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I wrote about mannequins for The Independent

Those lovely people at The Independent asked me to write a little piece about artists and their mannequins, off the back of a new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Exciting!

You can read the proper edit online here.

Or the longer, original first draft (including quotes from a ‘living mannequin’) below:

There’s a lot more to articulated figures than Kim Cattrall’s apricot legs astride a shining motorbike in the 1987 film Mannequin. Apparently.

A new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge peels back the prosthetics and uncovers the dummied up history of those silent studio partners, those unmoving malleable models and well-worn anatomical companions who have taken form in art since the Renaissance.

From Hogarth to Gainsborough, Degas to Dali, Cezanne to Kokoschka, the use of mannequins has allowed not only more time for artists to experiment (without some aching model shuddering into muscle fatigue after three hours of pretending to pour milk) but has also given those paintings an extra layer of intrigue – an otherworldliness, an uncanniness and a fetishised stillness. Literally fetishised in the case of Kokoschka, who commissioned a life-sized doll of his muse and unrequited love Alma Mahler, after she married another man. Apparently, after painting the lay figure several times, the artist claimed to be “cured” of his passion, and so beheaded it. You can’t do that with a model. (Continued)

I wrote about running for Buzzfeed

You know that old adage: ‘write what you know’? Well I seem to have taken this particularly to heart, as one of the commenters has actually written: “24 Ways That Running Will Change Your Body if you were out of shape and overweight when you started running”?

Anyway, you can read it online here.

I did this. With my bum.

Well, my bum, my bike and the reckless driving of an undercover policeman.

It was all very dramatic – but, remarkably, I appear to be okay. A cut across my nose, a small cosmos of bruises down my legs, quite a sore hip, an arse that is turning slowly blue and a bike that is completely broken.

But, hey, it could have been much worse.

I wrote about Shakespeare in Shoreditch for Time Out

Time Out’s daily blog Now. Here. This is totally brilliant. If you live in London you should be all over that like a rash. Anyway, I wrote them a very quick thing about this Shakespeare in Shoreditch festival that’s happening at the moment. You can read it here.

On turning 30

I turn 30 at the end of this year.

Despite the fact that I was born 47, this shift onto the adult cassette of life’s greasy, dirt-thickened gears has had more of an effect on me than I expected.

I’m feeling a tad worried that the 9-year-old Nell, the 14-year-old Nell, the 22-year-old Nell, and the 28-year-old Nell would not approve of the way 30-year-old Nell is looking, living, loving and lurching her way into a forth decade.

So, last night, I did something I rarely do – I phoned my father and told him. And do you know what he said? It’s possibly the best, most comforting advice I’ve had on the subject:

“Ach, we only hang on to this idea of decades because our numerical system is based on the number 10. It could just as easily be based on 7. And then everyone would freak out about turning 28. But you’ve done that already, and you’re doing fine.”

So that’s that: turning 30 isn’t terrible. It’s decimal.

I wrote about girls smashing up cars for The Guardian

This is one of the most fun commissions I’ve had in a good long while. I ruddy love Birmingham. And Fierce Festival. And mechanically-minded feminism. You can read the edited version on the Guardian Arts page or the unedited version below.

I am standing in a scrapyard, somewhere outside the Aston Villa football ground, hemmed in by train tracks and Irish pubs, watching performance artist Dina Rončević fiddle under the bonnet of a gold Nissan called Sunny.

The car, though scrap now, is destined for total obliteration by Dina Rončević and her team of five wrench-wielding girls this weekend, as part of Fierce Festival’s Car Deconstructions project. It will be the fifth such deconstruction Rončević has undertaken, across Bosnia, Vienna, Croatia and Finland, each time with a different group of girls or young women, each time using just the tools she can be loaned by local mechanics, each time breaking apart bonnets, shifting bolts and heaving ratchets until the body, chassis and components come utterly apart, leaving a rusty metal skeleton of man’s great motor accomplishment.

“I did the first deconstruction because I just wanted to see what the car would look like on the inside; I wasn’t allowed to do that when I was training to be a mechanic,” says Rončevi, as we drink tea under a railway bridge in Digbeth. “I had two bosses; one kept calling me stupid because I’m a woman and the other one was hitting on me. They would only let me hold the torch and clean the floor. So I thought; fine, i’ll do it in an art way.”


I wrote about Leeds for Buzzfeed

All this and not a single mention of Mr Riaz’s wonderful greengrocer next to the mosque on Royal Park Road? I don’t know what the hell happened. I’m a fool.

Anyway, if you want to read it online here.

I wrote about not drinking for The Guardian

It’s very exciting, when you’re in the middle of another story, sitting under a railway bridge in Digbeth, chatting to an artist about engines, to get an email from your editor commissioning one of your ideas. That’s what happened on Tuesday and you can read the results on The Guardian here. Or the unedited version below…

If you think that not drinking is heroic then good god I hope you never have to rescue me from a burning building. Or pull me out of a pitch black river. Or care for me in my hour of darkness.

And yet, Macmillan’s Sober October campaign seems brewed on the very idea that not drinking should be some publicly-declared, universally-admired, valiantly-fought battle. Something to scream from the social media rooftops and compensate with sponsorship. Participants are branded ‘sober heroes’, told that they’re doing ‘something amazing’ for people with cancer and can even buy a ‘golden ticket’ to pay their way out of the very challenge itself. While I love Macmillan, and donate to them by subscription ever since their nurses gently eased my great aunt through her final months, I worry that Go Sober is just the latest unnecessarily public display of abstinence, dressed up as philanthropy and human valiance. (Continued)

I wrote about cycling in heels for The Debrief

I feel the way about my bike the way most people feel about their boyfriends, or babies or bonus. I love it. And so The Debrief very kindly commissioned me to write a piece about how bicycles have been an agent of liberation, celebration and emancipation for women across history. And no amount of patronising commuter comments can ever change that. Read it online here or see the unedited version below…

If one more man comments on my cycling shoes, I might just push a stiletto into his derailleur and kick a heel into his crankset.

I wouldn’t, of course – I’m neither stupid nor dangerous. But sweet mother of downtubes it’s tempting sometimes.

The gusset-twisting problem of what women should wear while cycling has wheeled on ever since the 19th Century panic over “Bike Face”. But while that Victorian hysteria all centred around bulging eyes, increased freedom and a “tightened mandible”, today’s unease seems to centre around bulging crotches and a tightened focus on our labia minora. Yes, I’m talking about the Colombian women’s cycling team. (Continued)

The wedding suit

This weekend my lovely friends Gemma and Dexter had a beautiful seaside wedding in pebble-strewn Brighton. So, of course, I turned up looking like the lost member of Funkadelic in my fourth home made trouser suit. Ah well…