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Bicycles and burlesque

I’ve been in a real funk for what feels like ages now, and while I know some of this is because tomorrow marks six months since we lost Dad, which is normal and natural, some of it is more inexplicable and just annoying.

I’ve struggled to create, to sleep, and especially to do the everyday things that have to be done – laundry, cooking, day job tasks, ongoing business tasks, blogging…

It’s always a warning sign for me when I can’t find my blogging mojo – for most of my adult life I’ve had a blog, so any time when I don’t want to post for an extended period usually means I should take a long hard look at what’s happening, and maybe talk it out somewhere. (Ironically, not necessarily online…)

Last week, I felt like this and just didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but managed to force myself out of the house, into the car, and across town to burlesque.

Carla in Harry Potter/Night Circus burlesque gear | carlalouise.com

If you’re a long term reader, you’ll know that I’ve always danced, and that burlesque has been a passion for nearly six years now. My lovely friend Lizzie now co-owns Love You Burlesque, and alongside shooting them for a year (over at my business & branding photography biz), I dance with them too.

Lizzie and Gennie often talk about how their classes give ladies an hour to themselves every week, and I never really understood how important this was… I live on my own, so I spend a lot of time happily by myself! But that evening, I managed to leave behind all my sadness, anxiety, stress and general meh-ness for a whole hour, and lose myself in frills and feathers and sass.

This week has been hard, because it’s approaching a significant anniversary that I don’t want to think about. But tomorrow is going to roll around all the same, and walking aimlessly from room to room, wondering what I came in for, is not going to help.

I skipped burlesque yesterday as I just wasn’t feeling myself, and today although I had a lovely lunch with friends and a surprisingly good day at the day job, I got home and felt… meh.

So I got out my bike, shooing away the spiders that were lurking. Dusted her down, pumped up her tyres and went for a short ride to quite literally blow the cobwebs (on her) away. It’s the first time I’ve ridden this year and it was a great reminder of connection.

Bluebell the bicycle | carlalouise.com

Riding a bike (or a horse) means you’re out in the open air, you can feel the wind rush past your face as you move, and you are closer to the road than you ever are in a car.

You can see the leaves and the birds, the conkers (when the hell did it get to be conker season already?!) and the marks on other people’s cars. You are going quicker than you would on foot, but slow enough to notice pretty shutters, colourful front doors and various things for sale from the front of people’s houses (I love village life).

I only went to the shop and back, and yet I have come home feeling freer, calmer, and much less angsty about everything. Luna and Clover got to be outside till just now, instead of me panicking and hauling them in early (they get very silly around dusk, I think it’s a cat thing), and I have written this post, blitzed my bullet journal and answered some customer enquiries instead of just wandering around aimlessly.

It appears that next time I feel rough, things beginning with “b” are helpful… bikes… burlesque… bullet journals…

What do you do when you have an attack of the meh?!

Fling 2017 – a return to my magical self

Burlesque Jems at the Fling Festival 2017 | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

My first Fling festival was in 2011, and still stands out as one of the most magical experiences of my life.

My first performance there was with my troupe Paper Dolls Burlesque in 2013, running a tent, performing and getting people to dress up and do burlesque themed crafting.

It’s moved to Hylands now (same site as V festival), grown hugely and developed into a proper festival you can camp at, not just a one day extravaganza.

This year I performed with the Burlesque Jems, and was also their photographer for the day, capturing their performances and a few sneaky portraits too.

I made a last-minute mermaid bra so I could mermaid-burlesque (merlesque?!) and it was just a wonderful day – the most myself I’ve felt since before Dad went into hospital. It was amazing to merge two of my alter egos (Lotta Fiero and Kerenza Sapphire), brilliant to be back on stage, scary but eventually great to be out and about with my camera, and wonderfully indulgent to leave my worries and sadness behind and throw myself into festival life for a few hours.

Also, what better example of a multipod in action than photographing and performing all on the same day?

I had forgotten how much of a workout dancing and photography are though – my Sunday has been exceptionally gentle!

Here are a few of the photos – the rest will pop up over at Carla Watkins Photography and Burlesque Jems in the coming weeks.

A staycation and a surprise decision (well, two)

Excitingly and a little unexpectedly, I think it’s now safe to announce I’m nearing the end of the process of buying my house! SQUEEEEE! I’m delighted not to be moving, and I love this house and the life I’ve built around it, so I’m very happy to be staying.

More on what promises to be the biggest and best creative project of my life so far when all the legalities are completed and it’s actually mine 🙂

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However, this decision indirectly ended up leading to one of the best holidays I’ve had in ages – my staycation! A word introduced to me by an American friend of mine, it describes the time-off-work-but-not-going-away type of holiday rather nicely, I think.

I’d booked the week off thinking I’d head up to the Lake District for a photography holiday, or possibly across to France for a jewellery making holiday (both high on my wishlist at the moment!). But with the hottest week of the year predicted and house completion looming, instead I stayed at home, saw friends, pottered in my garden and started packing boxes up ready for renovating the downstairs part of the house – and I had a wonderful time!

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As any of you who have emailed me recently will know, I’ve barely been near my computer all week – and oh, how wonderful that’s been.

Spending time in my business – making the flurry of custom bracelet orders, packing delights from the shop up for people all over the world, reviewing the first draft of Unfurling Your Wings ready for the beta round in August.

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Spending time on my business – sorting out my filofax, arranging a day to go through my accounts with my VA, rejigging my plans and goals and directions, and brainstorming new things with wonderful likeminded solopreneurs. And trying and failing (again) to implement an editorial calendar. I really do prefer writing and posting when the mood takes me 🙂

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Spending time in my life (which I am trying to do far more often) – having breakfast in the garden (and eating cake for breakfast), drinking Prosecco in a secret garden in London, a burlesque workshop and a festival, playing with costumes, reading three books in a day before I consent to getting out of bed, cups of tea and putting the world to rights with my Gran… all of the things I love but so rarely seem to have time for in my life lately.

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And spending time on my life – reviewing my dreams, directions, goals, and working out how best to move in those directions. Writing, photographing, musing and walking. Playing with my Wild Unknown deck, musing over the meanings of the cards I’ve drawn. And, because I’m the list queen, making checklists so I actually do the things that are important to me each day, week and month.
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The biggest and most concrete realisation of this pottering, journalling, meditating and generally giving myself room to breathe has been that I want to keep this day job as part of my portfolio for much longer than I had initially planned. Yes, I was surprised too.

The grand plan was to do two years and then shift gracefully into working for myself full time.

And then I adopted my beloved kittens, bought a house and maybe most significantly, made real friends through work. And now I find I’m reluctant to leave the place where I see those people each day, where the work is varied and interesting and I have lots of autonomy and flexibility, while still being able to switch off when I leave the office.

Though I still hate the concept of the 9-5 and the insistence of organisations that employees be in a specific place at specific times, rather than assigning work and letting us get on with it whenever and wherever is best for us, I think I’d be very sad to leave this particular day job (or at least, the people in it) behind just yet.

Longer term I definitely still want total control over where and when I work – yet I’m reluctant to plan more specifically than a general direction to move in, because who knows where I will be and what I’ll be doing in a year’s time, never mind in five or ten years?!

So the biggest result of my staycation (brain-cation?!) is that now my short and mid-term plans involve growing my businesses in a slightly different way, so they’re entirely flexible, and then when I reach the point where it’s financially possible, I can shift the balance.

Part time instead of full time at the day job, and at least half of my time spent on my own ventures and projects. I can see the balance I want very clearly…

Likeminded people, and a beautiful campus, and a flexible but challenging job. Structure, and an office to go into when I need or want to, and watercooler moments with lovely colleagues.

A thriving business which helps women step into their own power and live the lives they’ve dreamed of. Another thriving business which connects stationery lovers and their longing for a simpler, slower, more organised life (and just happens to supply beautiful stationery as well).

And plenty of time for new projects and classes, for making and experimenting and reading and learning new skills. For spending with my friends and family. For entertaining in the house and garden of my dreams, and for relaxing there in my own personal sanctuary. For movement to be built into my life and for stillness and quiet to be as present as noise and being busy.

Not at all what I expected or planned when I quit London for a portfolio career – but intriguingly, it feels exactly right for where I am and what I want right now.

Who knew?

With love and unicorns,

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Popping my (Hogswatch) cherry

The last weekend in November is Hogswatch.

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(for the uninitiated: Hogswatch is Discworld’s equivalent to Christmas. Discworld is Terry Pratchett’s alternate universe. Wincanton (a real town in England) is twinned with Ankh-Morporkh (a fictional city in a fantasy universe) and every November, a bunch of, in Terry’s words, bloody loonies descend upon Wincanton to celebrate Hogswatch. Clear as mud?!)

Though some of my friends go regularly, I’d not made it last year as it was my parents’ 40th anniversary. This year I was nervous but exc;ited – and hadn’t put a whole lot of planning into my costumes. I knew I was performing twice, and one of those involved chip packets.

So after a 3.30am alarm, staggering out of the house (watched by some very confused cats) at 4.20am and a 3 and a half hour drive, I arrived in Wincanton. Threw myself at my Travelodge room and slept and slept and slept.

At 10am, I found myself at the Memorial hall with Annastasia, surrounded by fellow loonies in outfits and costumes  varying from mild to extreme, and I couldn’t stop grinning.

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We taught a burlesque workshop to seven brave ladies and one extremely brave gent. Our chosen music, to match the theme of Going Postal, was… no, not Return to Sender, or any of the usual suspects. We went for Postman Pat.

Then I could wander to my heart’s content (and also packed in meeting Anna’s parents, the Boggises (who have long been heavily involved with Discworld and Hogswatch), long chats with new friends and some shopping, as well as a sneaky nap after lunch.

Come 5pm, I was in the green room, taking fuzzy but excited pictures of myself:

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And then we got up on stage and danced. And oh, I had forgotten how much I enjoy performing. 2014 has been so busy and so manic (pfft, so much for my word of the year of “balance”) that I haven’t had much of a chance to dance at all, and it is still an unmatchable feeling to come off stage to appreciative applause (and sniggers, in this case).

Also got to sing the Twelve Days of Hogswatch (harder than you’d imagine, when you’re standing at the front holding up the words but you can’t actually read them yourself… it goes something like “On the FIRST day of Hogswatch, my true love sent to me, a mumble mumble blah blah blah. On the SECOND day of Christ-Hogswatch, my true love sent to me, TWO something mumble…” And that’s entirely sober!

Then the traditional sausage supper at the Bear, and on to the Pink Pussycat Club. Where we danced another number… dedicated to Rincewind the wizard, it involved a red pointy hat with stars on, three kimonos, doing some suggestive things with a potato masher and having a fight over some crisps. And the final reveal was…

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(photo credit: Paul Heyes via FB)

(if you don’t get it, don’t worry… it’s a long story. If you want to get it, read Interesting Times.)

Here’s another pic of us during Postman Pat…

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(photo credit: Tatyana Arbuzova via FB)

As cheesy as I know it sounds, the whole weekend felt like coming home. I didn’t feel like a newcomer (apart from when Nanny Ogg/Renta made me have a Hogswatch Virgin badge…), and as I’ve often found with my more niche hobbies (most notably model horsing – this felt a lot like that), there’s an instant sense of kinship. I even found some more stationery fiends (and friends) during our letter writing salon (an Ink Drops venture) on Sunday.

We were all letting our real selves out to play – our alter egos, but the ones we wish we could take back to everyday life with us. As so often recently, Lotta and I were perfectly in tune. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Having made so many new friends and felt so at home so quickly, coming back to the round world (not the Disc), and the prospect of the day job and doing housework were less than appealing.

I put this off by popping in on the way home to see my ex-headmaster and his family – which I know sounds weird, but my primary school was muchly special. Totally failed to get any photos of us all, but he did keep the sign when the school was demolished to make way for flats…

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And it was so lovely to catch up after more than a decade.

So I drove home to my silly kittens through the night, arrived at 10pm, fell into bed to dream of the Disc, and woke up still half there today. I spent this morning waving photos at anyone who would look, and am now settling down to the important work of planning next year’s costumes and skits.

Big thanks to Annastasia for giving me the chance to attend – it’s now an immovable fixture in my calendar.

Happy Hogswatch… I hope you’ve been naughty AND nice!

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PS for any non-Pratchett fans, normal service will resume shortly. If you’ve read him and don’t like it, fine. If you’ve never read him then for goodness’ sake go and borrow a book from your library and try one. You’ll never know if you don’t try…!

PPS You don’t actually have to be a fan to come to Hogswatch. I would love, love, love to see some of you there next year! Or at any of the various cons I hope to now attend in 2015 🙂

PPPS If you fancy creating your own alter ego, hop over and have a look at Unfurling Your Wings. It’ll launch a little later than planned due to some mad new VAT laws, but on the plus side, it’s now going to be a much more immersive experience, with goodies coming to you in the REAL ACTUAL POST.

Paper Dolls Burlesque at the Fling Festival 2013

Quick post today, but wanted to share the photos of our tent at the Fling Festival a couple of weeks ago – it was the most glorious debut for my burlesque troupe. And who knew, when we took that first class eighteen months ago, what it would lead to?

Here we all are with our fab stage kitten Lou:

Paper Dolls Burlesque | carlalouise.com

And here are the rest of the images – squeak!


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

The Fling always defies description, but to be there as a performer, helping to create the experience for other festivalgoers – it was a privilege, and one of the best days of my life.

Check us out – our troupe is Paper Dolls Burlesque, and we learned (and continue to learn) the art of burlesque with  Jem Ayres at Burlesque Jems.

 

Announcing our tent at the Fling!

You may or may not know that I’m a founder member of Paper Dolls Burlesque – a group of my closest friends, who are a very talented bunch in various crafty pursuits, and who have been brought even closer by our love of burlesque (our weekly classes with Jem have been a fantastic way to make sure we all meet up regularly!).

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Last week we got a call to ask us to host a tent at the Fling… a one day festival of quirky amusements for over 18s.

And so I am delighted to announce that we will be hosting a tent of burlesque delights. With dancing, dressing up, mini makeovers, tassel making and even the chance to get the glue and glitter out and decorate your own Paper Doll – it’s going to be a glorious day.

The Fling has been a highlight of my year each time I’ve been – who knew, leaving the last one, that I’d be a performer at the next? Just shows what can happen when you’re doing things that make you happy!

If you’re near Chelmsford, please come and join us 🙂

www.chelmsford.gov.uk/fling

www.paperdollsburlesque.co.uk

xxx

Stepping into the Night Circus

A weekend of pure magic is over… and I’m looking back and sighing with happiness at every moment of it.

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On Friday, The Night Circus arrived at Tea and Sympathy, my favourite place in Colchester. The dress code was black and white and circus-appropriate, with a red accent for the reveurs – those who had read the book. (And if you’ve read it, you’ll know why!) For those that haven’t had the pleasure, the theme was around the book The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.

My red accents were my sequined shoes, scarlet lipstick and a peek of a red bra… 🙂

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I don’t think I’ve ever felt more thoroughly myself, though my outfit wasn’t entirely appropriate for the multi storey car park where we put the cars when we arrived… lol. But I’ve always been fascinated by the circus – my burlesque name is a tribute to my obsession with Enid Blyton’s circus stories!

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I arrived with Gabby and Chris, after the quickest house tour in the history of the world, and we wandered in a haze of happiness through the shop, up and down the tiny, twisting staircase, to hidden rooms, magic and wonder at every turn…

There were fire dancers, burlesque from Miss Fanny Darling, magicians, fortune tellers and some cocktails, which I’m told were lethal… I declined to sample them, as I quite fancied getting home without getting arrested!

Here’s Gabby and Chris, looking like they belong with the Cirque…

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Miss Fanny Darling as the Raven…

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And the incredible fire dancing duo (I have plans for a skirt just like that one… I LOVE IT!)

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I’ll leave you with the video of the fire dancers – a little taste of the most magical evening I’ve had in a long, long time!  With thanks to Tea and Sympathy for making dreams reality 🙂