friday likes 29/3/13

it’s FRIDAY! and most of you will probably be enjoying a nice eastery weekend off, so I hope you all have a lovely one. me? I have to work, but I don’t mind, because we all know that a) i’m a workaholic, b) my job rocks, and c) all of my friends are there. so right now I am blasting out the ramones in a semi-tidy room (a mammoth achievement for me) and waiting for nails to dry before I dash out the door; this week has blown by so fast because I’ve been consulting relatives about funeral things, working my butt off and reading greek myths like a fiend every morning. I’ve seen a lot of my favourite people, who have all been very lovely, and been working on a new top secret writing project. exciting! I have a substantial whack of time off towards the end of this weekend and I am supremely excited about it. lie ins! cooking! going out for fun drinks with my boys! lovely. here’s what’s been keeping me smiling this week:

tea and orange hot cross buns! i'll post the recipe for these over the weekend!

tea and orange hot cross buns! i’ll post the recipe for these over the weekend!

cacti are so cute! we have some in the pub and I’ve got some in my kitchen and room at the moment, in cute blue planters; I have nicknamed them Steve, Trevor and Harold. They’re megacute.

the art of cheese on toast in complex and nuanced, as any brit will tell you. and the bit about drunk cheese on toast slayed me; it was a massive student tradition to risk burning the house down in the pursuit of dairy and carbs.

So I’ll happily take lessons from a teenager on how to do my eyebrows. To be honest though I only define them if i’m going out, I’m blessed with pretty great bone structure anyway so I don’t have to really make the effort (I know, I know, I’ll shut up now)

my new ten quid charity shop jacket. 100% pure new wool. one word: SCORE.

my new ten quid charity shop jacket. 100% pure new wool. one word: SCORE.

it’s the season for chocolate! every Christmas I make my family a batch of my killer chocolate truffles, so I was quite surprised to find my recipe is not far off the ‘perfect’ recipe. and I thought, why don’t I make some for easter? for like, my housemates? so maybe these will make an appearance over the weekend.

Or maybe I’ll go out on a limb and make this instead, I love the crazy colours of the white one and it has baby goldbears in it! I love goldbears!

David Lynch babes! Everytime I put on my favourite blue velvet dress I automatically wanna channel Rosselini and be all mysterious and take my kinks out on the dudes I hang around with and wear too much red lipstick. Oh, the power of film inspiration.

This has inspired me to paint up an old pair of shoes I bought in Barcelona a few years back for cheap. But what to paint?

Being a massively noisy bastard this week. YEAH!

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soup for the soul

I am never happier than when I am in the kitchen. There is something about the private, gentle, routine of preparing myself food that I cherish above most other things. I know I’ve lost a little bit of control over things if cooking slips from my routine; I mean, not having the time to prepare yourself something nourishing and tasty is a sure sign that self care is not on your agenda, no? unfortunately, life has been a bit like that for me lately. I have been fulfilling both my job duties and that of a six foot yorkshireman with a beard at work, which is time consuming to say the least, and as a result my time at home has been divided roughly evenly into time in bed, time in the shower, and time chugging coffee while I hang out endless laundry.

But having lost my grandma has bought to mind something I read by Nigella Lawson on death, about how appetite is not only normal, but respectful in times of grieving. That eating and embracing life is a way to show that you respect the privileges that the departed can no longer enjoy. it’s something I always bear in mind when I lose somebody; because the temptation to get blind drunk and blot out my feelings gets pretty strong, and there has to be other ways to deal with things, is my thought. Cooking is one of the ways I have found most effective. I can remember making spinach and feta pie after my great grandma died while I was at university, I remember getting immersed in making a huge curry when I found out my grandpa had died from cancer, losing myself in grinding the spices. And so these past few days I’ve been in the kitchen, chopping and stirring and enjoying the quiet. It’s the cook’s pleasure to be able to lose oneself in the colour, texture and smells of the kitchen. and at times like this I want things that are unchallenging to cook (I have always favoured simplicity at the best of times), but deliver maximum comfort upon eating, and will feed me for a couple of days. so I settled on a recipe I made fairly routinely at university, a bastardized version of Caldo Verde, which is a Portugese peasant soup of cabbage and potatoes, flavoured with sausage or chorizo fried to give up a little of it’s oil and chucked in at the end. It seemed to go perfectly with the weather at the moment, which doesn’t seem to realize that it’s spring yet.

probably the easiest soup in the world.

probably the easiest soup in the world.

You Will Need:

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

curly kale (I used one of those supermarket bags, and it is worth nothing that this recipe can be made with any robust leafy greans, but especially from the brassica family, so savoy cabbage is a good shout)

2-3 medium to large potatoes

cooking chorizo (you don’t need much, I used maybe 50g per bowl)

the zest of a lemon

2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley

probably about 700ml vegetable stock

olive oil, salt and pepper.

So it’s really easy. First, lightly crush the garlic with the blade of a knife, and sliver the onion into little half moons. heat the oil in a pan and let them slowly soften. while that’s happening, peel and dice the spuds. I leave mine quite chunky, so about 1 1/2 cm dice.

I am pretty convinced a cook should always have a glass of wine handy.

I am pretty convinced a cook should always have a glass of wine handy.

when the onions are nicely transparent, add the potatoes to the pan, toss to coat with the oil, and add salt and pepper. pour over the veggie stock, turn up the heat, and bring to the boil. cover and let simmer while the potatoes soften.

when the potatoes are almost tender, chuck in your sliced greens (mine were already sliced, seriously, finding kale out of those supermarket vac packs should not be such a tough ask in as middle class an area as Muswell Hill). heat a separate frying pan and dry fry your chorizo until it gives up some of it’s terracotta oil. turn the heat off the pan and sprinkle with the lemon zest and parsley, lightly tossing the ingredients together.

meat on heat

meat on heat

pour the soup into bowls and add the chorizo on top, adding the beads of oil from the pan. and there you have it; it’s not exactly going to win beauty contests (although there’s a lot to be said for the colours going on here) but it fills the belly and bolsters the soul.

I would feel no shame in serving bowls of this to a table of friends with a loaf of good bread (probably homemade, speaking of which I bought Dan Lepard’s The Home Made Loaf yesterday. That’s right man, another bread book to add to my collection). This is probably because I have never stood on ceremony when entertaining, but also because it’s a big heartwarmer of a dish, and the balance of flavours is perfect. It’s essentially an exercise in making a little go a long way, and that feeling of being able to conjure up plenty from almost nothing is satisfying in it’s own right.

served on day two, I am almost tempted to say it was better.

served on day two, I am almost tempted to say it was better.

It’s also worth nothing that this recipe will bear up quite well to repeat servings, too. just heat up a portion and fry up a new batch of chorizo. it’s almost better on the second day when the potatoes have had time to cloud the broth and lending it some starchy thickness. I am also going to add a disclaimer here that I do cook and eat things other than soup; it’s just that lately I seem to be making it a lot, as it’s comforting, simple, and good for you.

An apology.

There isn’t going to be a Friday likes today. Early this morning I lost a very dear family member, who has been struggling with cancer for about a year now. She was in a lot of pain, and I am glad it’s finally over for her; her illness was the kind of indignity that it was difficult for family members to go through seeing. I prefer to remember her as one of the strongest, most controlled and classy women I know. Today is about me finding the things to love in my own life in memory of her, and I don’t think Friday likes will be missed enough for me to exhaust myself for a whole day creating it when I have bigger things preoccupying my mind. I hope you understand guys.

book clubbing:American Pastoral (1998)

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I spent countless hours in bookshops. I love independent bookshops like the London Review where everything is carefully selected and the staff will help you find something totally to your taste, but my favourite bookshops are probably secondhand bookshops, stacked high with all sorts. You feel like you’ve done something satisfactory when you come home with a big pile of exciting new things to read. And they’re good places for weird old books on crafts and preserving and stuff, too. One of my bartenders has a girlfriend who is always amazed when she asks where I got a piece of clothing from and I say ‘oh this? three quid, charity shop.’ I can honestly say that nine times out of ten if you asked me that about the book in my hands I’d probably have the same answer.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from childhood, where my mum said the only way to afford the amount of books I read was to buy them secondhand. Honestly though, I think there’s some weight behind the fact these shops are entirely random in nature. You never know what’s coming into stock; what’ll be there one day to the next. They’ll likely never have an author’s complete oeuvre, and you have to have quite a huge to-read list if you’re going into one with the idea that you’ll pick something up from it. Luckily I do. And honestly, my to-read list has things on it for many reasons, but a large portion of it is ‘authors I feel I should read because my literary scope, even after four years of study still feels absolutely limited’. Names you hear banded about in conversation a lot to the point where you’re like ‘I should read some of that so I can figure out what on earth everyone else is on about.’ Part of me wishes I was joking, but no. My desire too have a solid personal canon of works under my belt to work from is a pretty major literature purchasing influence. And that’s why trawling the higgledy piggledy stacks of secondhand bookshops is so satisfying; it’s easy to bump into these names here and there, to pick up books by them in a completely context-free setup that allows you to discover them newly and without influence. It’s interesting.

And it’s how I encountered Philip Roth for the first time. I picked up American Pastoral for probably about two pounds thinking, ‘here is one of those American authors I have never read that I probably should, let’s give this a go.’ it seems almost silly to write it out, but it’s true. But it’s great, because I ended up really enjoying the book, surprising myself in the process.

At the outset, I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t enjoy the book. I started reading all these rose-tinted descriptions of the narrator’s schooldays and the exploits of all star school athlete Swede Levov, and found myself grimacing, wondering how much of the narrator’s adulation I’d have to endure, thinking the schoolboy penis envy was a bit much, really. But a narrative shift happens eventually, the perfect suburban life Swede Levov has bought himself into comes completely under scrutiny, and you finally find your sympathies and values tested as a reader. The canonization of Levov was a necessary warm up, you realize. You needed to see him through that lens of American heroism before you could fully understand as a reader the point the novel was driving home about the abrupt disruption of those values that happened in the second half of the 20th century. You were supposed to be as envious and irritated and admiring as the narrator and his schoolmates before you could have the whole thing unpicked and explored.

So the skinny is that Swede Levov is an all star school athlete, goes and fights in the second world war, takes over his family business rather than going into anything athletic full time, marries the former Miss New Jersey who he lives in suburban bliss with in Newark, has a daughter, Merry, who in protest against the Vietnam War, blows up the local post office slash store and kills the local doctor in the process, smashing the self-made American family dream in the process. And the thing is, it seems like a simple story, a story that could have several sympathetic entry points for a reader, along with several figures and ideals to feel contempt for. But the smart thing about Roth is at any given time in the book he makes you feel for all of them or none of them.

The book is an exploration of how, in just one generation, the dream of being a self-made American, living peacefully in America, doing wholesome American business and having a wholesome American leisure life, becomes the ultimate nightmare and oppressive state. There are several social theorists who could present cut and dried mid-20th century arguments for how, but Roth’s interrogation is through the eyes of a son-of-an-immigrant father who doesn’t know what he was guilty of, who is looking hard at the life he built for his family, the life that he was supposed to build according to the principles of America, and trying to figure out what exactly made it all come crashing down. It’s far from cut and dried.

The father daughter relationship is never a simple one. I speak from experience, being someone’s daughter and having had my own bleak and total moments of rejecting what is probably the English Pastoral that was created for me. Roth demonstrates it in all its complexity: the journey from the father being the favourite parent to becoming the tyrant oppressor, the journey that’s normal for all young girls. The fine toothed comb that Levov rakes over this relationship with, trying to see where he fucked up, is absolutely heartbreaking. the accusations he levels at himself for being a businessman, for marrying a woman for just how beautiful and American she seemed to him, they made even a father-hardened reader like me feel agonizingly sympathetic to him.

And seeing his wife, Dawn’s attempts to come to terms with her post beauty pageant existence is equally heartbreaking. She resents the whole process; the Miss new Jersey lens people view her through, the fact her later pursuit of breeding cows is not taken seriously, the fact her daughter resents what she is emblematic of.  After Merry’s bombing and disappearance she breaks down, rails against Levov for the life he has created too, turns to plastic surgery, interior design, and affairs (a suburban holy trinity if ever there was one) to recover. On paper this seems like a recipe for a terrible character, a figure created to act as a contempt -foil to Swede Levov, but no one in the book is that easy to write off; and our Swede is not without fault in all this, resorting to an affair before Dawn. There are no villains in this book in the same way that there are no heroes.

The book ends in asking the ultimate question, holding up the life of the Levovs and asking us, the readers, to comment on how reprehensible it really is. It’s not an easy question to answer; the lives are remarkable and unremarkable at the same time; nothing that is outlined by Roth in technicolour detail is abnormal behaviour, and everybody, but everybody means so well that even though everything falls down in a huge screaming heap, it’s incredibly difficult to start pointing fingers and laying judgement. The tragedy of the story is that it’s everyone’s, it’s  picture of America where everyone and no one is at fault, and the reader is left without a convenient figure to hate and blame.

Also; and I think it’s worth a mention: this review was written to the sounds of this incredibly apt suburbs playlist by the girls at Rookie magazine.

friday likes 15/3/13

Woah! It’s Friday again, as if! This week has been action packed to say the least. Spending heaps of time at work while Neil was a) in Lisbon, b) struck with man flu, and c) off to Copenhagen. Which is it’s own kind of fun because it means I rule the roost and that’s it’s own kind of freedom really. Not to mention the early half of this week I had my belated birthday drinks with my friends (including one of my old bartenders, back from California, so exciting), and spent some time catching up with a friend who had just been to Germany to see family. Other than that it’s been cooking and books and not much else, even superwomen like me can only do so much in one day. I’m feeling super optimistic though, we’re trialling new staff at the moment and we’re getting a new housemate in our wonderful 21b this weekend. Everything feels suffused full of change at the moment; I actually love it!

A Beautiful Mess is the best place to go for styled updos (part of becoming an adult is realizing I now have to do things like ‘styled updos’ for work a lot). They’ve rounded up all their best hair tutorials here.

speaking of hair, mine is getting back to super long mermaid status. result!

speaking of hair, mine is getting back to super long mermaid status. result!

What do you think about taking photographs of your dinner? I personally do it, I think it’s a compliment to the chef if I wanna show off to my friends about what I’ve got for tea while they eat their beans on toast (cos that’s what it’s all about, no?), but I can see why people might think it was irritating. Wouldn’t mind one of the classes though; is anyone else a secret food paparazzi?

This Tokyo travel diary is amazing. The colours!

I enjoyed this series of thoughts on colour in food. This may be a hangover from being vegetarian but I feel a bit odd if there is no green on my plate; it just seems like such an appealing, health giving colour. Also, multi-coloured sweets taste better, that’s why we eat more, duh!

Weirdly, I have been having a lot of conversations about personal branding at the moment. I have been in denial about self marketing for a while and am slowly starting to embrace it.

me and my mama bear being hair twins back in the day. what did you do for mother's day?

me and my mama bear being hair twins back in the day. what did you do for mother’s day?

St. Patrick’s day is my cousins birthday first, and the day the pub gets inundated with inept part time drinkers second. I liked this piece on better stouts than Guinness a lot; there are so many more flavourful, wonderful beers you could be having, and Guinness is owned by Diageo, who are about as Irish as Linguine a la Vongole. My favourite stouts at the moment are Arbor’s Oyster Stout, which comes from Bristol, and Summer Wine’s Barista Stout, which we handily have on cask at the pub at the moment.

A quick ‘n’ dirty nail art tutorial (this article mentions angled brushes; my top tip in the face of unwieldy brushes on nail varnish is to diy trim. also, best brushes for my money are opi and rimmel if you’re a nail dunce). When I get bored of annihilating my nails in the glitter sensation that is American apparel’s galaxy i’m gonna try this with some sickly summer pastels.

‘every day is fucking perfect/it’s a paradise/watch my life like it’s a movie/have to watch it twice’…. summer is coming and I can hear it, let’s bring back this collaboration and play it at all our parties, yeah??

I have been listening to this in bed a lot. Especially in the morning with the windows wide open. Reminds me of this time last year; sticking heart stickers in my diary and hanging out with my most laidback, mood enhancing friends.  Spring is sprung.

book clubbing:How should a person be? (2013)

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I have just read a book at a complete life changing point. Some times in life things catch you at just the right moment, as was the case with Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?

My friend Claire works at the London Review Bookshop, and often comes to the pub after events there. we talk about books, gardening, crafts, life, everything. And last week we talked about one of her up and coming events, a Sheila Heti Q&A. And about how she could really relate to her book, and about how I should read it. Now, this being the year I have decided to try to build more of a life for myself outside of work; to try and actually live, in essence, I decided to take Claire up on her recommendation that I both a) read the book, and b) attend the event at the end of April.

I finished the book in a day and a half. I sat in bed, glued to the pages, unable to do anything else. This was a book that spoke directly to me. Claire was bang on with her recommendation. It is, in essence, a novel entirely in response to it’s title; a semi autobiographical, metafictional, musing by the artist on what it means to be a person. Which is something I think about a lot myself, being just at the right point in my twenties where I start looking around and realizing ‘this isn’t how I thought it was going to be, what now?’.

The narrative voice that ties the whole book together is what I would consider ‘likably unlikeable’. The flaws are all incredibly apparent, a huge part of her makeup, but they’re so relatable as to be endearing. ‘Overanalysis? Oh, I do that. A Desperate desire to be adored? Yup. She’s just like me.’. The worries about not knowing about life’s purpose, about not being able to create, about not being able to love, they’re all things that are at the forefront of my mind too, most of the time. This is an outpouring of anxiety about selfhood that manages to be relatable and funny, if occasionally bringing on moments of the fear.

I think, though, what I liked most about the book was the huge, deep vein of female friendship running through it. Sheila’s relationship with her best friend, Margaux, is the strongest and most rewarding in the book. it is the antidote to all the ‘men trying to teach her something’ that she finds so disappointing. it is more of a source of emotional solace than her tumultuous sexual arrangement. It is richly detailed, it is warm, it is mutual. It made me grateful for the fantastic females I have the privilege of being emotionally close to; for the strengthening nature of female friendship and its vital part in building a self if you are a twentysomething girl in a big city who maybe hasn’t found what she considers a direction in life yet and is worried about maybe never doing so. It made me consider that there’s nothing quite as amazing as the feeling that you are lucky to be friends with a creative, successful, beautiful woman.

The book I needed to read, at the right time, in the right place, definitely. And the sign that I loved it is that I have already lent it to somebody, with all my underlinings and scribblings and so on in it. Someone who I want to see those underlinings and scribblings; someone who I want to see my self better than I could explain it. We’ll see how that works out. And in the meantime, I have the event to look forward to.

Friday Likes:8/3/13

It’s Friday! And it might be raining in London, but I’ve had ever such a nice week. It was blazingly sunny for my birthday and I saw my mum and my brother and a whole host of my favourites. I managed, last weekend, to spend some solid time with my housemates, catching up on all the events of their lives with wide eyes and open ears. I’ve been wearing my hair loose and not worrying about things, reading Greek myths with my coffee every morning, and walking all over my city in my big boots, taking in what it has to offer wherever I can. This weekend is going to be exciting too, after we host a 40th for a very nice man in the Whippet, I’ll be spending Sunday having belated birthday drinks with my friends in my favourite pub in Kentish town. here’s what’s been part of my whirlwind week of joy:

Neal's Yard colour spotting: green!

Neal’s Yard colour spotting: green!

I really want to make some of this toy animal jewellery! I could make a series of whippets to wear to work; gold, leopard print, neon, what do you think??

Most of Natalie’s articles on xojane crack me up. This reminds me of when I used to work retail.

Neal's Yard colour spotting: Blue!

Neal’s Yard colour spotting: Blue!

So, come summer, who wants cucumber margaritas??

I’m so down with this defence of the selfie! I take ’em to record outfits and see what works and what doesn’t, plus it’s cool to have a record of your appearance; but I like the idea of them being a way to be visible, to be pleased with how you look, too.

So, the Nanban whippy-san social is this weekend! There was a vote on which flavours to have and literally all the ones I went for got voted in. I’m going to try and pop down on Sunday before my birthday drinks. Anyone fancy it?

Neal's Yard colour spotting: Yellow! (my favourite)

Neal’s Yard colour spotting: Yellow! (my favourite)

On not leaving the house. So true.

I want to make lots of gold glittery household projects.

Neal's Yard colour spotting: Orange!

Neal’s Yard colour spotting: Orange!

My supertalented Bostonion friend Evan has started combining fiction and music. I love what he’s done; such a cool idea, no?

This looks like pretty much the kind of pub I want to run one day. Food made with produce from local farmers? Local beer? Maybe I would have more colour involved, but that’s just my magpie self coming through (I always said the pub I eventually run will be painted pastel yellow, like the first pub I fell in love with).

So I have been channeling my pop side when I get ready at the moment. Absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of Gwen Stefani; I might even put it on my ever-girlier playlist at work.

Speaking of work playlists, Neil’s is full of early Cure and then this, which takes me back to being about fifteen.

iconography:Thea Fenchel

“As for Thea, sometimes she looked more barbarous than they did in spite of the civilized lipstick and conventional shape of the jodhpurs she wore.”  

Okay so it has taken me quite some time to get my act together and talk about my third and final Augie March love, Thea Fenchel. but that’s because she’s the one I really felt I had to get right, my possible favourite of the lot. The main love interest of the novel, Thea is a real textual focal point, and Bellow fleshes out her personality in vivid technicolour. I loved her.

Bellow’s women are far from one-dimensional narrative figurines, but Thea is a huge bundle of contradictions in terms, and she is wonderful for it. He makes her sound like the original fashionista, mixing high and low end items in her everyday look:

“She was cuckoo about dime stores, where she bought cosmetics and pins and combs. After we locked the expensive purchases in the station wagon we went into McCory’s or Kresge’s and were there by the hour, up and down the aisles with the multitude, mostly of women, and in the loud-played love music. Some things Thea liked to buy cheaply, they maybe gave her the best sense of the innermost relations of pennies and nickels and explained the real depth of money. I don’t know. But I didn’t think myself too good to be wandering in the dime store with her. I went where and as she said and did whatever she wanted because I was threaded to her as if through the skin. So that any trifling object she took pleasure in could become important to me at once; anything at all, a comb or hairpin or piece of line, a compass inside a tin ring that she bought with great satisfaction, or a green billed baseball cap for the road, or the kitten she kept in the apartment – she would never be anywhere without an animal.” 

She manages to be many contradictory things at once. An heiress and a huntress, strong and fragile, tame and wild. Shes been married, and has a past populated with lovers and scandal, and after Augie, she goes on to have more love affairs, yett while she is with Augie she has him completely in her thrall. She takes him to Mexico, to finalize her divorce, and while they’re there she trains an eagle, with which she plans to hunt giant iguanas and sell the stories to Time Magazine. She surrounds herself with animals, also cultivating a collection of snakes in the conservatory of the Mexico house, and she is bitterly disappointed when she realizes their eagle, Caligula, turns out to be ‘chicken’, preferring the prepared meat they give them to having to hunt his own prey, and actually afraid of the giant iguanas. Thea likes to tame things, but not to the point where they cannot fend for themselves.

We see this in her relationship with Augie. Initially she hunts him down, remembering him from an adolescent holiday in which he fell in love with her sister. She thrusts herself upon him and tells him how she feels and for how long she’s been looking. But eventually she becomes disappointed in him when she realizes all it takes to ensnare him is flattery, so she moves on to another lover, and wants nothing more to do with him.

“Here in the city she had gilded her nails. They shone. And she had put on a velvet dress, this soft red one, which was heavy. The buttons were in the form of seashells.”

saul bellow's the adventures of augie march: thea fenchel
Thea Fenchel essentials: leather gilet for throwing on over dresses to go hunting (£200, topshop), big tough boots for finding snakes in the grass (£145, office), gilded nails for in the city, (£6, topshop), civilizing lipstick even for eagle hunting (£36, Tom Ford at Selfridges), beaded bag for toting loads of stuff all over Mexico, (£86, mango)

She is alternately portrayed as fierce and fragile, and despite being outdoorsy and wearing big boots and jackets, always contrasts it with something soft and delicate. Her fearlessness and determination are never said to compromise her femininity, and we see her through Augie’s adoring eyes, as the most wonderful, unique, woman in the world. She’s dynamic, always the centre of attention and always doing something; Thea ricochets between missions rapidly, when the Caligula project fails she moves on to snake hunting in the Mexican wilds within the blink of an eye, and has no patience for anybody not ready to move straight on with her. She drives, drinks tequila, smokes, and makes no bones about telling people in society exactly what she thinks of them. She adopts an almost masculine, Pygmalion style role with Augie, dressing him, giving him an allowance, almost ‘creating’ her man, and is possessed of tremendous authority.

And she’s wonderfully eccentric. she keeps her cash in the refrigerator, and makes elaborate cluttered nests of every suite she inhabits. She never stays in one place long, and tires of people very quickly. For a love interest, she is allowed much more force of will than is typical; and it is this that I fell in love with as a reader. her force of will means she can never be contained, and is ultimately what leads her out of Augie’s life, but it is a beautiful, powerful, and awe inspiring thing, and left me in admiration long after I finished the book.

25 things I want to do at 25.

Queen for the day.

Queen for the day.

Every year on my birthday I like to create a list of things I want to achieve over the course of that year, in various different areas of my life. Some big, some small. I usually achieve most of them, and it’s a good way to try to direct my energy flow over the course of the year. I spend most of February thinking about these things every year, so it is usually quite a good glimpse into my personality.

I spent last summer surrounding myself with beautiful flowers, and probably will do again.

I spent last summer surrounding myself with beautiful flowers, and probably will do again.

Read a short story every morning.

I did this over my university years and it’s a good way to wake up into the day and provides a nice amount of food for thought for the rest of it. It also exposed me to loads of writers I might not have encountered otherwise, and was a good way to squeeze more perspective into my jam-packed reading schedule. It’s a habit I intend to get back into.

Complete at least four knitting/crochet projects.

That’s one a season, I don’t think it is too big of an ask. It’s something I tend to let fall by the wayside when I’m busy, and honestly I shouldn’t, as I find it so relaxing and satisfying to handmake something over the course of a week or so.

Plant at least one fruit tree.

Last year the garden all died over the course of a very busy summer at work, and this year I refuse to let that happen. Nothing makes me feel like I’ve got more security in life than tending to edibles and flowers every morning, and nothing suggests longevity and stability of residence more than commiting to planting fruits. I’m thinking a nice variety of cherry.

Everywhere in London looked festive over the Olympics. I'm not going to let party atmospheres pass me by anymore.

Everywhere in London looked festive over the Olympics. I’m not going to let party atmospheres pass me by anymore.

Get back to baking at least once a week.

Really it doesn’t take long to make cakes, or a couple of loaves of bread, and this past year my routine has been so up in the air I’ve neglected opportunities to do so. Not this year. I am going to get back into spending time in the kitchen creating food for myself and my housemates, and using the time to think over things in the way I find so satisfying.

Notice and commemorate the festivities

This past year I ignored almost every holiday except Christmas, when they’re actually quite fun ways to mark the passing of the seasons. I think this year I am going to try to celebrate the passing holidays, even in small ways, to make my year feel richer and more full.

Cooking as self-care.

Cooking as self-care.

Make a bigger commitment to recycling.

I am going to enquire with Haringey council about recycling schemes, and implement them at home. I am also going to try and repurpose as much as possible (glass jars for storage and DIY projects, tins for plants, etc.)

It's amazing the pretty things you notice if you look for them.

It’s amazing the pretty things you notice if you look for them.

Have friends over for dinner at least once every two months.

Last year I only cooked for a handful of people. I think this year I want to make the kitchen more of a focal point for community and friendship. Besides, cooking for one person just isn’t as fun, is it?

Have two booze free nights a week

I have already been doing this (actually, the norm lately has been more like three or four). But I want to make it a public commitment because come summer everything seems to get just that bit more social and I don’t want to get too carried away with things. I have been enjoying how much more well rested I feel, and how much time I feel like I have in the mornings when I don’t drink.

Complete four sewing projects.

I didn’t use my sewing machine at ALL last year. isn’t that embarrassing?

I focussed a lot on gratitude last year and it made everything more enjoyable.

I focussed a lot on gratitude last year and it made everything more enjoyable.

Donate to the charity shop at least once a month

I figure making a commitment to visit regularly over the course of the year with things to get rid of will actually keep me on top of decluttering more than doing it all in one go.

Finally try homebrew

I have been meaning to do this for the longest time. And I know enough people who are full of brewing expertise to help me make it happen. I think this should be the year I finally take the plunge and try making my own hooch.

Invest in some good kitchen knives.

I have been meaning to do this since I moved in here. And there is an excellent kitchen shop in Muswell Hill so I’ve really got no excuse. If I build up a set over time and sharpen them regularly then I will be back to the fully-kitchen-stocked situation I was in at University.

Dream Houses!

Dream Houses!

Go to at least one exhibition a month.

I always put off seeing exhibitions until it’s too late, which is silly as I have odd midweek days off which make seeing them at my leisure entirely viable. I swore to myself when seeing the Lichtenstein exhibit in February that this year I wouldn’t miss any that I wanted to see, and I meant it. The next on the agenda is Bowie at the V&A, for sure.

Register my Oyster card.

The amount of losses and thefts I have suffered should have meant I’d do this sooner. All it’s done is made me put it on the to-do-tomorrow list, which is as good as doing nothing. I will do this, and save myself a lot of stress and hassle.

Travel Somewhere.

Anywhere, I don’t mind. But it’s been such a long time since I have seen a new city, and I have spent the last year or so talking to Americans who rightly think I am lucky to have Europe on my doorstep. I need to use my time off work, and I need to use it trying to see new things.

Pretty, lighted, quiet time.

Pretty, lighted, quiet time.

Go for two walks a week

I used to walk a lot more when I lived by the sea and in the country. They were functional walks, but they were longer, and far more scenic, and I had time to think things over a lot more thoroughly on them. I think London’s public transport is great, but provides me with a lot more distraction opportunities and I never have that daydreamy, reflection time that a good, long, walk provides these days. I think incorporating walking back into my routine will be good for my mind and probably my health.

Properly master homemade pizza.

I make pretty good homemade pizza. But I want to make amazing home made pizza. I think I need to explore different dough recipes until I find the perfect one, and I haven’t set myself an obsessive food challenge like this in a while. This will be one I will be looking for friends, housemates and lovers to be guinea pigs for, so brace yourselves guys, there’s going to be a lot of feeding going on.

Buy less disposable items.

From ditching facewipes for hot cloth cleansing to investing in shoes that won’t wear out every few months, I want to reduce my waste output this year, bigstyle. Environmentalism governs almost all my politics and I want to make serious changes to ensure my impact gets lower the older I get.

Beautiful, autumnal, Muswell Hill.

Beautiful, autumnal, Muswell Hill.

Master cocktails.

I have a few cocktails that I default to in my repertoire, but I am going to pick a spirit each month and try out different cocktails with it, to find favourites and try and get myself a go-to list of things I can knock up without thinking about it. I will be looking for guinea pigs so don’t be surprised if you get invited round for drinks.

Good, solid advice.

Good, solid advice.

Learn to take excellent photos.

I really feel like my photography skills are diabolical, I want to teach myself how to capture moments in my life in brilliant technicolour, which is how I feel and see them. I am fixated by all the pretty things I see and I am desperate to be able to share them the way I see them. I’m going to practice a lot, try and teach myself a few things, and perhaps take a photography course or two to get it down.

Really try to get to know my city better.

I feel like there’s still so much I haven’t done here. I’m going to try and figure out one new thing a fortnight to do, to try and get out of my routine before it becomes a rut. There is always so much going on in London that I honestly cannot believe I do the same things in the same places all the time.

Star lights in every window.

Star lights in every window.

Get into the habit of responding to communications immediately.

I am so crap with emails, texts, followups, and other such things. I really and truly need to start responding to people’s communications quicker, as a sign of respect and a way to stay on top of things and not miss out. Going to try and dedicate 20 minutes every morning to doing exactly that.

Have One day a week of not spending a single penny.

Spending money is such a quick, unsatisfying fix to beat boredom. I want to have at least one day a week where I spend nothing and focus on doing things instead of going out and buying a new book, say, and calling that an achievement. I think that way I will end up getting round to things I have been putting off and spend more time doing than buying.

Learn at least two new things for work every month.

Work is a bigger part of my life than I could ever have foreseen, and I really dedicate myself to being the best I can be there. I am going to try and develop myself career wise, be that educating myself more about beer or learning a new skill that will help me on the job. Work is so much about what you make it; and I have not been putting as much time in as I could be lately. If you invest in the parts of your job that you feel you need to strengthen yourself in, you get so much more out of it, and since I spend five days a week, minimum there, it may as well make me as happy as is physically possible.

I love spending time in my kitchen.

I love spending time in my kitchen.

Really consolidate my social circle.

It’s easy to end up feeling completely alone in London sometimes, even when it’s not the case. Everybody lives in such a range of places, and I think feeling more connected is something I need to focus on this year. I will start saying yes to more social invitations, and make attempts myself at organizing to spend more time with people I want to get to know better. Making friends as an adult is a lot harder than say, university years, but it’s necessary and pleasant to spend time with other people and I feel like that was missing in my life for a lot of my 24th year.

A secret admirer bought me these last summer. Aren't they stunning?

A secret admirer bought me these last summer. Aren’t they stunning?

So, quite a list! I am hoping my 25th year will be as good as last year was; and my focuses are mainly on living a more varied and interesting life. It’s so easy to end up bored and upset for no reason other than not doing anything new that I hope the framework I have set myself will help me to enjoy what is already quite an exciting life. Happy birthday to me!

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, Tate Modern

I went to two different secondary schools over the course of my GCSE, one single sex private, and one single sex comprehensive. I started off at the private, and I can still remember the rigidity of the curriculum, and the previously dormant streak of petulant rebellion it bought out in me. It came out most thoroughly in my art lessons. I was basically at war with my art teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who didn’t seem to like my fascination with colour. I remember including violent neons in minimalist studies, reimagining Leger style abstract expressionism in lurid clashes, and trying to make linocuts of Otto Dix style anguished portraits so I could print them in bright red and green on the financial times ‘because it was pink’. And she hated all of it. I remember the final showdown between me and her was when I cut all the most blazingly bright coloured pieces out of a series of prints I’d made and jumbled them together in a kind of fluorescent cubist nightmare, and she sent me to the cupboard with a candle and a mirror to go do self portraits and ‘work on my light and shade’. I know right? I stopped going to art lessons, preferring to smoke on the hockey field and idly create big bold oil pastel portraits in my sketchbook instead.

When I moved schools I couldn’t have got a better reaction to what Mrs. Anderson had called my ‘wastes of paint’. The cynic in me assumes now, that if I’d spent the whole time pseudo-classically training myself instead of getting really hyped up on all the different colours you can create I’d have still got a warm reaction, because hell, I was doing work in what was considered a ‘non-core’ subject, but no, my new Art teacher handed me a huge pile of books on Pop Art and colour theory and sent me off on my merry way to wreak havoc with the acrylics. Which is where I first discovered Roy Lichtenstein. And to be honest, at the time, his work got a kind of ‘meh’ reaction from teenage me. When you’re young you crave cultural objects that resonate with feeling, so I was listening to Hole and looking at Edvard Munch’s The Scream and wondering how to get exactly that kind of violence of emotion into my pastel strokes. Which is a hilariously teenage thing to do in the controlled school environment. but I think at that age if it doesn’t strike a chord with your hurt, and you’re the sort of introverted ball of angst I was, then you’re not gonna be into it. I thought Lichtenstein’s work was kinda pretty, and that’s about it. My comprehension of the ways objects could mean something was limited.

I like to dress referentially, so to go see Lichtenstein it had to be Benday dots and red lipstick.

I like to dress referentially, so to go see Lichtenstein it had to be Benday dots and red lipstick.

Fast forward roughly ten years and you have a Kirsty who has been through the system of higher education, getting herself social skills and a sound knowledge of modernism, postmodernism, and whole load of other ‘isms’ on the way. You also have a girl trying to make the most of a big city and spend time on her own absorbing beautiful and interesting things rather than sitting around the house not doing an awful lot. it has taken me a long time to get to a point where I feel like nurturing myself in my own company is for the greater good, but I’m there now, so I took myself off to go and see the Lichtenstein retrospective at the Tate Modern on my day off last week.

There are times when having a different social schedule to the rest of the world has its perks, and being able to visit an art gallery on a quiet Monday and reflect on things in peace is one of them. I must have been the only person in there who wasn’t either a student or a lady-who-lunches style Tate member. It was quiet enough that I could dawdle and stop and stare to my heart’s content. Absolute bliss.

The retrospective surprised me in a lot of ways. There were a lot of Lichtenstein pieces I had never seen before, such as the Japanese landscapes, and all of his sculptures. I was particularly enamoured with the Art deco ones; so shiny and gold and functionless, with such devotion to the overwrought detail. Having not grown up with a lot of art deco architecture around me, I like the style, but I also liked Lichtenstein’s idea that it was a ‘designer’s design’, that there were a lot of superfluous lines and curves drawn in to unnecessarily demonstrate the technical skill. Hence the sculptures. Plus: so shiny and gold.

Modern sculpture with glass wave, 1967

Modern sculpture with glass wave, 1967

I mean, it was great to see the comic book style pictures up close and personal, but the collections I fell in love with surprised me. I was incredibly taken with some early pieces based on adverts involving impersonal, disembodied female hands, Lichtenstein seemingly suggesting that in adland women are just extensions of household objects:

Spray, 1962

Spray, 1962

I loved his nudes, and their cartoonization of sexuality in art. The idea that instead of a female body as an objet d’art, it’s shown as something more pulp and crass, but also kind of infantile, was fantastic. I love that he took normal scenes and just undressed the women, exposing (as it were) the everpresent sexualisation of women in his chosen medium. it was nice to look at pictures I’d not really taken seriously as a teenager and realize there are many layers of meaning:

Collage for Two Nudes, 1995

Collage for Two Nudes, 1995

And I loved all of his artists studio pieces, referencing earlier Matisse pieces. Such beautiful colours and clever references. In fact there was a whole huge room dedicated to Lichtenstein’s art about art, and being something of a philistine due to colour magpie tendencies, I was surprised at how many of the references I could get:

Artist's Studio "The Dance", 1974

Artist’s Studio “The Dance”, 1974

I was so bowled over by the use of colour, especially how much yellow there was. And by seeing all those Benday dots up close. I loved that some of the canvases, such as ‘Look, Mickey…’ had really evident pencil marks. I loved eavesdropping on a woman who was talking about how the pictures almost felt like they must have been more fun to do than to look at. Because art is about process as much as product.

A Brewdog and Tate collaboration I found in the giftshop. I think they should do beers for all exhibitions. I'd definitely buy them!

A Brewdog and Tate collaboration I found in the giftshop. I think they should do beers for all exhibitions. I’d definitely buy them!

And in the gift shop on the way out I found, of all things, beer! A collaboration with Brewdog that I pretty much had to buy. It’s like I was meant to go to the exhibition, no? I would definitely recommend this one for a look. They’re showing some of his film pieces in the tanks soon, too, so I may have to go back.