Tag: Britain

Friday Links (Triumphant/Slinking Return Edition)

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Oh hi, kittens. Where have I been, you ask? Well, first Dublin, then turning 29, then working on a project I can’t talk about, and then working 14+ hour days this week on another project I can’t even talk about. You see my difficulty in communications, yes?

No? I am in disgrace? Very well, I shall try to begin making it up to you immediately. My first offering is an extra long Friday Links post for your delectation. Tell me what you’re getting up to this weekend, or offer your harshest abuse at my neglect, in the comments!

Dublin was a babe.
Dublin was a babe.

 

Where is everybody? An astrophysicist ponders Fermi’s paradox.

Why Addy matters.

Sensationalism of the Duggar case aside, sexual crime is so, so much more common than people thing. Sexual crime against children, horrifyingly so. And it hits far closer to home than most are willing to recognize.

This woman sounds like someone I’d like to have a long lunch with and just listen to talk.

Since I occasionally dabble in Mormon news, this story caught my attention.

Stop.

I have so many thoughts about this story, it may have to form its own blog post, but I’m curious as to how US-based minions are thinking about it. Weigh in in the comments for me, please.

Let’s fight about this! Ranked wrong, right, or totally off base.

Jerks.

Tumblr find of the week. A writers life for me.

Seen Mad Max: Fury Road? Read these reviews.

Grace over at Culture Life talks language!

Marian Keyes says the term “chick-lit” needs to go. Since she’s written one of my favorite novels, I think she may be right.

Woof… No further commentary.

Kate Beaton is on the Mary Sue! Make haste!

Moral of the story: “Wear comfortable shoes, square your shoulders, and walk like you’ve been sent to murder Captain America.”

And speaking of Avengers, Mark Ruffalo takes on the “I’m not a feminist” crowd, with some help from Libby Ann Bruce. One of my particular pet peeves is any phrase that begins, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then goes on to make some point about parity of opportunity, education, and rights. Hate to break it to you…

Discovered Up My Street

“And even this heart of mine has something artificial. The dancers have sewn it into a bag of pink satin, pink satin slightly faded, like their dancing shoes.”
― Edgar Degas

As a child one of my favourite films was “The Tales of Beatrix Potter.” A ballet film based on the works of the famous children’s author and illustrator, it was produced by the Royal Ballet and is an utterly charming piece of work to me even now. It was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and, true to ballet, there is no speaking. It’s just dancing and absolutely charming costumes based carefully on the drawings of the original stories.

It turns out, those costumes are now stored just a few minutes walk from my flat!

Sands Films studios is a famous costume making workshop, a small film studio operating since the 1970s, and also the home of a vast photo library open to the public that contains a vast collection of original images. Unlike a number of archives, it’s available to anyone who wants to use it for research and reference purposes. It is just behind St. Mary’s church and across the street from the notable Mayflower pub.

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The workshop has made costumes for a number of notable films over the decades, including recent ones like Lincoln, The Young Victoria, Marie Antoinette, and Les Miserables. They have also made costumes for TV programs, operas, and stage productions. If you’ve seen these or most major British/British made period films over the last handful of decades, there’s a good chance you’ve admired some of their handiwork.

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Though it’s operational hours clash with my work, if there is every a day that a holiday and an opening meet up, you can bet I’m finding a way to make a visit happen. I have no idea what I’m going to find, but I’m determined to talk my way into as much as possible. The worn out VHS tape in my parent’s basement demands it!

Kensington at the Weekend

“How sweet the morning air is! See how that one little cloud floats like a pink feather from some gigantic flamingo. Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over the London cloud-bank. It shines on a good many folk, but on none, I dare bet, who are on a stranger errand than you and I. How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces of Nature!”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I

My old stomping grounds look quite fetching in the spring.

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Two Words: Customer Loyalty

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

Our Easter weekend meanderings was a fascinating example of the best of shop culture that I’ve found in Britain and not found anywhere else. America might be run by consumer culture, but I’ve never lived anywhere that does shops like I’ve found here. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be surprised, Britain has been built on shopkeepers and mercantilism for centuries. But in an age of brand shopping, fast fashion, ready made everything, and general convenience being king, it’s kind of great to see how personal business can be.

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Our first stop of the day was Alexeeva and Jones, to pick up some Easter chocolate. We got to chatting with the woman assisting us, and it turns out that she was one of the founders! I expressed how much I enjoy the fun and unusual chocolates they carry and she immediately asked if I was a repeat customer, and had I been given a discount? Yes, and no respectively. She immediately whipped out her business card and wrote us a personal 10% coupon, no expiry date.

Feeling pretty pleased, we headed up to 282 Portobello Road. I have been on the hunt for a tweed jacket for months and to be frank, most off the rack stuff doesn’t fit me. I’m a petite woman with a short waist, and a definite hourglass figure, but broad ribs. It’s a tricky business finding me any clothing that fits correctly–believe in tailoring, kittens–and I’ve not had a lot of luck with jackets in general.

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As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking for vintage clothing that focuses on classic British houses, cuts, and tailoring, Claudia is the woman you need to see. I’ve written of my unabashed enthusiasm for her before, but life and work have been so busy for months now and I haven’t had the time to visit old favorite haunts. Well, after months of looking in all the wrong places, I walked into 282, and found a 1950s jacket almost immediately that looked like it was cut to my exact frame. The sleeve length, the lapels, the fit…it’s perfect. As she was ringing us up, Claudia glanced over at us and declared, “You guys have been here before.” We had, but as a mentioned, it hadn’t been in months. I said as much but she just beamed, “I love it when people come back and find something they love.” And she gave me an instant price reduction.

Finally, on Sunday we went to Spitalfields to get a “scotch egg brownie” from Flavourtown Bakery–maker of the finest cupcakes in the city, as determined by SDS Industries. We hang out at Spitalfields regularly on the weekends and have been buying treats from Flavourtown for months. The owner recognizes us, knows our favorites, and makes recommendations. That day was no different except that we had a long chat about how they’ve started supplying two of the most famous department store foodhalls in the city, how one of their lead team members had to leave due to family reasons, and the general ups and downs they’ve experienced. In the end, we bought a box of cupcakes (along with some helpful tips on how best to freeze them so as not to glut ourselves on sugar), and got the last “secret” flavor of the week cupcake thrown in. Pro tip, like them on Facebook, fans get extra treats.

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In rapid succession, I saw how personal relationships build business. As someone who has (believe it or not, based on this post) tried to cut down on a lot of unneeded consumerism in her life, it was an insightful weekend. A woman learned I valued her product and immediately provided me a way to enjoy it more, benefiting us both. Another woman recognized me as a repeat customer who expresses enthusiasm for what she’s enthusiastic about, and helped me get something I’ve wanted for months for just a little bit less. I know I’ll be back to buy from her again, and it has nothing to do with the discount. And finally, a guy who probably enables my sweet tooth too much, and who has countless of customers across multiple markets and shops, takes time to recognize his regulars and engage with them genuinely. As a result, we make it a point to keep coming back to say hi and see how he’s doing. We inevitably come away with a treat.

It’s not just these guys either! Now that the weather is warming up, I’m shopping at markets again and I get recognized by produce stand owners, cheesemongers, and breadmakers. I’ve asked shopkeepers for advice from cloth to cuts of meat and gotten minor educations. I don’t know if it’s the tradition, the relative small size of the country, or just something in the culture, but the British do shops far better than anywhere I’ve lived, and they seem to do a better job about sustaining them as well. It is possible to build a business out of something someone is desperately passionate about here in a way I’ve not found in a lot of other places. I hope I never have to give them up.

Of Kids and Dogs

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
― Roald Dahl

Inspired by a comment chat with the lovely and thoughtful Grace from Culture Life, on one of the weekend links.

I’m turning 29 this year, Jeff is turning 30. In four months we’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. Depending on who you ask we should have between 0 and 3 children by now. Some people are amazed we married as young as we did, some feel the need to caution us about our dwindling fertility.

Living in Britain means that the latter is a lot less common than when we lived in Utah when multiple people, including total strangers, would ask me about our reproductive plans every week, but it still happens simply because we’re married. It’s a natural progression in the social expectation. In Britain it’s not unusual to partner up but wait until you’re ready to have kids to marry, to have kids before marrying, or some other variation. It’s a lot more more live-and-let-live than the US is in a lot of ways, but family is a topic of conversation for a lot of people I know, particularly working women.

I’ve married a man who definitely wants kids, and who decided at the ripe old age of 23 that he definitely wants to have them with me. (Luckily for all concerned, he still does.) Which means that before we married we had a lot of frank talks on the subject and have maintained a pretty open dialog about the whole thing throughout our married life. One of the things we talk about the most lately is the financial realities of families for people like us. We also talk about about getting a dog.

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It sounds like I’m getting off topic here, but I promise I have a point.

A while back I was speaking to a whip smart agent who works at a major global sales firm. The woman is very nice and always well put together, and I enjoy working with her. She mentioned that she had a dog, a breed that I like, and I asked how she and her husband managed to look after a pet since Jeff and I were interested in having one down the line somewhere. It turned out that she has a dog sitter look after her pup. Every single work day. Her dog needed a nanny.

And lest you think I’m telling this story to make fun of her, I assure you, I’m not. It’s just a reality for a lot of pet owners. Pets take care and if you want a pet you either need to provide it yourself, or ensure someone else is on hand to do it when you can’t.

The parallel to children might seem unflattering towards the latter, but I think it’s a fair one. London is an obscenely expensive city and when I look at my colleagues and coworkers, there are only two options I see for how they manage it. They either 1) make enough money for one parent to stay–or more likely work from–home with the kid(s), meaning they make an awful lot, or 2) they have help. And to make the second option work, that usually requires plenty of money again to be able to afford said help!

Getting this job effectively doubled our income, which has already been an incredibly positive shift for us. I’m still freelancing on the side, but now if we’re smart, we can pay off our remaining student loans within two years. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to say that, because debt (even obtained in a good cause) is terrifying. However, we’re still a few years away from even thinking seriously about having kids. And in that time, we estimate we’d have to double our income again to afford a child because even though we’re bringing in twice as much, it’s not even close to allow one of us to stay home past a maternity/paternity leave–much less afford a nanny five days a week.

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I know some people, in countries all around the world, who can afford to have and maintain a family on a single income. I know far, far more who can’t, and the trend is very much towards the latter from my generation. Wages have not kept up with cost of living and–in spite of what a lot of Boomers like to argue to the contrary–the evidence is that people my age are pretty frugal. Jeff and I sure as hell are! Like a lot of millennials, in spite of working hard (two jobs in my case) we’re swimming in debt which delays a lot of other financial considerations like buying property and cars (two things the American economy has depended on for half a century), investing…and having kids.

Spawning is a complicated topic for me. I’ve written several times about the fact that I’ve never felt a primal urge to have children like I know many women do. In fact, I dislike infants and babies intensely, silly or not childbirth actively frightens me, and human pregnancy looks to my eyes as if we should have tried one or two other evolutionary models before deciding on the one we’ve landed on. Add to the mix my slow and painful breakup with a religion that couches the female experience almost entirely in the language of motherhood, often (in my personal opinion) to the detriment of nearly all other possible life choices/realities for women, and you get some pretty conflicted views.

But financial issues conflict it even more. We won’t have our debt paid off until we’re in our early 30s, and I don’t want to have children in my late 30s. My mother did and even though it was the right choice for her (plus my little sister is pretty darn cute), it’s not an experience I want to repeat. Which means that our window to consider children shrinks every year. I’m personally fine with that, but I work hard to make sure Jeff and I are on the same page about it. We are. We literally cannot afford them.

And I don’t think we’re unusual. In fact, I think we’re the increasing norm.

Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences, kittens. I’m curious to hear them. 

Friday Links (First of 2015 Edition)

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Well, hey there, well-beloved-but-desperately-neglected minions! We’re back from the States, back at work, and back at the grindstone. Let’s catch up. Jeff has dived straight into studying for his next round of exams (we’re down to less than a year of this slog), and I’m back freelancing and in the world of London luxury development. The first couple of week of a new year are always a bit hectic, but we might be setting a new record for post-holiday self-destruction. Luckily, there a few things keeping us sane.

We finally coughed up the money for a shiny new laptop that is causing me to coo, “the precious…” every time I open its sleek lid. It’s long overdue. I’ve been using a refurbished laptop we bought for about $400 at least three years ago that’s been getting increasingly clunky and hard to manage over the last year. When I couldn’t have two windows open at the same time without the whole thing freezing, I knew it was time to let Marvin go to his rest. Let’s just hope all my image and music files transfer over alright.

The intrepid Caitlin Kelly is in town and crashing at our place this week as she journeys around the city, conducts research and interview for assignments, and generally puts us all to shame with her pace. Last weekend, completely backward due to jetlag, we all went out on the town and had some much needed adventuring. We ate good food, had great conversations, and did some truly impressive vintage shopping. Caitlin’s got the touch for spotting a deal, let me tell you!

Less immediately important, but still pretty vital, I finally got my local library card and might actually have made headway in getting a British bank account. Long story, will rant later. In the meantime, I’m putting together budget proposals of numbers so high as to give me a nosebleed, working with a grade-A creative team and a world class illustrator, and checking off new items from my list with satisfying ticks. Here are your links, catch me up on your holidays and tell me what you’re up to this weekend in the comments!

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Enjoy a shot from me on assignment in Notting Hill. Much as I whine, life’s pretty decent, kittens.

 

Some people have more…something…than sense. Not sure it’s money.

You lucky ducks, Caitlin is blogging her adventures (plus tips on renting flats in Paris).

Unsure about the background of Tolkien’s mythology? CPG Grey is here to help.

Jezebel gives a pretty good account of the “fluffication” of this history surrounding Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Headline of the week, I feel.

I barely use my iPod for music anymore, it’s all podcasts through and through, so this list from Medium about interesting podcasts from 2014 (minus Serial, because obviously) hooked me.

Women’s issue news worth sharing and a cause worth supporting.

Since I’m still working in London housing, this is fascinating.

Ah, journalism.

Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail forever.

A response that moved me on the attack in Paris, a city where Caitlin is just visiting us from and returning to at the weekend. Thoughts for safety all around, please.

An 18th century time capsule opening.

A Very Belated Thanksgiving Post (with dreadful photos)

“There is no Thanksgiving back in the old country where I come from. You know why? Because being thankful is a sin.”
― Craig Ferguson

It’s almost hilarious to write this up since we’re heading to the States in a week for our Christmas holiday, but ’tis what it is. Jeff is studying for his next round of exams (that guy is a champ…if you add in kindergarten, he’s been taking tests of some kind now for 24 years…) and my work gig has kept me busier than I’ve been in months. Which is saying something!

It’s an odd thing to dash from work to Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s what happened perforce. After my plans last year to eat at The Mayflower were scuppered by Jeff’s Christmas do, we finally made it this year. The Mayflower is a charming pub that crams in and absolutely revels in every stereotype you can imagine. Obviously it’s proud of its history and plays up the connection to the ship Mayflower (which was moored near the site of the pub in the 17th century before heading off to the New World, and whose captain lies buried in the vault of St Mary’s across the street), but it also indulges its connections to other maritime history in the area and general Britishness. The walls are covered in quotes about food and drink from literature, sailing paraphernalia covers the walls, and paintings and photos of Rotherhithe through the last centuries abound.

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(It’s a bit silly how funny I found their wifi password.)

It was a very British way to celebrate the only real, genuine American holiday but we loved it. The place was full of Brits and expats celebrating the day, a few of my country were made patriotic by wine and at one point we were serenaded with an off key but heartfelt rendition of America the Beautiful, and the food (though miles short of home cooking) was surprisingly good.

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Friday Links (Black Friday Edition)

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
-Oprah Winfrey

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, ducklings! Jeff and I finally made it to The Mayflower for Thanksgiving dinner, and it was about as charming a British pub as you could find anywhere. In less happy news, Black Friday has crossed the Atlantic in all its greedy glory. I like a deal as much as the next kid but I can’t say I like this development.

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Of all the things for us to export culturally, it had to be this thing

For my next gala event, I think I shall require tiaras. With bonus points for unusual ones.

Know your consumption, and it’s effects, I suppose.

One writer tells of their experience sending celebrities fan mail, and who wrote back. I wrote to President Clinton as a little girl and got a note back on White House stationary that was QUITE impressive at show and tell.

Interesting piece from Business Insider about the two traits found in successful relationships and why.

Our taxi drivers put those of any other metropolis to shame. I will fight anyone who says different.

Trigger warning, this story is about sexual brutality towards children. But it’s an important read to know what women and girls are up against in some corners of the world. And the last two sentences will get you right in the gut.

Simplistic, but more or less spot on, I think. (Can’t stop chortling over the, “Guys….”)

Long live English.

Step into a cookbook editor’s kitchen.

How do you not know that you have one of these?!