Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Dates for your Diary

As some of you may know, until the beginning of this year I was editor of a London arts and culture website which involved previewing and reviewing lots of wonderful things that go on in this city. It can be hard to find stuff to do in London, precisely because there's so much on offer that it can be tricky knowing where to start. I realised recently that I really miss the satisfaction of having someone say; ' Oh, I saw you recommend X on your site, so I went along and it was brilliant!' So I've decided to start doing a little monthly round up of what's on- the chances are if you read this blog, we probably have similar taste, so I hope there'll be lots here that you like.

As it begins to get dark earlier in the evenings, there's nowhere more appropriate to head than The British Library's celebration of all things Gothic. 'Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination' is a wonderful exhibition, exploring the origins of the Gothic style through to Dickensian Penny Dreadfuls, Hammer Horrors and Hitchcock. Expect all the usual suspects; from authors like Shelley and Poe to modern masters of the artform like Sarah Waters and Neil Gaiman ( keep reading for more Neil Gaiman news). The only bit I found disappointing was the final room dedicated to modern 'Goths'; it felt like a slightly misplaced afterthought that wasn't in keeping with the rest of the exhibition at all. I's also have been interested in hearing more from psychologists on WHY it is we're so fascinated by 'the dark side.'
On until 20th January

If you haven't seen Bourgeois and Maurice before, then you've been missing out on one of the city's best kept secrets. In fact, if London were a cabaret act, it might look something like this; outlandishly talented, darkly funny and hugely politically incorrect. For their latest venture, these self proclaimed 'obnoxious little shits' have teamed up with London legend David Hoyle for Middle of the Road.
'A musical journey through some of the most offensively ‘middle of the road’ music around. This is everything you ever wanted to happen to a James Blunt song. And more.' 16-18 October

Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia is a wonderful new festival celebrating the centenary of the poetic genius. Expect to see lots of Dylan love in the coming months; there's a new film of Under the Milk Wood coming out filmed in both English and Welsh, starring Rhys Ifans and Charlotte Church alongside an entirely bilingual cast. I saw the trailer for it at the Welsh affair that is Festival no 6 at Portmeirion this summer, and it looked fantastic; both dreamy and nightmarish and appropriately batshit crazy. 20- 26 October

Earlier this year I went to an immersive theatre production inspired by Philip Pullman's re-telling of Grimm's fairytales. It was so incredible I was sure it would just keep on running, but instead they went away for a while and have now come back with a new production based on a different set of fairytales- I can't wait to see what they've done this time. Read my review of the last show here and book tickets for the new season here.  21 November-15 February

Fancy more Grimm stuff? Bourne and Hollingsworth are throwing a Grimm Halloween party on 1st November, complete with gingerbread cottage and glass coffin photo booth.

One of my best friends and favourite musicians Gabby Young (above) is back with a new album and a show at trendy new London venue Oslo, on 27th November- book now!

For more music, see Mercury Award nominee Kate Tempest performing her album which takes her away from the poetry and plays she's become known for and back to her roots as a rapper. I had the track 'Circles' on repeat for days. 11th November, Village Underground.

photo by Catalin Plesa

Fashion historian extraordinaire Amber Butchart is hosting a series of fashion talks at Viktor Wynd's museum; put these dates in your diary now. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Ian Kelly speak about writing Vivienne Westwood's life story. Read my interview with Amber here.

Catch Bridget Christie putting the Funny is Feminism with 'An Ungrateful Woman' at Soho Theatre next month. If it's anything like her last show 'A Bic for Her', it'll leave you feeling empowered, informed, amused, angry, and yes, possibly ungrateful.  3- 21 November

Book Ahead: Neil Gaiman is presenting the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture in March 2015,  register now. He also has this new book out, which has shot straight to the top of my wishlist.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Not A Wedding

Once again, I must apologise for the length of time since my last post- I will try to excuse it by distracting you with pictures of my wedding! Look! Look at the shiny things!

But actually this is a rotten excuse for my lack of blogging, for we did in fact have our celebration all the way back in May. I don't know why I've been reluctant to blog about it; I haven't really been too busy, there's just definitely a part of me that's been hesitant to share it. I guess it's something to do with the fact that we had such a tiny, intimate affair; it feels very personal. But then that's another reason I DO want to write something and post some pictures to share with people who couldn't be there.
We only had 18 guests, just our very closest friends; we tried to only invite friends who knew both of us really well. This is the beautiful chateau we found on AirBnB. £250 a night. For the whole thing. Bloody love AirBnB. It's run by lovely people- book it now, but take note, the family who own it stay there in the Summer months, so plan something for Spring or Autumn instead. They sent us over some lovely background information about the house- it was built by one of the King Louis for his favourite mistress!

The weather was perfect; warm enough to swim during the day, but still chilly enough for an open fire in their big old-fashioned fireplace in the evenings. 

I think another reason I've been reluctant to write about it is that it's been a year of such ridiculous hoo-ha over certain weddings- Kim and Kanye tied the knot just before or after us, I can't remember which, and I remember thinking at the time, I don't even want to blog about what we did, that's how much I want to distance myself from the kind of affair they had. Based on what the media claimed the West/Kardashian wedding cost, we spent roughly 0.1% of  their budget, and I can't really imagine how it could have been any nicer. When we came back to the UK I picked up a copy of Red magazine which had a feature about a journalist bride trying to do her wedding 'on a budget'. The budget she'd given herself? 18K. Which is apparently the UK national average. Now I'm all for having a special day, but I find myself being really cynical of people who feel the need to turn their wedding into some sort of status symbol. So I think I was wary about writing a post that in any way resembled their 'LOOK AT ME' style approach to the whole thing.

Beautiful old staircase in the chateau

The house was full of wonderful oddities, like this 'font' sort of thing in the dining room? There were lots of candles already there, we just decorated with flowers (probably weeds..) from the local hedgerows.

My husband-to-be getting ready!

We were lucky of course, because we actually chose to have our own commitment ceremony rather than an actual wedding, so we didn't have to worry about finding a venue that fitted any legal requirements, or hiring someone to conduct the ceremony or any of that sort of thing. And I think this is the final reason I didn't feel like writing about our celebration until now; we have a number of reasons why we decided not to legally marry, but it gets very tiring explaining them to everyone and feeling like we have to justify our decision. For now all I'll say is that Ib and I have been together 12 years; we've already stayed together through sickness and health and for better or worse, so a wedding felt like something we'd already outgrown, in a way. We said our own personal vows we wrote ourselves, and had readings from our sisters and a friend. My sister in law Sara is a writer so she wrote a beautiful poem for us, our friend Meg recited Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda and my sister Phi read an exert from The Velveteen Rabbit. Ib and I both cried bucketloads. 

We had very romantic music to begin the ceremony ( Yann Tiersen's Comptine D'un Autre ete ) and err... a slightly less conventional piece to end it ( Terminator 2 main theme.)

Our ingenious guests made confetti out of daisy heads!

Our talented friend Roland took these pictures- it was, in fact, his wedding last year that inspired us to have a celebration of some kind, it was so wonderful. His wife Jasmine also happens to be the connection that meant Ib and I originally met, at Glastonbury, when I was 18.

I know I'm supposed to be a writer and everything, but I honestly can't put into words how special the day was. Just listen to that piece of Yiann Tiersen music and if it makes you feel tearful and nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time, you'll have some idea.

It's impossible to over emphasise how little planning went into the whole thing. We got everyone to throw some money in a pot- unorthodox I know, but we covered all the accommodation ourselves which probably evens it out to what you'd expect at a normal wedding where you get your meal for free but have to pay for a room- and then bought a gutload of wonderful French food, and lived off bread, cheese and booze for most of the weekend. We're lucky enough to have lots of friends who are excellent chefs, so they knocked up a wonderful curry for after the ceremony. We hadn't sorted anything like a cake, but again, our friends stepped in and got some gorgeous stuff from a local French patisserie (within walking distance from the house, which meant morning strolls for croissants were possible), including two little meringue hedgehogs who acted as a sort of bride-and-groom-on-a-wedding-cake substitute. Here I am in the picture above being force-fed Mr Hedgehog by my new husband.

I should say something about my dress I suppose. I had an exact idea of what I wanted in my head- which is always a bad start- and started researching floaty, Picnic-at-Hanging-Rock/Room-with-a-View style dresses. I know I actually suit structured, Vivienne Westwood type frocks much better, but I neither had the money for that sort of thing, nor did I want to spend any of the day struggling to breathe or sit down. I wanted something I could roll around on the grass in if I felt like it.
But unfortunately all original Edwardian dresses have high necks, which is incredibly unflattering on the bigger-bossomed lady. I'd already bought something on ebay, resold it because it didn't suit me, then panic-purchased a Grecian, red dress from Mango just because it was getting so close to the day. But then, just a few days before we were due to leave for France, Kate Moss's new collection for Topshop came out. I'm not a huge KM fan, not even a huge Topshop fan, but they had made the perfect dress for me. At least, it looked perfect online, but the collection wasn't being released until the evening before we took the ferry to France. So like some starstruck, teenage loser, off I trekked to Topshop the night before we left to see the collection unveiled. As I approached Topshop there were just horrific queues, half of Oxford Circus was shut down, and my initial response was, 'Sod this' so I turned around and started walking home. But after about ten minutes I talked myself into turning back, and it turned out, by then, most of the queues had died down; people had really only been there to try and spot celebrities. The queue to actually get in to the shop and buy pieces from the collection was relatively small- I was inside within 10 minutes. It fitted perfectly and was just as nice in real life as it had looked online. I particularly like that the cream slip it has on the inside can be removed and replaced with a slip of any other colour- so it can definitely be recycled in the future for non-wedding wear!

I wore some old Grecian sandals I had- and yes, the boy wore trainers. 

Here's a picture of me and my sister Phi. In it you can just see the wedding gift Ib gave me on the day- a beautiful art deco, diamond necklace. I'll take a better picture of it one day.

Some of our guests- as this post is feeling decidedly bride-and-groom heavy! I do also have a collection of polaroids one of my friends took over the whole weekend- or rather, I'm waiting to collect them from her- so I'll share those in another post.

From left to right- Meg, me, Phi, Ib, Jack and Sara

We had one absolute scorcher of a day where we just lounged by the pool all day, which was bliss.

On the Sunday we popped to the local village market, which was the Frenchest place I have ever been. Look at the French children! Look at them!

Because we spent a whole 5 days not-getting-married in the south of France, it didn't really feel like we needed a honeymoon as such. But by the end of the summer we'd convinced ourselves it was a necessity- so we popped off to Lake Como for the bank holiday weekend in August. We stayed at the
Relais Villa Vittoria on Lake Como, but I'm not sure I'd really recommend it. Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful time- the lake is out of this world. But with my travel-writer hat on, I'd definitely say the hotel was a mixed bag. Next visit I think we may opt for something like the San Giorgio B&B- we came across it hidden down an alley off the main street that our hotel was on- bit gutted I hadn't managed to find it online before the trip actually. Same brilliant location as ours ( in Laglio, the village George Clooney famously owns much of) but a fraction of the price. Definitely more rustic than luxury, but if you can still pop to one of the other hotels or restaurants for a fancy dinner every now and again, I think you'd be perfectly happy.

Ib has spent many years convincing me that there's no such thing as a sale; that the stuff on offer is never anything I'd normally buy. But this year I've proved him wrong! Behold, my new favourite dress, from Collectif Clothing who did a brilliant 24 hour 50% sale on all their online stock. It's still available here, but full price now.

And yet further proof that I've turned 30- (It was actually both Ib and my birthdays the same week we went to France) here I am wearing a Boden dress. BODEN. Like my Mum. Also in the sale, some sizes and colours still available here I think. Gladiator sandals from Clarks, but off Ebay, so probably an old collection.

Thanks for reading! I have loads more pictures from the not-a-wedding but honestly not sure how interested people are - I may do another post when I have the polaroids. I hope this maybe helps anyone who might also be planning to do something less conventional to celebrate their relationship. Best advice I can give? Anyone who really loves you will be happy whatever you decide to do.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Game of Thrones- 'Get the look'

Apologies for people who don't care about Game of Thrones, but the new series has inspired me to publish a post I actually started at the end of the last series. Sadly some of the dresses I wanted to link to are no longer for sale- this should teach me a lesson for being a lazy blogger.
Daenerys is basically my new style icon. Luckily for our generation, rather than having to try and replicate stuff we see on screen with tin foil and bedsheets, there is Etsy. You can get the necklace above here- it can be worn in both the different ways you see it in the show, plus two more variations.

I LOVED this dress. Have it made here.

Or you can often find similar, Game of Thrones stuff on the brilliant D&ME's site. Christ, it's spendy though. Maybe back to the bedsheets.

Having a dragon on your shoulder's got to be dead itchy. So you need to get yourself some good armour. It's also handy when people are trying to kill you all the time.

You can read my old interview with the costume designer for Game of Thrones here.
There are also some fantastic GoT inspired features out there at the moment- I especially enjoyed this Game of Thrones 'makeover' from The Guardian- get the wildling look!
Enjoy the new series.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Head in the Clouds

Despite having been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling, (my mum was actually an air hostess when I was little so we used to get lots of lovely cheap holidays) I'd never been further East than Jordan before November last year. But an old university friend of my boyfriend's is currently posted out in Kathmandu with his wife and their twin toddlers, so we decided to go and visit them.
There had been a religious festival recently and so many of the decorations were still up- multicoloured flags and garlands of marigolds threaded onto string, decorating doorways.
It's always strange to see familiar brands in foreign places, especially when the characters in the adverts look so different to the western ones- I loved the ladies in the Coca Cola ads!

When we arrived at the British Embassy, there was instantly evidence of some of the cultural differences we could expect:
After loading up the family's jeep, we all set off to stay in the ambassador's lodge in the mountains. We ended up having what we'd come to learn was a characteristically Nepalese journey- the jeep broke down half way up the mountain and we had to hitch a lift to the next village with a local truck driven by strawberry-pickers. The twins enjoyed stuffing strawberries in their mouths whilst sitting on our knees, whilst the men squeezed in the back of the truck with all our luggage!
Our rescuers could only drive us a certain way as they had to get back to town with their strawberries, so from where they dropped us we had to trek the last bit of mountain, loaded with luggage, in pitch darkness! Luckily the moon was out and their were even glow-worms along the road.
The next morning we got to see how beautiful the lodge's location was- this was the view of the Himalayas from our garden:
The lodge was nestled next to a tiny village which was probably my favourite part of the whole trip- the colourful houses were so beautiful and it was great to see the way the locals lived, with their cows and chickens in their yards and little shops in their living rooms to sell tea and other basics to travellers. They were very friendly and welcoming and fascinated by the twins who are blonde and gorgeous- I seem to only have got a good picture of Girl Twin, Emily; here she is with my other half!

We spent a couple of idyllic days in the mountains where the weather was gorgeous- still warm for November even up at that altitude.
Back in Kathmandu there was some sort of strike on associated with the forthcoming elections, so many tourists had been advised to stay in their hotels in case of violence. We were told that it should be fine as long as we stayed away from any crowds, so we set off into town, roughly following the walk in The Lonely Planet guide book. This actually turned out to be really good timing, as it meant that due to the strike, most of the shops and vendors were closed and there were virtually no tourists around so we got to explore in peace. 
Generally I don't like trying to follow set walks, but the city is so full of incredible stuff that's hidden around every corner, I didn't want to miss anything given that we were on a flying visit and so didn't have time to explore slowly. Here's a great example- the little door in the wall above led through to a square being used as a motorcycle parking lot- but if you look up there were ancient balconies with the most intricate wooden carvings.

There were so many amazing details around the winding streets- we even spotted one of the little space invader mosaics that have popped up all over the world- there used to be one on our street in London.
Here you can see more evidence of the recent religious celebrations- marigolds, streamers and shrines.

I really wish we'd had luggage space to bring back some of the gorgeous things we saw- these Nepalese quilts were so gorgeous- we had them on the beds in the mountain lodge and they were so cosy, then we saw some being made on the streets of Kathmandu; they seemed to be stuffed with rags and strips of fabric.
I'd also have liked to buy some of the pots, but again, not great for travelling with!
We did, however, buy one of the national 'Tiger Moving Game' boards with little, carved brass tigers and goats.

In the main Durbar square you can see the 'living goddess' Kumari Devi- we weren't there at the right time of day to do so, but we saw some of the beautiful paintings of her, like the one above.
Durbar square was full of incredible architecture alongside locals selling food, drink and souvenirs. The carving on the buildings was spectacular- and in some places, rather raunchy...see if you can spot the Rude!

One evening we went to the really beautiful Baber Mahal Revisited, a group of shops and restaurants in the converted courtyards and cow sheds of the old palace. I bought some handmade playing cards for my brother from Paper Moon.
We ate in Baithak restaurant which was full of gorgeous black and white photos and portraits of old Rana maharajas.
We also managed to find time to visit Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple- for obvious reasons...

The view from the top was fantastic, and the monkeys were charming, but we had mixed feelings about this place, as well as Kathmandu as a whole. It's a steep climb up to the top via a long staircase, and there you're cornered by a lot of beggars, including small children and mothers, as well as sellers who can be quite pushy. It's hard to avoid feeling a lot of 'white guilt' especially when you see all the western tourists around and realise how rich we must seem to the locals. But the way they're trying to make money from tourists doesn't feel very sustainable- taxi drivers tried to rip us off a few times (we'd been told by our hosts what it was reasonable to charge) and even though the amount they're asking for only equates to a few pounds, it gets depressing constantly being asked for more than something should cost and having to haggle it down. Similarly, we weren't really into all the touristy tat that they were trying to sell at the top of Swayambhunath- stalls and stalls all selling virtually identical stuff.

But the monkeys were great fun to watch- they took no notice of the crowds of tourists and just went about their business climbing on ancient statues and monuments and enjoying the view. Visiting places away from the traffic made us realise quite how polluted it was down in the centre of Kathmandu- the car fuel is dirty so the fumes are terrible and the air is thin anyway as you're so high up, so it can sometimes be hard to breathe- carrying a scarf to put over your nose and mouth is advisable.
The one refuge we found from the pollution in town was The Garden of Dreams, a stunning neoclassical garden which has a great restaurant and little luxuries like wifi, which make it the perfect place to go and relax or do some work.
Whilst the garden is in the heart of the city, once you're inside it's easy to forget you're somewhere urban. In fact, even on the main streets of Kathmandu, nature is never far away- we were walking along one day when our hosts told us to look up and pointed out to us bats the size of small dogs hanging from the branches above our heads!

There was an exhibition of pictures of the gardens before they were restored, all overgrown with broken statues covered in plants- proper Secret Garden stuff. You can read about how it was restored here, but sadly I can't find any of the exhibition photos online.
And that was really all we had time for- we only stayed for a week so I think we managed to fit quite a lot in. If I went back for longer I'd definitely want to spend more time exploring places outside Kathmandu like the hillside village we went to. The city is fascinating, but not somewhere I really felt comfortable as a tourist- which is perhaps just because it was my first time visiting that part of the world. I'm so glad we did though, as it was unlike anything I've experienced in the western world. 
I'd love to hear about any of your travelling experiences in the region- as always, do please leave comments or links to your blog posts below.

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