Thursday, 28 January 2010

God, I love...Italy.

I'm going to Rome for the weekend! It's a girls' trip, and I'm really looking forward to delicious wines, cheeses and taking in the, ahem, sights. Have a great weekend, see you on Monday!

[Italian men all from The Sartorialist.]

Gil Scott-Heron.

I finally got my ticket to see Gil Scott-Heron play this morning and I'm absolutely stoked. I first tried to see him play in 1995, at a small club in Liverpool. The ticket cost £5. But on the night we turned up and there was a sign on the door saying he wasn't going to make it. So, fifteen years later I'm happy that it's finally going to happen. (I think it really will this time, judging by this interview!)

[Tickets went on sale this morning to members of The Southbank Centre, and will be on general sale tomorrow morning. Massive thanks to Lucy for making it happen for me!]

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sunset over Walmart.

Three weeks into the new year and I'm already feeling crunched by London life. I've been enjoying this blog by a farmer's wife in Virginia, recently. Lovely photography of what she makes seem like a lovely, simple way of life.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Yeah, things could be worse.

I had a crap Monday morning. Spilled an entire cup of coffee in my entrance hall and then had to catch the tube because it was grey and drizzling. The tube was packed and as we sat beneath King's Cross I decided to start wondering about why the terror threat level in the UK has just been raised to severe. And then vowed to cycle for the rest of the week.

Last night I'd been reading about the Blitz, which probably fired my imagination. Thinking about the destruction bombs on a city as dense as London must've caused, I looked it up. The numbers are astonishing: on the 7 September 1940, 364 bombers attacked, escorted by 515 fighters. Between 100 and 200 bombers attacked London every night but one between mid-September and mid-November. Arsenal football ground was bombed. Euston station was bombed. (Which explains why it's such a bleak little box now.)

This picture of St Paul's Cathedral was taken after a night of frantic bombing of the City, which caused a firestorm so bad it came to be known as The Second Great Fire of London. (Whenever I see St Paul's I think about it surviving the Blitz and give a little cheer.)

And as for my commuting woes, apparently during the years of the Blitz there was a little reported phenomenon called 'trekking', where central Londoners moved away from the city and commuted several hours to work and back every day. Or slept in local parks. Can you imagine having to do that? I suppose the general terror of wondering whether bombs would fall on your building at night was a big motivator. Never mind having to fight to get on the tube, imagine having to sleep on it. I felt a bit more grateful as I walked along the platform to come home, this evening. An eyewitness account:

'By 4.00 p.m. all the platforms and passage space of the underground station are staked out, chiefly with blankets folded in long strips laid against the wall – for the trains are still running and the platforms in use. A woman or child guards places for about six people. When the evening comes the rest of the family crowd in.'

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Reasons to love London: get lost in your own hood.

We decided to go for a walk around our hood today. Normally, we drive to Hampstead Heath and wander there. Instead, we decided to have a nosy around our local streets. (We were inspired by little walks we took at Christmas when we found cosy streets nearby that we didn't know existed.)

Starting out up Dartmouth Park Hill, a quick stop at a local vintage shop. Lots of pretty coloured fifties and sixties dresses, cameras, lamps, paintings... But I was immune to temptation.

Then we went west, towards the Heath, which took us down a street with terraces on one side, a modern housing estate on the other and at the end a curious raised green area. We walked up the hill and, turning back, there was an amazing view over London, but no explanation as to what this strange raised park was.

Across the park I could see a building with huge round windows. I decided I wanted to move there. Imagine those huge windows flooding your living room with light?

We walked around the hill and found this notice on the other side. So, it was covered reservoirs. And probably the new estates and buildings surrounding it were the result of some strategic bombing during WWII, as the crazy Germans aimed for the reservoirs. It reminded me of the Wassertürm in Prenzlauer Berg, in Berlin.

We kept walking towards the Heath and just as I said, 'Hmm, I could do with a pub roast dinner, fancy it?', this little beauty, The Star, came into view.

I'm not massively into pubs but this place is gorgeous. Pretty looking, with decent roasts (I had roast pork loin, which came with crackling, yorkshire pudding and good roast potatoes), cloudy cider on tap, a jukebox and really friendly staff. Plus they do live jazz. It's definitely going to be my new local.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Random Twitter pictures.

I was just musing about how much I like the new Vampire Weekend cover artwork, so searched Twitter to see if anyone had anything interesting to say about it and stumbled upon this dude's twitpics. I've had a most peaceful ten minutes of scrolling through suburban Oregon (and a bit of California).

Friday, 22 January 2010

High notes.

Every year, the gig calendar starts out fairly empty and then slowly builds up. This year is rocking already. (Living in London we're especially lucky. If anything good is going on it usually visits here!)

Kid Creole and the Coconuts are playing at the Barbican! (Regular readers might remember that August Darnell is a bit of an obsession of mine.) We bought our tickets yesterday and managed to snap up the middle of row C. Which is actually the second row. I hope everyone's going to be dancing because I will be, and you won't be able to see otherwise! 

Gil Scott Heron is coming over on tour at some point this year. I've tried to see him for years but it's never worked out. Let's hope he makes it. I can still remember the first time I heard Lady Day and John Coltrane. Mindblower. 

Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards are always a winner for seeing some of the best of the year's acts, as seen through Gilles' jazzy looking glass. Check out this mix which covers the nominees for his best of the last year.

And Pavement are reforming. Awesome! I get to revisit my indie teenager self and rock out in a lo-fi manner. Plus, Stephen Malkmus is still something of a honey. (Both Pavement and Gil Scott Heron are scheduled to play at Coachella. I've never been to a festival – massively not my thing – but one in Southern California I might just be able to handle...)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is the bright side the right side?

Optimism has been all over the news, recently. First of all, we're supposed to think positively at all times. But then, apparently, that's what got us into the mess with the economy. Plus, it doesn't help us beat cancer. Also, the perky mindset of the Americans who wish us all a nice day hasn't saved them from being heavily reliant on anti-depressants.

Perhaps just being realistic is the answer? Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book Smile or Die seems to offer a lot of sensible if dour analysis on the optimism crisis. But if that's a bit hardgoing, tune into a lecture on the subject live from the RSA at 1pm today and hear what some humorous European writer types (Laurence Shorter, Ariel Leve and Lucy Mangan) have got to say on the subject. 

[Picture by the truly brilliant Roadside Pictures.]

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

More fun stuff.

I'm developing a bit of a girly crush on Peter Serafinowicz. Even more so now he's billed to play Paul McCartney in the upcoming remake of Yellow Submarine. This is hilarious. (And filmed on Hampstead Heath by the look of it.)

Learn how to mosaic.

My friend Jo is a master mosaicist, and offers weekend courses in her studio in East London. There is one coming up on the weekend of the 6th of February, at the bargain price of £130. I'm definitely going to do one of her courses soon: piecing together those tiny tiles seems like it would be such a relaxing thing to do.

Click here to see her amazing work in Westminster Cathedral, amongst other places, and a really cool slideshow on her Facebook page that shows her at work.

For further information about the weekend courses email or see the Facebook event page.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Fun stuff.

After my marathon post yesterday, I don't feel like writing much today. Plus yesterday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. So here's some fun stuff I've seen around the interwebs recently that's cheering me up.

I love these passive aggressive wireless network names, above. (Found on Swiss Miss, who always posts the coolest stuff.)

Check out this dump truck cake. Possibly the best birthday cake ever?

These instructions on how to make a wolf suit (stealthily) seriously made me laugh out loud.

Didn't you just love Roseanne? Check out Third and Delaware, a blog dedicated to Roseanne's fashion highlights. I could so easily spend all day watching Roseanne repeats...

And I only just found out that Frank Costanza from Seinfeld is Ben Stiller's father! How did I not know this? Anyway, this is my favourite Frank Costanza outtake. I challenge you to watch this without laughing.

(Thanks for your lovely comments yesterday, dudes. It hasn't all quite sunk in yet as I'm in work until mid-April and it's going to be crazy busy up until then. It was a really difficult decision and I have moments where I wonder if I've gone bonkers - giving up a good job in a lovely place working with friends. But I can but try, and can always go back to work if it doesn't work out!)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Past, present and future.

I took this picture last night at my friend Gypsy Rose’s new houseboat. The boat is beautiful and so peaceful. Hopefully she’ll post some pictures up soon: she has really detailed plans for how she’s going to decorate, within a few days of moving in!

So I’ve been off work this week – my first whole week at home since May 2007! – and home alone. I have to say I’ve had an AWESOME week.

I seem to be actually incapable of sleeping in now, so I got a lot done. I trained the kittens how to use their new cat flap (it's so cute, watching them come and go), got my eyes tested (I’m getting closer to making the leap into the realm of geek glasses), had my hair cut at the king of fringes, Viva in Soho, and had a lovely afternoon in Soho bumbling around, which I never usually get to do as I’m either rushing on my way out or rushing home. I browsed around the old Italian delis, peeked through the windows of cosy looking restaurants, but dined modestly on chips, whilst seated elegantly on a brick wall. (The chips smelled so good I just had to have them.)

Other than that I caught up with an old friend over a long lunch, had a tea appreciation lesson from Natalie at Afternoon Tea Total (I discerned that I don’t like smoky teas - read her review here), and visited the champagne bar in St Pancras. It's apparently European’s longest champagne bar, but I didn’t rate it much. It’s just a boring new build bar, right next to the platform where the Eurostar leaves. It didn’t really have the Brief Encounter vibe I’d been hoping for. St Pancras is absolutely beautiful all freshened up, though.

I didn’t make it to the gym but did a couple of yoga sessions and went for a couple of runs outside. James is back tomorrow morning on the red-eye, I’m back at work, and so the madness begins again.

But, having said that… I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell you about my future plans. I’d hinted earlier that change was going on round about these parts. Well, I’ve decided to give up my day job (project manager and creative artworker at a graphic design agency) and try to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is write. Like, a novel, as opposed to blogging. So I’m going to give it a go. I leave work in mid-April. (I agreed to stay on to help finish off a few projects, plus in my mind the extra money will allow me to take a bit of time off over the summer, to lie around on the Heath!) Then it’s time to do things my way for a while. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m so excited to have made the decision to go for it and try my hand at something I’ve truly always wanted to do. I can’t wait!

I’m also going to be helping a friend who is setting up an exciting new business. I’ll hopefully be doing a couple of days a week working on that, which should help feather the nest a bit.

So yeah – here’s to 2010 being the year when shit starts happening around C-No’s yard! I will, of course, be blogging throughout. I’m thoroughly blog addicted. In case you hadn’t noticed. And now I might go and have a cheeky glass of chianti, picked up from Camisa & Son in Soho, to toast the end of my week off. I hope you have all had a good weekend?

Friday, 15 January 2010

Valhalla Brooklyn.

I've got a bit of a problem with It Bags. Actually, a massive problem, now you come to mention it. Since when did it become ethical to peddle the idea that spending £600+ on a handbag is a completely acceptable thing to do? Come on. It's ridiculous for mass-produced leather bags – which is what most of them are, when you cut the PR and marketing out of the equation – to cost more than £200.

Think about all those Mulberry bags that are now lurking at the bottom of wardrobes, because you'd feel a bit of a berk carrying the bag of 2006 on the tube. What you're buying is status, not a bag, and status soon drops when the magazines start pushing next year's new, essential, must buy, best-part-of-a-pay-cheque bag.

Which brings me to Valhalla Brooklyn. Why spend a fortune on something that everyone else has and screams lack of originality, when you can buy something handmade and high quality at a fraction of the price? These bags are gorgeous, unique and good value: the Willow bag I'm lusting after, top left, comes in at £170. Can't say fairer than that, guv. They're only available in a few tiny boutiques in the US, but available to us here in the UK from Etsy.

[Thanks to Alice at Quaint Living for my bag lust!]

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Brian Duffy, doing it his way.

Did anyone else see the documentary about Brian Duffy on BBC4 last night? There's nothing I love more than an absolute nutter, and Duffy certainly qualifies. One of the 'terrible three' feared celebrity photographers from the 1960s (celebrity as in they were the celebrities), he is still best mates with David Bailey, one of the other terrible three, and who he refers to as a 'shithead'. (Terence Donovan was the third.)

After reaching the peak of his game in 1978, upon being asked by an assistant whether there was any more toilet paper in the studio, he lost it. Big time. In his words, 'This has to end. Either by murdering my staff, killing myself or burning the whole fucking thing.' And so that very morning, he set fire to the boxes of his negatives in the back yard of his studio.

You've gotta love a man who does it his way.

The documentary shows him in failing health, using a camera for the first time since 1978, as his son curates his first ever gallery show. He still fails to see what he did as anything extraordinary. As Duffy says, 'It's a very modern thing, you know, photography as art.'

The documentary is available to view on iPlayer. Or read more about Duffy here.

PS: How creepy is that photo of Reggie Kray boxing with his sinewy old Grandad? Eurgh.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Living the thrifting dream: The Brick House.

In my circle of friends, thrifting, as it's known in the US, is known as 'chazzing'. Derived from our equivalent of the thrift store – the charity shop, aka chazzas – chazzing is the act of drifting from chazza to chazza, sifting for spoils. I'm usually on the hunt for vintage clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and books. But, inspired by the amazing things that my fellow bloggers find, high on my list are vintage oil paintings, drinking glasses, kitchen jars... Man, I'm itching to hit some chazzas.

Top of the list of my chazzing heroes at the moment has to be The Brick House. She lives somewhere near Palm Springs, and posts up BEYOND AWESOME thrift store finds, mainly mid-century stuff for the home that would cost a fortune over here but which is going for a song in the thrift shops of Southern California. Oh, and she's really, really funny, too. Check out this post that had me and Simply the Nest in stitches...

[Photos taken from The Brick House with thanks. And massive respect.]

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Thick silks for spring.

I love silk. It's magically flattering, unbeatably soft, wears well, travels perfectly and lasts forever. So I'm especially pleased that thick neutral silks are on track for spring.

I absolutely love the thick cream silk tee worn with the Shabdi hand tie-dyed silk scarf, above left. The draped silk dress, right, is by Australian label Shakuhachi, which also tempts with beautiful silk jumpsuits. Makes me want to put on my finest silks, go out to the Mermaid Café and have fun tonight. (© Joni Mitchell.)

[Shabdi found via A Cup of Jo]

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Home alone.

I have this week off work and have nothing much to do. James is going to a conference in New York and I very nearly went with him but ended up not booking it, because I knew it would turn into a crazy week and I'm feeling kind've tired. I worked out that the last time I spent a week in London in my flat doing absolutely nothing was in May 2007. Which is ridiculous.

So, tempting as it was to go to NYC and see my friends there, I am spending this week home. Alone. Doing absolutely nothing. Should be interesting!

Of course I have a few small ambitions such as blogging (obviously), reading some of the books and watching some of the films I never have time for, sleeping (a LOT - I'm hoping to sleep away some of my wrinkles!), running a couple of times (I'm going to pretend I want to join the gyms nearby so that I can use their treadmills - my gym is near where I work - cunning, eh?). And seeing a couple of friends.

But that's it! Will I go bonkers being by myself all week with not a lot to do? We'll see. I'm already enjoying staying up late on Sunday night and drinking red wine with no fear of a hangover...

[Picture: Apartment Therapy.]

Friday, 8 January 2010

Chiggedy check yourself.

In Germany, summer of 1987, checked trousers were big. I know, because my family went on holiday there and I begged until I got a pair of pink and grey checked trousers, to fit in with the local teenagers. (Thankfully, I wasn't so bothered about going down the assymetrical haircut route.)

Anyway, my desire for check-clothed legs has suddenly returned. Inspired, I think, by the lovely lady top right. (I posted her picture before when I was craving new glasses.) I now keep seeing checked trousers everywhere. And I want some. Anyone seen any of these babies in the shops?

[Photos by Paul Smith (top left) and The Sartorialist]

Thursday, 7 January 2010

My old hood in East London.

I took a little stroll around my old hood in East London today. I used to live down a Jack The Ripper famed alley called Artillery Passage. The house was spooky (I thought I saw a ghost there, seriously), and it had an amazing roof terrace where we used to have the best parties. They used to bring ghost tours down our street, and we'd open the window and say, 'OooOOOooOOOOooo!'

There are lots of plague pits in the area. And my old house had an intriguing name, Ringrose House, like the old nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o' Roses, that children used to sing to ward off the plague.

How's this for a crazy street name? The street used to house ironmongers, whose emblem was the frying pan, which they hung outside their shops.

It has also historically been the area that immigrants move to. Including my own Jewish family, a hundred years ago.

The area is a stone's throw from the City but there are still dilapidated run-down buildings, with the towers of the City shining behind them.

Let's be thankful that we don't have to work in the washhouses anymore, ladies.

When I lived in this area Exchange Square was under construction. At the weekend I used go and sunbathe in the deserted square, which is laid in marble with a huge running water feature. I had it all to myself. That big arch is Liverpool Street station; you can watch the trains coming in and out.

This building houses the kind of loft I wish I'd bought years ago, when this area was still pretty undeveloped. I was just too focused on partying.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

My hood in the snow.

London seemed to cope well in the snow today. The tubes were running so I made it into work. Bummer. Although it looks as though the taxi driver took the day off.

It was business as usual for Georgiou the grocer.

Some pretty doors.

And the letter box wearing a white beret.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Get off the couch.

I'm loving the Couch to 5k application for iPhone and iPod touch. It splits out the running schedule for you and plays alerts over your music to let you know when to start and stop running. Perfect for people like me who are too lazy to even work out how the running schedule works.

Now I just have to get back on it. I did a few sessions over Christmas but being back at work is painful. Is anyone else finding today to be worse than yesterday?

Monday, 4 January 2010

First Monday in January.

It's fair to say this is what we'd all rather be doing today, isn't it?

[Photo from Quaint Living. Hope you don't mind me borrowing it, Alice!]

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Berlin pictures.

Here are some of our Berlin pictures, now that I'm home and slightly more coherent. (When I last posted I was in my hotel room, preparing to check out both figuratively and literally after five solid days of eating, drinking and snowball fighting. Slightly delicate, let's say.)

Our days were filled with museums and walking the streets. The Bauhaus Archiv was in a fabulous building, and great for a couple of hours of pretending to be a German art student in the 1930s, painstakingly painting colourwheels.

There was an exhibition of Blue Note photography that I really enjoyed at the Jewish Museum. (A brilliant building within interesting exhibits but chaotic, with airport-style security.) Their kosher food exhibit was really interesting too, with a whole room devoted to matzo bread.

I decided that I would like to live on Rosa Luxemburg Platz. Dominated by the stunning Volksbühne building on one side (great for a couple of hours of pretending to be the actress from The Lives of Others, on stage at the People's Theatre); with this awesome cinema facing it, and lined with Soviet style apartment blocks.

Evenings were mainly spent drinking glühwein, tasty beers and cheap cocktails in bars such as Scotch & Sofa and Chagall, both close to where we were staying, in Prenzlauer Berg. Formerly a rundown area in East Berlin, the beautiful buildings are now home to the yummies and their associated boutiques and brunching spots. The evening walk home usually entailed a race up to the top of the area's landmark Wasserturm, a water tower which the Nazis used as a torture chamber. Nice.

On New Year's Eve we sat in our favourite bar, Chagall, and took part in the Berlin tradition of setting off fireworks at midnight. It flew against all six of our British sensibilities, i.e. fireworks are dangerous and more than likely to blow off your hand, if not your whole head. There was an eight year old girl setting off the rockets outside our bar. One guy walked over a burning rocket without a murmur. Luckily we'd consumed several bottles of sekt, so we managed to cope with the scene.

I would've quite liked to go to a huge ballroom dance which was being held in one of the few original theatres left standing after the war, the Admiralspalast. How very Berlin! Unsurprisingly, the boys weren't keen.

Oh and for those who asked: here is a currywurst. It doesn't look like much, but really good sausage smothered in a ketchup and curry powder mix is strangely delicious.

Honestly. I mean, look at this huge queue at Konnopkes Imbiß. (Okay, I'm the kind of girl who likes a battered sausage from the fish and chip shop, so I don't blame you if you don't believe me.)

Some more awesome photos of our trip here. (Hope you don't mind, Paddy.)