Monday 29 November 2010

Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will

An Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will captivated me and transported me from Charing Cross Road (Foyle's books to be exact) to the wild seas of the unknown places, the barely touched, explored, uninhabitable islands of far far away.

This is why I hope and believe that books will continue to exist. This collection is collated with the intellectual rigour of a book of fact but has some of the mystery and wonder of a work of fiction. It is a charming thing, which you could not create yourself and though you could read about these islands on the internet very easily I'm sure you probably wouldn't have the idea to, or the time to find out the little facts the author Judith Schalansky has- the details like the Russian buildings that have been left to sink into ice.

A lovely present for all adventurers- and armchair adventurers.

Friday 19 November 2010

Prima Ballerina

Ballerinas are the essence of refined femininity- combining elegance, grace and perhaps most importantly strength. The adage is to never judge a person until you have walked in their shoes- well to dance in a ballerinas shoes is to understand them- they might look fragile but being en pointe is as strange and painful as you imagine- to be a ballerina is to be utterly in control of your body and your mind.

Strange Invisible perfumes have chosen the rose as the centre piece for their Prima Ballerina scent- and the rose is everything a ballerina is, in flower form. Although if we're honest the rose is even more full of life than a ballerina, a rose in real life would probably have cream on top of it's cake, stay out a little bit too late and maybe wear it's hair a little bit too long- but always with grace- and I don't think a well behaved dancer would do any of those things.

Prima Ballerina is a blend of Rose, sage, lime & botanical musk according to Strange Invisible Perfumes website. While I do see that complexity to me this scent is rose- in fact buckets of roses, overflowing pink varieties from across the world. In smell and character Prima Ballerina is not unlike the much revered Moroccan rose bath oil from Ren.

Strange Invisible Perfumes are certified organic, and one hundred per cent natural perfumes. The world of natural beauty and perfumery is something of a mystery even for many product and scent enthusiasts- and what may be marketed as pure or from nature in press releases may in fact include synthetics, chemicals and animal products. My interest in finding genuinely good but organic scents led me to this company but I can honestly say this scent is as good if not better than any perfumes you can buy with chemicals in them- in fact the lushness of the rose smell is I'm sure due to there being a great deal more natural ingredient contained in the perfume. I would certainly buy this scent for the smell alone rather than for environmental reasons- although that this scent is ethically sound is clearly a fantastic bonus.

The first picture above is from The English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, which will be performed in London in January.

The second picture above is for the forthcoming Darren Aronovsky film Black Swan, which I cannot wait to see. The poster is from The London Ballet, a lovely site for anyone interested in this most refined form of dance.

The picture of Prima Ballerina and other Strange Invisible perfumes was taken at Content/ Wellbeing which I recently posted about.

If you like ballet and would enjoy seeing male and female dancers in repose then there is one more day to visit Mary McCartney's exhibition at The Michael Hoppen Gallery or you can see a selection of her pictures behind the scenes at the Royal Ballet (called 'Off Pointe') in her book From Where I Stand.

Thursday 11 November 2010

The Eleventh Hour

This iron soldier stands to attention at Angel tube station. I appreciated the thought and care someone had taken to make sure he could show his respects- and the little bit of humour too. I hope the people we remember today would have liked this too.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

On tuition fees

My Mother says I always said ‘when I go to University’ from a very young age. She said it used to please her but also quite amuse her that I was so decided on that future when I couldn’t tie my own shoe laces.

My parents and grandparents are and were widely read, interesting people with diverting hobbies but it was not usual to go to University when they left full time education and certainly in my Mother’s case she would very much have liked to go to University but was effectively discouraged by her school and parents from doing so because it would serve no real purpose.

I did go to University and I cannot imagine who I would be today without having had that privilege. I genuinely enjoyed immersing myself in my chosen subject. I don’t pretend that I sat up until the early hours devouring medieval history books, of course I didn’t (unless I had a deadline), but I did and do love the subject I chose to study- and I may yet go back and pursue postgraduate study. After some long, sleepless nights, a great deal of long hand and even more typing, many cups of tea, a frankly silly number of fines from various London libraries and with a bit of luck and a bit of wit I graduated.

I thought about staying on at University, I had a place to, but I didn’t- I went out into the big wide world- and the person I went out as was so different to the girl who started that degree I cannot tell you. She had found a love for art, she had worked on a radio station, she had attended academic conferences and spoken with Professors as equals- and yes she had drunk whole rivers of alcohol and eaten her first pot noodle. In short she had found what it was to be her. Some of that could have been learned in the school of life but those three years are so precious to me I cannot put a price on them- and I hate that anyone would ever be asked to.

I may be an idealist but I do understand that British Universities need to be well funded to retain the best lecturers and provide the best libraries and so on. There is certainly also some truth in the fact that some people who attend University now don’t appear to necessarily have the desire to be at anything more than a glorified finishing school. Furthermore I certainly see that if you cannot achieve two A levels of a decent grade you should perhaps not be pursuing higher education. However each case is different and I don’t believe in anyone being shut away from anything in life, least of all the possibility of bettering themselves.

I don’t agree with tuition fees full stop. I don’t believe in a price on any form of learning. The idea of children not being offered a decent start in life because an education cannot be paid for disgusts me- but depriving people of University is, if not quite that cruel, then like taking people to the edge of what they might become and then not letting them through the gate. The most able people should be able to go to University to study without having to mortgage their future. They should be able to read philosophy and then go and work in a shop if they want to, rather than being in so much debt that they have to pursue a career in an industry they might despise and be utterly unsuited to.

I might not have gone to University if the current proposals had been mandated when I was doing my A levels. I might have wrestled with the idea and decided I couldn’t justify the cost. You could argue that means I didn’t want ‘it’ enough but I would argue if you say that you have never really known financial pressure of any kind (I hasten to add I have known very little financial pressure, but I understand what it is to have to consider money in a real sense).

I don't believe in violence of any kind but I understand why the protesters today are so angry. I believe in words and I wanted to write down what I was feeling. This could have been more of a rant but I have tried to be measured.

Basically I want to live in a country that values learning above money- and that doesn't want to go backwards to a time when only wealthy people could afford higher education. I hope the politicians who didn't have to give a second thought to whether they could or couldn't afford to go to University learnt some humility and social responsibility somewhere on the road they took to representing their constituents and their country.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Content Beauty/ Wellbeing

Some weekends ago- when it was still Autumn- I arrived in central London to find the sun blazing and decided to walk from Covent Garden to my appointment in Marylebone. My shoes were making that happy clicking noise that only brouges make on pavements and I was enjoying weaving through the much prettier side streets to avoid the madness that is a Saturday in W1- truly I do love London but I can only love it by taking some eccentric routes at the weekend.

So already in a peaceful mood I visited Content Beauty/ Wellbeing a frankly almost too good to be true salon, apothecary and grown ups sweet shop for anyone who likes natural and organic beauty, based just off Marylebone High Street.

I was there to try the perfumes (of course) and so focused was I on the search for new smells that I sort of forgot that I love natural beauty.

In fact natural products are very important to me- although I don't think that has to mean expensive products. There is a fantastic range available at Content- some of the trusted favourites like Dr Hauschka, Jurlique and Weleda (which is extremely good value in my opinion) and some newer or less well known brands. There was also a really interesting range of organic hair care available which I want to start trying (haircare is a bit like make up I find, we all want to be natural but end up using the chemicals because we haven't found natural products that are good enough to make us stop- especially if like me you have long, curly, celtic hair).

I am going to be writing about the lovely, interesting organic perfumes I tried there in the coming weeks- but may I suggest if you wanted to treat yourself to anything natural at all it would be the place to go.

(These pictures are from one of the feature walls inside the shop).

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The scarf of my dreams

Scarf by Rob Ryan and available online from NV Calcutta, an ethical accessories company- and from Rob's beautiful shop Ryantown on Colombia Road.

You can read more about the scarf on Rob's blog.