I fibbed, I think.

I told you I’d never started anything new in autumn since 1979 but my sister says I fibbed. Apparently I started my very first accountancy course at evening school in the third week of September 1983. She knows, she says, because she was at the same college learning French. I protested that I clearly remember huddling in the bus shelter in the dark with freezing sleet pounding our faces and that was at 6pm on the way there so it must have been a January start. She reiterated the third week in September and gave me the look that says, “I am eight and you are only six therefore you must believe everything I say.” So I do.

Here’s a pic of a cute dog in Venice a few years ago. I found it on a camera card in the zippy bit of a handbag that she borrowed in 2009.

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80/20 Rule and Thoughts on a New Wardrobe – Part One

Before I left Italy I had a long talk with my amazing Italian doctor. I had to pay for her (because in Italy access to the state healthcare system is based on Italian citizenship and being from an EU member country doesn’t entitle you to anything more than you’d get as a tourist) but she was worth every penny. When I told her we were returning to the UK she ordered a huge battery of blood tests and we talked for ages and the conclusion was that I had turned a corner with the CFS/ME that’s dogged me for several years since the vile virus/nervous breakdown combo after my father died. I don’t want to talk too much about it as there are far better, more informative specialist blogs out there but in my case the constant exhaustion had the side-effects of weight gain, fitness loss, and depression, all three of which are still with me.

I’m slowly working out a nutrition and exercise plan. The nutrition I’ll talk more about later but it’s being helped enormously by the lovely, lovely, lovely cookery blogs I’ve found. As for exercise, well, even if I didn’t hate gyms I live on the edge of the middle of nowhere, so it’s going to be down to dvds and lots of walking. I’m going to take as much advantage as I can of living in a scenic area and walk every day even though winter in Scotland is not really the brightest time to do anything outside but it won’t rain, sleet, and hail every single day between now and next June. Actually it probably will rain, sleet, and hail every single day between now and next June but I have to do something before I’m too big to fit through doors.

Yesterday I went for a coffee in Victor Hugo’s on the Meadows to think.

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I love colour, embroidery, embellishment, natural fabrics, vintage, accessories, and jewellery.

I can’t be bothered with trends and I refuse to accept the idea that something is passé because it is a year old.

I believe in ‘occasion appropriate’ and someone else’s occasion, e.g., a funeral or a wedding isn’t the place for me to go all out expressing my over-caffeinated/sari fabric obsessed personality.

The rest of the time is my occasion to dress the way I like. Please forgive me, dear little Scottish country town. I know you want me to move to Glasgow.

I don’t believe in ‘age appropriate’ (if you ever see me in the Classic section of M&S please lure me out with chocolate cake) and I will probably end up in prison one day for thumping someone for describing a woman as “looking good for her age.” Again, please send chocolate cake, the fudgey, ganache covered kind.

My challenge to myself is to purchase mindfully and morally. Like most of us I care about who makes my clothes but I’m also overwhelmed by the effort involved in policing production (shouldn’t be my job) and the fact that I suspect some producers lie by appropriating the language of fair-trade and concern but the bottom line is appalling labour conditions anyway. I don’t want to part of that. I want lovely things and I want the woman who makes them to have lovely things of her own and she won’t as long as she lives in a shanty town and works in a sweatshop.

Things have come a long way in the fair-trade clothing business over the last twenty years or so. It used to be that fair-trade clothing either looked as if it had been made in a peace camp hippie commune by Flower and Moonchild in between brewing and drinking vats of vegan hooch or it was entirely white organic cotton tee shirts. The first made you look like a gypsy fortune teller and the second would stretch the ingenuity of even the most dedicated minimalist.

It’s true though that boycotting “third world” producers isn’t always the best idea because any job is better than no job. If our actions close down all the unethical clothing factories then the people that work in them have nowhere to go and for some of the women and children the alternative will be the sex trade and for the others it will be destitution and starvation. It’s a tragic, terrible scenario and it makes my blood boil.

I’ve chosen to take control of what I can which is my own life. In the end that’s all I’m answerable for.

I’ve chosen to implement an 80/20 rule in all my clothes and accessory purchasing from now on. I’d like to say I’m going to be 100% fair-trade but I know myself and I know my environment plus the issues around boycotting.

The 80/20 Rule

From now on – that’s today – 21st September 2016 all my purchases will be 80% (or more) from these sources:

Fair Trade/Ethical Producers.
Vintage/Charity shops.
Direct from artists/artisans.
From countries with decent labour laws.
Upcycling/Recycling.
Organic/Eco-Friendly.
Cherishing items I’ve had for years already.
Cruelty-free/Vegan.
Micro businesses as long as they’re not exploiting others.

And 20% (or less) from ordinary retailers although if I hear they are gratuitiously bad/making zero effort/lying I will find someone else. There’s always someone else.

The one area I won’t compromise is toiletries and cosmetics. There is no need for animal testing either on ingredients or finished products anywhere, anyhow, ever. I would rather support companies who have never abused animals rather than the ones who were forced by EU law to stop and are doing heaven knows what elsewhere in the world.

If you’ve read this far I apologise for the lack of photos but I’m away from home helping my sister and her husband prepare for their new life/early retirement to Malta.

Victor Hugo’s is at 27 Melville Terrace EH9 1LP.  It’s on the other side of the Meadows from the university area and the nearest bus stops are 2 minutes away on the parallel Melville Drive. The coffee is good and they always have a yummy selection of sandwiches and cakes as well as a lovely deli counter.

Tranquil and Romantic – Dr Neil’s Garden, Edinburgh

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A green, tranquil refuge from the noise and bustle of Edinburgh hidden behind the high stone wall of Duddingston Kirk on the slope between picturesque Duddingston Village and the shores of the loch. It is the perfect “secret garden” of flower-filled crannies and nooks with little benches where you can sit and gaze at the lake and recharge after the hectic city. It is a lovely place to go to unruffle your feathers or have a romantic picnic on one of the hidden benches where you can steal the occasional kiss without observation. I’ve been there many times over the years and in all seasons and it is always quiet, so quiet that I’ve sometimes wondered what’s wrong – wrong with the world, the citizens of Edinburgh, the tourist guides – and then just been terribly grateful. The arrangement of conifers, herbaceous borders, hedges, little bridges and ponds is even more glorious when you have them to yourself!

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For me the garden a place to think and dream, to work out what to do next, to savour a good coffee, read a book, persuade myself that it will all be alright, and to remember in an often tragic, often depressing world that there is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…

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The Garden Room café in the kirk garden helps support the garden which no longer receives funding from the National Trust for Scotland although why it doesn’t is beyond me. It is by far the prettiest and most peaceful place in Edinburgh and, in my opinion, deserved every penny it ever got. You can also help support it by buying plants and there are usually some on a table by the café.

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The ladies who work here are delightfully friendly. The opening times are 10am to 4pm daily but check the website before going because they may change with the seasons. The garden itself is open from 10am to dusk.

It all began back in 1965 when Dr Nancy Neil and her husband, Andrew, also a doctor, were offered Duddingston Kirk’s mediaeval rubbish dump after they lost their allotment in Morningside. It had been used over the centuries for grazing calves and geese but with its steep slope, volcanic rock, and poor soil it had never been used for growing crops let alone ornamental plants. The Neils set to work clearing it removing almost 10ft of debris despite not being able to get in any mechanical diggers or other vehicles. It sounds almost too much for two people, even with the help of friends and patients, but love and persistence won out and today there is an ornate garden of colourful, individual terraces descending from the kirk’s own grounds down to the shores of the loch with its waterlilies, swans, ducks, and chattering moorhens. On the edge of the loch you can see the Thompson Tower, an elegant, purpose designed storehouse for curling equipment back in the day when curling had to be played on frozen waters in winter.

Finding it: Old Church Lane, off Duddingston Road West, EH15 3PX. You can either walk through the Manse gates turning right into the garden or, between 10am and 4pm, through the Garden Room café at the entrance to the church.

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By car: The church has a car park onDuddingston Road West immediately before the turn into Old Church Lane with 50 spaces and a gate into their own garden which leads to Dr Neil’s Garden. If you don’t park in the church car park you can drive a little further down Old Church Lane to a small car park for Duddingston Loch.

By bus: Lothian Region Transport No.42 stops outside the church (timetable). The nearest point on the timetable is Craigmillar Crossroads but ask the driver to let you off at Duddingston Kirk.

Walk: A variety of routes through Holyrood Park following the signs for Duddingston Loch heading south-east.

Disability access: The toilets have wheelchair access but on the whole the rest of the place doesn’t. You can get in and park yourself with a view of the loch and that’s about it. If you use sticks to walk or are bit unsteady, have joint disease, etc, be very, very careful with the paths going up and down between the top of the garden and the loch because although some have long, shallow steps there are almost no railings or anything to grab on to. The church garden though and the area around the Garden Room is flat and manageable.

Nearby: Commonwealth War Graves in the church cemetery.
The Sheep’s Heid Inn which is the oldest pub in Edinburgh and, apparently, the Queen’s ‘local’ when she’s staying at Holyrood Palace!

For a few more photos of the garden, please visit my Dr Neil’s Garden Pinterest board.

One more step on the blog path

I’m not going to be much good at capsule-wardrobing. I’m not a compulsive buyer and I don’t get bored with clothes but I don’t wear separates and I have too many accessories so there’s one thing I can’t blog about. I’m not much good at autumn either. I miss the woodsmoke that always used to characterise it, you couldn’t pay me to drink pumpkin latte, and I think cinnamon and hot chocolate are for winter. On the other hand, I do love the festoons of spider webs that fill up with dew overnight and make my hedge look like Tiffany’s window every morning and the sense of new start that I have despite the fact that I threw myself out of school aged 16 in 1980 and have never started anything in autumn since. Perhaps it’s the feeling I have when I’m this far north of entering a cocoon at the beginning of winter with the expectation of emerging flutterby like and elegant in the spring. Of course, in Scotland, spring is often indistinguishable from winter and elegance hides under coats designed for hefty men working the Northwest Passage.

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Retro Bistrot, Piazza Duomo, Verona.

I am, however, the lucky woman who, if she doesn’t make a hash of a big event in a couple of months, should be living and working between Scotland and Italy for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to get back to Verona and this time with a sensible camera rather than a massive DSLR that threatens permanent cervical spine damage every time I use it which is why, after nearly four years living there I have something like 42 photographs. And 42 might be the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything, but it’s not a blogger or instagrammer’s dream.

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Interior of the Retro Bistrot where I hope to have my office soon, well, occasionally at least.

So, wish me well, if you happen by and read this, and I promise lots of gorgeous photos and reviews of Verona come November.