I am shallow. In the last week I have only checked the news once and that was to see what the newest Royal was wearing for her first Christmas at Sandringham. Like the Duchess of Cambridge I have just had my first Christmas with my new family but my outfits consisted of pyjamas for early morning (with the addition of a hat from a cracker at the breakfast table) then a wool miniskirt with a jumper and chunky boots for visiting my mother in law then dropping the kids at their mothers. The husband I had a nap after lunch (the eldest was sent back to bed at 4.15am and 5.45am on Christmas morning) after which I returned to pyjamas. The only photos taken of me were by family members.

The Duchess was expected to wear five outfits according to Jean Broke-Smith (according to Wikipedia she’s an English etiquette and grooming teacher which sounds a rather fabulously vacuous career to me) Kate needed a casual outfit for breakfast, a smart outfit - and a hat - for the morning church service, a dress for lunch, a cocktail dress for early evening drinks and a full-length dress for the evening meal. I didn’t imagine we’d get pictures of much – if she’s on Facebook then sadly I’m not friends with Elizabeth II – but was eager to see what her coat would be like. For I love coats and she was certain to need one for church.

It was lovely. As was the one she wore for a walk earlier in the day. As someone who grew up decidedly unimpressed by the royals (Diana and Fergie both struck me as a bit common, a bit slutty and not very princessy) it has surprised me how much interest I now have. I suppose a bit of the glamour has returned with Catherine. She’s classy and elegant and seems very in love with Prince William but crucially, she’s stylish.

We live in a world of overt sexualisation and while I actually quite like Rhianna her videos and many of her contemporaries are excessively focused on flesh. I like sex as much as the next girl but it hardly determines my day and certainly I find little to inspire me in much of the content of modern media with regards to fashion. That’s why it’s nice to have a celebrity that always wears a coat, wears woolly dresses and nice boots.

I always wear a coat. I like woolly dresses and boots are awesome – they keep your ankles warm!

So yes, my foray away from my domestic nest where a fug of mulled wine has been omnipresent was to see what the Duchess was rocking. Come the sales I will keep my eye out for a purple coat with minimal detailing. I’m also growing my hair as I have serious envy there as well.

Something else I’ve been enjoying has been the #whatyourocking hashtag on Instagram. Actually that’s a lie. I’ve only been liking my friends’ pictures. I just Googled it and found that it’s only her hashtag! This is the blog but to be honest while I like her writing, what appealed most was the bitesize nature of the pictures coming via my Facebook stream.

For me, fashion is something I struggle to justify an interest in. Much as I love it, it has been an almost guilty secret. I’ve felt the need to justify my decision to celebrate big moments in my life with designer shoes (I bought a pair of Jimmy Choo’s when I left my ex-husband and a pair of Louboutins when I got my PhD) in a way that I wouldn’t with a piece of art. It was completely without embarrassment that I’ve told people about the indulgence that has been framing my art collection from my travels. Each professionally framed, the exercise has cost me more than the purchase of the original works but seemed a reasonable and mature way to spend money.

It’s not just the big things. My socks are made from bamboo (very cosy) and this delights me no end. I was also really pleased with how my new red jumper looked with my miniskirt and boots on Christmas day. Obviously I liked that the husband liked my outfit but more than that I wanted to share. I wanted to photograph myself and share my cute look. But I don’t. I think perhaps I don’t want people knowing just how much time I spend thinking about clothes, about how what is essentially my uniform of dresses, leggings and boots with scarves is something that has evolved slowly. I wear a lot of colour and this is surprisingly challenging. We live in a world of neutrals. I am a peacock.

The end of the year is nigh and I think that for 2012 my personal New Years Resolution (the husband and I have several joint ones that support the vows we made to pursue a life less ordinary) will be to give myself permission to love fashion openly. I’m going to follow and engage with more fashion bloggers and tweeters, I’m going to make time for girly shopping trips hopefully including one with she of #whatyourocking and maybe even post the occasional picture of something I love.

It’s not a big resolution nor one whose keeping will be noticed by anyone but it’s a step towards embracing the person I am. In 2008 I made some big changes to my life and I’m the happiest now that I have ever been but my increased self-acceptance has highlighted to me the little areas where I’m not ok and I want to get all those i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

I hope you all had a great Christmas and have a wonderful New Year. I can hardly believe it’s already two years since I began this column. Thank you for your support and all the lovely messages.


 
Despite a few hiccups (such as the marquee actually blowing away - we were lent another at the eleventh hour), the wedding was pretty damn fantastic. Our plasterer and decorator were our witnesses for the legal bit on the Friday which felt totally appropriate and while the carpet fitter overlapped with my mum arriving, the house looked pretty good.

It was not a classy party. My family joined us for dinner on the Friday evening and plans for a really early night were put aside in favour of making martinis with homemade flavoured vodkas. The small DIY ceremony was lovely but the drinking had begun. The kind of drinking that sees the bride passed out entwined in her best friends arms.

At 9.30pm.

But you know what? It was perfect. There was lots of dancing and laughter. At one point my eldest stepbrother asked whether it’d be terribly inappropriate to ask where we kept the vermouth and soon my brother was spotted sporting a vibrant Appletini which if reports are true inspired a speech by my mate Trev on the true masculinity demonstrated by drinking vibrant cocktails.

Happy times. 

There was the slight unfortunate aspect of my friend Jelly bringing her super cute and rather contagious baby that everyone cuddled and danced with. Roughly half of the guests followed their hangover with a winter vomiting bug. While I battled my hangover to serve a roast for eleven on the Sunday, Monday saw me poleaxed and the first day of our honeymoon cancelled.

But I married a great man and he shrugged it off. Train tickets, hotel and show tickets in the bin and he booked car parking at Heathrow. On Tuesday morning I rallied enough for our flight. And five nights in New York. Which was surprising.

1)    The buildings are REALLY tall. I mean I knew they would be tall but they’re really tall. And there are lots of them. I’ve been to big cities but New York is crazy tall.

2)    You can make a minifig of yourself at the Lego store at the Rockerfeller Centre.

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While there was hair for flowing ginger locks, short and sophisticated salt and pepper was unavailible
3)    It’s not always cold in December. We sat out until 10pm one night at a bar with heaters.

4)    The Statue of Liberty is pretty small. Everything else is massive but she’s pretty dinky.

5)    Chinatown is like being in China when it comes to food. This made me incredibly happy.

6)    A horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park is worth every penny.

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I wish I could go everywhere by carriage and with a blanket!
7)    The piano at FAO Schwartz looks pretty shabby these days.

8)    Tiffany and Co is possibly the most magical shop in the world.

9)    I have a very generous husband!

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I may just wear it every day!
10)  Times Square is as bright as daylight at night.

11)  It smells like pine (I guess this is because the Christmas trees are all real).

12)  It is really backward in some ways; the subway system seems on its last legs, mobile phone coverage is very clunky and things like airport shuttle services are poorly managed (compared to Turkey for example).

13)  There is a Lego model of Captain Jack Sparrow!

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So what is your heart's desire dear?
14)  Californian wine costs about the same as European wine.

15)  The Empire State Building is a right pain to go up compared to the quick and efficient Top of the Rock[erfeller] which has a better view (because the Rockerfeller Tower isn’t much to look at and the Empire State Building is impressive.

16)  Waiters in Little Italy talk like they do in films.

17)  French toast with bacon and maple syrup is genius. Simply genius.

18)  People aren’t particularly impatient (this may say more about me than it does about New Yorkers).

19)  The most popular song for buskers is Oh Holy Night. If I never hear that damned carol again it will be too soon.

20)  Hot Spiced Cider is just hot apple juice.

21)  I shall be making Hot Spiced Cider every December hereafter.

22)  They take their decorations very seriously. The trees in Bryant Park were bathed in an amazing soft light and I couldn’t work out how it was done. The husband was the one to look up and realise they were lit from above from a nearby skyscraper. Impressive!

23)  I like salty popcorn. Kettle Corn NYC popcorn converted me.

24)  The fat Americans live elsewhere.

25)  While most Salvation Army collectors ring little bells, some have microphones and amps and belt out proper songs.

26)  I like my oysters small but I can’t tell the difference depending on where they’re from (ie. East or West coast).

27)  Going to the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar was my best trip recommendation (thanks mum and Bill) and as I was told, have the Clam Chowder as it’s awesome.

28)  “Local” New York is everywhere from diners to street vendors selling Christmas trees.

29)  The tea is better than the coffee.

30)   They do have “cars big as bars” and with that I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Christmas songs...   

 
I’ve had a few people ask me whether I’m keeping my name when I get married. I am and I’m not. This blog shall remain at www.kathrynashcroft.com, the cookery book I’m working on will be published likewise and I’ll be graduating with my PhD as Dr Kathryn Ashcroft next summer. With regards to work, I’ll be Kathryn Ashcroft.

But I will be changing my name legally. When I proposed to the fiancé (this is the last thread where he’ll go by that name), it was partly driven by the desire to share a name with him and his sons. My eldest son had done a project on families in the September and we had a number of conversations about what constituted a family. It made me realise that I wanted to be part of his family officially, that I wanted the clarification as to what I was to them as much as he did.

I’ve referred to the fiancé’s kids as my stepsons since we started living together because I felt that that was what they were to all extents and purposes. I was feeding them, cleaning up after them and sharing parenting responsibilities for them. The eldest has responded to the question of who I was by saying I was his stepmother but names are important and I want to share theirs.

Taking a man’s name is a bit contentious in some feminist circles. Because the tradition traces back to women being first their father’s and then their husband’s property, I can understand the issue but unless double barrelling works (sounds terrible in our case) you need to pick one name, or a new name or not share a name. In practical terms I think a woman taking a man’s is as good as any other.

The key thing is what my passport says and that will be Mrs Kathryn -----------

I’ve been pondering my feminist credentials recently as the likes of Mad Men and Pan Am come under scrutiny. There is an argument that by watching these programs women are allowing for sexism in exchange of really great fashion. I find this a bit of a stretch, after all do we take issue with Gone with the wind for glamorising a world with slavery?

I personally think Mad Men and Pan Am can be seen as inspiring. The character Peggy in Mad Men certainly suffers her share of sexism but she also characterises the battles my Grandmother’s generation endured; battles that paved the way for women like me to become copywriters with nobody thinking anything of it. Similarly, Pan Am features a woman who ran away on her wedding day because there was still a world to see. This is a lesson women are still learning and I for one wish I’d had the courage to do that instead of waiting a few months and having a divorce on my hands.

The reality is that feminism’s battle is not yet over. So what is wrong with looking at the journey? If anything watching Mad Men and Pan Am make me appreciate how far we’ve come and how we mustn’t slip back into a time where women were unusual in being self determining. And fancying Don Draper doesn’t mean I’d have any compunction about speaking out against any man that spoke to me like that in real life.

Give us some credit angry feminist types! When I watched On her Majesty’s Secret Service recently I was taken aback by Bond’s knocking out his wife-to-be to shut her up and make her portable in the face of danger. I don’t think exposure to outdated gender roles will erode my sense of acceptable behaviour anytime soon!

Kirsty Allsop tweeted this week in defence of the comfort that some women get from crafts. I’m quite glad that she’s speaking up on behalf of women capable of balancing their ambition with a desire to home make. In the last few months I have been baking a mountain of cookies, mince pies and cakes for my wedding, I’ve made decorations and arranged flowers. I want to make my home warm and welcoming. Throughout this period I have also cooked a roast each Sunday.

I see my desire to bake, to cook and to create a warm and welcoming home as quite unrelated to my career. I’m no less intelligent for appreciating that my Nana handed down her amazing pastry recipe and making mince pies just like she taught me to. I’m no less ambitious for taking inspiration from my mother’s floristry skills and seeking to emulate them as I play with hydrangea heads. These skills I’m cultivating didn’t stop me getting a PhD.

So this week I’ll take my husband-to-be’s name, I’ll relish in providing meals for my nearest and dearest and I may or may not be making a nod to sixties fashion due to my love of Mad Men. Throughout all this I retain the right to call myself a feminist.

I shall be away next week as the fiancé and I are honeymooning in New York. Take care, enjoy your Christmas parties and I’ll see you on the other side!

 
My heart sank when I realised it was now December. While admittedly I was tucked up under new sheets, on a new bed in the almost-completed loft conversion and this was considerable progress from a few weeks ago, the house renovation is not going to be finished in time for the wedding.

In eight days my family will arrive. In eight days I will wake up to the beginning of a weekend of family, friends and festivities and while I am excited as hell about that, I’m concerned about the state of the house.

Last night I put up the first Christmas tree in the living room. This room is finished and as decorating it took me about seven hours, it was a big task to get out of the way. I sit here now looking at a twinkling tree but outside the hallway is still not plastered. I have boxes of decorations labelled by area but the window baskets at the front of the house (fresh greenery and gold baubles with storm lanterns underneath) are barely visible for the rubbish the builders are yet to take away.

I’m ok. My dress has been pressed and is hanging in the nursery and a week today I’ll be getting my hair and nails done. The food is ok. The drinks are ok. A million tiny things still need doing in the house and the builders have gone AWOL. I’m a control freak at the best of times but with a houseful of guests imminent I’m rather eager to have the house bathroom finished.

I can accept the painting may not be finished but I need the hand basin mounted! I can live with the plasterer leaving as my family arrive but I want the front garden to be welcoming and my wreath on my door.

I’m trying to stay reasonable and to keep my calm but it’s tough. The project has been far bigger than anticipated with electrical work, complete replastering, dry rot repairs, and rotten window lintel repairs. When I said I hoped it’d be done in ten weeks, everyone thought it’d be done in eight. We are nearing the end of week twelve. There isn’t much blame to be laid, although I’ll probably be complaining about the surveyor. For the most part everyone has been fantastic.

It’s just one of those things.

It makes me appreciate how much I’ve changed over the last few years. A few years ago I’d have been hysterical. In fact, when looking for a wedding related document a couple of weeks ago I found my write-up of my first wedding that I’d put up on a wedding planning forum (funny the stuff that seems to disappear into the depths of your hard drive). Looking back it was so sad; the girl writing it was so desperately unhappy and trying so hard to make everything perfect in the hope that this would make people (her new husband in particular) love her.

I’m not going to play down the importance of marrying someone who is right for you over someone who isn’t but was I the person I am now back then, I wouldn’t have married my ex-husband. Not because of him per se but because you should feel happy about getting married and I wasn’t.

What is keeping me sane is the fact I’m getting married. The fiancé keeps texting me reminders; on Tuesday he told me I was a fortnight from boarding a plane to fly to New York. NEW YORK! I’m going to New York for my frickin* honeymoon! So the bedroom doors probably won’t be painted in time for the reception, I’m going to see the tree at the Rockefeller Centre! And it’s not just the flashy stuff. Amidst the meal planning and organising I’m doing, I realised that we hadn’t made plans for what we’re doing for lunch after our legal paperwork the day before the wedding proper. I suggested Nandos. It’s near the registry office, there’s a car park. Nandos, it’s the perfect choice for our first meal as man and wife in the eyes of the law.

We’re having fun. I love that we’re having a romantic little wedding breakfast for two at an everyday place. I love that there is something just for us before the ceremony for 18 and house party for goodness only knows how many.

What is different this time is that my dreams are not tied up in a day. In many ways what is stressful about the house is that my dreams are tied up in that. It’s our home but hey, it’ll be done by Christmas. I suppose I see the potential for fun in next weekend as being relatively unrelated to the venue being perfect and everything running like clockwork. Whether or not a good time is had by all will largely be determined by the people. Everyone is coming to see the fiancé and me. Sure they expect to be fed (which is reasonable given the wording of the invites) and will need a working bathroom but beyond that, things are just little details. Everything could go hideously wrong and it still be a great day.

A friend (one I hadn’t spoken to in ages and who is coming) asked me today whether I was excited and I stopped enough to realise yes, yes I am. It’s been a tough few months living in a building site but the end is nigh.

It will all come together in time. I could do it this weekend. It’s just putting on a dress, marrying my best friend then making merry with my mates.

Bring it on.

I’ve no intention of getting precious and Bridezilla about things. Once upon a time I went on an adventure to the Far East to find myself and figure stuff out. I became a KL Partygirl and Partygirl’s don’t pout their way to a happy ever onward** they run at it in high heels with a smile on their face!

* I have never used this word before, I’m trying new things.

** The fiancé subscribes to the belief that Happy Ever Afters are stories that haven’t ended yet.