Thursday, March 05, 2015


Things are getting real around here and we're getting so close to being able to blow this joint. The girls and I are flying out to France together in two weeks, TWO WEEKS. I am going to stay there with them for three weeks and then fly back to London to shoot a wedding with Nye, who will (who will) by that point have finished redecorating the house and putting in a new bathroom and finding a tenant and cancelling our contracts with various service providers - which I have no doubt will take up at least two of those three weeks. After we've done the wedding we will drive back together, our car laden with the crap that we just can't live without. 

While we're in France I will get getting drunk the girls settled into pre-school where we have a meeting with the head teacher a couple of days after we arrive. Pre-school (l'école maternelle) is provided four and a half days a week from 8.45-3.45, totally, completely free of charge. FREE. When I say I love France I'm not - 
 like 98% of bloggers who 'looooooooove France' - talking about cheese, wine with lunch and girls in striped shirts and messy up-dos on bicycles, I'm talking about this; social provision, for everyone. (I do also like wine and cheese, it has to be said.)

The village is small and there are fifteen kids at l'école maternelle, W&P will make seventeen. Twelve of those fifteen kids are boys which pretty much guarantees that at least one of our girls will love it immediately. The pre-school is attached to the primary school which, as part of its learning garden, has it's own row of vines. It's important in France that children now how to grow grapes from the age of five.

It's the thought of this, of taking the girls down the hill to school and then spending the day in the peace of the mountains and the forest, that is getting me through this hell of packing and donating and jettisoning what we own. We're taking with us what we can fit in the car (plus the three suitcases W&P and I will drag across London to the airport). We're leaving about ten boxes of books and toys in the attic, selling or donating all of our furniture and creating an epic pile of landfill with the shit that is of no use to anyone. Aside from one epic meltdown from Puke when she realised that we were donating all of the clothes that she had outgrown ('I WANT TO KEEP EVERYSHING FOR EVER AND EVER.') it has been a fairly peaceful process. 

Nye and I worked through our hoarding tendencies a few house-moves ago and are now more or less on the same page about what we get to keep and what goes. More importantly than being on the same page though, we are more or less capable of turning a blind eye to each other's weaknesses (his; speakers, cables, bits of bike, mine; books, art supplies, 'sentimental things'.) His mutterings that if it weren't for me and the girls there would be no clutter in his life and that he would live in an empty room with just a stereo and a bicycle (doesn't that sound pleasant?) have decreased in frequency and my ability to respond with hysterical laughter and a knowing eye roll instead of screaming YOU'RE SO FULL OF SHIT before making an itemised list of every single piece of crap that he owns and pointing out how much bigger his crap is than mine, has blessedly strengthened. Dudes, we have grown

Friday, February 13, 2015

Country of Solid Worth

A Map of the Open Country of a Womans' Heart, c. 1833–1842 Source:

(Alternatively Titled: Things I Might Want To Do Or Be When I Grow Up.)

When I in school I wanted to be either a lawyer or an artist. A lawyer because I was clever and I liked using that to prove that other people were not, or an artist because art made me happy. I chose art. I only regret that decision maybe two days a week. It's not that I wish I was a lawyer exactly, but it would be nice to have a salary, and for the part of my brain that was once clever to still work. And to have a salary.

So, Be An Artist; that was my dream. I didn't get very far with that, there's nothing like art school to kill your dreams, and your tolerance for artists. I left art school a year early; sad and angry and betrayed by the neglectful - borderline abusive - tutors I had been trusted to and completely, utterly unemployable. Someone asked us to photograph their wedding so we did that and it turned out that a) we were good at it, b) it was quite fun and c) people would PAY us! We were sold.

Eight years in and we've had enough though, the moments of fun are outweighed by the pressure, the responsibility, the logistics, the desk work, the back ache and the speeches. We've known since the beginning that it wasn't going to be our forever careers and we've been having the exact same conversation for as long as I can remember;

'I don't want to be a wedding photographer forever.'

'Me neither. What else could we do?'

Nothing has changed except that we can't, just can't, keep doing it. I've spent a lot of the last 6 months wailing at Nye 'But I don't know what I want to do, I don't have a dream.' Every time I say it I hear Ross from Friends; 'Ahhh, the lesser-known 'I don't have a dream' speech' (I keep this to myself, chuckling inwardly as the husband does not appreciate Friends references. I know, the things I suffer in my marriage.)

There still isn't a next plan. There are lots of things that I sometimes think I would like to do/be and I've been keeping a list. Let's imagine for a minute that any of these is even slightly possible, that education in England doesn't cost £9000 a year (NINE THOUSAND FUCKING POUNDS. Yes, yes, yes, I know that in America it costs like, Fifty thousand, but your country is absurd.) and that I have the time / energy / mental capacity to retrain as anything; these are The Things I Would Maybe Like To Be or Do (in no particular order);

Forensic Science. I have watched nine seasons of Bones and it looks fun. When I watch Bones I can think of nothing but splatter patterns and decomposition rates and bone markers and how much I really want to learn about that. Also, having watched nine seasons of Bones, I'm surely at least half qualified now.

Teaching. I have flirted with the idea of teacher training for years, initially because teaching is a qualification that I could use anywhere we decided to live and then gradually because I actually liked the idea of teaching. The thing is I hate noise, crowds and parents so I would need to teach only quiet kids and have nothing to do with the people who spawned them. Which I'm sure is an option they offer you when you're looking for placements.

Writing. I love to write, which you might have noticed and after doing a really excellent writing class at City University last year I even feel a little bit like I could do it in a more focused way, if only I knew what I would like to write about. That only takes me so far though, as far as a way to spend all my time but not a way to make an actual pay-for-food-and-raise-my-family living. No one makes money from writing. Even real, published, experienced writers with actual books have to get other jobs, like serving coffee or turning tricks.

Publishing. in lieu of being able to write my own work I would enjoy correcting other people's mistakes and I believe that books will save the world. Unfortunately I hear print is dying. Also it's a fairly London-centric industry and I think you need to start out with a) a degree in English and b) a willingness to work 50 hours a week without pay. I have neither of those things.

B&B Proprietor in the South of France. Basically I want to own this place, to drink wine and eat cheese and grow food and probably learn to speak French at some point and send my kids to school in a country that still values state education and healthcare for all. (I know France is no utopia, you don't need to tell me that, but it's not England. And it's warmer that Scotland. Which is currently being fucked by England. So there you go.)

Counselling. Friends of mine work in counselling and psychotherapy and they are full of interesting thoughts and conversations and opinions. Their training sounds like training I would like to have, the studying like study I would thoroughly enjoy. I've been to therapy, I've seen a couple of counsellors and it's no exaggeration to say that they changed my life. I'd like to do that for people. Sadly, I can only talk/listen to people talk for an hour a day before I start biting the inside of my face to stop me from closing my eyes and rocking back and forward with my fingers in my ears. That could be a problem.

Zoologist. I was standing in a bus queue a few weeks ago when the man waiting next to me admired my purse (leopard print) and my scarf (leopard print) and my tights (leopard print). He told me that he was a zoologist based in Paris who works with South African wildlife reserves finding ways for the wildlife and the local people to live harmoniously together. His wife was a wildlife photographer (also fond of leopard print although I'm sure she approached it in a more restrained fashion, most grown up people do.) Anyway, we were just standing chatting about life, leopards and the ridiculously small print on the Oxford bus timetable when I felt a lump rising in my throat and my eyes burning, envy and a sense of pointlessness washed over me, that is what I want to do, I thought, I want to work with animals and the environment and cuddle baby leopards.

Rare Breeds Farmer. I like animals (see above), both looking after them and more recently, eating them. Raising them myself seems like the best way to make me feel less bad about eating them. Also they don't talk. I do hear that farming is quite hard work though. And that land is expensive. And I find mud to be a bit of a drag.

Micro-distiller. This is one that Nye and I have talked about quite seriously, to the point where he has researched stills and the laws preventing us from having one. We have talked a lot about moving to an island where the only things that grow are sheep (see above), potatoes and insanity. There's no money to be made in sheep or potatoes (possibly in insanity, if I pursued that counselling qualification first) but there is money to be made in single estate British potato vodka... Sadly the rules in the UK to make it very tough to set up a micro distillery, not impossible but rather a ball-ache. I also worry about the state of our livers and general ability to function if we had liquor quite literally on tap. 

Artisanal Toy Maker. Plan; move to island, (see above) buy sheep, name sheep, shear sheep, spin fleece into wool, knit toys, label them with their sheep's name and photo, price at £100 each, sell them to Londoners as Single Estate Island Teddies, live in perpetual state of shame at calling myself an 'artisanal' anything, repeat. 

Photographer. I wanted to be a photographer from the second week of art school, when I used the dark room for the first time and from that rancid smelling liquid a fleeting moment I had thought interesting the week before appeared in a mixture of magic and alchemy and the teaching assistant told me I had 'an eye'. The problem is I don't know how to make a living from it, I don't have any experience and I'm not very good. Joke! I do! I have! I am! The real problem is that I'm burned out. That I've been making a living from it for 8 years and I'm exhausted. I don't want to keep photographing weddings (which I'll write about one day) but I don't have the energy to try and break into other areas. I am a tired photographer.

So there you have it; my career plans. Thank god our plan for the immediate future is to eat, sleep and milk Nye's parents for both childcare and accommodation because our longer term ideas are, um, questionable to say the least. I am living in a state of faith at the moment, faith that our immediate plan won't drive us crazy and that our longer term plan will become clear, and that that longer term plan is not deeply unrealistic, unaffordable and unsustainable. Living in a state of faith isn't a bad place to be.  

Monday, February 09, 2015

Miniature prints, a clearance sale.

Remember these? If you've been hanging around here a while, and it seems that a lot of you have been, then you might remember my etsy phase. I gave up on it because it was a total pain in the tits but while we've been clearing the house and packing up I found a box of these sets of miniatures under the bed. These particular boxes have been on a hell of a journey, to Los Alamos and back but it's a long story and I'm not entirely solid on the details. I have twelve of them left and rather than throw them in the increasingly large pile of crap in front of the house I thought I'd relist them on etsy.

They're marked at $25 from their time in the store in California but I'm listing them at $18. Which actually makes them pretty much the the same price to me, in pounds; something crazy about exchange rates and the global economy that I don't quite understand. 

Anyway, here they are, for a couple of months only: Peonies and Polaroids Miniature Print Boxes. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Storm Cloud in My Backpack.

boys gutting fish in Essaouira surrounded by birds

The day that I turned twenty we had been in Morocco for almost a month.

After three weeks in frenzy of Marrakesh we had taken a bus to the coast and were staying in the most uncomfortable, most revolting self-catering apartment that we could ever have imagined. We acquired it through a Helpful English Stranger (wheeler and dealer) who lived in the town and whom we'd met in the queue in the pastry shop. We were tired of hostels, of sharing a bathroom with eleven other people and a cockroach, and we were desperate to cook our own meal after three weeks of eating bread and oranges (a diet which, incidentally, almost entirely removes the need to use the shared toilets). We paid a week's rent upfront and heaved our backpacks onto our skinny shoulders. We moved in and I feel asleep instantly on the misshapen shape, draped with a polyester faux fur blanket emblazoned with a lion's head surrounded by leopard print, the kind of which is inexplicably popular in Morocco. Nye bought a bottle of bleach and started scrubbing, desperate to rid the bathroom of the smell of fermenting human waste, a smell so strong that it was impossible to go into the room without gagging and which insisted that we block the crack under the bathroom door with towels in an attempt to stop it escaping into the rest of the apartment. It didn't work.

Looking back it's easy to wonder why on earth we stayed, why we gave our meagre resources to sleep in this stinking pit where no, we didn't have to share the bathroom but where we couldn't actually use the bathroom without tying a wet cloth over our faces. It certainly wasn't the 'cooking facilities' which were a plastic washing up bowl and a gas camping stove which leaked so badly we had to take it onto the roof to use. It was actually just a simple combination of youth and exhaustion. We were young, broke and Having an Adventure, therefore fairly willing to endure squalor (and oh the squalor) but more crucially, we were exhausted. Broken. I was wrung out, I was anxious, I was suffering with chronic fatigue and increasingly relentless abdominal pain. During the week of my period I collapsed to the ground all over Marrakesh, needing help to stumble to a quiet alley and then on to our hostel and bed. It was a small mercy that the painkillers available over the counter were twice as strong as at home. A black cloud had attached itself to me a few months before and while I had tried to shake it off, it was getting darker and more ominous. I cried a lot in Morocco. I fought with Nye and I spent a lot of time in bed, not sleeping. When I did sleep I was rocked by nightmares that I can still see now, as clearly as if I had them last night. I was 19 and I was trying so hard to have an adventure, to Travel.

I'd been saving money all summer, working to fund a solo round the world gap year that I had become too ill to go on. Morocco, until our money ran out, was what it had boiled down to. It was before cheap flights to North Africa were a thing so we had flown to Malaga in Spain, stayed in a creepy hotel opposite a sex shop and then got the bus to Algeciras on the south coast. I thought Algeciras was the saddest, most depressing place in the whole world, but that was before we had made it to Casablanca, a city that tore right into my soul. A town of shipping containers and desperation, Algeciras is Spain's gateway into Europe, its defences against Africa and those who would flee it. We boarded a ferry from which a number of passengers had been removed in handcuffs and crossed the straights of Gibraltar, churning past that weird, unlikely rock beloved of sea birds and tax dodgers. We lurched into Africa at sunset, the lights of Tangier twinkling in the fading orange and navy sky and the smell of hot dust drifting out into the sea. It was magic. It took us two days to get to Morocco and another twelve hours by train to reach Marrakesh. And when we got there it was another world, we had Travelled. And despite my pain and the storm cloud I was lugging around in my backpack it was the most wonderful, the most beautiful adventure.

I turned twenty in the coastal town of Essaouira. I opened the small gifts that had been wrestling with my cloud for space in my backpack on a rooftop overlooking the maze of streets. I ate a lunch of two pence breads stuffed with canned sardines sitting on an ancient seawall, watching the fishing boats come and go and tiny Moroccan children play in the square. We went out for dinner to an actual vegetarian restaurant, an establishment where the vegetable tagine didn't come with a chicken foot or a goat knuckle lurking beneath the squash, and we walked back to our vile apartment through the winding, cobbled streets that whistled with sea air. Those are my three memories of my 20th birthday; the rooftop, the seawall, the restaurant. The next day we left the apartment, a few days before the week we had paid for was up. Nye engaged in a fight with the owner, a puffed up business man in a shiny suit, and attempted to get the rest of our money back. I don't remember if he managed it or not.

We moved a few streets away, to the prettiest hotel that £3 a night can buy, where we were woken in the mornings by the sounds of the orange juice carts rattling down the street and the squawking of seagulls over the town's ancient fortress walls. When Nye went out for bread that day he bumped into the English guy who had brought us to that horrible apartment. He asked how we were getting on and when Nye told him that we had left the apartment early his friend laughed; “I can't believe you took them there,” he said, “that place is a shit hole.” The Englishman had the decency to look embarrassed. He offered to find us somewhere else but we were done with the help of charming strangers. Besides, we were planning to leave Essaouria and travel further down the coast over the next day or two. We'd had a tip from a surfer who worked in the chessboard shop and were planning to head to a village on the sea, one that had been forgotten by both electricity and plumbing and relied on generators and the water lorry that came to fill up the tanks every couple of days. Two days later Nye helped me to lift my backpack onto my shoulders, to settle its weight there on my back where I would carry it with me, 150km down the coast.

That is where I began my twenties, carrying my weight with me on my back. Now, almost exactly ten years later, my weight is spread all around, the dark cloud that I carried so close then has drifted off and is but a tiny smudge on the horizon. I turn thirty tomorrow, something that I've been looking forward to for the longest time. I'm ready to shed my twenties, to say that this decade of struggling, of striving, of being broken down and built back up over and over and over again is done. I know that it's arbitrary, that life on Saturday won't tangibly be any different from life on Thursday and yet when did I care about the tangible? Hardly ever, that's when.  

boys gutting fish in Essaouira surrounded by birds

Photos of young boys gutting fish,  Essaouira, Morocco. Taken in 2004, on a Pentax K1000, with Ilford film.

Monday, January 26, 2015

You guys.

image by Ron Van Dongen 

You guys, thank you so much for your comments on my post about us quitting/ adventuring/ whateverthehellyouwanttocallit. While your words of support and encouragement were nice (really nice) it was your generosity in sharing your own experiences of following your dreams only to realise that oops, maybe they weren't the dreams for you, and of starting over that really slayed me. 

It's not easy to admit that you got it wrong (I know) and it's really not easy to admit that you don't actually have a clue what you want (harder than admitting that you don't want what you've got but you know what you want and you don't know how to get it. Follow?) and I'm so grateful to all of you who did that. It was a beautiful reminder of Ye Olde Blogging Community, with the sharing and the chatting and the commenting, before iphones and instagram came along and ruined it all. 

As soon as we decided to quit wedding photography I started to feel like maybe I could start writing here again, that I could reclaim this space as mine, as more than a marketing tool for the business. For years I have been self-censoring (honestly), worried about what clients might make of a photographer who talks about poo and periods and prozac, chasing my tail wondering quite what image I should be presenting here. Blissfully, I find I no longer really care. 

This stupid blog is approaching its seventh birthday and as many times as I've tried to kill it with neglect (and occasionally with something more aggressive), it's still here. Still with the same crappy name I gave it seven years ago when I had no idea how ubiquitous and then passé both peonies and polaroids would become in the lifestyle blogging world. I regularly dream of starting afresh somewhere else, of coming up with a witty, intelligent title that doesn't make me wince when I'm forced to say it out loud, but it never seems to happen. 

Maybe it's time to embrace that which embarrasses me, to accept that the seven years I've put in here aren't nothing and enjoy that people are still reading, and sometimes even commenting the best comments. Thank you for helping me to get there. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Living Adventurously (aka, Quitting)

Remember way back, oh two years ago, when we moved to London? How it was the most exciting thing in the whole world? Well, it hasn't really worked out for us. I feel like such a flake saying this, but we're leaving.

I had loved it, I really had. Then at the beginning of last year I hit a wall. I spiralled into a bad place and suddenly I hated everything, I mean everything. It was pretty terrible. I spent my days either crying or thinking about how I could leave my family. I swore that the city was the problem and that I'd just feel better if we lived somewhere where every noise, every shout, every mattress discarded in the street didn't cut into my soul. It was really, really no good. I did not leave my family and I did stop crying, but I never felt at home again in London. The city that I had briefly loved felt hard, abrasive, expensive, exhausting. I had neither the money to enjoy the amazing bits that called to me or the energy to find the amazing bits that I could afford. The tiny bit of community that we'd had here had left and I was lonely, tired and worn down. *sad violin* 

We daydreamed of moving, of leaving the city and our jobs and finding a way to live cheaply and happily outdoors. We talked in maybes; 'maybe we could move to France? Maybe we could move to Dorset? Maybe we could move to Alaska?' (that last one was all Nye.) But however deeply we felt the longing to move there didn't seem any way to make it happen while we were running as fast as we could to keep up with the daily get up, get everyone ready, work, get everyone back, feed everyone, work, sleep, repeat, travel at the weekends. There was no energy to talk about making a change let alone the energy to actually do it and while we had been talking about quitting wedding photography for years neither of us could come up with a viable alternative that we could step into.

Sometimes when you're desperately looking for a way out the universe throws you a bone, it's just that it's not the bone you hoped for. Instead of a nice juicy rib that you can chew at your leisure it's a great fucking ox skull hurled through your sitting room window and now you have a way out but there's glass and shit everywhere and a frankly terrifying head staring at you with its gaping, empty eye sockets and you're too shocked and traumatised to move. That's what happened. (Literally. No, not really, but it was close.) 

It was messy and horrible and I shook for days but it was finally clear that we could not keep going the way that we were, we were starting to fall apart at the seams. So we quit, kind of. It was mostly emotional and symbolic at that point; we planned to leave London and we stopped taking wedding bookings and instantly we felt better, lighter.

That was five months ago. At the moment we're starting to pack up the things we want to keep, trying really hard to get rid of as much of our crap as possible, finishing making our house nice so that we can rent it out (one day, one day we'll make a house nice so that we can live in it) and freaking out. Nye, mostly fixing the house; me, mostly freaking out.

'Where are you going?' you ask. Well, that's a good question. How very clever of you to notice that I have not in fact mentioned an actual plan, somewhere we are going to go and something we are going to do. Well, immediately we are going to France, to stay in N's parents' self-catering place. When you're having an existential crisis it helps if someone you know has a spare house in the south of France and is willing to let you ride out your meltdown in it.

We're planning to stay for about three months and for the girls to go to pre-school there while we a) recover from the last few years and b) figure out what the hell we're going to do longer term c) eat cheese, drink wine and get fat/fit (yet to be determined).

After that we are thinking about spending a couple of months in the Western Isles. We also talk about Dorset, Glasgow, Wales and moving to sea. So if anyone would like to start a sweepstake on where we'll end up. . .

I fluctuate between thinking that we're doing something great, we're living adventurously, we're identifying what doesn't make us happy and doing what we can to find what will, teaching our children that life is short and precious and that you need to live it well, that fear shouldn't stop you from trying new paths. And then feeling like a complete and utter failure who has invested eight years in a career that they don't love, who has no idea what they actually want to be (or where they want to live) and who is dragging their children around in their wake while they try to figure it out causing them irreparable therapy-inducing damage. Not to mention feeling like an entitled brat who has the luxury of throwing it all in and moving to France. I have good days and bad days.

At the moment we have no idea when we're actually going to get out of here. We were aiming for February but that's not going to happen. Life and Christmas and the flu saw to that. We run out of money at the end of March that would be a good point by which to have our arses in gear. Wish us luck.