Monday, February 25, 2013

Gardening. February.

It seems to amuse people when we say that having a garden was one of the things that excited us about moving to London. Apparently that's not usually why people move here. But for us it's been a really big deal, neither of us have ever had a garden of our very own before. In Glasgow we shared a garden with 50 other flat. It was alright to sit in on a hot day but it was dark, full of abandoned plastic toys and oft littered with dog poo. Oh, and we lived four stories above it, so you had to really want to spend time in it to make it down there. 

Now we have two gardens of our very own, a little south facing front one and 50 (not quite as sunny) feet at the back. And by some miracle of property and plant placement, the back garden is surrounded by established trees barely overlooked by the neighbouring buildings, which is pretty unusual for a London terrace. 

Nye is particularly dedicated to our new plots of land. When we moved in neither were in bad condition, not compared to some of the houses we looked at, but neither were to our taste either. The front garden was home to a horrible palm tree and was laid with shingle that made a very appealing litter tray for all of the cats in the neighbourhood. The palm tree was one of the first things to go and has been replaced with a beautiful olive from Seagrave nurseries. The shingle has also been dug up and bagged (a fun and fragrant job) and Nye has build a raised bed for berries and salads. The rest of the front garden will be planted with wild flower seeds for a tiny, 8x4ft flower meadow. 

The back garden was a bigger job. It was pretty neglected with a scattering of completely overgrown shrubs and bushes and a few nicer flowering plants hidden behind them which had been planted and forgotten about, never to be pruned or looked after. We've set about hacking back the bushes, liberating the roses and clematis that were hidden and moving trees that were planted in obscure and dark corners. It's been fun. 

We've also planted some bulbs, helebores, baby fruit trees and a greenhouse and are continuing to buy a steady stream of new plants and seeds. I'm finding hard to get my head round spending so much money on what are essentially sticks in pots but I'm assured that in a couple of months time they going to start growing leaves and stuff. 

February in the garden is a funny time, some things are completely dormant, others are starting to waken up. Tiny buds and signs of life are appearing on certain plants, others remain depressingly bare. It's a quiet time and I'm trying to enjoy it for what it is before the riot of spring begins. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

London Art Things, reviewed.

Bringing you this week's instalment of London Things (what I have done.) 

It's been a good week for galleries. I went to see the Juergen Teller exhibition at the ICA with my friend Rachel on Wednesday, then yesterday my mum and I dropped into the National Portrait Gallery to see Marilyn Monroe, A British Love Affair. I hadn't been to either gallery before so just stepping onto the premises of each gave me thrills (for real. I really really love art galleries and the ICA is a particularly beautiful space to be; good light, nice floors.)

The Marilyn Monroe display was really lovely. It's a display rather than an exhibition, so just a small room of photos. We were expecting an exhibition seeing as it was featuring highly on the NPG's website last week but when we got there it was a struggle to even find it and we were beginning to think we'd missed it when we finally stumbled upon room 33 on the first floor. It was worth the hunt though, ever since I read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates when I was a teenager I have been a little bit in love with Marilyn. I don't think I'd even seen any of her films at that point so I only knew of her on-screen magic by reputation, but at 15 I fell in love with what a beautiful mess she was. A fiery, determined, impossible mess who suffered from endometriosis and depression and men.

The display concentrates on Marilyn Monroe's relationship with British photographers throughout her career and starts with some of the very first photographs taken of her when she was 19. It then travels through her career and focuses heavily on the time that she spent in Britain filming The Prince and the Showgirl (the time depicted in My Week With Marilyn) mostly made up of publicity shots featured in magazines and behind the scenes documentary and a handful of straight-up portraiture. My favourites were the press shots by Larry Burrows, more famous probably for his graphic documentary of the Vietnam war than his celebrity photography.

We didn't really take the time to look around the rest of the NPG (we were hungry) but I'm planning to go back soon. Aside: Trafalgar Square! I didn't see any pigeons but a bloody big falcon flew right at my head. It was pretty cool.

Juergen Teller at the ICA was less lovely. If you don't know; Teller is a fashion photographer who shoots for the 'grittier' end of the market. He has been working in the fashion industry since the early 90s and pretty much changed the world of fashion photography. You know fashion photographs that feature nice clothes, models in pretty make up with their hair brushed and are beautifully lit? Once upon a time all fashion photos looked like that, it was a given that they had to look nice if they wanted to sell stuff. It sounds kind of quaint now. That's because of Juergen Teller. His photographs are (in the main) not pretty, they're weird and dirty and sleazy and horribly lit. He blasts his subjects with multiple flashes and as a result the photos look like they were taken with a cheap shitty automatic camera. They're not, they just look like that. I can't deny the huge impact that his style has had on photography, particularly fashion photography, or that he made fashion photography a more interesting genre than it was 20 years ago, but god do his photos make my head hurt. They're just really really ugly and the fact that they're of (often naked) celebrities just wasn't enough to make them interesting.

There were a handful of really beautiful pictures in the exhibition; this one of Bjork and her son is lovely and his more personal work in the upstairs gallery held my attention for a few minutes, but in general I got bored of playing 'whose penis/tits/anus is that?' pretty quickly. I mean, in theory I agree with this review that says a gigantic full-frontal picture (or three) of a 68 year Vivienne Westwood is interesting and raises all sorts of questions about femininity and ageing and our perception of beauty, it really really should. But standing in front of Vivienne's vag, all I could think was 'this photo is UGLY. Why has he used so much flash?' But in reading reviews it appears that I'm entirely alone in thinking that this exhibition was a bit shit. So there you go.

What I did enjoy was the coffee. And hanging with these cuties. Oh and the staff at the ICA are delightful.

Have you been to either of these? What did you think? Did you enjoy?

We're planning on taking the girls into town next week to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition before it closes. I keep seeing the posters on the underground and that fluffed up crow makes me think it's worth braving central London with two year olds for. And I've been thinking about trying to see the Valentino exhibition at Somerset House before it closes, what do you think? Worth a tenner and an indecent length of time spent on public transport?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Exercise, help.

A couple of months before we left Glasgow I backtracked on a lifetime of disdain and joined the local gym. I loved it. I'm nothing if not inconsistent.

Then we moved to the Highlands and we lived in the middle of nowhere and I can't drive and there was no public transport, so no gym. I thought about exercising outdoors but I don't care what the Scandinavians say (smug bastards), there is such a thing as bad weather and I was not going to start running in this.

I meant to start some sort of at home fitness regime, I really did, but I just.... didn't. And now it's 6 months later and it turns out that the memory of exercise and how good it makes you feel isn't actually the same as exercising. Nor is imagining yourself exercising. To surmise: I feel like crap, my clothes don't really fit and I get out of breath walking to the shops. But after the unimaginable cost of moving house I can't really afford a gym membership. I know that running is free, but I really don't like the idea of exercising in front of people who aren't exercising. Not yet, not while exercising makes me spit up a lung.

That leaves DVDs. You have no idea how bad I have to be feeling to even contemplate a 'workout' DVD. My only experience of such things is being about 10 and looking up from my game of sonic the hedgehog to watch my aunt jumping around the living room in lycra and wondering why a) she was torturing herself and b) why the women on the telly were wearing a fluorescent floral leotard that exposed more of their crotches than they covered.

One look at exercise DVDs online tells me that things have moved on from Mr Motivator only in that all of the lycra clad tyrants on the boxes are now women, the lycra is all one colour and the sense of humour seems to have been removed from the whole endeavour.

So, what I'm looking for from you is recommendations. I've heard of some ballet-based one. And another that you do for a few minutes every day and makes you cry. I don't mind exercise that makes me cry but I want to cry because it hurts, not because I'm despairing at the state of humanity. What have you got? I need to stop imagining that I'm exercising and actually start doing it.

* old photo, via Tenka Gammelgaard

Monday, February 11, 2013

Your current favourite?

What's your current favourite song? Not your all time favourite, just the one that you keep hearing on the radio and turning the volume up, or the one that you've just started listening to again after years of having forgotten about it.

This is mine. It makes me so happy. Partly it's just exactly the sort of upbeat shtick I need right now (I'm suffering from Winter so bad this year, so bad), but more so it takes me right back to August and the Olympics and that week Nye and I spent in Brighton without the kids, pounding the streets in blazing sunshine looking for our new house and watching Bolt run really fast on a big screen on the beach at twilight. It was a good August.


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

London Things What We Have Done Since Moving To London.

It feels like I have been sick pretty much continuously since we moved. Not proper sick, just one stupid bug or virus after another. 'Winter', in other words. 

I'm deeply frustrated that I'm not a) exploring, b) fixing my new house, which isn't exactly broken but it is biscuit coloured and desperately lacking in storage, c) spending time with my London friends, d) taking W&P out to do stuff. Instead I'm mostly inside, shivering and blowing my nose. 

I was looking back through my instagram* feed this morning and realised that we've actually left the house more than twice in the last 6 weeks and thought maybe I should celebrate that, just to remind myself that it's not that bad. (Because I'm prone to thinking that it's really that bad quite a lot of the time.) So I bring you: 

London Things What We Have Done Since Moving To London. 

Farmers markets. London gives good farmers market. So far we've tried three: Balham, Brixton and Wimbledon, and I stopped at South Kensington on my way to the V&A a couple of weeks ago. Wimbledon has the best stuff and it's next to a playpark, but it takes the longest to get to. South Kensington is the most amusing, consisting almost entirely of olives and croissants (No Mud Please.) The farmers who sell fruit and veg at Wimbledon call you 'duck'. I like that in a farmer. 

Morden Hall Park. This place is excellent. There's a garden centre which has a huge selection of trees and plants, an aquarium shop which has a huge selection of aquarium stuff ('ISHIES!') and a beautiful park with a lovely playground constructed entirely of natural materials. I don't kid myself that W&P give a damn whether their playpark is made from sustainable wood or bright red plastic, but it's pleasing on the adult eye. There's also a cafe, a second hand book shop and an educational allotment thingie. And at the other end of the park is a free children's farm, but we haven't made it that far yet because we get tired and cold and have to go home. 

The Horniman museum, home of the sad walrus mentioned at the end of this post. We went here with Sophie when she came to visit and had an absolute blast. It's got a little aquarium in the basement (MORE ISHIES!) and a wonderful collection of pretty squiffy-looking stuffed animals. I think there are probably also collections of things that weren't once alive but we got tired and grumpy and had to go home (theme?). There is also what looked like a beautiful garden, but we couldn't really see it because it was under snow. OH OH OH! And we saw the dude from The IT Crowd in the cafe: bonus! (The coffee sucks, we didn't try the food.) 

Gardening. Technically, probably not a London Thing, but it is for us. We've never had a garden before and now we have 50 glorious feet that are all ours. Nye is in his element and has been digging, pruning, moving trees, building a greenhouse and demolishing a shed. I have mostly been gardening in a consultation and shopping capacity. 

Battersea Park. Our favourite park in London (I haven't had a lot of London Park Experience, but from what I do know, this is the best.) It's been too cold to fully enjoy it, we're saving the zoo for when the weather warms up and the playground for when the council have stopped fucking with it. 

Captain Corelli, Battersea. This is one of those places that I want to tell everyone about because it's incredible but also want to keep to myself because IT'S MINE AND YOU CAN'T HAVE IT. Corelli's is an Italian cafe in Battersea that looks like a nondescript takeaway but is actually a cornucopia of home cooked delights and more Italian than Italy. Nye and his brother have been going here since they lived in Battersea about 11 years ago.  The food is incredible, huge plates of pasta and meatballs and fish and vegetables for about 7 quid, the best coffee I've ever tasted (real cappuccinos  not just milky coffee with chocolate sprinkled scum on top), homemade tiramisu that prompts obscene noises of appreciation and homemade icecream that had Ella shouting 'Shank you Ooman!' (thank you woman) at the waitress every time she passed. (Aside: Ella can't say 'tiramisu' but after thinking about it for a while she came up with 'mama's misu', which is better. 'Corelli's' was also beyond her but we're getting by just fine knowing it as 'For Bellies'.) 

We had our first ever trip to East London (Hipsterville.) We really wanted to hate it but we kind of didn't. In fact we found ourselves saying 'if we didn't have kids and we did have loads of money, I'd quite like to live here.' Whoops. It reminded us of the lower east side in New York. Don't tell the hipsters. 

Brixton! We didn't do anything in Brixton, just walked back from the farmer's market. I wanted to explore but we (Ammie) got cold and tired and grumpy (theme.) I'm going to go back either by myself or with Ella, Ella loved Brixton; 'look at all the peoples!' 

Kew Gardens. Definitely one of my very favourite London places. They had 12 free days over Christmas and we had a lovely morning out there. I love the grass garden. Unfortunately you have to endure both the ridiculously constant air traffic and West Londoners, but aside from that, it's heaven. (That was a joke (sort of), West Londoners aren't all bad, I've even met some that I like.) 

We hadn't been in London a week before we had a trip to the South Bank to meet our new local wedding photographer friends. The Christmas market was in full swing and we ate potato fritters with apple sauce while drinking mulled wine and looking out across the Thames from underneath the London Eye. Then we walked across the Harry Potter bridge, passed Westminster to the train station home. It was London, it was the best. I <3 london.="" nbsp="" p="">

* I know I said I wouldn't subject you to my crappy instagram pictures here and that if you wanted to see them you could follow me there, but I haven't taken my camera out of its bag since our last wedding. So unless I start drawing pictures to illustrate my posts, this is all I've got.) 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Let there be colour.

It's February! Joy!

In celebration of it being no longer January I thought we should probably revel in some colour. A little brightness and vibrancy to bring relief to our poor, mouldering eyeballs.

Here are some of the things that I would like in my life right now.

this gorgeous top is by my friend Myf who is absurdly talented. She makes clothes and accessories with silk/hemp blend fabric and hand dyes them with natural dyes. Her shop is here and if you happen to be in Northcote Melbourne, she is running a workshop in natural dying using plants from your garden on March 16th, which I really wish I could go to. 

colour. Sweet sweet colour, by Emily Green. 

More experiments in vegetable dying, by Raw Colour. 

Sunshine in a cup

I wish I'd bought this when it was for sale on Achica, to go with my growing collection of brilliant yellow prints. 

This kitchen from David Mikhail Architects is my dream. I really want a bright pink dining table, at the moment we're using a cheap ikea kitchen worktop on some very cheap ikea table legs. I can not for the life of me find one though. And I can just see Nye's face when I suggest it now. Although he was accommodating enough to let me get the pink table legs

And this skirt. I'm almost certain if I lived in Melbourne and went to Myf's workshop (and had her teach me to sew), I could make this skirt and be effortlessly stylish for ever and ever and ever, the end. As it is I'm just going to make do with this picture by Jasmine Star.