Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

British Oddities - Behold the Chip Butty

Let me preface this by saying that I've never eaten a chip butty and, unless completely plastered and desperate for carbs, I probably never will.

A butty is another word for sandwich over in these parts, usually reserved for combinations involving a bread and breakfast meat. Sarnie also means sandwich, though I'm not sure the difference between a sarnie and a butty. It's like how the Inuit people supposedly have hundreds of words for snow - the British have a lot of different ways to say 'stuff between bread'.

Did you know the word 'sandwich' came from someone named John Montagu who "revived the concept of bread as utensil" in the 1700s. He named his revival after himself - he happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Incidentally, Hawaii used to be known as the Sandwich Islands, named after the Fourth Earl by Captain Cook. The word butty came a few decades later and has less certain origins, though it is believed to be a slang combination of the words 'bread and butter' (how's that?) and originated in Yorkshire.

Only today was the concept of the chip butty unveiled to me and I just totally don't get it. The concept seems as goofy to me as the idea of eating pasta with rice on top. Has anyone eaten one of these? Was it good? Please enlighten me.

The chip butty so inspires some people that there is a song that is sung at Sheffield football matches - Sheffield being in North England where the chip butty is quite beloved. Sung to the tune of John Denver's Annie's Song:
You fill up my senses
Like a gallon of Magnet
Like a packet of Woodbines
Like a good pinch of snuff
Like a night out in Sheffield
Like a greasy chip butty
Like Sheffield United
Come fill me again....
Na Na Na Naa Naa Naaaaa, ooo!


Image of the Chip Butty from Fotobank.

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The Etymology of Nerd and Geek ... And A Bit of Love

There are a lovely group of people in London who occasionally organise fun networking events around town. Networking can be scary. It can be difficult to feel OK approaching and making conversation with strangers, so instead of just arranging more boring meet-ups, they take it a step further and arrange activity-based get togethers. Recently, Dan and I went to the Geek Foosball meet-up at Bar Kick in Shoreditch.



Some people don't like the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' and I suppose many of those feelings of discomfort probably hearken back to when they were used like barbs by meanies in school. Until about a year and a half ago, I worked in the Canadian arts sector and have always been arty and into things like writing, photography, going to museums ... I was even in choir in high school. Think Rachel from Glee without the fantastic voice. Even so, I don't remember people using those words - geek or nerd - to cause me pain in school. Maybe they did, but if it was preceded by the word 'art' or 'choir' (as in "art nerd" or "choir geek") I don't think it would have bothered me, or at least not enough to remember.


The etymology of the words nerd and geek are indisputably negative. According to the book Word Origins: The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z by John Ayto, nerd "is a term for a dull, socially inept or otherwise obnoxious person." It was actually invented by the popular children's author Dr. Seuss in his book If I Ran to the Zoo (1950):
And then, just to show them
I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And bring back an It-Kutch,
A Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!
Geek, which is not covered in Word Origins, is much older. According to Answer Bag, "it is a variant of geck, a term of German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means fool, simpleton, or dupe." Later on, the word was assigned to mean "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts" and eventually just was used generically to describe and "eccentric, oddball or someone with an unusual or odd personality."

I find it interesting that when these words were most socially damaging was in the 1950s in America, a time after the war when the country was clamoring to rebuild the 'big dream'. Homogeneity was important - everyone was expected to fall in line and fulfill their roles in the same way. People who were different were a threat and words were used as a nasty way to identify non-conformists. The strange oppression of 1950s America ushered in the 1960s, where everything changed and being odd and different was ok, even encouraged. Angry words that had been used to punish difference became somewhat less potent.



All this is a very long introduction to where we are now - 2010 in London, at a very hip bar in Shoreditch, surrounded by a genuinely diverse and friendly group of people, none of whom were carnival freaks or simpletons. Everyone I met was a young(ish) professional - some of them worked in technology companies (developers, techies and such tend to be most closely associated with the terms geek and nerd these days), some worked in film studios, some were photographers and one is even a popular food blogger. Nobody fit into a stereotype.

I like the reclamation of words like 'geek' and 'nerd' by people who are proud to be a little bit obsessive, a little bit manic and completely, unabashedly passionate about what they do. I guess that's how I would separate the nerds and geeks from everyone else - for the most part, they are enthusiastic and head-over-heels in love with something - technology, food, film, photography, even choir ... and they are not afraid to wear their excitement on their sleeve.

Everyone should be so lucky.


To see more pictures from Geek Foosball, click here.

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Don't Pity Roger Ebert

Esquire recently posted a brilliant profile piece on film critic and writer Roger Ebert. I used to love watching Siskel and Ebert's televised film reviews on At the Movies but never really developed much of a sense of who either of them were as human beings. They had amazing chemistry and were fun to watch, but they didn't really exist outside of the most obvious character traits that were so predominant in their show. The one exception was when Ebert spoke of Gene Siskel's death on the first episode after it happened. In that moment it was obvious that the two men were more than two people simply doing a job and acting up for the camera.

Ebert has had a difficult decade. He developed various forms of cancer that affected his jaw, eventually resulting in its full removal. He can no longer talk, eat or drink and has suffered through a series of horrifying surgeries. But he is writing more than ever, much of it on his brilliant blog. He also has one of the most interesting feeds on Twitter. Like anything, technology can be misused and warped by malicious people. I love this story, this example of how it can enable wonderful things. It is inspiring, and if nothing else, it's an example of how significant social media can be and how important access is.

Ebert doesn't believe in God and he doesn't seem to want to be turned into a self-help guru. Nevertheless, he's learned a few things:
I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
Ebert wrote the note at the top of this post during his Esquire interview. He's turned the act of making lemonade into an art. I'm going to try to keep this in mind as I head into Monday morning.

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Kick Ass



This looks so good!!

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Image and concept by the very clever New York based artist/designer Stefan Sagmeister. I highly recommend you check out his TED talks: The Power of Time Off and What I Have Learned

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I am in Love with Herb and Dorothy


HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

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The Day I Met the Queen



Whether you love or hate the monarchy, you have to admit that Queen Elizabeth II had style.

From my experience, Canadians as a whole (with the exception of Aboriginal people who rightfully are quite wary of the representative of a country that tried to destroy their culture) are definitely more enamoured with the monarchy than the people living UK-side. I think it comes from some strange sense of displacement resulting from the fact that many Canadians are only first or second generation. Especially in my grandmother's generation, there is still a yearning for the imagined homeland, even for those who never really lived there. Francophones are, obviously, exempt from this observation as are the myriad of Canadians whose ancestors are from other parts of the world.

Some examples of our strange love affair with the monarchy:
  • I have personally been in the homes of multiple elderly people who have either commemorative plates or spoons (or both) with pictures of the monarchy proudly displayed on their walls.
  • Almost everyone in my family stayed up until 2 am to watch the wedding of Charles and Diana. I know this because even though I was only five years old, they kept me awake by feeding me caffeinated fizzy beverages and sugar.
  • My grandmother used to tell me that if I was very lucky (and lady-like) I could marry Prince William. Obviously my grandmother lacks an understanding about how royal marriages tend to work.
  • Many of us (delusionally) imagine that we do a good impression of the Queen's accent, which we practice during the long winter months. Some of us also practice The Royal Wave (TM).
  • I've been to at least a dozen formal dinning events where hundreds of people have risen to their feet, held their wine glasses in the air and chanted "To the Queen!". Yes, this is something we do. Even in Saskatchewan.
  • I know all the words to 'God Save the Queen' because when I was in elementary school, we sang it every morning after the Lord's Prayer and Oh Canada.
  • Every Canadian province spends money on a Lieutenant Governor, whose only job is to be our local Queen's Representative. All the LGs report to the all mighty Governor General of Canada, who is the closest thing we have in our country to the Queen (note: despite being appointed by the Canadian Government, she also reports directly to the Queen of England).
I am the only person I know in the UK who has actually met the Queen. It seems that it's much easier to meet royalty when you live in an outpost in the Canadian prairies than here in Britain. The event was the unveiling of a mural in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building during the province's centennial celebration. The Queen and her Prince were there to celebrate the anniversary and were on hand to unveil the mural. I was present (one of about 300 other people) because I worked for the agency that commissioned the mural.

The only reason I actually had occasion to speak to the Queen is because I was standing next to then Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, an Aboriginal woman who was none too pleased with the history of the atrocities the British committed against her people throughout Canada's official history or the fact that, in her eyes, the Queen represented it. Picture it:
"Your Majesty, this is our wonderful Poet Laureate," speaker of the House of Commons.

"Oh, hello. Lovely to meet you," the Queen, her hand extended.

Poet's eyes go wide, face flushes and she takes a step back.

"This is my friend Amy," Poet Laureate.

"Um. Oh... OK then. Well, hello dear," the Queen says reluctantly to me and shakes my hand.

"OH MY GOD! YOU'RE THE QUEEN! HOLY CRAP!" (that would be me, though not verbatim)

The Queen moved on pretty damn quickly, let me tell you.

It's not that I am in awe of the monarchy and to be honest, I don't even really have a major political stance on whether UK (or Canadian) tax payers should continue to fund what is likely an archaic system that is past being useful. But she's the Queen! The iconic Queen of England whose face is on our money. I think I would react the same if I met, for example, Michael Jackson or Elizabeth Taylor. Again, not because I am a huge fan. Just because, you know, WOW!



















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Untitled



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I Wanna Speak Like Common People



As a language obsessive, one of the things that has dogged me since moving to the UK is the strange insistence so many people here have on using the word whilst instead of while and amongst instead of among (and a few others).

I've never adopted the habit and, in my professional life, often find myself correcting it out of our content. Over the last year or so that I've been in my job (I work in marketing), my insistence on using the common, modern while and among has slowly been eroded and quite recently, I'd all but given it up. Although my employer is quite agreeable and allows me to adopt the language style-guide I think is the most appropriate for the tone of our brand, I slowly allowed myself to become convinced that the difference was geographic and that as a Canadian, I just didn't relate to this particular turn of phrase.

Tonight, armed with a bit of time between episodes of The Wire, I decided to do a little research and I am renewed in my petition against the common use of these particular two terms.

According to Wikipedia, reputable language stylistas on both sides of the Atlantic have renounced the use of the word whilst, including the Times Online Style Guide and the Guardian Style Guide. "Notably, there are no style guides that explicitly recommend the usage of whilst over while in any circumstances whatsoever. The general consensus of English is that whilst is an unnecessary, archaic word whose primary usage is by Britons who prefer what they perceive as a more 'noble' word. Its etymology derives from the early English whiles and, simply put, while is the word that has replaced whilst in modern English, just as thee and thou were replaced by you." (source)

I've found similar results when trying to get to the bottom of the use of amongst over among.

So why are whilst and amongst so commonly used over here? I don't tend to spend time with pretentious people or royalty. I am most often editing things written by developers - that is, people who write code. Call them many things, but they are definitely not pretentious. If the origins of both words are similar to thee and thou, and the evolution of language has truly made them archaic, why are they still so prevalent, so ... common?

Although I am renewed in my effort to purge our official company language of these kinds of terms on the basis that I believe language is at its most effective and powerful when it is simple and accessible, I have to conclude that technically, whilst and amongst are not wrong or meant to be poncy (unless you are royalty) but likely just the result of habit.

Some sources I've looked at have suggested that the choice is completely aesthetic. Apart from writers and language whores, I doubt many people think about their choice long enough to really understand why they use one word over another. Besides, why would anyone intentionally choose to clothe their sentences in the linguistic equivalent of this:



Seriously.

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British Oddities - Eggs



I could easily construct a top ten list of the things I find most culturally odd about Britain (and in some ways, I have an ongoing one I am compiling and revising constantly in my head). On that list I would definitely include that supermarkets in this country consistently do not refrigerate their eggs. It is also considered completely normal to keep your eggs on the counter top in your kitchen, not in the ice box.

According to the Egg Safety Centre (yes, there is such a thing!), you should refrigerate eggs and even throw out any that have been accidentally left out on the counter for over two hours and the USDA agrees. Despite the fact that it feels patently wrong to me to not refrigerate any animal products (meat, eggs, cheese, milk ...) I do regularly eat eggs over here that have undoubtedly lived chill free on a supermarket shelf, and as far as I know, have yet to get sick from them.

I do put them in the fridge the moment I get home from the market though and I have to say, if I think about it too much, it creeps me out a little.

Two points to anyone who can tell me how this cultural anomaly came about!

Robin Eggs image from Photoholic1.

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Isadora Duncan



From the time I was five until I turned about 14 I took ballet classes. I was never very good and though sometimes I hated it (like when the pointe shoes made my toes bleed), mostly I loved it and the crazy Miss. Carnrick who taught me. Apart from an obvious lack of natural ability, I am also not really physically right to be a ballerina. By the time I was 14, it was abundantly clear that I was not to be a waifish, long-necked, swan-like creature. I am not tall and I am not particularly graceful.

I still love the ballet and the stories of the eccentric dancers who populate its history. One of the most intriguing to me has always been Isadora Duncan. Born in America, Duncan danced in Paris, Brazil and Russia and was probably best known for dancing barefoot (smart lady - those shoes hurt). But it wasn't so much her life that I was always the most interested in, but her death. According to Wikipedia:

Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves which trailed behind her was the cause of her death in a freak automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927, at the age of 50. The scarf was hand-painted silk from the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov. The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein's mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous."

Duncan was a passenger in the Amilcar automobile of a handsome French-Italian mechanic, Benoît Falchetto, whom she had nicknamed "Buggatti" (sic). Before getting into the car, she said to a friend, Mary Desti (mother of 1940s Hollywood writer-director Preston Sturges), and some companions, "Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!" ("Goodbye, my friends, I am off to glory!"). However, according to the diaries of the American novelist Glenway Wescott, who was in Nice at the time and visited Duncan's body in the morgue (his diaries are in the Beinecke Library at Yale University), Desti admitted that she had lied about Duncan's last words. Instead, she told Wescott, the dancer actually said, "Je vais à l'amour" ("I am off to love"), which Desti considered too embarrassing to go down in history as the legend's final utterance, especially as it suggested that Duncan hoped that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a sexual assignation.

Whatever her actual last words, when Falchetto drove off, Duncan's immense handpainted silk scarf—a gift from Desti that was large enough to wrap around her body and neck and flutter out of the car, became entangled around one of the vehicle's open-spoked wheels and rear axle. As The New York Times noted in its obituary of the dancer on September 15, 1927, "Isadora Duncan, the American dancer, tonight met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera. According to dispatches from Nice Miss Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement." Other sources describe her death as resulting from strangulation, noting that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck.

The beautiful image above is from Mushin.



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Do We Really Need This?



I love the Sex and the City television series but, let's face it, the movie was shit. The sequel to the movie will be even worse. They are going back to the 80s for Christ sakes!

Is anyone actually into this?

Image from The Frisky.


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Quick Hello

Hello!

I've been a bit absent here because the world is spinning out of control (in a good way) and I can't believe it is autumn. I have this whole list of things I want to tell you (like the story of how I got seasick in the middle of the lovely Monterrey Bay and attracted two grey hump backs and an entire pod of killer whales) but instead, I'll leave you with this:



Does the look on Obama's face not say everything we need to know about the crooked, cheating Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi? Love it.

(Found via Dan. Image from It's Nice That)

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Tiffany Blue Ice

 

Despite that it isn't cold enough for water to actually freeze in most parts of the UK, people here are ga ga for outdoor ice skating in the winter. They set up winter carnivals (usually set in front of a beautiful, elaborate old building) with rides and skating rinks all lit with elaborate fairy lights.

This year Tiffany & Co is presenting the Skate at the lovely Somerset House in London. Tiffany blue is my favourite colour and the fact that, at least in their promo picture, the ice looks like an illuminated version of that colour makes me swoon just a little bit. It's enough to make me want to pay to look like a fool by falling on my ass as I pull myself around that pretty blue rink. I'll even advance book for the pleasure.

Thanks to Dave Joyner, without whom I may never have found this.

(Image from the Somerset House website)

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I Like Obama BUT...

This dress (worn by actress Victoria Rowell at the Emmy's over the weekend) is whack.



Found via the hilarious bitches at Go Fug Yourself.

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Obsessive Compulsive Thinking Turns Me On


(image from We Make Money Not Art)

On September 20th the wonderful exhibition Fabiola closed at the National Portrait Gallery. I was lucky enough to see it in passing one day while en route to meet a friend for an afternoon drink. It is a wonderful example of passion fueled by what I think of as a creative form of OCD. Julia Child had it for cooking and clearly this guy, Francis Alÿs, had it for the Christian Saint Fabiola.

From the National Portrait Gallery website:

Created by the internationally acclaimed artist Francis Alÿs, Fabiola is an installation of hundreds of portraits of a fourth-century Christian saint. These portraits, including paintings,embroidery and miniatures, are all versions of the same nineteenth-century original, and were gathered by the artist from flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. This is a fascinating exploration of a portrait that has become an icon.
Incidentally, Saint Fabiola was a happy lass who

renounced all that the world had to offer her, and devoted her immense wealth to the needs of the poor and the sick. She erected a fine hospital at Rome, and waited on the inmates herself, not even shunning those afflicted with repulsive wounds and sores. Besides this she gave large sums to the churches and religious communities at Rome and other places in Italy. All her interests were centered on the needs of the Church and the care of the poor and suffering.
(Source: Wikipedia)

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The Desecreation of My Life in France by Julia Child



I'm currently reading My Life in France by French gourmande extraordinaire, Julia Child and am mostly enjoying the book. Child is charming and dorky and makes me feel like I am listening to someone's great aunt tell a story about her youth. Sometimes it gets a bit tedious but there is also something lovely and simple about it. It's good Tube reading material because I can dip in an out and there isn't much to keep track of.

Now on to the atrocity bit. This was the original cover of the book:



It's classy, simple, charming (not to mention adorable) and features Julia and her husband Paul Child on the cover in one of their famous Valentine cards.

Now, I bring you to the new cover (the ONLY version shops seem to stock at the moment):



Not only has the book become a blatant advertisement for the film Julie and Julia but for some completely mind-boggling reason they have replaced the image of the real Child with the actress who plays her in the film - Meryl Streep.

I really like biographies and the whole point of reading them is because I am interested in the real-life person behind the story. I assume I'm not alone in that. I don't know anyone who seeks out a biography who would rather see pictures of an actress from the biopic rather than the real person. If I wanted to see Meryl Streep on the cover of my book, I would buy a biography about her. I suppose I should feel grateful that they've left the photos inside the book intact instead of replacing them with stills from the film.

And what's with the Sex and the City-like New York skyline next to the title that turns into the Eiffel tower? I am 3/4 of the way through and so far no one has spent any time in New York. Sheesh!

I have nothing against the film (though I haven't seen it yet so it could be terrible) but being forced to look at a promo for it every time I pick up this book almost makes me want to boycott it out of spite. Thoughts?

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Yoko Ono and the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger


Photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon used with permission from Ken Ross.  © Ken Ross


Dear Internets,

Last night I went to a gig in the middle of nowhere North East London at a tiny little club called Cafe Oto to watch Sean Lennon's new band, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT) perform. The evening began rather miserably. Dan's back was and is bothering him and I had a twisted ankle. It was windy and rainy and to end all things my stupid bank put a security flag on my debit card so I found myself in long gone nowhere without access to any money. After a painful half an hour on the phone with the bank, finally something was sorted. I am thinking of changing banks, but that is for another post.

We were wet, we had gravel in our eyes and we were somewhere that seemed to only have tiny dirty looking restaurants with stained laminated pictures of their food (never a good sign). At one point I said to Dan, "If I get stabbed tonight, I'm blaming you!"

Happily things got progressively better from there and no one was shanked. We met up with two friends in a Turkish themed restaurant for some beer and mediocre hummus and then over to Cafe Oto where Sean Lennon was debuting his new act to a sold out, intimate London audience. How Dave Joyner consistently manages to get his fingers on these kinds of tickets is beyond me, but if you want to see anything cool on almost any given night of the week, he's your man.

Though I was curious and a bit excited to see Sean Lennon, I was completely star struck when I saw that his mother Yoko Ono was also there, sitting a few feet away from me. There is this history of music and whether you like her or not, Yoko played a pretty significant role in it. Not to mention that I am an art geek and she was doing ridiculous performance art before almost anyone else. She is tiny - maybe just over five feet tall and small boned like a little bird. She was wearing a black suit and a little black top hat with gigantic black bug sunglasses (though it was darkly lit in the venue). She always had an entourage and despite the fact that the woman is an icon, she wasn't bothered much for autographs or pictures, though this was a hipster London crowd who were probably cultivating their "I don't give a fuck" vibe.

Though I would have died to have a picture with Yoko, I just couldn't bring myself to ask her (or her bodyguard) if it was OK and it was just too dark in the venue to get a good on the sly picture.

GOASTT was a sweet little folky act consisting of Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte harmonising with one another in these little poppy ditties. The push behind the Lennon name is what has clearly made this act viable, as I imagine in almost any large city in the world there are dozens of beautiful kids doing exactly the same thing. Still, it was nice.

It was pretty obvious that Sean Lennon came alive when playing the guitar but unfortunately the dynamics of their group doesn't allow him much room for this. On the two occasions when he did a solo, Charlotte (who doesn't seem to play anything except for the tambourine) seemed a bit awkward and lost.

Here is a very dark and grainy video of one of their songs last night:



At the end of the night, the unthinkable happened. The crowd seemed to want more and there wasn't any more to give from the scheduled acts so Yoko Ono decided to get up on stage and do an improvised song, her son accompanying her on guitar. In true Yoko style it features guttural yelling and screaming the words "I feel bad" on repeat. Absolutely brilliant. Here is a snippet (again very dark and hard to see):



Seriously, an amazing and unforgettable night in London.

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London Naked Bike Ride



The weather in London has been uncharacteristically hot, sunny and dry. Like most everyone who lives here, when the weather cooperates Dan and I scuttled outside to enjoy the sun (actually, Dan doesn't much like the sun. I scuttle and he is a good enough sport to pretend to scuttle along with me). On any given day the question isn't so much what should we do, but what shouldn't we do. The rumours are true. London is just as exciting and filled with possibilities as you imagine and it is usually a matter of deciding what you can fit in rather than being at a loss to think of something to occupy the time.

Yesterday we could have rented a paddle boat and floated around Hyde Park, we could have taken a train to Brighton or some other nearby sea side community, we could have gone to see a theatre production or to any number of wonderful exhibitions. Instead we opted to take in the London leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, which traveled 6 miles through London's centre. To be clear, we didn't participate but rather stood on the side of the road taking in the spectacle and snapping pictures of the colourful naked folk as they rode by.



In past years over a thousand people participated in the London rally and this year was no different. There were people from pretty much every age group - one cyclist even had her small baby strapped to her naked back- ethnic background, men women, big and small... According the website, the rationale is that it is
a peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic. The world's biggest naked protest: 50+ cities and thousands of riders participate worldwide, including around 2,000 in the UK in 2008
It was pretty hot in London yesterday and I couldn't help but feel sorry for all those bare asses glued to their hard little black leather seats. It was great entertainment, but there really has got to be an easier way to get the point across...

Ah, London.

Photo by me. To see the rest, visit my Flickr Summer '09 London set.

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Hell Hath No Fury…



On Sunday night, thanks to an ICA membership and quick thinking by Dan, I got to see an advance screening of Sam Raimi’s new horror film Drag Me To Hell starring Justin Long and Alison Lohman. I have never been a huge fan of Raimi’s films, with the exception of enjoying the quick-paced, big budget fun that is Spiderman. It’s not that I’ve actively disliked films like Evil Dead but I’ve found that the gross, slap-stick factor outweighs the scariness with the result of constantly reminding me that I am watching a film. I’ve never been able to get lost in them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Drag Me To Hell. The trailers make it look like a straight up horror film. I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.

The plot isn’t complicated. Christine (Alison Lohman) works at a bank and is looking to get a promotion. Her boss gives her the impression that she may not get it because of a perception that she is unable to make the hard decisions that are required in the position. One day a weird (disgusting) old woman comes in. She’s had two extensions on her loan and is asking for a third. If the request isn’t granted, she will be evicted from the home she’s lived in for decades.

Initially our girl tries to help her but then, acutely aware of her manager’s disapproval, she denies the woman the extension. The old woman gets down on her hands and knees and begs but Christine calls security and, feeling shamed, the old woman curses her. From that point on Alison Lohman’s character is trying to out run a very creepy curse, which will drag her to burn in hell for all eternity after three days of torment.

At first read, this might not sound funny but it really, really is! There is a fight scene towards the beginning of the film between Alison Lohman and the old woman that manages to jump between being full of scares that actually made me jolt in my seat to being completely ridiculous as the old woman keeps coming and coming, spewing all kinds of nasty body fluids in the process.

There were other, much more subtle moments that managed to move easily between terror and hilarity. In one scene a psychic advises her to make a blood sacrifice to the demon by killing an animal. Although she is initially horrified by this idea, after a particularly brutal (and scary) altercation, Raimi cuts to Lohman tip toeing through the house looking for her kitten, a butcher knife in hand calling out, “Here kitty, kitty!”

My favourite moment happened during a séance when a possessed goat suddenly began talking in the voice of the demon – a wicked expression on his face. Funny and horrible!

I don’t know how Raimi achieved this balance. The problem I had with Evil Dead is that the comedy yanked me from the horror and I couldn’t get back to a place of feeling afraid. In contrast, Drag Me To Hell felt like a roller coaster ride where I was thrown between being genuinely scared and laughing my ass off from one moment to the next. I felt outside of myself but still trapped inside my senses, which is really the most one can hope for when seeing a good film.

I won’t tell you what happened at the end because I genuinely hope you go and see it yourself. Even if you don’t like horror, even if you aren’t an Evil Dead fan boy, it’s a very fun way to spend an hour and a half. There were some minor moments of discontinuity in the story but they were small and this ride isn’t really about the plot anyway.

Following the screening we were treated to a Q&A with Raimi, Long and Lohman. Shallow though it may seem, I was immediately struck by how much better looking Long and Lohman were in person then in the film. Raimi and Long were easy, interesting and really funny and engaging to listen to. They had a natural rapport with the audience and like the film itself, didn’t take things too seriously. Lohman was just kind of there - a vacuum taking up space. She has always been one of those actresses who are a bit of a blur for me. I know I’ve seen her in films, but until now I couldn’t name one. She didn’t make much more of an impression in person.

The thing I will most remember about her from now on is all the disgusting goo Raimi poured on her (and in her) during the film.

Go and see it.

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