good cup of milk spoiled. It was only many years later, once I had discovered the delicate delights of fragrant Jasmine tea, and the dark, smokey pleasures of Lapsang Souchong, that I realized that actually, I did like tea. Just as long as it didn't require milk. I like tea, and I like milk, but separately, thank you very much. I experienced a similar epiphany in my relationship with coffee. As with the tea, everyone assumed that if I couldn't cope with the taste of coffee even when diluted with milk or in coffee-flavoured chocolates (yuck), I certainly wouldn't be able to deal with the unadulterated variety, so for a long time no drop of pure black coffee had ever passed my lips. On holiday in Florence for my 21st birthday, however, my mum persuaded me that I couldn't come to Italy without attempting a sip or two. Spurning her suggestion of an early morning frothy cappuccino to ease myself in, I opted instead for the rich tang of a tiny espresso. I have never looked back. I blame the Italian sunshine for turning my head.

Now that I've discovered that I am a tea drinker after all, I'm always on the look out for pretty and unusual teacups and mugs to liven up my morning (or afternoon ... or evening) tea break. In fact, no doubt my subconscious was willing me to like tea and coffee for years, just to give me yet another excuse for storing up beautiful pieces of crockery in the cupboard, not to mention silver tea-strainers for all those gorgeous packets of loose-leaf teas I just had to buy when I found myself wandering round the ground floor of Fortnum and Mason. I mean, these things always taste better when they're nicely presented...

One of my favourite mugs is the aptly named Sophia Peek-A-Boo mug from the wonderful Crumpet and Skirt, which I told you about last year. The shop's range has expanded from when I last posted about them, with some new lovely ladies gracing their mugs and cards, but Sophia still holds a firm place in my heart. I can't help smiling every time I drain the dregs from my cup and she pops up again at the bottom:

Perhaps this is the reason I've been drawn to a similarly fun-loving range which I found whilst browsing over at LifeStyleBazarre: always a good place to go if you're on the search for beautiful and quirky homewares. I'm now totally smitten with the Blaue Blume range by Tina Tsang of Undergrowth Designs, especially since some of the pieces are in the sale...

Sadly, sale or no sale, I don't think I can quite stretch to the entire range, but it is hard to resist a teacup whose handle is a sexy pair of legs ending in a pair of enticing red shoes. Although even at sale price, I think I'd be the only one to be drinking out of it!

Blaue Blume teacup and saucer, £35 (reduced from £45)

If I wanted more of a centre piece, I could go for this teapot from the same range, whose handle is formed from a pair of delicately crossed legs tipped with shiny gold shoes...

Blaue Blume teapot, £59 (reduced from £79)

... or perhaps this rather magnificently decadent cake stand, which I absolutely loved until I spotted the rather creepy baby's head at the bottom!

Blaue Blume cake stand, £139

Or how about bathing in sugar? Judging from the joyous kick of this lady's legs, it could be rather fun. I don't take sugar in my tea or coffee, but this sugar bath might just persuade me to answer 'yes':

Blaue Blume sugar bath, £44

If lithe legs on display at the table isn't quite your cup of tea, the range also offers some rather more subdued, but still very pretty options, such as this aptly named cake plate, which just needs a nice slice of something yummy to live up to its promise:

Blaue Blume small cake plate, £18

Mmm, I'm hungry already. Any one of these would be a feast to look upon, as well as eat from, for -- to steal a phrase from Sir W's 1601 essay 'Of Conceipt' -- they are

'a very merriment to the eyes'.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Of Feeling Frivolous Once Again

My oh my, what a long time it's been since there was any frivolous activity on here! I don't know whether there's anyone still out there, but a big hello and a belated Happy New Year to you if you are. I've been sad about the lack of blogging-based frivolities in my life over recent months, and have often been heard to sigh 'oh, this would be so much fun to blog about' as Summer slipped into Autumn, and Autumn tumbled into Winter. Although I think perhaps my companions out and about have been relieved not to have to stand and wait for me while I dawdle along taking photos of absolutely everything 'just in case I want to post it on the blog'. Not to mention snapping pictures of everything on my plate before I raise a forkful to my mouth (although the real problems tend to arise when I want to photograph everything on *their* plate before they're allowed to eat. Never take a very hungry person with you if you want to photo-blog about the meal. It can get ugly).

Anyway, I am really excited to be back in the saddle, so to speak, although this time I've decided to be realistic and realize that there's really no way I'm going to be able to try to blog every day: so look out for posts two or three times a week (unless I'm feeling particularly energetic and organized!). A lot has changed in my life over the past few months, but I'm still in Oxford with dear Sir W, and rest assured (just in case you were trembling), he will still be sharing his words of wisdom at the end of every post. Which brings me to an opportune moment to leave you with a sentence from Sir W's 1600 essay 'Of Fame'. This seems to me an appropriate starting point for my posts soon to come, when:

'What I have seene in my trauaille, I will trust this peece of paper with and so ridde my braine of that carriage'.