Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Jag älskar Sweden

  Oh. My. Good. Gosh. There’s such a lot of stuff I want to write about right at this exact moment. But there’s so much going on. This weekend one of my bestest buds is getting hitched. On Monday I hosted a pizza party. Today I need to engineer my journey home from horrible Knightsbridge to take in some froyo (because it’s sunny and I love froyo). You see why i am only now getting around to telling you about my trip to Stockholm.

And there’s so much to say.

But you don’t want to hear every detail of Sarah and my weekend, I’m sure. For example, you could probably do without sharing in the emotional rollercoaster that was 18 hours spent debating the merits of a particular poncho (I’m as surprised as you are) before rushing back to the store in a panic and committing to the purchase. So, here are my highlights, by way of a list. My 'Four Favourite Things' about Sweden. And – to be balanced – some things that I don’t approve of.

Here we go:

1)     Animal homeware in abundance. In such abundance that I find myself questioning whether I am actually Swedish. Where else could you casually stroll into a shop and pick up a set of plates with cats on them, flamingo cocktail glasses, a rabbit-shaped toast track, tea towels featuring a pair of jaunty dancing lobsters, and a dishcloth on which a chicken and an egg ask each other, "Which came first?" (at least I’m guessing by their facial expressions that this is how it translates).

2)     Window displays. Now I don’t want to give all the credit to the Swedes here – the Dutch are also exceptional in this category and perhaps I need to write a blog just about window displays I’ve seen in Amsterdam. But the Swedish also seem to boast untold levels of creativity when it comes to producing strangely dramatic window displays. Now, let’s be clear, I’m not talking about Selfridges-style glamour. Oh no. I’m talking about marvellously quirky out-and-out weirdness. My favourite in Stockholm was at Mulberry. Such an aspirational brand. Such an unexpected use of toadstools. 

3)     Cider. I’m not a very big drinker of alcohol these days. But I am a very big appreciator of surprising cider flavours. My tastebuds and I particularly enjoyed gooseberry and starfruit.

4)     Underground stations that are disguised as caves. True story. I should have taken a picture of these, really. But, if you haven’t been to Stockholm, you’ll just have to believe me. The platforms on the underground network are made to feel like the inside of caves. Big rocks and stuff. Kind of dark and cold. It feels a bit like being a dinosaur. I imagine.

Now, this is not a travel blog (if it was it would be the most rubbish one ever). But I feel it’s important that I give you a balanced opinion. So here’s the three things I’m not so keen on about Sweden.

1)     Toilets. The toilets themselves are mainstream. Nothing to write home about. What is upsetting is that you have to pay to use them. A whopping £1 per visit. And do not – I repeat do not – attempt to cheat the system. I was feeling particularly pleased with myself after craftily cheating the system in one department store by squeezing around the side of a turnstyle and sneaking in free-of-charge. But I was followed by an ugly man who had, apparently, watched the entire episode on some kind of security camera and shouted at me in Swedish until I paid him the money. Well, actually, it was all a bit awkward because I didn’t have any money. So I had to go back out and get money from Sarah, by which point my bladder was about to explode. 

2)     Monies. The toilet thing is one example. There’s no getting around it – Sweden is expensive. They like you to pay them over £7 for a cider. I don’t like that. 

3)     Etiquette. It’s not that I think Swedish people are rude. But there are perhaps some quirks in etiquette (such as those displayed by the aforementioned toilet troll) that can make one feel slightly on edge. Example – Sarah took me to a truly amazing thai restaurant and muttered in exasperation when she saw who was in charge of assigning tables. A power-hungry chap who apparently often pretends to be a mute. Excellent. When our table finally came up (we waited nearly two hours, but we were enjoying pear cider and deeply troubled by the poncho dilemma at this point), he was very reluctant to let us have it. In fact, an in-depth investigation was carried out before we could sit down as he insisted that many Sarahs were waiting and refused to believe that we were first in line. Reluctantly he led us to our table, but we couldn’t help but feel a little unwanted.

So, those are my feelings on Sweden. This weekend I’m back in Edinburgh where there are far fewer opportunities for exotic ciders and animal homeware, but there are cocktails in teapots. I will now leave you with a lion. These guys are all over the place in Stockholm. I’d like one in my living room.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Once upon a time in Gap Kids

At the weekend I went to Sweden. Why? Two main reasons:
1)      Sarah Scott is residing there
2)      Excellent animal-oriented retail activities (they are also residing there)

So let me start with the first one. Sarah is one of my best people. Because I can say, “Did you see the blouse in H and M?” and she instantly knows I mean the horse print, which comes in navy and rust, with the matching dress and skirt (it’s in-store now, people). After a brief flurry of Facebook action, we’ve made decisions and Sarah buys the dress in rust while I go for the blouse in navy. Then we discuss which shoes we like to wear with them. Of course, this kind of mutual fashioning only comes with years of friendship.  

Kind of surprising, considering how that friendship began.

Eleven years ago Sarah and I met in halls of residence at university. We were also on the same course, but as we both made a point of not attending lectures unless they were strictly necessary, our paths never really crossed in that capacity. Which is maybe why, although we both sat in the crowded Ewing House common room watching Neighbours every night at 5.30, and lived only two floors apart, we’d never chatted much until one fateful afternoon in Gap Kids on Prince's Street.

Sarah was there, shopping for her brother (who was five, maybe six years old at the time). I was there shopping for myself. I remember it well because I’d just found a pair of socks featuring a jaunty-looking sausage dog wearing a tiara, when I bumped into Sarah. We made a bit of awkward small talk, I showed her the socks, and I explained, “I really like Gap Kids, it’s much nicer than Gap.”

And Sarah responded.

“Well, I wouldn’t say nicer.”

Knowing Sarah as I know her now, I realise that she was probably just keen to discuss what was going on in the Womenswear department (back in 2000, probably a lot of cargo pant action). But at the time, I took her comment personally. Very personally. Our conversation ended pretty abruptly and I left Gap Kids – obviously stopping to pay for the socks, nothing was coming between me and those puppy tiaras.

I don’t really remember when or how we got to know each other after that. In many ways I’m shocked that we did. But by the end of first year, the whole Gap Kids incident was (almost) forgotten and Sarah was one of my best friends and my favourite shopping buddy. 

Since then we’ve endured some hideous nights studying together, lived together in two different cities, visited each other in different countries when we’ve lived abroad, shopped around the world, and, well, we’ve moved from 18-year-old students to nearly 30-year-old (eek) supposed grown ups and seen each other go through all the surprises, decisions, disappointments, achievements and outfits involved in that process.

At the moment, Sarah’s living in Stockholm.

Which is why on Friday night I was arriving at Stockholm central station with many ants in my pants about the weekend ahead. Sarah was waiting for me. I admired her ultra blue jeans. She admired by pink ones. And so began a weekend of much fun, the best Mulberry window display I’ve ever seen (stay tuned for PICTURES), animal-themed homeware, and a purse in the shape of a raccoon with actual faux fur features.

But you’ll have to wait, because I have to do some work. In the meantime, here’s an ad I really enjoyed in Stockholm. It features a shopping Sloth. And some Swedish people, clearly impressed with his fashion choices. Nice.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Hello there, autumn

Well, hello there, autumn. You’re a bit chilly, aren’t you?

The leaves are falling. X-factor’s back on the telly. The shops are full of knitwear. And, as always happens at this time of year, I’m reminded of my favourite joke. It goes like this (imagine it with funny voices – it’s better with funny voices):

Baby polar bear: Mum, are you sure I’m a polar bear?
Baby polar bear’s mum: Of course I’m sure.
Baby polar bear: I’m not… a grizzly bear?
Baby polar bear’s mum: No.
Baby polar bear: Or a black bear? Or a panda bear?
Baby polar bear’s mum: No, why do you ask?
Baby polar bear: Because I’m freezing!

I feel such an affinity with that baby polar bear. Maybe because every time I complain about the cold (and, yes, I am inclined to grumble quite a lot about it), people gasp and exclaim, “But you’re Scottish!”. Uh huh. I am. But that doesn’t mean I’ve got an invisible layer of thermal tartan to keep me toasty. In fact, I feel the cold more than most people. In September I become an absolute bore as my wardrobe hasn’t caught up with the plummeting temperatures and I spend a lot of time lamenting the fact that it’s inappropriate to have a hot water bottle in the workplace (I used to have one at my old work… two sometimes…).

But I can’t help it. You see, I think I was supposed to live in a much, much warmer climate.

Just like the baby polar bear.

Maybe I’m destined to live in LA. Or Miami.

I did live in Texas for a year. It was absolutely glorious and I even got a tan. Mind you, there are disadvantages to a permanently sunny climate. You have no need for a winter coat, for example. Which is a shame because I do enjoy taking stock of the latest coats each autumn. Usually I don’t even end up buying one. Last year I spent weeks debating the merits of a faux-fur wonder from Topshop before I finally tried it on and had to admit to myself that I resembled a hairy mushroom.

But this year something quite special has been brought to my attention.

Ta dah!

I’m a big fan of ears on hoods. Always have been, always will be. It looks so warm. Positively cosy. And check it out – it’s even Petite which always aids me in my quest to not look like a mushroom. Yes, I do realise I’ll basically be dressing up as a leopard (minus the tail, more’s the pity), but then you never hear jungle cats complaining about the weather, do you?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Behold the Pony Jaquard Cardigan

I didn’t have a knitting granny.

And, you know what, that never really bothered me. I did have a grandma who invited her buddies at the old folks’ home to ‘sherry parties’ in her room. And a Nonna who loved Tom Cruise and motorbikes, and ate icecream every day of her life. Role models.

But there was one major drawback to not having a knitting granny: I never got one of those knitted sweaters with a pony on it, complete with tail made out of actual strands of wool that you can plait. You know the kind? Fiona in my class in Junior 2 must have had a knitting granny, because she had one. It was yellow, the pony was pink, and it even had ‘FIONA’ stitched (knitted?) across the bottom. How jealous was I?

Maybe that’s why, ever since my friend Niki alerted me to Topshop’s latest pony-themed offering, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it. Behold – boys and girls – the Knitted Pony Jaquard Cardigan. 

I know. It’s quite special. And I want it more than is really decent.

Of course, I’ve not even been to visit it yet. Topshop Knightsbridge aren’t stocking it (another item to add to my list of ‘Reasons I hate working in Knightsbridge’). And, I’ll be honest, I’m worried about the neckline. Uncomfortably high? Perhaps. I’m also not delighted that Topshop want me to pay them £60 for it. But, let’s think about this logically. It will keep me warm (oh, how I dread the cold). More to the point, it will keep my heart warm. Surely a bargain at £60?

Well, I’m in Amsterdam this weekend, so until I actually make it to a Topshop that stocks this thing of wonder, I’ll need to try and put it out of my mind. In the meantime, if anyone can think of any additional justifications for this purchase – do let me know.

And you all have very lovely weekends. x

P.S. Zara want me to buy a short-sleeved, pink, silk blouse with SAUSAGE DOGS on it. I swear, it’s like they look inside my head and then make clothes out of what they see.