Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Tea House at the Top of the Hill

It is going to reach a whole five degrees in London today and I am head to toe in black again.  There's only one thing for it - more warm weather photos!  I thought I'd share the unusual experience of having a very British afternoon tea in the tropics during our visit to Penang.

Since the 1920's there has been a funicular cable railway that runs all the way to the top of Penang Hill. It was built by British colonial settlers who were hoping to escape the hot, humid lowlands of the island by travelling up to the higher, cooler air. Ever since, the popular thing to do amongst the locals was to go up to the top of Penang Hill on the railway and take afternoon tea while cooling off. Right at the very top of the hill there stands a lovely tea house built in the old colonial style with a large veranda, surrounded by beautiful tranquil gardens.

The British certainly left their influence here. Even in the middle of a hilltop covered in dense jungle they managed to create something of the English country garden.

It is generally so hot and sticky down in the lowlands that all you feel like wearing is the lightest of materials. This is one of my favourite printed silk dresses for summer, worn previously on holiday here.  I was very grateful to have packed it as it helped me to endure the humidity whilst walking around.  However up the top of the hill the air was noticeably much fresher and cooler.

These days the railway is powered electrically with sleek modern air-conditioned carriages and the journey up the hill takes a matter of minutes, but I remember as a child taking the railway up when it was the ride was a far more rickety affair and the carriages were open air.

People have also historically come up here to enjoy the splendid panoramic view of Penang from the top.

On the menu for afternoon tea was the answer to every homesick Englishman's prayers - petit fours, scones with jam and cream, and Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea.

Not quite as good as the afternoon tea served up at the British Museum but lovely and refreshing on  a hot day all the same.

Hope you are having a great week!

Printed Silk Dress: Mango
Mr V's patterned straw hat on table: Zara; Tee shirt: gift from my brother

Monday, 25 February 2013


I know I have been posting lots of sun drenched photos and summery outfits of late but my daily reality in London has been the longest stretch of single digit degree days I can remember and a constant struggle to get dressed for the cold in the mornings.  There has been little concern about whether what I'm going to be wearing will be stylish and more about how many layers I can reasonably cram on to ensure I don't freeze as soon as I step out the door.

So don't let all the colourful holiday outfit photos fool you.  With some exceptions I've been pretty much sticking to my formula of black and grey layers as that makes the layering process very easy.  I don't need to think about it, I just have so many clothes now in that palette that just work together that I can just throw it all on and be out the door in minutes, which, with my crammed timetable is actually usually all I've got.

Did you wear a uniform at school?  I did.  In summer we had to wear a horrific shapeless bright blue dress which looked like a nurse's uniform and prompted the boys to call us shorter girls smurfs.  Winter was a nasty pale yellow shirt, a wool tartan skirt and a navy jumper and blazer.  I hated the uniform because it was pretty unflattering and having to wear one was all about teaching you to conform.  It's only saving grace was that you didn't have to think about what you were going to wear in the morning or worry about how you were going to look at school because everyone else was in the same boat, which freed your brain up in a good way for other things like studying.  When I left high school though I thought I was done with uniforms for good.  Turns out not!

I think everyone has a kind of uniform that they rely on to get dressed without having to think about it too much and black layering has always been mine, especially on bitterly cold winter days.  So strong is the hold of the uniform that despite spending the last eight months making a conscious effort to eschew buying black clothing in favour of colour I still ended up buying some items I thought my black layering formula was missing - a pair of black flat shoes, an off duty coat to save my good work coats from too much wear and tear and a good black leather bag that would double up for work and play.

I bought this coat from Zara to serve as a casual weekend coat when the weather turned chillier back in autumn.  Wearing my smart work coats on the weekends can sometimes feel a bit too formal.  The leather lapels and biker style of this coat slotted in very easily with my off-duty look.  Turns out though that half of London's women seemed to have the same idea - I have seen this coat on so many people it is not funny.  Not just once but on several occasions, I have walked past someone in the street wearing it or got into the same tube carriage as someone wearing it.  This coat has become a kind of London uniform!

If you live in London you might even have noticed that there are only about five coats that everyone seems to be wearing and they were all from Zara.  Admittedly Zara did a cracking range of coats - they just happened to churn them out in the thousands at a reasonable price and voilà, they clearly also flew off the shelves in the thousands and onto the backs of Londoners.  A winter coat is the first thing that jumps out at you when you see an outfit and you don't really notice as much what the wearer has underneath.  As a result London has seemed to me to have morphed into a sea of Zara coats.

Apart from the style I'm wearing here, the other ones that have become part of the London uniform are a similar black biker style with either leather panels on the front or quilted leather sleeves, a burgundy biker style with leather sleeves, a wool coat with a studded sleeve that came in navy or olive and one with black leather sleeves and a cream shearling front.

As every vintage clothing enthusiast would rightly attest, that is the trouble with shopping on the high street.  The cookie cutter production line pretty much ensures we all end up looking kind of the same and robs us of individual flair.

Perhaps also the brainwashing of my high school uniform days runs deeper than I thought.  The Zara coat experience has made me reflect that having routinely worn a uniform in the past has led somehow to my reliance on a uniform now.  There is a degree of comfort in using a uniform to hide behind.  It helps avoid making a horrible mistake when there isn't the time or mental capacity to dedicate to getting dressed.  The flip side is that it also seems to result in subconsciously trying to blend in when I get dressed rather than stand out, almost to the point of invisibility!

Do you rely on a uniform or a tried and true formula when you get dressed?

Despite my debatable visibility in my London uniform, this week I'm linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Coat: Zara; Fur vest: Amaya Arzuaga; Wrap cardigan: All Saints; Cashmere snood and silk and cotton top: Cos; Jeans: Nude; Bag: Marc by Marc Jacobs: Boots: Gap; Trapper hat: Whistles

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Pearl of the Orient


Over the next few weeks as I get round to processing them I'll be putting up our shots of our recent trip to Penang.  Here are some snapped on our walk around some of the local tourist destinations.  You can see why Asia resurfaces as an inspiration time after time for designers.  The rich colours, the love of decoration, the intricacy, attention to detail and level of craftsmanship that greets the eye at every turn here is sure to leave a lasting impression on your imagination long after you've left.

1. East meets West - Thai temple and a restored old Penang bungalow
2-5. The Thai temple
6-8. The Burmese temple
11-14. The Khoo Kongsi Chinese Clan House

Friday, 15 February 2013

Island Girl

I am an island girl.  I was born on an island and ever since almost my entire life has been spent on islands.  Even my ancestral roots are embedded deep in what was once considered a small island paradise known as the Pearl of the Orient.  This is where my parents and grandparents hail from, a tiny turtle shaped island in South East Asia called Penang.

With the rise of the economies of Asia the spirit of our times seems to be very much about east meeting west. On the eve of London Fashion Week I couldn't help but notice how this mindset has even managed to trickle into fashion's consciousness in the form of Asian inspired prints incorporated into western designs. East West fusion is the new black if you like.  I kind of find it amusing.  This multicultural fusion has always been the island way of life in Penang which, as a busy trade port, received waves of immigrants from Asia and Europe over the ages, resulting (literally) in the marriage of the two cultures.

As a result of this mixed ancestry I have a face that's hard to put an origin on.  Very often people who meet me for the first time ask me if I hail from islands I have never even set foot in, suggesting I bear a resemblance to islanders the world over.  I was born in Singapore, an island country made up of no less than sixty three islands. When I was a girl I migrated to Australia, officially an island continent rather than an island, but those who grow up there know that it's pretty much just one big giant island.  Even after leaving those shores more than a decade ago I came to live on yet another island in Britain.

They speak about having an island mentality.  I'd like to think that growing up on a succession of different islands has made me more curious about the world at large rather than less, that it has made me strive to be more open minded rather than narrow.  I'd like to think that as a serial island hopper I have become a collector of rich cultural experiences, with the wonders of living in each island strung like flowers on a lei that permanently adorns my memory, vivid and treasured blooms that will always draw me back to those places.

Recent yearnings for home (wherever that is!) and my family have rekindled a curiosity in my roots and this year Mr V and I met up with my parents in their childhood home of Penang before heading to Australia for Christmas.  Up until then I had not been back to Penang since I was a child.  I spent many a school holiday here on this very beach as we would stop en route to visit my grandparents in Australia.  There are photos of my mother on this beach from before I was born, looking like a sea siren with her long thick dark hair, buried waist deep with a mermaid's tail sculpted from sand by my father to take place of her legs.  My father tells stories of cycling as a teenager with his friends around the island, all the way to the hills in the distance in these photos and through dense, unspoilt jungle.

As far away as one might travel, you can never truly escape from the things that shape who you are.  I grew up listening to tales of the island from my older relatives and eating the delicious island food my mother cooked.  I had a grandmother who always wore a traditional sarong, a grey eyed grandfather who resembled an Irishman yet spoke with a heavy Asian accent, and great aunts who served curry puffs at their English high tea parties.  With a family tree full of migrants who arrived on distant shores in search of adventure and a new life I am convinced my love of the sea and of travelling is in my genes.  My great, great grandfather was a Frenchman who arrived here from Saigon, and as he was the captain of a ship an anchor adorns his headstone.

The one item of clothing in my wardrobe that takes me straight back to my island roots in terms of how I dress is this beach sarong.  It's the closest thing to a traditional sarong I ever wear and ironically I received it as a gift from Mr V. whilst living in the only country I have lived in which isn't an island - Spain.  He'd bought it for me because he tells me I remind him of one of Gauguin's Tahitian women.

Amber of Butane Anvil asked this of her readers in a post:
"Do you have anything in your wardrobe which brings back such visceral memories of a gold-lit time period with an intensity that is almost painful?"
I instantly thought of this beach sarong, which I nicknamed "The Gauguin" and which is my own little mix of east and west in a strip of vibrantly printed cloth.  The story behind the nickname and those visceral memories of the gold-lit period it brings back for me so vividly were written about here.

If I'm travelling to new shores where there will be sand and sea and a new horizon where the water meets the sky, the Gauguin comes with me and another fond memory is woven into it's fabric.  So it had to come with me on this trip to Penang, a trip not just of seeking sun, sand and sea, but also one of self discovery, and memories old and new.

Sarong: a gift from Mr V. via Mango.

Linking up this week to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Christmas Pics

I've been wading through the backlog of my holiday photos.  I know Christmas is probably a distant memory for most people by now but I hope you don't mind if I share some random headless family shots from my Christmas with you.  It was probably one of the most fun Christmases I've had as almost all the extended family turned up.  It was baking hot and we had a pool at our disposal as well as a fabulous outside cocktail bar on the verandah.

Me in my Christmas dress from Cue accessorised with a caipirinha.  I bought this in the sales in Perth which, lucky for me, started early this year.  I loved the embroidered flowers on this creamy cotton mix dress, so very Louis Vuitton SS 2012.  It made the perfect Christmas Day dress as the empire line cut and voluminous cut of the skirt meant I'd suffer no discomfort after second helpings of Christmas lunch!

Lil' Sis in Collette Dinnigan neon orange embroidered dress accessorised with matching nail polish.  Cunningly also going for an empire line cut with voluminous skirt to allow for second helpings of Christmas lunch.  Despite improving over the years Western Australia remains a very dressed down place and footwear is usually optional.  I've been to pubs not too long ago where there are signs saying "Minimum Dress Standard: Footwear"

I however thought I'd raise the tone by wearing sparkly footwear in the form of a pair of very old beaded leather flip flops from Zara.  They were a bit dark for this dress and I'd have preferred some glitzy high heels but they would have been OTT for a post pool party.  These were the only evening-ish flip flops I'd manage to pack as my summer staple day to evening holiday shoe, a pair of gem encrusted tan leather sandals (also from Zara) died last summer.

Those are my sister's pet Labradors Busta and Honey in the background.  The pooches approve I think.

Lil' Bro No. 1. Architect and interior designer extraordinaire. Can you tell by the tee and matching cushion? Accessorised with i-Phone to which he seems permanently attached.  Usually armed with a top of the range Canon SLR with a very powerful portrait lens.  Also the man behind some of these photos.

Let the margarita drinking competition begin!

Lil' Bro No. 2.  Margarita and caipirinha mixer extraordinaire.

Also doubles as oyster shucker extraordinaire.  These were the preparations for the oyster eating competition.

Lemon wedges and tabasco sauce at the ready.  Mr. V. tucks in!  The other man behind some of these photos.

Christmas lunch and not a turkey or brussel sprout in sight.  In my family it is all about the food!  Our traditional fayre consists of roast pork, rolled roast duck, cold roast ham, king prawns, chicken pie and mixed salads.

My favourite - dessert! Everyone was asked to bring a plate. There was cheesecake, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, fruit cake, lemon tart, a cheese platter and fresh fruit.  Thank the lord for loose fitting dresses!

Traditional Christmas pineapple tarts which Mr V. and I slaved over on Christmas Eve cutting little pastry circles, spoon filling them with jam and topping them off with our hand cut decorations.  Jam and shortcrust pastry courtesy of my master chef mother.

Lil' Bro No. 2. teaching Mum how to make caipirinhas.  Go Mum!  Mum in burgundy dress by Topshop.

Pooch No. 1.  Gus the Australian sheepdog.

Pooch No. 2.  Busta the Labrador accessorised with Christmas antlers.

Christmas present opening is usually carnage - when it comes to distributing presents amongst thirty odd relatives the process quickly degenerates into chaos!

Mr V. and I at the end of the night, well oiled!

This week I'm linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Floral Playsuit

Back to my holidays pictures!  Do you ever find yourself swearing that you will never wear a certain item that comes into fashion and then do an about face and find that you actually quite like it? Or have you ever been given an item of clothing you wouldn't normally wear, either as a gift or hand me down?  Would you use it as a free opportunity to try something outside of your normal style comfort zone?  A post by Selene over at The Elegant Bohemian on this topic got me thinking about this the other day.  Never say never because a freebie may just change your mind!

Season after season, the one thing I categorically steer clear of is the "all in one" in all its various incarnations - catsuit, jumpsuit, playsuit, dungarees, overalls, romper - however you want to reinvent and relabel it, I just really never get on with the shape of any of them on me.

The closest I have ever come to wearing a one piece in the past was a shapeless thermal overall type thing we wore over our leotards and tights to warm up in ballet classes - we used to call it a Gumby after the shapeless plasticine character of the same name.  I see dancewear brand Bloch are still selling them.  After my ballet days were over it was relegated to winter pyjamas.

I think the words "floral playsuit" would be enough to strike terror into any self respecting woman's heart.  Over the last two summers it was hard to miss how many little playsuits in various guises were on offer on the high street.   What felt especially girly, and I thought really best left to those still in high school, were all the floral rompers in ditsy prints and short styles with hemlines that took indecency to new heights.  I had sworn that I would not be wearing one of those.

This little number was actually a gift from my little sister which she bought from a street market while on holiday in Bali.  My instant enthusiasm for the print gave way to trepidation when I realised it was a playsuit and a short, strapless one at that.  But when a cherished family member who share a love of fashion gives you a gift you kind of have to be seen wearing it at least once! If there is anyone who knows what might suit you it should be someone you grew up sharing clothes with and on this occasion, my sister showed that she clearly knows what I like even before I know I like it.

It was so damn hot in Australia while I was down that I barely got out of this thing.  It was comfortable, cool and a cinch to just throw on and head out the door.  I love the retro feel of the print. The strapless, billowy design was a God send on forty degree days, the shorts weren't too short and I was quite grateful for how the dropped waist hid the effects of Christmas gluttony on my belly!  So enough on being down on floral playsuits!  Maybe it was just finding the right one that was the key.

Has a gift or a freebie ever changed your mind about an item of clothing?

Playsuit: gift; Flip Flops: Fit Flop; Bag: Michael by Michael Kors


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