All posts in Life

  • The Little Girl in Me; the Woman I am

    As many of you know, I am planning a wedding. Due to commitments that I have in my professional life, and to allow me plenty of time to save, this event will not be taking place until the spring of 2015. It is rare that I get much time to think about the necessaries that Julian and I will need to take into account in planning our big day, and when we first got engaged we were convinced that we would be unlike most other couples who go through this process. I would be totally cool; never would the name ‘Nicole’ and the word ‘bridezilla’ be used in the same sentence, and Julian would be totally involved, rebuffing the stereotypes of men who sit back while their partners go gaga over table plans and flower arrangements. Most of that stuff is a long way off for us yet, and we have a team (or maybe it should better be described as an ‘army’) of fabulous people – friends and family – who will help us bring it all together, but I think that, by and large, we’ve done pretty well. On a couple of occasions, however, an insane and monstrous bridal version of myself has taken possession of me, and I have emerged from the experience thinking, ‘what on earth just happened?’ When I was very little, one of my favourite things to do was to watch my mum and dad’s wedding video. Repeatedly. I think that as I grew older, and in the eleven years that Julian and I spent growing to be more a part of each other, I forgot that this little girl ever existed. And in those moments of monstrosity, Julian has got to know her. ‘I’m sorry that I’m a stupid little girl,’ I’ve said, ‘but it’s just part of me that I can’t erase.’

    As we’re now entering feminism’s ‘fourth wave’, I wonder if my (speculative) daughters will grow up differently. There was nothing particularly ‘girlish’ about my own upbringing, however, and, when I cast my mind back, I realise that my mum had nothing really to do with my obsession for weddings. My mum bought me pretty party dresses, but she also bought me leggings and trainers and inspired me to become the strong, independent woman that I am today. I think that, ultimately, it comes down to the experiences that have framed my life; I remember going to a spate of weddings in my early childhood – friends of my parents, and uncles, and the like – and I was mesmerised by everything that they had to offer. I have also been a bridesmaid on six occasions (not quite ‘27 Dresses’ but I am evidently hot bridesmaid property). Some of the best memories I have made, in my later life, come from the weddings I have been to. I will never forget the ‘Danza Kuduro’ car shimmy on our road trip up to Northumberland for Ben and Ellen’s wedding, or the ice swan at my aunt and uncle’s Hindu wedding, or the fantastic Soul and Motown band at Helena and Jeff’s wedding.

    Earlier this week, I went to visit Mary Wollstonecraft’s tomb at Old Church in St Pancras. Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She was one of the earliest British feminists and one of the most prominent political writers of the late eighteenth century. She had a child with a man named Gilbert Imlay who abandoned her, and later found love with William Godwin with whom she had a passionate affair. In the course of their relationship, she fell pregnant with her daughter, Mary, who would later make her own literary mark with the novel, Frankenstein. Wishing that their child should be legitimate, they decided to marry, and were married at the same church at which they are both now laid to rest. I doubt that Mary Wollstonecraft ever went through any of the crazy thought processes that I have been through, but I know that she did some crazy things for love. Throughout the course of that day, I had sparked up a twitter conversation with another fan of Wollstonecraft and met her when I visited Old Church. We spoke about her life, or, rather, she spoke and I listened. She gave me a postcard and told me about some of the other interesting tomb-dwellers in the churchyard. And at this point, I realised that being a rational, freethinking woman is not in any way affected by my reversions to girlhood, and that our brilliance, as women, comes from all of our component parts. I am a woman, but I am also a girl, and I don’t apologise for either of those parts of me.

    Wollstonecraft’s Tomb, Old Church, St Pancras

    Before Julian proposed, he went to let my dad know his intentions; we were all heading to New York to surprise my mum for her 50th birthday, so it was crucial that she couldn’t know any of the details (he would’ve told her otherwise.) My dad was ecstatic, but offered him some words of warning: ‘You know that it’s just going to be weddings and dresses all the time now, don’t you?’ ‘Nah, Nicole’s not like that,’ Julian retorted. I do talk to Julian about the wedding, and I’ve shown him my Evernote folders and Pinterest boards, but we also talk about world affairs, work, hobbies, and all of the wonderful adventures that we hope to have in life. Let there not be one ‘big day’, I say, but many.





    I can heartily assert that I’ve always been big on pageantry. On one occasion, when I was about four years old, I was wandering around the stockroom in the charity shop where my nan and granddad then worked and I happened to fall upon this bright pink, sequinned dress (I say ‘dress,’ but I’m not quite sure what it actually was, though I have been told that it was most likely some kind of modern dance costume.) Needless to say, I loved it, and my grandparents were forced to part with the couple of pounds that the shop would have sold it for. I used to love getting this costume out and putting on the sparkly pink arm warmers. Sometimes I used to eat my dinner in this get-up (to me, there was nothing unusual about this). This, I suppose, set the tempo for the many fancy-dress and themed parties I was to have throughout my childhood and into my adolescence, right up to the present (I haven’t yet decided on a theme for this year’s event, but rest assured that there will be one!) I could recount many other examples on this score, but I would need to dedicate an entire post (and some) to the effort. I would like to conclude this little jaunt down memory lane, however, by recalling the moment when I discovered Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World. At the time that this book fell into my hands, I was just about to leave university and embark on a Master’s course at King’s College London. It was unlike anything I had ever read and it was all that I really wanted to read; in short, I found it utterly cool. In this world (the world created by the Renaissance writer François Rabelais), Bakhtin envisions a carnival that is so grotesque that it renders its participants equal through a kind of levelling laughter. In this world, masqueraders don costumes that allow them to transcend the ordinary social barriers that proscribe their daily lives: jesters become kings, and kings become fools.

    A lot of time has passed since I first read Bakhtin, and while I think that his theory of carnival and masquerade continues to offer interesting insights, these insights do little to inform our understanding of what carnival is really like in the black Atlantic world. Over the weekend, for the first time in my life, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival. For me, it was a beautiful experience, and encapsulated all of the things that I love to do: dress up, eat, drink, and dance. It was also, and indeed primarily, a learning experience. My knowledge of carnival – of its intersected and diasporic history, of the people that have kept its traditions alive and channel the politics that underlie it – has expanded over the past year, and what I have learnt has infused my conception of our persistently segregated world. As a white woman that studies black history, I am reminded daily of the need to step outside of myself and see myself as a seer, as someone that makes a career out of discussing a history that is not my own, but which I am nevertheless passionate about. In this way, my going to carnival was not just about ticking something off of a list, but part of an ambition that I have to deepen my understanding through lived experience.

    This experience sadly coincided with news about Miley Cyrus burlesquing black culture in a sexually degrading dance routine at the VMAs, and served only to reinforce my belief that we all need to do a better job of understanding and learning about each other. When I was getting ready this morning, I didn’t hear much about Miley or the VMAs on Radio4’s ‘Today’ programme (it being Radio 4, I guess), but I did hear a discussion about the recent LSE report whose research found that children in inner-London schools were not in any way hindered by the presence of foreign-speaking children in their class. No, I thought to myself, not hindered, but enriched. I don’t want my children to grow up sheltered from such experiences and only hearing me talk about them in the abstract, and I hope very much that they will get to share them with me, so that we can continue learning together. Next year marks 50 years of the Notting Hill Carnival. Let’s make it a big one.



  • Life, Liebster, and Love in 11 Questions

    A little under a week ago, my friend Toni messaged me to tell me that she had been nominated for the Liebster Award, which recognises the achievements of small blogs. I can’t think of anyone who might deserve the prize more, personally. Toni has a fantastic blog all about food. I know what you’re thinking: for the record, it’s not ‘just another food blog’, but is abundant with tasty inspiration, and I urge you all to check it out at

    Part of the award’s criteria is that the award winner has to name 11 other blogs that they would consider nominating for the award, thereby effectively ‘paying it forward’, and offer those 11 bloggers 11 questions to answer. Toni was kind (and perhaps deluded?!) enough to count me amongst her 11; so, without further ado, here are her questions for me, coupled with my responses:

    Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream?
    Chocolate. Bitter is better.
    Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash?
    Oh no, now that’s not fair. Why do I have to choose? I love them both. I love country and blues, but also rock and rockabilly. Right now, at this moment in time, I’d say Elvis. But that’s probably only because I recently discovered this guy, who is simply amazing: Can’t wait to see him at the Goodwood Revival this year.
    Photography or Illustrations?
    Photography, but nothing that I produce myself. I love to create, to make things new with my hands, but have never been a keen illustrator or photographer.
    Cookies or Cake?
    Vintage or futuristic?
    Vintage, but nothing that smells musty and nothing that’s discoloured. I like to discover things in charity shops rather than pay £50 for something at a vintage fair that I could have had made new for less.
    Beach or skiing holiday?
    Beach. I don’t care where, just take me there. Now.
    City or country?
    I like to live and work in the city, but retreat to the country every once in a while.
    Comedy or horror?
    Dark comedy…ergo, both?
    Lark or Owl? (Early Bird or Owl?)
    I’m definitely a lark. The early bird catches the worm.
    Your five perfect dinner party guests?
    This is also tricky. How do I do this without upsetting anyone I know? The truth is, there are so many people that I love to have dinner with (Toni and her partner included), so I am going to give you my fantasy list, which includes: Dolores Ibarrurri (a.k.a. La Pasionaria – to whom this blog is partially dedicated), Mary Seacole (a Jamaican woman who nursed British troops – and also kept them well fed – during the Crimean War), Karl Marx (because it all started with him), Jane Austen (so I could ask her why) and Edwidge Danticat (because I don’t need to ask her why). Ok, so four out of the five are dead. I guess it would just be Edwidge, then.
    The one thing that makes you happiest?


  • Life Things


    The time seems to have elapsed again, and we are now in the last hours of June. That means that half of 2013 has already disappeared; gone; poof! I often think about the passing of time, and that’s been especially true for me this last year, but I wonder if that’s perhaps because my life seems to have been marked by so many colossal events over that time. When I cast my mind back to what I was doing this time last year, I almost don’t recognize myself. At the time, I was deeply unhappy in my professional life. While I loved the essence of what I did – working with people, helping them to achieve, and helping them to rebuild their lives – I was disenchanted by the lack of job security, seeing dear colleagues forced into redundancy, retirement, and redeployment situations, and the general disarray of the probation service. Of course, I had never intended to follow a career in probation work: it was never my ‘calling’, but it wasn’t even that. Very gradually, I felt as though my spirit had been ground down, until there was little of me left. Some mornings I woke up feeling sick, dreading the fact that I had targets to meet and professionals to schmooze, and I would fill my calendar with an array of weird and wonderful activities so that I would always have something to look forward to; ‘If I can just make it to the weekend, it will all be okay,’ I would often think to myself. And when I found out that I had been offered a scholarship on a PhD programme, it was as if all my prayers had been answered. But once I knew, I was just itching to start, and began to resent my job more and more.

    Yes, the me of one year ago is bizarrely different to the me of now. These days, I struggle to factor in extra-curricular fun time, and when I do, I feel burnt out, as I have to summon up the energy to dive into my research with fresh eyes and a clear mind on a Monday morning. I struggle to make time to see my family – the people that are most dear to me – and this has been an especially hard readjustment given that I often saw them, if not once, sometimes twice a week last year. I only hope they realize that it’s not because I don’t love them very much. Of course I’m well aware that a work-life balance is important, and I have been struggling to negotiate with this very conundrum over the past few months, but I also know that we can sometimes overload ourselves, and it often takes time to realize that.

    Just over a year ago, I had started going to a lindy hop class on a Tuesday evening. I met some wonderful, happy-go-lucky people, and meeting with them filled me with such joy. I would rush home from work to make a quick dinner before driving out through the country to the Five Wents memorial hall in Hextable, and after the class, I would arrive home again and show Julian all the new steps I had learnt. I have been thinking a lot about lindy hop lately. It’s been nearly nine months since I went to a class, and I really miss it. But it’s no longer the thing that I need to get me through the week. I want to start lindy hopping again (and, preferably, with Julian) but the time will come for that. In the meantime, I have a whole host of interesting things to keep me occupied.

    Weekends should be sacred, used purely for rest and ‘decompression’, although they rarely ever are. This weekend, however, I think I have managed my time pretty well. Yesterday, I got up, worked a little, ran, and then spent the afternoon with family, and the evening with friends. This evening I have played 12-bar blues, and I have blogged. Finally, I watched the sun set on my balcony. New challenges await tomorrow, and I will take them as they come.


  • Running away with myself, or, The Red Shoes

    My jaw is on the floor. I look up at the clock on my computer screen to see that it’s 4.44pm; I’ve been working since 8.30am and I feel like I haven’t done half of the things that I’d planned to do today, and I know that I still have a stack of things that I hope to do before the day is out. Yet, although I have a plan, and although I know that it’s impossible to think that I can accomplish everything that I had intended to do in one day, I feel like time, ‘like grease through my fingers’, is slipping away. I think that I feel that sense of time loss more acutely as I slept terribly last night, so you might say that I’ve been doubly robbed. Personally, I wouldn’t; I’ve been a sporadic insomniac since the age of about 16, so fatigue is something that I have for a long time been learning to combat. In addition, it might be logical to assume that more waking hours should proffer me with more hours of productivity. If this were the case, then I think that I’d have little need to write this post, and you’d all, no doubt, be very envious of the full and productive life that I lead. Alas, while I strive as best as I can to stay ‘on my feet’, sometimes my feet get pretty tired. And, to use another foot analogy, I sometimes picture myself in those fateful ‘red shoes’ that Hans Christian Andersen taunted me with as a little girl – the ones that dance and dance and continue to dance even after I’ve chopped off my feet. A touch melodramatic? Perhaps. I know that my situation is not unique and I know that there are many people in my life that work harder and longer, and have pets and dependants that I don’t even have to worry about, but surely there has to be a point at which we all draw a line?

    This post is not intended to be a diatribe against Chronos, or even against those other keepers and controllers of time that we know to exist outside of mythology, but is rather more of a scoping exercise; on a more human level, it intends to instigate a conversation about the efficacy of knowing one’s limits. As a woman with a strong sense of my own (and indeed every woman’s) potential, I am loathe to use the word ‘limits’, for the fear that it may spiral into derivations thereof (limitations, for example), but I should be very clear in saying that what I actually refer to is our personal right to say ‘No, I’ve done enough, and I’m not doing that’. I wonder, furthermore, how we do this without cutting out the things that we love to do and form the vital core our existence. While reading is part of what I ‘do’ on a daily basis, and while I do essentially ‘love’ it, I feel that it’s important to make sure that I go to bed reading the trash that I’ve chosen to read over the French article that I kick-start my day with.

    My second discussion point relates to guilt. Those of us in academia can always rest assured (however ironic this may seem) that we have never researched enough, read enough, accumulated enough, written enough, and edited enough. The process is perpetual; when we stop, the work is still there; when it’s completed, it could still be improved. What I have found runs in tandem with ‘clocking off’, therefore, is an immense surge of guilt. This year’s Christmas was particularly hard for me, and, while I enjoyed the mince pies and family frolics, I berated myself for not working for a few days. That old adage about ‘work-life balance’ just seems a bit hollow these days. After all, it’s not really a problem of ensuring that you harmonize work and life, but a problem of feeling constantly let down by yourself, even in the advent of harmonization. So, my question is: how do we erase guilt, and how do we absolve ourselves?

    In the time that it’s taken me to write this piece, I could’ve read an article. Alternatively I could have washed the clothes that are spilling out of my laundry basket. If it had to be the latter, then I think I made the right choice.

    To be continued…after I’ve located those darn shoes…

  • Running

    Today I went for my second outdoor run of the year. For me, and indeed for most seasoned runners, that’s not something to shout from the rooftops, let alone broadcast on the internet. It was pretty cold (snowing, in fact) and I’ve never been a fan of running in the cold. Then again, neither am I a fan of running in the rain, running when it’s dark, running in remote, suburban areas, or running at then end of the day. I guess in that sense I’ve always been a bit of a ‘fair-weather’ runner; a runner who likes to have their cake and eat it (not that cake can really be used appropriately in an analogy about running, but you get my drift). As most of you will know, however, (if you’ve read my list) I’ve recently renewed a pledge that I made with a friend back in 2011 to run a marathon before I turn 30, and preferably within the next 2 years. What this means is that I really need to get my backside into gear if I want to make it happen.

    Running has never been something that I’ve ever been really good at, though when I was at school I wasn’t particularly good at any kind of sport. Personally, I put that down to the fact that I wasn’t given prescription lenses until the age of 14 and so my hand-eye coordination must have been out of kilter for most of my childhood! My lack of sporting dexterity actually became a bit of a running joke amongst my friends – so much so that they thought that it would be really funny to nominate me as ‘Games Captain’ for my form one year. We all laughed about it at the time, and I continued to shun sports in the same way that I felt all sports had shunned me.

    I’d like to think that those days are long since past. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a sports enthusiast, but I do enjoy an active lifestyle. When I left school I found out that I could express this enjoyment for activity in ways that didn’t constrain me or make me feel humiliated. I joined the university gym and went fairly regularly (it was hard to argue with a £1.50 pay-as-you-go fee). When I left university, however, I discovered that working out in the real, corporate world was pretty expensive, and I simply couldn’t afford the £50 a month memberships that most gyms were charging. It was then that I had a brainwave; I decided that from that moment onwards, I would start running. Initially, I wasn’t doing it for anything other than maintaining my fitness regime. I would get up on a Saturday morning, go for a 2-mile run, come home, and enjoy the rest of my weekend. It wasn’t until 2011 that I decided I needed a challenge to work towards. My friend (the friend that sparked the new ‘list’ phenomenon, and a friend that has always been much, much fitter than I) suggested that we plan to run a marathon together in 2013, and we began to lay the groundwork for that very challenge.

    Well it’s now 2013. Those two years seem to have vanished into the ether. I’d like to think that we could still do it this year somehow, but I think that it’s going to be difficult – especially when I’m only just starting to run again after a 6-month hiatus that was brought on by a knee injury and when I also plan to make a research trip to New Orleans in November. I’m conscious, however, that it’s really difficult to wait before starting, as it might just not happen. But then I’m just looking for obstructions, I suppose. I need to do it; I want to do it, so I’ll just have to do it, even if that means training through the winter and training at times that don’t best please me. Because ultimately when I’m out there, on the road or on the grass, I love it. Even when the snow is hitting me in the face and my fingers are going numb, I just love it. I think it’s always easy to forget just how much we love doing something when we don’t do it for a while, and because we haven’t done it for so long, we convince ourselves that it was never that good to begin with. I, for one, am going to stop listening to the excuses that I make for myself and just start doing, because if I don’t start doing then I will never get anything done.

  • Lists


    Two weeks ago I went for dinner with a friend. We had agreed at the beginning of the year that we would make a conscious effort to see more of each other in 2013 as we realized that 2012 had passed us both by without us having time to pause and take stock. We naturally drunk a large quantity of wine and had a wonderful time, giggling, gossiping, venting our respective frustrations, and reflecting on how far we’d come together over the past fourteen years. We recalled the moment that we made a list with three of our friends at the age of eighteen of thirty things that we wanted to do before we hit thirty. It was a joint effort with contributions from each of us, some of which were frivolous; some of which we’ve already achieved. With several exceptions, we agreed that there were probably few things on the old list that were really relevant to our lives now, and agreed with one of our other friends after our dinner to make new, individual lists.

    It has been a source of great fun and has brought us even closer together as we have laughed, cried (with laughter) and started to build exciting plans for our future over the past two weeks. It has also made me realize how truly blessed I am to have such wonderful and vivacious friends – friends that have inspired and sustained me as I have grown up. My mum told me when I was on the cusp of adulthood that she had always felt reassured by how mature, headstrong and resilient my friends were, and by how we seemed to fuel each other. We all have a lot to be proud of; we’ve each made lives for ourselves using the materials that we’ve had at hand, we’ve struggled through difficult situations and have all experienced grief, love and happiness. Above all, we’ve made some incredible memories – memories that beat any ephemeral mementos – and we’ve made them together and apart. We’ve been able to harness the support of each other throughout all of this and we’ve come so far as to make our primary ‘list’ virtually redundant.

    As the first week drew to a close, the girls had already completed their lists. I was sadly lagging. Of course, I had been tempted to fill my list with ludicrous and off the wall fantasies as I had the first time round, but this time I knew that I had to take it (semi) seriously. Usually so impetuous, and keen to get going on a project immediately (I wrote the first post for this blog several weeks before the blog was even up and running!), I came to appreciate the importance of taking my time and making a list that really expressed what I wanted to achieve in my life (and try to squeeze in before I hit the big three-zero.) After a few deletions, insertions and revisions, it’s finally complete, and I’m fairly happy with it. The list that you see here is only a sample of the full list – only my girls get to see the complete thirty – but I wanted to let you in on my plan:

    1) Run a marathon
    2) Work and live in America
    3) Go to Haiti
    4) Publish a book
    5) Have an amazing all-girls holiday
    6) Take part in a protest
    8) Sing live with my guitar
    9) Ride a motorbike
    11) Have a small home-run craft business
    12) Learn how to use a sewing machine and make my own clothes
    13) Buy myself an incredibly expensive designer dress
    17) Start writing a book about my life
    18) Learn to speak Italian
    20) Go to Thailand
    21) Spend Christmas serving food to the homeless
    22) Be able to bring all our families together in one place at Christmas
    23) See the sun rise and set again in a beautiful place
    25) Drink absinthe
    26) Organise a vintage party (and perhaps establish a regular event)
    27) Learn how to swing-jive with Julian
    28) Learn some practical skills (putting up shelves, sawing a plank of wood)
    29) Graduate as a doctor
    30) Get married in a magical and memorable place in the company of all my friends and family

    If we’re still here together, ‘on our feet’, by the time I’m 30, you can check in with me to see if I made it. It may be a little ambitious, but I’d like to think that I can. Come on, future; show me what you’ve got! (I dare you…)

  • Renewal

    Several weeks ago, I experienced an instance of déja-vu. Sitting in the graduate cafeteria with some of my friends, mulling over the progress of our research (as we only occasionally do when we are together out of fear that we might perhaps be forced to admit our own shortcomings), we fell upon the subject of the ‘purpose’ of our research. ‘Nobody’s ever going to read our theses,’ someone joked; ‘No, it’s not as if any of us are going to change the world,’ posited another. This making light of the seriousness of our work angered me. Yet I had had a similar encounter just over two years ago. At the time, I was just finishing my Master’s degree, and I had hoped to go straight into doctoral research; my life was taking a different (though not radically different) route to the one it is taking now. I couldn’t get the funding that I needed, so that put paid to my academic aspirations. I was resentful of friends who were about to embark on research projects because their faculties had an abundance of funds for postgraduate researchers, or whose parents had deep pockets and could effectively bankroll what the university couldn’t. I was also jealous of those who were simply ‘lucky enough’, as I saw it, to be offered a scholarship. However, I was more resentful at a system I saw as completely unfair.  My bitterness was compounded by someone who told me that his research had no real ‘purpose’, that he just wanted a PhD and that he suspected that his monograph would end up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. ‘What the hell is the point in that?’ I asked one of my friends. As somebody who had fought for her education, had taken two Master’s degrees (the second in a separate continent to her then fiancé, now husband) and had suffered rejection more times than I yet had, this did not impress her. We believed wholeheartedly in what we were doing and in the fact that we could make a difference and it left a sour taste in our mouths when anyone suggested that things should be otherwise.


    While I have been exposed to different worlds since that moment and while I am thankful for that exposure, my feelings remain unchanged. If anything, they have been ratcheted up a notch. During my two-year hiatus from academia, I worked for the probation service and loved every minute of it; I was making a difference, in a very small way, to the lives of the individuals and groups that I worked with. The decision to leave and return to my academic career was not an easy one. How could I justify, I kept asking myself (especially in my last few weeks), leaving people who had become so dependent on my support? There would be someone to fill my shoes, of course, but what would happen in the meantime? People would suffer because of my indulgence, because of my selfishness. I reassured myself that what I was going on to do was just as good (but, crucially, not greater, as that would demean the vital work that I did and those that I worked for). The job of imparting knowledge, of filling the gaps left by others, and of changing perspectives: this has always been my calling, and I have finally been given the opportunity to take this up and make it happen. This is in part what has inspired the genesis of this blog; I’m not hoping to advance my career, but to share ideas and perspectives. I’m committed to making a difference, whatever manifestation that may take, and believe in creating a forum to discuss problems that resonate with modern life. Perhaps this endeavour is foolhardy, but I’d prefer to take that chance.