Thursday, January 31, 2008

Goodbye, Hello & other short films

Was woken this morning by rain lashing against my window and the wind howling outside. A previous occupant left some sort of chime hanging outside near the window and it was chiming and tinkling madly. It was too cold to get up so I snuggled back under the duvet. When I re-surfaced I was late. I rushed around frantically looking for clean clothes for work and an outfit for this evening's dinner. I had to leave the house with wet hair so it was sticking up wildly by the time that I emerged from the tube at Chancery Lane. I discovered whilst listening to the fruit-seller chant "banana banana... let's go to Havana" or something similar whilst weighing my grapes that I only had one of my pearl earrings in. I am hoping that I left the other one on my dressing table because I was on the phone to my mother, rather than because it had fallen off on the tube. The fact that someone has decided to dig up the road outside my office again, having waited patiently for the previous workmen to re-lay the tarmac only compounded my annoyance.

The irritation of the morning may or may not bear direct relation to last night's activities. Last night I went to watch the premier of two short films which were produced by two of my friends. They were screened back to back at the National Gallery and entitled SE One and Goodbye, Hello. Although I spent several modules of my English degree analysing films this was the first time I had really encountered shorts and the first time I had needed to express my opinions on the subject. They were both excellent in different ways - the first was a snapshot of London life, an encounter on the streets of SE1 between 2 men and the consequences of their actions and behaviour. Although thought provoking and making excellent use of long exposure to get a beautiful effect of car lights, I preferred the second film which explored the start and end of a relationship between a young couple moving in together for the first time. This film intertwined the moving in and the moving out, leaving the viewer to piece together the story and the circumstances. The female actress was, in my opinion, better than the male (who seemed rather removed and unrealistic) although the female actress appeared to have been studying Keira Knightley a little too much for inspiration. I thought that the plot was very realistic although the location and the costumes/clothing less so. All in all though great work from a clearly talented team. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seven things you might not know about me...

... and probably wished you still didn't know. Yes, I have been tagged by the lovely Echo at Diary of a Young Horse. Actually, Echo is the horse and Sz is the writer/rider/trainer but I shall let that slide for now.

So, here goes:

7 facts people might not know about me.

1. I have never had a pet. Unless you count the goldfish I won at a fair in California and who died after 2 weeks (not my fault). I am fond of both dogs and cats although I believe London (flat size, main roads, long hours) to be an unsuitable place to start. We have an adopted cat which comes to visit every now and then (with his owners consent - we are not allowed to feed him). That will have to be enough for me, for now.

2. We live fairly near the Arsenal stadium. I despise it when there is a match on as all the supporters are loud and miserable looking and seem unable to pass by places without dropping large volumes of rubbish. The tube station is practically afloat with beer cans, sandwich packets and discarded newspapers by the time kick-off occurs. There is however, a man who sells the sort of sweets usually found in pick&mix at 2 bags for £1. Every time there is a game and I am in the area I always go and buy the same sweets from the sweetie-man (fizzy cola bottles and white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands - these are the combination of sweets I have bought since I was a little girl with pocket money from Granny and I see no reason to change my selection now).

3. I read lots of blogs about parenting - it started with Alpha Mummy and Wife in the North. Now it has been extended to The Potty Diaries, A Way Ahead and Bub and Pie. I also read Petite Anglais which is, strictly speaking, a parenting blog but it has such wide readership that most would conclude that it is further reaching than it's main subject. It does not, for example, have posts entitled "Done a Poo, Mummy!" which some of the others have been known to have (although to be fair to the author of that post, the subject is actually worthy of consideration as it brings up the issue of how much children are influenced by what they watch and therefore what they should be allowed to watch and at what age). Actually, even Petite has it's fair share of what I would term 'I'm only interesting to read because I write about my child' syndrome.

Why do I read them? Well, information, I suppose. I like to be informed about things. Parenting blogs are not the only blogs I read. I would like to have children at some point and I find it is something that one really knows little about until it actually happens. It also makes me think how lucky I am not have children at the moment and how I would need to be very sure and financially settled before even thinking about having a family.

4. When I moved house I moved every copy of Vogue that I have bought in the past four years to my new house. They filled a dustbin (which is where, my friends who helped us move, suggested they should remain) and are currently performing an excellent duty as posing as a side table in the sitting room. And yes, I do re-read them. Occasionally.

5. I dislike spiders. Years of being rescued by my father have given way to being able to capture the silly things in a glass with a postcard and deposit them outside. And the funny thing is, abstractly, I rather like spiders. Charlotte for example has done wonders for the PR of spiders. It's just in reality, they appear too suddenly and move too quickly and there doesn't appear to be a surface or plane they cannot or won't walk on. They are also prone to leaping off things near my head and dangling there looking menacing.

6. I am a fan of free-cycle. I have also just discovered e-bay. Now I need to de-clutter and give away or sell on an equal number of things to the new additions. It would be fair to say that I have hording tendencies. It would also be fair to say that our house has limited (i.e. none whatsoever) storage. These two facts do not make a happy situation. We do, at times, look like we live in a souk. In fact, one friend on coming to our flat peered round the folding doors which separate our bedroom from the sitting room and asked "is that a room, or the world's largest cupboard?".

7. I carry around far too much stuff in my handbag on a daily basis. Today, whilst looking for my phone (which incidentally turned out not to be in there) I found the following: a novel, my diary, address book, notebook, pen, A-Z, make-up bag, small bag with tablets and so on, purse, hand cream, full sized bottle of perfume (4/5 empty) miscellaneous toiletries, a small wrapped Easter egg, a packet of hairgrips (the card was empty and all the hairgrips were at the bottom), about £2 in very small loose change, rail card, oyster card, i-pod, work keys, house keys, a tea-bag (un-used and wrapped), a conker, 2 lip-balms, 2 lip-glosses, umbrella, packet of nail files. That is a lot of stuff to replace if I lose my handbag. And I dread to think what it is doing to my back.

And in return, I tag: James at the Ink, Cumbrian and Admin Girl.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bored of chain coffee shops?

Use this website to find your nearest independent coffee shop instead.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I paid a visit to UCH yesterday to undergo some tests. I've had some unusual pains recently and after a visit to my GP was referred to the hospital. I have two fears - that the tests will either show up something serious or that the tests will show up precisely nothing and I will be left with the realisation that it is all in my head. That I am stressed or anxious or exhausted and allowing this to affect my physical health. I realised whilst I was waiting for the scan that I was worrying about catching something worse from the hospital, that I was concerned about the lack of sanitizer to clean my hands, that all the doors had handles which must be touched rather than just lent against, that there was lumps of dust and clumps of hair all over the corridors, that the place smelt (and not of disinfectant) and that I could not understand the nurse as English was not his first language.

The nurse showed me to the room and then left. It was dark. I didn't know what to do so I put my bag on the chair and took off my coat. A doctor came in. She didn't check my name. She said to get onto the bed and to take my scarf off because I might get hot. I started to wonder what she was going to do to make me so hot that I would be glad that I had taken me scarf off. She didn't elaborate but started doing the scan. "It's a good job that you're skinny" she said, putting cold gel on my stomach and peering at her computer imaging screen. "Too many fat people wonder why it takes so long. How am I supposed to scan properly through all that fat". Once it was over I asked if she could see on the computer what had happened to my other appointment. She couldn't tell as there was no proper centralised record. Instead she directed me to another department where the other scan would take place. After walking along miles of grubby corridors with no hand cleanser in sight I found where I was meant to be. A very tall receptionist wearing her handbag was sat behind the desk. I wondered whether NHS cuts meant that they now had to wear their handbags as there were no lockers. I explained I was still waiting to hear in regards to an appointment date. She responded that there was a 500 patient backlog and no staff to process the appointments. I sat down whilst she went to find out about my appointment. They have never heard of privacy as the entire conversation relating to the nature of the scan was conducted infront of all the other people sitting waiting. After a few minutes she returned and offered me an appointment for Thursday afternoon of the same week. There are free appointments but not enough staff to process the forms to allocate patients to those appointments. The back-log must be getting larger everyday. No wonder the official figures say that there is a 14 week waiting list for such scans - perhaps if they employed some admin staff they would be able to reduce this dramatically.

Not for the first time, I wished that I still had my private health insurance which I had enjoyed as a perk of my previous job and which had allowed for me to have my impacted wisdom teeth removed in a private hospital which was beautifully clean. Not for the first time, I considered the NHS hospital, where non-smoking rules mean that in order to get into the front door one has to walk past a line of patients in their hospital gowns attached to drips/monitors and so on, pale and yellowish, smoking outside the front door of the hospital which fronts directly onto a busy A road, the most polluted road in London. Not for the first time, I thought of my friends that are doctors and nurses and must come to places like these every day to work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Too many cooks?

The government has announced plans that teenagers are to be given compulsory cooking lessons (one hour per week for one term for children ages 11-14), and, surprise surprise, the mothers and commenters at Alpha Mummy are up in arms again. Not content with bickering over the virtues of stay-at-home mother vs working-mother and all other aspects of parenting, they have to give their 'considered' opinions here too.

I thought that so-called 'Alpha-Mummies' would be the first to think that learning to cook was a positive thing. That proper mothers cooked proper meals and would involve their children from the start, encouraging them to make up their own minds relating to the ethics of vegetarianism and so-on. But no, all the 'usual suspects' have their own views. There is Theta Sigma Mummy who is abhorred by the idea of someone involving meat in the lives of her off-spring. There are various mothers arguing about how many A-levels they got, Oxbridge entrance and music lessons being more important than cookery. There is 'BaggofBones' who says and I quote "Whatever you can't work out for yourself from reading a recipe, M&S can provide in ready-made form".Then there is Supermother, someone who thinks she is the last word in the opinions of working mothers (and she may well be for all I know, but she and the other commenters have pigeon-holed her to the extent that she now seems to believe her hype as well). I could go on but I can't bear to as it is rather off my original topic.

It rather seems that none of these mothers think before they start arguing the same old points over and over again. Ideally we want our children to be well rounded creatures who are capable of looking after themselves emotionally, financially, nutritionally and also career-wise with a job which suits them and allows security in the first three areas. I agree that there are some aspects of these areas which are more ideally suited to home or school learning. There are some lucky children who will learn all of these things at home and the school education will merely reinforce and further their education. Sadly, there are many more children whose home lives are lacking in some fashion and will never learn anything academic let alone anything which might actually be useful.

Cooking, I think, is a great place to start with education. I am not necessarily saying that I agree with the current proposals for secondary school but I think that properly worked through and perhaps starting when they are tiny that there is mileage in this idea. After all, food is essential to us, second only to water (and some might argue, sleep). If someone can feed themselves, nutritionally, on basic rations, that seems like a good starting point for dealing with life in general, let alone obesity. Cooking can be used as a medium which is interactive and practical and a light relief but which teaches reading, mathematics (weights, conversions, percentages and so on) budgeting, science ( e.g. chemistry: ice - water -steam; biology: parts of the body and so on). Taken to it's logical conclusion with older children it can involve business models, customer care, financial advice, literary criticism and writing skills. The list must be endless.

I am not suggesting that cooking should take the place of academic subjects. However, I think that a course or curriculum could be devised which would take place instead of say, one general studies lesson every two weeks and which could use cooking as the medium for more serious learning, thereby enforcing within children's minds that cooking is easy and cheaper than its ready-made cousin, that diet, nutrition and being able to look after oneself is an important aspect of life and that cooking is not something merely for women or 'the thick ones' (as one Alpha Mummy commenter suggested). It would also reinforce the idea for children that they can be their own person. Just because Mummy or Daddy is vegetarian (or not) doesn't mean that the child should be subjected to this too. S/he should be able to make their own decisions, but informed decisions. This should extend to ethical decisions regarding price versus animal welfare and other age appropriate issues on which people should be able to debate rationally.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's all in the details (part II)

So now that the hen weekend has passed I feel I am able to divuldge a few of the details.

The theme: As I'm sure could be guessed from the photograph which accompanied my last post, our theme was "Holly Golightly" - black dresses, pearls, evening gloves, big hair and bigger sunglasses.

The destination: We spent the weekend in Bath which is a beautiful, very English, city even if it rains the whole weekend as it did for us. We arrived late on Friday evening and stayed in a beautiful guest-house with a friendly if slightly eccentric proprietress. After cocktails at Sub-13 we retired to bed in preparation for our busy Saturday.

The venues: We started the day in the gloriously girly Mee boutique which I have written about before although I have never been to the actual shop (it more than lived up to expectation). The Mee girls were beautiful and friendly and complemented the gorgeous shop which was full of decadent bits and pieces. We were given a warm welcome, glasses of champagne and goody bags. I bought a beautiful umbrella to make rainy days a little more cheerful.

We spent the rest of the morning perusing the rest of Bath's shopping before lunch at the Pump Rooms. Here we sat at an enormous table with the tallest vase of flowers I have ever seen and ate beautiful soups and salads followed by tea and more tea until it was time to leave for the spa. The Thermae Spa is Britain's only natural spa where all the water in the baths is naturally warm at 35 degrees. We lounged in the roof-top open air pool, breathed deeply in the oil-scented steam rooms, chatted whilst we all sat with our feet in the foot spas and swam about in the basement thermal pool, jacuzzi and massage jets.

We then returned to the guest house to change into our Holly outfits before heading to a gastropub for a meal. Despite seeming to have no knowledge of our booking they found us a table, some wine, didn't seem to mind the endless posing for photos, and made us some beautiful food. After which we headed to the BlueRooms for some champagne, dancing and lots more posing until the end of the night.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

20 Something Debates

Twenty Something Bloggers asks in this fortnights debate:

If I won the lottery would I keep it a secret?

Well, first of all, in order to win the lottery logically this has to involve participating in the lottery and purchasing a ticket. Perhaps more than one ticket. As I do not purchase lottery tickets I could not win the lottery therefore I would have nothing to tell or not to tell people. But that doesn't really answer the question in the spirit in which it was asked.

Secondly, I question why money needs to be kept a secret or not. If we received an unexpected pay rise or bonus, would we feel the need to keep it a secret or alternatively shout to all and sundry. Are these really the only options? Perhaps what really needs to be asked here is why money is such a taboo subject. In a world where we will discuss our most intimate thoughts on all other subjects why do we find it a dilemma as far as money is concerned.

So, for these purposes, I am assuming that I have ignored my father, who once said I'd statistically far more chance of being run over by a bus than winning anything on the lottery, and purchased a ticket. I suppose my decision to tell people would depend on three things: if anyone knew that I had purchased a ticket, how much money I had won and whether or not I would be using the cash publicly. If no-one knew that I had bought a ticket and the winnings were medium sized, i.e. £100 - £20,000 I think that I would simply tell M (financial secrets are hard to keep in a joint household) and then pay off my credit card and law school loans. If I won a small amount of money i.e. under £100 I think I would tell my friends and buy some champagne the next time I went out. If it were a significant amount of money I would tell selected people (the new access to cash would seem out of place and I wouldn't want people to speculate where else the money might have come from) and again pay off my loan, buy a house, give money to M, parents, family and charity and invest the rest. I would tell nearest and dearest only but others if the need arose. I would not go around shouting about it but I would be honest if questionned, just the same as I am now about my lack of money.

(I did play the lottery once, as it happens, on the evening of the day that the horse M and I picked won the Grand National and earned us £50 or so. We thought we'd see if our luck held. It didn't)

Alternative Views:

The Ink

It's all in the details

The time is almost nigh. This Friday is the weekend of the hen party. The one that I have been seemingly organising all year, pretty much since the engagement was announced last February. It is a pretty important wedding, at least in terms of family, and ergo, it is important that the hen party is just right and runs smoothly. This time last week I was pretty calm. The accommodation has been booked, the spa, the restaurant, the taxi to the restaurant, the guests have been invited, the theme has been announced. The presents have been bought, ordered and organised. Now it is the week beforehand and I am not so calm. I cannot find the parts for my own themed outfit which I had hoped, so I have had to opt for second best. I am worried that I have missed something out which will ruin the weekend. Last week I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and had back-up options. This week I cannot say that I am in the same frame of mind. I cannot get through to any bars or nightclubs so I am starting to worry we will not be able to go dancing.

I should not be worrying about this. It is a celebration not a curse to be involved with a hen party. It is an honour to be asked to be a bridesmaid. What does it matter if things do not run according to plan, or in the way that I envisioned them, as long as the bride to be has a fun weekend filled with the presence of her closest friends. Who really minds exactly what games are played or the venue for the dancing as long as everyone has a fun night? When she looks back on the weekend, I am sure she won't even remember the little things in any great detail, only that she went away with her friends and it was a great party. Hopefully.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Swallows and Amazons

I am so excited about this I can't believe I forgot to post this before. On Saturday, my 26th birthday, M brought me breakfast in bed along with the paper. I lay there reading it and discovered this article.

Arthur Ransome is one of my favourite authors and I am so pleased that they are to make 'Swallows and Amazons' into a new film. I think the 1974 one is fine but it does not really do justice to the book. Virginia McKenna is very good as mother but it is rather too tame for my liking. The sailing is not exciting enough and I do not think it capture's Ransome's world properly.

I was also pleased to read that the BBC are trying to buy the options to all of the books. I would love to see Secret Water or Pigeon Post on the big screen, as long as it is pre-war and done 'properly'. Pigeon Post is my absolute favourite book, about which one day I must write a review.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Chivalry. Something which I think (some) men are lacking and to which, whenever I bring it up at dinner parties and the like, my male friends argue, I cannot have if women are to be equal to men. But I do not want women to be equal to men. We are very different and I wish to celebrate our differences. I see no reason why two people doing the same job should not be remunerated equally and I see no reason why (fatherhood excepted) women cannot do the same jobs as men. But jobs are not what define us, either as women, men or as equals. Who we are is what defines us, and, taken to the extreme, I accept that this can include career choices but it need not.

I am in favour of manners. Of treating each other politely, as we would expect to be treated ourselves. I am in favour of self-respect, of ourselves and of others. Manners, I would argue, extend to letting a woman sit down on the tube or bus. But manners also indicate that a woman sitting should not take precedent over an elderly or disabled or pregnant person. It is all about relativity. Manners need to be modern too. One of my male friends is so well mannered that he will stand when I leave the table. I think that this is lovely but it is not something which I expect any other males to do and I do not think any the less of them if they don't. I appreciate it when men steer clear of dominating the conversation but I do not hold it against those who engage in long discussions relating to the finer points of the beautiful game. What I cannot bear are people who behave entirely selfishly. Queue jumpers (such as the man in Cafe Nero this morning who slid into the queue in front of me, deliberately), people who talk inappropriately loudly or who break rules (such as no phones in the silent carriage - after all, there are plenty of other places on the train to stand and shout), people who don't say thank you.

This month's Vogue has an interesting article about Chivalry being dead. The writer suggests that perhaps modern men are no longer taught by their parents that they should walk on the outside of the road to prevent the female from being splashed with mud or water. I am not a man, but I clearly remember my father coming to walk me home from Brownies and always walking on the outside and explaining why, when I asked why he changed sides when we crossed the road. I thought it was such a lovely thing for him to do, even as a 7 year old girl, and when M first walked with me to my house 6 years ago in Exeter, I noticed that he too did the same thing. 6 years into our relationship he probably lets me walk on the outside now and then, but he still opens doors, carries heavy bags, holds my coat (when we are sober) and looks after me. This is not to say that I don't look after him. We share out the housework though, rather than me doing all of it as it might once have been, but we work equally long hours. He does the cooking, I do the washing, and so on. If he is tired or particularly busy, I have been even been known to cook.

I think perhaps chivalry needs updating. It needs to be more equal. It is nice when a man opens the door for us. It is even nicer when we say thank you rather than indicating that we feel he thinks we are too feeble to even open a door. It is only a door and he is being polite, thinking of others. If we all made each other's lives a little easier, the world might be a nicer place.

Highbury Barn

A late finish at work last night so arranged to meet M for a drink. We had thought we might try out the Highbury Barn pub on Highbury Park as it had been listed among the gold award winners for a beer and pub award in the Evening Standard. We were sorely disappointed. It lacked any atmosphere, had surly looking men occupying tables individually, the bar maid was using the back of her hand to wipe her nose and in response to my request she shouted "Maa-rrk, how do I make a bloody mary" across the bar. We left. And then stumbled upon a lovely Italian restaurant where we managed to get a starter, 2 main courses and beers for about £20 between us which we ate quickly, hungrily and companiably.

As we left the restaurant at about 10.30pm the rain began. Slow spots at first, but it was pouring by the time we reached the house 5 minutes later. With the rain lashing and the wind howling we made a dash for our door. Only to realise that the morning brought recycling day and we needed to get our Christmas tree to the edge of the property. We dragged it outside and M walked to the shop to buy some milk whilst I tidied up. As M dried off I made milky coffees with our new coffee machine and we settled down on the sofa to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's (for research purposes only, you understand, for the hen party that I am organising). Actually, it is one of my favourite films and I am only to happy to have an excuse to watch it again.

Friday, January 04, 2008

End of the Year

It is my birthday tomorrow. I could get used to three day weeks followed by a weekend of parties involving all of my friends. Work has been busy but it has been nice to be back (and even nicer knowing it was only three days). It is the sign of the right job I think when you are pleased to be there. Obviously I very much enjoyed my time off but it would not be special if it happened all the time. I am now back at work until the first week of February whereon we are off to Finland for a week for a wedding. It is becoming something of a trend (if 3 years in a row can be termed a trend) of taking a holiday in February or March. In 2006 we went to the French/Italian border to go snowboarding. In 2007 we spent 2 weeks in Morocco. In 2008 we shall spend a week in Finland. It is rather nice having something to look forward to in that dull patch between the excitement of Christmas/New Year/Birthday and the arrival of spring. It is also nice to get some sunshine, winter or otherwise, or at least a break from the London rain. We didn't even get a dusting of snow as promised by the weatherman here in London yesterday, just some bloody cold drizzle around lunchtime.

Now, since this blog is supposedly about parties and book reviews I perhaps should get round to writing some more. Christmas has always traditionally been a time in our house where many books are exchanged and read. This year has been no exception, although so far I have read far more non-fiction than fiction. My stocking contained several books including one from the Caper Court series by Caro Fraser which I had not read. As she also published the 7th last November I shall be trying to track that one down too. I used some present money to buy Debrett's Etiquette for Girls (Fleur Britten) and A Girl for All Seasons (Camilla Morton) both of which were enjoyable reads, the former being a lot more accurate than the latter (Morton appears to think that 1918 was during the Second World War, which didn't exactly endear me to the remainder of the text). Last night I finished reading The Insider by Piers Morgan (tag line - the private diaries of a scandalous decade). It was an interesting read and I couldn't decide if Morgan was simply embracing his role as a tabloid editor or was in fact an arrogant p***k. Or a combination of the two. Without reading the combined diaries the Blairs, Campbell, Murdoch, Wade, various members of the Royal Family and many many others it is hard to say whether or not he portrayed private meetings accurately but he seemed to embody the phrase "if you don't ask, you'll never know".

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How London mornings will be for me from now on

Carmen ( Homage to Munkacsi) coat by Cardin, Place Francois-Premier Paris, 1957
© Richard Avedon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco