Monday, 31 October 2011

Naval Officer's Sister, Fisherman's Adopted Wife

Horatio Nelson, hero of the battle of Trafalgar, was the sixth of twelve children. One of his sisters was called Susannah. What happened to her, you ask? Being from Norfolk, I imagine her marrying a fisherman, settling in a fisherman's cottage by the sea. On cold days, she tended the fire and was warmed by an Aran, fisherman's sweater. Every couple years, Horatio would stop by. One year he came home with a Norfolk sailor, wanting Susannah to clean him up. He left behind the sailor trousers. The dot print on the navy trousers arrived circa 1963 to Susannah's descendent. They needed to be worn by the sea.

Note the sailor's trousers' buttons at the side. They're a little bit 1940s, minus the print. 

If you want to find some English seaside mythology, head to the Devon village of Budleigh Salterton, on the 'Jurassic' coast, where these photos were taken. On a sunny day, everything will be more sun-bleached; when it's overcast you'll have incredible saturated colour. The red sandstone is moulded and coloured like Petra or the Grand Canyon, and it's a perfect place to find an interesting looking rock for a door stop.

The images below are some of the flowers that also seem to love the wind blasted sandstone hills. Susannah would have sketched them. 

Outfit: Cream cable knit turtleneck, Marks and Spencer (from a Budleigh Salterton charity shop), sailor style flared trousers, Primark (charity shop), red ballet flats (Marks and Spencer). Loose red t-shirt, Topshop. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bad Moon Rising

What are you doing for Halloween? Is the black make-up and fake blood at the ready? Are the pumpkin seeds itching to be roasted and the pumpkin massacred?

To help your preparations and general Halloweening, I have a set list. Watch it as you're eating the trick or treaters treats, or hating Halloween. Things will improve.

1. It has begin with his Royal Gothness, the Prince of Melancholic Angst, Robert Smith. This song, 'Just Like Heaven,' is particularly dedicated to the girls who dress up as a fairies, angels, vampires, zombies, pirates, Alice in Wonderland, or any traditional costume that has a bit of the fantasy about it. I do feel Robert Smith's Heaven is a dark Tim Burton wonderland.   

2. 'Werewolves of London' by Warren Zevon. A song to howl to. Watch the video below for some amazing/terrible werewolf illustrations. And if you see a werewolf enjoying a Pina Colada, or looking at a Chinese menu, don't say you weren't warned by Warren Zevon, the prophet of Halloween mirth.

3. 'The Monster Mash.' The video features creaky doors, clanking chains, thunder, and extensive monster B movie clips. Halloween Job done?

4.' C'est l'Halloween.' A rhyming sing-along in French. Some might think I'm not taking Halloween seriously enough, opting instead for the kitsch. I say, only the truly devilish will enjoy this.


5.' Thriller.' An obvious choice for a reason. Opt for the 13 minute version if you want to practise the dance. 

P.S. If you're more into clothes, Forever 21 has a cropped studded red leather-esque Thriller style jacket. Somebody tell the model that she need to wear the rocker look harder.

What are you doing for Halloween? What songs need to be added to the soundtrack? I'd love to hear your choices.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tale of the Pretty in Pink Print

I come from deepest Japanese ceramics, having flirted with chinoiserie, and later dubbed a STATEMENT PRINT. My smooth leaves belied the story of the battle and scramble for light in the forest. At times, the foliage on the print was depicted as an artfully tangled mess and at other times an intense graffitti spray. Regardless of how I was described, I longed for attention. I was initially jealous of the black judo belt; its blackness a symbol of power and authority, but then decided it couldn't compete with the off the shoulder cut and wide, wide sleeves. Some people call them batwing sleeves, but I prefer them to be called ninja angel sleeves. They hide all manner of things (arms notably) and bring movement.

The colours were intense and demanding enough on their own. My owner chose the obvious contrast of dark versus light, the innocent sweetness provided by the white sandals. A heel, especially a hot pink or black heel, would want to compete with the dress, and it would lose. It also might destroy the soft femininity of the fabric which is trying hard to drape like silk, in all its fluid glory. Added jewellery would have a similar sense of tacky excess. Thus, altogether we have a pretty in pink print, suitable for a wedding, date, girls night or walk in the park. Either the birds and bees will be attracted to you, mistaking you for a bright flower, or they'll fly away, fast, as if the Increduble Hulk were being unleashed on their quiet parish.

Outfit: Pink print dress, Zara (not real silk unfortunately but reasonably priced). The most Un-Gladiator gladiator sandals, Clarks.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Get Pierced

The Pierces are some Alabama sisters that have nothing to do with the Tea Party or any of the other nasty connotations the American South may hold. But they do embrace the slightly darker Americana side of music. If you think Caro Emerald is too kitsch or just generally positive sounding music, then explore my other favourite album for the car, The Pierces. Their album 'You and I' explores how love pricks you, its betrayals, jealousies and its devotion.

The Pierces are Alison and Catherine Pierce and their harmonies blend magically, sometimes eerily, the way that family members voices collide, understand each other and contrast against each other. They've been compared to The Mamas and the Papas for these harmonies. Occasionally there is something of the 'California Dreamin on such a winter's day' spirit, in the sense that there is disturbance among the lyrics, mood and seemingly innocent melodies. Similarly, there is a bit of Stevie Nicks' seething edge and oblique desire within their songwriting. The lyrics to the opening song begin sweetly enough in a pastoral scene as the woman envisions a picnic with her partner: 'We can bring a blanket for the grass..We could watch the blackbirds cross the skies.' Soon enough she is also declaring 'prick your finger on the spinning wheel/But don't make a sound.' This idea of the need for secrecy in love and the darkness ever present is carried throughout the album.

This is music for twilight (the time of after dusk, not the teenage angst series, though it would probably suit an intense kiss scene between Edward and Bella). 'The Good Samaritan' sounds like a dark lullabye June Carter Cash might have had in her head in her very dark period. The lyrics admit that it was 'A sorry thing...that fell out of your hands.' Although The Pierces like a bit of folk preaching, there's a dark dance feel to their records. I know it sounds wrong or like some awful Florence and the Machine wailing, but it's not. The women can sing and they can control their voices and emotions. You're left wanting to know the story and read into the mystery, rather than run away from it.   

Keeping It Real

How much do you hate C.G.I.? How much do you hate that the film industry has replaced writing, acting and storyline with special effects? A lot, I hope. I love escapism and fantasy but I also like to have a sense of mood and emotion. Somehow special effects rob filmmakers of the knowledge that people have imagination, creativity and sensory perception. I think of 70s horror films with their intense use of music, lighting and sometimes real graphic disturbances as particularly intense. Would special effects or some flat animated creatures make them any better? Of course not.

In the spirit of keeping it real I wish to present to you the genius of sound effects; a human sound board, the Right Honourable Mr Michael Winslow. He's the guy who created the sound effects for Police Academy. Here he performs an incredible version of the seemingly inimitable Led Zeppelin beauty, Whole Lotta Love. The clip is from a Norweigian show that looks like a Norweigian style Conan O'Brien, called Senkveld. Norweigian and Conan O'Brien don't naturally go together. If you know anything about Senkveld or Norweigian comedy, or even how or why they ended up with Micheal Winslow as a guest, let me know. Did he marry a Norweigian model perhaps?


Monday, 17 October 2011

Dinner Party Music

The idea of Dinner Party Music is that it should help create a warm, sparkling, heightened atmosphere and at the same time, be accessible. It should be there to inspire smiles and laughter, but only occasionally noticed. Invariably, Dinner Party Music also reeks of being inoffensive, spiritless dross. Imagine a terribly dull contemporary Margot from The Good Life not wanting to raise any eyebrows. Outside of Come Dine With Me, I don’t know anyone who really has a Dinner Party, which is completely different from our supposedly low-key versions of so and so’s coming for dinner. Yet I think I’ve found some perfect Dinner Party Music and almost want to host a Proper Dinner Party. If the idea of the Dinner Party also intimidates you, I’d also like to emphasise that this is great driving on the motorway music. Or getting ready music. Or just good music.
You’ve probably already heard Caro Emerald. Her album is called Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor.

Inside the album sleeve is a short story to explain each fantastical scene for the audience. It’s really worth buying the cd, rather than a download, to read the tantalising tales. There’s a smoky night at the Copacabana, tension in occupied French Saigon, and a light drive in a 1956 Sunbeam in Riviera Life. Riviera Life recalls this sweet afternoon drive in a hot convertible. The narrator explains how: ‘You clear my face so I can feel the breeze.’
If Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina never went back to the Larrabee’s in Connecticut, but instead found a Frenchman to drive her down to the Med, this would be the moment she would share with him. 
Caro Emerald is Dutch and sings jazzy, dance-y numbers (and doesn’t sing with a Dutch accent). If you like a pencil skirt, red lip or smoky eye, this is music for you. That’s not to say it’s only for the Mad Men or Philip Marlowe loving types. It has a retro lounge feel to it but it’s mixed with modern beats.

Emerald’s voice has a classic big band jazz singer sound to it: it’s pure, playful and slips over melodies, sometimes softly, sometimes with a strong slap. The opening song, ‘That Man’ definitely conforms to the “Let's Get This Party Started” album philosophy. Emerald quickly and sharply sings of how ‘Ooh that man is like a flame/And ooh that man plays me like a game.’ The theme of the danger, game and mystery of love is developed throughout the album. You’ll find yourself singing along and bopping to the easy lyrics, melodies and fat bass sounds. The songs are accented with brass instruments that add bounce.
The only naff moment on the album occurs when there is some DJ scratching. Somewhere between 1992 and 1997, songs had a moment when there would be scratching or a rap out section, which we were supposed to think was amazing. There’s one of those moments (thankfully there isn’t a rap) but it’s really the only moment to make you groan, and it’s at the end of a song.
Back It Up sounds like a song that the Brand New Heavies would have liked to have written, if they had have been better. The liner notes set the scene in New Orleans in 1951. There’s some scatting, horns, funk and general hijinks.
Overall, I think this cd makes a great gift for a woman. It has taste, personality and takes you to scenes where you’d like to be. 8/10 (a 9 would have to be life-changing).

Monday, 10 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s become a bit of an international man of mystery. He used to write love letters to New York. Now he’ll write a love letter to Barcelona, London, and most recently, Paris. Most Woody Allen fans harp back to the supposed Golden Age of Woody Allen- think Annie Hall, Manhattan, Husbands and Wives... The Golden Age usually ends with Manhattan Murder Mystery. I never subscribed to the thesis that he used to be so much more witty, well-observed, literary, genius, absurd, or whatever adjectives you associate with Allen. If you do look back on his Golden Age though, Midnight in Paris would be a useful film for you to see. Indeed, I want you and anyone else to see this film and understand why people love Woody Allen.
Midnight in Paris follows Gil, a Hollywood hack (played by Owen Wilson) and his vapid fiancé, Inez (played by Rachael McAdams), as they visit Paris with her comically rich parents. Gil feels he’s never given writing a serious shot and dreams of becoming a real writer in Paris, walking in the rain. Like any tourist and foreigner the Paris he dreams of is the romantic world of the imagination. His particular nostalgia is for Paris in the 1920s, what he feels was its Golden Age.
Following a night of wine tasting and avoiding Inez, her parents, and her friends, he begins to wander the streets of Paris. At the stroke of midnight he is picked up by a 1920s car and arrives at a party to meet Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Over the next few nights, he meets Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, the entire literary scene and a perfectly French art groupie, Adriana (played by Marion Cottillard). He falls in love with her and the artistic world of Paris.
Adrianna and Gil strolling by the Seine, as the city works its magic.

The alternative reality and its glorious cast of characters inspires his writing, as he becomes increasingly detached from his fiancé. Unfortunately, Gil has to endure the artifice of his dead relationship during the day before he can return to the glee of 1920s Paris at midnight.
Wilson is a great protagonist as he’s likeable, modest and a romantic. Pleasingly, he's also conscious of the absurdity that he gets to live his fantasy. McAdams plays the superficial Inez perfectly, rarely giving Gil much eye contact, not letting him touch her, speaking in short, sharp sentences and comparing him unfavourably to a rival. Allen’s direction and writing seem to have created his vision of the marriage that shouldn't be very well.

Can you see their mutual exasperation and irritation with each other?
 Allen opens the film with loving, still images of Paris, and we too are ensnared by its beauty.
Midnight in Paris is a perfect date film, and a cute romantic comedy that men will be happy to see. Paris will do a rigorous tourist trade on the back of this film. Go out for something to eat or a drink and you’ll feel like you’ve had a romantic weekend away there too.  

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Short Summer

Now that the weather has turned decidely autumnal, I thought I would slap you and your wind-beaten face with reminders of the beautiful British weekend.

Yes, the great British summer is indeed short. This has the effect of all the summer wares you get in the sale still looking fresh.

If you're scared of shorts, don't worry, my legs are a bit too. These are the only pair of shorts that I own, apart from the sports shorts that sit in my bottom drawer wishing they could go for a run. These pleather ones have a flat fronted obvious waistband, pleats and feel quite flattering on.

I'm fond of this sunshine yellow chiffon top, with its scalloped edges. It is otherwise known as The Chick (as in a baby chicken). The farmyard is not normally my source of inspiratiation. Its shocking colour made it like an attractive, screaming child- hard to ignore and craving love. The gold earrings and necklace were worn mostly so that I could feel something dangling on my skin.

Are you back to being covered up and cozy? Or, do you have '"transitional" pieces?

Outfit: Yellow Top, H&M. Shorts, Warehouse. Gold Swirl Earrings, Marks and Spencer. Tiny Gold Locket, Topshop. Orange Bag, vintage, from my favourite Oxfam (in Rickmansworth). White Gladiator Sandals, Clarks.

If you're in Oxford on a nice day, please go punting, or at least to a riverside pub. I would recommend The Victoria Arms on the basis that it has a huge lawn and they never say anything about it when you bring your own picnic. There were about 10 Marks and Spencer bags spread out about 5 minutes before I took this photo at The Victoria Arms.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Beet It

Although this may look like a blackcurrant fool or some sort of blackberry mousse, it is in fact a beetroot and walnut pesto. Beetroot dip, really. Its idea came from my local food festival in Thame, Oxfordshire. I was allured by something with a pretty berry colour and then tasted how incredible it was. Then I asked the price. It was one of those moments when you politely walk away and then privately deem it so extortionately priced that it influences you to do it yourself. Consumer outrage is a beautiful weapon.
Beetroot is one of those vegetables that I love yet rarely eat. This recipe makes me crave beetroot, or at least its walnut dip form. It’s sweet, nutty, creamy, and the basil and garlic give it piquancy. I’m sure you don’t need the parmesan, but I think it adds just a bit more depth and creaminess.
Television chef Gino D’Acampo’s explains the glories of Italian food as providing: “Minimum Effort for Maximum Satisfaction.” I think this simple starter or snack fits the bill. It works really well with toasts rubbed with garlic.
It’s the texture of a slightly chunky hummus and I’m sure it would work equally well with pitas. I’ve heard the flavours make a good sauce for mackerel. (My fish mission isn’t quite far enough along to vouch for this though.)
It would make an elegant canapé in a cos lettuce leaf, with or without beef, and maybe even a dash of horseradish sauce.
Beetroot Dip Recipe
1 ½ cups cooked beetroot
½ cup toasted walnuts
½ clove of garlic
3 sprigs of basil
2 teaspoons of parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons or large drizzles of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Makes just over 1 cup of finished dip; about the size of a small hummus container.
If you have a food processor, just put it all in together and slowly add the oil as the rest of the mixture combines. I think the texture is nicest when you can still taste tiny bits of the different elements, rather than it being completely smooth. Add salt and pepper according to your taste, and more oil, if you think it needs it.

I just have an inexpensive stick hand blender, so I chopped everything small before trying to use the hand blender. It worked fine.