Saturday, 31 March 2012


People keep looking for stuff about books here (not unnaturally, for a blog called Bookcrossing) so this one is for them.

I like the Amazon wishlist feature (though if you are really a book-lover, support your independent bookshops by ordering from The Big Green Bookshop or Housman's (the ethical alternative to Amazon.)

Here is my top 5 of a wishlist of, um, 148...

If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession b
y our own blogging Susanna Forrest. It is nice when you feel like you've witnessed the evolution of a book. When I am less broke, I will get this, I can't wait to read it. Endorsed by Jilly Cooper and KM Peyton, no less. I was not a horsey girl (horses were vetoed in my family before I was born, when my sister came off a horse and landed on her head at her first riding lesson) but I love Susie's writing and it's the sign of a good writer, when they make a subject fascinating, which you know nothing about.

Spitalfields Life: In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London, by the Gentle Author.
Another blogger, this one writes a post a day about all the people who live and work in Spitalfields. It's an astonishing feat of oral history and the author writes with such sympathy and interest about people. I really like this, fuck all this Downton Abbey shit which says that only the rich are worthy of our interest. I saw the Gentle Author talking to the Librarian when I was working in the Bishopsgate Library but was too shy to say hello.

Capital, by John Lanchester

State of the nation book about London. Stories set in London never get old. Half the books on my shelves are set in London. I'm a London chauvinist. It's stressful and hard and insanely expensive, but I wonder if I'll ever leave? I wish publishers would publish hardbacks and softbacks at the same time, I hate hardbacks. The reviews come out and I get all excited, then realise I have to wait a year to buy the book. Bah.

Negative Space by Noma Bar

Noma Bar is a brilliant graphic designer. These are so deceptively simple, using negative space economically to make double images. It's only when you try it yourself that you realise what a genius he is.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This sounds like a mind-boggling true story. One of those stories that makes you think we know nothing about how the world truly works. I should read more non-fiction. I'm copying here a summary from a reviewer on Amazon, as it is complex and they explain it well...

In 1951 human tissue culture was in its infancy, with researchers struggling to keep cells alive beyond a few cellular generations; normal cells are subject to apoptosis (programmed cellular lifespan/death)

Henrietta Lacks, a poor young black woman, was admitted to hospital in Baltimore in 1951 with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive cancer.

A standard biopsy was taken of her cancerous cells. She did not know that the biopsy would not be used purely for diagnostic purposes, but also tissues would be used for research. No consent was sought for this. In 1951 and indeed still today samples of tissue taken for diagnostic purposes can be used for other purposes - we do not own our tissues once they are no longer part of us.

Cancer cells are not subject to apoptosis. The particular aggressiveness of Henrietta Lack's cancer yielded astonishing results for tissue culture, and within a short space of time the `HeLa' cell line was being used for a wide number of medical research studies world wide, whether testing the actions of many pharmaceutical drugs or as part of the human genome project, and more.

`HeLa' has had profound, beneficial effects on probably most of us who benefit from modern medicine. HeLa has earned millions of dollars and much prestige for many predominantly white male scientists, as patents have been taken out on advances only possible through tissue culture using the HeLa line

However, Henrietta's family were unaware of the rich legacy she left the world - or the rich financial legacy reaped by institutions and individuals. In fact, they remained poor and unable to afford healthcare

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


10.00 am -rush to appointment with Posh Agency in Piccadilly. There are brochures for Eton and Gordonstoun in reception. 'The difference with independent schools' she says 'might be the hours. You could be starting at 7.30 am and finishing at 6.00 pm...' I stifle a smile. Wonder what hours she thinks people work in state schools.

12.00 pm - killing time. Go for a coffee in Waterstones 5th floor cafe which has a beautiful view over London. I eavesdrop on a girl being interviewed at the next table. It's rotten having to sell yourself. But kind of reassuring to know we all sound the same when we're doing it.

The agency rings to say they might have a tenant. (This is good news as it's been empty nearly a month and I've dropped the price three times already.) Have lunch in St James' churchyard in the sunshine. Visit Fortnum's beautiful perfume department and squirt on Acqua di Palma. Wander down the Royal Arcade and spy Barbara Windsor at the end (tiny, smiley, blond hair piled high like a pineapple.)

2.00 pm tube to second not so posh agency in Cannon Street. I've inadvertently posted my CV on Reed. Thought I was just applying for a specific job, but it seems I've circulated it to the entire world and every agency in London has been calling.

I was a bit short with them on the phone but they've pursuaded me to come in. I don't want to because it's sunny outside, I'm having a nice time in Piccadilly in the sunshine. One of the benefits of doing part time supply is having sneaky days out in the sun like this. I'm so ambivalent about the teaching I must come across strangely in interview.

But the man I meet does tell me something useful about tax. 'You shouldn't be registered with two umbrella companies, there's no point and the tax man will think you've got two jobs. Nobody ever explains this properly... I get quite angry about it.' He tells me he used to teach in Barcelona too and we bond a bit. It also strikes me afterwards (I'm in professional work mode) that he's hot. HOT. This cheers me up and makes the trip seem worth it. They promise me lovely jobs in lovely schools, rainbows & kittens, etc etc. We'll see.

4.00 Back on tube, killing time in Angel. Admiring embroidered tat from India, the hippy stall holder tells me I smell like patchouli. I think she means it as a compliment. (NB Acqua di Palma should not smell like patchouli.) I'm in a lovely vintage clothes shop in Camden Passage when I feel a tingling sensation that I haven't felt since a teeanger... Whoosh. Sudden dramatic nosebleed. The lovely shop keepers come and bring me tissues and usher me to a chair as I try not to bleed all over their wooden floorboards. I feel as embarrassed as a kid wetting themselves in public. I can never darken the doors of Fat Faced Cat again.

4.30 pm Celebrating my nearly-have-tenants and nearly-have-work by clothes shopping. What? That's female logic.

4.40 pm - In Waitrose, (darlings) buying Heston's earl grey buns, the tingling returns. Another bastard nosebleed. This time two lovely shopkeepers hasten over and sit me down with tissues. They hover over me with concerned expressions until I wave them away.

5.00 pm. Open evening at a college for postgrad studies. They have wine and olives and Japanese rice crackers, I am impressed. I guess with admissions down they are treating potential students like customers these days, and trying to woo them in.

The course director talks about previous experience. "You don't need any" she says. "Why would you? You're here to learn about it..."

This makes me feel foolish when I've done all this chasing after voluntary placements. But they can't hurt, I guess. I speak to a current student. "They need people to do the course," she whispers. It seems easier than I thought it would be to get in. I thought it was another hoop to jump through. But it's just the funding I have to think about.

So will it be this autumn? Or next year? Will it be part time? Will I have to sell the flat to fund it? Will I get a job in the primary version of Eton as an art teacher? Will I give up on the idea of arts education, or printmaking, or library work?

My life is a kaleidoscope. I think about the different versions I've told to the different people I've met today. All the different aspects knocking into each other and forming a completely new pattern. I guess it was worth leaving my job and all the anxiety just to feel that.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

CRB scam

Have come to the conclusion that Enhanced CRBs (that's criminal record bureau, for those of you lucky enough not to need them) are a scam.

If you work with vulnerable people, say children, you are required to have one of these, it is your police record. Though all it states in categories like 'Police Record of Convictions' is 'None Recorded', which sounds like damning with faint praise. It should surely just say 'None.'

Trouble is that every time you work for a different company they require a separate one, at £51 fee each time. But I've had to register with 4 different agencies. 3 more job possibilities also require separate ones. That's £357 just to prove I'm not a crim.

It's ludicrous, like having to have apply for a separate passport each time to travel to different countries. It's the same fucking document from the same fucking source! It should be eligible across every place you work! What a waste of police time and resources. Not to mention, what a ripoff.

Some places don't even ask to see it. Some places will employ you before it has arrived, which kind of defeats the purpose of it. You just have to have it, just in case. Then the employer has their arse covered. But it makes you question if it's really helping to protect the vulnerable.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Tube

I don't know if anyone else has been watching this, it is fascinating, seeing behind the scenes. It also gives you an understanding of the pressures on the system (and makes you despair - by the time they've upgraded to accommodate more people, the number of users will have grown again. It will always be hopelessly overcrowded.)

But it is such a great subject that I think they could have made it much more varied. They've made it into a regular fly on the wall documentary; but I think they missed a trick. Other things I would have loved to have seen:

The history of the tube. Including the engineering. It's so old, why did they feel the need for it back in the nineteenth century? Its history tells us so much about the changing world. I'm thinking of the growing industrialisation which led to commuter culture. Or the way that people used it to shelter from bombing raids in the war.

Henry Moore's sketches of people sheltering during WWII.
"Moore never drew in the shelters. "It would have been like making sketches in the hold of a slave ship,"he said."

The design - Harry Beck! Graphic designer supreme! Think what an impact he had all over the world. And the beautiful, instantly recognisable typography. And the textile design of the seat covers. The changing design and materials of the carriages. The history of art and artists on the underground (at the moment, they are saving Paolozzi's mosaics at Tottenham Court Road, but they're looking pretty tatty and tiles keep dropping off.) The design of the stations themselves - Piccadilly Circus is my favourite, it's art deco & beautiful, Southgate tube (where I grew up) is pretty cool too. And the new ones on the Jubilee line are all space-age and impressive. It would have been good to interview architects and designers involved.

There is also the Art on the Underground initiative which is superb. It gives you non-advertising to look at, and I'm collecting the tube maps as each cover is designed by a different artist, using the tube lines colours. Something on them would have been good.

Also lots of unanswered little questions they could have asked people - I'm always curious how staff get home at the end of a shift. If you've just driven your train to Uxbridge at the end of a shift, how do get home if you live the other side of London?

And they mentioned in passing the recorded messages which announce each station - I wish they could have interviewed the people who recorded them. Listen out for the woman announcing Highgate and the weird way she pronounces it. And if you ever get off the Jubilee line at Stratford, listen out for the 1930s radio announcer who says "ALL CHANGE PLEASE". He sounds like Mr Chomondley Warner and instantly makes the whole carriage burst out laughing.

Monday, 12 March 2012


One of the major changes to celebrate in London is the fact that it's much easier to get a proper coffee almost anywhere. There never used to be anywhere at all, it used to be all weak, watery instant. Or some lukewarm, burnt filter coffee, if the cafe was at all sophisticated.

This is strange, as in most other European places I've visited even your basic cafe can produce a proper coffee. In Italy the coffee is from heaven, but even in Spain and France it's pretty good. It's not seen as a luxury, decent coffee, it's taken for granted.This is strange when you think that we've had Italian coffee bars here since the 1950s with actual Italians manning the machines, you think we'd have picked it up by now. I still don't understand it.

(By proper I mean a coffee with heated milk - I don't understand people who call themselves coffee drinkers, who drink a quarter inch of pitch black, bitter liquid evilness which is more or less like imbibing an electric shock. It should be leisurely and pleasurable, not like banging down amyl nitrate then speeding around like a lunatic.)

But now there are coffee shops all over. I don't even mind the chains, anything is better than nothing. But here are my top tips for you... stalls and sit-down cafes.

  • A man in a hole in the wall in Columbia Road market. He makes the best cappuccinos. Don't bother with the flower market, head straight for him.
  • Coffee stall outside Bethnal Green tube. This saved my life in the morning, when I lived in Hackney. They make it with a proper kick to it, and at £1.50 it's the best deal out there.
  • Allpress Espresso This is my favourite new cafe, in Redchurch Street. Run by lovely friendly antipodeans, they have a huge roasting machine in the corner. The coffee is beautiful, they have all the papers, the cafe is really mellow (gets packed on the weekend though.)
  • If you ever find yourself in the Westfield in Stratford, bypass all the coffee chains for Grind coffee bar which is in front of Waitrose on the ground floor. It's away from the madness and is really good. Nice, bright, alert staff too. Went there recently with a friend and her baby and had a lovely time chatting over the proper coffees at leisure & have been back, it's always good.
  • There is a really good, quite new coffee shop which used to be a secondhand furniture place at the top of Brick Lane, run by a charming girl of unknown nationality (not British though - I'm sensing a theme here). It's still old furniture, as they like all that 'vintage' (ie knackered & cheap) look around there. But it's not too over the top. This coffee is perfection and you can get a seat, which is a rarity. Unfortunately I can't remember the name, or find it online. If I pass it soon, I will amend this, because more people should know about it.
I realised writing this that what makes these places stand out is good service. Can't get the staff.

These are all East London based, I know. Do share your damn fine coffee with us, we can make a little coffee map for caffeine addicts.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


I'm putting these here to help me remember.

V&A exhibition (seems to be on hold while the curator gets sidetracked by other projects - I'm kind of relieved as I went into the studio to start making work and what I made was rubbish. I realise I've set myself an impossible task that would be more suitable to a master printmaker. Quite glad to set it aside but it nags at me. One problem is the space is so tiny. The idea is there, I just don't know how to make it. I don't want to turn in rubbish, I'd rather drop out.) It seems like a luxury when you have a long lead-in time to an exhibition, but the trouble is the longer you wait, the further away it is from your original idea. I would rather just crack on straight away while the idea is still vivid.

Project for Leytonstone Arts Trail - one of the artists is going to show in her house and on her roof garden. The theme is work inspired by things found in charity shops. I think I might start with an old fashioned photo album which I found in a junk shop in Barcelona. It's nice to have interactive projects so maybe I will leave some equipment and visitors can make their own print to go into the album.

Theseus' boat. I did a course for Philosophy for Education last week at a school which teaches through arts and philosophy, and the thought experiment of Theseus' boat came up. It's an immediately visual idea, I can picture it as a series (or an artist's book. I keep seeing artist's books mentioned everywhere and I'm finally getting the idea.)

Shopping themed exhibition in Westfield overlooking the Olympics. Again this seems on hold, but I've got the idea for it, it's a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass where she finds herself in a shop. I can picture it as a combination of text and image. Don't know when this will happen.

Other ideas that have been put on the backburner for now: children's colouring/counting book, a story set in a forest: a praxinoscope based on the Red Shoes; a portrait made of prints displayed in a typesetters' tray.

Gradually my room is silting up with papers, inks, printing plates, rollers, plastic carry bags, card, acrylics, craft knives, white spirit, spray mount, pencils, rubbers, folders, portfolios. What I want is an enormous plan chest, and some shelves to stash this stuff, but there's no room.

Looking down this list, it makes me think that you can't be a lazy bastard if you want to make something. Successful people are the ones who make no excuses, and just get on with it.