Sunday, 18 September 2016

Girl Trouble, Girl Up, and Girls Will be Girls: Books About Being Teenage







Recently, I’ve been devouring books. Funny word, isn’t it? Devouring. Part of the language we apply to reading: one of bookworms, delectable stories, bittersweet endings, sentences to savour, and novels gobbled up in a single sitting. I mean - it’s not a language exclusive to books. The imagery of taste and consumption can be extended in all sorts of other directions. But I like it here. It sounds (and feels) right. I’ve devoured book after book. It’s been delicious.

If we stretch this conceit out a little further, I’ve also been relishing a feast of great variety: poetry, essays, non-fiction, memoir, YA novels, contemporary literary fiction, classics, page-turners and slow-burners. Things I’ve adored and things that have left me unsatisfied (those ones have their own fun though: why didn’t they work? What was so irksome, or stupid, or dull?) Many of them have ended up on my Instagram - for, of course, has a book truly been read if the reading isn’t publicized and made visible? (I jest. Mostly.) 

I’ve sat in the sun with a coffee and nothing to do but revel in words (especially Jenny Diski’s words), stayed up until 2am as an ending gallops into sight (Frances Hardinge’s books, full of intricate leaps of imagination, are so very, very hard to put down), sat at the top of hills with wind juddering at my ears and poetry in my hands (Owen Sheers’ A Poet’s Guide to Britain was ripe for a revisit), and spent plenty of time on trains with my eyes firmly on the page (a strange but great mix of Roland Barthes and the joyously dazzling Katherine Rundell).

This summer, I’ve also been reading plenty of books about what it means to be teenage - well, there’s a surprise! Can’t think why… In all seriousness though, it’s a very good time for smart, entertaining books addressing adolescence in a variety of ways. As I've said before, to be a part of this growing surge is both a thrill and an honour. Notes on Being Teenage has been keeping me busy: school talks, book festivals, chairing events, and lots of articles. Next up is an event with Red magazine this Wednesday (the 21st), where I’ll be giving careers advice alongside incredible women like Cathy Newman and Nimko Ali.

Given all that, I thought it was ripe time to pick up on a handful of my favourite books on all things teenage – some new, some older, all wonderful:

Ctrl Alt Delete: I feel hugely fortunate to count Emma as a friend. She’s a whirlwind of activity and curiosity – running a brilliant podcast (listen to her episode with me here), newsletter, and blog, as well as giving talks. She’s the kind of person who always spurs me on to want to do more. AND she’s lovely. Anyway, her book is a warm, entertaining, very relatable memoir of growing up online. I found myself turning down page corners and nodding along as she explores the fumbling (sometimes stumbling) way we grow up and learn to negotiate the online world. 

Girl Up: I love Laura Bates. She’s incredible. An absolute force. A necessary one, too. Girl Up had me cackling on public transport, and snapping pictures of the illustrations to send to friends. If I’d read it in my mid-teens, I think it would have offered me those two crucial things: reassurance that I wasn’t alone, and courage to use my voice and make it a little louder. Give a copy to every teen girl you know. It is fierce, hilarious, very, very feminist, and guaranteed to leave you feeling fired up. Plus, it has dancing vulvas on the endpapers. What more could you want?

Mind Your Head: I interviewed Juno Dawson for my book (she mentioned Björk and David Bowie, so I was very happy), and did two events with her this summer at YALC and Edinburgh. She’s sharp, thoughtful and very funny, both on stage and on the page. This is lovely, comprehensive, and, crucially, properly honest guide to navigating mental health in your teens.

Girl Trouble: Teen girls have always been seen as vaguely dangerous – or, at least, vaguely likely to cause upset and push against expectations. Here Carol Dyhouse takes an in-depth look at the many and varied moral panics surrounding young women over the course of the 20th Century. Bringing together sexuality, gender, costume, work, class, the media, and plenty else, it’s a compelling (and excellently researched) publication that illuminates many of the ongoing discussions about teen girls we see today. Also seek out her other fab book Glamour

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? I also had the pleasure of meeting Holly Bourne this summer, and the chance to read the third novel in her fab Spinster series. Here the protagonist Lottie sets herself a rather tricky (but very brilliant) challenge: to call out every instance of sexism she witnesses for a whole month. Hilarity and chaos ensure. Very fun YA with serious undertones.

Girls Will be Girls: Got enough girl titles in here yet? Emer O’Toole’s book is a bit of a dream for me: about teenagers, dressing up, play, performance, and the roles we take on and cast off. I haven’t quite finished this yet, but it’s a pleasure to read – seamlessly swinging between memoir, theory and deft observations on our complex relationships with gender.

We Should All Be Feminists: A short and sweet essay (with a powerful message) for all ages, from the ever-fantastic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Especially relevant here, however, because last year it was reported that every 16 year old in Sweden would be given a copy. Imagine that happening in the UK. Just imagine.  

There are a few others, not pictured here, that would make the list too. Both of Louise O’Neill’s books (see my review of Asking for It on the blog here) are difficult, daring reads, while the charmingly illustrated My Name is Girl by Nina Cosford (out next week) will strike a chord with many young women. Phoebe Gluckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl – the graphic novel behind the film – delves into disturbing, unsettling places (more in the camp of being ‘about’ teen experience rather than ‘for’ teens), but remains an interesting, upfront exploration of sex and desire. 

Next year will also herald the release of both Hannah Witton’s Doing It, and Gemma Cairney’s Open; the former a no-nonsense sex and relationships guide that is really, really needed right now (go see Hannah's excellent vlogs here), and the latter a wonderful sounding toolkit for adolescence by the marvelously sunny, funny Gemma (who, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I also met this summer at YALC, where she chaired a panel I was on). 

Phew! What a brilliant bunch of books. If you want more recommendations when it comes to young women in fiction, you can also head on over to For Books' Sake, where I compiled some of my favourites. Includes Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle (of course), as well as work by authors including Helen Oyeyemi and Daisy Johnson. 

Now, with the sun still golden outside my window, it’s time to hop outside and dive into another one. I wonder what I'll pluck from the shelves next. 

My dress here is a vintage St Michael one that I bought before I realized that off-the-shoulder was the biggest trend of the summer – a fascinating phenomenon I wish I had time to properly explore here... The shoes are Orla Kiely for Clarks (in the Bibi style), and the necklace and belt are both vintage.

OH, and if you've happened to enjoy my book, I'd be hugely grateful for an Amazon review. They really do help. Thanks to all the gorgeous readers I've met and spoken with this summer. It's been such fun. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Here








We were on our first cocktail of the night. Many (too many) more were to follow. My friend made reference to the music playing. “This is Christine and the Queens. You'd love her.” As we drank and chatted, he occasionally broke in to comment on the songs. I did that thing each time of nodding, intrigued but dimly aware that I’d more than likely forget and berate myself later when I couldn't recall the name. I do this all the time: with books, with music, with films. Recently I’ve started putting them in my phone straightaway, my notes full of the flotsam of suggested reads, things to listen to, shopping lists, reminders and to-do’s and should-have-been-done’s, scraps of ideas. Sometimes I fish them out again, working up a line of poetry into something more substantial, or just actually bloody remembering to buy milk the next day.

Two weeks later I encountered Héloïsse Letissier’s stage name again in an article. This time I properly paid attention, immediately listening to her music. Then I listened and listened and listened some more. There’s a kind of magic in that moment of falling hard for an album. You impulsively tell people about it. You watch all the music videos you can lay your hands (or scrolling fingers) on. You don’t want to play anything else for a good week because it’s all a bit pale compared to this new, exciting set of sounds providing ideal company on the bus, in the shower, during cooking, while lying on a bed doing nothing but listening and thinking and relishing lyrics not previously noticed.

In the case of Christine and the Queens, a particular snippet kept rattling around my head from ‘Tilted’: “I’m doing my face with magic marker/ I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer.” You need to hear it to get the effect, the jaunty euphoria of (to my mind) looking as you want, doing what you want, being where you want. Those two lines have floated into my head again and again. Others too – not least her description of dancing as something “safe and holy” – but I keep on returning to this image. It pinpoints that superb moment of everything aligning, of all being bright, costumed, painted. To me, it’s the exact moment of feeling capable of facing down the world, whether in a minute grabbed in front of the mirror before a train journey, or an hour of twirling around getting ready in the evening, choosing clothes, daubing lips with red, assembling appearances.

Really, it’s in this suggestion of play, and dressing up, that my love for her work tips head over heels. Like many of my favourite singers (Kate Bush, David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Björk), it’s not just about the music here – but also the performance, and the personas shimmied on and off in music videos, or on stage. All that potential for toying with costume, the chance to embellish, enlarge or downsize posture and personality. In the case of Christine and the Queens, there’s something so totally enthralling in her suit-wearing, sharp-dancing, assertively physicalized act. She swaggers and swoops, a perfect pattern of limbs with her backing dancers.

It’s an act wrapped up in a deft negotiation of sexuality, identity, and spectacle: assembling a space for the audience in which anything goes, and all is accepted. It is deliciously queer and deliciously gorgeous; a graceful, hip-shaking suggestion of the way music should be felt from head to toe (Letissier won’t use songs if they don’t make her want to dance). It’s an exploration of gender at once joyous, subversive, and thoughtful, played out through some thumpingly good songs.

All of this is also played out in clothing choices. Here they’re decisive: blazers and trousers cut with room for movement (or, in the case of Paradis Perdu, with a gradual, gargantuan, parodic spread of fabric). They are agile clothes, practical clothes, clothes that fit the lyrics, full as they are with discussion of desire, bodies, appearance, and, in the case of iT, what it might mean to be a man.

I’m fascinated by the power found in suits. It’s part physical, part cultural. A suit weights you with a particular set of motions, a decisive way of walking and holding your hips. Suits also come with a weight of associations: of business and commerce and long hours in the office, of dressing for dinner, heading out on the town, straightening a bowtie before boogying the night away, of everyone from Don Draper to Marlene Dietrich. Many of these images are gendered. To be female and to shrug on a suit can still hold a subversive thrall, despite it now being a well-worn (in both senses of the meaning) path.

In fact, I set out here planning to write something about the history of the suit and the intrigue that comes with donning a garment we still deem ‘mannish’ (or, in the heteronorm-babble of fashion mags, as ‘boyfriend style’). But the relationships built up between fabric and the skin beneath – well, the more I thought about them, the more I realized just how interesting and complicated they are. It’d require an awful lot more words for them to be done any kind of justice.

So for now, I’ll stick with saluting the suit, and the singer who inspired me to spend a little more time thinking about crisp shirts and good trousers (among other things). After that first, feverish week of listening to/ watching/ reading many, many interviews with Christine and the Queens, I spent plenty of time eyeing up blazers in charity shops and vintage markets, nosing around in search of good tailoring.

What I guess I love most is possibility: the strength and potential found in different types of garments. When I slipped on the outfit pictured, I immediately felt my posture change. I wanted to stride around, to move, to dance away through the heather and across the hills, slithering across the rocks in my brogues. I stood differently. I stood assertively, in my right place, keenly aware in the breeze of how good it felt - this small act of magic conjured up in black velvet. 


The suit is second-hand - blazer and trousers bought separately. The brogues were also from a charity shop. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Cascades of Earliness






4.45am isn’t a time I’m used to. I’m more of a late starting girl, given half a chance: the kind who loves to laze in bed until mid-morning, reading and snoozing and listening to music (and, if I’m honest, spending slightly too long staring at my phone). But today I am up before the birds, shaking away sleep as I pull on tights, a polo-neck, dress, boots, shearling jacket. By 5.04am I’m in the car with my dad, clutching a flask of tea. We drive out of the village towards the mist. It’s thick, turning trees and hedges into flat silhouettes. Our car slips through the grey. Shortly after, the sky’s edges curl pink.

By 5.30am we’re standing at the top of the hill: a vast hill, looking down over valley upon valley of towns and fields. As the minutes go by, the heather stretching in every direction is illuminated – as is everything else, lines and details soaked clear with daylight. We witness the shift from shadows to green, mauve, blue, tangerine. The tangerine belongs to the clouds. They score the view ahead: great big scratches of light and colour. My dad fusses with his cameras (plural - our reason for being here). I sit on an anorak among the heather, watching. Soon I’m trying to note down everything I can see and hear, scribbling bullet points, only some of which make sense:  

  • ·      Traffic growl only sign of life
  • ·      crows – harsh notes
  • ·      hills holding their breath
  • ·      sheep bleating
  • ·      stillness up here - motion below

·    
But none of it can properly capture the grandeur of it; the elation of watching a landscape wake up, lit by that huge, neon circle swimming up from the horizon; the sense of standing at the edge of a world that is only half-yours, that still, somehow, belongs more to the birds and the insects in the grass and the last gasp of night.

Then there’s the knowledge that this process happens all the time (though, of course, not always as marvelously as this) – a regular spectacle most of us don’t witness. Virginia Woolf writes beautifully in ‘On Being Ill’ about spending time staring at the sky, noting wryly, “one should not let this gigantic cinema play perpetually to an empty house”. But she also knows that the sights up above have “nothing to do with human pleasure or human profit”. They happen because they must. Our joy at these scenes is incidental.

This dawn rising is the culmination of a long weekend spent throwing myself back into the green, reveling in all this gorgeous expanse. I’ve said goodbye to Oxford, and, sad as it is, there’s something galvanizing in the temporary change of scene. There are books to read, slopes to climb, water to seek out, long walks to complete, muscles to tire out, projects to pursue. I’m craving activity and motion. But, at the crown of the hill, there’s just this: a dawn so impossibly beautiful, and so impossibly everyday.  

When we leave, the sunshine is bright, but there’s an autumnal bite in the air. In a few hours it’ll relinquish its grip back to summer, and the garden will be baking hot. I’ll sit on my laptop with all the doors and windows open. I’ll grab some time in the warmth, flowers around me, with Alice Oswald’s poetry collection ‘Falling Awake’ – delighted to find that the second half is titled ‘Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of Dawn’. It will give words to the morning I could never have shaped myself, Oswald writing, “here come cascades of earliness in/ which everything is asked is it light/ is it light is it light”, and I’ll be carried through page after page: “there is amazement here turning/ wishfully pink above the trees”. She’ll talk of “the lurch the/ well-known slap of joy when/ bird-verse takes a regular line”, of how “a great proximity arches overheard”, of the ways in which “the sky’s a cloth the eye a passer-/by with mirrors”.

But here, with the promise of breakfast ahead, I’m still a passerby. The air is crisp outside the car. The mist is lingering on the fields, and we’ll be back home before anyone else is up.

In between all that rapturous watching, I managed to convince dad to take a few photos of me – having stashed away a vintage ballgown in the car. It was probably 6.45am by this point. It was only when I pulled on the dress that I realized how wonderfully the purple threads in the fabric caught and reflected the purple of the heather. First featured here, it originally belonged to the mother of a neighbour of my distant cousin (tenuous, I know). It doesn’t quite fit any more, ergo the strong ‘hands on hip’ poses: I am literally holding it together.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Notes on Having a Book Published









Outside, it had begun drizzling. I’d spent an hour faffing around, trying to find the ideal combination of red, white and grey. My bedroom floor was a blanket of clothes – dresses tried on and tossed aside again. By the time I’d slicked on my lipstick, the world outside was lowering and grey. Still, we went for it: hopping in the car, heels in one hand, a stack of books in the other. At the top of the hill we surveyed the scene; rain blurring the far-away horizon; gorgeous, slightly soggy hay-bales; fresh, damp, green fields. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It felt right. It felt like home. It felt necessary to clamber on the bales in heels, doing what I do best: posing in ridiculous footwear, in a ridiculous location, in a ridiculous vintage satin evening coat, balancing lots of books. To do that with my own books, full of my own words? A pretty unbeatable feeling. 

It’s been quite a time. A very quick slide forward from the academic world into the professional one: two months spent swinging between furiously typing things on my laptop, and lazing by the river trying to recover from exams. There have been looooots of celebrations, and scattering of great new opportunities. Oh, and there’s been the book. There was the launch, full of some of the best friends and colleagues a gal could have; the gut-twisting moment of knowing Notes on Being Teenage was making its fledgling way out in the world; the chance to write and talk about all the things I’ve been thinking about for years now and the giddy excitement, followed by a few days of bone-aching exhaustion.  Then there were the sparks of absolute glee on spotting it in places including Waterstones and Foyles. More than that though, there were plenty of conversations: the opportunity to talk with teenagers and adults alike about things I deeply care about, and they do too.

That’s what I keep on coming back to: the fact that there are so many more dialogues to open up. This is the tip of the iceberg, the edge of the plunge, the fringes of the fucking massive set of issues, possibilities and problems we need to unravel when it comes to being teenage today. I want to continue to play some part in that, to encourage young women keep on at it, to have faith in their own abilities, to know that their potential is huge. When statistics like this are released, showing that confidence rapidly plunges as girls move towards being women, we know that our conversations are still only embers. We’ve got plenty left to do to stoke them into flames.

But I’m optimistic. The more we talk and take action, the better. The more we speak up and make time to listen to others, the better. The more seriously we respond to young women’s challenges, the better. The more our books, films and other forms of media represent a vast, diverse range of women, the better. The more we let others know they’re not alone, the better.

In fact, the absolute best part of having written this book is the people who’ve contacted me to say: “this resonated”/ “I’ve never seen my experience reflected before”/ “it meant a lot to hear that.” If Notes on Being Teenage has achieved that for just a handful of young women, it’s already done its job. 

I’m also so proud to be part of a growing movement – something I’m going to expand on in my next post – alongside so many other women I massively respect, including Emma Gannon, Laura Bates and Louise O'Neill (as well as those with forthcoming publications like Akilah Hughes and Hannah Witton). It’s a good time to be writing, raising our voices, asking for better, and letting others know that there are so many, many of us thinking about social media/ body image/ style/ sex/ feminism/ gender/ school/ mental health/ self-belief and more. Plenty of us wanting to champion others. Plenty raising the volume. 

Talking of all things teenage, I’ll also be doing a round up of writing and features in the near future, but in the meantime… I wanted to let people know about three very thrilling things I’m up to in the next month. I’m at YALC this coming weekend, taking part in both their poetry slam (on the 30th) and the AskYALC panel on the 31st (tweet them here with a Q, and it might get answered during the event, where I’m appearing alongside Juno Dawson, Holly Bourne and Dr Christian Jessen, with all of us being kept in line by Gemma Cairney). Then I’ll be at Birmingham Waterstones on August 2nd to chair an event with Louise O’Neill and Eliza Wass. Come along for conversation about their excellent books. Then on August 26th, I’m heading up to Edinburgh for an event alongside Juno Dawson, where we’ll both be chatting about Mindful Teens. Somewhere in between all of that I’ll be trying to catch my breath.

I wrote two months ago that this is a time of beginnings and endings. It still is: and will continue to be for the next little while. But I’m intrigued to see what they hold. Hopefully more writing, more projects, more being vocal. Ideally some time off too. Definitely the space to play around with what comes next. (Side-note to any editors reading: commission me!! I finally have the time!) Hopefully a few more afternoons tottering around the countryside in ballgowns and stilettos too. 

My satin evening coat belonged to my paternal great-grandma, while the blouse was my maternal great-grandma's. The  trousers and heels are second hand. The books? Well, they're the model's own... 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Swimming in Oxford







(1)

I’m at home in water. The minute it’s warm enough to go without tights, it’s warm enough to be shimmying out into rivers, lakes, and (dare I say it?) waves. At least, I like to think it is. Sometimes I’ll still wimp out, dallying at the edge, wondering if retreat is better. But often the promise of thrill wins out: the chance to fold up flickering, busy thoughts with my clothes and towel, leave them behind on the grass bank. It’s a way to pitch forward into something very immediate, to emerge again at the end somehow scoured.

That’s what’s so wonderful about swimming outdoors. You are distilled down to a body, a set of breaths, two blinking eyes on a level with banks, boats, and the small battalion of geese floating past. Everything is sensation. Everything is sight. The world is reduced to what’s in front of you. It’s about arms pushing against the current, legs kicking, chin lifted above the ripples. It’s about the sky: whether that’s low, grey clouds, or a perfect blue wash occasionally cut through with birds. It’s about measuring out your own capabilities. When to go further? When to return to shore?

(2)

It’s a taste I’ve learned from my dad. He’s the one I’ve been watching dash in and out of lakes and rivers for years, screeching all the way. The guy who used to get in a Welsh mountain stream in January, clad just in trunks, water shoes, and a striped woolly hat. Now he’s a little less keen on the winter freeze, but still loves plunging into (moderately) chilly water. Though these days I’m sometimes the one, err, lovingly coaxing him in: “But you wrote a whole bloody book about it! Call yourself a wild swimmer! Wiiiiiiimp.” (He won’t thank me for this).

The book he wrote is called Dip. Published two years ago, it chronicled his experiences with depression – and the role that swimming played in his recovery. It’s beautiful, lyrical and honest, anchored in those brief moments of revelation to be found in each new swim, each new step away from the depths of his illness. It’s been on my mind again recently because the play I co-wrote with both my parents, titled The Man Who Turned into a Sofa, was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (see my original blog post here). That’s also about mental health, about him, about our family. It’s up on iPlayer for another two weeks. Water turns up all over the place in that. In fact, my final line is, “I didn’t know if I’d see him swim outside again.” Sometimes I realize how grateful I am that I have done, that I continue to, that it’s now something we share.

(3)

Some of my best moments in Oxford have also been watery (or near-watery) ones. Evenings full of barbecue smoke and dips at sunset. Punting on the river. Wandering down the canal and out into the green beyond. Lounging on towels with books and picnics, a river close at hand for cooling off in. Hiding from the heat next to a lake under a homemade canopy strung out of scarves. Solo splashing at 6pm after a day running around London – hopping off the train and onto my bike, frantic to be in the cool. Group swims, all of us fanning out across the gorgeous, gorgeous water. Skinny-dipping after dark, the silk feel of river on skin.

Many of these moments have taken place in Port Meadow: an incredible, vast stretch of fields and water. Apparently the land hasn’t been ploughed for at least 4000 years. In summer the grass is peppered with people: dog walkers, old women reading books, teenagers trying to impress each other, families with picnics and children paddling in the shallows, couples wandering, huge gaggles of students with Sainsbury’s bags full of hastily bought food (and plenty of cans and bottles clinking around too). There’s something slightly untamed about it. Far enough away from the city to feel like you’ve escaped, but close enough to still hear the trains.

I’ve watched shooting stars there in high summer, huddled under a blanket with friends. I’ve stomped along the river’s edge in winter when things were bad, collecting myself back into something more solid as I walked. I’ve danced to ‘Wuthering Heights’ there. I’ve made it as far as the ruined nunnery twice, marveling at the buttercups. I’ve had heart-to-hearts there; laughed there; felt the warmth of good company there so many times.

In fact, despite a few visits just by myself, it’s mainly somewhere I associate with others. Nearly all of these moments are bright and glittery because of the people: a scattered bunch of brilliant individuals. The other evening I hung out with two of them, all of us trying to identify specific memories and specific nights there. They were hard to disentangle. One long round of swimming, cooking, eating, giggling, drinking wine, chatting, reading, lying on our backs with music playing and a huge silver moon above.

(4)

On the day my parents drove me to Oxford to begin my degree, leaving me nervously eyeing up everything I needed to unpack, they then took a trip to Port Meadow. Dad swam. Mum, unsurprisingly, stayed on the banks. While I was arranging images on my new pin-board, both terrified and thrilled by all the possible people I was about to meet, they were sitting in a spot I now know very well.

Up until recently, I’d completely forgotten that this had happened. Then a month or two back, I picked up a copy of Dip on sale in Blackwell’s. As I flicked through, my own name snagged me – from the ‘October’ chapter. There my dad detailed that strange day: dropping me off, driving away, going for a swim. I stood in the bookshop, transported back to my first, scary week of uni. I saw myself written about as someone else: younger, less assured, but eager for what lay ahead. I could make a distinction between her and me. It was a good one.

I loved dad's description of the swim best though – the sheer, giddy glee; the synchronicity of him choosing a spot that I would come to love so much; the fact that I’d entirely overlooked that connection, only finding it again as my own time at Oxford was dwindling. It felt right to rediscover at that point. Right to stand and relish it from another vantage point. Right to know I had a few months left to cram in as much swimming as I could while I was still here. So far, I’ve kept to that – though the rain hasn’t helped…

My dad took these pictures back in March when he visited me two days before my dissertation was due in. I was a frazzled ball of nerves and all-those-bloody-footnotes-left-to-do, but walking all the way to Port Meadow and back helped. At that point it was flooded: a lake sitting in the midst of the grass. I was wearing a dress I’d bought at a vintage market in Oxford the week before, and a coat given to me by a friend who no longer wanted it. Only a few months ago, and already a world away.