Tuesday, 29 October 2013

books: the story of Unity Mitford

I've been a member of our local library since I was born. I think that once I'd actually burst into the world, I probably met the library staff before I met some of our own family; my parents have always been big readers, so it was inevitable really. I was taught to respect and treasure books; to value their contents and turn pages carefully, to annotate in pencil and to never, ever turn down the pages to mark your place. I joined Biff, Chip and Kipper in primary school, made friends with Ramona Quimby in the juniors, and spent my early teenage years immersed in the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books and scaring myself silly with the Point Horror series. I passed my childhood visiting boarding schools and indulging in midnight feasts, heading off to imaginary lands in enchanted woods and solving crimes with only the help of five youngsters and a dog called Timmy. As I got older, I read my way through highbrow classics and chart-topping fiction (more of the latter, if I'm honest. Sorry academics!) and pored over textbooks; psychology case studies, media theories and European Union law. Now, I read pretty much anything that takes my fancy; contemporary fiction that's just the right size to hold in the bath, great big fashion and costume tomes that indulge my love of vintage clothing and books that plunge me into my favourite era; the 1930's and 40's.

With Ben now being at school, and Daisy still at the age where she drops off to sleep quite happily in her buggy, I've been spending some time getting reacquainted with my local charity shops (that's another post entirely!) and library. Every Thursday morning, after I've spent the early hours in a flurry of breakfasts and lunchboxes and hurried showers, I leave him happily in his classroom with his friends, and head off to our town centre where I spend a happy hour-and-a-half drinking coffee, pottering about and searching the library shelves for my next history-fix.*

A week or so ago, I came home with a couple of books on the Mitfords. For those of you who don't know, the Mitford sisters were prominent figures during the 1930's and 40's for various reasons; Nancy was a novelist and biographer, Diana married Oswald Mosley (the leader of the BUF, and a raging Nazi) and became heavily involved in right-wing politics and Jessica, in a stark contrast, was a journalist and civil rights campaigner who renounced her privileged background and became a communist.
Until recently, I'd never really read anything on the Mitfords - I'd come across them in passing while studying or reading various history books, but hadn't actually concentrated much on them. When I was in the library a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a book about Unity; one of the younger siblings, she's rather less known than her older sisters, but just as interesting to read about. From the outset, she struggled to fit in, and spent most of her early life feeling like an outsider; as a child, she was overindulged by her adoring father, and slowly grew into a rebellious young woman who enjoyed nothing more than shocking people with her wild behaviour. Despite being a niece of Winston Churchill, she began to identify with Hitler's early ideas and soon became obsessed with him - her entire life revolved around accessing his inner circle and later, becoming his wife. Their relationship never made it past that of close friends, however, and once war was declared Unity attempted suicide; while she loved the Nazis, she also adored her native land and a war between the two was, in her opinion, the worst thing that could possibly happen. Although she survived, the bullet was lodged in a part of her brain that couldn't be accessed through surgery, and she never fully recovered. She returned to Britain, where she was persecuted for 'consorting with the enemy', and hounded by the media for being a traitor - the bullet ended up being her saving grace, however, as her memory had been affected so badly that she would never have been able to undergo any form of interrogation. She eventually moved to the small island of Inch Kenneth off the west coast of Scotland with her father, where she lived out the rest of her days until her death on the evening of 28 May 1948.

Although I've read an awful lot about the 1930-1950 period, most of it has been in textbooks and as research for various essays and university assignments. The Story of Unity Mitford was the first biography I actually sat and read, without having to make endless notes, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Incredibly well written, I finished it within a couple of days - I find that a lot of factual books have slow parts, or tend to go off on a tangent, but that absolutely wasn't the case here. It provided an insight into a complex character, and was written without bias or any author opinion leaking through - I came away feeling like I'd learned an awful lot about a previously unknown but historically relevant person. I'd thoroughly recommend it for anybody interested in the Mitfords, WW2, or even the tumultuous social period of the thirties and forties.

This isn't a sponsored post, and I wasn't sent the book for review either - it came from my beloved local library!

*It just so happens that there's a baby rhyme-time group on at the library on Thursday morning. I took Daisy once and we had to leave because she was so disruptive; trying to ration people's instrument allowances, running in circles and pickpocketing changing bags for the babies milk. Ahem.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

flo and stan's

Following on from the best tea and coffee joints in the land, I'm continuing my hometown-lovefest with the most colourful shop on the South Coast, Flo and Stan's.

Owned by Lorna and Del, and named after Lorna's grandparents, Flo and Stan's is a wonderful jumble of vintage treasures, kitsch homewares and contemporary gifts, all jostling for space on the hand painted shelves. The walls are covered with prints and vintage suitcases, which are used to store books and handmade toys lovingly stitched by local artist Lou (she made Daisy's favourite doll from some of her newborn babygro's, ahhhh), and there are even upcycled lampshades displayed on the ceiling.

Flo and Stan's is the shop I always go to for, well, everything really. Whether I'm looking for stocking fillers for the kiddos at Christmas, something delightfully kitsch for our house, or a quirky gift for a friend, I know I'll find it there. Sometimes I wander past and go in just to have a look, because it's probably the cheeriest shop I know; bright colours, lovely things and a warm welcome every time.

Even if you aren't lucky enough to live in Southsea, you can still visit Flo and Stan's - because they have an online shop, hurrah! If you want to find out more about our lovely city, check out the superb Strong Island website.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

found: what I always wanted

Someone told me the other day that it's only ten weeks until Christmas (ten weeks! How has this happened? Isn't it still Summer?!) which means I've already started panicking about who's getting what this year. I've already bought most of the kiddos things (books and bikes, mostly) but as for everyone else, I'm trying to give as many British made and handcrafted things as possible. I'm working on a few crochet ideas, some sewn bits and pieces and some artwork, but I'll probably end up running out of time as usual, so I need a backup plan  - which is where brand new online marketplace What I Always Wanted could well come in handy.

Longstanding friends Deborah Bancroft and Ann Ellison launched the website in 2012, after they realised that there were plenty of people working away on their crafts at their kitchen tables and in their back bedrooms. Designed as both a place to sell their products, and as a community for members to interact, the website has gone from strength to strength, and now stocks a wide variety of homewares, gifts and personalised items. My personal favourites are the wonderful book page brooches by House of Ismay and the simply exquisite vintage bird cushion by Lomas and Lomas - quirky, vintage style pieces that have been made on home turf. What more could you want in your Christmas stocking?

From Top: Stag Lamp by Lomas and Lomas, Hiya Screen Print by Yoke,  Floral Rabbit Art Print by Moha London, The Wind in the Willows Book Page Brooch by House of Ismay, Vintage Bird Cushion by Lomas and Lomas, Ronnie and Frank Screen Printed Tote Bag by Yoke.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

the maxi skirt and the DIY jacket

I don't know about you, but I've got a constant and evolving list of clothes I'm desperate to add to my wardrobe. Being reluctant to head off to the high street, this list seems to get longer and longer by the day - particularly since the rise of eBay prices and postage costs - and now consists of:

  • A sequinned and beaded jacket
  • A velvet dress, preferably with long sleeves (not bodycon!)
  • A fringed kimono
  • A large (faux) fur collar to put on EVERYTHING
  • A jumper with elbow patches
  • An acid wash pencil skirt (blue, not grey)
  • Leopard print shoes or boots (preferably with either a chunky heel or completely flat)
  • A leather pencil skirt (faux leather is fine, as long as it doesn't look like latex....
Other items are added and removed, because my tastes seem to vary massively from month to month, but I'm also on the lookout for shirt dresses in interesting prints, anything mustard and statement necklaces. Until last week, a jersey maxi skirt was also on the list; it had to be either black or rust coloured, needed to be high waisted and couldn't cling all the way down my legs. I actually bought one on eBay a couple of weeks ago, which was labelled as a size ten - when I tried it on, I couldn't help but wonder if it was meant to be age ten instead. It barely went round my waist, and was pretty much skin-tight all over - think fishtail wedding dress. And not in a good way.
I eventually gave up on eBay, and instead bought this rather lovely maxi from New Look in their sale, for the bargain price of £6. It's made from really thick material, and is roomy enough to fit a couple of pairs of leggings underneath (or even jeans!) when the weather gets really cold. I'd prefer to have found a second hand one, but at £6 it's cheaper than eBay, and there's the added advantage of being able to try it on before committing to the purchase. We don't have a lot of money, but I've got a lifelong love of clothes and fashion, and just have to be creative with my choices - sometimes that means buying ethical items in a sale, often it means charity shops and eBay, sometimes vintage pieces, and occasionally it means the high street. In an ideal world I'd buy all vintage, but beggars can't be choosers!

The chunky jumper is from Paul Smith (from my employee days), and is actually deceptively warm despite its cropped sleeves. The jacket was a DIY customising jobby on an old eBay find, and the bag and floral top both came from charity shops. A good old high-street-charity-shop mash up.

What's on your clothes lust-list? I've always thought someone should host a big blog-clothes-swap-thingy - although probably not me, as organisation is not my strong point....!


Monday, 14 October 2013

on blogging

I find the process of blogging a funny old thing; sometimes I feel like I have absolutely nothing of any value to say, and other times I have a gazillion things I want to share - and usually no time to do it. I've read quite a few posts lately that talks about how the blogger works, where they find their inspiration and their essential tools, so I thought I'd join in with mine.

I have a pretty haphazard approach to blogging, and while I try to make use of a diary and schedule blog posts, it rarely actually happens. Invariably some paid work comes along, or a small person needs me for something, or it's the end of the day and I'd rather sit and eat biscuits. There are a few things that rarely change though, from favourite places to think and dream up ideas to how I write up the post afterwards.

I get inspired by a million different things; magazines, books, retro fabrics, crafters, old buildings - I'm quite lucky where I live, in that I'm not far from the city, sea or country, so there's plenty to write about. My favourite coffee shop always provides a lot of interior inspiration, and it's also one of my favourite places to sit with a book or magazine - there's some pretty eclectically dressed people around Southsea so I always come away with loads of style ideas as well. I always carry my notebook and little 'point-and-shoot' camera with me, and if that runs out of battery, there's always my trusty iPhone!

One of things that gets mentioned most in the comments on here are my photos, which makes me feel incredibly good - I'm not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination (hello auto-setting!), but I love to take pictures. If I'm shooting inside, pretty much the only place I can take pictures is our conservatory, as it's the only place that's light enough to produce clear, sharp images - I tend not to use a flash, as I don't like the effect mine has (I'm aware that this is probably more down to the way I'm using the camera than anything else!). When I'm doing outfit photos alone, I use a tripod which is incredibly helpful, and the self timer on my camera which leaves me with some fairly decent images - I rarely venture outside for these, though, as to be honest I just don't have the balls to stand in the street taking pictures of myself!

Writing the Post
The one thing that I couldn't blog without would be my laptop - which is why it's even more worrying that mine seems to be on it's way out; it's running a lot slower, seems to be increasingly glitchy and tends to overheat rather spectacularly (despite my little USB fan stand thingy from Poundstretcher balanced precariously underneath) on a regular basis. I feel a bit like I'm living on borrowed time with it to be honest, which is why I've been looking around for a new model; there are loads of different brands to choose from, but after reading the Acer laptop reviews and Acer tablet reviews, I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with one of those. I usually sit at my desk and make initial notes for ideas, and then write it up on the laptop afterwards once I've shot the images - that said, a lot of blog posts are published from the comfort of my lovely sofa. With biscuits!

This post was written in collaboration with Acer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

vintage love: violet's attic

If there's one thing I love more in life than crafts and books, it's got to be beautiful vintage clothes. I spend an awful lot of time trawling eBay and the internet for anything old, quirky and eclectic; at the moment, I'm pretty obsessed with flimsy bed jackets, fringed kimonos and capes. Since I know a lot of you are fellow vintage fans, I thought I'd share some of my favourite online shops in a new little blog series - purses at the ready, ladies!

I discovered Violet's Attic a while ago, and spent quite a while having a good old virtual rummage. This is one of those shops where there's something for almost every taste and budget; 1970's day dresses rub shoulders with lace crop tops from the late nineties, while antique embroidered shawls jostle for space with full skirted 1950's dresses, colourful retro knitwear and a range of denim vests and shirts. It's a complete treasure trove, and I challenge you to visit the website without buying something. Just don't make it the denim dress in the second picture - because that's on my Christmas list....

Friday, 11 October 2013

the polka dot midi skirt and geek shoes

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll have seen that I've been feeling a bit glum about buying clothes lately; the charity shops have been pretty desolate (although I had some luck this week, more on that in a future post!), I can't afford to buy organic, ethical clothes all the time (£30 for a t-shirt? I have two children to feed and clothe!) and eBay prices seem to have gone through the roof. Just when I was about to give up totally, I won a brilliant polka dot jersey midi skirt for £9, including p&p, and my faith was instantly restored.

I love the skirt for all it's swirly, stretchy, comfortable gloriousness; it's not too flouncy, but manages to look a bit full-skirtish at the same time. I popped it on with my New Look denim shirt (I spent literally months looking for a second hand one before giving up and buying a new one), vintage jacket and Topshop geek shoes, which haven't been off my feet since I bought them. Comfy, and still good for chasing after errant kiddos - pretty perfect for a Saturday.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

found: miel / b

I've been having a few of those evenings lately where you just sit and wander through the internet; finding amazing designer makers, new vintage shops and great books to add to my already lengthy reading list. I've got loads to share, but I'm going to start with one of my absolute favourites - vintage style accessories with a bit of a twist.

miel / b, owned by the lovely Kate, is an online business stocking the most beautiful chiffon scarves, all digitally printed with vintage and vintage-inspired prints. I've pretty much fallen in love with all of them, but I think my favourite is the Rations scarf from the S/S13 collection (top image) - not surprising given it's wonderful mustard and olive colour combination!

Kate kindly took some time out of her busy day to answer some of my nosy parker questions about her inspirations and the meaning behind the name of the business.

First things first; where do you live?
My hometown is North Yorkshire, but I'm currently living in London. I love it here; there's always something interesting happening, and you can go out on any night of the week and find something amazing to do.Plus, it's absolutely full of fabulous markets that I love exploring - you can find so many hidden gems!

How did you come up with the idea for the scarves?
The whole thing started when I was going through an old box that belonged to my late Grandfather. It was full of things he'd collected during his life; vintage books, postcards and matchbox cards, and I knew instantly I wanted to create something from it. The scarves just seemed to evolve from that really!

How did you come up with the name 'miel / b'?
The name miel / b in short, means 'honey-bee' ('miel' is honey in French). When I graduated from university, my Mum bought me a beautiful necklace with a honey bee on it, and to me that symbolised a new start in life. It was also around this time that I started designing the scarves and decided to start up the company - it's quite a meaningful little name to me!

Describe a typical working day.
As miel / b isn't my full time job, I try to fit it in where I can! This usually means getting in from my job as a Buying Assistant, eating some dinner and then starting work on the scarves. I usually stop at about 9pm, when I feel like I've probably done enough for one day!

Do you have a favourite scarf?
I feel a bit like I'm having to choose a favourite child! If I had to pick one, it'd probably be King George - it was the second scarf I ever designed, and I remember being so proud of it!

If you could see any celebrity wearing your scarves, who would it be?
I'm not really big on celebrities, but if I had to say someone, it'd probably be Lily Allen. I like her attitude towards a lot of things, and she's got a great style which combines both modern and vintage. She really just fits in perfectly with what I try to create with miel / b.

To see both S/S13 and A/W13 collections, head to the miel / b website, where you can also find a list of stockists. All images of courtesy of miel / b.

Monday, 7 October 2013

portsmouth tea

I love Portsmouth for a hundred different reasons, but mostly because of the amazing craft, artisan and vintage scene. From the independent coffee shops to the lovely craft cafe, the antique stores to historic buildings, it's all too easy to lose hours to this beautiful city. While I was doing some research for a magazine feature, I ended up taking heaps of photographs of my absolute favourite haunts, so I thought it'd be nice to do a few posts celebrating the amazing places that make up Southsea. First up, the home of the best tea on the South Coast - Portsmouth Tea.

Portsmouth Tea is a unique combination of factory and tearoom; rows of steel shelving packed with original blends of tea towards the back, with tables, chairs and sofas towards the front. Cakes and muffins are stacked on glass stands, flowers spill from vases and small antiques are dotted around; packets of tea balance on top of vintage scales, and an old soldiers hat jostles for space with floral vases.

The tea itself is incredible; in our house we're dedicated converts to the eponymous Portsmouth Tea. Strong, malty and intense, it's perfect first thing in the morning, when I'm struggling to prise my eyes apart and wrestle the kiddos into the bath. On my first visit, I wandered along the racks, reading the labels on each bag; Southsea Breakfast, Pure Assam, Earl Grey and Darjeeling all sit happily side by side the more exotic blends - Liquorice, Jasmine Petals, Lemon Verbena, Jade Pillars and China Gunpowder.

We ran out of Portsmouth Tea a couple of weeks back, and I ended up having to rummage in the back of the cupboard for some of old teabags. It was, in short, a disappointment; lacked flavour and just looked a bit, well, anaemic. I can't recommend their tea enough, and what's even better is that they have an online shop - so if you can't get to the factory itself, you can still stock your cupboard with the finest tea in the South.

Friday, 4 October 2013

granny knits and ankle socks

It has to be said, I'm really not one for showing my legs; mostly because as you can see above, they're consistently so pale that they blind passers by with their dazzling properties. In the photograph, they actually start to blend in with the white table, sigh.So it stands to reason then, that the 'ankle-socks-with-everything' trend has kind of passed me by, which is a shame because the whole 'geek / sensible librarian' style is one I quite like. Plus, let's be honest - socks are well comfy, especially in the colder months.

So when I pulled my charity shop woollen skirt out of storage, I thought rather than sticking leggings under it like last year, I'd have a go at wearing it with my brogue boots and ankle socks. I have to be honest, with only a few inches of leg on show, I'm pretty much a convert - the weather at the moment is still pretty warm, especially for October, so I wasn't cold, and I didn't have to continuously keep tucking my leggings back into the tops of the boots like I usually do. Anything that saves me effort is always a winner!

I'm enjoying all the layering that comes with Autumn; the stag print blouse is an eBay find from earlier this year and the cardigan came from a charity shop a few years ago. I love clashing patterns together, and thought these two worked quite nicely with each other. My beloved document case was a gift from my Mum, via a charity shop, and it's probably my favourite bag in the entire world. Completely impractical for the school run in the rain, mind, but perfect for pretty much anything else.

I feel like I should apologise for the quality of the photographs - the lighting was particularly lousy on the day I took these. The worst part of Autumn and Winter for me is the reduction in light levels - too much darkness!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

vintage workspace

You might have noticed in the last outfit post I did that I've (yet again) changed my workspace. Daisy recently turned into a pretty effective climber, so I swiftly went round the lounge removing anything dangerous / sharp / valuable / made of small pieces / breakable, which was pretty much everything. I packed away all my vintage cameras and my old photographs, planning to get them out again when she was a bit older, but I missed them so much that I decided I couldn't wait that long. So I shuffled things around, and spent the morning arranging the wall above my desk with pictures and postcards.

It's still not completely finished; I'm one of those people that is constantly rearranging their home, so nothing is ever really 'done'. Where I spend so much time rummaging in vintage and charity shops, and visiting car boot sales, there's always some new nick-nacks or prints coming home with me which then need a place to sit - cue more shuffling. I've got some vintage magazines from the forties that have the most AMAZING adverts in them, and some pretty incredible fashion editorials which I'm going to scan in, print out and put on the wall - I'm hoping when I get a few minutes I'll be able to figure out how to turn them into PDF documents, and then create a little resource here on the blog for any vintage lovers.

I adore the old photos, possibly more than anything else. The Husband doesn't understand it, but I love looking at them; taking in their hairstyles and clothes, wondering what they did in their lives and who they met. I'm a big history geek, so I guess it's understandable! I particularly like the photograph of the group of girls - my Mum said it was probably a girls school, possibly going on a holiday or trip somewhere. I'm always drawn to the girl in the centre, who looks like she's trying not to laugh - I bet she would have been great fun. I adore their suitcases and cloche hats, and would really love to know who they were, and where they were going!

Hope you enjoyed having a nose around my workspace (in all honesty, I don't know why I call it that - 99% of the time I work from the comfort of the sofa; it's close to the TV and there are big arms to balance tea and biscuits!) - one day I might get round to doing the lounge as well!
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