Bicycle bells

"I'm going to take Victoria Pendleton on!" You beam. Your old step-through, wicker basket heavy bicycle wobbles to a halt next to me. "I only learned to ride this thing two weeks ago!" You emphasise the two weeks the way small children do and my cheeks ache with the empathy of your proud smile. You tell me that your children were the ones who made you learn, about how scared you were, about the kindness of your instructor. Above all you tell me about how it only took you one lesson to be able to ride. "And now I am going to take Victoria Pendleton on!" And with that, you and all your 50 odd years in soft curvy lycra are off again, bouncing onto the grass of the park, one hand flung triumphantly into the air.

It is the end of a long clinical Monday, I am utterly exhausted with my shopping, and I have never met you before. But you  glorious, delicious, right out loud you  have made the whole damn day worthwhile. You are fucking amazing. And yes, yes, yes  you are totally going to take on Victoria Pendleton. With bicycle bells on.

Living Out Loud

The phrase image crafting is often used in quite a pejorative way. And while I would agree that feeling in any way socially obligated to present a perfect image of ourselves is far from healthy, I would also argue that allowing ourselves to inhabit the best and fullest versions of ourselves can only be a good thing.

Indeed, this is the central idea behind this blog, and one of the philosophies I endeavour to live by. We all deserve to Live Out Loud.

What a delight it was therefore to spend a day recently shooting photographs for my new website with my dear friend and creative partner Cathy Pyle. Cathy and I share an aesthetic that is rooted in emotionally-resonant found moments  those often overlooked every day details that can elevate us beyond ourselves if we let them  as well as a friendship and working relationship that is honest, easy, supportive and fun. I knew I could trust Cathy implicitly to help bring my vision for this site to life.

So with the generous sash windows of my flat open to the cowslip-bobbing summer morning, Cathy and I took time designing each of the banner photographs for the main pages of this site. Working from a limited palette of colours and textures (as well as with some delicious props) it took an hour to set up each image. And I had so much fun playing stylist (especially with that burrata!) But I also learned a great deal, and not just about composition and light  I also learned about myself. As each of the images came though via live-feed to Cathy's laptop I realised I was seeing a visual narrative of who I aspire to be as a writer, therapist and human being. And that was quite a moving experience I can tell you. Living Out Loud always is.

Here are just a few out-takes from our lovely day:

The scene behind the image. Photograph   ©   Cathy Pyle

The scene behind the image. Photograph © Cathy Pyle

Small details, like handwriting in pencil rather than pen, make such a difference to the texture of an image. Photograph   ©   Cathy Pyle

Small details, like handwriting in pencil rather than pen, make such a difference to the texture of an image. Photograph © Cathy Pyle

Not only did this image pose challenges compositionally, it was also pretty hard not to consume the props... (we did, later, of course!) Photograph   ©   Cathy Pyle

Not only did this image pose challenges compositionally, it was also pretty hard not to consume the props... (we did, later, of course!) Photograph © Cathy Pyle

Little lights, shining...

I have this thing about light. We all, do, right? But for me it has all sorts of emotional connections  the way it glances across rust-red Italian rooftops in February, the ache as I watch it soften to indigo from my writing desk, and how it always conjures up memories of my late father.

I'm sensitive to it in interiors, too. In fact, it's become a bit of a joke that each year when the Christmas tree comes down I have to buy a new light source to fill the darkness left by the soft-white fairy lights. So when a friend recently offered me a couple of lamps she no longer needed, I couldn't refuse.

Before

My friend is kind of awesomely steam-punk, so her home is able to rock all sorts of black accessories in a way that my sea-toned flat cannot (these were originally from Ikea). But I love a bit of upcycling. So I headed down to my local Annie Sloan stockist to pick out a tester pot (my nearest stockist has painted wooden spoon heads with all the different shades and it's always a complete treat to hold all of those warm tones in my hands, just like lollipops). I settled on Chateau Grey, a lovely olive-tinted grey that I planned to lighten further with some left-over Old White and that I knew would compliment the existing duck-egg accents in my living room.

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Back at home I set about removing the black shades and cleaning all the stubborn remaining glue from their frames  a fiddly but important task  before spray-painting the frames in delicious metallic copper. By the time I'd finished both this and painting the bases, it was, appropriately, dark.

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Oh, but then I had to wait! The lamps came with their existing Ikea E14 bulbs, but I knew I wanted lovely vintage filaments to complete the exposed cage lamp look. And here's the thing  vintage filament bulbs with E14 screw bases are actually quite hard to come by. But eventually I found  Dowsing & Reynolds  a divine vintage lighting and accessories store.  And I am not in the least bit exaggerating when I tell you that the day these babies arrived, complete with their gorgeous vintage boxes, felt just like Christmas.

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All of which is kind of fitting, given that the pair of newly upcycled lamps now sit on the piano, with one right next to the gap left by last year's Christmas tree... 

After

A rhapsody in radishes

The last little while has been all sorts of crazy – in the best possible way. I've finally decided to take my life-long love of interior design seriously and Do Something About It. So as a starter for ten, I agreed for my dear friend and creative partner Cathy Pyle to photograph my flat for Apartment Therapy. All of which sounds deceptively easy. In reality it has meant a snag list that has entirely consumed a month's worth of weekends, trying to organise urgent deliveries of upholstery supplies in snatched breaks between patients at work, and generally losing track of which end of the day is up. (But my gosh, I've had so much fun!)

Anyway, what on earth does any of this have to do with radishes? Well, here's the thing: when we're busy it is just so very easy to just shove a ready-meal in the oven, right? And I'm not judging (people in glass houses and all...) But I love cooking, and I love it even more when I take the time to cook after I've been hectically immersed in other things all day. So tonight, rather than settling for something less than nourishing, I dug out one of my old faithfuls, a quick and easy supper, tweaked from Diana Henry's fabulous A Change of Appetite (which you really need to go and buy right now if you don't already have it). And honestly, even just chopping the radishes made me happy. Though unfortunately I ate it all far too quickly and joyfully to even think about a photo. Sorry about that.

Poached eggs with Puy lentils and radish salad (for 1)

2 eggs
100gm Puy lentils
300ml veg stock (or 3x the volume of the lentils)
a good handful of radishes (or maybe three good handfuls), sliced
3 spring onions, sliced
2 teaspoons capers
a handful of fresh mint, shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the lentils to rid them of any remaining husks. Boil in the veg stock until al dente (approx 15 minutes). Meanwhile make the salad by mixing the sliced radishes, spring onions, capers and mint. Make a vinaigrette with the oil, white wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Toss half into the radish salad, reserve the rest. Poach the eggs to whichever consistency you prefer (I tend to poach mine in barely simmering water, with a dash of white wine vinegar, for 4 minutes  so that the yolks ooze into the lentils). Serve the lentils, tossed in the remaining vinaigrette, with poached eggs on top, and garnish with the radish salad.

Fresh Beginnings

A dear friend's eldest daughter started her undergraduate degree at Oxford last week. I felt all sorts of fudgey softness at the thought of her just beginning  entering one of those autumn-lit collegiate squares, arms full of books and all the future just there waiting in the long shadows of old oak trees. Of course the reality also looks like a student bar with a carpet sticky with beer and the prospect of completing far too many essays in the shadow of its hangovers. Nostalgia never has a fully fleshed out, evidence-based narrative, after all.

Still, sometimes I wish I had just begun sooner. Instead, I often feel like I am sailing upwind, trying to catch up with people half my age, attempting to squeeze double the amount of stuff into half the amount of time, never quite sure that I've found quite the right tack. That sort of squally breathlessness that can tread close to panic, at times.

I felt a little like that reading the winning poems for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Because gosh, they're good. At an age I had yet to figure out friendships and fashion choices in my life let alone my writing, poets like Maud Mullan, and her excellent poem Locket, are already handling complicated decisions about line breaks and metaphor with maturity and wisdom. It's inspiring.

Actually, maybe inspiring is a better way of looking at it all. Because it's never too late to begin, is it? Especially when there's the excitement of such a fresh new wind at your back...

The Family Of Things

As both a writer and a psychotherapist, it was sweetly serendipitous to receive news that my application for provisional professional accreditation had been approved on National Poetry Day.

And so I open with one of my all-time favourite poems, by one of the most gently psychological poets of them all, Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.