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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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In January I finally hit the zone with my fitness regime which felt really good. What doesn’t feel good is the daily brain strain of working out what I need to pack for pilates or swimming or running. Add into the mix nights spent sleeping at Nick’s, spanish class, my work mac, my personal laptop and I am starting to resemble Where’s Wally or Buckaroo; laden with bags and bits and bobs hanging off every limb. So it’s probably no surprise that my (very uncool) Quicksilver backpack that I have had since my GCSE year finally sprung some holes and broke, sick of being zip-strainingly crammed full. I don’t know why I haven’t thought about buying a new rucksack  (do you call it a rucksack or a backpack? Is there an official definition for the difference?) sooner considering this one was never very comfortable and wildly out of fashion, but now I had the opportunity to embark in a new one I didn’t take it lightly.

My main issue with most rucksacks is the way the straps meet in-between your shoulder blades. This puts such a strain on your neck and shoulders, they also give the bag a narrow top which means my beast-macbook barely crams in and the zip won’t shut, which in London is basically a pickpocket open invite. So I decided what I really needed was a rectangle shaped bag with wide straps in a nice colour that goes with everything. Then I saw a girl wearing a Kanken and it ticked every box and the rest is history.

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Where to start with WHY I love my bag so much? Firstly it fits everything my heart desires in easily. It’s laptop-shaped-shape means books, folders and my mac happily stack in, then I can pad the rest out with gym kit and trainers and it doesn’t look cumbersome and bulky. It has three strap combinations so you can carry it by hand rather than shoulder if you want. It’s waterproof. It makes even the heaviest load feel as light as a feather because the straps are properly positioned to even the weight. Oh and of course, it has a cute winky fox on it… everywhere on it.

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I know these bags are quickly being identified as the ultimate hipster item and as if to prove this point I walked to the tube today behind three hipster boys all with a different shade of Kanken on (and rolled up jeans and too-high bobble hats) but don’t let the fadness of it put you off. Hipsters get sore backs too. Although I did have a colleague point out the other night that my bag collection next to my desk was a hipster handbag haven: Kanken – check! Obscure brewery bar tote – check! School satchel – check! Ruh roh.

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You can find Kanken’s at ilovemykanken, and mine is a classic. I was worried classic would be too small, as they do a larger ‘laptop’ and ‘maxi’ option, but it’s perfect. It’s so dreamy in fact that I am really tempted to pick up a peach-pink one too. Can I really go from one prehistoric rucksack, to two shiny new ones? Is this what being a full-time working professional grown-up is all about?! It’s sort of like the Superga of the bag world, once you have one you become obsessed with the million other colour-ways available. Here is my Kanken getting to see the word at large and accompanying me on a trek in Morocco. It still proudly carries some Sahara sand dust strains now it’s back to the confines of my commute and gym locker.

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This isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just really love this addition to my life and want to share the happy-back wealth.

What else am I happy about? I’m foaming at the mouth over the fact that my favourite band The National have a new album out in May AND a documentary. It’s like they know it’s my birthday..! Unfortunately though they haven’t released a single UK tour date and that makes me UNhappy. Despite adoring them for most of my adult life I have never seen them live. I have had tickets to see them live THREE times too, and various transport/life meltdown/illness has prevents me getting to be in the crowd. I would travel to anywhere in the UK to see them, so I just really hope they sneak one show in somewhere. It’s got  to a point where I would probably have to go see them alone and wear no mascara, because their music has been such an emotional crutch for me that seeing it live would just turn me into a mess, especially now I’ve waited so long.

To soften the blow, I got tickets for Nick & I to go to Planetarium at the BAM in New York. He’s coming to visit for the last weekend of my work-trip and to escort me home (although we are on the same flight home and I’m in Business, he’s in Economy!) What a Saturday night NY adventure! It’s a performance by Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner (of The National) with a full orchestra journeying through every planet in the solar system through music and visuals and I think it will be pretty nifty.

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As you’ve probably gathered, I have never been so happy to kiss goodbye to a year as I was as 2012 ticked into 2013. I know resolutions divide opinion and of the blogs I read, it seems to be pretty evenly split by haters and hopers. Personally, I never reflect and mull (get it!) more than I do over the festive December period. I think it’s a combination of being around loved-ones and family, the kind messages scribbled into Christmas cards, spending time back in the house and town I grew up in… oh and the fact I am drunk at some point most days. This means that when December 31st comes around, I couldn’t be in a better position to really give myself a shake and think about what I want from the year ahead.

They are probably of way more interest to me than anyone else, but I feel if I put them out for the world-wide-world to see, then perhaps I’m more likely to achieve them.

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2013 New Years Resolutions

01. Read 51 books: In typical fashion, after basking in my 50-book reading challenge victory for about ten minutes, I decided it had to be upped to 51 for this year. So far, so good, and I am on book number two. I’m currently reading Invisible by Paul Auster which from the description I was desperately hoping for something similar to one of my absolute favourite books The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It doesn’t really bear any similarities other than being based in an American university but it is a very captivating read. I am only a quarter through but the fact that whilst reading it I was stood in the kitchen cooking my dinner and let the the pasta boil over for about three minutes whilst I got through a particularly tense bit says quite a lot.

02. Learn to surf: In February I’m finally taking the holiday I was meant to have in October but my cyst Vs body take over hijacked. Nick & I are spending a week in the depths of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and amongst many activities (hikes, a bird sanctuary, haggling at souks, star gazing… oh and a few massages and dips in the pool of course!) we are going to spend the day learning to surf in the bath-water warm sea. I’m so excited to try something so entirely new, although not too hopeful at my ability since I am clumsy enough walking on two feet in flat shoes.

03. Visit 3 countries (not including Europe) and 10 new cities: This sounds like a vast amount but with Africa already booked, then being fortunate enough to travel with my job (although it’s not like a holiday as I used to naively imagine work jet-setting would be. Oh no! Try 15 presentations in 14 days, with jet lag and a broad accent that not a single person understands thrown in) and a few other tricks up my sleeve… well lets just say I think I’ll be a different person come 2014 with a much broader view of the world and my place in it. I’m going to buy a big map and some coloured stickers and chart all the place I go. Note how I even manage to make something fun and spontaneous like travelling, organised and colour code-able.

04. Climb Snowdon: I’m also keen to make the most of the UK and see more of it this year. Part of this is a pact I have made with a good friend to join him on his conquering of Mount. Snowdon in Wales (his new years resolution is to climb a mountain in England, Scotland & Wales). I know it’s probably wrong that at the moment I’m most excited about what things I can bake for a picnic (!) but it will definitely feel like a real achievement.

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05. QUIT caffeine: Caffeine is pretty sinister. I highly recommend the you are not so smart blog on it. I never really thought I was addicted to caffeine, I just knew that I loved coffee in all it’s forms and also as a proud Yorkshire girl had an excuse to drink 20 cups of tea a day. I’m not kidding, I regularly had 2 or 3 cups on the go at my desk (the difference in shades of tea-brown was very aesthetically pleasing!) Then had my C-scare and all round month of medical misery, and I did everything I could afterwards to find out how to avoid a relapse. Part of this was seeing a nutritionist who believes that the key (in my case) is to keep everything in my body as balanced as possible, and part of this is avoiding spikes in blood sugar/adrenaline. And part of that? Quit caffeine. At the point I was given this I was having 3 coffees a day and yes, about 20-25 cups of tea.

Soooo… I didn’t go cold turkey obviously, but I started replacing tea for the wonder that is Rooibos (rank on it’s own, yet a taste sensation with milk). I also made the glorious discovery that my beloved Yorkshire Tea make a decaf version and are still are polite enough to use the lets make a proper brew tagline on it, even though I am from Yorkshire and definitely don’t think it’s a proper brew with non of the good (hmm, bad) stuff in it. 3 Months on and I now just have one coffee a week, as a treat on a Saturday! Cutting down was far more brutal and painful than I ever imagined. I got the absolute worst splitting headaches that no pain killer could touch. I swayed deliriously between napping on the bus and nights of sweaty insomnia. I know this is very un-PC but at one point I did say “If it’s this hard to come off coffee, how hard must it be to come off heroin?“. I just massively under-estimated that yes, I was addicted to coffee. In fact (and my bank balance could have told me this years ago) I was a heavy user. Anyway, this year I aim to cut out all caffeine entirely.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: For a decade my new years resolution was consistently to learn to knit. I have finally succeeded! So proud! I’m so nauseatingly twee that it was ridiculous that I couldn’t actually knit before. The other day I found myself knitting, drinking herbal tea, wearing a floral dress & listening to the Magnetic Fields. I actually out-tweed myself.  So I am well on the way with a neat maroon/navy striped scarf. I need to get a wriggle on and finish it in time to gift it next winter, and to finish the knit-your-own-owl (!) of dreams Craig bought me.

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07. Brush up my Spanish: I did Spanish GCSE and got a B. Nowadays I can still pronounce the funny j noise and I can say I’ve got a hangover. Then it all gets a bit fuzzy. In 2003 I backpacked in Spain and after a week of stuttering and stammering over my hola’s, me and my backpack buddy went to a Spanish rock club and drank aLOT of bodka and suddenly I was conversing with everyone in there about how many brothers/sisters they had and whether they preferred the beach or the forest. Important GCSE level questions  My friend couldn’t believe it and thought I had been lying the whole time about my level of Spanish ability… but it proves that with me it’s a confidence thing as much as a forgetful thing. So I signed up for a 10 week course (beginner level as I miserably failed the intermediate online test!) and am really looking forward to getting grips on another language again. And I got given a really beautiful handprinted notebook for Christmas that I can use for my homework. New stationary makes any project instantly exciting non?

 08. Write half of the secret-project: Well isn’t this annoying? It’s something I am sworn to secrecy until the future, so this is all I can say… for now!

09. Blog more than 2013: Given the fast and furious pace I am blogging at the moment I have probably already achieved this! You’re going to be sick of the sight of me. It feels really good to be writing for myself again, rather than just at work, and it seemed such a shame not to be using my little slice of the internet pie that actually costs me money every year. I’m not really hung-up on the fact it’s not a beauty blog, it’s not a fashion blog, it’s not a book blog etc etc. It’s a lifestyle blog. That covers all bases right!

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09. Alter my work/life balance: I graduated university, I moved to London and I became a rat race face and never looked up. I dread to actually think the hours I have worked in the last 5 years and getting ill made me realise that the body can only take a certain amount of burning the candle ferociously. So I have thrown myself back into my pilates, swimming and am being really strict not to book & doublebook every evening, night and weekend up with seeing people and going places and packing and unpacking and then tossing & turning all night having feverish work-dreams. Something definitely has to give, and I’m determined not to end up on the operating table again any time soon.

10. Be brave: I never associate myself with being brave, and it’s something I aspire to be and know I am really, but this year more than ever I will be putting myself in positions out of my comfort zone just to keep on growing into a big tough lion girl… woman.

11. Get back in music: I used to be surgically attached to my mix tapes, homemade CDs and always ahead of the curve with new bands. I am now SO sick of the same songs on my itunes and the fact that I ‘forgot’ to get the new Metric CD… who are one of my favourite bands?! Also that I didn’t even know about the Kings of Convenience side project? Poor show. Going to End of the Road festival  really whet my musical appetite again and since then I’ve enjoying some of the lesser-known acts I discovered. I’m currently listening to a lot of Alessi’s Ark, Tennis, Dead Man’s Bones, Foxes, Kimbra, Band of Skulls, Kurt Vile, First Aid Kit, John Grant, Django Django, Miracle Fortress and Tame Impala. It’s so nice not to be stuck on a permanent shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-same-old-stuff cycle.

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12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: Why do I say this? Why oh why. I have actually adapted it to Oh my gosh but that’s still very annoying. How do other people express surprise?? I hear myself saying Oh my godgosh in my shocked-voice and I must say it multiple times a day and I hate it. Can you please recommend other words? Or maybe I just need a shocked noise?

13. Daily Records (Thirteen resolutions for 2013!)Last year I took a photo every day and it was so useful for my sieve brain to remember events and orders of occurrences that usually drop out of my head as soon as they’ve happened. This year I am going to continue taking a photo a day as it’s a natural habit, but I’m also going to take a photo of my face everyday! I’m not really vain I promise, but as I head towards the big 3-0 (not til 2014, phew) I am really curious to track my outfits/hair style and well skin to see if I start to look older. I’m not going to put them anywhere public, just for my beady eyes. I’ve shared one below though, which perfectly illustrates my current no-make-up state and also the lions man hair that I couldn’t tame. The final record I am keeping is that I bought Lol & Craig this for Christmas. You get asked a question a day, and keep it for 5 years. Then another one arrived from Amazon randomly so I get to partake too. The questions are brilliant and go from the deep (Can people really change?) to the inane (What was the last restaurant you went to?) I never know what on earth to write in a diary, so the daily prompt is perfect.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2013, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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There are certain times you hear a song for the first time and you know that the moment will be forever engrained on your memory, no matter if that artist/band turns into a flitting one hit wonder interest, or a firm forever favourite. In the middle of October last year there was a bizarre week in London which I refer to as fake-summer. Despite crinkly autumn leaves skittering around the place and the fact I already had to huddle into my faux fur coat, suddenly the sun shone and the temperatures soared and scorched in the late twenties. It was one of these days that I was lazing around in my (at the time) shiny-new boyfriend’s bedroom, and it was stuffy and sticky and a song came on his shuffle. It made me sit up and get that rare tingly twinkly feeling on the back of your neck that is physically impossible to recreate on demand. A combination of the singers voice, the urgent melody and the lyrics (Everybody wants to see all the lovers in the streets, I don’t know why, And everywhere we go leaving trails in the snow, I don’t know why we long to be…)

I was still in the stage where I didn’t want to look uncool (!) so really ummed and ahhed about whether I should ask him who the singer was, feeling sure it must be someone hugely massively popular that in my real-summer of hermit living I had somehow missed. As the song finished I took the plunge and asked, because I knew I couldn’t cope without being able to hear it again very very soon and download it for myself. I was really shocked with he told me that it was in fact his little brother singing, otherwise known as Chime Hours. Shocked, but also pleased, because now we have become friends and I get to say that I knew him before he was a huge, famous rock star. Alright! To recreate my spine tingly first listen, you can check it out here.

I probably can’t sum up Chime Hours any more accurately than his own official bio, which says “Chime Hours (aka Philip Horton) weaves tales of love and loss around a distinct combination of guitar, vocal loops, drum machine and anything else that makes a noise” but reasons for adoring certain music is always subjective so I have to add my two pence worth. I think the thing Chime Hours does that really strikes a cord (and is a running theme in most of my favourite artists) is that his lyrics are beautiful. I know beautiful is a totally overused word and if I could create a new word to describe how haunting and goosebump-inducing they are, then I would. Each song creates an entirely new world or character or emotion, that sucks you in from the first to last beat.

Chime Hours repertoire is completely varied too. I think this is aided by his extraordinary vocal range where he can seemingly switch from heights even a tiny dog probably couldn’t reach (well definitely not in such a graceful and tuneful manner) back to bottom bass that vibrates through you. Listening to a few songs in a row is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster as they can go from making you feel gut wrenchingly sad to smiley head-boppy in swift succession. To experience this first hand I recommend you plug some earphones in and head over to…

Chime Hours Sound Cloud

& listen to the other three songs there. Wanton will leave you a bit meloncholy and breathless, The Waiting List will make you feel nostaligc and a bit lost, and Ha Woo will make you want to put the song on a tape and sing along in your car with the windows down! (Do cars still have cassette tape decks? I haven’t driven for six years but I really really hope so)

Even better, if you are a London-er  (particularly South of the river) trot down to Streatham on Friday and catch Chime Hours live at the The White Lion on the High Rd. He is on around 7.30pm and entry is the best price – FREE.

Please go show a lil’ love and follow & like too.

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Everyone likes to be able to say they discovered someone before everyone else and I would place a hefty bet that this will be the case in pretty soon judging the hype so far.. But yknow,  feel free to buy me a drink at the gig on Friday in advance to thank me.

 

 

 

 

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Back in April last year I wrote a post all about my latest greatest musical discovery Paper Aeroplanes (click here!). They quickly became a regular contender in my itunes top 25 most played list and The Day We Ran Into The Sea will always remind me of 2010 for ever more. I was really flattered when Sarah from Paper Aeroplanes contacted me firstly to say she’d read the review and then about a month ago, to see if I’d like a super special advanced preview of their new album We Are Ghosts. Getting to hear one of my favourite new bands before anyone else? Yes please!

After agreeing to take an early listen, I then started to get the fear. When you’ve loved an album by an artist it can be with shakey fingers that you press play on a new one in case for some reason it lets you down! After one listen the whole way through with baited breath I am relieved to reveal, this was definitely NOT the case with Paper Aeroplanes.

The extra good thing is that they have matured and grown their sound, but not so far from their first release  to make it unrelatable or wildly different to what they do best (like so many other great bands do; Interpol & MGMT I’m looking at you!). This album feels slightly more melancholic and retrospective; which is an emotional state I tend to find myself in rather regularly, as do most of my friends! I think it’s a symptom of being a 20-something, stood with your feet over the edge of what feels like forever (the scary future) and looking back at what you have done, where you have been and who you have loved so far.

I think they key to any great musical artist is when it feels like they put your own thoughts and feelings into songs which you can then ponder and empathise with. This album certainly does this. Every track is evocative and really heart wrenching, but most importantly relatable.  This is down to a heady combination of beautifully honest lyrics, infectious melodies and Sarahs absolutely phenomenal voice. It’s strong and smooth and SO pleasant on the ears.

I’m doing the typical thing I do with any new album which is changing my mind about my favourite track on an hourly basis! Which is a very good sign. I think the stand out tracks for me are…

  • Days We Made “and then he came to rescue me, he wrapped me up and set me free, we made a treehouse in the leaves” (an addictive story about returning to a huge love)
  • We Are Ghosts “so lets take a train to the coast, and write postcards we’ll never post, and catch a breeze until we make believe we are ghosts.” (a haunting – ah pun! -track wanting to pretend for just a day that nothing else matters; who doesn’t daydream about this every now and again?)
  • My First Love “and he would call 3 times a day, when there were no more words and nothing left to say” (an upbeat, uptempo ditty about a heroic first love and where/who he is now).

My absolute favourite track however is Safe Hands which is lucky as it’s their first single to be released. Check it out here!

The thing I really like about Paper Aeroplanes as a band is how interactive and engaged with their fans they are. They are constantly communicating via Facebook, Twitter and their awesome blog. And now, they are piloting a really cool scheme which has been reported here by The Guardian where exclusive copies of a CD with four-tracks on will be given away at independent cafes with food purhcases. As if I need any further excuse to go and buy brownies at a cute coffee shop?

So, all in all, double thumbs up for the new Paper Aeroplanes release We Are Ghosts and I look forward to it becoming another regaular contributor to my 2011 soundtrack. Keep your eyes peeled here for release dates/more information!

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This months blogger spotlight is someone I get a little starstruck by and am chuffed to bits that she agreed to feature for me. She’s a force to be reckoned with and a serious head girl of all things fashion and style. If you don’t have Rachael aka Fur Coat, No Knickers on your reader-list then you are missing a trick and a treat!

From her run-downs of latest designer catwalks to items she’s currently coveting, to her AMAZING Friday Afternoon Disco Spotify playlists (my ultimate favourite being the Doo-wop classics week!) and from her own super duper personal style to her pug and norwegian heavy metal obsession (and shared girlcrush – Isabel Lucas hello!)- every post is unique and unexpected and a delight to behold. & So is her interview…

1. When did you start your blog & why?
I have been blogging in one way or another since the dawn of internet time. My brother is a massive computer geek, so we had the internet from a very early date. I started with a Geocities site about NOFX, and have pretty much worked my way up from there. I can’t remember when my blog in its current format really began – I know I registered the domain when I was at university to use as an online portfolio, so probably about six years ago – although I moved to WordPress this year because it’s so much easier to handle. I guess I started my blog because I love the internet and have to be involved in all aspects of it, but also to serve as a kind of scrapbook of all the things I love. Also, as a journalist by trade, it’s good to have somewhere online where potential employees can scout you out!

2. What inspired you in terms of content/theme/appearence?
I did a fashion degree, then did a fashion journalism masters. Somehow after that, I fell in to hair and beauty journalism – which is what I do now for a living. I love my job, but I am still obsessed with fashion, so it’s really just somewhere to keep that side of my brain occupied. In terms of appearance… it’s a bit of a work in progress. I am quite fanatical about how blogs look, but I’m not quite sure where I want mine to be at the moment. It’s the constant recurring battle that I have in my life between chic minimalism and complete OTT naffness – I wish I could be sophisticated and just have a lovely white background, but I think have to face facts and accept I am not that way inclined at heart! Same with fashion – sigh.

3. How would you describe your blog in three words?
Shit I like? Hah! It really does cover a bit of everything though, from literature and music to fashion and beauty.

4. What do you love (/if anything hate) about your blog?
I love the fact I’m getting to do loads of fun projects with it – considering it’s really just a hobby outside The Day Job, I’ve been really lucky to do some fun things, with lots more exciting projects to come. I hate the fact that I don’t have time to update as much as I would like – despite being obsessed with the WordPress app on my iPhone.

5. What makes you the most happy and most sad?

I’m a fairly simple being, so it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Pugs, reading the Guardian in bed on a Saturday morning with spaghetti on toast, napping, gin… Not much makes me sad. It’s something which constantly annoys people in my office. I am that irritating, eternal optimist person. Not being able to afford these shoes?

6. Who is behind Fur Coat, No Knickers?
Just me, Rachael – despite the fact people keep emailing and asking if they can have a job?! I write about hair for a living, which is a very nice way to make your money. I live in New Cross, south east London, although I am a northerner really – from Sheffield. My musical tastes are pretty firmly pre-2000 because I’m a miserable old bastard, with favourite genres being heavy metal/punk/surf/general alternative stuff. I love anything touched by the hand of Phil Spector too, mostly Beach Boys and all the wonderful girl groups of the 50s and 60s. I love reading, and am currently going through a 1920s ‘thing’ which has now lasted about two years… Fitzgerald, Waugh, and obviously Wodehouse are all favourites, although I have also read a hlof of biographies of people from the era – everything from the Mitfords to Brilliant Chang. I love pizza, Henry Rollins, and have an inordinate knowledge of celebrity gossip.

7. What is the best fact you know?
The London Eye has 32 pods – one to represent each of the London boroughs. FACT!

8. Which others blogs do you feast on?
Anything in my link list comes with a big thumbs up, but my Google reader contains about a million more! IRL pals with blogs I love include my Twin, Iso, Sofie and Alex. Some recent discoveries are Hanneli, Beckerman Bite Plate, So Much To Tell You – and of course, Anna Della Russo’s blog, which is nuts.


9. What is your all time favourite outfit?

It’s not glamorous, but it would have to be The Hangover Outfit. I actually don’t have a picture of it, but it consists of the XXL Guns n Roses t-shirt I’ve had since I was about 11, and a paisley print maxi skirt. If it’s winter, add my Levis denim waistcoat and a grey marl American Apparel hoodie on the top. It’s the comfiest outfit ever, and it’s become so synonymous with me being hungover that on the odd occasion I wear it for a ‘normal’ day, my friends ask me what I did last night.

10. What is your blogging soundtrack?
OMG, good question. I don’t have a set soundtrack, just a huge Spotify collection, but at the moment I’m listening to a lot of Parliament/Mandrill/Funkadelic. I have an embarrassing love for the era. One of the hairdressers I interviewed recently used to be a DJ and he scribbled down loads of rare funk for me to purchase – although I am struggling to read his scrawled drunken napkin notes in the cold light of day!

11. What are your plans, fashion and otherwise, to survive the predicted snowy winter? The big furry coats from Next I blogged about recently, an attempt at sensible shoes – probably from ASOS, this hat, and the New Look Parka of Dreams layered over one million cardigans. And my Slanket, which was kindly sent to me by a PR last year. Best. Gift. Ever.

Isn’t she just awesome? I was nodding my head with every answer. So go check out her blog now now now!

[Previous spotlights= Blair On A Budget and Earth Vs The Wildheart]

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I watched a great movie recently, so thought I’d share as it’s one that by DVD box alone you might pass over as a load of American teen angsty mush in which Michael Cera plays the exact same character he does in every movie ever! (Despite this massive flaw, I have to say he is still up there on my number one crushes list. Is that legal? Am I old enough to be anyone famous’ mum yet? Probably not, so probably ok…) 

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist takes place in the neon, bustling New York underground indie scene as Nick (recently dumped dorky bass player) meets Norah (insecure daughter of a mega music producer) and through a series of coincidences they end up spending a sleepless night hunting for their favourite obscure bands secret show.

If you like a lot of action in your movies… well, this is the anti-action movie. As in, well, NOTHING happens. But, don’t let that put you off! It’s quirky, it’s very sweet (without being saccharine Dear John nauseous) (I haven’t seen Dear John; but the movie poster was enough for me to make this judgement!) and it is so absolutely accurate in it’s portrayal of awkward blossoming teen romances. 

Nick and Norah bond over a love of epic mix tapes and we all know how much I support mixtapes! From there they have to battle a series of obstacles such as wailing drunk best friends, broken down vans, band mates’ practical jokes going wrong and bumping into evil exes. The acting and chemistry is spot-on because it will have you daydreaming about times when nothing mattered except what gig you were going to after college, whether the colour of nail varnish you were wearing was grungy enough and how to get your drunken friend home without arousing suspicious parents!

Also, at that age, dating is tough and I’m sure everyone has had one of those nights where you meet someone you think absolutely rocks your world and therefore do not want to leave, but run out of places to go and things to do as you still live with your parents, so end up wandering aimlessly just happy to be chatting and finding out 101 things you have in common. Ah! Young love, this movie will definitely warm your heart and make you gaze wistfully for a few days as you download your teen anthem tracks (hello Silverchair and Sublime for me!)

Oh and as the name alludes, the soundtrack is pretty A+ too!

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Paper Aeroplanes

About five years ago now, a friend made me a mix CD. And somewhere lurking at the very end was a track called Linen by a band called Halflight. It was the most beautiful song I had heard for years, and it quickly became #1 on my itunes most played list. It carried me through lonely Leeds winters and was like a hidden gem, shared and whispered between friends and family that I made future mix CDs for and always put this track first. I never really investigated anymore about the haunting voice behind the song and it just existed like a single perfect entity. And then something happened. My prehistoric desktop computer died after five years of moving house more often than getting a hair cut and being dropped in puddles on numerous occasions in the process (!) and with it my entire itunes and my music folder vanished.

Now it is 2010 and I am a different girl in a different place, and when lurking in the ailes of Rough Trade my eyes glinted at the site of the record artwork above. The photography was so breath-taking that I just had to know more (& I know, I know… never judge a book by it’s cover etc). A few clicks of spotify later and Paper Aeroplanes were lilting out of my monster headphones. After a couple of tracks I began to get that hot itchy feeling of recognising something but not knowing where from. Cogs in my brain whirred and the frustration nagged at me until I had the ! moment when I finally dredged the information from the back of my brain. The voice was the same as the one I had been completely enchanted by on the track Linen. From the very little information I could surf on the net, I could confirm that Paper Aeroplanes are indeed Halflight, with a fantastic new name!

It just seemed so odd that this band have suddenly made a comeback into my life, and through such a random discovery of just completely adoring the artwork on a random sleeve. I think this band are my soulmate? Or something! Even down to the fact that spiffy singer Sarah Howells wearing a dress on the cover that I used to own in bottle green but ripped beyond repair on a deserted-building break in (in the name of photography, not robbery. Honest guv)

Paper Aeroplanes are the most exciting musical discovery I have made this year. It makes it even sweeter that they are UK based and therefore hopefully easily enough to track down and see live sharpish! They have quickly become the soundtrack to my summer, my age and everything that is happening right now. Anyway luckily for me, aside from some amazing EPs and bits and pieces floating around, they have just released a whole entire new album called The Day We Ran Into The Sea which I have been gorging on. My favourite tracks are Lifelight and Newport Beach. Coming from Wales means the themes in the music are beaches, and love, and they are relatable. It makes a change from the American and Australian domination in my playlists. And my ultimate favourite track is Dance All Night which I cannot imagine ever tiring of. Although it is an up-tempo, chirpy number that will have you swaying your hips, the lyrics so accurately describe that heartbreak of clashing and grating against someone you love and it’s just unbearable. Sarah’s voice is just so absolutely sincere and everytime I hear this track, my heart cracks a little bit.

But I’d go dancing every night, if it made everything alright

Do you think that we’d still fight? When we’re dancing, dancing.

Because everything’s not black and white, when we’re dancing every night.

Maybe we’d forget to fight,? When we’re dancing, dancing.

I can’t wait to own a physical copy of this CD as soon as I have some pennies in the bank. The lack of information about them on the internet makes me frown and worry they aren’t getting the hype or recognition they deserve? Which would be tragic.

You can listen here
You can buy here

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RIP The Mixtape.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I need to face up to the facts that the mixtape is dead and even as someone still attempting to live the Sony walkman dream… I am fighting a losing battle. Nobody wants a mixtape these days. When handing over that glorious rectangle shaped present to people; I get a blank expression. Followed by a “what the hell am I meant to do with this” face. How can I upload it to my ipod? What am I meant to play it on, my laptop doesnt take cassette tape? Argos don’t sell walkmans anymore? And then I’m sure it just languishes unloved and unplayed on a coffee table like some sort of archaelogical artefact.

As I had a little weep to myself about this momentous realisation I dug out my collection of all the mixtapes I’ve received over the years and I guess they do look a little alien these days; with their fiddly little wheels and spindly brown tape and clunky cases. I know these days you can give somebody a Spotify list, a Lastfm link or a USB packed with tracks (even one of those oh so hilariously ironic USBs that look like a tape cassette) but how can that even BEGIN to compare to the LOVE someone must have for you to spend an entire day layed on their belly, surrounded by a mountain of albums and tape inlays – pressing play&record, and pause, and writing out the tracklisting in the teeny tiny gaps, and agonising over which order to put the tracks and then hyperventilating when the tape FINISHES in the middle of the best track on side A. Do you start it again on side B? Start it from where it’s left off? Not bother putting the rest, but risk the tape receiver thinking it’s a crappy song? I’m having trauma flashbacks just thinking about it! With all the newfangled technology, you lose the charm of the mixtape too. Remember the clunk of the pause button sometimes recorded onto the tape (hated that) or the telltale chatter of a radio DJ interupting the music would reveal that you were a cheapo who had recorded this track from longwave radio atlantic 252…

This is my last attempt to say hooray for mixtapes and revive some interest. Mostly mixgtapes were the currency of my teenage relationships. You had to REALLY like someone to bother making them a mixtape and it felt like an incorrect track choice could most definitely end a blossoming romance. (True tragic mixtape story: On my 17th birthday a boy I had been dating for a week made me a mixtape. Whilst handing over the lovingly decorated masterpiece, he also told me he didn’t want to see me anymore. I guess somewhere between liking me enough to make it, and actually handing it over, he’d gone off me… but had invested so much time in it that thought he’d hand it over anyway. I pulled all the tape out in front of him & it decorated the floor like really bad, sad party streamers for the rest of the night.  The youth of today can never have these incredibly teen angst soaked moments with an mp3 can they?)

This is what we used to listen to in my day – AKA Old Fogey Music!] A present from my sister Meg (ten years older than me and therefore forever 10 years maximum cooler than me) when I was 15. Felt slightly vomity and woozey when I realised she made this for me when she was the age I am now, which makes me now a certified old fogey I guess. She shared pearls of musical wisdom with me such as The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult, The Pixies, Nirvana and Radiohead which would prove vital in impressing future friends and lets face it,older boys.

Your a star shining bright] (ah! I am old! because these days I would rather someone didn’t compliment me at all, than did it with incorrect grammar) From Tom, my first boyfriend at the age of 15. He had dreadlocks, he was in the year above me at a DIFFERENT school (so excotic!) and I think he made this for me about a week into our 6 weeks together. It was during a rare UK heatwave summer and I’d lie to my parents about where I was and go to his house to sit on the roof listenings to smashing pumpkins and learning how to play guitar. We split up because he found a note I’d written to a friend in my school planner about “luvving” someone called Jonny. To this day I have no idea who the heck Jonny was, and Tom still has my school planner. Un-nerving. Still, blinding mixtape – definitely the first place I ever heard Concrete Schoolyard

Bees Tape 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5] When I was 18 I went to university in Sheffield and for many reasons, was pretty miserable. One of my best friends Kerry went to university in Preston and for many reasons, was miserable also. So we set up in informal mixtape club and every week a lovingly crafted package would dutifully wizz off to each others halls of residence mail boxes. It didn’t matter that we quite often put on the same tracks as each other (Tori Amos, Jimmy Eat World and The Flaming Lips featured pretty regularly and heavily I recall) those tapes, at that time, rescued me and reminded me that there were people out there who loved me and were rooting for me to keep going. The familiar music provided a soundtrack to such an unfamiliar city and these mixtapes will always be so special.

So is the end nigh? Or could mixtapes be something that come back with a vengence when enough people pack their bags and head off on a Sunday nostalgia trip like me.

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