Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Lodge.

The Carter memorial lecture: the Astrological Lodge in London. This is a place where you are considered a youngster at 40
Nick Campion started with a joke "What I like about the lodge it that it's never been fussy who it admits..." going onto more serious points about 'high' and 'low' astrology. 'Low' astrology refers to sun sign columns and prior to that, almanacs. Even in Roman times people complained about gullible women going to fortune tellers. 
Bernard Eccles talked about astrology in terms of the recent past; the 1980's were dominated by the Sun sign astrologer Patrick Walker; the 1990's there was the dispute between the Astrological Lodge and the Company of Astrologers.  He described how things have changed: astrology has become narrower, sharper but has also lost some of its warmth. Thirty years ago when Eccles first started going to the Lodge, there were still strong links to Theosophy and the belief that a higher force was at work. Old guys sat at the back, who had a lifetime of experience. There has been a shift in the flavour of the Lodge; people who attend are neophytes, people on voyages of self-discovery, and, at the top, authors, teachers, workshop leaders. Astrology has become, along with society, consumerist. Now astrology is serviced by professionals. Naturally astrology will change with each generation. It's very commercial now. You buy your expertise, through say, workshops. It favours the psychological over the spiritual. The personal over the universal. The sex life over the soul. 
It's not celestial. It's the age of the experts. The system favours certain skills: knowledge that can be quantified rather than wisdom. 
Charts that used to take days to draw up can be done in seconds, on computers. We are literally dazzled by software programmes or are we blinded? Astrology happens best in the shadows. Before the drawing of the chart was still manual. Everything is now computer driven. Astrology is now packets of information, parcels of data, the cook-book technique. However ultimately interpretation still has to be done by hand.
A Gandalf type character, complete with long white beard and ponytail, Roy Gillett got up to speak. Self-taught, he didn't learn astrology through books but through experience. He had several jobs, the RAF, teaching, prior to becoming an astrologer. For him transits and progressions are opportunities for karmic change. Astrology is really the study of karma. He harks back to the 1999 Astrological conference in Plymouth. It just happened to coincide with the much touted 'end of the world' eclipse. (I was there actually, had just got the boat from Santander. We sat on a hillside with hundreds of people and watched the eclipse. Unfortunately it was rather cloudy and therefore the eclipse was not clear.) There were 20-30 years building up to 1999, a mood of millenarianism. There were prophecies of peace between Russia and the U.S.A and war with Islam. The conference 2 days either side of the eclipse attracted 650 people, a huge success. The end of the world didn't happen...or did it? Not long afterwards we had the controversial Bush presidency and  September 11th. Now we are coming up to the Saturn/Uranus opposition (more on this here).
As the Ftse drops 5%, we are wondering how to salvage the economic system and that's even before Pluto properly enters Capricorn. We are on the edge of something very different. The last 12 years have been a false Aquarian dawn. And let's not forget the LHC...Large Hadron collider.

Mike Edwards is next to talk. "We should stick with the stars" he announces and puts up a chart on the overhead projector. The question is 'The current state of astrology' and is set for 7pm 29/9/08, the official start of the lecture. (1)
The Lodge is having an election for a new president. Mike Edwards put up a chart for the ideal candidate. He asked for guesses as to who this person might be. One guy ventured something and was quickly shamed into silence by Mike Edwards. Few other people dared after that. We all gazed at this natal chart with a Leo sun and Leo ascendant. Neil Spencer (Observer astrology columnist and ex-editor of the N.M.E) ventured finally "Is this person an Alan Leo (the father of modern astrology) type character?"
"No" replied Mike firmly "Anybody know?". Silence all round.
"It's Harry Potters' chart. He should be the next president of the Astrological Lodge." Titters. "Well actually it is J.K. Rowlings chart. Except we've spun it around and derived Harry Potter's chart from her chart. And in the books, she gave Harry her birthday. The moon in Virgo, of course, is Hermione. J.K. Rowling talks about how she was like Hermione in her childhood."
One woman remarks that the astronomy in the Potter books is inaccurate rubbish. Another says that J.K.Rowling isn't very complimentary about astrology (perhaps because she is a Christian) particularly in her portrayal of the divination teacher who says dippy things like "You have two Neptunes in your chart."
We led onto a general discussion. 
Neil Spencer, commenting on Bernard Eccles' talk said that "Results are a good thing. There are lots of books on spirituality nowadays. Whole sections of bookshops. "
"I agree. 'Cosmic ordering' for instance, it's the Argos catalogue of the higher plane" quips Bernard. 
Other observations about Pluto transits: when Pluto was in Cancer (1913-1939), the first fast food restaurant opened (transformation of attitudes to food represented by Cancer). The Pluto in Virgo generation (60's) led to the burgeoning of alternative medicine. Pluto in Libra (70's) transformation in attitude towards marriage. 
Capitalism (1722, Industrialism) itself is having a Pluto return. 
When Pluto was last in Aquarius, we had the causes (Stamp Act) of the United States War of Independence. (Of course, this was prior to Pluto's discovery in 1930. Some astrologers were muttering that it's demotion to dwarf planet, in 2006, was a plot to diminish its important influence on generational astrology).
There was also talk of the future of astrology in Higher Education which at the moment consists of the Sophia centre, and the University of Chichester programme. One woman says that there is interest in astrology at the Medieval Hispanic Seminar at Queens university, London. The students need to know about astrology in order to adequately analyse the texts. 

(1) Part of Fortune and Uranus in the 12th house. Part of Spirit at 25 ° Aries. Hermes (Mercury) the ruler of astrology is retrograde. Jupiter/Mars imprisoned. Venus/Mars in mutual reception. Saturn in the 6th, exalted by mutual reception. Mike Edwards uses no outer planets except for Uranus which he explains, is Lord of the whole sky. 

Monday, 29 September 2008

Crisps

I was bemoaning the stupid little blue sachet(1) as opposed to the 'twist of salt' in Smiths salt & shake plain crisps when I noticed, reading the back of the packet, that Smiths crisps originated near where I live, in a garage in Cricklewood.
As a kid, I loved untwisting the blue 'twist of salt' (an innovative idea for the time) and sprinkling it over the crisps. Eventually the Smiths brand was dropped for Walkers.
I'm still upset about the fact that Walkers Salt & Vinegar comes in green packets rather than blue, and vice versa for Cheese n' Onion. Cheese and Onion should come in green packets, because onion suggests spring onions which are green. Salt & Vinegar should come in blue packets because blue invokes the sea and fish 'n chips upon which we sprinkle salt and vinegar. Changes like this are very irritating. Unnecessary. Stressful even. Why?
The most gourmet crisps I've ever had were sold on the street, freshly fried, in Madrid.
British crisps come in an amazing range of flavours; prawn cocktail, worcester sauce, roast chicken, steak & onion, smoky bacon, lamb & mint, ham & mustard, barbecue, BBQ rib, tomato ketchup, sausage & ketchup, pickled onion, Branston Pickle, Marmite...None of them actually taste like this of course.  
Greg Gutfeld in 'Lessons from the land of pork scratchings' talks about how the British eat crisps in pubs:
"When a bag is purchased, it doesn't matter who buys them, they are for everyone. And this is underlined by the method in which the bag is opened. (One) tears the bag down the seam on the rear of the bag, splaying it out flat so that the crisps are available from all sides by anyone at a table...Generally Yanks open them from the top, and pull from the inside. Only the purchaser can get at them."
(1) Probably introduced for some kind of Health and Safety bollocks.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Afternoon shift


Sometimes life feels like a movie but a grainy East European one with subtitles and no budget. Cooked chilli sin carne. Magic ingredients: dark chocolate and chipotle.
Got an upsetting email from a date, who I thought was also a friend. Turned out I misjudged things.
This cook is in meltdown. Standing outside the back door, in my apron, feeling shit and woozy. A beautiful trans girl talks about how many times she has been dumped.

"I've been dumped by text."


"So have I", I reply grimly, thinking back to the Brazilian murderer.
"I've been dumped just after sex, just after I made the girl come", she pauses. "And I hadn't even come."
I bow to her. She has won the worst dumping I've ever had competition. 
The wind whistles down the alley. I lean against the wall, wiping my hands on my whites, a sinking feeling in my heart. Below, it burns. 

Playing Ftse

http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2008/09/27/protest-on-wall-street-no-bailout-for-billionaires/

Loving this story. People are waking up.

Last night at the Carter Memorial lecture on The State of Astrology Today at the Astrological Lodge, a roomful of astrologers (is there a better collective noun? a degree of astrologers? a wheel of astrologers?) discussed the future while watching the FTSE/New York stock exchange descend. "They've just voted no to the bail out" someone reported. Thank God. No hasty decisions on a Mercury retrograde.
Full report on the Carter lecture in the next post.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Figging

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Butternut squash bake


Butternut squash bakeMy friend L and I were having a Facebook flirt and she decided to come round for dinner. I had a butternut squash in the fridge for the last 3 weeks. I ordered the Moro cookbook specifically to get the recipe for this dish. When it came I realised it was in another Moro cookbook. Damn.
So I made something up.

Butternut Squash Bake recipe

Butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch chunks
Red onion
Red pepper
Olive oil
Sumac

Then I thought I need some tahini sauce with it. But I didn't have any tahini. I did have a large jar of sesame seeds. I whizzed them up with lemon, olive oil, salt, garlic and yoghurt. Pretty good.

Finally some fresh coriander, some dodgy harissa (with peanuts???) I bought at the South Bank food festival that I wanted to get rid of.

Sling it in the Aga for a bit.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bill Drummond



Bill Drummond pictured last night at the Big Green Bookshop, Turnpike Lane.

A tall Scottish man with a Billy Connolly delivery, Bill Drummond firstly announced his age, 55, and that he believed in the death of recorded music. Launching his latest book,  The 17, based on the number of performers he needed to recreate the engine noise of his battered landrover, Drummond refused to talk about some of the more colourful aspects of his past. These include managing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes (with the wonderful Julian Cope), starting the K Foundation and giving the Turner prize winner Rachel Whiteread, £40,000 (double the Turner prize winnings) for being the "worst artist of the year", and most notably burning a million pounds in cash.
Bill introduced his new book with two anecdotes which explain how he has got to this point. The first was a reminiscence about buying his first single 'Penny Lane' by The Beatles. However it was the 'b' side 'Strawberry Fields' that "opened a door" for him. 

"Let me take you down... because I'm going to..."
He then jumped forward to London year 2000 and browsing through HMV, one of the biggest music shops, which has about 300,000 titles for sale. He only felt a sense of ennui, not the excitement he used to feel when going to his local record shop as a youngster in Scotland. He returned home and attempted to cut up a CD with a pair of pinking shears. After a restless night, he woke with a revelation: from now on he would only listen to new music. Music by people who had never released a CD before. Drummond went to his local independent record shop and bought 5 or 6 Cd's of this ilk. He kept up this routine, buying between 1 - 6 Cd's a week, for 10 months.
Then he realised it wasn't working. He said:
"All the stuff was old. All of the new stuff was old stuff. None of it opened a door..."
Drummond went down to the bottom of his garden, where, in the time-honoured tradition of British men, he had a shed, locked the shed door and got out 'Pet Sounds' by the Beach Boys. By the last track, 'Good Vibrations' he was weeping. He even played air guitar. He made a new decision:
" for the next 12 months I will only listen to artists whose names begin with 'B'."
This included all genres of music...Beethoven, Bartok, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach, Back St. Boys. And he thought:
"For the next 26 years I've got it all worked out. I assumed that in 26 years time, I'd be listening to the 'A's'."
This worked pretty well for a couple of years. His family were happy. They always knew what to get him for Christmas and birthday presents. His kids would ask "What letter are you on now dad?". Then he made a couple of adjustments to this system; he would change the start date to January 1st and he would choose a letter at random from a bag. So he skipped forward and started on 'P'. 
But then he realised it wasn't working. It wasn't opening a door
Around this time Drummond took a trip in his Landrover; he loved the sound of the diesel engine, the different rumbles, the different frequencies. Deep within, it sounded like a choir:
"It sounded like 100 Vikings in my head. For 20 minutes, it was totally intense. This opened a door."
For the next 6 or 7 years he tried to make those noises into a reality. 
He also noticed that when listening to music on his iPod that he was skipping over his favourite tracks. Many other people were too. (I completely understand what he means). Another revelation: recorded music was the problem. Every medium has its era. Recorded music was a 20th century phenomenon. No more consumption. No more recorded music. Only participation.
By this time the hundred vikings had turned into seventeen. 17 builders or 17 electricians or 17 housewives it didn't matter. It didn't matter if they could sing or had any musical experience. He took different groups of 17 to New Music festivals all over Europe. There were some contradictions he admitted. Sometimes he used recordings to help create the sound. But he always deleted them afterwards. It is rumoured that Bill Drummond has also erased his entire back catalogue (of the KLF). 
In response to questions from the audience, Bill talked about the bagpipe bands that paraded around the town where he grew up.
"Nobody in their right mind would listen to bagpipe music on a CD. But, live, we would have followed that music anywhere. Church bells have the same effect.
This is Year Zero for music. There is very little difference musically between the music of 1977 (punk) and the music of 1964. Pop music doesn't change, just the technology."

Thai corn fritters (for Chiron)

As I cooked them for a vegan restaurant I had to dispense with the Thai green curry paste (which contains fish) and the egg. I used egg replacer which doesn't bind very well. Rice flour doesn't have gluten, so it was hard to make them stick. Needs work. Will try with normal flour next time.
The dipping sauce worked very well though.

2 tins sweet corn
1 egg
teaspoon of Thai green curry paste
handful of rice flour
fresh coriander
chopped spring onions
chopped thai chilli peppers (to taste)
salt
sesame oil
vegetable oil

Dipping sauce
Boil tablespoon of sugar and teaspoon of salt in a small pan of water.
Add 4 tablespoons of rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Add finely chopped Thai chilli peppers
Add finely sliced cucumbers.
Add handful of ground peanuts at the end. 
Put in fridge to cool.

Of course if you are really swotty you'd make your own Thai green curry paste. 

Monday, 22 September 2008

Posh menus

Yes, my curry is mystic, God-like, immanent, transcendant, sustaining the universe.

Got into trouble at the café last week. A previous chef had made a lentil loaf. I put it up as one of the specials: 'Lentil thingy with whatever'. You see, as I hadn't made it myself I wasn't sure how to describe it. Also I was running late and hadn't yet decided on the accompaniment.
Despite the fact that this is an anarchist café, they objected.
Dvd, the waitress, loved it "Goddess, that is sooo punk!" he giggled. Somebody ordered it. I think I nuked three slices in the microwave and put salad and rice with it. 
Why so serious? as The Joker would say.
I really hate poncey menu descriptions which talk up the mundane...I like to play with the names of dishes, sometimes pretentious, maybe using the odd French word, sometimes funny and to the point, sometimes showing that it's all a work in progress.
Nicked from another blogger this job advert from New Zealand. You'd immediately want to work for people like this, wouldn't you?

The new rock and roll





Goats cheese from Cumbria

Patricia Michelson makes cheese fondue

The South Bank food festival yesterday: a lovely sunny day by the river Thames. Why haven't I done this before? Such fun. Rock 'n roll for the middle aged.

The afternoon started with Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie demonstrating how to make cheese fondue. She is a little more experimental, trying a wider range of cheeses in her fondue than your bog standard Emmental and Gruyère. She says you can use Cheddar, or Tome or add Brie at the end. One must always use a high fat cheese though.

For this recipe she used Swiss Emmental not French. Swiss Emmental has less holes in it and is stronger. Then she used Comté, Beaufort, Gruyère arpage, and lastly a whole Reblochon cheese (which she scooped out of the skin) to make it really silky.

Top tips for fondue: 
  • Don't use cheese straight from the fridge as it will go all gloopy, grate the cheese and add it a little at a time. If it does go a bit gloopy then add more dry white wine.
  • Warm up a clove of garlic in white wine to give a flavour of garlic but extracts the clove prior to putting in the cheese.
  • The great thing about cheese fondue is that as a host you can be present with your guests as the meal is cooked on the table. It's also very participatory. At La Fromagerie however they cook up huge vats of cheese fondue as they have so many customers and then just serve it ready cooked.
  • Your cubes of bread for dipping should should always be a bit stale to pick up the creaminess.
  • Kirsch (the cherry based liqueur) or any eau de vie should be added at the end.
I like the different stages a cheese fondue goes through; at the beginning you get a more liquidy oily winey scoop on your bread, then as it cooks down, the cheese becomes stretchier and thicker. At the end you can dig out the crusty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Of course there is always the 'forfait' to pay if you drop your piece of bread in the fondue pan. In France this usually means you buy a bottle of white wine.

Patricia Michelson recommends any dry white wine or Chignan from the Savoie if you want to spend a little more.

The audience were given little tastings. The smell of the steaming fondue was driving the crowd mad with hunger. I thought it was going to turn into a scene from the book/film Perfume with hungry people tearing Patricia Michelson and her assistants apart to get some of the fondue.

White truffles

After that an Italian man, Bruno Giorgi came to talk about truffles. Unfortunately his undoubted knowledge was rather lost in part due to dodgy sound and also his strong Italian accent. He talked about the different tastes that truffles have depending on the type of tree, Oak, Willow or Poplar for instance, under which it is found.
He prefers the white truffle to the black; there is more water in it and it is fresher. People in Italy have killed each other when truffle hunting, they can be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I've never really got truffles. I went to Aups in Provence for the October truffle market. I bought 3 tiny ones for about 25 Euros. As advised, I stored them in a paper bag with eggs; the smell will penetrate the egg shell and flavour them. I added them, grated, to tagliatelle and creme fraiche.
My guests and I sat around eating and making little polite noises...umm, lovely etc.

Then finally I admitted: "Er, I don't really taste the truffles. It's a bit like wild mushroom but there's not as much. Does anyone else?"

Relieved, my guests confessed that they didn't get what the fuss was about either.

Colchester oyster fisherman
The Colchester Oyster

Next up was an oyster fisherman Richard Haward from near Colchester. Oysters used to be so cheap and common in the Victorian times that apprentices had it written into their contracts that they wouldn't have to eat them more than twice a week.
Now the marine environment is so messed up that they are very expensive. This fisherman, who gave his entire talk with his eyes shyly cast down, said that Colchester ones were the best, the saltiest. Cornish ones and Scottish ones are not as good, he stated.
He became animated once he started opening them and handing them out to the gannet-like audience, crowding the podium. I've tried oysters twice and hated them. Why would I want to swallow snot? I have thought. I was persuaded to try a Colchester oyster.
"They aren't slimey, these ones, you'll see" said the oyster man.
Here goes...it was like downing a slice of the sea. Fresh, slightly al dente, a rush of salt water. Not terrible. But it's not my kind of thing.

The coffee geeks

Lastly we had the coffee twins...the guys that run Coffee bar of the Year, Cafe Vergnano 1882.
Never in my life have I seen two people so enthused and passionate about their subject. The beans (Nicaraguan) are important, the temperature (between 220-225 degrees) and time (18 minutes) of the roasting is essential, the machine they make it in is vital (Elektra Bell Epoque each made by hand in Italy), even the milk must be foamy not frothy.
They explained in detail about why certain coffee chains are rubbish.
"It's a cup of hot milk. It's not coffee" they sighed.The coffee twins handed me a glass of expresso. I smelled it. I sipped it. "Er, am I allowed sugar?" I asked tentatively. The expression on their faces showed their disgust. The audience laughed.
The expresso tasted almost medicinal. Creamy on top, the body was pure, almost essence-like in flavour. It was also rather bitter. That's what it's supposed to taste like apparently.
Starbucks etc haven't done very well in Italy. The Italians just won't buy a watered-down crappy product.
"To be a barista is a profession in Italy, handed down through the generations. To be a barista in England, nobody cares!" They cried despairingly.
If you are hard core, you will drink a Ristretto...a short expresso.

The perfect cappuccino!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Croydonistan

Miss Brodie is on the phone. She can't cope anymore. Three teachers were attacked last week. It's like working in a war zone. She needs a flak jacket to go to work. "I don't think I'm cut out for teaching", she says. 
'Every child counts' is the government slogan. 
"What about every adult counts?" says my sister. 
I'm trying to encourage her.
"If you can do this you can do anything. After this, working in Afghanistan would be a piece of piss" I say. 
This week Miss Brodie has been asked to mentor a 'gifted and talented' student. But she was warned not to be alone with her.
 "She can twist things" hinted another teacher. 
This student comes from a difficult background. One of four children, all who have different fathers, the mum has already sent a solicitor's letter to the school and the student has only been at the school 2 weeks. The family is notorious in the area and have been given some sort of family ASBO for starting a local riot.
I'm trying to get Miss Brodie to enable comments on her blog. She needs support.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

About a boi

Avant-garde music

The hostess, Chiara Williams, wore something flowing...

Born to lose, a knife installation by Eva Lis.

Last night, an art vernissage in darkest Clapton; I've heard about these events many times, but have never before been to an art gallery in somebodies house. The entire house was painted a blinding white. There was no furniture. In one room an arty looking woman with geeky glasses and unsexy bob made strange music into a microphone connected to a laptop. Little squeaks and moans. Projected onto the white wall in front of her, were monochrome messages "Stop" "Go". 
Knives engraved with intricate designs and slogans stuck out of a doorway, a piece by Eva Lis called 'Born to lose'.
A tall graceful woman wearing a cat suit and chase me, fuck me heels was hosting. 
"Where is all your furniture? Where do you sleep?" I exclaimed, gesturing at the empty rooms. 
Sighing she said "In storage and at Debbie's house. I sleep in a little room near the garden. Debbie is my partner." 
I looked around. Much of the work was by female artists. Many of the guests were, on closer inspection, lesbians.
Watching an atmospheric black and white film 'Transit' by Anita Makris, I sat next to two women. One of the women was wearing a sexy pair of high heels. "Love your shoes" I said "and your nails, your jewellery...it's all been noted." 
We got chatting. She was an actor. Not an actress. She doesn't like tights, only stockings. Next to her sat her 'husband', Crin, dressed in a man's suit, shirt and tie. Crin had short hair and no makeup. She writes a blog column. 
"What's that?" I enquired.
She explained: "Well, blogs are not edited. They are just stream of consciousness. People's lives. I write a blog column. Do you edit your blog?"
"Of course. But I didn't realise that there was this distinction. Between blog and blog column.
Her blog column "Butch about town" explains that she is a 'boi', as opposed to a 'bio', a man who was born biologically male. 
As we move inexorably into the Aquarian age, gender becomes fluid. Transsexuals regard biological women and men as Cisgender opposing cis (Latin for on the same side) with trans (crossing).

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A nice cup of tea

One of my favourite websites is A nice cup of tea and a sit down (link in the sidebar). Today I had to go into town and so decided to have a cup of tea in the longest champagne bar in the world at St. Pancras Eurostar station. The cheapest glass of champagne is £7.50p and even during the day you see ladies that lunch, perhaps waiting for a train to Paris for a shopping trip, and business men, indulging in mid-morning drinks. How utterly civilised.
For £2.50p you can have a pot of Earl Grey served in white porcelain, an inexpensive luxury. I love train stations anyway, just like I get excited looking at maps. If, for whatever reason, I cannot travel, then just being near the possibility of it, is enough to stimulate me. 
Good tip: today The St. Pancras Grand restaurant opened. If you need the loo, which is luxurious, just say you are at the champagne bar and they will let you in.


Still life of white porcelain tea set at St.Pancras station



Wierd hand dryer.

Posh bog at the St.Pancras Grand restaurant

I shop therefore I am

The beautiful Lucy Wills

Equador the magician

CND necklace

Mini fish n chips

The British Library held an event last night as part of London Fashion Week to explore the links between ecology, fair trade, sustainability and fashion. I'm sure it was very interesting. I missed it. Turned up in time for the mini fish and chips in a tiny newspaper cone and the drinks.
My friend Lucy Wills was showing her recycled jewellery designs particularly a beautiful 'CND' necklace. Lucy is trying to encourage people to create rather than consume. Fashion regards itself as a creative industry after all, but so much of it concentrates on a) trying to get people to look the same and b) buy things.
As Vivienne Westwood said:
"People are being trained by the media to be perfect consumers of mass manufactured rubbish".
I wore a vintage Victorian black lace and jet cape which I picked up at a flea market in France this summer for 20 euros. Wearing vintage is one way of recycling. Some anti-fur types for instance, justify wearing fur if it is vintage. 
Clothing is getting cheaper all the time. I admit to liking Primarché (Primark to you darling) just as much as the next girl, but of course to be that price one assumes it is produced by underpaid, underage workers. (However, Primark has a code of conduct regarding these issues.) 
There have been concerns that London Fashion Week will be reduced to 4 days to accommodate the schedules of American Vogue. London is a fashion centre. Trends start on London streets, led by our vibrant tribal youth culture and British tolerance of eccentricity.You can literally wear what you like here and no one bats an eyelid.(1) Many of the Paris fashion houses are headed by English designers. Our fashion colleges are the best in the world... for instance St. Martins where John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen trained. 
"Because fashion is so indicative of the political and social climate in which we live, what we wear will always be a symptom of our environment." Alexander McQueen.
The close-up magician Equador was there looking exotic and showing off his tricks to 'modules' (models), tall thin women who are no better looking than you or I except for the fact that they are tall and thin. 

(1) So unlike the years I spent in Paris, cowering under the judgmental stares of the French. I almost ended up wearing padded velvet hairbands, fake Hermés scarves and faux Chanel cardigans like the rest of them.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Skeptics: Ben Goldacre


Dr Ben Goldacre



A typical skeptic.
Dr Ben  Goldacre (admittedly looking quite cute here)
Father and son skeptics (they were rather sweet actually).
More skeptics.

The evening didn't start well. My friend bought me a glass of red wine. It was placed on the bar. It had a frothy top, thick sediment and was cloudy.

"I'm not drinking that" I said to the barman.
"That's the house red. It'll settle." he said airily.
"I'm not drinking that" I repeated.
Bristling slightly, the barman said: "It's the house red. I asked you if you wanted the house red."
"No you didn't" I replied "You asked me if I wanted large or small. I said large."
Caught out, the barman poured out a fresh glass from a new bottle. The house red was probably from a plastic barrel.

We were at "Skeptics in the pub" a monthly talk which critically examines anything 'New Age'. The place was packed and I unfavourably compared the poor seating and sound to the comfortable private room where The Moot with No Name takes place. 
The speaker was Dr Ben Goldacre, an Oxford graduate(1) who has written a column for the Guardian. Promoting his new book, Bad Science, he can be described as pale with small blue eyes and frizzy hair. His talk was ill-prepared and he obviously decided to wing it. Dr Goldacre was under the mistaken impression that he is a stand-up comedian, but this was partly due to the craven reaction of the audience who chortled uproariously to every unwitty remark. 
Skeptics are, I must say, a rather unprepossessing bunch physically, consisting mostly of middle-aged men with beards. 
Goldacre's main point seemed to be that science as a subject is under-represented in the media, which is fair enough. Unfortunately he also felt the necessity to pick on easy targets, say nasty sexist things and generally be arrogant and unpleasant. He slagged off Dr Gillian McKeith, Patrick Holford, homeopathy, healers, humanities graduates, the idea that women might have sexual dysfunctions
The latter particularly annoyed me; he believes that female sexual dysfunction is a myth. It's more likely down to the fact that the woman sufferer is no longer "a vixeni.e.: sexy and attractive. Come again? So women cannot orgasm because they don't fancy themselves? Is that what he was saying? Surely if this argument is to hold any water it's more likely to be the fact that their men are no longer sexy and attractive.
He was unpleasantly bitchy about Dr Gillian McKeith saying that she lived in a "witchy" mansion in Hampstead (a bit of envy there methinks). Now it's true that she doesn't have a proper Phd, her science may be dodgy and she is obsessed with people's poo. But does Dr Goldacre believe that encouraging people to eat more vegetables is a bad thing? That having a quick look in the toilet bowl after you go is not a good idea? The message she delivers is a good one ultimately.
Ben Goldacre compares the fuss about 'big pharma' (the commercialism of the legal drugs industry) with 'big quacka' (the commercialism of selling unnecessary health supplements).
Judging from Ben Goldacre's unhealthy pallor perhaps he doesn't eat many vegetables, nuts and seeds. I do agree that Patrick Holford (of Optimum Nutrition) et al's emphasis on taking dietary supplements and vitamins is ridiculous. If you have a balanced nutritious diet, you shouldn't need vitamins. 
However I have read Patrick Holford's books on Optimum Nutrition and in many ways they make a lot of sense. Equally Linus Pauling's research (another of Goldacre's victims) of Vitamin C is of interest. 
As for homeopathy,  Lynne McTaggart of What the Doctors don't tell you likens homeopathy to quantum physics in her book The Field. She is also cautious about vaccinations. Ben Goldacre denounced the MMR scare as the biggest scam of the last 100 years. 
I confronted Ben Goldacre in the interval. To be honest I was fuming. He said that he used to live in a council flat in Kentish Town with his girlfriend who had just left him. He said that most people in Kentish Town were white and working class and had a short life expectancy. I lived in Kentish Town for 15 years. Most of the houses there are worth well over a million pounds. Kentish Town is full of middle class professionals with the odd council estate. 
I said to him bitchily: "No wonder your girlfriend left you, you are so horribly sexist. Plus, just because you lived in a council flat doesn't mean that everybody does."
I also asked if he had children which of course he didn't. Because that would change everything. He might actually become a fully rounded human being. 
It's amazing that when you have a child with a health problem and G.P's (who are not terribly bright or imaginative for the most part) keep giving you the same allopathic drugs which don't work, you find yourself turning to homeopathy. Which does work. Especially on children and animals. I don't know how, but it does.
Also when I came back from Malawi with a tropical disease, noone at Guy's hospital could diagnose it. My homeopath diagnosed it within seconds as Bilharzia. Which was eventually confirmed, weeks later, by tests. My homeopath, the brilliant and sensible Carole Ingram, will tell me when I need normal allopathic medecine.(2) 
Then, losing it slightly, I told him he was a wanker and that all of his audience were idiots with beards.
Just then a voice piped up:" You mean us?".
I turned around and saw a row of bearded men of varying heights (like something out of Snow White and the 7 dwarves) lining up to get a signed copy of Ben's book. 
Feeling angry and frustrated, I stole a copy of his book.
Next it was the Q & A session. One woman put her hand up: "Ben, you don't like humanities students. But we aren't all idiots."
Ben Goldacre replied: "Humanities students, sorry let me rephrase that, fuckwit humanities students....(pause for massive laugh, oh what a wag!) are fine unless they start writing about scientific or medical subjects which they know absolutely nothing about."
Afterwards I went up to him and again asked why were you so rude to that woman. He said that she was a friend of his and that she didn't mind. He then turned his back on me. I confessed guiltily to a friend that I had stolen the book. The friend said "Hmm, bad karma"
I immediately returned it to Ben Goldacre. After all, I wouldn't want that would I?

(1) What is it about Oxbridge types? They really do think they are God's gift don't they? Just because they are good at sums or whatever. 

(2) Ben Goldacre also attacked homeopaths for giving homeopathic remedies as opposed to anti-malarial drugs, saying that they put people's lives at risk. The homeopaths I have seen have all been cautious about homeopathic remedies for this purpose. However anti-malarials can often mask symptoms, delaying diagnosis. I know one woman that has had long term health problems from taking Larium (similar to Gulf war syndrome). I never took anti-malarials; chloroquine interferes with my eyesight. I packed a supply of chloroquine in case of infection (the treatment they give you anyway). Old Africa hands don't take anti-malarials either, they recommend covering up, using nets, prevention rather than cure.

Black and White food

My teenagers' packed lunch. Take one piece of Mothers Pride style bread (naturally, she can't stand all that organic seeded stuff I give her). Spread butter then black olive tapenade (you can take the girl out of France but you can't take the French out of the girl). 
Put white foundation on your face. Dye your hair black. Shade eyes thoroughly with black eye makeup. Wear black clothes and hostile expression. Et voila! You are ready for school.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Thames Festival '08

Boris holding the dog on a string.

This dog can drink out of a sports bottle.

Most years I go and help out homeless people's samba band Cardboard Citizens to play in the Thames Festival Parade. Some of them are good drummers but have lost the plot due to various reasons, generally alcoholism, drug addiction or mental health problems. Or all three. Most of the drummers however are beginners, and need a bit of support.
The parade itself starts on the northern side of Waterloo bridge, goes alongside the Thames, crosses Blackfriars bridge and ends up at the National Theatre. It's a pretty good hike, especially with a large drum. Cardboard citizens colours are black and orange. This year they had made costumes for all of us, with orange day-glo sticks sewn in and a giant puppet. We even had the pre-requisite dog on a string in band colours.
Every year the Mayor of London comes to have his picture taken with the homeless band. Up to now it's been Ken Livingstone of course. This year it was Bojo...Boris Johnson, London's very own pin-up blonde.
Now this guys a Tory and although we were expecting his visit, people were muttering that they wouldn't want to have their picture taken with him because of his right wing politics. That is, until he turned up. Suddenly everybody was crowded around him and my flirtatious friend L (who I have to confess I encouraged to have a snog with Boris) couldn't resist planting a juicy kiss on his cheek.
Anyway it's provided a great deal of entertainment on Facebook with L having to justify herself to all her right-on mates. Sometimes activists can be sooo humourless. Boris looks a bit grin and bear it though, doesn't he?
L was quite restrained. One woman started to leg-hump him. I wonder if he knew that becoming Mayor would involve this kind of thing? I wonder also if it's worse for him than Ken because of his randy reputation?
On this march the surdo section started out quite ropey but by the second half they'd got it, they were in the groove. Doing a march like this is like doing a 4 hour practice session. You make so much progress.




Sunday, 14 September 2008

Onam festival, Tooting

Eating off a fake banana leaf.

Flower petal decoration/mandala.

Strange tapioca like confection for pudding; one brown, one white.

Full Moon on Tooting Broadway, Sarf London. A restaurant that celebrates the Keralan festival of Onam with 9 courses on a banana leaf. You eat with your right hand. On this occasion the banana leaves were not real, sort of green paper table mats, as the restaurant could not obtain the right sort of banana leaves locally. Little multi-coloured dollops, red, white, yellow, brown. Banana served in different ways, au naturel (wasn't sure if you were supposed to dip it into the chutneys or what), fried banana crisps and banana chips. Various curries and concoctions, some of the most interesting food I've had in a while. Tasted a new vegetable: drumsticks, a little like salsify but dark green. Best thing: whole rice with dahl and melted ghee poured over it. Yum. It cost £7.99, you were entitled to refills. 

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Junk food mum

Speaking of Jamie Oliver, latter day saint for his campaign to improve school meals...driving through Hampstead, I once saw him, his wife and kid in a pushchair, eating MacDonald's. He seemed to be particularly enjoying the Macdonald's milkshake. If only I'd stopped the car and taken the picture, I could have made a fortune. Especially after his criticism of mums pushing junk food through the school gates (story here).
I do agree with his campaign though. The evil Scolarest provided the meals at my daughter's primary school and they were inedible dreadful things. 

Aga saga 2

The Aga man came round on Thursday. I suddenly felt slightly ashamed that I hadn't been religiously polishing it.
He's serviced the Aga's of Jamie Oliver, who has three, and Phil Vickery from Ready Steady Cook, who is Fern Britten's husband. The Aga man says that most women bake cakes for him the day before he comes to service their Aga. (You have to turn the Aga off 24 hours before a service)(1). He's expecting scones on the next visit. Bloody hell, I'd better get practising then. Never baked a scone in my life, mainly because I don't like them.
I've decided to splash out on a few cookery books, for instance, The Aga bible by Amy Wilcox (which I've just received from Amazon and it appears to be an ex-library book!). Most of the Aga cookbooks are written by Mary Berry but I find them rather old fashioned.
I've also ordered How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson and The Moro Cookbook. What really annoys me though is the meat pages. Such a waste of book. And off-putting. With yucky dead cooked flesh photos. I'm going to hack them all out.
Now I like Nigella's writing. I know she is privileged and has become a bit of a parody but you can actually follow her recipe's. You can tell she's a home cook. A cook not a chef.
I have practically no cook books nor do I have any decent knives. I'm also a crap baker. Bakers and patisserie chefs have a different mind set from normal chefs. Precision is important in their trade.
This winter I'm going to practise baking and work up my Morroccan dishes. Sounds like a riot doesn't it?

(1) He also said that Aga men are never given a manual to learn how to build the Aga's. They go on a course and have to learn it by heart. This is so no one can imitate the Aga.

Friday, 12 September 2008

How to lose friends...

Toby Young being interviewed
Years ago I was hired to photograph an opening at the Photographer's Gallery for the Observer newspaper. Several celebrities were there. Normally I don't do that kind of photography 'papping', but I was trying to get a foot in the door at the Observer. 
The journalist on the story was Toby Young, author of forthcoming film How to lose friends and alienate people. He was rather self-important and unfriendly towards me. The fashion editor at the Observer, Sally Brampton (1) (now an author) was outraged by his behaviour. Referring to me, he kept saying "Where's my monkey?" (photographers are sometimes known as 'monkeys' in Fleet St. slang), which admittedly is not very polite and you certainly would not say it about a woman photographer. Sally said that Toby Young was arrogant because he was a lords son. 
During the evening I was the only photographer to have spotted the writer Julie Burchill (known for being acerbic and controversial). I started to take a picture of her. Peter York, editor of Harpers & Queen, came up to me and pleaded with me not to take a picture of her "She's pregnant you know". Despite the fact that photographs of her were rare, I complied (idiot!). Julie Burchill thanked me though, which was sweet. 
I met Toby on a few occasions after that. Once I saw him at the Café de Paris, a fashionable nightclub at the time, in Leicester Square. I was sitting down feeling alienated as I always did. Despite spending the 1980's going to fashionable parties and clubs I often felt miserable and uncomfortable, mainly, I now realise, because I was the only person not on drugs. Toby Young sat next to me and chatted. I was a little drunk and asked him:
 "Aren't you a member of the aristocracy or something? Is that how you got work at the Observer?He replied, with an arched brow: "Why, aren't you a believer in our great meritocracy?"(2)"No, I'm not" I snorted.
The next time I saw him was at Groucho's, a private members club in Soho for the literary elite. I apologised for having been rude. He was quite affable and offered me a drink. I did think, actually he's a good sort really.
About a year ago, going through some old photo's from my archive, I looked him up on Facebook. I messaged him and received a friendly reply. We communicated a few times since. 
Through Facebook Toby invited me to his Q & A session at Harrods, to mark the launch of the film "How to lose friends and alienate people". He was witty and self-deprecating during the interview and pretty good at accents and mimicry. He also gave the impression of vulnerability. When the audience were invited to question him, nobody put up their hand, so in the interests of helping him out, I intervened. 
"Do you think you lose friends because you are blunt and say what you think?" I began."Well, like many men, I have difficulty distinguishing between appropriate and non-appropriate behaviour. Fortunately I'm now married, and my wife gives me good advice, telling me "NO, you can't say that"."I continued: "Well I've noticed on Facebook you have tons of friends. In fact, one could say that you are a bit of a Facebook slut." (At this the interviewer and the audience titter).Toby:"Well, it's the only circle that I'm accepted into. Actually Watchdog have done a report on this. They created a fake profile and asked to be my friend. I accepted. Then Watchdog called me saying that anyone could have found out all kinds of details about my private life and then committed financial fraud using those details. I pointed out that as I've written two volumes of autobiography that my private life isn't exactly a secret." 
Afterwards Toby passed me by as if he didn't recognise me. I went up to him and introduced myself, repeating that we worked together many years ago and that we communicate on Facebook.
"Oh, er, how are you?" he said politely. But he looked flustered and tried to avoid my gaze. I then said, thinking that perhaps he was a bit freaked out by the interview: "You did really well up there. Great interview. Well done". "Er yes" he said a bit oddly.
By now a queue had started to form of people wanting him to sign books, so I backed off, perusing the Food Hall on the way. The rest of Harrods is so tacky.
Despite all social networking sites, where adding people becomes an addiction for some in a bid to look popular, research indicates that nobody has more than 5 close friends and 150 acquaintance-type friends. 

(1) I had a bit of a history with Sally Brampton too. I had to shoot the London Fashion Week for the now defunct Honey magazine. It's probably one of the toughest assignments in photography. Believe me. Don McCullin, the war photographer, (who also shot the 'park' photographs for Antonioni's seminal 60's film 'Blow up') did the Paris shows once and was shocked by the ruthless behaviour of the fashion world.
Shows never start on time and photographers aren't given seats. You have to wait for hours on bended knee, holding heavy equipment, in the tiny space between the catwalk and the front row seats. All the most important fashion editors are in the front row and photographers have to work hard not to sit on their knees. The Vogue editor is naturally the most eminent and you daren't go near her. Surrounding her would be all her young haughty assistants. Once while waiting for a show to start, a light on the catwalk blew up and smoke came out. I watched in amazement as the entire Vogue posse literally trampled on people in a panic attempt to leave the marquee rapidly. They looked pretty sheepish when they had to return 10 minutes later because there wasn't a fire and it was a false alarm.
 At one particularly late show, I was crouching in front of Sally Brampton and she kept kicking me in the back. Eventually I kicked back, unheard of in those circles. Later when I was given this job by the Observer and introduced to Sally, I felt a bit abashed.
"Hmm" she said regarding me with a wry smile "I think I kicked you at the shows".
Relieved that she hadn't fired me on the spot, I replied: "and I think I kicked you back."

(2) I just found out, from Wikipedia, that it was Toby Young's father, who was indeed a lord, that originally coined this expression 'meritocracy'.