Autumnal Intentions

It's a beautiful autumnal Saturday - the first Saturday I haven't had a gig in weeks - and I'm feeling pretty pants. I've felt gross all week, actually. Before I know it, it's 4pm and I'm back in hospital for a lovely two night stay.

Always wearing my Tessa Metcalfe, whatever the circumstances. 

Always wearing my Tessa Metcalfe, whatever the circumstances. 

I hate being ill for so many reasons, but I particularly hate letting people down. I work with several different bands and have a lot of lovely students, and I never want to make the phone call that says I can't make a gig or a lesson. This leads to supreme feelings of guilt which mean that I spend all my time worrying which really slows down the recovery process.

What I I need to remember is that I shouldn't need to feel like I can't be sick unless I'm really sick and on a drip. It should be okay for me to wake up, acknowledge how I feel, and take a rest day; in the long run, I'll get better quicker and won't waste precious days in hospital or out of action. I know that ignoring all the obvious symptoms I have and pushing through ultimately leads to feeling worse.

Basically, what this all boils down to is wherever and whenever possible, I need to be held accountable for how I feel. There are always, always things I can do to make myself feel better, some that I do now, and some that I definitely don't but need to start. 

So, here is my plan. If I share it, I'll definitely feel a responsibility to stick with it! 

Structure and Routine

I am the QUEEN of procrastinating. Sometimes it’s because I genuinely feel gross so can't make myself concentrate, but a lot of the time it's because I'm easily distracted. At the moment I'm really lucky to be so busy, but it means I'm splitting my time between learning lines, learning songs, and learning saxophone parts. It feels overwhelming, so I need to break it all down and structure my day into manageable chunks, otherwise the whole day stretches in front of me and everything feels unmanageable. Man, I love a timetable. 

Timetable Joy. 

Timetable Joy. 

Eating and Drinking

This feel so obvious that it almost seems ridiculous to write it down, but I have to remember to EAT. I tend to forget for the first half of the day and then just snack my way through the afternoon and evening. My boyfriend is an awesome cook (and very into being healthy, which I'm slowly getting on board with...) and has made some delicious, healthy meals recently and this inspires me to cook for him too. My favourite meal I've made recently is Deliciously Ella's Mushroom risotto, which is made with coconut milk; it's genius and tastes amazing, even when being made by a very average chef (that's me.) I'm really getting in to searching for recipes and trying new things. It's very unlike me but I'm trying to rise to the kitchen challenge. 

My other mission is to drink wayyyyy more water. I got really told off in hopitall because my blood pressure kept dropping, which can normally be prevented with HYDRATION. So, now, every time I want a cup of tea, I have to drink a pint of water first. I'm adding slices of lemon because I'm a cool dude. 

Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos with Spicy Peppers, Avocado and Lettuce. THIS WAS SO GOOD (and almost vegan. But not quite.)

Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos with Spicy Peppers, Avocado and Lettuce. THIS WAS SO GOOD (and almost vegan. But not quite.)

Personal Space

I'm moving in a couple of weeks, and the idea of having a stress free/clutter free  environment is so exciting to me. I've been Pinteresting my heart out looking for inspiration to create the perfect personal space. We're really lucky as the house we're moving in to has the most beautiful view of the South Downs, which is so calming; nothing helps with my anxiety more than a walk outside. 

 

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Getting Ready

This may seem irrelevant, maybe even frivolous, but I want to make sure that when I wake up and get dressed, I feel comfortable and I feel good. I'll be clearing out my wardrobe (and taking stuff to a charity shop) to get rid of clothes that I haven't worn in ages, or clothes that feel more like pyjamas, or clothes that remind me of things I don't want to be reminded of. 

 

Please let me know your advice to live a healthier, happier life! What do you make sure you have in your personal space? How do you take a break? What are your favourite things you've cooked recently? 







 

You may be right, I may be crazy

I went to see Billy Joel at Wembley on September 10th. It was honest-to-goodness the best two and a half hours of my life. I've been listening to Billy Joel forever (I mean that literally. That is not an overstatement.) and I was lucky enough to see him live about ten years ago, but if someone offered me a ticket to see him perform every single night for the rest of my life, I would say yes please, thank you, goodbye social life, hello Billy.

The joy of seeing Billy Joel perform didn't just come from the thrill of live music or the anticipation of having the date in the diary (I purchased the tickets in December 2015) or the ridiculously overpriced beer. It came from the familiarity of the songs you know incredibly well and think speak only to you until you hear 70,000 people singing along to a song about sharing a drink they call loneliness or a song about iron and coal and chromium steel.

It was also a total thrill to see such an epic band perform with Joel, but in particular, to see Mark Rivera play the saxophone. Mark Rivera has played with Billy Joel since 1982, and I fell in love with him watching The Bridge to Russia Concert a few years ago. He is still playing with Billy Joel. He is still wearing exactly the same outfit. I am still in love with him.

There is an amazing article on Vulture - which you can find here - ranking all 114 songs that feature on his 12 studio albums, plus seven additional singles he released over the years. This kind of article makes me ridiculously happy. I have read it over and over again, analysing the choices of the writer Christopher Bonanos, finding my favourites on the list and either whole-heartedly agreeing with his placements or shaking my head at the outrage that one of my favourites isn't closer to his top 20.

Here are my top ten Billy Joel songs (I reserve the right to change them as and when I feel like it) with the ranking that Vulture gave them and my commentary on Vulture's commentary, because that is just the kind of woman I am.

 

101. “The Great Wall of China,” River of Dreams - Bonanos calls this song 'Another one with a really polished hook and dull verses'. I say, this reminds me of very long car journeys with my family in the best way possible. It's got an epic groove. The chorus smashes it every time. I love it.

75. “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’,” Storm Front - This is a song that I discovered later on in my Billy Joel fandom. It feels slightly obscure in terms of production, but I don't agree with Bonanos when he says it has 'aged terribly'. Joel knows how to tell a story and I am moved every time I hear this epic tale. As one comment says on YouTube, 'he sure does know a lot about deep water fishing'. Yes, he does indeed.

67. “Zanzibar,” 52nd Street - Another one I hadn't heard properly until I purchased Joel's '12 Gardens Live' album. This is an amazing song, with a trumpet solo that is so good it makes your eyes water. Bonanos' Vulture article compares it to Steely Dan, another favourite of mine, and he's not wrong. Due to the subject matter (bars, waitresses, drinking), I would describe it as the jazzier, slightly more positive brother of 'Piano Man'.

42. “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” Piano Man - Another excellent example of Joel's music story telling. Big chords, excellent bridge. I could dance to this all day. Sometimes, I do.

27 “Summer, Highland Falls,” Turnstiles - While most of my top ten Joel songs come in no particular order, Summer, Highland Falls is definitely top two. Listen to the version on Songs From The Attic and you will have a musical epiphany. The piano is insane and intricate and delicate, and the lyrics are pure poetry. For example, 'I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own'. Or, how about, 'For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same'.  I mean, come on. Perfection.

20. “This Is the Time,” The Bridge - Bonanos calls this song 'Another ’80s-prom anthem', and they mean that in the best way possible. I had this song in the back of my head for years, trying desperately to remember where I had heard it. Then, suddenly, there it was. It all came back to me. My parents played this and Jesus He Knows Me by Genesis over and over again. Or rather, I pressed play on the stereo over and over again, and they had to deal with the precocious kid dancing along.

19. “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” Turnstiles - Delicious and indeed, very angry. The Prelude part makes me play air piano and air drums at the same time, which is quite a sight. 

13. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” The Stranger - Catchy and brilliant.

8. “Vienna,” The Stranger - Another gentle song that is moving and devastating and catchy all at once. 

6. “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),”Turnstiles - The intro of this song is absolute perfection. This is how Joel started his concert at Wembley; I cried. Also, 2017 is next year. Just saying.

1. “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” The Stranger - As Bonanos writes for Vulture, 'it’s really three songlets, intertwined, a little seven-minute operetta'. It's definitely the other song in my top two. The saxophone is sublime. The story is a classic. Listening to this growing up I so badly wanted to 'remember those days hanging out on the village green'. I haven't found a village green to hang out on yet, but when I do, I'll being singing those lyrics at the top of my lungs.

As a side note: My favourite album of all time is Songs In The Attic, a collection of live recordings from various performances Billy Joel did. All the songs that he chose for this record were ones that had not previously been singles or hits that had received the recognition that Joel thought he could get. Here is the track listing with the rank that Vulture gave each song. Interestingly, 8 out of 11 of the songs reached Vulture's top 30.

1. Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) - Vulture #6

2. Summer, Highland Falls - Vulture #27

3. Streetlife Serenader - Vulture #17

4. Los Angelenos - Vulture #84

5. She's Got A Way - #21

6. Everybody Loves You Now - #29

7. Say Goodbye to Hollywood - #14

8. Captain Jack - #25

9. You're My Home - #77

10. The Ballad of Billy The Kid - #42

11. I've Loved These Days - #28

Here We Go

It's been a long time.

I don't know how I haven't managed to keep this updated, but I'm back and I'll be posting more often. Time to get motivated! Which is what this post is about. What a seamless transition!

Since my last post I have left my full time job and become a full time musician. I've performed at loads of exciting places in the UK and abroad, formed the The Hannah Castleman Quartet, and released an EP, available here. Even though I was performing frequently before, the change in my lifestyle since quitting my 9 to 5 has been huge. I love being self-employed for so many reasons. I love planning my own schedule, being able to have a random day off in the middle of the week when I've had a crazy weekend of gigs, being able to have a lie in if I've been up until 3am the night before because of a gig finishing late, choosing what work  I take and when...it's pretty dreamy.

There are always downsides to whatever you do. One of the downsides is the fact that when there is no work, there is NO WORK. Days stretch out endlessly. I am counting my money, which is terrifying when nothing is coming in but payments are coming out. This throws me off my game; it makes me panic, want to sleep A LOT, and much to my boyfriend's delight, I get grumpy.

I've wasted a lot of time doing nothing on the days where I supposedly have 'nothing to do', but this is where I've been going wrong. There is always something to do. I need to keep working towards what I want to do, which is music, and there is a way to do that even when I'm not actually being paid to sing or perform.

I've decided to set myself from tasks for each week. I want to learn at least two new songs a week. I've signed up for a weekly Burlesque Class for autumn and an online music theory course (for £9 thanks to Groupon).  I'm going to spend 30 minutes playing guitar everyday, which is terrifying because I am rubbish at it but by the end of the year I want to be able to play songs without staring at my fingers while I change chords. I'm a terrible cook but I'm going to make dinner more often instead of eating toast. It's okay that I'm not good at these things now. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even Leslie Knope

Whatever happens, I just want to make sure I keep moving. I don't want to look back on my week and think 'what did I achieve this week?' and not have an answer. Being self-employed means it's not always going to be a good month for work, but the positives outweigh the negatives by a significant margin, and so it's all worth it. I just have to keep going.

I've got to start drinking my morning coffee from this amazing mug, available here.   

I've got to start drinking my morning coffee from this amazing mug, available here
 

I Put Some New Shoes On

Recently, my friend Zoe wore these shoes from Margaret Howell and Juju Footwear's collaboration.

   

   

 

I fell in love. Madly and deeply in love. It was the first time a shoe has made me feel like that since discovered my mum's shoe cupboard and found a pair of black velvet Mary Janes. Sadly for me, my feet continued to grow way past a dainty size 5 so I was never able to take any of my mum's footwear out on the town, but until I was 11 I had a lot of fun stomping around the house in them. 

Zoe's shoes brought back all of the black velvet Mary Jane feelings that I had suppressed for a long time. I did what I have never done before, and shamelessly stole Zoe's shoe choice. I went out and bought my own pair. 

I thought I'd be daunted by their size and weight; they certainly don't appear delicate, which is a particular concern of mine because of my size 8 feet. I generally try to avoid anything that would make my feet look bigger than they actually are, which is quite big in the first place. I needn't have worried. I found them light, secure, and ridiculously comfortable. I've worn them with everything. Last week, I paired them with a gold sequin pencil skirt and a man's white shirt from Cos. I've matched them up with summer dresses from ASOS and high waisted 80s jeans from Beyond Retro. I haven't found an outfit that I wouldn't want to couple them with. 

One of the reasons why I'm so in love with these shoes is that they remind me of my childhood. My brother and I lived in jelly shoes, and I remember my dad having a pair that he wore all the time, much to our embarrassment. (Now I can't see what was so embarrassing about it; clearly, my dad was fashion forward.) The most frequent comment I've had from people who have seen me wearing the shoes is 'oh, I used to have a pair just like that when I was a kid!' That's what I'm finding most enjoyable about these shoes - they are hugely representative of people's childhoods.

This is my brother wearing yellow jellies in '94 or '95. He will be delighted that I've chosen to share this picture.
 

And this is me, around a similar time, also wearing yellow jellies. And yes, that is a playsuit with a hood that I'm wearing, thank you very much for asking. 
 

So I'll keep wearing my jelly shoes, even if they fall out of fashion again. It's a nice way to not feel too grown up, especially when I'm wearing them to meetings or other such events. Which I can do, because they go with everything. Seriously. 

Don't You Know About The New Fashion Honey

At the end of last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Barcelona with one of my best pals and fellow Spitfire Sister Anna. We had a delightful time walking around, eating and drinking (ahem, mostly drinking) and I was not looking forward to coming home. I knew I had a lot of packing and organising ahead of me, a vast amount of things to do and not a lot of time available.

As soon as we arrived back in London, I checked the BBC website to check the World Cup scores. However, information far more exciting than anything football related appeared on my screen. The What's On iPlayer section listed Billy Joel: The Bridge to Russia, and Billy Joel Live in Leningrad as its top programmes.

I LOVE Billy Joel. He is my favourite musical artist of all time. I've seen him live. I own all his CDs. I'm collecting his records on vinyl. I have a t shirt hanging on my wall from his River of Dreams tour.

I'll write it again. I LOVE BILLY JOEL.

As I was watching both the documentary and the concert, I realised there is something unbelievably cool about him that I hadn't noticed before. Billy Joel was a snazzy dresser.

I found myself wanting to replicate his outfit, from his oversized jacket to his white sneakers.He looked so effortless and yet so well put together that I was overcome by serious ensemble envy.

Thinking about it, however, I seem to get envious over men's fashion from the 80s and the 90s far more frequently than the women's fashion from those decades. There is something so casual about the way men dressed; the pieces are thrown together but sit so well with each other. 

Exhibit B: Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally

Harry's approach to dressing seems to match his views on love and relationships - don't care, whatever works, can't be bothered. But the collar of his shirt paired with that terrible old man jumper? Luscious. I couldn't recreate that if I tried, and I frequently do.

Then there are the boys of St. Elmo's Fire, my favourite film of all time (apart from White Christmas,but it's really only appropriate to watch it in December so I have to have another favourite to watch from January to November). While Kirby and Alec don't tend to deviate from the outfits required for their chosen professions, Billy and Kevin have more freedom in wearing layers, oversized shirts, and in the case of Rob Lowe's saxophone playing bad boy Billy, feathery earrings and a ridiculous number of badges.
 

And the outdoor wear! This is why I love winter. Coats, jumpers, scarves and hats. 

I grew up stealing every item of clothing that my dad and brother threw away, and now I know why. I thought Billy Joel only inspired my musical habits, but he had a bigger hold on me than I ever knew.

Signed Sealed Deliveryed

Nothing is as satisfying as receiving mail. I occasionally get letters, postcards appear sporadically, but online shopping deliveries are a frequent arrival in my mail box - possibly a little too frequently for my bank account to successfully cope with but let's not focus on that right now. I'm a huge fan of ebay and a regular ASOS customer but recently it's Etsy, a diverse marketplace selling everything from greetings cards to swimwear, that my heart belongs to.

Etsy is where beautiful and ridiculous dreams are made - literally handmade, by creative brilliant people who seem to know what every person wants before they know it themselves. I have lost entire afternoons and evenings to this website because it's simply not possible to escape a search engine circle.

For example, I typed in my current TV obsession Parks and Recreation and found these:
 

www.etsy.com/shop/thelordoftheearrings

www.etsy.com/shop/thelordoftheearrings

Quite frankly, my ears feel naked without them.

Obviously, the next logical search to type in would be one that combined two of my favourite things, vintage travel posters and Harry Potter

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TheSeventhArtShop

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TheSeventhArtShop

They actually exist. I could have these hanging on my walls in a matter of days, and my life would be complete. 


I always end these Etsy sessions with a broad search of 'the 1940s', a decade which is close to my heart (see www.thespitfiresisters.co.uk and twitter.com/spitfiresisters). The results are endless and totally absorbing. A few of my current favourites:


This amazing '40s coffee pot.
 

www.etsy.com/shop/theoldtimejunkshop

www.etsy.com/shop/theoldtimejunkshop

A 1940s pie dish - I have no idea how to cook but I'd give it a good old go if I had this to cook with.
 

I can't recommend exploring Etsy enough. Get involved. Find some much needed television based accessories or a lovingly refurbished vintage tea set, and look forward to something exciting arriving in your mail box.

 

Hold Me Tight And Don't Let Go

This article originally appeared in Vintage Life Magazine

I'm wearing dungarees. My life is in boxes. I'm eating cereal straight out the packet because I packed all the bowls. I'm mildly stressed.

I'm also massively excited. My room was beyond the point of tidying, and the tidying was never going to happen, so I can just sweep it all up and tidy as I unpack at my next place. While moving isn't renowned as the easy way to get out of cleaning and tidying, it is regarded as a highly appropriate moment to get rid of some things. Throw some stuff away. Create a new start with less clutter. Go for a minimalist approach.

I'm ignoring that. My name is Hannah, and I can't throw anything away.

I like to collect things, and to keep things, and to find things again that remind me of the past. It can be my past or someone else's past, but I like the idea of time travelling via objects that I've kept for reasons I can't always remember. I've kept so many birthday cards, postcards and tickets that I have several shoe boxes full of the things. When I go into charity shops, the first things I search for are the old photo albums or loose photographs and letters. It breaks my heart to see things like that that aren't claimed. I want to look at the faces in the photograph, investigate the story behind them, and learn their history.

That's the reason I find it so hard to part with things; I can pick something up in my room and remember where I was and who I was with when I found it in the first place. I have books on my shelves that people recommended to me but I haven't got around to reading yet, and I have records that are waiting to be played that I purchased because their cover art was so beautiful. I have a problem with clothing as well; my wardrobe rails were buckling under the weight of knitwear, and yet I still think I'll wear every sweater I've ever owned this winter, even though everyone knows (including myself although I'm in denial about the whole situation) that I'll wear the old man charity shop sweater until December, and the 90s LL Bean fisherman's jumper until February, and all the others will wait patiently on their hangers just begging to be worn. 

I'll try and be ruthless when I'm moving this time around, because the packing process is hugely delayed by my sentimentality. I think I am addicted to the feeling that I will have things in the future that will be able to transport me straight back to this moment and the moments that came before it, and I find that unbelievably comforting.

Four thousand jumpers, but I've packed the only two bowls I own. I reckon cereal tastes better straight out the packet anyway.