Saturday, 28 February 2009

Swan Lake and cultural roulette

Just back from the Royal Opera House after seeing Swan Lake. I accidentally got tickets for a performance on Family Day, which is not my idea of a good time - children sniffling and making annoying noises, parents making even more annoying noises shushing noisy children. But it wasn't that bad actually - in some ways it was seriously cooler than it normally is. A few dancers wandered about in full make-up and costume before the performance started, chatting to the kids. There were members of the orchestra as well, but by far the best bit was during second intermission they left the stage curtain open so you could watch the scene change. Amazing. Apart from shows I've been in, it was the first time I've ever seen anyone do that, and I've been to a lot of shows. Good fun and the kids seemed to like it. They clapped at everything though, which was sweet, but a little bit tiresome. Having only seen modern ballet at the ROH before, I also now understand why the tickets cost so much. The costumes and set are ridiculously extravagant, but very beautiful and the spend is clearly worth it. The Tchaikovsky score is brilliant and I do like the traditional ballet, but I saw Matthew Bourne's all male corps version a few years ago in Glasgow and since then, I don't know if a very traditional ballet corps of women can compare. Still, a nice way to pass as afternoon.

I popped into FOPP in Seven Dials before going to the ROH to get some music. I have a favourite game in book and music shops, which is pick something completely random - a band I've never heard of or a book I've never seen. It's a little bit like cultural Russian roulette, but you'd be surprised at how good you get at buying really interesting music just by the band name and the album jacket. I got two: Jonquil's Whistle Low EP and Finn's The Best Low-Priced Heartbreakers You Can Own. They're totally different and listening to them now for the first time, I think I didn't do too bad. The book I'm reading at the minute, G.K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill was another random roulette buy, saw it on the shop table and thought it looked interesting. It's a good laugh - a very fun game. If it didn't sound so wanky, I'd ask if anybody else does this and if so, what their best discoveries were?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

a day in pictures

Ready to go:

At work:

Leather Lane Market - bought some lovely ranunculaceae:

I think these are my favourite flowers - they open up like peonies

Bought some odd Japanese mags at the market:

Came home to find tickets for a recording of Old Harry's Game had arrived:

Catch up on Saturday Review:

Working on my PhD:

The End (for now)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

have you got a card?

I want new business cards.

I have a weird thing about stationery - I like writing and I like beautiful things. As far as I'm concerned business cards are all part of the stationery kit, and I love it when people get really creative with their cards. One of the best business cards I've ever been given was by a crazy set designer. He'd taken Indian rupees and had a stamp custom made with his name, number and email which he randomly stamped all over the note. I was at a NYE party when he gave it to me and I thought he was giving me funny money - it wasn't until a few days later that I realised it was his business card. Brilliant, clever, and recycled. I like the idea of made cards more than designed cards - another great idea I've seen is the write over, where you collect a bunch of random cards from cafes, shops, wherever and then cross out the old details and fill in your own information. Lots of ideas, but I'm not sure what I want to do.

I found a few cool cards online:

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

but Larkin will never go out of fashion...

Nicole Farhi A/W '09 at the Royal Opera House

Even though London Fashion Week isn't technically over, my involvement in it is as the copy for my piece on LFW is just about finished (not half as crap as I thought it would be). I wouldn't say I enjoyed the shows, but it was interesting to see how they operated. It's funny because I think I'd enjoy them a lot more were they less laden with all the weird fashionista self-righteousness: I want to scream at these people 'you work for fashion magazines! you don't even make clothes, you sell them by wearing them! why so smug?' Via the forces of PR, the fashion world has created an aura of 'exclusivity' and I'll tell you why that aura is so essential for the success of the industry. If you knew just how shallow the people were, how uneventful the shows are, how scary the models look in real life, but especially how crap the parties are, you'd never ever shell out the big bucks for a pair of Prada shoes. Sure, you might still admire the man-hours involved in making an avant-garde McQueen dress, but it wouldn't be surrounded in a halo of celebrity-coveting desire if the 'fashion world' lost its lustrous lustre (tautology, I know).

If nothing else, I'm glad I went if only to strengthen existing beliefs. Yeah - cool, well-constructed clothes are fun, but when people start using designer labels (and all that they imply) to prop up an ailing sense of self, then the fashion, advertising, and PR people are doing their jobs too well.

On to more interesting things... Far more desirable, and strangely enough almost more difficult to obtain, were tickets to the great Josephine Hart's poetry evening at the British Library. A few of these evenings have been broadcast on Radio 4 and I heard a repeat broadcast one sunny afternoon last May (of the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning) and have been trying to get tickets ever since. Hart is an Irish novelist, married to the other Saatchi (Maurice), and has brilliant connections in the acting world. The premise of her evenings is based on a simple idea: poetry is meant to be heard with the ear, not seen with the eye. She picks a different poet for each monthly reading and then selects a number of actors for their affinity to the selected poet's work. This month's poet was Philip Larkin and the readers were Charles Dance (best know as Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House) and Dominic West (apparently plays Jimmy McNulty in some show called the Wire). Hart is absolutely right about the necessity of hearing poetry and not reading it, and it is so much better to have actors performing the poems rather than the author's stilting and self-conscious reading. I've never been a huge Larkin fan and before the readings began I was secretly disappointed to have missed other, favoured poets, but the actors made the poems come alive in such an inspiring way, that you can't help but make immediate connections. I absolutely loved it and when I got home later that night I tried to book for March's reading (Wilde!!), but it was already sold out...

A little Larkin to leave you. I really liked this poem, read last night, called 'Dockery and Son':
'Dockery was junior to you,
Wasn't he?' said the Dean. 'His son's here now.'
Death-suited, visitant, I nod. 'And do
You keep in touch with-' Or remember how
Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half-tight
We used to stand before that desk, to give
'Our version' of 'these incidents last night'?
I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.
A known bell chimes. I catch my train, ignored.
Canal and clouds and colleges subside
Slowly from view. But Dockery, good Lord,
Anyone up today must have been born
In '43, when I was twenty-one.
If he was younger, did he get this son
At nineteen, twenty? Was he that withdrawn

High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms
With Cartwright who was killed? Well, it just shows
How much . . . How little . . . Yawning, I suppose
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,
And ate an awful pie, and walked along
The platform to its end to see the ranged
Joining and parting lines reflect a strong

Unhindered moon. To have no son, no wife,
No house or land still seemed quite natural.
Only a numbness registered the shock
Of finding out how much had gone of life,
How widely from the others. Dockery, now:
Only nineteen, he must have taken stock
Of what he wanted, and been capable
Of . . . No, that's not the difference: rather, how

Convinced he was he should be added to!
Why did he think adding meant increase?
To me it was dilution. Where do these
Innate assumptions come from? Not from what
We think truest, or most want to do:
Those warp tight-shut, like doors. They're more a style
Our lives bring with them: habit for a while,
Suddenly they harden into all we've got

And how we got it; looked back on, they rear
Like sand-clouds, thick and close, embodying
For Dockery a son, for me nothing,
Nothing with all a son's harsh patronage.
Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose,
And age, and then the only end of age.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Breakfast in bed...

would be so much better if it was served on this tray!

Why fashion people piss me off

So I'm writing a piece on the "architecture of fashion week" for the AJ (no, I don't know how it's going to work either...) and I thought it would be cool to hit up four or five shows and then talk about how they use all the cool old buildings of London - the Natural History Museum and the royal Opera House - to produce their spectacular, spectaculars. However the complete bitchy snobbery of London's fahion PR people has put a massive dent in my plans. Only the nice head of the PR team at Nicole Farhi sorted me out with a ticket, about four other houses promised me a ticket only to bail with two or three days to go.

The problem is that most fashion companies hire PR wenches to do their bidding, theoretically leaving the "creatives" free to deal with the creative stuff. And I get the whole need to whip up an aura of exclusivity around the brand - I mean would PPQ or Christopher Kane really want people to think their A-list status was slipping by making sure only celbs like Lilly Allen and Peaches Geldof were in attendance at their shows? Um, right... Teeny boppers who idolise Peaches and Lilly and the clothes they wear aren't going to go out and actually buy PPQ - they're going to wait until Primark or Topshop rips the designs and then buy the, for a song.

The temptation to stomp my feet and scream at these evil minxes who are reserving tickets for all the sugary pop tarts in town and the assistant's assistants of crappy fashion magazines is quite high, but I'm trying to behave myself. It just makes it a lot harder to write an already impossible to write piece...

Rant over.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

"Everyone's an idiot," says the BBC

Underestimating the literary abilities and inclinations of Brittons, the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the following 100 books.

I swiped this from facebook as I thought it would be more fun to post it here first.

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.

3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

4) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien X

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte X

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman x (started reading, didn't finish)

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott X

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller X

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare X

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x (started reading it, got 20 pages in a decided the annoying little wanker wasn't worth it)

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (why is this on here, but Hemingway isn't?)

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X+

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens (not read enough Dickens in general)

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy x (read about half so far)

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams X
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyvsky X

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck X

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X+

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy *

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis X

34 Emma - Jane Austen X+

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen X
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X (is this not part of the Narnia series? - this list maker is daft!)

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini X

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden X+

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (why is this even on this list?!)

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery X

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood X (why isn't there a sign like "-" [clever] for books you really thought were a waste of time?)

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding X

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan X

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel X

52 Dune - Frank Herbert X

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons (sounds like a Mills and Boone)
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen X

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X+

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X (great title; shame about the book)

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov X+

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac X

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding X (though I'm ashamed to admit I've actually read this book)
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie *

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville X

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett X+

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson x (didn't finish - thought it was boring)
75 Ulysses - James Joyce X+
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath X

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray X (Becky Sharp is my hero)

80 Possession - AS Byatt X (whoo hoo for the London Library)
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert X++++++++ (love, love, love this book)

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White X

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X+++++++
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery X

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams X

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole X

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (never even heard of this...)

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X (what makes Hamlet separate from the Complete Works?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (seen the stage version - does that count?)

TOTAL 58.5 I'm a sad, sad, sad person. That's a Humanities student for you... And funnily enough, I've only starred two books, which means that I haven't read these so-called "classics" because I haven't wanted to, not because I can't be bothered!

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Kalkinulator

12 container house (above and below)

push button cafe

I know it's dangerous to declare a favourite anything, lest the ravaging pack of vampiric critics attack with screeching cries of heresy, but I'm going to go out on a limb and declare Adam Kalkin my favourite architect. I first came across Kalkin via the interior designer Albert Hadley (another fav of mine), who did the decoration of Kalkin House which is at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Kalkin builds, mainly houses, out of surplus shipping containers. I love how he creates these structures that have a very modernist feel, but instead of using glass, glass, and more glass, he creates new modernist spaces of out the waste products created by globalisation. It's funny to think that if you live in a Kalkin house, the "walls" may have previously carried Chinese-made clothes or Japanese technologies - the walls have history before they're even built.

Kalkin House

There's a bit of contention over whether Kalkin is a "real" architect, as he builds with pre-fab materials, but I don't see how that's relevant to the design and building of a structure. Surely, architects don't usually create the concrete or the steel with which they build their hideous skyscrapers. Take Kalin's personal home, Bunny Lane. Bunny Lane is a huge industrial shed built around a two story traditional home. You get the best of both worlds: open modernist spaces, cosy traditional domestic interiors. It's a marvellous example of the kind of crazy innovative thinking that makes Kalkin's shipping-container houses way more than the sum of their original parts.

Anyway, enough. BD has an interesting little piece on Kalkin, which is what inspired this torrent of adoration. Everyone thinks I'm so cynical and that I disdain and sneer and everything - but here is written proof that I do in fact quite like something and someone!

Kalkin's website: - This is especially amazing. It's a video showing what happens when the button is pushed to activate the mechanism of a single container house.

Bunny House exterior

Bunny House interior (above and below)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Project for a scientific psychology

If I think of this town
as its insufferable people
and its claustrophobic
"becauses", then I
will always associate
conformity with London:
neurons that fire together wire together.
So Freud was right about
something else, in 1888.
Sixty years before Hebb's law.

Hidden Holland Park

I went on a little jaunt to Holland Park this afternoon. Bit of a rubbish day to be outside, but I'd heard so much about the Japanese Gardens that I thought I ought to go and check it out.

Holland Park is lovely indeed, but I bet it will be magnificent in the summer when all the flowers are in bloom and it's green and sunny. I like the big touristy parks well enough, St. James's Park in particular is wonderful, but I'm slowly learning that the parks just a bit out of the way of the centre are less touristy and are compartmentalised into jewel-box mini gardens instead of just flat and open like Hyde Park.

While the Japanese garden in HP is pretty enough, it's tiny and a bit less awe inspiring than I was expecting. It's mean, but I think Europeans are so used to the endless march of nationalism that when some foreign element is placed, say, in a garden then it's all exciting and shocking (and hence why everyone keeps going on about how amazing and novel the Japanese garden in Holland Park is). If you've ever been to San Francisco and seen the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park (one of my favourite places in the US), then you'll get what I'm talking about. This is the oldest public Japanese garden in the US and is a gazillion times bigger than its HP counterpart - at a whopping fives acres in size. I walked around the entirety of the Japanese garden in Holland Park in less than five minutes. Ah well, I really ought not complain - the fact that a Japanese garden exists in London at all is remarkable. I just wish there was a Golden Gate Park or a Huntington Gardens ( in London, but seeing as I still haven't been to Kew yet, maybe I ought to reserve judgement.

The Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco

Still, there's a beautiful mini-formal garden and a nice looking restaurant - I can see HP becoming my default summer retreat. Tennis, strawberries and cream, and lots of lots of sunshine. Though sun is another Californian trend that hasn't quite made its way to London.

Cheeky, cheeky squirrel

Friday, 13 February 2009

News flash! The Guardian is stalking me!

I think the Guardian's fashion team are stalking me... Either that or Stephen Jones is.

A few months ago I got it into my head that it would be a fun thing to make a hat out of newspaper. I'm sure I was procrastinating from doing important work, but that's hardly the point. I wanted to make a newspaper hat that you could actually wear outside, so I came up with the idea of lacquering it with varnish.

So I was a bit miffed when I saw that Guardian had done something similar in the G2 on Wednesday. Especially because they called it the fashion-forward hat for "Recessionistas" which is just inane and ridiculous. When did being creative start being called being "recessiony"?

Their hat (though I can't figure out if it's a Guardian design or a Stephen Jones design):

My hat:

To be fair, the Guardian has struck a deal with the V&A whereby if you rock up in your hat made from the Guardian (surely according to their "easy-to comprehend in case you're completely thick" instructions), they will give you two tickets to the Stephen Jones hat exhibition for the price of one. Good luck finding a second person willing to wear such a stupid looking hat.

Moral of the story? Ditch the Guardian and make your own cool stuff.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Why we should all give Cruise a break

The Philosopher and I went to see Valkyrie last night. Given that I generally regard Tom Sutcliffe and Co on Radio 4's Saturday Review as my arbiters of taste and they didn't like this film, I wasn't expecting to like it either. The week that the panel was reviewing this film, most had a fairly negative view and one dude was downright convinced that the film was a vehicle for propogating Tom Cruise's freaky scientologist views - and this is on Radio 4! I wasn't super excited to see the film, but I thought I might as well check it out and I'm swiftly learning that arriving at the cinema with low expectations means you're bound to win: if you don't like the film you've lost nothing, and if you do like it, you're pleseantly surprised.

I'll admit that I've always had a soft spot for Tom Cruise (sans scientology, of course) partly because I came of age just after all the Top Gun insanity and because I like Magnolia and Rain Man and Mission Impossible (did you see the opening sequence of MI 2?!) and Minority Report and Jerry Maguire, but it's also because he reminds me of my dad. Weird right? But give the guy a break, seriously. Why are we so bitchy about actors who are just trying to have successful careers? We're convinced they're out to con us to see their crap movie, while they grasp their slimy little hands up each rung of Hollywood's greasy ladder, but a film only costs £10 (at least in London) - I can't see how that's a big deal. Sure Cruise has been in a few shite films (Far and Away, anyone?), but he's been in more decent films than most actors, and his truly awful films are few and far between.

Yeah, okay, Valkyrie isn't a great film, but it's far more interesting and ambitious than a lot of crap Hollywood churns out. And even if I thought it was a "star vehicle" for Tom Cruise, at least Valkyrie shows he has an eye for an interesting story. While Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay (he also wrote The Usual Suspects) isn't always well conceived - there's an excellent sequence about 3/4ths of the way through which is so agonisingly tense I was hugging my knees to my chest, but then the sequence ends in a total anti-climax only to have nearly the exact same sequence repeat again as the actual climax of the film and the second time around it isn't nearly as gripping. Such a silly thing to do - you're supposed to build to one climax - not build, deflate, build, deflate.

This isn't a rom-com or a band-of brothers testosterone fulled turbo-cop shoot 'em up piece of thoughtless Hollywood trash. Even if it isn't perfect - and maybe if the actors were unknowns and it was all done in German there may have been more gravitas - it's still packed with pathos and I think you have to give credit to TC for staring in and producing a film on souch a touchy topic . Given that the film's plot is such an interesting historical subject, it's surprising that no one has tried to dramatise it before. I'm not saying TC is a hero for acting in and financing a film about an inside plot to assassnate Hitler, only that the guy should get a bit of a break sometimes. He's just doing his job. And as far as I'm concerned he isn't doing too bad at it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

An open letter to Londoners

Already started



Dear Londoners,

Why are you wasting your brains reading the tripe free papers on the tube? In the morning on the way to work, in the evening coming home from work - don't you have anything more interesting to occupy yourself with during your commute? Read a book, listen to some music, knit your granny a scarf, take photos of other passengers for your blog, create a plan for world domination, but quit being so mindlessly lazy! The papers are free for a reason - because they are full of crap - no one would buy them if they charged money, so why take them for free?

Sure, shared cultural knowledge is important - but being able to stand around the water cooler in the morning and go "ooooohhhh, I heard that Pete Doherty is havin' a cocaine breakdown, so he is" is pathetic. It's not enriching, enticing, illuminating, or mind-expanding. It's just nonsense.

On the tube you all look like zombies, carrying out your master's bidding. I'm not going to go all Chomsky-lite and suggest that the "powers that be" are brainwashing you with their not-news news in order to keep you from being aware of the crap your business men and politicians are getting up to while you're entranced by Prince William's "will he, won't he" love life, but seriously how hard is it to just chuck a book in your bag the night before and keep it there until you're finished reading it. Always wanted to read Anna Karenina or War and Peace but "never had the time"? You'll get through a Tolstoy or a Dostoevsky in no time if you read it on the tube. Read something that will move you or make you happy in the morning, don't settle for the bullshit doom,
gloom, and celebrity stalking propagated by the shite papers.

Free your minds, people. Free your minds.

Yours with concern,


Now's that's better.