Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Feelin' brighter

Ahhhhh. Turns out all I needed was a little space to myself, a creativity injection in the form of a short illustration course at Central St. Martins, and a few days of nice weather to cycle in to turn my mood around.

I suppose one of the up-sides to global warming is that, when the oil runs out, there will be no excuse for people not to get on their bikes even in the depths of Winter. Although we'll all be bacon by then, and hopefully the planet will be initialising recovery from the legacy left by the stupidest species ever to walk upright.

Rant over!

So, the cycling. My bike is a big old heavy mountain-bike which takes some beltin'. It is slow - even those miniature folding bikes with wheels the size of plates regularly whizz past me - but I feel safer astride it than I would a dinky little racer, and it copes well with the vast potholes Hackney Council seem to pride themselves on. It has a few lovable quirks, like the way it skips gears when it feels like it, and occassionally decides to lose the chain altogether - what, you didn't want your feet to go flying off the pedals in the middle of a busy intersection?! - and it certainly isn't a good looker.

Still, I have become strangely attached to my flawed hunk of (semi) working metal parts, and it has brought me much happiness.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The January Slumps

Every January since I arrived here in London, they print the same article in all the papers about how crap this time of year is: a time of failed resolutions, bleak days, break ups and bad moods. What is left of the Christmas spirit is lying in the gutter waiting to be picked up by the local Council. An atmosphere of heavy gloom hangs over the city, as though gravity's pull has become stronger, turning down people's mouths and dragging their shoulders towards the pavement.

Now some utter nobody at Cardiff Uni has come up with a "forumula" to prove The True Shitness of January (this seems to be the latest media spin on making something completely undefinable sound more scientific): 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA


W = Weather
D = Debt
d = Money due in January pay
T = Time since Christmas
Q = Time since failed quit attempt
M = General motivational levels
NA = The need to take action

Well I can tell you now, Mr. "Part time tutor at Cardiff University" (it doesn't get more reputable than that), my M are at an all time low, the NA becomes more pressing as each day of non-action slips by, and the D isn't worth thinking about.

On the upside, the W has been pretty good, actually - there has been no real cold snap and I have been breaking into a sweat on the bike ride to work.

But truly, this year more than any other that I remember over here, I can appreciate what it is like to be deep in the January Slumps. Each day feels like an uphill struggle, and my creativity has taken a nose dive.

I got those January Slumps reeeeal bad.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Arghh! My stick!

I don't know which is funnier, the the picture of the screaming stick-boy, or the slogan "Danger - fire kills children". Fire eat children! Fire gon' GETCHA!

Am I evil?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Delicious Christmassy cookies

I stole got this recipe from the Saturday Guardian just before Christmas, and have made four batches in a row. That is how good they are.

125gm unsalted butter, melted
100gm golden caster sugar
75gm light muscovado sugar
1 egg
2 tsps vanilla extract
150gm plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
50gm white chocolate, chopped (I used Green & Blacks)
50gm dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 190C and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Put the sugars in a mixing bowl and pour the melted butter in. Add the egg and a splosh of vanilla. Beat until combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Then the chocolate and cranberries. By now you should have a rich, smooth mixture just begging to be licked off the spoon.

Drop heaped, messy dessertspoonfuls of the mixture over the baking sheets, leaving plenty of room in between - they spread like a b*stard. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until just golden. Leave on the baking sheets to harden for a couple of minutes before peeling off.

Oh so good.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where music is born

Picture this: a back room in a beautiful old pub near Newington Green - creaking wooden floor-boards, fairy lights twinkling overhead, reflected in the atrium ceiling. A simple stage is set up with tube lighting running around a small area, with a stool, mike stand and a couple of speakers.

You sink into an old sofa, beer in hand, as the first act runs a sound-check. Slowly, people start filtering in, but not so many that it is crowded or uncomfortable or too noisy. There are plenty of seats for everyone, though the sofas are at a premium. Avoid the old church pews if you can.

You settle in and watch a series of amazing new musicians get up and do their thing, each one with their own particular style and technique and way with their guitar or lyrics. The room ripples with laughter at some witty line, or goes into a kind of awed trance at the intricate sounds one man can make with a guitar. One artist who looks like a woodsman from the 70's urges the crowd to join in at the chorus, and they do; shyly at first. But this a good crowd, mostly made up of friends of the people playing, and they are all eager to support one another.

People of London: I would strongly recommend that anyone in the North East who loves seeing new, live music head down to the Edinburgh Cellars of a Wednesday night, for a lovely, chilled out, and inspiring evening of new music. You can listen to what I heard last night here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A glimmering of sunshine between the clouds

Eurrrgh. I am in the final stages of recovering from an illness which seemed to have taken up permanent residence in my being over the Christmas period. As if January in London wasn't hard enough work!

Rather than whinge, however, I am going to recommend a book which I read in my sick-bed, a book which I have read at least five times previously and a book I hope to be re-reading until the day I die.

(Thank you, goldfish-capacity memory, for the ability to be delighted anew by the same thing, again and again.)

The book to which I refer, my friends, is the autobiography of one Mr. Stephen Fry: the obscurely titled Moab is my Washpot.

More British than Jammy Dodgers, more rendolent of London than black cabs and red double-decker buses passing by Westminster, more English than the Queen Herself. To me, Fry represents the Ultimate English Public-school Chap and All-round Decent Fellow.

He also has a charming and highly distinctive way with words. He is a man in love with the English language, and you can't help but get caught in the champagne bubbles of his enthusiasm. Even when he is talking about his darkest, grubbiest, most shameful moments, he is a pleasure to read.

What does it for me, though, is the honesty with which he chronicles the struggles he went through during his time at school, his sense of being the outsider, and the burning intensity of his emotions. I could identify with that, although my experience was as far removed from that of a posh boy attending boarding school in the English countryside as you could imagine.

However, the story of a "sensitive young weed" (Fry's words) struggling to find her place in the soulless outer suburbs of Melbourne, terrified of getting a "C" for Maths and worried that her art isn't "Arty" enough, doesn't make for such interesting reading. I never managed to get arrested, for a start...

Or did I?!?!
[cue dramatic music]
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