30 June 2009

Malade

The sick grapes on the chair by the bed lie prone; at the window
The tassel of the blind swings gently, tapping the pane,
As a little wind comes in.The room is the hollow rind of a fruit, a gourd
Scooped out and dry, where a spider,
Folded in its legs as in a bed,
Lies on the dust, watching where is nothing to see but twilight and walls.

And if the day outside were mine! What is the day
But a grey cave, with great grey spider-cloths hanging
Low from the roof, and the wet dust falling softly from them
Over the wet dark rocks, the houses, and over
The spiders with white faces, that scuttle on the floor of the cave!
I am choking with creeping, grey confinedness.

But somewhere birds, beside a lake of light, spread wings
Larger than the largest fans, and rise in a stream upwards
And upwards on the sunlight that rains invisible,
So that the birds are like one wafted feather,
Small and ecstatic suspended over a vast spread country.

D.H. Lawrence's poem, Malade, appeared in my GCSE English Lit poetry anthology, along with several other Lawrence poems, a number of Audens, a Larkin and a Betjeman. At the time, I hated having to study poetry and disliked Malade and most of the other poems in the collection apart from Carol Ann Duffy's In Mrs Tilscher's Class, Stop All the Clocks by W.H. Auden and Stevie Smith's Not Waving but Drowning. To this day, I still get confused between Auden, Lawrence and Betjeman--obviously, they all have quite different styles and yet they all fall into the category of "poets I was forced to study at the age of 16."

Today, though, Malade is perfectly appropriate and about all I can manage to write about today.


29 June 2009

Inappropriate Product Placement

"Does your network give you £50 of calls and texts for a £10 top-up?" asks Vodafone. Not a clue, actually. I'm more concerned that the model in the advert is wearing my dress (luckily not the super-expensive one or I'd be really cross). My lovely, colourful, French, boho, Comptoir des Cotonniers dress is being plastered across this nasty, red, in-yer-face Vodafone pay-as-you-go advert.

It was one thing when I was wearing the dress while standing in front of the Comptoir des Cotonniers concession in Bon Marché in Paris (where at least I was being part of a recognisable brand) but wearing it in front of the bus stop poster is quite another. The only mobile phone advert which would be OK for my dress to appear is the iPhone (or possibly the G1)--the colourful, free-spirit look often seems to play a role in Apple's adverts--but the floaty, mishmash of colours isn't really the in fitting with the iPhone's cool, black-and-silver lines.

Big error, Vodafone; surely TopShop's more your thing?


28 June 2009

Ad Nauseam

I am not sad that I don't see TV adverts very often these days. I get my share of marketing bollocks in the free papers and a ten-minute condensed session of TV ads is each time I go to the cinema is more than enough. The past few times that I've been to the cinema, one particularly nasty advert comes on. Actually, it's not the ad that's so bad so much as the product: Pearl Drops Instant White brush-on tooth veneer.

This is, apparently, for people who can't be bothered to just brush their teeth each day or to avoid drinking coffee and red wine but still want sparkling white teeth. "Simply brush on to leave a bright white veneer that dries in seconds!" claims the advert. The first time I saw the advert, I wondered whether it was simply Tippex rebranded as a beauty product. It sounds horrible, not least because it probably wouldn't go on evenly and would freak people out with its dazzling whiteness (this is England, after all, the Land of Bad Teeth, not America). Once you've brushed on your veneer, it will stay on until you brush your teeth (actually, the "application" tab of the website confesses that eating a meal may also rub off your pearly whites, leaving your dining companions with an impending sense of horror as your beautiful, white teeth suddenly start to peel away to reveal disgusting, yellowed gnashers). "Not suitable for children under 7," the website cautions; I should hope not too...

The website also allows you to upload all those horrible photos of you with nasty teeth and their app will show you what you would look like if only you apply this magic Tippex to your teeth. My teeth are certainly not perfect but I think I'll give that a pass because in my mind, I can just see crude, PhotoShopped white rectangles being clumsily pasted over the top of my mouth. Yet another beauty product I won't be buying.


Chick Flicks and Films for Fellas

The two films I saw at the cinema this weekend had very different audiences: Sunshine Cleaning at the Screen on Baker Street yesterday evening was mostly filled with women (as well as a few guys who had clearly been dragged along because it was date night and because at the Screen on Baker Street, there was a choice between Sunshine Cleaning and My Sister's Keeper and the former seemed like the better of the two), while the showing of Rudo y Cursi at the Cineworld near Piccadilly Circus was, conversely, mostly populated with guys (as well as a few girlfriends along for the ride).

The two films actually had a number of similarities and I wouldn't really describe Sunshine Cleaning as a chick flick or Rudo y Cursi as a lads' film. Perhaps this is partly due to the marketing. "Hey, come see this quirky, new indie film from the makers of another awesome indie film with sunshine in the title" (coincidentally, the little girl from Little Miss Sunshine is now a teenager and appearing alongside Cameron Diaz in My Sister's Keeper)," cry the posters for Sunshine Cleaning.

Rudo y Cursi isn't exactly another Y Tu Mama Tambien (of which I've still only seen the first half--this was long enough for me to determine that Alfonso Cuaron's new film is pretty different) but it definitely isn't targetting the, "wah-hey! Footie! C'mon, lads, it'll be great!" market either; indeed, the poster shows no trace of football, fast cars, fast women or gambling but rather just two guys--brothers--on an arty-looking beach with the tagline, "life is a coin toss." The Sunshine Cleaning poster has a different take on life in its tagline -- "life's a messy business" -- and shows two girls--sisters--carrying the film's title across some "crime scene; do not cross" tape.

And each film is really about the relationship between the two siblings it depicts and how different the siblings are. The two leads in each film do a good job. Amy Adams plays a former cheerleading captain/prom queen whose football captain boyfriend married someone else (although they are still having an affair). She is envious of her former school chums who are all married and living in McMansions with great jobs while she works as a maid, cleaning their houses, while raising her young son and trying to get herself through real estate school. After a hint from her toxic boyfriend (who could do with some industrial-strength cleaning himself), who is a cop, she and her slacker younger sister (Emily Blunt) start up their own company where they clean up after crime scenes ("removal of biohazard waste," as Adams's character puts it later). Their mother is absent and this obviously affected the sisters and their relationship with each other a great deal, with Adams's character often mothering her younger sister (and no, the film does not use the line, "you're not my mom").

Diego Luna and Gael Gorgeous Bernal, meanwhile, play the eponymous Rudo (rude/rough) and Cursi (sentimental/twee), two brothers working on a banana plantation in the Mexican countryside with their extended family until they get scouted by some dodgy talent scout from Mexico City and recruited into two big (fictional) Mexican football teams, hard-working, reliable Rudo as the goalie and attention-seeking, vain Cursi (as he is nicknamed by the press once fame sets in) as the striker. But even living in the big city, they still have their problems--Rudo quickly amasses huge gambling debts and misses his wife and children (still living back in the country), while Cursi dates a gold-digging tart and doesn't really care about his footballing success because he only wants to be a fame (the only song he sings in the film is a Spanish cover of Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me, which is so bad that he really oughtn't give up his day job).

Both films have their funny and their poignant moments (more poignant moments in Sunshine Cleaning--maybe this is partly because the leads are both female and are expected to be more cursa than the guys in Rudo y Cursi; maybe because it's hard for a movie to get too mushy when there is a Woody Allen-like voiceover from the dodgy talent scout on and off throughout Rudo y Cursi). Both were enjoyable, entertaining fayre, though.

I did not enjoy the fact that Cineworld cinemas leave one of the big lights on during the film for "safety reasons in case anyone falls over on the stairs." As my seat was closest to the light (I chose it in advance for optimal viewing) and as I've been to many cinemas in the past that don't have a huge light over the steps, I wasn't impressed. "People should sit in their seats watching the film while it's showing, shouldn't they?" I asked, before telling the staff I would try to avoid their cinemas in the future (good, they were probably thinking). To be fair it wouldn't have been so bad if I weren't watching a film with subtitles where the white text and light, sunny, Mexican backgrounds did not combine to provide great visibility.


The New MHS?

It was nice to wake up to the glorious sunshine this morning and I'm glad I decided to take advantage of it by going for a walk early on, as thick cloud seems to have descended over London Town, although it's still very hot and humid. After I had been to Marylebone to get my new Young Persons' Railcard (in case anyone at National Rail cares), I headed back towards Regent's Park. I'd been planning to walk to the top of Primrose Hill and then back down the side and then back home via the Broad Walk, but on impulse, I decided to pay a visit to the oh-so-chichi shops of Regent's Park Road.

The shape of the park around Primrose Hill has always been confusing for me and it always takes me longer than it ought to find the part of Regent's Park Road that has the nice little shops and cafes. I could look at a map, but I always assume (wrongly) that I can work it out. I say, "always" but actually, I've only been to that street twice, the other time being about six months ago when it was about 25 degrees colder than today. Aujourd'hui, it was a very nice place to have an amble (although I didn't spot any of the celebrity local residents), with many of the bakeries, patisseries and fromageries exhibiting their wares on tables in the street, under their canopies. I was extremely tempted by some huge and gorgeous-looking brownies but even though I hadn't yet breakfasted, I restrained and had a custom-blended fruit juice at a posh, New York-style deli/juice bar (watermelon, lime and fresh mint was definitely a refreshing combination for such a hot morning and it satisfied my sweet tooth, temporarily), which has a tiny, leafy courtyard garden at the back for consuming one's healthy beverage.

Meanwhile, yummy mummies towed husbands and designer-clad kids in and out of the posh boutiques before rewarding them all at a little toyshop-cum-cafe. I didn't buy one of their delicious-looking macaroons either and wasn't quite tempted to buy anything at the lovely, independent bookshop, Primrose Hill Books.

I will definitely be remembering the place as an alternative to Marylebone High Street when the sun is out because there are about the same number of cafes and patisseries but more of them have outdoor seating and also, the street is a bit quieter than MHS, which has an almost-constant flow of car traffic. Apart from the odd patisserie, RPR feels a little less French than MHS too--despite the cafe society of RPR--which is, I guess, somehow reassuring.


24 June 2009

Cuttings

Exhibit A. Oh, how I love Private Eye. This week they even blacked out the word private in the magazine's masthead on this week's front page (with a note saying, "you can't read read this, it's private"). The "Apparently" column was particularly good, especially given the Associated Press's recent Twitter-related updates to their stylebook.




Exhibit B. I've got a few marketing and PhotoShopping ideas for this one. One of the current slogans -- "Nature now comes in delicious" -- grates linguistically although I'm not sure why. It's not the structure - [It Verbs in Adjective] sounds perfectly fine in sentences like, "the car comes in blue" so why does delicious sound odd in that structure? Can the cereal come in unpalatable? I think the structure is an ellipsis, with the end of the sentence left unsaid and implied: "the handbag comes in black or Cognac [varieties]" or [It Verbs in Adjective and/or Adjective Varieties]. But, "Nature now comes in delicious or unpalatable varieties, depending on your taste buds," is not quite so catchy and marketeers do feel the need to push the boundaries of what is and what isn't linguistically acceptable and whether or not people approve, at least it gets noticed.


Of course, Nature's Pleasure is, apparently, just muesli with different combinations of fruit and nuts in it but Kellogg's seem to be going down the Pepsi *ROAR* route of creating a nice, friendly, "natural"-looking website. To be fair, however, I am not a cereal person; the only cereals I ever ate were Frosted Shreddies and Golden Grahams, neither of them with milk.


23 June 2009

Mephistophelean Mulberry

June is not proving to be a good month for my willpower.

7.30 a.m. I get an email from Mulberry. I know that it contains a special preview link to the sale on their website, which opens to the general public tomorrow but those who subscribe to the Mulberry mailing list get advance notice today, along with an extra 10% off the 30-40% off many of the bags. I knew that if I clicked on the link, I would see lots of pretty bags I couldn't afford (even at sale prices) and so managed to restrain myself until an hour ago. I should have waited until midnight.

Some of the bags are, indeed, horrible or in pretty but mostly unwearable seasonal colours. Except the lovely Mabel in cognac-coloured saddle leather, which I've been eyeing up since one of Papa's graduates bought one at Heathrow when we all went to New York. It's on sale at almost 50% off the original price at the moment (and for the next 70 minutes). Unfortunately, this is still £375 and way out of my budget. They do smaller, cheaper versions in other colours but I refuse to buy expensive handbags that aren't in universal, neutral colours and I already have enough black and chocolate bags. Enough bags full stop, even if they are reduced by so much.

I really don't know why this month has brought about such intense materialism. It's not even that I can say that it's because I've been depriving myself of shopping (especially given the recent dress incident): the less I shop, the more I think about shopping and the more I have cravings and urges. Perhaps this latest Mulberry bag craving is due to the mind's propensity to minimise loss--the "I don't want to miss out" cognitive bias. Today might be the only day ever where this particular bag will be this cheap--it would be foolish to resist now only to give into temptation and buy it at a later date, at a higher price.

But there will be other bags. And other occasions when I have more money to spend on bags. I will be good, for once, and shut my laptop down now before any damage is done... No, really, I will.


21 June 2009

Sale-d Out

The shops of London are currently ridden with sakes and I am not happy. I do not like sales for at least four reasons:

1. Most shops go from being busy to being unbearably claustrophobic (even for a hardy shopper like me). Selfridges yesterday was like a zoo, especially in the Hall of Handbags where women were practically clawing one other's eyes out to snatch that bargain bag and the queue outside the Louis Vuitton concession was even longer than usual (obviously, I don't shop there but the queue does get in the way). I didn't dare risk Top Shop for fear of being crushed to death.

2. Most of the stuff on sale is undesirable because it is:
a) ugly and/or unwearable
b) in bizarre sizes (I was tempted by the pretty purple and white Princesse TamTam underwear in Selfridges today, reduced to £20 for the set from £60-odd; however, the knickers were all extra large while the bras were all 32 and 34A...)

3. The sale itself is irritating because within a single concession in the department store only some of the items will be on sale and the racks aren't always clearly marked, so you come across a gorgeous dress and think, "Oh, goody; I'll be getting a good discount on this too," only to find it's in the "new season" rack. Naturally, I will have already seen all of the current/old season stock on countless occasions and not been tempted to buy it and while it might be cheaper than it was, it's also more boring.

4. Occasionally, you will come across an absolutely gorgeous item that is heavily discounted and they even have it in your size. Of course, this will invariably be the very expensive dress you bought last week. At full price. This will cause your already high blood pressure to shoot through the roof and for you to storm out of Selfridges, never to return again (well, until the sale is over anyway). This is (currently) the main reason I hate sales.

I didn't even intend to walk through the Pink concession in Selfridges; I was making my way to the massively-reduced but oddly-sized underwear section and happened to see Pink on the way. I wasn't even trying to check whether my dress was on sale--I wanted to see whether any of the pretty, colourful shirts were reduced enough for me to buy one and I then accidentally came across my dress. The price was slashed from £135 to £85. My chest tightens and my levels of wrath rocket up. If I hadn't been caught off guard, I probably would have walked away from the rack but of course, I check whether they have my size (which they didn't last week). They do. Serious error.

I had thought that because I had confessed the crime of pre-meditated shopping last week and hoped that the shopping gods had absolved me. Apparently, they deemed that my punishment is to know that if only I had waited, I could have saved £50. Karma, I guess. Of course, last week, there were hardly any of the dress available and even though I knew the Selfridges sale was starting soon, I had thought that the chance of them having the dress in my size at a good distance was quite small. And of course, if I hadn't bought it last week, they almost certainly wouldn't have had my size now, so perhaps the extra £50 for a bit of peace of mind was worth it (I really did like the dress and would have been really upset if I hadn't been able to get it).

I just hope that the shopping gods haven't also decided that part of my atonement involves me regretting how much cheaper I could have bought the dress every time I wear it. I hope they don't make me love it less. Now that I'm home and calmer, I don't feel so bad. I do like the dress an awful lot. I'm just going to have to wear it all the time in order to get the cost-per-wear down to a more reasonable figure (it currently stands at £67.50).


I Came, I Saw, Ikead

Pootling up the Bakerloo Line to Stonebridge Park and then shuttle bussing over to Ikea isn't really my ideal way to spend Sunday afternoon but at least it wasn't a Saturday. The discomfort induced by the chairs in my flat had, however, forced me to go to Ikea in search of a small, adjustable-height laptop table I had seen on their website (it was called "Dave" so it must be good) and also, I needed to do a reccy to see what was on offer for when the time comes to move into the new flat. Besides, as I was apparently almost born in Brent Cross Shopping Centre (luckily, Maman made it to the now defunct West London Hospital), it really was going back to my roots.

As for the shop itself, I am not a huge fan. The system is fine but there are too many large, slow-moving families with a ratio of trolleys, buggies and SIPs per person that is far too high. For maximum speed, I didn't take a trolley, just one of those big yellow bags (not ideal for carrying assorted crockery, but never mind), and went straight to the "marketplace" section. I did a whistle-stop tour of the entire marketplace and then went back to the beginning to collect stuff I still wanted (to avoid excess strain on my shoulders and arms, where possible), before finally extracting "Dave" from the warehouse bit. Of course, they don't give out plastic bags but I'd brought enough reusable ones with me for everything except Dave.

I headed for the shuttle bus stop and then immediately realised that I had promised Papa I would get him a catalogue. Error. Annoyingly, you can't go back in via the exit and so I had to go back to the entrance to collect a catalogue and then walk through the entire marketplace and warehouse section again carrying my two heavy bags and a table, all the while convinced I would miss my shuttle bus. (When I got home I realised the catalogues said you weren't supposed to remove them from the shop but by that point, I felt I'd earned them.) Then it was just a matter of lugging my kit through the underground ticket barriers, babysitting it on the relatively quiet Bakerloo Line and then fighting through the usual Baker Street hoards and home where I managed to assemble the table in under 10 minutes, which, given that I am not exactly what one would call a DIY professional, I felt was pretty good.

It's just a shame that my shoulder is now aching so much. And that in a few weeks, I'll probably have to repeat the whole process (hopefully assisted by a car, then; Ikea's ethic isn't exactly public-transport-friendly)...


18 June 2009

Yet Another Italian in Marylebone: Il Baretto Review

An another Italian restaurant, of course, not another resident--there is no room for any foreigners apart from the French. However, most of the Italian offerings around Baker Street tend to be of the chain variety and while I do very much like Pizza Express's (now not so) new "Romana" style pizzas, which are bigger because they are thinner and crispier than the standard version, and while it is great to be able to get a two-for-one deal at most of them on almost any night of the week, sometimes it's nice to go to a proper restaurant.

Il Baretto is a proper restaurant. It has a posh website, an interesting menu in which pizza features but isn't the only--or even the starring--attraction. In fact, they go down the traditional Italian route of pasta for your first course and meat for your second, a concept which got me into trouble on the first night at the parents of my Sardinian exchange partner when they served me some delicious pasta/pesto dish, which I ate, soon filling myself up, only for the main course--some beef dish--to be brought out. Luckily, I was vegetarian at the time and once I had managed to explain what exactly a vegetarian was (no, no chicken, not even if it's Italian or organic) and why people might choose to be one, I was let off the second course.


When I went to Il Baretto on Monday, it was already nine because I was meeting my post-wine tasting parents (they had gone to Berry Brothers as the present I gave them for their 30th wedding anniversary last year) and as it was late I did end up having pizza. However, the pizza bufala I had was very good--very thin and just crispy enough, very fresh-tasting buffalo mozzarella and yummy cherry tomatoes. Being me, though, it was all about the puddings and I'd already picked mine from the online menu--"soft chocolate cake with caramel sauce." Alas! This wasn't on the menu so instead I had a panna cotta with strawberry jus and an assortment of berries. This was a good call. The panna cotta was of an incredibly wobbly consistency and its vanilla flavour went well with the jus and the berries. Thumbs up from Bexquisite.

The restaurant has only just reopened after a long refurb and the staff were all very eager to please. A little too much so, it seems, because the hapless couple next to us kept having things brought to them in the wrong order: they ordered some bruschetta to start, were then shown the fish the woman was having (whole, at this stage) but didn't get the starters for an age, even though the place wasn't very busy. They complained and were then shown the fish again (still dead!) before after another interim, they got their main courses (no bruschetta). Then the staff messed up their puddings and the couple probably just wanted to get out of there.

I liked the place though and on a weekend evening when it's a little busier, I can imagine there will be a nice atmosphere in the cosy basement with its exposed-brick walls, arty paintings of Italian flags and wood-fired oven. Upstairs is a small and intimate bar, with black leather seats and room to perch--a nice little place for a quiet drink during the week (and perhaps a less quiet drink at the weekend). The prices of the pizzas weren't too much higher than Pizza Express's either (although no two-for-one vouchers and the wine, the puddings and the meat were more expensive; luckily, the wine-tasting had meant that for possibly the first time ever, Maman didn't want a glass of wine with dinner) so overall, a good spot for a bit of Italian.

Il Baretto. 43 Blandford Street, London, W1U 7HF (Tube: Baker Street). Website.


Yellow Cola vs Natural Cola

Last week, I was interested to see Selfridges' special edition bright yellow Coke bottles and now Pepsi is at it too: an army of Pepsi marketeers were fighting the usual free newspaper donors for space all around Baker Street Tube when I returned from my run, all itching to give out free samples of some kind of "natural" drink in a brown can. The Pepsi logo was not obvious (if it was present at all) and the bullet points on the marketeers' stands all highlighted how amazingly natural it all was. I don't really like the taste of Pepsi (Diet Coke is the only cola beverage I drink) but free samples are always good so I took one.

The can itself is completely alien, when compared with a regular Pepsi can, which has a big Pepsi logo and lots of blue, red and white (Patriotic colours, of course). Instead the cans for this new product--Pepsi Raw, which is probably supposed to make you think you are eating something as healthy as freshly chopped celery and crunchy carrots, but just reminds me of how painful the sandal-induced sore patch on my toe feels--are brown with a very small Pepsi logo and the word RAW written down the side. The back of the can, meanwhile, talks about how super it is that this wonderful elixir contains only "naturally sourced ingredients [...] except for the bubbles" [hee].

Whatever. I for one don't reach for a cola when I want to feel healthy--I would drink some water (and not any of that Vitamin Water either) or some cloudy apple juice if I was feeling fruity--I drink cola as a "treat" when I want something sugary tasting (not that there is any "natural" sugar in Diet Coke) and I don't care if it's bad for me because I don't have it very often (indeed, my desire for Diet Coke has dwindled over time--compared to the days when I used to practically live off it, anyway). If Pepsi feel that going down the "healthy" or "natural" route will sell them more cans, fair enough.

I'm more interested in the fact that they are moving away from their blue-white-and-red branding towards a more "natural," or perhaps "cola-coloured" brown (NB, I haven't actually opened the can yet--perhaps the drink itself is red, white and blue, rather like Aquafresh), given that people do often have quite strong feelings about whether they are a Coke person or a Pepsi person (even if it is just a placebo) and a big part of that is reaching, in the shop, for a bottle or a can of that product you want to buy with the logo on it, in the same way Starbucks drinkers like to display that they have poor taste in coffee by carrying Starbucks branded-cups around with them. It seems a little risky for Pepsi to be moving away from that but what would I know? I did look at the website and the Raw does look better in a bottle than in a can--transparent with the "natural" cola-coloured liquid visible.

Of course, Pepsi Raw has its own Twitter account and Facebook group; clearly, Pepsi has employed one of those "social media interns" people are so keen to become. As well as responding to feedback from other Twitterers, they are also letting people know where they will be handing out free samples--what, so people can rearrange their schedule just to make sure they won't miss out on a free taste of their favourite cola? I mean, I totally missed out when they were handing out in Nowheresville last week--if only I used Twitter...

It may be that once I've tasted the drink, all of my cynicism will disappear or will at least be masked by the fact that I don't care what the brand is like so long as it tastes good. I'll have to wait until I'm in more of a natural cola frame of mind (though when that happens, it's likely I'll gravitate more towards Fentimans' Curiosity Cola--for the name if nothing else).


14 June 2009

All the Fun of the Fayre

Today was Marylebone's annual summer fayre. Being Marylebone, of course, it was pretty extravagant--so big that it has to be divided into seven different "zones" and with all of the High Street and many of the side streets closed to traffic so that the local shops, restaurants, bars, gyms and even estate agents could set up stalls in the road to tempt in the punters (and it was all in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust). One of the estate agents with whom I have dealt with extensively over the past year proved more amiable when offering free glasses of Pimm's in exchange for a donation to the charity; this was certainly a better bargain than the "pint of Pimm's for £6" being offered by one of the pubs--given that I didn't want a whole pint.

Many of the shops and food places were giving away free samples, offering discounts on their wares and encouraging the fayre-goers to enter their competitions (fingers crossed, then, that I win a night at the newly tarted up Langham Hotel or the £150 voucher for Apartment C; having entered the latter today for the first time, I was pleased to be intimidated by neither the staff nor the prices and was amused by the selection of erotic fiction on offer to peruse while "sipping a gin cocktail from a giant teacup").

Of course, with such a variety of food on offer, just like at the May Balls, it made sense to do a reccy first and then return to one's preferred stalls to avoid peaking too soon. I sampled an oyster from Maldon Oysters, which was delicious, and then avoided Le Pain Quotidien's poncey BBQ in favour of the Natural Kitchen's barbecued burger in a poncey bun, which was also tasty. Having pinched posh chocolate samples from Rococo and indulged in a few mini macaroons from the people outside the Conran Shop, I didn't quite have room for churros but as they cost £4 for a cupful and seem to be available at every outdoor London festival, I don't feel I missed out too much.

The atmosphere at the fayre was really good, although there were a few too many Small Irritating People with wayward balloons (and too many people with buggies and dogs (this being le quartier) pushing through the busy crowd) for my irritation radar not to go off a little bit. However, the vibe was a lot more chilled in the Paddington Street Gardens, where a range of acoustic acts were playing--some of them were pretty good although I don't remember any names. There are certainly worse ways to spend a hot, sunny afternoon in the quartier, anyway (I did have to top it all off with a visit A la recherche d'Eric at the Screen on Baker Street; quand on est au quartier...).


13 June 2009

Predictive Puzzling

In today's Grauniad, Chris Maslanka's pyrgic puzzle numero uno is:

1. They say it pays to advertise. Supercaff chain of coffee shops have an advert running which says: "9 out of 10 coffee-lovers prefer Supercaff." What's wrong with that?

Of course, I already answered a very similar question at great length several months ago in response to the latest ad campaign from my favourite mediocre chain of coffee shops. Given that it's rare for me to solve any of these puzzles, though (not least because if I can't work out the answer within about 30 seconds, I usually get bored and give up), I'm pretty impressed with my prophetic puzzle-solving.

I probably shouldn't rest on my laurels for too long, though, as I still haven't really worked out what--if anything--pyrgic means. It isn't in the OED; but the closest entry is pyrgocephalic, from the noun pyrgocephaly, which means, "The condition of having a skull that is abnormally high (and often pointed); oxycephaly." Further digging into the etymology (oh, how I love to have access to the OED again, via my library membership card) suggests pyrgic might come from the ancient Greek word for tower, πυgος (the Greek characters may not render correctly but the Greek word that is spelled approximately in this way). In other words, these are towering or lofty puzzles. I have to say that uncovering the etymology of the word pyrgic was more interesting for me personally than most of the puzzles--and I might have done even that wrong.



Dicks Spotted

I was somewhat light-headed anyway as I hurried from Selfridges to Jermyn Street in search of the coveted dress. If I had bought it in Selfridges, it would have counted as an impulse buy but the very fact that I was walking--well, skipping--down through Mayfair in the sunshine meant I had plenty of time to change my mind and to do the right thing. But no, this crime was definitely premeditated. As such, my heart was skipping pretty fast.

Just south of Grosvenor Square, though, the south-bound traffic in the leafy Mayfair Streets had come to a standstill while a whole load of cyclists made their way west. There were hundreds of them and it was only when I came closer that I realised that most people were topless...and bottomless. It turned out, of course, that it was the World Naked Bike Ride, an event that has had over 1000 participants for the past couple of years. Indeed, it was a good five minutes before the group had thinned enough for me to cross the road and proceed towards my crime against my bank account. I can safely say that I've never seen so many penises and breasts in one place, although I suppose this wouldn't be a hard feat to beat.

The riders were all pretty loud and enthusiastic and would wave to the gathering crowd and say, "hello," as though it was perfectly normal for them to be cycling through Mayfair completely naked (or, in some cases, just covered in face paint, or wearing a thong or a helmet (geddit?). Some of the crowd, however, were a little coy. An older couple standing next to me waiting to cross the road were looking decidedly unimpressed but most people were amused and everyone was taking photos. A rather large naked couple cycled past on their tandem and two people were showing off by unicycling along (but they were the organisers). They were all chaperoned by a policeman who was--rather unsportingly--fully clothed.

Ah, London; you just never know what quirky happening you will come across next...


Into Temptation

I thought I had done pretty well to leave the Orla Kiely sample sale almost empty handed this afternoon. I did buy a very cheap, orange and blue stripy top and a consolation green pen case for Maman (who loves all things green--particularly that shade of yellowy lime green, which Orla does so well). There were three bags that tempted me but one by one I struck them off my wish list, having been lugging all three around with me as I did the rounds of the building just in case some eavil wench pilfered one from me. Two of them were genuine samples (i.e. stock from the upcoming season, produced in advance to take to fashion shows and such like) and the other was from a previous line, heavily discounted.

Of course, the very fact that two of them were samples made me want them more than the other one even though the latter was in a more moi colour and was also quite a bit cheaper. One of the samples was pretty but a little too big and heavy for me, given my tendency to fill my bags with a back-breaking level of kit. The other was too light in colour (a stone coloured vinyl base with a print that featured red, line-drawn flowers, and with sand leather trim and handles) to be universal enough for me. As for the one that got away--the old stock--it was pretty with its cranberry colours trimmed with chocolate brown but ultimately, the pattern might make it difficult to wear with some of my existing clothes, many of which are patterned and also, I didn't really love it enough for the price. So I put it back and left.

I got off the Northern Line at Leicester Square so I could pick up a Father's Day present at Do (a clever "iced carafe" for my chilled, bottled water obsessed father, which I hope will be stylish enough and which I also hope he doesn't have). Erroneously, I then decided to go to Selfridges again, having resisted the ground floor last night.

Even more erroneously, I decided to go to the third floor and found myself in the Thomas Pink section. I do like Thomas Pink's shirts in their gorgeous shades of pink, purple and blue but I simply don't wear blouses often enough to buy one (apart from at Bicester Village, perhaps). However, I did see an absolutely gorgeous Liberty paisley print shirt dress in shades of pink, blue and orange. Coincidentally, they had a size six so I went to try it on just so I could talk myself out of it. Unfortunately, it looked pretty good and even more unfortunately, someone had left a pair of very pretty, strappy high heels in my size in the changing room and the dress looked even better with them.

I then decided that actually the dress looked a little frumpy on me because it was a little too baggy on top, which made me look a little matronly, given that it had a tie around the waist. I asked the Pink people whether they had a four but they didn't. They called a couple of other shops but they either didn't have it or didn't pick up the phone. I decided to take a chance and walk to Jermyn Street--a walk that took longer than planned for reasons which I will explain later--and, amazingly they did have the dress I wanted in a size four. I tried it on and it looked really good. It was quite amusing to be stared at snootily by the staff because I was wearing a denim miniskirt, red top and flip flops--obviously not their expected clientele, even if I did have my Mulberry bag with me--only for them to change their tune once I decided I would buy the dress.

I do now feel somewhat guilty because the dress was as expensive as some of the handbags but it is really pretty and can be made to look smart or more casual. If I had a job that required me to wear "business" attire, this would definitely qualify. Never mind. It does look good and the colours are perfect. I'm just going to have to wear it lots to get the cost per wear down!


12 June 2009

It Was All Yellow

Selfridges turned 100 this year and as such, there have been a range of events and celebrations taking place, from yellow-and-black clad dancers and gymnasts doing what looked like some variation of Cirque du Soleil to the appearance of Posh and Becks (or the non -quisite variety) yesterday lunchtime (sadly my cameraphone was absent so I couldn't add them to my celebstalking photo album).

One of the ongoing celebrations involves the repackaging of a range of well-known products in Selfridges' trademark yellow and black (I think I'll give the yellow and black nail varnishes a miss). Interestingly, they have chosen products for which the colour is an important part (if not the most important part) of the brand: Coke (the red bottle top being the only remnant of its usual red-and-white design--the same design once rumoured to have given Father Christmas his colours), Absolut (with its usual clean, colourless bottle with the blue font) and Diptique (with their simple, elegant candles in the little clear jars with monochrome labels).

Then there are the products that are famous for their use of colour if not for the specific colours themselves: Pantone (which probably already had a specific colour for "Selfridges yellow" AKA Pantone 109), Converse and Moleskine (known for its black covers (until the coloured versions, that is) but which come with a brightly coloured label wrapped around the notebook to indicate which variety it is), for example.

When Papa saw the yellow glass bottle of Coke in my fridge, he immediately said, "ugh"--he obviously wasn't quite ready for the rebranding of Coke! I quite like it, though. When I bought it, I was thinking about using it as a vase once I'd drunk the beverage--inserting a single red rose or gerbera maybe but maybe that's just too kitschy a variation of the very Gallic looking candles in wine bottles you sometimes see in restaurants in France.

More importantly, though, I managed to resist buying the Moleskine Yellow Label (I was very tempted because I have a thing for squared paper at the moment and want a new squared notebook for the office but you can get pads of squared paper for £1.99 in Ryman...) and one of the yellow Diptyque Mimosa candles (even though my current Feuilles de Lavande variety is almost used up). Who says I have no self-restraint?

The original Mr Selfridge would probably be impressed although still disappointed that he was never allowed to build a tunnel connecting the store with the Bond Street Tube station (and renaming it Selfridges), just like Bloomingdales in Manhattan. Not bad for a store that started life as a bargain basement-style shop, albeit one in which the owner hoped his customers would spend all day.


10 June 2009

Positive Mental Attitude

It was a most ill-fated evening. After I failed to leave work early enough to catch my usual 6.45 train, the heavens opened dramatically, making me very unkeen to walk to the station (I am waterproof; not so much my Mulberry bag) but someone was driving that way so I cadged a lift. Unfortunately, the Nowheresville ringroad meant that we arrived at the station two minutes after my train left so I had to catch the slow one. I was tired and hungry and was tempted to buy a salad at M&S to eat on the train but they are expensive and I had perfectly good food at home so I drank lots of water instead and ploughed through The Last of the Mohicans, which has been at the bottom of my pile of books-to-be-read for quite some time, always getting relegated.

I got to London at about 8.30, with the tube strike still in full force. I said last night that it was very unlikely that I would walk home in the evening and yet walk home I did. I got up early to walk to the station in the morning (a good call given that the Euston Road was totally grid-locked and the buses were all over-full) and despite not getting very much sleep last night, somehow I told myself all afternoon that I would walk home and so I did. Yesterday, of course, I told myself that it was OK to catch the bus so stubbornly, I waited for a bus. The joys of positive mental attitude.

As I arrived in London much later tonight, the roads were a little emptier and while I had to wiat 20 minutes for a bus yesterday, during the half of my route home that follows the Euston Road (before I veer off into the relatively unpolluted and more pleasant part of town that is mon quartier), I saw about six buses I could have hopped on to get me home but I resisted temptation each time. Actually, there was no temptation because once I've started walking, I'm usually happy to continue (especially when walking home takes 25 minutes and waiting for and catching a bus takes about 20).

The opposite is true when I go running. If it's particularly cold and/or rainy or if I'm especially tired and/or lethargic, I sometimes tell myself that I only have to do one lap of the park (about 3.5 miles in total). It's a sneaky trick because I know that 99 times out of 100, once I've started running, I will be too stubborn to give up after the first lap and will do the extra three miles. Somehow, though, giving myself the option of wussing out is enough to motivate me to get out of the house. Especially if there are good podcasts to be heard or if I've been sitting still for too long.

But now I'm home and don't have to deal with public transport again until after the strike is over. Hooray! Unfortunately, there are whisperings that there may be another strike next week if the issues don't get resolved before then. Boo...


C'est Normal

Incidentally, on my penultimate trip to Paris, almost all of the Métro network was out of action for two days but no one really gave a shit because it's France and c'est normal. On that particular trip, several strikes were planned for the same day: Métro, some telephone networks and (I think) the postal service. In fact, so little attention was paid to les grèves that I only found out about them when trying to use the Métro. It's not as though the French don't use the Métro either (despite Paris being more manageable for pedestrian commuting than London)--they did, after all, invent the expression Métro, Boulot, Dodo (not to mention topical spin-offs like this).

Now, if poncey late-night café owners went on strike, I'm sure it would be a different story. Where else could the BoBo intellos partake in a glass of fine wine or a café au lait to help get those philosophical treatises onto paper? Where else could everyone else hang out while waiting for the cool clubs to open? Take away our tube trains but whatever you do, don't take away our cafés!


9 June 2009

Striking a Nerve

I like walking. I walk everywhere. I am perfectly happy wandering all over the world's cities and I'd usually much rather be outside than stuck on some smelly bus or tube. However, when I arrive at King's Cross in the evening, having left home 12 hours earlier and had a hard day at work, I am usually more than ready to sink onto a tube train with a copy of the free paper and hop off three stops later in the quartier. I don't want to walk the last 1.7 miles home. This is especially true when I've also power-walked from the station to my desk and half-run back to the station in the evening, as well as going running in the afternoon on feet that are still suffering from previous crimes.

Today, of course, saw the beginning of a 48-hour strike on the entire tube network. Fine, sez I, I'll get the bus home--a journey that doesn't take much longer than the tube ride. I might have walked if I was less tired or if it was a nicer evening but I just wanted to flop down, rest and go home to get some food inside me. There are two buses that serve my route home, each of which is supposed to come every 10 minutes (and extra buses had been laid on today to help the tubeless commuters). I had to wait 20 minutes before my bus arrived and then it was very full. The Euston Road was also close to stand-still, with ambulances and police cars whistling past every couple of minutes. I had heard at the bus stop that someone had thrown themselves under a Circle Line train 15 minutes earlier at Euston Square tube station--around the time the strike began. Sure enough, there were several ambulances, a few police cars and a fire engine outside Euston Square and lots of uniformed staff rushing into the cordoned-off station. The guy who was talking about the suicide wouldn't shut up about the selfishness of the person but I was too sleepy to glare at him.

Eventually, we got moving and I got home at 7.50, 45 minutes after arriving at the train station. Still, it could have been worse. On the bus, the Aussie guy opposite me asked if the bus (which the electronic voice kept announcing was the number 30 to Marble Arch) was going to Marble Arch. Yes, I said. "So, it's going to the sort of big arch made of marble...?" I nod. "...the one that's next to Trafalgar Square?" Uh, no, mate. That would be Nelson's Column, not that that's arch-shaped or made of marble. He then said he needed to get to Leicester Square and was obviously way confused. Good citizen that I am, I gave him directions to walk to Leicester Square and told him where to get off, before wishing him luck as I descended (somewhat involuntarily as the bus jerked to a violent stop sending me shooting towards the doors).

Yes, I really should have walked and I will walk to the station tomorrow morning if the strike is still going on, even though that means getting up earlier than usual. But I still won't walk home tomorrow evening--not unless I get plenty of sleep tonight, have a (relatively) stress-free day tomorrow and it's a nice, sunny evening... I therefore predict another long, tiring wait at the bus stop.


8 June 2009

The Right Foot Forward

My feet, having slowly deteriorated after many years of walking too far, too fast and too hard, have begun to rapidly deteriorate after the abuse of uncomfortable and unsupportive but pretty summer shoes. Despite my liking of ludic leaping, I've always been pretty heavy on my feet and wear through heels far more quickly than I would like and now my feet are unhappy.

Refusing to buy Crocs or anything resembling them, I went in search of cheap, comfy flipflops. I often get cold feet but for many years have loved loping around in flipflops even if it's snowing outside and I am wearing three pairs of gloves. Sadly, there were no cheap and comfy flipflops in the shops so I had to settle for expensive and comfy (and not totally ugly) flipflops--Fitflops, in fact, which will also tone my arse, cure my arthritis and make the coffee (some of the claims in the leaflet may not be accurate). But they feel like I am walking on air and that's all I care about!

I bought them from Sole Trader in Nowheresville (where students with poor spelling hope they will be able to get themselves signed up with an investment bank). The guy working there brought over one shoe and when I asked for the other he said it was, "company policy to give only the right shoe first."

I asked why and he mumbled something incomprehensible about security (do people steal left shoes more often?). "Are you trying to put the right foot forward?" I quipped but clearly, he was in no mood for such hilarious jokes. Regardless of random policies, I now have new shoes and my feet are so happy! Hoorah!

7 June 2009

Remembrance of Search Terms Past

Finally, the thing that annoyed me most about Google Chrome has been fixed (I guess because my browser updated itself to version 2 without telling me, which is definitely an improvement over the Firefox updates, which used to cause the thing to take even longer to open on my over-used laptop): search boxes now have a memory. This makes me very happy. Previously, if I wanted to search for Anything for Her on IMDb (incidentally, a very good film) and typed this into the search box on IMDb, the next time I went to the site and started typing "anyt..." it wouldn't suggest any possible options for which I may have been searching. This meant I tended to just type all search terms into the address bar, prefixed by some indication of the site I wanted to search (e.g "IMDb Anything for Her") and would be taken directly to the right page (or, at least, I would only have one click from the Google search results page).

However, I do prefer for sites to remember what I've searched for in the past because if I'm already on IMDb and want to then navigate to the IMDb page for Anything for Her, I will usually type the name of the film into the IMDb search box rather than the browser address bar and this required me to actually type in the whole film title (shock, horror) or enough of it to get to the right page.

I know this is just incredibly lazy of me but I do like to restrict my use of my mouse as much as possible (because the silly little built-in laptop touchpad thing is crap and gives me RSI when I'm using it for long periods of time) and I like to use as many keyboard shortcuts as possible to maximise efficiency and minimise effort. So, thank you, Google. I'm glad that I can now type even fewer characters into the IMDb search box to find my film favourites--and also that on the rare occasions when other people use my laptop, they will be able to see all of the embarrassing movies I have looked up!

[NB: The technical term for this feature is, apparently, form autofill. Chrome are also claiming that the new version is faster and more stable; given that over the past week my browser has crashed more than in the rest of time I've been using Chrome put together, I hope that my upgrade to version 2 took place after all this crashiness.]


3 June 2009

Not Waiting for Bexquisite

OK, so unlike my Sussex-educated brother, I'm not a huge Samuel Beckett fan and unlike Maman, I'm not a huge Patrick Stewart-fan (although he is excellent, of course), but even so, it would have been very nice to go to see Waiting for Godot tonight complete with Stewart and Ian McKellen. Papa's company were going as some kind of treat but at the last minute someone dropped out (fool!) and Papa asked if I wanted to go along. Unfortunately, he asked me about five minutes after the absolute cut-off time before which I have to leave work to catch the 6.15 train (a train I don't usually even try to catch). It didn't help that I had been running and with no shower at work, I wasn't really in a suitable condition--nor was I dressed in theatre attire (unless running shorts and a baggy, T-shirt from work are in this season).

Of course, coming within about five minutes of going and then not being able to attend the play is far worse than not having had the possibility of going waved in front of my face in the first place. Having the option of going suddenly taken away from me at the last moment makes me feel worse even though in both situations, the outcome is the same: Bexquisite doesn't get to go to the Haymarket.

It's made me even more aware of all of the other theatrical opportunities I am, no doubt, letting slip through my fingers now that I am living in the Big Smoke and have the city at my fingertips: Jude Law as Hamlet, Rachel Weisz as Blanche DuBois...it's certainly too late to get tickets for the former and probably also for the latter. Of course, there are always on-the-day tickets but I have no idea what the chances of getting these if you do actually show up in person at the box office--oh, the uncertainties!


The Economic Downturn Hits Budget Hotels Hard

Yes, even budget hotels are being forced to downgrade their lodgings when accommodating guests in an actual building becomes unfeasible. But who needs a proper hotel when the back of a lorry will do just fine (the Daily Mail probably has different opinions from me on the subject of people hiding in lorries but then it would).

£30 buys you a section large enough for a family of four for the night (sleeping bags and wake-up call from the dustbin men included) or for that special occasion, why not treat the missus to a private lorry with a free four pack of Wifebeater and KFC family fun feast for only £50? Bargain...