Friday, July 30, 2010

Temple stroll

Some pictures from the other evening, when I sauntered from the Temple area over to Fleet Street, enjoying a lovely mix of architectural styles that spanned centuries, linked by narrow cobbled lanes.

As wind vanes go, this ship was particularly striking: pointing out to the river, glinting in the evening sunlight.

"We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves." — William Hazlitt

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gift of light

I was at Spitalfields market recently, and fell in love with the work of alefs in wonderland. It's a mix of treaty stuff: calligraphy, papercuts, little fecky magnetic things that you can play with... but it was the mix of pomegranates and candles that especially appealed.

I have a thing for pomegranates: taste, texture, but especially their symbolism. With their myriad crimson glossy seeds and blood-esque juice, they inspired myths and allegories in Greek, Persian, Syrian and Armenian civilisations (actually, pretty much everyone adopts them, sooner or later), and they endure through Jewish, Islamic and Christian art, unfurling in margins of manuscripts, woven into tapestries. I imagined having one of Alef's stylised pomegranate trees, all silvery by day and shimmery by night...

Little did I know, one had already been ordered as a birthday present (thanks, Sara!) :-) And so it stands, evocative of fertility, and dark tales, and so much more.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dressing it up

In Hamley's olde worlde toye shoppe last week, I paused at this display:

How is cleaning classified as roleplay? Surely it's just regular adult behaviour, like brushing your teeth.

I checked around, to see if there were also flouncy dresses for the laydees and martini glasses for the hardworking-husbands-returning-from-work, in case we were roleplaying 1950s America. But no, it seemed to be just a random selection of plastic cleaning implements.

Needless to say, the demonstration area of Super Bubble Guns held more appeal for me. All those shiny sparkly bubbles, filling the air with their iridescent loveliness...


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Absolut Pleasure

Lovely evening with friends - we met at Waxy O'Connor's (quirky Irish bar), then on to Satsuma for a beautiful Japanese meal.

And then it was time for the Absolut Ice Bar. In a Ronseal kinda way, it's a bar, carved entirely from ice. And not simply carved, but artistically sculpted - within the ice are octopi and fisshies and coral. Even the drinks glasses are carved. Visitors are given a thermal cape and get 40 minutes to explore the place and sample the delights.

Emerging from the Ice Bar, life felt very warm indeed. Garlands of lights draped the street, giving Mayfair a positively Madeiran feel. We sat out in the sultry evening, chatting and laughing, savouring a zingy cosmopolitan. Then home, for it was a school night after all.

Lovely birthday. Thanks to my family and friends for the oodles of good wishes; you made the day supertreaty.

All my love XXX

Monday, July 26, 2010

From Commonwealth to Cake

Rounding up from Friday: Sara & I met up with the Lady of Enigma for a pub quiz in the basement of the Commonwealth, which was great fun (and two of us, when faced with difficult questions, had the fall-back position of: "Hey, we're Irish. If you haven't thrown over your colonial oppressors yet, that's your problem").

So, flumpy Saturday was followed by busy Sunday: Dartford for major catch-up with friends (it's been 12 yes 12 years) & gorgeous Birthday lunch with fabulous children, then The Duke of York's Theatre for Ghost Stories, a play done by The League of Gentlemen folk. Very very well staged; great control of audience's anticipation and fears, and several jump out-of-your-seat moments.

And as for the Birthday Day proper: brownies from the Fabulous Baking Lady arrived in the post, complete with candles! High caffeine & sugar morning, followed by afternoon tea. Note from the photo that the cream is atop the jam and not vice versa, which means I'm Devonian and not Cornish. And underneath the dollops of cream and rasabee jam is butter, lovingly curled with my butter curler, which travelled over here with me. Because we are not animals :-)

Speaking of which, an incident involving the cream and the kitchen floor, ahem, unified the cats of the house in clean-up duty :-)

Tonight, the city beckons. I may have time to squeeze in a birthday nap, which comes highly recommended after a glass of fizzy.

My humble thanks for the well wishes and cards and treaty phone calls XXX

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Building with Purpose

It strikes me that - hypothetically speaking - if there was a superhero called The Owl, who worked closely with a cartel of the Powers That Be in London, that this is the kind of building they might build, to shine forth a beacon in their darkest hour, when the city was in dire peril.

I'm just saying...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sisters in the City

Yesterday began and ended at Paddington. My sister was over, and in true only-have-one-day fashion, there was a wish list.

We managed to squeeze a bunch in: Harrods, Rigby & Peller, The Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichs (a restaurant I fell in love with from Henry Harris's cook book), Hamley's (with an epic Lego Buzz Lightyear) and miscellanous shops. Great catch-up, fits of giggles along the way, sigh of tolerance when I was more interested in sparkley kitty shop decorations than the handbags for sale. We did the wish list and more, for there was also the V&A, and a wide-eyed wander through Liberty's, with some feather-fun en route.

At one point, I reminded myself that I must get a third copy of the Fifth Floor cook book (a break-up counted for the first, and the second is with all my other books, undelivered. In Portugal somewhere. Away from me). 'Oh, is the replacement cookbook in the s-?' my sister began, then caught herself. 'I call it The Skip,' she admitted, with a cute smile.

And so the nebulous unknown place containing all I-owned-before-now has a name. The Skip.

It's good to be able to laugh about this stuff.

Gorgeous, treasured day :-)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maturing Thoughts

It occurred to me that the kitties are approaching one year of age, and that maybe they warrant being called cats now.

And I went upstairs, where Max had returned from inspecting neighbourhood BBQs...

...and Dubh was in her loopy sleep...

I reckoned that kittydom might come from an approach to life, rather than chronological age. And so for now, the kitties remain kitties. Little noodleheads that they are...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Weekend Round Up

The weekend began with cocktails & delicious Mexican food - chocolate and chilli go so well together!

Yesterday was Nelson Mandela Day at the British Museum: folk worked on a tree of pledges, members of the London Community Gospel Choir held court in the Great Court (and waved hello - I worked with them in the time of Many Moons Ago), and the African garden (courtesy of Kew) was in full splendour.

From there, we were Camden-bound, to soak up the colour (and more specifically, to find a little tribal turquoise bear for a friend, but no luck). When we were all marketed out, we sat at the canal with iced coffees and watched the magic lock creating steps out of water. As the heat left the day, we headed to meet the Laydee of Enigma for a Storytelling Slam in Angel: UK vs USA, five per side, each telling a story for five minutes. It was quite a mix of tales, and if one of them didn't take your fancy, you could gaze on the ceiling, which was made up of light bulbs. Wacky.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nascent Gifts

When going through difficult or traumatic times, I try to steady myself that it serves some purpose: perhaps it's a lesson to learn (or relearn); or it teaches me compassion for others going through something similar. I strive to think that it's somehow for my Greater Good, even if I'm incapable of seeing how or why, right at that moment.

I'll say any old stuff to get me through :-)

Last week, a friend of mine faced such a trauma. It happened to be something I'd gone through some years back. Often we stand as helpless onlookers to friends-in-crisis, but it turned out, there was something meaty & practical that I could do to help. Something that was pretty easy on my part: the Big Trauma experience had dragged me through enough of a learning curve that it felt second-nature. Small effort for me, but it meant a great deal for my friend.

Anyhoo, it got me thinking of those Steadying Thoughts of mine, wondering if they weren't wide enough. Maybe some of the gifts of our suffering are not intended for us at all. Perhaps they come into being so that they can blossom years later for someone else, to light a candle in their darkness.

And of course, we all know how much I love candles :-)

Have a scrumptious weekend, folks X

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heat of the moment

In the bank today, a little queue waited patiently. Three cashier windows were populated, but only two were serving - the closest cashier was immersed in paperwork. My turn came along, and I went to the affable guy at the middle window, and handed over my no-longer-legal-tender £20 notes to be swapped for working ones.

Cashier Guy greeted me pleasantly, and was poised to count out my new notes when a woman appeared at the window where Paperwork Lady was not open for business.

"Yes," she declared loudly, "I was hoping to be served by this lovely gentlemen..."

[indicating my cashier - and for a moment I believed her words]

"...who seems so happy to yawn while he's serving customers..." Her loudness was anger, which instantly filled the small bank.

[Cashier Guy froze and stared, bills fanned in his hand, totally taken aback. I willed breath, peace, patience, calm - whatever - for him. I willed all the same for her.]

"...and shows no interest at all in what he's doing. All he does is..."

Like I said, loud and angry. Calculated to disrupt to the max.

Cashier Guy took a breath, turned back to me and confirmed, ever so professionally: "Sixty pounds, madam?" With steady hands, he dealt the notes out, and said he hoped I had a good day. I left with her voice resounding, in full flow.

Now, maybe he is a total wreck of a bank clerk. Maybe 95% of the time, he yawns and doodles and makes critical mistakes that mean folk miss their mortgage payments. And maybe he needs support or formal warnings or firing. Who knows? Because what happened today won't address any of that. There's a difference between complaint and humiliation; each seek distinct and different outcomes. When we speak in anger - even if we're telling the absolute truth - all others tend to hear is our anger.

I wondered if Angry Lady left feeling glad that she had spoken her mind, satisfied that she'd set that wrong right. Maybe it took a huge amount of courage to walk in there, point out that she had been mistreated. Maybe it helped. Maybe her heart was lighter as a result. Or maybe the anger continued to feed, like fire catching, through her day - through other thoughts, other encounters...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cats, great and small

Cool rainy day here. Earlier today, I was browsing through National Geographic's always-fabulous images, which you can find over here. Paul Nicklen's narwhal shots led me to his other arctic and antarctic work, including this phenomenal encounter with a leopard seal.

This short film explains more of the context. The leopard seal and Nicklen built up an extrordinary relationship over several days. She tried to teach him to fish, and also brought him food (in the form of penguins).

After National Geographic, other photos seem tame. Which in my case, they are :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When you look into the abyss...

...or jump into it, more accurately.

Remarkable film of Guillaume Nery, world champion free diver (yes, one of those Big Blue types). The great darkness into which he dives is Dean’s Blue Hole, the second deepest blue hole in the world. And he did it on a single breath.

Note that it is "fictional", in the sense that it's edited from footage taken over four afternoons of diving. It was filmed by Julie Gautier, who is herself a free-diving champion, and did all the filming 'on breath hold'. Yikes.

And coincidentally, I had a snippet from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage idling around my mind, which I imagine suits free divers quite well:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar...


Monday, July 12, 2010

Such delights...

Word work is at a scene with an art nouveau backdrop, which means I nip online to check some detail and return hours later, dizzied by purdy things, determined to visit the Horta museum when next in Brussels...

...and hoping that someone rescued this fairytale four-hearth fireplace from Tiffany's New York home before they tore the building down.

In Life News, another weekend blinked by... our little group was in Waterloo on Friday (yep, Abba's stuck in my head too); we sampled local delights on Saturday, and Sunday afternoon strolled the leafy avenues of Primrose Hill.

I haven't quite figured out how to define the North-South London divide yet, but I recognise it at least... pondering pondering.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sticks and roses

I was browsing through the books of this house, looking for something by Jorge Luis Borges, a very short story about a rose... but instead I found The Marriage of Sticks by the very wonderful Jonathan Carroll.

Anyhoo, so I leafed through, trying to find the original description of 'the marriage of sticks', which is this:

"When anything truly important happens in your life, wherever you happen to be, find a stick in the immediate vicinity and write the occasion and date on it. Keep them together, protect them. There shouldn't be too many; sort through them every few years and separate the events that remain genuinely important from those that were but no longer are. You know the difference. Throw the rest out.

When you are very old, very sick, or sure there's not much time left to live, put them together and burn them. The marriage of sticks."

I thought about the spectrum of people, the endless variation of lives; how some of us might have a zillion thin spindly sticks, and maybe some might have four, or two, or a single stick, solid and strong.

I went and found the rose story, which is called The Rose of Paracelsus, and coincidentally also features burning as a signifier for your life beliefs. But Paracelsus does not gather up the past; he burns not as a retrospective, but a culmination: 'Every step is the goal you seek'. And in Borges's story, the rose does not stay burned.

Which brought me back to those sticks, wondering if they were so finite after all.

Have a great weekend, all X

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wild Imagination

I remember one conversation years back about medieval bestiaries - I was looking at squarish elephant with a trunk like a trumpet, thinking that it wasn't very 'true to life'. A professor recreated a conversation, with someone explaining to an illustrator what the animal should look like. A lion explanation, for example, might be: "It's a beast, like a cat, but a massive cat, with big claws and a regal, almost-human face, and the male lions have a great head of hair, full like a lady's curls..."

It made perfect sense.

And still, when I see such a rendition that we-in-this-century might justifiably term 'loopy', I like to imagine some medieval artist listening carefully, trying to conjure something he had never seen, like a police Identi-sketch artist - "No, the ears were bigger... eyes wider apart..."

Once you got past the basics, the mythic elements awaited. Apart from the whole King o'the Beasts status, the major things to know about lions were: (1) they slept with their eyes open; (2) if they were being hunted, they swished over their pawprints with their swishy tail; (3) their offspring were born dead. Yep, that's right. The mother gave birth and watched over the bodies; after three days the father returned and together they roared, breathed or licked life into the cublets.

A smorgasbord for the imagination!

(British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 6r)

(British Library, Royal MS 2 B. vii, Folio 86v)

(Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 308, Folio 96v)

(Teeny image upper-right: Huntington Library, HM 27523, Folio 228r)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


The door dried better than expected; not at all furry or Dougal-esque :-)

I sanded it back and repainted it anyway, obviously, but that was down to my own stubbornness rather than any hirsutism on the door's part.

It's been an overcast, humid day here: the kitties are stretched out either side of me, sleeping so deeply that I can trim their claws without disturbing them. Today's To Do list progresseth...

Back to Word Work for me :-)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paint Misbehavin'

Tum de tum... I've been painting (of the decorating variety), which is something I tend to enjoy. I had to walk away after - on the final coat of the door, with the end in sight - I thought I'd try one of those mini-rollers, to speed up the application (a smidge tricky in this heat).

The roller shed like Dougal, all over the what-had-been-pristine door.

Like I said, I walked away. Washed and tidied. I shall lose myself in words for a few hours, and see what's salvagable later.

I admit I may be prone to exaggeration at times, but if I'd rubbed one of the kitties over the wet paint, it couldn't be worse...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wimbledon Round-up

Well, it was simply deeee-lightful. Having watched tennis for two days, scanning Centre Court crowd scenes for my mother and brother, it was my turn to go to Wimbledon on Friday. Mom and I headed off, and she bumped into Nadal first thing - literally. He had about five security folk escorting him on to the warm-up court. Right, like that's going to stop my mom...

Anyhoo, we headed on to the swanky Debenture terrace for coffee, and watched the champions below, soaking up the oh-so-loveliness of it all. The atmosphere on Centre Court was electric to start off, with the Berdych/Jokovic clash, and built to fever pitch during the Murray/Nadal game. Favourite bizarro shouts from the crowd were:

"Come on, Andy! Come on, England!!" [many quizzical looks, including from the Scottish Murray]
"Come on Andy - do it for Beckham!!" [who was opposite us in the crowd]

Little sigh. Nadal won.

Fabulous few days, filled with laughter and sunshine and fun. Back to slightly-more-sedate normality today, though the sunshine remains.