Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Bridesmaids was disappointing, maybe because of the big hype. A film with women! Funny women! Women being funny! Who'd have thought it?

Trouble was it just wasn't that funny, in fact I found it a bit depressing. Too women's magazine in its conception. Let us count the cliches:

Woman upset and envious about her best friend getting married (nb not about her being in a happy relationship, she's fine with that, just about her getting married) when she herself is single.

Woman getting jealous of someone younger, prettier and richer & so being all catty and bitchy. That's what us girls are like, you know. Beneath a thin veneer of sisterhood we're all BITCHES and the only way we can relate to other women is to compete.

Woman getting jealous of someone trying to STEAL her BEST FRIEND. (Past the age of 10, do you really need to have a Best Friend? Grow up!)

I think that women's friendships are complex and can be tricky to negotiate in lots of ways. There's probably a great film to be made about women's friendships, and it would be funny too, but this isn't it.

(I did like the bridesmaid who stole all the puppies though. More of her.)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

the man of my dreams

I met the man of my dreams.* (When I say 'met', I mean, ordered a drink from him.)

He works in a pub. A very nice, proper pub. With a beer garden. A pub which has two beautiful little silver cats. A pub the other side of London. He was very cute, and not too young. After his shift ended, he came into the beer garden, but was instantly surrounded by very giggly happy twenty-something girls, all hugging on him. Damn. What can you do?

* in Spanish this phrase is el hombre de mi vida - the man of my life. Make of this subtle difference what you will.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Crap girly post

So I write cross posts about politics and how I hate my job, but what I secretly really enjoy reading on blogs these days is girly stuff about fashion and nice places to shop.

Enough of boring posts about politics! Let us embrace the world of nice things, and you know, stuff.

So autumn is on the way and all the dark autumn colours are back in the shops already. Same colours every year, like clockwork. Plum. Mustard. Forest Green.

And every winter it's the same, I buy an expensive woolly hat (which I think I look FANTASTIC in, though I may be deluding myself - colleagues: "That is not a good hat" "Alright, Grannie Annie?" ) and almost immediately lose it, on the tube, in the pub, or it just vanishes into a mysterious other-world of hats somewhere, like all the lost odd socks.

The beautiful pale blue woven beanie from Agnes B. The grey cashmere cableknit beret from same. The countless wool berets of every colour from Accessorize, gone.

I don't deserve a hat. But I need one. It is part of my desire to look chic carefree and Parisian over the long winter months and not just like a cold, downtrodden wageslave shivering at the bus stop for 9 months of the year.

Want to get ahead? Get a hat

Hat recommendations, leave them in the comments box.

(I like this one, but don't think I have the je ne sais quoi to carry it off.)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Attention spa-

Don't get people who are all 'oh no I have no time to write blogs' yet seem to spend all day long on Facebook or Twitter.

You know, if you joined up all those 140 words & status updates & comments you'd written all day long, they'd make a blog post?

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Another girly post. Look away now if you prefer reading about hunting bears or whatever it is you boys do.

It is a sad legacy of smoking on and off since I was 13 that I now have a rubbish sense of smell and an insensitive palate.

I wish I had a better sense of smell because I really love perfume. Not much of a makeup person but nothing in the world makes you feel better than smelling gorgeous. I can't post on it much because I lack the knowledge and the descriptive skills, but I will give you a quick history of my favourites and invite you to share yours below.

Scents & sensibility...

1. Chloe - this was my big sister's. I didn't dare spray it on because she would have known instantly and beat me up, but when she was out would sneak into her room and open the bottle for a quick hit (whilst listening to her Doors albums & disco 12 inches no doubt). I think it was sweet and girly but at the time seemed highly sophisticated.

2. Body Shop, Roma. We all bought Body Shop perfume, because it was cheap and accessible (not like the scary makeup counters in department stores.) The Body Shop perfumes were often single note ones that made you smell like something to eat - vanilla, say.

Roma was my first experience of opening a bottle of perfume and having it speak your name. The others smell nice, yes, but this one is yours, it is made for you. It came in a little round pretend glass bottle and the lid had a kind of stick attached for you to apply it. It was a bit sticky and uncomfortable not to spray it, but we didn't know any better. Now discontinued, I believe.

3. Dioressence - Christian Dior
A present from my stepmother coming back from a trip abroad. Everybody liked to sniff me when I was wearing this, it is a dirty naughty Chypre and gave me lots of confidence when I was an awkward teen. I wore it til the bottle was empty but didn't clock that it might have enhanced my pulling chances & was worth investing in another. In fact I might get one RIGHT NOW.

4. Jean Paul Gaultier - Classique
This came out when we were at college and everyone fell in love with it, which meant that we all went around smelling of the same perfume. We'd moved on from the Body Shop. This was a step up, it was sexy and womanly but not so strong it would scare the horses (or the boys.) Before it became synonymous with Essex Girls with BIG HAIR, it enjoyed a vogue amongst the students who weren't immersing themselves in patchouli oil from the health food shop.

5. Pampelune Guerlain
I tell you something, you can't go wrong with Guerlain. Proper French perfume, no synthetic plastic crap. They only bring new ones out occasionally, because their quality control is more important than keeping up with fashion trends and quick sales. I found it when I moved to Spain and it still reminds me of Barcelona now. It has flavours of grapefruit, orange and (I was ashamed to find out) patchouli. I'm just a hippy there's no escaping it.

6. Angela Flanders Earl Grey
Angela Flanders has a beautiful little shop in Columbia Road market, only open on Sundays, but you can order her perfumes online. She is self taught, I think her story is fascinating. This is my current flame. It is another Chypre, as I get older I like that dryness more than sweet or flowery perfumes.

7. I'm not telling you. You have to guess.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bedside Bookstack

Before I was so rudely interrupted by the whole country berserking like Vikings, I was writing on the important matter of my bedside bookstack, which is getting out of control.

Here are the other beauties that I must read before I buy any more books:

Hammer Glamour by Marcus Hearn.
This was a very welcome birthday present from our lovely friend Cat from my wishlist. As Sarah pointed out in a comment on the last post, I have a very eclectic mix on there, that is the pleasure of wishlists, you can add random things that you might not buy for yourself (like this). It's absolutely great getting them as a present though. (Anna from Little Red Boat used to get presents from her blog readers when they liked her posts, that's one early blogging custom we should try and revive, what do you think...?)

Men without Women, by Ernest Hemingway
Bought from a charity shop because it has this irresistible cover. Penguin really knew how to do covers in the 60s.

Elizabeth's London
by Liza Picard.
I love the Elizabethans. Why can't I make myself read non-fiction? Why why why?

Imperial Ambitions
by Noam Chomsky (conversations on post 9/11 world)
Similarly, even reading just one sentence by Chomsky is guaranteed to make you 95% cleverer and more switched on, so why has this been the longest untouched and unread - 2 years and counting?

Proust and the Squid - the Story and Science of the Reading
Brain by Maryanne Wolf
"The act of reading is a miracle. But how does the brain learn to read?
This is an absolutely brilliant book which would actually be useful in my working life, but though it is skilfully written and fascinating, I've only managed a chapter.

I think I need to go away to a desert island with no internet and no novels. I might come back a little bit educated.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

On the police

Who was telling the police to hang back? In TV interviews in Hackney, for example, a man said that his chemist shop was looted and he was threatened by rioters with sticks, meanwhile the police were watching from a few feet away. In Tottenham the looters were left to get on with it with minimal police prescence all through the night. There were more examples, but this is a blog not a newspaper report & I'm too lazy to find them.

Danny Baker on Twitter suggested that this was a political tactic to create fear and encourage a swing further to the right (because the swing to the right so far has been working out so well for everyone?)

I'm just interested. I'm not being negative, I feel for the police. I'm less ignorant and black- and-white than when I was younger & thought they were all fascist instruments of the state etc etc. They're just (usually working class) people getting on with their job.

They can be corrupt and racist and not think for themselves, yes, but I know a bit more about the poisoned chalice of working as a public servant these days. You are doing a shitty job that no one else wants to do, yet everyone thinks they know better, and you can't win whatever you do.

And who do we go to when we're in trouble and need help? Who had to face down people throwing petrol bombs at them? Who breaks up the fights, faces the real criminals with guns and deals with horrors like the aftermath of kids who've been murdered by their parents? When that girl is Australia recently had a bomb strapped to her in an extortion attempt, who sat with her for 10 hours holding her hand until they diffused it? (It was a fake, but they didn't know that at the time.)

I liked this blog from a secondary teacher in Hackney. She questioned her students' negative perceptions of the police. 'When I questioned one child as to when his last interaction with the police was he stopped and thought. “Oh,” he said, “the time they helped me when my bike was stolen.” '

I feel like giving my younger self a slap sometimes for being so ignorant.

Monday, 8 August 2011

London burning

I went back to the flat for the first time in a year, to let the British Gas man in for my tenants. It's in a quiet part of Hackney, near Victoria Park. They didn't have a TV or radio so I didn't know the latest.

But when I went to the little corner shop, bored of waiting for the gas man, a man burst in and said breathlessly to the shopkeepers "You gonna close your shutters? It's all kicking off down Dalston, Mare Street." The shopkeepers shrugged. "Up to you, mate. They're all closing up down there..."

As I was leaving the flat, waiting for the bus back to Bethnal Green, I saw all these boys on pushbikes cycle past in a line, they were quiet, wearing hoodies but with hoods down.

At first I thought they might just be mates out for a nice ride on a summer's evening but then more and more of them kept coming, there must have been about 20 of them and it seemed a bit strange somehow, they swooped past the common and out past my housing estate in silence.

When I got back to Leytonstone I went to pick up some dry-cleaning. I notice that the nail bar next door have their shutters right down though I can see them still inside. The dry-cleaner is charming and chatty.

'You go straight home now, you hear? And lock your door. They're all heading this way now. I just bought this shop, you know. Just bought it. And there are gaps in the shutters... I don't want to lose it. ' 'Do you think they'd want to break in here?' I ask. 'They're just burning stuff for fun.'

It's horrible, this siege feeling. Watching it on the news and unfolding on Twitter. It's not just greed & opportunism, it's what people do when they are really really fucked off. But all they're doing is bringing down a world of shit in the poor areas who least need it.

Anyway I hope everyone who reads this has stayed safe and far from trouble.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Laughing in the face of the Kindle

I am not allowed to buy any more books until I've read these books...

The London Nobody Knows
- this was a made into a fabulous film with James Mason, featuring crumbling music halls, street markets, meths drinkers and Italian cafes, if you ever get the chance. Very beautiful and moving. Thought it would be a paperback I could read in the bath but it's a giant hardback. I prefer paperbacks (except for cookbooks and art books). Curmudgeonly old nostalgic old ramble around London Town in the 60s by Geoffrey Fletcher, with pen & ink sketches.

The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories Chekhov
My knowledge of Russian writers is very poor, but after seeing Seagull! I'm well into Chekhov. I wouldn't have got what he's all about when I was younger.

How Chekhov managed to be a full time GP at the same time as knocking out genius plays and stories, it makes you feel like a slacker. I read somewhere that he looked up to Tolstoy but had to write to make money for his family - whereas Tolstoy was an aristo and could afford to write long novels, he had to concentrate on short stories. Interesting.

How to Lie with Statistics Daryl Huff
A golden oldie. When you are not mathematically gifted, it is easy for people to bamboozle you with numbers. This demystifies the use and abuse of statistics. Trouble is, I will always reach for a novel over a non-fiction book, so this has been on the bedside bookstack for a year.

Paolo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
A Brazilian educator who wrote about how the education system can be used to keep people in their places. Something I've come to feel strongly about through working in it. I do really want to read it, but at the same time when I'm away from work I DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT WORK.

A Stellar Key to the Summerland Olivia Plender
Olivia Plender is a miraculous artist who always draws. This is a graphic novel type thing about the Fox sisters, who in the process of a hoax to wind up their families inadvertently ended up inventing Spiritualism.

British Prints of the Machine Age this was a present from Sarah, I love this book. I must actually read it instead of just looking at the pictures. Here is one lovely linocut (not in this book) by Lilli Tschudi, my heroine.

More tomorrow, if you can stand it.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

On gentrification

One of things we love about Berlin is the area that we stay in (Prenzlauer Berg, and can I just point you in the direction of Brilliant Apartments, who lived up to their name).

It is like bliss, like heaven - if you could make a blueprint for what would please us in a neighbourhood, you'd come up with something like Prenzlauer Berg - pretty streets, wide pavements, parks & greenery, plenty of history, bookshops and bars, no big corporate chains, just little cafes and independent shops... and best of all, not rammed with millions of people like anywhere decent in London.

But... Susie was telling us about the anti-gentrification rumblings there. She showed us some graffitti, (which I wish I'd photographed now) a mock-official order stencilled on some nice flats which said in German "These citizens have been summoned for class re-education." (an interesting nostalgia for the Communist era?)

Apparently there has also been somebody going around the area setting fire to prams - to prams! left in the apartment hallways, as a protest against - what? Babies? Oh, middle class families moving in. Riiight...

I had this discussion with someone a while back, sneering about Brick Lane and the gentrification. I understand the anger of locals who can't afford their local area anymore, because prices are being driven up.

But I think there is a difference between property developers looking to cash in and fucking the spirit of the neighbourhood over for a quick buck (see Open Dalston blog), and young people and families moving into an area and starting up their own businesses and little cafes and gradually improving what's on offer.

That's what happened in Brick Lane, when the artists moved in looking for somewhere cheap to live and work. And Hackney Wick. And Dalston. It's generally then that the sharks move in afterwards. But that period when the young people move there and start to improve things for themselves, that's building a community isn't it?

Otherwise, are we condemning people to live in shitty barrios with horrible food and no amenities? Because for poor people, that's more authentic...