June check in

Just checking in – I really miss blogging like I used to, as more of a journal of my life. Over the 12 and a half years I’ve been writing about my life on the internet, I’ve seen blogging change and evolve and shapeshift so many times.

I haven’t quite worked out where it is, as a medium, today – some people say it’s dead, some people say it’s stripped back to its bare bones, some sit in the middle.

But for me, and I’m sure I’ve talked about this here before, my blog is my online living room. It’s decorated how I like it, it’s filled with the things and conversations I want to have, and people can visit and leave as they like. No scheduling, no shoulds, no worrying.

It’s probably not a strategy to build an enormous following, but that was never the goal for this particular blog. And I have plenty of business spaces to do the strategic-yet-authentic thing (though if I’m honest, even my businesses don’t have much of a schedule for blogging & social. I prefer to be present and write when I have something to say).

So, things that have been going on in my (still grief-fuddled) world recently:

This amazing box to brighten up my day job desk

hogwarts broomstick repair kit box | carlalouise.com

Friendiversary dinners & plans – from a year to 20 years, eeek!

Choosing a yellow rose to plant in Dad’s memory

A series of commercial shoots coming up for the Burlesque Jems (and I’m going to be on TV dancing with them – eee!)

Packing for holiday and wondering how the hell I’m going to get my biggest fin, two weeks’ worth of clothes plus my camera, lenses & laptop into hand luggage only

Mermaid filming, and some secret squirrel plans for Mermaiding UK’s blog

Celebrating my Gran’s 88th birthday (we missed Dad being a BBQ maestro but it was really lovely to spend a whole day just chilling out with family)

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Gran's 88th birthday | carlalouise.com

Happy lunching with friends at work

I was on BBC radio talking about being a mermaid!

mermaid on the radio | carlalouise.com

Ink Drops packing, podcasts and plans

Moving Crafty Coffee to a Wednesday, to fit in with my new part time hours

Planning for a creative day with friends

Julia and Willoughby came to stay for the long weekend and I had my first foray into toddler soft play – was hilarious! At sixteen months he is gorgeous and much more interactive than newborn babies… but I had forgotten how much energy kids have!!

Going back to burlesque classes – I had missed it SO MUCH

Jenny & Matt’s wedding (and unicorn shoes, and sneaking in brunch with Lou & Paul!) It was also… illuminating… to meet up with people I’d not seen for nearly a decade. I’m very entertained by how some of them still think of me, and also by the passage of time in the case of the boys – the teenage boys I was friends with and loved so much – they are all now hurtling for middle age, yet haven’t changed personality-wise at all.

me with the blushing (erm...) bride Jenny | carlalouise.com

the gorgeous bride Jenny and groom Matt | carlalouise.com

And I’m sure all sorts of other stuff which has escaped my brain for now.

I can’t quite believe it’s June, but I’m trying to keep up my Happy Jar and gratitude journal practices, and making an effort to cook & eat well, as grief is quite exhausting enough without also trying to survive on junk food.

I’m still sadder than I knew was possible, but I am getting through each day, and spending as much time as I can with Mum and my family and my kittens and my friends – these things do make you realise the important things in life.

And finally, I’m hoping to spend a bit more quality time with my camera over the next couple of months, around all the admin we have to do, and also of course around work. I read somewhere that immersing yourself in things you love helps with anxiety, as you’re too absorbed in your creativity to worry unnecessarily about things. I think maybe this is a good experiment to try…

 

Finding home

For the longest time, I thought “home” was a place. Where you live, the house or flat or other dwelling that you return to.

During the days before my beloved Dad passed away, in a tiny hospital room in the acute cardiac unit, I realised that I was wrong.

Home is not just a place, it’s the people you love.

So that little room was home in the truest sense, Dad and Mum and I all together, helping each other through that most final of partings. I’ve never been anywhere more filled with love.

And home is, of course, not just your parents, children or partner.

It’s where you feel you belong. Whether that’s with a group of friends, or in a particular place, or a mixture of the two…

I’m amazingly lucky to have lots of people who feel like home, and several places too (not least my actual house).

Last weekend, I was with my best friends from uni, in a cottage on a lake in the Cotswolds. We went boating on the lake, and I was home, both with them and on the water.

Finding Home - kayaking in the Cotswolds | carlalouise.com

And I’m now much more aware of people, rather than just places, being home.

I also spotted lots of things Dad would love, which I’ve added to my Instagram hashtag… #thingsthatwouldmakedadsmile

Where is home for you? Who are the people who make you feel at home?

Love, loss and grief

There’s still no easy way to say this, so here it is: on 8th March 2017, my beloved Dad passed away, with Mum and I by his side right to the very end.

It was a gentle, peaceful step over after a few traumatic days in hospital, and I will always be thankful that we were able to be with him – for his sake, and also for ours.

In the six and a half weeks since, I have learned things.

That grief is not linear.

That it is possible to be more devastated than you ever imagined, and somehow keep going day after day after day.

That losing someone you love is a physical, as well as an emotional, pain.

That six and a half weeks can feel like five minutes and several lifetimes simultaneously.

Chris and Carla in Luckenbach, Texas | carlalouise.com

In Luckenbach, Texas. March 2015

Writing and taking pictures have always previously been my saviour when bad things have happened, but this loss is too big to process.

I don’t know how to be me without Dad in my life. He has always been there, and has always been on my side. He and Mum and I have always been Team Watkins – and our trio is now two, and neither of us really know how to process that.

Though I am so thankful for Mum – she is also devastated, but in our grief we are at least together. And she understands more than anyone else does, which makes days spent with her easier than days spent anywhere else.

My Dad was rather special in lots of ways. I know I’m biased, but even with that. It’s impossible to get his whole life into a blog post, but over his 72 years on the planet, 45 with Mum and 31 with me, he packed in enough life experience as the next ten people you’re likely to meet.

I heard stories at his wake that I had never heard, and I have never been anywhere, not even at weddings, where so much love for one person suffused a place and imbued every tear, every laugh and every word with such joy for having known him.

Mum and I put everything we could into his funeral – though I had definite WTF moments and moments of not wanting to do it – not because I didn’t want to do the best for him, but for the simple fact that I didn’t and don’t want him to be dead.

We had an amazing celebrant, Roxanne, who helped us to capture his spirit in words (he would definitely have approved – words and stories were his thing), and a wonderful funeral director, Maxine, from Hunnaball. I think he’d have approved of that, too!

His coffin had our flowers and also our Cornish flag, his Stetson hat and a helicopter on it – it was perfectly Chris.

Flowers and mementoes at Dad's cremation | carlalouise.com

It was a sad but also wonderful send off – very personal, and very fitting for the amazing human that he was. And the wake was (to my surprise) joyful from start to finish. The pub we chose was packed out with people reminiscing, and looking at the photo boards we had put together, and celebrating his life and that we knew him.

I feel so many feelings at the moment, I’m exhausted just from feeling them. I’m told this is quite normal in the early stages of grief. First time I’ve ever felt normal and I don’t like it much!

Something I keep returning to is how lucky I am (relatively speaking, in the sense that we all have to pass on one day – clearly I would have preferred it not to be just yet in Dad’s case) to have been able to stay with him in hospital. How privileged Mum and I were to have 24 hours of peace with him at the end, where he was with us but sleeping, pain-free and calm. Those hours by his bedside were so precious, to be able to say everything we wanted to, to cry, to laugh remembering things we’ve done together, to read him messages from the many, many family and friends who wanted to say goodbye.

To wake up in the same room as him & Mum on the morning he died, incongruously giggly, because he was snoring and Mum was snoring, and I remember many a childhood holiday morning listening to them snore away merrily.

That little side room off the cardiac unit might have been a hospital room, but it was home in the truest sense of the word – it was bursting at the seams with love and the three of us, the most important people in each other’s lives, were there together, helping each other through the trauma of parting.

To sit with him right at the end, as he made his final journey and the step over to the big bar in the sky, as he always called it and I will forever think of it. To see with my own eyes that it was peaceful, and know that the two people who loved him most, and who he loved most, were with him right until the end.

To be able to tell him that I love him, will always love him, and am so proud to be his daughter – these things had been said frequently during our life, but it was still a privilege to be able to  tell him again, to know that he knew without a shadow of a doubt just how special he is to us.

To have been inspired by his courage and fortitude when the consultant told him he was dying – to have loved and been loved so much that his loss has sliced through the core of my being and Mum’s.

All of those things make me lucky despite losing him, and so immensely proud – and he always told me that grief is the price we pay for love. It feels like a price worth paying, to have had him in my life.

I was terrified of coming home that night. We went to Gran’s once we left the hospital, and  then eventually back to Mum & Dad’s, and then Mum very bravely sent me home to my kittens. She was right, in that if I’d stayed with her that night I may never have left, but I was so scared, and so emotionally done for I didn’t know how I’d react to being at home.

His spirit was everywhere at their house – his chair by the window, his cigarettes, his desk and his computer, his coat over his office chair. All the tiny things that you don’t even notice till someone has gone. But it felt very much like he had come home with us, and it was somehow less painful.

I walked through the door of my house, and sat on the floor and cried.

Because he is here, too. He built this house for me – we have spent the last 18 months on the project and he put my last shelves up in January this year. It was his last great legacy, and he is everywhere.

In the banisters that we waxed together, in the furniture that he built, in the garden he designed and the garage studio he insisted on converting in November, even though I was happy to leave that another year or so.

In the beautiful fence panels in the garden, the bar he and Mum bought me as a housewarming present, the much-loved BBQ he taught me to cook on when I was small, and which is now in pride of place in my garden.

He’s in my books and my technology, my sentimental jewellery and my beautiful kitchen. In my scotchguarded carpet and my curtain rails, and my decking we planned to turn into a pirate ship.

My whole home is a monument to his love for me – something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that evening.

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

Me and Mum and Dad at C2C, March 2016 | carlalouise.com

He is physically gone, but he is very much still with us. There have been little signs – blackbirds and helicopters, a book I picked up by chance which had too many spooky similarities to be anything but a sign.

All sorts of things, but most of all just a general feeling that he is there, still. Just beyond sight, beyond that veil – but there, nonetheless. Keeping Mum and I safe as he has done all his life.

We are coping, day by day. I have survived this far with incredible family and friends, copious kitten cuddles, and the strategy of taking ten minutes at a time.

I miss him more than I thought possible, and there is a huge, gaping hole where he used to be. Nothing is ever going to fill that, but I hope in time I will get used to living with it.

We have so many happy memories – our travels and road trips stand out (especially the Alan Jackson trip in 2015 – a true once in a lifetime memory), but even our day to day life is a happy memory.

Fate works in mysterious ways, too – after being made redundant and then deciding against a job in the Gulf in 2008, I decided to stay in Essex and moved to Colchester where my parents followed me a couple of years later.

Geography means I have been able to pop in to them, and them to me, for all of that time – and when I bought my house, they were able to project manage the build for me without having to stay away from their own home. Which also led to lots of sundowners in the garden, and BBQ dinners when I got home from work. Mundane at the time, so very precious with hindsight.

I’ve stayed more or less single throughout my twenties & into my thirties – and while I’ve had various opinions about that during that time, I’m now more grateful than ever that I made that choice. I made it for my own happiness, but a side effect I hadn’t even considered is that I have had time and freedom to spend with Mum and Dad regularly. I see them most weeks unless I’m away, sometimes several times a week, and while the house project was in progress I saw them most days. That time, now, feels like a gift.

And so. Somehow or other, Mum and I have to learn to live without Dad. Or at least, without his physical presence.

It is the small things which are the hardest – when the cars play up, or the oven breaks – all the little things he would fix without batting an eyelid.

I hung all my pictures in my house over the Easter weekend – I think he’d be very proud, despite the fact that I will be needing blue tac to make sure they all stay hanging straight…!

The blog will, I suspect, be a big part of my recovery. I’ve missed it, but I wanted to post this before I resumed normal posts, and it is still so raw and I’ve found it very difficult to write. I’m sure more about Dad will find its way onto the blog as I remember it, discover it or rediscover it – but for now, I am going to post this, and then take away all “shoulds” and allow myself to blog, or not, as I feel like it.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are one of the incredible humans who has been there for me and with me during this time, thank you even more. I am told that one day I will feel like myself again. Until then, I’ll just take ten minutes at a time.

In memory of truly the best Dad a girl could ever wish for. I’ll try always to make you proud.

Chris Watkins

22 August 1944 – 8 March 2017

Dad and me on my 30th birthday | carlalouise.com

Dad’s chosen charity for donations in his memory is Devon Air Ambulance, with whom he worked for many years. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here: http://christopher.watkins.muchloved.com/

2016 in review: the roundup

The last of my yearly review posts, this one is all the things that have happened this year.

2016 was hard… in so many ways, for so many people. So I’m focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on the good here, because those are the things I’d like to remember.

Friendship was a major theme of the year for me – making new ones, consolidating new-ish ones, refreshing old ones, and letting go of some entirely. Also, right at the end of the year, making friends with a kindred spirit in the cat food aisle of Tesco. Yes, really. #officiallyacrazycatlady. My friends have put up with a lot this year, and have endlessly soothed and comforted me during the bad times, and also shared in and multiplied the good ones. I am unbelievably blessed!

Kittens have had an interesting year – Luna got hit by a car at least once and lost all her claws on one foot (they’re just now starting to grow back). She came home three more times with mashed claws, and we had two more emergency vet visits, at which point I bought a curfew cat flap, which they are not that excited about, but which is soothing my frazzled nerves during the winter days when it is full dark before I come home. They’ve had a whole string of things wrong with them, including an operation Luna needed on her mouth earlier in the year, and I am now on first name terms with the entire staff of Colne Valley practice. Who have been amazing throughout. They are, however, as glorious as ever, and while I’ve had some WTF moments, I am very glad they are in my life and that they’ve survived the building of the house, the garden and then the studio!

The build is finished! I’m writing this from my garden studio, and I got all my keys back from various trades on 22 December. Which felt momentous, after sixteen months of disruption. It has been exciting and stressful in equal parts, though now the dust is (literally) starting to settle, I am enormously grateful to have created my perfect home almost from scratch. Now I just have to pay for it…! The studio feels particularly momentous, as I need to kickstart all my business activities again, and having a dedicated home for that is quite magical – it’s true that you don’t know you’ll miss something until it’s gone! It’s also very restful to have my living room back and not have trailing cables all over the place…

(more…)

2016 in review: Daydreams to Do

Another year, another list to update – this time my epic Daydreams To Do list.

In 2016 I managed to cross off…

2. Create the fantasy fine art photos that have been in my head for decades – after some tentative faffing in 2015, and some loving kicking from lovely friends, I have made a bit of headway with this – mainly camera calibration, confidence and ideas. But I did create this little lovely in a stolen moment just before sunset one summer evening…

Tea Party by Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

Work needed, but it made me so happy and was the first thing I’d made for ages for the pure joy of it!

3. Outdoor dinner party (ideally hosted but I’d attend one just as happily, as long as fairy lights are involved) I had a gardenwarming BBQ in August!

4. Swim in a mermaid tail  Yep, more mermaid swimming happened this year, and I met & swam with other mers too!

©Photography by Grace Hill www.photographybygrace.co.uk

16. Take a boat out on Coniston & Windermere, following in the Swallows & Amazons’ footsteps – not quite, but I did follow in the Swallows’ footsteps on a gorgeous day trip to Pin Mill earlier in the year, with Rhiannon and Janine.  We saw Alma Cottage, had lunch at the Butt & Oyster, had a glorious walk and then finished with tea & dessert at the pub. Everything about the day was magical!

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

27. Wild swimming – her’es me, just about to go into the sea, in Selsey!

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire at Selsey

29. Vintage events – Twinwood festival with Lou this summer – it rained but it was still glorious!

31. Photography training & courses – I did Nicola Taylor’s Creative Photography Roadmap in February, and will be diving back into that in 2017, and I had a training day with Kerrie Mitchell in March.

36. Meet an online friend in person – Met up with lots of mermaid friends this year!

39. Make a video for YouTube – not sure why this has been on my list so long, but here’s a mermaid one I made…

41. Finish my five year diary and buy another one for the first half of my thirties – I did finish my five year diary on my 30th, and I did buy another one, but I haven’t actually written in it all year!

45. Create a library in my house – my spare room is now a library with a TV screen and a sofa bed – reading perfection!

46. Complete an online class This year I completed Do What You Love <3 There are many half finished ones to go!

53. Go kayaking. To the pub?! I went kayaking almost by accident in October, with the girls, for Ally’s birthday. It was glorious! (I did try to go with Maddy in August but sadly that was the day Luna-kitty had an argument with a car, so spent the evening in the vet’s instead!)

As always, it’s lovely to see things on my list come to fruition, and I hadn’t actually realised I’d done so many this year! <3

2016 in review: the sidebar list

Well, on the surface this year’s been a doozy. And not in the good sense!

But instead of focusing on all the bad stuff, I thought I’d try and see what lovely things have taken place this year, against the background of the world going completely mad and me losing a little of my (already dubious) sanity.

First things first – there’s always a list in that sidebar over there, and here’s what I had for 2016:

~ cook a curry from scratch ~ ride a horse, a unicorn or both ~ spend time by the sea ~ swim in a mermaid tail ~ have my colours done ~ go skinny dipping ~ visit ruins ~ wild swimming ~ build a garden studio ~ silversmithing workshop ~ photography training ~ launch mermaid school ~ start a herb garden ~ track business progress ~ experiment with film cameras ~ GEA meets

Not too bad, actually – I swam lots in a mermaid tail and launched mermaid school to the world, so got quite a few other people to be a mermaid too! This included a couple of random people at the pool I regularly swim at, dear friends Emily and Louise, Megan at Bodyposipanda and her lovely friend Joely, Lizzie, a selection of my amazing family who jumped straight on board, and of course my gorgeous clients.

I also managed to spend time by the sea at Selsey with Lou, which was incredibly good for the soul, much needed, and also involved mermaid tails and wild swimming – though swimming in the sea in a tail is MUCH harder than I expected! Hugs to Jo for the amazing pictures she took of us under very difficult conditions 🙂

Louise and Carla - mermaids by Jo Jackson Photography

Likewise I spent a blissful afternoon on Clacton beach with fellow mermaid Emily, talented photographer Grace and her fab other half, and bopo beauties Megan and Joely. We had an absolute blast and I hope to do lots more around the #bodypositivemermaids idea next year!

I had my colours done with the gorgeous Janine in January – I am a bold Winter, and I have found it transformational to know what colours and shades are most me. Highly recommended! Here’s a gallery of Sophie being draped, she and I did it together and it was fab!

My herb garden is up and running (well, currently snoozing for winter) was very effective and even survived the garden build! The only things it’s missing are parsley and thyme. Photos next year!

I had a day of VIP training with Kerrie Mitchell back in March, a catch up call with her just the other day, and this year I’ve become friends with the fabulous Sarah who has been photographically kicking my backside beautifully 🙂

And I’m typing this from my garden studio, which is three quarters of my converted garage, cosy as anything and honestly the culmination of so many hopes and dreams, I can’t even. Also it was finished on 22 December – cutting it fine for 2016 much?!

So a pretty good show for that little list, I think!

I’m still working on what I want to do in 2017 – but keep an eye on the sidebar, it’ll be up soon enough!

An afternoon of kitten-sitting

holly-1 ivy-1

This is Holly, a young mama puss, and her scatty but wonderful kitten Ivy. They were found together in a bin in Clacton, which makes me simultaneously want to cry and punch things every time I think about it. But they have the best home ever now, with my lovely friend Lizzie (who I co-work with on a Monday and burlesque with on a Wednesday, and who, for her sins, also deals with my accounts and watches me mermaid… she’s a very good friend!) .

I had the very great privilege of kitty-sitting one afternoon last week, while Lizzie was away for work, and was more or less bouncing off the walls with excitement – I love my own kitties with every fibre of my being, but I’ve never really had time with a proper, tiny kitten before!

And something that’s always been on my list as a potential job/income source/career mixed with fun is house and pet sitting.

So I bounced over to Lizzie’s house after my morning at work, let myself and my laptop in, checked the front door was closed, checked it again, went to open the living room door to let them out, and checked the front door again just in case.

I cuddled them, fed them, had lunch with some difficulty – they’re an extremely affectionate and curious pair, and I think they also wanted some of my chicken) and after playtime with them, settled down to do some work.

Except… kittens are distracting sort of by definition, and Holly is the most purry, loving cat I’ve come across in some time – she rivals Clover for her engine noise, and she’s much better with people who aren’t her owners than either of my kitties are.

So I spent a lot of time petting them, playing with them, taking photos of them, watching them sleep, watching them eat, watching them play, playing with them some more, laughing at the way Ivy-kitten bounded up and down the stairs, taking more photos and worrying about them. I also woke them both up more than once to check they were still alive – why is it you worry more about other people’s animals?!

When evening came, and I gave them their dinner and snuck out, I ended up sneaking back in again four times to check, in no particular order, the kitchen cupboards were shut, the lights were off, the loo seat was down and that they hadn’t somehow morphed through the door and followed me outside.

Can’t imagine how I managed two medium kittens of my own…!

I had the most glorious time, and I’m stupidly excited to see them again, but realised I worried about them even more than I worry about my own (which is no mean feat), and I got very little done because they were JUST SO CUTE. So I’ve crossed pet and house sitting off my list of things to investigate and potential things to do. Which is a relief, because that list gets longer by the day!

Here are some more pictures of the little angels…

holly-2 ivy-looking ivy-tunnel-2 ivy-tunnel-tongue

 

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

A whole year has passed, and this one so full of enormous and life changing events I don’t even know where to start.

The first and most obvious was buying my house – after endless viewings of places that were either too big, too small, too expensive or in the wrong place, the truth leapt out at me that the house I was renting was the place I loved most in the world. It was home for my kitties and me, and it was just right for the three of us, if in need of a bit of modernising.

So I asked my lovely landlord if buying this house was a possibility, and a few months later, we completed the sale. Then the most whirlwind few months of my life began – with the help of my parents and some bloody brilliant trades, I took down trees, changed the entire inside layout of the house, stripped and redid the wiring and plumbing, had a new kitchen, most of a new bathroom (I put a new bath panel in but left the bath & tiling – it’s already pale blue from my hair dye so figured there was no point buying a shiny new white one to dye that blue too…!), carpets, furniture, a sofa, a new mattress, a new base because I bought a heavy mattress… you name it, I think I’ve done it in the last four months.

In that time, I also moved back in with my parents for five weeks (I can cope without heating or internet but not without either), lost and found (but didn’t really lose, she’s just good at hiding) Clover-kitty, laughed, cried, rediscovered how much I love DIY and my overalls, found out I hate painting after the novelty has worn off, and got rid of a good 50% of what I owned.

Luna, Clover and I moved back in on October 10th, and though at that point I didn’t have flooring, a sofa or a proper bed, it was wonderful to be home. Now everything is more or less finished and it’s just the last lot of unpacking and the garden & studio to go, I am overcome every morning that this is my home, my permanent home, my kitties’ forever home – that it’s so beautiful, and it’s ours, and we get to stay.

There’s a profound change in mindset when you go from renting to owning, and it seems more pronounced for me here as it’s the same house I’ve lived in for a few years. It’s funny how protective I suddenly am of my carpet now I know I’ve paid for it and will have to replace it if anything happens! It’s been the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and in a weird way it’s also only just started – having sorted out the basics, I can now focus on decor, furnishings, fabrics, art and really putting my stamp on it. Eeeee!

So it’s also been the year I’ve put down roots – I have amazing friends locally for the first time since I left uni, and they are a wonderful addition to my far-flung friends, who I think now span every corner of the world!

alan-jackson-2

The undisputed highlight of this year was the trip to Texas to see Alan Jackson play live. I still can’t believe we got tickets, and such good tickets – we were right at the front, he was no further away than the length of my living room. I’ve rarely been so emotional, and it really was the trip and the gig of a lifetime – and a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see him play live, and I’m so very glad to have been able to do it with both Mum & Dad with me.

The rest of the trip was incredible too – it was utterly lovely to catch up with all our friends over there. And I’ve found somewhere else in Texas that I could happily call home. I’ll always love Fort Worth, but the island of Galveston, with sea, sand and shops called The Witchery and The Naked Mermaid stole a little piece of my heart. I’ll go back one day…

My businesses have been a bit quieter in the second half of the year – partly because of the house, and partly because I finally got out of my own way and allowed myself to explore the possibility of making photography part of my business model. It’s my first love, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly accompanied by a camera. As part of that shift and commitment, I have joined Shining Lights, an ongoing mentoring programme for creatives that started out specifically for female photographers. I joined in November this year and it has been transformative already. I’ve also booked a one to one day with my favourite photographer, Kerrie Mitchell – it’s in March and I’m already overexcited! I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Unfurling Your Wings was officially born this year after 18 months of dreaming, writing and rewriting.  22 brave ladies worked through the first ever live course, sharing insights and connection, and generally humbling me with the way they handled some quite big life shifts. I’m now making tweaks following their brilliant feedback, and will be launching properly later next year. This year, as I’m blatantly not going to get round to publishing this post till after midnight!

I have a new venture (well, several actually – when don’t I have new projects on the go?!) and the stock from the shop here will shortly be moving over to the Unicornery, which will launch in Spring/Summer 2016 with unicorns, mermaids and mythical, magical goodness galore!

I did manage a three day business retreat with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, down in Wincanton for the weekend that Hogswatch would have been.  We’re agreed that it was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our businesses – getting away from real life and all the endless things that need to be done when you’re in your own home, escaping to where nobody knew us, and spending three whole days working on our directions, our ideas, our thoughts and dreams and hopes. With a healthy dose of common sense from the other, because both of us can get carried away on occasion!

Out of that I found myself ditching some domains and blogs I no longer use (goodbye, Letters from my Twenties, Girl Meets Van and the Website Beautician), and simplifying and clarifying what I do have, so they fit with my new direction. Which is awesome.

Ink Drops continues to thrive, selling out two to three months in advance, as I write. Turns out there are a lot of stationery addicts like us out there! I love it so much, and I’m so excited to grow our little company in 2016.

I’m feeling more fired up about my businesses than I have been for ages, and I am determined that 2016 is the year I make some really big steps forward!

Kitteny cats and other pets.

a pile of kittens (Luna and Clover)

Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

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In sad animal news, this year we lost my beloved Harriet, who got me through so much pain and heartache when I first moved to Essex. I credit her with keeping me sane and alive on my worst days, and though she isn’t my own dog, she’s left a border collie shaped hole in my heart that no animal will ever be able to fill. I’m immensely grateful for a random series of events in September which meant that I got to spend an hour or so snuggled with her on the forbidden sofa for belly rubs before the rest of the household woke up, and which turned out to be the last time I ever saw my gorgeous girl.

My lovely friend Lizzie also lost her wonderful cat Mr M in December – he was one of my favourite ever cats and he is very much missed. <3

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

I had a steampunk and fae alter ego shoot with the fabulous Grace Hill earlier in the year, and introduced my steampunk gypsy alter ego, Petronella ‘Nell’ Blythe Merriman, to the world; there were unicorns aplenty, including an incredible cross stitched one by Sarah; and I finally got my longed for mermaid tail. I’m taking it for a spin on Monday – and I hope to add mermaiding to my income streams as well as keep it as a hobby.

I tried (and loved, despite the bruises) hula hooping with Anna the Hulagan, returned to line dancing, and I took up regular burlesque again as the Jems brought a class to Colchester, yay! I’ve cross stitched and coloured in, tried my hand at NaNoWriMo (I’m still shit at writing fiction but I really enjoy the challenge) and our Crafty Coffee group has grown. I met up and shot with the Colchester photographers’ group, and 2016 holds a writers’ meetup and a photography group at work, too.

2015 has been the year I have properly embraced single-at-heart. I didn’t actually know it was a thing until relatively recently, but oh, god, the relief of finding hundreds of other people in the world who just aren’t that bothered about finding love – like me, they’re too busy with their lives and business and animals and friends. And the concept of your primary relationship being with yourself, always – I can’t begin to describe how much that resonated. Though I’m sure I’ll waffle about it on here at times. I love my life, and I especially love my freedom. It can take some explaining, as people tend to assume that if you’re single, you’re looking for a man, even when you assure them you’re not – but it’s lovely to have found a niche at last.

Perhaps that’s part of being nearly 30… I feel like I’ve spent the last decade searching for where I fit and belong, and where I proudly stand out, and what I really want out of life. If that’s the case, I’m extra excited for my thirties!!

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Family and friends – this year would have been completely impossible if not for my incredible parents. My house is a monument of their love for me – from them being there every day to project manage, to diving in and doing the DIY despite their health issues, to housing me and the kitties for far longer than they expected without a murmur of protest, they have made my dream life leap closer and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my gratitude into words. (Though I’ve tried, with a Spotify subscription, C2C tickets for March and a yet-to-be-chosen treat for Mum, plus lots of Christmas presents).

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We also had Christmas at my house this year which was really lovely – though we escaped to my favourite pub for actual lunch, it was so good to host in the house we’d worked so hard on!

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I’ve not seen as much of Gran as I normally do because the house took up every waking moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing her more regularly next year. Here we are in the summer – she takes a great selfie!

I am now the proud cousin of 43 and one on the way – and my eldest odd-daughter (we’re not religious and we prefer odd-daughter and odd-parent to goddaughter and godparent) and her other half have acquired an adorable puppy called Dexter. He’s a puggle. He is ridiculous and glorious. My middle odd-daughter is starting to visit universities and my youngest is halfway through GCSEs. I suddenly feel almost like a grown up- albeit one who swims like a mermaid, wears wings and fervently believes in unicorns. The rest of my extended family is as fabulous as ever, though my aunt and I have been hilariously successfully booking and cancelling lunch with each other for months as life conspires against us… perhaps 2016 will be our year?!

My gorgeous friends. The old and the new, the geographically distant and the ones just up the road. I’d be lost without you and I love you all. There have definitely been some shifts in my friendships over the last few years, as we’ve all grown into ourselves and started building our lives – hopefully the lives we dreamed of. There have been some drifts and some unexpected reunions, some people I get on far better with now than I did growing up, and some whose lives are so different now that though we love each other, we don’t have a lot in common any more.

There are always the people who, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, even if that’s counted in years rather than months, always feel like I saw them yesterday, and we pick up just where we left off. And then there are my new friends, who have all solidified from acquaintances this year. As always, when I click with new people, I rapidly can’t imagine life without them. I’ve not managed to scare any of them off (yet)! And all of them, old and new, feel like blessings.

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Two of my best friends got married this year – one in May, one in March. I was bridesmaid at one and photographer and witness at the other, and oh, it was so wonderful to see two of the girls I love the most formalise their relationships with their frankly awesome men. I’m proud to have them both as honorary brothers in law.

One of my gorgeous uni girls had a baby in November, a seismic shift but a good one for our university group. More or less everyone my age is getting engaged or married, including my first love – we must be getting old! I am delighted for them all but a bit nervous about how I fit eight weddings in next year and possibly more in 2017. My sister-by-choice is pregnant and due in January – I’m unbelievably excited but also apprehensive, as though nothing could ever hurt our friendship, children do change things.

There has been a rash of house buying too – we must be at that age, all of a sudden. But I’m very much looking forward to a 2016 full of weekends away, at weddings, at hen gatherings and at people’s new homes.

Work wise, I passed the three year mark at the university – I have never in my life stayed in a job more than 21 months at the outside, so this was a major milestone.  Having panicked a bit and then realised my panicking was just habit, I’ve come to the conclusion that because I have an incredible amount of freedom on campus, to work how and where best suits me, I’m not finding it as restraining and draining as my previous jobs have been.

I think I’ve also started feeling differently about my day job since I agreed the sale of the house – suddenly regular income has a lot more appeal than it used to! And the people at work are amazing… it never ceases to astound me how lovely it is to find likeminded people who get me, who think like me and who accept me heart and soul for who I am. Mermaiding obsessions and all!

The day job highlights have to be the day the Comms office called me to say they’d saved some newspaper clippings of me in my knickers (promoting the new burlesque classes) and the sheer enthusiasm that followed the stunned silence when I told my team I was phoning our leisure centre to get permission to swim in my mermaid tail. I can’t begin to express how much it means that I work with people who understand how important everything out of work is!

There has been so much more to this year, and intriguingly this isn’t the post I thought I was going to write – but it’s an apt summary of one of the most rollercoaster years I’ve had. I hope that 2016 is just as epic but a little calmer – I’d like to have some time to breathe without worrying about what I’ve missed, not done or am getting behind on.

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As a final note, my words for 2015 were Freedom, Magic and Simplicity. I think I’ve achieved them all in spades – and they all helped in all sorts of unexpected ways. Simplicity especially, as in January I had no intention of buying a house, but by August I had – and in packing everything up so I could renovate, keeping a focus on the simplicity I craved but had never mastered made it much easier to get rid of stuff. It’s also making it easier to unpack and be very selective about what makes it back into my house from the garage.

There is always magic in my life, but far more so now I have my own house. And I think more than a little magic is in my mermaid tail and my friendships, my family and my kitties being safe and sound despite their tendency to get into mischief. I’ve found the magic of belonging and of finding my place in the world – the home I want to live in for a long time to come, and also greater clarity in my businesses and projects than I’ve ever had before. The confidence I’ve found in my photography after a decade of fear is also nothing short of pure magic. (or PFM, as my Dad would say).

Freedom… has come to me in an unexpected way. I don’t have the full self employed freedom I always thought I wanted, and do still eventually want. What I have instead is a steady income with an amazing manager who understands that I work best when I’m not cooped up – so I can work wherever and whenever is best for me as long as I’m on campus during the working day. Which is fine by me. I suddenly have freedom from renting and the security that comes from making payments towards your own place – sounds odd I know, but it makes such a difference to how I feel. And for the first time in my life I have better control over my money and no debt except for the house – which is giving me unprecedented creative freedom, as I stop wasting energy worrying about my overdraft and instead pour it into my imagination.

And on that note, I’m off to work through Unravelling and Leonie’s planners, and get my bullet journal sorted for next year… and think about what words I want to fuel my 2016.

Happy new year, my loves – congratulations if you read this far, and thank you, always, for reading at all. I can’t imagine my life without blogging and while I’d do it anyway, you guys are the best reason to keep showing up and waffling into my keyboard.

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

And so this is Boxmas…

… and I won’t subject you to any more of my enthusiastic but distinctly off-key singing!

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It’s been a beautiful Christmas, one of the best I can remember. After a 2.30am wakeup call from Clover kitty with a shiny fish she really wanted me to have, for the first time ever, Mum & Dad and I had Christmas day to ourselves, and they came to me – the first time I’ve hosted! Naturally, we went to one of my favourite pubs in the village for actual lunch rather than risk my cooking… but we had our traditional breakfast at mine, and it was so lovely.

Being here really brought the house together – knowing I was hosting made me do all the last minute things I would otherwise have let slide for ages.  And oh, how lovely it was to wake up and snuggle with kitties and not have to rush across the county to get anywhere! I think all three of us needed a break, and the relaxing day it ended up being. And lunch out was perfect – atmosphere while also enabling proper conversation.

I’m not religious, but I do love the ceremony of Christmas, and the opportunity to dress up and feast with family – it always feels special and a little bit decadent. Something about it calls to my pagan side, too – banishing the darkness with fairy lights and spending time and breaking bread with our nearest and dearest.  This year’s dress was a dark blue chiffon with little silver and white bauble beads sewn all over the bodice – very me, very pretty, and very accommodating of Christmas dinner with an elasticated back!!

Boxing Day was spent over at my aunt & uncle’s with large numbers of my extended family, which was also perfect – though I think for the first time I’m slipping into the adult group rather than naturally into the kids. There are a few of my cousins at weird kidult transition ages – 15, 17, 20… and I managed to freak out one of my older ones by announcing my joint 30th & housewarming party in February. He still thinks I’m about 8, so it was something of a surprise to him that I’m nearly 30…

Unsurprisingly, despite the 15 degree weather, I didn’t pack my mermaid tail for the celebrations, and so sadly missed an opportunity to swim in it on Boxing Day, but there’s the whole of 2016 to mermaid to my heart’s content. That’s definitely a real verb, too…

Now, after all the celebrations, I’m curled up on my beautiful patchwork sofa, under my Secret Pillow blanket, one of my glorious Christmas presents from Caroline. Each Secret Pillow helps to empower women in India, who go through a series of workshops to improve their skills, make and sell the Secret Pillows, and develop a sustainable business to support themselves and their families. I’d not heard of it till I unwrapped mine on Christmas Day, but it’s one of my favourite presents – I love it!

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In between munching Christmas chocolate, and feeling a bit like I’ve been hit by a freight train (that’ll be the quantities of Dad’s amazing mulled cider I’ve consumed in the past 48 hours, then), I’ve started the process of rejigging all my websites again. Here’s how everything currently stands:

Carla Watkins Photographer is getting a proper front page, a way to get emails and updates, and once I’ve sorted out my photos and a couple of test shoots, it’ll have a gallery and an actual page where you can engage my services, you know, like a proper photography business! (#getoutofmyownway seems an appropriate hashtag here…) I’ll shortly be setting up a friendly group for solopreneurs to share the rollercoaster of self employment, too.  If you’re a solopreneur or portfolio careerist who fancies connecting with likeminded peeps, and you don’t mind the occasional f bomb, get yourself on this list!

I’m ridonkulously excited to work with more likeminded people, and also to geek out on the blog about all the business related goodness I’ve been absorbing and waffling about for years. Yay!

Alongside that, Unfurling Your Wings is getting a mini overhaul, with some tweaks to the course and a launch of the course & kit later in 2016. I’m adding boudoir and portrait sessions to the offerings over there, and I’m also planning some experience days – fancy a day at mermaid school, or running away to the circus? Watch this space

Something I’ve noticed over the last few months (and it’s no coincidence that all this clarity and action follows having a beautiful new, uncluttered space at home) is how much I miss blogging for its own sake. All my sites have a business slant to them, which is gorgeous and exactly as it should be, but I miss having somewhere that’s essentially my online living room.

The shop here, while full of gorgeous things, doesn’t feel right to have here any more. So most of my remaining stock will wander over to my new venture The Unicornery over the next few months, and this will revert back to its original purpose as a lifestyle blog, and record of my life and interests and multipod tendencies.

I never did get round to the planned sale, due to a severe lack of laptop (hilariously, as a result of the dead laptop, we had a count up of our technology. Once Mum’s new laptop arrives, we will have three decent laptops and one old spare, one desktop, four tablets, three printers, four cameras  and five phones between three of us in two houses. Getting a tiny bit ridiculous, no?!). Anyway, sale – perhaps I’ll have one to celebrate the opening of the Unicornery!

Hmm, and having promised myself an early night and a proper sleep routine, it’s now nearly 1am. Oops. That whole being-an-owl and hating mornings thing is definitely a big motivator behind the drive for full time self employment!

I hope you’ve all had a glorious Christmas, if that’s what you celebrate, and I’ll be back in the new year (or possibly even before, if I get organised).

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xxx

 

 

 

 

Big Magic and belonging

Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and met up beforehand with old and new friends from the Free Range Humans movement (i.e. people like me who want to get the hell out of 9-5 work and create a life that works for them).

Unusually for me, although I know I want/need/have to write about it, to get such an incredible experience down on paper and screen before the details escape me, I also don’t know what to write. I don’t know how to encapsulate everything that the evening was to me.

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Firstly, I’d forgotten the excitement, constant inspiration and sense of total belonging that I have with these guys. We are the most random group of people ever, from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages and at all sorts of stages in our journeys. Every single one of them feels like an old and true friend, even though some of them I only met in person for the first time last night (Vaska, Lisa, Issy, Marianne, Jenny, Becs – I’m looking at you!!).

We used to have regularish meetups and then somehow life got in the way and they tailed off – but I am determined to resurrect that regularity, I hadn’t realised how much I missed the boost they give me and the indescribable feeling of my worldview and plans fitting in so perfectly with theirs.

I’m also really hopeful that I’ll click with the Shining Lights girls in the same way, when I eventually get to meet them in person <3

And then after taking over Wagamama’s for a few hours, we wandered up to the Emmanuel Centre and settled to watch and hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about Big Magic.

The two hours shot past in a blur, I had chills and tears and giggles sometimes all at once. It’s uncanny how much of what she talks about stirs recognition deep within – though she admits there’s no scientific evidence to back it up, every one of us in that room and hundreds of thousands more who have read the book identify on a deep level with what’s in it.

I won’t spoil the book, but I will leave you with my favourite scribbled notes from the four pages I took in my newly-beloved bullet journal:

    • Having one foot in the real world, and one with the faeries – this is something you sort of must do, to live a full creative life. (Validation, right there!)

 

    • On criticism: Does the critic have your best interests at heart? Do they know what you were trying to do? Can they offer criticism in a kind way? If not, fuck them – you don’t have to listen.

 

    • “Honesty without kindness is not a virtue.”

 

    • “I am willing to take the risk of being insulted, in order to be heard.” – this one really resonated – I am so lucky to be alive in a time where I’m allowed to say and do what I want, that I need to ditch my fear of criticism.

 

    • It is far, far better to be alone than with someone who’s not supporting or lifting you, or making your life better, easier or happier. If none of that is happening, what is the point? This was so good to hear, it’s my general philosophy on relationships but always good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

 

    • There is a shit sandwich with everything. You have to work out what you love so much, and get so much out of, that you’re willing to eat the shit sandwiches. (I have a love-hate relationship with this analogy, something about it makes me uncomfortable – probably the fact that I don’t want to face the fact that everything I love has a flipside!)

 

    • Being creative is like having a border collie – if you don’t keep it occupied it’ll find something destructive to do.

 

    • You’re not obliged to use your creativity to save mankind, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what lights you up.

 

    • Don’t be an art martyr, and try or feel you have to do everything by yourself.

 

The quote that stood out the most, for me?

The ultimate act of creativity is to turn your own life into a work of art.

I am printing this to stick on my desk, my wall, by my bed, in my bathroom. That is what I want from this life, whatever form it takes – mermaiding, photographing, writing, dancing, having blue hair and a unicorn horn… all of the things that make me me.

And Elizabeth’s parting thought was this:

What are you willing to give up or say no to, in order to have the life you say you want?

Big Magic indeed.

With love and unicorns,
Carla xxx

PS Have you read Big Magic, or seen Elizabeth Gilbert speak? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PPS I know the picture isn’t great, but I was too busy listening to take a proper one!

My curtains are purring…

There is nothing in my living room but a pile of suitcases, one recliner and some garden chairs. I have a glorious kitchen and no carpets, and my new bed is yet to arrive so I have put the old mattress on the floor. My bedroom floor is covered in filing and my makeshift curtains have just started purring…

Such is the joy of moving back into my house. And oh, it is wonderful… Rather odd, not least to have such a small amount of stuff in my home. And it looks so different! But quite inspiring at the same time, and I have great plans.

My carpets arrive in a couple of weeks, I am going to attempt to install sliding doors to make a wardrobe of sorts, and my sofa, bed and mattress and sofa bed for spare room arrive in the middle of November. Ish.

Luna and Clover and I moved home on Friday night, in a remarkably painless process – I think Mum and Dad were sad to say goodbye to the cats, but also relieved to have their house back. The three of us are not the most subtle visitors (especially as the litter tray had to live in my bedroom. I think Mum is probably still airing her study!)

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Let them out today and they promptly buggered off over the shed, but came back when they had done exploring. And have been good as gold (worn out?!) this evening. For any cat owners in the same situation, of moving their cats around a lot, I can highly recommend the Pet Remedy diffusers and Zylkene – I was dubious of both but they have helped chill my two out muchly 🙂

So what’s next? I want to re-read the Magic of Tidying Up and implement some of Marie’s advice – this means it may take me six months to get all my stuff back into my living space. But that’s a good thing – I keep a huge amount of things for sentimental reasons and I suspect a decent digital photo of the things would do just as well (plus they’re harder to get weepy over when I’m so inclined).

It’ll be good to get back into a routine – I have missed blogging regularly!

What I wore: a secret wedding

Well, originally intended to be secret, and actually a small, intimate and utterly joyful celebration of one of the happiest and best-suited couples I know.

I chose my outfit around the shoes… which is becoming a bit of a habit!

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A London wedding and being unofficial photographer meant long dresses were out – and I didn’t want to detract from the polka dotted, blue-and-red-and-white shoes. (which, for the record, I can walk and run in!)

So I chose a pretty beaded navy blue dress with a glorious chiffon skirt… dress-full-length

My hair was in ringlets when we left the bride’s room – sadly it doesn’t hold curl so by the time we arrived at the pre-ceremony brunch, it was more wavy, and by the time the ceremony was over it was straight again!

Here’s the gorgeous couple cutting their cake…

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Aren’t they brilliant? It was one of my favourite weddings to date, and I was honoured to capture it in photos for them as well as being their witness (surprisingly nervewracking!)