Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 8: Being a Girl and Owning Lots of Make-up

It's fun to be a girl, but it does seem to involve owning lots of non-essential stuff. I rarely wear make-up and yet... I have 15 lipsticks. They're all roughly the same colour. I'm not fussy about brands. I don't seem to discriminate between the types of lipstick either - pencils, traditional twist-up tubes, those lipgloss-style things with the sponge tip wands, skinny lipstick, miniature lipsticks, colourful goo in pots. I've got a stash and they never see light of day except on special occasions. However, ask me to get rid of any of them and I will defend them like they are my first born children.

So here they are, having a moment to shine, in a photo on this blog as they will probably never have the chance to shine on my lips. God bless womanhood and all its mysterious, incomprehensible glory.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nature-ist: Featherstone Street

Originally published on Londonist here: I share a scrap of urban gardening with the public.

Londonist takes a walk on the wilder side...

What is it?
A bench. Some dusty planting. An attempt at a pergola and what can be kindly described as a Japanese influenced rocky corner. Some perky bright flowers. Not as much rubbish or dog poo as you might expect.
Where is it?
This is the 'pocket park' at the far end of Featherstone Street, running parallel behind car-choked Old Street. Not sure who arranged this bit of greenery and 'relax on me for a short while' street furniture, not sure who takes care of it but it's there, and it's rather nice.
Why has it tickled our fancy?
Old Street and surrounding areas is not very generous in its green spaces so this tiny strip of planting is a mini-oasis. Placed anywhere else, the Featherstone Street flowers would be a bit silly and cumbersome (it would be laughed out of Hampstead) but being in the heart of grubby-chic Old Street area makes it more than welcome for the fume-weary foot passenger. A nice spot to rest a short while, sip a coffee and escape from the clamour of the roads nearby - whoever decided to make Featherstone Street flower, we salute you.
Nature notes:
It's hardly a jungle and there's not much horticultural richness to comment on, but there's an orderly, cared-for feel about the spot. And that pink is the right shade of dazzling to lighten the step of any passer-by.

Click on the link above to view the map of all Londonist's Nature-ist articles..

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Theatre Review: Pornography by Simon Stephens @ The Tricycle

Originally on Londonist here: I share my view on the London premiere of Simon Stephen's play about the London bombings.

Simon Stephen's Pornography at the Tricycle Theatre features pervasive and recurring irrational urban fury: sudden urges to stab strangers, hating fat people etc. Sean Holmes directs an extremely focused cast in this tense and subtle production, developing the ambiguous, mystified and self-absorbed reactions to that week in July 2005: Live 8, G8 summit, the Olympics bid, the 7/7 bombings.

The characters barely overlap but the cohesion of writing, directing and acting impressively brings it all together, making even the bomber like the others: he needs a coffee, he gets the train, he nurses a secret desire to transgress against the city that has alienated him and disappointed him. The schoolboy says and due to the strength of the ensemble, we know the others are also thinking: “I would do these things. If I was forced to, I would”. Could you ask strangers for food if their barbecue smells nice? Could you kiss your brother if you fancied him? Could you righteously bomb a city if it is full of sinners? And what if you start to think you should rather than could?

The line between "I might..." and "I must" is what the play dances around and keeps audiences on edge for when or if that line will be crossed. Stephens really likes to make audiences uneasy, either stretching tension to unbearable lengths through silences, unfinished sentences and abrupt twists in tone or through uncomfortable moments of action. Direct addresses to audience are interspersed with dialogue scenes, eventually unsatisfying but from the similar format of One Minute is clearly a style Stephens favours. It works; it involves the audience, makes it personal and immediate but the characters' interaction with one another are the most compelling moments. An important, uncomfortable, play for London and for everyone who has ever asked: “Why do you think it's like this now?”

Tip: Stay on after curtain call to see the projections on the backdrop.

Pornography, at the Tricycle Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets, go to the Tricycle website.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 6: Food Nobody Else Likes

I've talked a lot about food one way or another in The Happy series and I have now come to what is a deeply personal and potentially highly controversial entry: the food I like that no one else likes.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household with non-English speaking parents and the patriarch coincidentally a chef by trade, I have had broad and deep exposure to the extremes of food. Chickens' feet, duck tongues, fish lips (the gills, actually), birds' spit (it's technically a nest but it's a nest made out of spit), dried things ranging from herbs to berries to seahorses (yes! dried seahorses! dried seahorses in a jar that my mother once made into soup!), all sorts of endangered fungi including wood ear, white cloud and the one that looks like black hair pulled from a plughole - nothing much can freak me out. I don't necessarily like all these things but cooked the right way and served in the right circumstances, I have enjoyed some of them enormously.

But these are foodstuffs too exotic and specific to make the list for this entry - and besides, a lot of these things are widely loved and sought after by the Chinese community, so it's more freakish and confessional to say that I, a Chinese person with experience of these things, do NOT like these foods. Instead, the list will be of items widely accessible to British readers and will say a great deal about my eating habits and what I'm likely to hide at the back of the fridge when decent people come to visit.

In no particular order:

Findus Crispy pancakes
Jellied eels (god, I *love* jellied eels)
Potato waffles
Chip shop curry sauce
Tinned chilli con carne (this fills me with shame but I was such a scabby student, I came to cherish this stuff during finals)
Instant mashed potato
Ginsters Cornish pasties
Burnt melted cheese
Cold peas mixed with mayonnaise or creme fraiche
Peanut butter (smooth) and marmalade on cream crackers
Plain cream crackers by the handful
Pickled herrings / rollmops (but oddly, I get very upset if I accidentally eat a fin)
Outlandish flavours of Apericube [link] (but I don't like Dairylea)
Tinned mackerel in mustard sauce
Samosas from the chiller cabinets in dodgy cornershops
Unbelievably smelly, weeping St Agur cheese - it has to ooze to appeal to me
Anchovies, anchovy relish
Tinned okra in tomato sauce
Instant noodles straight out of the packet, without touching any water

There are more but I've got to stop there before I lose all credibility as a foodie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Operation Cockney Sparrow and the Parakeets of Kenley

Originally on Londonist here: I share some overheard dialogue about the bird situation in two completely separate parts of London.

Two pigeons, pecking around a copy of The Evening Standard outside Bethnal Green station

Gordon: Sparrows. Loads of them. Taking all our bird feed. This is our borough. This is our place. Bloody cheek.
Brenda: Says here their number has dropped 70 per cent since 1994. And they need saving, so… [reading from the newspaper] “The London Wildlife Trust is working with the Peabody Estate to make Whitechapel, Hackney and King's Cross sparrow-friendly, with the help of Lottery funding.”
Gordon: They’re only chucking Lottery money at it!
Brenda: Well, look at what the project is called: ‘Operation Cockney Sparrow’. They’re Cockneys. This is their home, I suppose.
Gordon: It’s our home too. Can’t see anyone growing effing hawthorn and blackthorn for us.
Brenda: You wouldn’t like it. Scratchy things; I’d prefer a nice ledge, clean edges, not hedges.
Gordon: I swear, I’m gonna take off to Kenley, live with the parakeets. They know their place. Not sure I could stick Croydon though.
Brenda: Breeding like rabbits, them parakeets. Better get down there quick and nab yourself a rooftop before they get all Hitchcock on the council and swarm the place. Live for ages too, those exotic ones really know how to hold on, so even if you get on the waiting list, you’ll still be here in Bethnal Green with the chirpy-chirpy sparrowboys waiting and waiting for one of ‘em to shuffle off their perch.
Gordon: And Lord knows, no one ain’t gonna put poison down on them pretty birds. Bright green, they are. Beautiful birds… beautiful.
Brenda: I hear they’re noisy though.
Gordon: Ooh, can’t stand noisy neighbours. Sparrows chirping their little heads off - that’s got a London charm. But those parakeets… who knows what they’re saying?
Brenda: Still won’t get ‘em exterminated though. Not like us. One poorly aimed crap and the whole lot of us are persecuted. Persecuted!
Gordon: No, no hedges for us. Nobody loves us. Don’t know why. [Pause]
Gordon: Come on, Benny says he saw a big puddle of vomit near the pub.
Brenda: Quick, before the lunch crowd gets in before us!

They swoop off low through the crowds towards the pub.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 5: Hitler Cat
This cat prowls around our courtyard, along with Black Cat with Blue Collar, Big Angry Tortoiseshell Cat and Big Black Cat (no collar). We also have lots of birds pottering about in the courtyard, all of them enjoying the four sides of back gardens backing onto the space. I first spotted Hitler cat a few months ago and was so delighted with his Fuhrer appearance, I shot across the flat and burst in on my sleeping husband, shouting 'Hitler cat! Hitler cat! Outside! He's outside!' Since then, every time we spot Hitler cat, we dash around the living room shouting 'Hitler cat! Hitler cat', falling over ourselves to grab our cameras and generally collapsing into giggles at the sight of it.

That cat. He looks like Hitler.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Live Art Review: Plane Food Cafe @ Artsadmin

Originally on Londonist here: I review a dinner lecture in a fake plane complete with aeroplane seats, stewardess trolleys and unpleasant super-heated pasta.

Doors to manual...

...and the steel door of the shipping container in Toynbee Studios' courtyard rolled back. Ten bemused diners were ushered in to the cramped but admirably authentic aeroplane interior of the Plane Food Café. The smell of the super-heated plastic containers was the same as the food they held; we sat politely with seatbelts fastened, safety bibs on, awaiting artist Richard Dedomenici and his stewardess to serve us from the trolley.

We got dinner, we got drinks and the inflight info was Dedomenici's film about birdstrikes and how geese can detect radiation. It was informative, funny, irreverent while serious in tone, irrelevant but focused. We learned about 'snarge' (the mushy results of a birdstrike) and airport birdscarers, we were also gratefully distracted from the spaghetti bolognese that had the texture of mashed potato mixed with tennis ball shavings, coated in gluey, pungent transparent melted cheese that sat on our laps.

According to Dedomenici, aeroplane meals taste different outside pressurised aircraft cabins: tastebuds and smell receptors are hindered by cabin pressure so in 'normal' surroundings (such as a fake aircraft cabin inside a shipping container in East London), the food should taste spectacular. It does not. For those who have never flown before or are facing a recession without flying, it was eye-opening as to how much better our lives can be without food and conditions like this.

We ate, we learned, we laughed, we dropped food on our safety bibs and then we emerged a swift 30 minutes later, quite sure flying in real aerospace is a Bad Thing (and the food is lousy) but a short hop with Dedomenici Airlines is a Good Thing. This artist's unique lecture / dining / installation method makes you belch, think and laugh all at the same time.

Plane Food Café continues at Artsadmin until 21 June. For more information and to book go to the Artsadmin website.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 4: Eclectic Saturday Morning Reading

From left to right, top row: Private Eye, The Big Issue, Grazia, Viz, G2
Front row: One Eye Grey, Reader's Digest from January 2009 which I found in the office and was compelled to bring home for some insane, time-wasting reason.