#foundwhilewalking in Amsterdam

I went to Amsterdam for the weekend with a group of friends recently and it was a wonderful break, just what I needed.  I can’t remember the last time I came back from a holiday feeling so refreshed, so much like it had been a holiday.  I spent many a happy hour wandering the streets absorbing as much of the place as possible.  The #foundwhilewalking hastag on twitter was everpresent in my mind.  It was started by a very good friend of mine, the lovely and talented Kay Sexton, and I often participate.  I could not do justice to the number of my discoveries over the three days by posting tweets however, so I have decided to try and transport my findings to the format of a blog post.

I hope Kay doesn’t feel I have corrupted her notion of what #foundwhilewalking is about.  I vividly remember her explaining to me when we first met the importance of the discpline of the activity for her; not just noting things of interest, but searching for viewpoints of interest on things we walk past.  I can’t help but feel that my overwhelming desire to note as many of the eccentricities of being somewhere foreign (in many senses of the word) some of them large, some of them small, some of them exotic and some of them surprisingly common place is still very much allied with the intention of the twitter tag.

So – #foundwhilewalking in Amsterdam:

Endearingly crooked buildings

Ferocious and unrelenting wind that blustered around me making me feel engaged in battle with it and very much alive.

Time to do lots of thinking while freed from the usual groove of my thoughts.

Vintage clothes shop with a beautiful pair of blue Yves Saint Lauren shoes for 95 euro that I was sorely tempted by

A bookshop with intriguing titles such as ‘Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An analysis of  sexual humour’ and ‘Salt: a  world history’ in the window.  Given they were books written in English I wondered if this a useful reflection of Amsterdam’s perception of its English speaking visitors?  Are these the titles judged to most pique our interest?

Seagulls that floated up in to the air in a cloud as if they were a visible manifestation of the furious wind.

Fab art deco style building, the curves and lines really demanded my attention.

A lovely chap called Dan from Florida who I am fairly certain I mistakenly sent the wrong way when he stopped me to ask for directions; guilt; self recrimination. Sorry Dan, I thought I was right.  It wasn’t until I got myself lost I realised I was wrong … it was nothing personal.

Church bells chiming tunes overhead and a dizzying view right up to the top of a tower from right by its base.  The photo is of the notice stating which musical pieces the bells are tolling extracts from.


A fairy tale castle, beautifully lit up and majestically situated overlooking a canal by night, disappointingly discovered to be a simple restaurant by daylight.


Starlings, whose iridescent feathers seemed more so than those back home.

An enchanting and fantastical window display.

Bicycle and bird feeders.

What looked like a string of deflated balloons caught in a tree.

An old man with grey hair walking stiffly down Kloveniersburgwal singing ‘I gotta feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas as he went.

Eye catching graffiti, somehow it appealed to me on an aesthetic level.  It may have been the contrast between this and the neatness of the rest of the street.

Curious feature on building, don’t know what it is but I liked it.

A poster that made me giggle, I liked the almost pop art kind of feeling of it and the play on words.

A real Sunday morning feeling, quiet and lazy in a way that Brighton very rarely is.

Drunken bollards.

Arresting small mosaic, I remember seeing a couple the last time I was in Amsterdam.  It prompted some internet research and I found out about Invader.

I actually did a double take as I walked past this shop window

I actually did a double take as I walked past this shop window, every inch the naive, sheltered country girl …

Paul’s mint (Paul being one of my fellow travellers).  We were given mints by a restaurant and Paul lost his.  Some time and intoxication later, as we were walking to another bar, his face suddenly stretched in to a big grin and he pulled the mint out of his pocket with a cry of jubilation.

Shop advertising unusual wares.  I had no idea I would ever want to buy a pocket and even less where to buy such a thing …

More of my Amsterdam photos can be found on my flickr page.


High heels and low lifes

Picking up on the theme of dressing again, I’m going to write about the importance of the right pair of shoes …

I attended the graduation ceremony for my MA two weeks ago on Friday and it was everything I wanted it to be.  I had been anticipating the event for some time.  There were some points during my study that the thought of getting to attend graduation was the only thing that kept me going.  Once I finished the MA my thoughts quickly turned to planning the right outfit and it just so happened that I had the perfect dress: black, velvet, just below the knee and pencil shape.  With the candidate for outfit so irrefutably having presented itself, the next question was which shoes to wear.  I purposefully chose a dress that purred elegance and composure to match the grandeur of the occasion and the shoes needed to do the same.  Obviously black shoes, the tricky part was gauging the correct heel height.  Flat shoes were unthinkable.

I have a gorgeous and pleasantly attitude laden pair of black patent heels with a chunky (though stately) 4” heel in a kind of mahogany brown with metal detailing.   These shoes speak to people, they announce that I am in the room, elongate my legs and also give me a much appreciated extra four inches or so.  When you start off at only 5’1 a couple inches extra is always welcome.  However, I instinctively felt these were not suitable for a number of reasons.

1) While I can (of course!) walk in high heels, there is something to be said for not choosing shoes that are more likely to put one off balance when doing something nerve wracking like walking across a stage to accept a certificate.

2) When wearing shoes all day and for a formal occasion, removing them and hobbling about because they have crippled you looks distinctly inelegant.

3) Shoes should not vie for attention within an outfit and these shoes would have competed with the velvet dress.  The mixture of patent leather and velvet would not have been optimal and would have left the overall impression of the outfit as incoherent.

(I do have some suede black shoes with a high heel but these were ruled out under no. 1, especially as they are still brand new and are an unknown quantity in terms of keeping balance.)

4) The day, my mood and the outfit were all about elegance, pride and dignity.  My achievement is symbolic of a great many things I hold dear in my life as it is now.  Allowing myself the possibility of celebrating my hard work in this way has been a profound experience and I chose to dress in a way that complimented my emotional landscape.

I went for a lovely, sensible and nice pair of matt black court shoes with a low (kitten height, though not as slim) heel that complimented the dress and robes and were appropriate for a day time event.  The day was truly wonderful and despite the lack of outrageously gorgeous or imposing footwear, I felt on a complete high with regard to confidence, elegance and poise for the entire day.  Perfect!

Fear not, dear reader, for I did find an excuse to wear the gorgeous, attitudinous patent leather heels on the very next Monday.  I wore them to work, which is something I don’t do often any more.  I have tended towards dressing more conservatively at work since I have become more secure and settled in my sense of identity and therefore don’t need to push it so obviously in all spheres of my life.  However, completely separate from the loveliness of graduating, I have recently had cause to re-evaluate the niche I occupy in my environment including a great amount of seriously self critical reflection (I mean more than usually …), some humiliation and a great deal of feeling vulnerable.  On Monday morning I needed to get up, inhabit my brave face (note, not wear my brave face – I aim to do it properly and fill the role of brave face not just perch it on my shoulders) and wear something affirming my identity and femininity.  The heels as part of an urban feel, denim skirt, bold check shirt and coloured tights outfit gave me a lift on that day.  Co-opting the image of a confident woman dressing exactly how she wanted to gave me a much needed boost for a day that was somewhat more about diversion and bluffing than my graduation day had been.