Monday, 26 September 2011

Polished Jewels

Summer suits crisp whites and pretty pastels. I think of ice cream colours of bubblegum pink, lemon sherbet and pistachio as particularly sun-bleached. Blondes (platinum and golden) benefit from summer, their locks resplendent echoes of their sunshined skin. Latin women also flourish under summer with their natural bronze ready to wear gold, safari browns and campfire orange. Black women look incredible wearing acid summer brights—think Rihanna and Nicki Minaj.

I like to think darker haired, paler skinned, Celtic looking types flourish in the fall. Autumn demands warmer colours and bolder, jewel tones. Barack Obama told Americans after he won the election that: “This is our moment.” Hilary Alexander, Fashion Director of The Daily Telegraph declared that Kate Middleton’s choice to wear Alexander McQueen (by Sarah Burton) was “a fashion moment.” If you’re dark-haired or like jewel tones, friends, this is your moment.  Think garnet, sapphire, emerald, black onyx, any really.

The elegant simplicity of the simple, covered-up sheath reminds me of Jackie Kennedy, or a dress Kate Middleton might have looked at, but ultimatley rejected. I wanted to exaggerate its lady-like quality with an excess of pearls.

Leaves wouldn't fall without wind, thus it's impossible to avoid the odd windswept shot.

My favourite narrow boat and backdrop of the day. It's rusted and unloved but the colours somehow give it life.

I like the seasonal synchronicity of how berry shades also look appropriate to wear at exactly the moment you can harvest them.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Linguistic ¨Laughs ¨

I know what you might be thinking, rather pretentious title, right? Possibly, but in this case, there’s little pretending. A couple of language related stories have genuinely made me laugh hard this week. Solitary activities rarely produce intense laughter. Twice this week, I have been overwhelmed by belly laughs, with no one around to hear them. If you can, share these with someone else, and see if you both laugh too. I’d bet on it.
One feature on Wednesday’s Radio 2 Drivetime, was about the umlaut (¨). I know, it doesn’t sound totally, immediately hilarious. Patience, young linguistic grasshoppers. On the show, Simon Mayo and the Drivetime team interview Professor Rüdiger Görner, Director of the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary’s University in London.

Here is Simon Mayo looking like a comedic radio presenter should- a little bit cynical.
Image from the Radio 2 Drivetime website.

After discussing issues of origin, purpose and pronunciation, the subject turns to more important matters. Specifically, how metal bands like Mötorhead, Mötley Crue, Blue Öyster Cult and Spinal Tap use umlauts and how we should actually pronounce their names. Listen and learn:
Play with the iplayer between 20:24-25:19, though all Mayo's work is worth a listen.
The other piece that I thought was fantastic was The Sunday Times’ official ‘Dud of the Week.’ According to Dan Cairns, this was the Superheavy album. This is the unfortunate new project from Dave Stewart of The Pet Shop Boys, Joss Stone, Ziggy Marley (so far, so bad) and (ahem) Mick Jagger.

Superheavy, looking cool at their Superheaviest. Maybe the blurriness of the photo will only increase their mystique.
Image from .

Supergroup? Not quite. Marley begins the album by emphasising how intensely super and heavy the group is. Say the following in your best Jamaican, dance hall guy voice:

'“Massive, large amount, you understand? Excess heaviness, heaviest, heaviest title holder.”' Cairns notes how: 'Then the doubts begin to surface. “Heavyweight contenders,” [Marley] continues, “you understand?”'
Cairns explains how it is a ‘flaccid hybrid of reggae, country and soul.…Superheavy? Superdiabolical.’ One can imagine.
What's your feeling on Jagger's Timonthy Everest shocking pink suit? I know he's Jagger and can therefore pull off whatever he wants and be eternally cool. The question is whether he should. Jagger's Suit: do you love it or hate it?

(Note the Superheavyness of the band in the background.)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tale of the Slightly Mod

I like to think an acquaintance of Twiggy's in 1963 would have noted the collar, vertical lines and pink lip with an approving nod. The hair would need to be sleeker. Mods preferred the club or coffee house to an afternoon outdoors. See below. 
Think about when you’ve felt out of place. Remember when you used to imagine yourself living in a different historical period. Vintage fiends must find themselves at odds with contemporary culture all the time, romanticising the Blitz, flapper freedom or 1960s Cool Brittania. One of the proud tales of my misspent well spent youth involves elaborate constructions of myself as one of the great glamourous women in Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s stories, abound with insouciance, knowing glances and literary men.
The photos below make me think of how life would have been slightly trying for the odd bloke or girl who wanted to be a mod but lived in the countryside or someplace else better suited to a Jane Austen lady or gentleman. Mods need motorbikes, cities, rival gangs, danger, garage music and quick access to sharp tailoring. A calm row in a 1920s skiff doesn’t really convey that you’re tuff or boss.
The slightly Mod would approve of the stripes, though the choice of rowing as an activity wouldn't exactly help her street cred.

The innocence of the classic English duck race would frustrate our tortured Mod

The sky  for the nearly Mod would be cloudy and murky, reflecting her inner identity crisis. She regarded the bridge as an obvious visual metaphor for her desire to escape and journey across to the burgeoning city.

She liked the checked skirt, with its buttons and box pleat, though wished she could afford a matching blazer.
The clenched fist reveals the nearly Mod's slight tension. How many other middle class suburban kids just wanted to be in London, Brighton or Liverpool away from green spaces and their parents’ china? Take a moment to mourn the plight of the wannabe mod, circa 1962.
Slightly Mod-ish Outfit. Top, Ben Sherman. Skirt, Marks and Spencer. Bag, vintage. Lipstick, Rosa, Topshop.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Alien Invaders

1.       I don’t really like salmon.
2.      I don’t even really like smoked salmon.
Maybe there are other people on a fish mission. Like me, they’re probably trying hard to like fish. People who don’t like fish are placed in the “hasn’t quite grown up yet/ hasn’t acquired any taste” camp. They sit alongside the other children people who don’t like red wine or olives. A lover of the good life would surely think to themselves: “Oh, she doesn’t like fish. Isn’t that unconscionable! Isn’t that quaint!” They’d chuckle and easily patronise me in their minds.
So, I’ve been on a mission: to make my tastes come of age. I’ve found a fish that you should try if you see it—smoked trout. It has very large flakes like cod, so the texture melts but doesn’t fall apart. It is brined before it is smoked, giving the non fish lover comfort, as it has the familiar scent of bacon. As it is already cooked, there is no "AHH! I never cook fish. How do I cook it?" panic. Simply warm it.

On its own, the colour makes smoked trout look like an anemic cousin of salmon. I prefer to think of it as subtler. The basil sprig is cheesy, but it needed a colour contrast, I felt. This was the amount of smoked trout from one whole trout, which was about 8 inches long. It cost £3 and was enough for two large portions.
Smoked trout also marries well with other fish classics: tartar sauce, new potatoes and peas. Especially if you're on a bit of a fish mission, there's no need to go more exotic, the fish is powerful enough.

If you really don’t like fish, mix it with some crème fraiche or cream cheese for a smooth, rich dip for bread.

And if you’re lucky, as I was, the fishmonger likes that you ask questions and offers you some free crayfish, hoping your custom will be returned. As American crayfish in British waters, like many non-native species, they have flourished and imposed themselves on the meeker, resigning British crayfish. So, now British fisherman and ecologists want the alien invaders out. They’re sweet, soft and quite complex in flavour. They don't just look like langoustines or lobsters, they taste that way. You play with the claws and bash them to get to the fine meat. Add a Marie Rose sauce (ketchup and mayonaise) and the smoked trout and you’ll feel like you’ve had a summer-y, seaside meal in France, or wherever they do things right and perfect.

Clockwise from left: crayfish, Marie Rose sauce, smoked trout, new potatoes, peas, tartar sauce.

Let me know if you can help me further on my fish mission.

The main claw on our right is very sharp. These crayfish are a bit like medieval knights: fearsome attacking sword on one side, shield for defense on the other.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Closest I’ll Come to London Fashion Week or Any Fashion Week

As all fashion media types are throwing around their comments about NYFW or LFW, I’ll remain working in rural England. This was as close as I got-- a visit to Somerset House, a week ahead of London Fashion Week.

If you see any off-duty model shots or “street” style photos, they’re generally in front of Somerset House. Somerset House is a beautifully proportioned neo-classical London building, home to the Royal Academy of Arts, not exactly a scruffy street where one expects to find experimental street style. Its huge size and enormous courtyard mean that it is physically far from any street. Still, I was prepared to be asked to have my picture taken and answer all kinds of questions about the collections, what I’m wearing, my style, must have autumn items, the most interesting trends, etc.. I’d even settle for a “Gosh, it’s raining” comment.
Note the large chasm between me and the stone wall, surely a metaphor for the distance between myself and London Fashion Week. Even the bright orange and cobalt print are overwhlemed by grey stone. 

Top, Warehouse. Earrings, Accessorise. Orange Pencil Skirt, 1980s Marks and Spencer. Bag, charity shop.
Alas, the only other “photographers” around were a group of women wearing fluorescent pink hats, on a hen night. For now, I’ll have to remain an elusive influence on London Fashion Week.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Mr Blue Sky

Long weekends in the summer merit repose and leisure, ideally near water. The Thames, with its green paths, and distant fields acts as the model English riverside. I wasn’t trying to go nautical with my outfit and match the water, but I think I succeeded. I found the dress at a local charity shop and liked the royal blue, mid-length pleats and slight boatneck and sleeve.

It has a bit of a Wallis Simpson feel to it in its shape, but I feel she would have had something like this in black or tan, and worn it with some fabulous brooch. As a 1980s item the dress came with the most hideous matching jacket—not the one pictured below. The gigantic bodied jacket made me look like a cross between a Weight Watchers before picture and a morning chatshow presenter in 1985. Either way, the dress would be accompanied by other notice me 1985 items: the teased auburn perm, the magenta eyeshadow and plastic, yellow hoop earrings.
I preferred the late 1930s to early 1940s aristocratic look instead. I thought the lengthy necklace and earrings echoed the vertical pleats well.

The nautical buttons of the blazer and the Chanel 2.55 style chain give the look a bit of hardware.

These pictures were taken near Henley, home of the famed regatta. It's a great place to play the Spot the Toff game. By the Thames path I can also guarantee you sightings of runners, ramblers and English Springer Spaniels.

Henley is sufficiently posh to even provide a Rolls Royce as backdrop. I'm not actually touching the car. The widened eyes show my slight fear that an intense character might tell me off for being too close to his classic car. In fact, I met the owner in the pub and he was appropriately cocky, happy to brag. Quote of the day: "I buy and sell luxury cars for a living. Usually ones more unusual that that."
Dress, charity shop. Blazer, from South Korea, where girls wear the sharpest blazzers. Bag, marc b (from a charity shop too). Audrey Hepburn style ballet flats, Kurt Geiger. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Would You Like A New Cousin? Cousin Jamie perhaps?

I have a few adopted uncles. They include: James May, Steve Martin, Noel Gallagher and Stephen Fry. They impart their wit, wisdom, cynicism and life experience onto me. They gently guide me through life's travails, with stories and an awareness of history. I also have a few imaginary casual boyfriends including Jude Law, Russell Brand and Jason Segel who also amuse me. But I haven't had a new cousin for a long time. Until this morning, I didn't see a need. This morning I began to question previously unasked questions.

Would my life be improved by a new cousin or just more complicated? How might my siblings or other cousins react to this great change? Would they even have to know? Would my parents want a new nephew?

Selfishly, I decided that I might let Jamie himself decide whether he wanted to consider becoming my new cousin. Below is the letter I have drafted. What do you think? Am I patronising the young man by calling him an "almost adult cousin?"

Dear Jamie,

I hope you are enjoying your summer and feeling refreshed for a new year at school.

I am writing to inform you that I would like to adopt you as my new cousin. I understand you are a cousin to many and indeed advertise yourself as a cousin. I have thought about the role of the cousin that is nearly an adult. What does it mean to be an almost adult cousin in contemporary life? 

They are sometimes expected at family occasions, but are generally expected to look bored or be otherwise occupied by youthful things. So, you wouldn't have to do much. This is more or less the role you currently have in my life. So things wouldn't change. 

I have other cousins who might provide you with a reference as to my character. But, I'm not the model cousin either. 

If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at:

Yours Faithfully,


Or should I say COUSIN Lauren.?

Loyal Readers, I think you too might want to write Jamie a letter. But you're too late. I was first. But to understand what you might otherwise miss, listen to his songs. First, is his "Ambition."

"Testosterone" gives some insight into the young man's mind:

Finally, "Middle Class Rapstar" explores the powerful idea of the struggle for a young middle class boy to truly make it as rapstar. Life does pose obstacles.

A Little Bit of History

One of the things I love about England is that there are reminders of human history everywhere. The best spot I know for picking plums is near this sweet church in Croxley Green, Hertfordshire.

Inside of the church the walls are white and the ceiling on one side is this shade of cornflower blue, the colour in the background of the sign . The other side of the ceiling is painted a burnished, brick red, to match the floor tiles pictured below. The colours highlight the dark wooden beams and pews.

Note the Tudor looking floor of the church. The Victorians wanted new churches to look like medieval. Do you think they succeeded here? 

These are the foraged plums. A crumble was made and enjoyed. 

Outside of the church, in the middle of the sidewalk, there is a standard planter. In fact, it was originally a trough designed to give horses and people clean drinking water.

The green part is the water spout and the circle in the middle of the green piece turns the water on. The green ring on the right hand side used to hold a cup that you would use and put back. Many of these fountains are still working. Not this one, but there is now lottery funding to restore these fountains for working use. Charming, I think.  

Even in 1901, public services such as sewers were not yet developed in London suburbs like Croxley Green, near Watford. Beer was widely drunk as it was cleaner than water. Equally, it sounds like a wonderful myth for the men to perpetuate to their wives. The scene went something like this:
[Uttered in your best, old-fashioned English accent.]
ELEANOR:              Dear, you seem thirsty. Shall I get some water from the well?”
HORATIO:              No, thank you dear, you wouldn’t want me to get sick from the water, would you? It’s terribly contaminated, you know. I do think I must go to the pub and get some proper beer. Mustn’t get sick now. 
ELEANOR:             [Concerned] Heavens no! You mustn’t. You will look after yourself, won’t you?  
HORATIO:              [Deadpan] Yes, I’ll try. [Pause] Bye, bye then. [Horatio exits, leaving for the pub]

Quite young by English standards, as it was built in 1870, All Saints Parish Church, reminds one of the recent history of the community. The pews are virtually all engraved with a name, back when people would have had a family pew. On all of the pews are these embroidered cushions. The dates mark the passing of a loved one.
Who do you think MPE was? My money is on Mary Phillippa Edwards.

You can imagine the committed church ladies spending hours embroidering them, careful not to make a single mistake. Hundreds of cups of tea later, you would be finished one and you would tell Rose excitedly. "Oh, that's lovely. Doesn't that feel good? Alice had already produced five."

Near the entrance of the church, is this “Roll of Honour” or War Memorial. Poignantly, it was given to the church with names inscribed in June 1917. You wonder how many more men died before Armistice Day 1918. Names were added after the Second World War too. I picture one widow, whose husband died in the Great War, now also seeing her child’s name inscribed on the Roll of Honour.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Preserving Summer

“The other country, is it anticipated or half-remembered?”
      – Carol Ann Duffy, In Your Mind, from The Other Country.

Places have their own tastes.
Watching Jamie Oliver often leaves me exasperated. His passion for Italian food means that he is scrupulous in his use of authentic Italian ingredients. He forgets that his audience reside outside Italy. Bresaola*, porcini mushrooms and squid ink (to dye your pasta black!), are not exactly reasonably priced or widely available. This is logical; they’re not produced here.
I look forward to these regional tastes when I am elsewhere. The taste of corn, barbeque, peaches and blueberries mark August in Canada, for me. After seeing this cocktail Californian Emily Shulman of cupcakes and, I knew what I had to do when I was in Canada. Make peach vodka.
Even if peaches do not grow readily where you’re from, this is still a sweet reminder of summer. I think it would make fine Christmas presents too, if you dare think ahead.
My recipe is probably closer to Peach Schnappes. This was my Mum’s summer drink of choice for years and it feels beautifully 1980s. How many times can you think of other quintessentially 1980s things and say 1980s and beautifully together?

Peach Vodka Recipe
4 large peaches
½ cup of sugar (Omit the sugar and water if you’re more of a food puritan. I think it brings out the peach flavour and juice more.)  
1 cup of water
375 mL of vodka (don’t bother buying anything expensive; you’re just flavouring it).

Slice peaches and cut them into small chunks (use your largest cutting board-- I ran out of space with my attractive but smaller wooden one). 

I bought some white peaches unknowingly. I leave the skins on to colour the liquor.

Put the chunks into a saucepan and add the sugar and water. Heat to dissolve the sugar and mash the peaches for a couple minutes to try to get as much juice as you can out of them.

Put them into a large bowl and let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Add vodka. Cover with cling film.

After a couple days or about a week, strain the liquid from the peach mush. Scoop out the more solid chunks** of peach from the liquid.

Get another large bowl for the finished peach vodka to strain into. Put a coffee filter or cotton muslin cloth/j cloth overtop of a strainer or just the bowl to strain the smaller bits from the liquid.

This liquid is the finished product. The colour is more rosy and less opaque in person. I only strained mine once so there are miniscule bits of peach when you look at the liquid closely. I like to think of it as evidence that it's homemade.
 If you want your vodka free from any bits, you should probably strain it 2-3 times. 

If you want to impress your foodie friends or want the taste to be less sweet, you could easily add a few sprigs of mint, basil or thyme to the peaches when you’re heating the mixture up and giving the vodka time to be flavoured.  A couple of vanilla pods would also look attractive in the bottle that you ultimately put the drink in. 
This drink is supposed to be an intensely peach drink. Use fewer peaches or a larger bottle of vodka if you would like a more subtle peach flavour, closer to the peach vodka commercially available.

Happy Indian Summer (I hope).

*My dictionary did not know how to spell this foreign word.
** My Mum thought the peach chunks would be great with some ice cream and a drizzle of the Peach Vodka. I would trust a Peach Schnappes aficionado.