Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Ideal Home

Some colleagues of mine recently – completely by accident, funnily enough, and much to my embarrassment – discovered Take Courage. As she scrolled through my posts for the first time, my lovely office-mate exclaimed, “your flat is like a magazine!”. Despite the embarrassment, I was also flattered, because ever since we moved into our flat last July, we’ve worked hard to turn it from grotty rental into a comfortable home, and I’ve really enjoyed the process. I’ve felt more inspired and excited about my little rented corner of the world than ever before, and it has really spurred me on to get saving so I can eventually decorate my own house, rather than my landlord’s. 

Needless to say, then, when Ekornes offered me the chance to visit the Ideal Home Show, I jumped at the chance! I’d never been to Kensington Olympia before, but what a place – it’s hard to believe but they managed to fit three full-size show homes and six (I think?) gardens in that glass-topped building. The show homes were really fun to see, although having just arrived back from Japan, I couldn’t help but wonder what the Japanese would think of the designs. It seems that British design is very much focused on show-stopping pieces – oversized mid-century inspired table lamps, decorative candlestick holders, huge sofas that you can sink into, a swimming pool in your back garden (which seems crazy when you’re used to 250 square feet living!) – whereas Japanese design (or at least what I saw of it) is much more focused on craftsmanship; simple, organic pieces made to the highest quality. It was an interesting contrast.

When I was in Japan, I was surprised by how much the Japanese aesthetic had in common with Scandinavian style (which I have always loved, ever since discovering the Chez Larsson blog years ago). Ekornes is a Norwegian company, and its provenance really shows through in its designs – they make functional, yet stylishly slick chairs and sofas which I can attest to being so comfy that you’re liable to never get up again! My favourite was a turquoise leather recliner which I think every law firm office should have – we’d all be much more relaxed and less achy for it…

To spread the interiors love, Ekornes is kindly offering you lovely lot the chance to win a £100 Cloudberry Living voucher! Cloudberry Living have some gorgeous homewares (including Marimekko, another Scandinavian favourite!) so it’s a no brainer really – leave a comment with your contact details (blog address, email address, Twitter...) and I’ll pick a winner randomly next Tuesday, 21 April!

What I’m wearing  |  Dress and necklace: c/o Joules  |  Brogues: Clarks  |  Bag: Charles & Keith  |  Jacket: Zara  |  Watch: c/o Daniel Wellington – and it must be Christmas because Daniel Wellington are also offering you lovely lot 15% off their gorgeous watches with the code takecourageblog – valid until 30 April!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Being More Zen

Life can seem pretty dire when your train is running late and you’re crammed into the carriage like a sardine, enduring that all-too familiar whiff of cigarette-tinged bad breath and the sweat running between your boobs. Life can also seem pretty dire when the managing agents of your over-priced, rented flat have taken two months to arrange fixing that hole in your bathroom wall, only for the tiler not to show up (true story, this weekend). Or when your landlord decides to sell up, or your cat gets sick, or you spill tea on your brand new white shirt. I can attest to the knotted tummy, tight neck and gritted teeth that such events invoke – I think we all can.

The last year was a testing one, and there were moments when I found it very hard to see the woods for the trees. The slightest thing would set me off – running out of loo roll, missing the train, a pen exploding in my bag – I mean, I literally cried over spilt milk. Of course, it wasn’t the milk’s fault; life was being a particular bitch this time last year, and I just couldn’t get a grip on it. 

Things have since gotten better – we moved to a new flat, we both qualified as solicitors (meaning we didn’t have to look for new jobs), Chutney joined our little family – but I know that life will throw similarly shitty times at me and I want to be better prepared for them. 

While we were in Japan, we visited a handful of “zen” gardens. These small gardens are comprised of carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water, moss, trees and bushes, and use gravel which is raked to represent ripples in water. Every square inch is considered, intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature and to serve as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life. Usually I would scoff at such hippy mumbo jumbo, but after visiting the Daisen-in zen garden in Kyoto (sadly, we weren’t permitted to take photos but you can find it here), I realised that perhaps I ought not to be so dismissive. There I spoke with a Buddhist monk, who reminded me that every day is a good day, if you let it be. I couldn’t argue with that, really (and I argue about everything). The garden was so peaceful, it was almost impossible not to be reflective. The quiet sounds, the natural colours and the smell of incense were refreshing, and I went away feeling uplifted. Perhaps it’s not all mumbo jumbo after all, I thought to myself as we headed back onto the noisy main street.

I spent my subsequent journeys on the Shinkansen reading an introduction to Zen Buddhism, and learning about what it really is all about. Well, to be honest, I’m still not quite sure what it’s all about (!). As a lawyer, I’m trained to be direct and to get to the nub of an issue. Zen Buddhism, I gather, is quite the opposite, at least in its use of language, which is cryptic and flowery to an unenlightened Londoner like me. But I have been able to take away one mantra which I intend to employ in my daily life and thinking: do not be controlled by that which doesn’t exist – the past is already gone, the future is not yet here; there’s only one moment in which we should live: the present.

So, there’s my lesson of the day…! Perhaps there is something to be said about being more zen. And if all else fails, you could always try raking some gravel the next time a pen explodes in your handbag – it seems to work for the Buddhist monks!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Geisha Girl

I've been home for a week now, and the question that I've been asked a dozen times is 'what was your favourite bit of Japan?'. It's such a difficult question to answer because every part of Japan that we visited was wonderful and unique in its own way. The overwhelming scale of Tokyo, with its never-ending streets of independent boutiques, filled with girls wearing petticoats and eyepatches, and the incessant sound of pachinko machines. The delicate tranquility of Hiroshima and Miyajima, deer roaming the sea shore (surreal!), and oh, the huge swathe of pink cherry blossom! And then there's Kyoto, such a diverse city with its old narrow alleyways, and art and creativity at every corner. It was just all so impressive. 

So how can I possibly choose my favourite bit? I can't, but I can tell you that a particular highlight was a morning spent wandering through the quiet alleyways in Gion in Kyoto. 

Gion is geisha (or more accurately, geiko) district - its narrow streets of ochaya (tea houses) surround the blossom-lined canals that flow through Kyoto, and it is beautiful. We arrived in Kyoto to rain, but that wasn't going to stop us exploring (although the Texan, who's a little less accustomed to rain than your average Brit, did have a mini temper tantrum about it!). We weaved in and out the maze of alleyways, and as we stopped to take some "outfit" photos, we were literally stopped in our tracks as three geiko, on separate occasions but in just a matter of minutes apart, briskly shuffled past us. I had secretly hoped to see a genuine geiko during my travels - they are so intriguing and unfamiliar (and beautiful) to me - but I knew that it would be a long shot. So to see three in the space of 10 minutes, I was overwhelmed! I couldn't believe how lucky we were - it felt like spotting a rare butterfly, a fleeting but very special moment. 


I tried to be very discreet when photographing them, keeping to a distance and pretending to photograph something else so as not to embarrass or intimidate, but I was absolutely horrified when a bunch of tourists, who had also spotted the geiko from afar, ran over and jumped in front of her, a brood of clucking hens, shoving their cameras in her face and snapping like a paparazzo. It was awful! I was so embarrassed - I can't bear to think what the geiko must think of Western tourists, and can only hope that most treat them with the respect that all human beings deserve...

That nasty experience aside, being in Gion and seeing the geiko really was something special. If you're ever in Kyoto, try an early morning in the area and perhaps you too will catch a geiko running her errands!

What I'm wearing  |  Dungarees: A shop in Tokyo that I can't remember! But hooray for little person-sized clothes!  |  Tee: Topshop  |  Hoodie: H&M  |  Raincoat: Petit Bateau  |  Plimsolls: Lacoste  |  Bag: Michael Kors  |  Umbrella: Loft