Pretty digits

A few years ago, a wise friend encouraged me to keep my fingernails painted. I think the idea was that the regular sight of pretty nails would cheer me up, even while in the darkest mood. Pretty much ever since, nail painting has become a regular habit – it’s one of the only things that keeps me sitting in the same spot and quiet for a decent length of time. (Although I can guarantee that within minutes of applying the top coat, I will immediately need the toilet.)

Of late, I seem to have stepped up my manicuring efforts somewhat. True, a couple of years ago I experimented with the newsprint manicure, but generally I’ve gone with simple, one-tone, talons. With the advent of Instagram, a cult of manicure photography appears to have developed, which has only served to encourage my ambitions. Last year saw the advent of crackle top-coats and magnetic varnish. Thanks to fellow vicar-in-training Alexandra, I discovered the genius that is a coat of glitter – it transforms a dodgy manicure into a thing of beauty (that occasionally acts as a throwback to the 90s). Thanks to Becca’s Facebook album of nail art, I was inspired to get to work with humble cocktail sticks to add accents to my nails. Then Cathers sent me a link to a series of nail tutorials and the dye was cast…

The article made mention of the ease with which nail art supplies can be found on eBay. I checked, and sure enough you can buy artwork brushes for less than £2 (including postage) as well as a myriad of nail art stickers. I duly stocked up and got to work.

The brushes have yet to be experimented with yet, but the stickers were irresistible and formed part of what I like to call a Polynesian manicure. (What can I say – it’s January, it’s nearly 5 years since I was last in the Pacific and London’s rather dreary.) They are great, but don’t last for long – two days tops – but do at least serve the purpose of impressing all that see them.

Pretty Digits
From top left: Polynesian manicure; festive nails; Christmas leopard print; 
90’s glitter; & episcopal purple.

Top nail art tips:

  • Let each coat dry thoroughly. It’s soooo hard to do, but is worth it in the long run.
  • Cheap varnish rules. Barry M (found at Boots & Superdrug) does an excellent glitter range.
  • The Aladdin’s cave that is Savers even has crackle glazes for a £1. (And yes, they work.)
  • Glitter varnishes benefit from both a coloured base coat and a clear top coat.
  • The stickers are massively finickity – but worth it.
  • You can mask nails (to paint with contrasting colours) simply by using Scotch Magic Tape – as long as your base coat’s dried thoroughly.

As with so many things in my life, this is now verging on an obsession. However, do not fall under the misapprehension that I’m wasting my valuable time playing around with toxic paint-pots. This is a purely recreational, relaxation exercise with the added bonus of creating something pretty. Honest.

An epiphany at epiphany

On the eve of Epiphany eve (i.e. Friday night, for those without a grasp of the liturgical calendar), I had something of an epiphany of my own. Surprisingly, this sudden realisation related to London Transport – something which I would usually find it difficult to be surprised by. [Except when it involves travelling to West London. Last week I had a fail of epic proportions in terms of navigating my way from Holborn to Goldhawk Road. That darned, no longer circular, Circle Line!]

My epiphany was this: when you’re travelling with a pushchair, London Transport ceases to become a marvel and instead becomes a very public equivalent of a challenge in the Crystal Maze.

Every so often, I get to look after a child affectionately known as ‘squidgy baby’. I consider it a joy to have some quality time with a small person; his mother considers it a joy that she gets some child-free time; squidgy baby gets an adult’s undivided attention. It’s a win-win-win situation. I’m no stranger to child-care, I don’t balk at changing nappies, and I’m fairly nippy with a pushchair, but – as I realised on Friday afternoon – I had never taken a pushchair on any form of public transport, let alone London’s.

The sum total of my solo pushchair-TfL adventures was a single bus journey, but it was enough for me to decide that the parents of London should be awarded for their persistence in dealing with what can be a total nightmare.

Do bus drivers bother using their clever hydraulic systems to lower the floor of the bus to meet the pavement so you can get on? No. Do they do it to help you get off the bus? No. Do they stop neatly against the curb so that there isn’t a chasm you need to cross? No.

Are tube stations well suited to things with wheels? By and large no – unless you’re lucky enough to live on the Jubilee Line Extension (and ‘lucky’ in such locations has a limited definition). Getting a pushchair down the myriad steps at most stations is impossible single-handed and we all know just how caring London commuters can be. [Actually, that’s a terrible generalisation. I had help from a fellow passenger when getting off the bus and squidgy baby’s mum says she often gets assistance, but still…]

Oh, and do children who have recently discovered their mobility appreciate being strapped into a stationary pushchair for long periods of time, in a metal box with a load of strangers? No. There’s only so long that playing peep-bo with a hat will work, and, once they’ve discovered the wheelchair accessible bell, they are definitely not happy with a continued insistence that they may not press it.

My epiphany wasn’t so much the realisation of just how difficult this all is, but more that I’d never thought about it in the context of my general life aim to bring up my children in the capital. Yes, I realise that I currently have no children, but we all think about such things, don’t we?

On the plus side, I also discovered that the V&A Museum of Childhood (which I hadn’t been to since I was 12 and it was still the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood) is brilliant when you have both a pushchair and an incredibly mobile one-year old. (Top recommendation is the indoor sand pit on the top floor, ideal for a dreary wet Friday afternoon. But don’t leave your pushchair in the pushchair park – squidgy baby’s was nicked from there a little while ago.)

Day out with the Squidgy Baby
Not only did the squidgy baby keep smiling, he was asleep by the time his mum returned. 
Yes, I am available for hire…

So, what are the impacts of this epiphany?

1) I will not immediately produce children that I will have to transport around the Big Smoke. (I wasn’t planning on doing so any time soon, I’m still lacking one of the key components in making that a reality.)
2) I will endeavour to pay more attention to those with pushchairs and lend a hand a bit more often.
3) I will pay more attention when the parents of children I am absconding with explain the workings of their pushchair. Not being able to release the breaks in time for your bus stop is just a tad embarrassing…

Finally, it’s worth recognising that many of these issues apply to wheelchair users too – and cannot be resolved as easily as simply carrying one end of a light(ish) pushchair. Take a look at a tube map and note how many stations are listed as wheelchair accessible – it’s pitifully few, especially in zone 1. Bus drivers aren’t always as good at using their ramps and hydraulics as they ought to be either. Most of the time we take London’s amazing transport system totally for granted. Let’s remember that it’s not amazing for everyone.

They’ll be there for you

For over a year, there’s been something rather significant missing from my life. Something that had been part of my daily life for quite some time and prior to that, a weekly obsession for half of the year. Then things out of my control changed, and I was left bereft…

I speak, of course, of Friends. The definitive Generation X sitcom. The show that was omnipresent on E4 until autumn 2011. The series that taught me much of what I needed to know about life – and more. There isn’t really a single life situation that cannot be explained or enhanced with a reference to it.

For example, early on in our vicar school careers, a reference was made to the book of Haggai. One of my pals hadn’t come across this particular prophet before [don’t judge, this is one of the reasons why vicar schools exist!] and commented that: “finding a book of the Bible you’d not previously heard of is like watching an episode of Friends you haven’t seen before – it’s rare, but a joy”. How right he was.

I’ve been feeling this absence for some time, and had put the complete boxset on my wishlist some time ago, but it had not been fulfilled. A conversation with a couple of colleagues just prior to the festivities increased my yearnings, and thus on receipt of a grandparental cheque for more than the required amount, I went ahead and ordered it. Its presence on my desk at work brightened up my first working day of 2013 no end.

See, super excited! (Or just a little tired…)

In my circle of friends, Friends is a common denominator. We all watched it, we all yearned to live in New York, we all postponed our Friday nights out at uni until after we’d watched that week’s episode. “Can open…worms everywhere” is almost more common than the metaphor its based upon. And lets face it, paleontologists are suddenly a much more attractive option…
However, the recent Friends based discussion with colleagues led to a very disturbing realisation – there are now grown ups (i.e. of voting age) who were born the year the show began. Worse than that, when the 10th and final series concluded, they were still too young to watch it! I happen to have a lodger that fits into this category of people – to her, Friends has always been on tap, it’s something not particularly special. Can she tell you where she was when Ross and Rachel kissed for the first time? No. [I was at my friend Nick’s house, with the rest of my London friends – post our move to the shire – and I wrote about it in my diary, such was its impact.] Did it give me unrealistic expectations in life? Heck yes! 
Anyway, this evening I got a little carried away and watched five consecutive episodes while lying in the bath. My parents (well, my Dad) would say that I surely must be able to quote entire shows by now – and indeed I can, with the correct inflections – but the beauty of this particular set is that every episode includes previously unseen footage. That’s bits of programmes I’ve never seen before! As my fellow ordinand said, it’s rare, but it’s certainly a joy… 

…and at least it helps me forget that I live with an 18 year old who frequently makes me feel very, very old.

Relieving academic tedium

In many ways, the British Library is a place that brings joy to my heart. It owns every book ever published in this country; it’s free to join; it’s full of nerds; and it’s a mere 15 minute walk from my flat. Add to that my status as a three-year pass holder (a height only reached by true academics and professional researchers – it’s a merit of my previous job, not my current undergrad status), and it ought to be a dream place to study…

…however, I loathe going there with a passion.

The first problem is that you can’t borrow the books. For obvious reasons this would be a terrible thing, but still, it would make life a lot more pleasurable if I could take the theology texts I’ve only been able to locate there out of the building and into a nice independent coffee place (or my own home).

Secondly, the atmosphere in the reading rooms can get oppressive in the extreme. Lots of people desperately researching things doesn’t create an atmosphere that’s pleasant to read in.

Thirdly, the staff can be vicious – although vicious to the point of being entertaining. Fancy a bit of an academic soap opera? Sit in the registration room and watch the staff shatter the illusions of American undergraduates. [Have the correct paperwork, know what you’re hoping to use the BL for and a previous card and you’ll be treated like royalty.]

Fourthly, 9 times out of 10, I’ll request books that turn out to be stored off-site and will take ’48 hours’ (usually 4 days) to reach me.

But, the bottom line is that the BL contains books I can’t get anywhere else and need to read for essays, so I’ve had to come up with strategies to make time there more bearable. Here are my top tips:

1. Find a study buddy.
Obviously, chatting in the reading rooms is verboten, but it’s good to have someone to raise an eyebrow with, in a ‘shall we go and get a coffee?’ way.

2. Choose the right reading room.
I’d been using Humanities II for some time (it’s where some journals were back in my history student days), but it’s rather dreary. Business & IP is more colourful (and has a spacious mezzanine level that people don’t seem to know about), but the winner by many miles is the Rare Books & Music room. For some time, friends have been telling me that it’s where the coolest readers (and hottest men) study. Yesterday I checked it out and I can confirm that it’s true.

3. Order books in advance…
…and regularly check your BL account so that you know when they’re in. There’s no point making a wasted journey to the BL. Lots are only 70 minutes away, but many aren’t.

4. Create your own reward system
Most people would do something along the lines of ‘after 90 minutes reading, I’ll go to the cafe and eat cake’. I, on the other hand, have come up with a somewhat uniquely Liz scheme…

When I was young, I would fantasise about belonging to the BL. (Yes, I was that special as a child.) It had been explained to me by my Dad that this building contained all the books ever written (well, not exactly, but pretty much). My Chalet School obsessed young mind quickly deduced that a ticket for this institution would give me access to every book its author, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer had ever produced. (That would be 58 Chalet School books, several tie-ins and numerous non-Chalet titles.)

I’m currently in the midst of a bit of a Chalet School regression (thanks to some bargain hardbacks I’ve managed to secure of late), and thus, while struggling yesterday morning with some theology with which I seriously disagreed (and was very badly written), I came up with a plan. At the beginning of a BL session, I would order an EBD book (fortunately, all seem to be in-house) and, if I successfully got through all my theology orders, I would pick it up and have some fun.

The cover illustration is almost as odd as the contents.

Thus, yesterday I found myself reading The Chalet Girls Cook Book. This isn’t part of the series, it’s a bizarre extra with rather odd recipes interspersed with conversation between four of the main characters. Until recently, I’d never even laid eyes on this particular volume – sure, I’d heard of it, but holding a £250 copy in a Covent Garden bookshop was the closest I’d got to it. I’m really rather glad I didn’t buy it now. I’m looking forward to getting my hands upon books that have acquired near mythical status in all my years of EBD fandom. That is definitely a motivation for getting through even the driest theology.

5. Acquire a loyalty card for the BL cafe
You’ll be spending a lot of time (and money) there.

Nothing says Christmas…

…like a few twigs in a vase.

Regular readers, friends and visitors to my home during the festive season over the last couple of years will now be familiar with my Christmas Twigs concept. Back in 2010, a throw away remark during a staff meeting at work led to me foraging in the snow for twigs and assembling them into something resembling a Christmas tree denuded of needles. Last year, having ditched a hopeless fake tree I’d had for a few years, I recreated the twigs on a smaller scale in our bijou King’s Cross apartment. This year, it was only logical that I did the same – the beauty of the twigs is that you can create something that precisely fits the space you have available. I had decided upon the perfect spot some months ago, so all I needed was the twigs – which are freely available in any of my local Bloomsbury squares.

Now in its third year, I have got the Christmas Twigs process down to a fine art. If you’re tempted to try this yourself (and I have become something of a trend setter in the process…) here are some handy tips:

  • Pick your twigs carefully. You need strong ones with plenty of offshoots on which to hang your decorations. It also helps if they’re fairly straight – or if you at least have a few of those.
  • Get rid of leaves/fragile offshoots while in the park – it saves making lots of mess on the carpet when you get home.
  • Don’t bother spray-painting them unless you really want to. It looks just as (if not more) effective without it and it saves you a lot of time, money and oxygen. 
  • As you’re arranging them, use wire to bind twigs together and make the structure more stable. Make sure you’ve finished this before you add lights, otherwise it can make the dismantling process trickier. 
  • Add the lights before you move it into your preferred location – it just gives you a bit more space to manoeuvre. 
  • Because it’s not a tree, the middle of the twig arrangement can look bare. Use paperclips as hooks for decorations and hook them over the middle of branches, rather than just on the offshoots. 
It’s caught on so much that my mother decided to do it too. It’s a Christmas at my sister’s year this year, so sensibly, my parents decided buying their own tree was pointless – instead, my mum found a jug and some twigs and made a festive arrangement on the coffee table that would usually get moved out of the way for the tree:
My initial response to seeing this image on Twitter last night was to suggest to my mother that she needed bigger jugs – luckily I decided before writing that tweet that it was probably an inappropriate comment to make towards my mum on a public forum. (So I’m doing it here instead.) I do like the use of colours, and given the size of that table, it’s probably a much bigger arrangement than I first realised. 
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about my annual tradition of telling the stories of all my new tree decorations this year, there aren’t any massively exciting/meaningful ones. Last year, a friend visited while the twigs were up, heard some of the stories and proceeded to go out and buy me a silver star that would remind me of her – which is very sweet, but strictly speaking not ‘new’ as it was on the twigs last year. Otherwise, I have something sent to me a couple of weeks ago from my mum (always meaningful, obviously) and a glittery pink star from Paperchase which is indicative of nothing more than my love of the Paperchase January sales. It has made me think though, that on our next trip to Chateau Duffy I may have to find a way of fashioning a tree ornament from things around the building site…