Thursday, 31 December 2009

International day of swishing

You know a trend has hit the big time when it gets its own international day. Wednesday 9th January is International Day of Swishing,  and the flagship event will be at the Andaz Liverpool Street Hotel in London. It's much more organised than the farragos I usually attend: kick off is at 3.00, with an hour and a half to drop off clothes and relax with a cocktail. The first swish is from 4.30 until 5.30 and then another cocktail break will be followed by more swishing and more cocktails. Free clothes AND cocktails? Wild horses could not stop me.

More details on (which, by the way, is an excellent place to find out about upcoming swaps near you). Alternatively, why not hold your own swish to mark the occasion? has a list of tips, although personally I favour the sharpen-your-elbows, free-for-all approach.

Here, to get you in the mood, is the kimono I positively seized from Mrs Loske-Page as she took it out of her bag at our last swish. Gorgeous, non?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pots of style

I just had to show you these beautiful pots, which my little brother was given as a Christmas present. (Envious? Moi? The very idea!) I am sorely tempted to order some for myself as they are just too divine for words:

They are made from recycled magazines and are from Traidcraft, which is doing sterling work proving that fair trade products are very often more desirable than the alternatives (which surely must be 'unfair trade', and what kind of perverse monster would actually want that?).

Even better, on the website you can read about Chut. She is one of the women who makes these for Mai Handicrafts, which provides a fair income for disadvantaged and ethnic minority families in Vietnam. End result = warm glows all round, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thriftmas dinner

Here is a top tip if you don't want to spend too much on food over Christmas: don't go to the supermarket, go to the market. So far, so obvious, no? But here is the genius bit: do it on Christmas Eve, just before the stallholders are about to go home. Actually, this top tip comes from my mum, who is an inveterate bargain-hunter. It is what we did today and just look at the veritable cornucopia we returned with:

Our best bargains included the mangoes, which were £1 FOR THE BOX, as were the plums, and the lemongrass, which was £1.50 for two big bunches. We bought one melon and the lovely man threw in the rest of the box FOR FREE, and we only had to remark on the beauty of the pomegranates to get five thrown in FOR NOTHING! 

This strategy works because the stallholders want to get home early, plus they have stocked up for Christmas and don't want to cart it all away again, plus everyone is in festive spirits, so they're already predisposed to be more than averagely generous.

N.B. I would imagine that this works best in smallish towns - we went to Hay-on-Wye (which also enabled us to grab last-minute presents in bargain literary form). Big towns and cities are usually just too nightmarish to contemplate battling through on Christmas Eve, but if you have a friendly local stallholder near you why not give them a try?

It also helps if you are vegetarian. And like melons. Anyone have any good melon recipes? Actually, anyone have any melon recipes full stop..?

Right, I'm off to enjoy a not particularly well-deserved Christmas break en famille - back next week. Merry Thriftmas to one and all! All right, I know it's another groan-inducing festive pun, but you didn't seriously expect me to resist that one did you?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Merry Swishmas

This one goes out to anyone who still has any doubts about the infinite joys of swishing. Madame la Moue and I thought we would do a Christmas fashion shoot to show you a small selection of the loot we bagged at last week's Sussex Uni clothes swap. So here we are pouting and prancing like a pair of deranged pantomime dames. Merry Christmas.

Cockatrice wears: wool bell-sleeved jumper by Mango, peasant skirt with smocked waistband and appliqued ribbon by Warehouse, belt from a previous swish. I love this look because it reminds me of the outfits my mum used to wear in the late 70s/early 80s when I was little. Aw...

Madame la Moue wears: cowl-neck top by New Look, peg chinos by Tirster

Cockatrice wears: t-shirt by Mango Exclusive Edition. Poutalicious...

Madame la Moue wears: cardigan by Topshop, jeans by South, feather shoes by Urban Outfitters from a previous swish. Spoddy wears: shoes by Kurt Geiger from an earlier swish, my hairband (in mouth, naturellement. Such natural style).

Cockatrice wears: black wrap dress with purple sweet peas by Great Plains. What did we do before the wrap dress? DVF, we salute you.

Madame la Moue wears: green silk dress by La Redoute, shoes by Kurt Geiger from previous swish, as above. Will you just look at those legs?

Oo-er missus: Cockatrice wears wrap dress by Wallis (muchos gracias to Therese la Tease for this one).

Spoddy wears: my boots. For goodness sake, will someone give this kid a modelling contract?

Bear in mind that this is just a *fraction* of our swag - I didn't even get pics of some of the best bargains. Photos still to come include: a gorgeous black satin kimono mini-dress courtesy of Mrs Loske-Page and a brand new Lulu Rose cardigan which still has its label on. Also, Madame la Moue got a brand new Kushi dress, still avec label, and a pair of Clarks patent, heeled brogues, which are still in store and which she had actually tried on and dreamed of buying. For FREE!

Get out there and spread the word: SWAP, DON'T SHOP! Happy Swishmas.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Five joys of snow

Well, the Copenhagen climate change summit ended with a strong message. That message being 'throw another polar bear on the coal-fired power-station, I don't think the Maldives are quite under yet.' Or alternatively, 'finally, we sealed the deal', if you are the UN Secretary General (planet? which?). 

So the only thing left to do is to get out and enjoy the snow before Sussex looks more like the Sahara. Meanwhile, here are a few ideas to give you hope for the lovely low-carbon future that the spineless ninnies 'world leaders' could have made - and still could make - possible.

Five things I love about snow:

1. The light: the shortest day is almost upon us, so I am almost weepingly grateful for the massive increase in reflected light. If we decided to cool our overheated planet by making like the Mediterraneans and painting our towns and cities white to reflect the heat,* wouldn't all that extra sunlight be a lovely side-effect in the winter?

2. The silence: I love the way that you know it has snowed as soon as you wake up because the quality of light and sound is so different. Wouldn't it be marvellous to live in a world without all that horrid noise pollution from cars, lorries and aeroplanes?

3. The way grown adults instantly regress to childhood: when the snow started coming down in Brighton in huge blizzarding flurries, nearly everyone stopped going about their everyday business and surrendered to the joys of SNOW! Pedestrians had snowball fights in the impassable roads and car drivers jumped out to throw snowballs back at them. This is what roads are for!

4. The way snow brings complete strangers together: yesterday a new neighbour was moving into Madame la Moue's street, but the removal lorry couldn't get through. So all the neighbours came out with their spades to dig a path down the road. I can't think of a more memorable way to meet your new neighbours.

5. The excuse it gives me to borrow friends' children, dress up in newly-swished clothes and play 'let's pretend we live in the Boden catalogue':

Me and Spoddy la Moue. In 2050 he will be 47. Will he be living in a snowless world of droughts, rising sea-levels and climate refugees, or a low-carbon heaven, driving a quiet, clean car, in a happy local community, with a gorgeous swishista on his arm? I know which one I'm voting for.

* Isn't this just the most genius plan ever?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

How to have half-decent skin: step 1 of 4

If you have been blessed with naturally beautiful, problem-free skin, stop reading now. If you haven't, come and sit on my team. Like most of the female population (I suspect), I have long been engaged in a love-hate struggle with my skin. And by that I mean a pitched battle involving chemical warfare and instruments of torture that may well contravene the Geneva convention. I only came to some form of truce with it when I hit my thirties. This may be one of the many few benefits of ageing or it may be down to finding a regime that works for me. Either way, I thought I'd share my hard-won insights with you in a new (cue fanfare) Paper Flowers beauty mini-series!

This series is not called 'how to have perfect skin' because, despite the promise of, oh, every skincare advert you are ever likely to see, ABSOLUTELY PERFECT SKIN! ALL THE TIME! FOREVER! is neither achievable, nor a sensible goal if you want to maintain some outward semblance of sanity. Half-decent skin most of the time, then, is our aim here. And that is a reasonable ambition for most of us.

Everyone's skin is different, so I can only say that this works for normal-to-combination skin that is prone to the occasional breakout (i.e. mine). I have learned from bitter experience that keeping it simple is the best way of avoiding problems, so the four steps in my regime are cleanser, moisturiser, foundation and the odd face mask (very odd when I'm wearing the charcoal one that used to prompt my former partner to break into black-and-white minstrel songs).

Step 1 is, I fancy, the most important. It is my DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. Now, you might think that slathering olive oil over your face would be likely to result in a mass breakout, right? Actually, not right. The oil cleansing method* is based on the chemical principle that like dissolves like. So the olive oil in the cleanser dissolves the oil in make up and sebum, leaving pores clean and not at all dried out.**

For my money, the DHC cleanser is better than many others (or, just cracking open the Bertolli, for that matter), because it contains surfactants, which allow it to be washed off without a trace (I don't ever use toner afterwards and have never had any problems). I cannot recommend this stuff highly enough. If you want to give it a try, you can order samples on the DHC website. It is no exaggeration to say that you may well thank me for the rest of your life.

* Google 'oil cleansing method' or 'OCM' and you'll find loads of stuff about this online.

** Read more about the chemistry involved on the excellent Beauty Brains blog. And side note, this site is a brilliant place to get to the bottom of what's really going on behind much of the beauty industry's pseudo-science (L'Oreal, I'm looking at you. I mean, Boswelox? I ask you...).

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Swish-fever and warm lentil salad

I am looking forward to Thursday's clothes swap so much that I have developed swish-fever. Such is my heightened state of sensitivity to potential swapping activity that tonight I drove home in a frenzy and had Madame la Moue and Mrs H on red alert, all because I thought I saw a swish happening through an open door as I drove past.

Needless to say, sensible readers, it was an hallucination, behind which lay... a hemp clothing sale. Ah, the bitter sting of swishing thwarted. Not that I have anything against hemp, you understand. It's just that it tends to lack that element of, you know, sizzle. And so I was forced to stand down my two swishketeers, to heavy hearts all round. But now how much more piquant will be the delights of Thursday?

And now, to cheer you after that tale of heartbreaking pathos, a recipe for the warm lentil salad and chargrilled peppers that accompanied last week's leek and potato patties...

...both of these are delicious cold, so I usually keep them in the fridge to have as an impromptu lunch or as part of a mezze later in the week.

Read the recipe after the jump.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sizzling hot (and by the way, it's ethical)

I know I've already given you one magnificent party dress, but as it's the season of goodwill, I just couldn't resist treating you to another one (too kind, you say? Aw shucks, you're making me blush now). Specifically this one from People Tree, whose party dresses are 60% off at the moment:

It's hand-woven in Bangladesh by producers who earn double what they would in the conventional garment sector. But that's not why you want it (oh yes you do. And yes, I do know that not all of my readers are female: my statement still stands). You want it because that handwoven silk is cut beautifully, will feel amazing, and will turn you into the kind of Blanchett-esque amazon who leans elegantly against antique oriental armoires in a feathered headpiece.

All I can say is THANK THE LORD* that ethical fashion has become so desirable. FINALLY.

What People Tree are doing is called 'selling the sizzle'. As opposed to the (organic, vegan) sausage, that is. Selling those oh-so-seductive intangibles, not the dry facts and figures.

And why is Cockatrice telling us this, you ask? Well, you may have noticed that there's a big old climate change summit going on in Copenhagen at the moment, and that we're being sold a whole bunch of nightmare visions of global warming. Somehow, though, a lot of people still aren't buying into it. Now sustainability communications agency Futerra is urging governments and businesses to dump the 'climate hell' message and sell the sizzle, in the form of a new vision of low-carbon heaven, instead.

Well Paper Flowers is jumping on that hydrogen-powered bandwagon with the battle-cry that ethical, thrifty and eco can be hot, hot, hot. Hang on, can be? It already is! Take another look at that dress and tell me it's not sizzling.

*By which I mean of course, the universe, Mother Nature, or non-gender-specific numinous entity of your choice.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Swishing, and hoping...

Well, who would have thought that the life of an eco-spy would be so exciting? Of course I can't tell you exactly what I've been up to this week, but suffice it to say that this particular Mata-Hari-with-a-conscience has been kept very busy during the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen... 

I have, however, found time between assignations for a little light graphic design. Madame la Moue, Therese la Tease and I are putting on a swish at Sussex University on Thurs 17th December. What do you think of my design for the poster?

So if you like free clothes (duh) and are going to be in the vicinity next week, I'll see you there. I'll be the one on the door offering to hang up all donations and then accidentally dropping the choicest into a bag the size of a small skip...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Leek and potato patties

Living in a climate of near-Nordic dankness requires much in the way of comforting sustenance, preferably involving some form of soft and steaming starch, fried until crisp and delicious, so today I thought I would give you just such a recipe. Atkins? In this weather? I don't think so.

If leek and potato soup and bubble and squeak had babies, they would come out looking like my leek and potato patties: succulently sweet leek and garlicky mashed potato, encased in a crunchy golden coating:

Dinner 1: with warm lentil salad and chargrilled peppers (recipe coming soon)

Leek and potato patties:
Makes 8 patties

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 medium leek, sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Plain flour for dusting
sunflower oil
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes until they yield to the point of a knife, drain and mash. Fry the leek and garlic until soft, add to the mashed potatoes and mix together. Season the mixture, form into 8 patties and dust with flour. If possible, leave in the fridge until cold. Fry the patties on both sides until golden and serve.

Dinner 2: I fried the lentils and peppers together with some other random bits and bobs that I happened to have lying around (not as aesthetically pleasing, but actually most delicious) 

Secret tip: these freeze brilliantly and cook especially well from frozen. This provided me with two yummy suppers, pictured above.

In other excitements: coming soon, a Christmas swish. Date for your diaries: Thursday 17th December.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Caution: may contain gorgeous

Warning: this post contains outrageous levels of gorgeous, which some readers may find alarming.

I just *happened* upon this rather stupendous party frock whilst I was doing something else that was very worthy and virtuous and really quite hard work actually:*

Extravagantly voluminous sleeves: check. Vintage-style pussy-bow: check. Demure-yet-sexy covered up shoulder and arm area (I am so totally over strapless): check. Bizarrely, it's from Coast, which I usually associate with slightly prissy and insipid wedding-attire. But not so much, it now seems.

And no, once again, at £195 it's not at all thrifty, and probably not particularly ethical either. So sue me. It's my blog and I'll splurge if I want to. Especially if I happen to be under the influence of a hormone or several trillion dammit...

Edit: I must apologise for that sudden outbreak of tetchiness. You can come out from behind the sofa now, She-zilla has left the building.

*Or something.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Bag lust: Anya Hindmarch

Okay, so I have the credit card companies phoning night and day, the university threatening to withhold my degree until I pay my fees and nothing, but nothing, in the coffers. Just what is a girl to do? Why tighten her belt and give up thinking about fashion, of course. Really? NO! This is the time for dreams and fantasies, and where better to indulge these than the website of Anya Hindmarch, designer of some of the world's most beautiful handbags.

Here are a few of my top picks: what academic wouldn't wish to trip home from the library carrying this stylish Homework Tote?

If and when I am in a position to buy the kind of investment bag that I will pass on to my granddaughters, it may well resemble the Anya Hindmarch Carker in black mock crock:

The object of my deepest desires, though, is the Coco clutch, which showcases the kind of gorgeous art deco detailing for which AH is famous. This is billed as an evening bag, but I think it would be equally good for daytime:

And yes, I *can* hear the shouts of indignation: 'BUT IT'S NEARLY £300!!!' Yes. I know. Anya Hindmarch bags are certainly not thrifty, but, as far as designer handbags go, they are relatively ethical. Anya started the trend for stylish shopping bags - remember 'I am not a plastic bag'? What's more, unlike most designers, she is completely opposed to the notion of the 'it' bag that is only fashionable for a season.

She's even opened a whole shop devoted to producing bespoke pieces, which can be personalised and embossed and kept for ever. I love the practical nostalgia of this approach, which is almost a return to the way our grandparents lived (albeit on a much less glamourous scale), in the days when you wouldn't dream of replacing a good handbag until it was worn out, and when style was more important than fashion.