Category Archives: Book-ish

A Bureau of My Own

“It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people…Think of things in themselves.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I blame it all on Kirsty Allsop dominating the TV at dinner time, but last week I found myself elbow-deep in an upcycling project, to bring beauty to a writing bureau hidden at the back of a furniture warehouse. £45 of birthday money, and it was mine!
For ages I have craved a space I can call my own. Somewhere to write, read, make, think. Here it was. But the dour brown oak was heavy and outdated, and I’ve seen enough fix it programmes and read enough vintage craft books to know that a lick of paint could transform it into something spectacular.

Usually, I dither and fret about colour combinations and cost to the point where nothing is done. Knowing myself too well, I decided to take inspiration from Google images, search ‘upcycled writing bureaus’ and see which colour combos worked best. I’d already imagined a French grey and, sure enough, there it was with the pen holder in cream. Huzzah! I had my colours.
After some more research on how to paint old furniture, I sugarsoaped it clean, then primed and undercoated the pen holder – this was to be painted in ecru eggshell that I had left over from painting the skirting boards in our house, and I just diluted it one part water to 4 parts paint to make it more like a wash.

Quite by chance, I’d discovered chalk paint by Annie Sloan in a shop in Totnes. It looked perfect, and – again, after researching the net – it seemed too good to be true! No priming or undercoating; one coat and an hour to dry. As a woman who likes speedy results, I decided to see if it really did do what it says on the tin.

It isn’t cheap, this paint, and clearly has a bit of a cult following with blog after blog dedicated to Annie Sloan products (and, usefully, cheaper substitutes!). I coughed up, knowing that I’ve got a LOT of boring pine in the house that needs freshening up so it wouldn’t go to waste.
At first, I felt a bit sick as the paint ‘chalked’ up with the brushstrokes and I began to regret covering over the beautiful markings of the oak. But I’d read that it’s best to paint with longer-than-usual brushstrokes in one direction, and with a paintbrush whose tips are just ‘kissed’ with water. Great advice and the paint began to glide on.
What I hadn’t really noticed until I started painting the bureau was that the wood was differently-textured in different places, and this affected how the paint covered the different surfaces. Depending on how ‘distressed’ a look I wanted determined whether I went with a second coat or not. I enjoyed getting to know my bureau like this. How often do we pore over such detail, and make such responsive decisions? It was an incredibly absorbing process, almost like a form of meditation.

I hummed and haa-ed over whether to spend another mini-fortune on Annie Sloan wax but by this point I felt I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I did experiment on a small area of the desk with an alternative – Luberon’s clear wax paste – but the Annie Sloan does bring out both the paint and the wood markings quite noticeably, and I do think it was worth it.


I still want to cover the desk surface with more attractive material, but I already have a beautiful bureau I can now call my own.

Great tips for using chalk paint



Filed under 3 Good Things, Book-ish, craft, life in the slow lane, Uncategorized

Brainpickings Literary Jukebox: Sylvia Plath – inspired!


I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…

1 Comment

Filed under Book-ish


I don’t like work – no man does – but I like what is in the work,- the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others- what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.

Joseph Conrad ‘Heart of Darkness’

Leave a comment

Filed under Book-ish

Happy birthday, Will Shakespeare!


To thine own self be true

If there is one quotation etched upon my heart, it must be this one from ‘Hamlet’. How annoying, then, that’s it’s offered to Laertes by his pompous father, Polonius, and not by a cool character! Can something still be beautiful if uttered by a buffoon? If so, then I guess there’s hope for the rest of us yet! What’s your favourite Shakespeare quotation?

Leave a comment

Filed under Book-ish

The Reading Coach

ImageIt’s the hardest question a student can ask their English teacher because the answer you give can either start them on a journey of a lifetime or put them off for good. ‘What can I read?’ It was Lou, one of my A2 students with a place to read Geography at Oxford but with her heart increasingly consumed by a love of literature, who popped back into my classroom the other day and hurled me this question with a look of hope on her face. In the seconds that whirled before I could hazard an answer, my brain span through its repository of books read and loved, hoping to land on something it could confidently offer this young woman. ‘Classic or contemporary? Heavy or light?’ I asked. Give me a clue here! ‘What have you read?’ But Lou seemed as stumped as I was. So, I looked at her and saw a young woman about to leave home and move somewhere new, and I thought ‘Lucy Honeychurch’. Sweet, naive, wanting to please, but then she travels to Italy and starts to experience life away from her family, and her identity as a daughter, and she blossoms. ‘A Room with a View’ – a classic coming-of-age novel – what’s not to love? To balance the rosy-tinted, I threw in ‘Jude the Obscure’ as a reminder that not everyone’s talents are recognised or rewarded as they should be, and then, for fear of getting too ‘heavy’, plundered the current Women’s Fiction Prize authors who I’ve read – Zadie Smith, Barbara Bolsover, Kate Atkinson. By the time I’d finished, I’d emailed her a supplementary list, including Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and ‘One Half of a Yellow Sun’, which received a request that her mum might share the list with her Book Group that evening!
This is why I still love teaching. The ability to connect with people beyond the classroom and to pass on and share my own love of books and reading. If someone asked you what they should read, what would you say?

Leave a comment

Filed under Book-ish