friday likes 1/3/13

Blimey! Where did last week go? Part of adulthood seems to be accepting that the time just rushes by without you noticing. I have been to busy kicking arse at the Whippet to really do anything else this week, my apologies for the radio silence. Anyway guys, Happy March! Did anybody actually see where February went? Nevermind. March is awesome. My birthday is in March (four days, eeee!), and the weather starts to warm up. Anyway, I have been a bit remiss in my ‘likes’ this Friday, as I’ve been far too rushed for the computer to be even on most of the time (multitasking highlight of the week; rocking up to work with my grocery shop because I’d done it on the way). Nevertheless, here’s what’s been tickling my fancy:

beautifully lit up trees at early evening on the southbank.

beautifully lit up trees at early evening on the southbank.

Did anybody keep their teenage diaries? I threw mine away when I was about 18, so that this day would never happen to me. I dread to think what I wrote about, I was both undersexed and pretentious.

I like the simplicity of this poster a lot, and may print it at some point for my kitchen.

barbacoa tacos (slow cooked marinated beef) at wahaca southbank. get these on the main menu!

barbacoa tacos (slow cooked marinated beef) at wahaca southbank. get these on the main menu!

Anybody game for this? It had to happen, right?

My good friend from uni days, Sunny, got in touch recently to show me his current fashion designs and they are AMAZING. Tailoring was always his strength. My favourites are the Apollo Suit and the Black Tee Suit. I can see both working with my Docs and one of my sonic youth t shirts.

amazing street art at wahaca southbank experiment.

amazing street art at wahaca southbank experiment.

Speaking of Docs I bought a pair on Saurday from the British Boot Company in Camden. I’d highly recommend the experience; the service was great, they could answer all my questions, and the amount of boots they actually had was mindblowing. I’ll probably be going back next payday.

I have started wearing pastels again. Come on Spring!

I have started wearing pastels again. Come on Spring!

They have finally released a compilation of cooking music. It sounds crap. What do you listen to when you cook? My mileage varies, but some previous highlights have been my uni flatmates laughing at me for listening to highway to hell by AC/DC while icing cupcakes, and blasting out Lil’ Kim while I knead bread. I like my kitchen mostly to be full of energy.

I love bubble tea! Let’s make bubble tea! Normally I go to this really great place in Wood Green for it, to take the sting out of having been in Wood Green. I’ve heard good things about Bubbleology in Soho though; has anybody been?

Colour spotting on southbank; look at this graffiti!

Colour spotting on southbank; look at this graffiti!

Multitask cleaning is perfect for dirty birdies like me who hate housework more than anything else.

I only found out this week that David Bowie’s Jean Genie is about Jean Genet, one of my favourite writers! I feel silly and excited in equal measures!

So the weather gets nicer and I start listening to my Summer Day Songs again/ This one’s been on the list since university.

So I’m also fully in a Florence Phase. I love this cover of Halo.

daydream believer.

Tony Buzan On Daydreaming from The School of Life on Vimeo.

I live in daydreams. I pretty much always have. My mum says my first school sports day was hilarious, because I spent the running race unconcerned with much but watching the clouds as I slowly made my way to the finish line. I remember being little, spending ages in the garden, lying in the daffodil beds like a baby Wordsworth, and having myself a good hard think. I’m lucky to have been bought up in a family environment where this quality of mine was allowed to persist, and throughout my teens, daydreaming became a coping mechanism through hard times at school. I needed it, to focus on how things wouldn’t always be the way they were; and to see myself outside of the environment in which no one really liked me. In adult life daydreams still play a big part in proceedings, and I am immediately attracted to anything and anyone that seems to have that floaty, not-always-there, demeanour.

I can still be found lapsing into daydreams all over the city; smoking on the doorstep in the mornings, or on the bus, when I’m polishing cutlery or putting away stock at work, and in those perfect solo moments with a coffee or beer on my own in a crowded place. They’re a vital part of my existence and I’m not sure who I’d be without my imagination. if my life was a movie I am sure it would be at least 40 percent dream sequence.

Watching this talk and being encouraged to use those daydreams was a lightbulb moment for me. I’d daydream anyway, but being told it’s a useful skill? Perfect. So if, like me, you’re prone to letting your head drift up into the clouds at every given opportunity, give this a watch and let me know what you think…

film festival:Dancer in the Dark(2000)

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It has been a long time since a piece of cinema affected me. it usually happens late at night, when I watch a film alone, possibly at the wrong time in my life (or the right time, depending on how you look at these things), and something strikes a chord. Like when I watched Requiem for a Dream after one of the party binges I used to go on when I was unhappy in my masters and not sure where I was going in life or why, and felt sick with fear for a week. Or when my relationship with a handsome, upstanding, primary school teacher fell apart because I was too emotional, too political, and just too strange and different, to be what he wanted; and I watched The Way We Were and ended up in tears on my mum’s sofa at 3 in the morning. These bursts of emotion usually spring from something I’m already thinking about, a nerve getting touched, but with Dancer in the Dark it was different.

I was recommended the film last summer. When I was still just a barmaid at The Whippet, and we were still figuring things out, and after a Friday shift, Tom, Neil, Kenny and I used to stand on Sicilian avenue with bare arms (and legs, in my case) in the heat, recovering from intensely physical shifts by drinking beer and talking about anything and everything. it was a stupid conversation that started it, Tom and I trying to find a female solo artist that had been more successful than the band she had come from. Neil came out with Bjork, instantly, and Tom then started extolling the virtues of Dancer in the Dark. It’s strange what sticks in your memory, and nearly a year later I finally decided to watch it.

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The premise of the film is fairly simple. Set in sixties suburbia; Bjork plays a factory worker from Czechoslovakia who lives with her son, in a trailer on the property of Bill, a local policeman and his wife. She has an overabiding love for musicals, and gradually going blind, finds herself daydreaming in musical reverie as a way to cope, these imaginary numbers gaining in frequency as her plight gets more desperate throughout the film. She’s saving up every penny she earns for an operation to stop her son going blind too, and after a confession from Bill about how he has lost all his money and is afraid his wife will leave him; she shares her secret about her eyesight with him. he uses this knowledge to steal her money, and after Selma loses her job for daydreaming, and because her sight problems have become apparent, she comes home and confronts Bill, who convinces her to kill him to get the money back. There is a trial, and Selma is put on death row to be hanged.

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It was an interesting piece of cinema on a lot of levels. The removal of a layer of reality by the interaction with the musical trope puts the viewer in an interesting position. You see what can be said to be the ‘true’ version of events, in which Selma is the sympathetic figure; but at the same time you are constantly confronted with the dramatic irony of knowing how the narrative looks to those not in the luxury of the viewer’s position. The particularly brutal prosecution testimony in court could be easily believable to someone not acquainted with Selma’s situation. And the other characters in the film are not acquainted with it. Throughout, Selma remains cryptic, almost a blank cipher at the centre of the action. It’s not just her eyesight loss that she hides, she is almost Bartleby-the-Scrivener like in her obscurity, for example, upon being asked in court why she killed Bill she merely says ‘Because he asked me to’. She, at other opportunities, such as upon losing her job, or on quitting the local production of The Sound of Music, remains painfully silent, and she completely conceals the act of paying the doctor for her son’s surgery from everyone. The silence at the centre of the events in a film so concerned with sound is both a catalyst for and a lens that enhances the tragedy.

Selma’s silence is not the only thing that sets her apart from traditional musical heroines, all of whom usually vocalize their woes and agonies in striking stereosound. While Selma is in the position of the oppressed and marginalized, Dancer in the Dark interrogates the musical tradition of the heroine’s voice being a medium to express this. Instead of an I Dreamed a Dream style catharsis, The songs are all hopeful and optimistic: on what Selma has seen, on how musicals are always there to catch her when she falls, on how the end is not the end. This creates a contrast far more poignant than if the songs were explicit expressions of pain, fear, and sadness. Selma will not see for much longer, what really ‘catches her’ is the police and the justice system, and the end really is the end, as she is hanged, mid song, and silence prevails. the songs add emphasis to what is already painful viewing, Selma’s denial underscoring the inescapable sadness of her story.

This is Selma’s song upon being confronted by Jeff, a well meaning co-worker who has taken a liking to her, about not being able to see.

I think the thing that really got me about this film was the little moments. I seem, in film as in life, to be obsessed with the small things. I couldn’t help noticing for example, that as Selma takes on more and more piecework putting bobby pins on cards for retail purposes, she also starts using more and more on her hair as she loses track of keeping it neat. Or that upon being gifted a tin of candy, which becomes where she hides her money, she wraps up the remaining sweets and puts them in her son’s schoolbag. All of this contributed, as the story progressed, to how I felt at the end, in the silence, when I was left with all the sadness that had built up. I’m not sure, despite it being a film that would probably reward repeat watching, that I will be able to do so in a hurry. I am still processing the tragedy of it, I’m still moved.

The teller is that coincidentally I saw Tom in the pub the other day (a rare pleasure, he’s not really around these days), and told him I’d seen it, and then fell short, for the rest of the conversation. The pain was still too fresh for me to have words for it. And not because a nerve had been touched, but because someone had created a piece possessed of enough sadness to move me without having to touch one.

friday likes 22/2/13

So, it’s the last week in February, if you can believe it! I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out where my month has gone; I feel a little like I’ve hardly stopped. This week has been wonderful though, there’s been so much that’s made me lose my breath. Visiting the science museum with a younger relative and looking at things through a kiddo’s eyes for a bit, standing outside on Saturday night drinking beer without a coat on talking to a man who writes poems and books, listening to Fleetwood Mac and smoking cigarettes out of the top floor window of an old hotel in Russell Square, singing and dancing around to my playlist at work and having a Swedish lady tell me, on the busiest solo shift I’ve worked in ages, that it was ‘a joy to watch me work’. I’m feeling very content to be me at the moment, and the things that are making my heart swell are just icing, you know? Because I’ve been so busy being blissed out, I’m not sure how much there’ll be in my reading roundup, but here we go anyway folks, happy Friday!

a love note, for me, found at the pub on sunday morning.

a love note, for me, found at the pub on sunday morning.

People always tell me I look like Paloma Faith (I take it as a compliment, she probably takes longer to get ready than I do!), so I tend to idly follow news articles about her. I liked this one about food; she woos people with cooking, too!

I like the idea of instigating a conversation with Andy Warhol about Smarties, a lot.

beautiful blue windowframes on a cold morning walk through Bloomsbury.

beautiful blue windowframes on a cold morning walk through Bloomsbury.

I loved this piece on feminism through female movement in hiphop and r’n’b dancing. I had a friend in Northampton, Laura, who used to engage in back and forths with me about suh-weet moves from artists like Aaliyah and Ciara all the time. And Janet Jackson is pretty much always going to be the queen of it.

Jay Rayner’s waxing lyrical about dishes we cook over and over made me think; my housemate Andrew has a chilli he makes regularly that’s really good, and my comfort recipes are probably refried black beans, Nigella Lawson’s double potato and halloumi bake, and any and all variants on involtini. All vegetarian, and all things I learned at university.

This is my favourite building in Kings Cross. I have been doing a lot of colour spotting lately.

This is my favourite building in Kings Cross. I have been doing a lot of colour spotting lately.

Kris Atomic’s photos of Orla Kiely’s A/W ’13 (beehives! pastely brights! knits and florals) , and Tata Naka’s Aw ’13 (all those block prints and stripes! The use of colour! those mental brogues and boots!) make me want to go shopping IMMEDIATELY.

I have always found the supermarket ‘ripe and ready’ price justification absolutely criminal. Why jack up the price of something that will have to be thrown away if not bought in literally a matter of days? it just adds to the wastage supermarkets are notorious for. I buy my veggies from greengrocers, because then I never buy beyond what I need, not to mention I can choose my produce’s level of ripeness with no differentiation in price (unless it’s glut season, in which case the riper ones are often cheaper).

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Cheering myself up with 30p daffodils on my bulging bookcase. Spring is coming!

I lived on iced tea last summer. Here’s how to cold brew it, if you don’t know. Come on weather, warm up, so I can make this part of my routine again!

I found this piece on chain coffee culture and employment very interesting, but I think it’s incredibly lazy journalism to compare the jobs of baristas and bartenders. The two skills and knowledge sets are different, the nature of the service is different, and both industries vary so widely from small scale independents to huge chains, that it literally boggles the mind as to why they’d be compared. it makes about as much sense to claim that coffee shops are the new pubs as it does to say phone shops are the new clothes shops.

so Sunday in the hour I set up the pub I put on Florence really loud and just sang along at the top of my lungs while no one was around to hear me. Imagine a little redhead in an empty bar flipping chairs down and belting along to this? if anyone had come in they probably wouldn’t have known what was going on, ha. Also, can you just give me her wardrobe and ability to channel weird deathly renaissance motifs, please? Thanks.

I have clearly been having a weird, unearthly lady moment because this is another song I have been listening to ridiculous amounts lately. I think the sun coming out is making me rediscover my witch powers.

iconography:mimi villars

‘Mimi didn’t care about secrecy. She led a proclaimed life, and once she got talking she held back nothing.’

So, as we’re all aware, I have fallen head over heels with the women in Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. They are written with such sympathy, such character, and such warmth that it was inevitable. I have already detailed my love for Eleanor Klein, the flamboyant homebody with witchy tendencies and a warm heart, and my next love is Mimi Villars. Mimi is a waitress who shares a boarding house with Augie when he’s in his book thief phase, constantly having arguments with men on the lobby telephone and swanning in and out of his room in her nightgown to chat. Her boyfriend is an emotionally unavailable academic, who she constantly fights with on the telephone. Augie becomes her confidante, and despite his brother’s suspicions, the relationship remains entirely platonic. Mimi as a character is inherently likeable. Temperamental, and full of fixed ideas about what the love in her life should be like, she doesn’t let herself be pushed around or taken advantage of by men, and is tough and steely even with the shady abortion doctor she eventually has to face.

Augie is aware of Mimi’s vulnerable centre, but never takes advantage of his knowledge. Mimi breezes in and out of his bedroom in her nightgown, talking about how the worst thing in life is to be a wife, a fixed point for a man to direct himself from, who expects him home all the time rather than out doing whatever. The last thing she wants is to entirely sedate and fix the men she loves, even as she wants to be loved by them in a way they don’t provide. it’s almost heartbreaking; she falls in love with men who are unavailable and wild because she likes them that way, and it’s this that eventually hurts her each time. But she has her own satisfactions in the process: ‘To rip off a piece of lover’s temper was pleasure in her deepest vein of enjoyment’. I saw her as a sassy little character not unlike Patricia Arquette’s character in True Romance. Kittenish, but willing to bite and scratch whenever somebody steps over the boundaries she has erected.

She has plenty of impulsive moments of badassness. In the early twentieth century women were still supposed to be ladylike and placid, and part of Mimi’s backstory is that upon being held at gunpoint for her purse one night, she grabbed the gun and shot the guy in the leg, then in court pleaded insanity. The kicker is that she then felt so guilty she wrote to the guy the whole time he was in jail. She also steals most of her clothes from expensive department stores, like a toxic Holly Golightly, simply stating that she likes to dress well. And in a later incident in the novel, beautifully comic in its display of Mimi’s fiery temper, a woman’s dog pisses on her ankle, so she swipes her hat to clean her leg, throws it back at her, and then coolly sits bare legged at a drugstore talking to Augie about the abortion she is going to have. Fierce.

‘But Mimi -her tenderness didn’t have an easy visibility. You wondered what it would be, and after what terrific manifestations it would appear.’

There is something beautiful and forward-thinking in Bellow’s writing of Augie and Mimi’s friendship. Despite her being a highly sexualized character, it is non-sexual to the last. Augie supports her through her abortion, sees her vulnerability but doesn’t take advantage of it or hold it against her. her fierce determination is allowed to remain intact even when she eventually gets involved with Arthur Einhorn, a pompous academic and pseudo-poet (she seems drawn to men with lofty ideas about themselves, and I could certainly relate to that). She continues to have a fierce and steely determination to do things her way to the very end of the novel.

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The Mimi Villars look: Pink jacquard slip for sweeping in and out of your neighbours bedroom to chat in (£45, topshop), White lace gloves cos if you’ve got to get your hands dirty they may as well look good (£12, accessorize), Pink court shoes because you don’t have to be a lady to look like one (£60, office), Vintage style phone to slam down satisfyingly after a lover’s row (£74, jazz it up interiors), Polkadot bodycon dress to bring all the boys to the yard (£37 topshop), Sunglasses for when you’re going to cry, cos people don’t need to know about it (£9, mango), Snakeskin tote because making a big deal out of baggage is what the other girls do, okay? (£40, mango)
Even if Augie and the other men in the novel didn’t fall in love with the feisty Miss Villars, I sure did. The sad nature of novels with a sprawl as big as The Adventures of Augie March is that you encounter a character for a few chapters and then their story is over. But even at the end of the reading, my mind was on Mimi. What a girl.

friday likes 15/2/13

Happy Friday all! It’s been a wonderful week for me, I can barely contain myself. I’ve had visits from online friends, old university friends, old work friends, and all sorts of other people who bring excitement and colour to my life. It’s convenient timing that on Valentine’s week I’ve been reminded that my life is full of amazing, exciting, talented people that I am free to have conversations with literally any time I want. There’s nothing as happy-inducing as falling in love with your own life all over again. I also scheduled in a huge clearout because my 25th birthday is not far off and I love starting a new year in life on a clean(ish) slate, eyes forward to whatever is happening next. the cold has made me hibernate and indulge in some serious pampering, reading, and settling down to watch some delightful films. I feel energized and refreshed and now I just need it to be spring. I hope your week has been just as lovely!

A walk through Chinatown before work on Saturday for pork and red envelopes.

A walk through Chinatown before work on Saturday for pork and red envelopes.

I managed to avoid most of that whole superbowl thing a while ago, but seriously, this made me laugh a lot (especially as most of the Americans I know are of the literary persuasion). My favourite is the Virginia Woolves.

This Hilary Mantel piece on royal female bodies in the London Review of Books was fascinating.

I read the poetry section of The White Hotel just before it started snowing on Sunday.

I read the poetry section of The White Hotel just before it started snowing on Sunday.

The xojane girls always keep it real, and this article made me laugh a lot. I am super messy, but have never lost out on sex as a result; although it did make me wonder if I should clean my room more often.

Tim Anderson, chef, and top bloke in general, has written a super insightful piece on eating in Japan. Apart from making me hungry as fuck, it also made me more determined to travel this year.

A Valentine's beer yesterday at the Holborn Whippet.

A Valentine’s beer yesterday at the Holborn Whippet.

I wasn’t massively bowled over by much of New York Fashion Week (I never am, my style, as my old co-worker Dominika used to drawl, is ‘Soooo Britiiiiiish’) but damn, these nails! Who wants a manicure party? They’re so mermaid magic.

This Rookie shoot makes me want to put stars on my face and go find me a dude with a guitar to kiss. Fuck it, I’ll settle for the stars.

The three kisses were already drawn in this book when I bought it. Somebody bought somebody they love a book about flight; that's pretty beautiful.

The three kisses were already drawn in this book when I bought it. Somebody bought somebody they love a book about flight; that’s pretty beautiful.

I have been doing alpine-milkmaid style braids loads lately as I keep going to work with wet hair (yeah I know, I’ll get a cold, blahblahblah), but this is a nice variant I’m going to try.

I love how many big names were influenced by Sylvia Plath. I’ve finally gotten out of being ashamed that I spent about four years of my teens preoccupied almost entirely with her works. I remember my grandma bought me The Bell Jar for Christmas and got a hilarious reaction from the Waterstones clerk at the time.

My favourite outft this week. Braided updo, red velvet, and chinadoll makeup.

My favourite outft this week. Braided updo, red velvet, and chinadoll makeup.

I am still going through a huge Fleetwood Mac phase (have been listening to Beautiful Child, Go Your Own Way, and Rhiannon on the daily) so this article on Stevie Nicks & Christine Mcvie couldn’t have come at a better time. It made me think; I am usually the Stevie character in my female friendships, but there are a solid few where I have played more of a supporting role.

I have gotten back into goodreads in a big way….So useful for keeping track of ever increasing ‘read’ and to-read’ lists. I’m Kirsty Lou Mitchell, let’s be friends!

The best thing about it having beem Valentine’s day is you get to play this song to everyone you know, like, ever. Yeah I am THAT person. ‘Hey, dontcha s’posed to be some kind of playahhh, or somethin’?’

‘And I am not a child anymore / I’m tall enough to reach for the stars / I’m old enough to love you from afar’. Oh, Stevie.

book club:The Adventures of Augie March (Saul Bellow, 1953)

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I still remember one day in a sixth form English literature lesson, at Northampton school for girls, being intellectually swatted on the nose by a tutor for daring to suggest that (I thought) American novelists lacked delicacy. At the time I felt burningly resentful of the whole thing (especially due to being a teacher’s favourite and something of a talent; it always makes criticism sting harder when you feel you’re above reproach), but as I’ve gotten older and more educated, I’ve realized that my remark at the time came from me having a limited scope but wanting to say something broad and bold. You know,  in order to suggest that my tastes were artfully curated, rather than simply lacking due to age. My teacher was entirely right to dismiss my pompous seventeen year old self’s posturings for exactly what they were, and I often, nowadays, when talking to other literature graduates from England, find myself in the position she was in.

I’m not sure how, whether it was luck, or judgement, but throughout my academic career I somehow ended up exposed to just as many, if not more, American writers, than English ones. And in the course of that learning I developed a soft spot for the concept of the Great American Novel. I mean, your basic bildungsroman is awesome to read, yeah? especially what with me being single, in my mid twenties, in a big city. There’s always gonna be a solid hundred pages in the middle full of underline-for-tumblr gold buried in there, the section in which the protagonist struggles with the change in front of them. So we’ve established I like books about how it’s just really fucking hard to be a grown up, right? good. I like the American ones more though. There is something compelling about the mid-century American effort to contain it all. To create these all encompassing worlds, always driven by a protagonist as dizzyingly socially mobile as the social landscape is disorientatingly mutable? They make my fucking heart stop, these Great American novels. Part of it is the difference, it’s a landscape that hasn’t directly begotten the one I live in, this much I know; but it always comes back to the same thing, which is (and here imagine me doing my best bartender Barbie face, if you will): It’s all just so much bigger over there. The attempt to get lives of that sheer size to fit into a novel is heroic, and deserves wide-eyed admiration.

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I’ve read my fair few of these badboys, spent a lot of time thinking about them, but my current list-topping love is Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. And I think the main focus of my fixation hinges on one theme of the novel: dissatisfaction. The beauty of this novel lies in the fact that Augie, the adventurer, spends his life encountering powerfully charismatic people who all feel they have some right to impart their worldview or agenda to him, and he is always, without fail, temporarily influenced by it, before getting frustrated and moving on to something more interesting to him. it’s a great novel to read if, like me, you sometimes feel incredibly ‘this is not my beautiful house… this is not my beautiful wife…’ about your path in life. It makes you feel like it’s okay to not always be satisfied with what other people want for you, and it’s alright to not know where you’re going despite having very definite ideas about where you’re not going. Augie shrugs off the powerful influences of an old-fashioned and disciplinarian grandmother figure, his dodgy dealing brother who eventually marries into being a philandering millionaire, a local poolhall running wideboy, and a fiercely intellectual Mexican college friend, amongst others. he works and lives in all kinds of situations, as an errand boy, a dog groomer, a union representative, a playboy, a book thief. He rides the rails during the depression, and he fights in the war. There’s the length and breadth of human experience in early 20th century America right there, and each step he takes is guided by one of these eventually-rejected charismatic presences.

There’s a breathless joy in every refusal Augie makes. Every one being an assertion of himself, in a world of people who want to make him just like them; despite the fact he has no idea what his self would even be if left to his own devices. His knowing what it wouldn’t be is enough to keep you turning the pages. And it’s not like you don’t get to see him happy; he’s perfectly content holed up reading donated (or stolen, during his brief phase stealing academic texts) classics. There’s an almost a delicious irony in this; he refuses to be told how and who to be by people, unless their writings are included somewhere in the great literary canon. The accusation of a kind of ‘nobility complex’ levelled at him early on in his adventures, would seem to be quite just. Again, as a classic contemporary kidult myself, this refusal to listen to real time advice in favour of turning my phone off and poring over literary classics, making pencil lines under things that strike a chord with the prevailing preoccupations and moods that day? it’s all too familiar. And just makes me like Augie more as the central adventurer of the novel.

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The only other times we see Augie happy is when he loves. Which he does the same way he does everything else; by mirroring somebody else’s overwhelming agenda until he can’t anymore. And yes, this is probably another oh-how-I-can-relate-to-that-oh-boy moment. This is seen most obviously in the main love event of the novel, his romance with Thea Fenchel, who seeks Augie out, after falling in love with him on an adolescent holiday, despite his only having eyes for her sister at the time. The romance is whirlwind, they head straight down to Mexico so that Thea can try to tame a bald eagle to try and hunt giant iguanas. The eagle proves not untameable, but too tamed, having been spoilt with already dead meat, it can’t hunt through fear of the prey, but before that it was totally bestial and terrifying. Nice metaphor, eh? Taming a beast only results in it being unexciting and unable to fend for itself. Which is why the apparent great love of the novel breaks off. Augie becomes flattered and intrigued by another woman, as does the equally feral and adventurous Thea. It’s not even sad. Bellow writes a convincing and unsentimental account of the breakup of two such flighty indivudals as inevitability (anybody planning to make an indie romance film that will probably star Zooey Deschanel should be taking notes right here).The book would feel like it sputtered out and died a premature death if these two turned all marriage and babies. Augie would have nothing happen to him that impacted him and made him grow. But the taming project fails, and so he grows, and goes on his way.

There’s a beauty in it being a two sided taming project. Thea is no manic pixie dream girl. She’s flawed, messy, alternately fierce and vulnerable on her own schedule, and she finds her own bit on the side rather than sitting around waiting for Augie to leave her. I really feel like Bellow writes women on a more intricate and sensitive level than his contemporaries. I mean, I’ve already proclaimed my love for Eleanor Klein, but there’s also Mimi Villars, the tempestuous waitress who aborts her high flying academic boyfriend’s baby because he’s not what she wants in a love, and the magnificently three-dimensional Thea, a divorced, disowned heiress who hunts wild animals in Mexico and writes articles about it, unable to settle down with just one man. One of Augie’s key likeability factors is his humanist ability to take these women, unsaintly pasts and all, in his stride, and give them the respect and attention he gives their male counterparts, without batting an eyelid. And their huge influence on the novel is a refreshing change for a reader like me, used to her Great American novels being populated only transiently with women, who leave no mark on the protagonist and bear no consequence on the narrative. Bellow’s women characters are so strongly drawn that I struggle to remember male characters who could be classed as having equal significance. Even though there were probably more of them.

Augie’s adventures made me happy in a way that a book hasn’t achieved in quite some time. It might be because I am approaching the second half of my twenties and am (pretending that I am not) freaking out a bit about that, therefore reading Bellow’s novel of determined individualism and quest came at the right mind-easing time. Seeing a life riddled with indecision where nothing quite works out to whatever scant plans there were, is, in it’s odd way, a relief. The final line of the novel perfectly emphasizes Augie’s struggles to define himself:

‘Columbus too, thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.’

Augie may not have found what others intended to find, and they may not know how to deal with him not fitting in with their various agendas, but he’s found something important to him, on a much larger scale. he has discovered and mapped a self, not due to, but in relation to others. And that’s all anybody’s trying to do really, isn’t it?

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To be honest with you, this weekend was pretty disastrous. I am still suffering fairly heavily from my mystery plague, and I ended up stranded at work on Friday night, for various reasons. I live fairly far out of Central London, so by the time I was freed by the boys, there was little point to me going home, and I decided to occupy my time with a walk down to Shaftesbury avenue. I ended up at the cinema, figuring popcorn and switching my brain onto ‘absorb’ for a few hours would do me good before my shift. I like going to the cinema alone almost as much, if not more, than I like to go with other people. Watching films is quite an antisocial activity in my book, and especially on such a large scale as the cinematic experience. When I go on my own I can literally just let it wash over me, I can actually get lost in what’s happening on screen. Or maybe that’s just the oldest child in me, desperately fighting for something that’s her own, which seems to have been the theme of the past few weeks.

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Anyways I settled on watching No, Pablo Larrain’s take on the referendum campaign that deposed Pinochet from power in Chile. My Chilean political knowledge pretty much stops at the violent Pinochet coup, which I learned about when studying Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits at university (I was an incredibly diligent little student, as far as it goes, and did all my secondary reading, not least because it was fascinating). I thought this film would be a nice introduction into what happened next. Plus, you know, Gael Garcia Bernal’s face is one of the finer things in life. There’s always that.

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While watching the film I thought about the old ‘the revolution will not be televised’ chestnut. The referendum was hardly a revolution, but it was entirely televised. No is, to all intents and purposes, quite a gentle film, its message of optimism and change through positivity rife throughout. The referendum wasn’t violent, and this is essentially a piece on early use of technology for democracy. There are occasional sharp stabs of shock, actual footage of police brutality and military violence, and Saavedra’s (Bernal’s Ad exec protagonist) activist ex wife taking a fair few beatings from the police. There are threats from the regime, late night phonecalls and vandalism, but ultimately this movie’s message is one of progress and optimism.

Ultimately, actually, this is a movie about TV. there are TV sets in almost every scene. TV is seen to be the powerful driving force behind social progress. The message is that to master TV is to master society. The premise of the referendum was that both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns (to legitimize the Pinochet regime) would have 15 minutes airtime every day for 27 days in the lead up to the vote. Saveedra is headhunted by an old socialist friend for the ‘No’ campaign because of his success in the industry. His belief in TV is absolute. He doesn’t initially join the ‘No’ campaign to depose Pinochet, he joins ‘to win’. he overrides the fragmented left’s desires to use the campaign as a platform to gain exposure despite their cynicism that the vote is fixed, ignoring their demands to use the campaign as an atrocity catalogue or despairing swansong. he brings in rainbows, advertising jingles, America-influenced pop culture, makes the campaign optimistic and content-light, and therefore open to the widest interpretation possible.

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His boss, meanwhile, is working on the Yes campaign, and their dayjob sessions on microwave commercials are fraught with tension and threats. None of which are apparent to their clients as they pitch ideas and shoot film. The friction is fantastic. there are some genuine laughs to be had at what makes it into both the domestic adverts and the campaign pieces (the best moment being the insertion of a mime into both a soft drink commercial and the first ‘No’ campaign piece, to the bemusement of test audiences). There have been several Madmen comparisons in reviews, but I think to do so is to treat the film superficially, as a piece of period fluff. The television takes a central role in this movie, but by no means is it frivolous watching.

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The whole film is shot using eighties equipment, meaning the new footage blends seamlessly with actual footage from the 1988 Chilean campaign. it also produces some interesting effects, for example, whenever there is electric light in a scene, it’s overexposure leads to a rainbow effect, something that further emphasises the pervasiveness of Saavedra’s rainbow campaign. It gives the whole experience an immersive, documentary style feel; you’re granted an immediacy of experience, tricked into feeling like you’re there, caught up in the energy.

Naturally, the No campaign wins the election. The film finishes on a celebratory note, huge crowds singing and chanting. But we see Saavedra carrying his son home through the crowds, half smiling. We’re not sure he’s as pleased with his victory as we want him to be. As viewers we’re not convinced he learned anything cut and dried about politics while working the campaign. And that’s a conclusion I like, as it saves the piece from neat, Hollywood-style ‘viva la revolucion’ sentimentality. I left the cinema feeling uplifted but not choked on right-on self congratulation, which is an achievement for politicized cinema. And I still had the No campaign’s song in my head while I  wandered through Chinatown in search of pork buns and red envelopes, and throughout my shift at work.

friday likes 8/2/13

Happy Friday everybody! I have been having a good, if totally crazy one this week; what with visits to my grandmother, my little niece-I-guess Ruby’s third birthday party, Mexican food with Will on Tuesday night, plus coming down with some sort of godawful plague for the rest of my work week. I’m amazed at how quickly Friday can and does roll around, and feel like February will probably be over before I even know it. nonetheless it has been a good, thoughtful, and productive week, so I can’t say I regret the craziness. And here’s what’s been entertaining me throughout it:

will, benjy and myself at the Euston tap on Saturday afternoon, having a bit of a Southsea reunion.

will, benjy and myself at the Euston tap on Saturday afternoon, having a bit of a Southsea reunion.

So this post on how our lifestyles have already been designed is interesting. I find though, that since my 40+ hour work week is not 9-5, that I am not drawn so much into watching television; I don’t get exposed to quite so much advertising. The last genuine dissatisfaction I felt was not one I thought I could solve by spending. I wonder if I worked a different job, whether it would be different?

I think Fiona beckett and I are on a similar wine wavelength. her thoughts on cutesy wine bottles match mine almost exactly; and I did previously buy a bottle of the chat-en-ouef in question, because ha, funny, right? it was weak, man.

I’m with Hugh here, coconut milk is a proper cupboard staple in my house. These recipes are all great, but one of my favourite uses for it is in my porridge of a morning, with some nice ripe fruit. It’s that amazing kind of health giving feeling without deprivation.

carnitas tacos (confit pork with a zingy lime dressing) at wahaca charlotte street this Tuesday. To actually die for.

carnitas tacos (confit pork with a zingy lime dressing) at wahaca charlotte street this Tuesday. To actually die for.

So as you can see, I had amazing Mexican food at Wahaca Charlotte Street this Tuesday. And now my sights are set further afield. To Mexico City!

The idea of female friends influencing how you dress is not a new one. I don’t spend enough time around women to have that outside influence anymore, which might be why I find myself in a style rut more frequently. I do miss the uni days of sitting on each others beds trying outfits on, borrowing and lending, and doing makeup together before going out.

Has the guardian’s cook supplement made you want to buy the flavour thesaurus yet?? This week it’s focussed on coffee, which I think about sixty percent of my blood is composed of.

Old school lights and ironwork outside Goodge St. station.

Old school lights and ironwork outside Goodge St. station.

Speaking of old school London design; I love these photos of London underground architecture and design . I’ll be sad if some of the more characterful design elements get phased out.

On another London note, they finished messing around with Borough Market. I shall have to have an afternoon jaunt there some time for some chillies (they have so many different kinds, I get a bit excited.

I was actually a bit bowled over by the idea that the average woman’s makeup bag is worth nearly two hundred quid. Mine doesn’t even come to sixty, and i’m quite proud.

I loved fred's drawing on the staff picks board at the Euston Tap on Saturday.

I loved fred’s drawing on the staff picks board at the Euston Tap on Saturday.

Well, this article about how we talk about and buy books online was interesting. Where do you buy your books? I have a great secondhand bookshop on my doorstop and a local independent I like to frequent. I tend not to buy online unless I really can’t find it elsewhere, because I don’t find online shopping satisfying.

I have never wanted a valentine’s day present until this item was bought to my attention.

I sort of love where this piece on not being ashamed of what we have achieved or attained is coming from.

An idle rewatching of Cool Runnings this week led to the discovery of this gem. A Talking heads cover? Don’t mind if I do.

And this song is just making me wish it was summer again. Or I was going out to do karaoke soon. or I had shiny seventies hair. I don’t mind which.

5 quick ways… to get the best service.

My friends and loved ones all comment on the same thing when they’re out and about with me. And no, it’s not that I’ve got my skirt tucked into my pants or have been trailing toilet paper on my shoe for the last ten minutes, although one or the other things is likely happening at the time. It’s that wherever I go I always manage to get the best service. For a long time I wasn’t sure why, and when I started thinking about it, I dismissed it as a kind of sixth sense of hospitality workers; like they somehow knew I was one of them. But I’ve thought about it a lot since, and realized that it’s a combination of attitude and insider skills that lead to my behaviour in establishments getting me great service and little extras like free drinks with the bill, hotel upgrades, or priority booking on events. It’s got nothing to do with spending a lot (I can’t), looking the part (I often don’t, as ‘smart’ is not my buzzword as I get dressed of a day), or flirting my way to freebies (I just can’t, when put on the spot to flirt I am useless). Some of these are more obvious than others, but I thought I would compile my top tips anyway, and soon hopefully soon you’ll be privy to the full-on great service experience, too.

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1. Become a regular

okay, so this one doesn’t initially sound all that quick, right? But it’s actually a no brainer. it comes down to two factors; and that is, human beings are creatures who take great comfort in habits, and people are great believers in the power of the pound. Meaning everybody has businesses they frequent more regularly than others, sometimes out of preference, sometimes out of proximity, sometimes out of sheer habit. And also that people, that’s you and I, want to make sure we are spending money we have worked for on experiences that we consider worthwhile, and will therefore naturally return more often to businesses where we have had a good experience. if you think about it, there are probably already a tonne of businesses where you are a regular; your bank, your ‘local’ (let’s face it, not so many of us choose literally the nearest pub to us), the restaurant you default to when you’ve got friends visiting, the supermarket you visit once a week, your hairdressers. I could go on. You’ve chosen all of these businesses for a reason, and already use their services often. Regular custom is a real plus point in implementing all the other points on the list. It has the added bonus for you, that you always know what and who you’re dealing with, and shows the people working in said establishment that you favour it, making them feel important and like they are doing a good job, which will reflect on how they treat you. I find as a customer that it is enjoyable and flattering to be welcomed back to places I have had a good time in, and on the flipside, as a hospitality industry worker, regular customers are a highlight of my job; it’s pleasant to talk to people about their lives and makes the whole thing seem less like work, which means I can relax and make sure the experience is all about them.

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2. Smile

I feel like somebody’s nagging grandmother saying this, but it really is important. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to terms with the fact that my default state is optimism. I am always smiling, and you know how I know this? because people majorly notice if I’m not. It’s like if I turned up with half my hair cut off, that’s the kind of reaction I get. And I’ve found that smiling is a great tool to start off an interaction on the right foot. Even if the person you are approaching is not smiling, they will be when greeted with yours, and that sets the tone for the whole conversation. I have lost count of how many local shops I have befriended the shopkeeper in, just through virtue of smiling of a morning when getting my cigarettes on the way to uni/work/my latest adventure. In fact, when I was living further out in North London, one of the shopkeepers in the train station, who started talking to me because I was ‘always so happy’ called me little red, and used to joke about me being on my way to my big life, inadvertently inspired the name of this blog.  If you smile through the basic interactions, even if it’s god knows what time of the morning and you’ve got sod-all energy, people will remember you as a pleasant customer. On the flipside, at work I find it harder to maintain being happy and bouncy if I am greeted by a stonefaced customer who barks out their requests as if I was a machine. While I try to give my best service at all times I am sure even if it is slight, there’s a noticeable difference in how I interact if I am being spoken to as if I might as well not be there. people like being smiled at, and they’ll treat you accordingly.imagesCAUO0T2N

3. Engage in conversation

I lose count of the amount of times I have been out to dinner or drinks with friends or family and they have looked at me like an alien creature for chatting away like an overstimulated five year old to the person serving me. The child reference here is key; as adults I feel like we learn to focus on ourselves in conversation, whereas kids seem to ask more questions, and make more observations about what’s going on around them. if you want people to be more interested in attending to your needs, that’s basically the behaviour that will get you there. it helps that I’m naturally quite a nosey, or to be polite, inquisitive, person. I like to know what’s going on all the time. So I’ll start chats with someone serving me by noticing something and asking about it, for example, the bank I visit for work is always busy on the second Friday of every month, and by chatting to one of the staff members about why, I found out it was because a local hotel pays all of its staff that day. The conversation progressed further along as I sympathised with their rush, on a Friday of all days, and was the key to me building up a relationship with the staff there that now means I get fast tracked almost every time I go in, and led to me being given a piece of cake on one of my favourite server’s birthdays. It doesn’t even always need to be as complicated as that; I have had hotel upgrades before from asking the receptionist about her nail polish, or chatting to staff about the best place they know to get thai food, and been given free drinks and desserts for asking a rushed waiter if he was alright and then finding out he was the only one covering the whole restaurant that day and sympathizing. And I didn’t do any of this to gain anything other than a more interesting service experience. I am very much of the opinion that an interaction can only be the sum of what two people make it; and as a result I ask questions to make my service experiences feel more like an interaction and less like a transaction. It has occasionally led to freebies, but more importantly to me, it makes the whole thing more conversational and I go about my day feeling like I have had an interesting encounter. On the flipside, at work, I do the same thing, but I am also hugely flattered when customers show an interest in me, for example asking where I bought my glittery tights or asking how long I’ve worked at the whippet. It makes me feel like I have been noticed as a person, and I tend to interact accordingly.

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4. Be genuine

This one is probably a companion to engaging in conversation, and probably why I get weird looks from my loved ones about how I chat away to people who are serving me. I could be all stiff and formal and chat away about the weather, but that’s no fun, is it? I’d be pretending I cared and so would the person serving me. It’s much easier to ask about stuff that is interesting, like whether the shouty obnoxious man who got served before you talks to his family like that, or where your server got the idea for their tattoo, or even, let’s break it down right now; how their day is going. I’d far rather hear about that than the rain, unless of course there’s some crazy freak weather like *gasp* three inches of snow in London, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to swap war stories of how you made it into work. By the same token, this ‘being genuine’ idea applies to the mandatory interactions, too. Staff in the service industry are often trained to ask questions, like when I worked for a big pubco and had to go ask everyone how they liked their meal no less than three minutes after they had it. There’s only so many ways a server can make this exciting on their own, so coming out with something more interesting than ‘fine thanks’ will often lead to an exchange that makes it more interesting for you and them. Again, I’m nosy about food, so I almost always have a question, like ‘this is good,what chillies did they use in this salsa?’ or ‘do you know how they deboned and stuffed this?’. It usually ends in a long old chat where I learn something and the staff get to talk about something they’re passionate about, and everybody leaves happy. It’s like at work, whatever you do, wherever, and however you do it; if somebody you deal with has a genuine human conversation with you and shows actual interest in something, you feel happy, right? hospitality industry workers are just the same and will often go out of their way afterward to make sure you have a great time. At work, if somebody is interested in finding out about the beer they’re drinking, I’ll happily stand and chat to them about it for as long as I can get away with it. i’m passionate about the beers I sell, and I enjoy it when people express an interest in learning about it, so I’ll go into great detail and they’ll feel like they got something valuable out of it. Everybody totally wins.

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5. Finish ‘er off!

And we come full circle. This one definitely benefits from being worked in tandem with being a regular customer, but the two are not dependent. The end of the interaction is just as important as the beginning. Some of this is basic stuff, like saying ‘thankyou’, and ‘have a nice day/weekend/trip to south america’ (depending on how far into conversation you got), but other stuff is a little more tricksy. In a restaurant it is always appropriate to tip. There is a controversial and destructive cycle of debate around tipping, the old ‘well they should be paid enough in the first place’ argument that everybody trots out to show just how liberal they are, but the fact of the matter is, most basic-level hospitality employees are not. And since I’ve never seen the people trotting out this pseudo-socialist guff going on a living wage march, or handing out pro-unionization paraphernalia, I’m gonna suggest that it pretty much is the rationalization of the tightwad, and a way to feel smug and knowing. In a restaurant, or any other situation in which I have received table service, I will leave at least a ten percent tip. it rarely ever comes up that I have had bad service, so the issue of not tipping does not come up. One of my highest earning friends in marketing has cottoned on to the fact that even if a place is fancy, the person serving you is probably earning peanuts, and it’s a fact that while ugly, stands. I am also fairly militant about making sure my tip will go to the person serving me. if it’s a service charge on card, I’ll be open about asking how it is distributed; and either tip cash instead of, or on top of, if I’m not satisfied with where that money is going to go. There shouldn’t be shame in directly wanting to know where the money you earned, and you are paying, is going to go; and trust me, your server won’t be embarrassed if you ask. Believe me, there are still some downright shady pooling practices with tips, so you should always ask, no matter how big the company. Anyway, awkward money chat aside (British people are so not good at talking about tipping; which is weird, I tip anybody I feel has performed me a service, hairdressers, taxi drivers, barstaff, your mileage may vary but mine does not), there are other things to bear in mind. I am notorious for filling out feedback forms. I mean, they usually come with an incentive, like winning a free dinner or whatever, but I don’t care about that. If I have received a great experience, and I nigh-on always do, I want to make sure that the person who provided it is in some way rewarded. I’m not sure how far I agree with feedback form schemes, because in my experience on the flipside it’s usually people with an axe to grind who use them to sound off, but what I do believe is that if there is a system in place for acknowledging good service, it should be used. I have even, in the case of one restaurant, been so impressed with the exceptional service I received, that upon finding out there was no official scheme to feed back through, I asked for a head office email, went home, and rattled off a paean of praise about the guy who served me. The next time I was there, he practically ran over to me to thank me, I’d made his day, and all I was doing was acknowledging that he’d made mine. The whole experience left me glowing; I think it does good to spread good. Anyway, the point is, if you finish off the interaction with aplomb, the next one will be even better.

Anyways, this is just my tuppence bit on how to get good service, something I believe leads to a more enjoyable day to day experience. it’s just what has worked for me, and since I like my life to be full of conversation and smiles and little moments that make everything feel great, like my local shopkeeper telling me he missed me while I was away for Christmas, or the bank staff I deal with every day shooting the breeze with me about their weekends, or the pub staff from my local sitting with me and chatting on the nightbus as we all make our way home, I follow this doctrine to the letter. And from the other side of the bar, I’m pretty sure the people who make serving them a pleasure get the full, 1000 kilowatt service experience beamed right back to them, and I am pretty sure they know it and appreciate it when I go out of my way without even thinking twice. And if this kind of chatter-filled human experience sounds like your idea of hell, well, you sit tight and wait for the rise of the machines, and when that happens the rest of us will be on an island somewhere, talking about what chillies were used in the salsa and finding out how exactly the receptionist got silver leopard print nails, and having a bloody good time doing it without you.