27 February 2009

Love is in the air…and so, apparently, is Spring!

Spring has sprung in Barford. The infamous washing-line in out and up in the garden, and has today, made its official laundry-drying debut for 2009! But, alas, this is Britain, so of course heavy snow and more winter cold has been forecast for next week. So, we must make merry, and do laundry while we may! I am actually sitting outside, with laptop and cup of tea, for the first time in I don’t even know how many months. People are shedding hats and scarves, and there is a general sense of giddiness in the air…

The DEB and I have a busy weekend ahead. We are attending a Wedding Fayre at The Glebe Hotel – finally, my first English Wedding Fayre!!! I’m so excited I can’t stand it! But, alongside the frivolity of flowers, favo(u)rs and shoes, we are also doing some serious contemplation. Allow me to explain…

As you may recall, several months ago, I was weeping into my tea about the fact that the Brits seem to take marriage less seriously as a concept than their American counterparts. And in many ways, I still believe that to be true. Period. (see posting: “Always Something There to Remind Me” - October 2008).

However. I do need to revise this sentiment just a bit. Marriage is a very, very serious business if one wants the blessing and approval of the Church of England. As a proud Episcopalian, at this stage in my life, there could be no other way forward for me than a church wedding. My first marriage was a civil ceremony, and I while I’m not blaming the type of ceremony for the failure of the relationship, I must say, I did not enter into it with the contemplative sincerity that the C of E is currently demanding.

First, our local vicar had to be “the first to know” as it were (although, I think I actually blogged about it just after the DEB proposed, so in essence the vicar was the second to know!) Then, we had our first meeting with the Parish Wedding Coordinator, Mrs. Macbeth. There were tons of forms we had to fill in and ton of things we had to remember, i.e., where we had each been baptized and/or christened. We discussed initial thoughts, plans and ideas about the service/ceremony, if we gained the vicar’s approval.

The burning question for us both was: Do we need “Permission to Marry” from the British Government to make this happen? Apparently—and I have asked this question at every juncture, and have been given the same answer—the answer is no, we don’t. It seems that the Church of England as an entity, shares a similar authority to the government, and has the power and right to sanction unions between individuals who are British citizens and non-British citizens. Interesting.

I think apart of the reason why or how, this is possible, is that, again, Marriage is taken very seriously by the C of E. As much as I adore Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and his dishy portrayal of Henry VIII in the American television series, “The Tudors,” I won’t waste space here bleating on about how ironic it is that the C of E has some (underscore some) very conservative views about marriage and re-marriage, given its own rather, how shall I put this delicately, complex history on the issue.

Suffice it to say, the D.E.B. and I have been very, very fortunate and blessed. As our union will be a “second time” for both of us, we were required to gain the permission and approval to marry within the C of E from our local vicar. Thankfully, our vicar is a kind, gentle and loving man, who takes a very merciful and compassionate view on the subject. “Marriage is meant to be for life, but sometimes, and it is regrettable, that is not always the case, for whatever reasons.” he said to us. What is hoped is that we can learn from these reasons/failings/mistakes and move forward and be better in the future, because of them.

Unfortunately, not all C of E (and maybe even some Episcopalians, too?) don’t see it this way, and take a more staunch (and I would say unyielding) approach that you get “one shot” at God blessing your union, the next time(s) you’re on you own.

Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair, the Church does provide an alternative. Instead of a full-blown religious wedding ceremony, the couple and their union–which has taken place outside the church—can come to church and have blessing. Call me simple, but this seems much of a muchness to me. How are those two things really different? Surely God’s blessing, is just, God’s blessing. But, what do I know?

And another thing! (I’m on a roll now.) I believe that God is a God of second chances (and for some, maybe even third, four and fifth chances, I don’t know!) I don’t mean to preach a sermon, but, look, life is just too short. If two people love each other, and are coming to the table with serious intentions, what’s the problem? We all make mistakes. Lighten up, C of E! I’d write Rowan (The Archbishop of Canterbury), but I think he has enough on his plate right now…

Speaking of serious intentions, The DEB and I had our official meeting with the vicar one evening in January at the Rectory. We had to share details of our past marriages: what was good about them, and what went wrong. We then had to talk about our relationship, what our hopes, fears, and expectations for the future are/were. Our vicar is awesome. And he has a great sense of humour! I think that helps, a lot.

Still, it can be quite nerve wrecking to think that your future—or at least the version of how you would like to see it played out—is in someone else’s hands. And I think that is what concerns me. The DEB and I gained our vicar’s permission to marry, but if we had had another vicar, we may not have been so lucky.

Okay, it helped that we are also active and regular churchgoers in the parish, and we hadn't just turned up wanting to use the church a “wedding venue.” As the vicar said to me: “It is clear to me that the Church is an active and important of your life, and of who you are as a person, how could I deny you the opportunity of marrying here?” What a gift. And a gift that neither of us takes lightly, because it could just as easily have gone the other way.

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage. – Martin Luther

Two or three Sundays ago was: “Celebration of Marriage Sunday” at St. Peter’s.  It was a very interesting service wherein all the husbands and wives in the congregation re-affirmed their vows and commitments.  The DEB and I remained silent, of course, but we were very hopeful and happy that next year this time, we shall be joining in and doing the same.

The sermon was very thought-provoking and challenged us all to think deeply about this pivotal human relationship. Ultimately, the word to the wise was that Marriage is serious business. The wedding is the public celebration of a very real and very serious commitment. It is a gift from above.

While cooking Sunday lunch that day, I reflected upon my own failings in the past regarding marriage. I acknowledge that I lacked seriousness when I approached this institution in the past. In other words, it was all about “getting married” with very little thought to the concept of “being married,” which ain’t always easy.

For this reason I am glad that the DEB and I are required to attend Marriage Preparation classes. During these sessions, we, and other couples from our parishes, will be reflecting upon “Life after the Wedding.” A very worthy pursuit.

24 February 2009

The Right to Bear Arms

Kate Winslet as "Rose" in Titanic (1997)

I love Kate Winslet. And the thing I love about her is her no nonsense attitude about her figure.  She is utterly unapologetic about her shapely curves, her warm, round womanliness. Hers is a shape that is often at odds with contemporary visions of what a woman should look like, e.g., the countless card-board cut out, stick-insect, body-like-a-mop models who populate the fashion pages.

Body image is a funny thing. I have always prided myself on being quite balanced about my figure, that is, until recently…

Last week was quite a hard week for me. On Wednesday, I found myself breathless, lying on the gym floor. No, I hadn’t fallen. I was lying on the mat practicing a new “arm busting” move Eva’d taught me using the Body Ball. I panted and struggled. I pushed my way through the pain, finished, dropped the ball and closed my eyes.

When I opened them, my gym pal, Julia was standing over me, looking down with an encouraging smile: “You’re doing so well.” she soothed. “Really?” I said, struggling to my feet. “Really?” I asked again, feeling tears forming in my eyes. “Yes,” said Julia. “You can really see a difference.”

I threw my sweaty arms around her and thanked her profusely. After she left, I gathered my things, changed and went for my daily swim. When I came back to shower, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. “Julia was only being nice to you. You haven’t changed at all,” said the judgmental voice in my mind. I limped into the shower and burst into tears. I wept like I have never wept before. I felt so small and alone. Well, may be “small” isn’t the right adjective, here, but you get my point.

Truth be told, I am quite small, height-wise. Small and curvy. A tough combination to combat. In other words, if I were 5 ft. 6, I would have no issues at all. But, alas, ones height—like ones feet—is ones height.

The thing I hate the most are my arms. And, the fact that I lost my mind a chose a strapless, sleeveless wedding gown. Is it possible to have liposuction on your arms? Would I really go that far, if it were possible? I hope not.

My first “Bridal Breakdown” took me very much by surprise. The second one was less surprising, though just as unexpected. The DEB and I were out with friends over the weekend. To be sure, British humour is one thing that an American has to get used to. I’m not talking about the Monty Python, BBC America Brit Com humour, I mean the personal, one-on-one British humour.

Ribbing 1. verb [trans] informal - to tease good-naturedly

Noticing that I was having a glass of wine, instead of the usual beer or ale—that I love—our friends inquired as to my sudden change of heart. “I’m on diet.” I confessed. “And she’s doing so well!” The D.E.B. enthused as he went off to the bar to order the next round of drinks. “Dieting are you?” one of our friends pursued the point further. I failed to see the metaphoric trap door, and ran forward: “Yes, and I’m going to the gym for two hours a day, every day.” “Well, you need to don’t you?“ “Do I, really?” like a fool, I asked honestly. “Yes, you do.” the teasing went further.  I was speechless, stunned and hurt. But, of course, it’s all meant in jest, so you have to laugh along, right?

I felt the tears welling up again, but I put on a brave face, and played the good sport. Don’t want to be labeled as “over sensitive” or as someone who “can’t take a joke.”  All that night, I mused over where the fault lay: in the comment itself, or the way in which I received it. Really, I told myself, I should be confident enough to take such ribbing in my stride.

Later, on our way home, in the car, I could hold my tears no longer. The poor D.E.B., who had had no idea of what had transpired, was completely stunned. He pulled the car over into the nearest lay-by, got out and ran round to my side of the car. He opened my door, and gathered me up in his arms. “I love you just the way you are.”  The D.E.B. kept saying over and over.

We got home and went to bed, I tossed and turned all night. Saturday morning, 5:00 AM. Wide awake, crying and fretting about being a fat bride, with big arms. There was just one thing for it. I must work harder. I lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for the gym to open at 7:00 AM.

I was the first person in the gym that day.  I was there before Eva arrived for work for the day. “What you doing here, so early?” she sleepily said, in her soft Polish voice. I told her the dreadful story of the night before. “You must not worry what people say.” She was right, and before I knew it, I went from weepy to angry. And I had one of the best workouts I have ever had!

I’m still smarting a bit from the teasing the other night, but I am feeling a bit better about my body, and trying to gain (or regain) a sense of balance about it all. Over the weekend, the DEB and I went shopping for wedding attire for him and his groomsmen. We were referred to a place called “The Wedding Barn” – sounds weird, but was actually really, really cool and fun!

Since I already have my dress, I didn’t need to look in the gown area, but did anyway just for giggles. There was a selection of Bridal jackets near the gowns. Eureka! I thought, the cure for big arms. So, I asked to try one on. I took off my shirt—had a camisole on underneath—and tried the little jacket on. “What you are doing that for,” Catherine the shop owner interrupted, “you’ve got really nice arms.” 

“Are you joking, or did someone pay you to say that?” I said, once burnt and twice shy.

So, the quest continues. My first fitting is exactly two weeks from today. And what is today? Today is Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. I can only ask myself: "What Would Kate Winslet Do?" I think she’d have pancakes!

p.s. I have a wonderful new back up plan. I discovered this A-M-A-Z-I-N-G thing called a “Wrapor”. It’s an ingenious little design by Kay McEllin. It combines the elegance of a wrap with the modern style of a shrug or bolero jacket. Kay designs each one individually to match the bride’s dress exactly. Marvelous! Check her out: www.wraporshrug.co.uk

19 February 2009

Birds of a Feather

Dearest A.,
I am glad you're back from the 'savage lands' of the USA! It's been a long sojourn and I'm sure filled with important and excellent things. Good for your Darling English Boy for winning you back for us! It may take time to adjust, but you belong with us!

-- excerpt from a letter from a wonderful English mentor of mine. Dated 12 Feb 2009
This letter arrived just as I have been contemplating my place in this, my new world. I hope that she is right, that I do indeed "belong" here. It feels right, it feels true and best. The longer I remain here, the more at home and at peace I become.

I think one of the absolute smartest decisions I ever made was joining the Barford W.I. It meant putting myself out there, walking into a crowded room full of strangers and saying, "Here I am." But, my life seems to have been full of such moments, so the prospect was not as harrowing for me, as it might be for some. That is not to say that I wasn't shaking in my boots, because I was!

In the W.I. I have found only welcome, friendship and fellowship (or should that be sistership?). Not to mention the fact that my jam-making skills have improved. Improved? They were non-existent before!

More than anything else, the W.I. has provided me with a window into British culture, in all its fascinating--and often side-splitting--glory.

Last month, at our first W.I. meeting of the year, our guest speaker was Nikki Cockayne, a lady Falconer from here in South Warwickshire. (Where was that on "Career Day"? She has a super job. She trains birds for television costume dramas, theatre and films.)

Here is an extract from the Barford W.I. President's meeting report:

At the January meeting members were delighted to be introduced to Pedro, Winston, Shylock and Mopsa by Nikki Cockayne. These were birds of prey – a kestrel, a falcon, a barn owl and a tawny owl.
They were all stunning and Nikki gave a fascinating talk and demonstration with her birds. Several members were brave enough to hold the birds on a well-gloved hand and get up close and personal. There was not too much flying around (by the birds) so those of a nervous disposition were fine. Thanks must go to Louise Cleife who efficiently did the equivalent job of the man behind the horse with the shovel!

The President's report only touches upon the sheer hilarity of this meeting. One the birds took flight and actually landed on a member's head! We all laughed until we cried. And I fulfilled a dream of holding a kestrel on my arm.

From birds to birdbrains...

Later in the month, the Barford W.I. were set to compete in the Warwickshire Round of the annual "Federation of Women's Institutes Quiz Challenge." This was to become my first true introduction to the British phenomenon that is "The Quiz Night".

The Barford W.I. is renowned in these parts for making a very strong showing in the annual quiz. Last year, the Barford Team made it as far as the finals! As a newbie, I could but dream of what one day might be.

The Barford W.I. 2008 Warwickshire Quiz Teams: "Barford 1" and "Barford 2," had been selected long before I joined. But, as the fates would have it, the Team 1 stalwart, Hilary, was laid low by the flu, and a Reserve Member was needed.

For me, proud nerd, devout history buff, and ferocious Trivial Pursuit player that I am, this was my moment, my dream came true, my hope beyond hope! I thought to myself, all I have to do is shine like a star, help the team WIN and my place in the Barford line-up, and Quiz History, would be set!

Oh, the naive ambitions of the proud and foolhardy. During the long-ish car journey to the Quiz, as we navigated the dark, foggy, Warwickshire back roads, Ann, the driver, mused aloud with a smile, "Gosh, I do hope I have prepared enough." Prepared? Prepared what? I panicked to myself quietly. "Well, I did remember to memorise the current and past Presidents of W.I." Diane remarked softly in her warm Scottish accent. "Oh, we'll be all right then." Sue, sitting next me, said reassuringly. Heaven help me, what have I got myself into, was all I could think.

Clearly, this was to be no ordinary "take your chances" Quiz game. This fact was confirmed as soon as I had arrived along with the rest of "Barford 1" to the village hall in Ashorne. All the women present were sociable and friendly, but one thing was clear: these ladies were serious, and they were taking no prisoners. Every single woman there was "in it, to win it."

Some W.I.'s had even attempted to increase their odds by putting forth more than two teams! (And in some cases, more than 3 teams!!) Personally, I think this is a grossly unfair advantage. But that could just be a case of sour grapes. Yes, we lost. And, we lost big. "Barford 1" came in 8th out of 21. ("Barford 2" came in 10th.)

But the embarrassment wasn't just limited to the end result. Oh no, I also successfully managed to embarrass myself and my team, completely. Being unused to "proper Quiz etiquette," I committed a heinous, public faux pas.

At the end of round one, the Adjudicator stood up to announce the first round scores. A hush fell upon the room. She began solemnly: "Barford 1...8 points." At which point, possessed by a spirit of impending victory (or insanity), I yelped. Aloud. No, truth be told, it was more of "rebel yell," although, more of a "Whoo-hoo!" than a "Yee-haw!" Nevertheless, it was utterly inappropriate.

All around me, a sea of bemused British female faces. That is, apart from my team mates, god bless them, sweet Barfordian souls that they are. Blushing, red faced and a little taken aback, they were nonetheless amused by my extreme team pride and enthusiasm.

Thankfully, the Quiz Mistress also smiled, and with her gesture, it seemed that the air returned to the room. My cheeks burned with the thought of whispers going 'round the room: "She's American."

How had I allowed myself to become a "loud, American" cliche? Perhaps, this cliche, is not so cliche, after all?...

My feeling of "having let down the side" continued as the Quiz progressed. Determined to prove my smarts I was ready to "rock 'n roll"--as I am often wont to do--in Arts, Literature and Popular Culture. I dazzled my team by knowing Madonna's proper name (Madonna Louise Ciccone).

But, then, the humiliating change of fortune as I was blindsided by two questions centred on iconic Americana: "In what American city was Coca Cola invented?" I KNEW the answer was Atlanta, but I didn't trust myself, and said: "Chicago."

Then, the ultimate: "What was Judy Garland's real name?" If only this had been the sort of quiz where you can phone a friend. I mean, really I should know this! I used to live in the West Village, for goodness sake, just blocks away from Stonewall, and how many gay men do I know??! And, I worked in the theatre! But, for all that, I could not recall her name to save my life. Of course, I know now that it is: Frances Ethel Gumm. I will go my grave knowing that name. ARRGH!!!

"Never mind," said Diane in her soothing Scots voice. But I did mind. And, I vowed to myself then and there that I would redeem my wounded reputation. A week later, I gave Di a call: "There's a quiz on up at The Granville next week, let's do it."

Di is splendid, and always up for a quiz challenge. The ever supportive and super-smart D.E.B. made our third team member. We were ready.

"This is going to fun." The D.E.B. said, putting his arm around me as we huddled together against the cold, and walked up to our favo(u)rite water hole. "Fun?!" I exclaimed, "No, we have to win."

To my surprise, the atmosphere at the Granville Pub Quiz was completely different to that of the W.I. quiz. (Where, I failed to mention, two teams nearly came to blows disputing the correctness of an answer.) All the teams at the Granville Quiz had very cute or cheeky names. The D.E.B. dubbed us "Shakespeare in Love" -- as it was a pre-Valentine's Day quiz. There was one team present who called themselves: "Norfolk and Chance" (say it fast, and with a slight Irish accent). And funnily enough they did walk away with the wooden spoon for having the lowest score.

This quiz was so much fun! Everyone laughed and joked. The wine flowed, and all the questions seem to fall in our favo(u)r: "Which pop diva played Wallis' girlfriend on the American television sitcom 'Different Strokes'?"; "The line 'If music be the food of love, play on' is from what Shakespeare play?" Excellent.

We blasted through the Classic Film round (Thank you, Dr. Zhivago!); and Di and The DEB rocked out in the "Character Couples" round that wanted to know the names of British soap opera pairs and partners, even though neither of them watch much telly. The DEB reigned supreme on science and technology, and shocked me by knowing some obscure fact about Christina Aguilera. But my absolute favorite moment was the "All or Nothing" round.

The "All or Nothing" round, as the title suggests, is exactly what it implies. You answer as many questions as you can, but if you get any answers wrong in that section, you lose the entire section, right answers and wrong ones alike. Of course the point is to get as many as you can absolutely right, but there's no room for guessing.

So, in this round, the last question of the night surfaced: "What is the name of Hank's wife, in the American television cartoon series 'King of the Hill'?"

I closed my eyes. Peggy. A voice in my head whispered. I knew I was right, but I wasn't sure. I could hear the Southern drawl of the be-spectacled, cartoon Everyman, Hank, saying her name. "Peggy," I said aloud softly to my team mates. Di's eyebrows lifted and she smiled, "You sure?" I took a breath, and said "...Yes..."

Without hesitating, The DEB wrote the answer down onto our sheet. The Adjudicator came round to collect the sheets. "Wait!" I implored, "What if I'm wrong?" "Sweetheart," said the rock-steady DEB, taking my hand in his, "it's just game."

As the scores were tallied, I apologised profusely to my beloved team mates. Then, after "Norfolk 'n Chance" were awarded the "Wooden Spoon" for their total of 11 points, "Shakespeare in Love" were declared the winners with 81 points! This time, the rebel yell was a collective one! "Whoo-woo" and "Yee-haw," indeed!!

My chum, Di, with a fine, feathered friend

16 February 2009

The Agony of 'De Feet', or, Why am I dreaming of shoes?

What is it about shoes? I have decided that our "shoe obsession" comes down to the fact that, unlike our bellies, backsides or thighs, our feet are the one part of our bodies that we cannot control or change. So, we are released from agonising or worrying about them. In other words, you just accept that your feet are your feet

That's not to say that our feet are exempt from being a source of frustration from time to time, of course they can be. But, at the end of the day, no matter how much you salivate over a beautiful pair of Manolo Size 38's, if your foot is a size 40 or 35, tough luck.

No amount of dieting, exercise or bribery is going to significantly alter your shoe size. There may be a few tears in the offing, but we do move on from such episodes with relative and incredible ease. 

We are able in a most effable way to make peace with our feet and our shoe size. We are even able to reconcile ourselves to our own individual, pedial limitations (e.g., inability to wear nose-bleed high heels for extended periods of time, and etc.), granting our feet a level of clemency that would be unimaginable to our more fleshy and recalcitrant limbs and bodily parts.   

"Just wanted to drop you line to say hello. No need to reply, just get in touch after your festivities this summer, when all the wedding stuff isn't eating your brain."        - Message from a high school chum who recently found me on Facebook

The current wedding dilemma "eating my brain" is shoes, glorious shoes. Bridal shoes are serious business. And, apparently, they are now the ultimate "statement" accessory (Thank you, Carrie Bradshaw), and as one friend advised me: "The shoes you choose are the definitive expression of your bridal personality." 

Bridal personality?! Oy vey. What a load of old rubbish, I thought when I heard that. But, now, I am obsessed with the idea. What is my "Bridal Personality"? And, how can one wee pair of shoes convey all that is my personality? 

Digging a bit deeper into this, the true "dilemma" is how in this one, brief, shining, important moment I am meant to capture and express "all that is me". That is a hefty order. And I think I might need more than one pair of shoes to do that...

Here are just a few of the ideas that have been dancing in my head...


How about these for a little "something blue"? These little beauties are designed and hand-made in Scotland by Caroline Thompson for Mandarina. Caroline's designs have a delightfully vintage aesthetic, and she uses fabrics that are always lush: silk, velvet, brocade, to die for...  £165.00 GBP 


Red is all the rage. These are Spanish, by Farfalla.  (on eBay.co.uk for £50. GBP)


Traditionalists, breathe a sigh of relief. Aren't these darling?! Kate Spade, of course. $300. USD


                     I nearly wept when I saw these. Electric Blue Roses by Karen Millen.                                            (on eBay.uk for £200. GBP)

10 February 2009

The “Feel Good Factor” (No snobs allowed!)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Who knew? For once in my life I am actually ahead of a trend.

I sat down this snowy, Monday afternoon to have a cup of tea and a leisurely read of yesterday’s Sunday Times. I pulled the Style magazine gleefully from its cellophane wrapper, and, I swear, just as finished perusing the cover, which declared: “Jourdan Dunn on ‘Why Oxfam’s the New Prada’” – there was a hefty knock on our front door. It was the postman, dutifully delivering two large parcels: Flower girl dresses that I’d just purchased last week, from, you guessed it, Oxfam!!

Let me explain, I somehow missed that vital female shopping gene, the one that enables a woman to endear countless stores (and shop assistants) for hours upon hours, the capacity to survive as the last girl standing in the quest to “shop till you drop.”

Frankly, and I know I risk my forfeiting my “Girl License” here, but, truth be told, I get bored. And my feet start to hurt. I get cranky, fussy and tired. I recall a notable shopping episode some time ago, in downtown Manhattan, when I was out with my wonderful, dapper, gay, male best friend. He stopped, mid-shopping stride, in T. J. Maxx, and turned to me and enquired: “Do you need your diaper (nappy) changed, or what?”

Online shopping was invented for me. But, while I may lack the essential female “Shop till you drop” gene, I do have the standard “never trust it, unless you can see it” fear that most people have about buying things off their laptops.

So, as the fates would have it, I had to venture out. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to have the D.E.B.’s two utterly adorable, and truly angelic goddaughters as Flower Girls in our wedding. Thus began a quest to find two, identical Flower Girl dresses. Easy-peasy, I thought.

Who was I kidding?! While I was in town working at the Shakespeare Trust last week, I did a brief investigation, just to see what was out there. I dragged myself through Laura Ashley (nothing) and Monsoon (nothing). Then, took a deep breathe and tackled the big guns: Debenhams and BHS (British Home Stores). I was quite surprised at what I found. Beautiful, gorgeous, divine, little dresses. The stuff of little princess dreams. Taffeta, Organza, Silk, Chiffon, Charmeuse. You name it. With prices to match, of course.

That’s another point. Why, I often wonder, that no matter what the item is, if you place the word “wedding” or “bride” in front of it, the price suddenly quadruples! And, people are willing to pay it! Don’t get me wrong, I adore “The Angel Goddaughters,” and want them to have nothing but the best. But let’s face it. The girls are 7 and 10 years old. So, at best, on the day, they will wear their dresses for what? Roughly 3-4 hours, tops? 

And, at the worst, they will probably have outgrown these dresses altogether before they even have another opportunity to wear them a second time. Ta da! Another instance of: “Romance vs. Practicality.” Add to this equation one’s desire to be frugal and thrifty, and you have the recipe for a right royal headache!

Enter: Oxfam.  The solution was right at my fingertips.

“The time is right for charity shopping to come into its own.” – Sarah Farquhar, Oxfam Retail Operations

Oxfam now has a brilliant online charity shop, where you can peruse the fashion (and other) offerings of a variety of its numerous shops across Britain. Who even knew that they have a dedicated Bridal Collection?! As an added bonus, once you find an item you like the look of, the website gives you details and contact information for the local Oxfam shop offering that item, so it is possible to go and see the item in the flesh before you purchase, if you so wish.

What’s nice about this online shop is that you are able to see a selection of items from Oxfam shops, beyond the one in your local vicinity. What could be more heavenly: Thift, convenience and a cup of tea.

Now, to do the impossible: Find two identical Flower Girl dresses in two different sizes. To be honest, I held out very little hope of finding the like on Oxfam.com or another such outlet, i.e., eBay and etc. I mean, come on, TWO, IDENTICAL dresses? Well, worth a gander at least, I thought. And what do you know! Voila!  

Lo and behold, Oxfam had a flurry of flower girl dresses, and--shock of century-- two identical BHS flower girl dresses in sizes 7-8 and 9-10. (God, I hope they fit!) Before making the purchase, I dropped a line to the Oxfam shop in question (in Market Harborough, Leiceistershire) to check on particulars: were the dresses White or Ivory? Were they truly identical, as they were listed separately? Detailing? and, etc.

I had a friendly and speedy reply from Kate, the manager. Kate kindly sent me additional photographs of the dresses, including close ups of the lovely silk bodices, and more images of the detailing. Her note was so sweet, she said: “I’m sorry to inform you that the dresses are not solid Ivory. There is a bit of lilac embroidery on the silk bodice. Hope this will be okay?”

I nearly fell out of my chair, and you could have knocked me over with a feather! Suddenly, these only “hopeful” dresses, where now utterly ideal! (The DEB and I have decided on a “lavender” theme for our wedding.)

Kate signed off by saying: “If the dresses don’t work for you, feel free to return them.” Excellent. Without taking a breath, I logged on and purchased them both immediately.

After I made my purchase, another message from Kate:

“Thank you for your purchase, Alycia. You will have an extra bright smile on your day because you know that you haven't been fleeced, but also because those dresses are putting food in the mouths of babes.”

You can’t really argue with that.

Kate also shared with me the extraordinary recent example: Her shop recently sold a St. Patrick wedding gown, brand new. (Yes, she did say a brand new St. Patrick) Original price - £1,800.  ($2,655.75 USD) Oxfam price - £750. ($1,106.18 USD) Kate added: “Ok [the Oxfam price is still] a lot of money, but it will go an awfully long way.”

Due to snow and Royal Mail Second Class parcel delivery, I have been eagerly awaiting my Oxfam parcels for almost a week. They arrived today, and they are even mre gorgeous than I even imagined! They are absolutely flawless and in immaculate condition. And what a bargain! The same dresses available from BHS’s wedding collection (bhs.co.uk) are £65.00 ($96.00 USD), each. I got them from Oxfam for £14.99 ($22.09 USD) each!!

Not only is this the smart option for the thrifty-minded, it is a choice that, as Kate said, comes with a guaranteed feel-good factor. Everybody wins.

Have a look: Oxfam Bridal Collection

05 February 2009

"If like a crab you could go backwards…”

Old habits are hard to break.  I’ve spent the past week freelance teaching at the Shakespeare Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. Working on Shakespeare, debate and argumentation with groups of 13-16 year old GSCE students from parts of Birmingham and the Black Country (English West Midlands).

When offered, I jumped at the chance. I love Shakespeare, and I love sharing Shakespeare with others. And so, how did I fare, on this, my return to the classroom in x-number of months?

Well, to be honest, it just felt like “work.” That is not to say that I had no joy in it at all. I did enjoy myself, but, I was completely and utterly drained even after just my first day “back in the grind,” as my friend in Philadelphia would say. Have I missed it? No. Not at all. But it is like riding a bicycle. You never, ever forget how to do it.

There is a “teacher” switch that flips on in your head, that throws you into “high-energy overdrive.” And it is precisely this  “up-up-up-motivational-mode” that starts to get a bit old after a while. Last night in the pub, our friend, Diane, said to me: “Gosh, I can’t imagine what it must have been like, working and teaching like that flat out everyday in New York.” And as I think about it now, neither can I. The stamina, the energy, the madness. These things, I do not miss.

I have become quite comfortable with my simple writerly life here in rural South Warwickshire. It is funny to me that not so long ago, I was weeping for my ‘career wardrobe’ languishing in my new country closet. But now that I have started to take myself seriously as a writer, I cannot think of being or doing anything else.  Everything else is a just tedium, a means to an end, a distraction.

But, there is something more.  Of course, it is nice to have the extra dosh/cash that guest lecturing provides, but it provides something else, too, does it not? Dare I say it: Respectability. When I take on these little Shakespeare stints, I’m not just a “stay-at-home-writer,” I’m a “Part-Time Lecturer and stay-at-home- writer.”  However, the delusion is my own, and really, and I am fooling no one but myself.

Respectability, what does it mean? Why are we as human beings so concerned about how other see us, rate and/or approve of us?

One day this week, I had lunch with Tracey, a young teacher from Sandwell. We had a lot in common, both being graduates from Birmingham University’s School of English. “I’m a writer,” I explained when she asked about my career. “I’m a writer, and a Shakespeare scholar.” I shocked myself. This was the first time I had spoken these words, in this order. In the past, I have always put “scholar” first.

Tracey was fascinated. “How interesting, “she said, “You know, there are just some people who defy ‘the boxes’, y’know, you can’t place them in a box? You are definitely one of those people.”

May be she's right.