Monday, 20 December 2010


I was asked to write a short piece with the title “Good Present/Bad Present” the other day. It got me thinking about how much the present buying process says about our relationship with the person we’re buying it for, particularly when it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend. Firstly there’s a question of how much to spend. Personally I hate the idea of setting a budget for Christmas presents with your other half. It makes it all about how much you’re spending, rather than the thought behind it. But establishing the protocol does take away the potential for rows when he unwraps the silver hip flask you’ve had lovingly monogrammed and he, thinking you were doing cheap and fun, hands you one of his homemade books of “cuddle vouchers”.
And once you’ve negotiated the minefield of how much to spend, you have to decide what you’re going to spend it on. Do you play it safe and ask him to draw up a comprehensive list or insist on surprising him with something he never knew he wanted - with the risk that he actually doesn’t want it?
And it’s not like his is the only present you have to think about. There’s family, extended family, family’s girlfriends and boyfriends, friends and work colleagues. Just when you think you’ve got it all wrapped up (excuse the pun) you remember someone else you need to buy for.
I do love giving presents to people, it’s the thinking about what they’ll want and then slogging around trying to find it that stresses me out. I prefer to give slightly unusual things and I’ve found Bristol’s great for this. The Woolies Indoor Market at the top of Whiteladies Road is full of quirky gifts, as is the Clifton Arcade. I also happened upon the market that’s held in Start the Bus a few weekends a go and picked up a couple of really lovely, unique things there. And I do love House of Fraser in Cabot Circus - department stores at this time of year make me feel like I’m in Miracle on 34th Street.
So this year I’m actually feeling rather pleased with all the offerings I’ve got to place beneath the tree. Now I just can’t wait for the best bit - watching people open them.

And here’s what I wrote under the title Good Present/Bad Present.

It was the Christmas present that finished it. Not his to me. That was fine. Safe and unimaginative but it was my favourite perfume and I didn’t really mind that he’d left the “half price at Boots” sticker on the box. But by then it was too late. In choosing his present I’d realised this was never going to last. I wanted my gift to be meaningful, special. A book of poetry perhaps, or a beautiful tweed waistcoat I found at a flea market. I imagined him opening these perfect presents on Christmas morning and just - couldn’t. He didn’t read poetry and would think the waistcoat was old, not vintage. They weren’t presents for him, they were for the boyfriend I wished he was. In a last minute panic I bought one of those novelty books they pile high in Waterstones at this time of year. It was as good a way as any of ending the relationship. I think I left the half price sticker on too.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Do you really need another pair of shoes?

I wrote the following for a competition. I didn't win (I was robbed, of course) but I thought it would be a shame for it never to see the light of day...

Do you really need another pair of shoes?

As babes in arms we are taught that shoes have magical, transformative powers. A quick sift through the fairytales and stories that shape our childhood will prove that no princess or heroine is worth halfpenny without her signature shoes twinkling at her feet.

Cinderella and her glass slippers almost go without saying. But the folklore woven around shoes only begins there. The Twelve Dancing Princesses slip on their jewelled dancing shoes each night to prance into their magical world, returning to their beds in the dawn light - tired but happy and with their heels tellingly worn down from dancing under the stars.

And what about the little girl in The Red Shoes? She knows no peace until she has her glittering pair, which set her feet dancing irresistibly up hill and down dale.

Book-loving little girls like myself progressed from the charmed shoes of fairytales to the enchanting footwear of much-loved children’s classics; Dorothy’s ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz and Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and White Boots all waltzed merrily through my childish imagination, and have kept on tapping their feet into my adulthood.

So, little wonder women grow up so enthralled by shoes. According to the tales of our childhood the right pair of magical slippers will snare us a handsome prince, dance us into a magical kingdom and set us firmly on the path to a glittering career in showbiz. What more could any dreamy little girl wish for?

Added to this, there’s an alluring element of danger to their glamour. The dancing princess’ trodden-down heels betray their hedonistic nights to their strict father, while those provocative red shoes ultimately skip their owner to her untimely death.

So shoes are tricksy things. The wrong pair could get you into all sorts of trouble. And the right ones won’t just fall into your lap.

My search for the perfect pair began young. The first shoes I very clearly remember wanting were red, patent leather Mary-Janes. I was about five, my best friend had Mary-Janes and I’d recently seen the film of The Red Shoes on the telly. These seductive confections, probably spotted while buying school shoes in Clarks, therefore ticked all the boxes.

My mother, however, is a practical woman, and they did not strike her as suitable footwear for a five-year-old. I did not get the shoes.

And from that day forward (or so I like to think) our shoe-shopping career as mother and daughter was doomed. Denied my dream shoes, I became devilishly choosy, and trying on any kind of shoe became a nightmare for us both.

However many I was presented with, no pair ever seemed quite right. They were too tight here or too loose there. They rubbed my heel, or the top of my little toe.

Attentive shop-assistants, hovering nearby and chirruping “How does that feel?” added to the agony. I was as shy as I was indecisive and their attention would eventually make me feel like one of the ugly sisters; willing to chop my own toes off just to get out of there. When it got to this stage I would invariably panic and agree on a pair of shoes at random. Later, at home, I would sobbingly tell my mum I couldn’t possibly wear them. And back we would trudge.

To our mutual relief, my mum and I no longer buy shoes together. And now, almost all grown-up, I’ve somehow gained the confidence required in shops to make I’m left in peace while I wiggle my toes and twirl in front of the mirror at leisure, as the boxes pile up around me.

But, although I’m now at liberty to choose and pay for my own shoes, finding the perfect pair hasn’t got any easier.

I still agonise endlessly over the feel, shape and look. Practicality isn’t the issue here. It’s that indescribable rightness I’m looking for. I ask myself, will these shoes make me skip down the street and never want to stop?

For that, after all, is the point of shoes, is it not? Yes, how they fit and look is important, no girl would deny that. But, as the best fairytale princesses will tell you, it’s where they take you that matters the most. And we have so many places to go.

I’ve been searching for some years now and I haven’t found that one magical pair just yet. Many have come close but I can never help thinking that the ones I’m really meant to have are still out there somewhere, wrapped in fresh tissue, tucked in a box and patiently waiting for me to slip them on my feet and breathe life into their magic.

So I intend to keep on searching. I may find them, I may not. What I do know is the adventure is in the journey.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Charity shopping - happiness for all

I have a very stylish friend with an enviably canny eye for picking out gems in charity shops. She makes an outfit comprised largely of items purchased at the local hospice shop look like something picked from the pages of Vogue
I’ve spent some years analysing the secret of her success and have concluded that, apart from her natural sense of style (which sadly cannot be copied), the answer is fearlessness and spontaneity.
There’s no point going into a charity shop looking for the perfect pair of black trousers or a particular kind of dress for a particular kind of party. Nor can you expect to find the best items laid out appealingly right at the front of the shop. They are getting better in this respect (thanks, I think, to the much publicised efforts of Mary Portas) but the fact remains that charity shops are still run in the main by little old women. Would you let you Gran shop for you? Exactly.
So you have to be prepared to delve through piles of tat with an open mind, Try things you would never normally consider. Think about adding a belt or cutting off sleeves or a hem. After all, if it all goes wrong, your mistake will only have cost you about a tenner - which has gone to charity anyway.
And if you like it, buy it now. Unlike high street shops, if you go away to think about it, the chances are it won’t be there when you return. I still mourn a beautiful pair of Church’s leather brogues, priced at £10, which I dithered over and lost.
Bristol’s charity shops are utter goldmines - definitely among the best I have explored around the country. Try Cotham Hill, Clifton Village and Gloucester Road for some of the best pickings.
In the past couple of months alone I’ve picked up a cute tweed skirt, a silk, patterned tea-dress, a retro neck-scarf and a tailored, black shirt.
I think I may finally have cracked charity shopping, and it feels good. I could never eschew new clothes all together, but a shopping spree feels better for the soul when you know that your consumerism is actually contributing to society - by recycling and raising money for good causes.
And with Christmas looming charity shops are also a great place for gifts if you’re on a budget and/or feeling environmentally minded.
Browsing in Clifton Arcade last weekend I found a pretty set of tea-cups which had been turned into candles. They would have made a lovely present, but were a bit pricey.
Around the corner, I picked up a gorgeous tea-set in the Save the Children shop for a fraction of the cost. I’ll turn them into candles myself.
Once the Christmas spending frenzy is over, hit those charity shops again. Everyone will be clearing out unwanted presents and making way for their Christmas booty, so that’s the time to pick up some real gems.
Just remember to take some donations with you, to keep that cycle going. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Koala Eyes

I read in the “Beauty Bible” section of a Sunday supplement recently that Koala Eyes are the new must have look. The magazine helpfully explained that to achieve this desirable effect you should “white out the whole ocular area”; that means no mascara and bleached brows.
As a strawberry blonde I don’t need a team of make-up artists to help me perfect this look – I was born with it. So I should be rejoicing that I’m finally bang on trend.
But in truth I’m just a little bit horrified. Believe me, bleached brows and blonde lashes don’t make you look pale and mysterious, they make you look tired and peculiar – as though a child has drawn on your face but forgotten some of the key features. This is why mascara and eyelash dye have been my best friends since I was about 13. And why very few people have seen me without one or the other. Or, usually, both.
And I’ll be sticking with them, thank you very much, whatever the Beauty Bibles may tell me.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Baking for boyfriends

I’m no surrendered woman but I can’t deny that I get a shocking amount of pleasure out of baking treats for my boyfriend. The idea of being the little wife in the kitchen goes against all my feminist principles but still I can’t seem to stop. I blame Nigella.
It might also have something to do with the fact that my boyfriend and I live quite far apart and sometimes it can be a couple of weeks before we get to see each other. When I do visit him often I feel the need to have some kind of sweet offering - maybe to remind him why he loves me (shallow, I know, but it seems to work).
This week has been so cold I’ve been able to see my breath inside my flat, so something warming was needed. It was the perfect opportunity to try out a lemon and ginger fridge-cake recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while. OK, I know a fridge-cake isn’t particularly warming, it was more the lemon and ginger that grabbed me.
The recipe is ridiculously easy - chop 60g of crystallised lemon peel and 60g of crytallised ginger, blend with 200g of crunchy ginger biscuits and grate in the rind of one lemon. Then squeeze the lemon into a saucepan and simmer until it’s reduced to about one tablespoon-worth. Melt in 80g of butter then pout the lemony buttery liquid into the biscuit mix, stir it all together, press into a shallow cake tin and put in the fridge to set.
Catherine Mason, whose excellent recipe this is, suggests serving the cake with strong espresso. I don’t know about that but I found the baking process was helped along nicely by a large whisky.
I’d hoped there’d be enough to take some into my colleagues at work too. Unfortunately my boyfriend is a greedy man so there wasn’t. But I did had about half a pack of ginger biscuits left, which I took into work instead. Fortunately my workmates are easily pleased.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Dance off

When I have a lazy Saturday to fill in Bristol I often wander down to the Arnolfini. For me, it’s one of the best things about the city – a handsome building, right on the bustling waterfront, with an exciting and original range of exhibitions. And it’s free.
A friend was staying this weekend so we meandered down there, basking in the balmy October sunshine. As part of the gallery’s Autumn Dance season performing art company mouth To mouth were hosting  their Virtual Jukebox, which brought members around the world together, via web link-up, for a dance-off. Visitors could select the music they danced to.
I love a good dance-off. I’ve taken part in a fair few myself, although these are normally at about 3am after several shots of tequila, rather than 3pm after nothing stronger than a milky coffee.
But, although I didn’t feel brave enough to join in, there was something incredibly uplifting about watching four people dancing uninhibitedly to the same tune, hundreds of thousands of miles apart.
I’m sure there were all kinds of messages in there about modern technology and communication, but what I took away from it was a reminder that, when you want to revel in a sense of unbridled joy in your mere existence, nothing beats a good dance.
See here for what else is coming up at the Arnolfini

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A couple of my purchases

Shopping away the blues

After a hectic weekend of seeing friends and family up in London, all fuelled by more alcohol than is medically advisable, I was feeling a severe case of the Monday blues. A good stiff drink normally sorts this out but I could hear my liver sobbing, so next on the list of quick-fix pick-me-ups was obviously some retail therapy.
I tend to gravitate more towards smaller more independent boutiques and charity shops rather than the big chains. I’ve nothing against the high street, I just sometimes find it all a bit overwhelming.
But after a long Monday at work I wanted pure escapism from the working week. I needed a haven from all the troubles and strifes of life, so there was only one place to go – Cabot Circus.
As soon as I walked across the walkway from the car-park I felt my breathing calm and the stresses of the day float away. All I had to think about was clothes, beautiful, frivolous clothes. Clothes I didn’t need or even know I wanted until I saw them.
I hit House of Fraser first, where I lusted over the new Biba designs, particularly a black velvet maxi dress and sequined cardigan. I held back from buying then and there but will definitely be back nearer the Christmas party season.
Office had some beautiful brogues which I stroked for a while. I haven’t bought into this trend yet but I can feel my resolve weakening by the day, especially now autumn is here, calling for sensible but stylish footwear.
In Urban Outfitters I really hit my stride, hauling an armful of cardigans, culottes, shorts and skirts to the dressing room (they let you take a lot into the cubicles, which are also gratifyingly large). I twirled in a beautiful pair of navy polka dot culottes for a while, before deciding the fabric separating the legs would annoy me and settling on a jersey skirt in green. From there I skipped on to Oasis, where I rapidly added a fitted black jumper with sequined bow detail and a black and white lace top to my booty.
Oasis has launched a new Style Icon range and I really though either the Stephanie or the Audrey trousers would finally solve my search for the perfect pair of cropped, black trousers. Sadly not. Somehow both the 10 and eight were both too large and too small at the same time. I don’t think I’m that strangely shaped but this always happens to me.
So my quest for the perfect pair of trousers continues but Cabot Circus had done the trick and dragged me out of my start of the week dumps. I might make it a regular Monday evening thing – while my bank account can hold out at least.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


This isn’t about that kind of street walking. Sorry boys - I’m not Belle du Jour.
No, this is about the joys of urban walking, which I’ve recently discovered. And I don’t mean walking to work, or the bus-stop, or nipping to the corner shop to fetch a pint of milk and the paper. I’m talking about walking the streets for walking’s sake; an activity in itself.
It started on a Saturday when I had nothing much to do. I decided to walk to Gloucester Road. There was nothing I needed to buy, no-one I wanted to meet there. I just thought I’d go for a stroll and soak up the atmosphere for a couple of hours. I could have driven, as it’s a fair distance from my flat, but I thought I’d make an outing of it. So I took my time, meandering my way there, looking in windows, observing the people I passed, enjoying the sun on my face and the feeling of being out in the city but anonymous at the same time. I loved it.
Hectic weekends mean it hasn’t been possible to replicate that aimless wandering for a while. But, with summer passing, nights drawing in and the prospect of coldness and darkness settling on the city earlier, I’ve been determined to make the most of the daylight hours left when I get out of work while I can.
I thought about jogging (for the exercise, you know), but my feet have an uncontrollable habit of flailing out comically when I increase my pace beyond a quick stride. And then I remembered that blissful walk.
I reckon a good brisk walk is just as good as a jog, and it has the added benefit of giving you the time to take in your surroundings, and reflect on your day.
So at least once a week I’ve been trying to take the time to slip into something g more comfortable after work and then set out into the city again.
One of my preferred routes takes me through Clifton Village, where I laugh to myself at yummy mummies bringing their brood home from school and can gawp at the grand houses.
I peer unashamedly into as many lit windows as I can, guessing at the lives that go on in there and mentally redecorating the kitchens and living rooms as I go, thinking wistfully to myself “one day….”
Once I’ve had my fix of house envy I go on past Bristol Zoo. Here I usually see a few staff members chatting and smoking at the bus stop. I imagine they’re ruefully discussing what the monkeys got up to that day, or debating why the penguins are in such a foul mood.
At any rate, they’ve certainly had a very different day to mine (despite some of the monkey-like characters I deal with at work). It refreshes me to think of all those different people out there, with their wildly varying sets of concerns and hopes, all making the world go on its merry way.
Past the zoo, I go up on the Downs. Here the joggers come out. I never fail to marvel at the sheer number of them. In packs, pairs or on their own, all pounding the grass into well-worn tracks.
Their expressions range from grim determination to a kind of exhausted resignation, as though the god of health and fitness is constantly on their shoulder, berating them for every chocolate digestive and screaming at them to get their trainers on and run, dammit, whether they like it or not.
If I’m lucky, as I cross the Downs I’ll see one or two hot air balloons rising up from the grounds of Ashton Court and I’ll stop for a minute or two to enjoy their calm beauty in the evening light. I’ve inherited a superstitious belief from my mum that hot air balloons are a symbol of hope. I think it’s one of many superstitions she’s invented herself but I’ve adopted it because I like it. And living in Bristol I see a lot of hope hovering in the skies above me.
Crossing onto Whiteladies Road I press my nose up against the window of the wedding dress shop and sigh over their latest display. No, I’m not engaged but yes, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about my dream wedding dress. Generally I try to keep that to myself, for fear of scaring people.
Walking back down Whiteladies Road there’s a buzz of post-work drinkers, also enjoying the last of the autumn sun. This is the route I take to work but in the evening the cast is transformed; everybody moves that bit slower, ties are loosened, hair shaken free of buns, glasses tossed aside (hang on, that’s a man’s librarian fantasy, but you get the picture.)
People smile at each other and stop and chat. And I listen in as I pass, catching snippets about irritating co-workers and errant boyfriends.
And then I’m home, back from my mini-adventure and every time filled with a new-found sense of wonder at the amazing city I live in.
I think Virginia Woolf summed up perfectly the joy of being a flaneur, or “one who walks the city in order to experience it”, in Street Hauntings: A London Adventure. Reflecting on the people she encountered on her wanderings she wrote: “Into each of these lives one could penetrate a little way, far enough to give oneself the illusion that one is not tethered to a single mind but can put on briefly the bodies and minds of others.”
I don’t know if Virginia Woolf ever brought her flaneuring ways to Bristol. I like to think so. She would have loved it as much as I do, I’m sure.

Welcome to The Bristoletta.

I’m a girl, I live in Bristol, and I enjoy reading about lifestyle, fashion, beauty, health, relationships, trends... I love magazines, basically. But more and more I notice that the glossy magazines I go to for my hits of these all seem to assume that the world revolves around London. It doesn’t.
Bristol is heaving with stylish, creative, intelligent women who love this city and have chosen to make it their home. And who wouldn‘t want to live here? We have a thriving arts and music scene, fabulous places to eat, drink and dance and a staggering choice when it comes to dressing ourselves and our homes - ranging from the quirkiest independent boutiques to the big hitters down in Cabot Circus.
So the idea of this blog is to provide an alternative to all those London-centred magazines.
This is a place to celebrate and explore what the women of Bristol want, think and feel. What they wear, where they go out, who they date, what their dreams are, and what they love about living here.
I hope you enjoy it. And I don’t want this to be about me (well, maybe a bit about me.) I’ll be enlisting the help of the Bristol girls I know along the way, but sadly I don’t know you all, so please get in touch and let me know about your life and your Bristol. That way, we can all enjoy it together.