Thursday, 29 December 2011

In which I consider what I've learnt this year, 2011 edition

Whether we like it or not, the advent of the year’s end is a natural time to reflect on what’s gone before it, and how things have changed – or otherwise.

2010 seemed, at its close, to have been the year of The Date – good, bad and indifferent. Thankfully, 2011 has been rather different. In fact, as far as these things go, I’d consider that this just gone has been a pretty vintage year in la vie de la Blonde.

I’ve finished the year in a different job, in a company that’s doing highly exciting things, and expanding - globally and rapidly. The clients, although demanding, provide me with challenges that I’ve not had in a while – and a few nice words from people at the top suggest I’m not screwing things up too badly.

I’ve met some bloody incredible people that I would now rather chop off an arm than be without (enter The Redhead, stage left, to name but one).

I’ve contemplated what you can tell about someone from what they put in their supermarket shopping basket, and whether you should date them.

I managed to lose a large portion of my library by lending people books, and never getting them back. But at least I know my friends are reading good books.

I went to New York twice; loved it both times; and learnt that New Yorkers have a different definition of black tie to the rest of us.

I contemplated the relative hotness of Don Draper and Rupert Penry-Jones.

I survived a bomb scare.

I had a suspected pulmonary embolism and was reminded how much I love the NHS.

The neighbours learnt the expensive way that it’s not wise to ignore the Party Wall Act (1996) and put up conservatories on your neighbour’s gardens.

I very nearly gave up on dating altogether.

And just when all that sounds like 2011 wasn’t too rosy, I was reminded that life is actually pretty bloody good.

I got cross that people consider men holding the door open for women is sexism. Because it’s not.

I breathed a sigh of relief that I’ve never met a parent quite like the one who sent that email.

I wrote a letter to my 16 year-old self, which suggests that I’ve learnt a lot.

I decided that intellect is an aphrodisiac.

I got cross that, despite running the pictures of hot A-level students year after year, some journos saw fit to get snotty at the PRs who suggested they do.

Oh, and I didn’t give up on dating in the end. And, er, did quite well out of it.

All in all, a pretty good year. 2012 has much to live up to.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In which I am deeply disappointed by Lego

Blog post: Go! read the subject line in the email from The Writer. Contained within was a simple link to a story in Stylist magazine, about Lego’s new range for girls.

He knows me well. Holy mackerel. I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

As a small child, I had a huge amount of Lego, and loved it. Many happy hours were spent constructing unrecognisable structures and then, when I got a little older, more recognisable houses and hospitals and stables in which to house my Sylvanian Families’ ponies. There were also a few less-than happy hours spent standing on unseen pieces of the stuff and wailing blue murder when they caused irrational amounts of pain to a bare foot.

To enjoy it, all I needed was a box of the stuff and some considerable amount of floor space (and not to stand on the things).

I did categorically not need my Lego to be a specially designed range ‘for girls’, in pink and pastel shades. I didn’t need the figures to be ‘more girly’, with a much skinnier figure and breasts. I didn’t need the sets to be full of flowers, featuring a café, a beauty parlour, something that looks like a stage from X-Factor, a bakery, and a fashion designer’s studio. That there is a token ‘inventor’s workshop’ doesn’t cut the mustard, I’m afraid. Having one set that’s got a science bent isn’t a defence against the accusation that that whole shebang isn’t gobsmackingly patronising.

One of the new all-girl Lego figures. Bleurgh.
By releasing such condescending, stereotypical nonsense, Lego has done away with its USP. It no longer embodies something unique: a toy that appeals to both genders without discriminating between them.

If the people at the top of the Lego tree felt that they needed to make their product more inclusive, why didn’t they feel that they could simply broaden their existing sets? Have a bakery – but have it in the original primary colours. Put female figures into the current Lego sets: I assure you, girls are more than capable of going into space. Just ask Helen Sharman.

And, whilst I’m up here on my soapbox: shame on you, Stylist magazine. For a publication which aims to appeal to intelligent women, you’ve dropped a clanger with that little write-up. No, the toys don’t “have an element of ‘girl power’ about them” – rather the opposite. Shame on you for buying into the marketing spin.

It’s not often that you can look backwards to find examples of more equal attitudes towards women and girls. But it looks like Lego hit their peak in 1981 with the wonderful ad below – because the current direction of travel definitely isn’t this palatable:

UPDATE: Having asked @Lego_Group on Twitter whether this new range might be considered patronising, I had the following response: They are core LEGO construction toys designed to optimize young girls' play preferences as revealed through four years of research. I'm not inclined to believe that's English, let alone an adequate argument. Ho hum.

Monday, 19 December 2011

In which I recommend the titles of the year

In the second of my things-what-I-enjoyed-in-2011 posts, I bring you entertainment. Things I have watched, and stuff I have read...

Films of the year

The King’s Speech
It was way back in 2010 that I spent a memorable evening on a red carpet wearing Gap as I scurried past Colin Firth and his implausibly beautiful wife looking radiant (and, er, in Prada) in front of the barrage of photographers, but I’ve now seen the film of 2011 three times, with Pa Blonde lining up the DVD to watch over Christmas. Beautifully scripted, acted, lit, shot, scored, it’s more than worthy of its handful of Oscars.

Page One
Not so much a documentary as a love letter to the grand dame of newspapers, the New York Times, Page One is the perfect foil to those of us who demand our news instantly, online, in short snippets and for free. A must-see, if only for the wondrous David Carr bawling out Gawker and the Huff Po in inimitable style.

Life in a Day
It could have been utterly terrible: asking the entire world to document their lives on one specific Saturday, and upload the results to YouTube. I fear had I been relied upon for any part of the final edit, it would have had rather more Radio 4 and mundanity in it than it turned out to. As it is, the film was edited by the very clever Kevin Macdonald and is, by turns, heartbreaking, beautiful, funny and inspiring. And not an episode of the The Archers in sight.

The Lion King 3D
Here’s a terrifying fact: the Lion King was released in 1994. NINETEEN NINETY FOUR. That’s SEVENTEEN years ago. But it was, and remains, one of Disney’s finest and thus it seemed churlish to pass up the chance to see it on the big screen – in 3D, no less. TW and I sat, both with 3D specs over our normal glasses (mmm, hot) and tapped our feet through Circle of Life and – I’ll admit – shed a few tears when Musfasa died. A true classic.

Those who know me know I have a deep-seated love of children’s films (in fact, I ended up debating them in depth with a newly-met chap at a party on Saturday. Quite how we got there straight from a heated critique of second-wave feminism, Lord only knows. Oh yes, I have ALL the best party chat). So a new animated Disney affair is an exciting thing. Even if you don’t love animated films, I’d suggest looking this one out. A re-telling of the Rapunzel story, it’s utterly beautiful – the scene with the paper lanterns is particularly magical.

Books of the year

The Line of Beauty
Yes, I’m a bit behind. What of it? (I know. I really should try and keep up. I just need people to stop writing new ones and give me a chance to clear my reading-list backlog.) This is, hands down, the very best book I’ve read this year. Set in the hedonistic 80s, it’s the tale of a young, gay guy who finds himself immersed in London society, framed by the wider themes of politics, aesthetics and AIDS. If you’ve not already, which I imagine most of you have, do yourselves a favour and curl up with it over Christmas. It’s brilliant.

Half the Sky
If you’re after a book that will change the way you look at the world, this is the badger for you. Simply and powerfully, it lays out how many of the problems of the world could be solved by educating and empowering women. If you’ve an XX chromosome, or just a vague sense that somewhere, women get a rum deal, you need to read this.

I’ve read – nay, started – so many uninspiring books this year that I’m rigidly sticking to my ‘100 pages’ rule: if, by that point, I’m not thoroughly gripped, it gets put on the pile for the charity shop. Room I read over three not-very-long train journeys. It’s dark and disturbing, but excellent.

The Suicide Shop
If your sense of humour isn’t so dark that your other half turns to you with alarming regularity to tell you you’re “a bad person” when you’ve found something chucklesome, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are able to find amusing the notion of a family owning a shop that sells all the accoutrements for the perfect suicide, then this is the book for you. Read it now, before the film hits the screens next year.


Friday, 16 December 2011

In which I eat my way through 2011

In the first in a string of admittedly lazy posts revisiting 2011 and things I’ve enjoyed therein, I bring you a list of places I have enjoyed eating this year…

Spuntino, Soho
Yet another of Russell Norman’s brainchildren, the tiny, New York-inspired menu at Spuntino is utterly delicious. The truffled egg toast is possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. They’re also excellent at working out it’s a birthday and putting candles in the dessert without your date noticing until it’s in front of him.

Polpetto, Soho
My exceptionally soft spot for Polpetto might be that it was the scene of dinner on the first day of my first date with The Writer. Or it might be because of the swordfish carpaccio with pomegranate. I’d not take any chances, frankly – get down there pronto and try it for yourself.

The Ledbury, Notting Hill
Fine dining at its best. They do an affordably pricey set lunch for those wanting to try the two-star food without remortgaging.

Max, Tribeca
Food in London is brilliant, but there’s something about food in New York. Maybe it’s the whacking great platefuls, maybe it’s the far friendlier service. Whatever it is, it’s special. Max is no different. A low-lit little Italian in Tribeca, the pasta is beyond delicious, the wine is decent and the whole thing is bargainous. Brilliant.

Fishers, Edinburgh
Bowls of mussels the size of your head (the bowls, not the mussels), and a wondrous three-course meal for two with booze and coffee for £30 each? Winning.

The Outsider, Edinburgh
This place, I love. I’ve loved it since I discovered it way back in 2004, and imagine I will continue to do so for the forseeable. Never once have I had a bad meal there, and anywhere that’s going to serve scallops the size of a steak is in my good books. I’ve made TW promise not to write a rave review and ruin the place for ever.

Brick Box, Brixton Village
Now here’s a place that is almost certainly about to be ruined, with Brixton Village having just been named ‘Best of 2011’ for food in London by Time Out. But, if you can get there before the hoards do, go for Sunday brunch. Have the homemade lemonade, and one of their BRILLIANT pancakes (I like the goats’ cheese). If you’re TW, have four in one sitting, and acquire the nickname ‘The Record Guy’ for every subsequent visit.

Yalla Yalla, West End
Cheap and cheerful, and a place that I can legitimately have supper consist entirely of baba ghanoush and hummus. Perfect for grazey, gossipy dinners with friends you’ve not seen in far too long, and an excellent selection of surprisingly tasty Lebanese wine.

Jane, West Village
I’m sure there are a million and three places to go for Sunday brunch in New York, but I keep going back to Jane. Their Benedict Jane (poached eggs, crab cakes, sautéed potatoes, hollandaise) and a good, spicy Bloody Mary are the perfect way to set yourself up for a afternoon on Museum Mile. Or anything else you could conceivably want to do.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

In which I decorate my Christmas tree

Having considered whether men and women can ever be friends, I’ve recently been reminded that it’s not just when it comes to matters of sex and friendship that there’s a small battle raging between the sexes – especially during the festive season.

Last weekend saw Pa Blonde and I head out to a local farm shop to select a suitable Christmas tree for Blonde Towers (and, whilst we were there, blow a small fortune on a shoulder of Gloucester Old Spot pork and a vast amount of cheese. Oh, and some mushroom ketchup. Plus ça change…). Having wandered, and pondered, and debated the merits of the various types of tree, I found myself returning home with a 6ft Nordic spruce, ready to festoon to my heart’s content.

Having forgotten to ask for The (usefully tall) Writer’s help in lugging the decorations down from the loft when he was last at mine, I scooted up the ladder into the attic, miraculously making it back down in one piece, with three large blue Ikea bags full of stuff covered in glitter. Three large Ikea bags, that is, full of red and gold stuff covered in glitter. Because, in my house, Christmas has a colour scheme.

The wreath on the front door is largely golden in amongst the foliage; there are golden and red baubles displayed in tall glass vases; golden garlands around picture frames and up the stairs; and holly berries atop the dresser in the kitchen.

And the same colour scheme applies to the tree: it’s decorated with red baubles, and golden beads; red teardrops and golden lights; and topped with a red and gold star.

It sounds a trifle dull, perhaps, but the effect is warm and glowy and Christmassey, and it’s my house, and I like it, damnit. If my mother had her way, she’d do the same – hers tends to be a snowy silver theme, but when she’s left to tree-decorating devices there is, at least, a theme.

Not so when it comes to Pa Blonde’s aesthetic Christmas ideals.

Whilst I’m definitely in the white light camp, he’s a fan of as many colours as you can get on a string. If they flash, so much the better; and if they flash in time to the horrid, tinny carols they pump out in best Christmas muzak fashion, then he’s the happiest of festive bunnies. And trees, when Pa Blonde gets his way, well, they aren’t so much decorated as they are the victims of abuse; the spoils of decades’ accumulation of stuff thrown indiscriminately from point blank range. Be it 70s-style wicker stars; blue tinsel; or the loo roll-and-cotton wool sheep I made at nursery school some twenty-five years ago, it’s all there under the watchful eye of an aging angel whose wings look as though they’d be less useful in flight than a leaden weight.

Every year chez Blonde, there’s a heated debate between Pa Blonde on one side, and Ma Blonde and I on the other, about whether this is the year of The Beautiful, or The Everything, like we’re living in some mini warped version of the Chinese zodiac. And every year, there’s never agreement. So every year, there are two trees.

There’s one in the sitting room, covered tip to bucket in singing lights, and things that used to be discernable as something that might once have been festive but they’ve been hanging round so long that no one knows any more, and little angels who’ve lost one wing but are there because it’s “equal opportunities decorating”. The other, in the dining room, is understated and elegant, twinkling quietly under its layer of wintery silver style. It is quite possibly what’s kept my parents married so long, despite such strident differing Christmas aesthetics.

Still, the less said about the two 3’ LED reindeers on the front lawn, the better…

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