Friday, July 30, 2010

Black Dress Audit

I bought a new black dress the other day. A long sleeved warm black dress in the middle of summer.

Not to wear now, obviously, but did I really need to buy another little black dress? I’m getting older every day and have a social life that seems to consist entirely of going the theatre, barbecues and weddings. And, this being the crux of the matter, I already have a few black dress.

Time to take stock of them, I thought
1. Black sleeveless shift dress – absolute classic. The oldest and most sophisticated black dress in my collection, I’ve worn it to several fancy events in the past.
2. Black drop-waist short-sleeved cotton sundress. Worn loads, but has seen better days
3. Black organic cotton belted dress with big front pocket. Bought in an emergency in the USA when I realised the dresses I’d intended to pack were still hanging on the bedroom door at home. Worn consistently since.
4. Black cap sleeved high necked fitted mini-dress. Bit too short and tight for me to actually wear as a dress so have only ever worn it as a tunic
5. Black puff-sleeved dress with cute buttons and pockets on the front. Bought for a work event and worn at a couple of similar occasions, but not in the past year
6. Black long-sleeved high-necked, flared skirt 60s style dress. Worn loads, possibly my favourite before the purchase of the new dress.
7. Black knitted jumper dress. Very warm and cosy, looks a bit like I’ve borrowed a man’s jumper to wear as a dress, which was exactly what I was aiming for. Not worn since winter ended.
8. The New Black Dress – long bell-sleeves with a round neck, flared skirt and visible zip up the back.

Actually, this isn’t as many as I thought I’d have and in writing them all down, I can see that they are all significantly different from each other (at least to me).

Of course, this list doesn’t include any patterned dresses which are predominantly black that I may have...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Loving your work: Willy Vlautin

I first became aware of Willy Vlautin when I received a copy of his third novel, Lean on Pete, to review for LibraryThing. On reading the blurb I did wonder why I’d requested this book as a tale of a young boy and his horse hardly sounded like my sort of thing (I still shudder at the thought of the film The Horse Whisperer and the soft focus horse pictures my ex-flatmate hung around our lounge). But far from being sentimental claptrap, it was a Steinbeck-esque story of poverty, bad luck and bad choices.

From the Lean on Pete blurb (more helpfully this time) I discovered that Vlautin is something of a renaissance man as he is also a musician. He fronts an alt-country band, Richmond Fontaine and since I’m partial to a little bit of alt (and some not-so alt) country music, I downloaded one of their albums. His song lyrics tell stories similar to his books – more tales of woe and the American dram turned sour, but set to some great tunes. I’ve since bought another and I’m tempted to buy more (they have quite a back catalogue). The album Post to Wire has been my listening choice recently and Richmond Fontaine find themselves being in the unique position of being the only band that still exist that I listen to at the moment.

Whilst in San Francisco, I bought his first two books. I read The Motel Life immediately and loved it. I’ve been saving the second Northline because once I’ve read it, I won’t have any more of his books to read. It even comes with its own CD of music, which I’m looking forward to almost as much as the book.

The sound of wind blowing through the trees

After a period of inertia, I’m throwing myself into London’s cultural life again, taking up every opportunity to experience what the Capital has to offer. This has involved stepping way a beyond my comfort zone (see One no One account below for just how far outside I’ve gone!) and trying out some different things.

Recently this led to me road-testing the “production” Susurrus, which The Gate Theatre is “putting on” in Holland Park at the moment. The apparent overuse of quotation marks here is because I’m not entirely sure that the language normally used to describe theatre applies here. Susurrus is (to borrow from the publicity material) “a play without actors, without a stage and with only one person in the audience”. What that translates into, in layman’s terms, is being given a headset and a map, navigating around the park, listening to dialogue, sounds and bits of opera.

I was sceptical before it began, but was quickly won over by the soothing Scottish voices and wonderful music. The setting of Holland Park, now moving up first place in my list of favourite parks, was perfect and the elements behaved in synch with the play. While all was well in the play, the sun was shining brightly and I enjoyed strolling past the tennis courts and cafe, but just when the play took a sinister turn and I was directed to more secluded spots, the wind picked up speed and howled around me.

The story became something dark, but there was still a beauty in the words and the music and I was completely lost in this world in my headset and far from my initial self-consciousness, I was reluctant to return to real life at the end.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflections on the One on One Festival

To keep some connection with the arts world, I have been volunteering at the One on One Festival at the Battersea Arts Centre.

I was considering starting this post:

"Theatre doesn't have to take place on a stage with a curtain and the audience sat neatly in rows"

but equally valid would have been:

I arrived for my shift to be greeted with the question "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?"

One on One was a festival of theatre at the experimental end of the scale. Around the venue, there were over 30 different shows, usually with just one performer, which audience members experienced on their own. It involved facing fears, darkness and yes, some nudity, but there were also experiences of joy, beauty and comedy.

I experienced the festival first as a volunteer steward, which meant that I saw audience reactions without actually seeing the performances themselves. It was fascinating to see how people reacted so differently to the same piece.

On the final day, I went along as an audience member, although I think my journey was a tame one (clothes were all kept on) but I saw some wonderful acts. I had my own private concert in Folk in a Box, with the musician Clem Leek, who specialises in modern classical ambient music, a genre I was previously unaware of, but found rather lovely. I experienced a haunting acoustic performances by Sarah Johns in which we both stood in front of a mirror by candlelight. I was treated for Existential Angst in the piece Nurse Knows Best, which was a lot of fun. Other bits I was less keen on and on the whole I decided I had enjoyed watching others' reactions more than taking part myself, which is interesting in itself.

I suspect it may be the sort of thing that people who think the arts shouldn't receive any public funding would hold up as an example, but for those that attended the festival seemed to be a success and it was certainly different from anything else I've ever experienced.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Write Like

You've probably all done this already. It has taken the web by storm this week.

I Write Like

Paste in a sample of your writing and the clever program will tell you which best-selling author you writing style is most like.

I feed it with numerous past blog articles and most of the time, it said I write like William Gibson (I've never read anything by him). One post it said was like Mario Puzo, probably because I mentioned mozzarella.

But putting aside the vanity of knowing who I write like, I decided to feed in some writing related to my work. I put in something my Chief Executive wrote. Dan Brown. Hopefully, it means he writes in a populist accessible style, rather than being a conspiracy theorist.

I put in an extract from the new Government's (more about them at a later date no doubt), Big Society document, thinking it would funny if it came out as Orwellian. It came out as like Kurt Vonnegut. Surreal and absurd?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Elephants on Parade

During my long and fairly uneventful absence from the world of blogging, I became obsessed with the Elephants on Parade.

If you aren't in London or walk around the city with your eyes closed, you might not know about the Elephants on Parade, so I'll explain.
London's streets were taken over for a few weeks by herds of colourful elephants, decorated by designers, artists and other such people. The elephants were sponsored or bought by companies with some elephants sold at auction for thousands of pounds, with the money going to help protect Asian elephants whose numbers are dwindling.
The now-husband and I spent a lovely Saturday tracking down the elephants on a route that started at Paddington and finished on the Strand, spotting around 70 elephants as we went. We spent another morning viewing herds of the elephants when they were gathered together at the Royal Chelsea Hospital and the Westfield Centre. I like elephants and we did our bit for the cause by buying a minature one (the now-husband was keen to put in a bid for a full-sized one, thinking it would be a novel way of spending the money we received as wedding gifts, but my money sense won out).
But more than the charitable element, I loved the way that such a diverse range of people were just as smitten with the elephants are we were. The sheer delight of people chancing upon an elephant around a quiet corner. The freedom for children to clamber all over them as they wished. This is what public art should be. Not some bronze memorial to some military person whose significance has long since been forgotten. But something that people can enjoy and interact with in their own way.

The elephants have gone now from London and our streets look sadder without them.

Making my excuses

I've been:
  • too busy
  • too tired
  • too low

I've had too little

  • energy
  • enthusiam
  • time
  • to say

But I will

  • try harder
  • write more frequently