Autumn for me is a season for walking, for being surrounded by golden trees and golden retrievers, and I absolutely adore it. There’s just something magical about the crisp air and the quality of light in autumn that just makes me want to bundle up and take a constitutional like I’m out of a Jane Austen novel. It’s something I started doing in Oxford, and have happily continued in London where I’ve discovered and been shown some of the loveliest walks that you wouldn’t have thought are right in the middle of the city.

HAMPSTEAD HEATH PARK

Hampstead Heath is massive. It’s 320 hectares to be specific. That means that you can walk and walk and walk and always see something new. It has some top class dogs and views when you get up high enough  (the views not the dogs, the dogs are everywhere). While I just like to wander, if you want some extra activities out of your walk Hampstead Heath has loads of facilities including things for children, cafes, and a Lido (one to bare in mind for summer).

ST JAMES’ PARK

Whenever I’m in the right office I like to take a walk through St. James’ Park. It’s just so stunning. Despite being surrounded by some of London’s biggest landmarks, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Birdcage Walk and the Mall, it never really feels like a tourist trap and I never get tired of walking around it. For me, St James’ Park captures the London magic that I rarely feel otherwise and that draws so many people to the city, so if you’re after something a bit enchanting take the time out of your day (especially if it’s a work day in the city) for a stroll.

HARINGEY PARKLAND WALK

This walk is a local favourite of mine. The path takes you from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace in two steps along an old railway line. It’s almost all surrounded by trees apart from a few viewing spots so you really feel like you’re in the woods out on a stroll, which is why I love it. With some crisp autumn leaves underfoot it’s pretty much perfect. It’s worth taking a bit of a detour through Highbury Woods between the two sections of the path. It’s one of my favourite parks, in part because it’s great for dog spotting, in part because it has toilets and in part because it’s just damn pretty.

THAMES PATH

The Thames Path as you may have guessed runs all the way along the Thames, which means that you can pick it up wherever is most convenient/most scenic and follow it for as long as you want. It’s a London classic and one you can never get bored of because of how flexible it is, and because the Thames has so much to offer, as well as being a big old river.

RICHMOND TO TWICKENHAM

Okay so this one is a little ways outside of London, but you can get a quick little train to Richmond for a fiver so I’ve decided it counts. I took this walk very early in my London life and I still remember it fondly. You really feel like you’re out of the city (because you are). The path is littered with lovely pubs and gorgeous houses, so there’s plenty to see and plenty of places to stop of for a rest. For me this one feels the most Jane Austen (although a lot of the old looking buildings are relatively new) of our five so if that’s what you’re looking for it’s worth the trip out.

This month I reread Emma for my office book club and I had such a good time that I wanted to share it here as well. Emma is one of my favourite Jane Austen novels and one of my favourite books full stop. It’s the only book that’s made me give up TV so I could race through it this year and it’s the ideal companion to cozy up to on an autumn’s eve.

For my book club posts, I normally offer you a bit of a review of the piece I’ve picked, but Emma has been so thoroughly reviewed since it’s publishing in 1815. And with 200 years of reviews from some of literature’s best (and perhaps worst) thinkers I’m not sure how much I can really add, so I’m going to keep this month’s review short, sweet, and glowing – yes I am biased and I don’t care.

My alternative cover design for Emma

If you haven’t heard of Emma before, it’s the story of Emma Woodhouse a precocious twenty-year-old lady of Highbury, who imagines herself to be a naturally gifted matchmaker. The reader follows Emma as she conjures up relationships for others but remains sure she will not marry. It’s filled with romance, humour, and plenty of drama.

If you haven’t read Jane Austen before, you’ve missed out. A lot of people including Bronte and Nabokov have written off Austen as nothing special, as “chick lit” for the 19th century and thus not worth any time at all. They are so wrong.

First off, “chick lit” is so valuable. If it brings you joy, if it can take you to another world, then it’s great literature and I don’t care if it features a romance or three talking chickens. Second, Austen is so special.

Second, Austen is a great writer. Her characters are interesting and complex. The way she builds societies and landscapes is simply wonderful. For a novel to read so smoothly there’s so much craft that has to go on behind the scenes. Plus, her use of free indirect discourse in Emma (essentially 3rd person narrator who speaks like, and knows as much as a character) was pretty revolutionary at the time, and yet it seems so natural!

Third, for me, even though her novels were written in the 19th century her stories are completely timeless. Not only do they offer you an insight into another world, they are the blueprint of so many modern romances.

So, in short, don’t write Austen off.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • The world is very different to how it was 200 years ago, do you feel like Emma still remains relevant?
  • Reading Emma in 2017 means you have a lot of preconceived ideas of Emma, of romance in literature and film, and of what the plot might be, how do you think the reading experience would have been different if you read Emma in 1815?
  • How do you feel class is portrayed in Emma? What does Austen want us to think?
  • Emma is a matchmaker, do you think there are any similarities between how she draws people together and how Austen as a literary matchmaker brings her characters together?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

  • Watch the 2009 BBC adaptation, which is currently on Netflix starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller – in my opinion it is the best adaptation, the colour and life of it really picks up the character of the book
  • Watch Clueless, it’s pretty much a modern (90s) reimagining of Emma and it’s just a classic
  • John Mullan’s account of why Emma changed the face of literature for the Guardian
  • Anything Paula Byrne has written on Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things is particularly accessible and offers a really interesting look at Austen’s world

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
  • Ian McEwan’s Atonement
  • George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters

Why not use Emma themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Emma, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

This is the third and final installment of my mini-series about my room (read parts one and two). I’m closing the series, for now at least, with a bit of an insight into how I used design thinking to shape my room and make the most of the space, as well as some top rental room renovation tips.

First off, I thought it would be worth doing a quick recap of what design thinking is, in case you haven’t come across it before. Design thinking is all about taking a user-centric approach to a problem and then solving it in a hands-on iterative way. You focus on the real user to build something they actually need, rather than what you think they need. Taking this insight and working with it iteratively, prototyping and testing means you fail small and often as part of a process rather than dedicating a huge amount of time and resources to a project that might have an underlying flaw you hadn’t noticed. This process can take slightly longer at first, but it becomes more time and energy efficient overall because you work out more of the kinks at the start. If you’d like to know more about design thinking, check out the full post I wrote about it. 

So how do you apply that relatively abstract concept to designing your space?

  1. Work out how you use a space – live in the space for a while. Where do you spend the most time? Is there anything you can’t do that you want to? Is there anything you don’t need?
  2. Start with the bare minimum and find out what you need as you want to reach for things – can you hack a solution to see if it will fulfill your needs, can you prototype the solution you want to see if it works?
  3. Test before you buy – measure your space and get a feel for what will fit, and try things in store – especially if you’re buying furniture.
  4. Research the most user-friendly option – write up a list of requirements and shop according to those rather than blankly looking for a chair within a certain budget – what is that chair for? What do you want it to do? Where do you want it to fit?
  5. Consider the future life of your space – what you need your space to do will evolve with you, make sure you consider your future needs/changes when your designing. Where possible make life easier for future you.

In practice, what this meant for me was living in my space for a while before I started really getting into designing it and buying any new pieces. There are some things in my room that are completely fixed, my bed can’t go anywhere, the shower and sink and plumbed in, I’m not sure I could fit my desk in another space even if I tried.

But when I moved in there was a second desk in what is my living area, there were no drawers in the wardrobe, there was no extra shelving, there were no towel hooks and there certainly wasn’t an armchair. For the first few weeks, I worked out what I needed and what I didn’t, and started by priority. I needed somewhere to store my socks stat. The second desk just got in my way and I never touched it because I preferred the natural light in my office. I wanted some more shelves to store bits that I reached for a lot whether that was paper or face wash.

Illustrated Room Tour

The big space design project I’ve been working on is the seating/living area. I started with a minimum viable product (MVP) solution which was a floor cushion. It gave me somewhere to sit and was easy to put away to give me extra space. But after a while, I found it wasn’t comfortable enough, and I didn’t get any joy out of sitting on the floor – I wanted to feel like a grown-up. I trialed using my desk chair but it became a pain point for me to move the chair and not to have the separation of work and rest. So, I knew I had to find another solution. I wrote a list of user (my) requirements that included: something big enough that I could tuck my feet up, something light that was easily moveable for when I leave, something that was neutral and not too bulky to fit with my space. I also knew I would need a side table for tea and books because I would always have them with me when I sat down on the floor. Then I did my research and found a chair and table I thought would work. Then I marked out the space it would fit in with washi tape and attempted to move around it for a week to check it wouldn’t hamper my routine. Only then did I buy my new chair, and you know what it’s absolutely perfect for what I needed (and within budget).

And finally…here are just a few extra rental room renovation top tips:

  1. Find out what you’re allowed to change – check your contract before you do anything substantial
  2. Command hooks and washi tape are your best friends
  3. There’s a lot you can do with soft furnishings – rugs make rooms more homely. Changing your bedding can change a room try something more neutral if a space is too loud or small, or picking a statement colour if the space needs a little life. New curtains (as long as you hold onto the old ones) can be used to let more light in and can almost be as good as repainting
  4. Measure your doors before you buy any furniture – this is just a general life thing
  5. Use lighting to transform a small space for different occasions – I have a working light, a daytime light, and a set of evening time lights (aka fairy lights) which help me differentiate the space for different uses without having to really change anything

How have you made your room your own? Would you like more mini-series like this?

Last year I wrote a long list of self-care tips/ideas. I still stand by my list of 48 practical ideas for self-care, and I still try to do as many of them as I can. If you want to change up your routine I’d still recommend giving it a read. But since that post, the world has changed and I have changed, and so there are some more thoughts I’d like to add, because now that I know more I’m not sure if that was the best approach to the topic, although it was perhaps a good approach to blogging.

Self-care begins with looking after yourself in the most basic way, and that doesn’t just mean home spas and long walks. It doesn’t have to mean a fancy gym subscription. Self-care includes the tiny things too, it can mean taking a shower, putting on your comfiest clothes or dressing up a little for the first time in a few days, it can mean taking time off even if it’s only 10 minutes. A lot of what’s called self-care at the minute can be a real luxury.

In my opinion, looking after yourself becoming an aspirational idea is really dangerous. The more I see people writing about self-care the more I see it being commodified and used as a way to sell more, mainly to young women. It’s a $400billion industry now, rather than just a practice. That industry is fulfilling a desire, if not a need, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, when something like self-care becomes commodified we need to be more careful about how we talk about it. Should the basic act of looking after yourself be used to sell bubble bath and nail varnish?

I am by no means saying that taking a bath and painting your nails are bad things or frivolous things. They’re things I love. And when you can, taking that extra time, or spending that extra bit of money on looking after yourself is wonderful. But I think that we need to be more inclusive with how we talk about self-care. Self-care is for everyone because it’s something we all have to do in order to get through the day.

As I’ve become more pressed over the last year I’ve come to realise that when I have no time what self-care means to me is completely different to what it means when I have all the time in the world to blog about it. I’ve also started to realise that I feel under pressure to look after myself in a certain way. If I haven’t put a face mask on this week am I not looking after myself? If I haven’t taken a screen-free afternoon am I becoming a robot? If I haven’t taken the time to cook for myself and just reheated meals I’ve pre-frozen am I not taking enough care of my mental and physical health? On the one hand, these reminders are probably leading me to a more positive place. But on the other hand looking after myself shouldn’t be a stressful experience.

And I if I am stressed, if I am unhappy that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m failing. It doesn’t mean I just have to do more self-care. The more we’re given these self-care practices, the more responsibilty is put on us to fix all of our problems on our own. That falling apart is failing. Falling apart isn’t fun, but it isn’t your fault.

This post hasn’t had a clear argument I know, but that’s because I don’t have one as of yet. Instead, I’m trying to interrogate my own thinking. I’d love to know your thoughts on self-care, and the self-care industry. Where do you stand on self-care? What do you do to look after yourself?

*I promise this will be the last post revisit style piece for a while, just once I got started it was hard to stop!

This is the second post in my mini home series. Now you know the lay of the land, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite design pieces that really make the space feel like it belongs to someone who’s slightly cooler than me!

THIS PAINTING

The most obvious piece to talk about is the biggest piece of art work in my room. It’s a mixed media piece that I picked up at one of the Ruskin Art School sales when I was living in Oxford. When I first saw it, it instantly made me feel. It reminded me a bit of the work done by Chad Wys who I’ve been a huge fan of for a long while, but it has something slightly more delicate to it. It’s quite a muted piece so it works really well in my space and helps keep my room a calm sanctuary-like space.

MY JENNY SAVILLE PRINT

Another favourite that I picked up in Oxford is a postcard sized Jenny Saville print. I had an A2 size poster print of this on my wall all 3 years when I was in Oxford, and made sure I picked up a smaller size so I could carry it with me in the future. I picked it up from Modern Art Oxford, which was somewhere I spent a lot of time – I used to have a standing Saturday lunch date with myself in their café. The gallery is right next to my old college and I volunteered there for about a year too. So, it’s a print that’s attached to a lot of memories as well as being of an absolutely stunning painting. I could happily live in a room covered in Saville paintings and never get bored of them.

MY UGLY KEATON HENSON CUSHION

This kind of ugly King Charles Cavalier print cushion by Keaton Henson is quite a new addition to my room. It sits on my desk chair and keeps me company. For some reason the illustrated pooch and I feel like kindred spirits, I fear that if I had a patronus that he would be it. I love the way that the cover harks back to those porcelain dog figurines in a weird and distinctively Keaton way. Twists or hand crafted takes on classics make up a lot of my favourite designs.

MR BINGO’S HATE MAIL

I managed to pick up a copy of Mr Bingo’s Hate Mail for £3 at Urban Outfitters by chance after looking at it longingly for a number of months, and it’s a definite contender for bargain of the year. If you haven’t heard about/seen/already bought it, Hate Mail is a collection of illustrated hate mail that Mr Bingo sent on vintage postcards to willing weirdos. Not only is a great coffee table book to impress friends and visitors (perhaps not your mum though) it’s also a great pick me up. Whenever I need a little cheering up, or someone has really irked me, I reach for it and flick through to find a new postcard design.

MY KAYE BLEGVAD RINGS

Okay so these aren’t really homewares, but they are design pieces that are often in my room (because I am) so I’ve decided they count, and I’m in charge here. I own four rings from Datter, which is the incredible Kaye Blegvad’s jewellery line, and there’s still so much more that I want. They are by far my favourite pieces of jewellery and I’ve received so many lovely comments on them. All of her pieces really feel crafted, they’re slightly irregular and the marks on them have a lovely distinctive line to them. They are oldest to newest as you go left to right, with the oldest being about 4 years old now. They’re the kind of design pieces where their character and the care that went into making them rubs off on you (literally and metaphorically) to the extent that I now don’t feel like myself without them.

THIS LITTLE BERLIN BEAR

Last but not least I want to talk about the Berlin Bear I got for my 21st birthday that’s on my bookshelf. I was born in Berlin, and when I was younger (I think 13 or so) my family went back for trip so that my parents could show me all of their old haunts. While we were there, there was one of those city-wide art projects on where a load of artists are given the same blank statue to decorate and make their own. In this case, a selection of countries (perhaps cities – it was at least a decade ago) were given Berlin bears to decorate. I was obsessed with taking pictures of every single one I found and documenting it. That might have been the start of my interest in trying to find the design in every city. So, when I turned 21, my parents got me the Berlin version of the bear, which I still love now and reminds me of them and that trip.