Saturday, December 03, 2016

We decided we both ought to get Sea Salt Hot Chocolate

This morning, like most Saturday mornings, I walked the few minutes to my favourite cafe. Past the restaurant where the owners and the head chef sit by the window, planning the order of service at a laptop among the empty tables and polished glasses. Past the kitchen door, open ajar, with sound of the radio and frying, empty cardboard boxes that probably held trays of mushrooms or greens stacked on the recycling bin outside.

People keep asking if, after six months, I am happy in London. They ask in a way that makes me feel self-conscious, that they doubt I am. Have I been too forthcoming about my awareness of the bullshit traps it's easy to fall into when you live in the capital city? Have I told the story of my colleague spending £8 on a smoothie with activating charcoal minerals too many times? Have I talked too readily about how much I love Manchester? I do love London. But I do not forget how living here means choosing to tolerate a certain level of comfort. A level that is probably slightly below the level you aspire to, or could have elsewhere. Smaller rooms. Inevitable acquaintance with other people's armpits on public transport. You throw yourself into a cycle of earning money to spend it quickly, and to spend it in a public way. To eat out. Go to markets, go to the theatre. To send the money back out, instead of putting it somewhere to pile up. Everything is transcient, especially the money. What I do love is that every Saturday I wake up and know there is something new for me to do. I meet people I might not meet in another English city. But maybe you can't love a city wholly when you live there? Any city becomes embedded in the ebb and flow of daily life, the fast tides of mood change, when it is home. I don't know if love is the right word for a city. Swells of happiness one moment, and domestic irritations the next: maybe love is entirely the right word after all. I haven't yet loved long enough to weather the highs and lows over a long period of time and see what's left at the end.

But walking to the cafe I felt heady off the low sun filling every corner, and the sight of a tall Christmas tree through my neighbour's window. (A house where children live.) On December 1st I saw the Dad dragging it down our street and felt the inner child, that jumps up and down so much more readily in December, rising inside me. "I'm really happy living here, right here," I think.

I meet Simran at the cafe and we decide we both ought to get Sea Salt Hot Chocolate. The room was filled with other women, all having their Saturday morning catch-ups. It often feels like that. Most mornings I get to listen in because i'm there by myself. A few months ago two friends in their fifties were talking about the break up of a marriage. Overhearing it made me feel claustrophobic because it was the same conversation I was trying to avoid having with myself. "The thing about being an adult," the reassuring one said to the sad, reluctant one, "is that you have to learn to be your own adult."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"It does put a little cushion between you and the abyss.”

“Do you ever eat Aligot?” I ask my French housemate after reading about this marvellous, hug of a dish which - because it is French, is clearly so much more than bog-standard cheesy mash.

I’m lying on the sofa with the book I just started resting on my stomach. Probably won’t be that committed to it tonight, I concede. Other important matters to put to bed. The ‘Year in Cheeses’ book is found easily on the shelf and consulted. Made with Tomme de Laguiole, served with a Morteau sausage.

“Morteau…does that mean, like, Sausage of Death?” I ask, imagining something Black Pudding-ish. “No,” she shakes her head, “ it’s a region.” We leaf through the book together in silence. There are infinite new foods to eat, and sausages to know the names of. When am I going to learn French? I think to myself. All that, and then the normal things too, like the unread books piled on my bedside table, the e-newsletters to open, films to catch while they’re still at the cinema. Vague panic about the small things starts the rise.

“Aligot doesn’t fix anything,” one Aligot advocate writes in the New York Times, “but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss.”

We’re three weeks into November and I am consumed by food. Consumed with thinking about it, tasting it, reading about it. After three months of living in this house, I’m getting to know my housemates better. We talk about men, they tell me about the films they’ve watched as they come through the door and unravel scarves, we notice the fit of each others jeans, we talk about food. I, perhaps, slightly more lustily than they. One’s a cheesemonger, another a sommelier - a fact I make a point of sharing when people ask about my living situation, to show how truly I have lucked out, like those smug New Yorkers talking about their rent-controlled apartments in 90s television shows.

My broodiness for food is revived after a spell of dormancy. While the interest in food itself didn't fade, the ability to nurture myself with rustled-up meals did. It was dulled by a general weariness, apathy blotting the effort of making a proper meal in favour of something quick and 'enough'.

Looking for that "little cushion"

The instincts for warming ritual, which coincide with early winter have awakened a somewhat primal urge to fill up and build a nest. Looking for that "little cushion" has become a gastronomic endeavour, in much the way that buying three lambswool jumpers is the equivalent sartorial effort. Hot baths, whiskey in drinks, wrapping up wherever possible. Reading hungrily about Aligot, slicing cheese onto toast, my body leans into a natural desire to hibernate.

And so with this stomach-rumbling reawakening, this November could be recorded as a food diary alone. A quick scan of my bank statement would tell the story. On Sunday 6th, I ate herring roe for the first time. Meaty, and curled in on itself in tumbling piles over toast. We ate it before the ceilidh at the Herring Fair in Hastings. And seconds after the dancing, because it was too good not too. In a demonstration for pickling Herring the woman says that Herring can live up to 22 years old, though you wouldn’t want to eat them when they're that big, as they tend to have picked up more pollutants over time. I ask her how long other fish usually live for, and she doesn’t know, but we agree that 22 years seems surprisingly long.

On Wednesday 9th, I ate a Braeburn whilst listening to Trump's victory speech through headphones, and disbelief allowed my need for sustenance to override the usual appley sweetness as I walked to the Doctors in the rain. The ends of my new trousers sucking moisture from the pavement. My GP didn’t know it had happened until I told him.

On Sunday 20th I went on a date and recalled meals eaten this week. I don’t think i’ve said the word “aioli” so many times in my life as over those two drinks, and I revelled in it. Aoili makes me think of that scene in Girlfriends where she buys herself fizzy wine and three giant prawns to celebrate a new job. Prawns are best when there's a jar of mayonnaise to hand. Aioli is made to go with food that absolutely requires you to lick your fingers after the last piece and before the next.

On Monday 21st, I once again fall into that end-of-the-day Thousand Yard Stare when faced with the boxes of vegetables outside outside the grocers. To pick one of the root vegetables I would never buy, take it home and drive a knife into it or… stick with what I know? Stick with what I know. I carry lychees and plums home in a plastic bag for pudding.

On Wednesday 22nd, which is the day today, I am writing this and drinking one of the bottles of pink Moscato I bought from Australia last year. I bought it back with me, anxiously wrapped alongside a box full of pottery, only to see it casually for sale in a shop in Manchester. It tastes good, because I don't have to share it with anybody else and wonder whether the transit was worth it. If somebody else was to share it with me, they might say "God, that's sweet", and it is. It tastes like those fizzy apricot Haribos you can very occasionally find in a shop. They too, are worth the transit.

My designated fridge shelf is above the shelf where J keeps all of her cheese. The smell hits me each time I open the door. She eats cheese with most of her meals. White, matte bits of goats cheese, like paper clumsily bashed off a wall with a chair leg. Sometimes just chunks of (I don’t know the names) cut straight off the block and eaten at the counter. At the market over the weekend I buy two cheeses. One is a truffle pecorino, which I gather is rather trashy because who needs their pecorino infused with truffle oil? Still, it is utter crack and I plough through it in two days. The other is softer, good for melting over a tomato sauce. I take our breadboard, piled with slices of bread, the cheeses in their wax paper, and caramelised onion chutney from Co-op, into the dining room and spread out at the table. Rain thuds down on the plastic roof over the utility room. Storm Angus dutifully arrived. Really no reason at all to sweat the small stuff, the unopened newsletters, the episodes my colleagues have watched and I have not, when you can make a Sunday afternoon taste like this.

Reading and Listening

Monday, October 03, 2016

Put on your headphones and feel raw love

I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck. (Wrapped around once with just enough left to tie a knot under my chin. Or "shorter than we consider stylish these days" as Henriette Lazaridis describes that particular tie in a article I read in ELLE on the plane the other week. I like it tied like this, it makes me think of my Mum dropping me off at school.) I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck, and throwing my arms into my coat and I have to find a song to play for my walk home that'll keep my mind feeling as alive and full of ideas as it is now. It's easy enough to stop at the pub on the way home from work and have a glass of wine and a generous bowl of green olives (two cocktail sticks) and finish a book. It's better still, lucky even, to feel buoyed by that arrangement. To have things that pop and fizz around your head and require a receipt or slip of paper to scrawl them onto. But then how do you transport yourself home without popping the bubble?

I listen to Steve Reich, who is always at his best when you're kinetic. His strings, his clarinets are lively and cinematic when one foot is moving in front of the other and you're on the go, with a destination and a delight in the getting there. I listen to The Four Seasons: I. Strings because it's high up on the quick-to-click top-rated list. I much prefer Steve Reich when I'm walking. Once I was listening to him whilst walking around Manchester in the evening and came across an empty convertible, all doors flung wide open in the middle of the street outside the glassy Hilton skyscraper. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid but I convinced myself, I became absolutely certain, that it was about to gloriously blow up. I was listening to Desert Music, the sort of high-octane yet gloomy soundtrack that lends itself to the obvious culmination of exploding car. A car must explode when there's a chorus of operatic voices. Of course nothing happened, and I walked on with only my heightened anticipation, but the point is that Steve Reich, or in fact the majority of music listened to through headphones on the move feels cinematic.

I don't mean cinematic in an egotistical "i'm in a film" sort of way. Really, I'm sure I don't have to explain it at all. The success of the Walkman and two generations of music-in-ear devices comes down to the fact that we all understand that entrancing state. Just like me in the pub, we're with people, surrounded with them, but without people. All alone with the music. It's unnatural to be walking around without the accompaniment of the real sounds around us (stillness, leaves, footsteps, car horns) But it's right! It carries you along, it gives lends your movement a rhythm, it frames a moment in exactly the way a cinema screen frames a moment. The frame of the camera. The frame of the screen against a darkened room. The focus of you inside the room, the world safely outside of the auditorium.

With headphones in your ears, a sort of focused mental frame comes down. Suddenly, with the removal of outside-world sounds, there's less to distract. An awareness of the movements of the people on the street becomes heightened. Sometimes they're heightened because you've had one glass of wine on an empty stomach but. So I walk down Columbia Road and it's properly dark now. My hands are deep down in my pockets, my scarf cosy and tight and the sharp air is drumming little stabs at my knees. A warm upper body and a cold lower body is usually delightful for about two weeks right at the start of Autumn. The novelty soon wears off. But for now it's truly on. This is a great stretch of walk. I'm glad I started taking this short cut. Internally i'm cooing at the fronts of the houses along the street, and how, in the darkness they make me think of Victorian London and kids with hoops. I feel like an American tourist. I never want to stop loving cities like this. If I ever stop loving cities like this I honestly may as well be dead.

Walking down Broadway Market people are bundled up in their coats eating Italian at the tables on the pavement under heat lamps. Up above us in the flats over the restaurants, two men lean out of their windows and hold a conversation across the street.

Back at the pub the things I wrote on the back of a receipt were: "there is only me, this evening, here on earth." From a passage about an acquaintance, an actor known for his powerful monologues, who is reading Beckett to an small audience in his apartment after a stroke has badly affected his speech. Sometimes you underline a sentence in a book and come back to it only a few months later and fail to understand the significance it held. Maybe tomorrow I won't even feel the same way, but sitting alone with a Picpoul and a briny pile of olives it means something. It makes me think of how no two theatre performances can ever be the same, and how that marks a gorgeous unique energy between a cast and their audience. We will never have this ever again. It makes me think of making eye contact with a stranger on a train. Only a stranger you've enjoyed noticing of course, and standing beside them as the carriage snakes and bounces along. And that moment of shared eye contact says the same thing. This is it! Now or never. I am constantly falling in love with strangers on trains. Aren't we all, though. We don't need to know anything about the other person, only that if you'd said something to them, really said it out loud then you'd inevitably end up embarking on that one great affair. A longer than brief encounter.

I finish the book - Vivian Gornick's The Odd Woman and the City. I'm probably going to read it straight away again, something i've never done. This book has really caught me at the right moment. I check Facebook. "It's too late for sympathy and prayers, so please spare me - i'm now trading only in raw love," this is the latest post from an old family friend. Seng-gye is a character. Calling him a 'character' actually just sounds condescending and doesn't do him justice at all. He's bloody marvellous. And he's important to me, even if I haven't seen him for around 11 years. He and his family lived in the flat downstairs when I was between the ages of 3 and 10. He wore one of those army surplus-type utility waistcoats with all those pockets. Lots of khaki. Always bare feet, even on the streets of Redland in Bristol. He has a bald head, a long grey beard (now temporarily banished with the chemo) and one eye, after a motorcycle crash in his youth. He kept the eye in a jar of formaldehyde in a jar in the flat! I was in absolute awe of it when I was little. He didn't wear a glass eye, or cover it up with a patch, one of the sockets is just sort of... dark. I thought this was very cool. I still do. He lived with two partners and their three children. I'd never been to a house that had three adults in it like that. I absolutely loved them. I was always hanging out with the kids, mixing perfumes from lavender and sage and water in the garden, arguing with them and getting to understand the varying levels of feelings in very sensitive human beings, having them show me slow worms in the garden out the back. My Mum left the latch to our door open do I could come and go, racing up and down the stairs to hang out with them. I'd jump into their beat up Land Rover (sometimes Seng-gye would scream at us to be quiet in the back so he could focus on the fucking road!!!) and later into their old American Chevy (it had actual carpets and armchairs in the back and a heavy sliding door!) and we'd all go to the 24 hour Tesco Superstore in Eastville and get baked beans and chips at the cafe. (We'd go late at night! Like, 11 o'clock at night!) He's recently been diagnosed with what looks like terminal cancer. In his Facebook post Seng-gye scientifically outlines the pros and cons of chemo and the realities of the poison and asks "if you need to visit, bring good food! If you need to see me, you have NOW!" I don't even feel that sad. Of course this is another it's now or never! but it just feels essential. We're all waiting for it, and here it is, explained peacefully. Yeah. What else is there to say? Here's my raw love. I have it. I love this man, and I love his family. I think about the time he put on his roller skates (rare footwear) and cycled over to my Granny's house to help her out because her back was bad. The strange, important adults in my life. They went into her bedroom and closed the door and he clicked her into place and we could hear all these comedy noises coming from the room and my Mum and my Mary absolutely pissed themselves laughing through the whole thing. I looked up at them and didn't really understand why it was funny but I joined in too because it's fun to all get the giggles together.  I have raw love for so many people who are and aren't here. It stays though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Stop at Thompson Chemists

By September 19th the heat in New York is truly intense. The humidity has grown from damp hairline sweat to aggressive hot rain that always finds a way under your umbrella. Without a dramatic storm to cut through it all, the air is heavy like a wet towel. Because of this and more, I feel restless and easily teary. 

So I take myself to Strand books. What I really want is a sofa to sink into and hold me while I leaf through a pile of paperbacks. But of course bookstores can’t have inviting sofas. They’d be much too tempting for loiterers. I’m a loiterer! 

I buy three books (all, in degrees, about big cities and learning to know yourself. Themes I will maybe, at some point grow out of) and two pairs of socks (Botticelli’s Venus! The Statue of Liberty!) and feel that some new sense of purpose. I’m also aware that spending $50 in order to feel better about yourself is not a sustainable solution. 

Still, I walk down to Washington Square Park, where the mist from the fountains dampens passerbys several feet away. I watch the biggest St Bernard I have ever seen. It’s the size of a small car, sitting with a view over the knock-off Arc de Triomph. A dog it would be a true delight to grow up with, to ride on it's back and cling onto it's brown mane. What a childhood, to surrender yourself again and again to that pet on the floor, giggling NO! as it snuffles and licks at your face. To grimace as it shakes a walks worth of rainwater (and whatever else) onto you. To be fiercely protective when your friends try to clamber onto his back, to show them how to mount him the right way, more carefully than you are in the habit of doing. To experience the raw depths of pet-heartbreak long before the end of a romantic human relationship. I fantasise about all of those things, but am free to walk away without a dog companion. I can browse suede tasseled skirts at the nearby vintage shop without having to ask my St Bernard if he’s okay to wait outside. 

Another way to counteract restless is, I figure, to go to Sephora and have somebody put makeup on me. The heat melted what I’d put on my face in the morning, and having a stranger tilting my chin gently and saying “look up” would hit the spot. I think, after spending a lot of time alone, I want to be seen. Even if that's by somebody fetching me glitter rollers at Sephora.

Plus there’s the matter of sheet masks. I want to buy them for me, and for Simran who has been waylaid at Toronto airport for 28 hours. A sheet mask with a girlfriend is a calming activity and one I never do as much as I’d like. I think of Amy Sedaris talking about doing masks with her friends when they come over, like it’s the most casual thing. A cut off pair of tights holding back a fringe, a white wet balaclava accompanying gossip. 

Sephora is not meant to be though. Because Thompson Chemists pulls me in with it’s primary green front. It looks like a place that might contain answers. Answers in the form of tangible ailments but also in herbal smelling pots of cream that can smooth things out in the short term. I have a certain tolerance of quackery when it smells good. 

Of course it all comes down to nostalgia. Nostalgia may not be cool, but it is comforting. This pharmacy triggers a retrospective longing for herbal smelling Grandparents. It smells like being small and being allowed to scoop grains from deep buckets in health food shops that smell of oats, spice and Ecover washing liquid. 

This is what I think of when I smell the olive oil and peppermint soaps wrapped in a fern leaf adorned package. That, and, for some reason damp fronds on a drive through the Pacific Northwest in a Volvo 740 Estate with Stewart Brand in the back seat. Something – clearly – I have never done. But all the same, associations that any of this old-style packaging triggers in me. 1970s wellness before Instagram and marble backdrops and paying three times the price for social capital. Woody Harrellson wellness! Hemp, commitment, bio-diesel travel. 

Thompson Chemist has it all. Janeke toothbrushes in gold, chrome and faux horn. Mason Pearson brushes for ponyish hair. At the counter are Altoids, tempting kazoos and bouncing balls. A collection of natural sponges asking to be doused in water and squeezed over a soapy back. The shop is small, and everything has a place. Floor to ceiling shelves holding bottles, answers. An ode to storage solutions, if nothing else. 

An expansive pharmacy with more than one floor is exciting. You can browse hair dryers and get your eyes tested in the same trip. But it’s easier to walk in and forget what you wanted. Here you can buy bouncy balls! 

“Let me know if you have any questions,” the woman says. And of course I do, because isn’t that the whole point of a place like this? To find answers, you just have to speak to people. They don’t have sheet masks but they do have all these clay masks in pots and she’s tried them all. 

A man walks into the shop and he has questions too. Head lice kits? He looks like an older Dad, who might be raising his second family. It looks like the head lice situation is tiring him out. The woman finds a kit from the around the back, with all of these bottles packed in a big clear zip-up bag. It looks like a jet pack. Maybe it even has straps – I can’t quite see – but that would be cool. To get this groovy, see-through rucksack to wear to school with your new Tea Tree smelling hair. 

“That’ll get rid of them!” I say, while I wait to pay for this stick of Baxter’s – the final chance I’m giving to the natural deodorant cause. He smiles at me and shakes his head, mumbling something like finally. He drops a note of paper and I go to pick it up for him but he waves me away. I feel bad about rushing to pick it up, like he was too old to do that himself. Sometimes you offer your seat on public transport to somebody with white hair and they’re like I’m not old, child.  Maybe back at home he’d sit with his son or daughter between his legs and run a small comb through their hair in front of the television. Maybe there’d be a St Bernard sprawled nearby!  

I pay for my olive soap and my deodorant, and then a last minute bottle of Thayer’s peach and witch hazel astringent. Something probably quite mundane to anyone familiar with the American drugstore but charming to me in the same way as Arm and Hammer toothpaste, or Smith's Rosebud Salve. 

I leave armed with a recommendation for Sunrise Mart and the possibility of sheet masks for a couple of dollars. It feels like there should be a bell on the door when I leave, but there isn’t. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Falling in love in five seconds

A woman on West 23rd Street cackling HAHAHA I forgot how much I love this city.

Two elderly Chinese couples ballroom dancing on a tarmacked tennis court, their classical music drifting to soundtrack the nearby runners and teenagers playing basketball.

City cowboys sprawling on benches without their cattle.

An old guy on the steps of his apartment building with a regal parrot on his lap. It's green with a tuft of feather hair and observational head turns that make it look startlingly human. "Beautiful parrot!" I shout from a distance, and he nods slowly. (The man, not the parrot.)

The Empire State Building, every time it comes into view at the end of a street.

A cute-assed waitress wearing head-to-toe white: Levi's and a James Dean t-shirt and not a coffee spillage in sight. She seems the type to ask More Tea Darlin'? but this is New York, not Tennessee.

Any of the Tall Men on Park Avenue making Bold American Eye Contact while passing me on the sidewalk. The passing bit is important. You never want these men to open their mouths.

Solo margaritas at a bar that's playing the very best songs from B'Day. Green Light. Upgrade U. Get Me Bodied. A huge dog - a Chou Chou apparently- sits next to me. This is the sort of dog I usually laugh at, not with. It's a sheepskin rug. A teddy bear. A Lion with a blow dry. He is called Richard and that alone means I fall in love with him. Richard! He doesn't need my love. He cocks his head and stubbornly looks away every time I try to take a photograph. Every body in the room is pulled towards him.

Three firefighters at Ladder 20 standing around and drinking beer on the warm afternoon of September 11. On the pin board outside there's a sign commemorating Twenty, the Dalmatian pup given to them in the days after 9/11 to boost morale. There's a photograph of her sitting on the steps of an engine. She looks like the kind of dog with a strong tail that mercilessly knocks objects from surfaces, and a sandpaper-licking tongue too loving to refuse. "I can't say enough about what she did to help us," the paper reads. "She went on all the runs, she'd jump in the truck, stick her head out of the window and bark."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Picking one thing

Photographs at Tate Modern

My Mum went to Tate Britain recently, and after looking at a couple of Henry Moores decided she'd look only at the sculptures in the collection. She told me this when we met up afterwards, over a spread of Turkish food balanced in large-lipped plates on our small table. "Do you have any side tables?" I'd asked tentatively. They didn't, so we stacked the plates up. I felt like I really needed my Mum that week, and was pleased to have her visiting London, sleeping on the sofa bed in our sitting room, filling her days with good things while I worked. She'd chosen the sculptures to get an idea of how that one specific medium had changed over time in Britain. No musing over the paintings to get in the way of seeing how Hepworth and Nicholson and Moore had carved wood and stone and moulded, and what sculpture looked like before and after these three.

Part of me thought that wasn't very adventurous when there are so many beautiful paintings in that building to gawp at up close. I like looking at paintings up close because i've always craved the ability to put colors on canvas with the conviction of knowing what to do. When I get up close i'll look for actual clues to see how the thick the colour is, and how steady the strokes are. Does it look like the painter had a plan or were they just channeling some deep painterly instinct? Whenever I've painted (rarely) my dominant thought has been "Right... I'm painting. Yes.. i'm painting. What am I painting?"

Willy Zielke

But deciding to stick to one thing- looking only at sculptures, painting only apples or shopping only for fuchsia coloured dresses is comforting in a pragmatic way. It's manageable. And I say that because "manageable" can feel so important in a big city. Otherwise how would you ever know where to start? It's like that paralysis of choice Malcolm Gladwell spoke about when faced with dozens and dozens of jars of spaghetti sauce. Having categories and filters helps us to get through a day. (Pick the jar under £3. Pick the jar nice enough to use afterwards. Pick the same jar your Mum always picked.)

Today i'm at Tate Modern. And because I recently treated myself to a membership, I can go into any of the current exhibitions without needing to pay! So what did I do? Unable to pick between the two options I wandered into the free galleries... There was so much I liked, and I liked it all even more because I'd got out of bed early on a Saturday, eaten a giant almond croissant for breakfast, and felt like my hair looked nice. I looked at a sleeping young woman, lying neatly across the frame. Her pillow tucked under her shoulders in a way i'd never think to tuck it.  So comfortable looking! A Duncan Grant painting with Richard Diebenkorn-esque blocks of colour in ocre, mint green and browns brushing up against chair legs. I looked up close. He looked like he'd had a plan for his brush.

Then I walked into the next room, and this is where I appreciated my Mum's "pick one thing" approach. Because this room was just black and white photographs of glasses. Wine glasses with hexagonal bases. And boob-shaped dessert glasses- hopefully once filled with a spherical scoops of ice-cream. Eaten with a teaspoon! Glasses that made me think of holidays in Europe. Or maybe holidays in Europe that i've seen on-screen; characters drinking from glasses like these on the dark terrace after a hot day. Katherine Hepburn in Rome. Tilda Swinton on Pantelleria. Short glasses throwing shadows and tall glasses distorted so they looked like buildings, those early photographs of awe-inspiring skyscrapers in the 20s and 30s that are


I liked the order in this room. I imagined being the curator and thinking right, glass! and going to the archive with a mission. I didn't feel like I needed to go in any of the other galleries after that. Glass will do for me today!

Which is funny because now I'm sitting upstairs in the cafe with a view over the city and all I can see is glass. The glass sheets covering buildings aren't as satisfying as the round glasses on tables though. I can't imagine them being drawn out of a furnace and turned in circles in the same way as a wine glass, or a bottle, or anything that holds a liquid. They're glorious but they're majestic in a distant way, like they separate people. Glass with no openings. Glass that's glass but not a window. I know this because I struggle with my desire to throw open a window when I work in a place without them.  Where does it open? These buildings surely throw shapes like the drinking glasses. It's a shame we can never get far away enough to see how the light marks their shape in shadows across streets. Maybe that's why people take helicopter tours over cities. (Actually- let's face it- it's probably not.)

There weren't people in any of these photographs but they were implicit in the arrangements. You can't see a collection of used dessert and wine glasses on a table without thinking about the people they've brought together. An evening of filling and pouring. Social props. A glass so pleasing to look at, it makes the drink taste better.

I go and buy a beer!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Golden Years

A photograph that Ava took of me at The Barbican this evening.

We all notice our moods lifting and rising throughout the day like little levers that get nudged easier some days than others, depending on time or weather or the month, or whatever else. It's incredible how quickly the moods can change. Medium, medium...high high HIGH! Wowwww down again and low. One minute you're red-cheeked, drinking wine and eating salt cod croquettes with a girlfriend at a bar, and the next you're emotionally floored. I think those feelings are heightened when you're living in a new place. This month I moved to London! I packed up my lovely pink room in Manchester and i'm here! I'm subletting a room, and I'm working in a new office. I am constantly leaning on kitchen counters making conversation with people I'm not used to talking to.

This evening I went to watch a film at The Barbican with Ava, and after we parted ways I sat on a bench in the blustery-as-hell courtyard and looked up at the flats (as we all do at The Barbican, sighing a little bit) and I hungrily shovelled some leftover popcorn into my mouth, while the fountains churning through water, drowning out city sounds. Sitting alone on a bench at Barbican in the bluster, when the sky is fading towards evening is a very newbie in London thing to do, and I felt high, like I'm here! Sometimes that feeling is very real, and sometimes it's mustered without realising, from a corner of your brain where film scenes are stored and quietly marvelling in a big new city feels like the right (cinematic )thing to do. It felt real though. It was both of those things. As I walked to the bus I could feel that moment fading fast, as all around me other people also made their way home. Jesus, there are 8 million of us here, I thought. You know that feeling when you want to phone somebody because you feel a little internal shriek saying 'I'm a human!' and you should probably sit with that feeling for a while and let it pass, but you can't quite bring yourself to, and so you end up doing that mental checklist of who fits the bill? I was quickly in that headspace.

I phoned my Dad, and launched into an update. Can I call you back? he asked, I've just arrived at work. Sure, I said. I'm used to his late work hours but I sensed that he was in fact sitting in a bar with a Gin and Tonic in hand, and in that headspace that is stronger, when you decide to not go through your mental list of close people, and to sit quietly instead. I know that headspace, I protect it too when I'm in it. But it's hard to understand that when you're making your way to a bus stop in the bluster in the capital city and you're 24 and suddenly things have a way of feeling very tricky to navigate. When I was 14 or 15 my Mum and I went to a cafe, and I spotted my Dad at a table in the far corner. As we ordered drinks at the counter I phoned my Dad and waited to watch his face as he answered and I could tell him to look up, but instead my Mum and I watched as he took out his phone, hung up on me and returned to his drink. I can't remember what happened after that, I just remember being like "it's cool!" to my Mum, and trying not to act too traumatised, but now as i'm writing it and feeling it in my stomach I feel so fiercely protective of that 14 year old. How do we protect our own mental headspace without treading so un-carefully across those of others? 

A nice shade of pink.

Six months after David Bowie died, i'm still feeling affected by his death. It feels like you should reach a place- after a few days, maybe- when you don't feel weird about a famous person dying anymore, and i've ended up stayed too long at the party. (The wake!) For me, there's obviously more wrapped up in Bowie's death than Bowie himself (he died the morning before the 1 year marking my Granny's death, and as with so many families, Bowie was a legitimate connecting thread between our generations) but also there isn't more to his death! Or there shouldn't need to be. I'm letting myself still feel sad about Bowie. I have varying levels of grief in my body. Last week I cried at a Richard Linklater listicle, last year I lost one of my most Important People. I'm fucked off about watching my Dad hang up on me, and with all of this I honestly don't know where one grief starts, another ends.

One thing though, that is such a relief, is that Bowie is still here! As long as you have a way of accessing music, you can access him whenever you want! You can listen to Wild is the Wind, or Slow Burn, or Heroes, or Without You, or Five Years when you're feeling a bit tender and like you want to lean into it. When you need a pep talk from beyond the grave you can listen to Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ("Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful") or Golden Years ("Don't let me hear you say life is taking you nowhere") and if you really want to finish yourself off you can listen to Dollar Days from Blackstar ("If I'll never see the English evergreens i'm running to, it's nothing to me. It's nothing to see.") This is why music is so important, it's a comfort in so many moments, but especially when you have a pair of headphones in your bag and the itchy-fingered urge to phone somebody because you think an external pep talk is the only thing for your head. (Sometimes it is, but i'm trying to be better at not doing that so much. Ranting down the phone to your long-distance love isn't always good for either of your souls, when you could find personal solace somewhere else first.)

When my Granny was dying she told me "I'll always be close" and I believed her. After she'd died I felt angry, like Well?! Where are you? when I needed her, and her presence was intangible. But you have to trust that closeness is as much a feeling you produce in your own head, as it is something you feel from others. There's a crossover. When I'm walking down Exmouth Market at lunchtime, or under the last fall of the Cherry Blossoms around Islington (as I did last week) I feel close to her. I know how excited she would be for me, to be in this new city, getting paid to write words during the day. When I listen carefully to Bowie's lyrics on Blackstar, of survival sex, of accepting what you will and won't do and not being able to give everything away, she is incredibly close, and that's why I continue to feel so strongly about Bowie's death, because he's become like this artistic and emotional conduit to my Granny. Where on earth do these people go when they die? And isn't it just the greatest gift to have all this leftover art to absorb and comfort ourselves with?

I have this urgency to string words together in a beautiful way, and pick through feelings and give people a knowing nod, and I know who that came from. Sometimes I look back at the few blog posts i've written in the past year and I feel self-conscious that so many of them are about this Important Woman in my life, but you have to find your ways of working through those delicate moods, and picking through things for yourself, sometimes before sending your best friend a "give me a pep talk?" text. (I'll talk about those soon, because that's a whole other gorgeous can of worms.) Pouring it all out into a text box continues to bring comfort. Into the place i've been figuring out how much to keep in, and how much to put out for almost ten years. I figure it's going to take years worth of effort to build a shell against blustery winds that turn from high to low in a matter of minutes, or perhaps grief will fade and the skin will grow back. Either way, taking words in and sending words out continues to be such an utterly comforting way through, as I'm sure it will always be. That, and a plate of creamy scrambled eggs, covered in smoked salt and eaten in bed. Look after yourself!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Style apathy is a thing, but eyeshadow fans the flames of a fire emoji

Something I miss: writing unselfconsciously about fashion. I lost it when I decided it was okay to not be so dedicated to naming a look from a particular fashion collection, of seeing a side-parting in the beauty pages of Vogue and knowing 'Prada'. And then I stopped feeling qualified to comment on the party at all. Instead I thought I'm going to learn ALL THE STATE CAPITALS in the United States! and wanted to become as well-read as some of my friends. I started to feel uneasy about fashion as another endeavour hell-bent on creating more shit to take up space in the world. 

Actually, there's a specific moment when my desire to write about fashion took a hit- it was walking over London Bridge after a show at London Fashion Week and I starting crying and thought Fuck This, feeling utterly crap in the outfit i'd liked until I was positioned in a crowd of assessing eyes. Being in your teens and having well-known street style photographers take in your outfit from head to toe and then walk past you like 'no' was enough to make me leap into the arms of the early rumblings of Normcore. Steve Jobs knows what's up, I thought, and a pair of New Balance trainers, moss green cords and rotating knitwear got me through my first year at Manchester where it was mostly grey and I was trying to figure out whether or not I really enjoyed taking drugs, with a new bunch of friends. I started to judge what I wore in correlation with how easy it was to 'get shit done' whilst wearing it; could I feel comfortable cycling around the city, buying vegetable and flowers which I'd purposely position so they stuck out of my panniers, and could I walk into a lecture without needing to hoik my skirt? I developed a crush on the guy who lived upstairs and wore old Dickies dungarees with the arms folded around his waist and grey felt Birkenstocks, mostly because his style seemed to encapsulate this approach. His girlfriend wore transparent rain macs and they'd lock themselves into departmental buildings at the University as the Occupy movement kicked off. I liked the idea of being able to sit through political planning meetings and not be disheartened by the fact there was always one guy who'd stand for 20 minutes talking about something entirely unrelated, while everybody politely gave him a platform.

It's not uncommon for a steadfast teenage commitment to fashion to waver. The tricky layered Venn Diagram in which changing physical shape, body image, capitalism, diversity, environmental responsibility all overlay with fashion played into the wavering, but even though I'd always think who are these people? whenever I read a style profile about a rich woman in Vogue, I was still interested in fashion. I'd still see women in the street, or at festivals wearing just the right sort of suede jacket, or carrying herself in a way that made me want to follow her, and that was always down to clothes. Reading blogs, sites, magazines in which women said something about fashion and style that went beyond "I love this!" has always been an antidote to the wavering; those women who tell a story about how a Cerulean eyeshadow can make them feel as blissed-out and ON as the bottom of a swimming pool, or how a period of depression implicated the way they felt about their favourite pleated dress. I'm always thirsty for these stories. 

The last couple of weeks I've been thinking about how I can dedicate my time to writing the sorts of features that tell these stories, and the extent to which I can afford to do this (writing purely about the good stuff is a luxury unless you have an income coming from other places too) In the process I've become hooked on Stacey Nishimoto's The Selfie beauty column for Into The Gloss which reminded me god, I love the things we humans can do to ourselves to feel good and distracted and make it through the day and to fan the flames of the fire emoji. Connected to this same headspace: i've been wearing a new pair of bright white Reeboks everyday and enjoying the hang of my grey winter coat and feeling VERY ON (sartorially speaking) and reflecting that spending money on things that make your heart sing is always valid. 

Stacey's column appeals to my current need to not waste so much time on the little details in life that really don't matter. (Me: spending days searching for the right Airbnb apartment, checking the menu online before visiting the restaurant so I can select the optimal dish.) Stacey Nishimoto is serious about beauty, but she also takes the approach that aiming for perfection will take the fun out of the endeavour, which is to experiment, look bloody fantastic and wear lipstick on your cheeks if you want to because, jesus, there aren't any rules. This week I've worn baby blue eyeshadow à la The Face, defined my eyebrows and bought copper coloured glitter to go wild with because what's the point of feeling like I 'don't get' make up and that it's an area of expertise for other people, when I could just get stuck in.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Weekend List: No. 23

I've missed this little textbox, which I temporarily sidelined whilst focusing on ££, among other things. I'm trying to remind myself the purpose of a blog; to put words into a space where everything doesn't have to be polished and full of purpose. We (I) are too obsessed with efficiency sometimes. The view from here: it's February, so- early nights, not going out much except to the cinema or maybe drinks at someone's house. Cranking up the heating during the day, weeks passing very much in the same fashion (suddenly we're always back to Saturday), feeling weighed down by the amount of stuff I own and so big sorting piles emerging through which i'm trying to find some happy compromise- somewhere between honouring the fact I like stuff and whether or not it sPaRks jOy. Small joys in things like walking an hour to work (even in the rain), getting back into podcasts, trying to find the sparkle I seem to lose each winter, and indulgences like taking long baths three nights in a row. February is weird, isn't it? It's when I particularly cling to the memory of wearing sandals to the shops and the smell of buying flowers on a Saturday morning when the air doesn't taste cold anymore.

Here goes; some of the reads and listens that have given my brain a nice little massage in the last month..

"Back when I was at my loneliest, I decided it would be a good idea to force myself to do all sorts of things alone...One June evening, I determined that I would go dancing. I didn't want to - of course I didn't want to, I didn't want to do any of it." A cut-out-and-keep by Sadie Stein (thank you Ava.)

Yesterday lunchtime I was batch-cooking a big pan of Thai Curry and In Therapy came onto Radio 4 and caught me completely off guard. Quite suddenly in the middle of a weekly session John, a retired railway unionist was vulnerably declaring his love for Susie (Orbach), his psychotherapist. What is this? Is this.. real? I stopped chopping and sat down and listened.

"The frontline of labour disputes had shifted from picket lines to worry lines and collective grievances had become individual psychological battles." Sometimes I feel I trigger stress by thinking about how Stressed I am.

"Evan never made me watch sports with him, or complained when I took ages getting ready. Evan had never taken a selfie in his life, but he called me 'selfie queen' affectionately." Solid Dudes!!!

Get serious about your Fuck Off Fund.

"The joke in the field is: The male pill's been five to 10 years away for the last 30 years" Why Isn't Birth Control Getting Better?

Bowie x3: "The guitarist was going on about an art exhibit, and how much Mr Bowie would love it. Then he caught himself, realising whom he was talking to, and said, "Oh, you can never go there; there's too many people." Mr Bowie answered, slyly, "You'd be surprised the places I'm 'able to go."" David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker is so nice, and goes well with this anecdote: "People think: that's David Bowie, surely? Then they see the Greek newspaper - no, can't be, just some Greek guy who looks like him."And then there's this Jezebel piece which I really didn't want to read, but I did, and it made me uncomfortable in various ways, and was probably of the most real value. "We can't value one without devaluing the other."