Thursday, 27 September 2012

To Teddy or not Teddy: The Story of Thumper

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 When I first left for university deciding what to bring with me was difficult. Which of my (many) fashion books were essential? Could I fit all my clothes into the small wardrobe that came with my room? (The answer was to buy a clothes rail.) Would I need my items of neon fancy dress (yes) or an iron? (It turns out that shaking clothes is fine when you really, really hate ironing.) And importantly, was I going to bring Thumper with me?

Thumper and Me, Age 6

Thumper is a lumpy grey animal that was once a fluffy pink rabbit. The stuffing is coming out of her neck and her fur is matted - 'her' because she has been a 'she' all my life in the same way that I cannot remember a time when she wasn't in my bed.

As a 20 year-old woman, admitting to owning a stuffed rabbit called Thumper is perhaps a risk to my 'street-cred' (not that I'm sure that I had any). But I know that I am not alone. Throughout visiting friends at other universities I have found that despite different cities and different rooms they (nearly) all have one thing in common: a loveworn stuffed animal lurking under the covers.

I have always loved rabbits, and I have always loved Thumper. I can't even remember when she was given to me. She started her life on the shelf of a shop, with a ribbon around her neck and a bunch of flowers tied between her hands. The ribbon has long since been lost and as soon as she was given to me I cut loose the bunch of flowers (so that her arms were free to hug me).

Like all great and epic tales, the story of Thumper is not without tragedy. When I was about seven my favourite toy went missing. We were on holiday in York and one day after a trip out we returned to find we were one short: Thumper was nowhere to be found. I was inconsolable.

As a young child a soft toy is not just an animal-shaped cushion of fabric with plastic eyes and a stuffing heart. It is a shield against your nightmares and a tissue for your tears, with eyes that watch over you and a heart that loves you when your parents are asleep. When I lost Thumper I hadn't just lost my favourite toy, I had lost my friend and my belief that security would always be there just a reach away beneath the duvet. 

We searched and searched but Thumper was never found. My mum wiped away my tears and told me that Thumper had gone on an adventure and had found lots of other rabbits to play with. Then she went into York and found me an identical (if much cleaner) toy rabbit and explained that Thumper had missed me so much that she had hopped her way into a shopping centre where the shop owners had found her and cleaned her up (and taken off the plasters on her head from where we both fell over and bumped our heads, and retied her bow, and given her a new bunch of flowers) and that this new bunny in my arms was the very same Thumper that I loved.

Dad, me and a remarkably fluffy Thumper, post 'Thumper Incident'
I was not convinced, but I desperately wanted to be. My older sister could see how sad I was, so she helped me to make the new Thumper look and feel as much like mine as possible. Together we brushed dust into her fur (to make her look old like she used to) and cut her hair (that had been rubbed short against my sleeping face) and put plasters on her head and untied her ribbon and freed her arms from her flower chains. Eventually I gave in and hugged the new toy like she was my old friend. I had decided to believe my mum's story.

I know that it probably sounds ridiculous to admit it, but thinking about losing Thumper still makes me catch my breath. For years after The Thumper Incident I couldn't think about or go to York without feeling sad. It was an unspoken rule in the house (and still is to a certain extent) that we never talk about The Thumper Incident, and that under absolutely no circumstances would we mention the imposter in our midst. 

Of course, after all this time Thumper is my childhood toy in her own right, even if she isn't the exact same rabbit that I was given when I was two. She has followed me on my travels, listened diligently to my secrets (and kept them all) and her ears have dried my tears so many times that her fur is thickly woven with sadnesses past. Her ears alone can tell you the stories that her silent mouth can't, and after years of cuddling up to me she probably smells more like me than I do.

Me and Thumper, Age 9
I have obviously long-since stopped believing that she can really hear me, or that there is a live rabbit living within her stitched frame. But just because I have grown old enough to stop believing, that doesn't mean I have outgrown her. 

When I started university she came with me in my suitcases (along with the neon fancy dress). I was 18 years old, but I was leaving the warmth of my home and moving to London by myself, so Thumper was coming with me. I couldn't fit our cosy kitchen (that smells of flour and safety) into my bags, or my mum and her constantly nagged, 'are you warm enough?'s (which I secretly love), or my step-dad and his cooking and wisdom, or my big sister's laughter and strong hugs. So I brought my rabbit instead. 

Thumper and me today in my room in Dorset, Age 20
The Story of Thumper has now reached a very significant chapter, because my new flat is my first home that has not had Thumper in it. The decision to leave Thumper in Dorset has been an important one. I am 20 years old and this is my final year at university. Leaving Thumper behind doesn't just mean that I don't need a soft toy any more (because really I stopped needing one years ago), it means that for the first time I feel properly settled in London. It means that I have learnt to enjoy being on my own. It means that I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have before, and that I don't need the reassurance of a faded pair of rabbit ears. And that I am ready to grow up even more this year.

 All that said, this chapter doesn't signal the end of Thumper's story. She may not be in my flat in London, but she is safe in my childhood room in Dorset along with my collection of letters, a stack of diaries and a big cardboard box in the garage labelled 'Libby's Memories' in permanent marker. I know she will always be there to remind me of where I have come from and to dry my tears if I ever have need of those floppy ears.

In a way I guess Thumper is just like home. 

Thumper today in my room in Dorset


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Thought of the Day: Lonely London

 London can be a lonely place to live. When I first moved here from a snoozy town in Dorset where the biggest attractions were the four supermarkets and the direct train line to the capital I felt like a young lion cub might after being released from captivity into the savannah. It was huge and beautiful and felt like the home I had been dreaming of, but at the same time it terrified me.

I said goodbye to Gillingham (fields, a street of estate agents and one nightclub on an industrial estate and with spirit-sticky floors) and hello to Hackney. I might as well have moved to the moon.

My first flat was a half hour walk to the nearest tube station, but during my first week instead of getting the five minute bus I chose to walk. I had no idea how to use my new Oyster card on buses (did I tap in or tap out or tap in and out?) and was much too embarrassed to ask my fellow passengers. I eventually managed to master my Oyster card, but it took me much longer to master the city.

I had moved to a place that was home to millions, yet for some (unknown) reason these millions of people didn't seem to want to be my friends. People didn't return my smiles on the tube and I soon learnt that the general rule was to avoid eye contact like yellow snow.

It didn't help that (unlike my friends who were spread out at universities across the country) the London College of Fashion didn't have a campus, I wasn't living in cosy halls, I had no fresher's week and the commute to my college building made me so exhausted that when I came home after classes all I wanted to do was put on my pyjamas, eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. It probably goes without saying that I wasn't going to find my London friends under my bed.

I have now lived in London for two years. If I'm being honest, it can still be a lonely place to live. I am never going to be able to walk down every street and know everyone I pass (like I might back home in Dorset).

But there is hope.

I have made friends through uni, through my accomodation, Gumtree (which is how I found my house and housemates for my second year) and through other friends.

And every now and then a random interaction or a random burst of kindness will catch me by surprise and it will be like London is opening its arms and giving me a very brief but nonetheless warm hug. 

Sometimes a kind gentleman will help me with a suitcase up a flight of stairs. Some days the seats on the tube could be on fire for how quickly people jump up to offer a mother or elderly couple their seats. On a packed bus last week a woman with a pram boarded through the rear doors. All the passengers in the bus formed a chain and passed her Oyster card to the driver and back again to save her struggling to the front to tap in. When I was short by 50p for my coffee in a favourite café the owner told me I could pay the difference next time I came by. Today a man said "great outfit miss" as I walked past him. Last week a woman came over to where I was waiting for a friend to tell me she loved the colours I was wearing. On the same day I went to the National Portrait Gallery and had a conversation with an elderly gentleman who was admiring the same painting as me. I bought flowers yesterday and spoke with the florist about her dad who had owned the shop for 10 years, and my mum who owned a flower shop when I was born. One day last year a stranger sat next to me on the bus and we ended up having one of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had.

Recently one thing in particular has stood out and brightened my days: the 'Thought of the Day's written on signs inside underground stations across the city. This week I have seen several such quotes. I have seen a few before, but never so many. Maybe more stations are adopting this heartwarming quirk. Or maybe I have only just started noticing them.

The 'Thought of the Day's got me thinking about the nature of cities. Perhaps I don't talk to everyone I pass on the tube. But we are still all on the tube, going down the same escalator and passing the same quote written by workers who are wishing us well even if they have never met us.

A lonely place becomes a lot less lonely when you learn how to look at it in a different way.

That's my thought of the day.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The last summer before the rest of my life

 In two weeks' time I will be starting my final year at the London College of Fashion. If two years has flown by, I'm sure my final year will rocket.

University holidays are unlike any other: they often start as early as May and then yawn and stretch well into October. Once I graduate I will either be out into the working world or following a dream (and the smell of pastries) to Paris, so I realise I will never get a summer like this again. Which is why I have made it my mission to enjoy it as much as possible.

Even now, mid September, I am making the most of the last of the sunshine like a hungry child shaking the crumbs out of a biscuit tin. Yesterday I had a picnic in the September sun on Hampstead Heath. When it started to rain we just hid under a tree and watched and waited until the sun had come out from behind its cloud.

On October the 2nd I will be back at university and starting a year that will probably be my busiest and hardest yet. I am actually looking forward to it. But until then I am determined to squeeze out the very last drops of summer and to drink them all up with a smile.

These are some of the things I have been doing in the last summer before the rest of my life (I warn you in advance, a lot of it has involved eating)...
1) Exploring my new home in Clapham. Today I moved my final things out of my old house in Brixton and left the keys there. Brixton has served me well and I am sad to have left, but am happy to be in a lovely new flat in a lovely new area. Somehow it feels just right and just where I am meant to be. Maybe because it is just around the corner from where I was born and first lived before my parents moved out of London.
2) Eating cake, drinking coffee and writing in the Bread Room, one of my favourite cafés in Brixton Village, where the staff are lovely and the air is warm with French chatter and the smell of flour. Their almond croissants are the best. Also highly recommended: carrot cake and a chocolate brownie that is so large that it arrived with a knife and fork.
3) There is a cute cafe on Brixton Road near Oval station called Cable Bar and Café. It is on my bus route and every time I pass it I think how nice it looks, but I am always on my way somewhere else so had never actually been inside. The other day I decided spontaneously to get off the bus. I am so very glad that I did. It is a little cave of a café with retro fittings and a three-layered chocolate cake that made me happy to be alive.
4) French and Grace is one of the (many) wonderful restaurants in Brixton Village (can you see a theme emerging? The Village is in my opinion one of the best places in London). Recently I headed there for a meal with a friend and we sat on wooden benches and ate hummus, grilled halloumi and a meze of salads.
For pudding we shared an orange blossom and pistachio cake, dripping in honey.
5) Another Brixton Village favourite is Seven, a tapas café by day (with tables made from suitcases and  cosy corners upstairs that are perfect for sitting with a book or notepad) and a cocktail bar by night. At £5 a cocktail it is student-friendly hotspot (comparatively - this is still London after all). I am making it my mission to diligently sample the entire menu. So far the ginger beer mojito and the strawberry and basil daiquiri are my favourites.
6) Pancakes on Clapham Common. When I arranged to meet up with my friend Angel for a picnic on Clapham Common I expected sandwiches. Instead she arrived laden with tupperware. I sat and watched in awe as she assembled a mini mountain of homemade pancakes, which she smothered in berry and rose jam (also homemade) and scattered with berries and edible flowers. It is safe to say that I choose good friends. Pardon the pun Angel, but the picnic was heavenly.

8) Smelling the flowers. As soon as I walk out of Clapham South, my nearest tube station, I see two things. Clapham Common, and a flower shop called Dover. Each day I walk past Dover and pine after the blooms. I think of my mum (who owned a flower shop in Clapham when I was born and who has since written several books about the joy of flower shops) and despite being far from my family in Dorset, I feel close to home.
Now that I am settled (and have pinched a vase from my mum's extensive collection in her garage) I have decided to buy myself a bunch as a welcome home present. I think it will have to be my favourites: a happy bundle of sunflowers.
9) Decorating my room. Home has always been important to me, and whether I am living in a box or a mansion it will always be important to make it feel like mine. That is why my posters and photos are some of my most precious possessions and the first thing to get unpacked when I move. This is my most organised wall to date; normally my room is colourful chaos. The order is taking some getting used to but I like it. It is representative of what I want this year to be like: me but more focused.
10) Discovering Maltby Street Market, a new and flourishing food market in Bermondsey started by stallholders who had become frustrated by the high prices and overcrowding of Borough Market.

11) Sharing vegan cupcakes and gossip with my vegan friend at Ms. Cupcake in Brixton.
12) Baking in my new kitchen. These are chocolate orange cupcakes that made the kitchen smell like a Terry's chocolate orange.
13) Picnicking on Hampstead Heath. I am ashamed to admit that before yesterday I had never actually been to Hampstead Heath before. I spent the entire afternoon grinning.

14) Wandering along the South Bank with one of my best friends who has just moved to London. Walking by the river always makes me feel like a tourist, until I remember with giddy happiness: I LIVE HERE.

15) Enjoying the sunsets out the window of my new kitchen.

16) Going to Alexandra Palace for the first time and falling for the view.

 17) Drinking tea and cake at the Emporium Tea Rooms in Muswell Hill.
18) Visiting my home in Dorset and enjoying my favourite view.

19) Going to Poole with my family and feasting my eyes (and heart) on another wonderful view.
20) And of course - colour co-ordinating my wardrobe. Opening my rainbow wardrobe makes me smile.

Now if you don't mind, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my summer.

(Libby Page: Licking the lid of life since 1992.) 


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Libby, life and the Lambeth Weekender

This blog may be quiet at the moment, but my life is not. Two main things have happened: I have done work experience at a local London paper (and loved it), and I have moved into a new flat (and love it).

My work experience at Vogue earlier this summer was my sixth internship. Most of these placements have been at the fashion departments of national newspapers or magazines. I love fashion, but I am also interested in a lot more than just clothes. With this in mind I decided to try something a bit different and got in touch with my local paper in London - the Lambeth Weekender.

The Lambeth Weekender may not be based in a beautiful building like Vogue House (in fact the offices are on an industrial estate) but if I'm being honest it was probably my favourite work experience placement to date. Because I got to do what I love best: meet interesting people, see and do interesting things and then write about them. 

The paper came out on Friday. I picked up 15 copies. There really is nothing quite like seeing my name in print.

Friday was also a good day as it was the day I moved all of my things into my new flat in Clapham. After a year living and loving in Brixton I have moved back to my roots: the Clapham / Balham area where I was born and where my mum once owned a flower shop.

Earlier in the week I had moved as much as I could from Brixton to Clapham on the bus. Essentials only, which meant carrying my duvet, some clothes and Clive my life-size flamingo on the 355.

Now I am all moved in and deliriously happy in my new home - mainly due to its huge kitchen that will be perfect for baking. My new home feels like a new stage in my life. And I look forward to continuing to share it with you when I can.

This is what a happy Libby looks like on Clapham Common