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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Remember Remember the 5th of November . . .

It's hard not to remember the 5th November when a noisy herald of fireworks mark the occasion before the pumpkins are even lit. As every child knows, Guy Fawkes is remembered for having tried to bring down the Houses of Parliament; nowadays scenes at the ancient palace are slightly different from back in 1605, although in recent years there has been an increasing air of revolution surrounding the night.

The Million Mask March is associated with hackivist group, Anonymous; to some an anarchist movement fronted by faceless cyber terrorists, to others a symbol of hope and the recognition of change. However you view it, the fact remains that some 900 masked people descended on Parliament Square on the evening of 5th November - a movement which is increasing year upon year and is also represented in cities across the globe.

Whilst the few reports that did make it into the media were disparaging, the stark lack of coverage was of real significance. The control that the money men have over our knowledge of the world is of real concern. However it is significant that whilst the BBC trivialised the protest, claiming it was about the rise in energy bills, they didn't comment until around 10pm - ensuring that they didn't inadvertently spread the word and swell the crowds: Are the powers that be worried?

Reading this from the fairly privileged position of having the access to a computer, a reasonable question might be 'worried about what - what's the problem?' A good friend recently told me that the world is better than it has ever been, that we have nothing to worry about as things are improving all the time. For a summary of this sunny and valid viewpoint, the Beeb have put together an easy to digest little snippet from Hans Rosling. The problem then, is that although statistics about population change, access to clean water and female education show a positive trend, there is frightening evidence that indicates that over 97% of the population is essentially being played. I don't mean to make light of this - the horrors and atrocities that are committed in the name of the general public, using money we have given to our governments - and that has slipped straight into the pockets of some big players heading up certain corporations - are truly vile, corrupt and inhumane. One problem is that those who attempt to highlight these injustices are either locked up, silenced or branded conspiracy theorists and discredited. Getting these issues known is just the first obstacle. With the spread and development of the internet there has been a huge influx in people who previously had been unable to speak out - now they can tell the world.

As we've seen with the uproar caused by WikiLeaks, and the resulting treatment of Julian Assange, speaking out is dangerous - take up global causes such as fairness and equality and you have to be prepared for the consequences. The recent move by Google to engage a system that blocks certain online searches linked to pedophilia is, for me, a cause for concern. On the one hand the internet has made it easier for pedophiles to connect with one another, share material and information, and hatefully, to act - whereas perhaps before the internet some of these people may not have acted on such impulses. The same can be said of terrorists, but also it can be said about any other group of people. Plane spotters for example; perhaps they have a certain inclination to record flights going over their house, but were it not for the internet they'd have never actually gone out to Heathrow and spent a day there with their binoculars and sandwiches. My point is this; the first restriction has been put in place - others will follow. Who has the final say on who is a terrorist? Nelson Mandela was a terrorist - by our western definition of course he was. But then he was a freedom fighter, an activist, a believer in equality. When those with the 'final say' have the power to place restrictions on the internet, when they control the media, when they instigate wars and finance corporations that are screwing the planet's resources with no hesitation, it is time to take stock, consider what is important and if we really want to go down in history as another 'civilisation' that stood by and watched, too ignorant or apathetic to try and change the world.

The word 'revolution' is being bandied about; you've probably already seen the Paxman interview with Russell Brand. It's amusing but may make many role their eyes. The logical question to follow: yes, but what's the solution?

One solution is to look at how we spend. Money talks. Be careful about where you spend your money - if you disagree with the principles of a company, don't spend there. Don't be seen there, don't endorse it. We're not asking for a bloody overthrow of every system we've known. We're asking for a world where having a fortune doesn't absolve you from conducting your business with moral consideration. It might mean paying a little more - only buying free range animal produce for example. When you think of the effort involved in the production of a better quality, more ethically sourced product, it makes sense. Now any urging to purchase say, organic rather than normal hoummous might sound like the very epitome of a first world problem. It is. But somewhere down the line there is something akin to a third world impact.

After all, who wants to live in a world where we apparently fund likes of Starbucks to pay their workers in India less than half the hourly living wage - however inadvertently? By being responsible and thoughtful about the way we spend our money, taking the time to find out how our money gets spent and by being optimistic about the future, it really is possible to change the world. Again, money talks. If roughly half the population of Kentish Town spent £5 of their weekly budget more thoughtfully, an impressive three million a year would be better spent from this little corner alone!

What has this to do with V for Vendetta masks? It's a call to arms certainly. Well, a call to free range food and thoughtful, independent spending really. Community, change, all that stuff. Perhaps the Million Masked Marchers are misguided and naive - but perhaps they're on to something. They're certainly growing with every passing year. Whilst it's easy for rent-a-mob to get in on the action and discredit freedom fighters and advocates of a compassionate world, the need for change is very much here, and we're acting on it. Join us?

If you haven't already, check out Propanda which recently showed at the Raindance Film Festival, London.

Propaganda by Slavo Martinov:

A parody dressed as a North Korean propaganda video. Highly recommended. It's worth noting that after this was released on YouTube, New Zealander Slavo Martinov received a phone call from South Korea who believed him to be working as a spy for North Korea. In addition to this, although the Propaganda team delayed sending the script electronically (believing themselves to be paranoid), the first time it was sent in an email Slavo Martinov was hauled in for questioning by detectives in New Zealand. It would seem that yes, they actually are watching you!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Out on the Kentish Town

In the last week I've managed two very civilised nights out; firstly at the Pleasance Theatre to watch The Mighty Boosh test out new material on a receptive and wine softened audience, then yesterday I nipped next door to an MGMT gig, although it was really an excuse to check out the Kentish Town Forum that I hear so much about . . .

The Mighty Boosh played the first bitterly cold Thursday of Autumn, off the Cally Road at the Pleasance Theatre. A lovely space perfect for small audiences who all know someone, or want to know someone. With the emphasis on 'younger than ever', Julian's twin sons opened the show; cute and actually rather amusing. Standard Boosh banter warmed the crowd before they crowbarred in some slightly loose character sketches from various friends and oddballs.

So far so average. With the audience further mellowed by a bar break, the Boosh then sidled into the second half with some revamped songs which they performed live and gave a convoluted comedy back story. Sounds terrible but somehow they smashed it. The musical performance and acoustics were genuinely very good and sounded like they were about to get even better when the drummer informed us that something electrical had broken. Now I'm no musician, or indeed electrician, but I did expect this to be a minor glitch. Not so. A slightly awkward Noel improvised whilst Julian, the drummer and a very sensible looking technical man tampered with wires.

Whether any part of this was scripted to give them audience sympathy and breathing space, I can't say. However it was from this point that both Noel and Julian came into their own and demonstrated that yes, they do indeed have the new material/ ongoing ability to make money from comedy - although stand up seemed a little like hard work for Noel who was panting like a finance executive running for a bus. Still, it was good to see the Boosh back on the circuit, and all the more welcome that the cycle home was both short and downhill.

My next (civilised) venture out started with a very sweet tout who told his tout mate that we could have the tickets for cost price as we were only kids and the gig started five minutes ago. I'm twenty seven. Still, who's disagreeing? As we arrived the psychedelic graphics on screen burst into rainbows and MGMT started up Time to Pretend. This is easily my favourite song, of the three I know, and with the crowd singing along to 'this is our decision, to live fast and die young, we've got the vision now let's have some fun,' there really was a lovely, fuzzy, captured-a-shared-feeling-there, kind of moment. Regardless of the inevitable fact that most of the people in the forum that night probably do have jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute, this lyric resonated with them - ironic but there it is. More than anything it taps into that often unfulfilled desire, usually quashed with rent and reason, to just press play and roll.

Although the band do have a bevy of decent songs, I'm afraid to report that through much of the new album stuff I was far more taken with the visuals; rainbows, sweets, decrepit temples and aliens. I'd like to suggest that this is because I'm a very visual person, rather than the music was dull. The acoustics were also a tad grinding; whilst I actively enjoy the sensation of bass reverberating in my chest, this was more overwhelming than I'd expect from an MGMT gig, and at one point the lyrics were drowned out by the instruments - until the sound man presumably had a panic and fixed it.

I have to say that as with most old theatres and art deco cinemas, I loved the venue itself. Uninspiring from the outside, this grade II listed building is big and impressive with gilt reliefs of horses and chariots chasing around the big red dome in the ceiling. Apparently back in the day The Forum had a Compton organ, a five ton safety curtain and a tea room upstairs! Oh how times have changed. Still, it was nice to see a throw back to Kentish Town's heydey when it reportedly had nine cinemas. Nine!

Like the better known C Town down the road, Kentish Town has hangouts a plenty, and what it lacks in tourists and lack lustre goths, it more than makes up for with its harem of nutters. My week was peppered with pickled cactus fries outside in the shisha garden at GuanaBana, and far more outlandish nights downstairs at Shebeen, usually a Drink of the Week to start, punctuated by a myriad of whiskys, mescal, gin and of course, the inevitable poitin. It's all going down in Kentish Town.

 (above image has been shamelessly stolen from Google . . . )

Monday, 23 September 2013

Combining camera and water

Last week I headed down to North Devon for a MUCH needed surf. I'd been enlisted to drive the second 15 seater minibus, although I'd been out 'til late somewhere the night before. I've searched the echoing cavern of my long-term memory and can't summon any anecdotes or in fact any information at all about that night, but suffice to say it made everything seem a bit more tricksy. The only other time I've driven something bigger than a car was an impromptu drive to Belgium in a friend's battered old VW. I decided to test my driving skills mid motorway somewhere near Bruge . . .

Next morning when I ventured out of my tent it was very worth the long (and slightly surreal) drive down; we set of in convoy to Croyde with the sun glinting off the sea and the lines coming in clean and continuous. Had the best surf in ages and am very much craving another session as soon as physically possible . . . had better hurry up and improve my boarding on my 3 wheel carver skateboard! Looks dodgy as hell but is seriously addictive and pumps just like a surfboard.

So out of nowhere I became obsessed with Sten's 'Sten-proof' camera (not yet ruthlessly tested). Normally I direct - I think I'm exacting and irritating, "oh look can you get the butterfly on all those flowers? Yes especially the pink flower. Oooh with the backdrop of those gorgeous bricks . . . " Quite. So anyway I just couldn't leave the camera alone and got really involved with all the textures in the surf; the reflections in the glassy surface water, the lines in the sand, the glisten on the rocks. Looked like a silly hippy rolling around in the sand - and yes everyone laughed at me.

Still, three days later when it occurred to Sten and me that we should produce at entry into London Surf/ Film Festival, we were to be very grateful for that footage. The whole thing was done in 6 hours - using archive footage we hang on to just for these very occasions. Oh, and at 6.45pm we realised that we needed a time lapse of the sun setting over parliament hill (that would be at 7.05pm), so I peddled off like crazy and had a very nice time mooching about with fellow Heath enthusiasts. Not the weird ones, I hasten to add. Et voila, it was speed edited, and has been made very much using time that should be spent sleeping, but here it is. And you know what, it'll do nicely. Thing is, On The Surface makes me badly want to get back into the water . . .

Watch my short film On The Surface!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Mad house.

I've spent the last week hanging out at an abandoned asylum in the East End of London, and I've had a seriously good time of it. St Clements drew me in by its film festival, Shuffle. Curated by the throughly charming Danny Boyle it is so named because when he lived in the flats overlooking the fully operational hospital he would watch patients shuffle about the garden.

The building itself is an impressive Victorian structure, built originally as a workhouse - a place of terror to the poor. It's clock tower reigns throughout the grounds and manages to look magnificent and oppressive at the same time. By the time night draws in it is certainly more a place of nightmares. Despite the peeling paint of the windows, the crumbling chimney stack and boarded up windows, the building has retained a sense of dignity, and is by far one of the more aesthetically pleasing structures on Bow Road.

I've a great deal of time for old abandoned buildings, and have spent many happy hours tentatively making my way over rotten floor boards, climbing crumbling stairways and imaging past inhabitants. St Clements had all this plus an intriguing role as a psychiatric unit from 1936; the lure proved too much and I went over to explore. On arrival I met a dedicated and passionate team of people who between them were committed to providing support for vulnerable people in the community and making the East End a better pace to live.

Kate and her team have worked round the clock to turn the shabby unkempt grounds into the venue for the film festival, which we hope will prove to local councillors that the place has very real potential as a community space. Developers will be converting some of the listed building into flats, but what Mile End really needs is a social heart - a place other than the chicken shop or pub, where people can socialise and be creative.

It's very apparent that Mile End is an area where mental health problems are prevalent, and many cases are mishandled, misdiagnosed and result in a life of damaging medication. A common refrain from local residents is "when I came out of prison . . ." It is a well known fact that prisons are full of people with mental health issues; people fall through the gaps in the system just as they did in Victorian times, and for want of a more appropriate facility they end up inside. A lack of resources mean that even today our society tends to resort to drugs to 'remedy' these issues, and whilst medication has an important role to play, it is dangerous to rely on it to the extent that we currently do.

Common mental illness such as depression is something that can and should be handled more holistically; certainly with less severe cases of depression and anxiety for example, support in the form of having a sympathetic ear can be invaluable. In a psychiatric ward a sympathetic ear can only listen for so many hours before it need to continue with its work. Similarly, creative pursuits such as art, music and theatre have been repeatedly shown to be an effective and therapeutic outlet for inner turmoil. Think of all the money the government could save on meds in the long run, if people had somewhere else to turn. Of course this is simplifying a complex issue - we have a long way to go in regards to our understanding of mental health issues - however, as the locals of St Clements have shown, communities are more than capable of providing support to one another if given the chance.

During the Summer Shuffle I made a short documentary about St Clements. It is yet to be released more more info can be found here. Please get in touch if you are interested in the issues detailed here, or have any suggestions about where the documentary can be shown when it's ready for release.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Biarritz you beauty.

Sitting sleepily amid the cliffs and coves of the French west coast is Biarritz. This surfing town has good vibes and a sunny disposition, and is roughly a two hour drive from Bordeaux. For someone in need of an instant lift and some serious relaxation with a traditional holiday feel, look no further than this part of the Basque country.

The town itself is pleasing to the eye, with big old French hotels rising out of the rocks and fairy tale turrets perfectly placed to watch the sunset or gaze over at the Pyrenees, which appear cloud-like through the heat haze. Whilst there is plenty with which to entertain yourself, be it a leisurely afternoon of shopping, sampling charming patisseries or even a visit to the impressive art deco casino, one of the more addictive pursuits is catching waves. 

In Biarritz mid-summer a wetsuit is superfluous, meaning that you get to tan whilst the adrenaline is pumping and your stomach muscles are toning - just an added bonus. If all that sounds like too much hard work, plan your trip around one of the many pro surfing competitions, such as the ASP Roxy world tour. As I type we’re on the eve of the first day of this year’s international women’s surf event, and yet we’re holding our breath; the sea is set to look like a pond for the duration – there is no swell, I repeat, there are no waves! With a line up including Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Coco Ho, the organisers will have their fingers crossed that something turns up for these pros to showcase their talents. That said, if the recent Roxy short film (cringe) is an indication of their commitment to the promotion of female surfing, should no waves occur at least the cameras can capture the girls frolicking in the waves in bikinis – maybe they’ll even orchestrate a pillow fight! Miaow. 

Despite the wave situation, from my lofty position of a big fixed tent (with even a plug to charge my phone!), in a campsite with a pool, I have no doubts that I’ll enjoy my trip. I’ll check out the surf tour, with a sorbet or two, and plenty of sun cream, perhaps followed by a refreshing dive into the sea at the Porte Vieux, a naturally occurring cove, perfect for swimming. Then I might go cliff jumping before retiring to my private terrace and luxury tent. A glass or two of wine – did I mention the proximity of Bordeaux? Then bed. All again in the morning!

Monday, 8 July 2013


My first Glastonbury. After many years of failing to get tickets, some friends living in a little backwater town in England discovered that their post code seemed to enable them to obtain an endless supply of tickets. The knowledge of this resource was well received at 10am on that Sunday morning as I sat refreshing my browser simultaneously on both laptop and phone. As I read the text confirming my tickets, the world stretched and scratched and everything felt just a little fairer. When the Stones were finally confirmed, I was officially excited.

It was with relief and a sense of peace that I mixed my first vodka tonic of the festival, after struggling through the blazing sun with a rucksack that weighed over 20 kg. Perhaps predictably, that first night is a blurred snapshot of standing on stones at the circle and dancing so close to the fire that my leggings began to melt onto my skin. Now I am quite of frequenter of festivals, and I'm pretty fit, but I now know that unless you pace your feet, Glastonbury will hurt you. I think dancing to Andy C underneath a giant fire belching spider wearing wellies was one of the earlier mistakes. The night was in full swing and as to be expected, I had lost most of my friends. The bass dropped, Arcadia the spider roared and a scorch of light and heat lit up one missing friend's face, right in front of me in a coincidence that only seems to happen at festivals.

One morning we caught some of Amanda Palmer's set - her Ukelele song being a particular favourite. Her decision not to bother with even a semblance of a costume seemed pretty deliberate - anyone can drum up a bra and marker pen and she did both. Sadly I was genuinely distracted from the performance by the swathes of litter that covered the site - and it was only Friday morning. I'd be unimpressed with such a sight at any gathering, but that the festival's very tag line is 'leave no trace' makes it hard not to ask yourself 'where are these stealthy skanks, and why aren't they at Leeds?' I've found the likes of Big Chill and even V Festival to be more soothing on the eye when it comes to litter. 

Our festival was a smattering of Fat Boy Slim, Chic, Arctic Monkeys, Molotov Jukebox, Nick Cave, Smashing Pumpkins, Primal Scream, Mumford and Sons and fellow Nottingham boy Jake Bugg - who we heard rather than saw hold the attention of a big top using just his lyrics and guitar. Which in any day and age in impressive. Obviously the highlight was the troupe of pensioners that is The Rolling Stones; with boundless energy, costume changes and a dream playlist of hits, they smashed it. My favourite snapshot memory is of a guy in the crowd in front of us who was hoisted into the air by his mates. He waved a prosthetic leg around which I assumed was an unusual flag, until I noticed his bandaged stump of leg. Given that his instinct was to mime shooting the crowd with his leg, rather than the more natural inclination at a Stones gig - which is surely air guitar, we surmised he was probably a solider. Whoever he was the applause he received when he got down seemed to rival the band.

With an accepting and unapologetic acknowlegment to those who are currently bemoaning the sense of entitlement felt by 'the young', I can't help but feel ever so slightly disappointed that I didn't end up hanging out with Stones at any point. Honestly, I always seem to end up backstage at these things - I just sort of assumed it would happen. It says quite a lot about the state of my poor tortured feet that I didn't even try. Apparently Jagger was running around Shangri La on the Friday in a cloak and mask, which would have been an ace discovery! Our second visit to Shangri La proved more memorable than the first, (which I don't really remember at all); it was Sunday and I had taken it steady. Sadly I never got to see the Unicorn/ Absinthe bar, which are basically my two favourite things - the queue for heaven was just too long. Far easier was to stumble into hell where we found rum and Rudimental waiting for us. Even better at midnight we visited the Temple where Bearded Kitten were about to embark on a spot of holi; bags of powdered paint were handed around the crowd inside the mini muddy amphitheatre. With the patience of saints we waited for the bass to drop before launching an attack on the other side. The attacks were swift and short lived as almost immediately breathing became the priority and it took up most of my concentration for a while. However, when we emerged dusty with streaks of orange blue yellow and pink, the very real breathing panic had, in retrospect, been entirely worth it.

The next morning I knew that brushing my powder caked hair was asking for split ends and a temper tantrum so I elected to travel home without taking any pains over my toilette, in my pyjamas, which just happened to match my face and hair in their array of rainbow hues. Ten hours later (yes, ten actual hours) we arrived back at the O2. In those ten hours we could have been to Russia and back, but our highlight was a Little Chef, which actually I was very surprised to see as I thought they'd surely gone the way of Woolworths. I can't speak for my fellow coach travellers (or eco warriors as Glasto would have us known), but those ten coach-trapped hours were the most peaceful and relaxing that I'd had in a long time. I stretched out on the back seat, sun streaming through the window, using my boyfriend as a pillow and I dozed, dreamed and occasionally woke and listened to the woolly post-festival memories of the people around me. Bliss. Until I had to drag my damaged, paint splattered, unkempt frame through the tube system at rush hour, with tents and roll matts flapping and tempers fraying. See you next year.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Love is the law

The country is full of laws and regulations - step over the line and it'll cost you. Incidentally, to my mind the line is straight, narrow, thin and blue. I happen to prefer guidelines that leave room for interpretation, however, of all the laws that could be imposed I think Love would be the most effective. Give love, accept love, share love and act with love. I'm not talking about a Soho sex party, but something that seems easy to mock and hard to practice.

Of course reality ensures that the daily details of acting with love are difficult to interpret and all depends on perspective - to a degree. Could I be much more vague? Imagine if the only suggestion issued by God/ The Govenment/ Your Mum was that whatever decisions you take and choices you make, act with compassion and kindness. Would we live in a more open, respectful and intelligent society? Where you chose not to offend because you'd considered the consequence, rather than because there's CCTV over there and you're not stupid. Quite.

With an optimistic disposition and some rum for the train, we headed over to Bethnal for the launch of the Dystopia Edition of Love is the Law. On arrival we were handed bottles of Duvel and ushered into the white washed warehouse where an act was singing the blues to an attentive crowd. Marques Toliver charmed the audience before we decided to wander upstairs to view an allegedly private performance.

The performance never materialised so we found ourselves performing mime and interpretive dance with some jovial Italiens and a spoon bender. Bent spoons seemed to play an unofficial role in the evening, unless the same one was very clever at relocating itself. The star attraction of the evening however, was undoubtably Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes. She materialised in white feathers and what looked like a wedding dress with a gold basque and proceeded to enchant the crowd with her sweet textured voice, Dan's soulful melodies and her intelligent Heburn eyes.

Dystopia is a useful starting point for analysing where we are now, but the theme that to me stands out - at the magazine launch, at parties and in my social sphere, is one of hope. The bleak political climate, numb accepting society and willingness to look away is too much; there's a momentum gathering from which springs hope, colour and revolution.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Mint tea and waterfalls.

At the Cascades d’Ouzoud, about a hundred miles East of Marrakesh, we arrived at a guest house we knew allowed travellers to sleep on the roof – the budget option. We negotiated a price with the friendly owner but an overbearing man appeared and tried to schmooze us with Bargain Hunt similes, football banter and poor Cockney imitations. He smacked of tout and argued with the proprietor before turning to us all smiles and sidelong glances claiming to own the place himself. He tried to charge us five pounds each to sleep on a concrete roof (no bedding!) and so we walked off to shouts of “you won’t find cheaper!”

We ordered mint tea at an open air restaurant on an outcrop that looked directly over the magnificent cascades. We were so close that occasionally spray from the deluge would be brought up to us on the soft breeze, although we were high up in the orange cliffs. On an impulse I asked how much they’d charge us to let us sleep on the sofas that night. 

As darkness thickened over the falls a steaming vegetable tagine was brought over to us with fresh fluffy loaves to mop up the stock heavy remnants. The gap tooth owner joined us, bringing over illicit liquor to share. We bedded down on the straw stuffed sofas, exhausted after a seven hour drive, whilst our host and the waiters relaxed with a strawberry shisha, which clouded the air with a soft sweet scent. The constant thunder of the falls was both comforting and perturbing; my dreams were tinged with the rational worry that there might be a sudden surge. 

Sleep was abruptly shattered by a cockerel that had wandered into the restaurant and was announcing dawn. Animal lover though I am I picked up a leftover loaf and threw it at the bird. Perhaps an hour or so later, as the sun started to peek over the cliffs and into the valley, another small commotion penetrated my consciousness; I peered out of my blanket nest to find 3 Berber monkeys swinging from the rafters and squabbling over the bread missile. I watched them lazily whilst the rising sun created rainbows out of the wet mist. I have slept in deserts, jungle and mountains but I have never woken up to such an awe inspiring sight as this colourful forested gorge coming to noisy life.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Blue sky.

I'm writing this on my brand new fancy pants Macbook Pro. It needed saying. Now we've got that out of the way we can continue to discuss more stimulating topics such as the war in Korea - will they won't they? Or, say, the imminent badger culling. Or the fact that we have allegedly avoided a treble dip recession (well phew).  The fact that I am able to Google something and not wait half an hour for my typing to impact the search bar pales into insignificance beside the plight of the badgers. You know something else? Thirteen inches really is preferable to a poxy six. Sorry to dispel the kindly myth.

I'm tapping away feeling thoroughly content; sitting haphazardly on the step of my little K Town abode, the excitable squawks that accompany a recent car break in are fairly easy to ignore when my bare feet soak up the warmth borrowed from the pavement and my maxi dress blows about my ankles. The red broderie anglaise conveniently hides my recent skateboarding bruises. I can't skateboard but I do like the idea so I spent half an hour throwing myself down half pipes.

The sun behind a tree throws dappled light onto the cobbled mews and highlights newly green leaves. Frothy white blossom is finally starting to bloom and the tangy smell of some sort of mechanics' oil drifts over on the breeze. Or it could be poppers. Either way, it's faintly delectable. It mingles weirdly with the Sainsbury's bakery that always scents the sun trap mews.

Since throwing myself into this film making business I've been both intrigued and impressed by the amount of people doing likewise. Just casually, quietly getting on with day and night jobs whilst liaising with a multitude of strangers and forming the kind of working relationships with them that would usually take months to establish. Last week I 'met' a guy on Twitter who fancied joining us on a trip to Devon to film a cute little short. He emailed me a link to his work - which in itself a hugely trusting and brave action as it must always make one feel somewhat vulnerable.

I watched fifteen minutes of beautifully shot black and white footage of French people thinking about jumping into the sea. My reply to him mentioned that I thought it was very self indulgent but that it was gorgeous and did he want to work together. Perhaps if I hadn't spent the previous twelve hours editing sprites in a tree on the aforementioned six inch screen then my reply might have been a little less forthright. In the event he appreciated the 'refreshingly frank' response so watch this space for the next short which I imagine will be thirty minutes of surfers contemplating the ocean whilst reading Chomsky, accompanied by 'hauntingly melodic thrash guitar rifs'. It could work . . .

Friday, 5 April 2013

Lazy days in Paris.

My short break to Paris was spontaneous; I’d lost my iPhone - and subsequently my contacts, Twitter presence and camera, and so the prospect of spending my time off in London seemed intolerable. I flipped a coin (do I/ don’t I?) and booked a Eurostar to Paris, before trawling the Couch Surfing website for a place to sleep that night, as the Eurostar had used up the bulk of my funds. I had a tentative ‘yes’ from a comic book illustrator called Phillipe, which as I pulled into Gare De Nord on a cold dark evening in April left me feeling rather more anxious than it had in sunny familiar London.

I found an internet café and saw that to my good fortune the hesitant response had become a definite couch to surf with an address and directions. I negotiated the Metro to a big wooden door - wide enough to admit a carriage, hauled my suitcase up 5 flights of a spiral stone staircase to the top floor where as instructed I saw a photograph of a small dog. I ignored a niggling concern about stranger danger and knocked on the door.

My new abode had a big open window overlooking the small room crowded with colourful and surreal square photographs, comic books and films. My host and I shared a pizza and got acquainted whilst he explained his passion for both couch surfing and taking photographs with an analogue camera, the Holga - a simple plastic box that captured dreamy unpredictable photos. It seemed to embody spontaneity and fun - I was convinced.
The next morning I set out through the charming old streets of the Bastille and through the Jewish district in the direction of the Lomography camera shop. I meandered through sunlit streets, choosing the most aesthetically pleasing option at each cross road. The freedom of being alone to make every decision based on such whims is intrinsically charming. I bought the Holga and my weekend of wandering took on a new focus as I explored bridges, views and buildings from the Louvre to Monmartre to the Latin Quarter, capturing my journey in pictures. By inadvertently losing touch with the digital I had recaptured the pleasure of simplicity and observation - I defy anyone not to enjoy a carefree day of having nothing much to do on a sunny day in Paris.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Everest Highway.

Trekking to Everest on a budget during the monsoon necessitates a map, a rucksack full of Mars Bars and a sense of humour. We started with all three and took a bus from Kathmandu as far as the road travelled, to the damp little village of Jiri - traditional entry point into Sagarmatha National Park for the Mallorys, Hillarys and Wilsons of this world. As the bus departed I observed the absence of both people and our compass (last seen attached to us), and felt a sense of abandonment. 

The next morning we ventured into a valley green with juniper, pine and birch, scented by newly wet earth. The hopeful aquamarine sky spurred us on, but it wasn’t long before we accepted that our map was cheap and inaccurate - more like a rough guess at the terrain, based on hearsay. A tinny and excitable female voice approached from round a bend, and we soon met our first Sherpa who turned down his portable radio, took a stick from somewhere about his cumbersome burden of whisky, and fashioned a seat of sorts.

The question “Everest?” accompanied by a stage shrug and some random pointing was answered with a knowing nod and a toothy beam, as he indicated we follow him up what he proudly named “Everest highway”. Our hiking boots followed his worn flip flops for twenty minutes up a narrow waterfall – our 20kg rucksacks feeling lighter in view of his 80kg. At the summit we shared some cashews and waved goodbye. As bottled water is expensive in these parts and is responsible for a lot of waste, we took the opportunity to fill our as yet uncrinkled water bottles with stream water, adding a delicate drop of tangy iodine, to taste.

The next seventeen days saw us face leeches, yaks and landslides, and although we had only one waterproof and one woolly hat between us, we had thoroughly prepared our calorific intake and so had porridge to spare. This was duly exchanged for some much craved “Dhal Bhatt power, twenty-four hour”, that hot and wholesome Nepalese dish that has been providing sustenance forever. Our woefully inadequate map made our adventure a little more authentic, and though both the Mars Bars and my sense of humour gradually depleted, we reach the last bastion of warmth, Gorek Shep, with wet socks, a mouldy passport and a real sense of achievement.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Aboard the sand train.

We boarded the train at the notorious pink Jaipur, where rust coloured dust lingers in the roads. We’d caught a Bollywood film at a Rococo cinema painted in a delicate shade of pistachio that had velvet seats mottled with deep red betel juice, and later I had been outrageously groped by a teenage boy. I wasn’t inspired by the city and we didn’t dawdle. Journeys made within a country often give a deeper insight into a culture than just visiting historic sights, and I was eager for our next one.

The train started to clunk its way through the grim city outskirts, where skinny women washed colourful clothes in grey water outside dwellings made of corrugated iron and plastic. Soon enough we reached the desert and the views through the barred but open windows showed children herding goats to find scrub, the occasional hobbled camel and a salmon pink police station, outside of which were two policemen holding hands. 

At this point about fifteen soldiers in full desert army camouflage, complete with helmets with grass stuck on top decided to relocate to our carriage. My boyfriend had to shake hands with each of them – I was given shy waves and smiles. They then made themselves comfortable on everyone else’s beds and we submitted to the annoying but effective advertising of “chaichaichaichaichai” that chugged with the train. For a few rupees we procured the hot sweet spiced tea at every opportunity.

A few hours in we were hit by a sandstorm; all at once the air was an opaque yellow, everything gained a grainy texture and my teeth were coated with a fine crunchy grit. Windows were belatedly struggled shut, and scarves went over mouths and eyes. I went for the sunglasses on, sarong across the face approach. It made drinking chai very awkward. For perhaps an hour there was nothing to do but try and blot out the sand and just exist in the sweltering dark. 

Later I leant down from my upper bunk to reach some water. I stopped mid-stretch in astonishment; one sleeping soldier was perched on the bed below, with the butt of his rifle bumping about on the train floor, whilst he rested forehead first on the killing end. This journey across Rajasthan may have been a twelve hour sand-filled affair, but it was a snapshot reminder of how eccentric, frustrating and comical India can be.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Snakes and sandals.

My boyfriend seems to attract snakes, which makes trekking in sandals through Chitwain National Park very unwise. The park is reached by crossing a wide shallow river, which at cold dewy dawn and pink pearly dusk is frequented by the Nepalese one-horned rhino and the occasional Bengal tiger, quenching their thirst. 

Five hours into the jungle we approached an eight foot wall of elephant grass; our young but intuitive guide, Dinesh whispered that he’d spotted a rhino and her baby bathing in a partially concealed lake. Keen to get a glimpse Dinesh agreed to lead us through the elephant grass along the path ploughed by rhinos. Taking our shoes and socks off we gingerly tested the thick murky water, easing our feet along the slimy lake bed and sinking every so often into a rhino footprint. We reached the opening into the lake with trepidation, breath held lest we disturb the peace. All of a sudden Dinesh’s small frame quivered with excitement “pass me your camera” he exhaled. 

Dinesh made frantic gestures towards the water near my boyfriend’s bare leg, “Indian Rock Python”! Sten splashed away hastily. I glanced at Mother Rhino. She stared back. Apparently we had not expressed enough excitement at the latest discovery; “that can swallow a deer whole!” Dinesh exclaimed. It transpired we were sharing our water space with Kaa from The Jungle Books. Back on dry land, with twigs and miscellaneous jungle paraphernalia between our toes, we continued our journey along a wide path fringed with Rosewood and Rhino Apple trees whose trunks were twisted out of shape by winding creepers. 

“Stop” We froze. I glanced around in anticipation: Tiger!? A Sloth bear? Once again Dinesh was pointing down at Sten’s feet where a lime green snake perhaps eight inches long just happened to be. “That snake can kill you in ten seconds” he explained calmly, as Sten leapt out of the way. We admired the smooth graceful body from a distance before continuing our tiger quest. Post jungle drinks with another jungle guide brought forth the exclamation of “Ten seconds? More like two seconds!” but later Google research showed that this poor hyped viper has been the victim of an urban legend, perhaps one based on the occasional allergic reaction. Still, sandals in the jungle? Lesson learned (one hopes)!