Well hello, how are you? Feeling buoyed by Boris’s roadmap or not? I’ve noticed that this week has been an emotional one for a lot of people. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be swinging between elation at having a hairdresser’s appointment in the diary and despair at still having weeks of limbo ahead. I feel the same and I’ll have a go at encapsulating it in Midlife Lately at the end of this post because I’ll be fascinated to know how you’re getting on. And of course this will remain a record forever so it would be good to freeze how midlifers are feeling as we stand at what is hopefully the sharpest corner of the last bend. Before we get onto that though I have a bit of a cornucopia -new outfits, food and Midlife Lately as well as a few other things so let’s go.
My anniversary post
I mentioned last week just how moved – well in fact blown away I was by your response to my anniversary post. It’s taken me years to confront what happened in my twenties and for a long time I felt that the only way to handle it was by keeping on moving forward. I’ve always felt ashamed that I, an intelligent woman with a good education and a strong family background, could find myself trapped in a story that is sadly such a cliché. I felt shame that I couldn’t make it work, that I couldn’t fix my first husband and his addiction to alcohol. I also felt shame about being divorced, it isn’t something that happens in my family and it felt like a failure. So you see shame has been an overriding emotion for more than twenty years and yet over the last two weeks I’ve heard from so very many of you who have been through something similar.
As well as being comforting it’s made me wonder what we can do to change things. For those of us who have older children, we need to find an opportunity to talk about adult relationships and make sure that as with their childhood friendships, they know absolutely that any kind of bullying behaviour is unacceptable. We shouldn’t assume that they know that. My parents never discussed anything like that with me and I always felt that as I’d got myself into the situation, it was up to me to soldier on. Our offspring need to know that it has to be a one strike situation because if someone has a bullying tendency deep inside them, it won’t go away. We need to explain that our sons and daughters must be neither aggressors nor victims and it’s the instilling of this at an individual level that counts. I know from my own situation that once you find yourself trapped in the position of victim you won’t go to others (even your parents) for help, you have to find the strength within yourself and knowing that it’s unacceptable is the escape hatch that we can give them.
Secondly if you have a friend who has something like this in their past, talk to them about it. The problem that I found is that nobody wants to know, it’s almost a taboo subject. Other than my parents and of course Mr MC, nobody has ever wanted to hear about it – not my siblings or my friends and at times that has really hurt. It means that my relationships with other people are never as strong as they could be because there’s a part of my past that will always affect me significantly that they neither understand nor (it would seem) care about. “It’s all in the past now,” is not the right approach so you can be the good friend or relative who rather than shutting the subject down, helps them to unravel it. It won’t be an easy conversation to start and some may make it clear that they don’t want to go there but you have no idea of just how much it will help others.
If as a society we are all more open about domestic abuse, it will be easier to tackle. It’s much better now than when I was going through it, at that point there wasn’t even a term for domestic abuse and if I’d had a label for it, it would have made it easier to address. From the emails I’ve had it’s something that is clearly going on around us behind closed doors all of the time and of course it’s far worse at the moment during lockdown. It’s usually women who are the victims so I think we need to sharpen our antenna and be open to any small signals that help is needed.
I’m going to move on from it now but thank you for the understanding and warmth that so many of you showed. I know for a fact that besides supporting me, you helped a lot of people who didn’t feel able to comment publicly.
Cornucopia – new outfits, food and Midlife lately
And on to a much lighter topic. We haven’t had as much of a taste of spring in the north as lots of you have in the south but there have been glimpses. Boden have a 20% discount at the moment with code 6T2C (ends Sunday 28th Feb) so it seemed like a good time to show you the pieces I picked for my edit this month and I’ve been wearing a piece every day.
On Monday we had sunshine, it put me in the mood for an outfit that felt fresh and navy always ticks that box. I tend to steer away from high rise jeans – even though they’re lauded for their leg lengthening effect I never like the expanse of stiff denim across my midriff because it just makes me look broader. These jeans however are broken up by the pocket stitching which gets around that problem. In a regular leg they’re just the right length on me for wearing with flats and they also come in a mid-blue wash if you prefer a more boho look.
My request for these samples went in before there were any reviews on the website to reference and so I was a bit alarmed when I tried this pair in my usual size 12 because they’re very snug. Happily feedback from customers is saying the same so it isn’t just me and my lockdown cake eating – size up.
Indigo jeans with stitching detail; Maison Labiche breton (past season)
I always like wide jeans when counterbalanced with a more dainty shoe or sandal in summer and I wanted to show them with these beauties in a deer skin effect but it’s still too cold to go outside without socks. They sold out first time around but they’re now available again on pre-order although you’ll have to be quick because there are only a few sizes left. A squared off toe is the way to update your ballerina flats for SS21, they’re fabulously comfortable with a soft sole that you can wear at home – or out and about before too long.
Square toe ballerinas (true to size, also available in Dalmatian, chartreuse, pink or navy)
Square toe ballerinas (true to size, also available in Dalmatian, chartreuse, pink or navy)
A patch of blue sky on Tuesday night after a cold grey day; we had to a run of brochures to collect from the printers so here’s a moment of industrial chic! We’ve talked before about the ruffled collars that are popping up with Zoom calls in mind and they really do make a subtle difference to an otherwise plain outfit.
The quality of the lace on this is outstanding and a lovely detail on the cotton jumper, it’s easy to throw on and a great way to elevate jeans or joggers – plus it skims any midriff that might be straining after weeks of comfort eating (not just me?)
Another wide trouser experiment in preparation for this season’s key silhouette – of course I’m imagining these worn with a t-shirt soon but for now I’m still not letting go of cashmere. The button detail on the front is another good way of breaking up the expanse if you have wider hips like I do. They’re a looser fit than the wide legged jeans and if you’re between sizes you might want to go down on these.
The shoes, annoyingly have already sold out in most sizes in this colour (red is key for SS21) but they may be back on pre-order again soon. In the meantime they’re available in pale pink or a brilliant Dalmatian print. I’m enjoying the rare privilege of being allowed to sit in one of Mr MC’s lovingly restored Ercol chairs here, it’s ready to go out and they’re usually a ‘look but don’t touch’ commodity in our house.
Thursday morning and the sun was back so I wanted to show you the crocus carpet which our village churchyard is well known for but they hadn’t quite opened up for the day. Now this blouse looks and feels vintage, as though you’ve found it hanging in Edith Pretty’s wardrobe (if you haven’t seen The Dig on Netflix then do watch it because Edith is going to be a major style inspiration this season). I tried it with the trousers above and it had an even more vintage Edith look but I was in the mood for a skirt so I pulled this old favourite out. I’m wearing the blouse in a size 12 and it’s true to size, it’s a bit stiff at the moment but I feel confident that it will soften when it’s been washed.
Now this cardigan was a bit of a surprise when it arrived because the colour is quite different in real life to the website, I was expecting it to be more of a brown. However I still like it and the soft, fluffy home knit effect (note to Boden – it would be great if you did one in the website shade for autumn though). It’s easy to wear with jeans, I’ve been wearing it over bretons and long sleeved tees until today but the sun is out and it’s actually quite warm so it’s having its first solo moment. You’ve seen the jeans lots of times before but just a reminder that if you’re looking for a good girlfriend cut, these are the best I’ve found.
I was encouraged by your enthusiastic response to my retail industry update in January so I thought I’d include it on a monthly basis. Of course there isn’t much to say at the moment because retail is gasping. Figures coming out are showing that sales fell more than twice as fast as expected in January and February, not helped of course by the rag end of the sales and the delays to delivery of new stock caused by Brexit upheavals. The high street is going to be unrecognisable when the stores reopen in April. It’s already been confirmed that a fifth of the doors on Oxford Street will not reopen and that will be mirrored by high streets across the country.
As a result you’ll notice that a new retail model called marketplacing is rolling out quickly. It’s when rather than producing ranges under their own label, a store group with an established home delivery format begins to stock labels from retailers that have previously been standalones. Last month we discussed the new plans that M&S has to stock established third party retail brands such as Joules and Seasalt which is marketplacing. Now it’s adding Finery London to the mix, Mango is stocking Intissimi… and John Lewis is stocking Mango… and also Banana Republic (you can see the first arrivals here). Next of course has been a leader in the field of this ‘House of Brands’ model for a while. There will be winners and losers and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.
There’s certainly change afoot and more than ever service, quality, speed of delivery and ease of returns will count for a lot in terms of differentiation – the only way to stop the high street turning into a big pan of ‘brand soup’! For the first time this week Uniqlo overtook Inditex (owner of Zara, Mango etc) in terms of value at $103 billion versus $99. Of course they’re strong in the East which is resurging quickly but I think that their offering of quality, value and innovation is rapidly being recognised around the world.
Retail is never going to be the same again. There will be change for the good which is already coming through in terms of much improved sustainability and ethical supply chain management on the high street. However there will also be change for the worse as big players gobble up small ones or simply crush them in their wake. I’ve been feeling a bit sad this week because our village shop closed for good on Sunday and it’s already made a huge difference to the busy-ness of the old village. With the village primary school being closed for so many months there just hasn’t been enough passing trade for the old family run store to survive and the final nail was a new Co-op built on the bypass where there’s much more traffic. It appears to be a model that The Co-op has – spotting opportunities in small localities and steamrolling over the family businesses that currently serve them. Our village shop was just a few doors away from our house and the ladies who worked there were brilliant, I often went in for a chat and a dose of their warm northern common sense so I’ll really miss them. They were always willing to carry shopping home for the elderly or hold umbrellas over the queue on rainy lockdown days. That doesn’t happen down at the shiny new Co-op. I suppose the only positive is that the temptation of chocolate is now much further away from me – and that will definitely do me good.
Cornucopia – Midlife Lately
What else has been going on here? Well I’ve been staying sane by meeting friends for walks if we can fit each other in on a sunny day. This was with Sarah who you may remember me introducing you to after the first lockdown – hopefully one day she’ll be able to do some try-ons with me so that you can see clothes on a different shape to mine. It was the morning after our wedding anniversary so I’m looking very puffy faced thanks to the takeaway and champagne I polished off the night before…
Isn’t this selfie heart sweet? It’s been made by a father and son in the village as a lockdown project – you have to climb to get to it but it’s worth it.
Cornucopia – a gourmet night in
We had a treat last weekend when we were sent a Gourmet Recipe Box from The Devonshire Arms. You may remember me telling you about our Yorkshire weekend there last March, days before the shock of lockdown. Like a lot of restaurants, they’re trying to keep their staff busy and employed by converting their very highly esteemed restaurant to a delivery opportunity and we were happy to sample it. They sent us two boxes each serving two people, one was from their main menu and the other was vegan. Now I love good food but I can’t be bothered with faffy cooking so I was really pleased to see that they’re a few steps on from the Mindful Chef kind of set up. It’s very much gourmet cooking by numbers which is right up my street. Most things were pre-prepared and simply had to be put in the oven or boiled in a bag to heat them up as you can see with the starter here…
… which soon transformed into this: Ham Hock Terrine, Crackling, Goats Curd & Pea Salad (right) and Charred Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Heritage Potato, Hazelnuts and Spring Cresses (left – vegan).
It was followed by Spring Lamb, Roast Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, Mint Jelly & Red Wine Jus (front) and Braised Leeks, Potato Fondant, Crispy Onions with Nut “Butter”, Wild Garlic & Kale (Vegan) behind.
And I know the Devonshire chefs will be banging their heads against a wall if they see this next picture. You see I had very enthusiastic helpers who were determined that none of the white chocolate sauce should be wasted so it was less of a drizzle and more of a chocolate swamp… but it was utterly delicious.
“Rhubarb & Custard” – Yorkshire Rhubarb, White Chocolate Crémeux & Shortbread (right) and Sticky Ginger Sponge, Burnt Pineapple with Coconut & Lime Cream (left – Vegan)
It’s supposed to look like this!
So I just want to say a big thank you to The Devonshire Arms, we loved every morsel, even the vegan dishes which were initially approached with great suspicion by my meat loving boys. If you’re looking for a special night in – perhaps yet another lockdown birthday or anniversary it’s a great way to do something a little more elevated than a takeaway and of course you’ll be supporting a small Yorkshire team at the same time. By the way there are special menus for Mother’s Day and Easter which are available to book online now. You can find all details here.
I’m hoping that this week’s framework for a path out of lockdown has felt as though it’s held good news for everyone. I’ve certainly felt more positive. The last few weeks have felt particularly grinding and I feel like I’ve morphed from Pollyanna into Kevin the Teenager – tell me you don’t often feel like Kevin at the moment!
The thing that’s been getting to me most is the lack of power I have over my own life. Suddenly not being able to plan ahead is driving me mad… and the fact that you can’t get anything done because businesses everywhere seem to be operating at about two miles per hour. We’re still trying to exchange on the apartment we want to buy and because everybody in the chain is working from home we’re banging our heads against the wall. I’m convinced a lot of people are just pretending to work while eating biscuits and watching daytime TV. More classic British comedy to the rescue… there should be a new version of this for dealing with the brick wall of bureaucracy during lockdown:
However we do have some very good news chez nous. Just as his three month contract came to an end the eldest was offered a permanent job at the media agency he’s been working for. He’s loved every minute of it so he’s overjoyed and it’s a huge relief for us to know that his life is finally lifting off. I know some of you with offspring in a similar situation said it was useful when I talked about how he managed to get his temporary contract so I asked him if he had any more thoughts that might help other graduates in his position.
He said that the main thing is that if you can get in somewhere, just ‘do more,’ – use whatever skills you have to make a difference. When he started, he spotted that the way his team was using Excel was convoluted so he showed them how with a quick reformat they’d be able to manage their reporting in a much easier way. It wasn’t in his remit (and he might be regretting it now because he’s become the resident Excel expert) but the result of his trickery is that they can pull off much more detailed client reports far quicker than before. So his suggestion to anyone trying to extend an opportunity they’ve been given is to find a niche and try to make yourself indispensable. He also said that his headhunter told him that she’s now getting much busier with lots of new job opportunities coming through so there’s much more hope ahead for graduates and it’s a really good time to get your CV out there.
He’s itching to move down to London and a friend from uni has been waiting patiently to share a flat so they’re busy making plans. I’m going to miss him being here but I’m pleased and grateful that he now has a chance at the future he’s dreamed of for so long.
So despite finding the last two weeks particularly tough I’m teetering on the edge of Pollyanna again. There’s a certain serendipity to the lockdown release timeframe that puts my birthday two days after the reopening of bars and restaurants. I have a hair appointment booked in and I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine at the gym but my goodness that’s going to hurt. It would be great if, for the record, you could add how you’ve been feeling over the last few weeks, what you’re looking forward to or if you feel nervous about the whole thing. If all goes according to plan we might be through the worst so I’d like to have it documented here before we forget what it was really like living through lockdown. I’ll be talking about HRT next week among other things – I know some of you have been waiting patiently – until then have a good weekend and I’ll see you next Friday.
Disclosure: ‘Cornucopia – new outfits, food and Midlife Lately’ is not a sponsored post. Thank you to Boden for the samples featured and The Devonshire Arms for the gourmet food boxes.
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