Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Sound

Friday Sound is back and it is coming to you from across multiple sources. I was going to say 'multiple mediums' but I don't know if that is true? They are all 'music on the internet' (my level of technological knowledge/awareness) so probably not? Who knows...? (Informed people, they know).

Frankly, I'm shocked I hadn't come across TYCI before. I'm not sure what TYCI actually stands for (is it just me or is it not entirely clear from their website? It could be me, it feels like today might be defined by my not-knowing/being with it) but they are a Glasgow based women's collective and they have a regular club night that I can't go to because I don't live in Glasgow. If I did I'd be all over it. Maybe I'll visit. Luckily, until then, they also have a music podcast that is hosted by, among other excellent Scottish ladies, Lauren Mayberry (of CHVRCHES - see her calling out sexist arseholes on the Guardian). They play music by women, unsurprisingly, and they play lots of exciting new things and they chat a bit and it's charming and I'm picking up lots of new favourites and you should check them out. Episode 9 tracklist below:

1. Satellites - EMA
2. Cold Caller - Blood Indians
3. This Is What It Feels Like - BANKS
4. Keep Passing By - Ink Project
5. Cut My Teeth - Peggy Sue
6. Digital Witness - St. Vincent

Continuing in a lady vein, my favourite kind of vein (that sounds weird...), this Rolling Stone Ultimate Girl Group playlist is pretty great. Maybe these wouldn't be my personal 'ultimate' thirty girl groups, and to be fair they are using the term quite specifically to mean more than 'groups made of girls', but I'm still really enjoying listening to this. It is just so upbeat and delightful. There are so many 'The' bands! It feels like sunshine.

Less sunny but no less worthy of your time, Angel Haze's first studio album was released in the awkward, unreal non-time between Christmas and New Year and hence missed both the Best of 2013 lists and the Psyched for 2014 lists. Haze forced the release so I suppose she's happy to forfeit the attention she might otherwise have received to get the record out earlier but it's a pity to me that she's being overlooked. This isn't a perfect album, I prefer her hip hop sound to her pop covers and this errs towards the latter, but there are some great tracks and she's clearly put a lot of love into it and when she hits her stride the rapping is flippin' amazing. It is a solid, official start to her career and hopefully her official releases will eventually catch up to some of the fire of her mixtapes. She's still awesome and totally deserves support and attention.

Girl power, innit.

Chuck x

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Article Reading Group

Rococo Bowie! via bowiescigarette
This is from 1983 film The Hunger which Wiki describes as a British romantic horror film - "It is the story of a love triangle between a doctor who specialises in sleep and ageing research and a vampire couple". As if Bowie wasn't enough all by himself... Hilarious.

The Pop Diaspora of M.I.A. - Ayesha A. Siddiqi: This doesn't closely relate to my slightly complicated feelings towards MIA but it does take on white pop critics's inability to discuss her in any complex or meaningful way. Also, Ayesha Siddiqi is all over the internet and reliably insightful.

GREEN SCREEN: THE LACK OF FEMALE ROAD NARRATIVES AND WHY IT MATTERS - Vanessa Veselka: "Quest is elemental to the human experience. All road narratives are to some extent built on quest. If you’re a woman, though, this fundamental possibility of quest is denied. You can’t go anywhere if you can’t step out onto a road." Amazing. Without narratives the world has no way to understand you so simply stops seeing you.

The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature - Kathryn Schulz: Now, if that title doesn't make you sit forward in your seat then I don't know what will. Jokez. I am not, by and large, a fan of grammar. Obviously I don't want it to be so bad that it distracts from the content or makes it unreadable but I have no fond affection for the comma. In fact, commas are my arch nemesis. Were my arch nemesis, I suppose, since there is no longer a red pen wielding university tutor in my life. Comma splices? I do not care. That being said, Schulz's favourite punctuation marks in literature, specific examples from five books, are a lovely reminder of the charm and impact of grammar when it is used by a master. Also, Kathryn Schulz. Heart.

Sherlock and the Adventure of the Overzealous Fanbase - Laurie Penney: "What is significant about unofficial, extra-canonical fan fiction is that it often spins the kind of stories that showrunners wouldn’t think to tell, because fanficcers often come from a different demographic. The discomfort seems to be not that the shows are being reinterpreted by fans, but that they are being reinterpreted by the wrong sorts of fans - women, people of colour, queer kids, horny teenagers, people who are not professional writers, people who actually care about continuity (sorry). The proper way for cultural mythmaking to progress, it is implied, is for privileged men to recreate the works of privileged men from previous generations whilst everyone else listens quietly. That’s how it’s always been done. That’s how it should be done in the future, whatever Tumblr  says." Laurie Penney. Heart also. I have escalating issues with Sherlock that I'm not going to dive into here and which Penney doesn't address and I would like another journalist to write a more in depth analysis of the showrunners's (and the televisual establishment generally) relationship with its fans but this article is critical of their snobbery and celebratory of fandom and it is good. Also, I love it when 'legitimately respected peeplz' out themselves as fangirls.

A Four Year-Old Reviews Mission Chinese Food (with his face) - Jessica Saia (and Desmond): 100% my school of restaurant/food reviewing. This is both self-explanatory and adorable.

Any recommendations for further reading? Send them my way.

Chuck x

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Is this a step in the right direction? Can we call it that? We had a party and I cooked loads of food and I got one very blurry phone photo of some of it... And when I say 'I got a photo' what I actually mean is 'I ordered an excellent friend to take one while I manically fried something'. Still, that's one very blurry phone photo better than the last couple of times I did epic cooking so I'm going to count it as progress. Plus, this way we all get to enjoy my mad Paint skillz.

Technically this was a drinks party and while an awful lot of drink got drunk I am a chronic feeder and I can't deal with the idea of people visiting/spending time under my roof and being hungry so there was also an awful lot of food...

Crisps and hummus (obviously)

Delicious antipasti of all stripes - salami, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, feta, olives, artichoke hearts... (provided by Mulp who is a star and also takes photo credit - good work)

Burrata caprese stacks (a perennial favourite although this burrata was so soft/wet that these were pretty trying to assemble)

Grilled Lebanese Flatbreads and Baba Ganoush (from Claudia Roden's Arabesque)

Patatas Bravas! Impossible not to say in an excited voice (from The Moro Cookbook)

Croquetas! Tapas are just exciting generally (also Moro)

LARGE quantities of sloe gin/Cava fizzes and red wine

Man, the baba ganoush was amazing if I do say so myself. All credit to Claudia Roden whose recipe was predictably perfect and beautifully balanced. I loved the patatas bravas even if the sauce wasn't quite what I wanted - not quite naughty and plasticy enough for my taste. I think I might need to try a slightly lower brow recipe but for now I do know how to blanch potatoes in oil (so strange). The croqueta mixture tasted amazing but either it wasn't thick enough or it wasn't refrigerated enough because I found the actual croquetas almost impossible to shape. R made a decent stab but they weren't right and once fried they didn't have enough delicious soft middle. Any advice out there for croquetas? The flavour was so good that I will try and give these another shot sometime but I definitely still have a lot to learn.

To my delight/relief there was plenty of food and it was a really nice evening. Cooking for and eating with friends are just my favourite things. So good. Hopefully there'll be plenty more of that in 2014.

Chuck x

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Best of 2013 - Fashion

2013 was a strangely quiet year for me on the fashion front. Looking back through my archives, I haven't posted any outfit shots since summer 2012. I haven't bought much in the way of clothing since then either. I wear fairly conventional office clothes to work and pyjamas at home - there isn't much to see. Ok, occasionally people manage to lure me out of my hermitage with promises of food and/or alcohol but I have aggressively narrowed my social wardrobe down to black-skinny-jeans-or-DIE.

I am totally sick of all my work clothes, despite having added bits and pieces in the last year, but they are functional and not falling apart so they power on. There is no justification for throwing them out and starting again even though I might do things totally differently in that situation. I can't afford it obviously and the thought of such extravagance fills me with residual, genetic Catholic guilt. They fit me, they don't have any glaringly suspicious holes or stains, they're fine, says the voice of common sense.

I had to wear school uniform fo'eva, right through sixth form, and in the first five or so years after I left school I bought a lot of clothes. Not a grotesque amount and nothing expensive, just an enthusiastic collection of all-sorts from the highstreet/charity shops/vintage/ebay, and I revelled in the freedom. I have always loved clothes, as objects and as modes of self-expression, and I had a great time trying out every sartorial iteration of who I could be in this brave new world. It was super fun. But. But now I have lots of clothes, perfectly nice clothes that I had loads of fun in but which I no longer really wear, and you can't just buy more clothes when you have lots of clothes.

I genuinely wore through a couple of things, I sold some on ebay, passed on a couple of bits to my sister (although the overlap in our Personal Style Venn diagram is smaaaaall) and gave some bags to charity but I still have a lot of clothes. [Truly, this is making me sound like a rich, spoiled hoarder which, I think, is unfair. Well, maybe not the hoarder bit. But certainly quite a lot of the problem is that I live in a small flat with very limited storage space.] And I don't want to get rid of what is left - I am fond of these clothes. They hold memories of parties and new friends and images I had of myself. Also, although I know it is largely untrue, the irrational part of my brain thinks maybe I'll wear them again one day. Perhaps a morning is going to come when I really want to wear that perfectly nice dress that has hung unworn in my cupboard for the last two year (it won't)(but what if it does?)(it won't, I know this, please be rational). There is nothing wrong with the dress.

So, despite the fact that I only have maybe 5-10 pieces of weekend clothing and 10-15 pieces of work clothing that I actually wear (the home clothes willingly, the work clothes begrudgingly), I do have lots of clothes and I can't buy new things. Which brings us back to the beginning - I haven't bought much this year. But wasn't the scenic drive beautiful?

COS coat: When I was trying to think back on 2013's fashion purchases the only thing I could think of was my coat. So much thought went into it and I remain thrilled by it. I love the colour, I love the texture, I love the sleeves and neckline. I don't love trying to do up the knee-ish level zip while walking, the shape is not always flattering to my midriff and the pockets are gaping a little from heavy wear but it is still love. I have worn it probably four days a week since I bought it and it makes all my clothes look better. I feel like a grown up in it and did I mention that I pretty much want to lick the colour? I suppose this level enthusiasm is the pay off for two years tentatively searching and a further year's hardcore coat hunt. I did all the research, I thought hard, I put my money where my mouth is and it paid off. Is this grown up shopping?

Whistles jumper: This was a fairly instinctive ebay purchase in what is clearly my favourite colour. The pictures were rubbish but I got a decent sense of it and Jane Shepherdson's Whistles is pretty reliably my bag. The burgundy is great, I love the nubbly knit and the pleather adds a hit of interest while still being machine washable (I am not a fan of pleather generally but, man, it gets points for ease of washing - one day I'm going to track down a specialist dry cleaner for all the non-pleather items I own, I swear it). It is hot for something that isn't thick and I have done some heavy duty sweating on the tube in this bad boy but it just slid into my wardrobe so seamlessly and I wear it most weeks.

Dominic Jones earrings: I wore my Maria Francesca Pepe spiked hoops maybe every day of 2012 but then tragedy struck and one fell out. [This may or may not be a habit. I wore my beloved Zoe & Morgan My Darling earrings maybe every day of 2011 but then tragedy struck and one fell out. The clasps on the Z&M earrings were rubbish though while the MFP ones were great and I'm sure what happened.](N.B. MFP tragedy has been remedied by R who bought me a replacement pair for Christmas. Heart) I am quite obsessive about jewellery (and many many other things) and I will wear the same things day in, day out. Occasionally I will make a conscious choice to wear my some of my more statement-y jewellery, beautiful things I've bought in India and Oman and Istanbul, but on a daily basis I have staples - fine chain, bracelet, plain earrings. Sometimes I wear silver but mostly I wear gold. My necklaces and bracelets are all going strong but I clearly have a problem with losing earrings and another problem replacing them (fussiness). Real hoops don't suit me, I want something more interesting than studs, since I'm wearing them daily they have to go with everything so no stones/colour. I like real design and a bit of toughness. These Dominic Jones saw blades fit the bill - they're exactly what I wanted and I've worn them so so much. Btw, all three named earrings were ebay purchases because I'm clearly mad good at ebay jewellery.

So maybe it doesn't matter that I didn't buy much? (Hell, ethically and financially it is a great thing but this is a fashion blog. Kind of. A bit.) I completely adore my main purchases and have/will wear them to death. Eventually the clothes I do own and feel little for will wear out or I'll work out a way to archive the things that actually mean something and give away the things that I don't adore or wear. Maybe three proper purchases a year is the right number to slowly and meaningfully build a lasting wardrobe on?

In the interest of honesty: On top of the above, having browsed my ebay and asos history and my admittedly patchy memory, I bought a pair of boring black work trousers, a pair of beautiful leopard print heels that are slightly too small and live under my desk at work and a slubby baseball top. There were probably some other things I've forgotten - I walk past a Gap regularly and they are forever having ridiculous sales and I can't remember if I bought my heavily reduced camo jeans in 2012 or 13 and my magenta waffle knit jumper in this year's January sales or last year's post-Christmas sales. But I think that is about it. Nothing from Topshop or Zara or H&M, no more real vintage (ebay doesn't count - I'm only really buying relatively contemporary clothes on there are the moment).

Does this mean I'm finding my style? It doesn't feel super exciting but, actually, it does feel pretty comfortable/good... Seriously, pretending to be an adult is so weird.

Chuck x

P.S. This is so long! And I didn't even talk about fashion, not really, just 'my clothes'. Might do another 'Best of' for that. Although, I really should be directing my word supply somewhere more productive.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Best of 2013 - Books

Dammit, always the last to the party. Or maybe I just missed the party? (The party here being 2013 round ups). Sometimes I get my analogies confused. Regardless, I want to do a couple of 'Best Ofs' because I have neglected this blog this (last, jeeez) year but there are still things I wished I had shared with you all.

Unfortunately, because I didn't blog about these at the time and I don't keep notes on my life some of this is bound to be a bit hazy. [I would kind of like to keep notes on my life, a real paper diary or a journal or something, I feel like it is a nice, personal way to track your growth and development and life experiences and whathaveyou but when. There are already so many things that I don't have enough time to write that a paper diary seems like an illegitimate luxury. Maybe when I am old? More old people should keep/share journals, I bet they would be interesting. Or a memoir perhaps... Although I'd definitely need preexisting notes to write a memoir given I can't remember what happened to me yesterday. I would love for my maternal grandmother to write a memoir because she has had an amazing life but at ninety she is still to busy living to get around to writing. That's the trouble, ain't it?] {That aside got a bit out of hand} (Truly, I love parentheses).

Because I am the least topical blogger on the internet none of my Top 3 books of 2013 were actually published in 2013 but I'm going with more of a Year in Reading kind of thing. I totally love the Millions 'Year in Reading' column where writers, authors and staff discuss the best books they've read over the year, irrelevant of publication date. It seems like a much more realistic and honest way to go about things than arbitrary list sorted only by date. (Although I will grant that this is particularly true for books, not all pop music ages as well as good fiction, for example.)

The Known World, Edward P. Jones (2004): Goodness, this is intense. It is powerful and overwhelming and heavy and important. It made me sob on the Tube. It is, more or less, the story of a black slave owner in the American South. There are no clear heroes though, in that the world is muddy and that good and bad is messy and blurred, but also because there is no lead protagonist(s) - there is a group of complicated characters interacting across time and space. Jones plays with history in such interesting ways, darting back and forth within the personal histories of his characters but also judging 'modern' understandings of history and how we interrogate and respond to past events. The book feels Victorian in its weight and span and it was a similarly slow read to some of those expansive novels. You have to work at it but that is kind of great because the story lives with you and gets into your bones and you have to face the reality of people owning people over and over again. It is brutal and brilliant and I don't understand why more people don't talk about it. I try not to be didactic on here (maybe? That might not be true...) but you should read this.

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell (2011): Marry me, Karen Russell? You know that feeling you get when you just fall instantly in love with the way someone writes? KR gives me that. This novel isn't quite perfect but it is close and the writing is just luminous and perfect and I want to roll around in her prose. Ava, the thirteen year old centre of this book, is the daughter of the recently deceased and renowned alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree and she is alone. Her father is in denial, her brother is trapped in The World of Darkness (a rival theme park) and her sister is in love with a ghost. The Florida swamps are eery and add amazing atmosphere to the surreal story and intermittent magical realism. There is maybe too much emphasis on Kiwi (the bro) and his story and not enough of a voice from Ossie (the soeur) and I can't say anything about the ending without saying too much but it is still a charming and evocative book crammed with beautiful language and imagery and ideas that can't help but make you smile. It was more than enough to make me pledge to read everything Russell ever writes.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (2008): I could have slightly cheated and included the whole of the Chaos Walking trilogy here, the last of which came out in 2013 so could legitimately have been in this list, but I found the final book a bit of a let down (the pacing is just not right, it feels like something went wrong in the editorial process - either the story shouldn't have been forced into the popular trilogy format or this book was rushed out to capitalise on popularity/whatever, which is ridiculous because the man's had something crazy like eight books out in the last five years - because it feels off in a way that doesn't feel authorial... that sounds odd, has anyone read it? do you have thoughts?) and it was the first book that really blew me away. I have read a lot of YA and children's fantasy this year for 'research' and as with any genre a lot of it is fairly predictable - that is why we read genre fiction after all, to fulfil specific narrative desires and expectations. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one of the few YA titles that surprised me, that surpassed my expectations and pushed me, it was so bold and determined and intriguing. I've included the official blurb below because I don't want to post any spoilers but the story begins in a world without women, a world where everyone and everything's thoughts are public. And Ness commits, it's amazing, he just goes straight at massive issues - male attitudes towards women (in a book with a male hero), rape, privacy, control and free will, the corruptive influence of power, the lack of moral absolute in a realistic world, the impossible choices we are called upon to make on a real, daily basis as well as within a fantastical setting. He doesn't hold back or patronise or protect his readers - I would have loved to read this as a child. It is so smart and inventive and unexpected and funny and tense. And there's a dog and you can hear its thoughts and, man, do I love a talking dog. It explodes the limitations of a YA novel and goes beyond genre in every direction and it is what YA should be. If that YA is an interest, I would highly recommend it. I will hopefully be grabbing his adult fiction sometime in the new year too.

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown. 
But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets. 
Or are there? 
Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence. 
Which is impossible. 
Prentisstown has been lying to him. 
And now he's going to have to run...

And, basically, this is why I don't blog much at the moment. Because I can't just knock out 300 words and a couple of pretty pictures. I'm not hating on that style btw, even though it sounds a bit snarky, I read and enjoy lots of blogs like that - my blog used to be like that! - but apparently I can only write long and incoherent screeds right now. Which means that blog posts end up taking up time I arguably don't have and then don't get even passingly edited because I have run out of steam...

(Also, because I just tried to take a quick photo of my copies together and apparently my laptop's SD card reader has broken and god only knows where my camera/usb cord is. Why can't my thoughts and ideas just neatly transpose themselves onto here without any demands of me or technology? Good question.)

Oh well, I have never tried to force this blog to be anything other than what it is. To your own self be true, little blog. Apparently said self is sporadic, verbose and a trifle manic. So be it. Perhaps I will simmer down in the coming months. I'm hoping (praying) to have Phase 1 of The Big Project finished in the next month or two and then things might (might) return to normal somewhat. Or I may have lost track of normal.

Shutting up now.

Chuck x