mercredi 28 septembre 2011


I read an interesting theory recently, one that's got me thinking.  Basically, it was claiming that the 'craft' movement - i.e., the popularity of things like knitting, crochet, baking, making cards; decorative arts, if you will - were anti-feminist.

This is an old argument, but this time it wasn't saying that women shouldn't be forced back into the 1950s by being made to make things themselves and expected to be good at this as traditionally 'feminine' pastimes.

It was saying that women are being encouraged to make decorations and bake cakes and knit scarves, so that they can 'waste' their creative energies on these things, instead of focussing on 'important' artistic pursuits such as learning an instrument or writing a novel or making a film.  Like, it's a conspiracy to distract us.

I have to admit it, it's an interesting one.  I'm not sure I agree, but I can see the point.  I know loads of girls wo make fiddly little thingss like jewellery, but not that many who are in bands or making films.  They are outnumbered by the boys I know on that front.  I know loads of girls who write, but that may be due to my own personal circumstances rather than actual statistics.

The point is, everyone I know who makes stuff enjoys it.  Shouldn't that be the point?  If we're looking at it like that - like, we're not all in it for success and money and other such evil (ha!) things, then why is making music or writing novels any more valid than baking a cake or turning a T-shirt into a halterneck dress?  I suppose the results are more lasting, but it's all good, right?  It's better than watching the telly or getting drunk at a bus-stop.

So, all I can say is make and do what you love, whether that's crochet or poetry or ukelele or watercolours or quiches.  Be great at it and do it for the right reasons.  I am still thinking about this, though.

lundi 26 septembre 2011

School Rules

Just one of those arbitrary connections that I made from looking at my bookshelf and wondering what to pick up and reread for an hour this morning:

Some of my favourite adult books that are set in schools:
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Notes on A Scandal by Zoe Heller

I just thought this was interesting, because when I think of school-set books, it's usual Mallory Towers, St Claire's or The Chalet School - you know the sort of thing.  That in itself is lovely, but I just happened to notice that it's not always the case.  Some very fine, often unsettling and very dark (not of these is a jolly schooldays romp, by any stretch oof the imagination) stories have been set in schools.  These could all probably be read by older teenagers, but are aimed primarily at adults.

I like making lists of things, however tenuous.  I am feeling disproportionately proud for having noticed this one!

vendredi 23 septembre 2011

Recent Watchings

This morning my friend Camilla asked me to recommend some good films that I've watched recently.  Here is the list that I sent her, based on my recent Lovefilm selections and the other films these reminded me of as I went along...

Good films I have watched lately and the others this has made me think of:

Dogville – Is absolutely effing all-time amazing.  If you like this, see also: Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist and any other Lars Von Trier (although I think some of his are better than others).

Lemming – Really good French film with Charlotte Gainsbourg (who I am obsessed with).

Tetro – Slightly silly but really beautiful and has Vincent Gallo in it.

Somewhere – Sofia Coppola’s new one; I loved it but only if you like her sorts of films (i.e., dreamy and literally nothing happens!).

Buffalo 66 – Speaking of Gallo, have you seen this?  Possibly my favourite film ever, definitely Top 3.

Catfish – This is a scary and amazing documentary: may put you off Facebook.

Dogtooth – Weird and intriguing Greek film.

Mesrine (1 & 2) – Sexy French crime film with Vincent Cassel (from Irreversible) in it.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Best Woody Allen for ages.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed – Quite nasty little English film, but I thought really well done and had some good twists.

Leaving – Good French film with Kristin Scott Thomas in it (I also recently watched her in another French film, called I’ve Loved You So Long, which was very good but very sad!).

Tell No-one – Another sexy French thriller, excellent.

Ma Femme est Une Actrice – Lovely French comedy (see also: Heartbreaker and Priceless if you haven’t – both fantastic.  You have probably seen Priceless as it has Audrey Tautou in it being all sexy).

Happiness – Properly wrong and great black comedy; if you like this, you will love all of Todd Solondz’s films, he is amazing.

Interview – Lightweight but worth a watch, two-hander between Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller which I actually really enjoyed.

Cracks – Silly but absolutely beautiful 1930s-set boarding school film with Eva Green (I like anything all dreamy and coming-of-age-y).

An Education – Quite good, based on brilliant book by Lynn Barber.

Fishtank – Best English film I’ve seen in ages, in that modern gritty English film way.

Mister Lonely – Very silly, only watch if you like surrealist films!  I loved it.  It’s about crap celebrity lookalikes living in a house together.

Persepolis – Properly brilliant: it’s a cartoon, which I thought sounded off-putting, but I felt enlightened and absolutely loved it.

London To Brighton – Really, really good, quite harrowing.

Away From Her – Amazing, but watch on a day you’re feeling emotionally up to it; I had to have a break halfway through because I was literally hysterical.  But so, so beautiful and worth it in the end.  Strangely uplifting.

Volver – Fantastic Spanish film, one of Almodovar’s best and Penelope Cruz is obscenely gorgeous in it.  See also: All About My Mother (I think his best), Talk To Her; any of his others but those are my favourites.  Lots of fun.

La Haine – Classic modern French film (written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz from Amelie and starring Vincent Cassel).

jeudi 22 septembre 2011

Creuset For You

One of the best things about the onset of autumn?  Getting out my Le Creuset casserole pot.  Seriously.

The rest of the year, it still gets its fair share of action (curries, summer soups, etc.) but like the duffel coat and the woolly tight, autumn and winter are when it really comes into its own.

On a Sunday, whilst reading the paper and listening to the radio, there is nothing better than whacking in some lovely ingredients and then leaving it to simmer and smell nice for the afternoon (that is if, like me, you like the aromas of cooking food more than anything else in the world – others may prefer to buy a scented candle).   Better yet, leave it on low and go out for a bracing walk.

Chicken, root vegetables, cheap cuts of beef and offal are all good.  However, the best in my humble opinion is the classic rabbit stew.  It makes me feel like Ted Hughes and I can almost convince myself that I went out on the moors at 5am to shoot the poor creature myself.  Actually, any slightly archaic meat is best – add venison and pheasant to that list, too.

Best of all, it’s almost impossible to get wrong – chuck in some meat and/or some veg, top up with stock (alternatively wine or ale if you’re feeling flush) and sprinkle in a few herbs, leave it in the oven and maybe do a dumpling at the last minute if you can be bothered.  Then you’ve got a complete beautiful meal that much easier and just as seasonal and comforting as a roast (although roast is joint king of Sunday lunches, obviously).

Better yet, follow it up with a crumble (but that’s a whole other story).  I heart winter cooking.

mardi 20 septembre 2011

Terrible Angels

Charlotte Gainsbourg (and, let's face it - most of her family) is one of my constant, low-level, long-term style obsessions.

So it's unsurprising that I am currently watching her new video on a loop.  Seriously, behold THE COOLNESS.

lundi 19 septembre 2011

In praise of… Linda McCartney

I am full of love for Linda.  I still find it hard to believe she is not with us.

I have always loved her photographs, and ‘Linda McCartney’s 60s’ has long been one of my favourite visual art books.  Her pictures of bands and artists from this time are so wonderfully natural and relaxed – I love how she managed to make people like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison look so normal.  As (I think!) Andy Warhol said, the best portrait photographs fall into one of two categories –ordinary people doing extraordinary things, or famous people doing normal things.  Linda nailed this concept better than anyone else.

She was also unfairly maligned for her musical endeavours – I think she had a sweet voice and I just love the fact that Wings was a lovely project precisely because Paul and Linda wanted to be together.  Let’s also remember that she made a wicked veggie sausage.

My favourites, though, are her family photos.  Obviously one of Linda’s greatest achievements was to have had such a beautiful life and family, and she combined this with her great creative talent.

We should all be so lucky.

The lady herself.

My favourite of Linda’s ‘at home’ photographs.

samedi 17 septembre 2011

Dandy In The Underworld

Last year, I remember reading about the play of Sebastian Horsley's life being staged, and then in the same week reading about his death.

He was someone I had a passing cultural awareness of, but when I saw his book, the 'unauthorised autobiography' Dandy in the Underworld in an art shop recently, I recognised his name and picked it up.

I was immediately intrigued and amused, as this is the first book I have ever encountered that has printed all of the bad reviews alongside the good ones in the front pages - as well as some glowing praise, the Telegraph called Horsley 'an attention seeking tosser with no talent' and Jeremy Vine of Radio 2 gave him the rather magnificent title of 'everything that is wrong with society today'.

Much of the rest of the book was as I expected, the writing often laugh-out-loud funny but openly derivative.  Sebastian was a true dandy of the classic kind, a Soho libertine of the old-school.  He was a mildly fascinating character, but never up there with my favourites - a tiny bit too cliched to make it into my list of perennial favourite rule-breakers, style-setters and brave-livers.  Maybe it was because his art was not exactly amazing, or all the Oscar Wilde quoting, or just that I don't think that his dandy look was all that stylish.

Also, I find drugs and the people who take them (the ones who bang on about it, anyway) really, really boring.  The ones that are always giving them up and then falling off the wagon even more so.  It's so repetitive.  What seems glamorous for about five minutes becomes a boring and unattractive trudge remarkably quickly.

Still, I did find parts of this bok riveting.  Sebastian's greatest fame in his life came from when he travelled to the Philippines in 2000 and had himself crucified.  For real.  Filmed by Sarah Lucas.  Many passed this off as a cheap publicity stunt but I truly don't care if it was - attention-seeking or not, to actually go through with it must have taken a very special sort of balls.  The passages in which he travels there, knowing this is going to happen to him of his own volition, in days and then hours then minutes, was incredible, page-turning and kind of awe-inspiring.

My favourite bits in the book are when Sebastian's humanity shines through the carefully-constructed and obvious-by-design veneer.  He talks of his addictions as being a constant attempt to 'send himself away' - a line I found pretty heartbreaking, actually.  His genuine hurt and disappointment when nobody wants to put on an exhibition of his crucufixion works - and the fact that he didn't mind admitting it - I found very sympathetic and affecting.  His love for Rachel 2 was really lovely.

Which makes it all the sadder that he died in 2010, something that now I've read the book I feel truly was a tragic waste.  His art may have been mediocre, although that was something he traded in, and for all the cliches and obvious influences, he could really write.  I'd love to have seen what he did next.  Apparently at the time of his death he had started work on a novel - I think to have read a book of fiction by him would have been interesting and probably better than this one.  I suspect his imagination matched his wit; it's hard to tell.

He really had a lot of friends who loved him, as becomes apparent if you read about his death on the internet, and I think that attests to what lies beneath this book and its occasional failings, and makes it all worthwhile in the end, to see those flashes of the genuine man behind it all.

In the end, he seemed to reach a real redemption, which of course makes it all the sadder that he was found alone in his flat having died of an accidental overdose.  As they said, if it had been deliberate, he would never have passed up the chance to leave a final note.  A waste all round, maybe one he would have appreciated.

vendredi 16 septembre 2011

Perfect Pop - Retro Babylon!

OK, I had a total crush on Jas Mann (and still remember his name!) but I still think this is a perfect pop song.

mercredi 14 septembre 2011


You can probably make a good guess at my fondness for the monogram solely by my incessant use of the moniker ‘ECW’ in lieu of anything else, wherever possible.

My mug at work has a lovely typographic red ‘E’, as much for the aesthetic as so that nobody else dares to use my cup.  A prized recent purchase was a 1930s nightgown, embroidered with the monogram ‘EC’ – how incredible is that (I mean, what are the odds?)?  I bought my laptop because, among other reasons, it is emblazoned with an ‘E’.  I love Roger Federer as much as Anna Wintour does, based mostly on his monogrammed cardigans.  What a stylish man.

So, with this obsession duly underway, my question today is – what else can I monogram?

I am fixated on the idea of having some personalised stationery made.  Maybe with my name on notepaper and just a monogram on the envelope?  I’ve been looking into this for some time and have found that a) most of them are boring, and b) it’s effing expensive.  Does anyone know of some super-cool reasonably-priced company that does beautiful personalised stationery?

I would love some monogrammed linen in my life – maybe an ECW pillowcase for me to dribble all over.  Actually, considering my serious nocturnal dribbling problem, this is probably not the best idea.  File this under ‘in parallel dream life’, then.

Most of all, I covet personalised Louis Vuitton luggage.  Ever since I saw a vintage example at the Maison some time ago, this has been the monogram dream.  Imagine, a beautiful classic case hand-painted with one’s initials or, better yet, coat of arms!

mardi 13 septembre 2011

My First Dress

Yesterday I went out shopping with my mum and bought three dresses.  From Topshop.  This is unheard of on many levels.

I hardly ever buy clothes; these three new dresses will see me dressed for the next two years, I estimate.  However, finding three (THREE!) new dresses that I really liked, that fit me and look nice, brought me a great deal of joy.  I am really looking forward to wearing them throughout the winter.  One was an ice-skater dress in plain blue, a sort of elongated flippy vest, which is a shape I enjoy; the next a smart sixties-style long-sleeved shift in navy and tan; finally, a very frivolous and slinky long-sleeved mini-dress in zebra print, I assure you a very SUBTLE zebra print, but still pretty daring for me, what with its ruching and exposed zip and general tightness.

This got me thinking, out shopping with my mum, of the first time I bought a dress.  I mean, the first time I bought a grown-up dress, from a proper grown-up shop, that I chose myself.  Before that, I can think of a couple of dresses that brought me true joy – a red velvet party dress when I was tiny, a navy blue pinafore dress from Tammy Girl when I was about 10, most of all a red and white patterned button-through early-90s hippie number that my mum bought me to wear to a school disco when I was eleven.  I believe I accessorised it with a floppy velvet hat and a costume necklace of my nan’s.  I may even, inexplicably, have added some white lace gloves.

Anyway, it was this first dress when I was 13 (I think) that was the important one.  I remember it so clearly and how adult it made me feel.  My mum and I went to Miss Selfridge on a Saturday morning, and I selected it myself – it was beige, in that sort of doily-patterned thermal vest material (know what I mean? Better than it sounds, decorated in lacy snowflake patterns); it has short sleeves, a round neck, and a flippy skirt that came down to my knees.  I wish I still had it.  I would totally wear it now.

I believe it cost £12, and I felt awesome walking through town carrying my very own Miss Selfridge carrier bag.  There were a few such purchases that year that made me feel similarly – mostly music-related, namely In Utero by Nirvana on cassette, and then Experimental Jetset Trash and No Star by Sonic Youth, which I bought because I had read of Kurt’s love for Sonic Youth and I wanted to hear them for myself.  I was obsessed with Loser by Beck, which I had on single (backed by B-sides Alcohol and Fume, both of which I got in trouble with my mum for listening to).  I read Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis and only half understood it.  I bought that copy of Select magazine that had PJ Harvey, Björk and Tori Amos on the cover, and put it on my wall.

All of these things I still have and still love.

That afternoon, I went to Carter’s Steam Fair with my family, wearing my new dress and feeling awesome.

I wish I still had that dress but I still have the spirit of it.

vendredi 9 septembre 2011

Perfect Pop

These perfect pop songs both came out during the same summer, and it reminds me of hanging out with my sister Katy and my cousin Caroline, watching 'Big Brother' and playing these songs constantly...

mercredi 7 septembre 2011

Let England Shake: Stories from the last decade

Obviously I am thrilled that PJ Harvey won the Mercury Music Prize last night.  Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with me will know that my love for her is huge and abiding.

I think it's really fitting and great that she is the first artist in the history of the Mercury to win it twice - testament to the fact that she has the most interesting and consistently high-quality career of possibly any other musician in this era or country.  She is as relevant now as she has ever been; maybe even more relevant than ever before with this album - it's certainly her first album to be so outward-facing, rather than turned inward on herself, and I get the sense that this shift has reinvigorated her in all sorts of ways.  That's to say nothing of all of her albums for which she has been nominated and not won - almost any of her albums could comfortably stand up as a perfect example of her work of the time, head and curly hair above anything else out there in terms of creativity, artistic weight and sheer craft.

As Polly herself said last night: a lot has happened since the last time she won.  It's amazing how much.

The last time she won the Mercury, it was the 11th September 2001.  I was 20 and working in Hong Kong.  Polly Harvey was in Washington.  I have never felt further from my family and from real life; we all have our stories of sadness and strangeness on that day.

A lot of things have happened to all of us and to the world since then.  In many ways, the world seems like a scarier place, but work like Polly Harvey's is one of the things that gives me a flash of hope.

lundi 5 septembre 2011


As you know, I am stupidly excited about ticking into autumn.  While most people get all enthused about bare legs and sandals, I feel the same about coats and tights and long-sleeved velvet minidresses.

I also get pretty happy when my lunches – I make a packed lunch for myself every day – can transition from salads to soups.  Although I do my best to make it interesting, there is only so much that you can do with a salad – usually I jazz things up on a Friday with some avocado or artichoke, but that’s as exciting as it gets.

When it comes to soup, there’s a whole world of possibility.  My hand-held blender is one of my most useful possessions.

My favourite types fall into two categories – silkily blended chunky vegetables (like butternut squash or parsnip), or Thai-style thin broth with lovely soothing noodles and little vegetables like sugarsnap peas or mini corn floating in there.

I already can’t wait for a winter of nutritious and yummy soup!  I like it super spicy and hot, especially after a chilly run along the beach.

If you do, too – here is my very easy recipe for pumpkin soup, first published on my mum’s brilliant blog!


vendredi 2 septembre 2011

House essentials

I think it’s maybe a combination of turning 30 and moving into a new flat (which is part of The Official 5 Year Plan to move somewhere way better), but I am currently obsessed with having a lovely home.

At least I feel very focused on what I want to do and be in all ways at the moment – which boils down to a basic philosophy of ‘making the most of yourself’.  You know, we only have one life so I don’t want to waste mine being unfit or having willfully rubbish hair and unpainted toenails or living in a total shithole.  In the past few years, I have spent too much time concentrating on the future rather than the present – constantly starting excuse-making sentences with things like ‘when I sell my book…’ or ‘when we can afford to buy our own place…’.

Well, no more .  I don’t feel like waiting around any longer to make my life more beautiful, so I’m going to stop making excuses.

Some of the actions I have taken towards this are very simple (and boring, like taking out household insurance and getting broadband, even though I always said it was pointless in a rented flat when we might move at any time).

I read an article recently that used the acronym ‘CHAOS’ to mean ‘Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome’ – which is a state I lived in for a good few years.  It suggested never having your flat more than ten minutes away from being guest-ready – which doesn’t mean keeping it immaculate, but just clean and tidy enough that it never needs more than a quick once-over, and always having some good snacks and drinks in store.  It’s simple but great advice and I’m looking forward to doing a lot more entertaining in the new place.  This is helped by the fact that we have introduced an official weekly Cleaning Night into the household schedule (rather than previously, when we would wait until something became unbearable before one of us did it), after which we reward ourselves with Takeaway Curry Night!

We’ve also bought a couple of inessential but useful items, now that we’ve got the usable space – a proper desk for Jimmy to keep his 24-tracks on and work at (I’ve got the dining table, which is a real treat as it’s my favourite piece of furniture and had to be crammed in a corner where it could barely be used in the old place) and industrial filing cabinets for music and art storage; our new bookcase, which is actually big enough to house all of my books (once I took about four bags’ worth to the local chazza); a lovely vintage drinks trolley, which adds some much-needed extra storage space in our kitchen, providing a home for bottles and glassware and anything pretty I might want to display outside of a cupboard.

It turns out Gumtree is our friend!

Plus, I’m still pretty beside myself with excitement at actually having a working shower and space for a bedside table (yep, for four years in the old place, I had to have a handbag hung on the bedpost to contain my alarm clock and book!).

Next, I am planning some extra (hopefully pretty) storage for the bathroom – to include a magazine rack (that isn’t one of those atomic-style ones, which seem to be the only ones around); some good rugs to hide the ugly brown-and-white-mottled office-style carpets; an ottoman or some sort of vintage trunk for extra clothes and linen stashing, when we can afford one.  I’m sure then the list will grow.

So, the thinking is that while this might not be my dream home it might as well be a nice home.  Anyway, it’s all good practice for when we can actually move to the country and have a dog and a spare room.

jeudi 1 septembre 2011

Autumn Term

I know it’s not for a little while yet, but the start of September makes my brain and tastes turn to back-to-school time.  I love it.

While the end of the summer holidays may have been a time for sadness, the start of the autumn term was always an exciting time.  I actually loved shopping for new school shoes, maybe a new school bag and other such accessories.  For coats, we usually used to get them at the French hypermarket, the aptly-named Mammouth, and bring them home with us.

I still love the onset of autumn – I get very excited when it’s time to wear a proper coat, woolly tights and proper boots again.  That crispness in the air on the walk to work always brings me a little bit of joy.

As I sadly no longer have to do real back-to-school shopping, I find that a bit of pretending gets me back in that super-productive, new-term frame of mind.  This is something I take seriously – it’s usually around this time of year that I tell my lovely agent I’m really going to start hammering the writing for the ‘new school year’.

Things that would most get me in the autumn mood this year are:

No-one does schoolgirl chic like Marc Jacobs.

I want a neon satchel!

I’m such a sucker for pretty stationery, and it makes me very happy that the perennially-stylish Pearl Lowe has designed some.