Friday, April 18, 2014

The Sunday Book: Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch

I have a proper Sunday Book in the pipeline so this is just a quicky but I wanted to spread the joy. Dianne turned me on to Ben Aaronovitch and his Rivers of London series and I accidentally read the first two books in about three days. I actually rarely read funny, fast paced, adventure type books in print (I get those hits from fic) and I had forgotten what a pleasure it is. I have included the blurb for Rivers of London (Book 1) and a few of my favourite quotes below but I just wanted to add that a) these properly made me grin on the tube, b) they are very London-centric which I enjoyed but might be alienating? c) the plotting is sharp and the characters are delightful, d) if you really want 'What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz' (as per one of the cover quotes) you should just re-read Drop Dead Gorgeous/The Way We Get By which are obv the pinnacle of that genre.

(We have a new laptop. It has a forward facing camera because we are MODERN. Hence the high quality book selfie)(Why isn't the singular selfy?)

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. 
Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden... and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. 
The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.
"Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the 'London once-over' - a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport - like base-jumping or crocodile wrestling."

"On duty as uniformed doorman that day was Gurcan Temiz of Tottenham via Ankara. As a typical Londoner, Gurcan had a high tolerance threshold for random thoughtlessness; after all, if you live in the big city there's no point complaining that it's a big city, but even that tolerance has its limit and the name of that limit is 'taking the piss'."


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Food Reviewed: Pizza Pilgrims

There is a tragic lack of good pizza in London. I mean, there's an enormous amount of crap pizza but really really good, authentic pizza is surprisingly rare for a massive metropolis. When you consider how many smart burger and ramen places there are it's ridiculous. Pizza is not 'on trend' but how is that possible?? Great pizza is always in fashion. When done properly it is reasonably healthy (more or less - if you don't eat carbs you can leave my house), quick and delicious. It's a smart way to demonstrate skill and high quality ingredients. And, also, it is super delicious. It is the perfect fast food and I should be falling over wonderful pizza purveyors.

But, no, it is all Pizza Express and Domino's and Pizza Hut and I'd rather have no pizza than bad pizza. I am a pizza snob and I can own that. I've been lucky enough to spend an extended period time in Italy over the years and I know that I am due more than hot dog stuffed crust *shudder*. I want a base that is both crisp and chewy, I want to be able to actually see and taste a naturally sweet tomato sauce, I want puddles of stretchy, creamy mozzarella and, yes, I want olive oil and some basil. That is not too much to ask. I have eaten perfect margaritas in Italian city, towns and hill top villages. They are not an impossible dream. Once I was presented with a heart shaped pizza and it was pretty much the highlight of my life. Carb-based seduction is the ultimate seduction.

So for the last two and a half years, between sporadic trips to Italy, I have been surviving on Franco Manca. They're very Italian (service is negligent at best), the pizza is excellently priced and they have an interesting topping selection (not relevant to me but apparently important when dining with non-margarita purists) with great ethics. The pizzas are mostly excellent but for a long time they only had very non-central locations. Brixton was my Franco Manca of choice and I have never lived or worked anywhere that it wasn't a trek from. I have eaten a lot of FM pizza but the locational inconvenience did put a dent in my desired level of pizza eating. You just don't always want to haul arse down to Brixton (or Chiswick!).

Finally there is a viable alternative though! Pizza Pilgrims have opened a bricks and mortar pizzeria in Soho with extensive seating and it is getting an official thumbs up from me. In truth, I was wary of it because I had eaten their pizza back when they were just a wee pizza van (appropriately an apé) and I was not impressed. A mobile pizza oven is just not a smart idea to me - it is too difficult to generate the requisite heat. Pizzas are not demanding food but they need a bit of preparation space and a hot hot oven, 500oC hot with space for the air to circulate, and an apé, as much as I love them, was never going to fit the bill. I remember finding the van pizza decidedly lacking and shedding a solitary tear as I crossed off another potential pizza dream... However, those problems have been remedied by a real cooking set up and the PP pizzas are solid. They seem less prone to slightly under-cooking their pizzas than FM. Both use a sourdough base which is yum but does need a proper cook to prevent it from being gummy around the crusts. I've had gummy crusts (nice) at both PP and FM but it has happened more at FM where the atmosphere is always rushed.

Overall, PP might be the best pizza I've eaten outside of Italy? (Big claim. Would need to revisit that excellent Berlin pizzeria and, sadly, I haven't had an extended opportunity to check out the New York offering which, presumably, aside from the abominable deep pans, are strong. Maybe I should make a pizza pilgrimage to Wales and Glasgow? Strong Italian communities. Any tips?) I've eaten at PP probably five or six times in the last two or three months and it gets my vote. Good pizza, easy access - if you can get there before 7 you don't even have to queue. Plus, it's three minutes walk from Gelupo, my favourite place in the world. N.B. PP do serve Gelupo but it is worth the brief walk for the full range of flavours - the Rhubarb Crumble they've been serving for the last few weeks is top notch.

If you have a London pizza favourite pleeeeeease let me know. I am not a one pizza girl. My fondness for PP doesn't mean I'm going to stop eating FM. Ideally I want to be able to find a great pizzeria within ten minutes walk at all times. The more good pizza the better.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Sound: Summer Jams (not fruit)(not summer)

It is grey and pathetic outside but there is no denying that spring is in the smoggy London air. I am dying of hay fever and the skies are full of Saharan dust but it is worth it. The merest suggestion of good weather to come does magical things to my mood. I shed a layer of grumpiness with each layer of clothing.

In the spirit of a burgeoning spring that will one day become summer (because summer is unimaginable deep in a drizzling English winter) here are some proto-summer jams. I find it impossible not to dance to these. Project for the summer - learn the Busy Earnin' dance. So good.

Monday, March 31, 2014


My extreme and particular interest in fashion has waned slightly over the last few years. That isn't to say it is gone, just that I may only be up to date with 40% of any given season rather than 70%. This decline in interest has probably been matched proportionally by an increased interest in interior design. This does make me feel super old but there is a degree to which it must be inevitable - as your living situation improves (which it hopefully does as you get older) you're going to be more concerned with making and keeping it nice. When you are living in disgusting, mouldy student accommodation and packing everything into boxes every nine months it doesn't make sense to buy furniture or make long term interior decisions. You work with what you've got and try to make it as pleasant as possible for the short year you are there with as much as you can fit in the back of your parents' car. We've been in our flat for nearly three years now though and I only want to nest more not less. I want to mould it into my perfect space so I can snuggle in and never leave (practical hermit impulses). I can scour ebay and etsy and junk shops for a rug here, a print there, some charming ephemera everywhere.

If I followed my natural instincts (and had bottomless pockets) I would acquire a beautiful but strange collection of stuff and styles that might initially be charming but would probably soon become scary and overwhelming as I blocked the way to the outside world with taxidermied animals and fan chairs and hand dyed wall hangings and mahogany dressers. [Man, that sounds awesome! Our flat is never going to survive this...] So in a partial attempt to discipline myself and learn from people with better taste than me, and also just to wallow in the loveliness/have a good nose, I've been browsing lots of design and interiors sites recently - design*sponge, freunde van freunden, the design files, coffeeklatch... 

There is lots of inspiration here and so many beautiful houses and such exquisite taste BUT but, far too often, no bookshelves!! Where do minimalists keep their books? Even those with more eclectic, cluttered taste often only have a single stack of coffee table books artfully arranged. I don't get it. I need books like breathing. Books make a home. All I want is to be surrounded by books at all times. So it is with great excitement that I save down the few and far between online who actually own and display their books. I bookmark them, if you will. These are the houses I most want to live in, the ones I could maybe one day see myself owning, in all their bookly glory.

Dosfamily : Swiss cheese plant, perfect reading chair, messy and eclectic shelf contents, perfect use of space (max bookshelves are always the best way to use space).

Lee Mathews - The Design Files : beautiful rug, sterling pillow selection, statement lighting (because you can't read in poor light), acres of books and vinyl.

Nicolas Schuybroek - CoffeeKlatch : mid century furniture, flowers and coffee table books, grand dark wood and precise book arrangement.

Our book situation is nowhere near as idyllic. There are no built in shelves and no possibilities for any such in the near or middle distance future. We only have two proper sized bookshelves (one of which leaned at a strong 45 degree angle until we finally replaced it a few weeks ago) and a great many floor piles. Still, our latest bookshelf is sizable and completely upright and I had a lovely chance to rearrange my shelves (that was a great night in, I am so supremely middle aged, it's bliss). I dislike colour coding books on principle and I didn't feel like mimicking my strictly alphabetical scheme from my family bookshelves. It's actually quite inflexible and difficult to work with on a small scale, you end up having to move the contents of three shelves to fit in one more G author and do you alphabetize the floor piles? Instead I went in rough sections - History & Biography, Cookbooks, Food & Travel, Hardbacks and favourites with spare paperbacks slotted into the remaining spaces. Read and unread are jumbled up and if I can't find something immediately I will learn soon enough. Then the deep shelves were filled up with favoured things and I smile every time I look at them. So much loveliness. How can anyone live without this?

If you have any shelving inspirations/favoured design sites do send them my way. This is an obsession I'm pretty happy to feed.

Chuck x

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pearl Maiden

The Girl with a Pearl Earring / Louise Brooks
Coco Chanel / Mary I with La Peregrina

I love pearls. I love their lustre and their cultural history and their unknowability. Given how much beautiful and important jewellery has been made with pearls in the past it is surprisingly difficult to find exciting, modern pearl jewellery. Pearls often get bogged down by the twinset association but Sophie Bille Brahe has made them irresistibly desirable. I want her entire SS/14 collection, it's so fresh. It is gorgeous and completely contemporary - cuffs, bars, mismatched piercings and doubled rings. Also, beautifully shot and styled. Presumably if I wear SBB's jewellery I will be as luminous as both her pearls and her model?

Chuck x

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Sunday Book: The Group - Mary McCarthy

Oh no... I lost my roll. I read The Group weeks ago and was totally intrigued by it but didn't write any notes and now I can't do it justice. To be a better, more observant, more punctual human. I'm going to patch something together though because the novel is bitter and hilarious and fascinating and more than worth posting.

Published in the 1960s and set in the 1930s, the novel traces the post-college years of a group of Vassar students. I read this book based on an online recommendation (can't remember whose, sorry) and it is a perfect demonstration of the importance and validity of online conversations about books read, enjoyed and considered. Occasionally I am struck by the feeling that my book posts are just vapid, narcissistic ramblings, white noise in a sea of white noise, and I should leave literary criticisms to the professionals - paid critics, academics, real writers. But it is unlikely that I would have stumbled across the original reviews (which were largely negative anyway) and few publications are rushing to discuss fifty year old writing by women. Based on the presentation of the current edition and the lack of professional critical conversation I would never have come across or picked up this book and that would have been a shame because it sharp and surprising and great.

I have written before about my disdain for the decisions made in the marketing of books by women and this is a prime example. I would never have picked this book up on it's own because it looks like drivel. The inside and outside of this book (my edition, the current Virago edition, specifically) are completely contradictory! This book should not be presented as chick lit - it shouldn't have a gossipy cover or an introduction by Candace Bushnell or pull quotes from Marian Keyes and Cosmopolitan. I actually have a lot of respect for Keyes and the introduction might be great (I didn't read it because I was too annoyed by the misleading SATC tie in) but they convey a very different kind of book to the one between the covers. Presumably this kind of down-selling makes for good sales but it must also make for a lot of disappointment; those who buy it for some fun, sexy Cosmo adventures are going to be disappointed and those who might actually enjoy it are going to overlook it...

"Married, single, career driven, or just working to pay the bills, the girls all struggle with their own challenges, and none is truly fulfilled in what they do or with what they have. Too intelligent and ambitious to be content with mediocrity, their tragedy is that the world they live in is not equipped to offer them the opportunities they long for, and they realize too late that happiness and fulfillment are not as simple to achieve as they once so naively believed." Rachel @ Book Snob

This isn't a chatty, flirty tale of love and glamour in period New York. This is a brutal examination of the disappointments in store for college educated women in the 1930s. It is engrossed in the gritty reality of these girls' lives, it is a dark, honest look at birth control, unpleasant sex, failing marriages, stumbling careers and shitting babies. There is an almost clinical attention to detail. I was very interested and surprised by how explicit much of it was, not erotic explicit but unflinching, we think we're so much more advanced and open than the 30s/60s but it is a long time since I've read anything so devoid of euphemisms and soft focus.

"It all rang true. She opened a further door into brutal frankness. There was something so crisp and clever and bold about her writing." Claire Tomalin

Oh, and on top of the content, which is remarkable and still feels depressingly relevant, the form of the novel is completely unexpected. This isn't a single linear narrative but a weaving of loosely linked stories. Time skips back and forth and chance encounters, memories and conversations spark each new chapter and connection. There is no heroine, no lead protagonist even, all the girls' lives have roughly equivalent weight although they make very different decisions. You hate them all for their flaws (and your own) and you love them for their moments of charm and honesty. It is beautifully human.

"The Group is easily a masterpiece, a satiric epic depicting in a nuanced, acute prose replete with uncommon wit, a great American tragedy: the unrelenting attack on female ambition. [...] In a brilliantly structured narrative that moves seamlessly forward in time while variously interweaving the lives of these eight women, McCarthy describes in rich and astonishing detail their mundane benchmarks: first love, first rejection, first job, first orgasm, first fight, first diaphragm fitting (which itself has to be a first in literature), first husband, first child, first breast-feeding (best thing I've ever read on the subject), first separation, first divorce, first death. There are no heroines. Each woman is flawed, a product of her particular time and place, striving to be her best, succumbing to her weaknesses with greater regularity. As we follow their overlapping trajectories, we witness each Vassar graduate have -- or deny -- the realization that the only voice she will ever have in the world is confined to denigrated female-identified domesticity. How successful a woman is must ultimately be measured by how content she is to dwell in a world apart. The Group recounts the everyman story of thwarted ambition from the female point of view and it is riveting stuff." Bookslut

If you are interested in reading about women's lives (and why wouldn't you be??) or twentieth century history or simply sharp, funny, truthful observations then I'd recommend checking out The Group. It is a great pleasure to be surprised.

Chuck x

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lady Jam: Kelela

Currently crushing on Kelela. Her mixtape Cut 4 Me has been my go to for the last couple of months and it's flippin' great. Some words: dark, moody, electric, bass, sultry, nu-rnb, stripped back, awesome. There is a really stark sonic weirdness to the tracks that I love. Excellent use of negative space, floating vocals, play it loud. I don't really feel like talking in full sentences but she is great. Download/get excited.

Chuck x

Monday, March 3, 2014

Arsenic Blues

Publication: The Wild Magazine
Issue: #5 Spring 2014
Title: Arsenic Blues
Model: Codie Young
Photography: Nicolas Valois
Styling: Guillaume Boulez
Hair: Roberto Pagnini
Make-up: Topolino

There have been a lot of words on this blog recently and I'm proud of that but I couldn't pass up the chance to reblog this editorial. I am in love. It is just so beautiful. It is really stretching it to call this a fashion shoot, given the lack of clothes, but the artistic references are delicious. Codie's ethereal weirdness is utilised wonderfully, the colours are fantastic, it is creepy and serene all at once. I can't stop revisiting these images.

Chuck x

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Article Reading Group

Albrecht Dürer, Six pillows via youmakemisohappy

SINATRA’S COLD IS CONTAGIOUS: Hostile Subjects, Vulnerable Sources & The Ethics of Outing - Maria Dahvana Headley: "It is not the mandate of a writer to keep pursuing a private citizen’s secrets (secrets which have exactly no impact on the product you are writing about, nor on anything else public good) until they kill themselves. This is not an honorable act". The Story Is Not The Most Important Thing. This post is a response to a specific Grantland article but it it contains many truths about writing, outing and humanity.

How ‘#Rich Kids of Beverly Hills’ Makes ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Gatsby,’ and ‘The Bling Ring’ Obsolete - Moze Halperin: I loathed the Gatsby film, found The Bling Ring wonderfully sound-tracked but remarkably vapid and underwhelming and I will not be touching WoWS with a ten foot pole. Moze Halperin writes an interesting analysis of these films' fundamental impotency in the face of a stream of reality tv that conveys the failure of the American dream with an unavoidable brutality and effectiveness that they can't match. There are obviously a thousand other things to be said about these films but this is a neat look at one of the sources of their lack of meaningful/emotional impact.

Fangirl - Elizabeth Minkel: "fictional characters from both high and low culture have always occupied prime seats in my mind (palace). In the end, these are just stories, which is what we’re after most of all, I suppose — a way to contextualize our own stories, the ones we tell ourselves to make sense of things. Anything that’s both beloved and serialized has to deal with the disconnect between the stories that its creators want to tell and the stories that fans, from the casual on up to the obsessive, want to see." There were plenty of things I disliked about the latest series of Sherlock but, as ever, it engendered some great, smart conversations. The Sherlock fandom has some of the most articulate fans and the show is sufficiently news worthy that fairly mainstream sites will publish great, longform meta about it. Solid.

Against Grammar - Catie Disabato: "A prescriptive approach to grammar is destructive, and it needed to be leeched from our minds like a poison so we could see how the world of language actually works." I am crying with happiness at this article. All the yeses. A nice accompaniment and formal argument for the Toast piece on internet language that I've probably posted before - Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics by Tia Baheri.

How much my novel cost me - Emily Gould: I watched Frances Ha at the weekend and, while I didn't love it as much as many people online, the characters that Greta Gerwig repeatedly plays are important to me. As frustrating as those women can be, the honesty of their portrayal, of the fucked up, messy way that young women try to navigate adulthood, speaks to me. There is no way to say 'speaks to me' without sounding like a bit of an arsehole but it is actually pretty rare to see a reflection of myself, even a partial, exaggerated one, on screen or paper. There is a hard kernel of truth in her work and, yes, it is a very specific, small truth but I value it. I feel similarly about Emily Gould. She is so honest and flawed and honest about her flaws and it is so refreshing. She shares so much about her life, the details of her experience and her shortcomings, more than anyone else does, maybe too much, but it feels good and vital. I want to extend a thank you to her.

Any recommendations? Thoughts? You know the drill.

Chuck x

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Sunday Book: Dare Me - Megan Abbott

Two book posts in two weeks. See how efficient I can be when I simply let someone else speak for me? Sure, that's the beginning of the end but it is particularly appropriate here because I bought and read Dare Me by Megan Abbott on the strength of the below paragraph.

"Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a book about high school cheerleaders, but it’s nothing like what you might expect. Populated by women who act with boldness, resolve, independence, and a prioritizing of the self Dare Me is both engaging and terrifying because it reveals the fraught intimacy between girls. It’s a novel about bodies and striving for perfection and ambition and desire so naked, so palpable, you cannot help but want the deeply flawed women in the book to get what they want no matter how terribly they go about getting it. The young women at the center of the novel, Beth and Addy, are friends as much as they are enemies. They betray each other and they betray themselves. They commit wrongs, and still, they are each other’s gravitational center. On the phone, after a drunken night, Beth asks Addy if she remembers “how we used to hang on the monkey bars, hooking our legs around each other, and how strong we got and how no one could ever beat us, and we could never beat each other, but we’d agree to each release our hands at the count of three, and that she always cheated, and I always let her, standing beneath, looking up at her and grinning my gap-toothed pre-orthodontic grin.” It is a moment that shows us how Addy has always seen Beth plainly and understood her and loved her nonetheless. Throughout the novel, Beth and Addy remain unlikable, remain flawed to an extent, but there is no explanation for it, no clear trajectory between cause and effect. Traditional parameters of likability are deftly avoided throughout the novel in moments as honest and no less poignant as these."

Roxane Gay, Not Here to Make Friends: On the Importance of Unlikable Female Protagonists

This review in miniature, an excerpt from an excellent essay on unlikeable women in film and fiction, is why I read the book and everything I liked about it. If it does not sell you on the novel there is little I can do to persuade you. I suppose I could add that the book has a bloody death and the taut pace of a thriller but I'm not a crime reader and this was the least interesting aspect of the book to me.

I enjoyed Abbott's vision of adolescent female friendship, both fickle and absolute, burning and competitive and romantic and unpredictable. It is tumultuous and vital and, although not a mirror of my own experiences, it felt truthful. What I loved though were her bodies - Abbott writes physicality amazingly powerfully. These cheerleaders don't just wave pompoms and smile in short skirts, they are serious athletes, bruises and solid muscles and strain. The book never lets you forget the constant effort and the risk involved. It is exhilarating for the girls honing their bodies and skills like finely tuned instruments and for the reader. It is gloriously brutal, tight, angry bodies spinning and falling, trying desperately to explode the limitations of high school, small town life and the awkward, painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Perhaps this is what people get from watching sport - the willed bodies, the energy, the almost-transcendence? I wouldn't know but I can say that it was a pleasure to read.

Mmm, there was so much rage. Delicious. Anyway, it is a fun, fast paced read and if any of the above interests you I would recommend it.

Chuck x