Thursday, 26 May 2022

Honouring Myself

I've got to level with you: digging up all those old photos for my Memory Lane post got me feeling really nostalgic for my old style. Sure, there's some stuff I don't miss from that time in my life - underneath the veneer I really didn't like my natural face, I thought I was fat, I was the girl who wore full make-up to the gym. My eyebrows occasionally washed off in the rain, and simply put, I no longer want to dedicate hours each day to achieving any kind of 'look'. 

When I was a serious goth blogger, I was generally in part-time employment, and in hindsight I suspect fairly depressed - it wasn't uncommon, on my days off, for me to stay in bed until mid-afternoon, then get on the computer until 3am, then back to bed. I could commit hours to getting dressed if I wanted to, because I didn't have much else in my life. I also didn't have the financial commitments or responsibilities that I have now, so if I spent all my money on boots, eyeliner and absinthe, it didn't impact anyone but future me (thanks for not saving anything from ten years in employment, past self, that was so helpful). 

I also don't see myself as a super-gothy type person any more. I like my rainbow dungarees and harem pants. I love a bit of colour. But there were definitely elements of that past style that I'd like to take forward into my new look - I'd forgotten how much I used to enjoy layering (decorative belts, lace sleeves under t-shirts, skirts of different lengths), and a wider variety of accessories than the necklaces and earrings I tend to fall back on nowadays (gloves, wristbands, hair accessories, tights, stockings, hats and brooches). 

Again, I'd have to remember appropriate dress (tights and skirts not always useful on the nature reserve, but fine for going to a cafe; t-shirt and jeans great on the nature reserve but also you are allowed to make an effort when you want to), but at least when I visit Glastonbury and Brighton later on this year I now have more of an idea of what sort of things to look out for (past me is kind of astonished that I now only have one small box of jewellery and one decidedly non-decorative belt). Having a greater range of accessories, and items like vest tops, scarves and shrugs bought with layering in mind, also meant that I could be more versatile, and make a wider range of outfits from a selection of favourite items. I spent the last couple of years trying to shed items that I deemed 'purely decorative' or 'unnecessary', which I think went hand-in-hand with my crisis of confidence, when I just wanted to be a little bit invisible. I feel like I'm going to spend a chunk of my early thirties trying to undo some of the decisions I made in my twenties. 

At the risk of sounding a bit dippy and New Agey (who, me?), the way I've been thinking about this is that I want to honour myself. Not subscribe to a label or someone else's dictates of how I should dress, not get carried away and obsess over my clothes above all else, but be true to myself, have fun, dress in a way that I find beautiful.

It has to be said that one thing I miss about dressing in a way that is markedly different, is people's reactions. Okay, not all of them (having beer cans thrown at my head can go), but there's this little vain part of me that loves a compliment. After I posted some of those old pics on the Book of the Face, I got a flurry of messages along the lines of: "you used to look really cool!" Thanks 😂 Whilst I don't want to go courting acclaim for its own sake, it's notable that I seemed to have decided that being older, and a parent, meant that I was no longer 'allowed' to feel a bit special or want beautiful things. Instead I should be happy with an anorak and jeans. Nothing wrong with my anorak and jeans by the way - but it's not like there's actually an age limit on "looking really cool", after which the fashion police will come and take me away if I look to be getting too interested in pretty things.

This reminds me again of that remark my friend Alice made about, "this isn't really you, it's just how you got used to dressing when you were pregnant." I was so angry at the time, but just as Dai occasionally contributes a pearl of wisdom, sometimes people who aren't me seem to have a better idea of what's going on with me than I do.

I'm weirdly nervous about re-learning how to accessorise. I've been trawling the charity shops looking for items to suit my current style and the direction I'm going in - so far, without much luck. This time, though, I'm determined to go slowly and be patient, instead of flinging my money at fast fashion 'alternative' brands, or things that are 'nearly right'. Honouring myself means not compromising on my ethics, too.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Beauty Care for Wild Women

A change I made around the beginning of this year was that I started carving out a little more time to take care of myself. Beauty and I have had a fairly chequered history - I've swung from surface glamour - elaborate hair and make-up routines, but at bedtime taking a halfhearted swipe at my eyeliner with a bit of damp loo roll and sleeping with my foundation on - to letting nature take its course in the - apparently mistaken - belief that if I followed the same skincare routine as my other half, my skin might end up as clear as his.

Paradoxically, I am quite self-absorbed yet pretty bad at the basics of looking after myself, which is why I have plantar fasciitis (bad shoes) and sensitive teeth (turns out you shouldn't drink multiple cartons of juice a day for several years if you don't want to tear up every time you eat something with sugar in it). I have been a person who buys new outfits on a daily basis, but once left a bout of tonsilitis untreated for so long that it spread to my stomach glands. I was basically unable to eat from the pain and felt so run down and ill that I fell asleep in public places on my lunch break, but I assumed it was some weird new psychosomatic manifestation of my eating disorder and didn't bother to see a doctor for a rather long time. I honestly didn't know that tonsilitis of the stomach was a thing that could happen.

I was surprised to find that I had a bit of resistance to reinstating any kind of grooming routine beyond soap, water, lip balm and a dab of botanical perfume. I felt as if I were, in some way, betraying my 'natural self'. Is my muslin face cloth a tool of the patriarchy? I still don't really have a clear answer on that one. I suspect it's somewhat akin to 'shopping ethically' under capitalism, and we can all only do our best.

Anyway, much like rebuilding my wardrobe after giving birth, I decided I wanted to feel good in my body again, and as well as doing my yoga and going for walks, for me this meant I had to give it a little TLC. I kind of feel like I shouldn't have to - surely my body will look after itself best if I just leave it alone? - but after a week of dry body brushing in the morning and applying lotion in the evening, my skin was so improbably soft that I had to concede that perhaps I could do with a little bit of looking after, after all.

I remind myself that women throughout history have cared for their skin and hair using nature's bounty - which, yes, has included lead and nightingale poo at various times, but given that many beauty products currently contain the likes of petrol, carcinogens and formaldehyde, perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to judge - and what I am doing is therefore no different. I make my own products where I can, but when the ingredients cost as much as ready-made products, I buy carefully chosen natural products from a small handful of retailers. 

Recently, I had a fitting for my wedding dress, and under the bright lighting I winced to see how unkempt I was next to my (admittedly exceptionally beautiful) bridesmaid, who is always very well-groomed. We got to talking about wedding make-up - when we first planned the wedding, a make-up artist and professional photographer were booked, but having rearranged four times due to COVID, they were no longer available (or affordable). I didn't mind doing my own make-up, but in that moment it dawned on me that my two-years-out-of-date Lush slapstick probably wasn't going to cut it. 

When I started looking into what was available, I learned that since I started my shopping ban, the world of beauty had kind of moved on without me. I didn't actually know that primer was a thing. At first I panicked, and begged my gorgeous bridesmaid Bel to take me make-up shopping, envisaging a sprawling department store where some glossy professional could teach me how the hell one fills in their brows without looking as though they have a couple of weevils crawling across their forehead. (That said, the last department store makeover I had, circa 2016, was appalling - I had to sneak into work to wash off the Batman-villain eyebrows whilst my glamorous co-worker laughed herself hoarse.)

The night after the fitting, I decided I wasn't ready to compromise my 'crunchy' standards (side note: I recently learned the term 'granola girl', and although I'm not really the right age group for TikTok trends, please know that this is me. Granola mumma?). I went online and ordered some samples from zero waste, organic, natural and vegan make-up brands - all through Peace with the Wild, link below - and yes, I found a primer. The foundation, concealer and powder all had four ingredients - all of which I could recognise and pronounce. I felt better knowing I could look my best for my handfasting without compromising on ethics, or putting toxic goop on my face.

I do love to try new products, but I'm extremely cautious and generally don't put anything on my body that I wouldn't eat (the exception is nail varnish - I haven't bought any new since the end of 2020, but I have a few bottles that I have been given by friends). I also don't hoard products and only buy new to replace what has been used up. Dai has more bathroom products than I do.

What I am trying not to do is focus on concealment, improvement or perfection, but instead think about nourishment and care. 

For the curious, I shop from:

Peace With The Wild

Lush (although I'm choosy about which products; some contain talc or parabens which I prefer not to use)

The Really Wild Soap Company

Bain + Savon

I also use flower essences to gently help me stay in balance, my essentials are both from Saskia's Flower Essences - I use Breathe Deep, Seek Peace and My Personal Space.

For further reading, I highly recommend:

Wild Beauty by Jana Blankenship

No More Dirty Looks by Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt

Freedom Face: A Beauty Guide Free From Toxic Ingredients, Expensive Gloop and Self-Hating Bullshit by Lucy AitkenRead

(I did not realise until typing this list how many of these names and titles contain the word 'wild'!)

Thursday, 5 May 2022


Recently I got called out by an oracle card deck that I got for Christmas. The deck in question is a pocket-sized set of 40 cards by Nadia Turner, called Forest Fae. First of all let me mention how exquisite these cards are - enchanting and not a little strange. Unlike the other decks I use, they are also pretty straight-talking, as they each contain a short phrase or message. I appreciate this a lot on days when I'm not in the mood for decoding symbolism or intuitively analysing imagery. In fact, for a fae-based deck, I was a little startled by how forthright these cards can be.

As I shuffled, my mind was wandering. I was thinking about my upcoming visit to a medieval fayre, wondering what I might buy. What sort of clothes was I looking for nowadays? Did I want to lean into my more practical, natural side, my inner barefoot hippie, or did I want to go more Glastonbury glamour, with glitter and flower crowns? I have no idea what question I originally intended to ask when I picked up the cards, but it wasn't one of my interminable, imaginary wardrobe dilemmas.

The first card I turned said, "Take the cloud roads; delight in your imagination."

As someone who has bemoaned, at length, my inability to daydream and visualise, which has happened over the last decade or so and which I blame pretty much entirely on my total absorption with shopping, fashion and social media (and which has made it rather difficult to write any fiction in recent years), I felt like this was a strong nudge. Stop asking stupid questions; go and remember how to daydream.

But it wasn't really the answer I wanted. Shopping Brain wanted to be told to go buy stuff. So I asked for clarification and drew another card.

 "Seek inspiration in twilight wanderings."

I translated this as: remember that new novel you keep saying you want to write but can't get any ideas for? Perhaps you should stop worrying about clothes and pull your head out of Instagram. (And I've always loved walking in the evening, or at night, when things are quiet.)

Mainly out of curiosity, I pulled another card.

 "Go to the woods. Seek moss, mud, and magic."

Well, now my disappointment was forgotten and I was becoming elated. I couldn't have asked for more apropos advice. I couldn't actually go to the woods right that minute as I had someone coming to fit my smart meters, but I determined to go just as soon as I could. And not just to take pictures for Instagram, either. As my fourth and final card advised: "Be a caretaker of silence."

Coincidentally (or not), I had just downloaded a sample for Starhawk's book The Earth Path, in which she says: "To be a Witch (a practitioner of the Old Religion of the Goddess) or a Pagan (someone who practices an earth-based spiritual tradition) is more than adopting a new set of terms and customs and a wardrobe of flowing gowns. It is to enter a different universe, a world that is alive and dynamic, where everything is part of an interconnected whole, where everything is always speaking to us, if only we have ears to listen. A Witch must not only be familiar with the mystic planes of existence beyond the physical realm; she should also be familiar with the trees and plants and birds and animals of her own backyard, be able to name them, know their uses and habits and what part each plays in the whole." 

Like Starhawk, my initial interest in Paganism was sparked by a desire for a spiritual path that embraced and honoured the feminine, but I have returned to it lately due to my love for and connection with the land. Yet this is a connection I find hard to maintain; there's no denying that the jolt, the buzz, the shopping high (or the weirdly addictive mix of anticipation and unease that is my social media experience) can exert a greater pull in the moment than meditation, birdwatching in my sit spot, or walking in nature.

I'm engaged so much with my gadgets lately that walking in a green space does strange things to my eyes, as they readjust to different shapes, spaces, patterns of sensory input. It's refreshing, like a bath and a nap just for my eyes and brain. 

I'm not sure how many times I'll need to learn the same lesson before it sticks. But at least I'll have my cards to keep me on track when I need it. And in the meantime? I guess I'll be in the woods.

I'll be away next week celebrating my handfasting - which, all being well, will be this weekend. After three postponements and a brief and casual (but admittedly lovely) legal ceremony, I'm deeply looking forward to finally being able to have our wedding!

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Fiction: The Night Visitor

An excerpt from something untitled that I started a long time ago and never finished.

'From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!' - Traditional Scottish prayer

Wynford Little sat up in the middle of a wet November night, entwined in his bed sheets and drenched in sweat. He rubbed a hand over his face and fumbled on his bedside table for his glasses. The digital clock showed three a.m. in garish green numerals.

Wyn put on his glasses and untangled himself from the sheets. His head was pounding, his brain still in a muddle, as he crossed the chilly floorboards in his bare feet. Without switching on the light, he retrieved a battered box of Marlboros - the emergency box - and a Pound Shop lighter from his underwear drawer. Blotting sweat from his forehead with his pyjama sleeve, he pushed open the window. Wind howled in, sharp and feral, and the curtains billowed. Rain spat and splattered against the glass .

Clouds swirled across the sky, and in the garden the oak tree lashed back and forth, casting strange, twisted shadows across the walls of the room. Wyn leaned his elbows against the windowsill, cupped a protective hand around the lighter flame, and took that first deep drag. It had been years since he'd last smoked a cigarette. Right then, with the echoes of that nightmare scuttling back and forth across his subconscious like a mad wife in an attic room, he didn't care.

He exhaled smoke like dragon breath. His narrow face was very calm, almost placid, beneath a three-day growth of beard stubble, but his dark eyes, under startlingly long lashes and heavy brows, were bright and watchful. He was a tall, thin, angular man hurtling towards middle age, with a puff of wild dark hair, silver-threaded, that stood out around his head like a dandelion clock. 

The tip of his cigarette glowed orange. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead in his palm. He was still tired, somehow, bone tired, but sleep had never felt like such a distant memory. 

He drew on the cigarette again and let another curl of smoke trail from his lips. The front of his pyjama shirt was getting damp with rain. The windowsill was dripping. He still stayed, staring and thinking, in front of the open window for another few long moments before he pushed himself upright, stubbed the cigarette out almost viciously on the sill, and yanked the window closed. He could still hear, faintly, the wind moaning through the branches of the old oak. He remembered a fragment of dreaming, thought of sharp, sharp teeth and long, thin fingers, and reached out to switch on the desk lamp so quickly that he nearly knocked it over. A warm golden glow flooded the room.

It was a beautiful room at the top of a tall, grand house. Or, more accurately, a tall house which had once been grand. It was very old. Its bricks were a deep, autumnal orangey-red, and it had details picked out in white stone around the windows and under the eaves. Its chimneys were high and spindly, its windows long and narrow. The windows themselves were old, too, and when the wind came screaming down from the mountains in the north they sometimes jumped and rattled in their frames.

Most of the rooms in the house were little used. The bin in the kitchen overflowed with takeaway boxes. The living room, although spacious and welcoming, sat under a layer of dust that glistened with a soft pearl lustre when the sun shone in. Wyn used the bathroom, his bedroom, and his study, which had a large oak desk that was polished until glossy and upon which sat his notepads and typewriter (he still used a typewriter; not out of any pretentious disdain for modern technology, but because it was old and comfortable and familiar, and the clacking of the keys felt right under his fingertips. His laptop sat sullenly in the top drawer of the desk), and a forest of bookshelves taking up two entire walls.

Wyn sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. He had lived comfortably in this house for more than twenty years, but in that moment, with the nightmare still hanging over him like a shadow, he hated the house, and the town, deeply and fiercely, with every bone and every sinew in his body.

From somewhere down the hallway, there came a dull whump.

Wyn immediately recognised the sound. It was a book, falling to the floor. Probably in the study. The books on the shelves were stacked two or three deep, with more piled on top, and it was not unusual for one of the haphazard piles to slump this way or that, and let something fall. But in the bleak silence that settled over the house at three a.m., it was a startling sound, and ominous. The hairs on the back of Wyn's neck prickled. He got to his feet with some reluctance. The old tree rattled its branches again outside the window, and he glared at it through the glass. He was fully intending to go to the study and retrieve whichever book had fallen, but he found himself strangely hesitant. There was a heaviness in the air; that sort of electric tingle that precedes a thunderstorm. It had settled over the house, and Wyn's nerves, already frayed from the terror of his dream, were thrumming like guitar strings.

And then, from the study, there came another soft whump.

Wyn's bladder briefly threatened to do something alarming. For a moment he was ten years old again, and the obvious solution to the problem he was facing was to get back into bed and pull the covers over his head until he resembled a burrito rather than a boy. Unfortunately, Wyn was forty-six years old, and had the horrible suspicion - faint, but growing - that he was not alone in the house any longer, and that if he were to put a blanket over his head, he might find that it would become his shroud.

He stayed frozen in the centre of the room for a few moments, his toes just touching the pool of ragged, wind-whipped moonlight upon the floor. The third whump, no less gentle than the first but somehow much more horrifying, decided him. He picked up a crystal whisky decanter from the dresser. It was empty, only a faint amber residue left at the bottom, but it was heavy, and the weight of it in his hands reassured him as he opened the bedroom door and slipped into the hallway. He left the door ajar, allowing a trickle of warm light to bring life to the gloomy corridor beyond.

All was quiet. Wyn's heartbeat seemed loud, obtrusive. He edged towards the study, holding the decanter high like a club. It sparkled in the dim light, sending gold ripples skating over the landing walls. The floorboards, worn soft with age, were cold. The air smelt of dust and pine forests and electricity.

The study door was closed. Wyn regarded the brass doorknob for several long moments, his pulse throbbing in his ears. He did not consider himself to be in bad shape, but faced with the possibility of an intruder in his home, he suddenly felt very old, eighty if he was a day, and made out of twigs.

The quiet stretched out. Rain drummed down on the roof.

And then, so faintly that he wasn't convinced that it was not the overactive imagination of a writer still in the grip of tenebrous dreams, he heard another sound, from the other side of the study door. A soft rustling, a susurrus of paper on paper, as though someone were standing beside his bookshelf and rifling through the pages of his books.

Wyn took a step back from the door, chewing his lower lip. A floorboard creaked gently and he froze mid-step. The weight of the decanter was dragging on him now, and he lowered it. His arms wanted to tremble. For a split second, he made as if to raise one hand, to knock on the door of his own study, but quickly he caught himself, curled his fingers around the doorknob and flung the door open.

The first thing he noticed was that the window was open. The curtains were drenched, billowing in the early-morning breeze. Outside he could see that the sky was slowly lightening to moody indigo, but this was the north, and it was winter, and it would not be sunrise for some time yet. The mountains clung to the horizon, hunched black shapes like crouching dragons, and brooded.

The study seemed empty. But it was cold, very cold, and Wyn could feel that static in the air once again, stronger here, as though he was standing at its nucleus. Goosebumps rose and prickled on his arms as he inched forward into the room and flicked on the light.

It came on slowly, turning the grim darkness to dismal beige. A sound, a movement, just over his head, made Wyn jump and swing the decanter wildly, sending shards of light skipping around the room and over the bookshelves, but it was only a moth, albeit a large one, lazily circumnavigating the room before homing in, manically, on the light bulb.

Wyn advanced into the study. The rug, patterned like a magic carpet, or so he had fancied when he bought it, grew damp under his feet as he approached the window. He set the decanter down upon the sill, and dragged the window closed, not without effort. The curtains fell back against the walls with a wet slap. Wyn rested his back against the window and sighed, pushing a few strands of damp hair - whether sweat or rainwater, he didn't know - off his forehead.

The moth detached itself from where it had been bouncing erratically from the light bulb and descended in a dreamy spiral towards the bookshelf. Wyn watched it but paid it no particular mind. It settled on the edge of a shelf; stretched its wings. It was a huge thing, the size of his palm at least, mottled brown and grey, its body coated in thick white fur.

One minute it was there, and the next, it was gone.

Wyn started, pushing himself bolt upright. His forearm caught the lip of the decanter and knocked it to the floor. He bent to pick it up, and froze there, half-kneeling, almost afraid to blink, as the books upon the bookshelf began to move.

A ripple spread through them, and then a murmur, as though they had just awoken from a long sleep and were leisurely stretching their pages as the moth had stretched its wings. Wyn's jaw went slack as their spines flexed and moved. Several paperbacks tumbled from the higher shelves as the books jostled, shifting, rearranging, until his disbelieving eyes registered the shape of a man, at least as tall as he if not taller, being formed out of spines and covers and pages, and then there was a man standing there, in the bookshelf, and Wyn half-wondered how he had ever thought he could see books there at all.

His fingers closed tightly around the neck of the decanter, throttling it, but he did not get to his feet. Instead he watched, and waited, and listened to the roaring in his ears.

The man in the bookshelf looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers. At first there was a sound like the spine of a book breaking, and then his knuckles popped and cracked, louder than gunfire in the hush, and anything at all booklike about him was gone. 

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Did I Photograph A Ghost Ship?

In September 2015 I was in a cafe on the beach at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. I was enjoying a large bowl of seafood and half-listening to Demi Lovato being cool for the summer on the music channel in the background. It was a horrible day; there was a cold wind carrying a stinging rain, and it was nice to be inside The Beach Shack warming up after a long walk along the coast from Bembridge, where I was staying on a boat.

The cafe boasted large windows looking out onto the sea, and I remember being mildly surprised by how misty it was outside, given the wind. Then I spotted three tall masts emerging from the fog. How cool, I thought, it looks like an old-timey pirate ship. I'd never seen one like that actually in use before, and I wondered if there was a special event going on. I offhandedly snapped a picture, went back to my mussels (or was it crab?), and thought no more about it. I didn't notice when the ship sailed away, but by the time I'd finished my lunch it was gone.

I probably would have thought no more about this, except a few weeks ago, Dai and I were talking about historical ships (we have a large model of the HMS Victory - the kit to build it was my first Mother's Day present), and I mentioned this nice ship I'd seen on a foggy day off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

I kept talking for a while until I realised that Dai had gone quiet and was just staring at me. "Do you still have the photo?" he asked urgently.

"Well, probably," I said, and spent a fruitless half hour searching, but couldn't find it. 

Dai then told me about the HMS Eurydice, which sank in a storm off the coast of the Isle of Wight in 1878, and 364 lives were lost to the sea. Since then, many visitors to the island have reported seeing the Eurydice on this part of the coast, and their sightings have been blamed on "light reflecting on mist". (From Haunted History of HMS Eurydice - BBC Hampshire.)

Obviously I was extremely excited by the possibility that I had seen and photographed a ghost ship, but as I couldn't find the photo my dreams of a mention in the Fortean Times would have to remain dreams.

Except that last week, trawling through old photos on Facebook to try to decide whether I should cut my hair short again after the wedding (help?!), I finally found the photo.

At first I was a bit deflated. It doesn't look very ghostly. Then I did an image search for HMS Eurydice and... well, see for yourselves! I'm not entirely convinced... but it's not a bad likeness, is it?! What do you think?

An Ecosia image search for HMS Eurydice

(Dai suggests this may be something to do with a Sailing Trust rather than a paranormal encounter. Disappointingly, he's probably right.)

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Rewilding in 2022: A Progress Report

So, we're now around a third of the way through the year. This feels like a good time for me to lay my cards on the table and talk about how things are going. Buckle up, this is going to be a long post.

The reason I started this blog in the first place was to stay accountable during my year-long shopping ban. As I'm sure you know by now, despite multiple attempts this was not a challenge I have yet been able to complete - however, one incremental lesson at a time I was able to get a better grip on my finances and reorient myself in the world, rebuilding a life that didn't revolve entirely around shopping.

In the process I somehow ended up writing a book, discovering the practice and philosophy of Druidry, making efforts to live a more sustainable life, and reconnecting both with myself and the natural world. So it wasn't exactly a wasted effort.

This year, I decided not to try to force myself through another twelve months of trying not to shop at all. I'd tried three years in a row, and it just wasn't working, despite the positive changes I had made. Each time I seemed to stick with it long enough to begin to see a difference, and then something would come along that was just so special I had to have it. And after that first purchase, it becomes much harder to stop yourself from the next, and the next.

And the thing was, as I've said many times, now that I wasn't panic-buying and binge-shopping all over the place (that stereotypical image of Woman In Mall With Fifteen Shopping Bags And A Skinny Latte really did used to be me), I was choosing better. Not perfectly, not every time, there were still things that didn't look right when I got them home, nail varnishes I never wore and gave to friends, the occasional regret - but overall, I did manage to develop a smallish but functional wardrobe of things I love. So, not completing a shopping ban turned out not to be the worst thing in the world.


This year I decided instead to put my focus more on what I wanted my overall life to look like, guided by the single word: rewilding. 

One of my last purchases of 2021 was an almanac, the Way Back Almanac by Melinda Salisbury. I purchased it without seeing a sample or any inside pages, based purely on the blurb. And on New Year's Eve, I sat up in bed and read the January chapter while fireworks blossomed across the sky outside. 

 "You'll notice all the things we're supposed to acquire and become all fit a narrow and artificial, wealthy, white and western bandwidth of what 'good' lives should look like. And they don't factor in the natural world at all. [...] I'm giving you permission not to succumb to media and brand demands to change yourself. These dark days are ideal for nurturing and soothing, for resting and recuperating. However, we're not entering total hibernation. We need to remind ourselves there's life behind walls and computers. We must begin rewilding ourselves."

I think the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I read that. It was just so precisely what I needed to read. I wanted to climb into my almanac, with its recipes for soup and natural cosmetics and gentle, earth-loving, wholesome advice, wrap myself up in its pages and live there. I immediately ordered the first of Salisbury's #WayBackBookClub books.

Very early in the year I felt myself flailing around a lot, bouncing from one social media app to another, neglecting my sit spot, forgetting about watching the sunset. But unusually for me, I wasn't shopping, or even browsing very much. I kept getting the old twinges of comparison if I spent too long online, but as soon as I closed the apps I seemed to come back to myself.

Oddly, I kept having this recurring image floating to the surface of my mind in quiet moments - just myself, meditating. But this image gave me such a strong sense of peacefulness and calm - a rootedness in my being. It felt like an invitation, a starting point. It kept drawing me back, over and over, to the concept of simplicity, of letting go of all the frantic nonsense of the overculture. It grounded me in the conviction that actually, not banning myself from shopping seemed to be the right approach at this time.

When my garden started to come alive again in spring, I approached it differently. Instead of immediately eradicating my weeds, I tried to learn about what was there. Dog's mercury is poisonous, so had to go, but possibly indicated that an established woodland may once have existed where my house now stands. I gathered cleavers - which like me you may know best as 'stickyweed' - and chopped it into my scrambled eggs for breakfast - eating my weeds made me feel like a bit of a badass, not going to lie. I've read (in Rewilding the Urban Soul) that wild foods are more nutrient-dense than cultivated foods, so I possibly gave my health a boost too.

However, this was the bright spot - over the winter I realised I had become almost completely disconnected from nature. Since the Spud started nursery and we moved away from the nature reserve we had less time for our walks, and for a while I had a bunch of mega stressful life stuff going on (at one point a section of my hair turned grey overnight, which I thought was just a TV trope). The weather was cold and horrible, and our new house lost so much heat through its ancient windows that I was loath to go out and get chilly knowing I'd struggle to get warm again. Our daily walks dwindled to a once-a-week adventure, but then after the Spud came down with one bug after another from nursery, these too faded away, and by March I felt less 'wild' than I had to begin with.


So what you may now be wondering is, how's my shopping actually doing without those self-imposed limits and restrictions?

Well, it's been a mixed bag. At the beginning of January, I felt so uninterested in shopping that I thought I might fly through the year without buying a thing, that perhaps all these shopping bans had been a case of barking up the wrong tree. In mid-January, however, digging up old photos from my goth years reminded me that I used to have a lot more fun with style, and I felt some regret that in many cases I'd replaced beautiful items with prosaic ones. Acknowledging that I need my clothes to be somewhat practical, I started keeping an eye open for a few more items that were really stunning. However, I knew I had a trip to Glastonbury booked in April, so I didn't throw myself headlong into online shopping. Happily, I've stopped craving a quick fix to any perceived wardrobe dilemma - I'm more able to proceed slowly and build on what I already have rather than purging half my stuff and panic-buying a ton more every time I have a change of heart.

I've observed before that my urges to buy are often synced with certain times of the month; I noticed this time around that the moon also plays a part. At full moon I am more likely to feel dissatisfied with my appearance, and have a sense of restlessness which can lead quite easily to acquisition. Now that I'm not trying to eliminate purchases altogether I'm not demonizing these tendencies, but it's useful to have an understanding of when I might find it hardest to stick within my budget.

In February, one of my dear friends was taken shopping to celebrate a milestone birthday, and I was caught off guard by the nostalgia - and, I'll say it, envy - this provoked in me, remembering teenage trips to the mall, giggling in the changing rooms, the glory that was the sheer variety and affordability of cheap brands. I really wanted a 'proper' shopping trip, and I lamented to Dai that I kind of wished I could go back to a time when I didn't really know about the scale of the damage that fast fashion is doing. When it was just a pleasure. 

After a few days of feeling really deprived, isolated from my friends (I know there's some sexism behind the suggestion that shopping is a women's pastime and that's a whole can of worms I haven't really even peeked into yet, but in my circle there are only one or two others who are cutting down on their consumption for environmental or ethical reasons and it's definitely considered a bit niche and eccentric), and demotivated (I hadn't really considered that it takes energy to keep setting yourself apart from what everyone around you and society-at-large considers 'normal'), I compromised. I took a trip to TK Maxx, which I had previously considered off-limits. 

Since reading Consumed by Aja Barber I learned that discount stores, while not ideal and, in an ideal world, unnecessary, perform a sensible function in that they sell end-of-the-line items that would otherwise be destined for landfill. I tried on anything and everything that caught my eye. I really made a day of it. I exhausted myself and had to stop for a protein bar. And I bought two items - a summer dress (I only owned one other at this point) and a smart top made from recycled polyester. Perfectly anticonsumerist? Definitely not. An improvement over years previous? I think so.

I noticed that Instagram use definitely corresponds with increased shopping, or at least an increased desire to shop, which is a bit unfortunate. Perhaps I'll have to give serious consideration to putting my account back into hibernation, as by April I was kind of hammering through the clothing and cosmetics budgets I'd laid out for myself this year, although it's not critical yet.

Inspirational reads this season:

The Way Back Almanac 2022 by Melinda Salisbury

Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

The Wheel: A Witch's Path Back To the Ancient Self by Jennifer Lane

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology by Mark Boyle

Consumed by Aja Barber

The Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose

Afloat by Danie Couchman