Winning Differently

Seeing things through. Honouring your commitments. Giving your all. Noble thoughts, and laudable goals indeed, but are they always the best route to peace and happiness?

Stop pushing yourself

This week, as I was leaving the office after a hectic day, I faced a dilemma. I had a life coach networking event to attend and, boy, did I not want to go. All I could think about was a hot bath, a glass of wine and a comedy show that would relax my over-taxed brain. But wait, the type-A/achiever/self-motivator demon living inside me shouted: “You’ll regret not going and slobbing on the sofa when you could be making valuable new contacts!” I phoned a friend. “Don’t go”, she said, “You’ll regret going because if it’s anything other than insanely useful, you’ll just sit there wishing you’d listened to yourself and headed home”.


It took a lot of effort for me to overcome the dire sense that I was copping out – baling on something I’d said I would do. (Said to whom? Just myself and my diary!) And yet… as I unwound at home, I didn’t regret staying in one bit. It didn’t feel like laziness or doing myself out of opportunities. It felt something a little like… self-care.

Help those who would be helped

It has been theorised that when you decide to buy a red car, you start seeing red cars everywhere. In that spirit, a coaching client this week brought me a second example of when giving up is far from giving in. She was bewailing her failed attempts to help a friend, complaining that the friend just wouldn’t listen and was impossible to help: “I sometimes think my friend doesn’t want my help.” Ah, there it is. My powerful coaching question: “So, if this person doesn’t want help, what’s the result of trying to help him against his will?”


Cue fireworks, glass shattering, earth ceasing to rotate on its axis for a split second. “Yes”, said my client slowly, wrapping her mind around my unexpected enquiry, “I can only really help people who want to be helped. The rest is just a waste of energy.” When faced with intransigence and a lack of willing, insistence can only lead to frustration and even conflict; sometimes giving up is an act of self-protection and kindness.

Why shout them down?

I have recently been grappling with a difficult relationship with a work colleague. She does not listen. I don’t mean she hears what I say then ignores my recommendations. No, worse: she literally doesn’t let anyone speak – she cuts people off, talks over them; I even saw her get up and leave the room when another co-worker was midway through answering a question she had asked. This kind of behaviour pushes all my buttons. A lack of consideration for anyone else’s contribution to the discussion (otherwise known as interrupting, not letting you finish, finishing your sentence for you) is a personal bête noire.

This week I realised (finally) that I was never going to change this woman (see my previous point!), and I am certainly not willing to shout in order to be heard. So I decided I’d just stop. Stop trying to make her hear, stop trying to give her my opinion, stop attempting to converse with her at all, in fact. And, oh, the relief! Essentially, I’ve decided that if she doesn’t want to hear me, I won’t waste my breath. I’ll give up, and in doing so, I’ll conserve my energy and spend it on someone who wants to listen and who shows me enough courtesy to deserve my precious time!


Obviously, powering through is sometimes the best course of action – who wants to be someone who doesn’t follow through or get anything done? But it’s essential to identify those times when the wiser course of action is to stop trying so hard, walk away from a damaging situation, or abandon a toxic project or relationship. Sometimes giving up is not equivalent to losing the war but to picking your battles.

Thinking Pink

It is hard for me to pin point the true foundation of my obsession with pale pink. Is it the beautiful pale satin ballet pumps, which I still wear as shoes in the summeriest of months? Or perhaps my Mama’s beautifully-destroyed pointe shoes that hang around my home like trophies of a past career. I adore the ballet, and often work with ballerinas so the link there is clear. It reminds me of my childhood; my mother was a dance teacher and I used to attend all of her classes, whatever level she was teaching. The sound of the pointe shoes of the Corps moving across a stage is one of my favourite sounds of all time. My biggest regret is giving up ballet. That and ever smoking my first cigarette. Which actually brings me onto my second wave of pale pink obsession – those teen consuming Pink Ladies jackets. My preference is actually Stephanie Zinone’s version in Grease 2; it was cool, silky and reversible and I still want it now.

pink 1

The problem with pinks is that they generally are seen as ‘girly’. I have several be-babied friends and a regular request is ‘no pink’. As a non-childholder myself, I often think this is a mean ploy to entrap strangers into taking wild 50/50 chances as to the sex of the baby. Of course I would say that, I am one of those un-babied people who thinks all parents and or marrieds have some weird secret code whereby they must punish singles for any decisions they made to the contrary of their own fully paid-up family life.

I like that my association with pink is both romantic and delicate (ballet) and tough and cool (Rizzo). There is a art to selecting the right shade of pink. It is an art that fashion maestro Marc Jacobs found when designing his Marc by collection for S/S ’14; not only was there pale pink, but it was exactly the right pale pink. Pale pink, low slung, wide-legged trousers from heaven. Colours and fabrics that reminded me of jockeys silks and cheerleaders, and a more structured slouchy suit oozing luxury and coolness in a grown-up way. Carven and Simone Rocha also championed this hue last season, although it was a little punchier in the heavier woollen fabrics used for A/W collections.

pink 2

My pink rules used to be simple; shoes, nails, silk-satin quilted vintage bed jackets were a ‘Yes’, everything else, a ‘No’. This season has truly turned everything on its head and like a child obsessed with becoming actual Barbie in the 1950’s. I want coats and trousers and lipstick and suits, oh MY!

In order to keep pink sharp it needs some cool. Trainers work, black leather is good, and so is white – Converse, Saint Laurent, Air Max, Superga, Dunlop green flash and Stan Smiths – whatever takes your fancy, but try and keep them boxfresh to keep the scruffy teen dream away from this look. Otherwise I propose leopard as a modern bedfellow for Pink. Let’s be clear though, this is NOT tight sexy leopard. Think chic, oversized, 1960′s-inspired and you’re there. A big slouchy leopard print coat with an Olsen Twins bag lady vibe? Perfection.

leopard coats

Patent fabric looks set to hang around for a little longer, so whilst investing in a pale pink patent skirt may be verging into fetish wear territory, this is the time to have a go if you’ve ever fancied it. I would recommend A-line mini or pencil styles only, worn with thick woollen tights and a fitted polo neck. Cool bright or printed heels easily de-princess pink, and Sophia Webster has come up trumps with these metallic heart-decorated pumps. The British Cordwainers and RCA alumni won the Emerging Talent Award at the British Fashion Awards last year, and there is a reason for that – her shoes are frivolous, fun and the perfect antidote to this frankly ridiculous weather.

I always advocate the need to balance a look. Tight top plus baggy trousers and vice versa. A batwing shirt with a pair of Hepburn-esque cigarette pants? Yes. A long sleeved roll neck with Oxford Bags? Absolutely. After you’ve chosen your pink piece, the rest of your outfit should be A. the same colour, and B. a neutral colour. Please note that black and white/cream are the irregular verbs here, otherwise navy works well as do browns and nude. Actually other pastels look great too, but I would generally limit these to accessories to avoid looking too saccharine. And of course polka dots are totally acceptable, likewise stripes, and contrast collars!

pink picks

What is great about the pink love is that it’s an investment colour. It was big for A/W ’13 and just as prevalent on the runways of S/S ’2014. Get something now and it’s guaranteed to work for the next couple of seasons – it’s fashion maths that makes sense.  And this brings me on to my last piece of practical advice; I strongly recommend that you lock down an amazing dry cleaner before embarking this craze with too much gusto. Purest palest truest most delectable pink attracts drinks and dirt like you would never believe, no matter how much of a lady you are…

Wonder Women 2013

Politicians and businesswomen, charity campaigners and journalists, these are some of the women who have been inspiring us over the past year…

Elena Rossini

Elena Rossini has worked tirelessly for the past five years to create The Illusionists: a 90-minute documentary about distorted body image and the toxic marketing of unattainable beauty – and in 2013 she reached the final stages of post-production! Rossini funded the project using a Kickstarter campaign in order to ensure full control and to be able to tell us the whole, explosive truth. I can’t wait to see this film make waves on the festival circuit in 2014. Nominated by Pippa Rimmer.

Jyoti Singh Pandey

Jyoti Singh Pandey – better known to the media and the public as Nirbhaya – changed the world in 2013. Sadly Nirbhaya (which means ‘fearless one) wasn’t able to see the difference she made, as she died in hospital nearly two weeks after being brutally gang-raped and attacked on a bus in New Delhi last December, sending shockwaves across the globe and causing other women to speak out about sexual and physical abuse they had suffered. Women’s rights groups called for change, self-defence classes were set up and protesters campaigned in India and beyond to show that enough is enough. A play directed by Yael Farber, simply named Nirbhaya, also made a strong impact this year, covering the events of December 2012 alongside the personal stories of cast members, telling their own harrowing experiences of ‘gender-based violence’; it was a powerful and deeply moving performance that left most of the audience in tears when I saw it at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Jyoti Singh Pandey may no longer be with us, but we won’t forget her, and others like her. Nominated by Polly Allen.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael

In February 2013, Stacy-Marie Ishmael launched #awesomewomen, a free weekly newsletter linking professional women across continents. Sent on Sundays, the email provides links to career and leadership articles as well as opportunities, job-related and otherwise, created by other members of the network. #awesomewomen is symptomatic of Stacy-Marie’s habit of doing things to change the status quo, rather than whinge about it. For instance, rather than complaining about the rarity of female public speakers, she set up an online public speaking workshop with EdTechWomen, and then applied her own advice during aTEDxPortofSpain talk in November. And this is just what she does on her free time. Her full-time job, since September, has been as the Financial Times‘ first ever VP of communitiesNominated by Lucie Goulet.

Martha Lane Fox

Also known as Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (seriously, how fabulous is that?), in March 2013, Lane Fox became the House of Lords’ youngest female member. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the founder of and business wonder woman. She’s a digital champion regularly featured in the media, but many may not realise that Lane Fox has had to overcome adversity and challenging personal circumstances. In 2004, she was seriously injured in a car accident, sustaining multiple fractions and eventually undergoing more than 20 operations. Lane Fox may be a brilliant businesswoman, but she’s also a survivor.

My Mother

My inspirational woman of 2013 was my mother, Walkiria. After a 25-year career in investment banking, she has followed her lifelong dream of becoming a counsellor. Originally from a deprived background in Sao Paulo, Brazil, her story has been one of great inspiration to so many people. She was brave enough to move to London in hopes of a better life for her family at 17, and recently had the courage to leave her job and join university although she’s in her fifties. She has taught me that regardless of your age, background or circumstances, it is always possible to reinvent and redefine who you are. Having qualified just this month, I am so proud of what she has become and continues to achieve. Nominated by Bianca Bass.

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Since she founded Kids Company in 1996, Camila Batmanghelidjh has helped over 17,000 of the most vulnerable children and young people in London with practical support and advice. Instantly recognisable for her bold, colourful outfits, the former psychotherapist has devoted her life to working with disadvantaged children, with the charity’s centres providing a safe and caring environment. The fact that Batmanghelidjh is severely dyslexic and cannot use a computer makes her achievement even more inspiring.

Ruby Tandoh

I’m not a fan of baking, much less of reality TV, so The Great British Bake Off was never going to be on my must-watch list. And although Ruby Tandoh hasn’t, by any means, revolutionised society, she has created in change in a small, simple way that we all can relate to. Unlike other famous-for-five-minutes reality show survivors, her behaviour has been exemplary and I genuinely feel that she’s a credible role model for teenagers and young women. Putting her moment in the limelight to good use, in the aftermath of the BBC2 series, Tandoh spoke out and confronted the misogynistic criticism that the contestants had received via social media. She’s since gone on to affirm that yes, she is a feminist – and she’s even written a few comment pieces for The Guardian. We can’t all change the world, and 99.99% of us won’t be Nobel Prize winners. But we can take action in our own small, simple way. And every day is an opportunity to do that. Nominated by Alice Revel.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, published in 2013, would be impressive if it were written by a 60-year-old politician. That it’s the life story of a girl of just sixteen makes it an astonishing read, and my recommendation for anyone looking for some New Year inspiration for 2014. Malala was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan in 2012, after years of campaigning for girls’ rights in the country. Rather than silence her, as the Taliban attack intended, Malala gained worldwide fame and her calls for education for all have been heard around the world, and last year she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest ever nominee. I have high hopes for this young wonder woman. Nominated by Katie Wright.

Jo Swinson

As Junior Equalities Minister, the Liberal Democrat MP is known for championing issues such as equal pay and opportunities, body image and shared parental leave. Over 2013, we’ve seen Swinson involved in campaigns against airbrushing, LGBT bullying and unpaid internships, and it’s so exciting to see a woman spearheading change and bringing these questions to the fore.

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Every other week, radio journalist Ashley Milne-Tyte broadcasts The Broad Experience, a 20-minutes long podcast about women in the workplace. My two favourite shows this year: overcome the guilt which too often holds women back, featuring an interview with another wonder woman, Mrs Moneypenny, and Lean In, the women in the workplace book of 2013. The podcasts are a one-woman production, with Milne-Tyte selecting and researching the topics, conducting the interviews and recording in her little cupboard at home. Her expertise and passion show through and with every episode, you’re guaranteed to pick up advice applicable to multiple work situations, turning The Broad Experience into something akin to one way mentoring. Nominated by Lucie Goulet.

Laura Bates

I was lucky enough to see the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project at a talk a few weeks ago, and the way she described the people that get in touch with her each day almost moved me to tears. Laura Bates has given an outlet to women of all ages who face sexist abuse, that otherwise would not have existed. She gives a voice to those who perhaps would not have told their stories of discrimination or harassment and documents how far behind society still is in the fight for equality between men and women. Nominated by Sian Hunter.

Big. Sexy. Pants.

I have just tidied my knicker drawer. I have realised that, at the age of 33, I have turned into my mother. For 30 years, I have rebelled against her knicker neatness, but it has finally taken hold. I am sure she will be thrilled. Actually she probably hexed me in retrospect. Boy, does that lady love an organised knicker drawer. I must ask my sister if she has got there yet, she is messier with her clothes than I.


Anyway, what I have noticed is that my aforementioned knicker drawer is (now) organised into sections. There are the day knickers and weird unworn thongs (why do I seemingly have hundreds, I think I may have worn one, once?). There are massive, elastic-less, greying ‘period pants’ that must never see the light of day (cue mortification should a partner ever witness them on or even off the body) and some which can only be classed as Sexy Pants, which just do not ever see the light of day. The bra side is essentially split the same: sexy, uncomfortable and never worn, everyday comfortable cropped tops, slighter racier crop tops (you know for dates and low v-tees and the like), and this strange section which includes the Sexy Bras which I have no idea why I ever bought as they look like implements of torture/are ridiculous. I have just put these in my styling kit – someone else can look ridiculous in them.


This tidying has brought to light that I really like and only wear really big pants. A styling secret of joy is to avoid VPL by buying knickers at least one if not two sizes bigger as the lines are minimised when they are not digging in. But I think my love of the big pant goes further than this. When I say big, I mean really big.

This came about because one of my pet hates is the so called Muffin Top. Jeans are often cut with low rises and A. it looks gross and B. that bit gets cold in the winter. I am a tucker-in, and everyone I style is tucked-in. I even tuck my t-shirts in, but I always feel conscious of ‘that’ bit. It’s so hard to find jeans that actually fit (regular readers of this column will have read my Open Letter rant to denim – before the open letter became more vogue than denim itself, see Sinead O Connor, Anthony Hopkins), but my main issue apart from the length and fit and expense, is that if you wear high-waisted you are likely to have to accept ‘Mum Bum’ and if you wear normal cuts you have to succumb to Muffin Top.

Here’s the thing. The high-waisted knicker solves this. Yes, I love the high-waisted knicker. I love it so much I wore a pair in accessory designer Emmanuel Katsaros’ Short Film for Autumn Winter 2012. With a shirt. Tucked in. I really enjoy feeling together. It’s a feeling you get in a high-waisted big knicker, and apart from the fact that seeing peoples allegedly sexy, lacy, brightly-coloured thongs makes me want to gag, there is a place for the big knicker in Sexy Society. Think Dita, think Marilyn, think the Fifties Pin Ups….if the underwear you are wearing is not for you but a partner, you are very welcome to convince me they wont find a confident, 50’s style, vintage sex siren version of you sexy. I dare you.


Gina Bradbury-Budd seemingly felt the same when she took matters into her own hands after fruitless trawls for knickers that weren’t thongs, low rise or granny pants. I am very glad she did. Sexy Big Pants is her brainchild and they are the best thing ever. A capsule range of flattering black knickers for women who want to look sexy, and like me, don’t think fluro pink thongs or crotchless panties equal sexy.


Her SBP’s have Italian lace inserts, mesh panels, bows and embroidery, with a cotton gusset – hurrah! What’s really great is that they make you feel good, no one can see them and they are not Spanx, squeezing you within an inch of your final breath. Who gets the tube in Spanx? Who microwaves soup in Spanx? There is a time and a place, sure, I get that, but every morning to go to work is not the one surely? I would recommend the ‘Millie’ for everyday wear if your knickers will be seen above a waistband, I think the plainness on sight is cute, too much lace on show and you most likely to be creating the wrong impression. The more intricate pieces work under high-waisted trousers, skirts and dresses though.


Wearing a high-waisted knicker makes you feel different. There is something sexy about wearing something that feels so Pin-up-y under your t-shirt and jeans, and there is something about a high waist that makes you stand up properly. Women of all shapes and sizes are sexy, and these knickers don’t squash and squeeze you into another shape, they give you the confidence to be the shape you are. Who doesn’t want to feel like that everyday? Even if it is in secret, oh what lies beneath! Join the revolution to banish the muffin top and Get Sexy, Big, Pants.

The Careers Coach

Growing up, for me, the theme tune of Howards Way on a Sunday night signalled the impending doom of bedtime and school the next day. It’s a depressing thought that for many of us now in adulthood, we’re still experiencing that slight (or not so slight) sense of dread as the weekend closes. It can be a good idea to ask ourselves whether our anxious feelings are something to be addressed or whether we’ve simply got in to a bad habit of hating Mondays. Here are some things to help with that Sunday feeling whilst you figure it out.

sunday nights

Make a to-do list on Friday

A lot can happen over the weekend, which can have a slight amnesic effect when you find yourself back at your desk the following week. Rather than spending your Sunday night feeling edgy about what you may or may not have to do when you’re back at work, make a list of tasks on Friday for the week ahead. You’ll feel much more prepared and in control by the time Monday morning arrives.

Eat well and not too late

The later you eat in the evening, the less time you’re giving yourself to digest your food. This can lead to a lot of surplus energy in the body which can keep you awake and often in a cycle of thinking about what you’ve got on the next day. Eat earlier so that sleep is all that’s on your mind.

eat early

Plan something different to do

Keeping to a routine for our Sunday nights can feel like it should be reassuring but sometimes it’s perpetuating habits of anxiety. Shake things up a little and do something different, like going to the cinema or going for a walk. It’s a nice distraction for an over-active mind and Sundays will start to feel different.

Don’t delay going to bed

Watching TV or messing around on your computer late in to the night might seem like a nice distraction but it’s counterproductive. All the screen work means you can over-stimulate your mind which leads to poor sleep and a potentially rough start to the week. Downton and then bed.


Think about your experience

If you’ve tried all the above and the feelings aren’t going away, ask yourself if being gripped by fear every Sunday night is really worth it. Clearly you’re not enjoying how you’re spending your time so acknowledge this rather than avoid it. There are always other options. Be brave and start exploring what yours might be.

Finding Time

We all get just 24 hours in our day, so how come some people seem to manage to find time for everything and others are permanently rushing? 


The most common complaint I hear from friends, colleagues and coaching clients is some variant of “I would like to, but I don’t have time”. I don’t have time to exercise, take up a hobby, read more, write my novel, go to the theatre… We live in an age of endless time-saving devices; we have more holiday allowance than ever before; and the internet makes accessing information from around the globe the work of seconds. And yet some of us still struggle to fit everything into the same 24 hours that everyone else is getting. Here are a few simple strategies to reclaim the clock and slow down the race.

Saying yes means saying no

And saying no means saying yes. When you say yes to dinner with friends, you are saying no to an evening on the sofa watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. And when you say no to drinks with a colleague after work, perhaps you’re saying yes to a bath, a book and early to bed. When you are conscious of what you’re accepting and what you’re rejecting, you can start to make more conscious choices based on what your body, mind and soul need right now. And that’s a first step to using time on purpose.

You can achieve a lot in five minutes

You can make the bed, do a short breathing exercise, send a text to reach out to a friend, or write a list of prospects to contact for your business. Every minute is useful for something. Don’t get sucked into to thinking that if you don’t have a whole hour to spend on a project there’s no way you can make any progress today.

to do lists

Christmas is on December 25, every single year

And this year will be no exception. So why do so many people find themselves queuing up to buy a soap selection basket in The Body Shop at 4pm on Christmas Eve? Why not buy gifts throughout the year (when you happen upon the perfect present or the sales are in full swing) and put them away until Christmas? Why not set aside a weekend at the end of October for some internet purchases and another mid November to head to the shops? It’s all about planning. The same is true of birthdays, anniversaries and tax returns. Don’t let events that you can so easily anticipate sneak up on you!

Remember who’s the slave and who’s the master

Is Facebook a fun way of keeping up with distant friends or a time suck that distracts you from writing your thesis? Does Twitter help you keep up with the latest news while you’re in between meetings, or do you find yourself emerging from a session of tweet-surfing to find that an hour has passed and your friend’s surprise birthday party hasn’t planned itself? Social media and the Internet can be forces for organisation and time-efficiency when used well. Make sure you’re staying in control.


We all get the same 24 hours every day. And what you choose to do with them is your business. Just make sure you’re doing just that: choosing!

The Privatisation of Feminism

Debora L. Spar’s book has a serious title: Wonder Women; Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. It’s enough to make your head hurt, or at least whizz as your brain processes the millions of social, political and cultural links between those nine words.

And whilst I can’t nitpick and unpick all of those links, Spar makes an argument that is worth considering. In an essay adapted from the book and published in the The Chronicle Review, Spar talks about the ‘privatisation of feminism’. In my head, the word ‘privatisation’ paints pictures of Thatcher, angry union leaders and hardworking people being given the frost-bitten shoulder of the free market. In my head, the word ‘feminism’ conjures a feeling of hope, of sisterhood, of fighting for equality and promoting the talents of women and girls. Therefore, bringing these two words together is confusing, if not uncomfortable. But Spar does have a point.

Debora L Spar is the president of Barnard College: a prestigious liberal arts college in America, affiliated with Columbia University. One evening, she had cocktails with some of her students. These students, she claims, ‘are some of the smartest and most determined young women in the country’. But that evening, over drinks, they seemed to be more concerned with impending motherhood and their personal, inevitable, work/life balance/struggle, than the careers that lay before them.

Instantly and easily, you can see yourself in that moment. Not as some hotshot American intellectual but as a young career woman wondering at what point you are going to have to give up something, someone, or somewhere. Spar points out that coupled with the pressure on women to be like those hotshot US American whizzkids and devoted mothers and wives, the struggle to figure our own personal dilemmas has eclipsed a broader, collective gaze on the lives of modern women, and in turn made feminism very inward-looking.

While you may tackle the big feminist questions of our time such as equal pay, sexual harassment in the workplace and achieving board level positions, you have only the capacity to consider your own fight because you’re exhausted from a sleepless night worrying about your ill mother, or kept awake by a baby who refuses to sleep. But like the privatisation of Thatcher’s 80s, we’ve put our individual needs first, and have stopped believing in, caring for or even noticing the society of women around us. Spar writes:

‘Feminism was never supposed to be a 12-step program toward personal perfection. It’s time now to go back, to channel the passion of our political foremothers and put it again to good use. We need to focus less of our energies on our own kids’s SAT scores and more on fighting for better public schools. We need fewer individual good works and more collective efforts.’

And she’s completely right; for a lot of middle class, western women, feminism has become a individual fight. However, there is a younger, digital generation of feminists organising some pretty amazing ‘collective efforts’. Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism campaign has been translated into languages from all around the world underlining that it is a universal struggle. No More Page Three seeks to protect future generations of girls from the sexist culture of The Sun. Nimko Ali is speaking out about her own experience of FGM to help other young women and girls avoid what she went through.

So perhaps these digital-savvy fourth-wavers are the angry union leaders of our time, speaking out against the privatisation of feminism, reminding us we’re all in this together. Perhaps, however tired, however much pressure sits on our shoulders, we remind ourselves that we take strength and courage from standing together. The privatisation of feminism means that it’s an individual problem, but it’s not. Feminism effects everybody, and our struggle to make better lives for ourselves will come from fighting for better lives for everyone.

Check Mate

It is most definitely autumn. Leaves lovely colours, check. Miserable, damp air with relentless rain, check. Darkening days, check. Not at all nearly cold enough for the coat + scarf + gloves + sweater + vest you find yourself leaving the house in, check.  Autumn is all about layers. Whoever you are, get your layers right and autumn is a positive, exciting, optimistic time. Remember when September signalled the beginning of a new school year; another year older, another year closer to freedom, another new crush, another new pencil case? Remember that excitement and those teenage nerves?

hedi slimane plaid shirts

However, now as an adult, get your layers wrong and you spend much of your time between September and November wishing you were down to your bra, inevitably sweating in an M&S food hall/on the tube/in a lift. Now I truly believe that successful autumn dressing is all about the flannel shirt. Not just this autumn, and not just because Hedi said so in the Saint Laurent collection for A/W 2013. No. This is the layer you need because you have always needed it. This is the layer you probably already own but maybe just don’t understand its powers yet. This is layer that allows you to wear your winter coat now, or equally it is the layer that keeps it firmly in the wardrobe until the frosts begin. This is the layer that saves your dignity and your sanity. Switch all of your winter woolly layers for a flannel shirt during autumn and you will be smugly temperate all season long.

Flannel shirts, and their close cousins plaid, check and lumberjack were HUGE for both sexes in my schoolgirl grunge tribe, which stood me in good stead for this golden nugget of life fashion learning information (see Rayanne Graff; who incidentally I feel clearly inspired Mr Slimane’s recent plaid over-bra push/Kurt Cobain). I have always loved an oversized plaid shirt and the versatility of this humble item knows no bounds. Its perfectness first struck me on a Duke of Edinburgh walking expedition in the Dark Peak District in the mid-nineties as a teenager. When cold wear it done up. When warm wear it open. When sweating like a piglet, wear it round the waist. Look cool and grungy and fashionable and great at all temperatures. Even whilst hiking! All still allowed. All still relevant. All still fashionable.

check shirts grunge nineties

These shirts are the single most versatile and longstanding item I can think to belong in a wardrobe. They are better than a sweater for waist-tying at hot points during this unbalanced season, as they are certainly more flattering with less bulk and more style. They can be worn by children, teenagers, and every single age above that. They can be worn to cover bits you don’t like (bottom, tummy) and to show off bits you do (bottom, tummy or more commonly wrists and collarbones). They are inexpensive, readily available, and unisex. They have been around since their inception for farmers in Wales in the 17th Century and continue to dominate. Hamilton Carhartt built his business around importing flannel to produce clothes for railroad workers in the 1890’s. It was the ideal fabric: hard-wearing and rugged, perfect for men working outside, needing protection from the elements and working class quality. A long-lasting, affordable AND practical fashion trend. Woah.

Style-wise, well, The Olsens love them, Alexa loves them. Matt Dillon worn them in Singles (1992) and Stephen Dorff wore one 18 years later in Somewhere (2010). Marilyn Monroe wore one on her first ever photo shoot in 1946 and Cara Delevingne wears them now. We are frequently told about ‘timeless classics’ by the fashion industry. A £3,000 Chanel 2.55 handbag = a timeless classic. A £23,000 Rolex watch = a timeless classic. Well you know what, it so happens that a £2 charity shop plaid shirt find is also a timeless classic.

olsens cara alexa plaid

What I really love about a check shirt is that they can be so individual, so personal. They don’t change, so you really can just choose what you like; there are no trend rules, no seasonal differences, no age or gender appropriateness – they just are. Feel the fabrics, the weight, look at the colours and just go for something you like the look of and the feel of. Personally I would always tend towards a looser fit as you will find this far more versatile. And I find a soft brushed cotton best on the skin – this style is also easier to tie, and looks great with the sleeves rolled up.

Next step is to pick your check and channel. Channel your inner lumberjack/jill and wear it open over a tee, channel your inner Marilyn and wear it open-necked and tucked into a pair of denims or channel your inner Bridget Fonda and wear it half done up over a grey marl tee when you need that extra layer. When it heats up, channel your inner Alexa and sling it round your waist, your inner Rayanne (and do as Hedi did) and wear it open over lingerie, or even go so far as to channel your inner Daisy Duke and wear it tied in a knot under the bust. Channel all of them each day – as your temperature changes you adapt your look. Just adopt it, wear it and absorb the power of the ultimate autumn layer, the ultimate temperature control, and the ultimate timeless classic.

check shirts 1

I love the dark colours and loose fit of Steven Alan’s mens range  and most vintage classic red and black checks I can find. I like the classic square check, and the bigger and boxier the better, as these look best over other layers and open, slipping off shoulders. Woolrich always do a blinding range of classic checks in different weights, styles, fits and colours so I really recommend their shirts. As the grunge trend is back again this season, I am loving this daisy overprint for a nineties wink by Minkpink. But if all this seems a bit fashion then get down to your nearest charity shop or on to eBay, and I guarantee you can pick one up for a couple of quid. Timeless.

My Classic Film

Director Wong Kar-Wai’s third feature length film, Chungking Express, was actually made with the idea of providing a light, contemporary diversion whilst he was finishing the seemingly heavier Ashes of Time. It’s an eccentric, emotive and visually gorgeous film, and Kar-Wai’s poetic and offbeat script beautifully complements cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s expressive aesthetic.

Chungking Express is a tale of two lovelorn police officers working separately through recent break-ups. The methods through which the men deal with the demise of love are odd yet poignantly fathomable. Cop 223 (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) gorges himself on tins of expired pineapple, the cans’ best before dates representing the ending of his relationship. And 223 also takes up running in order that all the water evaporate from his body so there will be none left for tears.  Tony Leung’s character, Cop 663, talks to the objects around his apartment: the dishcloth, his bar of soap, a teddy bear, imbuing them with his own lonely emotion and at times attempting to buoy them and himself up. To his chunky bar of soap he advises: ‘you mustn’t let yourself go. You’ve gained weight so fast. She may have gone but life goes on… Stop indulging’.

chungking express

The post-break women with whom 223 and 663 become entwined – an anonymous heroin dealer (Brigitte Lin) and snack-bar worker Faye ([played by Chinese popstar and actress, Faye Wong) –  are refreshingly perplexing and unconventional female leads. Don’t expect any chick-flick-style happily-ever-after endings; the interactions that ensue between the characters steer clear of any traditional romantic trajectories.

chungking express wong kar wai

Setting and sound are as important as character and plot in Kar-Wai’s films and Chungking Express is no exception. Set in the insalubrious streets of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, the area we’re shown is a wonderfully seedy melting-pot of humanity. Home to the Chungking Mansions apartment block – from which the film takes its title –  663′s apartment was actually Christopher Doyle’s own home at the time of filming. Faye Wong’s sublime cover (sung in Mandarin) of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ echoes throughout the film, as does The Mamas & The Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Kar-Wai once again curates a wonderfully stirring and serendipitous soundtrack.

Chungking Express deservedly won numerous Hong Kong Film Awards and is widely considered the director’s breakthrough feature – In the Mood for Love and 2046 were to follow. And almost fifteen years on, Chungking Express is every bit as captivating.

Point of View

The debate over whether there should be a ban on the wearing of full face veils in public is one that seems destined to constantly repeat itself, sparked most recently by a now-abandoned decision at Birmingham Metropolitan College and a judge facing a defendant who wished to appear in court covered up.

Unsurprisingly, there have been strident claims on both sides, as well as a particularly emphatic front-page headline from The Sun. Even the Prime Minister has weighed in. For some, it is an issue of feminism, for others, it is about freedom of religion. For some critics the debate acts as a cover for bigotry, others make valid points about practicality, for example whether a jury can truly judge a concealed defendant.


Certainly, there is an argument – a powerful one – that says that followers of a faith should be free to do so in a tolerant and just society. The ability to defend what is unpalatable – the right, say, of the extreme to air their views – is something that marks a country out. It is a proud tradition that the UK should not abandon.

Likewise, if we are to ban the veil, what else must we ban? Must all religious behaviours be prohibited in case they do not align with what the majority approve of? And if not, where is the justice in singling out one group? As an Orthodox Jewish woman, my marital status requires that I cover my head in synagogue (well, actually, all the time, but I can’t claim to be anywhere near that devout). Why should it be right that I could wear a hat as a sign of my faith, but a Muslim woman should be stopped from acting on hers?

But there is a difference. Not in the significance of one over the other, but because while a hat, or a crucifix, or a turban (or indeed a hijab) acts as an outward symbol of inward faith, it does not fundamentally alter the wearer’s relationship with society. A full veil – worn so that the wearer is entirely concealed from view and unidentifiable except by voice – arguably does. Businesses often argue that the phone is no substitute for face to face contact; having one party concealed fundamentally changes the nature of the interaction.

Thus it comes down to whether you believe freedom of religion should trump this. But beyond that, the issue is what it would mean to enforce such a ban. The veil, like the hat that I wear to synagogue (on the rare occasions that I go) is about modesty, and how a woman should be perceived in public. Rage that this is anti-feminist, since men are not subject to the same restrictions (I’ll happily debate that subject another time) but the fact remains. A ban would do nothing to change that, since it speaks not at all to what motivates the wearer. You cannot legislate people’s views into submission; a blanket ban would do nothing to alter attitudes among those who assume it is what women should be wearing.

And even if you could argue that a ban might have some kind of nudge effect, what of those who currently wear it? I’d hazard few do so lightly; going without would likewise be a difficult decision. So surely the effect would be that many would simply disappear from public space altogether. Bans on behaviour don’t have a great track record of succeeding; from the prohibition of the 1920s to book banning or the never-ending, unwinnable war on drugs, they tend to push what they were targeting underground. This would surely be no different.

veil protest

Culturally sensitive though it may be, we should be able to debate the veil as we debate anything else in Britain, and we should certainly be able to talk about cases where a woman is forced into wearing one. But a ban on the full face veil would be both unworkable and un-British.