Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bank Holiday Weekend

May 22-25, 2009

The Sweet:

waking up rock-star late, meeting an old flatmate who is Spanish and says my name like theeeeeees, taking a bus to East Dulwich, going to a hand-knitted organic muesli kind of café for lunch, picking out vintage clothes and spending way too much on a spotty dress, running back to change into said spotty dress, going to an 80s prom and dancing all night to really bad-good songs, drinking prom punch, then waking up and making a picnic and going to the common, meeting a random half-Maltese Canadian who was in London for 24 hrs, sunning myself and making hamburgers for everyone back at mine whilst watching Pretty in Pink, then going back to the common the next day and randomly bumping into a colleague who left me with his mates to watch cricket, drinking lots and lots of Coronas (with limes when I had some). Brill.

The Bitter: 

damaging my feet with supposedly ergonomic birkenstocks, being faux-bullied by a coworker who reminds me of Beaker, getting the night bus to my friend's house which decided to stop halfway and turn off its lights because some chavvy litle snarkers decided it would be a good idea to push the stopping button continuously for about half a mile around Elephant & Castle, accidentally defrosting the freezer (oops) before being woken up at 2.30am by the house party of complete misfits next door and making a 3am vow to relieve them all of their voiceboxes if they didn't shut up, eating a disappointingly squidgy ice cream from the bottom of the Sainsbury's freezer section (what? I was desperate), running out of limes halfway through an evening of Coronas, but still...utterly lovely. 


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Barbican Centre, Barbican

Thursday 21st May, 2009

The Bitter: A gift shop selling a set of salt and pepper shakers for £60

The Sweet: The sunlit terrace, replete with wandering mallards and all kinds of people to watch

5. From Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris to Le Corbusier

A colleague and I were talking the other day about what we had done before coming to our present jobs, and she mentioned working for several architecture firms in New York before she arrived in London. I mentioned a fleeting relationship with one particularly analytical architect, and although it was a relief to not be with someone so critical, I confessed I missed the opportunity to learn from someone who was passionate about his surroundings. I liked that a walk was never just a walk with him, but a tour of all the little details I’d never notice on my own. I was encouraged to look up at the city around me; and to keep thinking, always thinking, about why and how and when.

In theory, I like the idea of being with someone both creative and (mildly) critical and ordered; someone who has a keen sense of what they do and don’t like, but is open-minded enough to try new things. I can imagine that architects, like all other creatives, must need to be on the lookout all the time for new ideas and inspirations – something I find incredibly appealing.

Much more importantly, my newly single colleague was rather keen to check out the architectural talent here in London, so we decided to catch the Le Corbusier exhibition during its last weeks at the Barbican.

I didn’t know anything much about Le Corbusier except that he designed some iconic chairs (that and what I managed to wikipedia a couple of hours before the exhibition), but culture is so important to me, and has been such a big part of my life since escaping the cultural black hole of Orpington (I blurted it all out here) - that I am always more than happy to surround myself with art in all forms, whether I know I’ll get it, or not. The most interesting fact I found on the great man's wiki entry was that his name was a pseudonym:

in 1920, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret adopted Le Corbusier, an altered form of his maternal grandfather's name, "Lecorbésier", as a pseudonym, reflecting his belief that anyone could reinvent himself.

What a twonker, I thought. But then, hardly any writers use their real names, so I should stop being such a judgemental cow. And it's true - anyone can reinvent themselves. Just why though, do people want to?

We went during the late night opening on a Thursday and the place was heaving. A queue formed from the ticket desk all the way out to the lifts, full of quirkily-dressed designers in black thick-rimmed glasses. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I'm probably just a philistine. I tried my best to look at his early works - paintings that seemed to ape Picasso (although they were probably earlier);

sculptures that looked like children's toys;

the wooden models of Chandigarh, and the Unité d'habitation in Marseilles, and feel something for them, but I was left cold. The standout point of the exhibition for me was seeing the heinous 'Plan Voisin' for the beautiful Marais and feeling angered and relieved all at once that this pretentious man with the 11-letter pseudonym hadn't gotten away with it (good work, Parisian planners).

My colleague was noticeably more interested in our fellow exhibition-goers than the works, so we took the lightest of tours, cooed at the chaise longue, and then headed for the gift shop, where we saw a pair of exorbitant salt and pepper shakers for £60. They looked a little like dumbbells, but that was it. They were still just salt and pepper shakers.

They, in some neat way, summed up the entire evening surrounding the artist himself - just a little bit bloody ridiculous. Why did M. Jeanneret feel the need to change himself anyway? Why did I? I might not have understood the point of much of that exhibition, but what was pulling at me to go and see it anyway? Who was I still trying to impress?

The two glasses of wine that followed, sipped on a sunny terrace, (watching our fellow culture vultures discuss the works they'd seen like their lives depended on it, then seeing the mallards waddle by, oblivious), made everything seem right again.

Reinvention? Who needs it, anyway...?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Trafalgar, Chelsea

Thursday, May 14th 2009

The Bitter: Not having seen my good friend A for far too long

The Sweet: Reasonably priced food and comfy chairs

4. How the other half live

The King's Road, typically, is somewhere I avoid around the end of the month, just before payday. It tends to induce the odd minor spending frenzy, and can be a dangerous place to start drinking, simply because of all the temptations in the vicinity. If my mum knew just how much I spent on going out to eat and drink, she'd probably have a coronary, and I can't shake that guilt sometimes, especially not when confronted by all the excesses of Chelsea. It's definitely not a place I'd head to, were I seeking less expensive options.

Having said all that, The Trafalgar is proving its worth as a very credit-crunch friendly midweek destination. The pub itself is really pleasant when it's not overly full (avoid Friday nights if you don't want to be surrounded by braying Trustafarians), and I like the low lighting from red lamps and the comfy leather chairs scattered around the place. 

I met my friend A by the tube and we sauntered down here last Thursday for a bite to eat in an otherwise pricey neighbourhood. We weren't disappointed - even though emphasis was certainly more on the drinks. They have a good selection of wines, draught and bottled beers, plus a regularly changing specials menu with a selection of dishes for a fiver. Last week I tried the fish cakes, which were surprisingly good and hand-made. There’s also an offer for two meals and two drinks for £15; also really excellent value for money, but the ordinary menu isn’t expensive either (most dishes are under £7).

If you’re in the area and not feeling as flush as some of the locals, I’d recommend a stop here – it will certainly keep you and your tastebuds happy and your credit card out of trouble. I can recommend the chips. Yum.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Konditor & Cook, Waterloo

Monday, April 6th 2009

The Bitter: Bumping into the one who broke your heart

The Sweet: Great coffee and sinfully good cakes

3. Spring Awakening and A Sweet Defeat

You surprised me today. You crept up on me in MY favourite lunchtime hangout, in MY neighbourhood, unannounced, and uttered some innately smooth line as I stood deciding on which bag of fatty, unglamorous crisps I should consume for lunch. Oh, the horror. Why is it always when you feel tired, ugly and hausfrau-like whenever a former love of your life is within spitting distance? You might have had time to size me up, to decide whether I still looked good enough to warrant talking to. I guess you judged I did, but I still felt exposed.

“So many choices…it’s a hard decision,” you said. A line that sounded so flippant, I thought maybe you were a staff member making small talk.

Turning around and finding you there beaming at me was the last thing I had expected. Your smile genuinely disconcerted me. The last time we had met, pain was etched into your face. It was a battle to keep from holding you then. Today the battle was with how fat and happy you looked. You, the sinewy dancer. The health-conscious paragon of aesthetic virtue and sleek lines. The walking Alessi product.

You seemed to have grown with your happiness, in many ways. You certainly looked more your age. Your hair, a little greyer. Your clothes a little more filled; your belt a notch or two larger. Your eyes a little crinklier at the edges. But you were you. Happy and smiling and adorable, your eyes swatches of sea glass. You, my boy, still got it.

I could only stand there, grinning like a simpleton, my stomach in my heart, crammed into my throat. All I could do was turn on myself; cursing my appearance. I wished I’d worn the newer shoes, the ones that pinch but make my feet look dainty.

I wished I’d put on a slick of lipstick. I wondered whether my skin was looking as young and unblemished as you might have remembered. And I wanted my clothes to be newer, more pressed, more tailored. I also wished I could have uttered something more intelligent than the standard “How are you? How have you been?” Instead, I stared at you. You stared at me, and smiled. It was awkward, and also thrilling. I felt my stomach/heart combo do a somersault.

There was a large earthquake in central Italy on that day. And I felt its rumble there, in that coffee shop, as the tremor of seeing you shook me to my core. Was it her, your new woman, who had fed your body and your soul? If so, why were you smiling at me that way? What did you gain from drinking me in and asking me if I had five minutes to spare?

I didn’t. But I wanted to.

I can't remember much about what I ate that day. But now I find myself in this quaint little coffee shop more often than is strictly necessary; with adrenaline, not caffeine, coursing through my veins. I’m finding that the cakes are much, much sweeter with a sprinkling of danger and a pinch of longing.