because, Labyrinth.

If you didn’t see Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie before the age of five, you missed a thing.

If you were a girl in the 1980s and you didn’t see it, you missed your chance for the best female inspiration in cinema, the most imagination-awakening piece of joyful abandon, and the most…David Bowie in tights.

I did see it though. It was raining, and one of our teachers had a grainy VHS copy of it from who-knows-where, and it was lunchtime and we sat in the school hall and stared at it, silently, in awe and wonder. We were five, so figuring out the riddles was impossible. I was an only child, so I had no conception of ‘having a brother’, step- or otherwise. The puppets were familiar, because Muppets, yet scary, because Jim Henson. And the setting was otherly and glorious and the end of another world.

In my head, it mixes with Knightmare, and Charn (from The Magician’s Nephew) and Cities of Gold, and other things I came to precociously young and enthusiastic.

And then there’s David Bowie, infinitely responsible, it seems, for my unerring adoration of blond, tall, slender men, preferably curiously-clad and able to sing strange and fantastic songs in curious, low tones.

The songs are brilliant, the puppets are incredible, the sets are amazing, everything is perfect. It’s a perfect film.

Watching it back, I wonder how few great heroines we’ve had in cinema since. Certainly, for the age group Labyrinth might have been aimed at. Indeed, was it aimed? Who was it aimed at? Did they worry about that kind of thing then? Labyrinth was an epic flop on its release, yet there aren’t many things I love more in the world of cinema, nor that I’ve watched so consistently, and with such glee.

It made me so, so happy when Jennifer Connelly grew up to be such a successful actress, and to marry a man so attractive and talented as Paul Bettany. She’s never stopped being a woman I admire and hope to, in some way, emulate, and it’s a testament to the strong and wise character she played that she still means so much to a generation of women.

Sarah remains a brilliant character. She makes the best of what she’s got: she takes responsibility for what she’s done, uses her brain and the context to do everything she can to move forwards at every opportunity. She figures out riddles, listens and learns, wants to see the best, isn’t discouraged by the appearance of failure, wants to see the best in people, is loyal and kind and good, and basically always wins, even when it looks like she’s failing.

This film is the gift I’d want to give any girl under twelve; it’s the part of my childhood that I’d defend to the utmost because it’s so strong and inspirational and beautiful. It’s the bit of the eighties I treasure more than anything, and it looked like something I thought I would grow up to see so much more of. Strong female character unashamedly doing her best in the most trying of circumstances. Sensibly dressed, in flat shoes, no superpowers, just loyalty and endeavour. Maybe one day something else will measure up. I look forward to that day.

(This post sparked by the conversation: if they *had* to remake Labyrinth right now: who would be David Bowie? And we thought, Patrick Wolf, for he is the only person who could pull this off. And then we thought, if they *had* to remake this like that, with Patrick, wouldn’t that at least be a bit wonderful?!)

THAT Box of Clothes

I’ve had THAT box of clothes since I was about sixteen. The clothes from when I was fourteen, which didn’t fit any more. The clothes from when I was even younger, that I didn’t wear because, well, I was sixteen and they didn’t have holes in them or the right band logos or superclever slogans scrawled all over them.

Since that time, more things have been added to THAT box. The designery things I bought when they were supercheap on sale in TKMaxx or on eBay, ‘just in case’, even though it was a wing and a prayer as to whether or not they’d fit. Like as always, I’d get home and the trousers wouldn’t go over my knees, and the oversized tops would be babydoll-fit, and I’d try very hard not to have any feelings at all about that, and simply consign them to THAT box. Things I grew out of on the way to being 31 went in there; things I bought because they were beautiful, or because I couldn’t bear to get rid of them. Jeans that seemed totally the wrong shape for my body. Everything that didn’t go to the charity shop or the textiles bin went in THAT box. It’s a big box. It’s been moved around a lot. It’s always been in the back of the wardrobe, or the middle of my floor sometimes, when there wasn’t anywhere else for it to go. I’ve not exactly been haunted or taunted by it, but I’ve wished and wondered if I’ll ever have found any point to keeping everything.

Last year, I lost a lot of size through the excellent Precision Nutrition programme. Like many people, I’ve a long and chequered history of weight loss, weight management, weight thoughts, wildly random exercise regimes, and, indeed, diet. I successfully transformed the shape of my body quite drastically after two years of heavy weight-lifting, which meant I could wear different clothes, but nothing near what was in THAT box. The box wasn’t a goal. It wasn’t a target. I didn’t have my ‘dream’ jeans in there, although there were a few amazing pairs within. They were just clothes, but I really felt I still wanted them. When I finished the PN programme, I went back to the box, and that was possibly the most disappointed I’ve been…only because they still didn’t fit. But, I thought, I’ve kept them this long, and they are closer, I’m sure they’re closer. One day, I thought, I’ll be glad of them.

I don’t really feel like I’ve got much smaller over the last couple of months, but my body has definitely ‘settled’ a bit. The scale is down a few, but that doesn’t mean much, this I’ve certainly learnt over the years. The January running streak and the 20 days I managed of the 30 Day Shred before I succumbed to a combination of extreme cold-having, post-dentistry jaw agony and tension headaches and decided to take the rest of February off have shaped me up a bit, and my job, which is ratcheting up the hours now spring is making itself known again, is pretty physical.

This morning, I went to THAT box. I had a feeling that its time might have come. Based on not much at all, especially considering I’ve eaten more than anyone usually does in a week in the solid belief that it’s the best way to fight a cold. I’ve been thinking it’s a while since I tried anything on in there.

And it was its time. Everything fitted. Everything. The shorts I wore to Chessington World of Adventures in 1996, and I remember, as Rameses’ Revenge got stuck upside down, thinking to myself, oh no, no, not only is this my actual nightmare, but NOW MY SHORTS ARE DIGGING INTO ME. I haven’t worn them since. Now, with a warm day (those will come around again, right?!) they’re an option. Unimaginable.

My first pair of Topshop jeans. Fit perfectly, and go completely with the mid-nineties revival. They’re gorgeous, and contain absolutely no Lycra, so they might last more than a week without splitting their seams.

My incredible Japanese T-shirts, bought from eBay back in the dark ages of the internet, when international post didn’t seem to cost five times as much as the thing you were buying. Still small, but workable, in ways.

It was strange, decanting the box into my wardrobe. All the things that have been waiting for me to catch up with them. Just there, now, waiting for a day out. Things I know and love so well, but haven’t worn in up to seventeen years. It’s a most peculiar place to be. But I like it. And I’m so glad I kept all those things.


Home. There’s no place like it, y’know.

This afternoon, I was lying on my back under a tree in Richmond Park, watching absolutely no clouds cross the sky, thinking how when you dig your heels into mud elsewhere in the world, it’s nothing like the mud in Richmond Park, or down by Canbury Gardens, or in the rec I learnt to kick a football and ride a bike in. Mud’s a wonderfully specific substance, and if you grew up as poorly-travelled as I did, you can get really rather sentimental about the stuff.

There are so many things I thought were just the way things were, but now, coming back having lived in other cities, and occasionally other countries, I realise that, no, that’s just how they are at home. Like the trees in Richmond Park. There are old oak trees with branches coming off them every which way, starting almost at the base of the trunk and spidering out most strangely. When I drew trees as a child, they were usually weblike and wonky (and, after the Great Hurricane of 1987, often horizontal), and it isn’t until now that I put the fact that Richmond Park was a source of firewood for many a palace and royal estate together with the way the branches of these trees have regrown that I understand that that’s not normal, that’s home.

The way you could tell the time, or the day, by the flight path planes were using from Heathrow. The way that, at two minutes past eleven, we’d all fall silent as Concorde roared its way overhead, because you couldn’t hear anything, so we’d just listen, and occasionally wonder who might be jetting over our heads, high-speed to NYC surrounded by champagne, as we waited to find out what we were going to be doing in English that morning. We reminisced about Concorde for a worryingly long time, actually.

The way that people sit together in rows, facing the river, because that’s just how you ought to do it. How you can’t really play football on a towpath so you have a picnic instead; even if you’re sharing a Mars bar, it’s a picnic, damnit, because you’re sitting In Nature and an insect might go on you.

So many things. So many memories. So many changes, and then at the same time, so few. The weird thing about having grown up in this specific area is how outwardly positive so many of the changes are. The playgrounds are notably freer of both needles and junkies. There are reasonably-well designated paths for bikes and walking and horses. There are incredible volunteers who keep places working, and can tell you stories of times I thought everyone might have forgotten, save my one remaining grandparent. Litter is infinitely, infinitely less. There are signposts that haven’t been stolen, rendered illegible, or humorously swivelled into uselessness. There are families and couples and old people and young people all over the place, using the parks and towpaths and the river for all the things you should use them for.

Then there are the things that haven’t changed in a hundred years. Views. There are protected views. Both wonderful and ludicrous. There are water fountains that I used when I had to climb halfway up a wall just to be able to reach them. At least five monarchs hunted on this land, and the deer are still there, only no-one eats them. The river still runs, and it’s still full of enough stuff that you can play ‘live thing, dead thing or misc.’ quite effectively. Kids still play poohsticks. In every sunny-day riverside gathering, there’s still some bastard strumming not-quite-chords and trying to look soulful whilst his mates try and pretend he’s not with them.

There are so many miserable things about the UK, and about London, and about Kingston-upon-Thames, but I hear about them all the time from my parents, so it was a glorious, joyous thing to be able to go home and see the best bits of my childhood, from mud to skyline to people having fun by the water, and to know that plenty more kids are at least getting those best bits too.

I’m so ready to move back home. For better or worse, it’s been too long.