Saturday, January 31, 2009


I’ve felt like something was coming for a while. For once I don’t mean a cold or some disaster but something good. As of late I’ve started thinking that people who do PhDs catch bipolar disorder; they are happy and fulfilled one day and six feet under the next. Riding high on productivity today and slitting their wrists with ineptitude tomorrow.

I’ve been like this for a while. It didn’t feel this way when I was employed full-time on top of studying part-time (what was I thinking? Nothing obviously!), but now that research is all I do, I find myself swinging from a to z within the same day and, believe you me, while being at a feels awesome, being at z isn’t as good.

But today I received an email that may potentially have changed all of this, as I don’t just have plans or ideas chugging away in the background; I’ve got an email that accepts my pitch for a review of Watchmen and can I please send it in before the end of March? And now the bigger news is that I am not writing a review of Watchmen for Empire magazine, but for a leading academic journal in my field. There isn’t something afoot any longer! I have stopped shouting down the can waiting for a sound! Someone is listening... I am going somewhere.

Friday, January 30, 2009


I’ve read, and continue reading, many books about writing and about the creative process in general. I’ve spoken of some on here, namely The Creative License and The Creative Habit, but there are others that I found inspirational, such as Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, Renegade Writer, Wabi Sabi For Writers, Art/Fear, Fearless Creating and indeed the very famous The Artist’s Way.

What many of these have in common is a reference to getting gears into motion, to unblocking oneself when intimidated by the blank computer screen or blank canvas or blank anything. What works for me is meeting with a friend of mine who is also a writer and who just gets it, even before I’ve finished talking. I suppose it’s inevitable and that’s why like attracts like; I don’t think I would have very much to discuss with someone who doesn’t read or watch movies or with someone who lacks a basic appreciation of the arts.

And so when we go out, our jaunts are always source of inspiration, even if in a roundabout way, even if we may be talking about spending money or not spending it, about class or about plans. It’s also great to have someone who shares not just the pain, but the joy of a semi-victory as well; someone who understands the difficulties related to certain projects and the jubilation associated with a positive response. Quite simply, individuals depend on one another for self-validation throughout life: get yourself a friend in your own field if you can, and you’ll never be short of inspiration.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finished Business

Yes well, even when you get things done, they may not be done done after all. I spent the day straightening minute detail in my book, even though one cannot quite call the bibliography and filmography and domestic takings graphs minute in a book about film studies. Still, it’s done done now and I can finally move onto something else. I feel better already.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This morning I woke up at 9.15 am, wondering what day it was, where I was and who I was. It quickly occurred to me that it was Friday and that, yay, it’s the weekend tomorrow! Just as quickly, I realised that it wasn’t Friday at all but Wednesday and anyway why would the weekend matter to me, as I don’t work in an office any longer and I am at home all the time? And so I am a stay-at-home PhD person slash writer, but one who doesn’t get paid for the privilege. I was back to earth after all.

I rolled out of bed and started a day that was very vaguely reminiscent of the uni, when I never surfaced before 1 pm and when getting ready to go out usually meant selecting the pants for fencing practice for the 9.30 pm session at the sports centre. I can see why I could quite easily live in abject poverty in my uni days; there was nothing open bar the local SPAR when I was around and spending temptation was non-existent.

I managed to do a minute amount of work in the shape of Watchmen research (you’re going to hear about these guys so much more I am telling you) perked up by my usual coffee. Then I sat at the table glassy eyed for a good half hour, thinking that, all things considered, I probably spend most of my daylight hours enunciating no more than fifty words, twenty of which are rolled out in Starbucks

hi I am fine I’ll have a sugar free treble grande caramel macchiato to stay please ok that’s fine thanks

and another twenty to my dogs upon leaving the house and returning there

I’ll see you later be good hey guys I am home down down down would you like a gravy bone

which leaves about ten or so for Rick when and if he calls me from work

hey rick yes fine yes all good you yes great ok see you

I probably strung in another twenty or so at the car wash today, which makes for a big change. Still, by the end of the day, today or any other, I feel like I am brain-fried, my thoughts about what to read and why and how to connect what I read with something else I’ve read or seen leaking out of my ears. It is now 7.30 pm and I am pretty much ready for bed, even though I slept like a stone for ten hours last night.

Perhaps I should start making collages like I used to, in order to try and disconnect from the research and the writing. Maybe I should start the colouring book I bought a month ago, something I keep leafing through but I am never quite brave enough to deface in the lurid green and purple combination I love so much. Maybe I should just try and switch off and leave the reading for one evening. Or perhaps I should do what I tend to do every Wednesday night when Rick goes out pooling; I should get some senseless movie (say, a Hugh Grant movie or how about Zoolander?) and let it run in the background. The problem with me is that everything overstimulates me because everything can be useful in the cultural studies arena. I need a break, like, a real one, with no computer, no books, no reading and no writing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Springing Up

I’ve been feeling sluggish for a number of days, if not weeks. The fog has pretty much lifted but the sky still hangs low with few sparks of novelty on the horizon. Today I re-edited my book for what I hope will be the very last time and then something burst into my brain as if implanted there by an invisible green fairy. I’ve got it all figured out my friends, there is more light at the end of the tunnel above and beyond the book and the PhD. I sent a pitch to an academic journal for Watchmen and I am devising a potential book proposal for it. It is like my creative gears have started churning again after days of dragging my nib and shaking my head in disgust. As they say, you’ve got to trust the process.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

So It Is Evening

Aren't seasons really quite something? I can never pin-point the moment when a season starts morphing into another one and then, suddenly, I wake up one morning and notice that there are no leaves left on the pear tree and that autumn must really be here. As I closed the curtains of my bedroom tonight, I noted that it was so much lighter than only a couple of weeks ago. This is what it looked like at 4.30 pm.

And to think that we are only one month into winter! But I am not one to rejoice for days getting longer. In fact, it has already started to annoy me. Stop, stop, stop right here, when night is night and day is day! But I told you already that I hate spring-summer, yes? Never mind then.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cash and Trash Trump Class from The THE

"Price Harry is the representative figure of our times. He had the benefit of the most protracted and expensive education ever devised in the history of the world, and the additional benefit of permanent exposure to great art and to the company -had he wanted it -of great minds. He has ended up apparently as ignorant and boorish as almost any lout in the back row of a sink-school detention class. He may still be welcomed, for his family's sake, by snobbish fastidious hostesses, but his language, values and behaviour belong to a white-trash stag night."

By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, from today's Times HIgher Education.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Best Of The Rest Or Why You Should Read Somebody Else's Blog

When I started Domestic Miss a year ago or so, I thought I would use it as a place to rant about the tyranny of domesticity. So Domestic Miss isn't really another way of saying Miss Domestic but, in fact, a way to hint at what I've always perceived to be my lack in the domestic field. You know how some people relish taking on re-decorating projects of their domestic spaces? I dread it. And you know how some find weekends at IKEA and/or Habitat as inspirational as a trip to the Louvre? I am not one of those either, thank God.

For a while, this place was to be called Domestic Hiss, how ridiculous eh, because I felt like I would have been hissing like a snake about all that annoys me about life, mainly sourcing unreliable plumbers, dealing with a permanently over-grown (and over-growing) garden, finding good plasterers and so on and so forth. But no, Domestic Miss quickly turned into my journal, something I never kept before, as I always thought, what's the point in journalising life if nobody but you yourself reads it? Now I am satisfied that, while I only really write for my own pleasure derived from chronicling the happenings and the non- happenings of my life in a manner that is as self-indulgent as the evenings spent alone re-watching Hugh Grant movies I've seen a billion zillion times, I know that there is always somebody out there reading these pages. It's fun to share the self-indulgence and rather peculiar, believe me, to see that people come and go and so many return to keep on reading. Who would have thought it?! Isn't it fun?

But, for all of my love of my own online space, there is one place that I find much more exciting than this one, The Domestic Soundscape. This is the PhD blog of a student at Oxford Brooke University. Known as Felix, her research investigates ways of reproducing everyday sounds that stem from the domestic environment. She inspired me to try my hand at recording the everyday and I must admit that I am finding it even more fun than trying to take pics of running deer with my aging camera phone. Back to Felix though. A few days ago she wrote a fabulous piece which could be summarised, as she herself points out, as Why It Makes No Sense For You To Pay Me To Do Your Knitting. You can find this piece right here and I now urge you to go and read it, like, right now.

I was delighted to find this post because I have often discussed with my fellow writing friends how pissed off I am at supposed writers who give their services away for free (or very nearly). It is undermining the craft and it is undermining the work of all of those writers who are not prepared to write for free. And so I thought I would reply to Felix at her own place, except I then realised that, hey, I could reproduce my own piece here as I've thought about the issue on and off all day today. Here are my thoughts on why artists, crafters, writers and people who possess intangible skills should be paid.

In my opinion, this problem exists for a number of complementary reasons. First of all, the vast majority of people appears unable to comprehend the amount of detailed labour involved in creating something hand-made, even when it is explained to them. As they do not know (and seem unable to process when they do know), the complexity, depth and breadth of the steps involved, they cannot appreciate the reason why an appropriate price tag would make the commission of the work incredibly expensive, at least in their eyes.

Secondly, but not less importantly, many people are happy to bag free stuff, no matter the quality of this, but wouldn’t be prepared to pay 10p for the same if they had to. Have you ever noticed how people mob a stall that is giving something away for free (say, a biscuit and a spit of mulled wine) while the one that sells the same for 50p doesn’t have to fight the crowds? It’s really an example of anarchical retail, whereby people are only as objective in valuing the necessity and pleasure of owning items as they are allowed to be. Give some the opportunity to get something for free (however good or vile the quality of this something) and people will show interesting nuances of the colours that characterise their living style.

This problem is especially resonant with people that offer very specific services in isolation (say, just knitting a garment) or as part of some deal (the designer that first designs, then modifies, then purchases the yarn and then knits on commission). It is my firm belief that the far-and-wide availability of (machine) knitted garments in shops across the land, from Primark all the way to Harrods, has incredibly de-valued the items themselves. If you discount a knitted dress by Alexander McQueen which would retail at about £ 600 to £ 1200, depending on complexity, hand-detailing and fibre, your average Joe thinks that ‘if Primark sells this Aran cabled hooded top at £ 10 why on earth should I pay Steph £ 300 to knit the same?’.

Here’s the crux of course: it ain’t the same. It isn’t the same because what I knit I actually hand-knit, which is different from machine-knit. Then it can withstand far more than a couple of washes and is not made out of the cheapest of the cheapo acrylic out there. And these are just three points. But these people do not see it that way, for they effectively couldn’t tell Dom Perignon from the cheapest bottle of plonk off Tesco’s shelves. Finding crocheted string bags in IKEA retailing for a fiver reinforces the idea that these items are cheap and/or cheapo to make. And crochet cannot even be done by a machine!

I am myself a case in point. I am one of those knitters that offers her knitting services for relatively small projects, scarves, pets’ accessories, small pillows, that sort of stuff. Despite their relatively small size (unless you want me to knit a horse rug of course), I offer a reasonable expertise, for I can knit lace of medium difficulty for example.

I’ve been recently approached by seven people who required my knitting skills, the same people whom I never heard from again as soon as I said that a lace scarf between 90 cm and 120 cm long and 20 cm wide would cost them £ 70, labour only. As your table above shows, I am actually being rather generous in pricing intricate lace work at what would essentially work out to be just about minimum wage. I can get more than that by standing behind the Clarins counter at John Lewis.

My dad is a hairdresser and an exceptionally talented artist too. He spent the last three years carving little statues for a large nativity set in his spare time. He has over sixty now and he is currently painting them. If dad were to put these for sale, £ 2000 wouldn’t be enough to cover the work he has put into them (and please note, I am only talking of labour here, I am not talking of labour of love). In fact, I am actually even discounting the sourcing of the wood and the planning of the big picture; I am only thinking of the time employed sitting down and carving out of a shapeless lump. Nobody would pay that price, even though it is in fact very small when compared with the amount of work necessary to reach the (partly) finished stage.

And of course writing is the same; thanks to the hordes of pseudo-writers out there who offer their services for free or near-free (for a multitude of reasons, mainly, one would hope, because they are trying to break into writing, but there is more to, and than, that) the quality of what is out there has steadily declined over the years. How many websites seek ‘content writers’ required to churn out 500-word pieces 2 to 3 times a week for which they will be paid $ 5 to $ 10 a piece? Are you bloody kidding me?! And there are deluded people out there who think that’s a ‘job’. What’s happening is a Primark-isation of the writing craft, whereby more and more publications (online and in print) are pushing the boundaries of how far they can go and how little they can pay while going that far. It is up to us as writers, carvers, painters, knitters (and all the rest) not to bend to this demeaning exploitation. We must stand firm on ground where we do not write, carve, paint, knit (and all the rest of it) for free.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Well, what can I say? It's Inauguration Day, oh if only Dr King were alive today!

I watched mesmerised, thrilled and a little moved too, who wouldn't be? Hope has this effect on people. And even though I couldn't get very close at all (I mean, I am in England after all), I think I should say what is the right thing to say above all on such incredible occasions: God bless CNN.

And here's how the new President started off...

"My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.
At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet. We will not apologise for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honour them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America."


And also read on the day by the author herself was the following poem by Elizabeth Alexander. Enjoy and get ready to walk in the light!

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer consider the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On This Day

BBC said that today is the year’s most depressing day. I never knew there was such a thing until a few years back, when I first came across an article on BBC News Online talking of Gloomy Monday, apparently a day that falls towards the end of January when the Christmas hangover is finally dissipated and worry, depression of various degrees and winter blues set in. These may be dictated by a number of concurrent factors, stupid things such as short days or having over-spent at Christmas. It’s no wonder Gloomy Monday never quite registered with me; I love winter in all of its manifestations and find that a slow January is the best way to ease oneself into new doings, even when the fog may have set in. Navigate through it baby, there’s always light on the other side.

Today has been a gloomy day though, weather-wise. I woke up in darkness, exercised in darkness and went out in semi-darkness, the sky a never-ending cement slate stretched low above my head, with near-incessant rain and razor-like wind to boot. Blimey, what’s not to like, right? You’d think this could be the perfect scenario for a Gloomy Monday, except I’ve been very efficient in many ways, biking it until I hit 800 spent calories, cutting net time to a mere quarter of an hour worth of email checking (three seconds, no emails) and news reading (if you can call Vogue the purveyor of news, and I do) and setting off at lunchtime to run errands, including a reading/writing stop at Starbee, of which you’ve got proof right here.

Yet, yet, yet, I cannot deny to have spared more than just a fleeting thought to where I was a year ago, life-wise and especially place-wise. So I flicked through iPhoto and looked at some of the pics I took in Chicago on this day. Was that Gloomy Monday? I think it was a Saturday if I am not mistaken, perfectly placed as a Gloomy Day anyway, for it too was a 19 January, even though I cannot imagine anyone on earth to feel depressed, worried, stressed or narky when the landscape offers so much cobalt blue and icy stillness.

And now it's like I am trying to go all doom and gloom on myself. The first two months of last year were so exciting and promising from a travel perspective that the draught ahead appears even more painful to live through. If 2008 was indeed my life-changing year, 2009 sets out to be one of consolidation and consolidation, everyone knows this really, is another word for limbo. When you consolidate you don’t really feel like you are leaping ahead; you’re just still here, clearing decks, sorting out the old, physically shredding the past, spring-cleaning life for a whole twelve months or thereabouts.

To consolidate means to re-group and re-grouping has never filled me with shivering expectation somehow. I leapt into the unknown last year; this year I am due to land in it and I cannot say to be excessively thrilled by the flight, especially when I haven't got a set of new blue pictures to show. Still, not going anywhere at this time (or indeed not planning to go anywhere) does not mean that I will never go again. However, try as I may to brainwash myself into New Age positive thinking, all that remains is that a year ago I was having a fabulous time and today... well, not so much. But few places compare to Chicago in winter anyway.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tarragon Mustard Salad

I’ve made no mystery of my liking of mustard in all of its declensions. American, English, French, seeded or seedless, creamy and delicately yellow or thin and speckled, I like all versions I’ve tried so far. Now I’ve found a peculiar new one I had never seen before, a little jar of green fabulousness that I would have never put down as mustard, for when I seek mustard, I look for yellow of course. Make a dressing with it and use it for a partly-raw salad that offers interesting changes in textures beneath the grassy heat.

Salad for one:

3 tbsps of boiled borlotti beans
1 stick of celery
1 peeled carrot
1 tbsp of capers
4 very large olives
2 tbsp plain low-fat yogurt
1 tsp tarragon mustard
a splash of soy sauce

Prepare the dressing by mixing the yogurt, mustard and soy sauce. Go easy on the soy sauce; you want it to slightly salt the yogurt and mustard, not to overpower it in the way it does when drizzled over crisp rolls. Set aside.

Cut the carrot and celery stick into small chunks and mix with the olives, capers and borlotti beans. Ideally, the beans should have been freshly boiled on the day, but if you want to cut the hassle by using tinned beans, I am gonna cut you some slack on this one occasion. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and eat.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Singing Along

Sometimes people drive so right up your bum that you can see the whites of their psychotic eyes. Other times they may not be that close but are so dramatically belting out some song that it is impossible to ignore them once noticed. Today was such a day, when I spotted a guy driving behind acting out whatever it was that he was listening to. He made me giggle all the way, until he took a left and sang away into Cheadle village as I continued to Wilmslow. I don't know what he was singing, but I would really love to find out. And so, to celebrate this stranger that gave me a really good laugh, I am linking you to some fabulous guy I found a couple of years ago while browsing for Michael Bublé's Save The Last Dance For Me. He filmed himself while on the way to work. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Fog

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is in the process of identifying her next career move following the end of her last assignment back in autumn. She spoke of a certain anxiety creeping on her as the Christmas season drew to a close. I am certain this feeling is common to many people these days, as job security seems scarce and as security itself finally becomes a fallacy.

As she was talking, and my God how do I wish I could be more supportive than just by occasionally nodding, I thought of anxiety and of its ability to squander our certainties as it leads us into a no man’s land of doubt and self-doubt. I thought of those days when I am walking around the park, catching a glimpse of marvellous, still, naked trees and by the time I’ve finished fiddling with the settings of the camera, it doesn’t look as marvellous any more. That’s because the fog has set in.

It’s a weird thing the fog and so very like anxiety; one minute I can see not just the present but the future with great resolve and the next I cannot tell dead leaves from paper cuttings, their crinkling under my feet as alien as the unknown itself. To think that the fog only hovers very close to the soil! As a child I often thought that giraffes would never be affected by it, as their long necks would allow their head to pierce through the fog, high above the miserable little mortals stuck in a smoked grey marl. Have you ever read Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino? You ought to if you haven’t because it is a piece of surreal, and at the same time hilarious, literature and you will agree that surrealism is rarely side-splitting. Well, Marcovaldo and his fog in Milan are.

I’ve been enveloped by fog myself for a little while, as hours quickly turn into unprofitable days, as I flap like a fish out of water while I live on coffee and play High Grant movies in loops. It normally lifts after a few days if not hours, the fog, right?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Deer Spotting - Part II

All I seem to want these days is crawl under the blankets and stay there. Or go walking at Tatton Park. Today was one of those days crippled by frost and a razor-sharp wind that left me with a scorched face and William and Victoria with very nearly frozen pinkies. But it was sooo worth it I am telling you...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Au Revoir Mes Amis - Part II

I always feel a little sad and very empty when I take my Christmas decorations down. Yes because, regardless of the continuous rants one finds in all newspapers and website as November nears its end, Christmas is my most favourite time of the year and I don’t care what everyone else says.

My decorations make me happy and the house always looks so drab and boring once they have been packed away that I’ve often considered keeping at least a string of lights around, just to remind me of good, cheery times. However, it’s never the same, is it? December is December and there is nothing like Christmas at Christmas; hanging on to glitter, sparkle, wreaths and fairy lights at nauseam never is a good look. They have to go and I have to let go.

I’ve finally managed it and I think that I did better than last year, when I succeeded in the knick of time, just before I left for the States. I’ve got it all done and dusted even though I am already planning next Crimbo’s tree, an all-silver affair covered in my beautiful white glass baubles. Gosh, I cannot wait already.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


When I was a child, I accepted that the day of the Epiphany was the last day of Christmas. I never asked myself what epiphany itself meant, if anything at all. It was only many years later, while studying James Joyce, that I found out that epiphany means sudden revelation. To the uninitiated, it may seem like a distant relative of the déjà vu, and yet, they have nothing in common, for the epiphany is more similar to the concept of uncanny as elaborated by Freud, than it is to Groundhog Day.

It all fell into place; the sudden revelation of the baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men was as appropriate an example of epiphany as Gretta’s own revelation in Joyce’s The Dead. I realised that I have epiphanies all the time, too many to mention on here, and too many so painful and private that I am not brave enough to even dwell on in my own time.

Today I had such an epiphany as I crossed St Anne’s Square and heard the angelic voice of a young soprano. It was very frigid as it has been for a number of days and this girl was belting out arias from Tosca, red face et al. She really shouldn’t sing outside like this, for she may spoil her voice. Many people stopped by and dropped some change at her feet and there, right there, watching a talented singer busking, because this is really what she was doing, I had my most recent, and one of my most painful, epiphanies. I need a job. A paying one. And damn fast.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Creatures of Habit

There was a time when I used to walk home in the evening past Big Ben, crossing Westminster Bridge and then walking by the river until I reached the London Eye. My flat was right behind it, in the white building known, with a distinctive lack of imaginative flair, as the White House. Even though my windows overlooked not the river but the roundabout at Waterloo and the IMAX cinema, the White House had a roof terrace whose incredible, flower-edged balcony stretched from the National Theatre to the London Eye, and then towards Big Ben itself, poised at the other end of the river like a golden pencil stuck inside a golden hedgehog cake.

Now I am thinking about it, I can feel myself smile a little, my head slowly nodding in recollection of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the chance to live in. Yet, when I did, not once did I look up to Big Ben as I was passing in the evening and not once do I recall listening to his chimes on the hour. But it must have chimed, right? It always does. When I cross Albert Square in town on the hour, I surprise myself thinking that it almost sounds like Big Ben, except I do not quite remember what Big Ben sounded like in real life.

As for the roof terrace, I only stopped there once, taking in the passers-by below, the boats on the Thames and the cool air of June 2001. Today, as I spotted dad taking pics of Exchange Square, I reflected upon the tragic influence that habit has on our lives. It has a tendency to drop a veil of ingratitude in front of our eyes, so that we eventually do not see past the end of our noses any longer. And do you know something? I haven’t got a picture of the view from my flat at Waterloo, nor of the very back of the Eye or of Big Ben from the roof of the building. No, there always was time to take that picture, I’ll take it tomorrow. Except tomorrow never came.

I am entirely certain that my great passion, and current longing, for Chicago is partly exacerbated by a reel of pictures with steely buildings upon a cobalt blue sky. I should have taken pics in London while I lived there; I should have started taking pics of Manchester many years ago and now I would be able to look back at how it has evolved since my first foray in 1996. And so my resolution for 2009 is to start taking pics of places and things I see all the time, for through the camera lens we step into out of body experiences that allow us to recall and enjoy the past in ways that memory alone cannot capture nor romanticise.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Friday, January 2, 2009


I go through phases, I always do. They needn’t be seasonal in any intelligible way, even though some go off at given times of the year, such as the Wish For Paris Phase, which I only go through every April to July, or the Long for New York Phase, which is a November to February affair, or the Asparagus Phase, which closely follows the availability of the crop itself and is a May to June biological bell. Then I’ve got plenty of returning phases that surface throughout the year and entirely at random: the Knitting Scarves Phase or the Reading Comics Phase or the Baking Bread Phase. There is one phase though that is both seasonal and random, for it always takes place in January and also at other times before the calendar year is out; the Strauss Phase.

I listen to all sorts of music and I should probably thank dad for my eclectic musical tastes. Dad has sung in a choir ever since before I born and so it was inevitable that my first forays into musical humming were along the lines of Nabucco, Traviata and Aida, long before I discovered Living On A Prayer and the Spider-man theme. Waltzes and polkas were so catchy to my untrained child ears that their appeal began early in life and never left me. The Strauss Phase descends upon me randomly but always, always, always in January, for there is no other music as joyful and joyous, as romantic and unapologetically happy to be itself as the one produced by the two Johanns, Edi and Pepi.

Today I went to the Bridgewater Hall to listen to the Johann Strauss Orchestra directed by violin virtuoso Daniel Rowland upon the backdrop of the Johann Strauss dancers. I’ve always been in two minds about the violin you know; much as it tunes up the whole orchestra, I never warmed up to it. I always thought it lacked the ethereal qualities of the harp, the humorous flashes of the clarinet, the magical connotations of the traverse flute and the singing capabilities of the trumpet. Oh I could go on, I was no violin appassionata.

But then everyone knows that the magic is so like falling in love and happens when we least expect it. Live music is like that at the worst of times, and believe me, bad violins can be really awful, yet one can come across a performance that is both fired up and restrained if at all possible. Finally, even I get the violin. Daniel Rowland is capable of great subtlety and virtuous flair; his playing in turn coy and possessed, strings flying as the melody runs away with lyrical drama. Meanwhile, contrasting emotions wash upon me, tears I cannot ignore prick my eyes with the same tenacity of nagging children. He returns to the Bridgewater Hall with the Johann Strauss Orchestra on 6 February; I won’t miss him and neither should you. And from now on, it won't be a dark-and-handsome one serenading me with a guitar in my daydreams.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So It Begins (Again)

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