Maddie Ziegler: Bigger than Sia

In many ways I live under a rock.  For some time, I had been hearing Chandelier by Sia without giving it any thought.  It seemed a little cheesy, if lovely, and that was it.

Until one day, Youtube suggested I watch the video.  I can honestly say I have never watched any other music video as often as I have the clip of Maddie Ziegler performing alone in that dilapidated apartment.  I have watched recordings of her performances.  I have ecstatically texted my husband when her video for Elastic Heart came out, and the release of the newest Maddie Ziegler video, Big Girls Cry, has been the high point of this week.

The three clips are incredible. Take a moment to watch Chandelier now, if you haven’t seen it before (or even if you have, because it’s just so great).

Looking at her performances on Dance Moms, where she is guided by the dubious aesthetic and direction of a collection of women who make the Toddlers & Tiaras mothers seem positively laid back, casting Maddie Zielger, a home-educated 12 year old from Pennsylvania, for the Sia videos seems brave, but she has risen to the role in the most extraordinary manner.  Free of the heavy makeup and sexualised costumes and routines pushed onto her by her mother, her performances are a jawdropping combination of technical skill and childlike freedom.

My daughters love the Chandelier video (referred to as “The Girl”) and Elastic Heart (“The Angry Girl and Boy” – they deserve a blog post of their own, so I won’t discuss here), which I am happy to let them watch on the grounds of featuring a physically strong, insanely talented, unpink, unsexualised young girl (anything is better than Tinkerbell, really).

However, the videos have been divisive.  Some people have seen them as disturbingly sexual.  Others see them as art.  Most people definitely have an opinion either way.  It’s odd how her completely non-sexual dancing is seen as more objectionable than her hyper-adult dancing when she is in her Dance Moms world, though, right?  In Chandelier, she wears a blonde wig to mimic Sia’s own hair, “pretty”/light makeup, and a basic flesh-toned leotard.  In her “normal” world, she is caked in heavy glamour makeup, glitzy, sexy costumes and a frozen smile.

Compare these two pictures:

Curious Workings - Maddie Zielger 2

Curious Workings - Maddie ZieglerIt’s the FIRST one that many people say is inappropriately sexualising the child.  What? Is it because she is dressed up as an adult, and is so false and hard as to be just a little bit repulsive that lets people be unbothered by her appearance in the second picture, despite the “sexy” posing?  While her relative simplicity and aura of neglect makes her seem more sexually vulnerable in the Chandelier video?  As a mother of little girls, I’m shocked by the lipstick and bikini persona, but other mothers I know are far more shocked by Chandelier.  She’s wearing very little in each appearance, but I think that the overtly sexy bikini and sarong is more inappropriate than a standard issue ballet class uniform, and I would say that the choreography in Chandelier is quite carefully unsexy.  Maddie herself said she was quite surprised by the routine, in which she was instructed to relax and be 11 years old, not to point her leg and pose the way she usually does.

I know I’m going on about this a lot.  Sorry.

Anyway, the third video, certainly the most creepy of the three, features just Maddie’s head and shoulders (mostly) and is as startling a performance as the first two.



It bears watching a few times – the way it is lit, the way it goes out of focus a little, Sia’s own hands.  It’s not an especially easy watch, and I’m not showing it to the children, but it gives Maddie the opportunity to impress us with her acting alone, and while I imagine that she probably won’t do more Sia videos (or else people like me will just become Maddie fans instead of Sia fans!) I really hope that we will see more and more of her talent in the years to come (and not on Dance Moms).


Mensch it up

Curious Workings - Moscot Mensch Glasses on Jenna Lyons JCrew

I’m a glasses character.  I have worn glasses since I was 10 years old (they were red and light blue) and although I have, from time to time, resented my specs, I have come to love them as being pretty fantastic accessories.  It had never crossed my mind until a couple of years ago (probably when designer glasses and more avant garde styles became affordable), that glasses could contribute positively to your look, and in response, my glasses have been getting heavier with each upgrade.

At the moment, I wear London Retro Bakerloo glasses and I love them.  They were a replacement for a pair of similar Givenchy glasses that my daughter broke and had been discontinued.  They’re lovely and big, but I’d like something a little heavier, especially now that I have grown out my fringe again.

I have always admired Jenna Lyons’ glasses, which are the Mensch frames by Moscot, and I feel that they might be in my future, perhaps this summer.  They have several stockists in London, so next time I go there I’m going to find somewhere with the Mensch frames and try them on, although looking online now I’m not spotting anywhere that stocks Mensch (although I’ll be in the US this summer, prescription lenses seem to be far more expensive than here).  I’ll work it out.

Already gearing up for the weekend

Curious Workings - Hedda Gabler Abbey Theatre DublinIt’s an incredibly sunny day today, and I am about to dash out of the office after a busy day promoting two of my brands, building admin-cutting forms for my best client, and dreaming up a name for my newest project (there’s always a newest project).

This weekend I am going to Dublin for four glorious days, ostensibly to help my father after a minor operation.  As he is already planning where we should go out to dinner the evening of his operation, I don’t predict much mopping of brow, or pouring of tea.  I have booked tickets for Hedda Gabler at the Abbey, dinner at One Pico, lunch at Rustic Stone and a meeting with a potential new client, so I have a very busy weekend of unsullied enjoyment ahead of me!

Dublin has changed dramatically in the last few years, and it’s fantastic to go back and find all the new cafes, roasters, restaurants and more.  Naturally, my interest revolves around coffee and food, but that’s only to be expected of me, really.

Sneak Peek: Crete

Crete House - Back Living Room


Crete House - Still a building site!

We’re back in Oxford now.  Getting away for 18 glorious days was wonderful and my longest time away from here in quite a while.  We may not have been able to stay in our own house, and it may have rained and stormed a bit more than you would normally expect for Crete, but it was wonderful.

Crete House - front living room

Of course, the whole point was to see our HOUSE.  I am so deliriously excited about it that I can hardly breathe.  It’s BEAUTIFUL.  Even in the wind and rain, with downstairs seeming like a giant grey mudbath, with planks forming bridges across the worst bits, you could see how lovely it is.

Crete House - Children's Bedroom

It’s remarkably difficult to take photographs of, and we only had our phones, but when it is finished we will have it professionally shot, so you can see it properly then, but for now, here are just a few details that I wanted to share with you.

Crete House - Stairs

I’ll be sharing more as we go, and focussing on some of the details that have occupied me over the last few weeks.  Bear with me!

Bougatsa, Zara Home, Bougatsa


Curious Workings - Bougatsa

We’re still in Crete, which is great, but it’s also 8 degrees and hailing.  And we’re not in our house.  I have given up on actually staying in our house on this trip by this stage of course, but annoyingly, because it’s still off season (and 8 degrees and HAILING), we can’t make any of the usual sort of escapes that we would if we were in this situation otherwise – the island of Gavdos is essentially “closed” for a few more weeks, for example.  Besides, it’s no harm being close to our own house to make decisions etc., and at least we’re close to lots of entertaining things to do (beaches, Rethymnon etc.).

Tomorrow we go to Heraklion to do some alarming budget things with the builder.  My main feelings about Heraklion are:

1) Bougatsa

2) Zara Home

3) Bougatsa

I don’t feel especially guilty about this.  I am sure that if I had ever visited Heraklion without tiny children I would have experienced the thrilling nightlife that supposedly exists there, but as things stand, it’s mostly about bougatsa for me.  It’s AMAZING.  I’m very excited about having it for brunch tomorrow morning.  Take a look a great recipe for it here on Greek Vegetarian, not that I could be bothered trying to make it, but perhaps you are so inclined (it’s her lovely picture above, so a visit would be kind).

Sorrowful Children

Curious Workings - Mad Children

Poor Honor.  She is four, so although she is articulate and highly opinionated, she is also very little and dependent on routine and stability, and this trip to Crete where we have stayed in three different places so far, with a constant “threat” of moving into our own house hanging over her head, has not been easy for her, even though she is usually the one bouncing off the walls, compared to serene Beatrice.

Moody, fighty and tired, she has been very difficult to get along with (not least for her much-put-upon older sister), but when she is alone with me she calms down and just potters about, doing her bit.  The minute everyone else comes back, she remembers that she is upset and she’s off again.  It breaks my heart (and drives me crazy).  To make it worse, she fell over yesterday during one of her rare cheerful moods and smacked her face on the table and now has a black eye to add to her list of sorrows.  She calls it her “grey bit”.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom.  She loves the beach and is very excited by the waves. I kept her home with me this afternoon and we’ve been watching Aladdin, admiring her new socks and drinking tea in bed, tea being her latest grown-up thing.

Tomorrow morning we’ll bring her back to the beach, and hopefully she will forget her woes for a few hours, and give me a break from my role of constant consoler.

Keeping your identity

When I got married, my husband and I decided that rather than having one of us (i.e. me) lose a name, we would blend our names and both take the new, combined surname, Lidwell-Durnin.

We have since met only one couple who have taken this approach, although plenty of married women who have kept their own names. I didn’t want to do this, because of the inevitable difficulty of what name to give the children (I think they should always have the mother’s name anyway – we’re entering the age of the distaff name, I think), and because I am traditional enough to want the same name as my husband.

Both sides of our family have accepted our blended name for the most part, which is great, and am grateful for this, especially as while John’s American family might be more progressive with names than my Irish one, as we have female friends here who have really struggled to get their inlaws use their given surnames after marriage.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this today is that I have noticed lately that for all Kate Middleton’s relative blandness and her enduring silence, one aspect in which her own identity has stubbornly hung on in there is her name.  Royal marriages tend to absorb the incoming spouse, erasing the past, but nobody (except for some fawning American fans, perhaps) ever refers to her as “Duchess Kate/Catherine” – she is Kate MIDDLETON.  Whose parents and background have remained very firmly in the picture, much to the dismay/delight of the Daily Mail et al.

Between William’s universally obnoxious friends who made no secret of their contempt for her origins (when their own are the most questionable nowadays, surely?) and his horrific family, she risked being completely alone after her marriage, but between her continued (passive, perhaps, but effective) retention of her given name and the way she has refused to let her supportive and strong mother be sidelined, she has given a clear signal that she is an entity in her own right, even if she wears and says what she is told (for now).

Maybe the royal family should have branded her as Kate Wales from the start, instead of a clumsy and unnatural title, that nobody would use?

And who knows?  My ongoing theory is that they have a pretty good idea that Prince George will never be king, and this is why they are insisting on a (relatively) normal life for him, with Carole Middleton, not Clarence House, at the helm.  So perhaps I shouldn’t shudder at the grimness of the Cath Kidston changing bag that William was seen carrying onto a plane a while back – that relentless brand that sums up all that is most dull about middle England.  Maybe it sends a strong message – “We know that these titles aren’t going to last for much longer, and we are quite ready to take our places as “normal” citizens when the time comes.”?

When vanity goes wrong

Me: I’d like a bikini wax, please.

Her: Sure!



Her: You wanted it all off, right?

Me: #horror

I can see the sea from my bedroom

Curious Workings - Clouds over the mountains at Plakias in Crete

We’ve been here for a week, after a marathon journey to our own village that took us via Athens, Chania and Rethymnon.  As imagined, our house isn’t even remotely ready, although apparently today is going to be a day of action, and we may even be staying there by Monday or Tuesday.

We’re staying in a very pretty but relentlessly open plan village house at the moment where both tiny bedrooms are on mezzanines overlooking the main part of the house, which is great fun for getting the children to go to sleep at night.  To make this just a little more entertaining, a friend is coming to visit us from the UK on Sunday, and I fear for his sanity…

The weather was very dramatic on our first few days (see above!) but it is now sunny and calm.

John (my husband) said that I am doing myself a disservice on this blog (already!) by being too superficial in tone, and not sharing what is actually going on inside my head.  I have thought a lot over the last week about this, because this is something I struggle with, and did before when I blogged in Marrakech and Paris.  I want to be entertaining though, not confessional, although perhaps there is a happy medium that I should strive for.  At the same time, I don’t think I need to pour my heart out just for the sake of it, when it isn’t my blogging instinct in the first place.

One thing that *is* going on in my head today is joy at the fact that it is Honor’s fourth birthday.  When we were in the depths of babydom it seemed impossible that we should ever have our lives back.  There always seemed to be a child to be breastfed, changed, consoled, entertained, changed again, fed again, over and over and over.  When Beatrice hit four we were thrilled at how independent she seemed to have become overnight – her feelings and responses were so much more reasonable than before and we looked at two year old Honor, still very much in toddlerhood, and saw the light at the end of the tunnel – when Honor was four (and Beatrice six) everything would be different – we’d have CHILDREN instead of babies.

This is not to say that we didn’t love our babies to distraction – their softness, their unblinking eye contact while they (or you) eat and pee, the kisses, their warm little selves and their perfection in every way, but with a four and six year old you still get all of that AND humour, conversation, and the ability to actually walk through an airport instead of being carried or pushed.  They will sleep almost anywhere, and sleep ALL NIGHT (mostly).

This year we are away for 13 whole weeks between now and November, which is unbelievable.  After so many years of fairly limited travel, we’re making up for it this year with long trips to the US and Crete, and shorter ones to Dublin and Lisbon during half terms in May and October.  I feel incredibly liberated by this, and also lucky that working for myself allows me to travel like this.  Finally I feel that anything is possible with my lovely, confident and mobile children and already we’re talking about going further afield in 2016 to really put them to the test!

Shared Workspaces

I have worked in a number of different environments over the years, from teaching undergraduates in historic buildings at Trinity College Dublin, to hunched up on a bench in the wind outside our flat on rue des Fosses St Jacques in Paris, stealing wifi when our own didn’t work.

Curious Workings - Co working

Of all places, I find working at home the hardest, as there are so many distractions.  Laundry that suddenly seems very urgent, or a misguided belief that I just *can’t* work when the sofa needs to be hoovered so badly (?).  Or worse – I think to myself that I will work better in a cafe when we all know that is blatantly untrue.

So how glorious that one of my clients has taken some space in a fantastic shared working environment not just locally in Oxford, but about 1 minute from where the children go to school, so I can drop them off and be at a huge bright desk surrounded by friendly coworkers.  The open plan split level office means that you are in the same space as everybody else, but with only a few in your line of vision.  Everybody seems to work in IT, which makes me feel vaguely more techy than I actually am, which I don’t mind at all.

I’m really happy to be working in this new space, and am looking forward to weeks and months of increased productivity ahead of me!

Do you work for yourself?  What sort of workspace do you have?

Images above: Canvas, a creative coworking space in Washington, and a workspace shot by Stefano Borghi