A Weekend in Milan

8 Nov

I miss travel. This morning, I was thinking about my trip to Milan earlier in the year, and wanted to write about it, partly as a form of deeper reminiscence.

I haven’t travelled a lot on my own. In general, I dislike being alone; I don’t think I’ve yet found the means of being totally at peace in my own company. But there is also a freedom in setting one’s own schedule, and exploring at one’s own pace.

I chose to go to Milan on something of a whim. I knew I wanted to do a weekend away in February and looked at which flights were cheapest. My friend Hannah had recently been to Milan and enjoyed it, and I also wanted to make my first trip to Italy. With a bit of Coffee Break Italian under my belt, and advance bookings for the Cathedral and The Last Supper (essential), I set off from Stansted to Bergamo.

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Don’t mention the war

27 Sep


It feels like Netflix’s Dark has been the sleeper hit of this pandemic summer. Perhaps because it is eminently binge-worthy and rewards obsession; perhaps because its claustrophobic feel suits the current climate. But it’s not your usual ‘must-see TV’: it’s a subtitled series made in Germany.

That a German show should gain traction around the world is a cheering triumph of the Netflix era. Yet, its global popularity could be explained by its somewhat generic nature. Its ‘spooky small town’ is somewhat reminiscent of the village at the centre of Les Revenants, or even Twin Peaks. Is there anything particularly German about Winden?

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Love in Lockdown

10 Aug

I become aware of two things around the same time.

One: there is a virus coming for us. It’s been in the news for weeks, the girl next to me in the office becoming increasingly hysterical, whereas I was rolling my eyes. “It’ll be another Swine Flu,” I said, remembering how I was quarantined in my tiny bungalow in Afidnes for a week before I was allowed to teach, and then every kid in the school got sick anyway by summertime. Or another SARs, a disease over there that fizzles out before it gets over here.

My cynicism is punctured when my friend Dennis texts me from Germany in mid-Feb. He’s half-Italian and just came back from a research trip to a village there. He’s worried about what’s happening. For some reason, his is the message that makes me stop in my tracks. I stockpile pasta and tinned tomatoes and Dairy Milk with a racing heart. Nobody else is buying for disaster, yet, but it’s simmering in the background.

Yet, at the same time, my mind is consumed by two: the dawning realisation that this pipe dream of casual dating is simply not going to work.

I thought I’d have a few months of meeting people, being cool and aloof about it all while I breezed through a newly single lifestyle of dinner dates and nice cocktails.

But my very first date turned out to be really, really good. And the second. And the third…

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Confessions of a reluctant exerciser

24 May

This morning, I ran almost 10km from my flat in Islington down through the West End and to Whitehall, curving back round along the Victoria Embankment to Blackfriars before looping St. Paul’s to add a few more steps to my count. My feet were leaden by the time I puffed back up Farringdon Road; my lips burned with a mixture of suncream and sweat. But I had enjoyed the run, listening to the history of Chinese food in New York and a BBC documentary on shootings in Chicago.

Yes, I enjoyed a 10km run. And yesterday I enjoyed a 50 minute workout that left me gasping and jelly-legged. If you had told me some years ago that I’d one ay be a committed exerciser, I would have laughed.

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For Food’s Sake

8 May

There are few pleasures to be had, here in ‘lockdown’ (barring, of course, the warmth of a sunray on your leg as you work by the window). Food becomes the only connection to the physical.

Before the virus, I was trying to be more ‘flexitarian’. Tofu, beans, curries made with those little spice kits you can get from the supermarket. I ate breakfast and lunch at work, and sometimes dinner, too, snaffled at my desk before dashing out to a dance class or a gallery late. Salads. Those slightly slimy falafel wraps from Tesco that made my stomach cramp. A bag of Jacob’s Crinklys, lip-smacking food of the gods. An overpriced pain-au-chocolat as a Friday morning treat.

My food habits changed rapidly. In mid-Feb, I put aside a small stockpile of canned and dried goods just in case. I’ve been reluctant to touch them, but it’s good just to know I’ve got a tin of rice pudding if I’m desperate. My last meal out was a last-minute, ‘if this is my last supper, let it be a good one’, dive into Shake Shack for the deep indulgence of burger and chips.

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What I Read in 2019

30 Dec

Another year over. It’s not been a great one, to be honest with you. Anyway, we’re here for the books! A total of 42. My favourites are bolded.

You’ll notice I read a few ‘work’ books this year. Just trying to boost my skills a bit! Mostly, I really loved history this year.

1. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

2. Launch by Jeff Walker

3. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben – fascinating non-fiction

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What I Read in 2018

30 Dec

It’s my annual reading round up! I managed 41 books this year. I’m actually a little bit ashamed as it’s way below the last few years. I guess there were a couple of factors at play. Firstly, I’ve read more non-fiction and a couple of really weighty tomes, especially when it comes to history. They just take longer to read so I can’t rattle through them in a week as I can with a novel. Secondly, I’ve done a bit more writing this year (just hit 32k on my new manuscript). But thirdly, I’ve probably gone on my phone a bit too much, especially now they put free wi-fi on the train. I need to reverse this trend in 2019.

As usual, I’ve bolded my absolute favourites.

Let me know your top reads of the year, and if you share any of mine.

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I <3 NY

30 Sep

All cities are palimpsest. All cities are noisy, chaotic minglings of human bodies and human voices and the creatures who live off our filth. All cities are layers of history pressed close between aching fingers. New York is just much more in-your-face with all that. And how typical.


Within seconds, Manhattan streets change from rather ramshackle collections of dollar stores and fast food joints to vast mansions and big brands. People who look like they wandered out of 1945 cross the street side by side with kids in sports leggings. South American immigrants sweep puddles into the storm drain so guys in suits and trench coats can cross safely on their way to Wall Street.

I love it. Love the deep, grimy brashness of the city. The energy that hums 24/7, for, as they rightly say, this is the city that never sleeps. It is a creature that huffs exhaust fumes and the weird, steel-scented gas that comes from subway vents, veins constantly fizzing with traffic. Lucky enough to visit twice this year, I find myself nodding at the ad campaign. Yes, I heart NY. More so on my return.

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Future Female

13 Aug

Girls, geisha, cyborgs: sexy robot women in Blade Runner and beyond

I love Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s the kind of movie you could never be ashamed at listing in your top five – it’s a film buffs’ film, the kind of iconic picture that comes along rarely and then lingers in the canon, setting the bar for pretty much everything that comes next. Style (the 40s-meets-80s neo-noir), music (Vangelis’ sweeping electronica), detail (the columns Scott demanded be turned upside down to show the design, much to the annoyance of the set dressers); Blade Runner is at once derivative and original, to brilliant effect. That, and it’s a thrilling story that raises a host of questions about the nature of human (and not human) existence.

But Blade Runner is also a problematic fave. The lazy use of Asian culture to create a hostile and unfamiliar ‘LA’ atmosphere is one thing. Then you have the women. Blade Runner, like many sci-fi movies (like many movies full stop) has a serious issue with its representation of females. I say females, because there are no significant human women in this story. Let that sink in. One of the most iconic movies ever made has no human women in the narrative. Where females appear, their roles are highly sexualised and suggest that the female future is both limited and bleak.

Blade Runner is not alone in this, and not the greatest offender. In fact, the original movie, read in a feminist light, offers much food for thought, despite its ultimate inability to truly challenge the oppressive capitalist patriarchy it establishes. But its influence is undeniable, and begs the question: why is our culture so unimaginative when it comes to the future female?

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Paint: an evolving relationship with makeup

29 Jan

I was fourteen and going through a messy argument with a school friend. You know the sort. The final straw for me was when she said, with real vitriol, “Your mum forced me to wear eyeliner to the disco!”

Now, you can come for many things but come for my mum and our friendship is done.

What my mum had done, generously, was offer to do our makeup for the evening. She did a nice green eyeliner for me, with mascara and a coral lip to go with my blue halter top and pleather flares. It was 2001, man. Dark times for fashion. But whatever, I looked fly and a guy I couldn’t see properly without my glasses tried to put his hand on my bum when we slow danced for thirty seconds, so I guess someone else thought so too.

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