And here we are on 1st April which means we’re a quarter of the way through the year already. I’m not bringing you the post about getting older that I was hoping to because I just haven’t had time to do it properly. Instead, when I was looking back at my camera roll trying to make sense of the fact that the year’s going so quickly I realised that there were lots of photos on there that I haven’t even posted. So today let’s have a midlife catch-up as we emerge from winter’s hardest months – and there’s lots to talk about so you need tea… or gin.
Before I start though I just want to remind you that when you look through a camera roll you only see the good times, the moments you’ve captured because you didn’t want to forget them. I never want anybody to read my blog and feel that my life’s in any way better than theirs. This post makes it look as though my winter has been all about good times when in fact we’ve spent an awful lot of it travelling up and down motorways to meetings and retail sites – but of course munching on an M&S sandwich in a service station car park isn’t a moment that makes you think, “let’s take a photo!”
We’re all finding ourselves living through an epoch that continues to be extraordinary. None of us expected to be emerging from Covid with countries waging war around us and a pending financial crisis. I don’t know what we imagined really. Perhaps a slow path towards a new way of life underpinned by whatever terms lockdown had helped us to define with regard to different ways of working and socialising. ‘Slow’ was the key word for me. Instead, in my world of retail I found myself accelerating to full speed in the first week of January. And whereas the first quarter would usually be about careful analysis of the year that’s gone, this time around there was an understandable mood not to do that, after all how can you make sense of the last two years? Instead there’s been a drive to just put it all behind us and start afresh… but urgently. I’ve never known the industry to work in this way before but there’s a Darwinian flavour to it. Each brand knows that with inflationary supply chain pressures accompanied by a looming cost of living consumer crisis not every retailer will survive. And so elbows are sharp and the pace is frenzied.
It’s fascinating – when I was in London last week every retail person I met was speculating over which brands would endure and which would be the next to go. It’s going to be an interesting year… and everyone I know is starting to say that they wish they lived in less interesting times!
I’m only telling you this because I try to keep a record of how times really are here rather than a glamourised edit. It explains why the first quarter of 2022 has been intense for Mr MC and I work-wise – and although it’s been draining at times we’re grateful to have this opportunity to shore up and prepare for what might come. Nobody knows just how sheer the cliff face that we’re all approaching will be. However, we were watching the farmers getting their crops planted last week while the sun was shining in the knowledge that a wet April has been forecast which, if it isn’t too bad, should give them good growing conditions. It’s a helpful reminder that humans have always had to work around prevailing conditions. Those of us who were born after WW2 have perhaps lived particularly insulated lives until the last two years came along and maybe we lost touch with our vulnerability as a species. Our evolution isn’t as robustly sophisticated as we like to think.
Anyway that’s enough positing for today. Let’s move on to some of the interludes we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks – good days that have made us want to record them.
A midlife catch-up – an anniversary break
It’s crazy that I haven’t had time to tell you about our anniversary break. As you may remember we were supposed to be enjoying the postponed three week ‘honeymoon that we never had’ (and which we’ve had to postpone again). Instead of being on tropical shores though we had a last minute break to West Yorkshire. And it was a good thing – we tend to automatically spend our free time in the Lakes, forgetting that we can go the other way and be in Yorkshire in less than 30 minutes. However I’d been reading a biography of Charlotte Bronte and that gave me the inspiration I needed to book a room at The Fleece Inn in Haworth.
It’s an utterly simple Yorkshire pub and it was just what we wanted. On a cold winter’s evening we were delighted to leave work and get there in time for ‘pie night’ in front of the fire.
Haworth is such a pretty, cobbled village (and before someone corrects me I should say I know they’re actually northern setts not cobbles). You’ve seen quite a few photos already from the following day when a sharp winter sun shone brightly and we took our John Lewis & Partners photos (the sharp eyed will notice my outfits changing between mine and theirs) but this one gives you an idea of the views.
Of course as a northerner it’s always reassuring to know that you’re sufficiently far away from ‘that London’ (as northerners often call it). Because it was our anniversary and Valentine’s was up ahead, I themed my outfits with splashes of red.
Haworth is a very olde worlde place, the last time I visited was as a bookish, Bronte-obsessed pre-teen when I dragged my parents along for a day trip. I really don’t think anything’s changed since then – but in a good way.
With it being our anniversary we had cake for lunch (why not?) at the ‘Forteas’ tea room which is owned by a very friendly young Yorkshire woman. Everything is done to a 1940s theme and they dress the part, it’s a bit mad but lovely at the same time – she really does put her heart and soul into her business.
Jumper (now in the sale)
And then we visited the Bronte parsonage which of course was the Bronte’s home throughout their lives. There’s something very special about being in the house where Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, Emily came up with Wuthering Heights and Anne penned The Tennant of Wildfell Hall. Although Jane Austen wasn’t quite a contemporary, dying just as Charlotte was born, I discovered in the biography that Charlotte didn’t have much time for her. When you visit Haworth you can’t help comparing the Bronte’s tough northern lives with Jane’s sheltered southern one – it quite literally puts all of their work into context. And as someone who blogs a weekly account of northern life that sits alongside the output of a number of southern influencers, I could relate – give me a Bronte novel over an Austen any day!
To make it even more interesting a new exhibition had just opened showing how Charlotte’s changing fortunes (as her writing became more popular) were reflected in her clothes. She had to invest in a whole new wardrobe to be fashionable enough for her London meetings. I felt her pain…
Although the sun had shone all day, it was bitterly cold at night and so we decided to stay at the inn for our anniversary meal which was once again simple, wholesome and delicious.
Dress; Hush boots (AW17)
The next morning we headed off early – the only drawback of The Fleece was that breakfast ended at 9am. It worked out well though because we wanted to spend the morning a short drive away at Salts Mill in Saltaire. If you haven’t visited Saltaire you really should add it to your list. It’s a large model village that was built by the Victorian entrepreneur Titus Salt to house the workers at his mill. Architecturally beautiful in a gritty Victorian industrial sense, it was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001 because it ‘admirably reflects mid 19th century philanthropic paternalism.’ It’s still a thriving place where people live and work, many of them at the mill which is no longer a producer of cloth, instead it’s a cultural centre for art, dining and shopping.
It has the world’s largest Hockney collection and while we were there his new exhibition “The Arrival of Spring” had just opened – you can see some of it behind me here. For the first time he’s created it all on an iPad which sent Mr MC into a bit of a spin trying to decide whether it could be defined as art or it was really graphic design. If you have a graphic designer in your life you’ll know that artists always look down on them, forever saying that they belittle the creative process by working digitally. It gave us lots to talk about over lunch anyway.
And then we drove over to Leeds to visit the youngest who’d offered to take the last of our John Lewis shots. There was a spot he wanted to show us with our anniversary in mind and here it is. The light wasn’t great but it’s a nice photo to commemorate 21 years of holding each other tight.
Mango blouse (AW14); Barrel jeans; Hush boots (AW18)
We rewarded him for his hard work with dinner at a restaurant of his choice – he opted for the Indian Tiffin Room and I forgot to take any photos but we had a great fish curry. As we were saying our goodbyes he had a text from his friends saying they were all going out. “You should come along,” he insisted to our surprise. So we did and had a studenty couple of hours in a Wetherspoons which was a first for me. It was good to put faces to the names of the friends we’d heard so much about and it felt quite an honour to be welcomed and included by them. (Mr MC’s trying but not succeeding in ducking out of the photo here). Oh and I didn’t take any photos but we stayed at Quebecs Apartments for the night, it’s our new favourite base in Leeds.
A midlife catch-up – something special for men
Back at home, the eldest arrived briefly before heading off on his annual university old boys’ rugby weekend. They have a formal dinner on the Friday night where they wear their club ties with a dinner suit. I’d just been approached by a tiny brand called Otway and Orford who are a midlife husband and wife team making the most stunning silk pocket squares. When they invited me to choose one it was the eldest who sprang to mind as recipient – he has the most black tie events in the family. Of course the two rugby options caught his eye and this is the one he chose, it’s been designed using artist Roy de Maistre’s Cubist-influenced painting:
There are lots of other themes such as football, cricket, racing, vintage aircraft… They’re a lovely gift for anyone who has a special birthday or perhaps a graduation… or a bridegroom. I find that this generation who tend to dress down most of the time, think really hard about the details of their outfits when they have a chance to dress up. And of course it’s good to support a midlife couple setting out on a new venture.
He hates this photo because he insists the local barber had just butchered his hair – so he’s now had it all shaved off(!) Even so, here he is, ready for his special rugby dinner…
A midlife catch-up – a Newcastle weekend
It’s a bit like filling in the gaps here isn’t it? I mentioned in an earlier post that we were working over in the north east a couple of weeks ago, visiting various stores between Sheffield and Newcastle so it was nice to be able to base ourselves at our apartment again. It was a busy week and I didn’t take any outfit pictures on the road (sorry) but here’s the weekend when we were able to wind down. Mary Katherine – this one’s especially for you! (MK saw an influencer in this spot on Instagram a few weeks ago and asked me to recreate it). Actually Newcastle’s lovely old shopping arcade is a great, sheltered find for taking photos so I’m sure you’ll see it again. We were having a Saturday afternoon mooch…
… and we finally found time to pop into The Laing Art Gallery which was so much more than I expected. An eclectic mix of paintings that they’ve collected over the years along with a focus on local artists and their portrayal of the city’s history which was quite engrossing.
With it then being Saturday night we had to go ‘oot on the toon’…
Finery top (AW15); Barrel jeans; Hush boots (AW19)
And it was our first visit of the year to Mr MC’s favourite spot on the Tyne – By The River Brew Co. It was lovely to watch the sun set over the castle – I was glad of those heaters though!
A brief spiking update. The Select Committee Inquiry which I gave evidence to and which some of you helped me with weren’t sure how their session would go but I’m pleased to say that they had a successful meeting with Priti Patel. She is now setting up a review with a plan to introduce legislation to target anyone who ‘administers a substance to someone without their consent to cause harm’. The important thing is that this takes it way beyond the original plan of it simply being an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act – spiking will now be a standalone offence. It means that spiking for ‘fun’ or targeting anyone of any gender, from any age group, for any reason, will be a criminal act. So I’m tentatively saying that as a group we’ve played a part in getting that expansion which will be quite an achievement (assuming that it goes through and is passed as law).
Of course we’d been popping in and out to see mum-in-law while we were there – she had a long list of DIY jobs for Mr MC when we arrived. She’s been taken off the medication for Dementia and Alzheimer’s because it seemed to be doing her more harm than good – she’ll be reassessed next month but she’s much better than she has been for a while. She took the hard decision to have her dog rehomed a few weeks ago so we now take Teddy over to stay with her when we’re there. She enjoys having him and we can take him out for lovely Sunday mornings in places like Saltwell Park. A special mention for this blouse by the way because it’s just gone into the sale and I’ve been wearing mine constantly, it’s the perfect shade for colourblocking with mid-blue denim and the detailed trim at collar and cuffs is beautiful.
A midlife catch-up – heading down to London
Here’s an early morning station picture from last week as I was heading down to London. When our work lives became face to face again so suddenly I had to quickly refresh my capsule work wardrobe. I’ll try to take more work photos over the next few weeks – you’ll notice I have a small collection of brightly coloured ponte dresses that for me encapsulate ageless style. They’re well cut for wearing with trainers and that’s key because I still prefer to walk everywhere rather than taking the tube. Most are from a brand that I don’t have any warmth for, I don’t like their tone of voice and I find the shops needlessly snooty – however the dresses really work for me.
A midlife catch-up – The Lake District
And that brings us up to last weekend and Mother’s Day. I was busy in the kitchen on Saturday when Mr MC appeared with the eldest who’d travelled up from Eastbourne to surprise me. My joy was then doubled when the youngest arrived home too. There’s nothing more that I could wish for than their time and that’s what they gave me. I know the middle one would have been there as well if Northumbria Uni didn’t time their terms so badly – he’ll be back this weekend.
I had no idea where we were going when we set off but it turned out that they’d booked lunch at The Drunken Duck. It’s a while since we’ve been there but I’d say it’s a place that’s emerged from Covid stronger than before. I always felt it had Michelin aspirations but now it seems to be content to serve great food in a relaxed atmosphere which feels far nicer.
I had a Lancashire cheese soufflé to start…
… followed by cod with ham hock…
… and then a chocolate and banana tart with honeycomb.
As with every Mothers Day, I tried to get a sensible mother/sons photo…
… which ended up in mischief. If you’re a mum of sons you’ll be all too familiar with boys and their affinity with random sticks – it’s quite nice to know that some things don’t change, however big they get.
And the weather was really warm. Last time we were at The Drunken Duck for Mother’s Day we remember the car skidding out of the car park because there was so much snow!
The views, as ever, are enough to lift the soul.
We then went to another favourite spot, The Mortal Man in Troutbeck where we spent the afternoon sitting in the sunshine until it clouded over and convinced us to go home.
Poor Mr MC had been driving so we had another glass with him on the canal decking, our first of the season and I love this picture that the eldest one got when he was trying to capture the sun sinking into the sea. It sums up how it felt for both of us to have our boys home at last.
And that midlife catch-up brings us up to date but don’t forget that these are highlights. Blogs and social media can make it feel as though people out there are living perfect lives but nobody is. However recording and reflecting on the good times is the thing that keeps us all sane.
A few of you have asked how the bootcamp we started in January has been going and we’ve just finished the ten weeks so we’ll have our body scans next week. I’m not looking forward to them because even though I’ve stuck to my sessions and feel much fitter and stronger, being on the road all the time and eating on the hoof is playing havoc with my waistline. I suspect I’ll be in trouble because I’ll have gained muscle AND fat but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
What does the next quarter hold? Well nobody knows so it’s a time for controlling the things you can and trying hard not to feel too stressed by those you can’t. It’s my favourite time of year so I have an instantly happy feeling when I wake up in the morning and hear the spring birdsong. We have big deadlines tempered with (perhaps too many) festivals ahead that have rolled over from the last couple of years. Maybe there’ll even be a trip away if we can find a week that works for us both. Let’s hope there’s a good summer ahead for everybody – thank you for reading and I’ll see you next week.
Disclosure: ‘A midlife catch-up – what I’ve been doing and wearing’ is not a sponsored post
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