Holiday countdown!

3 Apr

Today we booked our long awaited holly-daye – hooray!

We’re going to Cezanne’s birthplace in Aix En Provence (South of France) at the start of May, for a long weekend of cafes, culture, good food, chilling, reading, photography, art and general silliness.

The tourist information website tells us that the market is ‘every day!’ – it looks beautiful

One of Cezanne’s paintings of the area, I hope we get a chance to do some Cezanne inspired art whilst we’re there

 

Holiday quotes so far:

Cara (on morning activity): “Oh I can’t think pro-straight today”

 

Cara (on trying to decide on hotels): “…and it’s next to a bakery”

Laura: “I’m sold”

 

Bitesized blogging

9 Mar

Cara and I are always reminding each other to write ‘a bloody blog post’ (a command that’s set up residence on our ‘to-do list’ white board) which is silly really, as it’s meant to be a pleasure, not a chore. I find myself getting excited about the perfect topic, and thinking of all the interesting things I could say, but when it comes down to it, maybe it’s not interesting enough, maybe I don’t have that much to say, maybe I’ll just spend the whole evening on facebook instead…

I think the idea of writing a nice, long, interesting blog post about one topic in particular is a tad daunting, which I why I always put it off. So, I thought I’d write some bitesized titbits about the aforementioned topics that I previously got so excited about! You never know, I might actually write a whole blog post out of one of them one day!

1. Internet dating

Now being a house of single ladies, we thought we’d give internet dating websites a whirl. Neither of us have found anywhere near a ‘match’ yet, and so haven’t been on any actual dates, but it’s proving to be a source of great entertainment. Often along the lines of an exclamation of ‘Uuurgh’ from one of us everytime we encounter an…well…interesting looking specimen combined with great hilarity at ridiculous messages such as ‘you’re an angel princess mixture’ / ‘your hair is so wavyful’ / and various variations of ‘alright babe you is well fit’.

One thing we have definitely learnt is that you can be as sexy as you bloomin’ well like, but if you don’t have ‘sexy’ grammar (i.e. just correct grammar!), then we ain’t interested, love.

2. World Book Day

It was world book day last week and, as an English Literature graduate, I thought that’d be a jolly good topic for a post. I started thinking about the books that have had a real impact on me or that I’ve wanted to read again and again. Unfortunately, they don’t include virtuous classics such as Homer or Dickens (or any of works I blagged about in tutorials as I hadn’t actually read them at all!), more like Bridget Jones’ Diary! I guess there are a few ‘worthy’ ones in there – some Hardy (Tess & Madding Crowd), The Handmaid’s Tale, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – but actually a lot of them that give me the fondest memories are children’s books! When the tiger came to tea, Winnie the Pooh, A.A.Milne’s poetry, Hairy MacClary, Roald Dahl, even a bit of Harry Potter.

These days I usually stick to contemporary fiction, the ones with the fun covers you see in the window of Waterstones – I think I’m still recovering from my degree and feeling pressured into reading worthy books. I absolutely loved One Day by David Nicholls, so much so that I’m concerned that the upcoming film will spoil it. I know that I’ve enjoyed a book when I get protective when it’s made into a film!

3. Giving things up for lent

A hot topic in the office and the usual suspects are all there – chocolate, bread, crisps, sweets. I’ve told myself that I can carry on eating all my fave foods this year if I give up ‘bad men’. Colleagues laughed at me when I said this, but I know that my close friends would heartily endorse this idea! Let’s see if I can manage it…

 

Skills required of a city gal

24 Dec

As I dash to the station, with 4 minutes before my train will depart, I end up stuck behind a family with fifty suitcases and can just about see the train leave without me. Whether I had caught the train or not, this (and the hour I then had to wait for the next service) allowed me to reflect on some of the habits and skills you are grateful for in a fix.

1. Being able to run in heels. Not ladylike, no, but in some ways the perfect balance between practical and fashionable – of great help if you prefer to use the ‘extra time’ curling hair or changing outfit. NB definitely a lot harder in a pencil skirt

2. Crowd navigation – a finely honed art of power walking, a focused expression and the agility to swerve small children, aggressively steered prams and dawdling tourists. Used daily.

3. Being able to apply make up on a train/car/bus/tube. No – not quite as nice as applying it at home with the radio on and plenty of large mirrors, but often essential for that little extra bit of sleep in the mornings (especially after a big night!)

4. Muscle – or more specifically, being able to lug a massive case up and down flights of stairs. Also true of shopping bags for the weekly shop.

5. Being able to hold your own – whether it’s sending back your dish in a restaurant, haggling in a flee market or using a mixture of phrase book & body language to communicate on holiday. This isn’t about being bulshy, it’s about having the confidence to get the right thing.

6. Having a plan B (often known as ‘having a smartphone’). When all your plans go out the window, being able to pick yourself up and spring into action on something else (after first having a good moan to adjust to the change). Finding the nearest coffee shop, digging out that book, ringing a friend to make new plans or Google mapping your way to safety. NB many young women could navigate to safety given just a compass, but I am not so skilled it’s iPhone all the way!

7. Not suffering fools gladly – aka rolling eyes at blaggers, walking away from liars and perfecting the evil stare to give leery men outside of soho bars

8. Knowing how to tweet, blog, flickr, Facebook and order photos online. There is no necessity to do these things should you prefer not to, but a rounded knowledge of the Internet and how to get what you want from it is crucial. 21st century versions of knowing how to spell and enough maths to avoid getting a shock at Tesco’s checkout.

9. Having a laugh – I find a good mix of Michael McIntyre, Russell Howard and Sex and the City set me up well. I’ll admit that laughing at myself is something I need to work on, but this week when colleagues circulated a picture of me from the Christmas party for a caption competition I was able to see the funny side!

10. Remembering that you weren’t always a Londoner – after long teenage years pining to live somewhere more interesting, being able to value it as a break from the city rather than moan about what it still doesn’t have. Or letting the slightly mad but sweet old lady tell you her life story on the train, and actually listening rather than turning away and putting in earphones.

Festive Fun on Florence Road

21 Dec

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Well, Cara and I have opened advent calendars, wrapped presents, listened to Christmas classics and of course, decorated our beautiful tree – much upgraded from last year’s somewhat smaller tree. We’ve gone for the blue and silver colour scheme again and providing the sparkle, rather unconventionally, are LEDs. How did you get LEDs I hear you ask – well, as part of my ever-odd job at the V&A Friday Lates, we did a garden installation involving sex dolls, plastic bin bags and thousands of LEDs. It being a a one-night-only installation, we had rather a lot of LEDs left and to put them to good use (after decorating the Contemporary office) I brought them home and they’re still going!

This evening we swapped presents and had a lovely Christmas dinner – photos of which to come soon from Cara. The benefit (well, one of) of being such good friends for so long is that the Christmas presents we get each other are usually pretty spot on. I was very happy with my JLS album – she knows me too well!

 

Big Brother: A Totally Noughties Phenomenon

11 Sep

I was 13 when the first Big Brother show was aired in the UK, but in Wales you’d have to stay up pretty late to get the Channel 4 broadcasts. So it was around BB3 that the show hit my radar. I watched it, but not religiously, not wanting to give up the summer to watch people move half an inch in real-time. Its ‘stars’ filled the magazines I read and while it was cheap, exploitive and obvious, it was addictive. Helen, the hairdresser from Newport had an audience of millions; not singing or dancing, in fact not for any reason except for us to view her behaviour. And that’s exactly what was fascinating: seeing how other people act could help us piece together how we ourselves are perceived. Is it normal for girls to snore? Do boys bitch? Does anyone else eat squirty cream from the can? To be able to observe people in their moments of fear, happiness, emotional weakness and fatigue was raw and voyeuristic; but over 10 years 38 million people watched Big Brother. In a house narrated by a computer, hooked up with cameras and a garden warded by metal fences – we were drawn to the program its pure humanness.

Of course it went too far – TV producers had found a formula for success and we were given enough reality TV to drown in: Pop Idol, Castaway, Popstars, Popstars the Rivals, Fame Academy, I’m a Celebrity, The X Factor, The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model, Wife Swap and Shattered (and this list is not exhaustive; if you’ll forgive the pun). The concept was totally laboured by BB5, and I continued to be astounded that Channel 4 rolled it out for a further 5 years. Central to its irony is the fact that most of the housemates didn’t realise that the show’s name was from George Orwell’s 1984.

As a social experiment it had some interesting results: relationships compounded and imploded under the pressure and the minutiae became major. Which bed you chose could lead to tantrums, tension or romance and the omission of Fanta from the week’s shopping list could reduce adults to tears. Housemates also had a confusing relationship with ‘Big Brother’ – for most, the diary room was a place of release, refuge and truth – they trusted in and befriended their captor.

The show was a vehicle for fame. Most of the 267 people who featured in one of the 11 series went out and got it. Fame without talent. The show became a go-to solution for ‘celebrities’ past their peak. As envisaged by Warhol, everyone got their 15 minutes. I remember my school friend used to say she would go on the show after leaving school – the chance to mingle with 14 other young adults in an apartment for the Summer and get famous in the process seemed alluring. Luckily she changed her mind. No one can go through 9 weeks in a house with glass walls and come out with their dignity.

I always used to think Orwell would be disgusted with the show, but now that it has ended I’m drawing a new conclusion. The show was intrusive, heavily manipulated and seemed to never end – much like Orwell’s oppressive and indoctrinated society. Housemates enjoyed being watched and played up their lives in front of the cameras. The grungy ‘heroin chic’ trend of the 90’s was reinvented into the warts-and-all television of the noughties. It has even been said that the show has made us feel that surveillance of our lives is normal.

But unlike Orwell’s Big Brother, the TV series was a mutual exploitation – for giving us their lives, secrets, hopes and fears, Big Brother gave housemates fame and money, and for a few it even gave them a leg-up in their chosen industry. As a cultural phenomenon it has certainly been interesting, but with the noughties over it’s time for the Big Brother eye to close.

Life Through a Lens

4 Sep

Saturday Morning, in my PJs with a large coffee, I read an article in the Times on Saturday about Corinne Day, the photographer who’s gritty images of a slim, freckly 15 year old Kate Moss made the model famous. This lead me to a total photography binge, on a mad quest Googling my favourite fashion photographers, from Cecil Beaton and Erwin Blumenfeld to Rankin and Leibovitz, and then on to some of my contemporaries on Flickr. I am always so impressed by the huge amounts of talent and creativity that there are around the World, that come together on Flickr. Much as it guts me that some of my Flickr idols are tender 17 or 18 year olds, you couldn’t deny that there are some fantastic young photographers out there. So here is a random selection of my favourites for you to enjoy and get engrossed in.

Please go ahead and delve into some other great images

Just some of the wonderful photographers out there on Flickr

1. through my lens…, 2. Untitled, 3. Untitled, 4. Untitled, 5. Colorblind, 6. “The human race is intoxicated with narrow victories, for life is a string of them like pearls that hit the floor when the rope breaks, and roll away in perfection and anarchy.” – 210/365, 7. Untitled, 8. Velha nativa – Explored, 9. Videos? NOOOOOO!!!!, 10. Cai chuva! – Explored, 11. Untitled, 12. Untitled, 13. Christine, 14. the falls, 15. 兆。, 16. , 17. peonies for sale, 18. a little french in the morning, 19. happiness, 20. twice-baked
Have a good weekend, Cara x

Suggested listening:

The XX, Islands on Spotify

Portishead, Glory Box on YouTube

Never judge a city by its cover

22 Aug

In preparing for our trip to Japan, I had many preconceptions about what life would be like in Tokyo. There was one clear idea at the forefront of my mind, and that was of an electric, hi-tech society where all the latest technologies could be found at your fingertips, and – most importantly – operating with flawless Japanese efficiency.

On the surface, this description was unsurprisingly accurate. We experienced the ‘electric-town’ of Akihabara, where electrical goods stores line the pavement with shiny, colourful (the Japanese like everything in a full range of colours) gadgets. Jam-packed to the corner of every panorama in the central districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya were flashing lights, bright screens and synthetic music, so inescapable that an afternoon of shopping could make one feel quite nauseous. Also, the myth of the hi-tech toilet (heated seat, water-noises that play to make you feel less self-conscious, automatic flush as soon as you get up and so on and so forth) that I had heard tell of before I arrived, was proved very true.

However, this is where I first noticed the paradox that Fitzpatrick describes in this article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10543126

Alongside these intergalactic toilets were always, without fail, ‘non-western toilets’ (i.e. a hole in the floor). It struck me as odd that a country with such an advanced reputation insists on still using something, that to any Briton, would seem very primitive.

Fitzpatrick’s article talks of the Japanese culture restricting innovation, something which I’d never have thought to have rung true until experiencing it for myself.  He talks of the refusal of digital publishing, which I can well believe to be true after seeing crowds of be-suited men around the comic stands after a long day at work, leafing through the thick paper volumes with glee and excitement.

In many ways, I found aspects of the society surprisingly Victorian. This was triggered when our friend, Clare, pointed out that many Japanese women like to make their skin appear whiter than it is – not in a traditional Geisha manner, but in a fashionista vein similar to the reason we buy fake tan. It was then that I began to notice many more Victorian-like attitudes in the Japanese way of life:

–       Shop staff insist on greeting you (often in an overtly enthused manner) and also insist on packaging every purchase with extreme care and numerous flourishes.

–       Respect for the elder portion of society is of upmost importance, and hushed-tones are always used on trains and tubes, with the strict rule of no mobile use.

–       Japanese women, and men, seem to have an obsession with collecting and adorning – themselves with copious accessories, and their possessions (in particular mobile phones) with similar trimmings and charms.

–       All workers, even street-cleaners, have a sharp, clean and tidy uniform, most often with special matching headwear which make them look like they work in a Victorian sweet shop. Even the ‘little green man’ on the road crossings is far smarter than ours, and wears what appears to be a debonair bowler hat.

After seeking out these charming paradoxes to life in Tokyo, the city became much less intimidating. I found this Victorian-like politeness incredibly beguiling, and if there was anything I could bring back with me to London, it would be without a doubt this aspect of Japanese society. Even though I had gone to Tokyo for a futuristic experience, it was in fact these subtle semblances of the past that truly impressed themselves upon me.