Thursday, 28 June 2012

Delicious words served on paper...

Oscar and Friends Booksellers, 35/277-285 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010, Australia

I am completely addicted to reading all kinds of literature. I am also rather partial to a bit of technology and depend on my range of i-Gadgets to survive the perils of modern life. However, I have not introduced two of my greatest passions to each other and they remain as two separate love affairs. In other words, I am yet to fall for the beguiling charms of the eBook reader.

Call me old-fashioned. Label me out of touch. Go on, hit with me with your best insult, I can take it. I remain defiant in my love of real-life books and I refuse to budge. You won't find a Kindle nestled in the depths of my handbag, or a Kobo peeking out of my clutch. I'm devoted to paper.

Ampersand Cafe and Bookstore, 78 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW 2021, Australia

Admittedly, e-Readers provide some urgently needed extra room in fit-to-bursting handbags and spare a few blushes on the tube when reading Fifty Shades of Grey. They are sleek, chic, and store a magnitude of McEwan, heaps of Hemingway and acres of Allende. But, despite the benefits, I still prefer delicious words served on paper rather than on a screen and I'm concerned that the beautiful book will soon be in danger of extinction.

Book-love, I just can't get over it. Books feel comforting in your hand with their just-printed intoxicating scent and the crisp sound the pages make as you turn the page is inimitable. They have beautiful, embossed covers that tempt you like new clothes on a rail, and create an orchestra of colour and height when lined up on a bookcase. Books are very personal; they can be adorned with a carefully crafted note to complete a gift, a simply scribbled date that automatically marks a place in history, or even by the style in which they are read. Are you a front page folder-over? Or does the mere sight of such destruction make you want to cry out in protest? Maybe you have a special bookmark, postcard, or old photograph that you use to keep your page and transport it from book to book, author to author. In comparison, all e-Readers look identical.

Pegasus Books, Shop 204a Left Bank Cuba Mall, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand

Then there are the bookshops themselves; whether polished stores selling the latest new releases, second-hand havens packed to the rafters with historic gems, or a fantastic combination of the two. In my opinion, nothing beats exploring the hidden treasures in a bookshop and finding rediscovered novels from centuries gone by, that new best seller that everyone is talking about or even better, stumbling across a book with a mysterious note on its inside cover. On my recent travels, I picked up a deliciously battered old copy of Stephen King's classic 'IT' in Endeavour Books in Kaikoura, New Zealand. It is literally falling apart; the cracked spine hanging on to the contents for dear life and the pages yellowing at the edges from years of exposure to light. The note reads:

'Dear Shelvin. Thought you might appreciate this book to add to your horror collection. Good luck with your future plans. I await to hear the stories of your trips to Egypt. Enjoy Auckland. You have shown much personal growth this year. Remember - life doesn't put things in front of you that you are unable to handle. Go well, Ms Mallinder.'

I am haunted by that note and itching to know who the devil Ms Mallinder is, how Shelvin fared in Egypt and Auckland and if he continued to grow personally. (For those who have read the book, I am also haunted by that terrifying clown brought to life by King's extraordinary storytelling).
Endeavour Books, 8 West End, Kaikoura 7300, Canterbury, New Zealand

We all need a place to indulge our passion for paperbacks, somewhere peaceful and just that little bit special. So, to add some weight to my evidence in the case of Humble Book vs Gargantuan e-Reader, I've handpicked some of the unique bookshops I love where you can while the hours away over a good book...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A dress from another time...

Sports Luxe, Florals, Mirror-Prints, Printed Pants, Neon. Modern fashion can be exciting, bold and fierce as it fizzles and crackles off the pages of glossy magazines.
Yet, just like many things in this progressive world we inhabit, sometimes don't you just want to go back? There's no time like the past and demure, fifties-inspired fashion is having a fashion moment right now. This week's Grazia reports that 'from the red carpets of Cannes to the bars of Dalston, ankle dusters, high collars and long sleeves are everywhere'. Which is welcome news for a girl like me, a passionate lover of retro-inspired clothing and accessories. Vintage has had quite a renaissance over the last few years with elegant festivals and pop up fairs, not to mention an influx of vintage emporiums, and it is coveted the world over. Sometimes it can be hard to seperate the Westwood from the Cassini; it seems everyone is jumping on the vintage bandwagon and taking advantage of our obsession with nostalgia.
So I was delighted to recently discover a sparkling treasure trove in the heart of the Suffolk countryside, in the pretty market town of Halesworth.
Bluebird Vintage is a clothing and accessories boutique specialising in vintage clothing for ladies and gentlemen. Perfectly housed in what was formerly The Hawk Inn pub, it truly is a feast for the eyes, generously full of vintage goodies from the 1920s through the 1980s. Clothes, shoes, hats, jewellery, gloves and bags adorn every beautiful space like delicious treats in a sweet shop. It is very easy to walk in and lose yourself for hours but it's decidedly tricky to leave empty handed.
On my visit to Bluebird Vintage I met Laura Churchill, the glamorous owner who smiled at me welcomingly from behind a vintage desk. Laura allowed me to look around what was in effect an art gallery of clothes in my own time, uninterrupted, as I perused the delicacies from an era of elegance. These were sumptuous pieces that didn't shout loudly, but instead whispered flirtatiously to me like movie stars from days gone by. As I glanced around at the unique one-offs I honestly believed I was immune to the glamour, that I could easily walk away with, admittedly, an empty heart but a full purse and some space in my wardrobe. Silly, silly me.
I had seen it. Or maybe it saw me first? The dress hanging delicately on the rail. I tried to avert my eyes, but it was too late; I was snared in its twinkling trap. As my eyes brushed over the dress again from afar, I could see it was a vanilla ice cream colour with gold trim glistening in the light. I tried to resist, but it murmured at me 'take a closer look. Go on, what's the harm? Try me on!'.
I approached the rail to inspect it more closely. It was a sleeveless cocktail dress with a high collar trimmed in gold and a very demure hemline. The top half was covered in a delicate cover of sheer, flowered gold lace and under the waist, also trimmed with gold, cascaded a swath of cream chiffon. It was the most beautiful dress I'd ever seen. The label informed me in swirly letters that it's creator was Marcel Fenez, designed by Roland Klein. It was a little piece of fashion history.
French-born Roland Klein, first worked at Christian Dior from 1960-1962. He then went on to work for the legendary Karl Lagerfeld as an assistant at Jean Patou. Klein moved to London to learn English in 1965, and he worked at Marcel Fenez, where the ready-to-wear line of Madame Carven was made. In 1973 he was made the director of the house, and was given his own label, going on to open his own design business in 1979 in Chelsea. In the 1980s, Roland set up in London and established his own label.
Klein's innovation had completely won me over. I guess you could say I was hypnotised as I tried the dress on in the quaint changing room at the back of the boutique. Ok, so it was a little snug across my back and restricted not only my movement but my breathing for a short while until I moulded into its shape. I knew I would be terrified to eat or drink anything that wasn't transculent whilst wearing in fear of tainting that perfect cream colour, but it was so beautiful I knew I had to have it; this dress was simply too special to part from.
The Klein creation had its first outing in March this year, the night before my sister's wedding in Sydney, Australia and I felt proud to tell enquiring guests that it was Roland Klein vintage, from a stunning little boutique in England.
In today's world of over-styling and mass production, vintage pieces are a timeless investment. They were beautifully hand-made to last. To buy vintage is to acquire an item with a story from days gone by and showcase a long-forgotten design. To wear it is magical.
If you are ever passing through Halesworth, which I highly recommend, take a wander down the Thoroughfare, and step through the ornate door into Laura's beautiful vintage emporium. I promise that you won't be disappointed and you may just walk away with your own little piece of history. If you're the lucky one, I defy you not to smile as you float out of the door, happily lost in another time...

Bluebird Vintage, The Hawk Inn, Bridge Street, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 8AD


Sunday, 10 June 2012

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important....everything.

It's eight days since I returned to the UK from Australia/New Zealand and already I've failed miserably on two of my post-holiday resolutions: 1. Be on time. 2. Don't try to do everything in one day.


My husband and friends unanimously agree that I am shockingly and unfailingly late for pretty much everything. Alex says I run on NMT (Nicola-Mean-Time) a kind of inferior alternative to GMT if you like. Usually I would contest such blatant character defamation, but to be honest I have lost count of the amount of times I have been late for him. The worst case was when he flew 24 hours around the world to see me in Australia and I turned up at Sydney airport a whopping 45 minutes late. 'Where was my welcome?!' he always reminds me with a sad and disbelieving expression on his face. Guilty as charged. My excuse, genuinely, was that I didn't have a clue what to wear. I'd been up for 2 panic-stricken hours trying on, whisking off, throwing in the corner, trying on, trying not to panic, panicking. Style-indecision, plus a taxi drive in rush hour traffic, equalled no open arms to greet the man of my dreams, and I've never forgiven myself.


Other instances have included keeping friends waiting outside tube stations, in busy restaurants and bars, even being late for my own birthday celebrations. One of my good friends once kept me holding on for 45 minutes outside Covent Garden tube station where it is physically impossible to stand still without getting squished, handed an unwanted flyer or becoming an unsuspecting victim of somebody painted completely silver. She apologised but said this one instance had completely cancelled out the last six times I'd been late. She had a point.


I do not wish to appear flippant or nonchalant about my tardiness. In fact, I detest this terrible trait. There is, however, an explanation for my unpunctuality - it is simply caused by trying to squeeze too much in. If I haven't wedged a million and three things into a single day, I am not happy. If my to-do list isn't bulging, something's up.


Nothing too ambitious mind, just the usual. This week, I had an afternoon appointment in town so I filled the morning with stuff. Put a quick load of washing on, browsed some job sites, pinged off some emails and drafted a blog that had been clattering around loudly in my head. A quick peek at the time and I concluded there was just enough time to do One. More. Thing.


However, this was NMT I was operating on, not real time. Before I knew it, I was 45 minutes behind schedule and haring around wildly - a blast in the shower, a weird head-upside-down blow dry, and a spoon of peanut butter out of the jar for lunch as I darted out the door.


It really is quite unnecessary to be so frantic - it makes for a stressful journey when you inwardly will the tube driver to bypass all stations and floor it to Victoria ignoring all other passengers and their selfish travel needs. That afternoon, I found myself running wildly for my train, wanting to smack slow people in the back of the head for making me late (yes, it is their fault) and sliding through the train doors just as they beeped shut behind me. I fell exhausted into a chair, perspiring and cursing myself for all the commotion.


It's not a good way to be. I blame technology which allows us to multi task and encourages us with our fancy gadgets to achieve miracles and rearrange our finances all before breakfast. Every time I'm rushing to make an appointment or panting in a heap on a just-caught train, I vow to change. I will make clear, achievable lists. I will not over-plan. I will keep to time. In fact I will leave 15 minutes earlier than I actually need to - being, gasp, early. Ha ha, that'll show em!


Argh....must go. I've still got a wash to put out, a job to apply for and exactly 13 minutes to get my train.