Ch-Ch-Changes

woman carrying suitcases

A well-meaning woman I work with walked up to my desk yesterday and asked me if I was feeling all right. I was rather surprised by the question seeing I felt fine and hadn’t passed comment about being unwell, but she gave me this imploring stare and that friendly squeeze-of-the-shoulder muttering something like, “You just look so tired all the time”.

Certainly where my work life’s concerned, the last six months have been an exercise in anxiety, exhaustion and the systematic wearing away of my confidence. The evidence is embedded on my face: my skin is cracked; my scalp’s dotted with painful scabs, while my demeanour wavers from anger to abject misery.

For months, I’ve had this silly idea that once things change I’ll celebrate by cutting my hair. Once I have control of my life, I can take control of my fringe.

And after working for the last two years and saving throughout I finally have the opportunity to go to college – and become a papered feminist no less!

Modern-feminist-books

The scope to read all day and feel unhampered by the limitations of my crushing job spec has sent me into a daydream. For the first time in several months, the Internet is fun again; the clothes paraded through street style pieces on Elle and Into The Gloss resemble a break from my tried-and-tested corporate uniform. Tritely, I feel like I have the opportunity to rediscover and start again, beginning with jeans and a Breton top.

For anyone who knows me and engages with my interests, my enthusiasm for a wardrobe over-haul (when my own wardrobe is so compact and pricey) is rather silly seeing I’ve rigorous principles around shopping: I don’t believe in bulk-buying and I avoid fast-fashion as best I can (which is virtually impossible). I can’t buy anything spontaneously either and tend tabulate an item’s lasting impact instead (on my wardrobe that is, not my savings).

Even if I shirked my ideals (which no one gets anyway) I’m also mindful that if I go to college I won’t have any money. But in some ways this makes things more interesting. I like to think I can engage with and enhance what I own rather than hitting the racks.

Anyway, based on the images I’ve been bookmarking, I clearly have a thing for grey, black and dusty pastels with an emphasis on oversized knits. I thought I was immune to the black-and-white Nike runner bullshit that’s mushroomed across the globe too, but clearly not.

Anyway, in the fantasy world that loops in my head as I sit rather listlessly in work, these looks encapsulate the style I want to mark my new life.

Grey skirt, grey knitBlack, black and bootsscarfbb57825df7cda9037f466f27052700136ec959a5513f1ee252b4ef9b3779687490dd903996e8411fc737af75a0493145

Recent Writing Bits

Made my first foray into sponsored content last week with 8 cycle routes around Dublin (via Lovin Dublin).

Seeing this topic’s so close to my heart, here’s a list of places to shutter out the world beyond and give in to an excellent book (Lovin Dublin).

Good Friday’s a day to imbibe, so with that in mind I chronicled some of the easiest home cocktails around to ensure your Friday’s hella good (Lovin Dublin)

Perplexed where to bring that stranger you met on Tinder? Take my advice and bring them to this north side cemetery (Lovin Dublin)

Thoughts on Valentine’s

A few words from the perennially single:

So there I was, this time last year, finishing work and idling away the last forty minutes of my day when conversation suddenly turned to Valentine’s Day.

Now before last year I had never really worked in an office, and the people I worked with tended to be miles away from the post-college delirium that (let’s be frank) still engulfs me today.

Anyway, out of nowhere February 14th was the topic of discussion and being the only single in the office I started to feel that slow, rising panic.

Whatever it is about being unattached (or ‘unconsciously uncoupled’ as one smug acquaintance recently put it), people, whether intentionally or not, often see it as license to spew the kind of oblique compliments Neill Strauss would dole out at a negging seminar.

And while I imagine last year’s excitement was built around Valentine’s falling on a Friday, it also meant two whole weeks of my life were spent staring impassively at my keyboard as talk of romance fluttered around my 9-5 cell.

Anyhow, after going through the inventory of backhanded compliments – mulling them over as I slug back wine in a onesie like the unequivocal stereotype I obv am – I came to a few conclusions. First and foremost:

Being single is good for you.

And secondly – perhaps more pertinently – I need to switch to white wine ‘cos this red is giving me some serious Hannibal teeth.

Now before anyone jumps to conclusions I’m not ragging on the people who’ve found their life partners, or even those whose stomachs feels like a whizzing kaleidoscope after a sweet, stray kiss outside Ray’s Pizza on a Saturday night. The fact is that I just like being on my own. And unfortunately, many others see it as priority to put me in my place.

I don’t have a relationship. I have several:

It’s never intentional and not everyone’s a victim but so many of my friends have found their human hot water bottle, then promptly given up on all their other relationships.

Sure, our friendship is cultivated through years spent languishing in the same secondary school and learning to type through MSN Messenger (RIP) but all that’s been usurped by a special someone whose lips appear to be infused with a magnetic substance.

I’m pretty forgiving of this particular transgression seeing that I’ve done it a million times before. But it’s those friends who become invested in their partners at the expense of all their other friends that irk me. Perhaps I’m a bit of a sad case for not having found ‘The One’ but in their absence I’ve found a small army of fun and amazing people to do my bidding (most likely with a taxi driver who insists my head is lolling dangerously to one side just as my wallet decides to stage a disappearing act inside my handbag.)

There’s a spark:

There are so many things I’m passionate about: museums, Irish art, magazines, women writers, attempting daring lip colours while drinking pints of wine, travelling, seafood, day-dreaming…

Some of these interests have turned into hobbies and a few of those hobbies have become real passions that miraculously pay my bills. But I’m sceptical whether I would have committed myself so fervently had I not grown tired of The Carrie Diaries and learned that downtime gets dull when there isn’t another person to monopolise your every minute.

People can be passionate about plenty, and they can feel passionately about someone, but I really don’t believe a person’s passion can be another person. Work out what you’re good at and be great at it, I say. That sense of achievement will come soon after and a fan club will quickly materialise (disclaimer: the horn-tooting Mariachi band actually takes a while to materialise, I’m sorry).

I get to sleep:

I understand that those in a relationship will see sleeping separately as fostering distance while lying side-by-side creates intimacy, but what if your bed companion snores?

I sleep like an orang-utan and find it almost impossible to lie next to someone who falls asleep before me without getting absurdly angry with them (the TEMERITY!!!!!!!) so resorting to a night alone, with eight hours of sublime, uninterrupted shut-eye seems, eh, great.

I’m spontaneous:

I’m not really. But I have the option to be and there’s a lot to be said for that, am I right?

Oh, Ja! Fun Times in Stockholm

I went to Sweden this time last year and wrote a whole 1000-word thing about it for the Irish Examiner. Anyway, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never bothered to publish it, so here we go… 

If my work colleagues are anything to go, the city we aspire to live in is Paris. Imbued with a characteristic insouciance, it calls to mind rainy street scenes, peeling shop fronts and pastry chefs in tall hats.

But these tableaus have never grabbed me and by-and-large I’ve always felt as though France was too cool for me, or perhaps I was too earnest for France.

Over the years though, where others have dreamt of Monet-like scenes of the Seine, I’ve been infatuated with misty images of Scandinavia, cobbled together through Danish television series.

In particular, I’ve developed a fascination with Sweden, which for me embodies something incredibly exotic yet remarkably familiar.

My curiosity was initially roused by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but developed through an interest in online fashion and particularly Swedish brands Acne and Cos.

Eventually, after eighteen months obsessing over Stockholm street style blogs and Cheap Monday jeans on Asos, I decided I was going to move to Sweden and immerse myself in its glacially cool culture. The only issue was I’d never actually been there. What if I didn’t like it?

Getting to Stockholm proved pricey and my flight, which originally went on a Sunday, was moved to Monday after Aer Lingus suspended all weekend service to Stockholm for the month of January.

In the build up to my trip I spent several weeks studying up on Stockholm’s history and marking off what I’d do when I got there. I wanted to enmesh myself in the culture and if that meant learning how to take a photo with my mittens on, then so be it.

The city itself is made up of 14 islands, with one-third consisting of water, another of green space and a final third entrusted to urbanity. Nothing feels concentrated or clustered and fresh air is in abundance.

Visiting in late January however, the temperature was a brisk subzero and moody, atmospheric light punctured the grey skies as well as intermittent snowfalls.

Sights:

Stockholm’s medieval architecture unfurls like a fairy-tale town in a children’s pop-up book and the compact layout allows travellers to navigate it by foot.

The Old Town (or Gamla Stan as the locals call it) is cobbled around the Royal Palace which is located near Stockholm’s oldest building, Storykyran. This ‘Great Cathedral’ dates to the mid-thirteenth century and features a rich, robust interior with redbrick columns and a whitewashed ceiling. Home to royal weddings and coronations, it also boasts a dramatic sculpture of St George and The Dragon adorned with genuine elk antlers. Best of all, it’s free.

Nearby on the neighbouring island of Skeppsholmen, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet (admission 120 sek) presents Irish tourists with a somewhat familiar sight: four painted, contorted sculptures by Alexander Calder – the same artist behind Trinity College’s Cactus Provisoire – welcome pilgrims who’ve toiled uphill and prepares them for the preeminent collection of modern art shielded behind the gallery’s glass shell.

Inside, the Museum’s permanent collection is presented chronologically and draws parallels between Swedish art and the European avant-garde. It moves seamlessly from the turn of the century to the inter-war years and displays works by a range of artists including Munch, Picasso, Pollock, Bacon, Rauschenberg and Richter.

At a 1968 retrospective in the museum, Andy Warhol coined his prescient platitude ‘In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes’. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll use that as leverage to take a quick selfie on the terrace of the museum’s restaurant which offers a beautiful view towards Östermalm.

Shopping:

Coming from a retail background – as well as a general addiction to shopping – I was hyped to visit the brands that had piqued my interest in this North European city. I might not speak Swedish I thought, but I could parlay about fashion like a native.

For many, myself included, Swedish fashion is synonymous with structured, minimalist tailoring. Brands like Whyred, Filippa K and Tiger of Sweden (all high end labels) are imbued with that signature Scandinavian silhouette. Gina Tricot and Monki meanwhile are aimed at younger, more eclectic audience similar to H&M.

Acne is one of Sweden’s best-known exports, originating as an advertising agency and jeans manufacturer but now renowned for its relaxed yet pricey clothing. There are several Acne branches based in Stockholm but the Östermalm store (Hamnagatan 10-14, Östermalm) is located, rather significantly, in the same building that introduced the world to the concept of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

For those with high-end taste and low-end budgets however, it’s worth noting that the Whyred Outlet (No.94 Drottningattan) and Acne Archives (No.53, Torstagatan) sell past collections for men and women at significantly discounted prices. Be warned though, sizes run on the small side.

Fika:

Once you’ve wriggled your way in and out of some close-fitting skinny jeans, it’s time for a coffee break – or Fika – as the Swedes call it. Coffee and cake are an institution in Sweden and post-lunch slumps are tackled with a strong java that’s washed down with a semla in spring or cinnamon bun (kanelbullar).

Home birds on the hunt for Starbucks might be a little putout by the lack of franchised coffee chains but Wayne’s – Sweden’s equivalent to Insomnia or Butlers – is located on most main streets and sells rich, quality coffee.

Travellers seeking something more traditional however should visit Kaffekopen (Stortorget) in the Old Town, which sells magnificent semla buns (edible, geometric pastries made with almond paste and whipped cream and which more-or-less beg to be slathered over your face) before taking a stroll across the way to Chokladkoppen, a dimly lit chocolate café that sells bucket-size mugs of cocoa.

‘Tak’:

Tak (meaning thank you) was my buzzword throughout the trip, and I used at every occasion in a non-stop bid to pass myself off as a Swede.

Sure I was an imposter, dressed head-to-toe in Swedish garb, no better than an Irish woman in a beret, muttering d’accord at every street stall merchant she passed, but I left feeling somewhat satisfied I could live in Stockholm and get by in my earnest ways.

Sweden, like its Scandinavian cousins, has been described as one of the happiest nations on earth. There’s nothing cool about being cheerful but then who put such a high precedence on being cool?

New Year, Cold Me

I spent December in a fiercely committed relationship to mince pies and woke up in January wearing slightly tighter clothes, under a blanket, in a drizzly scene reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes.

Last month, paid my January wages two weeks in advance, I was a thriving credit card-toting consumer with repetitive stress incurred from over-flaunting my card. Now I’m in a hostile relationship with my banking app, a lying, cheating scoundrel-of-a-thing who left me with nothing but bad debts and empty promises.

January is the bleakest month we’re told, with newspaper columnists piping up on the third Monday – “Blue Monday” – to remind readers that their relationships are over, their diets have staled, and that the ESB bill isn’t going to pay itself.

The red, green and gold of yester-month have vanished beneath a small pile of wine bottles collected around the bin (note: I can’t get rid of these until the weather picks up and a trip to the recycling unit doesn’t include frostbite).

Meanwhile my fleece dressing gown has come into its own of late, and beans (sans toast) are a delicacy to be consumed in front of interminable diet shows on television with their “new year, new you” spin.

Well I say bring on February. It’s a new year, but this isn’t a new me, just a really cold, miserable and unmotivated version of myself.

Merry Christmas

Christmas selfie replete with tatty indoor knit. Baaaahh.

I don’t mean to sound like a Christmas agoraphobic – some slipper-clad curmudgeon hovering near the larder cupboard clutching a box of Celebrations (even though this is a pretty apt self-description) – but once work finishes on Christmas Eve, the snooze button goes on and I’m catapulted into my own-made groove on the couch, slippers and sweets in tow.

Last year was the first time in several years I got Stephen’s Day off, and this year I’m taking a whole week to traipse around in my dressing gown, refusing to wash my hair – with relish – like some scrubby kid.

But what gets everyone who comes into contact with me around this time is that I don’t celebrate Christmas. No really, I don’t celebrate Christmas.

I wouldn’t say my family, or even my upbringing was unusual, but people are incapable of wrapping their heads around this fact.

I receive litanies of questions about trees (no), turkeys (no), Brussels sprouts (NO!!!!). In fact while I have this platform I’d like to espouse my view that sprout-enthusiasts are clearly victims of a parent-sponsored brainwashing campaign.

But over the years my family and I have fallen into a slight pattern, albeit missing the gaudy, shimmery ornaments and eagle-sized birds that would take me a lifetime to finish.

The food:

I don’t eat meat but if I did I’d be inclined to bypass the turkey-and-stuffing routine and tackle Christmas head-on with a stuffed swan filled with piping meat pie (I saw this on The Tudors once and thought it was outrageously swag). I take luxury very seriously and a plucked, decapitated farm bird doesn’t spell it for me.

I do however eat fish (and would eat it by the bucket load were I not in my parents’ autocratic jurisdiction, or of course if I was a seal). But for the last two years, maybe three, I’ve managed to coerce my mother into making a quiche.

Now I literally never eat quiche (mainly because I’m one of those people who walks through supermarkets turning over products to inspect the fat count). Those so inclined will know that quiche is a real bad guy in the dietary books, but of course being Christmas and only happening once a year, the quiche goes all out with cream, cheese and crab. And the result is so rich that you can’t actually eat a lot of it anyway, so I feel like this is a win-win for decadence and my waistline.

Until the quiche comes out of the oven however, my day is made up of cheese eaten directly off a knife and endless trays of chocolates cos again, swaaaag.

Television:

I feel as a family that this is where we excel at Christmas. I’d go as far as to say we win. All traditionalists know it wouldn’t be Christmas without a torrent of misery thundering through the rails of Albert Square and belting down the streets of Weatherfield. Eventually there’s some respite through the wiles of Downton Abbey, while the rest of the day is lost to a deluge of Harry Potter films only punctuated by whatever box set made the cut this year – Breaking Bad, Homeland, whatever.

When it comes to the telly, we take it pretty seriously.

Decorations: 

I wouldn’t consider myself especially messy, just a little sloppy. I spill a lot of tea and even more wine but I wouldn’t be one to throw my clothes in a heap or leave a pile of dishes in the sink. Like everyone else though, I try to avoid cleaning and constantly catch myself dropping unworn socks into the washing basket in a lazy bid to avoid finding their pair or simply putting them away. This cycle is endless, and my socks do endless spin cycles in the washing machine as a result.

Consequently the thought of creating all that work for myself – heaving a dusty box from a forgotten cupboard, placing ornaments around the house to gather more dust, then having to pack everything away four weeks later – sounds like a cruel and futile exercise devised in a Dickensian Work House.

Clothes:

No niceties for me. I’m staying in my pyjamas all day, all week even. ‘Nuff said.