Spelling those words since the early 80s / Purveyor of fine lines

I’ve had a busy old life so far: packing quiches in a refrigerated factory in blue plastic shoes, painting theatres at the Edinburgh Festival just so I could get free croissants from a daily breakfast show, photocopying tenancy agreements for Charlie Brooks (Janine from Eastenders), selling books to customers who insist 1984 was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and working in publishing for nine years. These days, I slave over a hot desk as an author and freelance copywriter.

Get in touch here to find out all the glorious words I could pour right into your brain.

It's Nice That

Oh Happy Day

The Bloggess

Yoruba Girl Dancing

You Are My Fave

What I'd Wear

I am a Leaf on the Wind

Gravity

The Poem That Ruined Christmas

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A couple of years ago, my parents gave us two beautiful Robert Sabuda pop-up books for Christmas, The 12 Days of Christmas (above) and The Night Before Christmas. They’re both full of the charm, wit and quality associated with Sabuda’s work - a silver fork poking out of the goose pie for six geese a-laying, the charging reindeer coming in to land in the famous Christmas poem - but reading them four or five times a day, as I must throughout each December, I’m struck by a fresh thought: Clement Clarke Moore’s poem is terrible.

Some of this may come from the lack of emotional connection I have to it - it’s much more of an American thing, and I really only came to know of it through US films and TV programmes, while the 12 days has been sung to my kids from mid-September each year since they were born, and I’ve sung it countless times every year since I was a tiny youth - and some from the countless dire parodies littering the airwaves each festive season, but it’s really, truly dreadful.

Let’s take it step by step.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

Fine. Crummy rhyming effort there (WITH CARE… BE THERE reminds me of the firework poems we all had to crank out when we were seven or so (IN THE SKY… UP SO HIGH)), but this is a children’s poem and sometimes you just need to suck it up.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. 
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

Why can’t these lines scan properly? And why is it “a long winter’s nap”? Is it because children famously sleep in so long on Christmas morning? But I’m sure Pam Ayres has already hilariously parodied this aspect, so I’m backing away. Here’s where it really starts to crumble.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of midday to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

Why is the author mistaking perspective for size? They aren’t REALLY tiny, are they? If someone sees something in the distance, they don’t say, “Hey, your mother’s just turned into our street - but something’s wrong… SHE’S TINY OMGGGGG AAAAAAHHHHHHH!” Why is he insistent on the sleigh being miniature? It’s just not directly in front of your face, you fool.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

How he can tell how quick and lively the driver is when he’s in miniature (and, I’m guessing, still some distance away) is, frankly, beyond me. And what’s more famously and colloquially swift than an eagle? Plus, those names are stupid. [Insert lazy Ian Hislop joke about the Jolie-Pitt children here.]

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.              

This is where I start getting really angry. This is a Christmas poem, set in a country where there’s “new fallen snow”. It’s cold, a little damp, I suppose, and from the “luster of midday” it seems very still, very quiet. So WHY, in the name of ALL that is POETIC, would Moore choose the imagery of dry leaves in a wild hurricane? This isn’t chaos, it’s magic. It’s not an out of control, hot, dead time, it’s a moment of jingling bells and flying deer. Jesus Christ. This surely wins some kind of Bulwer-Lytton award for Terrible and Erroneous Imagery.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

OK. So everything is still little, is it? Although that may explain how St. N gets down the chimney in “a bound”. But drew in your hand from what? And how did you see him bound down the chimney? Through your roof periscope?

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

Hey, Clement. I think that guy covered in soot and ashes climbing into your house might just be a peddler.

His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

Ugh. These two paragraphs sum up everything that’s wrong with Christmas sentiment. His cheeks “like roses” (absurd). His droll little mouth. His belly that shakes when he laughs (Moore is guessing, since we don’t actually see him do more than drawing up his mouth) but is also little. Just like his sleigh.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

Why did you laugh “in spite of” yourself? Is a wink all it takes? Actually I get that. I’ll allow it.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

Turned “with a jerk”? What a lovely physical motion to employ when you’ve just crept into someone’s house. More jerking and nodding in silence, please, St. Nicholas. Thx. He could have gone “straight to his task” and then “raised a flask”? Or “on to his purpose” then “wiped down the surface”? Think, Moore, think.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!"

It’s a lovely cry, a call to Children everywhere, one that is used beautifully in my new favourite Christmas book, The Empty Stocking. But again, that imagery. At least he’s got the colour right, this time - downy thistle is in fact white, and reminiscent of the winter season. But it’s also completely uncontrollable: anyone who’s ever blown one will know these seeds go anywhere they choose. But aren’t those teeny-weeny reindeer harnessed firmly to their microscopic sleigh? At the very least, aren’t they all flying in one direction? Isn’t someone in control of this thing?

IN SUMMARY

Yes and YES

No

Merry Christmas to all, etc.

The Christmas Kitchen Pt 2

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Yule Log: ultimate Christmas joy. Having rummaged around for several different recipes (I was even toying with Delicious magazine’s salted caramel Yule log) I realised someone had already done the hard work for me, and plumped (AHAHHAAAHAHAHAA, because I ate so much) for Felicity Cloake’s excellent recipe. It’s flourless, so it’s very light, and that means the nutmeg and cinnamon really shine through - perfect Christmas flavours.

A few thoughts:

1. Does everyone else just understand a “Swiss roll tin” to just be a baking tray with grease proof paper? Is there actually a thing called a Swiss roll tin that is, in some key way, different?

2. I used just 100g of chestnut purée, mainly because I happened to find a tin at the back of the cupboard and that’s the size it happened to be. But I’m glad it was - the success of this recipe is how light it is, not sitting at the bottom of your stomach like a true log. So the 250g of chestnut purée recommended may have overwhelmed the flavour somewhat, but that may just be me.

3. I couldn’t make the ganache harden enough to draw bark-lines in it, but once I put the third layer on, I realised the smudges from the spatula gave a pleasing log-like effect instead.

4. I made my friend’s very nice child cry by refusing to give them any of this. KIDS HAVE NO SENSE OF HUMOUR. 

As ever: cook, eat, enjoy.

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(We’d actually eaten half of this before I remembered to take a shot of its innards.)

The Christmas Kitchen pt 1

Because I like cooking (and eating) and think there are plenty of good recipes around at this time of year that I’m happy for the kids to be involved with (unlike, say, a roast; made up mostly of raw meat, knives, and boiling oil) I find it’s a great time to get them away from their ‘books’ and ‘toys’ and into the kitchen to make my friends some gifts. 

Two favourites for this time of year, both pretty foolproof and delicious, are Dan Lepard’s Stollen Bars, and these Dutch biscuits (hunted down because I wanted something I could stick mixed peel in). 

A few points:

1. I didn’t have any ground cardamom - I have the pods, but we’ve lost the mortar and pestle (or given it to the charity shop in one of our frenzied clearouts). So for both recipes I did without, although I’m a bit sorry with the Stollen bars. It really adds something there. 

2. I’d add a tiny dash more glycerine to the Stollen bars - might try with 2tsp? Maybe not. But the serving suggestions are BONKERS: for this to serve 6 to 8, you’d be looking at portions the size of sandwiches. I cut them into double-bite size (still huge) which gives around 25 portions. Much better. 

3. Particularly with the biscuits, I tend to lob in whatever spices I have in my cupboard. If I’m short on ground cardamom and ground cloves, I’ll just smell around and go for cinnamon, ginger, allspice, mixed spice and/or nutmeg. Yom. 

As I say, these are really easy recipes, both for nervous bakers and for children to do too. It’s in no way compulsory to weigh out the ingredients for the more complicated of these recipes (the Stollen bars) but it does help to quell any pathetic urges to pretend to be doing a cookery programme on TV. 

Anyway, go, cook. Enjoy. 

Jacket up

Blimey, it’s cold today. My mother (currently staying with us) took our eldest to school this morning (Me: Probably best if you just go, and I stay here inside in the warmth, yeah?) and came back saying how mild it was outside. Oh, she’s good. She’s really good. Turns out it’s absolutely arctic and, without my usual jumper, my hands were like tiny (not tiny at all) wooden blocks by the time I’d got to my office, the other side of London. 

If you choose to get married at this time of year, firstly, high five. I love the late-autumn, early-winter period, and think you can have the finest times with decorations and flowers/foliage: instead of the usual bunting and peonies, you can go for furs, ivy and mulled wine. Jesus, just let me know the details and I’ll be there. Secondly, if you’re ever heading outdoors during the day, you might need a little cover-up. And not one of those absurd feather-collarbone-warmers that everyone in Weddings seems to think are a no-brainer. A proper cover-up. With sleeves. 

So here are my high street selections of potential wedding warmers. 

Two Liza Minelli/Ginger Rogers-esque jackets to go over a simple dress.

(L: Bridesmaid’s favourite Monsoon, R: French Connection)

Two more formal options: a foil print cardigan from Reiss, and a classic tux jacket from Monsoon.  

Personally, I’m more drawn to numbers like these cosy and comfortable cardigans for a winter wedding. If you’ve got something like this, think it doesn’t ruin whatever you’re wearing underneath, and you can get away without your mum calling you a slob on your wedding day, I’d recommend it. If you haven’t got something like this, they’re (L-R) Topshop and a cashmere boyfriend cardi from Jigsaw. Yum, etc. 

Finally, this French Connection kimono jacket would add some much-needed colour to most weddings, and something that will be infinitely wearable afterwards. My favourite. Keep warm, everyone. 

An apology, an excuse, and a query

Hey gang! I’m so very sorry for not having posted here for so long - my tiny excuse is that I’ve been finishing The Baby Diaries and battling the stomach bug that’s been sweeping the nation like Pattinson Fever [dated reference no. 1]. Some people have had the 48-hour version - like my kids, thank Christ - others get the month-long, weakening, sickening version. Guess which one I had! Hurray! Anyway, now that I’m able to crawl towards my keyboard for something other than book-writing, here we are. 

I was talking to one of my excellent sisters-in-law at a wedding recently, as we examined the bunting around the room, the floral birdcage decorations on each table, and the fabric letters spelling out messages on each wall. We were discussing when wedding trends will make any major shifts, and whether they’ll ever swing round to minimalism - I argued that the industry’s hold is now so strong, that there’s little chance of Bridal Monthly (oh god I hope that’s not a real mag or I’m in trouble) ever advocating just hiring a hall and filling it with booze and decks. Later, with other friends, we marvelled at how normally sane people suddenly feel this all this wedding jazz is something they HAVE to do - a toast-master, canapes, etc. 

I got to thinking [hahahaha dated reference no. 2] about brides taking their husband’s name. Besides a few people saying that they changed it for SEO purposes or to escape their own family name which they hated for horrible childhood reasons, I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument about it. It’s something I feel so strongly about (unlike most things in the world) and have never been able to fathom why strong, educated, independent, creative women would want to take a man’s name, just because it’s traditional. And my hackles are slightly raised when the explanation is ‘I love my husband and want to show him how committed I am’; I meanwhile, keeping my own name, am obviously just a bit meh about my marriage, always nominally keeping one foot out the door. 

Of course, the real point is that I don’t need to be convinced. I’m not sitting here with a rubber stamp while nervous new brides file past me, desperate for my approval for their new names. I don’t imagine anyone who’s changed their name gives a shit about my inability to comprehend their decision. And she shouldn’t have to (yay feminism, etc.), but I would genuinely like someone to be able to educate me into understanding why so many women make this choice. Plus, who am I to talk - I’m just fighting to cling onto my great-great-great-great grandfather’s name (paternal side). 

Either way, the sooner brides stop being encouraged to buy vintage birdcages and yes I know I’m one to talk, the better off we’ll all be.   

Q: When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?

A: Yes, I think about J. K. Rowling’s enormous diamond and unicorn-horn house.

Satire. And if you fancy reading more, there’s plenty of it over at Novelicious. There’s my top literary weddings, my writing room (sofa) and a Q&A. So I’m basically James Patterson now. 

Also, if you’d like to have a mental image of exactly which desk I’m talking about always wanting, it’s this one

Yeah, I know.

I know. 

Things like this make me want to ban marriage. 

Things like this make me want to ban marriage. 

Is this some kind of *game* to you?

(left to right, my sister and me, moments before commencement of the most violent Hat Game ever seen) 

Generally, weddings can be pretty boring occasions. There’s always loads of standing around sipping champagne (which, FYI, is pretty gross actually YES I’M BLOWING YOUR MIND) and, if you’ve come as someone’s plus-one, it’s unlikely you’ll feel safe talking about anything other than how you know the bride or groom (“I don’t.” There. Done).

But do you know what makes weddings a good time? GAMES. I’ve banged on about this a little bit at the back of The Wedding Diaries, so my apologies if you already feel yourself an old hand at the Hat Game, but not everyone has been so lucky. And disclaimer: no one should ever be forced to play any of these games. It’s one thing to jovially chivvy someone out of their millimetre-thin resistance, it’s another to cry your eyes and wail that “YOU’LL RUIN IT IF YOU DON’T PLAY.” So live and let sit there enjoying their cocktails undisturbed.

GAME ONE:

The Hat Game

This is, to be v simple about it, musical chairs with hats.

The group stands in a circle, everyone having chosen a hat. When the music starts, the circle starts tramping around slowly, clockwise (or whatever), and the Clipboard Owner (who runs these games - you don’t think this is all just some crazy, hippie free-for-all, do you?) will snatch a few hats off heads around the circle. The people who find themselves hatless must then snatch the hat from the head in front, who will then hat-snatch from the head in front of them. When the music stops, if you are without a hat, you’re out. Easy, yes? WRONG. As the game warms up and the circle is inexorably drawn to moving faster and faster, the hat-grabs will become more violent, feet will slip, hair may be lost and long-cherished friendships destroyed. Although the rules are that you can only have one hat on at a time, and you can’t hold it on, the Clipboard Owner cannot be looking everywhere at once. And when the music stops, you will be expelled from the circle if you are hatless. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.

When it’s down to the final two, the ruthless competitors are seated in two chairs, back to back, and must pass a hat between them until the music stops. Although they can’t get up from the seat, they may dodge their rival’s hands as best they can.

I would recommend a prize for this, as all contestants will have worked so hard they will NEED to see a trophy at the end.

GAME TWO:

The Humming Game

You’ll need three or four teams for this. You can either get everyone to write a few songs on slips of paper when they come in, or prepare these in advance so you don’t get some hipster fucker suggesting the best track of all time is ‘North’ by Dark Star or something.

When each team’s turn comes up to play, they are handed by the Clipboard Owner the name of the song they will be humming. The team has five seconds to recall the song from their brain, and decide where to start (hahahaha, but without actually saying anything out loud) before they must then hum it at the other teams. If any of the other teams get it, the humming team and the guessing team both get one point. If no one gets it, then just move on. It’s bad enough that they can’t even hum a tune, you don’t need to give them a forfeit or anything.

What’s pleasing is how quickly the teams do one of two things: 1) become a terrifying musical machine, starting at the exact right point and nailing that melody, or 2) break down completely and start crying with laughter, unable to get a single note out. Both are pretty entertaining.

Give the winners a big jug of booze.

GAME THREE:

The Champagne Game

Really doesn’t need to be champagne - it’s just that there always seems to be a glut of those things at this kind of bash (see above).

This is sport for two folk per team. Draw a line on the ground, and see how far you can place the champagne bottle over the line, by leaning over with your teammate acting as counterbalance to your flailing limbs. Then, when you’ve got it as far as you possibly can, you have to swap over and your teammate has to pick it up and bring it home, while you counterbalance them. Obviously, this game is a hell of a lot better slightly later on in the day. #fallingoverfun

That’s it. Games rule. I married into the world’s most competitive family, and I have to say: I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I am alllllll about games now.

Enjoy.

[EDIT: Discussing the super violent games others have enjoyed, I was just reminded of a wedding in France I went to years ago, one of the first times my now-husband had really hung out with the rest of my family. With his own familial all-games-all-the-time atttude, while the rest of the guests were eating foie gras and horse meat, he convinced us to form a human pyramid, in the process kicking my sister in the face so hard she got a black eye. Reader, I married him.]

Wedding outfits - Net a Porter style

For my register office wedding, I wore a full, white, knee-length skirt my mother had made, plus Diane von Furstenberg white broderie anglaise top and green-and-white print jacket. I got the top and the jacket from Net a Porter (another gift from my mum) so I’ve always a) loved that site and b) associated it with weddings. 

They’ve now got a whole wedding section, which has some truly gorgeous dresses as well as, in their regular sections, some delici-separates with great wedding potential. 

First up, the dresses: 

Clockwise from top left: Alessandra Rich crepe de chine dress; Chloé silk chiffon-trimmed crepe dress; J. Crew Victoria feather-skirt linen dress; J. Crew Sararose gown.

They’re all so beautiful, not insanely expensive and can definitely *hem hem* be worn again (although if you have regular events at which you can wear the J. Crew Sararosa then why are you even reading this? Shouldn’t you be on a boat somewhere with Cary Grant?). 

Next up, separates. My picks: 

From left to right: Zoe Karssen bat cotton t-shirt and A.L.C. waffle-weave pencil skirt; Kain embroidered silk-chiffon top and Just Cavalli metallic-twill pencil skirt; Miu Miu silk chiffon-trimmed cotton t-shirt and See by Chloé matte-satin maxi skirt.

I love this lot. I think separates – particularly at a city or modern wedding – with a chunky birdcage veil, are a hell of a lot more chic than a floor-length dress or a 50s prom-style frock. But them’s just my onions. And I’m completely obsessed with that bat t-shirt. Is it too early to be hinting about Christmas presents? Any size is fine, I can always switch it. 

Finally, a jacket. The beautiful Diana v Furst jacket I was bought has served me well over the years, and makes me happy everytime I wear it, reminding me as it does of that fine old wedding day. I think this Milly one is a keeper – classic enough to stay wearable for years, special enough to sport on a wedding day.

There we go. Plenty of fashionable items for a wedding day, with no meringues or strapless numbers in sight. And coming soon: wedding outfits IN COLOUR ZOMFG!!!!! 

Fabulous weddings

Oh hello. The Wedding Diaries was reviewed in Fabulous magazine this weekend, and I only went a did a Ten Commandments for Wedding Organisation, didn’t I? You can read that here, and enter their competition to win a copy of the book here.

BONUS GIFT: a photo of me on that website, looking like a crafty goose.