The perfect Saturday afternoon: tea, cake, & politics

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Today has been one of those days. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions were yesterday; today, it just didn’t happen. I had loads of plans (reading! note-taking! shopping! tidying!), but in reality I’ve managed to accomplish just one. And that was to make The Ultimate Banana Bread. So it’s not so bad, really.

I have a slight confession here: this is not my recipe. I mean, I’ve tweaked it a little from the original, but in essence it is not mine. However, I don’t feel so bad about using someone else’s recipe, because it is THE BEST. You heard me. It never fails. It makes a beautiful crust, but stays moist and is so moreish. I baked it for some friends I’m seeing tomorrow, but it’s going to be a challenge to keep it that long…

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The original recipe can be found here. Usually I substitute half of the caster sugar with soft brown sugar instead (today I used dark brown, because that was all I had), and I cut the quantity of sugar down to 200g instead of 225g. I also add spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger – because every cake is improved by spices. (Maybe not Victoria sponge… though perhaps that’s a challenge I should tackle!)

So my Saturday afternoon consisted of baking cake, listening to Any Questions on Radio 4 (and shouting at the radio – turns out mixing batter is a great way of venting your anger), drinking Earl Grey, eating cake, and making lists for the week ahead. How was yours?

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Dear summer

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When you came, you seemed so full of promise. I welcomed you with open arms and a joyful spirit. I really didn’t see it coming.

You’ve been a difficult one. You’ve left me reeling. But I’m picking myself up. I can’t wait for autumn. I’m sorry, but I think she’s replaced you in my affections. She’s offering me new beginnings and creature comforts, crunching leaves and soft woollen blankets and intoxicating aromas. There’s something regenerative in her embrace, something full of hope, that life will return after winter’s barrenness.

I can just see you still, your gossamer dress billowing behind you as you disappear round the corner. The sight is bittersweet; I’m sad for all that’s gone, for losing you, but I’m already turning away, turning to greet the new season. I won’t forget you. I couldn’t if I tried. I promise you’ll be in my thoughts until next year. But I’m letting you go now. Who knows what will happen before you come round again.

Treading water

This summer has turned out very different to how I expected. There were great plans and small, and very few of them have materialised, or taken the shape that they were supposed to. Coming to terms with that is a grieving process of its own.

The heart-wrenching thing about a relationship ending is that it’s not just the loss of the person for which you mourn; it’s also the loss of the myriad possibilities, the might-have-beens, the half-formed dreams you’d glimpsed and filed for later. It’s the loss of that ‘later’. Later ceases to be relevant. Instead you’re stuck in the now, trying and struggling and sometimes failing to just get on with things, with work, with basic everyday life. The future retreats to the distant shadowy nooks of your mind, unsure of itself, diminished by this loss. And you become afraid to approach it or engage it, to explore new openings and avenues. But that’s ok. It’s ok to focus on the present, on putting one foot in front of the other. On looking after yourself, and letting yourself cry if you need to, and wiping away the tears. On patching up, bit by bit, the gaping hole in your life. 

Construction takes a lot longer than destruction; it’s a much more arduous process. It tests your patience and your endurance. And it may not look like you’re making much progress, but you keep going. What else is there to do?

The rule of three

Of course, having resolved to make this blog a priority, I’ve neglected it for a month. But then sometimes, life just gets in the way. The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster. And not the good sort.

To live up to the cliche, bad things have come in a set of three. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but this has been a pretty awful summer. I’m hoping that this latest thing is the last of the crop; I would really like for things to get better from here on in. 

To summarise:

1. My dad had to go back into hospital. He’s had heart problems for a long time, and a couple of years ago deteriorated very quickly, so that he needed two open-heart operations. He’s been back in hospital for over a month on antibiotics, with not much sign of improvement. His mood is dismal because of it. And to make it worse, it seems that almost all of our close family friends and relatives in Greece are struggling with health issues. So the two weeks I spent there were pretty depressing, on the whole.

2. Then, in mid-July, two of my best friends broke up. These are two people I love very dearly, who have supported me through a lot, and to hear that their relationship had come to an end really shook me up. It was one of those things – you don’t realise how much something means to you until it’s gone. It felt like the end of an era, somehow. That our university days were well and truly over, the dynamic of our group was shifting irreversibly. I found it incredibly hard to deal with.

3. The final blow: a few days ago (a few days after I’d returned from my not-really-a-holiday in Greece), my own relationship broke apart. My boyfriend and best friend for 5 years no longer wants us to be us; he wants time for himself. It was out of the blue. And it is so very painful. This relationship has meant more to me than almost anything else that’s happened in my life so far, except perhaps coming to Oxford (which paved the way for the relationship). Its end makes me feel like I’m in a perpetual state of the ground falling away beneath my feet, where I’m trapped in that moment of sickening realisation: I can see the void opening up to swallow me, I have a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I can’t move or scream or do anything to stop it. And, what is worse, I can see how much it upsets him to do this to me. 

So at the moment, I’m feeling sad, and empty, and lonely. And most of all, lost. It feels like I’m wrapped head to toe in thick, cotton-wool fog, that muffles all sound and disorients and doesn’t allow me to see what’s ahead. I’m trying to cope as best I can. I’m trying to think less negatively as much as possible (to say I’m thinking positive would be a stretch). And I am so grateful for my friends, and for their support. But that doesn’t fix any of this. I have to do my best to fix it myself. So I have to take it one day at a time. But I hope I can learn something, in all this mess, and use it constructively in some way. Fingers crossed.

Midsummer merriment

it may have been 3 weeks ago now, but Midsummer weekend this year was unexpectedly good fun. We had meant to make the pilgrimage to Stonehenge with some friends, but everyone forgot about it until a couple of days beforehand, by which point we’d made other plans and it just wasn’t viable any more. I had really been looking forward to it and was sad we weren’t able to go, but at the last minute we discovered a couple of events were on: the Wolvercote & Wytham Midsummer Festival (in Wolvercote itself) on the Saturday, and the Hayfield Road Midsummer Street Party (in Jericho) on the Sunday, both of which turned out to be lovely and made the weekend feel special.

IMG_6024The previous day (Friday 20th, Midsummer’s Eve) had been pretty exhausting, so we had a very leisurely Saturday morning. We decided to walk up along the canal to Wolvercote – previously we’ve always walked up through Port Meadow, but Ed had been on a couple of recce runs along the canal, so we thought we’d try something new.

IMG_6026IMG_6033IMG_6035The canal is lined with brightly decorated canal boats, many of which have lots of plants and ornaments on the roof.

IMG_6038IMG_6036After an hour or so we reached Wolvercote! The fair was held on the village green, and as we arrived some people started making giant bubbles, which of course drove all the kids present crazy. It was hilarious to watch them crashing around chasing after bubbles.

IMG_6109 copyIMG_6042 - CopyIMG_6045 copyIn ultimate nostalgia mode, we got ourselves a couple of 99s and sat down on the grass just as the maypole was being set up. I’ve never seen a maypole in action before, so, coupled with the ice cream and the sun, you can imagine my levels of excitement. There were also games, races, and a dog show.

IMG_6054IMG_6062IMG_6056IMG_6065And of course plenty more bubbles!

IMG_6081 copyIMG_6091 copyIMG_6096 copyIMG_6108IMG_6097We headed home the familiar route, down through Port Meadow, and arrived home feeling the effects of the sun – drowsy, and a little bit pink.

IMG_6114IMG_6121That evening we had a lovely rest at home, curled up on the sofa watching films, and after another lazy morning on Sunday, we wandered up into Jericho in the afternoon to seek out the Hayfield Road summer street party.

IMG_6133IMG_6134 - CopyIMG_6135When we turned up, the Harcourt Collective were on stage, playing one of my favourite songs – they were so good, I need to keep an eye out for them! (You can find some recordings of theirs here.) There was bric-a-brac, face painting, a bake-off, and food and drink. It was a lovely, relaxed event, with lots of families and people hanging around chatting. It was so nice to see a community come together.

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We sat there for an hour or so, enjoying being outdoors with warm weather and good music. It was the perfect way to end the weekend. This summer so far has proved to be idyllic, and I’m almost sad to be leaving next week for 3 weeks in Greece! I feel like I’ve really, finally experienced the quintessential English summer that you read about in Enid Blyton novels. I hope it stays like this for August and September – I have many plans (most of which involve blackberry-picking)…

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A feminist lifestyle blog manifesto

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The very first two blogs I started following were the Vagenda and Esme & the Laneway. Between them, these two say a lot about me, I think, and they go some way to explaining my confusion in terms of what I want this blog to be. I love so-called ‘lifestyle’ blogs, where people share their adventures, recipes, their day-to-day living – I just enjoy getting an insight into other people’s lives, and I guess it’s a sort of wish fulfilment. Esme, for instance, has the most amazing vintage wardrobe and style, and is always getting up to such interesting things (so many brunches!). She’s made me really want to live in Melbourne! On the other hand, the Vagenda is packed full of the sorts of articles I love to read – funny, tell-it-like-it-is honesty on everything from Grazia to victim blaming.  It deconstructs the sorts of ideas and ideals that are fed to us wholesale. It made me realise that I have opinions on things, and that I want to get those opinions out there.

Bringing these two strands together, though, seems like a huge challenge.

Lifestyle blogging is often seen as trivial or twee, and it doesn’t help that many lifestyle bloggers seem to perpetuate this by rehearsing very conventional roles or ideals. But does it have to be this way? Can you reconcile lifestyle blogging with more ‘highbrow’ pursuits?

I want to write about the issues I care about: current affairs, feminism, literature, art, politics, but also cooking, music, and life in Oxford. I want this blog to be a space where I can be creative, where I can feel free to express myself, share my thoughts and feelings. I think I need to get over my fear of ‘not being intellectual enough’, and admit that, actually, I do enjoy food, fashion, homewares etc, just as much as I enjoy reading articles and having debates/rants with my friends. I love the idea of documenting life as you live it and appreciating the here and now. And I guess that is where my interests intersect.

Ultimately, I want this blog to represent me, which means it will end up being a mish-mash of things. But that’s ok. A feminist lifestyle blog? Let’s see what happens.

Punting to Islip, part 2

(You can find the first half of this trip here.)

In the last 24 hours the weather has turned, and from the balmy summer days we have been enjoying, it’s now grey, overcast, and very, very wet out there. Which makes me savour the memory of this trip even more. Four friends, one punt, sunshine, lots of Pimm’s and beer and the perfect mini sausage rolls!

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(I’ve been working on perfecting these, and was so glad they came out well. Super quick & easy to make. Chop a couple of red onions, throw them in a frying pan with some butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, some balsamic vinegar, & some chopped rosemary, and leave to sweat over a moderate heat. Roll out some puff pastry, and divide lengthways into 3 or 4 strips. Spread onions down the middle, then top with a row of cocktail sausages, and cut the pastry after each sausage. Brush one side of the pastry with beaten egg, fold the other side over and press onto the eggy side. Brush the top with egg, stick in the oven for 20-25 mins at 180°C or until golden, and Bob’s your uncle!)

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After a few hours battling the current and, in places, the debris, we finally reached Islip. It’s a beautiful, peaceful little village, full of gorgeous houses that I dream of one day owning. We didn’t want to hang around too long, so we stopped for a quick pub lunch, during which I had to fight off the wave of mid-afternoon drowsiness that hit me out of the blue. (This explains why I managed to not take any photos of the pub itself.)

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I used to think I would hate to live in the countryside, but the more time I spend in its “half-forgotten nooks”, the more I am seduced by it. I know it’s not particularly realistic in terms of jobs, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

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And then it was time to head back downstream.

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By the time we were almost back at the Boathouse, the light was dimming and the evening coming on. We quietly trudged home through North Oxford, tired but content. A couple of friends are coming to stay with us in August, and if the weather’s good, the plan is to repeat the trip then. Fingers crossed!

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