Lessons learnt in the heat wave

Officially, THE HEAT WAVE broke yesterday in a cacophony of thunder. In reality, we’re still enjoying temperatures in the mid 20’s – still something of an English heat wave, but less extreme than nearly 3 weeks of weather during which I covered my arms just once.

Doing my best to maintain the belief that the British are obsessed with the weather, I will share with you what this delightful period of time has taught me…

1. Never under-estimate the power of a humble gel ice pack, especially the small ones. You can tuck them practically anywhere – from a cool box to a handbag and even down a bra. Yes, a bra. Hot in the evening thanks to a Victorian building that retains heat? Cool down with one or two gel packs secured in your bra. Honestly, it works a treat.

2. The up-do is essential. Stupidly, I forgot this lesson at the wedding I went to, but ever since that horribly hot, sweaty hair day, I’ve ignored my own vanity and put the hair away. The best one involves two french plaits, intertwined with hairpins securing them. It looks awesome (IMHO) and people think it’s a lot more complicated than it actually is.

Hot up-do

3. Make the most of the time when it’s coolest. In my flat, I’ve been awoken by the sun in my greenhouse of a bedroom at 6.45am every morning. For several days last week, this provided an ideal opportunity to clean – an activity that was unthinkable in the heat of the evening. (Even with gel packs in place.) It’s amazing what you can achieve by 9.30, when a sleepy looking teenage lodger appears…

4. Take care when choosing where to sit in the park. Living the classic London life of no garden, I have to make the most of local parks and squares. Thing is, some very strange people also do the same. Like the man a couple of weeks ago, who spent several hours in Lincoln’s Inn Fields wearing just a pair of very unattractive white pants. Why? Why?? WHY???

White Pants ManI was respecting his privacy & your eyes by not zooming in. At times he was facing towards me – too, too much!

5. Sleeping becomes a chore, not a joy. What with the heat and the early, strong sun, sleeping has not been easy or fun – which is sad, when you like your sleep as much as I do. The Guardian suggested putting your pillow in the fridge, but mine (like most sane people’s) was too full of cold beverages and vegetables.

6. Specifically, my fridge contained cans of Diet Coke and jugs of iced tea (Suki tea’s Mango Tango, to be precise). The worst part of a heat wave is the inability to imbibe caffeine in its usual hot form, thus cold, refreshing alternatives need to be sought.

7. Ice your traditional summer beverages. I have developed a Pimm’s slushie – like the traditional jug, but icier. It’s super simple: make your Pimm’s & lemonade mix; pour it into a ziplock bag; place in freezer; remove a few hours later and bash it a bit; serve with fruit, cucumber & mint. I also had some divine frozen G&T at a friend’s house this week – it’s a little more complicated as it involves sugar syrup, but worth googling.

Pimm's SlushiePimm’s slushie. 

8. Find a beach, soak up the sun and drink some cold wine. I chose Wapping. Yes, Wapping…

Canary Wharf from the beachFor the two hours preceding low-tide, there’s a viable beach at the bottom of the river steps next door to my friends’ building. They’ve been enjoying wine there for weeks – Monday was my first visit. It did not disappoint. 

9. Ensure you have some excellent friends with whom to have fun in the sun. Fortunately, I had lots – both fun and friends.

Statue Game dung beetleStatue game fun at Zoo Lates.

10. Finally, make the most of it. You’ve no idea just how long a heat wave is going to last. I’m hopeful this isn’t the last we’ll see of temperatures around the 30C mark, but you never know…

Project Redhead

There are six weeks left of 2010. I find that utterly staggering – where exactly has this year gone? [Not to mention that I have six weeks left to figure out my new years plans, which I hate doing with a passion…] This also means that I only have a matter of weeks to wrap up my 2010 Firsts ambitions.

Looking at the list I wrote back in January, there are still quite a few left undone. I won’t be going to Paris any time soon; my practical driving test won’t happen until spring (if at all) – though if I really pull my finger out and book it, I could take my theory test before the festivities commence. I’ve also not submitted any of my writing for publication, but to be honest, that was something of nebulous ambition and if we’re being petty, I’ve already been published – albeit in a variety of niche publications (BBC History Magazine and a book of book reviews being the most non-niche). But on the plus side, a lovely friend has promised me tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – we just need to find a date we can both make during 2010.

That just leaves ‘become a redhead (temporarily)’.
I’ve long harboured a burning desire to transform my hair into flame-red locks, though I’ve no idea what began it. Three years ago I was banned by the bride for whom I was bridesmaid from going red before the big day – possibly because our dresses were red and there was a fear of clashing. (Can you wear red as a redhead? This may be an issue for me…) Such is my nature (and paranoia about anything that might change my hair too much) that I didn’t actually consider doing it until this year and the whole 2010 Firsts thing.

Even then, I was concerned. Red hair dye is quite difficult to get hold of in a non-permanent form, especially if you’re starting off from a blonde base, rather than brown. Given that it had potential to be a rather dramatic change I didn’t really want to launch into anything more than semi-permanent, so was relieved (after several weeks of searching) to discover a wash in-wash out variety in Superdrug for just 99p – bargain. In past experience, such products rarely worked, so I felt fairly secure that I wouldn’t cause any irrevocable damage.

In fact, even from the first application on Friday night, it looked promising:

It turned out that  it worked rather well (perhaps it’s just when you’re attempting to go blonder that such things are useless) and I immediately liked what I saw… It wasn’t quite strong enough, so early Saturday morning I re-applied it, confident that it wouldn’t look disastrous for the 1930’s gathering that evening.

Today’s day 3 of Project Redhead and as there was still some dye in the bottle, I’ve re-applied it again rather than beginning the process of washing it out. I like it – it’s not quite as natural looking or as deep as I’d like it to be, though the problem is that in my mind becoming a redhead means looking like this:

I’ve spent far too much time watching Mad Men recently.

I will never look like Christina Hendricks and I ought to just accept that and move on (though I’m enormously grateful to the person on Facebook who suggested that in the photo below I looked like Kate Winslet in Titanic). But the dilemma is, do I make the plunge and change hair colour on a more permanent basis? 
There are a few issues:
– As I’ve been blonde for ages, this is a big change and means darker hair for the first time in, well, forever. 
– What do I do about roots? I don’t want to look like some mid-90s henna haired teenager (see Claire Danes in My So Called Life), but what do I do when I want to grow it out and go blonde again? 
– What if it doesn’t look good when I do it properly? 
– When I cut my hair short and then even shorter (ok, the shortest it’s been since I was 6) lots of people said it looked great, but one vocal friend insisted it was awful – what if she was the only person telling the truth and what if everyone who’s said they like the red is actually lying too? 
– One friend’s already commented that in the photo below I look gothy. I’m attributing this mostly to the combination of bad lighting, vampy red lipstick and excessive eye make-up – i.e. not my usual appearance. But what if I do look gothy? 
– If I’m going to do it, should I do it professionally? (i.e. consult my hairdresser) Paying someone else to dye my hair for me would at least be another First… 
– It’s a change. I don’t like change… 
Yes, this is all rather self-centred and yes, I’ve been mocked before for sharing my trichological dilemmas on the blog, but was is a blog for if not the sharing of dilemmas? 
Of course, this post would be pointless without a suitable photo to go with it…

Ahhh, ‘doing a Liz’ with an iPhone is so much easier 
– although I’ve not quite worked out where to look yet. 
On the left – 1930’s/goth. On the right – ‘normal’ (again in a bathroom, hmmm.)

The other risk is of course the discrimination that redheads generally attract. On only day 2 of Project Redhead I had my first experience of this – a guy at the station yelled “Alright ginger!” at me as I got off the train yesterday afternoon. There’s a small chance this was a compliment, but the tone in which it was said didn’t suggest that it was. (Plus, I’m not even ginger – it’s more strong strawberry blonde if anything!) 
What to do…  

Prior preparation and planning

The 30th birthday cycle continues. This Saturday – the first celebration of my academic year and thus the beginning of an intensive season of 30th’s – brings a classic themed party. Literally classic, as my friend’s returning to the 1930s and hosting a black tie themed event. A perfect excuse to dress up. (Next weekend brings another 30th, this time wine tasting – also excellent.)

However, when you think about it, the 1930s is actually a tricky decade to style. The 1920s were distinctive in their flapper dresses; the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were the epitome of glamour. All I can think of in terms of the 30’s is the outbreak of WW2 and uniforms. Still, the beauty of black tie is that as long as you’ve got a fancy dress and the right accessories, the only historic aspect you need to be accurate on is your hair.

Tonight was my first free evening in over a week (and my last in about the same length of time – honestly, my diary is horrific right now, though generally in a good way) and therefore my only opportunity to discover, practice and perfect a decent 1930’s hair-do. So I’m now sat in my PJ’s, sporting a rather elegant hair style that made doing the washing up feel far more glamorous than usual.

It’s all thanks to YouTube and the wonder of hair tutorials – particularly this woman’s. [Favourite moment in one video is an annotation that states “people ask how I manage to keep my arms up so long – it’s because I work out a lot”…] I began withHow to do a pin up hairstyle’ and failed to put enough ooomph into my tresses to get it to work properly. ‘Pin up hair tutorial’ proved more successful (yes, I realise they sound the same, but there were significant differences) but it was still clear I needed more volume.

Thus, it looks as though I’ll be spending a significant amount of Saturday with my head covered in rollers. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that I’ve got a meeting in central London from 10.30 till 4pm – still, I’ve travelled on the tube in rollers before, no doubt I can cope with doing it again.

I guess what this post really needs is a photo of the hair. Thing is, hair photos are always tricky – even with the  iPhone 4’s double facing camera – so this is the best of a bad bunch:

The fact that the bags under my eyes are so noticeable in this photo terrifies me. 
Clearly the effects of no two-day weekends for weeks & weeks are beginning to show.

Those hair combs are today’s Primark acquisitions – along with some pseudo pearl bracelets & necklace, a brooch and some shoes – the beauty of being able to stock up on a vast quantity of ‘vintage’ accessories for a lot less than £20! All I need now is a final decision on the dress (not that I’ve got many to choose from) and some seriously red lipstick…

Northern discoveries

I made a couple of amazing discoveries up north this weekend.

1. You can buy simply gorgeous cocktails for under £5. [Truly a revelation for a London resident where such beauties are easily £10+.] In fact, another discovery (though not an amazing one) is that I can actually tire of drinking cocktails – only managing three before I longed for a Diet Coke to cleanse my pallet.

An elderflower mojito, something containing Earl Grey tea & tequila and my utterly delicious Bourbon Cookie with an actual bourbon biscuit on top…

2. Pubs, restaurants and other such establishments have slightly odd facilities in their ladies’ toilets. [Actually, they might have them in the men’s toilets, but I didn’t check.] Witness:

Yes, those are hair straighteners…in a toilet…in a venue where people drink. Any possible health and safety issues there?

Oh, and just in case you think I’m generalising, here’s another – so at least two separate establishments had them:

Clearly having poker-straight hair is of immense importance to ladies in the north-east – I wonder if it’ll catch on down here?

3. You can’t buy black opaque tights there, or any tights in fact. At least, it would appear that one can’t, given that I saw no one wearing any while out on Saturday night. But I think I’m going to return to that topic tomorrow…

Bad hair day

This morning I was rather late for work. [Actually, I’m pretty much always late for work to the extent that it’s stopped being late and is now the time I arrive.] Today’s lateness was proper lateness, partly the result of turning off my alarm before I was properly awake (thus returning swiftly to sleep, re-awakening at 8.15 – the precise time I ought to leave to be at my desk by 9am) and partly thanks to unwieldy hair…

Women will understand this predicament. It’s a regular occurrence, no matter what you try, your hair just will not cooperate. My hair hadn’t coped well with a curly hair day yesterday and spring showers – it was wild, bushy and virtually untameable. But, inspired by a video on one of my random blog feeds, I thought I’d try a new ‘do.

The video below is genius, illustrating a wide variety of styles at speed – very clever. (Rather addictive background song too.)

I was hoping to accomplish the first, except I’d forgotten about my swept fringe (which thanks to yesterday was just frizz) and also didn’t have hair long enough to hold one side in my mouth whilst twisting the opposite. That would be another pro in the reasons to grow my hair long again list, but I’ll try again on another occasion when my hair’s a little happier. Because of my failure, 9.03 this morning saw me giving up on any kind of hairstyle other than the emergency ‘pile it up on top of head, stick numerous hair pins in, add Alice band and pray that it holds’ technique. At least it looked moderately dignified/fairly intelligent on a day that was ending with another important meeting!

This woman’s blog is an inspiration. With three boys aged three and under, she manages to have a phenomenal amount of fun. I’d like to be a mother like her when I grow up (hmmm, she’s younger than me, oh well) – lots of fun and craziness.