Monday, 30 March 2009

"Outside of a dog ...

... a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Thanks, Groucho, love it!

A friend of the Girl from the Island is starting a new business: a talented fine artist, she is undertaking commissions for pet portraits.

The work in progress section of her site shows the painstaking detail that goes into each stage. The result? Beautiful, hyper-real intelligent pictures.

Also fun, a gallery of animals in art with some fab Elliot Erwitt photos of quirky dogs in gorgeous settings.

Image: Katie Jones

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A rose by any other name ...

Leyton was first recorded in c.1050 as Lugetune, a name which derives from the river Lea (itself Celtic in origin, meaning "the sparkling river") and the Old English word 'tun', meaning farm. Leytonstone was first recorded as Leyton atte Stone, in 1370, indicating that the place is between Leyton and the High Stone, the boundary mark.


And I love imagining the scrubby, down-at-heel high street with it's death chicken takeaways and pound shops as a sprawling medieval farm by a rushing river, perched between civilisation and the boundary of the wild ancient forest - although admittedly it's currently rather a stretch to imagine this shopping-trolley-strangled reach of the River Lea as "sparkling", perhaps the 2012 Olympics development will restore it to it's former glory.

Geekily, I have been reading up on local place names in this ace book ... total goldmine!

I love a good new word

I learnt a new word this weekend, and one so rare that even my Compact OED couldn't furnish a definition ... courtesy of the great nation of Canada and one George Galloway MP, the word 'infandous' entered my vocabulary.

And having Googled "define: infandous" and got only the mysterious message "No definitions were found for infandous", I must take the newspaper's word for it that the true meaning is "too odious to be expressed or mentioned".

Excellent, I love a good new word. And, incidentally, also liking the anonymous government spokesman's description of Galloway as a "street-corner Cromwell"...

Friday, 20 March 2009

Kings, witches and lions ...

At Stirling Castle, the Historian and I end up gazing off the battlements into the highland hills with Frank, a Historical Scotland guide who had taken rather a shine to us on account of our insatiable interest and has given us an extended tour ... he is extremely well versed and we learn:
  • Troop movements for the Battle of Bannockburn
  • Mary Queen of Scots's favourite view
  • How William Wallace booby-trapped Stirling Bridge
  • The social effects of the Highland Clearances
  • James I of England & VI of Scotland owned two Abyssinian lions
  • Edward II wasn't up to much in warfare and statecraft, preferring thatching
  • James I wrote Daemonologie and persecuted witches because he had issues with his mother
Most enjoyable ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Gentlemen of Bakongo

The dapper gentlemen of Bakongo, as photographed by Daniele Tamagni in a book to be published in June by Trolley Books, were also featured in the Weekend Guardian: elegant and insouicant, I love the exuberance of their unusual dress sense.

Photograph: Daniele Tamagni, via The Guardian

A question of attribution?

This weekend, Oliver Burkeman's column in the Weekend Guardian 'This Column Will Change Your Life' covered an interesting concept, fundamental attribution error (FAE).

This means we fall into bias by overvaluing personality-based explanations - he was rude to me because he's a rude person - and undervaluing situational ones - he was rude because he's stressed about work. And we happily accept that our own personalities are a spectrum of emotions depending on the current (temporary) situation, but are unwilling or unable to attribute this to others. Apparently, FAE is less common in collectivist cultures ...

Interesting stuff. Perhaps more curious, how to address it in the hypocritical, hyper-critical snap judgements we casually make every day? Never judge a book by it's cover, I guess?

Poems on the Underground

Bent double beneath a fellow commuter's sweaty pit, Poems on the Underground caught my eye tonight. A wonderful idea this, snippets of poetry to soothe the mind and transport the soul as you take the cattle truck home, condemned to the vagaries of Transport for London.

Today, I saw the one above: a tortoise seeking transcendence, from ' The Carnival of the Animals' by Judith Chernaik.

I especially love the 'random poem of the day' feature on the website.

Image from TFL via

Thursday, 12 March 2009

I may not know about art, but I know what I like!

Also this week, a visit to Tate Modern with Mother. At random, we see Roni Horn 'AKA Roni Horn' where we like rough cast cubes of opaque and translucent glass in pinks and reds, black and white over-exposed photos of the river with lyrical, funny, quirky, gruesome footnotes about the Thames, and photos of empty houses and faces in Iceland.

We paid a quick visit on the way out to Cornelia Parker's installation 'Thirty Pieces of Silver', a gloriously delicate yet resilient mobile of steam-rollered silverware, which left me strangely uplifted.

The Young Victoria

To an early showing of The Young Victoria on Monday with the Aussie. We saw the movie at the lovely Stratford Picturehouse - an oasis of culture in the wastelands of Stratford shopping centre - which, incidentally, has half-price shows on a Monday, hurrah!

A lushly sumptuous film, rich in texture through the gorgeous period costumes, luscious lighting and evocative cinematography.

And covering, imaginatively, a bit of history that I know very little about. The later years are well-documented in the popular imagination - the rotund, severe madam in widows weeds who was not amused. This narrative looks closely at the pressure on her to agree to a regency before she was eligible to ascend to the throne, the constitutional politics of 'the bedchamber crisis', her incipient relationship with Albert, the multiple assassination attempts and her transition from naïve, wilful greenhorn to true monarch.

Most fascinating were the two key themes at the heart, the political play over control of a underage and female heir to the throne, and the growth of trust between Victoria and her husband, the political choice but also the love match.

Who knows how true a portrayal this might be - but I'm certainly keen to read more, by way of her diaries and letters, if I can get my hands on them...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Design Sponge in London

My favourite design blog just did a London city guide: see it here on Design Sponge. Lots of my old favourites listed, from Liberty to the Royal Festival Hall shop to Columbia Road markets, by way of V.V. Rouleaux and After Noah. What good taste!

It's magic!

Caught in a rainstorm in Walthamstow Village, the Boy and I dashed into The Deli for a panini and a coffee. A man dressed like Napoleon Dynamite amazed us with magic tricks and sleight of hand. All, he explained, revolving around the fact that he has three cards and you have only two eyes so you can't watch everything he does ... that was as near as he would go to giving away his secrets.

Emanuele Faja. Check him out. He works for Waltham Forest Council showing people how street gambling is a con.

Art Deco

The Boy and I found ourselves in Twickenham, of all places, yesterday. We were there to collect yet another brilliant eBay bargain of the Boy's finding - an Art Deco wooden standard lamp with chrome 'rays of sunshine' decoration. It's fab and looks not unlike the Empire State Building. Now to find a worthy shade ...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Dirty literary secrets

This short piece on guilty pleasure books caught my eye a few days ago: have to admit I've been sheepishly reading but hiding the above on my commute this week.

John Sutherland describes reading as one of "only three private acts left" ...

That's what friends are for?

There is, apparently, an optimum number of friends one can / should have. While the average social circle numbers 150 friends, the average core group is of 5 really close friends. Sounds about right: this is certainly the dynamic of the US comedy show, which perhaps owed its phenomenal success to the fact that it was both identificatory - we recognised ourselves in it, we certainly were able to spot the 'Chandler' and 'Monica' types in our group - and aspirational - we wanted to be them, hence the rise of Starbucks et al!

Interesting, though, to look at how social networking is bending and altering the definition of 'friendship'. Adding a friend on Facebook prompts the question, 'How do you know this person?', a question that could be getting harder to answer as Facebook looks to increase it's current limit of 5000 friends per user profile. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Stephen Fry exceeded 100,000 followers in February this year ... Some wise words from Techipeida on social media etiquette (hat tip to B).

Love the guy in the article who operates a 'on in, one out' friending policy: wonder what happened to the cause the vacancy? And was his generous offer taken up?

God bless BBC Radio 4

Went into a zen-like state last night waiting for the boy to finish work, sitting on the sofa, eyes closed, listening to old podcasts of In Our Time (Simon Bolivar, followed by Vitalism).

Wondrous programme where brainiac Cumbrian and all round Renaissance man Melvin Bragg sits around a table with a bunch of crusty academics and ponders matters of cultural, scientific or historic import. The academics ramble, forgetting where they are, Braggy interrupts, mumbles and goes off on tangents, and lots of interesting information is imparted. Bit like gatecrashing a rather random and ponderous undergrad lecture series. God bless BBC Radio 4, one of the things I missed most when living abroad.

Although this one on the number zero nearly blew my mind: even after two goes, still couldn’t understand a flippin’ word of it!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Feeling seedy ...

This evening, I've got plans for some indoor gardening.

The boy and I, feeling crafty and eco-friendly, made paper pots from recycled newspapers a couple of days ago. Now they're dry and ready for action.

Going in:
  • Pumpkins (we are addicted and need a supply)
  • Runner beans (nothing better, steamed and slathered in butter)
  • Cherry tomatoes (much sweeter when you grow your own)
  • Sunflowers (cheerful, makes me think of France)
  • Sweet peas (purely for the colour and smell, heavenly)
  • Herbs (an unusual Valentine's gift)
On hold for sowing direct into the new raised bed:
  • Lettuce (multiple varieties, thanks to the boy's mum)
  • Spinach (with pine nuts on pasta with a splash of extra virgin)
Makes me happy just thinking about it!

Monday, 2 March 2009


Browsing Gywneth Paltrow’s new lifestyle website Goop – tagline: nourish the inner aspect – I came across this rather interesting concept.

Ubuntu means seeing yourself, not as an individual, but as part of wider web of humanity, through your relationships with others.

Desmond Tutu has described the philosophy as:
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Surely a good code to live by?

Interestingly, ubuntu is also is a Linux-based operating system…

Customised books

Now here’s an interesting idea that the publishing industry should have come up with ages ago … software company PediaPress is working with Wikipedia and Lightning Source print-on-demand to allow users to select content of interest and have this typeset and printed on demand. What do you get? A customised encyclopedia. Genius!

Education publishers have been customising ‘slice and dice’ for a while, in limited, bespoke, expensive print runs but this is the first mass market version I’ve seen.

See Alison Flood's piece in The Guardian here.

In praise of making

Walking from Highbury to Angel to meet The Girl from the Island and her family for coffee on Saturday, I was rather taken by The Make Lounge on Barnsbury Road.

First thing to catch my eye was the quirky, fun logo – the word 'make' in typography formed of tiny red scissors, rulers, pencils, thimbles and other implements for craft.

Peering through the window, like a kid at a sweet shop or a dog at a butcher’s, I saw a host of contented people sitting at a long communal table, drinking champagne and making stuff.

How cool is that! Can’t wait to go!

Mourning Tony Hart

Lovely story today about a flashmob tribute to the recently deceased art guru Tony Hart.

200+ plasticine pastiches of Hart’s most famous creation, Morph, all along the South Bank outside Tate Modern. BBC News reports Hart’s daughter as "completely bowled over" by the gesture.

And what an interesting measure of the impact this one man had on the creative culture psyche of a generation … certainly, I get a flood of nostalgia when I hear the smooth lounge stylings of ‘the gallery’ theme from Hartbeat. To me the best thing about Hart was the enthusiasm for the act of artistic creation, no matter who the artist was or how talented. And he wore a cravat.

Something I didn’t know – thanks Wikipedia – was that he created the original design for the Blue Peter badge. So basically responsible for most of the totems of my childhood then!


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