I wrote this song one morning after an extremely stressful few months. I had hopes of selling it to Ariane Grande or Katy Perty, (not realising how difficult that would be), until a friend suggested I write a musical showcasing my songs and Continue reading “Musical Endeavours”
Being single isn’t easy. Especially in today’s recessionary
dating economic climate.
I realised my new Austerity at Home program wasn’t going according to plan when I overheard my son tell a playdate that we didn’t have an X Box because his mum was poor now. “Is that why you live in a flat?” his friend asked. My son nodded sagely.
I like writing for a living. Especially in investment management where I get paid to write about debt, risk and the prevailing economic environment. It’s a challenge to write convincingly about complex investment strategies designed to persuade a sceptic public of investor skill and human decision-making in an age of technology that frankly, suggests otherwise.
Creative work environments help me formulate my thoughts and crystallise ideas. Writing can be solitary. I enjoy a team dynamic.
It’s not easy being a mum, especially if you try to be a good one. Being shamed back into your old job by a 7 year old’s perception of your finances is one of my all time top comedic family moments. It’s also much more prevalent than you’d think.
I started reading Broke by economist David Boyle by chance. The tagline is Who killed the Middle classes?
I once wrote a letter to King’s College Cambridge, requesting a bursary at the end of my first year of university. I kept my begging letter short and for impact wrote “I am black and working class”. Five days later I received a cheque for £500 (an enormous sum for someone in my situation). I subsequently wrote myself out of poverty the hard way enjoying equal helpings of tragedy, luck and tremendous good fortune. I’m still black and working class, but thanks to my own mum’s endeavours I’m also very well educated.
Money earned in a single generation skips the middle classes and so I’m richer than I need to be, but not as wealthy as my children would like.
Broke analyses how affluent middle class families were afflicted by a new austerity for which they only have themselves to blame. It can’t end well, so it’s up to me to change my narrative.
I don’t know when or how my life became so dramatic – a tragi-comedy of errors and sudden bid for independence that ruined faux, familial idyll, changing everything for the better. But as a writer I have more perspective now: on other people’s lives not just my own. I also have funnier anecdotes (every writer’s bread and butter).
I thought it would be healthier for me to write and work from home. Apparently, my kids don’t need me healthier. They need me wealthier.
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THIS IS NOT MY FLAT
It amazes me how good a thorough spring clean of my home makes me feel. Finding photos of the kids I didn’t know I had, reliving memories of past events. That feeling of finally getting on top of things that only ever comes when you’re bagging up the umpteenth plastic bag to give to charity. It’s liberating sweeping away interior cobwebs, posting barely worn children’s clothes to relatives and finally giving away that dress you can’t fit into.
The great thing about interiors is that you can always improve them, even when you’re broke. Going over what you have and decluttering is great for releasing interior creativity and I find I get my best ideas during long overdue clearouts (or scrubbing kitchen floors). Why? Because clearing out means you’re serious about a project. You want a clean slate before moving to the next important stage. You don’t want baggage from your last attempt at decorating cluttering your new ideas. You want a full evaluation of all the stuff in your life so you can hold onto what’s important and give it new prominence in your life.
If you don’t believe me then next time you have a bad week and decide to cheer yourself up by buying an expensive item you’ve been longing to add to your home for months, hold off a weekend longer and have a clear out instead. Because more important than being happy and buying whatever it is you think you want is cherishing what you have. Remembering all the good things in your life even when you’ve got the winter blues. You won’t have these things forever so take a moment to cherish them now. You’ll soon forget that must-have buy and love your home that little bit more.
Yesterday a friend asked to see me. Lola had debts consisting of 2 parts. The first debt was a life changing amount and not something she could do anything about. The second part was a small but hardly insignificant 4 figure sum relating to a brief spell of profligacy after she quit a job she couldn’t stand and decided to redecorate. Lola was living within her means now, but she had no intention of going back to corporate life and felt her debts were hanging over her. She asked for my advice.
I told her what I always say. Follow your passion and then find some way of making a living at it. It doesn’t have to be a good living, so long as you love what you do, and have what you need. Material things won’t matter as much, your passion will be a distraction from your problems (especially those you can do absolutely nothing about) and who knows, if you work hard enough and get a little luck thrown in, your passions might one day make you wealthy and then you’ll really have something to worry about.
I’m not sure my advice helped. But it did make me think about my own life and to what extent I was following my own advice.
Creating beauty is my passion, whether it be writing, photography or styling interiors with beautiful things to create visual harmony. I’m not trying to create an aesthetic, more tell a story, capture a moment and leave something beautiful behind. I have some way to go when it concerns turning my passions into a business. I still don’t have a costed business plan, just a series of creative goals. So here goes:
- Create a capsule collection of 10 black interior items. Photograph them beautifully and add them to the homepage of the website within the year. In the meantime put all your efforts into photography and the Style School courses.
- Remember how good it felt to sit in Dalston drinking coffee waiting for Abigail Ahern’s retail masterclass. Think of ways to promote Nordic Black in London so you can do that more often. Make contacts, attend trade shows, utilise social media. Find an intern to do this for you if you find you don’t have time.
- Keep a book of design inspiration and take something from it every month to progress.
- Remember your achievements and be inspired by them. How you changed the conversation with Woodlands, creating a stunning suite of interiors showcasing your talents.
- Find Nordic stores to stock your capsule collection. It doesn’t matter if at this stage it’s only a wish list.
- Keep your business small so you can manage your expansion.
- Find innovative ways to promote the Style School. Lot’s of people visit Edinburgh. They’d love to see a working home so maximise this opportunity whilst keeping class numbers small.
- Sell your house.
- Don’t worry if you can’t sell your house. No one else’s home is selling either.
- Create a discussion board for dark interiors that others can contribute to. Create a library on Pinterest then make it interactive. An online magazine where readers are the contributors.
- Find time to write more and publish dark interior thoughts. Nordic Black is a 2-prong strategy. Writing is one of the prongs.
- Review your spreadsheets every day.
That should keep me busy for a while. I’m off for a run before I sit down to cost and execute all of the above.
So I’ve been for a run, painted something dark, I’ve even painted something white (well dusk, which doesn’t really count) and I still can’t get yesterday’s episodes of Frasier out of my head. It was as if the TV was talking to me. Willing me to soldier on. I switched on at the final ever episode (Frasier’s giving a eulogy). Which was followed by the pilot for the first ever series. From an interiors perspective this episode is all about making room for ugly ducklings – things you have to (but don’t necessarily want to) have in your life.
That first episode is a masterpiece. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t written in a day. It wasn’t written in a week. And it definitely wasn’t written by just one person. Lots of people worked on it, rewrote parts and even then it didn’t truly come to life until the actors came on set and the audience was clapping.
Which brings me to the point of my last post of 2012. Homes, like life need constant reworking, rethinking and change. Nothing works first time. They may not work out the fifth time. Homes need to ebb and flow and have intense periods of re-editing, re-planning and re-visualization. But most importantly of all they’re not complete until you have your friends over and music playing.
In the closing words of Frasier “Things don’t necessarily work out the way you planned but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Things often have a way of working out anyway.” If you’re sad about the break up of your marriage or a relationship, you’re not mourning the loss of a loved one but the life you thought you were going to have. If something in your life isn’t working, change it. If it still doesn’t work or make you happy, change it again. Loneliness won’t leave you overnight and happiness won’t be just around the corner. There’ll be many false and halting starts. But one thing’s for sure. It’ll be an adventure. And that’s enough life for anyone.
Creating a business is an adventure. I began mine to crack the impossible conundrum that is a working mother’s life. At 45 my son will be 8, an age more suited to me being self employed, but if I wait til then or work for someone else technology could leave me high and dry. I need to steal a march on my competitors. Crack on with it. I may not have a website yet but I’m proud of my achievements. I will get there – eventually.
A curiosity to learn and try new things is what drives business forward. I embrace change and new developments even though at first they terrify me. There is comfort in repetition and familiarity and I use this theme when decorating my home all the time. But when it comes to daily life I know the last thing I want is to be working for the same firm doing the same job with the same people. I like a challenge. Even when it’s forced upon me.
How different my life is from a year ago. I was whippet thin had every dress and bag going. Had no job, no man, no career. And yet none of that really bothered me. I’d let all those things go because I wanted an identity. None of the identities on offer seemed to fit, so little by little I started to create my own.
This wasn’t as easy or as obvious as it sounds. I saw myself as Carrie without BIG. Lauren Conrad without the cuteness. Natalie Massenet without the fashion pack. Victoria Beckham without Becks (or the Spice Girls for that matter). I didn’t wannabe, I was. And I knew there were thousands of women like me. I was starting to question the impossibility of modern family life.
For a while I did what my mother did and just got on with it. But things have changed. Our homes are larger, our kids are more demanding, we can’t move for people judging us or reminding us we’re failing.
When people ask me “what’s your business model? How are you going to make money?” I disregard their negativity. I studied Maths and Economics. You don’t work in Financial Services for as long as I did without learning a thing or two about ripping people off. That model doesn’t work for me. I want to see my family, have them join in and understand what I’m doing. I want to work with friends and other creative people whose only interest isn’t material success.
I plan to keep things small and manage every aspect of my venture. I grew up thinking small is beautiful. Greed gives me indigestion and makes me hungrier each time I give into it. Earning money using traditional models meant I never earned enough.
I like painting antlers, sourcing products, creating flower arrangements. I don’t want a business model that interferes with that. When I was a financial services writer I wrote about intangible products that sucked. I like this model better.
A hectic weekend ferrying kids to parties, tennis tournaments and the Snowman at the Festival Theatre. The delight on my son and daughter’s face as the boy, James, rolls ever larger snowballs back and forth across the stage was magical and the dancing Snowmen in the second half a delight. My kids are desperate to find the snowman toys I gave them each 2 years ago and I can’t wait to watch The Snowman and the Snow Dog with them on Christmas Eve. The hijacking of this beloved children’s character to sell a fizzy drink sits uneasily with me.
My friend’s daughter’s birthday party at Clownaround was also a success. Faced with trekking into town, after failing to find the Disney Princess Halma beads I knew she wanted locally, I had a rare moment of sanity. My daughter’s Princess beads and instructions were at home and I could just as easily wrap up those.
Children’s parties aren’t something I usually look forward to. I once got disinvited from a 2 year old’s birthday party by a friend. My kids were still invited but since they don’t drive and aren’t generally allowed out alone the logistics of that scenario proved impractical. My friendships are important to me, and whilst I can’t always give my friends the time they deserve I try not to take them for granted or neglect them.
If only I’d chosen my friends with the same consideration given to my curtains. I’ve been drooling over the same ones now for over 3 months, but until I repainted the dining area of my kitchen Fossil, I didn’t have a room to put them in. I don’t adhere to the design rule that curtains should either add contrast or blend into a chosen colour scheme. If I have curtains in my home they need to be in fabric I simply cannot live without. They need to add something to a room, besides blocking out light and annoying, chilly draughts. I almost have to wish they were a dress and console myself with curtains because there’s nowhere I could wear such lavish creations.
Which brings me to the point of today’s post. If we only bought the things we loved, there’d be no need for sales. I wouldn’t be spending my next weekend sorting through unwanted clothes and presents to make room for this year’s haul.
I want to create more and consume less. I want to work with artists to bring their work to a wider audience in a more affordable way. I want to create stuff with people who inspire me and concentrate on spending time with those I love, not getting rid of stuff I never loved or writing cards to friends I never had.
Cherish what you have and add only what is missing. It won’t be advertised, or on sale, but hidden in a corner somewhere, waiting to be found.
My morning routine has always been the same. Run, shower, tidy, put a wash on, write, email, finish painting, make a list. I sometimes try and catch the headlines and if my kids are here I iron something, but generally I achieve more in the 3 hours before the world awakes than in the following 18.
The rest of my day is spent tinkering; with thoughts, ideas, stuff. Sometimes I have meetings or appointments but mostly I busy myself with work to avoid cleaning my house. There’s a whole generation of women enslaved by expectations of perfection in houses they should either be living in or leaving in the morning. I refuse to be one of them. I have every gadget going AND a cleaner yet I am never done cleaning so like all addictions I abstain completely and indulge in occasional lapses. This morning was one such occasion. I have a photoshoot in an hour and guests tonight so shorty I’ll be cleaning like a maniac.
I grew up in a house that entertained. Cleaning was fun, thorough and always last minute because it signalled soon guests would be arriving. We had no money, little food and yet my mother conjured up the most delicious feasts on an almost weekly basis. Ambassadors and royalty ate at our little house in East London. Starlets regailed us with their exploits and musicians shared their fears and performance highs and lows. My mother’s food was legendary. I felt privileged to be allowed to stay up late and greet our guests. First I’d take their coats upstairs, then I’d serve them drinks before later clearing their gin and tonic glasses while they moved through to the dining room.
People rarely entertain in Edinburgh, which is annoying because people who work with interiors are always curious to see other’s homes. For a long time this lack of invitations bothered me. I love entertaining. It’s part of who I am. I enjoy everything about it. Chopping, stirring, laying the table, lighting candles, choosing wine and music and then clearing the dishes with a final glass of wine before abandoning the worst of it til morning. Like my mother I cook simple food. Family recipes my guests won’t have tasted which are cheap and simple to prepare. I tried conforming when we were a family and never had people over, but missed hearing stories of other’s lives, relaxing in familiar surroundings while my kids were tucked up in their beds.
Which brings me to the point of today’s post. Don’t be scared to stand out from the flock. If no one else is doing what you do, don’t stop to question or analyse your choices. If you love living differently don’t apologise. Other people’s judgements reflect their needs, their concerns and are often a passionate plea for you to stop making yourself happy while they feel they have no choice but to be miserable. Don’t follow other’s ways and fit in for the sake of it. Live your life not the complex lives of others. Pursue your dreams. Endure your failures. Success on other’s terms is not worth having. Trying to fit in has always left me isolated – like the child who sees the Emperor has no clothes, but chooses to say nothing.
For all it’s universal appeal, ultimately Scotland can be a very parochial and inward looking country. I want my brand to have a broader reach. A global perspective. That’s not the same as wanting it to appeal to everyone. It’s a rallying call for all the people who through love, curiousity or circumstance find themselves living in a cold climate wanting warm, different things. I love Edinburgh and this will always be my children’s home but there are many things for me to challenge here – that sit uncomfortably with me – that I’m no longer willing to overlook. A lot of married Scottish friends see me and think “poor thing you don’t have a husband”. Little do they know I look at them and think “poor thing, you have a husband but I have a life”.
Last night was a wake up call on Scotland’s stalled economy. Friends selling large homes are refusing low-ball offers thousands below home report valuation. Not for the first time there’s a drive to move to London and I’m reminded how many dads work abroad while their families live in Scotland or commute weekly south as I did. Lawyers in good firms are having 3rd and 4th round pay cuts and are threatening to strike. We’re living precariously beyond our means in a housing market that’s dysfunctional and unused to families desperate to downsize.
I briefly consider a return to financial services. The easy money is gone but there’s work to be had for those who can endure it. But it’s thankless work in a dying industry whose reputation is in shreds. I’m a writer with dreams and concrete plans of running an interiors business and know it’s not an option.
The conversation turns to leggings. It’s impossible to get decent quality black ones that don’t fade to grey or cost a fortune. I make a mental note to source some stock and manufacture my own as soon as possible. I have a 3 prong brand development strategy. Black interiors, inspirational writing, simple quality black clothing. Leggings are one of the prongs.
Earlier in the day I’d spent an hour or at my friend’s quirky interiors store Casa Maorada. Not a single customer enters the shop and there are 10 shopping days til Christmas. We discuss the merits of attending Maison Objet, the Paris Trade show to check out suppliers, absorb the atmosphere and get inspired. It’s tempting if we book now and pool hotel accommodation. I leave with black candles for my advent wreath and industrial wire tealights for fireplaces, table decorations and to give as presents. I love this store and would happily drop by daily.
I’m nervously excited about the future. There’s a lot of work to do. I must create a website over Christmas, source product, rent a pop up shop in Stockbridge for storage and capitalise on PR and marketing opportunities relating to selling the hosue. There’s a market in Stockbridge to attend on 6 Jan and I’m reshooting press photos of my kitchen with Scotsman photographer Jane Bowman tomorrow to capture it’s new dark dramatic look.
There are also interior styling classes to organise and last but not least a house to sell. The recession is making entrepreneurs of us all. I’m determined to stay focused, seek out global opportunities and review a move to London as an option. I collect my business cards from Juliana. They look amazing. I feel triumphant. There is DEFINITELY no bailing out now. What do you think I should do?