Dreams and possibility…?

The older I get, the more I realise that most people are generally too busy in their own worlds to bother too much about what you’re up to.

You might think that you’re standing out like a sore thumb, or that everyone’s looking at you or judging you – especially somewhere super-crowded like London or New York – but actually, it seems that most people are mainly absorbed in their own thoughts and worries to pay too much attention to you and yours. Sometimes this feels damn lonely, but other times it can be liberating, or, as I like to call it, I-dont-give-a-shit-esque.

AND YET, if anyone ever wondered, even for a split second, what I’d honestly want others to say about me, the following image wouldn’t be a bad place to start. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a dreamer – both positive and negative connotations implied – but if that means you also see possibility everywhere, and ask, well why the hell not me? Well then, I’m pretty happy with that.

Originally posted on one of my guilty-pleasure websites, The Culturist.com.

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Pasties, folk, dogs, and rain: What I learned in Cornwall

In honour of my friend Jenny, who is from Durham and Devon, who I first met years ago at Cambridge, and who has randomly but rather happily ended up living in Cornwall, and who gave me an exceptionally cosy and beautiful place to stay this weekend. 🙂

1. Dogs are awesome. Guys, meet Jimbo

Jimbo!

Jimbo (and sneaky decorative cello)!

OK, so I already knew this. But when you’ve played, walked, fussed over – and shared your bed with (HAPPY FACE) ‒ a straggly, lazy, docile dog, who is there every day, needs attention every day, runs, plays, sleeps, sighs and watches your every move, you can’t stay too depressed.

Even if it’s raining and horrible, you will leave the house with this dog, because seeing his excitement when he hears the word “walk” is worth any amount of rainfall. You will love bed even more than normal (rather than seeing it as a dark place in which to hide from the world) because there is a dog on the duvet, warming it up, waiting for you to get in so he can snuggle (albeit disinterestedly, and only if you’re warmer than the sofa, but still).

Jimbo is a fabulous, wonderful, cute, quiet, non-smelly, clean, happy and watchful Greyhound-Lurcher cross. With the hair of Bob Dylan in his wilder years, he has neither the looks nor the intelligence of say, a golden Labrador, but he makes up for this a million times’ over for his genuinely patient temper, total house-friendliness, ability to entertain himself for a few hours while you’re out of the house, and complete and utter gorgeous ridiculousness.

Playing with Jimbo :)

Playing with Jimbo by the sea, casual 🙂

He can’t eat a snack without taking it to his rug across the room. His neck is seemingly double-jointed, resulting in hilarious angles. He takes rain in his stride but secretly longs for his favourite, quilted coat. He only barks and jumps up when the word “walk” is mentioned, he sleeps like a human, and has eyes for which the description “puppy-dog” was invented.

Although I adore Jimbo, I also hate him, because he proved to me even more than I already knew just how much I’d love to have a dog, and highlighted how much that isn’t possible for me right now. One day, one day…

2. A folk night will make you throw out your fake nails. Yes, really

You can’t sit for too long in a cosy pub behind a door made from an actual barrel, among a group of random but ridiculously talented people playing folk songs and sea shanties, without thinking that maybe, your excuse that you “can’t really play a D chord on the guitar” because of the length of your false nails, might be a tad dumb.

I’ve been trying to learn the guitar – intermittently ‒ for months, and always get frustrated because I struggle with holding the strings down enough to get a clear sound.

Although I’m told this is a normal complaint for beginners, it doesn’t help that for over seven years, I’ve perennially had little bits of plastic stuck to my nails, in the pursuit of beautiful talons where otherwise I have unappealing stubs, ruined by years of biting and false nail glue.

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Look! Accordions! And guitars! And mini pasties!


In that pub – The Famous Barrel in Penryn ‒ where the men and women were unashamedly, ridiculously talented, able to join in to a song together (on the pipe, guitar, mandola, and even accordion) at a moment’s notice, I realised that my desire to learn guitar was stronger than my desire to have perfect nails. I KNOW. Finally.

Even though it’s making me genuinely anxious, today starts Operation Grow My Nails, to the point where they’re long enough to be acceptable in public, and short enough so I can hold down four strings at a time. Let’s see how long I last.

3. You can unlearn months of healthy eating habits within days

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Espressini’s finest (click to go to Espressini’s website) 🙂

I have lost over half a stone in a month and a half (a good amount, given my track record).

I have counted calories, kept a journal, exercised nearly every day, learned about nutrition, which brand of coffee place I can grab a healthy lunch in, where does good low-calorie snacks, and which drinks to have without screwing up my diet. I have restricted my carbs, fat and sugar intake, and learned how to eat this way without feeling horribly unsatisfied.

And yet. In the space of three days in Cornwall, I ate a packet of cookies, a packet of chocolate buttons, a whole pizza with chorizo on it, a big salad covered in dressing, a massive steak pasty with potatoes in it, two roast potatoes in a pub, a massive box of fish, chips and a battered sausage, a bagel with full-fat cream cheese and salmon, two milky cappuccinos, a hot chocolate, a bowl of Shreddies, one cocktail, and more than a few gin and full-fat tonics.

These are all things I generally never eat or drink. And I didn’t even feel that full, or bad for it.

SO. Today, I’ve gone back on the usual diet, because, between you and me, I’m a bit scared of what I’d eat next if I didn’t. Just goes to show, the carb monster in me isn’t dead. It’s only sleeping…

(Meanwhile – let me just reassure you, in case you didn’t know: proper Cornish pasties are EXCELLENT.)

4. London rain has nothing on Cornwall, jeez

It isn't raining here. This was rare :P

It isn’t raining here. This was rare 😛

Of course, it rains in London. A lot compared to some places. But wow. Here, it rains for maybe half an hour, an hour, and then stops. It can stay grey and miserable, and shower on and off, but generally perks up in between. Not so in Cornwall.

One day, it rained for literally hours and hours on end. One day, it was so rainy – and, down the windtunnel-like streets, so gusty ‒ that I actually gave up on the umbrella, and decided to resort to the coat hood, surrendering with stoic acceptance to whatever fate befell such a decision.

In fact, even though I felt damp for days, I saw hardly any umbrellas in Cornwall – everyone’s got sensible coats with hoods and waterproof bits. Clearly, umbrellas are for pansy Londoners. Having said that, it is pissing it down here at the moment, so maybe I’m just in denial. (Update, 10 minutes’ later: it’s now quite sunny here. So nuh.)

5. I don’t mind people – but I do mind when they’re taking up all the space

The Stable - one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at

The Stable – one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at (photo from The Stable website)

The most obvious contrast in Falmouth was that going out was SO MUCH LESS EFFORT.

I am not someone who normally complains about crowds in London (like, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – or you, know, out of my way), but in Falmouth, we went to the pub; restaurants; out for dinner; into shops; cafes – and not once did we have to book ahead, struggle to get a table, worry if there would be space and if we should check out somewhere less good as backup.

We never had to queue, wait, hover around a door, yell over the noise, decide on somewhere and then un-decide ten minutes later when it’s clear we’ll be lucky to even get a hello out of a waiter, let alone a seat.

When we wanted a taxi, there was one, and it cost less than a tenner. None of this bartering, trying different companies, being charged extra because you wanted a cab at the same time as everyone else. It was, in many ways, bliss.

And yet, although it was amazing, it also felt strangely weird. A little like being in a pub on a Tuesday afternoon. A little reckless, a little eerie. Although it was so much easier, it was also so much emptier. The Londoner in me distrusts places without crowds; the lazy git in me adores the calm, the seating, and the space. I can’t decide which I prefer.

[Photo by Luke Gattuso/DogWelder on Flickr.com]

Admittedly, it also made me feel a bit sad about London. This city sometimes feels like the world’s best Christmas tree sat behind thick glass; you can see it, it has presents and lights and wonders and discoveries galore, but you can’t access any of it, because you’ll have to smash something in the process – namely your time, money, elbow space, and, most probably, entire vats’ worth of patience.

I don’t think I’ll ever feel that shutting an entire high-street at 5.30pm is acceptable, though.

Some of us have office jobs, and also like to walk through the street at 6pm without feeling like a character in a murder mystery novel. Long live shops being open till 10pm!

6. My desire to get my own place mainly boils down to having colourful bits of crockery and French-inspired posters on the walls

I have very little desire to get a mortgage – it sounds boring, scary, too-adult, the financial equivalent of straitjacketing myself, and what’s more, bloody expensive (plus, as a single person living in London, I may as well try to launch myself into space, for how attainable it is).

I do, however, desperately want my own space and place, simply so that I can fill it with beautiful things like colourful coffee cups, vintage travel and advertising posters, gorgeous textures, paintings, and fabrics. (The other reason is this place.)

Jenny taught me that happiness lies this way at University, when her room was a design-led, Art Nouveau, blue and white, coffee-drinking haven (compared to my room, which was very lovely and cosy, yet completely Aladdin-meets-Turkish-Indian-French-bazaar-slash-explosion in a junk shop).

Colourful coffee cups make me happy

Although she doesn’t yet own her place, when I finally get the chance to put my mark on more than just a postage stamp bedroom somewhere more permanent than either my parents’ house or a random flatshare, it will be inspired by Jenny, and her colourful coffee cups, posters, multiple coffee machines, exposed brickwork, and…random cello in the corner. Because, why the heck not?

Here’s to Cornwall. Have a pasty and a cider on me.

5 reasons to visit L’Anima Cafe, London

An edited version of this post originally appeared on About Time magazine here.

Italian chef Francesco Mazzei of Liverpool Street’s fantastic restaurant L’Anima, has just opened a younger, cooler sibling mere paces from the flagship original.

No stranger to casual dining (he’s appeared on BBC Saturday Kitchen, and his Calabrese pizza appears on the Pizza Express menu), Mazzei now wants to offer his familiar Calabrian dishes in a more chilled setting.

After a quiet soft launch, L’Anima Cafe is now officially open. Here’re five reasons why we think it’s about time you went:

1. The food

Some London restaurants seem all about the hype, less about the food. Not here. This is the gooey, crunchy, fragrant and foodie equivalent of a lazy morning, with nothing and no-one to answer to.

Think aubergine in tomato sauce with mozzarella and a wood-fired sheet of bread; lamb with al-dente pasta rings and an intensely-spicy smudge of n’duja; flash-fried squid with baby tentacles, plus tangy tomato, basil and olive oil.LanimaCafe064

A mosaic-tiled wood-fired oven near the bar means it would be practically illegal to come here and not try a pizza: mine came piled high with whole smoked garlic cloves, mozzarella, and Calabrian ham, all draped languorously over a crispy-chewy base…Dessert was just as good: Our dollop of tiramisu came with lightly-whipped mascarpone on a boozy biscuit layer, sprinkled with cocoa. Heaven.

2. The service

For evidence that L’Anima Café is related to L’Anima, look no further than the flawless service. Smartly-dressed bar staff were friendly and accommodating, the manager was enthusiastic (if perhaps, just a tad too much). We didn’t wait too long and everyone was helpful. Overall, the impression was simply of someone wanting – and managing ‒ to do a good job. You can’t argue with that.

3. The price

It’s not exactly budget, but the value for money here is surprising. Large antipasti start from around £6 per plate, while mains start at £9-10 (compared to L’Anima, where starters begin at £9.50).

If you were after a light dinner, you could get away with spending little over £20 for a good meal including a glass of wine, which is actually pretty damn good for a restaurant with one foot firmly in the City.

4. The atmosphere
It’s no cute bohemian joint, but who could expect that after the monochromatic lines of Mazzei’s other place?

Instead, this site somehow manages to deliver a relaxed atmosphere without totally forgetting the crisp, upmarket setting of its big sister.

A wide bar area encourages pre-dinner drinks, cool lighting throws shapes around the walls, and there’s no white tablecloth in sight. It even has a delicatessen in the back, should you ever get a daytime craving for the best ham Italy can offer.

The entrance even has a “market stall” display of bread and glossy vegetables, which screams “hot sunshine” and “Italy” no matter the weather outside. *Happy face*.

5. The Vespa!
Just as you were getting a bit depressed at the thought of leaving, fear not – there is an actual Vespa in the entrance area. Yes, really.

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If you’re really lucky, (or one too many cocktails down) the waiter might indulge your jokes threats to take a seat on said bike, letting you imagine a trip through groves to the nearest sun-soaked Calabrian town to your heart’s content.

And yet, even if your visit doesn’t involve a motorbike ride, you won’t be disappointed.

I wandered back to Liverpool Street imbued with deep satisfaction, a faint whiff of smoked garlic and tiramisu, and the sense that L’Anima Café is somehow that rare London thing: a great meal in a friendly place, for not too much.

L’Anima Cafe, 10 Appold Street, London

Nearest tube: Moorgate / Liverpool St / Shoreditch High Street

An edited version of this post originally appeared on About Time magazine here.

Because everyone likes a food festival

So I finally made it to the Foodies Festival this weekend, after multiple failed attempts (well, multiple Googles, a few “I should maybe definitely go” thoughts, followed by subsequent missings of the advance-ticket-offer.)

Foodies Festival is a travelling food fair, including bars, ice cream vans, product stalls, cookery demonstrations, juice trucks and seating areas. So far, so excellent.

Anyway, because I can apparently only do something after months of procrastination, I finally booked a ticket for the Battersea Park venue. Now, I think it’s mildly cheeky that these places expect you to pay around £15 for entry, only to then charge you loads to actually buy anything once inside. Thanks to my 2-for-1 offer, I actually paid £7.50 each, which was a *bit* better, but still not great…

However, my indignation felt short-lived once I’d discovered that Foodies Festival GIVES OUT SHEDLOADS OF SAMPLES. YES.

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I got nominated for a Liebster blog Award! :)

So I got nominated for a Liebster Award! I didn’t even know that was a thing! But it is, and now I know what it is, I’m very grateful! *claps*

As I have learned, via the wonder that is Google, the Liebster Award is a way for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers to celebrate other small bloggers, and “pay it forward” in acknowledging blogs they know (and, dare I say it, like to read).

(If you’re reading this because I nominated you, and you have more than 200 followers, then I’m sorry, please only take it as a compliment! I know that a couple of the people I nominated have WAY more followers than that, but it was just because I was desperate to include you because of how inspiring I find you! So please just carry on with your awesome self.)

You then have to answer, and ask, a bunch of questions from the blogger who nominated you, and then nominate other bloggers, with the aim of sharing a bit of yourself in the blogging community and (hopefully, very hopefully) creating more stuff that other people want to read, and more awareness of the award. Maybe some people would see it as a pain in the butt, but I think it’s pretty cool.

Thanks to the lovely theodd1in who nominated me – it’s so great to know that at least some people like your blog enough to remember it, even if extremely briefly.

I don’t write with a specific audience in mind, and am largely aware I’m basically shouting into a void, but it’s nice to know that there are some people out there sometimes!

Anyway. ONWARDS!

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Life in lyrics: Giving Monday the Elbow

New-York-MorningSo it’s Monday. *YAY*

It was a beautiful weekend in London (I basically did nothing but lie in, sunbathe, read, paint, watch TV, do a bit of a workout, and eat good food. No, there were no Instagram photos of daffodils or pub lunches or rousing countryside walks (I don’t even use Instagram, I KNOW. OMIGOSH) but it was good all the same.)

But on Monday? GRR. Like pretty much everyone else in the city, you have to get up about three hours before your body naturally feels like it, and get on to a pretty slow, expensive tin can (some people call them trains) packed in with other people’s shuffling and eating and perspiring and sodding breathing. Yes, it’s the morning commute. Gotta love it.
But for the past week or so, I’ve not been struck down with quite the same level of dread as has happened on other days, because (apart from the quiet arrival of spring, which is completely FABULOUS) I’ve been listening to this song by Elbow as soon as I get on the train.

Headphones in ear, I play it first, before anything else, and just breathe and listen.

And so far, it makes me extraordinarily calm and optimistic, even when it’s Monday and I’m tired and running late and some anti-social twazzock is sitting next to me rustling and twitching and eating and drinking and sighing FAR BEYOND what is necessary to get comfy. SIGH.

Also, the pedant in me is also disproportionately pleased by the quiet symmetry held within the idea that, as the bloke next to me elbows me in the side, I am also giving him the Elbow – in the form of beautiful harmonies and mental PEACE. So nuh.

Now, I realise the song is about New York, but the quivering notes and the uplifting lyrics about people coming together to build and lifting their heads towards the sky and being in a city – WELL, I reckon that applies to London just as much as the Big Apple (but also I like the idea of living in NY one day, and I know people who live there, so hey, it’s all good).

Also I love the lyrics. The ones above seem particularly creative and optimistic, even if it’s sadly not quite true that everybody owns the great ideas (otherwise hey, we’d all be quids in on the iPod). HOWEVER I also love

  • The first to put a simple truth in words, binds the world in a feeling all familiar (this is so true)
  • Reaching up into the sky….Why? Because they can… (they CAN, dammit, they CAN!)
  • The desire in the patchwork symphony (just a beautiful line, with a beautiful melody)

I read somewhere [edit: HERE, in the Independent] that the lead singer of Elbow, Guy Garvey, fled to New York after a particularly painful break-up, and just sat and people-watched and felt the spirit of the city nourish his smashed-up heart, and it transformed his song-writing forever.

Now, some of us, sadly, have neither the means nor the time to dash off to wherever whenever anyone decides to be a total dick, and are also (sob) apparently unable to create original and wonderful music from our personal tragedies.

Some of us have to be content with mediocre blogposts. C’est la vie, huh?

BUT TAKE COMFORT. Because here, I’m passing on my morning optimism solution. Yes, I may get sick of the song before too long, but so far, so good. Listen and love. It’s unabashed anthem-writing at its best, confectionery in musical form, but it’s also perfectly created, with echoes and soothing riffs and Garvey’s soulful voice, and it just sounds like something that some cheesy romantic movie director would set to the background of a sunrise when it’s going to be A REALLY GREAT DAY.

And it makes everything feel like it might be OK even when it’s not. Even on Monday. Amazing.