I dressed as Cleopatra for a party we had a couple of weeks ago. The theme was the letter ‘c’: other costumes included cat, colombian, Candy Warhol, chopping board and candy floss. I can’t remember the last time I actually made anything for a costume but this time my housemates and I actually spent an hour in the garden making headdresses out of old necklaces (me) and gluing cotton wool balls together (cloud).

I’ve always liked Cleopatra. Aged 17 we studied Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. I love Shakespeare and was happy enough studying Ophelia, Lavinia and all the other doomed nymphs but Cleopatra was a different kind of female; she was a huge, complex, dominating character. She was the best thing about the play; whole verses tumbled off the page praising her. I remember our teacher characterising her with the classic phrase “women want to be her, men want to be with her”, a modern counterpart to the line in the play; “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”.

We were encouraged to try and draw parallels between us students and various characters. For some reason I ended up as Cleopatra; at 17 I was pretty weird and fairly low down in the social heirarchy and I felt very far away from the assured and powerful voice on the page before me. I don’t know if my teachers could see something in me that I couldn’t, or whether it was purely linked to my beau at the time (coincidentally named Antony) but the nickname ended up sticking around for a lot longer than the essays.

Cleopatra is often depicted as a beautiful, sensual and powerful woman; but I like that there are so many other stories about her wit, her cunning, her intellect. Stories of tricking men into accepting dares she would win, or sneaking into palaces disguised in a carpet to have “relations”. She was educated by leading scholars in maths and astronomy, had a huge interest in star-gazing and spoke nine languages. Quite a few accounts cite her sweet and alluring voice as the most beautiful part of her.

Whilst 17 year old me couldn’t see any resemblance, mid-twenties Laila could draw a few more parallels. I find her to be quite a modern figure. She often styled herself as a masculine leader, comfortable directing large groups of boys. She laments how women are held back in society and that she cannot be considered an equal; a fight that’s not over thousands of years on. She had a love for exotic hair pieces (totally on board with that) and founded a drinking club with her friends called the Inimitable Livers (again, right on sister). And of course there’s the famous black and gold; the colours of royalty in ancient Egypt.

Cleopatra often said she was a reincarnation of the goddess Isis, who inspired her. It’s nice to think that through the years, huge influential people have drawn inspiration of their own from others before them; our hero’s heroes. It’s easy to look back at famous historical figures and draw conclusions about what kind of person they were, or draw parallels between yourself and them, when you can never really know. But for whatever reason Cleopatra has always stuck with me as a choice heroine. Who are yours?

On Getting Old

Me aged 15 messing around with paint. Eat your heart out, charliexbarker

Me aged 15 messing around with paint for self-portraits (selfies weren’t a thing when I was your age, kids). Eat your heart out, charliexbarker

When I was a teenager I didn’t really have any expectations for the future. I had a big list of places I wanted to go and I knew what my interests were and I really, really wanted to meet some like-minded people. But there was no ideal, dream reality that my adult self would occupy. I just desperately yearned for certain situations.

I wanted a group of girlfriends who would meet me for lunch in nice bars, like on TV, except I wanted girlfriends who were interested in pop culture and vintage clothes and markets rather than hair and make-up and high fashion. I wanted people I could share music tastes with, and cook curries for, and my God, I wanted somebody to talk about Sailor Moon with. I wanted a best friend I could stay up all night with and have a million stupid jokes and call up any weekday evening and hang out with. And I wanted somebody who would come round and cuddle me just because, and kiss me at gigs, and tell me I was special.

I wanted to live in London, and go for coffee in cute indie cafes, and meet my friends in pubs where the bar staff knew my orders already. I wanted to try new restaurants in the evening and go shopping on the weekends. I wanted to have a kick-ass collection of fairy queen crowns, vintage sequins and old books. I wanted to take my songs more seriously. I wanted to write and paint more. I wanted to be free of the shackles of school and schedule my own weeks with things I loved and people I adored and pastimes that fulfilled me. I wanted to be trusted, and witty, and hold my own in conservations with my imaginary future friends.

Inventing the selfie on Prom Night aged 15.

Inventing selfies aged 15 for prom night.

My first ever outfit shot aged 16.

My trademark “wacky” style aged 16 + “goofy” pose. Probably before a dire house party.

So far, so teenage. If those ideals sound embarrassing, pathetic and wholly misinformed by pop culture and films then it’s because they are. I was lonely, misunderstood and bored, and these vague fleeting visions were primarily inspired by TV, manga, anime and films. I didn’t have very much real world experience. I didn’t really have any concrete ideas, or a game plan, or a dream set of goals and ambitions. There was no dream job, no perfect man, no ultimate fantasy house I wanted. I just saw my future self fleetingly in brief moments, picturing myself running around a museum in sequins, or chatting in a cafe to a guy with a sketchbook. Vague, aesthetically driven scenarios. I couldn’t really see a whole picture and I didn’t ever try to. I just had these moments of wishing I would be that person in the future.

Aged 17 with an outift that inspired the name of EL James’ bestseller.

I realised the other day that I now take all of those things for granted. All of those fleeting ideas I so wished for and dreamt of have become my everyday life. I’m becoming the person I always wanted to be, but I am also already there. I wake up in the arms of somebody beautiful, thrilling and smart who makes me feel happy. I get home from work and I chat my day over with my cherished housemates; talking through the ups and downs of the day. I stagger home from our local down the road arm in arm with my pals, and I get into our room and I look out the window at the whole of London, feeling part of this vibrant, sprawling city.

I no longer feel like a teenager – but I don’t mind. It’s better here. I make things and build things and with age comes gravitas and reputation. I’m less likely to fuck it up because I’ve done it 10 times already – and even if I do, people don’t mind as much because they know sometimes I get it right. I see my students now and I remember the feeling of there being this huge world out there and wondering how to get into the thick of it, how to find your place in the busiest city, how to carve a path in the toughest industry. It sounds corny, but when I stop and look around I realise in trying to get there, I’m already there.

quartz brown 112

First job out of university aged 21.

battersea barge christmas singing showcase

Last Christmas with kidney infection (post somewhere on this blog).

Me about two minutes ago!!

About two minutes ago.