Sunday, 21 November 2010

Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty

Kimberley Chen reviews the thrills and frills of the Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty exhibition, showing at Somerset House, Embankment Galleries, until 9 January 2011.

After many university students lugging hefty, hardback sketchbooks, busily scribbling and sketching saucy, seductive and wonderfully dressed figures at the
Design Museum’s Drawing Fashion exhibition, Somerset House have also decided to open its doors to yet more fashion illustration fans. This time it sets out to explore the amazing relationship between Christian Dior and René Gruau.

There were many screeching girls who ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at the sight of beautiful Dior Haute Couture clothed mannequins. Bright, unmissable pink paint splattered over a pristine white dress would usually be an utter tragedy to behold, but the Olga Sherer outfit inspired by Gruau for the Autumn/Winter 2007/08 collection makes this so-called “clumsiness” into a thing of great beauty. Attach a pink scrunched rose detail to the hip of the dress, pull up sleek, long, black gloves, embellish the neck with a chunky pearl necklace, tilt a paint palette hat on the head (Complete with generous dollops of thick crimson, navy and black paint, and a giant paintbrush) and voilá here is an outfit that screams glamour and stylishness. Vintage perfume bottles also got their fair share of admiration, and no wonder, since these golden beauties possess such a commanding elegance just begging for attention. All the bottles were shaped as gorgeous amphoras, and the Diorling 1963 bottle and the Diorissimo 1956 bottle used Dior’s favourite motif: flowers. The former perfume bottle has a delicate rosebud stopper, whilst the latter has a spray of golden roses and jasmine as an ornamental lid. These miniature cuties gain a great amount of respect as well-sculpted works of art.

Despite all the gaping jaws at the mannequins, the obvious star attraction of the show was Gruau’s exquisite fashion illustrations. One thing which I wasn’t expecting was a rather kinky and naughty looking cookbook. La Cuisine Cousu-Main is a Dior cookery book filled with recipes Dior himself liked to prepare, plus 10 original drawings by Gruau. One picture showed a naked woman having a bath in a frothy gigantic glass of alcohol. There is a huge nest of alcoholic bubbles resting on the woman’s head, whilst the woman gives a wide, mischievous and suggestive smile.

René Gruau’s fashion illustrations for Christian Dior show intelligence, humour and attitude. The five contemporary UK-based illustrators who contributed images inspired by Gruau, indicates how he continues to impress and influence artists today, and beyond.

Kimberley Chen is a London-based writer. She has previously written for a number of publications including Blueprint magazine and The Architect’s Journal.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Solovino - He came alone by Alona Ferber

It’s past midnight. Outside the street is dead quiet. No car drives past the colourful houses. Even the cars speeding down the avenue at the end of the street cannot be heard. The local dogs that live on these doorsteps are all sleeping too, guarding the people they wish were their owners. Solovino, one of the most famous dogs on the block, the one who knows all the faces and is known by them all is curled up outside number 16, dreaming of rabbits. As he chases them through his field of dreams, his raggedy ears twitch nervously and his dirty paws scratch at the pavement. In his dreams Solovino is a champion. No rabbit can evade his sharp sense of smell. He is a graceful huntsman, shiny of coat and wet of nose, who can track down any of those fluffy, big-eared little creatures with hardly an exertion. Yes, Solovino is feared and respected in this field of dreams. No bitch can resist his canine charm. They wait eagerly with their bums raised exaggeratedly in the air, just waiting for him to sniff. While he is sleeping, the speeding taxi that caught him unawares that fateful morning disappears from the limited view of his memory and his right hind leg becomes not an impediment but a definite advantage. What dog would be more attractive than one who not only is the best hunter for miles around, but who does it on the strength of only three good legs?

And so it goes. Every night he waits outside the girls’ house. He cries and whines and scratches on the door, just waiting for them to say yes. He knows he has convinced one of them. Every time she sees him there is the warm pat on the head, the “oh Solovino, how are you?”. He has taken to following her whenever she leaves the house, just to prove how faithful he can really be. The other two, however, are a different matter. They never stop to say hello, always walk away as quickly as they can and try not to look him in the eye. So Solovino makes a decision. He is going to try harder than he has ever tried, he is going to make them love him, make them need him and make them feel guilty as hell for not having given him a home sooner.

Luckily for him, or not so luckily, depending on your point of view, the rainy season is just beginning. Every afternoon round about four o’clock, the sky opens, and as everybody knows, in a few weeks or so every afternoon will see inundations as heavy as anything. So Solo, as those close to him sometimes like to call him, parks himself outside the house at rain time and whines away like a poor lovesick little puppy. He knows that maybe you can ignore a dog crying at night, when it is still warm and dry outside, but when the street is like a river? When all the other dogs, or at least those who are lucky enough to have owners are safely tucked up inside? What he wasn’t counting on however, was how little the other two girls feel when they see him there outside as they run home in the rain, or quickly make their way to the metro station under their umbrellas. Of course girl number three still looks at him with those wish-I-could-adopt-you eyes, but the other two don’t seem to budge.

Solovino has to think long and hard about this. In his experience, there are two types of people. People who love canine company and those who can think of nothing worse than waking up to a dog slobbering all over them first thing in the morning. And even worse, a vast majority of these are actually self-professed cat people. He suspects that the other two girls are of the latter kind. The first one, he has noticed, is the glamorous type, the kind of girl who never leaves the house without at least two coats of mascara and exciting shoes on, whatever the weather. Girl number two is the smart, down to earth, type. His tactic of following them down the street, nibbling at their shoes and placing his filthy paws affectionately on their breasts has done him little or no favours so far. He could almost kick himself now he thinks about it. He has even noticed that girl number three has started to recoil at his affections.

One Saturday afternoon, when the girls have still not stepped out of the house, Solovino is curled up outside their door in the sun, dreaming once again of rabbits. Solovino rarely dreams of anything else. In fact, it is a secret little known to humans, or cats or even birds for that matter, that dogs, even those who will probably never ever meet a rabbit, are hard pushed to dream of anything but the eternal rabbit chase. The colour or species of rabbit might change, the dream might take place in a field, or a car park or even a road filled with cars racing past, but the subject will not change. The rabbit, the universal rabbit signifies a host of things to dogs worldwide. It is the vehicle through which the humble dog understands the world. And so when Solovino awoke from a dream where there were no rabbits in sight, where he felt the absence of rabbit so deep within his soul that he started to howl and whine in his sleep, he realised that the only recourse left to him in these desperate times was the one thing that he had never tried before. After all it is not only humans who know the old saying. Absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder.

Solovino makes all the necessary arrangements. He makes sure he explains what’s what to the other dogs on the street. The new guy, who came to the street a few weeks ago, who looks like he hasn’t washed in years and who no one on the street has deigned to give a name, is sad to see him go, but understands. The ginger cat, who Solovino has never been particularly close to, gives him a brotherly nod, wishing him luck on the road. The other dogs of the street, of which there are about five, promise not to let on that they know he will come back, and more importantly, promise not to try to win their way into the affections of Solovino’s girls. “Don’t worry, they’re yours Solo”, says the one with half of one ear chewed off, “Yeah m’ijo, don’t worry, just make sure you come back”, says captain, the graceful dog who has not let the hard life of the street life rob him of the good humour of the Labrador. Bertha, the big mama dog who has been pregnant a million times and always lets the others in on it when she finds food and makes all the newbies feel like part of the family, gives him a reassuring lick on the neck.

With one last bark, Solovino makes his quiet escape. He runs all the way to the big avenue at the end of the street, makes a left and runs up the avenue, passing little streets identical to his own, stopping every once in a while to sniff the scent of other dogs, eat food left on the pavement and relieve himself. A long life on the road has made Solovino see life with eyes wide open, and one of his favourite past-times is to make his mark in just those places that humans would really rather he didn’t. It is not only that he finds it funny to watch them scream and shout as they step into the shit he has just left on their doorstep. There has been many a late night where he and the other dogs have discussed at length the political implications of controlling where a mutt can go to the toilet. Defecating and pissing where he shouldn’t is his way of protesting the human arrogance that assumes that they own the pavement.

The life of a street dog is not easy. Solovino has been doing it since he was a pup. His is the old story of the unwanted Christmas present. It only took them a few weeks to realise that she was allergic and then that was it, it was either little Juanita or him. Of course, they chose Juanita. Solovino had never really been able to get over that rejection. He had never been able to fully accept ownership again. But now, after so many years living la vie en rue, he was ready to settle down. And the girls were not like any other family that he had ever seen.

Not that he hadn’t enjoyed life. As he walked along now, nibbling at a broken ice-cream cone over here, picking up the scent of a bitch on heat over there, his mind was flooded with the memories of a lifetime under the stars. The first time he had ever come to the street, all the faces were different. The families who live in the same pile of bricks generation after generation had changed a little of course. The little girl in number 18 had started wearing make-up, and he had noticed that relations between her mother and her grandmother had started to strain under the weight of their daily convivencia. The old lady across the road had started curtain-twitching less and less as the pain of arthritis kicked in. But really it was the animals, his extended family, which came to mind.

Bertha, the stereotype of the dog mama that every dog knew, had made him feel welcome in the way that she had made many a dog feel welcome over the years. She was the strongest, most generous dog he had ever met. A mongrel who had never met her real parents, she had been raised by an assortment of dogs and humans over her many moons. When Solovino first rounded the corner into the street, she had been lying in the sun across the road from number 16, nursing a brood of seven newborns who were the result of a one night stand with a sexy Alsatian. This was before Solovino’s accident, when his four legs were all working fine, and he could run as elegantly as any dog. Bertha had explained to him which houses tended to leave food out, which humans were receptive to doggy affection, which were the good places to shelter from the rain. Him and Bertha had become fast-friends, and a tear welled up in his big brown eyes as he remembered the day that the last of that particular brood, now grown-up and independent, had turned arses to Bertha and trotted off round the corner to find their fortune. Bertha had been through this many a time, and it never failed to make her melancholic. Which of course was only natural. It was never long before she would forget and get pregnant again, only to live through the same agony.

One time, one of Bertha’s children had actually made his way back to the street by accident. The reunion was very touching, and Bertha’s pup, who had been away for years, regaled the dogs and cats on the street with the adventures she had lived in the city. Most of the dogs in the suburbs rarely made it very far into the big smoke, where the dogs where mean, and the humans worse. Not that life in suburbia was not full of its own tragedies. Solovino could remember the countless dogs who had made their lucky escape from cruel owners only to be found again and kidnapped, or the many a dog caught unawares by the irresponsibility of a speeding and thoughtless driver. And then there were the men who came quietly in the dead of night, who would put a dog to sleep and carry him away to an uncertain future. The dogs on the street had organised a watch to protect each other, but very often it would be the very dog on watch, the only one awake who would have disappeared by the time everybody had woken in the morning.

Yes, Solo had lived many an adventure on that street, it was a part of him now, and he was determined to make it his permanent human home, with all the benefits that that entailed. His friends understood that it wasn’t that he was abandoning them, but that at his age, he craved a little stability. And so he would make himself disappear for a while, until the girls would begin to wonder where he had gone, would begin to miss his crying and whimpering outside their door, the affection in his eyes to welcome them home when they had had a bad day. He had known dogs who had won their way into the most icy of hearts, and he was determined to follow in their footsteps.

Time passed. For a dog there is no more accurate measure of time than the ebb and flow of smell and sound and light. A dog knows that when the complicated mix of what humans know as daytime smells has faded in intensity, when the distant whrrr of cars, which to a dog is as loud as thunder, really has reduced itself to something more like a whhrrr, then another of life’s mini cycles has come and gone. Soon the light will slowly seep its way into the world’s four corners, and life will begin again. But as far as measuring long periods of time goes, for a dog it is slightly tricky. Having no calendars to rely on, the humble dog can only try to remember how many times life’s mini cycle has renewed itself, and more often than not, loses count somewhere around 20. Solovino was not sure exactly how long he had been away from the street, but what he did know was that he had seen the yellowy-white circle in the sky, known to humans as the moon, change shape significantly, that he definitely had got past the count of twenty and that the rainy season was now in full throttle.

The day that Solovino decided to go home was a Thursday, unbeknownst to him. He sniffed his way along the street, picking up the distant scent of his friends and neighbours until his nose led him round a corner and into his old familiar territory. The closer he got the more excited he became. He started to run awkwardly towards Bertha and the dog who when he left had been the new guy, who were sitting on the pavement in the sunshine, his tongue hanging out of his mouth with happiness as he ran. As soon as they caught smell of him they stood on all fours and began to bark in surprise. He sped up and jumped towards them in a scene that would seem to the untrained eye like a fight in the making. Bertha began to lick his face and paw him with glee. The new guy began to chew one of his paws to welcome his return. The little girl at number 18, who happened to be staring out of her window at the house across the road where a certain handsome young 15-year-old gentleman lived began to shout “Mama, mama, Solovino’s back!” Yes Solovino had certainly been missed by some.

When the excitement had died down, Bertha started to fill him in on the goings on while he was away. Two new dogs, one young bitch and an old (unlikely) mongrel mix of chihuahua and dalmation had started coming to the street and stealing the food left out by the good resident folks for the good resident street dogs. One of the other street regulars had been killed by some poisoned food. Bertha and the New Guy weren’t sure enough to name names, but had their theories about one family who had shown nothing but contempt for the streets animals ever since they had moved to the street. Captain had finally been adopted by the old curtain twitcher, who had always shown a special fondness for him. A series of break-ins in the neighbourhood had made her realise the extent of her love for the old dog, and she had opened up her doors for him, living room and all.

“What about the girls?” he asked, “How are my girls?” The ensuing silence and averted eyes told Solovino everything that he needed to know. Bertha gave him a reassuring lick on the face, and the new guy pawed him and said “I’m sorry Solo, but you were gone for so long…” Solovino couldn’t say that he wasn’t disappointed. Away on his own, walking unfamiliar city streets, one of the only things that had kept him going was the idea that awaiting him, finally, was a home. That the three girls would have grown to miss his whining and his company on their way to the metro station so much, that they would even have bought special dog food bowls just for him to welcome him on his return.

“So come on then, who was it?” The answer to his question was a long and awkward silence. “Come on, I can take it. Did they adopt the new guy?” Bertha started to whine a little, “It was wasn’t it, or was it Captain? Yeah that whole curtain twitcher story was a good cover, last time I trust any of you…” Solovino was so far into his monologue that he was yet to notice a small, elegant ginger cat, wearing a brand new sky blue collar complete with tinkling bell, glide his elegant cat way along by the gate of number 16 and up and over it into the overgrown, messy garden on the other side. If he had stopped for just one minute and looked in that direction, he would have noticed the brand new metal bowls, one full of milk, the other full of cat food, which had been placed outside the front door of number 16. If he had seen the direction in which Bertha’s eyes, filled with compassion for her dear and disappointed friend, were looking, he would have seen girl number one actually holding that smug ginger cat and letting it claw her brand new jumper and get cat hair all over it. But Solovino would not find out about this treachery until later that day. And when he did, he would want to kick himself forever having let old ginger know his plans. After all, you never can trust a cat, especially not when there are cat-people involved.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Follow your own path and don't worry about the darkness

Cheltenham Literary Festival 2010
Dreams and nightmares

After an early morning and a longer than anticipated train journey (yes, I had my northern head on and presumed that, being in the south, Cheltenham must be only just outside of London), I finally made it to the wonderful little Regency town of Cheltenham.

The theme of The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2010 is Dreams and Nightmares, and as I made my way into the Inkpot venue, I mentally prepared myself for a voyage into the supernatural world of ghouls and ghosts.

And what better way to begin than with an event called Fantastic Fictions, a discussion largely centered around Black Water, an anthology of supernatural tales put together by Argentine-born Canadian writer Alberto Manguel.

Manguel was joined on stage by China Miéville and Maggie Gee, and after a quick reference to the recent ‘Franzen Freedom fiasco’ (the very thought that this can so easily happen gives me the shivers), they each read a couple of passages from some stories in the anthology, such as ‘The Wizard Postponed’ by Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Door in the Wall’ by HG Wells, and ‘Lady into Fox’ by David Garnett.

Now, having expected tales of vampires, monsters and other ogres, I was actually confronted with something rather different. As opposed to fantasy, the fantastic deals with the quotidian – using only slight tweaks and twists to give an intrusion into the ordinary, with horrifyingly nightmarish effect.

So, no vampires or zombies here, but all the same, I think I’ll throw my Monkey’s Paw on the fire – just in case.

So, where would my quest for dreams and nightmares lead me to next? Well, to Shakespeare’s Sonnets it seems. A slight diversion from my supernatural journey then, but I think you’ll forgive me when I tell you that the Shakespeare lecture was given by Nutshell favourite Don Paterson. Don has written a new book, Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in which he approaches the work in a non-scholarly, contemporary way. And it seems Don had a whale of a time writing it, mostly whilst in the bath, apparently.

The audience is largely made up of elderly couples, and I’m not sure how his controversial approach will go down, but the crowd loves him. He is certainly an entertaining speaker. He is joined on stage by an actor, who reads out some of the sonnets, with Don providing his own interpretations. And one thing’s for certain – I never expected to hear an analogy between women and hamburgers in a Shakespeare lecture, but I definitely won’t forget it. Lecturers take note.

On the way out of the auditorium I hear one man say to his wife, ‘Well I thought I was going to hate that, but he’s great! Let’s buy the book.’ Success.

But, back to the quest. After a complimentary wee dram of Highland Park (it was free, how could I decline?), it was time for Classic Chills, with Martin Jarvis, Andrew Lycett and Nicholas Royle. As with the Fantastic Fictions event earlier, the panel read and discussed some of their favourite Victorian ghost stories, by authors such as Algernon Blackwood, MR James, Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle.

More ghosts this time, but there was still that eerie feeling that the most terrifying stories are those in which something under the surface of everyday life slowly reveals itself.

I left the event suitably chilled and, sadly, it was time to leave the festival. As I made my way back to the station in darkness, I considered the events of the day, and the thing that impresses me most about Cheltenham Festival, more so than other festivals I’ve been to, is that it is a truly individual experience.

The theme, Dreams and Nightmares, is a broad one and, with such a huge range of events taking place, you really have the scope to follow your own path through the festival. I chose a haunted path, but which path will you choose?

The Cheltenham Literature Festival 2010 continues until 17th October, and there are events with many great writers, politicians, comedians and historians still to come. Find out more at

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Saturday, 28 August 2010


So as this great festival draws to a close I look back on my last day and think "Whatever happened to the 'Edinburgh International Festival?'", which of course is what started all this back in 1947. It's a bit like the Murray brothers, in that big brother was good for a while but now is completely eclipsed by the young upstart.

I spent the day pottering around and chanced upon James Sherwood, comedy with the aid of a piano, he kindly pointed out some quite serious grammatical errors in a number of popular songs including 'And I stiiiill haven't found, THAT FOR WHICH I'M LOOKING', thanks James, what a funny man with a piano and a beard, no really!

Next I chanced upon a medley show 'F***ing funny for a fiver', now I'm sure that on occasions they are rather good but I have never had the chance to see a whole show die quite so spectacularly. It was rather entertaining to watch, a bit like snuff movie. There was also an element of the masochistic about it all, comedians began their sets with such amusing and prophetic lines as 'well, this is probably going to be the worst gig I've ever done', and 'this audience is s**t', and then continued to force through their act in some sort of misguided attempt at valor. By far the worst thing, which was surprising, was that there was no heckling, no booing, no tomato throwing, just a uniform half smile on the face of the audience which seemed like a rag to a bull to some of the performers, in hindsight, extremely funny!

Laura Solon is very good, but then I suppose you're meant to be with a Perrier award. Comic monologue with some brilliant characters set to the tune of an owl on an island. Spiffing.

Evening entertainment was musical in nature and took the form of an exclusive Masters performance by a group of sound artists. If you have never had the aural experience of being taken into the inner workings of a drum whilst it is dismantled around you or gone for a qudraphonic trip on a piano as it tunefully tumbles down the side of a mountain then you are surely missing out, the soundscapes created here were truly impressive, and who would have thought the noises of an empty office building could be so intimidating and alive?

Yes, Edinburgh festival has delivered and I have been entertained. Good!

Thursday, 26 August 2010


The Sun was out yesterday, at times I was even able to take my jumper off when indoors, Hooray! The day began with a curious show of schizoid nature, a lady on a bike presenting a monologue on her superman's split personality, then changing herself at the toll of a bell and performing such feats as drinking an entire bottle of champagne or eating a whole packet of biscuits, in superfast time. Rather beautiful. Next to the screening of The Tunnel ( A flowing and well worked documentary which gives an insight into the alternative alternative comedy club of the 80's. The film itself is a prelude to a homage to Malcolm Hardee, the great unknown of British comedy, due out in the near future.

We were then lucky enough to see one of NMs own... Sarah Campbell who is debuting her first debut Fringe show, 27 up, itself a prelude to 54 up, to be screened in 27 years. Managing to cram in the essential details of her first 27 years on this earth into 30 minutes, yes, including those lonely moments with a party popper. We are also invited to communicate with our future selves via the medium of a cheapy videocamera, can't wait! Her relaxed style and engaging material surely mean that this is the last time will will see her on the free fringe, boo!

Kunt and the Gang, The complete Kunt, sort of introduces itself. Imagine, if you can, the most inappropriate lyrics, set to music which surely is from the demo tracks of an 80's casio keyboard, aided by the medium of dance and you can almost hear those classics such as 'Wanking over a pornographic polaroid of an ex-girlfriend who died'. The show was lifted by the crowd, who clearly knew his material; it is a little disconcerting seeing a room full of people singing along to 'Use my Arsehole as a Cunt'. It was funny at the time...maybe you had to be there.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Whereas the vast majority of places in the northern hemisphere, when asked if August counts as Summer, would reply '(chortle) but of course!', Edinburgh would disagree. As I disembarked from the train I instantly understood what the Fringe Festival was all about, how clever these Burghians are, it is a con to bring in vast crowds from the world over to open up every shack in the town for them so that they can spend their time flitting from one to the next pretending that Summer does exist but they're just too busy to see it.

Bravely I put on my duffle coat and dived into the first place I could find. 'AAAaand now for something completely improvised' is one of those shows that is awkward to watch as you know the protagonists are getting more from your being there than you are. Something about Wigan and Pies when I saw them but can't remember too much as I was too busy thawing.

Having sufficiently staved off frostbite I ventured out once more, yes dear readers the things I do for you, and chanced upon 'Sara Pascoe Vs Her Ego'. Much better, I love the feeling of actually wanting to be somewhere. This is her first show at the fringe but she has a good pedigree as an actor and comic and writer and she wooed us with 'Jokes from the 80's' and philosophy puns 'Jung Kant Hegel the truth!', also gets the prize for the worst joke on the fringe (no, seriously it was on the news!), 'Why did the chicken commit suicide? To get to the other side'.

Now feeling optimistic I took a punt on a comic who I probably should have heard of before, Simon Evans. Now this was seriously funny stuff, his rhythm, delivery and feel for the mood of the crowd was perfectly professional. It's a strange sensation being toyed with and made to laugh at whim, quite impressive that he hasn't hit the really big stages, let's keep him to ourselves... 'Obesicles', what a great name for mobility scooters!

I like this fringe business, more tomorrow please, I'm starting to lose sensation in my toes.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Exploring new café Drink, Shop & Do - just sprouted in the heart of Kings Cross

Guess what we found tucked away between a rip-off hair salon and a bad novelty mug shop? A bright, huge, quiet hideaway called quite aptly and unpretentiously Drink, Shop & Do where you can have a variety of teas and coffees - and a beer too if you want - buy anything in sight, and do pretty much whatever you like, knit, scrabble, read, write, bring your own Lego and build a spaceship, hold an event, have a party, et cetera.

Working in King's Cross I am very aware that the area is developing into something quite pretty, the new glow-sticks coloured path over the canal, Kings Place, the new college of fashion... a lot is happening round here but with all the Costa, Nando's and McDos it's really good to know there is also a quiet, bright place to just ... relax - a word only recently discovered by the King's Cross community.

So we decided to make drink, Shop & Do our next pilgrimage destination to see whether we should recommend it to our Nutshell readers or warn them to stay away. The result is a big thumbs up and a wee chat with the hostesses, Kristie & Coralie.

Pilgrim: Drink, Shop & Do is the result of a pop up shop experiment, right? Pop up shops are terribly modern and exciting and give small businesses a chance to make a name for themselves, tell us about your experience.

Kristie & Coralie: The pop-up shop was more a result of the business plan, it gave us a chance to test our idea, see if it worked, see if people liked it, see if we could do it and see if we liked doing it!It then gave us some proof and figures to help us make it a reality.

P: Kings cross used to be fairly bare and dodgy but now it’s being completely renovated, new businesses pop up at every corner but they tend to be chains like Costa and Nando’s. It’s good to have a cute, independent hideaway to go and have coffee but we wonder: why here and, most importantly, how did you get that spot? the space is enormous and really grand, did you have to physically fight Pizza Express to secure it?

C&K: We already knew the space when we planned the business. Coralie used to work at a gallery and had used the space for a one month show so we knew it was sitting empty. About 5 minutes after having the idea we knew the space was perfect for it. We did almost come to fisticuffs with an Indian restaurant but luckily the landlord likes having interesting businesses in his properties.

P: With the yarns, fabrics, teacups and comfy cushions crowding your shelves and tables D,S&D looks like the place where people could just come and knit a jumper over a coffee, or read a book over a cocktail, or just have endless catch ups with friends over a pot of tea. Other café owners get annoyed if the time to money ratio is askew and constantly nag customers to have another drink or leave, what is your policy on ‘stayers’?

C&K: Hum... being brand new we're flattered that people like us enough to want to spend all afternoon here. We're friendly kind of people and so far we have attracted nice people who have wanted to support us so haven't taken advantage.

P: D,S&D is fairly new but you’re already mixing the ingredients for some tasty courses and events. What’s cooking? Will you have any literary events? Poetry and knitting go hand in hand these days, just think of the Poetry Society’s knitted poem.

C&K: A couple of people have asked about literary events and we'd love to hold one, we just need to find the right person to run one. Ideas on a postcard to needs a good name and a one line explanation and preferably a nice person to run it.

P: You have many items on sale, a lot of them handmade, many vintage. How do you choose what to sell?

C&K: We sell all things we love and we would like to buy!

P: Finally, what’s D,S&D’s favourite book?

C&K: Reader's Digest Cookery, Year 1973.

P: Thank you.

C&K: No, thank you!

Aw.... such lovely people. Make sure you pop round and have an ice cream when you're next in the area!

9 Caledonian Road
Kings Cross

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Some Positive Ramblings about The Not-So-Secret Garden Party

First of all, I think I owe my fellow gardeners an apology... for I fear I may have been slightly responsible for the epic queue that hindered the start of this year's festivities. You see last year's edition of the party was just so good that I couldn't possibly keep it a secret! And because I recounted my tales of adventure and intrigue to just about everyone and anyone over the course of the year I think the world and his dog (for yes there were many fine four-legged friends gardening around) came along to see what the fuss was all about.

And this year did not disappoint; quite the opposite. Whilst it grew in quantity it also grew in quality and along with a repeat of last year's wonderfully weird attractions there was a much improved standard of music. In preparation for the festival I spent a lot of time warning my music snob friends that it wasn't about the big name DJs but the experience- and so not to be disappointed when they found themselves do si do-ing atop a bale of hay to the beats of a banjo instead of the usual stomping in the depths of a throbbing AVB crowd.. But alas, much to their delight the Pagoda stage was graced with some rather impressive "guest DJs"; who turned out to be the likes of Annie Mac, Alex Metric and Adam Freeland! Bonus.

My favourite parts, however, remained the smaller attractions. The Village Hall for example; sitting in my Victorian dress in the sunshine whilst drinking a cup of herbal and knitting most certainly goes down as one of the happiest moments of my life (call me a girl of simple tastes if you will). In fact tea featured rather prominently in my festival antics. A quintessentially British concoction of gin, cold fruity herbal and a dash of lemonade, supped from a tea pot, perfectly complemented the laid-back vibe of the Living Room. This was a cosy tent adorned with mantle pieces, bookcases, cushions and Grandma's old sofas all facing a small television-esque stage. Relaxing here in front of a live band on the Sunday afternoon was better entertainment than the Eastenders omnibus, and that is high praise indeed.

Another highlight of this festival is that a health freak such as myself can indulge themselves till their healthy hearts are content- God bless you Weirdigans cafe! Night or day you were there to feed me and my insatiable appetite for healthy inebriation; with vegan chocolate energy balls, guava punch and oodles of my beloved houmous. Bravo.
I'd also like to propose a toast to the Hendrick's gin troupers. Their task for us gardeners was to write a story in exchange for a free gin and tonic (albeit a thimble full) and our task for them was to listen to them all. After our initial surprise that the fine gintlemen weren't as enthused as we were over our tall tales the realisation dawned on us that they had probably endured four whole days of drunken revellers' incoherent ramblings. For this reason (I can only assume) they had sneakily hidden electrodes in two giant cucumbers, and thrust them into the palms of unsuspecting gardeners! Our friend Jon succeeded in enduring the most electric cucumber of all SGP revellers; well done to him. He really was determined to win that Little Book of Gentlemen's Etiquette.

Secret Garden is definitely the festival for extroverts, and offers the perfect opportunity to show off that long-lost school hobby you thought you'd bid farewell to at the age of eleven. I, for example, had a lot of fun reliving my days as a ballerina; pirouetting between the tents in long flowing gown (a costume that was likened more to Little Bo Peep than that of the intended Lydia from Pride and Prejudice) until I managed to fall spectacularly on my face straight into a bin. We also enjoyed (rather less dangerously) playing the ocarina, and cucumber and rose petal draughts; for which my rusty skills won a grow-your-own cucumber set! This now sits on my desk and serves to remind me of happier, fruitier times.

The festivities in fact culminated in a giant sing-song on the Sunday evening. Once all other sources of music had been thoroughly exhausted one charitable fellow, with some rather impressive musical skills, took to a randomly placed piano and bellowed out pop classics- in true primary school assembly style! Admittedly, this wasn't exactly the kind of vibe we were going for after exiting the pagoda and its filthy electro beats but once Queen's Bohemian Rhapsidy had finished (I detest this song) we were completely won over... The enthusiasm and genuine guffaw of the singing around this tiny old piano epitomises beautifully the vibe of Secret Garden; and was akin both to some sort of war time sing-along and that scene in Titanic where the orchestra plays on till the bitter end.

I think the only real downside to SGP was that upon leaving I felt that I hadn't made the most of it- there was just so much to explore in so little time. Thanks to a giant power nap Saturday night we missed the likes of Eliza Doolittle (the only artist I had actually committed to seeing) and the majority of the fireworks. The fireworks did still look spectacular from our tents (I believe the explosions actually woke us up) but we couldn't really see the burning of the mid-lake boat stage in all its glory which is a shame. Aside from this I think SGP might have been a little bit perfect and probably the best festival I've been to (although I might be guilty of saying this after every festival I go to). To be honest I even enjoyed the 4-hour queue- eased along of course by the gallons of cider/wine consumed in it- for it was yet another opportunity to meet like-minded gardeners. I made a great friend whilst hunting for a spot to pee in the bushes, for example. I didn't catch her name unfortunately but I shall call her "the girl with the really large mac who shielded me from the crowds"- thanks for that one, you know who you are...

So now back to normality- it's been a tough few weeks but we're nearly there. The Garden has become a mere glimmer in our eyes; Jon is a little bit more of a gentleman, I have a miniature vegetable patch on my desk and we all have a slight addiction to cucumber-based gin.
From our special agent Laura Hitchman

Friday, 30 July 2010

Circalit And Little Episodes Get Writers to Open Up About Depression With Free Short Story Competition.

Yesterday Circalit announced a free short story competition on the theme of “Broken Identities” with Little Episodes, an independent publisher and production company who raise awareness for those suffering from depression and addiction through the arts. The competition is peer reviewed, meaning that the public can read the submissions and vote for their favourites. By making all the submissions public, Little Episodes and Circalit hope to encourage writers to open up about mental health issues. Writers can submit their work by creating a free account at and posting their submissions up online. The deadline for submissions is 15th Sept 2010. Celebrated author and critic, Kasia Boddy, will judge the final winner from a short list of candidates. Kasia Boddy is author of numerous books including The American Short Story Since 1950, and she is currently editing an anthology of the top 25 American short stories of all time for Penguin Classics.

Little Episodes is a growing phenomenon in London, hosting events where people can display their art, play music, recite poetry and prose, or perform stand up comedy to raise awareness for depression. They are currently producing the second volume of their anthology series, “An Expression of Depression” where the winning short story will be published. Actress Sadie Frost, a contributor to Little Episodes anthology, said of the project, “I just thought, what a great thing to do, to channel that energy into something positive... I was in and out of hospital for a couple of years. The one thing that kept me alive at that time was writing.”

Lucie Barât, Founder of Little Episodes, commented, “We’re really excited about the idea of doing a peer reviewed competition and we love Circalit’s approach. With Circalit, it’s not just about having a single winner, it’s about getting the public involved by reading submissions and voting for their favourites. Circalit and Little Episodes have the same ethos, we want to give talented artists who haven’t had the break that they deserve a platform from which to make themselves heard and get some exposure. We both hope that this will be a good opportunity to raise awareness for mental health issues through art.”

Kasia Boddy, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at University College London, commented “I think this is a very worthwhile project and I’m glad to be a part of it. This collaboration between Circalit and Little Episodes demonstrates the strengths of the internet as a social and cultural resource with real potential to change lives.”

Circalit, which started life as a site where screenwriters could showcase their work to film studios, has already hosted free competitions with companies such as the BBC and Hollywood producer, Julie Richardson. It’s social networking features make it an invaluable resource for writers looking to make industry contacts and it is integrated with Facebook, giving talented writers the means to spread their wings and go viral across the internet.

Raoul Tawadey, CEO and founder of Circalit, said, “We’re very happy to be working with Little Episodes, who do a fantastic job destigmatizing depression and encouraging self-expression through creativity. We’re proud that Circalit can be used as a platform to bring these issues to life, and we hope to discover some bright new literary talent. This is a great opportunity for writers to gain exposure, so I encourage everyone to read the short stories and vote for your favourites.”

If you are interested in interviewing Raoul Tawadey, CEO of Circalit, or Lucie Barât, founder of Little Episodes, please contact:

Robert Tucker
Communications Director

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Hate Yourself Thin! with Dr Marilyn Baedecker

Dr Marilyn Baedecker’s revolutionary Hate Yourself Thin! Lifestyle Programme is devised to help YOU get in touch with those reserves of self-loathing deep within.

‘Friends used to say to me, “Marilyn, how do you stay so thin?” I realised that what came naturally to me – utter self-hatred, a cruel and punishing inner voice, deeply ingrained shame and guilt – were attributes others had to strive for. That’s when I started to devise my Lifestyle Programme. At first I worried that making a blessing of my curse would encourage me to feel good about myself, but soon I remembered that any small success is easily countered; for no singular success is ever good enough, and however well I did, I knew I would never truly achieve my imagined potential. So - I can stay thin and help you to get there too!’

This 5-step programme is proven to work! Just try it!*

1. Learn to focus your energy

Learn to focus your energy on parts of yourself you truly hate. Try focusing on a physical defect while looking into the mirror. Dr Marilyn says she used to spend time staring at her left nostril, which is fractionally larger than the right, and is upturned at a greater angle, to enter into the mindset she calls VMD – Voluntary Masochistic Disgust. ‘Once you’re in a state of VMD, bring to mind other areas of your body that force you to recognize just how much work you need to do on yourself to become a person worthy of love, goodness or happiness.’

2. Channel your anger

Anger is self-hatred turned outwards! Don’t go about blaming others for your misfortunes: deep down, you know its all your fault. Stop wasting your time feeling angry about the state of the world. Turn your passionate engagement with climate change, slave labour or the credit crunch into zealous self-loathing and see the pounds drop off!

3. Set your goals

Set yourself some unachievable targets. Add one or two more things to your daily to-do lists and watch yourself fail to get where you want to be! Unfulfilled potential is the mainstay of self-hatred. Go for it! You know you can’t do it.

4. Join a group

Dr Marilyn now has weekly groups running in almost every city. Join us for some group work, where we’ll focus on false modesty, shallow interpretations, back-handed compliments and crushing humiliation. Weigh-ins allow each participant to prove just how badly they’re doing.

5. Buy Dr Marilyn’s books

Dr Marilyn has recently brought out two sequels to her international best-seller How to Hate Yourself Truly and Get Thin Quick. In her book The Self-Hatred Diaries, read stunning testimonials of the Hate Yourself journeys, while the Low Self Worth Bible: Esteem, What Is It Good For? provides hints, tips and a schedule for the loser who wants to be a winner at being a loser.

* The Hate Yourself Thin! Lifestyle Programme can lead to compulsive over-eating and associated weight gain, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, EDNOS, suicidal ideation and mental health difficulties. Consult your doctor if concerned.

Helena Michaelson

The last day of Latitude, Heather Phillipson, Blake Morrison & Sebastian Faulks.

On the last day of Latitude everybody was exhausted, the sun still hitting down hard on various levels of sunburnt and freckled skin, the memory of rainy British summers gone. In the morning, the poetry and literary tents offered shade and quiet to people wishing to use the cushions scattered around the floor for a nap, the memory of the comfort of mattresses and pillows still quite vivid in everyone's minds and crooked spines. Regardless of their efforts, the spoken word kids couldn't wake up the audience, let alone get them to join in, although, to be fair, the ginger guy with guitar (it you're reading, come forth with your name, i didn't catch it and you're not on the program - but i am posting a video of you below) did get a few feet waving unconsciously to his pieces, and got Joshua Idehen and Alex Gwyther (He's a poet - and you know it', pictured above) on their knees in adoration as a result.

Then it was the turn of Heather Phillipson, whose poems lie peacefully between philosophy and the mundane. It seemed that her reverie on stripping between Marlborough road and Archway, and 'say nothing of what I know except what my body announces' were shared by many a listener who wished to do just that. The poem on mashed potatoes, however, didn't quite make it past the music coming from the stages, and many drifted away while I got quite hungry.

In the literature arena, in the meantime, Sebastian Faulks was being introduced. We pop round to have a look and find Faulks exclaiming 'God, I'm prolific!' after mentioning a couple of new books coming out soon. He follows with a few excerpts from Pistache, one of said releases, and then proceeds to answer a couple of questions from the audience: Did he always want to be an author? Yes. Does he work on one project at the time? Yes. Does he ever struggle to write? No, he doesn't believe in writers' block - déjà vu? It seems that he and Bret Easton Ellis agree on this one - 'Respect the bad day,' he says, 'it's God's way of telling you you've got nothing to say.' Faulks has his followers, of course, but they're not many and not very dedicated, however much people parade Latitude as a tame family and old people do, everything points to the opposite, it's a festival for people (young, older and, yeah, with children too) interested in poetry and literature as well as music, but they want it edgy and provocative. Ellis might have been too hung-over to speak or answer any questions, but he packed the tent with stalkers and groupies.

But let's go back to the Poetry Tent, here it was the turn of old Nutshell friend Blake Morrison, introduced as 'the best and most influential poet of the past 30 years', who reads a few favourites as well as some new material, and works the crowd well, picking from a very well stocked bag of tricks a poem made entirely of monosyllables, a poem composed by only 7 rhyming words, and an intense, violent poem about serial killer Peter Sutcliffe. Morrison explains all poems prior to reading and reads them out clearly, passionately, and changing voices and accents, he leaves without Q&A but the crowd loves him anyway.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Masked Ball in the Faraway Forest - Latitude

This festival, they say, is much more relaxed and civilised than Glastonbury & Co. and we agree, however, on the night of the 17th, Saturday, I discovered the other side of Latitude. After the main stages close down everybody is too high on sun and music to go to sleep, perhaps those who equipped themselves with blow up mattresses or even rented one of those amazing bungalows the prospect of an early night might have seemed appealing, but for the majority of us sleeping on the cold, hard ground, with insects and whiffs of faraway portaloos coming in waves through the plastic of our tents, the night was to be spent celebrating. Night time entertainment was divided in two main areas, 'In the Woods' and 'Faraway Forest'. While on the first night we only ventured 'In the Woods', where two stages pumped electro-tech-house-progressive-underground beats and ravers jumped from trees on other ravers busy in deep philosophical conversations, on Saturday we ventured into the 'Faraway Forest', which being rather far away we had previously missed, and into the masked ball.

The mood, in the 'Faraway Forest' is suddenly altered, some trees are covered in luminescent, Avatar-like, strings and ribbons; others are wrapped in pieces of paper, each carrying a different message; some are there to protect the faeries' cruising grounds, where a pair of siamese twin zebras abduct you and take you to cruising spirits who want nothing more than giving you a good time. At every corner, surreal happenings take place on makeshift stages and theatres: a wasted teenager turns out to be a hoola prodigy, shooting her shoes into the distance and whizzing her 7 hoops past a bottle of vodka and discarded items of clothing; a two headed mannequin woman dances the struggle of her two identities away while a gang of horror paramedics tend to random passers-by with bandages and electric charges. Two Roving Unicorns roam the forest calmly as puppeteers animate the tragi/romantic story of Panfilo and Perpetua (courtesy of the woodenfingers theatre), and people cheer to the queer DUCKIE vaudeville and variety acts, including brilliant stripping magician Ursula Martinez, in the warmth of the cabaret tent. Quite like a dream, and better than any cinematic reconstruction of follies, the Faraway Forest masked ball set the night alight. After the shows, people kept dancing - and really engaging with each other! - until closure at 3AM, and even then, not ready for sleep, retired to the campsites to dance some more around bonfires.

Saturday Night at Latitude - Belle and Sebastian

After Crystal Castle, came Belle and Sebastian. I am not sure if you're familiar with either, but they go together like paper cuts and lemon juice. B&S are back on stage after four years, and initially, as I watch the crowd disappear over the hill to go and see the XX, I am worried that nobody will remember them or care enough to stay. But the XX fans' disappearance revealed the solid block of hardcore B&S supporters glued to the barriers under the stage, and soon more tigermilkers and sinisters descended from the trees and came out of the forest where they hid from Crystal Castle to fill the field with the nicest crowd you'll ever see. Strangers high-five-ing from the top of their mate's shoulders, people hopping and skipping, singing along to every word (from the early albums, at least) and children blowing bubbles with bubble machine-guns (here's to modern hippies).
Belle and Sebastian might not be the most visually stimulating band, they generally just play standing quite still, as Stuart Murdoch hops about the stage alone, but they compensate well, getting 20 kids from the crowd on stage to dance, playing an improvised Stones cover, and generally relying on the kind of audience who were following them when nobody knew they existed, and just can't believe they're seeing them live, playing 'Fox in the snow', again.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Saturday night Latitude - Crystal Castle

The Crystal Castle's set began as it meant to go on - CASTRATE THEM!! - she shouted, garnering instant support from the vocal crowd, in reference to the rapist(s) who have brought an unwanted edge to the weekend.

The same rage accompanied the rest of the set. Alice Glass is well known for her stage antics, with her Smiths '84 tour t-shirt and emo'd up to the nines, she proceeded to beat teenagers with her microphone using a viciousness matched only by the joy of those being assaulted, having recently had the opportunity to grapple her flesh as she surfed above them.

Music needs its heroines and villains, both together is a bonus, it keeps teenage pants warm. However, seeing as we're at 'Latte-tude' I'll have to watch Belle and Sebastian to calm my nerves.

Sad news from Latitude, two girls raped.

I am supposed to tell you all about last night but today's grim discovery kind of put me off it. A girl was raped on Thursday and another one on Friday here at Latitude festival, which puts all the fun we might have had so far into perspective, especially since it's been kept rather quiet, the only indication being the barely decipherable rants of a teenage maniac (Crystal Castle's front woman) as she proceeded to punch her fans, and the suspicious closure of the press tent. Even then, nothing's being said, only upon googling 'latitude rape' we found out what might be the cause of the closure and cameras filming policemen. Of course, although more highbrow and adult than other festivals, Latitude is packed with very drunk, very friendly young men and women running around all night having fun, and even more so, maybe, than at other festivals, there are lots of children too. The parties go on until 3am and then people either crash or keep partying around campfires by their tents. Although it's great to see the amount of freedom everyone enjoys in these woods, which at night turn into hallucinating real life midsummer night dreams where anything can and does happen and everyone is happy, leaflets spreading the news and asking for witnesses, announcements raising awareness and not just that Tom Jones is back for another set, would be a sensible move, and could help finding the rapists. So what if the mood of the festival is spoilt?
We will blog about the night as soon as the press room reopens, until then, sad times @Latitude.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Porky The Poet missing Tim Wells and Hanif Kureishi watches his kids rock at Latitude Festival

Ok, so the last thing we tweeted last night was embarrassing, as talking about philosophy in the woods at 3AM can only mean one thing - and we don't want to talk about that now. By we, I don't mean the Nutshell representatives at Latitude but more specifically me and what used to be my body and can only assume is now my tent's body as the night spent in there completely reshaped it and made it alien to me. I don't know you anymore body! Go away!! But I digress, and will be doing more of that in this blog, so if you don't 'do' digressing, you're as alien to me as my body is and you should go away together.

Nutshell woke up early today and spent ages queuing for various things before hitting the stages. But hit them we did. And here's what we found:

Reclined like a seal on the pink plastic sofa on the Love Poetry stage you can vaguely make out Mr Porky The Poet. The reason the photo is taken from so far away is that, as you can see, the poetry arena is packed. The reason he resembles a seal is that he is recovering from last night and the 25 balloons of laughing gas that came with it. At least we are all a big happy family, each nursing a great, all-embracing hangover, but, again, I digress. Phill Jupitus starts his set with laughing gas and follows with a Christmas poem, 'Father's Christmas' - just as timely as this month's edition of Vogue, which tells us that it is now time to start buying fur coats again. After revealing to the crowd, 20% kids and 30% parents, that Santa doesn't exist but is in fact a lie of 'I've never had sex with that woman' or 'They have weapons of mass destruction' proportions, Phill Jupitus takes a moment to mention fellow poet Tim Wells 'who is not here, but fucking should be' before moving on to two poems about celebrities. The first one, about Paul McCartney, is preceded by a long anecdote that has the crowd in stitches - man meets celebrity, man makes a fool of himself - and then by the poem itself which is sweet and carried the weight of such an extensive introduction well, the crowd is pleased and makes itself heard. The next poem is about Russell Brand, he introduces it by saying that, when he met him, he was charming, bright, fun, smelt like flowers and ladies, but 'prior to that I thought he was a dick' which, somehow, gets waves of approving cheering and ends the set nicely.

Before him, keeping the tent warm was Tim Cockburn who was sweet in his indie references (Belle and Sebastian and The Working Men's club) and topics, a lot about love and relationships ' No Jennifer, we were never beige,' and a grand finale villanelle about a sticker seen on a microwave at a pub he used to work at which read 'Delayed Erupting Boiling'.

At 2PM it was the turn of Hanif Kureishi reading extracts from The Buddha of Suburbia accompanied by Lola Perrin at the piano - which made it really engaging and atmospheric and in contrast, made the funny moments really stand out. Kureishi has recently re-read The Buddha of Suburbia in preparation to this, and admits that although this is not a biographical novel, he found many biographical and personal references to his family life which weaved themselves into the net of fiction and moved him, unexpectedly. As appropriate to this novel, the questions asked by the crowd were mainly political ones. Of growing up in 60s London he says that it's not like it was a different culture, but that there was no culture whatsoever 'If you went around saying the word 'culture' they'd want to kill you,', and that he became a writer because it was impossible to speak to anyone there. When challenged by someone else in the audience that also came from Bromley, asking why he thought such a cultureless area produced so many talented people through the years, he replied that it has good, quick train access to London. Later, he also ventures in the perilous area of multiculturalism saying 'I used to be interested in multiculturalism, but now I am fed up with it. People are now using it to exclude themselves from what they have in common.' Of Islams he says 'Radical Islam doesn't like books and I write them for a living, so we don't have that much in common.'

Somewhere through the Q&A Kureishi manages to mention his sons' band 'Boycott Mondays', who'll be playing later on. I guess now we know the reason behind his appearance today, thank you guys.

Just after Kureishi, guess who come on stage nursing an evil hangover? Yes, Bret Easton Ellis again. I am not sure I should indulge myself and write more about him here, so I think i'll tweet instead. So long.

Going 'up space' with Josie Long at Latitude

Comedy was the theme of this afternoons early jaunt, having shaken off the delights of the exuberance and later spine-crackingly uncomfortable night we headed to see our new old favourite Josie Long. Preceeded by the ever-present Ardal O'Hanlon it was clear that her audience and appeal has rapidly grown since the days of fringe busking, filling a giant tent of several thousand with crowds waiting eagerly outside.

It was delightful to see her brave that most difficult and demanding of comedic disciplines, improvisation, with such success. Her essex-girl nail-technician-come-astronaut persona who had just been 'up space' informed us of 'space the universe, and that shit', reliably revealing to us the meaning of life... 'have you heard of N dubz???', and of the biggest thing you can see from space? 'Blue Water' of course, being much classier than Thurrock or the Westfield Centre.

She has clearly grown in confidence since I last saw her, not surprising given her own rocketing to fame over the past two years, she effortlessly played the audience and will remain firmly on the comedy circuit.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Wendy Cope @ Latitude Festival

Wendy Cope is charming and reads poetry that speaks directly to the listener, any listener who might want to stop and connect. Her verse, often in rhyme, has a musicality which really works read out loud. It's clear, simple, almost child-like at times and brilliantly funny. 'Loss' ends with 'his absence wasn't a problem, but the corkscrew had gone as well.'
A haiku titled something like 'looking out of my back window without my glasses on' rings a bell and goes:
What's that amazing new yellow flower?
Oh yes
A football
Another, touches the pressing problem of lack - or scarcity - of adultery in The Archers. We like!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Faye Fornasier reviews the Guardian Book Club with Bret Easton Ellis

The thing about Bret Easton Ellis is that his readers appreciate his work at very different, very personal levels. So last night, at The Guardian Book Club dedicated to American Psycho (that’s right, not his latest novel, Imperial Bedrooms) the atmosphere is electric with anticipation; we’re among real fans, real devotees. When he enters the room and takes a seat on the stage the auditorium is suspended in a ‘should I be clapping / is that really him’ bubble, and only when host John Mullan – UCL professor – introduces him, does everyone start breathing again, breaking into a long, relieved applause.

The evening starts slowly with Mullan’s anecdotal introduction serving as amuse-bouche while Ellis, relaxed in hoodie, jacket and jeans, looks around at the audience, bobbing his head every now and then as if to an inner metronome. When he finally engages, he is funny and generous, he explains how only recently he has been able to admit Patrick Bateman came from a very real place within himself, and represents him much more than the Bret Easton Ellis in Lunar Park, the latter being entirely fictional in his apologetic relation to American Psycho. He tells us – all envious here, I dare to guess – how he writes his novels quite easily, 9 to 5, and never has writer’s block: ‘ writing is never, should never be a struggle, it should be fun!’

He does have ‘a plan’ he admits, from the increasingly surreal meals running parallel to the increasing violence in American Psycho, to the careful mixing and matching of clothes items found in fashion magazines to create outfits which, ‘if you could see them together would look like jesters.’ Lunar Park is another example of a plan well made: Ellis came up with the idea while working on American Psycho but had to withhold it for 15 years as he felt it would only work after he had published more novels and enough time had passed.

With the Q&A Ellis is put to the test. The audience is made of real B.E.E. lovers, each engaging with his work at different levels, and asking rather challenging questions. One woman introduces her question on sexuality with an anecdote of her being caught masturbating while reading American Psycho by her grandmother, who then demanded to read it herself. Another, who ‘studied him’ at university, asked a question she had been wanting to ask since graduating, many years ago.

Faced with literary theory questions, searching the machinations behind his work, he refuses to answer but does so most gracefully, ‘these are all very interesting, very intelligent questions, but I just don’t know the answers.’ He writes because he gets the idea and thinks it would be fun to develop, he says, or to let out strong emotions ‘the world doesn’t necessarily want to hear’, not to anticipate his own literary criticism, to gain status or to compete with himself. He apologises for being disappointing but the audience doesn’t feel that way, proof of it is the amount of hands waving in the air to get the microphone and the long relentless queue to get autographs and photos with their hero – who obliges almost mechanically but with religious dedication.

A hero you won’t be disappointed to meet.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Nutshell Issue 2 Launch Party

On Sunday 27th June, following England's 4-1 drubbing by Germany, came the event the country had really been waiting for, the Nutshell Magazine Second Issue launch party at The Last Days of Decadence in Shoreditch.

Savvy host Kat "Duckling" Redstone opened the night with a bang by reading out one of Faye "Nutshell editor" Fornasier's confused, rambling e-mails on the theme of why she started the magazine, a curtain-raiser London legend Tim Wells found so moving he immediately left. Kat made her name in double act 'The Ginger Nuts', one half of which was acrimoniously dropped from the evening's proceedings. For admirers who feel strongly about this, we understand there is a fan page for Will "half a Ginger Nut" Rodgers on Facebook, and a support group. Those of us who were eagerly anticipating one of Will's now famous emotional outbursts, which have entered common parlance as a 'Helena moment', were sorely disappointed. He did attend the event, but, perhaps in protest about being dropped from the billing, declined to wear one of his trademark tiny comedy jumpers.

Ever the professional, Kat "Poopsie" Redstone seemed undismayed by the loss of her former partner, who had been replaced by chirpy Sarah Campbell, a comedian who ran at a similar speed setting to Kat, in direct contrast to the Slow/Fast speed setting of The Ginger Nuts. 'Where is Faye?' Sarah called out, seeking to introduce Nutshell's editor to her public. Well-known for her extroversion, Faye was at the opposite end of the room, kneeling behind the reception desk with her hands over her face, quietly moaning 'Oh God'. She then spent the next few hours scrabbling around on the floor looking for loose change.

Readings were initiated by Poetry Society poet, Paul McGrane, who expressed pleasure at the placement of his work in the magazine. Many of us will appreciate his excitement at finding his poetry next to an interview by esteemed Scottish-surnamed writer Ian McLachlan.

During one emotional musical interlude provided by Trent Miller, Faye Fornasier and Kat "Wolfie" Redstone, both semi-professional dancers, spontaneously improvised a beautiful piece of choreography known as the Squirrel Dance (shown here), a perfect counterpoint to the melancholy charm of Miller's music. We hope to be opening the launch of Nutshell 3 with a synchronised performance of the Squirrel Dance.

Many members of our audience were avidly awaiting the arrival of Alex (né Alexander) Eisenthal on stage, who was billed to appear at the Nutshell 1 launch, but, owing to the hectic schedule of his student lifestyle was, we understand, unable to make it out of bed. He was here this time though, now with a top Cambridge First, and carrying a thick wad of papers many at first took to be his doctoral thesis. Eleven pages in, we concluded it might well be. If few audience members understood a word of his poem, I can only say Alex has a beautiful geeky reading voice and my maternal bosom was heaving with pride throughout. He is off to live in France now. Who will prepare his packed lunches for him there?

Rounding the night off was blues master John Drain. Eschewing audience requests for Madonna, perhaps owing to the musical complexity of that artist's work, he settled instead for safe covers of such Robert Johnson strum-along faves as Crossroads. 'Could you play the drums as well?' an audience member called out at one point, referring to John's multi-faceted use of vocals, super-fast hands and foot-stomping.

At this point I feel I should say that, despite appearances to the contrary, John Drain has not been technologically augmented in order to conduct his multi-faceted performance, and that the telescopic, x-ray and infrared facility in his left eye is entirely natural. The interjection made by our audience member was nonetheless a useful reminder to all performers that you can never have too many components in your performance, and, in fact, I aim to be adding new elements to my own guitar routine with the aid of some prosthetic limbs and a jiffy bag.

This time, Faye Fornasier did not take to the stage at the end of the evening to make a speech, something many of the audience had prepared for by bringing ear mufflers. 'Look, I've found some more money for Nutshell,' she did announce to her fellow editors though, rising from nearly three-hours-worth of floor-scrabbling and confidently dropping 7p into the cash box. With rich findings such as these we may even be paying our contributors in Nutshell 3.


Ian McLachlan

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Faye Fornasier reviews Electric Hotel

Do you remember the little blue box at the end of Lynch's Mullholland Drive? Hold that thought.

Electric Hotel is an open-air spectacle set against the last remaining Victorian ironwork Gas Holder, in Kings Cross, in a set that develops towards the sky, rather than on a stage. The spectators are required to wear headphones and plunge into the seductive role of Peeping Toms, only somehow, underwater. From the sounds, perfect yet suspended and surreal, to the hotel itself, reminiscent of big aquarium tanks, everything alludes to oneiric, underwater imagery.

The inhabitants of the Electric Hotel are visible through the windows at nightfall; each with their own obsessive behaviours, mysterious visitors, phone conversations and daunting dances to sensual Jazz, much like Audrey Horne’s dance in Twin Peaks – am I back to Lynch again? The parallel runs on.

On the Sadler’s Wells website it is explained that ‘some time ago, an unspeakable incident destroyed the reputation of the five star Electric Hotel’, we are given some kind of a plot, but the mesmerized, open mouthed faces of the spectators crowding around the hotel show that the fact that there isn’t a plot per se isn’t a problem, in fact, nobody misses it – we are content with the low and ebb of repetition, dances and moves that seem unrelated and suddenly synchronise the occupants revealing a communal umbilical cord between the cells of the womb-like hotel.

Water is not only perceived here, it’s also an obvious component of the show, another occupant. The rooftop pool introduces and closes the show, marking the beginning of each cycle as the pregnant swimmer emerges from it over and over. Water invades several rooms in different ways over the course of the night, making the passage from room to room fluid and natural.

The closing scene is an apotheosis of references and imagery that really set my mind in motion. A disturbed child wearing red Indian headgear, just like Audrey Horne’s brother in Twin Peaks, meets jelly-like dark figures, which move like seaweed, immediately reminding of Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle’s evil guards, or Spirited Away’s river spirit, or even the daemons taking over the wounded animal spirits in Princess Mononoke. The jelly-like figures take over the hotel, breaking through the walls like a tsunami, sweeping away the occupants and changing their lives. In the meantime, in the roof bar of the Hotel, a jellified Nick Cave-like singer sexily croons over electric sounds –the party unaware of the revolution happening below – much like the Llorando moment in Mullholland Drive, or any other lynchian performance moment.

Until the mysterious blue box gets into the right hands and is finally opened.

Satisfyingly electric, mind teasing and breathtakingly beautiful. You’d love your stay at this hotel.