Colour, truth, adventure: My Society6 art picks this week

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Floral Bed

Who? Eugenia Loli

Why? JUST LOOK AT IT. Apart from being wonderfully coloured and beautifully painted, the composition, movement and colours mean it also manages to be vintage and playful and sun-kissed and sexy and secretive and romantic all at once. Whatever summer garden they’re frolicking in, I want some. *Contented sigh*

Where? See it on Society6 here

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You have to stay here: One yurt, some mountains, great food…and nine dogs

It feels like a lifetime ago now (what with the glorious British weather doing its best to rain its way through June) but late May saw my boyfriend and I escape to the south of Spain.

After some time near Málaga and Marbella, we spent a couple of days in the Álora Yurts, a collection of Mongolian-style, hippie-chic yurts in the mountains an hour or so north, run by a British couple. Enter fantastic hospitality, glorious scenery, fabulous food – and oh yeah, nine lovely dogs

Getting slightly lost (our fault!) in the meandering but beautiful county lanes around the Álora Yurts – just over an hour’s drive from Málaga ‒ before being greeted by a welcoming Yorkshireman and a cavalcade of barking but friendly dogs, we knew we were somewhere special.

From start to finish, the hospitality could not have been better. The welcome was warm and genuine, with husband-and-wife team Sara and Darren inviting us to share in their beautiful Andalucian retreat, with down-to-earth company and gloriously relaxed surroundings.

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Tweets from beyond the grave: Bringing a 16-year-old back to life

How one historian’s research has brought a 16-year-old girl’s diary of Belle Epoque Paris back to life, exactly one hundred years to the day since it was first written

This article first appeared here on the historical website Historical Honey. Thanks to the lovely people at HH for publishing it and creating these brilliant images to go with it.

olives-diary-thumbnailTwitter might fulfil many functions, but bringing people back to life isn’t usually one of them. And yet, in the case of Olive Higgins, a 16-year-old girl from Margate, Kent, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Every day since 1 January 2014, excerpts from her diary have been tweeted, with links to the full version on a blog. The diary talks about Paris, the city to which Olive has recently moved, to attend school and learn French. She talks about the food, the language, shopping, the people, and how she’s feeling. So far, so normal.

Except Olive died in 1914, from a sudden illness, just eight weeks after beginning her diary.

Her Twitter account comes not from her iPhone or laptop, but from a London-based journalist-turned-historian, Rob McGibbon, whose research on Olive’s 1914 diary has led him to “bring her back to life”, exactly 100 years after she started writing.

“Diaries are utterly unique in terms of publishing,” he tells me. “They remain frozen in time. You can read the most beautifully-written, historically-researched biography or novel, but it will never ever have that authenticity of a diary. It has a truth. You’re not hiding anything from anyone.”

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‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’ and Mindful eating: What I’ve learned so far

As a BBC series investigates ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’, and I continue to read ‘The Headspace Diet’ book, I consider just how powerful an understanding of the history of unhealthy food can be when it comes to my decision to eat it

Thinking as I have recently about eating and food (when do I ever not?!), but more importantly, about why people eat what they do even while knowing just how unhealthy it is, I jumped at the chance to see the first installment in new BBC series The Men Who Made Us Fat, which purports to investigate why the Western world’s collective waistline continues to increase to health-threatening proportions.

The first programme focussed on that all-encompassing ‘bad guy’, high-fructose corn syrup, which, it explains, was introduced to the Western foodstuff from America and is often indicted as one of the key reasons why people in developed countries are fat, and getting fatter.

Having myself just returned from a trip to the States – where even more people are fat and obese than in Britain, and where there seemed to be noticeably more outlets selling fast, convenient, varied and calorific food than in even the UK (it certainly looked that way to me, anyway) ‒ I was very interested to hear more about this ‘high-fructose corn syrup’. Especially since the last smoothie I drunk before leaving New York City (incidentally the ‘small’ size was almost the same size as my head) conspicuously and proudly bore the words ‘Absolutely no high-fructose corn syrup’ stamped onto its huge plastic cup.

Just what was this stuff, and could I blame it for my own demons with keeping my weight down – a problem I clearly share, albeit, my size attests, to a lesser degree than the rest of the Western world’s even more overweight citizens?

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Happiness: the antidote to an overloaded brain?

Happy face

Happiness? What does it all mean?

I am interested in a lot of things. Clearly, there are also a lot of things I couldn’t give a toss about. But as things go, between history, music, art, travel, literature, film, crafts, cooking, writing, journalism, media and popular psychology, I seem to have far more in the way of interests than I do in time, and in trying to pursue them all, I teeter dangerously on the edge of that well-known backhanded compliment, ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’.

And that’s putting it politely – in my desperation to try and learn more about everything I find interesting, I barely feel I’m managing the ‘jack’ part, never mind ‘master’.

My longings may require funds that I don’t have but this is only incidental; I hardly ever lust after possessions – I lust after experiences and feelings – such as wonder, intrigue, satisfaction, and, ultimately, though often elusively, contentment.

Florence...so beautiful!

Florence…so beautiful! Let’s go tomorrow!

For example, while a trip round Italy – hey, why not an entire year in Italy? Or two? Or maybe, why not, a trip round Europe; teaching in Europe, writing in Europe, why not, I ask you, why not!? ‒ may require money and planning and time, I wouldn’t go just so that I could ‘say I had’, or visit the best hotels or eat the best food simply because I could. I’d want to go so that I could experience that art, culture, landscape, weather; taste the food, learn the beautiful language, feel the freedom of travelling around, being alive.

It sounds cheesy as hell, but I’m like this about everything I find interesting – like a hounddog, I get a whiff of something, and I’m off, dreaming about what that could be like, without any real idea of how to achieve that dream, and more often than not feeling disappointed at my lack of wherewithal to just pick ONE THING and make any of it actually happen.

Apparently, you have to make money in this world, and can’t follow every whim you may have. Sigh, and double sigh. As the famous song goes, ‘they may say I’m a dreamer’, and while I may not be the only one, I often feel like the only one unable to actually make a go of anything.

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It all ends with Euston: The Northern Line seat-to-point correlation

When your main form of transport is by Tube, don’t think that closer necessarily equals better

This occurred to me as I squeezed myself between door and other commuters on my way home last night (see fabulously scientific and precise graph, absolutely in no way cobbled together in MS Paint. Obviously).

In any case, when I move to a totally different part of London in the next few months, my situation will change dramatically. For the purposes of this blogpost, all you need to know is that I’ll go back to living ‘at the end of a line’ (having already done so for 2 years before moving to where I am currently), and, while being virtually guaranteed a seat in such situations due to my travelling SO FAR AWAY, the fact that it takes so long may mean it’s only marginally worth it – however, as the graphs shows, there are downsides to being closer, too. Sigh.

I should also point out here that the desire to get a seat is not merely a primeval urge on my part to hoof fellow commuters out the way and sink into the not-so-comfortable space with a short-lived sense of smug satisfaction at being the Seat Queen – it’s also because you can only really ‘do stuff’ on the Tube when you’re in a seat, be it have a nice little snooze, get in to a good book, make notes, have a proper think, etc. Londoners may be experts at using the Tube, and yes, while I can do all those aforementioned things while standing, often without even needing to hold on to a pole (‘Advanced Tube Surfing’, if you will), the sweet glow of dropping into a perfectly vacated, fairly-and-squarely-and-politely obtained seat when you still have enough stops left to go to make it worthwhile is near priceless at the end of a long day when you live at the end of the line (or a few stops prior).

And then, there’s NOT living at the end of the line. Closer, yes, but, as the graph shows, the ‘free seats’ to ‘point of trying to get it’ law makes this less viable than you might otherwise believe.

Basically, you get really, really good at standing up – which is mitigated only slightly if, by some wonderful chance, you’ve bagged the neat little space next to the door on the side you need to get off from, in which you can nestle and even book-read without obviously being in anyone’s way, and casually slip out of on to your home platform without so much as brushing past another passenger. And, because you can lean on to the partition glass inside, you don’t even need to hold on to a pole, or make awkward non-eye-contact with your fellow travellers. Genius.

Downsides include not being in prime position to nab a seat should one become empty (as everyone knows, this is located in the seat aisles, in everyone’s way to the point where, when seat-sitters jump up to leave, it’s almost as if you’re doing everyone a FAVOUR by falling to the now-empty seat.)

But, well, as the graph above demonstrates, for my current commute, it’s hardly worth it.

Bascially, my friends, it all ends with Euston.