4 FILMS AND A PAINTING LEAD BACK TO CLOTHES AS USUAL...

I've had all these sartorial threads of inspiration bubbling in my head for a while, trying to think how I could possibly ever get these into some semblance of order that would get past an editor. Then it occurred to me: That sounds like a blog post! Yes! I used to know those (see 2005 - 2014)! So here I am. Oh, journal, whatever.

I've been dreaming of summer by the coast somewhere very hot and dry, with the scent of rosemary and thyme carried by a stiff sea breeze. 

Not that I'm in the winter doldrums at all - there's an explosion of plum blossom and birdsong in my little corner of London at the moment. 

What probably set me off was watching La Piscine at Christmas - in my opinion the perfectly formed film, and not just because of Jane Birkin, who doesn't actually do or say a lot in it, but whose appearance in it launched a million Pinterest boards. The plot is so tightly drawn that whichever way you turn it, or however many times you watch it, there are no holes. The tiniest details have been thought of: in fact the crux of the film hinges on exactly that. The feeling of that intense dog-day afternoon heat permeates the film. This, coupled with the seclusion of the house in the hills of the South of France and the dynamics of the four characters, creates a pressure cooker effect. 

I saw A Bigger Splash not long after having watched La Piscine, and although it's essentially a remake of of the film, to me it's a totally different film which happens to share the same plot, this time set on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria. Where La Piscine is restrained, the acting extremely subtle and reserved, everything in A Bigger Splash is amplified, taken to an extreme of behaviour or expression. Both films feature extraordinary acting by extraordinary actors of course.

I actually love both films equally and I might just love A Bigger Splash a tiny bit more. That is due to the costumes of Tilda Swinton playing Marianne Lane, which constitute my ideal holiday, no, any day wardrobe and which made my heart skip a beat and wish I'd had a facility for screen-capping in the cinema throughout the film. (Which is of course named after the David Hockney painting of the same name. The other A Bigger Splash film - the 'reality' documentary by Jack Hazan on David Hockney in the '70s is another amazing treasure trove of visual inspiration, but I digress.)

Tilda wafts through the film in several outfits designed by Raf Simons when he was at Dior. I obviously didn't know this when I was watching the film and scanned the end credits for clues - why do credits move so fast?! The jig was up when I just managed to catch the special thanks for Tilda's wardrobe to Pieter Mulier - Raf's right hand man. (Tilda's costumes in Luca Guadagnino's previous film I Am Love had also been provided by Raf Simons when he was designing Jil Sander.)

 © Studiocanal

© Studiocanal

I was particularly obsessed with a blue and white striped shirtdress that Tilda wore. It looked simple, but it was complicated - it was almost a fifth character in the film. At first glance, it looked like a normal shirtdress made of striped shirting cotton. Then you notice how it buttons asymmetrically, the placket crossing the body, then how the back of the collar leads to a cut out upper back, leading to a twist at the waist. Cutting at its finest - a subverted shirtdress. You can see it on the spring/summer '14 catwalk here and here, where outside the context of the film and with different styling it looks so different. 

 Screencapped.org

Screencapped.org

 Screencapped.org

Screencapped.org

Which leads me to yet another inspiring shirting moment in film, this time in a short film by Albert Moya for Nowness from last summer. It seems I'm getting most of my inspiration from films these days, while the reverse used to be true. I can't seem to stop screen-capping moving images lately. 

 © Nowness / Albert Moya

© Nowness / Albert Moya

  © Nowness / Albert Moya

© Nowness / Albert Moya

  © Nowness / Albert Moya

© Nowness / Albert Moya

In this film, Marie-Louise Scio, the creative director of hotel Il Pellicano, is seen around the hotel and on her boat wearing a kind of kimono made of striped shirting: red and white, with a blue and white panel at the back. Is it Céline? Custom Charvet perhaps? I have no idea, [EDIT: I did some more sleuthing and it's SS15 Lisa Marie Fernandez, which is stocked in the Il Pellicano boutique] I just know I want to be on a hot and blustery Italian island or rocky promontory facing a clear blue sea wearing something very like either of these over my swimsuit this summer. 

ONE PHOTO FOR EACH MONTH OF 2015...

It's really hard to pick one photo for each month! I'm surprised that these are so London-centric and Brockley-centric. But I tend to post a lot on Instagram from Paris and when I'm travelling to other places, so I tried to include photos I haven't posted anywhere else before. One thing's for sure: after thirteen years I still love my 'hood and I love being at home! 

 January, Paris: Navigating the bafflingly complex multiple queuing system to visit the newly renovated Picasso museum. Nice work though Pablo. 

January, Paris: Navigating the bafflingly complex multiple queuing system to visit the newly renovated Picasso museum. Nice work though Pablo. 

 February, London: One of her better ideas - caves. 

February, London: One of her better ideas - caves. 

 March, Tuscany: We stayed at a beautiful villa called La Selva, where spring had already arrived. 

March, Tuscany: We stayed at a beautiful villa called La Selva, where spring had already arrived. 

 April, Paris: First picnic and rosé by the Seine of the year. 

April, Paris: First picnic and rosé by the Seine of the year. 

 May, London: Home. I enjoyed being at home and in the garden more than ever. 

May, London: Home. I enjoyed being at home and in the garden more than ever. 

 June, London: The grotty end part of the garden was finally replaced with an evening sun terrace. 

June, London: The grotty end part of the garden was finally replaced with an evening sun terrace. 

 July, London: Brockley mass photo!

July, London: Brockley mass photo!

 August, guess where? Coming back from the countryside and St-Malo. 

August, guess where? Coming back from the countryside and St-Malo. 

 September, London: All the tomatoes at my local market, Brockley Market. 

September, London: All the tomatoes at my local market, Brockley Market. 

 October, London: My street ♡.

October, London: My street ♡.

 November, London: I love to get one oyster from Richard Haward at Borough Market if I'm passing. 

November, London: I love to get one oyster from Richard Haward at Borough Market if I'm passing. 

 December, Paris: Walking in Cimetière du Père Lachaise on Christmas Eve.

December, Paris: Walking in Cimetière du Père Lachaise on Christmas Eve.

All photos © Claire Oldman

THE MOMENT...

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

On Boxing Day there was an older lady sitting at a café terrace in rue de Birague drinking coffee, smoking and laughing. She was wearing a camel coat, had slightly bouffed hair à la Deneuve and thick black sunglasses, her face held towards the sun. She and everything around her was shrouded in a thick cloud of curling smoke, caught in the low, strong winter sunlight which bathed the street golden.

So as not to stick a camera in her face, I paused a moment, pointing my camera straight ahead to take a snap of the entire scene on my AE-1 as I passed, with the cafe/sunlight/lady/smoke on the right. Then felt pretty smug in the knowledge I'd just taken one of my best ever photos. I congratulated myself on having seen the moment and been fast enough to capture it and quickly finished the last few frames so I could get the film developed. When I rewound the film, it snapped and the left hand side of the picture is all that's left.

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

EUROSTARGRAMS

Twice a month for the past couple of years I've taken the Eurostar between London and Paris. Before that it was every few months for about a decade. It is now such a routine, such a part of life that I feel quite attached to it and often as if I partially live on it. The Eurostar is certainly the one thing that enables me to live the life I do. I started taking photos from the window at some point - often the early morning and evening light in northern France is otherworldly, ethereal. Certain views I've never captured, or tried to, such as the point far before Paris where a curve in the track gives you a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance if you sit on the left. Emerging from the tunnel into France is one of my favourite things - accompanied by a hundred phones bleeping their arrival onto foreign soil. The sun always seems to be shining. The first image is one of my favourite photos I've ever taken and I joke it should be on my business card. Hometown: Eurostar. 

Now my Eurostargrams have taken on a different light, when I see the rails glinting, the brush next to the track, I think of fences, people trying to get in, on. The number of small dwellings along and near the track between Paris and Calais has increased rapidly, which you don't usually see when your train is whizzing past at speed.

One night last month my Eurostar journey began at 7.13pm at Gare du Nord and ended at 12.10pm at St. Pancras the following afternoon. The final Eurostargram is of the train at Calais while we were waiting to be rescued. We wanted to go to London. They so desperately wanted to go to London. There was nothing to say, no one to blame. A night of living disaster movie scenes, of unexpected humour, camaraderie and of course stoicism. When we were finally rescued, our new train picked up speed rapidly so as not to allow anyone to stop it or get on it, flying past a group of men sitting in the sunshine on an embankment at the side of the track.

DUNGENESS ROAD TRIP

Everything about Dungeness is strange. If you've been there, nothing I can say about it would be an original thought: bleak, surreal, expanse of shingle, desert, desolate, deserted, looming nuclear power stations. If you haven't, I can't describe it in any way that would prepare you. 

A bright, hot summer's day, the gorse in full bloom in the garden of the small wooden fisherman's cottage where Derek Jarman spent his final years, the landscape looking like the wild west in one direction, with rusting remains of fishing boats and machinery scattered across the shingle and like another planet when you turn the other way to see the two nuclear power stations - looming, that's what everyone says. I read an interview with some of the residents who live in the collection of cottages nearest to the power station, which is also closest to where the shingle drops away sharply into a violent sea. No paddling here. This man said he falls asleep to the comforting hum of Dungeness B power station (Dungeness A is no longer operational). Not to the sound of the waves! It would be easy to write off anyone who chooses to live here as a bit strange, but I can feel the pull of the place and I would not say strange, just different and a little brave. Each time I leave, my only thought is when will I come back. 

Derek Jarman's Garden is my gardening bible and reference book, so that was the reason for visiting this summer, and that's what draws most people here. As you approach on a long narrow road through Romney Marsh, you see Ukip banners and flags fluttering on houses, a caravan with a sign carefully stencilled on the side: "Glastonbury (was it 96 or 09?) What a Rave Up!" It feels foreign. After stopping at Derek Jarman's house, respectfully keeping our distance as the house and garden is private and Jarman's partner Keith still lives there, we began to drive / walk to explore some of the other areas. We were able to drive up almost to the power station B and walked along a wooden path raised over the shingle to the crashing sea beyond. There's a pub, two lighthouses, small wooden houses, some made from railway carriages (including Queen Victoria's personal carriage just casually sitting there), scattered around and a tiny single track miniature railway.

A man came along in an official looking van, took out a shovel and spent a few minutes shovelling shingle from one point to another a couple of feet away, then drove away again. We saw one other person walking their dog on the path that runs behind the houses on the stretch where Derek Jarman's house is.

There are also a number of starkly architect designed, suitably black wooden clad houses springing up that are rented as holiday lets. Now that the entire privately owned Dungeness estate is for sale, I expect the tourism aspect will be developed further, which will both be cool, and needs to be in the right hands. As a nature reserve, home to rare species of birds and fauna and an area of special scientific interest it is already protected from development. 

Derek Jarman's house and garden

The Shingle House

Gelon Hanna House

Pobble House

Dungeness Estate Property Sale Listing

 

ROBBIE HONEY

I finally added some new work to the website! It's been a while since I did that, and hopefully I'll be able to share some more soon. 

Working with Robbie Honey on the copywriting for his new range of candles was such a fun and rewarding project for me. There is not much I like more than flowers and (very good) perfume, so to work with Robbie to draw out the stories behind each candle, each of which actually smells exactly like the flower it represents, and his own story, was very enjoyable. Also to try not to veer into totally nonsensical perfumery-speak territory, but still do something poetic. The time and attention put in by Robbie to every detail of his candles project was reassuring - I particularly love the matte finish of the glass encasing the candles and the care taken with the layout of the text on the packaging. I do love copywriting when it's like this! It makes it a lot easier to work with another creative who just gets it, and I found I was inspired myself through the research process. 

You can read it all here or see it on the candle packaging, booklets and promotional materials, as well as on the Robbie Honey website. 

A TOUR OF CAP FERRET

A narrow spit of land about an hour's drive from Bordeaux, Cap Ferret sits on the west coast of France, with the Atlantic ocean's crashing waves on one side, from which the rest of the cape is more or less protected by miles of pine forest and the calmer Arcachon Basin on the other (where all the oysters live). This is where most of the oyster production in France takes place. All the small villages dotted along the cape, each with their own village ostréicole, are situated on this side up to the point where the ocean meets the lagoon. We stayed in Cap Ferret village which is near the point and soon discovered that every time we ventured somewhere else, the area nearest the point always seemed lovelier by comparison. 

I had wanted to visit for some years, so had researched and bookmarked places to go over time, and although we didn't go para-gliding off the Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe - basically a mountain of sand on the Arcachon side of the lagoon, we did admire it from afar while sipping ice cold rosé and getting our (ok my - my companion doesn't eat seafood!) daily fix of oysters by the dozen, farmed from beds only feet away. On our four day trip, we definitely went to all the must-go places, but I had a sneaking suspicion that there was an unmarked oyster hut somewhere random in one of the less picturesque oyster villages, which was the locals best-kept secret. It would be impossible to know that without some local knowledge, so while I can't pretend to know the layers of Cap Ferret like I know them in Paris, I got a pretty good blast of the best it has to offer.

Plage de l'Horizon is a huge, enormous dream of a sandy beach on the Atlantic side, which was almost empty on a warm sunny day. This coast is windy, wild and on some parts of the peninsula can only be accessed through the pine forest. At Plage de l'Horizon it's a short walk from the road and then it's paradise! A note of caution though: It may seem to an English speaker that a baïne would be a lovely bathing area - in fact it's where there's a mortally dangerous rip-current, which runs all along this coast and pulls you out to sea. If you get caught in one you're supposed to let it drag you out and not struggle, and it will eventually deposit you back to shore further along the coast. There were a few surfers, and we even saw a seal swimming along, but with the epic size of the waves and the lack of lifeguards because it was out-of-season I decided against swimming here, as there are more sheltered, calmer swimming spots on the lagoon side. 

I had to include a photo of Popie's, which you can find just before the entrance to the beach above. Looks like an average beach shack, selling inexpensive sarongs and flip flops doesn't it? NOPE. Popie's makes and sells exquisitely sewn, yet eye-wateringly expensive simple summer dresses, caftans etc made from Liberty Tana Lawn printed cottons. THE BEAUTY. It was really hard to resist, what with having had my entire wardrobe made from Liberty prints by my grandmother as a child, it was setting off all my nostalgia buttons, but in the end I couldn't justify the prices. Since I live not far from the actual Liberty in London and also know how to pattern cut and sew but am lazy, I had to walk away and bought a few metres of Tana Lawn when I got home. My sewing machine is yet to be dusted off.

Chez Hortense is a Cap Ferret institution and surprisingly was my absolute favourite place, almost right on the point of the cape. You sit on a covered terrace with grape vines hanging down and with a stunning view across the lagoon to the Dune du Pilat; everything about it is perfect. We didn't know that it's only open on weekends and holidays (out of season anyway) when we rolled up at 2.30pm on a Sunday afternoon without a reservation and somehow managed to get a table in this very popular spot. There were big tables of families, everyone lingering, the staff was rushed off its feet, but never rushed the customers. A big, old chocolate labrador lumbered around the tables and Bernadette, the granddaughter of the original owner, who probably has a few grandchildren herself now, was the picture of gracious hospitality. It's simultaneously adorable and sweet and subtly glamourous. And the food was amazing. Pictured below are the moules maison, which I heartily recommend. 

The Quartier Ostréicole nearest Cap Ferret village and then nearby, facing the sand bank of Mimbeau are by far the prettiest of Cap Ferret. Charming wooden huts have lovely gardens facing onto the lagoon, which is completely different depending on whether the tide is in or out. It was out at lunch-time, exposing the bed of the lagoon, so you could walk across to the Mimbeau sand bank and back after your dégustation d'huîtres. In the evening, a warm jumper was required at the very least, but the tide was in and made the lagoon glow in the dusk, reflecting the boats.

La Cabane du Mimbeau faces the sand bank of the same name and, like all the cabanes d'huîtres is strictly regulated on what it can and can't serve. Since they are oyster farmers, not restaurateurs, they all have the exact same menu, although of course their oysters are all different. There is a choice of white or rosé wine - usually just one of each, the oyster menu of which there are different names and numbers corresponding to size, location and flavour. Bread and butter, crevettes with mayonnaise (which can't be made in-house) and for those poor souls who don't eat oysters, pâté bought in from elsewhere in a jar. That's it! La Cabane du Mimbeau is lovely, and like many of the oyster places is a kind of repository of all my French dream items, featuring the Fermob Luxembourg outdoor chairs I've been obsessed with for years and custom Opinel knives, which has the effect of making you feel like you're in a catalogue shoot or French magazine.

La Maison du Bassin is by far the most hyped up / mentioned place in Cap Ferret. A boutique hotel and bistrot, it is lovely with its wisteria covered walls and terrace, but I think maybe because of all the things I'd read about how amazing it was over the years, I didn't find it that amazing! It's not far from, but not next to the water and the terrace which everyone raves about (and is very nice) actually faces the opposite direction and is enclosed by greenery. So to me, along with the rather sweet but stilted formal service and it being twice the price of everywhere else, it wasn't the highlight it seems to be for so many others. We didn't stay here, but came for dinner one night and had a good time, especially since we saw our friend the Mayor, who we kept seeing every night dining in the same places as us, reading the newspaper, alone except for his chocolate labrador Annabel-Sue. (I have no idea if that's his dog's name, but we decided it was.) I think my non-oyster eating companion was also relieved to have a full menu to choose from. 

La Cabane d'Hortense - owned by the same family as Chez Hortense is very simple - again with the Fermob chairs - very relaxed, and just about perfect.

It's next to Chez Boulan, which I also loved. Along with La Cabane du Mimbeau, these are the two places I'd return to day after day to gorge myself on oysters. Opposite Chez Boulan is Le Bouchon. This is a proper restaurant in a gorgeous timber building and is THE local place to hang out. The Mayor was there, the lady who looked like Zsa Zsa Gabor who we also kept seeing was there, all the wealthy older gents with their dusky red trousers and jumpers artfully arranged over their shoulders AND the young surfer types in their scuffed up Vans and beachy hair were there too. It's also really cosy if it gets chilly and you don't want to sit outside at an oyster place.  Its website doesn't do it justice at all. There's a great wine list and it's all locally produced fish, meat and vegetables.

 Excuse the pillar, but Annabel-Sue is on the left! 

Excuse the pillar, but Annabel-Sue is on the left! 

There's a very famous sweet delicacy in Cap Ferret, made by Boulangerie Chez Pascal, called Les Dunes Blanches, below. They're little chou puffs filled with lightly whipped patisserie cream (I think - it's a secret recipe!) Anyway, they're delicious and you have to try them, but if you're nearer Cap Ferret village than Grand Piquey where the boulangerie is, you can find them at the Cap Ferret covered market in the mornings. This is really worth a visit, especially if you're renting a house rather than staying in a hotel - all the local producers have stands here. There's also a great little cafe inside - disregard the one outside that looks like it has all the canelés and is the place to go - it's not. Peyo is the place to go for your morning coffee, and it has little savoury tapas bites and charcuterie if you can't cope with eating a major sugar explosion for breakfast every day. 

Le Canon is another super adorable village, but don't miss the village of L'Herbe in between it and Cap Ferret village, which is strangely easy to miss out because of the road layout, but I'm sure is where all the low-key millionaires live in hidden away amazing wooden houses with their Porsches stowed safely away, which are ubiquitous here. The fishing village at Le Canon is really sweet and made up of alleys of small wooden huts and houses, with narrow alleys leading to small slipways to the lagoon. We actually went here because of an article I'd read in the UK press, where the writer was waxing lyrical about a charming place called L'Arkeseon, which I'd hazard a guess was somewhere he ended up dehydrated with sunstroke after a boat tour and proceeded to chug a vast quantity of wine, as it's the most random tabac / bar with zero charm and possibly the worst reviews I've ever read! Such are the dangers of believing travel articles written by someone who's only spent a few days in a place, which is why I make a point of saying I've only been to Cap Ferret once and don't know it intimately like I do Paris. 

The brocante des rêves: On the main road through Le Canon is my very favourite place in the whole of Cap Ferret, Atelier Anne Gros. This is where all your brocante dreams can come true, for real. If I thought there was a possibility I could go back with a large van anytime soon, I'm not sure I'd tell anyone about it! Since I've been exploring more of France it has become clear that all that really expensive, rare French vintage stuff you pay a fortune for in London, or even in Paris, is widely available everywhere in the countryside. But this is a bit different and special. This lady has the best taste, an amazing eye and very reasonable prices. I went back three times, my Easyjet hand baggage only allowance the only thing preventing me from furnishing my entire home with her wares. There is everything you could possibly want there, from old linens, to simple pottery to the more fancy antique silver and glassware.  

So there you have it: Oysters, wine, beaches, pine forests, brocantes, beauty and fresh air. 

JEAN COCTEAU'S ORCHARD

Last weekend I ended up in Milly-La-Foret, less than an hour's drive to the south-east of Paris, just on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. I was told that Jean Cocteau had lived there and that you could visit his house. I had no idea previously where his house was, so, as is often the best way, had no preconceived ideas of what it might be like and no time to obsessively Google it. Once we were there I realised I'd seen pictures of the three rooms which have been recreated as they were, on Instagram or Pinterest, especially of his desk. 

The house was interesting, but when we stepped outside into the garden I was really amazed. No mention had been made of it - I wouldn't even have known there was a garden. Maybe it's because I started planting my own garden last year and it's become such an enthusiastic passion, or maybe it was because it was so unexpected and everything shimmered on a beautiful spring day. 

The house is on the estate of an old chateau, which is now half-ruined and uninhabited and is just on the other side of... the moat! The whole of Jean Cocteau's garden is surrounded by a fairly substantial moat, which makes perfect sense as he bought it as a refuge from his flat at 36 rue Montpensier (next to the Jardin du Palais Royal) in Paris, which was constantly besieged by fans, with people trying to look into his windows or ringing his doorbell. At Milly-Le-Foret he could remain in total privacy and tranquillity.

There's nothing showy or over-manicured about the garden, which is exactly why I love it and might be why they don't particularly advertise it. First there are a couple of lawns and flower beds, then across the first bridge of the moat is a large orchard of espaliered apple trees - each a different variety and in blossom when we visited. Across another bridge there are beehives (yes, you can buy a jar of Jean Cocteau's honey, or honey from his land anyway) and a wide circular mown path around an area of trees and brambles left more or less wild, with the moat all the way around, which makes for a lovely stroll. To the right I think must be the land of the abandoned castle, and to the left as you walk around you can see that some modern houses have now been built, which wouldn't have been there when Jean Cocteau was alive.  

It was such a beautiful and unexpectedly charming place. From Paris by car it's really not far at all, but I don't think it's something you could do by public transport. I'll definitely be back to see the garden and the chapel, which we missed, not knowing why we should make the 20 minute walk there from the house or how amazing it is - thanks to post-visit obsessive Googling I now do. 

Below are some pictures I took on my walk around Jean Cocteau's garden. 




TUSCANY, PHONES...

All these photos (except the one above, of my phone to the left of the morning bun at Brickhouse Bakery - thanks C!) were taken in the beautiful hills of Tuscany last week on my Iphone 6+, which I got and have been complaining about since last November. Although I find it really heavy, ergonomically bothersome and annoying to use in most respects, mostly having to do with my ridiculous mini hands, I must concede that it takes good pictures (when you've got both hands free to hold it up - it's impossible to use one-handed) and the bigger screen is excellent for reading and looking at images (for which I end up resting it on my leg most of the time as it's too heavy to hold comfortably for any length of time). So yes, it's got its issues, but maybe my hands and wrists will become superhumanly strong from using it. For now, I definitely need a case as I drop it all the time. Ages and ages ago, Caseable contacted me via my old blog to ask if I wanted to design a custom case. It took me so long to get around to it, as I kept dithering on upgrading, and then finally lo - I got a new phone and did it in about four seconds. The design is a detail from the big oil painting in my living room, with a CO monogram, naturally. 

I did take some photos on film in Tuscany, but what with the unwieldy phone it was a bit tricky to hold both phone and camera,  with its new leather wrist strap, which I meant to include in this post but forgot. Anyway, it's this, from OakandAwl on Etsy. I love it. Monogrammed as well of course. 

*I got my Iphone 6+ case free of charge, but was not otherwise compensated or obliged to post about it.

IN A ROW

It's not that easy to get ducks to sit in a row, but that's the plan. 

 Apparently these are Egyptian geese...

Apparently these are Egyptian geese...

At some point I'll transfer the Lola Is Beauty archives over here, but I need a bit of hand-holding, what with the possibility of broken links and/or general catastrophe, which has already happened once before. Once is enough! My hand-holder has not yet been available to help me through it, or rather do it for me while I hide behind the sofa with a strong drink. So then everything will be here, rather than a bit here and my documentation of the past ten years languishing somewhere else, and I'll try to make it all easily searchable, with nifty categories and whatnot.

Blogging about blogging is such a bore, but since I wrote that post here a while ago, I've been pleasantly reassured to find that there are so many who feel as I do, or who are at least supportive of me feeling that way. Reading this post by Maja Hattvang, whose blogging and sensibility I like so much really cheered me up (you might need Google Translate if your Norwegian's a bit rusty) and articulates a lot of things I'd been thinking without me having to articulate them, which is handy, because I find that difficult.

I now feel that having been totally immersed in the ways of the internet for ten years, I probably know what's best for me and can trust my own instinct. I'd had a lot of unsolicited advice from people who, when I first had a blog would say, "Uh, what's a blog?", who then segued into, "Oh, you're a BLOGGER" in a somewhat dismissive tone, and then, once blogging became completely mainstream and blogs were being mentioned in the mainstream press along with (mostly invented) figures of their earning power, had glanced at a few articles and thought I was an idiot for not making a six-figure salary from my blog and shilling for every brand known to man. Ok, now I have written the words blog, blogger and blogging enough times and shall resume writing my lovely journal.

SPRING IN WINTER

Anyone scrolling through my Instagram this month could be forgiven for thinking I spend my days gaily dining with abandon at the finest restaurants in London (and Paris) without a care in the world. I've had a pretty great run of meals this January - at Chez Georges in Paris, where I'd wanted to go for years - in London, at Claridges, Spring, The Chiltern Firehouse, Scott's, drinks at Duke's bar, dining at private clubs - all very lahdidah. Appearances are deceptive. Most, if not all of these outings were due to the kindness of family or friends. The before and after of these days was far less glamourous. 

So how lucky am I to have all but banished the dreariness of January with good food and company. It's very much a high/low situation: one minute I'm toiling over some extremely mundane task, the next I'm in the glowing surrounds of a truly great restaurant where the surroundings, the staff, the napkins, the cutlery, and most importantly the menu all vibrate at the exactly perfect pitch for me to appreciate and savour. 

Spring, at Somerset House, illustrates this perfectly. As my choice for a post-Christmas catch up lunch, I didn't know if it would be too much. Too designed, too showy perhaps. Very hyped restaurants sometimes need time, and quite a bit of it to settle. It is obviously very girly: it's pastel pink, it's baby blue, it's petal strewn. But this didn't seem to faze all the men enjoying their lunch there.

What our lunch at Spring gave me, apart from a very delicious meal in fine company, was the hope of spring in the air. I loved everything about it: the tactile walls in pale blue linen, the touches of pink, the design of the bathrooms and the huge branches of magnolia buds and cherry blossoms that fit the grand scale of the rooms. The sommelier and waiter who looked after us were both knowledgable and friendly - I had heard some sniggering about their uniforms of stripy tops and rolled up trousers, that, it's true, would not look out of place on a fisherman in Pellestrina. But I thought they were perfectly suited to young guys who know about food and wine and are on their feet all day. And then Skye Gyngell in chefs' whites appearing at various points during our meal, in different areas of the restaurant, watching, checking.

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 The bar

The bar

My companions both had burrata with agretti (monk's beard) to start, which is just the kind of ingredient I love to see on a menu and then make grand plans to forage. I went straight in for the veal, which was divine, with cavolo nero, borlotti beans, anchovy, lemon and sage. I would eat this happily every day and will try to recreate the beans and cavolo nero part at home. Then a pear, hazelnut and espresso tart. I don't even like dessert much, definitely don't like anything coffee flavoured, but somehow this was demolished in seconds. 

It was like a dream. Then back to the reality of train delays, sandwiches in plastic wrappers, too long walks in too high shoes and feeling cold to your core. I'd like to go back soon for another dream.

BLOG THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

It has been strange getting used to being in this new internet home. My intention was for this website to be very simple, stark and uncluttered, but I have to resist the temptation to drape it with garlands, vases of tulips, antique rugs and pictures tacked up on the walls with hot pink tape. My Lola Is Beauty blog had plenty of these comforts in the form of funny sidebar widgets with cats or telephones on, little bits and pieces scattered around that made it feel homely, but maybe a bit too untidy. In the end, I felt like having a new blank slate was best.

Having something new and something old to reflect on at the start of the year has led to a bit of clarity, but not a clear path forward. In the past few years, as blogging changed into something almost unrecognisable to when I began in 2005, I started to feel quite self-conscious about what I was posting, not just on the blog but anywhere and really, not enjoying it. The feeling I couldn't shake in the past couple of years was now that almost everyone was consuming content online, the way one must 'speak' became generic and stilted. I still don't know if this was just a notion of mine or something based in reality, but I started to feel awkward, worried even about saying something irreverent or funny, or silly online. Or just producing something that wasn't archly and knowingly curated to the nth degree. This was why I initially kept my Twitter and Instagram accounts private for a long while, but I still felt I had to self-censor, not that anything I would ever say could be considered particularly offensive. I had enjoyed writing in my own space as if I was talking to a good friend - which lets face it, is at least 80% of my voice - and which happily had resulted in me making new actual good friends as well as a community of likeminded blog friends and readers. 

It feels to me as if the appropriate way to blog or indeed conduct any kind of social media communication now (excluding the wonder of emojis!) is as if you were cold emailing someone very important. And that formal style of communication is just not interesting to me. I guess people don't want to expose their genuine selves too much now? The alternative is just to be very, very curt, which led to me posting a lot of pictures with short captions. This was probably unrewarding for both blogger and reader. It was all quite confusing in a way - as more and more people got into reading blogs my visitor stats went up and up, regardless of how much less I put into it, probably by virtue of it having been around a long time. 

In terms of mentioning products or things I liked, I was stuck: The sometimes hundreds of PR emails I received (and still do actually) daily were consistently wanting me to plug things I had no interest in and could never have fitted into the blog, or been able look myself in the eye ever again if I had claimed to represent them. At the same time I became wary of mentioning anything I just happened to like, that people could misinterpret as a product plug. But that's a whole other topic. 

What I would like to know is if this feeling of unease is specific to me? I openly admit to disillusionment with the entire internet, but I wonder if anyone else feels or has felt the same way? Are we still allowed to talk about how we feel about the state of things, or should I just go and repin some pins and shut up unless I'm being corporately sponsored to say something?! 

ON STYLING...

Styling is not something I do very often these days - at least not the big scale production kind with mega amounts of prep in a very short time that I worked on for so many years. In some ways, once a stylist always a stylist and I just can't help but for elements of it to leak into other things I'm doing. I still love clothes and will probably always be playing around with them in one way or another.

But sometimes I'll do a styling job to remind myself how it feels to get up at 4.30am, be on location with a crew, feel the hard to explain on-set hysteria that usually occurs about 10 hours into your working day, and can lead to fits of uncontrollable giggles, often hiding behind a clothing rail in a winnebago. And when I'm asked to come in on a job as reinforcements by someone I've been working with on and off since 1999 on all kinds of shoots, the answer can only be, yep, sure, what's my call time?

This was also a nice brief: a day in the life of young actress Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary in Downton Abbey) for M&S Style and Living: In The Moment. We shot at different locations around Soho and Bloomsbury. It felt very London and such a treat to be in those places that are so familiar to me, but from a different viewpoint - like backstage at Ronnie Scott's or in Bedford Square Gardens, which is not open to the public. 

You can see the film and feature here

PREMIER ÉTAGE

It was an inauspicious start to the day. I had wanted to stop at Du Pain et des Idées to get pastries for breakfast on the go, but it was pouring with rain and the prospect of hovering next to the canal trying to shelter soggy pastries meant a rethink. We were on our way to see the Garry Winogrand exhibition at Jeu de Paume and decided, since it was raining so heavily, on the easy / whatever option of going somewhere close to it where we could sit down. Le Pain Quotidien was nearby, would have provided a warm and dry refuge (my rubber rain boot was leaking), probably some half decent pastries and coffee, and an unmemorable experience.

Trudging up to the place du Marché Saint-Honoré there was first one, then another cute looking bistro. There are several types of and many deceptively cute looking bistros all over Paris, especially in the very centre: from the faux patina of Costes owned establishments that have been painstakingly distressed to look like they've been there for years, to genuinely old places that look the part, but serve up reheated frozen dishes which have been prepared in an industrial facility somewhere in the suburbs outside Paris. (Read more on this sadly widespread practice here and here.) It's surprisingly hard to find the real deal Parisian dream bistro that hasn't been marred in some way. As Parisians love to say about almost anything; 'It used to be good, but now it's just for the tourists.'

So when we stopped to admire the sign hand painted on the glass door, then peered inside to see a long zinc bar and room of small tables and chairs that could have been from a film set in 1950s Paris, we were intrigued, but didn't expect much. But then my companion pointed out that some of the things written on the menu which hung outside were rarely found on menus in Paris these days. And it just had an air about it. We shrugged and said why not give it a go. It was almost midday so we could go straight in for lunch.

There were only two customers at the bar - the place was otherwise empty. We asked for a table for lunch. 'Premier étage' was the response, as the man nodded towards what looked like a small cupboard door in the corner next to the bar. We looked uncertainly at all the empty tables downstairs - no explanation was given so we opened the door and climbed a narrow, tiny, rickety wooden staircase to the first floor where at the top of the stairs stood a lady brandishing a large knife and an even larger saucisson, which she was peeling. She welcomed us, instructing my companion to leave his umbrella next to the saucisson and showed us into a small dining room, which was also completely empty. The decor was old fashioned, a bit scuffed and faded, but scrupulously clean. I was having visions of a Carry On style farce by this point, what with the saucisson, large knife, umbrella and empty room of little tables and chairs with no exit except back past the saucisson.

We chose a table next to the window and I put my bag on the empty chair next to me, and was immediately politely requested to move it. Although there were wines listed on the wall, the lady just asked us what region we'd like our wine to be from, then rattled off what might suit (and here I must point out how useful it is having a native with you. I would have been a bit lost with the rapid fire French banter and the requisite rapport would have failed to materialise.) We asked for rillettes to start and in short order a huge plate of the best pork rillettes I think I've ever had in Paris appeared, served with bread, cornichons and our wine. The lady stayed with us and chatted - about Paris, about how things used to be, how they've changed, how long she'd been there (27 years), how the rillettes were made by the owner who was from Le Mans, so it was only right that he prepared them.

We ordered our main courses from the choice of around six dishes: saucisson with pommes vapeur and a bit of apple, and jarret de porc with lentilles. Within about fifteen minutes of our arrival the room was elbow to elbow - every table was filled, mostly with men. There were bankers, lawyers, a table of tourists... from another region of France. I was the only non-French person in the room and one of only three women. The lady busied herself in the kitchen and somehow simultaneously and seamlessly seated people and took their drink and food orders, then served them the food she'd cooked herself, without missing a beat. 

 © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

She gently berated my companion for not eating his onions, which led to me desperately trying to finish the mountain of delicious buttery lentils I'd been served and pleading with him to help me finish the enormous knuckle of pork I'd been trying and mostly failing to demolish. Here is where it became clear why men loved eating here - it was like a return to mother. It was comfort food, food to send sons into battle on a cold winter's day.

We knew we'd return here, so thought it only right to round out our experience with a shared dessert, even though we'd barely be able to walk after the generously portioned main course. We chose a tarte aux poires, but we should have ordered the gâteau au lait, which our hostess had made that morning and was the right choice, we were told. The pear tart was great, but I have no doubt she was right about the gâteau au lait and well, everything. 

Of course, later at home with Google, it became clear that this place isn't exactly a secret. David Lebovitz has reviewed it twice! What was special about it for me though, was that with no prior internet research or tip-off, we just physically stumbled on this place in a city we both know very well. We made a snap decision to go inside based on some kind of intuition about its apparent authenticity, which was borne out by our wonderful, memorable lunch there. Trust me, that's a rare gem indeed.

Le Rubis, 10 rue du Marché Saint-Honoré, 75001, Paris. 

  © Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman


LA FRANCE PROFONDE

This summer, with monthly visits, I was able to broaden my horizons far beyond Paris and get deeper into France. 

Auvergne and Ardèche were certainly the France Profonde I'd heard about. Remote, sometimes eerily so - huge distances driven through great swathes of countryside, into the gentle hills, sunflower fields and forests of Auvergne, then taking hair raising mountain passes with names like 'The Hanged Man's Pass' or 'The Pass of the Dead Woman' in thick fog and driving rain into the heart of Ardèche - taking the expression 'getting away from it all' to new heights.

Not so far afield and only an hour or so from Paris, the gardens at Giverny, which despite being incredibly crowded, have inspired my planting in my own much humbler gardening adventure this summer. 

The landscape of Normandy and Brittany seems familiar and even comforting to English eyes, yet is somehow bigger, prettier, better; which probably explains its popularity. Oysters in Cancale, a walk around Mont Saint-Michel and my personal favourite: the HQ and factory outlet of Saint-James - maker of the striped breton tops I wear almost daily, located in an industrial estate just outside the eponymous town. I tried out the Steller app by making a silly story about it, which you can find here

Below, some film photos from the summer.