Sunday, 22 September 2013

Love is in the Detail

Love is not in wild and extravagent declarations, it is in the detail. In "the little things that separate one person from another...the way you peel an orange." Alain de Botton, p.176, The Romantic Movement

Thursday, 19 September 2013

You're Doing It Wrong

Perfect Penmanship

Much to my Grandfather's dismay my penmanship, despite many an experiment with how I turn the flick of a y or top / decline to top my letter a with a little inky cap, has always been somewhat lacking. With the advent of computers and a typing speed akin to a 1960's secretary, some might consider this unimportant, yet my Granddad has long believed the illegibility of my writing will one day extend into illegibility in all things and I will end up taking shelter in a box somewhere beneath a railway bridge. A soggy box at that.

My husband on the other hand has beautiful writing. The kind of writing one only expects old ladies, versed in the art of correct cursive, to have. I've stolen three or four letters from him in the few years we've been together, including a fetching capital A.

I have toyed with the idea of a calligraphy class. I even bought a book. The long and short of it is I can't really be faffed. Handwriting analysts struggling to identify the author of a poison letter rely not on how the letter is constructed: anyone can easily add a little flick here or square up their vowels there, but on the form, that is the path taken through a letter, which, once learnt, rarely changes throughout life. I'm a lost cause really. There is, however, a small and inexpensive trick that you might find improves the look of your words ten fold with no greater effort than popping down the stationers demands. Change your pen.

Little did I know that for twenty something years I had been forcing writing designed for the nib of a fountain pen to fit a common ball point. No wonder.

  • If eligibility is your problem: letters merging into one another, smudging your consonants, then go for something precise with a fine tip to counteract your natural smudginess. A personal favourite the Stabilo 88 is great for drawing too and comes in every colour under the sun, just about. You can buy a pack of ten for under a fiver. Slightly more expensive is the Pilot Needlepoint range, ideal if you're stuck on using a ballpoint.
  • For those of a more traditional bent, little beats a classic Parker. Here's one in a retro green.
  • Okay, so, strictly speaking, in fact, speaking in any sort of way, the palomino blackwing is a pencil. It is however the mother of all pencils when it comes to writing and has a legacy that few other leaded wooden implements can measure up to. Ideal if you're prone to crossing out and scribbling as it comes equipped with a rubber that is remarkably good if left un-chewed. 
  • Writing dull? lacking in flair? Never fear, the Pilot Lettering Pen will solve all your problems with one swoosh of its cleverly slanted nib. I reserve this one for birthday cards.
  • Chunky mitts better suited to a fatter pen? Fancy wearing your shiny implement round your neck a la Joan of Mad Men fame? Then go for this classy article from the Conran shop.
  • A pen for a new age in office stationery. The Uni-ball Jetstream is loved by left-handers, dispensing just enough ink and drying faster than a whippet on a hot day, it won't leave your notes blotted with black prints in the form of the side of your hand.
  • Straying into ridiculously expensive territory here but bear with. The Pilot Vanishing Point is a pinnacle of design. If nib envy is what you're after, then this is the badger.
  • Finally you'll need something to keep them all in. I've long had my eye on this leather pen case from Manufactum. There is even space to hide your stamps in the upper pocket once that beautifully crafted letter is complete.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sunday Sketch Book - who can resist an Otter or Two? A Twotter if you will.

Otters have taken up residence in Bristol Harbour. Rarely seen but for hazy films of them going about their Ottery business through the night, captured on local CCTV. Still, the slow recovery of the Otter population is a reassuring thing to think about as another of our larger mammals, the Badger, suffers a terrible blow.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Buy British

Buy British

Putting a little more thought into the origins of clothes, skincare, technology and even our reading material often comes at a price. Things made in Britain are generally a touch more expensive and perhaps it's time we just accepted it. No one that hasn't been living under a very dark rock for the past ten years can claim ignorance of the appalling conditions many factories in developing countries, whose produce is sold in the UK, force workers to endure. 

Just to further confuse everyone, brands shore up clever advertising departments that would have you believe your coat, wellingtons or whatever are made here, when in fact they have more air miles than a particularly hard working international salesman tacked to the sole. The sneaky sods. Often these brands are founded on a British heritage that they play endlessly upon. Their factories used to operate in the UK but they’ve either long since shut up shop and found cheaper labour on the other side of the earth or keep a token service open here whilst manufacturing the majority of their stuff abroad. What is more, they’ll charge you the price tag of something crafted on this fair isle for the pleasure of taking it off their hands. It’s just not cricket.

That said, there are still old school and newer names beavering away in Britain. It’s time to vote, nay protest with your purse and get some jolly good bits and pieces whilst doing so. Everyone’s a winner. Here are a few I've personally picked out :

1. MiMi Berry - take note, this is what a real 'bag for life' looks like. No loud branding, no ridiculous prints that will be out of favour and at the back of a wardrobe in a year's time. Yes, they're expensive but compared to other makes of a similar quality they're incredibly fair and will, as I say, last you a life time - perhaps even longer, it's an heirloom piece if ever I saw one.

2. B-Skincare - I have been a devotee of this company for years and successfully converted friends with similarly fussy skin. The Cornish based geniuses stir it all up in their own vats and don't put anything in that might raise so much as an 'oh, oh dear' from a sensitive epidermis. The packaging is smart enough for gifting, lovely things to sit on a bathroom shelf, and prices are extremely reasonable - ranging from £2.95 for a particularly fantastic lip salve to £6.50 for a moisturiser good enough to rival any expensive brand.

3. Suzannah -  I own two of their dresses and frankly if there was nothing else in my wardrobe whatsoever, I'd manage. I confess I bought both in the last legs of the sale but if you can afford them full price they're still worth it. Be warned, strangers will stop you in the street to compliment the neckline. Suzannah also offer a mind boggingly beautiful range of wedding couture if you're in the market for such a thing.

4. The Cambridge Raincoat Company - forget the Cambridge Satchel Company, okay, well don't forget, they're pretty darn great but you've seen them before, and take a peek at these traditional raincoats. Eye-blastingly bright. That red number, though perhaps a little long for vertically challenged folk like me, would look fantastic on a Sunday morning stroll in the woods. Just make sure you keep an eye out for wolves with a taste for cross dressing.

5. PeppersmithThese guys are obsessed. It's almost worth buying a box for the intricacies of the packaging alone. I'm a fan of the little pouch of papers tucked under the flap for disposing of your gum, illustrated and stuffed with little facts as they are. Did you know the oldest piece of gum ever found is over 9000 years old? No? me neither. Order yourself a multipack of the lemon and peppermint, you won't regret it.

6. Grenson - just look at these jodhpur boots. I refuse to call them 'chelsea' boots, you don't need to aspire to one of London's most expensive post codes to own a pair of these. Near the £200 mark yes, but they are built to last and so smart. Grenson also have a tempting sale section.

7. Kinky Knickers - never have I been so enthused about a pair of pants. More than I'd usually spend, my natural inclination being toward the M&S '3 for £5' and wearing knickers with a polar bear print year round just because they were extraordinarily cheap. Fifteen smackeroos they might be but that's more than matched in pure, lacey goodness. The perfect point between pretty but impractical and large but unsightly, these knickers are sewn to please a nation of Bridget lovers. I cannot express how flattering they are to one's posterior - go and  buy them now and see for yourself. ASOS are currently selling a fair few colours half price.

8. The Gentlewoman - the sort of publication I wish was around whilst I was a teenager slugging through GCSE art. It is inspiring. The photography alone is stunning and it celebrates women at the top of their game in a way that I've seen many another attempt but not quite get the tone right. About twice the price of your average glossy, but average glossy they are not. Published twice a year, the gentle woman is available online from WHSmith and Unique Magazines.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Common Jellyfish

A girl, no more than twenty, moves lightly over the beach below. The sun has beaten down through the afternoon and the sand’s warm, spongy surface sinks and cracks like the top of a cake beneath her feet. A pair of shoes swing silver from one wrist and the faded blue of her dress whips up in the wind, drowning her in fabric. She walks along the water’s foamy edge, eyes cast downward, tracing the break from light to dark with her toes. She doesn't yet know what she carries in the small, dark cave of her womb, yet her hand plays itself unconsciously around her belly all the same, wondering.

She stops, her feet snap back under her and crouches, hovering over her knees, examining something half buried amidst the surf. At first she saw just one: a thin, tissue-like body. Long, crenelated tentacles wind across the sand behind it like gnarled fingers. A little further on another of these alien forms lies draped over the pebbles like a discarded handkerchief. She picks her way toward it, lifting its edge experimentally with a brittle length of seaweed. 

Leant against a rock to pull on her shoes she spies a man bent over where the waves  break in ordered lines. He is sifting through the blanket of dying jellyfish. His rubber waders fill with water as the waves flop over the waistband making a strange, sloshing sound. Rooting around in the wash with thick, orange gloves up beyond his elbows, he catches the jellyfish and lifts their tentacles to inspect their undersides as a vet might examine a sick cat. A large cool box sits nestled in the stones five feet off and every so often he shuffles over to it to slip a jellyfish first into a labelled bag, and then into this box.

The girl stands behind him, listening to the musical sound of the pebbles as the sea draws them tumbling back over each other. She watches as he takes each creature by turn in his great orange paws and rolls them between his palms. He holds them up to the light and pulls and squints at their papery flesh. He drops one into the swell, the jellyfish flops along the head of a wave a while and is pulled back under. The man snaps off a glove and rubs his forehead. His skin is nicely mottled in the way that all skin becomes if left to absorb the weather.

“What are you looking for?”, her voice swallowed by the tug of the sea. He leapt in surprise.

“Now, where’d you come from?,”  feigned bewilderment. She shrugs as though it were a real question and weaves her feet into the wet sand. The man picks up another jellyfish and pushed through the shallows with it outstretched.

“Just seeing whether they are boys or girls,” the broad crack of a smile appears from inside his beard. They stand with their heads craned over the jellyfish that spreads in a web between his fingers.

“They look like nothing when they’re not in the water,” she plays her dried seaweed amongst its tentacles.

“They are water, mostly. They’re evaporating,” he let the jelly slide from his hand into a zippered plastic bag. “Truth is we won’t know what we're looking for until we find it,” he wriggles his hand back into its glove, 

“We?”, she tilts her head, questioning. He points at the red university crest on the side of his box, or what remains of it as the transfer has curled and peeled.

“Marine biology,” he smiles almost apologetically, as if he might be thought to be showing off. 

“Observation, that’s all it is, you get to be a specialist at it, watching,” he breaks off and looks sidelong at the girl, at the thin white hands that unknowingly cup the space around her middle. “You don’t want to be a scientist then?” The girl shakes her head vigorously. 

“Why are they here, so many of them?” she crouches in the water now, her dress darkening as it soaks up the sea and weighs down over a set of narrow shoulders.

“They follow currents. Streams of warm and cold, undetectable to us. The currents are getting messed up round here, it’s confusing them. Blooms of jellyfish get thrown off track and end up, well,” he gestures around their feet.

“Blooms,” she murmured, “like flowers,” 

“I venture these are prettier though,” he laughs, gathering up his evidence bags and fastening the lid of the box with ratty cable ties.

“Of course there’s diseases, parasites, other stuff to consider,” he was uncomfortable. He couldn't very well leave her here. If he had been more confident, better at talking he would know what to ask, how to get her help.

A trail of yellow lights blink faintly into life over the town, the distant hum of electricity, like a swarm of fireflies spread past the headland. 

“Moon Jellyfish,” he eventually managed and lifted his feet from where they were buried by the encroaching tide. He shuffled backward up the beach, shaking his sandals.

“Aurelia Aurita if you go in for Latin titles,” the girl bends to trail her fingers in the darkening water.

“Aurelia,’” she repeats into the waves as they flatten themselves out around her ankles. “Aurelia,” she turns it over in her mouth, tasting its outline. The silver currents draw away from where they pauses, far out to sea. “Aurelia,” She stood up, her hand clasped confidently around her middle and wades over to join the scientist on his bank of pebbles, “Aurelia Aurita, yes, I like that.”

Friday Finds - The Fifth

These wonderful photographs at the Eden Project - it's like arty pornography for bumble bees.

One cosy looking 'love' seat - room enough for two, or one very large, bottom.

Snuggling Foxes - courtesy of the V&A

Thursday, 12 September 2013

You're Lucky to Be Here At All

We have this song on our ipod and whenever it comes on, no matter how I'm feeling, it makes me so very, very, happy. I need to learn the words, all together now - "Deoxyribonucleic acid helps us replicate..."

Galaxy DNA Song
Just remember you’re a tiny little person on a planet
In a universe expanding and immense
That life began evolving and dissolving and resolving
In the deep primordial oceans by the hydrothermal vents
Our earth which had its birth almost five billion years ago
From out of a collapsing cloud of gas
Grew life which was quite new
And eventually led to you
In only three point five billion years or less.
Deoxyribonucleic acid helps us replicate
And randomly mutate from day to day.
We left the seas and climbed the trees
And our biologies
Continued to evolve through DNA.
We’re 98.9 per cent the same as chimpanzees
Whose trees we left three million years ago
To wander swapping genes out of Africa which means
We’re related to everyone we know.
Life is quite strange
Life is quite weird,
Life is really quite odd
Life from a star is far more bizarre,
Than an old bearded man they call God
So gaze at the sky, and start asking why
You’re even here on this ball
For though life is fraught
The odds are so short
You’re lucky to be here at all…
Standing on a planet which is spinning round a star
One of just a billion trillion suns
In a Universe that’s ninety billion light years side to side
Wondering where the heck it all came from.
You’ve a tiny little blink of life to try and understand
What on earth is really going on
In biology and chemistry
Which made you you and made me me
But don’t ask me I only wrote the song.
Recorded Version
(c) Idle/Du Prez, Python (Monty) Ltd.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Autumn Accessories Top 10

Autumn Accessories Top 10

- If you're after a new work bag then this bright, and I mean bright, orange affair from Kimbolton could be just the thing. Handmade in England, supporting the economy - warm happy feeling. Not only will it keep your papers, purse and pieces in good order (piece is Scottish for sandwich, did you know that? I didn't) but it'll also make sure you're seen on dark winters nights.

- I'm terrible with nail polish. Impatient and splodgy, these are however pretty much fool proof.

- I own a remarkably similar belt from Jigsaw, purchased many moons ago. It goes with everything and dispensing with the flappy bit that normally sticks out past the buckle just makes it that touch smarter, also, that leather is stretchy, which is both novel and useful post-cake.

- Again from Jigsaw. These flats are a great 'go with everything' colour and they won't look too scruffy after stamping through the odd puddle or two.

- The perfect, understated watch and none too pricey either.

-  Cath Kidston's new bird print is rather jolly and their purses have a  fat, durable zip that goes all the way around so no digging pennies out the bottom of a satchel situations here. 

- Is it just me that gets disproportionately excited about new socks? These ones have crows on them, a little featured creature in the 'put a bird on it' category.

- Back to Plumo and I'm keeping a beady eye on these firebird earrings for the moment they plop into the sale. Something a bit different eh.

-I always think I'll wear a hat. They suit me, hats that is, giving the illusion that my massive konk is a bit smaller than it in fact is. For some reason I don't but perhaps if I one day own this beauty I'll catch on. Again, one I'll be watching for a sale.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Amazing Fore Edge Painting

I'm going to go straight home and shuffle and pull at the pages of all my old books to see if they reveal anything quite like this.

For more, and there are plenty, click here