Things to Read #25

Things I wrote for The Irish Times on London food culture, online shopping for the holidays and waterproof Converse.

From the IT archive – a 1976 interview between Maeve Binchy and legendary designer Eileen Gray.

The very sad story of the real Lolita.

‘Best of’ lists can be a pain in the patoot but this 2014 books list is rather good.

Mad monarchs. The only kind of monarch, surely?

The Daily Mash, more onion-y than The Onion.

“Some readers had similar problems accepting a woman. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve picked up the phone in the sports department, answered some trivia question, and, when the answer didn’t win the guy a bar bet, had the caller demand, “Put a man on this phone.” Some simply called me a “stupid bitch” and hung up.”

Me In Various Vintage Coats

It’s just that easy, really.

This is me doing a spot of modelling for a friend’s vintage shop – and I use the word ‘modelling’ in the loosest terms possible. In fact, it it was much looser it would fall right off.

I love a nice winter coat, I do. Bonus points if it’s fuzzy. Extra super bonus points if it’s fuzzy and furry and an animalistic monstrosity like the wolfish looking one in the picture below. Be still, my gaping wallet.







Licentiate Column 12/09/13: Risky Business

– The offending skirt in question, from Topshop.

I have a few tabs open on my very outdated internet browser as I type this. One is Facebook, the other is a line to a very popular online shopping site. I am looking at an a-line skirt. The a-line is the most sensible and flattering of all the skirts. It suits almost everyone – short ladies such as myself should probably wear mini lengths though. It is seldom considered an advantage when your skirt makes your legs look like chess pieces – and not particularly important chess pieces at that.

The only thing is this: The skirt is holographic. Properly holographic, like tinfoil with a rainbow running through it. It’s the wet, rigid plasticky material that Nineties kids will fondly remember as being the material for some seriously shiny pencil cases. At best, I would look like a castoff from the original series of Star Trek.

And yet, there it is and here I am and there is my mother kindly offering to buy me something nice before I pick up sticks and move to London, probably forever.

I might as well get the skirt. It’ll only be the second biggest risk that I’ll have taken that week, the first getting on a hastily-scheduled Ryanair flight to Luton. It could be a bad decision, but it’s so inviting. It looks so different and new and good. I’m talking about the skirt, that is.

Fashion and style are two very different things. Style is what you wear. It’s judged as good or bad by other people and you can choose to believe any opinion you want – but they’re probably all valid. Fashion is commerce. It is made up of trends that keep the business generating gigantic wads of cash and even more gigantic piles of clothes that are usually made in Third World countries in not very nice factories and workshops.

‘Trend’ isn’t a great word. The correct word is probably ‘risk’, for every trend you follow there is an inherent risk that you’ll look ridiculous and somehow outside of yourself.

Some risks will pay off. Maybe I’ll buy the holographic skirt and, distracted by the sun’s reflection off the material, someone in London will be so dazzled by my appearance that s/he will offer me my dream job, or at the very least, a sizeable Amazon voucher. Maybe, because of the skirt, someone will see something outgoing and visionary in me that I couldn’t previously express and I’ll make a new friend. Maybe it’ll just look kinda cool. Or maybe i’ll just look like a retro Sixties throwback on a detour from the Vulcan planet. Who know? It’s hard to calculate the risk involved.

I left my beloved Cork for a job before. That job did not work out. But I took the risk and accepted the consequences. Now, I take another risk. I take risks every day, and so do you. It might be as small as buying a skirt, it might be as life changing as moving country. Either way, I wish you luck, and I hope that you wish me luck too.

Licentiate Column 29/11/12: Vouchers for All, and to All a Good Night

Vouchers don’t always provoke this response, you know.

It is now the last week of November, so we have reached the third stage in the hellish Advent calendar titled ‘The Run-up to Christmas’. This is the part where you start to feel guilty about not having bought any presents yet – surprisingly, this is a good place to be. We still have another three stages to go, the final one culminating in fighting with panicked Secret Santa-ers over the last Ted Baker sock set in TK Maxx.

I am duty-bound to tell you what kind of party clothes to wear (sparkly over sheer) and what kind of lingerie to buy for your significant other (sheer over sparkly) but, in truth, the best Christmas present to buy pretty much anyone is a voucher (my preference is Amazon, being mercifully bereft of sheer or sparkly stuff).

It is hard to wrap a voucher – or surprisingly easy, depending on your outlook. On asking my sister for an Amazon voucher, she instead asked for a list of books that I wanted so she could wrap them herself. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to me when I could have just bought them myself with my voucher. Then again, I probably just need a Christmas special to warm my cold, dead heart.

They may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but I love getting vouchers as gifts. I am such a persnickety, contrary person that it’s often hard for loved ones to choose something for me. I also suffer from a condition known as ‘Weird Boob and Leg-itis’ which means that I’m such a strange shape that clothes rarely fit the way they should. If you need help with which vouchers to buy for who, I’m here for you.

The Cover All Bases Person – The Secret Santa person, the person who has eclectic but decidedly mainstream tastes, the vaguely trendy male cousins, the friend who is so worryingly preoccupied with her dress size that you are now scared to ask what it is – get an ASOS voucher. For those not in the know, ASOS is a global shopping platform with its own mainline range as well as a glut of other retailers. You can also support vintage sellers and just-got-started designers in their Marketplace section.

The Person Who’s Always Banging on About Needing Thermal Underwear – Marks and Spencer. People who think about thermals also think quite frequently about comfort food (I am one of these people) and Marks has an admirable selection of both.

The College Student – Topshop. Is an explanation necessary?

The Person Who has Recently Decided to Dress Like a Grown-Up – There is a crossroads in a woman’s life at the intersection of ‘Good Quality’ and ‘But I don’t Have Any Money’ and Cos is the recently-constructed bypass. The Swedish label sells its wares in Brown Thomas, so buy a BT voucher and point her in the right direction come January sales time.

For everyone else – a book token. Fashion can’t be the solution to every problem (but God knows at least I’m trying).

Licentiate column 18/10/12: The Merits of the Mom Jumper

There is no kind of comfort quite like the kind you find when, on a cold day, you slip on a jumper that has spent a few minutes warming up on the radiator. It is a kind of comfort only surpassed when it’s rainy outside and said radiator is now hosting a clean pair of flannel pajamas.

It is also a kind of comfort that we’ll have to get used to this winter because it’ll be a cold one, by golly. The average temperature is shaping up to be five or six degrees every day. Come December, that will be even lower. It is definitely time to unpack the winter woolens and banish any tights below forty dernier from whence they came.

Knitwear buying can be a tricky process. There is only one type of body shape that looks good in any kind of sweater, no matter what shape or how scratchy or fluffy the wool. That is the straight up-and-down, modelly type. These women can rejoice in being able to put on an Aran jumper three sizes too big and still look great. We will not begrudge them, because skinny people need extra warmth what with having less insulating body fat than the rest of us, and all.

Especially meritorious for the woman with the in-and-out body shape is the Mom jumper. It’s not necessarily a jumper that mothers wear (mine favours a potato sack-textured Fairisle that she knitted herself) but rather a jumper that gives you the warming, maternal caress that you need on a cold winter’s day. Your jumper loves you. Your jumper will take care of you. It will not judge you if you accidentally slop tomato sauce on it. It does not care about your sexual orientation and will not spoil Downton Abbey for you if you haven’t got around to watching that episode yet.

If you’re looking for a maternal Mom Jumper, then Boden is a great place to start. The British label started business with a mail order catalogue (how mammy-ish can you get?) and specialises in very simply structured, reassuringly classic, untrendy knitwear. It’s the kind of knitwear that, if you take care of it, could last you for several years in both style and practicality stakes. Most jumpers are updated vintage shapes – the Fifties jumper is especially flattering for hourglass figures.

For a non-mumsy Mom jumper, head to Cos. The knitwear at the H&M-owned high-street chain is considered good enough quality to be sold at Brown Thomas. While Cos stands for Collection of Style, just ‘Cos’ is also appropriate – the patterns are finished with mathematical precision that requires a set of tables.

The knits are good quality too. I have my eye on a sheer black alpaca knit that will go with everything and am already living in a grey marl sweatshirt that has been updated with interwoven metallic thread. Note to self – under no circumstances should I put that one under the radiator. It’s comforting enough already without having to endure second degree burns.


I’m not going to lie, one of my high fashion points this year was when Blanaid Hennessey, all around Very Stylish Person and co-owner of Kilkenny’s Shutterbug, asked if she could take a picture of the outfit I was planning to wear at Forbidden Fruit in June. Of course, I got spontaneous food poisoning and couldn’t do it, but the sense of validation in my outfit choice sustained me through the tough times.

I’m loving the lookbook images taken by Eoin Hennessey and Ciúin Tracy for Blanaid’s newest online venture, Folkster. The shop stocks the cream of the Shutterbug stock along with a boggling array of Jeffrey Campbell shoes, with more contemporary brands to follow. According to Blanaid, the a folkster is ‘like a hipster/hippy hybrid – a sort of friendly, floaty fashion lover!’ That, I can get on board with.

The dreamy, unearthly effects in these photographs remind me a little of Richard Mosse’s infra-red film photos of The Congo (well worth a click, but not for the light-hearted). Weirdly, Mosse, who represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale this year, has family in Kilkenny – is there a connection there somewhere?

Recent Acquisitions: Katrantzou x Topshop and YSL Mondrian

Yet another thing I don’t normally do is haul posts, but I think that these two purchases are too special not to share.

A Mary Katrantxou x Topshop blouse that I snagged because I happened to be up at 4am when the sale went live on the website.  It looks lovely on and, true to form, I have already dripped pizza sauce all over it.

This isn’t a real 1960’s YSL Mondrian. If it was, if probably wouldn’t have been the incredibly reasonable price of forty bucks on Etsy. It is however, a 1960’s dressmaker’s copy of a YSL (it still has the dressmaker’s tags) and it’s strangely flattering, or it will be when it gets a dry cleaning blitz.

Good haul?