Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Assessing September

Another month gone by and by far and large one of the super-bestest Septembers on record. I finished work and I enjoyed a fantastic stretch of contemplative writing tasks. I am sure it can get better still, but I feel like I must throw in a cliché and say that it doesn't get any better than this. There is a lot of excitement down the pipeline and I feel that what I should talk about today is a bit of a turn-around for me.

A few months ago I wrote this about my life: 'It may be a small life to some, but I think it's a good one still. Yet, there is something that bothers me about it, and bothers me all the time, incessantly, and has done so for many years already. I really dislike my job'. I realised recently that the first thought, the small but good life, was not quite the truth. Now that I am unencumbered by what used to make me feel miserable about it, I suddenly feel like I do not have a worry in the world; I feel like I lead the most super-fun, super-enriching, super-fantastic life. This makes me laugh sometimes; people change jobs all the time, how can such a thing produce such drastic results?

It really goes as I said in the original post; we spend so much time at work that, of course, it matters! Now that my life has taken a left turn so quickly, I feel this surge of giving. Of giving back, of giving up, of giving away. I received a link to a fab website yesterday, this one. I signed up because I felt this urge to translate my life's abundance into something tangible, into giving in all of its manifestations. And what can I say, I already received something today and I was surprised and delighted. For the moment, this is all of the assessment that I need to make of this month or indeed of my life: it's good, it's great, it's fab.

Give one thing away each day for 29 days. Share your stories about how it impacts your life to focus on giving.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Steely Skirts

I get London. I really get London's charme and character and fashionable ideals and wacko philosophy but I do not see why Manchester should always get stick for its wet weather. There was a time when London was famous for its fog (as was Milan) and even got a song about it (A Foggy Day In London Town), so why is it that Manchester doesn't get a song about being steely gray? I think it looks great, what with its perfect blend of traditional and modern, and this alone is deserving of its very own Ode To Manchester.

I took this pic from Harvey Nichols's café, where I got chatted up by a waiter. And do you know something, it always irritated me to get chatted up in the past but now that I have turned thirty and that I am absolutely convinced that my face (let alone my tits) has started heading south overnight, it was with surprise and relief that I welcomed this guy's attention. Boy, did I need a rest after a wrestling match against wind, rain, brollie and a ripped skirt.

I had to rush to a shop to buy one, since the zipped split of the one I was originally wearing ripped open in that unexpected way that only zippers strategically placed can do. I ended up speeding across Albert Square with a pashmina wrapped around my waist and good job I was carrying it anyway.

Still, it was better than that time at London Fashion Week when I was wearing an extra-tight pencil skirt and persisted on hurling myself up an extra-high platform as if I had been wearing jodhpurs. The result was a mighty rip that left me clutching my knickered bottom in horror as a model told me that I should 'just relax' and that everyone will think I am 'so cool for going around with a skirt only held together by the two top stitches'. Yeah well, easy for her; the elephantine bottom in full show was mine. I just don't know how I went through the day. Thank God for Agent Provocateur knickers.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mum's Apple Pie

I am not one for simple foods. I like to eat them but I do not like to make them. Challenge me with a treble-decker chocolate cake with swirls of butter creams and dancing green fairies if you must, but do not ask me to flip an omelette or fry two decent eggs because I will fail over and over. In fact, The Omelette is my bête noire and something that I hate in all of its declensions.
When I was served one at the brunch at The Plaza and then another one again at the one at the Waldorf Astoria, I paused in envious contemplation of the perfectly folded sheets of golden deliciousness whilst wondering where on earth I always go wrong.

And so it was with pleasure that I ate mum's own apple cake, not something I would bother with in my own real life, but something that she likes to make and Rick likes to eat. In fact, it is fair to say that I do not really like apple sweets because I am not a fan of The Apple. I mean, why having an apple when you could have a piece of chocolate? I know, it's a bit like wondering why bothering with being straight when you could be a gay man enjoying Rupert Everett, but still...

50g melted unsalted butter
200g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
2 apples

Line a tin with baking parchment and warm the oven at 180C. Place all of the ingredients for the cake (which means... bar the apples!) in a mixing bowl and give it all a good whip with an electric mixer. Within one minute you will have a reasonably scant mixture that you will pour into the waiting tin. Now peel and core the apples and slice them into wedges. Place all of these on the cake in your own pattern and bake for one hour, starting to check it only past the 50 minutes' mark. Remember... ovens can be a bit unpredictable and what works at my place (or at mum's) may not work at yours.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman Dies

After Sidney Pollack and Yves Saint Laurent, another legend of the arts leaves us this year.

My sharpest remembrance of Paul Newman is as Brick from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, a movie that positively scared me off marriage, much like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Yet, he leapt off the screen in the rarely mentioned Nobody's Fool and turned a Pixar character, Doc, into the stuff of animated legends. I loved his quiet countenance and low-key persona, the antithesis of The Phoney Celeb that litters the current popular culture scene.

Friday, September 26, 2008


It's a bit criminal to be in Milan and having had such a lousy week that I cannot even grace the blog with a picture of this. But Rick brought his nasty cold home and now everybody in the house has caught it. Still, I swear I really was in Milan; what better way to prove it than with one of the many adverts strung up at the airport? After all, the first time I became aware a certain footballer going by the name of Kakà existed was when he was modelling for Armani, who owns half of the ad space at Malpensa. But here is my all-time favourite model, Linda Evangelista, posing for Prada.

I am back home now and feel completely, totally, utterly, disgustingly lousy. I've had a lousy week, I've felt poorly most of the time, we have been next to nowhere (I did mention mum's sunburnt, yes?), and now I have to get my wits back together and get down to some work which I really cannot be asked doing. Thank God it's Friday.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I am now officially ready to go home. In fact, I cannot wait to go home and the reason is a fabulous Valentino jacket. I had been thinking about it since I first saw it a few days ago and today I took it home with me, skipping one foot above the ground, swinging its paper bag and already, if only figuratively, clutching it to my chest like a new puppy dog (no offence to William and Victoria of course. All puppies grow up after all).

It is a fabulous pink and lilac mohair piece that is going to look super-fabulous back in gunmetal England, especially with one of my extra large vintage brooches pinned to its lapel. I mean, look at it, if only you can divert your attention from the rather vast expanse of my flesh and punch-in-the-eye, over-zealous flash:

It seemed only logical to go back home with a proper Italian piece in the bag; who goes to Milan or its proximity and comes back with absolutely nothing? Rick bought himself three beautiful pairs of trousers and for a fleeting moment I too wishful-thought to be a thin man who can carry off straight-legged pants with the aplomb of a shop mannequin. I am just no way near toned, or thin, enough.

Which brings me to the next, slightly worrying, point. I had to make another pit-stop at the Lindt mega-store because... well because... Rick wanted to pick up a little something for his colleagues and so I added a few more bits and pieces (pic only indicative of bags’ actual content).

Blast, this place alone is worthy of another plane-hop before the Christmas season is upon us. Seeing that a friend of mine’s birthday is fast approaching, I thought that a red patent bag was in order for her. All you can see right now is this:

but, trust me, it is adorable and properly Italian. She is going to squeal when she opens it. Still, what I leave behind is equally fab; incredible cashmere wraps from Loro Piana, chocolate-like bags from Bruno Magli and Vicini, amazing shoes such as Stuart Weilzman, Les Tropeziennes, Giuseppe Zanotti, Marc Jacobs, Ferragamo, Christian Lacroix (double-beautiful in intricate rhinestone patterns), ornate dresses by Blumarine and Cacharel, tartan kilts from Les Copains, silk underwear from La Perla, exquisite silk scarves at Trussardi... oh thousands, thousands of beautiful things, my head is reeling with sexy, fashion-inspired imagery. I am a marketer’s dream me.

At lunchtime we were discussing Louis Vuitton and Hermes bags and for no particular reason I chuckled to myself in a rather peculiar flash-forward of opening a gigantic orange box strung together with a chocolate ribbon, a green Hermes Birkin bag sleeping inside. Gah, if only I won the SuperEnalotto tonight... that’s over 63 million Euros. I know they have a Hermès past security at the airport.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I-Cords Really Are For Idiots

Mum is sunburnt and Rick has been sick since we arrived which makes for a wonderful scenario of knitting progress, especially when it’s only +9C outside. Yes, I know that only a couple of days ago I posted pics of high summer but I also did say that I am stationed closer to Milan than the Riviera and the result is early morning fog and a string of curses for not having equipped myself with something a touch more substantial than three silk dresses, open wedges and a silk jacket.

I finished dad’s i-cord scarf and I can confirm that it really is a project for idiots, for even I managed to finish it in next to no time and to obtain a reasonable enough result that, with the right camera, could grace a mag.

My knitting friends always lament the finishing off process because, they say, it’s not knitting itself. I, on the other hand, love it. I love darning in ends and stitching the pieces together and with these five i-cords I had plenty of both to do. It took me three hours, but I am pleased with the result, and so is dad, who is going to enjoy this scarf soon enough.

I first had the baste together the green weft cords and then I had to weave in the blue warp cord. Then I stitched every point where warp meets weft with a combination of elastic cord and scrap yarn. I felt that the scrap yarn gave me a more secure stitch but the elastic cord was immensely more flexible. You may want to try using both in different places like I did, in order to ensure both flexibility to the finished scarf and stitches safe enough not to break off in a blink. The pattern is from the fantastic Knitting New Scarves by Lynne Barr.

Milan fashion week is on and we are currently holed up; I don’t really mind in the grand scheme of things, especially because now I feel a cold coming myself, which is really unsurprising, but I wish things had been slightly different, especially for Rick who was really looking forward to this break. I suppose this is a reason good enough to ensure that his birthday next month is a bit more special...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nothing Quite Like A Good Spider

For all of my Batman Love, which really equates with Christian Bale Love, for they are, after all, one and the same, my favourite comic book hero is actually Spider-man. Spider-man is my first cartoon memory, my first singing memory and my first Lycra memory. Much as I enjoyed Bat-cartoons and Bat-movies and Bat-TV series, it was the spider, not the bat, that held my little heart at ransom.

He still does in the shape of extensive research for my PhD (where he prominently features) and movies, which I tend to watch in endless loops at around about this time of year. My dad has the Spider-man 2 game for PlayStation and I cannot even begin to tell you how fantastic it is. The storyline follows the one of the movie, where Peter has a final show-down with Doc Oc, but much more takes place in the game where Mysterio, Black Cat and Rhino also feature, as well as numerous thugs and well-known friendly characters. I feel like I’ve been playing it non-stop for the past couple of days and the stats still claim I have only seen 14% of it.

A word of warning before I go back to it: if you do not have the PlayStation, do not bother with the PC version of the same game. It is a grossly scaled-down and very basic re-hash of it (which includes Puma for some reasons) and not at all the same for a different platform.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Biking To Hell

I am running into problems here because it isn’t just the patisserie that is potentially lethal, neither the shoe shops or the bag shops, where I have displayed remarkable restraint (I suppose that’s what you need when you have jacked your earning power to a garden of writing torns). Oh no, another problem is this place, where € 45 happily flapped out of my purse into a sea of chocolate nothingness.

But, I ask you, have you ever seen a Lindt store like this one? Because I haven’t and I have been to the one in New York and I have been to the quaint, wooden ones in Switzerland. This one sells huge Lindor balls (I should have really put a euro bill next to them, for reference) and all sorts of gianduiotti, and sweets, instant sweets, hot chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, Halloween chocolate, baby chocolate, sugar-free chocolate, mini bars, mega bars, chilli bars, nut bars and more. You do know that my favourite chocolate is by La Maison Du Chocolat but, sometimes, some crinkle, happy wrappers really do the job. And I would think I may need to up the bike ante from 830 calories a day to...at...least... treble that by the time I am back.

When Is A Hankie Not A Hankie?

Guest writer today is Rick, except he is not a guest writer at all because this post from his blog was written by me. And it ain’t pretty.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Autumn Is Not Coming Here

Mum and dad live in a valley in the proximity of Milan and at this time of year, the temperature drops below 15C and the day stays foggy and cold throughout. Yet, only fifty minutes by car, these are to be found:

And this:


And today, also this:

Still, I am equally compelled and repulsed by the indigenous population, whose riding boot-like tan is as deep as the average Arabic complexion. Gosh, and we in England are always made aware of the damage the sun can inflict on us (sun which we rarely see) while these people could be mistaken for 75% cocoa dummies? Bloody hell, it is beyond funny. Still, I’ll tell you what, I miss home in some sick-and-twisted way. I miss the cosiness of incipient autumn while here it still feels and looks like high summer. It is no coincidence that the best times this year were spent in Chicago and New York (between -25C and -13C) and that I am already thinking about my next forays into the high freeze. Meanwhile, this will have to do...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Re-Happy Birthday

And so I’m on holiday and today it is dad’s birthday. Seeing that mine was so recent still, it seemed like a good idea to re-celebrate together, with a cake that showcases our combined ages (cue on mine: dad’s sixty).

This came from a local patisserie that has a penchant for taking orders for cakes and then freezing them, so that upon de-frosting, the sponge ends up soaked with water. You know what, no matter, I ate all of the fabulous creams at the sides and on top and vouched to keep it just at one cake. Italy is a bit (well, a lot) like France and if you like cakes and pastries, it may be a little lethal on one’s waist. I wouldn’t want to undo all the good I’ve done on my bike as of late but I surely am going to give it a shot.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I will be silent on here while I am on holiday. I am sure I will have lots of reasons to write daily (and post later) and, for all the pointless and vacuous yakking I've been doing on here, I can assure you it has been great practice to keep the writing and the thinking going. I have dropped the guys off at the pets' hotel, I have left the house in a reasonable state of decorum and I have packed as little as possible, in the vainglorious hope that the AmEx will sprout an interest-free-not-to-be-paid-until-2100 fund just before I touch down. And seeing that leaving without a pic seemed like a really lame way to go, here's one from my favourite shop, just because.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ahead Of The Curve

I de-stacked my books this morning and flicked through them, bottom lip folded over and downward, trying to make my continuously shifting mind up on what to tackle next. Since dad's i-cord scarf will be complete very soon, and since I spent gazillion of pounds in sacks of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, it seems prudent not to buy anything further, until at least some of that fluffy stash has turned into something I can wear. But there's a problem, this one:

This is what I really would like to make out of it, Gossamer from Kidsilk Dream. The problem is a compound of problems: my recently acquired knitting skills, my impatience, my inability to stay focused to the end, lace and Kidsilk Haze itself.

This is an extremely polarising yarn, with some people swearing by it as little canaries pop out of their ears and start chirping around their heads like it's spring, and others corrugating their foreheads into Hell Boy-like scowls as they swear they will never ever knit with it again and who wants a Yeti jumper anyway? I have done little with Kidsilk Haze, most notably a little swatch of a scarf, the Hazy Fern Scarf I showed you already, but because I grew passionate (and angry) about lace very quickly, I keep thinking of Victorian Lace Today, miles and miles of Kidsilk Haze and quite possibly a metal needle stabbed through my head. I just know it is going to happen and I am too fearful to go through self-imposed tantrums to try it.

Yet, only yesterday, I was telling some knitting friends that I think it is vital that we operate ahead of the curve. Gasp, I almost surprised myself when I heard 'we must operate ahead of the curve, if only a little'. It sounded a little Joker-like, as he tells The Batman: 'I am not a monster, I am just ahead of the curve'. As I thought the principle through (my principle, but also his, for it can go in my PhD chapter), and with the clarity that only a cup of tea can instill in me, I found myself nodding in agreement, much as I hated the whole knitting lace process when I had to stop and start every three rows.

I am crazy about Fair Isle, but I don't want to jump into Fair Isle by doing some sample swatches, no madam, I want to do this:

It's like I know no middle measures, it's either an 800-mile lace shawl or no lace at all; either a 55 colour mix Fair Isle or no Fair Isle at all. However, something must be said for this leap of faith, for this enthusiasm sheltered by the crest of ignorance: if I never go for it, I'll always oooh and aaaah at the King of Fair Isle and will never attempt it myself. I am not interested in garter stitch scarves or doilies; even my forays into crochet are marred by a £ 150 expense for a blanket. What's wrong with a crocheted hairband to start with? I don't know, I just have to feel ahead of my curve until I finish the project and I can fist-pump my way above it and onto the next. And for all the stress it causes, I can highly recommend it as a recipe for Great Personal Growth Through Tantrums.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Surprise Factor

I went back to my knitting group this morning and was extremely and pleasantly surprised to realise that my legs are not as fat as I think they are. I should thank a combination of Hypoxi, horsey and exercise bike for this and you would be excused to think I am displaying a flash of false modesty here. Really, I am not. I always think of my legs as a bit chunky and because I do not have a full-length mirror at home, every time I catch a glimpse of them, I always think they are somebody else's or the mirror is a lengthening one (something they really ought to consider in changing rooms the world over).

The epiphany took place thanks to Cellini, from Rowan's Mag 44:

Many people have commented on Ravelry that this is one of those dreadful preggo-styles that can gift its wearer with a good twenty pounds without even trying hard. I am glad to say I can disagree. At my local yarn store, there is a lovely Cellini on display, in a natural shade. I tried it on today and that is when I realised that it does not pregnarise the wearer and that the wearer today had pretty decent legs.

If that is the case, I can tell you it's been a long slog. Thinking back on my fitness misadventures, I cannot quite recall the moment when a sense of awareness descended upon me; yet, it must have happened at some point in my very early days for, even as a young child, I already displayed multiple flags that unequivocally marked me as one of those kids whose entire family, all the way back to the Middle Ages, must have lacked the Gym Gene. I insisted on volley-ball, intoxicated as I was by Japanese manga cartoons featuring improbable heroines gifted with improbable high-jumps, improbable strength, improbable stamina and improbably Westernised looks.

My own version of Mimi or Mila was secretly rehearsed with a limp helium balloon against one of my bedroom walls. Fast-forward to the school halls where we used to practise and there I was, a tall and self-conscious piglet, falling over and back onto my already vast backside, the ball imprinted on my forehead like a tortoise’s shell, my glasses pressed hard onto my nose and only miraculously unshattered.

These days I stick to what I really want to do (riding), but when the going gets tough on the horses, there may be spells when the exercise bike replaces the hooves and I must confess I do not like these spells one little bit. For a start, it is boring. Boring to hell. Boring like I never knew exercise could be boring. Secondly, if you're at all like me, you'll want to really push it and really pushing it on the bike means a full hour on mountain settings. The only remotely pleasing moment is when I step off the damn thing, grunting and gasping, clasping my chest as I peer at the display that blinks 830 calories burnt, 20.1 Km, 60 minutes. Hard as it is, I may have to try and conjure up images of my legs every time I run through mental excuses in order to skip (skip the bike of course, I cannot imagine skipping without falling to the floor in a tangle).

Monday, September 15, 2008

What A Guy

My best friend is an Australian guy who happens to be generous, funny and also rather good-looking:

Portrayed above with Victoria when he came to visit us, Grant is the only person I did not immediately connect with and who later surged to the top of my best friends' list. It is a rather peculiar story because we found each other on a Tomb Raider forum years ago and we started off by being slightly unpleasant to each other for no particular reason. I don't know what happened later because it seems like we just clicked, buried the axe and became best friends, so much so that in September 2005 he travelled from Australia to Manchester, of all places, and we spent a fabulous ten days together, mostly eating, drinking (Starbees), talking and walking.

Today I received his birthday present: books which will serve me particularly well considering that one fits within the book that is doing the agent rounds and another falls within my PhD area of expertise:

You see, if only all guys were like Grant. Regardless of whether he uses my Amazon list as a reference, he can always display initiative and knack when it comes to gifts. He has sent chocolate (always dark of course), a wooly hat, numerous copies of Australian Vogue, cooking books, a canvas bag and more over the years. He just needs no guidance whatsoever while Rick on the other hand... always needs guidance. Which explains why I bought myself a dress for my birthday, just to make sure I would have something really fabulous, you know? And that's my advice to you: do not leave a man, any man, in charge of your birthday. Unless there's a man like Grant in your life.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Autumn Is Coming

It is coming in many shapes, such as these:


And these:

Although I had a great day walking around, my mind was elsewhere. I have lost one of my birds today, this tiny little guy:

Ten years and four months for a blue tit is a positively paleolithic span of time. When they survive to adulthood (and it is estimated that only 10% to 20% do), they are lucky to live less than 18 months, what with all of the predators out there. Well this little darling, whose name was William, was found by my dad when he fell off his nest as a tiny baby, even more tiny than you see here, if at all possible. He could have ended up splattered on the road had it not been for dad's attentive eye. I kid you not, it is like he goes around with a radar around springtime; William was not the first, and will certainly not be the last, bird whom he saved from certain, death by tyre in front of his shop. I do not feel like saying too much right now since I am so very upset. But one thing I can say for sure: you can do great things with a very small brain. Tsee-tseee-tseeee.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I-Cording It Back To Knitting

With all that has happened as of late, I had all but forgotten my knitting, until this morning, when a quick foray to my local yarn store saw me walking out £ 35 poorer but creatively enriched. That's what I tell myself anyway. So this is what is going on with my latest balls, an i-cord scarf I am knitting for my dad:

It is going super-quick and is super-easy, and that's really no surprise since i-cord stands for idiot cord. I am getting so into it that I have already had visions of multiple, tiny i-cords embellishing my felted projects. Not that there are felted projects but there is the promise of a felted project. A cashmere sweater left me for the Land of the Shrink only a few days ago and I thought it wise to put it aside instead of casting it away in a fit of rage.

On the subject of felting, I can suggest a very interesting book by Nicky Epstein, Knitting Never Felt Better. I know, I know, something's wrong there. It would sound immensely better as Knitting Never Felted Better but, given that the author is trying to be punny after all (no pun intended from me though), we should really cut her some slack. Well, I have decided to cut her some slack. I never thought of felting as a way to embellish one's knitting, I always thought of it as a rescue remedy for washing gone very awry. In this book, the author shows how one should keep felting in mind as a way to produce something totally unique and all by tying some marbles or nuts to the project prior to felting.

I ask you, how cool is that? Why did I not think of it myself? It's not that I am unaware of what makes fibre felt; I may not have felted anything on purpose so far but, surely, I could have figured out that some stretch in some places would yield bobbles or discs and the like? It really is as they say: sometimes we rack our brains trying to be original and oh-so-clever when keeping it simple works the proverbial wonders. Get the book, marvel at the designs and then start scarring your wardrobe (although simple wool, as opposed to cashmere, will do just fine. It'll work out cheaper, that's for sure).

Friday, September 12, 2008

STOP PRESS! Britt on Knitty!

My friend Britt has just had an article published by world-wide-web knitting phenomenon Knitty magazine. Find it here.

Kermit Bale

On such a non descript Friday, when I have to crank up the heat and all I want to do is stuff my face with chocolate and read on the sofa, I received a link to one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. On the subject of Christian Bale, which I so like to lightly touch on and off most of the time, see what a really dedicated person has put together. Chris and Kermit separated at birth. Hilarious.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pears To Come

Remember this pic? Now it has all changed into this:

Up until last year, my pear tree, which is a conference pear tree for the uninitiated amongst yourselves, was producing about one ton of pears. I am not joking you know? I would rack up pears from the grass for a good six weeks. Once I filled up twelve black bin bags with them. The problem with my conference pears is that they are vile. Like, really vile. As I said in the post I reference above, last year my dad cut most of the tree off and promised that this year, not only would I not have to fight one ton of vile pears, but those few that the tree would grace the garden with would be really nice.

And now I am waiting for them to be a touch more ready. Who knows, I may be able to give you a recipe for Poires Helène sometimes really soon. Here's hoping... They look nice enough for conference, right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Banning Editors

Raking blogs, newspapers, mags, websites and more for grammatical atrocities is an exhausting task. I cannot quite believe that there are people who spend months doing this so that they can then publish books with their findings. The books are nice enough in general, but I just cannot imagine the amount of scribbled papers that such research must yield. Every day I find at least ten examples of grammatical atrocities and, guys, I am not even looking for them. Perhaps I should just stop reading anything written past 1990.

Take this email I received from Borders today, Borders of the books, yes. It is about banned books.

'One of the most disturbingly violent books of recent years, American Psycho caused controversy before it was even published, with it's original publishers dropping it and the New York Times urging people not to buy it.'

Oh my God people, a bookstore that sends out a marketing email with it's in place of its. If this isn't worthy of slitting one's wrists I don't know what is. And they do not do it just once, they do it twice:

'Since it's publication The Color Purple has won acclaim and inspired controversy.'

Oh and let's forget about punctuation as well while we are at it... I think they must have banned editors at Borders and you know what the funny (or sad, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty, as usual) thing is? If I were to apply for an editing job at Borders they wouldn't even look at me because of my currently predominant corporate background. They would be right in thinking that corporate people are usually sloppy in grammar and spelling but, jeepers creepers, their own editors and copywriters are no match.

Still, if you can gliss over this disgraceful state of affairs, do read American Psycho. It really is excellent (especially from a Lacanian psychoanalysis perspective) and the movie isn't bad either, especially because Christian Bale is in it, naked. And while the obvious thing to do would be to grace these pages with such hotness, I'm afraid I prefer him clothed, especially when he looks like an Armani model. So there.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Oats So Not Simple

I often say that 'I am in two minds about this' where this could be anything from a book to a movie to a bag. One thing I've never been in two minds about is this:

To the uninitiated amongst you (the non-British ones) this will probably look like a mug full of vomit. Well it's not. The white stuff is porridge with a drizzle of maple syrup. I know that porridge is good for you and to a person that regularly snacks on rice crackers, eats tofu and drinks soya, the sole idea of porridge is more than appealing. Yet, I keep forcing myself and every time I prepare it, I think of one thing. I think of vomit, even though, to be fair to porridge, it doesn't taste of anything at all and is certainly not stinging rancid either.

Even a vat of maple syrup makes for something as tasteless as tap water but because I am on a health-kick following a full week's binge on chocolate (hey, it was my birthday, yes, all week), it seemed like a good idea to start a new, healthy routine made up of porridge and one hour on the exercise bike, seeing that all the darn horses I could ride (or ride with) are currently broken. While Strauss's waltzers are blasting through the speakers as I am starting the day and I feel happy and uplifted and serene, I only have to turn on the stove, get the box with the reassuringly half-naked, rippling Scottish athlete in a kilt from the cupboard and... and it all goes wrong.

Perhaps it will grow on me, perhaps it's one of those acquired tastes, as people call them, even though I am always a little weary of acquired tastes. I always think that whatever is an acquired taste perhaps is not meant to be eaten at all.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Peace as in at peace, peace as in peaceful. Like this:

To think that less than six weeks ago he was half-dead, a couple of foreign objects lodged in his stomach out of greed (and perhaps a touch of stupidity also) is incredible. He is doing great in every way and currently enjoys the heat coming from the freshly turned on radiator. And now I can go on holiday in peace.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On Fire

My creativity is on fire and there is no way to put it with humility. After many years of (occasional) tear-jerking attempts at coming up with an all-encompassing title for my PhD, I cracked it today. I knew I didn't want any of that sanctimonious crap that self-righteous, pompuous academic gits (or restaurant critics) use, something like: 'Allons enfants de la patrie: a diachronic dissection of the Foucauldian hibrity of French religious poetry in identity, discourse and subversive contingency'. No, I never wanted a title that would have scrunched up Derrida's brow into the the proverbial what the fuck, I wanted one that would subtly hint at the defense and celebration of the vampire, while self-referencing post-modernism. Now I've got it.

Slaughter is the best medicine: the pop-culture legacy of the post-modern vampire.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Best Times

I did nothing today because something great happened. The latest Vogue fell through the door and, as I mentioned in the past, it is the best thing to happen every month. I've been known not to answer the phone and to retire in seclusion with Vogue until I am satisfied that I got well acquainted with the latest musings. Many people often think that Vogue is all pics and all ads and that there is nothing to read. These are the sort of people that usually write off sci-fi without ever having read any sci-fi text. Don't mind them. British Vogue is above all other Vogues out there (yes, Anna Freak Wintour, much better than the one you edit) for variety, intent and depth of its features, even though they are addicted to the fact that. But hey, you can't have everything (or you could have had, if only John Milton had written about fashion).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Recovering A Sense Of Integrity

Today it was pouring rain like it hasn't poured in a while. It wasn't just pouring rain, it was pouring cats and dogs and horses and frogs. Sounds good to me, especially when I am free to have a five-hour lunch with a friend of mine. Gosh, I never knew that not going to an office Monday to Friday could be this much fun. I am planning never to have to go again. She brought me a lovely book about the creative process, The Artist's Way. Together with The Creative Habit, this one too is one of the most respected texts about the artist and the challenges associated with art, no matter the type.

When I returned home, I plunged in as I often do when I have a new book, intoxicated with a sense of expectation and newness that only a new pair of shoes ever gives me. You know when you find that, at your darkest hour, you really weren't alone at all, because many others, hundreds, perhaps millions of people have gone through your same feelings? I was both flabbergasted and elated to read this in relation to discovering your artistic integrity:

'Shifts in taste and perception frequently accompany shifts in identity. One of the clearest signals that something healthy is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through, and discard old clothes, papers, and belongings. [...] By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable. A closet stuffed with ratty old clothes does not invite new ones. A house overflowing with odds and ends and tidbits you've held on to for someday has no space for the things that might truly enhance today.

When the search-and-discard impulse seizes you, two crosscurrents are at work: the old you is leaving and grieving, while the new you celebrates and grows strong. As with any rapture, there is both tension and relief. [...]

Be prepared for bursts of tears and of laughter. A certain giddiness may accompany sudden stabs of loss. Think of yourself as an accident victim walking away from the crash: your old life has crashed and burned; your new life isn't apparent yet. You may feel yourself to be temporarily without a vehicle. Just keep walking.'

You'd be excused to think that this is perhaps a book about surviving loss and re-finding yourself after a period of upheaval. Yes it is, if you think about yourself as a repressed artist that has fought long to reach something as elusive as a sense of identity, both as a person and as an artist. It is a good idea to look at the issue from a perspective other than one's own; The Artist's Way does just that.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Is A Gift Not A Gift?

Because I subscribe to Vogue, Condé Nast thinks it’s a good idea to blast me with subscription offers for their entire catalogue. I have received letters about how fantastic it would be to bring my house up to The World Of Interiors standard, I’ve been told that GQ will endlessly enrich my reading with cultural and lifestyle issues and that Glamour is the UK’s first monthly mag for women, what am I waiting for? I’ll tell you what puts me off, this does:

Don't know what you're looking at? Well, have you ever heard of ‘an unmarried bachelor’? I didn’t think so. Of course, you never heard of it because all bachelors are, by implicit definition of bachelor, unmarried. Now I ask you, when is a gift not a gift my friends? Why do these people (and we can throw cosmetics’ companies in too, offering free gifts with purchase of two pots of something or other) feel the need to offer a free gift? Obviously, the Moleskin notebook is either a gift, and I don’t have to pay for it, which means it's free, or I pay for it, and therefore is not a gift anymore. Calling it a free gift is nonsensical propaganda, it is marketing for the illiterate. Gifts are always free; if they are not, they are not gifts.

This dis-engagement of our brains runs rampant across the way we speak and write. I think that, should I single out one such irritating misuse of intelligence, I think I would pick ‘moving forward’, a favourite of business people everywhere. I have clear (and ghastly) recollections of numerous meetings whereby we were going to do something ‘moving forward’ or we would ‘move forward’ thanks to a particular set of actions. How stupid did it always sound to my sensitive (and sensible) ears.

I ask you, have you ever seen anything ‘moving backwards’ save, perhaps a crab? Even so, a crab moves sideways, not backwards. Not even cars move backwards, they reverse. While I am aware that sometimes businesses know of a backward motion, they do so not because they are moving backwards, but because they are falling backwards. The problem is that any preposition tagged along moving, does not make any good, explicative sense. You can move up, but it doesn’t make very graceful writing or speaking; you rise, you gain stature or whatever applies to your context. You can move down, but then you may be dropping, sliding, leaving. You could move forward but moving forward really means proceeding, so why not using this word? I don’t know, I don’t have the answer.

I don’t know why we are kept into a blindfolded celebration of mediocrity taken as linguistic fact. I do not expect these offers for free gifts to stop coming through the letterbox any time soon, even though I’ve started to think that, perhaps, the Moleskin is not really free if I have to buy a subscription anyway and if it is not free... it cannot be a gift still. The problem remains. And you see, these writers, these appalling copywriters, do not see that. But you know what they say... beware of gits bearing gifts.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


You know how people sometimes worry that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel may be a train careering towards them? I call crap to that. Light is always light in my book and when I hear the above expression I always think of a simple, calm light, like this one:

Today was my last working day, the day when, after almost eight years of agony playing someone I am not, after almost eight years of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole (or a round peg into a square hole? I can never remember), I called it quits and walked out a free woman. Just as expected, it was the best day, probably the best day ever. And just as I always suspected, deep down, the light was a gentle speck of hope in the distance, not a catastrophe falling out of the dark sky. Light is always good. This is not just the end of that chapter, it is the end of that story. Writing something else is going to be really exciting.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No Ordinary Pea Risotto

The weather is positively autumn-like, which is a great thing as far as this Virgo is concerned, but somehow today peas were calling me. And there is nothing that screams SPRING as much as a pea risotto. But this one is a different breed of pea risotto my friends; this one is mantecato with mascarpone and makes for a fab early autumn treat.

You'll need:

200g of risotto rice
100g petits pois (frozen, but better if fresh, as usual)
1 tbsp mascarpone
half an onion
one egg yolk
a couple of tbsps of olive oil
1 lt vegetable stock
greated Parmesan

Serves 2 (or indeed 1 under the right circumstances)

Chop the onion in really small pieces (use a mezzaluna if available) and drop into a heavy-based saucepan on high heat with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Let it sizzle, stir away and watch it until it starts going gold. At this stage, add the peas and the dry rice and stir well and quickly. Now begin to add the vegetable stock. Continue to stir until the rice will have absorbed the stock, by which stage you will add some more.

You may wish to lower to heat to high medium at this stage, but know your rice before you do this. Some risotto rice (canaroli or arborio) softens really quickly (no good unfortunately) and having too much stock on a too low heath will give you a watery mess that is not risotto at all. So bear this in mind as you work. Continue to add the stock as soon as the rice has absorbed it until you have some liquid left in the pan.

Now crack your egg, get the egg yolk in a small bowl and beat in the mascarpone. Add a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan and then drop into the pan of risotto (this is the mantecatura, no English equivalent for this word). Stir well in order to incorporate and serve immediately, not forgetting generous Parmesan on top.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Happiest Birthday

There is something so compelling about my birthday, I can barely put it into a coherent sentence. Somehow, despite my built-in love for all things pretty and, yes, even classy, when the first day of September strikes, I am all for cheap, tacky and junk. So here is my cake.

I didn't bake it after all, I bought it, and, as per usual, I could not resist the slightly camp HAPPY BIRTHDAY candles. Beats buying multiple packs in order to stab the cake with my actual age. I think I stopped doing that a handful of years back, when I was 26 or so. Mind you, I loved the cake ablaze with so many lights but I equally love one that spells the message too.

Back to the junk. Yes, birthday junk. I love to have a birthday lunch at the Old Orleans, a faux-Creole place, much like Pizza Express is faux Italian and Wagamama is faux Japanese. Still, the low lights, the fake musical instruments and the placca-like decorations strewn across the place make me happy happy happy and, for some unfathomable reasons, only ever come to mind as my birthday approaches. Today I had lunch there (an unremarkable bean chilli, as most food is in faux-places, remarkably unremarkable) and then went to The Dark Knight at the IMAX, which made for really good revision now that I am ready (and free) to tackle my research full-time. And did I mention that I really love the soundtrack? Plus, listening to it in the movie theatre is much better than playing it ad lib in the car. For one, listening to it within its natural context does not make me feel like driving off a cliff and calling it a day. Batman is not called the Dark Knight for nothing.

Yes, now I am free. I am free to be who I am. And you know something, I am ridiculously happy for it. I knew this was going to be a seminal birthday tagged towards the end of a seminal year and, blow me, it really was. Cheers!
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