Sunday, 6 October 2013

Time Passes and Other Things

    In two days time I’ll have been here for four weeks. Four weeks in which time has passed as fast as a bullet and as slow as eternity. Days have been fragmented, elongated and cut short; compartmentalized into To Do lists, dragging lectures, leisurely coffees and long, dripping hours of nothing at all. Familiarity breeds contempt; as I slowly get used to the laissez-faire timetabling, the all-nighters and the long, empty afternoons, inertia begins to creep.

   What to do with these long spaces of blank time? I could read books; study my French grammar books with a misplaced sense of purpose; plan future adventures with like-minded travellers; I could write.

   The year abroad is pipped by a cacophony of eager professors, pompous media types and returning Erasmus students, their faces glowing with the warming effect of hindsight, as recurring variations of ‘the best year of your life.’ I admit, I am young; the years behind me are muddled together in a blur of once-known places and faces and routines. They all seem much the same to me. No year seems better than another; no era particularly worth noting.

    But then I stop to think. Of all the years that have come before, the past three or four have surely been the best. Maybe in all those years of agonizing teenage boredom, of waiting for life to start, something passed me by; maybe life has already started and has started sweeping me along in a ceaseless flood. The past three years have been the best of my life and this year, 2013, has been the best of the lot.

      This leads me back to my contemplation of time and its ever-changing state. Here, in Belgium, I seem to have time in excess; there is time to gorge on, spare hours to fill as I will. The possibilities, like time itself, is endless. Maybe some element of truth sounds behind the hopeful, implausible words of those eager professors and shiny-faced fellow students: this could be the best year of my life, but probably not in the way that they imply. I could continue down the road on which I have already placed a shaky first foot and finally, fully comprehend that dreams are there to be achieved. Maybe I need to stop dreaming and waiting for life to start, and realise that it already has.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Bumps in the Road

I wrote this following blog post in a two hour lecture last week, during which I questioned many, many things. What I was doing a million miles from home in an obscure Belgian city; why the hell had I ever chosen to do French as one half of my degree;  whether I'd ever get out of the two hour hell into which I'd just willingly walked myself  and sat down. However, I'm happy to report that a week later things have definitely improved! I've weeded out the impossible-to-understand subjects and doddery, rambling professors and am on my way to an organised timetable and an organised life. Stay posted for more!

So here I sit, in yet another class I don’t understand, listening to a philosophy professor ramble on about some philosopher who may or may not have been a Nazi and who may or may not have agreed with Sartre’s existentialist theories. I don’t know, because yet again I can’t understand. With no helpful aid in PowerPoint form, or a sympathetic, slow talking and plain speaking professor, I am left adrift in a sea of Gallic pronunciation and obscure European philosophers. At least this time I can somewhat understand the monologue manifesting itself in front of me; this time, it is the subject matter that has me at a loss. Apparently, I am in a lecture on the ‘Philosophy of Art’- ah, he just mentioned Vincent Van Gogh. At least now I’m 75% sure I’ve wandered into the correct lecture theatre. But that is the only hint that this is anything other than a two hour seminar on some flamboyant Nazi-loving (maybe), Sartre- hating (again, maybe) philosopher with an incomprehensible German name which, when first written on the board, I took to be the professor’s. Off to a flying start.

What exactly am I doing here? This is one of those moments, occurring with a growing regularity over the past two weeks, when it dawns on me like a slow breaking winter morning that I am not quite in my comfort zone anymore. This is no slumbering English lecture hall, with a reading list as long as my arm and half-asleep comrades beside me to share my half-guilt that I never got around to reading Paradise Lost. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

University here is mystery wrapped in an enigma and that’s before you start to tackle the language barrier or even get to your classes. Rooms are numbered on one list and named on another. There is no corresponding, explanatory list. No one will tell you, or seems to know, whether classes start this week, next week or not until half way through October. Lectures are taught ‘ex-cathedra’, a term I’ve only just come to learn the meaning of: sit here and listen to the man at the front of the room’s inexorable, rambling monologue. Take notes, if possible. Repeat. A real life nightmare for any querulous Erasmus student not yet fully confident in their powers of comprehension. Or even if they’re in the right room. Things must, surely, only get better…

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Life à la Française

As the rain hammers down on the misty Velux windows of my new loft appartement, I reflect on the vast changes that have been wrought on my life since I last updated my blog. The past four months have past by in a blur of sun-baked London streets, whirring office air-con and the dappled, blustery loveliness of a Cornish summer by the sea. And now this: the tiny, rainy cobbled streets and cafes and restaurants of Liege, the somewhat unknown Belgian city that is to be my home for the next nine months.

This summer has seen me run at speed between internships, exam results and my year abroad, with snatched moments of summer bliss amid my hectic schedule. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you will know that my summer months have been marked out by three stark events: two dream internships and a looming, potentially life-changing move away from the family and friends that are so dear to me. Somewhat paradoxically, although I had two what-dreams-are-made-of internships as a fashion writer at both The Times and ELLE magazine, chances to update this blog and embark on personal projects have been few and far between; apart from a ridiculously exciting interview for SID Magazine that will be coming out in the Autumn, this keyboard has never been so inactive.

It seems obvious, but never before had I thought that change could be so inspiring. I have blog posts and article ideas coming out of my ears! There’s so much to say and describe about my electric summer, before it gets lost amidst the freezing boulevards and sudden showers of this autumnal city. And also, I have so much to say about Liege, about Belgium, and my hopes, fears and dreams for this year. There will be travelling, no doubt, and new places and faces and languages to explore. A year spent straddling the Channel, with feet firmly placed on both English and European soil, will have all sorts of adventures to look forward to, at home and abroad. À la prochaine

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Best Dressed at the Cannes Film Festival 2013

Last week I wrote a piece for my university's weekly newspaper on top five best dressed at the Cannes Film Festival. I enjoyed writing the piece, but in hindsight I recognize that I was writing more for the paper's target audience of fellow students than of my own, slightly left-of-field, taste. You can read the original article here, but below I have compiled my very own top five from Cannes.


French ingénue Marion Cotillard was all things modern in her pre- Spring/ Summer 2014 Dior dress at the Blood Ties premiere. Modern not only because the collection had debuted only four days previously, but also because the Rust & Bone actress wore Chopard jewels designed alongside Livia Firth's Green Carpet Challenge project, the eco-friendly enterprise that have been gaining ground and print columns in the last year or so. All highly commendable, but what really interests me is the Memphis- style colour blocking that complements and extends the elegant, fluid lines of her Dior dress. The 60's beehive looks great too, although it could possibly be given a modern update by allowing it a bit of movement and freedom from its structural confines; a few wisps of hair around the face would do it. Plus, Marion's make up is arguably rather heavy for her delicate Gallic features; a lighter hand with the bronzer and eyeshadow would have been ideal. 8.5/ 10


When I grow up, I want to be as awesome as Kristen Scott Thomas. As one of my favourite actresses, francophile Kristen Scott Thomas never disappoints when it comes to film roles, talent or just plain exquisite coolness. Thirty-odd years in the French and English film industries has given her a presence that rises above the starlets who flock to Cannes, and here she trails fledgling pretenders to her throne in her glittering, sequinned wake. 9/10 


Marion Cotillard's second mention in this piece is indicative of two things. Firstly, that I have a huge girl-crush Marion Cotillard and all her frenchy-ness. Secondly, that these walking adverts for the Dior pre-Spring/ Summer '14 collection indicate that Raf Simons is well and truly hitting his stride as the house's frontman and successor to John Galliano. The first couple of seasons of his time at the helm were quietly respectable, wearable and interesting- somewhat loose complements to a brilliant designer such as Simons is. However, the pre- collection that debuted during Cannes depicts a star and a talent that is on the rise, as the designer finds his feet and his confidence at his new post. 9/10 


There's just something about a spangled gold trouser and jumper combo. However, that 'something', or 'je ne sais quoi' as they would say in Cannes, obviously has many determiners. The first is that this is a gold sparkly jumpsuit made by the Antwerp- educated French/ Colombian designer Haider Ackermann, and not something you'd pick up on a whim in Primark. The second is that it is worn by the icily cool Tilda Swinton, who with her bleached quiff and red lips is a definite contender for Kristen Scott Thomas' throne of coolness. Maybe they could share it. Simplicity is the key to this statement outfit: Tilda does not weigh herself down with a frou-frou clutch or an excesse of make up. Moreover, somehow she does not let the gold outfit outshine her- she owns it completely, with a smile that says that she does not take it, or herself, or the entire Cannes circus, too seriously. 10/ 10


I realise that I have already claimed that when I grow up I want to be Kristen Scott Thomas. Well, I also want to be Tilda Swinton and Laeticia Casta in a weird amalgamation of squished up film stars and supermodels. Anyway. Talking about weird amalgamations, here Laeticia puts an outfit together so wrong that it's also completely right. A Dior dress that is cut a little too high for crotch comfort, and plastered with Barbie- pink flowers? Check. Golden wings as a totally unnecessary yet amazing cover under the Cannes sun? Check. What appears to be slightly dodgy sparkly gold platforms which match those wings? Check and check. The only thing troubling about this so-wrong-it's-right get up is Laeticia's slightly aging, brown make-up; I did a double take for all the wrong reasons when I looked up her age. This outfit, a breath of fresh couture air amidst the familiar parade of yawn-worthy gowns, needs a softer, rosier palette, which would let the supermodel's youth and undoubted beauty shine through. 7.5/ 10

All photos: