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How my new baby’s first weeks and lockdown blurred together | Life and style

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When was 12, I’d go to batmitzvah classes every Friday after school, and the highlight was breaktime, when we would sit crosslegged on the carpet while a formidable lady called Suzanne told us that day’s plot of Neighbours. One day she entered the room with unusual solemnity. She said there had been a terrible bomb at Lassiters and everybody had died, and Neighbours had finished forever. She waited a minute or so before breezily admitting she’d missed the lunchtime showing and so had no idea what had happened, but the joke was lost on us, a gasping room of pubescent Jews for whom Neighbours was our true religion. My main memory of that day is the thought: I have missed something important, we have suffered great loss and time cannot go backwards. Anyway hi, I’m back from maternity leave, I trust nothing has changed?

No, no I jest, I jest! My sense of taste and smell may be compromised, but my sense of humour, never. Pandemic. There’s a pandemic on. Instead of the calm birth and relaxing maternity leave I had planned, littered with pretty cakes and galleries and bawdy chatter about tits, I left work as lockdown started, had a baby at its bitter height and was sent home the same day to wait for death or Ocado, whichever came first.

In that dreamlike way that memories bleed together when a brain is very tired, one result of having a baby over lockdown was that for me his progress became inextricably linked to that of the coronavirus. With no face-to-face midwife appointments, I quickly became accustomed to asking my questions of the internet instead, and inevitably these two major incidents of life and death in my otherwise action-less life blended until I could not Google one (“WHEN BABY SIT UP”) without the other (“Second lockdown likelihood”). The tabs open on my phone at dawn today were “Trump labelled superspreader” and “23 WEEK BABY NORMAL”, and occasionally, like my eyes, the two subjects will cross. “Your baby is starting to understand the idea that objects exist even when he can’t see them,” one baby site tells me, “so he will love watching things appear, disappear, and appear again.” On I toggle.

Similarly, I started to notice a blurring in the language of my six-year-old and that of the rolling news. At school last year, the theme of their lessons was “resilience”, a word she found useful to describe her efforts to climb up to the biscuit cupboard and her refusal to back down in an argument about tights. It was in March that I started hearing about resilience from government officials, too, and across the news, referring to key workers, and businesses, and Boris Johnson, and students, democracy, the housing market, the drug trade, humanity. As the pandemic unrolled, no political address was complete without a reference to this magical quality, something presented as uniquely British, a state we appear to have been stockpiling alongside our pasta, just in case.

Perhaps, again, it’s because I am very tired (this baby is Thatcher-like in his dismissal of sleep, and at night I jolt awake in the grey light to find it’s been 20 minutes since the last feed and yep, it appears I’ve bought another 3am piece of folk art), but this repetition of a word has made it shiftshape, and suspect. Resilience, a quality usually discovered after we are forced into a corner, has been romanticised, the word used so often it is now faded and pinkish grey. And increasingly insulting. Johnson congratulates the UK for our resilience, while continuing to make choices that will negatively impact a generation of children whose resilience, like all of ours, is largely set before birth and in the first thousand days of life; people who grew up with deprivation and instability are less likely to be resilient than those who were born into luck.

When my daughter returned from her first school assembly on resilience, I sensed a change of direction in adult intention, an invisible hand inside Britain’s shared Google Doc hurriedly deleting previous edits. Such as the right wing obsession with a “snowflake generation”, written off as wet and feeble, liable to dissolve if they heard a word they didn’t like. Or those told they could be whatever they wanted, just as long as they wanted it enough. Strike that, reverse it – quickly now, teach kids resilience, increase their anxiety and lower their hopes. Do I sound angry? Apologies. It’s my resilience showing.

Right at the point the resilience speeches began, this tiny stranger moved into our house, so we have spent the last six months politely getting to know him, levering his froggy limbs into his sister’s old babygrows, and trying to sound confident as we tell him this is not how life will always be. On Wednesday I had to feed him during the first Zoom meeting with my co-workers. While I attempted to shield my nipple from their many webcams, the cat walked down the length of my baby and caused him to loudly fart. I reassured myself then, that this is not how life will always be. I tried to sound confident.

Email Eva at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman



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When it comes to watches – forget being smart and get wise with your time instead | The artistry of Japanese watchmaking

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Presage watch, Seiko SNR037J1






For Seiko, minimalism is an inherent part of the design process

In the smartphone age, checking the time can easily turn into wasting time. Who among us hasn’t innocently glanced at their phone, seen a notification, and wound up unintentionally tapping and scrolling through the best part of an hour?

In the UK we spend on average 50 days of every year on our smartphones. for many, it’s not just one screen at any one time. As I write this at my desktop, I’m regularly checking my phone, yet it has exactly the same apps and sites as my computer. Six million people in the UK take it a step further, adding a smartwatch to this matryoshka of digital distractions.

Constant connectivity has become our default setting. By always being reachable, work can invade our personal time, while friends, followers and fans can encroach on those increasingly rare moments of real solitude, unbalancing us in the process. Perhaps, like the French, we should enshrine the “right to disconnect” into law. Until that happens, we’ll need to take disconnecting into our own hands – or wrists.

“The underlying behaviours we hope to fix are ingrained in our culture,” writes Cal Newport in his 2019 bestseller Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. The book offers a philosophy through which we can learn how to have meaningful, mindful and intentional relationships with the tech we choose to use. Our overuse of connected technology, the book argues, is “backed by powerful psychological forces that empower our base instincts”. Newport goes on to suggest that thoughtful, intentional and minimal tech can help us feel more connected to life itself.

Although Newport advocates a more comprehensive form of cyber detox, digital minimalism isn’t an exact science. It’s about figuring out what you really need from tech, and adjusting your personal preferences to align.

Disabling notifications for social media apps, for example, could allow you to be more conscious about how and when you connect to tech. Another relatively simple gesture could be closing one of the increasingly numerous portals into cyberspace at our disposals – switching from a smartwatch to something more classic. After all, do you really need a watch that can show you tweets?

Embracing conscientious design, like the less-is-more ideology of Japanese minimalism, “addition through subtraction” as it’s known, is another possible way to get back on track. Drawing on thousands of years of tradition, the uncluttered aesthetic has its roots in Zen Buddhism, with notions of balance at its core that speak directly to the idea of curating the environment we live in to better serve our wellbeing. It’s no surprise then, that Japanese minimalism remains so prevalent, not only in Japan itself but throughout western culture.

It’s with this philosophy in mind that the Seiko Presage collection offers a restrained, yet beautiful, approach to timepieces. The blueprint for the collection is Japan’s first wristwatch, the Laurel, released by Seiko 1913. It was compelling precisely because it favoured undecorated design and usability. The fundamentals of this minimalist blueprint have remained to this day. Such is Seiko’s connection to its design heritage and to the country’s culture and craftsmanship that these are celebrated in the Arita Porcelain Dial wristwatch – the ceramic dial is made traditionally using centuries old skills while the red of the number XII mimics and pays homage to the original Laurel.

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Arita porcelain craftsman Hiroyuki Hashiguchi

It’s clear that Seiko continues to embrace minimalist philosophies and expressions, including those of the Zen garden and wabi-sabi, to produce timepieces that stand for quality, simplicity and beauty. The Zen garden, with its evocative sparseness, is reflected in a number of watches in Seiko’s Presage collection. As expressions of self-restraint that settle the mind, Zen garden-inspired watches are fitting partners in the quest for a more conscious approach to technology.

Seiko’s watches are themselves feats of technology, each imbued with decades of engineering, design and craftsmanship expertise, but presented in a quietly sophisticated way. Riki Watanabe, one of Japan’s most celebrated designers, is among Seiko’s key influences; he believed in rejecting unnecessary bells and whistles to invest in the best quality for all that you need, and nothing more. The Seiko Presage Riki Watanabe collection is an elegant reflection of all Watanabe stood for. In an era of abundance, the wearing of a Seiko watch celebrates this pared-down design aesthetic. As Seiko says: “With subtraction, beauty is added.”

However you choose to tailor your tech use, whether by taking a digital detox or trading in your smartwatch, bear in mind the power of intention. Take your time into your own hands.

Follow Seiko on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with its latest releases, and visit its website to discover the timepiece that can help you find balance in your life



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Merlot makes the perfect wine for troubled times | Wine

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Sideways has a strangely persistent hold on the imagination of the world’s wine trade, even 16 years after the Oscar-winning, California wine country-set buddy movie was released. It’s rare for a month to pass without some merchandising somewhere referencing it. As I started writing this piece, an email arrived from London merchant Jeroboams quoting the film’s most famous line. “If anyone orders merlot I’m leaving!” declares sad sack wine geek Miles, played by Paul Giamatti. (This being the genteel world of London fine wine trading, the next line, “I am not drinking any fucking merlot,” was left to customers to fill in for themselves.)

Legend has it that the film – and those two lines in particular – was responsible for all but killing off sales of the once popular merlot, and encouraging a generational shift to pinot noir. A glance at the sales and grapevine planting statistics (not to mention an academic study from the Sonoma State University) suggest that the Sideways effect was more like the last application of the brake in a gradual slowdown. Merlot was already déclassé in wine geek circles. Sideways just popularised the idea.

The merlot scene from Sideways

It’s a notion that stuck. Like chardonnay, which has been through a similar reputational boom and bust, a stereotyped idea of merlot based on the very worst wines made from the grape variety had taken root. Merlot was just a little too soft, easy and obviously fruity. It was a beginner’s wine, without the heft and structure of supposedly more “serious” varieties.

This was always a little silly. Merlot has had a long history as one of the two main red varieties in Bordeaux, the other being cabernet sauvignon. You don’t see its name on the label (Bordelais prefer to talk about place rather than grape variety), but merlot is either the support (in vineyards on the southern “Left Bank” of the Dordogne river) or the lead (in the northern “Right Bank”) in the classic Bordeaux blend.

Ironically, in the years since Sideways, the price and reputation of acclaimed 100%-merlot Right Bank wines such as Petrus from Pomerol and Mondotte from St-Emilion have only grown. The same goes for so-called “Super Tuscan” wines inspired by Bordeaux such as Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Massetto and Castello di Ama L’Apparita.

Lower down the food chain the variety was almost beyond the pale. It dropped out of many mainstream brand portfolios. Retailers found that malbec could do much the same job without the stigma. Nobody, it seemed, was openly drinking merlot. In the past couple of years, however, I’ve noticed some of my favourite winemakers have rediscovered a soft spot for its soft, fleshy charms. After years of making ever-lighter red wines, from early picked, high-acid grapes, lushness is back.

These merlots don’t over-do it like the wines that made Miles so angry. They’re not syrupy, sweet or over-alcoholic. There’s a generosity to the best modern merlots that is intensely comforting, making them the perfect wines for troubled times.

Six of the best new merlots

OFM October wine Merlot

La Umbra Merlot
Dealul Mare, Romania 2019 (£6.99, Waitrose)
I’ve long associated this Romanian brand with merlot’s supposed nemesis, pinot noir, but this is every bit as good and excellent value. It’s exuberantly full of juicy black cherry, plum and blackberry, but there’s freshness and texture too.

Duckhorn Decoy Merlot
Sonoma County, California, USA 2017 (£27.99, or £24.99 as part of a mixed case of six, majestic.co.uk)
Duckhorn is renowned for the merlot it makes from the Three Palms vineyard in Calistoga, Napa. But this wine from partner-grower vineyards in Sonoma is gorgeously polished and richly fruited in its own right. A warming, brambly hug.

Tabali Pedregoso Merlot Gran Reserva
Limari, Chile 2017 (from £9.99. allaboutwine.co.uk; thewinesociety.com)
There’s still rather a lot of rather flabby, sweet, one-dimensional Chilean merlot around, but this is serious stuff. Not too serious: it’s got plenty of luscious blackcurrant and raspberry, but it’s leavened with freshness and a pleasing nip of tannin.

Yalumba Y Series Merlot 2019
(£9.49, or £8.49 as part of a mixed case of six bottles, majestic.co.uk)
The large Australian family firm of Yalumba are generally at their best with Rhône varieties such as shiraz and viognier, but this is a really winning take on merlot that highlights a perfumed red-and-black-fruited charm in a vividly succulent style.

Château Mayne Mazerolles
Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France 2016 (from £11.79, allaboutwine.co.uk; corkingwines.co.uk)
From a Bordeaux appellation that often provides good value, this is a lovely merlot-dominated classic claret, with a hint of leafy-minty-herbiness and freshness lifting the dark cherry and plum and suave, food-friendly tannins.

Keermont Merlot
Stellenbosch, South Africa 2017 (from £21.55, philglas-swiggot.com; butlers-winecellar.co.uk; swig.co.uk)
Keermont makes some of South Africa’s most elegant and slickly beautiful red wines, and this 100% merlot is a suitably swish, stylish example of the grape. Filled with red and black fruit compote and cedary notes, it’s plump yet refined.


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Bootylicious: the unexpected return of the wellington boot | Fashion

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Forget stilettos. Thanks to the pandemic’s effect on lifestyles, fashion-conscious consumers may finally be seeing the benefit of practical footwear. Wellies – worn by toddlers, dog walkers and festival-goers – are now the choice of the stylish, too.

Lily Collins in yellow wellies in Emily in Paris.



Lily Collins in yellow wellies in Emily in Paris. Photograph: Carole Bethuel/NETFLIX

The boots more accustomed to muddy fields were on the catwalks of Prada, Bottega Veneta and Versace. Hunter – the British welly brand that dates back to 1856 – had a 114% rise in sales of its classic Original Tall Boot design compared with last year. Sales of its Balmoral boot, designed for hiking, have risen by 110%. The Danish fashion brand Ganni, loved by millennials, launched its recycled rubber Country Støvler design in September. The first delivery sold out in weeks, even with a price tag of £215.

It makes sense that an outdoorsy staple such as the wellington boot would chime with fashion now – as more restrictions come into place across Britain, all-weather items are gaining in popularity. “We need a bit of extra protection from the world in general at the moment,” says Hannah Rochell, the founder of the flat-shoe blog En Brogue. “Added to that, fewer of us are working in cities; maybe we’ve got more time to walk the dog or perhaps getting outdoors to the park is the only chance we’ll have to see anyone outside of our household.” While Dubarry boots (as worn by the Duchess of Cambridge) are £329, and Bottega Veneta’s cost £465, wellies are an affordable trend to buy into. Joules’s popular designs cost less than £50 while a classic pair of Dunlops are £11.99.

Fashion influencer Paula Sutton shows us how it’s done.



Fashion influencer Paula Sutton shows us how it’s done. Photograph: @hillhousevintage/Instagram

Vogue are endorsing the trend. It named the boots as “a late entry for the shoe of the season” and this week mooted the idea of white wellies – based not on the footwear more usually worn by butchers, but instead on influencers including Pernille Teisbaek wearing the slightly less practical outfit of white wellies with bare legs and shorts. Other examples of welly fashion moments include Lily Collins in a yellow pair in the Netflix series Emily in Paris, Timothée Chalamet on the cover of this month’s GQ and influencers such as Paula Sutton, posting selfies of herself wearing wellies on her country estate.

Unlike the last welly fashion moment – Kate Moss and friends in Hunters at Glastonbury circa 2005 – this isn’t just for festivals. The stylist Melissa Jane Tarling wears hers with tailoring. “I’ve started to tuck the hem of the trouser into the boot,” she says. “I’m wearing [them with] voluminous overcoats and cashmere scarves.”

A model wears the Prada boot at Milan fashion week in February 2020.



A model wears the Prada boot at Milan fashion week in February 2020. Photograph: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The welly fits into the so-called “cottagecore” trend, which fetishises rural life, complete with fields, farms and authentic mud. A picture of a young Princess Diana in the countryside wearing Hunters in 1981 has become a style reference for a new generation. Chalamet’s GQ cover has him “hiding out in Woodstock”. A rural address – once a sign that someone was woefully outside fashionable metropolitan life – is becoming an aspiration. “I think wellies can make us feel like we have access to the great outdoors even if we don’t,” says Rochell. “An increased number of people in my peer group [are] wanting to head out of the city and into the countryside to escape what’s happening,” says Tarling. “Yes, this might sound slightly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but what better way to do this than to be wearing your practical and elevated pair of wellington boots?”


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