Thursday, 29 April 2010

Our flat swap holiday experience.

Last year we swapped our flat in London for an apartment in Miami on a private island called Fisher Island, where apparently Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Boris Becker have homes. You could say we got the better deal. Anyway, it's coming to the time of year to plan summer holidays, which has got me thinking about home swapping. I wanted to share with you our experience because it was so ace. Check out some of our pics. Scroll down to see how we did it.

Jetty

To get to the island you had to reach it by private boat. When we got to the jetty for the first time we were pretty intimidated: security is tight and our names were down but we couldn't help feeling like scruffy invaders. The boat was full of bling mobiles!

pool

This was our building's pool. The island was dotted all over with pools, including a huge marble pool at the Vanderbilt Mansion, the island's original main dwelling.

South Pointe beach

There were private beaches on the island but the nicest beach we found was South Pointe beach on the most southerly tip of Miami Beach. It was usually pretty deserted, with just a few locals walking their dogs. And shallow, pale blue water over white sands. OMG.

Bikes

A bonus was that we got access to bikes and a car, so we could travel about and see places you might not ordinarily reach as a tourist. We'd been to Miami before and mainly stayed around South Beach which is a bit blah (and a rip off). The benefit of staying in someone's home is that you get great insider tips. Our best tip was Monty's, a bar with a permanent happy hour, including a raw bar where you could order piles of crab legs for hardly any beans.

Golf cart

Plus we got a golf cart to traverse the island. Too much fun.

So, how it worked. Our flat is fairly central in London and we'd let friends borrow it in previous years when we went away, which got us thinking: our mortgage is pretty steep and it's kind've heartbreaking to have to pay big hotel bills on top of that. Surely someone somewhere would be up for doing a swap?

A quick internet search revealed that Craigslist had a ton of options for people wanting to swap for London and other UK towns and cities. Check it out!  We were pretty flexible about where we wanted to go so, when I saw the words Private Island Miami, I was up for it.

I took some honest photographs of our flat (we were actually laughing as we did it) and to my surprise the respondent was instantly up for it. They had a small child with another on the way and wanted somewhere chilled out and easy to stay. Just like that, we agreed a date to book our travel tickets and the job was done.

How could we be sure they weren't weirdos? Well, we couldn't, but you get an obvious feel for people straight away. We googled them and their Facebook pages came up; I think my only security check was to email them through Facebook to check they were who they said they were. Our instincts were that these were nice, genuine people. (And they certainly had a lot of questions about where to buy organic produce and nappies, for fraudsters!)

The main hassle was writing out lists of how everything worked: car, heating, boiler, etc. But, especially because our destination was so ace, it was definitely worth it. And it was all COMPLETELY FREE. We only paid our airfares and ended up having an unforgettable experience. It's definitely worth checking out if you're wondering where to go and what to do for your holidays this year, especially if you're on a budget.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Hoop earrings - yay or nay?

In my comments yesterday my friend Barry asked me this question:

"As a little present for my girlfriend I wanted to get her some large-ish hoop earrings. I've always thought they were a bit of a design classic and she hasn't got any. Simple, gold or silver, just a perfect circle. So I have two questions - for you and even your readers...

Are they still seen as a good thing (not too chavvy?) And - more importantly - where's the best place (in London) to get some?"

Cute, eh? So. The hoop earring went through a big resurgence in the last ten or so years and was seen as a bit hip hop and a bit street. I personally have always loved them and, as my style barometer, I look to Garance Doré, seen here last year having a fashion moment with Dolce & Gabbana and still rocking her hoops. So I say yes. Hoops for the win!


My favourite simple hoops are from EC One, which has long been my favourite London jewellery shop. Just last month I sent a coworker there for his wife's birthday and he returned very pleased, job done. They stock designers whose pieces are quirky and individual but well made and range from the reasonably priced to the blingingly priced. I can completely recommend their hoops, which are expensive but finely hammered, have a pretty catch and look every penny their £30-60 price tag. I've worn mine for years so they've definitely paid for themselves.

(If you have more to spare, check out these awesome studded hoops by Steven Webster. And, hold me closer tiny dancer, CHECK OUT THESE DISCO BALL HOOPS! )


Sorry, lost it for a second there. Another thing to consider is that, disco balls and studs aside, hoops are the kind of thing that are so simple that it is not worth investing a chunk of cash on them. First up, Barry is an artist who works with wire. Dude - why don't you just buy some silver / gold wire and make her some? Hello, am I a genius or what? (Check out his work here - the Michelangelo of chicken wire!)

Failing that, they're the kind of thing you can pick up on a street stall for between £10-20. But... the EC One hoops look expensive and come in a pretty box.  A conundrum. Let us know what you decide! Are you all still wearing your hoops, ladies?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Glassworks Studios.

As someone who does all of my shopping online, I'm excited to bookmark new online boutique Glassworks Studios, who are bringing an eclectic mix of fresh labels to the UK, such as New Yorkers Loeffler Randall (shown below - loving the mix of soft, floral frills plus biker jacket), beautiful draped pieces by under.ligne and Gryphon, brainchild of ex-Vogue staffer Aimee Cho, whose line was given the Anna Wintour stamp of approval when she was shown wearing a Gryphon trench in The September Issue.


Also stocked is New Zealander Karen Walker, whose silk bunting print dress I absolutely love. How perfect would this be to wear to an English wedding?


[Images courtesy of Glassworks Studios.]

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Review: Gil Scott-Heron, Southbank Centre, London.

Anyone who follows me on twitter will know the Gil Scott-Heron vs volcanic ash saga. The long-awaited concert on Tuesday night at the Southbank Centre in London was cancelled and he had another gig scheduled for last night but it was long sold out. Happily some tickets came up on Seatwave yesterday so, a last-minute £50 purchase later, off I went to my back row seat.

It was a very bizarre show. Gil's music has always been fairly intense and his recent album I'm New Here compounds that, with its mournful time-of-life feel and pared back production, with Gil in reflective melancholy mode. I like a bit of intensity in my music so was looking forward to the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

As I was on the back row, I was already a bit challenged in terms of atmosphere but when Gil came on to a standing ovation looking dapper, with his voice clear and crisp (the sound was great), I sat back to enjoy the treat ahead. But bizarrely, he started with an impromptu stand-up comedy routine, telling jokes for ten minutes. He only sat at his keyboard when someone heckled him to play music. Was he nervous?

Then, even more bizarrely, anti-Israel protesters around the auditorium started heckling about Gil's upcoming concert in Tel Aviv, shouting loudly and dumping leaflets over the balcony.

Ignoring the chaos - 'You travel 4,000 miles and still you encounter assholes' – unaccompanied on keyboard, he was in great voice and we were treated to Winter In America and a couple of songs I literally couldn't hear, because all around me protesters were shouting, audience members were screaming at the protesters and, bizarrely, security stood back watching but saying they couldn't do anything.

I guess as a protester himself it was in the spirit of Gil, but having paid £50 to watch this circus was pretty frustrating. Gil's pianist did a solo as he took a break and then came back on, apparently having been informed of what people were shouting about, to say he wasn't doing a show in Tel Aviv after all and asking the protesters, 'Let me know when you have a concert, so I can come and shout all the way through yours'.

During a beautiful We Almost Lost Detroit his backing pianist Kim Jordan came on. Another special highlight was Pieces of A Man, but I felt these highlights were too few and far between, peppered with an exceptionally long performance of a song from Kim's new CD, and a very long bongo solo.

He finished up with a long jam on The Bottle. Special, and great to see the man in splendid humour. (At one point he said, 'People refer to me being unhappy. Let me tell you, when you leave prison there's one thing you ain't. And that is unhappy.')

But compared to, say, this live version of Home Is Where the Hatred Is, I feel pretty shortchanged. And I could've done without the protesting idiots and their complete lack of respect for both the artist and the fact I'd shelled out fifty bleeding quid to listen to them screaming. Wankers.

[Psst: Larry David was spotted in the front row at the gig. See my twitter timeline for a twitpic.]

Friday, 23 April 2010

Review: Kid Creole and The Coconuts.

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I've written about Kid Creole and the Coconuts here before. They are a little obsession of mine. Well, August Darnell is. The Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band album is one of my top five favourite records. Seventies New York cabaret disco, it instantly conjures up hot New York sidewalks and bars with faded velvet banquettes whenever I hear it. If you watch just one thing on the internet today I plead with you, make it these sexy bellhops.

August Darnell is better known as Kid Creole, under which guise he created another genius mish mash of musical styles: calpyso, latin, reggae, disco... Heaven.

We saw him play last night in London. With his multiple dapper zoot suits (he looked A.W.E.S.O.M.E.), snootily sexy Coconuts and his original percussionist Bongo Eddie, he brought a pure party atmosphere to the Barbican, dedicating songs to his ex-wife, 'Gina Gina' (lyrics: 'He's just a ski instructor' - hilarious) and dedicated to himself, 'I'm a Wonderful Thing Baby'. Arrogant but hey, he's right.

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They ripped the place up. The Coconuts perfectly synchronized dance routines were a joy to behold (how do they REMEMBER all those routines?) as were their outfits: tiny sailor suits, cave girl, fringed wedding cake topper and hula girl. Mr Creole was slick and joyous throughout, finishing up the night with a final jubilant congo of the auditorium with the Coconuts voguing off his back.

They're playing more dates this summer so if you fancy a bit of New York disco dress up I seriously advise you check them out. Zoot suit or cave girl outfit optional but maracas essential.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Salmon Hole, California.


As a water baby, I'd love a huge print of this photo of a swimming hole in Chico, California to hang in my living room and gaze at on an overcast, London day. By Younga Park from 20x200.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

"Don't eat my family, man."


I stopped wanting to eat meat recently. Something has happened to my head ever since I got cats. Basically, I've gone all mushy and, having seen their personalities develop and how attached to me they've become, it has totally put me off the idea of eating meat. I was a very happy meat eater so it has been hard. But the thought of eating a piece of rare lamb or a chewy sausage is really not appealing to me these days. I even turned down chorizo in the pub last night. Serious.

I think the turning point came when I was chatting to a friend who works in sustainability and mentioned that I was toying with the idea of cutting out meat, or just eating meat that I can be sure is from a good source. She pointed out that that was why she hadn't shared the meat dish in a sushi restaurant we'd just been to. When you think about it, who knows where a lot of restaurants, with their eye firmly on the bottom line, are getting their meat?

I decided it had to be all or nothing as that's just how it goes with me. I've done a few weeks now and am feeling quite happy about it. But I do occasionally think about Bodeans. And I'm still eating fish. I haven't worked that one out just yet.

As it's just an instinct at the moment, I really want to do a bit of reading and am keen to watch Food, Inc. to clue myself up about the broader picture. Any suggestions on reading? Why did you turn vegetarian? Or, why are you a happy meat eater? Oh, and recipe resources would be good too, if you have any to share?

PS: Sorry for the ridiculously cutesy picture. But this is the kind of thing that's taking me down these days! Alice's lamb pictures also took me down, recently.

[Another Youneak pic steal. Sorry you guys! But I am a fan of your work.]

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Still loving stripes.

...especially loving this stars and stripes effect cardigan from Motel, as seen on We Are Youneak.* This Whistles dress (bottom left) would be great for everyday (it has a big chunky zip up a low cut back) and the APC tee on the right is surely a classic to be worn for years. Apparently, Primark currently have a straight knock-off of the Acne stripe dress and check out these great stripey maxi dresses from Dorothy Perkins, in exchange for only a tiny amount of beans. (Thanks for the heads up, Violet Posy!) Stripe out!

Picture 7

*Possibly a new favourite blog alert. Although don't read if, like a friend of mine, you were supposed to be flying to LA for a roadtrip today but your flight got cancelled because of volcanic ash clouds. Erk. They have lots of gorgeous California pictures up at the moment.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Restored London swimming baths.

Two beautifully restored historic London swimming baths are due to reopen for public use this summer. The first, Marshall Street Baths in Soho, a marble-lined, Deco pool with stunning vaulted roof, was built in 1928 and has been closed for more than a decade. Here it is in its abandoned state.


Here it is in 1934, being used to audition water nymphs for the pantomime Cinderella. I can't wait to go along for an inaugural swim, possibly in a most modest swimming costume with bathing hat.


St Pancras Baths, now known as Kentish Town Sports Centre, was built by Thomas Aldwinckle in 1900. It had four pools that you could use according to your social status and gender: first and second-class, two for men and two for women, complete with their own entrances, which still remain. The restored Victorian roof – which I used to swim under and was home to pigeons and covered with net, in case of falling masonry – promises to look stunning.


The pool being used for a concert in 1901.



The men's second class entrance.



An external shot of the building in 1901. More great pictures of the baths, here.



[Images with thanks to Camden Photos Zak Ezzati and A Hudson.]

Friday, 16 April 2010

Goodbye Charlotte Road.

My last day at work has finally come! I'm going to miss where I worked. Our building used to be a button factory, on Charlotte Road in Shoreditch; a tall, narrow street which is always dark and cool because the sun doesn't reach down past the tall buildings. Vans and taxis use it as a handy cut through between Old Street and Great Eastern Road and I'm always worried one will run over my foot. It's that narrow. Start is on one corner, for shoe and dress lust (you always see Brix Smith-Start wandering around looking super glamorous.)  And I'll really miss Ruby's. (Where I saw Keira Knightley. And where you get the best coffee and Italian food, from a menu that changes everyday. It's a small, bustling café in a gorgeous building with high windows. I strongly recommend it.)

But I'm sure I'll be back in the hood, to the Bricklayers and Barleymow for drinks before Plastic People. And the Bar Music Hall. And The Diner, of course. I'm going in early today to finish things up and surprise my colleagues. We're going for a big lunch at Pizza East and then I doubt I'll go back to the office this afternoon. It hasn't sunk in at all yet, maybe by Monday?

Have a great weekend!

[Photo of Charlotte Road by the super lovely Homemade]

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Ancient voices.

Gil

I'm getting more and more excited about seeing Gil Scott-Heron playing live next week. I'm loving his new album. Please buy it, if you haven't already. I'm not so sure about the production on some of the songs, but his voice and words make up for it. He sounds older and plaintive as usual, which adds up to it being quite melancholic but wonderful. It's going to be an emosh one, seeing him play. (And pretty cool to pass this poster in my local tube station this morning.)

Another ancient voice, Steve Reid, sadly passed away this week. The drummer who provided the heartbeat for James Brown, Motown, Miles Davis, Sun Ra and more, he was still active on the contemporary scene, inspiring and creating. Read an eloquent tribute to him here. Hear him playing live in London in 2008 and a tribute to his music by Gilles Peterson here. Inspirational listening.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Diner.

The Diner is my favourite comfort food place to eat in London. Enjoying my Luau hard shake tonight (coconut ice-cream and rum), I wondered why I've not blogged about it before. I've been so many times, with so many different people, for so many different occasions. I used to meet James after working late on Fridays – which I used to do quite a lot and which is another reason I'm leaving my job. Blarg to that! – and we'd have a margarita and a California burger, chased down by good imported American bottled beer. I'd go on my lunch hour sometimes if I fancied a treat, and sit huddled down in a booth with a book and apple pie with cream. On hot summer days I'd leave my desk furtively mid-afternoon and pop out for one of their thick, creamy milkshakes, made with good ingredients...

Milkshake

The waitresses are friendly and the radio's always on playing MOR seventies rock in the background, giving it a warm cosy feeling. And I like the fact it's open until the small hours: it reminds me of Mel's Drive-in in LA, where you can go for fries and a milkshake after the club or gig. (In fact one of my favourite trips to The Diner was after seeing Jonathan Richman play at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen around the corner, then popping over there to eat before going home. Hardcore Americana action.)

I have so many happy memories of The Diner, I could go on and on. There are a few branches in London (Camden, Soho, Kensal Rise), but the Shoreditch is my local and favourite. If you haven't been and feel like a bit of a feelgood experience, definitely check them out. Locations here.

[Diner sign photo courtesy of Will Cheyney.]

Monday, 12 April 2010

Victorious.

The title of this post doesn't relate to the result of my 10k* but the fact that this is my final week at the desk job for the forseeable. It's been a very long three and a half months notice period and I'm so ready to start doing my own thing now. The title is also a bit of punnage on the fact that I'm writing this on the way back from Victoria, where I've just had a meeting. I'm obviously a very bad Londoner: I had no idea that Westminster Cathedral looked like this! I thought it was a mosque on first sight. I don't know Victoria at all as the area is a bit grim, so I avoid it.

Westminster Cathedral

There were stunning sounds of a choir coming from the Cathedral Choir School.

Choral School

And I liked these signs. This is in the entrance of Victoria Underground Station

Victoria Tube Station

This was on the side of a gorgeous mansion block down a side street next to the Choral School. I can just imagine some snooty headmasterly type putting it up.

Sign
*I didn't do the 10k. Unbelievable, but I developed a headache at 6:50pm on Saturday night (as I sat down to watch A Single Man at the cinema - beautiful film!) which stayed until yesterday evening. Totally bummed out, but there was no way I could run! Nevermind, I'll do a 10k in the next week or so and time myself. Not quite the same, but what can you do.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lots Rd Auctions.

Lots Rd

Scrolling through the online catalogue for Lots Rd Auctions is one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning, whilst drinking a vat of coffee. Every Sunday in Chelsea, what I imagine to be the former possessions of the wealthy Chelsea boho set are auctioned off. For instance, today's auction includes a number of Louis XV style commodes, covered in a decoupage of comic books. The kind of thing I can imagine Jonathan Ross and Jane Goldman doing for fun.

But amid the gross vulgarity are some awesome finds. My favourites are pictured above. Odd, heart-shaped chest of drawers? Strange, but my inner Mariah likes it. Arco style lamp? Come to mama. Set of OMK dining chairs? Come into my life, I've got so much love to show you. And despite the distressed frames, I think I could find a place for these armchairs.

For unusual pieces with a real history, there is quite a bit of Art Deco stuff from the Savoy hotel sale floating around, such as this lovely dressing table. And there are plenty of more practical, everyday things such as this coffee table and lamp console set. (There's also a matching dining table being sold separately.) As a lot of this stuff is under £300, there are some great bargains to be found, and it certainly beats buying the usual IKEA style identikit stuff. You're welcome!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Little things.

little things

It's the little things that are cheering me up today. Like, it's Friday. And it's sunny. And I'm wearing my favourite socks. (Bought from Langbrett in Berlin, who make custom surfboards and hula hoops.) I strung this old locket on a chain. And I'm using my new bag, which shouts out all the big cities: New York, London, San Francisco, Cardiff and Newcastle. (Shout out to Big Caz.) And that is the view from my roof at work. Yes. Blue sky. In London. Amazual.

I also just wanted to say that I really love all the little comments you leave me. I'm really lucky in that the readers of my daily nonsense seem to be a classy breed of chap and chapess. I really love your observations, suggestions and remarks. They sometimes seriously make me LOL. (Special mentions to Bazza for his 'flat top' comment - best ever. And WFI knocks it out of the park every time.) THANK YOU ALL for taking the time out to visit and comment. I really appreciate it.

Have a great weekend! What are you up to? It's my first ever 10k race on Sunday. I only started running January so I'm a bit scared: looking forward to it but am a bit tired. I hope I make it to the end!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

April in Paris. (That old cliché.)

I was just looking at some pictures of a recent trip to Paris. Such a cliché, but come springtime I always want to go to Paris. I'd like to live here, in the Marais.

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And have a lunch of macarons and figs from Le Bon Marché everyday.

Figs and macaroons - a fine lunch!

With salad for dinner, obviously. How else to maintain a slim French figure? (This is my kind of salad.)

My kind of salad

We watched the sun go down over the Seine whilst these girls gossiped next to us. It felt like the scene from Sex And The City where Carrie is all sad because she wants to join in with the gossiping Parisiennes. I loved the green wedges and maxi-dress.

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And then to my boudoir. Sigh.

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More pictures of our Paris trip are ici, they also belong to a group for pictures of Paris that Nichole from Little Brown Pen set up.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Hot florals.

hot florals

Flipping through the magazines this weekend unleashed a riot of hot florals. I pretty much wanted every item from the DKNY Spring print ad (above left), but especially the navy loose trousers with hot pink flowers. I love how they look with the sequined tee: I have a very similar top from Oasis that would TOTALLY work. (Psst - it's in the sale here.)

In American Vogue, actress Zoe Kazan (top right) was photographed frolicking around Williamsburg in her floral Balenciaga. That's a scene I could handle. And I wish, wish, WISH that I could swap places with Duro Olowu's wife, who apparently trades his clothes for her professional expertise. The London designer (bottom right) is the Godfather of these lush prints. (Click here to read the small print.)

Being a shorty, I'd look like a sofa in an all-over floral print, so the printed trouser is a perfect look for me. The Duro Olowu would be my dream choice, DKNY would be a splurge, but ASOS come to the rescue with several options for a budget fix. What do you think: love or loathe? Are you going to wear these for Spring?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Catching bees and falling spiders.

Fitzroy Square

Back at my desk after Easter. It went so fast! We couldn't remember the last time we'd spent four whole days at home: if we hadn't got the cats we probably would have gone away somewhere. As it was, we had a really lovely relaxing weekend. James had a revelation moment as to what it's like not to think about work 24/7. We went to the sports shop and bought all kinds of crazy sporting gear to kit us out for our new healthy lives. London was lovely and bright and sunny. Up top is a picture of Fitzroy Square, where we somehow founds ourselves on Easter Sunday and which was so sunny and peaceful. And I love this old Boots sign I noticed for the first time in Camden.

Boots

Private Lives was hilarious. I love Noel Coward's snitty humour and 1930s turns of phrase. The set was deco and the costumes were all nipped waists and tea dresses by day and long languid sparkling dresses by night. As for Kim Cattrall - wow. She's an absolutely stunning woman. James treated us to front row seats, so I can confirm that from three feet away she is defying age. Her hands are less wrinkly than mine! In fact she looks better than I ever have. Bitch!

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We didn't make it to the cinema or to any galleries. Lame. I remembered that I find Helena Bonham Carter a bit annoying so avoided Alice. I bought magazines and chilled with the kits instead, who almost seemed annoyed that we were at home getting in their way. Hoops was his usual lazy self. (That's him posing below.) Fred has graduated from catching worms to bringing in bees. She's going to learn that one the hard way: I took two off her this weekend. (More pics of the kits are here, if you are a crazy cat lady like me.)

Chillin'

How was your Easter weekend?

STOP PRESS: Just before I went to sleep after writing this post, a huge spider dropped onto my pillow! It was so big, it made a THUD! Worst spider experience ever. I'd just read the sentence in Vanity Fair's big article on Grace Kelly where she dies. What does that MEAN?! Hehe.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Easter break.

It's Easter weekend! Four whole days off work! It's the first long weekend since Christmas and James and I have had a crazy busy few months. So we're going to hang out with the cats, go to the cinema (I want to see Alice in Wonderland at last) and go to the theatre (we're going to see Private Lives with Kim Cattrall on Saturday night, then late dinner at The Wolseley).

I'm also hoping to check out a couple of exhibitions (any recommendations for must-sees in London at the moment?), go for a long muddy walk on the heath and a run down the disused tube line. Then balance out this healthiness with a couple of chilled out pub sessions. (I want to go back to The Star for some of their cloudy cider. Yum.) And let's not forget the chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and simnel cake overload! Bring it on!

Have a lovely Easter break, I hope you're all getting some time off to unwind!

[Gorgeous soy wax eggshell candles from Mr Wick, spied on the lovely Brit blog Tea for Joy.]