jeudi 25 août 2011

Death of a Ladies' Lady

So, Jimmy took this photo in our flat, but I am sure it looks like it could be in a different country and possibly another time.  For some reason, I am feeling a great connection between this and Hydra-era photos of The Great Man Himself (that's Leonard Cohen, to those who have never met me).  Very Marianne and a typewriter, right?

lundi 22 août 2011


“It’s the tits!”, it says.  And it is!

AMPnet is a website that I was utterly obsessed with back in the very early 2000s.  It is no longer super-current (I’m not sure it’s updated any more), but it’s still there and it’s still relevant and it’s well worth a look.  The work of a genius writer called Miss AMP (Anne-Marie Payne), who also wrote for great magazines like the sadly missed Careless Talk Costs Lives and then Plan B, the website was a spin-off of a mini print zine by the same name.

It struck a finely tuned balance between being fun and enthusiastic, in a hipster-ironic tone, and covering some quite important points all at once.  With articles about hot fat chicks and learning to pee standing up (all divided into helpful categories such as ‘feministing’, ‘sleaze’, ‘chazzing’ and ‘rock n roll’), interviews with cool people like Cat Power and Gwendoline Riley, it was also where I first heard of the Mooncup (thanks, AMP!) and one of the main inspirations in starting a mini-zine of my very own back in the day.

Everything on there is still so cool, it’s really worth a trawl through the archives – just the vintage weblog posts could keep me occupied for years.  I actually had a few articles of my own published on there, in the dim and distant past – as such they’re quite tricky to locate now but I think they’re still there somewhere.  If you have any luck with this, please let me know and send me a link – because I am EGOCENTRIC and would LOVE to reread my own old words, obvs.

You need this stuff in your life, basically – check the link in the ‘Stuff I Love’ sidebar.

vendredi 19 août 2011

Kardashian Krush

Most of the ‘trashy’ TV I like is generally hipster/ironic enough to be considered OK – you know, old episodes of Dallas, vintage Beverley Hills 90210, Saved By The Bell and the like; I own a video called ‘The Neighbours Wedding Collection’ (yup, the classic pairings of Scott and Charlene, Des and Daphne, and Madge and Harold all in one handy volume).

At the same time, I’ve never really been swept away by the tide of reality TV of semi-recent years.  Well, I’m as unscathed by it as anyone my age could be – I’ve never really watched Big Brother (except for one series during the summer of Helen and Paul, if I remember rightly)or any of those; I might watch a bit of X-Factor with a dose of tongue-in-cheek, and I do like anything that ends in the words Top Model.

However, this has changed of late.  It’s because of the Kardashians.

I don’t mind admitting it.  I love them.  I own a box set of Keeping Up… (seasons 1 – 4) plus a DVD of Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.

Our shared love of all things Kardashian meant that my sister Katy, my cousin Caroline and I did some mammoth TV watching together on holiday.  This meant quite a bit of Eggheads, some Dragon’s Den (a new love of mine!)  and, brilliantly, some vintage Keeping Up….  Also, some Geordie Shore (which I had never previously heard of) – which I found weirdly fascinating and led us all to call things ‘mint’ a lot, and shout ‘in there like swimwear!’ at regular intervals.

I realised that, somewhere along the line, my love for the Kardashians has gone from being slightly sarcastic to totally sincere.  I have no problem with this, it must be said!  But it did make me wonder why this was.

Like most trash TV, and certainly all good soap operas, I think it’s the mixture of high glamour with universal, everyday things.  I am fascinated by the family’s luxury, A-list lifestyle, yet can relate to the relationships between the sisters that make the heart of the series.  Whether it’s Khloe and Kourtney play-fighting violently, Kim throwing one of her legendary strops, or all three of them ganging up on their mum, it’s stuff we’ve all done – just with way better clothes and more expertly-applied eye make-up.

I couldn’t help but laugh in the episode when Kim goes into a decline over her break-up with Reggie – Kris comes to her house to stage an intervention, saying ‘Kimmy – look at you, you’re making no effort with your appearance, this is what depressed people look like!’ – and of course she looked better than I do when I’m all dressed up to go out.  Still, one of the most appealing things to me about the Sisters Kardashian is that, while they’re full-volume glamorous and look amazing, none of them is startlingly, naturally beautiful (OK, except maybe Kim) or anywhere near fashion model-skinny – they are three good-looking girls who are making the absolute best of what they’ve got, and it works to stunning effect.

My favourite sister is Kourtney, probably because, like me, she’s the oldest and the meanest (although I have a soft spot for Khloe and especially Bruce, and a bit of a weird crush on Scott – seriously, I am so Team Douchelord, I would be devastated if he and Kourtney ever break up for good)!

So, hipsters and intellectual snobs, I don’t care what you think – the glamour, drama and, importantly, relationships of the Kardashians all make it my new TV favourite.

Seriously, tell me you don’t wanna be in their gang!

mercredi 17 août 2011


No, not Jeff Conaway ‘s character in Grease (although he was also awesome), but the short-lived mid-to-late 90s Sunderland girl(ish) band.

Kenickie were one of the seminal bands of my youth – and by seminal I mean ‘to me’ rather than in the wider sense.  They weren’t great, to say the least in retrospect, but they perfectly encapsulate a few years of my youth.  Their influence on me at the time was far greater than their two (very patchy, but great fun) albums would suggest.

The first was ‘At The Club’.  It’s hard now to believe that it went Top 10.  The sleeve was full of hilarious ‘four indie kids go mad in London’ pictures, which I basically modeled my teenage look upon.  This means: spangly little dresses, plastic trousers, multiple hairclips, chunky high heels, poorly dyed hair, furry-collared coats, too much eyeliner and Rimmel Black Cherries lipstick (I wonder if they still make it?).  With tracks such as ‘Come Out 2Nite’ (“wear high heels and get a record deal!”) and ‘PVC’ (“it’s my favourite plastic!/coz it’s nice and shiny and completely waterproof!”), it reminds me of that sixth form feeling of almost-freedom and being in a gang for the first time ever.

You know, you’re hanging out in the park and maybe sneaking into the pub and getting ready at each other’s houses and you’re just so awesome and you know you look great and you love everyone so much and it’s summer it’s Friday and that’s the best day of the week and it’s started to rain but you’ve got a house party to go to and you really want that new coat from Miss Selfridge and, hey, why don’t you all just swap coats because that would be hilarious, and as Kenickie themselves put it “we’ve got our gang and I know we’ll always be friends”. 

Then when you get home you can listen to ‘Robot Song’ (“I wish I had the skill to stop my thinking”) and ‘Acetone’ (“faster, faster on your feet, you have to watch the sick stains on the street”) and feel all melancholy about the fact that Vicky Lloyd bought that Miss Selfridge coat first even though you said you wanted it first, and that Nico didn’t even look at you once and you don’t like his band that much anyway and your life is not worth living and, oh no, I appear to be crying.  Before cheering up again.

Their second long-player ‘Get In’ turned in on itself at a time when I did, too.  It’s much more muted, bittersweet electronic tones (compared to the loud guitars, handclaps and answer-back chants of the first) remind me of sitting in my bedsit above a multi-storey car-park, chain-smoking and reading Jean Genet and feeling deliciously melancholy at all times (“we didn’t drink, we didn’t laugh, we didn’t like the weeknights”).  It’s the perfect musical embodiment of the morning after – “sun is up and the dawn it is pale blue/ we’re on Nintendo sitting in your front room”.

Ah, Kenickie.  We’ve all moved on, but you’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

I’ll leave you with an opinion on Kenickie from that sage on all matters, Courtney Love:

“They're a big bunch of sex, that band Kenickie. They're a big, raw-boned bunch of fucking sex — all three of them and the boy. I hope they get good. I hope we're a good example to them, I hope this record's huge and then the big labels will start sniffing around and then those big fucking raw-boned sexy Newcastle girls will be huge and have Number Ones and there will be an Amazon planet the way I want it.”

And a reminder of their amazing, of-the-moment look:

lundi 15 août 2011

Background Noise

I like to blame it on being a Gemini, but I don’t like to work in silence.  Along with sitting at a good table and preferably being high up, a bit of background noise is one of the things that seems to make me most productive.

I’m fine with listening to music.  If my boyfriend is playing or listening to something, I am happy to keep working away with it going on around me.  Occasionally I’ll stick a record on myself – I like to write to things that are a bit ambient and not too wordy, so that I don’t get caught up in the lyrics and find myself mindlessly typing them into my manuscript (it’s happened).  For this reason, my record of choice is usually by my ridiculously beautiful and talented friend Milena, whose music is hugely atmospheric and perfect for writing.  If I want to feel workmanlike and just-get-on-with it, I might stick on Prinz Horn Dance School, who make me want to work hard and be useful.

Talk radio is OK, there’s always time for Radio 4, but again I find that I can get way too caught up in the words and distract myself in a way that is really not the point here.

So, my favourite accompaniment is a DVD.  Preferably something quiet that I have seen many times before, so that I am comforted without needing to concentrate.  Often, I will watch a film via Lovefilm, and then have to buy it because I have a feeling that it will be a good writing background.

What’s weird is how hit and miss this is.  Until I have actually put it on and started to write, I have no idea how it’s going to work out.  For instance, I’d love to write to arty French films, but my A-Level French is pretty rusty and I find myself glancing up way too often to look at the subtitles.  I bought “Two Days In Paris” on DVD for that very purpose, but had forgotten that even the small portions of this film that are subtitled make it too annoying for me from a working perspective.

On the other hand “Somewhere” is a new purchase that has already proved a favourite – it is absolutely perfect for writing to.  Also, nothing to do with writing – but it’s like a film that includes an ice-dancing scene soundtracked by Gwen Stefani was basically made just for me.

In non-fiction, “Please Leave Quietly” (obviously) and “Grey Gardens” are two that I can basically watch on a loop while I work for hours and hours and hours.  I actually once watched “Grey Gardens” on repeat three times during a mammoth editing session.

Just-clever-enough comedies also work wonders when I want to be witty – nothing too saccharine or I’m sure it filters through.  Boxed sets of “30 Rock” get a hammering during writing evenings, as oftentimes do “Mean Girls”, “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Melinda and Melinda”.

So, if you are curious about any other element of my writing process, I can tell you that it also frequently involves high heels, sometimes a poncho, and a headdress that I like to call The Peacock of Power.

vendredi 12 août 2011

Perfect Pop

The best thing she's ever done, with an amazing video - pure pop perfection.

mercredi 10 août 2011

White Chalk of the D’Urbervilles

White chalk, PJ Harvey, Thomas Hardy, oysters, cliff-top walks, freezing sea swims, packed lunches…  Yes, I am back from my summer holidays in Dorset.
I had a wonderful week and now kind of want to move to Bridport – rural idyll combined with a really exciting Arts Centre equals a win in my book.  We stayed in a place called Eype (delightfully pronounced ‘Eeeep’!), which was just outside Bridport, a couple of minutes from the sea, and with walks along the cliffs to West Bay one way (one mile every morning for papers and a snack) and Seatown (two-and-a-half very steep rugged miles each way, worth doing once for the lovely Anchor pub at the end).  These walks were all made nicer by the enthusiastic presence of Lily (my parents’ dog).
There were eleven of us celebrating my Nan’s eightieth birthday, all staying in a vast and gorgeous converted barn.  There was singing (in English and French), barbecuing and garden sunbathing, communal breakfasts and, by God, there was dancing!  There was also croquet, badminton, boules and, in most civilised fashion, an official cocktail hour every evening.
For me, there was also a bit of Thomas Hardy reading, a lot of listening to ‘White Chalk’ and ‘Is This Desire?’ by PJ Harvey (sadly, we didn’t bump into her although she’s a semi-local resident), a bit of writing but not that much.
However, now that I am back, I am fully powered up to get back on the Hard Work & Health Regime.  That means running every day, writing every night; eating nothing but vegetables, whole grains, fruits and fish for a while; getting stuff done and making all my time as productive as possible.  The last week has powered up my batteries enough to last me to the end of the year, I reckon.  This is a good thing as there’s hard work ahead!

So that I can look back when times are more hectic, here are a couple of serene reminders…

Very happy with my healthy breakfast at the Hive Beach Cafe in Burton Bradstock.

Triumphant after our walk up the cliffs to Seatown (I'm second from the left and the bundle of fluff I am holding is Lily!).

lundi 8 août 2011

Dream House

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about my Future Dream Home.  In fact, I think I always have – I remember as a child, going to the theatre with my parents and deciding that I was going to live in Soho when I grew up.  Make of that what you will.

Besides, living in a quite-tiny one-bedroom rented flat, with brown carpets and rules against putting anything up on the walls, it’s kind of necessary.  It’s not all bad, though – at least this flat has a shower and room for a bedside table.  The last one didn’t; I’m going up in the world.  Literally, my flat is on the top floor.

There are many variations on the Future Dream Home.  Often I set myself various imaginary budgets and search Rightmove for suitable properties in this rich and successful parallel universe, or vary where I decide I want to live today, depending on my mood.  These range from swanky flats in central London, to grand townhouses in Brighton and Bath, then country piles anywhere from Lewes to Somerset to Devon to the Mull of Kintyre.

I’m not even that ambitious – I don’t like the really huge houses and, even in my imaginary world, am daunted by a lot of land.  Ideally, one day, I would like a house with three bedrooms, space for me to have an ‘office’ and a cellar or fancy shed for Jimmy to have a studio.  A small garden might be quite nice.

Here are my favourite elements of other people’s houses that I am planning to copy (Isabella Blow’s, Pearl Lowe’s, and Amanda Harlech’s, respectively):

samedi 6 août 2011

Love Is What You Want

I recently went to see the Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery - 'Love Is What You Want'.

I adore Tracey Emin.  I think her work is beautiful and brave and some of it just hits you in the chest and sticks with you forever; I especially love her way with words and think she's a brilliant writer - all of my favourite pieces of hers are text-based, and I loved her book 'Strangeland'.

I don't like all of her work, but that's OK.  It was the same with this exhibition, as I expected.  I especially loved seeing some of the old stuff from "The Shop" with Sarah Lucas (how I would love to have gone there!), and her classic blankets and neons.

Weirdly, I think I prefer to look at pieces of her work separately, rather than altogether like this.  When I saw one of her neons on my last visit to the Louis Vuitton Maison (darling), I was beside myself with excitement and its impact was huge.  A whole room of them, while it gave a pleasingly seedy dragstrip vibe, I felt diluted their strong individual messages.

That's just me.  Well worth seeing - all sorts of brilliant ideas from a brilliantly unique brain.

Here are my favourite Tracey Emin works.  The first two now live on my fridge, in postcard form, and I was a bit disappointed that the third wasn't available as such.  It was lovely to be able to see them all in real life.

vendredi 5 août 2011

Sky High

When I was younger - like, from 21 - 23 basically - I used to wear ridiculously high shoes.  A lot.  most days.  To work, whatever.  I seem to remember I had a pair of TopShop heels that were surprisingly comfortable despite their 5-inch heels, so I bought a pair in pistachio and in caramel and wore them literally to death.

In recent years, my abject laziness, love of an 'un-done' look, and half-hour walk to work has meant that I am now seldom seen out of flats - on nine days out of ten I will wear ballet pumps, occasionally Converse, and any sort of a heel reserved for Very Special Occasions (seriously - weddings and birthdays, and that's about it).  Once you get out of the habit, it's hard to get back into it - it takes a bit of training.

Although my shetland pony proportions are well-publicised (i.e. - I have short, chubby little legs no matter what), I don't tend to get hysterically excited over shoes.  Handbags, yes; dresses, certainly.  Not so much shoes.  I am not one of Those Girls.  i usually have a couple of pairs in rotation, combined with a couple of pairs 'for special' - and that's it.

Until today, it would seem.  My friend Ruth is an avid blog-follower and is a champion at pointing me in the direction of all the super-cool trendy ones that I would never have heard of otherwise.  She sent me a link to one recently - 'Cupcakes and Cashmere', which is an LA-based blogger writing about fashion (her every outfit is amazing - if only I were a leggy blonde who lived in California), recipes and design (her home office makes me weep with envy).

I also found these two shoe-centric pictures that are making me want to spend all my money on sky-high heels, glam myself up and be fabulous forevermore.  For the first time, I am SOLD.  In fact, I'm obsessed.

Look how beautiful!

Other things my new obsession with this blog has made me want to do:
  • A lot of lunges so that I might have the guts to bare my Shetland pony legs occasionally.
  • Have a beautiful flat.
  • Entertain more in said beautiful flat.
  • Try more exciting recipes.

mercredi 3 août 2011

Uh Huh Her (Honest Self-Portraits)

I have always been keen on taking photographs of myself - probably due to some alchemic misture of self-obsession, curiosity, and a love of PJ Harvey.  Polly Jean has long taken photographs of herself, apparently a prolific habit adopted at art college and never quite shaken off, and has often used these images in her album artwork - most notably 'Uh Huh Her', which includes an intriguing selection of these.

So, here are my bored, early-morning-in-my-flat attempts of my own.  They really aren't great, and I can't seem to get the camera angle or my photo face quite right - EVER.  Still, I am posting these because I think they make a very honest self-portrait.  I am pretty sure that this is exactly what I look like, and I think that should be the point - please don't use freakishly flattering photographs of yourself in public or, god forbid, professional ones.  That's my view, anyway.

lundi 1 août 2011

‘Now the room is a-hiss…’

I have recently been re-reading ‘Lover of Unreason’, the biography of Assia Wevill, who was Ted Hughes’ girlfriend (during and) after his marriage to Sylvia Plath.  Despite my reading everything I have ever been able to get my hands on about Plath and Hughes, until this book was published Assia had always been an enigma, my perception based solely on the cryptic references to her in other tenuously related books and poetry (such as the line from one of Plath’s in this title) – so it was a revelation to be able to look beyond the archetype, and to learn more about the mysterious Assia and her poor little daughter Shura.

It is a tragic tale, but absolutely mesmerising.  Whenever I’ve read it, the thing that has really struck me most is that it is such a gift – possibly one of the greatest – to be really good at something, or at least to feel passionate about one thing.  I believe that if Assia had been great at writing or art or music, she would have been just fine – she would have used her powers for good, rather than for destruction and then finally turned inward on herself.  As it was, she was an intelligent woman who desperately wanted to make her mark at something; she was OK at lots of things – wrote a few mediocre poems, was quite good at painting and moderately musical – but she didn’t have the great talent or the determination to excel at any one of them.  Instead, she wasted her time attaching herself to men who did excel at these things, and complaining about her own shortcomings, laziness and merely ‘decorative intelligence’.

Which is why she became kind of obsessed with Sylvia Plath – who was not only almost-supernaturally talented, but so driven that she made herself (through sheer force of will) the best at everything from dressmaking to cooking to beekeeping.  Sylvia was just as beautiful as Assia, in an entirely different way, but in every other respect they were polar opposites.  ‘I conjured her up’, Sylvia said – in one of my favourite lines of all time – when Assia basically started to steal her life.

It didn’t end well for any of them, as we know.  I have to admit that I find it endlessly fascinating, and the whole thing has been an obsession of mine for nearly twenty years.  It is sadly fitting that Assia is basically a glamorous bit player, while I adore the meaty work of Ted Hughes and think he was one of the most attractive men that ever lived, but the greatest portion of my reverence is reserved for Sylvia Plath.  I know – this is so embarrassingly typical for a certain sort of girl.

Still, I think The Bell Jar is one of the most perfect novels ever written, one of those rare works that genuinely does not have a word out of place.  I devour her poetry and short stories, and was thrilled to see the first stage production of Three Women.  Most importantly for me, whenever I am in need of inspiration and motivation, all I need to do is sit down for an hour with a volume of her journals or her Letters Home, and I am suddenly compelled to work my arse off and aspire to do the greatest things imaginable.

It probably helps that the life Ted and Sylvia briefly carved out for themselves is the life that I want – revolving as it did around writing, Devon, the harmony of perfect domesticity and artistic fulfillment.  These are the most important things in my life, that I am working all the time to make happen, and for a little while they actually managed it.

I have been thinking about this a lot since I turned 30.  I have, since the age of 12, measured my life, my work and myself in Sylvia Plath’s journals.  I am now the same age that she was when she died.  Equally strange, it occasionally occurs to me that, had she lived, she would be the exact same age as my Nan.  It’s a funny feeling that I have never had for any of the other people I’ve greatly admired who died young.

Perhaps it’s because a.) she’s a woman; and b.) my aspirations are in exactly the same realm as hers.  A male musician friend of mine recently made a similar comment about his feelings on turning 28 and, for the first time, being older than Kurt Cobain ever was.

In this case, though – because in so many ways Sylvia always was and always will be light years ahead of me, I think I actually have enough ammunition to last me a lifetime.