26 things to do before I turn 27

I am ill again. I think I have the flu, or something flu-ish anyway. I can't believe I am ill, yet again. Once again I'm missing all kinds of things I wanted to do, like going to this, or the opening of this new exhibition, not to mention lots of important university and work related stuff. Instead I am lying low with a gallon of lemsip, more tissues than you could possibly imagine and all my blankets. To cheer myself up I have been experimenting with tumblr (most addictive - check me out here) writing postcards to friends, and knitting. I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping the evil disease won't hang around for too much longer.

Anyway, to get onto more positive things... one of my favourite bloggers, andrea of hulaseventy has a little tradition of writing a list of exciting things she hopes to do in the coming year each birthday. You can see her list of the 38 things she plans to do before she turns 39 here.

I really like the idea of a list like this. It's not about sensible, worthy things you feel you 'ought' to do, or even a traditional 'to do' list as such, but a list of things you genuinely want to do - the places you want to go, the projects you want to start, the adventures you want to have.

I was inspired to make my own list of the things I'd like to do this year, which I thought I would share here. Some of the things on this list are totally new, but others are things I have done before but would like to do again, or things I do already but would like to do more of. It was surprising how quick it was to write - I had a lot of ideas, but thought maybe I'd better save at least some of them for next year!
  1. knit a jumper
  2. go on an adventure by train
  3. sit around a midsummer bonfire
  4. go to a really good sushi restaurant
  5. find the perfect vintage dress
  6. pass my driving test
  7. practice the piano
  8. start a new novel
  9. get a bicycle with a basket (in an ideal world, it would be this one)
  10. go wild swimming
  11. finally finish reading ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’
  12. plant something
  13. go to new york
  14. make a charm necklace
  15. order moo cards
  16. go dancing
  17. find a lovely place to live (no green taps please!)
  18. learn to crotchet
  19. write a dissertation!
  20. have a handmade christmas
  21. eat a lobster
  22. investigate d-i-y publishing
  23. go to rye in east sussex
  24. take more photographs
  25. drink champagne (this one is in much the same vein as ‘eat more cake’ I feel)
  26. take a break
(The picture is a sample of just one of many images on my new tumblr thingy - this one comes via яuғina♫)

weekend in london: part 2

Homemade pancakes with raspberries and blueberries; birthday parcels wrapped in baby blue tissue; wandering in (very brief) interludes of sunshine, anticipating spring; drinking rum and ginger beer with mint and lime; taking a nap; celebrating my birthday with Susie and Chris with delicious snacklets and fizzy wine; buying treats; browsing in the Tate Modern bookshop; coffee in Soho; spaghetti with mussels; watching the sky-line; getting lost 'Logan's Run' style in the Barbican; listening to Billie Holliday and Miles Davies; cooking prawn laksa; seagull spotting; new perfume that smells like ginger biscuits; buying pretty cards to send to faraway friends; eating glittery cupcakes for breakfast; watching children in rainbow wellies puddle-jumping; contemplating maps; delicious Mexican food at Wahaca in Covent Garden; seeing friends; following the yellow brick road - or line, in this case - around the Barbican to see if it really goes anywhere after all.

weekend in london: more birthday

More belated birthday celebrations... a delicious meal at Yard on Tabernacle Street, just off Old Street, where they serve their pizzas literally By The Yard! What could be better? A lovely evening catching up with friends old and new. I thought I'd share a few of the pictures Duncan and I took:

Yep, that's actually a picture of me. I don't think a picture of me has ever made it onto the blog before. Needless to say I don't always have quite such a stupid expression.

Lisa and Chris look forward to a yard of pizza!

Misty and Howie.

"But we can't make up our minds what to have!"
In the pub... Sarah contemplates the merits of a game of "Estonian wife throwing" as proposed by the bartender.

Sarah, Amy, Leah and Hazel (doing her best to avoid having her photo taken) catch up on all the news.

Amy and Leah made me an amazing birthday present - a fabulous box of homemade cup cakes. I should have taken a picture of the whole extravaganza but unfortunately I got distracted by eating them. I especially love the pink ones (with glitter) plus the chilli and chocolate flavour. The Year of Three Birthday Cakes has now become the year of more birthday cakes than it is possible to count. Hooray!

art + pig

Yesterday I went along to the opening of Interspecies, a new exhibition at Cornerhouse. The show has been organised by The Arts Catalyst , an organisation who commission art that, in their own words, “experimentally and critically engages with science": it marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, bringing together a group of artists who explore and question the relationships which exist between humans and animals. Now, the notion of "art about animals" may be sending off a few alarm bells, but the works in this show are emphatically not on the "pet portraits" side of things. Instead, Interspecies offers us works such as Rachel Mayeri’s Primate Cinema, which casts human actors in the role of erm… monkeys, and Beatriz da Costa’s PigeonBlog accompanied by some surprisingly perky-looking taxidermied pigeons. There are also a number of specially commissioned projects including Anthony Hall’s interactive work ENKI experiment 3, which explores the communication between gallery visitors and the rather fabulously named Black Ghost Knife Fish: the opening night also included a special performance from Kira O’Reilly entitled Falling Asleep with a Pig, which brought an Actual Real Life Pig into the top floor gallery. Whilst the piece itself wasn't an especial favourite, I have to admit that the pig was the highlight of my evening. Friendly, happy-looking little black pigs investigating some straw in a specially-built gallery pigsty – that’s the sort of thing contemporary art should really be all about.

Yesterday night was also the opening of a new solo show by Rachel Goodyear at International 3, They Never Run, Only Call. Following on from a very successful 2008 for the Manchester-based artist, this show presents a number of new and mostly unseen drawings, which continue to explore the rather ambiguous borderlands between reality and imagination. These delicate drawings are peopled with re-imagined creatures from myth, fairy-tale figures given a nightmarish twist, but also take inspiration from natural history and zoological illustrations, developing out of an ongoing process of collecting and scrapbooking found images.

I've also been hoping to catch another interesting new Manchester exhibition: I don’t know about community networks but I know what I like. Curated by Alison Kershaw, this innovative project brings together seven contemporary artists from the north west, including Grennan & Sperandio and Joe Richardson amongst others, to examine and respond to the themes, environments, structures and networks of community and voluntary engagement in Manchester through Community Network for Manchester. Work is shown in a variety of locations across the city: the exhibition becomes a kind of treasure hunt leading the viewer through a number of Manchester's centres of community activity. Unfortunately the exhibition closes on Sunday, and since I'm down in London for the weekend I won't have time to get to see it now: but luckily work from the project will also be exhibited at Castlefield Gallery in April.

Another new show I'm hoping to catch is the Learning to Love You More exhibition up at the BALTIC centre, which runs until 8th March. Learning to Love You More is an ever-changing series of participatory exhibitions, screenings and broadcasts that evolve and develop as new submissions are added. Since the project started back in 2002, over 5000 people have joined in, responding to a series of art challenges ranging from "make an encouraging banner" to "take a flash photo under your bed." Each response is submitted via the website, and becomes a submission for possible inclusions in presentations like this one - visitors to the BALTIC will also be able to join in and make work to submit to the exhibition. I’ve been a fan of this excellent collaborative project ever since I discovered their website (where you can see all the challenges and lots of submissions)- and do hope I’ll be able to get up to Gateshead to catch the show!

Whilst I'm there I'd also have to check out the Fluxus show, and I would also be quite intrigued to see Antonio Riello's work B.SQUARE. The Italian artist has created a series of unique outfits to be worn by all staff, with front of house, office staff and directors all taking part. This unique "exhibition" will move outside the boundaries of the gallery spaces, infiltrating all parts of the building, with manifestations of his work spilling out into meetings, discussions and staff recreational areas as well as all public spaces. B.SQUARE will take place in several contemporary art galleries throughout the work - this is its second incarnation following the launch of the project at Kunsthalle Weine in 2007.

Also on my list of must-see shows is DING>>D0NG at FACT which I still have yet to see. I'm a little disappointed I missed the chance to sleep over in the galleries as part of the Dream Director event with artist Luke Jerram earlier this month. The event saw twenty volunteers sleeping in specially designed pods wearing eye-masks: once people reached "dream state" a computer triggered ambient sounds in an attempt to affect their dreams.

First on the list though for this weekend is the
Rothko show at Tate Modern which I absolutely must go and see before it closes on 1st February. Phew!

(This excellent picture of the pig is by Duncan)

my birthday

Check out this extremely fabulous copy of the 1920s classic Milly Molly Mandy - a birthday present from my mum who shares my love of vintage children's books:

I love this cute "waterspouts and chimney tops" perpetual calendar my boyfriend gave me - the illustration is by artist Lisa DeJohn. These friendly whales are going to brighten up my desk no end.

The tiniest pair of ruby slippers you've ever seen: a fairy-sized gift from my very own fairy godmother:

A birthday walk and a glimpse of the first snowdrops... followed by some genuine birthday snow! What more could I ask for...

The essay is finally in and Virginia has been forgiven.

This birthday will also go down in history as the Year of Three Birthday Cakes. I now consider my cake-related new year's resolution to have been officially achieved.

marie antoinette

This week I took a much-needed break from Woolf’s (at times rather bleak) 1920s London and ventured into a very different imaginative landscape - the gorgeously glittering, candy-coloured and utterly decadent Versailles of Sophia Coppola’s much-maligned 2006 biopic Marie Antoinette. I’d never seen the film before, though I had read Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette upon which the film was loosely based. I also love both of Coppola’s previous films (her debut, The Virgin Suicides, which I remember going to see by myself at my local arthouse cinema at the age of about 16, toting my dog-eared copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel under my arm like some kind of clutch-bag; and of course, the popular Lost in Translation) so I was intrigued to see what Coppola would make of the iconic story of the ill-fated French Queen.

The film hadn’t exactly ‘wowed’ audiences: Marie Antoinette was booed at Cannes, and many reviewers dismissed it as mere shallow, vacuous fluff, characterising it as a sort of lightweight costume drama for the MTV generation. Coppola was widely criticised for her decision to portray Marie Antoinette as “a real girl... just a teenager [who] wanted to stay out late and go to parties”, which critics suggested represented a failure to take seriously the political and historical context of the young queen’s story - the demise of the French monarchy and the subsequent revolution. Broadly speaking, Marie Antoinette was written off as little better than a glorified music video - a few pretty pictures, a funky soundtrack, but no real substance, meaningful content or historical validity.

For me, the music video comparison is probably valid enough - after all, the film is characterised by atmospheric sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a beautifully-shot music video, dialogue is kept to a minimum, the narrative is meandering rather than tightly-plotted, and as so often with Coppola’s work, the soundtrack plays a key role - but to dismiss it as such really misses the fundamental point.

There are a number of issues in play here, but firstly such an interpretation fails to take into account the fact that the “music video” approach is obviously a very deliberate creative choice, reflecting Coppola’s conception of the queen as simply a teenager who liked a good party. The controversial decision to feature new wave and punk on the soundtrack alongside the more conventional orchestral music we might expect from a period piece underlines the sense that this film is not an attempt at historical realism and accuracy, but (as to some extent with The Virgin Suicides which also blends period and contemporary music on its soundtrack) is rather interested in creating a certain sense of timelessness, bringing together fact and fiction to imaginatively re-vision the identity of the central character, who consequently comes to function as a kind of ‘universal’ teenage girl.

In this way, Coppola plays with the idea of history itself as a series of stories that are told and retold, themselves coming to occupy the territory of fiction - the ‘myth’ of Marie Antoinette perhaps as much as any other. Her famous “let them eat cake” remark itself has long been proved apocryphal, but nevertheless seems to endure - Coppola loves playing with this throughout the film, depicting the queen as a compulsive nibbler of fancy pastries and pastel macaroons. In this, she demonstrates that Marie Antoinette has increasingly become a figure of legend, not so dissimilar in many ways to Robin Hood or King Arthur, both themselves figures who existed in historical reality, but who have transformed into semi-fictional characters, whose stories are continually retold and reinvented in new forms to suit the specific needs of new generations, new contexts. Consequently, in this very specific ‘re-telling’ or even ‘reappropriation’ of her story, Marie Antoinette seems to exist outside the conventional boundaries of history in her own playfully anachronistic, imagined world, appearing at one moment in an 18th century gown, the next in goth-inspired make up - at one point we even glimpse a pair of Converse shoes.

For me, it’s precisely this quirky, playful approach to the story that gives the film its distinctive freshness. I also liked the slightly idiosyncratic, sideways view of the political context: whilst its fair to say the film doesn’t explore the historical events in much depth - Coppola’s focus seems to be on the personal rather than the political - it simultaneously avoids offering us any simple answers. Kirsten Dunst’s nuanced portrayal of Marie Antoinette resists depicting her as either a straightforward innocent victim or the spoilt and extravagant stereotype of 18th century propaganda, whilst Jason Schwartzman’s doe-eyed King Louis XVI delicately treads the line between sweetly naive and unappealingly odd. Coppola does not depict Marie Antoinette’s final grisly fate, yet the last shot of the Queen’s ransacked bedroom is surprisingly moving, perhaps not for what we do see, but precisely for what we do not - she allows Marie Antoinette’s myth speak to us in silence.Daniel Mendelsohn, writing in The New York Review of Books, criticises Coppola for precisely this reason: “You'd never guess from this that men's lives—those of the Queen's guards—were also destroyed in that violence; their severed heads, stuck on pikes, were gleefully paraded before the procession bearing the royal family to Paris... Coppola forlornly catalogs only the ruined bric-a-brac. As with the teenaged girls for whom she has such sympathy, her worst imagination of disaster, it would seem, is a messy bedroom." But for me, this image was both powerful and resonant. The bedroom at Versailles seemed throughout the film to be a physical representation of Marie Antoinette’s inner space, and so this final sense of disorder, subtle though it may be, ultimately has more impact than any scene of violence or bloodshed.

Watching the film left me wondering exactly what it was about it that offended so many critics and audiences. Marie Antoinette is certainly historically obtuse - but is that in itself so much of an issue? The film does not prioritise historical accuracy or realism - instead it’s driven by mood, atmosphere, aesthetics, taking unapologetic pleasure in cataloguing the decadence and extravagance of the French court in endless, dreamy shots of exquisite delicacies, magnificent interiors, and of course, clothes - unsurprisingly given her own interests in fashion, Coppola takes particular delight in exploring Marie Antoinette’s role as a fashion icon of her times, with scene after scene featuring new and beautiful shoes and gowns, not to mention increasingly outrageous hairstyles. Yes, it may be totally anachronistic, but in the end, isn’t that part of the point, part of the fun?Perhaps what is really at the bottom of all this is the (to me, slightly bizarre) notion that weighty or worthy 'serious' art is somehow superior to any other. Personally, I don’t understand why something cannot be considered interesting or high quality simply because it is beautiful, affecting, or engaging in some other way - even simply just good fun. True, an entirely vacuous film might be a bit boring, but whilst it is playful and whimsical, perhaps even frivolous, there’s plenty to engage with and think about in a film like Marie Antoinette. The decision to explore surface aesthetics, as Coppola does so adeptly in this film can, after all, be a valid creative choice, and can result in a final piece of work that is challenging and intriguing in its own way. I don’t think critics would be quite so quick to dismiss a book simply because it foregrounds creating a powerful ambiance at the expense of so-called “deep and meaningful” political content, Maybe some would even applaud the courage of the writer in taking an alternative approach - after all, the ability to break rules, explore new angles and experiment with new perspectives is something we look for from artists.

This seems to have turned into quite a long ramble, and I’m not entirely sure what it is I want to say, except perhaps that in the end, I both enjoyed the film in an entirely frivolous way (champagne, fabulous gowns, cute puppies and cakes - erm, yes please) and found it very interesting - it is after all, possible to do both. Whether or not Coppola’s take on history is for you, there’s no doubt she manages to create a vivid sense of her character’s inner life and imagination. And maybe, in the end, in spite of her determination to sidestep the political, (indeed perhaps because of it), in its distinctive and offbeat approach to the topic, I suspect that, far from being just "fluff", Marie Antoinette is secretly a little bit anarchic after all...

seven things

I have been tagged by Sally to write seven things about myself. I would estimate that this blog already contains around seven thousand things about myself, but who am I to stand in the way of seven more?

1. I have spent this entire weekend writing my essay about Virginia Woolf. I haven't even been outside. I have certainly not done anything that could really be classed as 'social' or 'fun'. My 'reward' for this hard labour is that tomorrow is Monday and I get to go... to work! Party poppers all round. (The lesson here is: don't try and do an MA at the same time as having a full time job, because how ever much you like both of these things, it is not good).

2. On the plus side though, I'm having beef and ale stew with mashed potato for my dinner. The stew is currently in the oven cooking and it smells amazing.

3. The only other thing of significance I have done this weekend is knitting. I really enjoy knitting. It's a bit like meditation, except at the end of it you (hopefully) have something you have created, like a hat, or a scarf, or even some gloves, or if you're more talented than me, perhaps some socks in a fancy pattern. I really like watching something concrete and new appear from nothing (well, from a few balls of wool anyway) - a bit like baking, which appeals for similar reasons. My current project is a rather nice navy blue blanket for my friends' new baby (though the baby is not really so 'new' anymore - in fact, at the rate I'm going, this blanket's going to be about ready for when he goes to university).

4. I'm writing this sitting under my new red blanket (a Christmas present from my Dad, who knows how I like blankets) which I need because I'm extremely cold. I think I feel the cold a lot more than most people. This is unfortunate, but will be helpful for any pastry-making I need to undertake as I hear cold hands are good for that. All last week I wore a lot of clothes - two pairs of socks to counteract cold toes, and fingerless gloves which are handy for keeping your hands warm whilst typing, though though one of my colleagues did tell me I looked "like Bob Cratchitt". However, style must be sacrificed in the face of numb fingers and toes.

5. It's my birthday in one week's time. I am going to be 26, which sounds quite proper and grown up. It also means that I will no longer count as a "young person" (at least in terms of railcards and suchlike) which seems a bit of a shame. I'm not sure how I'm going to celebrate my birthday yet, but it will definitely involve eating nice food, drinking nice drinks, seeing friends, not thinking at all about essays and wearing my new dress. The dress has a very interesting black and white pattern all over it, which reminds me of illustrations in old books, perhaps woodcuts. My boyfriend says it makes him think of illustrations from "Wuthering Heights" though I don't know how he'd know, as I'm pretty sure he's never actually read "Wuthering Heights". Update - I found what it reminded me of - check it out here.

6. The book I am currently reading is Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers" - the rather fabulous new Penguin edition shown above with cover illustrations by Tom Gauld - which my boyfriend gave to me for Christmas. I am really enjoying it, but the only problem is that owing to a childhood love of the cartoon "Dogtanian", I'm having big trouble imagining the characters as anything other than cartoon dogs. I don't really mind though: after all, "Dogtanian" was brilliant. Just watch this and remember...

7. My i-pod is on shuffle. While I've been writing this it has played Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", "Great DJ" by the Ting Tings and Laverne Baker's "Bumble Bee."

A lot of people seem to have been tagged with this one already, so I'm going to be renegade and break the rules and not tag 7 other people. Perhaps instead I'll tag everyone who reads this. If you read this and then feel like going to write 7 things about yourself on your blog, leave me a comment so I can go and read them, as I like reading other people's blogs, and also I'm just naturally a bit nosy.

happy new year!

I haven’t written anything here for a while, largely because I’m in the middle of trying to write an essay about Mrs Dalloway. Right now, I feel like I hate Virginia Woolf a bit, but I know from experience that I will probably forgive her again when I have finished writing the essay. That’s just how it goes. The essay isn’t actually due until 19 January (which, coincidentally, is also my birthday) but I have been trying to get as much written as possible before I go back to work tomorrow.

It’s now 2009. Today it’s very cold, and as I am writing this it is snowing a tiny, tiny bit. It’s a grey and dark day.

2008 has ended, and I don’t really know what I think about the last year. It was a funny one I think. It had a lot of good bits, but overall I feel it was a tough year, a year of hard work and graft. If I was going to represent it symbolically, it would be one of those big cart-horses, or possibly some sort of barefoot Victorian orphan getting sent down the mines or up chimneys. I hope that this year will be different, with less hard graft and more fun. I would like to feel a lot more healthy, have more energy, and spend more time sleeping. I am tempted to say I would like this year to be like a happy sloth, but I think it might be better to opt for something with a bit more vitality and ‘oomph’, like a poodle, or an iguana, or perhaps an anteater.

I haven’t actually made any new years resolutions, but if I was going to make any they would be along the lines of “eat more cake” (which I'm sure I saw suggested on a blog somewhere -can't remember where though) or “more playing” (see Chris Cleave’s 'Down with the Kids' column in yesterday’s Guardian).

Here's a few highlights from 2008:

Books: as always, too many to list, but off the top of my head, The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas, Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon and pretty much anything by Haruki Murakami and Barbara Pym.

Exhibitions: many, many, many, but some that spring to mind are Peter Doig at Tate Britain, Pipilotti Rist at FACT, Made Up at Tate Liverpool especially the Drawing Room, The Intertwining Line at Cornerhouse, Made Up at The Bluecoat, and...erm... From Toad Hall to Pooh Corner at Seven Stories.

Watching: Juno, The Dark Knight, The Cat Returns, Little Dorrit, The Wire, Quatermass and the Pit

Listening to: CSS, Kraftwerk, Bat for Lashes, Stereolab, The Long Blondes, Squarepusher's 'Just a Souvenir' album, old Kate Bush records, Birdsong Radio and of course the Ting Tings.

Events: again, far too many to list, but I must mention the very fine no point in not being friends, as well as of course, the Manchester Blog Awards at MLF.

Thing I missed but wish that I had not: the La Machine Spider in Liverpool.

Some other things I have appreciated and enjoyed this year include: blankets (especially my electric blanket); pyjamas; dark chocolate; rare moments of sunshine; the outside bit at The Bluecoat in Liverpool; my leopard print earrings; trains; cinnamon tea; the colour moss green; porridge for breakfast; ginger beer; knitting; long cardigans; Spritz Aperol; baths; vietnamese food; exploring London; my mum’s soup; mittens; making lists; chicken dinner with my favourite red cabbage; really nice pens; parks; naps.