Wednesday, 22 February 2012

In which a tasteful interior is a debatable thing

Shopping for items of interior decoration is an excellent process through which to deduce one’s long-term compatibility with another human being. It’s no good thinking you’ll be able to cope with each other on a foreseeable-future basis if one trip to Habitat sees your compatriot picking up items that makes you want to hit them over the head with the nearest available copy of Ideal Homes.

Thankfully, following a recent jaunt to variety of Oxford Street’s large department stores, there’d been a few debates, but no magazine-induced injury, and The Writer and I were still on speaking terms. We do – usefully, considering our situation – have pretty similar tastes in the important things in life: on wine, high-quality American television drama and balsamic vinegar, we essentially think as one.

But on matters of aesthetics, things are a little more divergent: a few modern art prints that were thoroughly at home in Blonde Towers didn’t survive the transition to Chez Nous, and TW definitely has ideas about which homewares that he’s happy to live with.

“NO!” he said vehemently as we wandered round John Lewis on Saturday afternoon, my poking and prodding and picking up things that I quite fancied. “You are allowed ONE piece of jingoistic furnishing per room. No more.”

Apparently our similar tastes don’t stretch to numerous items displaying a Union Flag print, and a second such cushion in the sitting room is apparently too much for the man to take. (I happen to think that furnishings with a Union Flag on them aren’t jingoistic – they’re patriotic (if a little twee). Critical difference. And anyway, I like it as a piece of design and it might not be round for too much longer so I want to make the most of it whilst I can.)

And it was just as well that we’d had lengthy discussions over several weeks about just what it was we wanted out of a toaster before we set foot in Selfridges’ kitchenwares department. Because even though we thought we knew precisely what it was we wanted, we stood – for at least 25 minutes – in front of a large display of Dualit toasters, pondering, debating – and, in the case of TW, eye-rolling.

For what is essentially a machine that heats bread, it’s baffling that it can have so many permutations, and that making the decision of which to buy merely to heat bread could be fraught with so much difficulty.

Could we get the orange one? Or would it clash with all the teal stuff already in the kitchen? And does the two-slice come in black, because the black one is the nicest in terms of colour, but the mini one isn’t as nicely made and the four-slice is just too big (and, frankly, expensive). But if the two-slice doesn’t come in black here, should we go to John Lewis where it does come in black, even though that would defeat the object of buying the thing in Selfridges with the gift card? And well, the chrome one is quite nice, but wouldn’t we spend our entire lives wiping it free of sticky fingerprints? And the cream one is quite homey, but maybe not quite right given that the coffee machine is black? And if we just grab that chrome one and put it here next to the cream one then it’ll give us a better idea, won’t it? And…

Upshot: TW can take precisely 23 minutes of debating kitchenware appliances before getting cross. We bought the cream one. It looks pretty.

Monday, 20 February 2012

In which moving house is stressful

Moving house is widely acknowledged to be a stressful, stressful thing. Which is fair enough, because it is a stressful, stressful thing.

It’s stressful when your lettings agent takes the bit between his teeth and has had tenants sign to move into your property before you’ve even told people your plans.

It’s stressful when estate agents don’t seem to understand that Price Bracket A and Area B aren’t whimsical notions you’ve plucked out of the air, there to be ignored as they fancy.

…When you look at two flats in quick succession that veer so far from specifications you’re tempted to give the whole project up as a bad job from the word ‘go’.

…When you do find one you like and there are two other couples looking round at precisely the same time and it’s a bit over budget but hell, you sign for it on the spot and decide to think about the ramifications later.

…When the new landlady doesn’t know when she’s moving out, leaving you in limbo for a fortnight before finally letting you know that, yes, you and all your stuff will have to move into your parents’ house for a week in between moving out of your place and into the new one.

…When you’re constantly haranguing the estate agent for little details like how much they’ll want to be paid, and when, and whether she’ll be leaving furniture, and if so, what.

…When you’ve told your lettings agent you’re exceptionally busy at work and only wish to be contacted via email only to have four calls a day come through the main work switchboard.

…When you box up your house, get up at 7am on a Sunday only to find the heavens have dumped a foot of snow and your removal van can’t get to you, the final weekend before your tenants move in.

…When you work full-time and can’t be there to oversee the removals process when it does happen, in the middle of the week, on the very final day it possibly can.

…When, amidst all this, you’re part of an international pitch team getting into the office at 7am and leaving at 11pm, only to be told you’ll be travelling to a European capital for a 24 hour visit two days before you move.

…When, the day before you’re due to move, you and your parents and your boyfriend and the three cats can barely move for boxes and sofas and lamps and more boxes, only to be told by the new removals man that he can’t come at 8am as agreed.

…When you have to unload the contents of said (renegotiated) van onto the pavement outside the new flat because the lettings agent is 40 minutes late in turning up with the keys.

…When you get inside to find that the bed, dining table and two sofas you were expecting to see have been accompanied by, amongst other things, cutlery, crockery, a washing machine full of linen, antique chandelier, two ugly brass lamps, a television, painter’s easel, kitchen bin (full), a tagine, a fridge full of food, a hat, several decorative mantelpiece items, a duvet and a book on ancient Egyptian art.

…When the boiler seems to have a mind of its own; the fridge refuses to get cold but has been so cleverly installed that you can’t get to the plug to switch it off and defrost it; and the shelves in the sitting room – vital to two people with myriad books – are “for decorative purposes” only.

And yet, when the trundle round the M25 is done, and the boxes are unpacked, and the chandelier has left the building, and there’s a cup of tea brought to the bedside table in the morning, it’s the best decision you’ve ever made.

Friday, 3 February 2012

In which kitchen scales trump art

I like to think I’m not one of life’s over-consumerist types (says she, who had a 20-minute discussion with various people on Twitter last night about collections of Le Creuset, and colours thereof), but there is plenty of stuff in my house that I have quite an attachment to.

I have plenty of things – some small, some not so – that I absolutely love. My late Granny’s art nouveau bookcase with the silver panelling is one of them. My coffee table is another. As is the slightly shoddily-made but pretty mirror that I haggled down to a bargain basement price from the dodgy Tunisian salesman.

And there are some things that I don’t really feel strongly about one way or the other. Bedside tables bought from Ikea because they’re functional and match the chest of drawers. The little cabinet in the sitting room, transformed from a gramophone player by my late Grandpa, which is now home to a variety of stuff that doesn’t really have another home (letter paper, the camera, nail varnish). A goatskin drum that I brought back from my Gap Yah.

But not everyone is as blasé about the same things as I am.

Helping me pack up at the weekend, and making himself generally useful by shifting heavy things up into the attic, The Writer fell upon the drum as I hoofed it out from under the desk in the spare room where it’s resided since I moved in. I’d earmarked it for the pile resigned to the loft, until it was rescued by TW.

“This is amazing!” he said, grabbing it with both hands before doing that thing boys do with any sort of instrument, and beating out a quick rhythm. “Where’s it from? Can we bring it with us?!”

I don’t tend to give it any thought these days, but to a pair of fresh eyes, I suppose it’s a rather nice little artifact. Given to me when I left by the staff and pupils of the school I’d been teaching in, it’s about a foot in size, and made of a bay and white goatskin stretched across a wooden frame. Looking at it again, I suppose it’s quite a pretty thing. And it has gen-u-wine Tanzanian heritage, rather than being a quaint “faux-ethnic” piece picked up in John Lewis (doesn’t it just. Getting it back on the plane in hand luggage was a pain in the rump).

The same went for a set of pleasingly retro kitchen scales (which also used to belong to Granny Blonde. The woman had taste), aforementioned gramophone cabinet, and a mug with an in-built cafètiere, although not for the Barnet Newman print which I brought back from my last trip to MOMA. There were, in fact, long and strident discussions about whether or not it constituted ‘art’ (I say, good enough for MOMA, good enough for me) and ended in a bout of violent tickling and the compromise that I could bring the Twombly if I left the Newman behind.

Just as well he’s enthusiastic about the Le Creuset, really.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

In which I am depressed by the notion that rape is a subject for 'banter'

There are plenty of awful things on the internet, but yesterday I was made aware of the UniLad site. It’s vile.

Ostensibly written for young men at university, it championed ‘lad culture’ – the sort of thing Maxim used to write about in the early 90s – and seemed to focus solely on getting drunk and getting laid.

I use the past tense because, following a Twitterstorm, as of yesterday the site was taken down, citing regret for offence caused by one of its posts.

In a very short version of the story, a piece (I’m loathe to call it an ‘article’ for fear of lending credence) ran on the site apparently condoning non-consensual sex. When called on it by a young woman, the response of the site owner was to call her “a dyke” – and, presumably, to think nothing more of it.

Twitter did what it does best, rallied round and outraged ensued. The site is now down, with at least one university taking disciplinary action*.

I wasn’t initially going to post about the whole thing, because it’s just so depressing.

Normally I’ll take Twittermobs with a pinch of mob rule-salt, but this one was different. This brought to light not just a vile site run and read, I would argue, by boys who have no place at university, judging by the levels of intelligence on show. Instead it casts a focus on yet another deeply saddening example of the misogyny that seems to be increasingly pervasive in society.

(Can I just make it clear at this point that I don’t for a moment think that the disgusting content on UniLad would have any support from the right-thinking majority of the world’s population, male or female. Its portrayal of women is ghastly, but just as nausea-inducing is its portrayal of men. I don’t know any men, at university or otherwise, who’d identify with the vulgarity, crassness and downright abhorrence displayed. No one I know would dream of demeaning themselves – and women in general – by saying, believing, or thinking such vile sentiments.)

I’m not what people refer to as “militant” about my brand of feminism – I don’t think holding doors open for women is an act of “benevolent sexism”. I also like to think that I have a sense of humour, and am quite happy to take a joke directed at women, or myself – if it’s genuinely funny.

But rape isn’t funny. It isn’t a subject for ‘banter’. It’s something that destroys people’s (let’s not forget – it’s not only women who are victims) sense of self-worth, confidence, lives.

UniLad’s defence is one of ‘free speech’. But this isn’t an issue of free speech. It’s an issue of pervasive misogyny, of misunderstanding that rape isn’t a question of desire – rape is about power and violence.

And I do wonder whether, at its logical conclusion, the material written by UniLad could even been seen as incitement. If someone clever and legally inclined would be able to argue that case in a court of law, I’d be thrilled. Then the ghastly individuals behind UniLad – creators and readers alike – might think twice about just how funny their ‘banter’ really is.

* Update: this was the case when I read a piece on the Huffington Post yesterday (31st Jan). The article has since been changed, and I can find no reference to it.

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