Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A very English take on a very French engagement

I don't know why I haven't posted this story before, but as I provided a tiny taster of it in my answers the other day, I suppose I better finish the whole story. I'd like to say it's a romantic story of epic proportions, but as will become clear, it has a slightly quirky twist that I'm sure Mr. B didn't plan.

Rewind to December 2007, my first year of being a qualified teacher, and I was fortunate to work in a school that gave us an extra week off before Christmas. Thus, Mr. B and I planned a romantic mini-break to Paris, taking advantage of the out-of-term-time cheap air fares. The weather was beautiful - cold, crisp and clear, and a steady minus 5 degrees celcius for the whole time we were there. Having been to Paris before, Mr. B and I happily spent our time wandering around the Marais (the Jewish quarter - Mr. B loves his falafel!) and winding our way through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter and the left bank, stopping for coffee and chocolat-chaud from the amazing 'Paul' bakeries around the city. 

The steps that ascend to the sacre-coeur
from rue du Mont Cenis - slightly off the beaten track
On the second day, however, Mr. B seemed to be a little more direct in his wandering and persuaded me (not that I needed a great deal of persuading) to accompany him via the Champs Elysees and the Jardin Tuilleries to the Montmartre area of the city. Once there, yet again, he was very insistent that we find the beautiful and slightly out of the way steps that ascend the hill to the right of the Sacre-Coeur (as you look at it), citing a desire to take photos as the reason for the slightly longer treck. As we reached the summit we paused to catch our breath, Mr B sat down on a wall overlooking the staircase and beckoned me to join him. Bearing in mind the temperature and the relatively thin coat I had on, I declined and said "I can't sit there,  it's far too cold, I'll get piles" thus ruining the very moment Mr B chose to pull a tiny, vintage styled ring box from his pocket. Fractions of a second too late I realised what was going on, Mr. B managed to salvage the mood by pulling me towards him and sitting me on his knee before popping the question. 
The Sacre-Coeur, looking out over Paris
So, in the middle of the possibly the most romantic city in Europe, atop the steps to one of the prettiest quarters of the city, on a perfect day in the middle of winter, I managed to nearly completely ruin my now-husband's carefully orchestrated and very romantic proposal. Needless to say I said yes immediately but it didn't stop Mr. B repeating the story in his wedding speech and thus never letting me live it down, much to the amusement of our wedding guests, several of whom thought it may have been dare and therefore a fictional way for Mr. B to weave the (wholly inappropriate) word 'piles' into his speech! Sadly it was not, but I guess it is uniquely unforgettable - and still romantic in its own way too!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stories from the 1001 nights

Have you ever felt inexplicably drawn to a culture or place, or felt that you belonged somewhere other than where you lived? For me, I can't quite explain it, but that place is the Middle East.

I think I mentioned before that, as a child, I loved the stories from the 1001 nights. And the story of the Persian rug weavers that my mum used to tell me captivated me completely. Despite being blonde haired and blue eyed, the Disney Princess I have always most associated with wasn't Aurora or Cinderella, but Jasmine. Even at the not-so tender age of 17,  I genuinely could not have been more thrilled when I got to play Princess Scheherezade in the musical 'Tin Pan Ali': finally I got to be a real princess, if only for a few nights. It all seemed so, so romantic and steeped in the kind of history and ancient tradition that only the most epic of stories are made of.
So I guess it's no surprise then that in choosing a spouse, I chose my very own Persian prince, the lovely Mr. B, who has a vast middle-Eastern heritage! He can trace his (birth) family back, via London and India, to Persia and Iraq. I feel so lucky that I have somehow appropriated some of this heritage by being married to him and certainly, all things being well, our children will one day share in the genetic lineage that I can only stake a marital link to. In fact, it feels like such an integral part of my identity, that even the food is some of my favourite international cuisine - I'd happily choose a tagine or humous and pitta over an English roast any day!
I find everything about the literature and culture
of the middle East enthralling
I think it's so sad that the issue of land and religion in this area of the world is so contentious that it makes it almost impossible to visit for fear of war and terrorism, but one day I vow to visit all of the beautiful places that I have read about. Maybe then I will understand why I feel so incredibly drawn to this area of the world.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Tag, I'm it!

Thanks to Hannah J. Holmes, I have been tagged, and now must (ok, I'm not exactly being pressured, it seemed like fun!) answer her 11 questions. These are my responses:

A trial cake,
but not perfect yet.

  • Let us begin with the most important matter: Do you like cake? Why or why not?
I love cake. Most of the time, honestly, I do! Well, let's be brutally honest, I have a love-hate relationship with cake, but I'm working on loving it more each day, really I am. What I *really* love about cake is making and decorating cake. In fact, this was my first attempt at making a mini version of the graduated pink layer cake that I would like as the centre piece at my birthday:

  • Have you ever been to Paris? If you have, tell me about it. If you have not, would you like to go someday?
I have a story about the
step at the top...
I can't believe I've never told this story on my blog, but I actually got engaged in Paris. I shall withold all details and promise to post about this soon. Needless to say I *adore* Paris. Or should I say "Paris, Je T'aime"

  • Given the choice, would you rather go out to eat at a fancy restaurant or stay home and order takeout?
It all depends. If going to a fancy restaurant gives me an opportunity to dress up really prettily, then definitely the restaurant, but I am seriously rubbish at ordering. As soon as I order I want something different. I get major envy of everyone else's food and end up not enjoying mine as a result!

  • Similarly, would you rather go out dancing or or stay home with a warm blanket and a good movie? 
This is easy: warm blanket and a good movie wins hands down each time. Nothing (NOTHING) beats curling up on the sofa with Mr. B (or my mum and sisters) and watching a great movie. Especially in winter when it's so cosy inside.
  • What's your opinion of Ugg boots: cute and comfy or too ugly to meet the sun?
I love these SO much more
than my UGGs
Comfy and useful, but not pretty at all. In fact I recently replaced mine with some minus 25 Timberland boots that are not only fleece lined, but have deep pink laces! That's right, deep pink laces! Not just functional but pretty too. And *great* for walking the dog when it's wet (nothing worse than soggy uggs and in the UK, soggy is pretty much de-rigeur for 9 months of the year - not good!)
  • Now onto the second-most controversial shoe known to man: What is your take on Crocs?
If I was 5 and crabbing in rock-pools, I reckon they'd be spot on. But I'm nearly 30 and don't live anywhere near the coast, so I think they're a)ugly and b)kind of useless!

  • Do you sing in the shower? The car? The opera house?
Everywhere. And really, really badly, but only when no one's listening! Being the oldest of 3 girls, I used to get possessive about singing and thought that my sisters couldn't possibly know the words to the songs. Sadly Kate, my middle sister, surpassed my own talents in singing and is a fantastic mimic of everything from Beyonce to Aretha Franklin (only NEVER EVER tell her I said that, it'll go straight to her head!) so now I don't even bother in her presence. But definitely in the car. And occasionally in the shower before Mr. B laughs at me and comes in and tells me I'm 'cute'! Which is usually NOT the label I'd like as a singer.

    I can't believe these are
    on my blog... Yuck!
  • Do you have any unusual fears or dislikes? 
I hate, hate, hate fruit squash/cordial/squash. Unfortunately, when I was a teacher, it came with the territory so I used to do an annual deal with my partner teacher. I'd deal with ANYTHING else (vomit, snot, blood, you name it) as long as he or she would sort out anything to do with squash (particularly ribena - that's the worst of all!) It always seemed like a good deal to them, but they just didn't realise quite how much distress it causes me (it's the smell, it's acrid and sticks in my throat - eurgh!)

  • Have you ever seen snow? If so, do you remember your first snow?
yep, on the central reservation!
Yes. I don't remember my first snow, but I do remember being stuck for 5 hours in static traffic in a snow drift on the motorway last winter (on the way to pick up my sister from the airport for Christmas.) It kind of lost its charm after that for me, although I did find the proliferation of snowmen built on the hard shoulder and central reservation fairly hilarious!

    bleak but somehow beautiful
  • Would you rather play in the snow or spend a day at the beach? 
Spend a day at the beach. EVERY time. In fact, even in the winter and the wind and rain, I would choose the beach. Mr B is taking me to the beach for a few days after my birthday. It will be windswept and bleak, but oh so beautiful. I also love beaches in the summer: They feel endless, just like summer's days!

  • Do you peel your banana the right way or the wrong way (meaning from the bottom or from the stem)?
I'm actually allergic to bananas so neither, but I always used to marvel at that trick where you can 'sew' a banana so when you peel it, it's already cut into bite size chunks. I never did work out how to do that, but you would earn instant kudos if you could show me that trick. I wouldn't even notice which end you started! 

Watch out over the next few days and I will continue the game of tag by setting my own 11 questions, and tagging a few of my favourite blogs. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mr B's photography homework

I'm not a willing subject for any photographer, but Mr B convinced me to pose for his portraits photography homework (he's doing a course at the moment.)

These are the images I like best, not because they are of me, but because they capture something about my passion:

Oh, and the best one of all:

That's Bagel, or I suppose for this blog he should be called 'puppy ballerina' - I think this is just too cute for words! 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A serious post about the media and body image

Way back in July, when I was still in hospital, I was invited to take part in a therapy group entitled Bodywise, 'sold' to me as an intervention that would help me to understand the impact the media has on my body image. At the time this made me really angry for lots of reasons that I won't go into. But the biggest reason this irritated me was that, as an English graduate, I pride myself on a solid grasp of, and healthy cynicism for, the media. I don't buy women's gossip magazines because it irritates me that one week they will use a photo of Victoria Beckham, labelling her emaciated; the following week they will use the same photo (usually photoshopped in some way) and call her a 'porker.' It's just *too* obvious. And too damaging if you actually believe it.

My personal understanding of eating disorders is that they aren't about body image. Not really. Not properly. They're mental illnesses that are predominantly emotional in their genesis. I'm not a teenage girl (and to be honest, even if I was a teenage girl I'd be just as insulted by the idea that a picture of a skinny model could cause me to become ill) and I don't look at models, celebrities or actors as role models unless they have done something to impress me like won a well-deserved Oscar. I'm aware that controversial images and stories of struggles (or otherwise) sell magazines, and to some extent, newspapers. So, talking to me about body image and the media generally makes me feel patronised. I think, "I'm not stupid, don't tell me things I already know!"

January 2011 Heat front cover - HOW many stories about weight and bodies?!
But January is a unique challenge. And I think I'm only just beginning to realise this. You can't open even the most academic and (small c.) conservative newspapers without being bombarded by New Year, New You rhetoric. Even the cynical approach of the most insubordinate columnist turns into panic about how to lose the post festive 'bulge'. Foods are labelled 'good' and 'bad' and indulging in these foods brands us, the reader, as either 'saints' or 'sinners.' It doesn't end with food either: January is all about restriction in some way. It's absolutely everywhere and it takes a resolve of steel not to feel that you should be taking part. Even I've resolved not to shop. And fallen off the wagon already. Therefore I'm 'bad'. It's so easy to fall into a pattern of self-loathing, and we're almost encouraged in this self-loathing. January is the cruellest month - and if that cruelty is self-directed, all the better, as it will make us better people later in the year.
Even the broadsheets have to get in on the January action! (this one's from 2007, but it pretty much the same as it is every January - Change your life!)
And this is where the media's impact is insidious. I don't believe the photos that have been photoshopped to within an inch of the celebrity's tiny frame; I know that part of being a 'celeb' is being photo ready at all times, (3 hours in the gym daily may not be healthy, but it's essential for those who rely on image in our HD culture) and I'm also aware that (shock horror!) gossip magazines are not necessarily exercises in factual journalism - quite the opposite. But what I really struggle with is the implicit suggestion from the media that a combination that these things make us good or bad people. Surely we are more than the sum of what we eat, or how much exercise we do.

Like most people, I strive to be the best person I can be. I want to be liked, I want to be kind and I want to be 'good'. So, when foods are labelled in these emotive terms, I find it so difficult. How many times a day do you hear someone say "I'm so bad, I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday" or "I'm being good at the moment, I'll just have a salad?" - and the media feeds (excuse the pun) this loaded discourse. Why should foods be good or bad, or we saints or sinners as a result of consuming them? I have never calorie or fat counted, but I have ever-growing lists of good and bad foods in my head that have a ridiculous ability contribute to my sense of self-worth.
No wonder we're all so confused!
So, whilst I remain sceptical about gossip magazines, I think it's worth being aware of the impact of the media as a whole. Food keeps us going, it enables our brains and bodies to work (did you know your brain alone needs 500 calories a day just to function, and that's without even adding the everyday business of breathing and moving and speaking and walking - in other words living?) and yes, it is true that in our society its plentifulness leads to overindulgence and greed, but I do wish that we could be a little less emotive in our talk about food and dieting. January *is* the cruellest month, and I'm not sure I've got the answer to this conundrum, but if we could just think about food as fuel, and our bodies as machines that help us to complete the everyday task of living, perhaps we would be able to get through this difficult period without such intense self-flagellation.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Hanging my head in shame...

I broke my resolution.

Not spectacularly, but I broke it. I feel so, so ashamed.

In my defence (yes, I realise there isn't really any defence, but hear me out...) Mr B bought me an amazing bag for work for Christmas. Navy blue and smart and big enough to fit a folder for important meetings (actually, rather than me describe it, you can see it below):

At the time he said, off hand, "now you just need a purse (wallet) to go with that." The only thing I was planning to buy in the sales was said purse, but I looked everywhere (EVERYWHERE!) and couldn't find one. So, then I went and made this resolution not to shop till easter, and what fell off the shelf at me in the shop this afternoon? This:

I was *so* resolved not to shop, I'd even gone through all of my email and facebook links and removed/ unsusbscribed from anything to do with shopping! And now I feel bad, and dreadful and all things I shouldn't be, as I couldn't *not* buy it as it goes perfectly. Was it Marylyn Monroe who said "I can resist all things except temptation?"  Well, I think from now on, I am going to avoid the temptation altogether. I was helping a friend to buy a dress at the time, and it was going so well, but perhaps I just need to avoid the shops.

So, I'm shamed. And ashamed. And back to square one. But I can try again. And try I will!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

My perfect birthday cake

If I hadn't mentioned it, I turn 30 on the 5th February (yes, that's right, the big - 3-O - I'm throwing myself out of a plane in it's honour. Sponsor me at: www.doitforcharity.com/hannahj) - and the lovely Mr B has been planning a tea party for me. The idea is that we will have lots of tea and lots of birthday cake and all my friends will come and celebrate with me!

Now I know some people love planning parties and weddings and all things celebratory, but sadly, I'm not one of those people. I even had a wedding planner for my own wedding because just thinking about the organisation sent my blood pressure skywards. But Mr B is not phased, and has been making arrangements for some time now (which I will tell you about soon, I promise) and I'm almost getting excited as there is less than a month to go... Which is where this picture comes in:

courtesy of: glorious treats
Isn't it amazing?! I will happily admit to being a girly girl, but this is pink sugaryness taken to another level. It's just so, so pretty, I have to learn to make it so that it is a beautiful centrepiece for my birthday tea-party, it's like a grown up version of the pink ballerina cakes I had as a child. So, I have just 28 days to perfect this. I hope my work colleagues like cake, as I fear there may be a few practise-runs before I get it right!

A new year's resolution (of sorts)

You may recall me saying that I wasn't going to make any new year's resolutions. Well, I wasn't, but... Famous last words and all that. At some point over the last few days I came across a newspaper article about a woman who gave up buying new clothes for an entire year and the seed of an idea began to root in my head.

I am going to give up shopping. Not essentials shopping, (toiletries, food, bills etc - oh how I wish that were possible) but clothes, bags and shoes shopping. I have enough of these things to last me at least until Easter, and even far beyond that point. Sometimes I think it's easy to think "oh, I must have that, it will make my life better," but I have so much 'stuff', and generally speaking, it doesn't make my life better. Sure, it's nice to wear a new dress or pair of shoes, and yes, they do make you feel good, but for the amount of money I've spent on new clothes and things in the last year, I don't think any of it has genuinely made me feel enormously better in the long run. New work clothes were an essential, but they're bought and I certainly don't need anything else for quite some time!

I'm not meaning to be pious and I really do *love* shopping as much as the next girl, but I am interested to see how I cope with this challenge. I have a couple of weddings and my 30th birthday party coming up before Easter so will I be able to do it? I don't know, but it's interesting to consider how I may have to shift my thinking. It could be really exciting, because already I'm considering how I could customise stuff I already own (with bits and bobs that I already own!) to make it feel like new. Maybe I'll post back here if anything goes dramatically well (or wrong.)

Have you ever given anything up? As a rule I hate the idea and think it makes you more likely to crave what you're depriving yourself, but there's also a part of me that loves the idea of meeting a challenge. Wish me luck.