Monday, 10 August 2015

The Shortlist: Interiors

So this is the first in my new series of blog posts on the shopping destinations I think you should know about.  I might struggle to remember how exactly I got home on Friday night but I can tell you off the top of my head where to buy great glasses frames when you're bored of your Ray Bans and don't want to spend a fortune (Ace & Tate).  Due to working in journalism and living in London, I obviously can't actually buy everything from everywhere so I'm opening up my carefully bookmarked directory of online spots to make sure my shopping secrets are going to a good home.

I'm not going to be recommending high street brands - this is about shining a spotlight on designers, brands and stores that you might not have heard of.  They'll be mostly online stores but there will also be some bricks-and-mortar options when I stumble across something especially good. International shipping is always a bit heartbreaking so the furthest afield I'll be going is mainland Europe to keep costs down.

If you're daunted by Etsy and overwhelmed by the Google search results when you look for "marble-print silk rug" (who isn't?!) then I'm traipsing the online marketplace and doing the groundwork for you.  I am your intrepid window shopping explorer.  Welcome to The Shortlist.


I've been decorating my little room recently and on the high street, H&M Home has been my favourite pitstop for a cheap and cheerful design boost.  But cyberspace is generally a more interesting place to be and I've found these five interiors gems to make your (obviously rented) space a little more homey.

The Electrical Shop

Despite living with four boys in a cosy flat, being kooky and having weekly hilarious misadventures, I don't, unfortunately, live in a New Girl style loft apartment with industrial vibes, exposed brickwork and Max Greenfield.  If I did however, I would be lighting it with the gorgeous designs from The Electrical Shop.  Totally versatile, they can sit on surfaces at different angles or be suspended.  My heart is sold to the Zinc Diamond with an Elephant Grey lead.

industrial light

One Must Dash

This brand is balancing perfectly on the brink of quaintness for me.  A little tongue-in-cheek sass and a touch of cutesy typography but none of that life-affirming drivel thank you very much.

My recent enthusiasm for creating a gallery wall from scratch, far quicker than my patience will be cool about, has led me to heed the words "fits into standard frame sizes".  Framing is the worst.  It's the guy who still has his phone keyboard tones switched on.  Any shortcuts available to you regarding frames, grab them with your regular sized human hands and hold on tight.  

black and white tree print

Paper Collective

Finding beautiful prints that aren't panic-bought in Ikea is so satisfying and sorts out rented rooms like nothing else.  If you need inspiration keep an eye on the Pick Me Up graphic arts festival which takes place at Somerset House in the spring. In the mean time, have a peruse of the list of studios which were involved this year to find some great artists.  These prints are from Paper Collective, a Danish site which produces limited edition posters.  Affordable, beautiful and your friends won't have them.

Al Niqua Al Hamra by Emilie Imán: €45  Twin Circles by Nynne Rosenvinge: €45  
Nature 1:1 Oyster by Form Us With Love: €45

Rockett St George

Rocket St George is a great website that I stumbled upon a while ago and promptly forgot to bookmark.  Luckily I cared more than I should and have eventually rediscovered it.  They have great jewellery storage options, including chic and simple necklace stands which are remarkably hard to find.  Not everyone wants to hang their necklaces on a quaint little pastel-coloured tree.

I'm obsessed with mesh storage solutions at the moment and love this magazine rack.  Whether you've collected Vogue for fifteen years or splashed out on the odd copy of Little White Lies, magazines are a beautiful thing.  Show your love for print journalism and decorate your walls at the same time.  Then go outside and kill two birds with that stone you're holding.

wall-mounted magazine rack

Anatomy Boutique

This little online shop was started by a former medical illustrator and it totally appeals to my gory side.  A small but perfectly formed collection of homeware is adorned with illustrations and images of body parts and processes.  You didn't know you needed a tea towel printed with the process of endochondral ossification where cartilage cells calcify to form new bone and bone marrow, until now.  The human body is a marvellous and suprisingly aesthetically pleasing thing.  I also love the Day of The Dead inspired tiles and screen prints, however unlikely it is that I'll be doing any tiling any time soon.

day of the dead screen print

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Vogue says Emma Watson is the "Voice of a Generation"

Voice of a Generation

The cover of the September issue of Vogue has dubbed Emma Watson the "voice of a generation".

Wait, wasn't Lena Dunham the voice of our generation?  I feel like I read one or one hundred think pieces about that.  Which lady basket should I be putting my eggs in here?  

Who speaks for me?  I'm so confused.

Are we supposed to choose whether one (incidentally straight, white, privileged, physically able) woman represents us better than the other?  Are we supposed to compare and contrast who is more eloquent, better researched or most sincere?  Are they supposed to have it out publicly in a Twitter spat with the victor making a final decision, once and for all, on whether or not we're supposed to shave our legs?

Or perhaps it's not that we have to witness them slog it out.  Perhaps it's that one gobby young woman talking about girl-stuff is pretty much the same as the next.  Why differentiate when you can lump them in together?  If Dunham and Watson are held up as lofty mouthpieces who speak on behalf of half of the human race, why would we even need to hear from other women at all?  One or two loud-ish voices should have us covered.

I think that Vogue are probably trying to highlight that Watson has made a Jolie-esque transition from Actress Who Acts and Occasionally Wears Nice Things to Actress Who Has Something BIG To Say (And Still Wears Nice Things, Thank God).  And that's fine.  Always a pleasure to see a female public figure interviewed about her opinions rather than her potential barrenness or her ageing haggard face.

But that's not really what Vogue have done.  Instead they are making a lazy comparison between Watson and Dunham, who initially wrote the immortal phrase into her Season 1 Girls script.  The irony of the phrase spoken by Hannah Horvath is lost in Vogue's pomposity.  A woman speaking her mind publicly should not automatically be heralded as the one true voice - that's limiting and reductive.  Diversity of voice is what we are striving for.  Take Emma Watson, hold her up as an example and instead of crowning her there and then, take the opportunity to ask "Who's next?"

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Death of the Summer Sandal

If magazines are to be believed (ha!), then most women, after they've spent the requisite number of hours buffing and bronzing and toning and "tidying", are going to spend the rest of their summers winding cords around their ankles, doing up hundreds of tiny buckles and mastering a sailor's worth of complicated knots.

The sandal is no longer an easy, breezy summer solution to sweaty toes and sticky soles, perfect for slipping on to nip outside but equally easy to throw off so you can dance barefoot in the grass.  Sandals are now the guardians of the feet galaxy.  Once you're in, you're sure as hell not getting out.  The impenetrable woven cage of today's common sandal has a safety procedure to rival Thorpe Park's most upside-down rollercoasters.  

buckled summer sandals
What even are these?

They are pedi-penitentiaries.  Tootsie-traps.  Footloose and fancy free, we are not.

Holidays are not for faffing around with laces when you could be faffing around with a Margarita.  You've switched off and zoned out and that time is precious.   As much of it as possible should be dedicated to drinking before 5pm, putting on sun cream and insect repellent and trying to get to museums on the days they are actually open. 

Holidays are about whims and acting on impulse.  Into the sea then out of the sea. Afternoon nap on the sun lounger then sunset stroll.  A sandal should take less than 20 seconds to put on or take off.  It shouldn't need any help from idle friends/partners/siblings whose hands could be busy opening your beer.  And it should not require bending into a poorly-executed yoga position to fasten.

Here are some summer picks that should make you want to look at ancient amphitheatres, sit in the shade and read a heavy-hitting novel by a female author and count your mosquito bites.*

*Note: this may not be everyone's ideal holiday.  Feel free to imagine your own itinerary.

easy summer sandals
Clockwise from top left: Leopard print espadrilles: £15 ASOS  
Neon and striped sandals: £25 Miss KG  Lilac leather velcro sandals: £58 (down from £116) Miista  Tan and black leather sandals: £24 Warehouse  Red leather sandals: £55 Saltwater at Office  Monochrome leather sandals: £22 (down from £45) & Other Stories

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Five things to do in Kraków

Wawel Cathedral

Adding to my meagre collection of travel guides, I wanted to give the excellent city of Kraków a shout out.  It's the perfect place for a continental city break - affordable, not too far away and easy to get around.  Unfortunately I can't lend you my awesome friends to go with, but I can offer up some (fairly boozy) tips for how to make the most of the city.

1. Take the time to visit Auschwitz.

I'm not going to write here about why people should do this but I did want tp note a couple of tips that made our visit run smoothly.  We booked an English-language tour online before our trip, took the bus from Kraków bus station and gave ourselves plenty of time to get there, collect headphones and watch the film that is available.  It's a gruelling day so it's good to plan ahead.

You also don't need photos of Auschwitz.  Put your phone and camera away and look at where you are.  Some people there will be behaving terribly.  Close your eyes, breathe and step away from them.  They are beyond your help.

2. Mix up culture and beer

Kraków is not a big city: it's very easy to cover it all on foot, which allows for the perfect amount of wandering around, looking at beautiful buildings and nipping into bars to drink cheap beer.  I'm always a bit stingy when it comes to paying to go inside cathedrals and churches but Wawel Cathedral is absolutely worth it.  It's packed with truly spectacular opulence and topped off with a midnight blue, star-studded arched ceiling.  

Starry starry night

To counter-balance that, head around the corner to the House of Beer and curl up on a squidgy leather sofa whilst sampling their vast selection of craft beers and ales. Other good spots for an afternoon beer are CK Brower if you're after a hilarious picture with a five pint beer pipe, Pauza to look out over the bustling Florianska street, or Caffe Camelot either for a sun-trap if the weather is nice or to hole up inside in what looks like your grandma's living room.

It is, indeed, a House of Beer

3.  Eat Polish

It's a proud moment that we genuinely shocked the manager of a milkbar by competently putting away almost all of the outrageous number of dumplings we ordered in one sitting. Spinach dumplings, potato cakes with sour cream, breaded pork and deep-fried Camembert make for a hearty evening meal.  Polish food is not to be sniffed at.

If you want to try somewhere traditional but not daunting, head to Milkbar Tomasza.  Be warned, they don't serve booze so stock up on your beers elsewhere.

4.   Drink Polish

Apart from good local beers, Poland is all about the vodka and even managed to convince a staunch vodka-hater that it's not all bad.  We used our resident quarter-Polish tour guide to show us the way and she directed us straight to Żubrówka, known as bison grass vodka.  The way to drink it is very cold with apple juice, and a hint of cinnamon. It tastes like Christmas. Try it at cosy, hipster Eszeweria in the Jewish Quarter before dancing down the road to Alchemia.

I prefer something a little less sweet so I'd recommend heading to a traditional snack and shot bar.  Maybe give the herring a miss but pick up a shot for 4 zlotys (about 70p).  My favourite was raspberry vodka topped with fresh lemon juice.  And remember to sip, not shot, otherwise you'll look incredibly British.

The vodka hater has come round to the idea.

5. Try absinthe without getting totally out of your tree

My past absinthe experiences correspond pretty closely to nights when I've either kissed a lot of boys or made my most committed effort to recreating the Dirty Dancing lift.  Both have resulted in bruises, some to my pride, some to my knees.

It all went a bit Moulin Rouge after this.

Taking the luxe and measured approach to the Green Goddess turned out to be much more fun and much less foggy.  We visited the eclectically decorated Absynt Bar in the Jewish quarter which set us up well for a night of dancing.  There were some treacherous sounding absinthe cocktails on the board but we went for the Belle Époque style traditional serving with fancy Instagram-worthy goblets and intricate silver spoons.  Having only ever necked a shot of the cheap stuff, it was a pleasant surprise to water down the absinthe in the style of whiskey and appreciate the aniseed flavours.  

It should be noted some appreciated this more than others.

Hey everyone! Enjoy absinthe!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Of Course We Still Need A Gender-Specific Prize for Literature

Last night Ali Smith was announced as the winner of the £30,000 Baileys Prize for Fiction.  Five established novelists made up the shortlist – Rachel Cusk, Kamila Shamsie, Sarah Waters, Anne Tyler and Ali Smith – and one debut author, Laline Paull.

Of course I’ve missed out a crucial word.  The prize is actually called the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.  How sexist eh?!  How reductive to still be lauding a gender-specific literary prize as a measure of success when five out of the last ten Man Booker prizes have been awarded to female writers. 

But these arguments that women-only shortlists and awards are an act of segregation, or are actually a step backwards, ignore the context completely.  Calling out a Bronte sister, or indeed all three (yes, even Anne), does not suddenly offset Hugo, Virgil, Shakespeare, Dickens, Swift, Wilde, Vonnegut and Amis(es).  Women are building a literary canon in a way that has only become possible in the last fifty years, in the same way as they are building an artistic heritage, a political legacy and a new social framework. 

For me, women-only prizes are akin to the discussion of female quotas for boards.  In an ideal world, these things would not exist.  But it’s not an ideal world and levelling out thousands of years of a distinctly uneven playing field needs a helping hand.  There are all sorts of invisible helping hands that boost various people over various fences without ever being noticed.  

If you’re male.  If you’re straight.  If you’re white.  If you’re middle class.  If English is your first language.  If you’re wealthy.  If you’re able-bodied.  If you’re old enough, but also not too old.  Those conditions all provide a little extra oomph for your career or relationships or opportunities. 

The reason there doesn’t need to be a Men’s Prize for Literary Fiction (or any kind of equivalent celebratory occasion) is because we’ve already had that prize over and over again.  It might not have been labelled as such but for most of humanity’s existence, it wasn’t necessary to label something explicitly for men only.  It was just an unsaid truth that the criteria to be eligible for those awards was mainly "PENIS? WHITE? COME ON IN!"

Men have had been congratulating themselves since the start of human civilisation.  Which isn’t to say that previous achievements should be deemed worthless.  It's plain ignorant to ignore that most art was created by men in a world where they exclusively had opportunity to produce it, and it was then judged and valued by fellow men.

It is a mistake to think these awards are designed to disable women by pitting them against one another, or suggest that they are inferior.  There just hasn’t, for centuries, been a space for women to create and think and publish, and the field is already pretty busy.  We need to find a gap, squeeze ourselves into it and push the sides away from us until more than just a handful of women can fit through.  Any event or celebration that focuses exclusively on female contribution is simply women holding onto that newly-found ground and maintaining it.

It’s very easy to cite Hilary Mantel or Tina Fey or Caitlin Moran as evidence that the tide has turned and women are on top of their game.  We may well be top of our game but unfortunately it’s still a game that too few people are watching.