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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

London levelled up


summer london bus

Tourists in London have it rough, I think. In addition to the overwhelming number of overpriced ‘must see’ attractions of the city, they have to navigate a vast underground train system with no numbered routes, more different bus routes than seems necessary, and a sprawling network of streets populated by busy, disinterested commuters who find them a nuisance. Of course, it’s the same in most big cities – But tourists who come to London are also confronted with the stark disparity between the London presented by the worldwide media, and the London of reality.

look up in london

Personally, I like real live London a whole lot more than the London presented in Doctor Who, Sherlock and even EastEnders. Probably the most obvious thing about real live London is that Londoners aren’t this homogenous group of white, tea-drinking socialites and cockney fruit-salesmen. On any London bus, you’ll encounter a range of spoken languages and accents.
London isn’t Big Ben, London isn’t Trafalgar Square, London isn’t £6 pints of beer in a ‘traditional English pub’. Sure, all of those things are integral parts of London’s culture and history, but so is linguistic and cultural diversity! London has a rich (and troubling) history just like any other economic hub in the world. In my opinion, London does itself a disservice by marketing itself the way it does. London has some well-known, historical architecture, but it is only if you turn around, look down, or look up, that you’ll find London’s uniqueness.

glass buildings in london

I’m definitely guilty of seeking out the well-known monuments and landmarks of a place, only to take a disappointing photograph that didn’t look as good as the postcard I purchased to send home. It’s an attractive notion, to see something famous for yourself and to take your own photograph of it, but these days I’m much more interested in preserving the bits of a place that speak to me the most directly. I love photographing London because it’s stuffed full of little corners that someone crafted, or built, or where someone lives.

waterloo sunset

Now, I’m not saying you should abandon central London and head to the nearest council estate for some sick photo opportunities – what I’m saying is that the grey estates, the polished office blocks, the graffiti on the wall, the greasy kebab shop… these are just as much London as the Natural History Museum and Oxford Street. They have beauty and relevance, and shouldn’t be maligned. You don’t need to head to Peckham, or sample a Chicken Cottage dinner if you don’t want to – you can find London’s hidden treasures everywhere. The photo above is actually Waterloo station. I love how the sun shines through that weird frosted glass – what is behind the glass?
london estate at night

So I’ll leave you with my tips for visiting London:

- Set aside two full days to “see the sights”. Book your tickets to things in advance, and use a map to help you work out the order in which you’ll visit various attractions. Research how much time each thing will take. For example, the Globe Theatre is right next to the Tate Modern, and depending on how long it takes you to look at each piece of modern art, you could do both of those things in a morning.

- Get some kind of travelcard or Oystercard to cover your whole stay in London. It takes a lot of the stress off when you realise you can hop on and off of tubes and buses at your leisure, and if you get it wrong, you don’t have to pay to fix your mistake and end up back where you were.

- Most of central London is actually accessible on foot. It's not as big as people think! You can walk from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden in about ten minutes, and you get to see a tonne of great cafes and little shops along the way. If walking is something you're able to do, definitely give it a chance in London.

- Take the bus. Yeah, the tube is faster, but you don’t get to see anything and you never get sense of where things are located in relation to one another. Get on a bus, go onto the top deck, and travel for a few stops or until you see something you like the look of – get off at the next stop and walk around a bit. Usually, you can find the bus stop that gets you back to where you came from just across the road! Oh, and another thing - the buses in London are a heck of a lot more accessible than the tube if you're disabled or need assistance with mobility.

- Central London has all of these great information boards planted on street corners, with big ‘You Are Here’ signs marked on the map. They are very useful and even born and bred Londoners use them all the time.

- Ask people questions! If you see someone waiting at a bus stop who looks approachable, ask them their favourite spot in London! Ask them whether they have a favourite cafĂ©, or what their favourite thing about the city is. People in London are often startled to have someone talking to them – we keep to ourselves on public transport and mostly avoid eye contact, but with a friendly manner and an open mind, you’ll definitely find someone with some pro tips, and you might make a friend!

south london at night
If you have any inside tips for London-novices, please leave them in the comments. Or if you’ve never visited London, feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer. Let’s start a conversation, guys!
You may also want to see some London attractions I've blogged about before. The Seoul Bakery Korean restaurant, The House Gallery Cafe in Camberwell, and The Electric Elephant Cafe in Elephant and Castle.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Closet Cosplay (or, return of the galaxy skirt)

I love dressing up. I'm one of those people who wishes that every party was a costume party. I've gone to parties as everything from a treasure chest to a thesaurus (I quite like dressing up as inanimate objects...) and I'll spend hours agonising over what I'm going to be. I like the escapism and meticulous creativity of dressing. I have a great deal of respect for people who spend months on cosplay projects ready for conventions, or LARPers who plan out these incredibly creative and authentic outfits for their games.

hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy cosplay Unfortunately, I am not in a position to dress in outlandish costumes every day of my life - or perhaps I just don't have the balls! - But by way of compromise, I find great pleasure in infusing my everyday outfits with elements of characters, objects, people, or themes that inspire me. So I'm not dressing AS a particular thing, but I've put my outfit together with that thing in mind. It makes me feel powerful to have a secret to my outfit that nobody knows, and I also feel like I can take on the power of whatever I'm dressing as! It's a favourable arrangement.
galaxy outfit
Top: H&M
Skirt: TopShop (last year)
Necklace: Tatty Devine

This outfit is inspired by space. I get to crack out my galaxy skirt again, I get to wear my beautiful constellation necklace, and I get to carry around the (not very well hidden) secret that I am a space princess for the day. Getting dressed is a really empowering thing for me - I can choose what I wear and how I want to present myself, and that's really comforting when there are other aspects of my life in which I have much less control.

I challenge you to dress yourself with something particular in mind. Pick a theme and then look through your clothes to find something to suit it. The other day, my friend Tilly challenged me to dress as an aeroplane (because aeroplanes are my favourite!). I dressed with the textures and materials of an aeroplane cabin interior in mind - grey textured jumper, navy blue tights, a red plastic necklace. Nobody would know I had dressed as an aeroplane by looking at me, but I knew and that was awesome!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Crafting through anxiety and depression

One of the most common pieces of blogging advice for fashion or lifestyle bloggers is always “keep it positive”, and “don’t use your blog as a platform to vent about your sadness”. The idea is that people read your blog for escapism and they don’t need you to deliver your negativity to them, which makes perfect sense. On the other hand, people read fashion and lifestyle blogs because they feel a connection with the blogger, and I think it is easier to form meaningful connections through honest blogging than being 100% chirpy, all the time. Plus, blogging about issues such as depression or anxiety doesn’t necessarily have to be negative.
crafting through depression
I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. I spent my childhood convinced that I was going to die from some kind of botched operation and I would wake up sweating from nightmares about dying on an operating table. I cried often, and I obsessed over every perceived failure or inadequacy in my schoolwork, in my social life, with regards to my appearance… the list goes on! (This is where I feel like it’s necessary to let you know that this article isn’t going to have some kind of magical turnaround moment, where I go, “BUT NOW I’M FINE!” because that would be a lie).
crochet girl in park
Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that you are perfect! Somewhere along the line, saying that you’re a perfectionist has become an arrogant statement – I find this unbelievably ironic because it’s my perfectionism that holds me back more than anything else. Sometimes I feel like if I can’t do something perfectly then it isn’t worth doing… or like I want to see results immediately. This is where craft comes in. Or really, any art form for that matter (and I truly believe that craft IS art). Pick up a crochet hook, chain a few stitches, and HEY LOOK – THERE’S YOUR RESULT! You did it! And you did it all by yourself. It’s the same with painting, with knitting, embroidery, and even cooking. The beautiful thing about creating of any kind is that you have something to show for your effort. Even if it’s the smallest thing, there is a measurable achievement there. And as someone who has a very real problem with leaving this planet having made no mark on it, seeing evidence of achievement, however small, is very important.
retro granny square designs
I’m not saying that crochet cured my anxiety – far from it. But I’ve found something about which I don’t have to feel anxious or depressed. I’ve not made any commitments to anyone to make anything. I’m doing it for myself. And if it’s crap, nobody has to know about it – I can unravel it and start again when I’m feeling better about it. As well as having something to show for my efforts, and having an outlet, creative activities such as cooking, crochet and embroidery give me something to occupy my mind in such a way that it gives me space to sort things out in my head a little bit. It takes the ‘edge’ off in such a way that I can see situations a little bit more objectively than I could otherwise. This has allowed me to prevent panic attacks from time to time, although there is no way that knitting or any other craft would be able to stop a panic attack in its tracks altogether.
easy tart and kale salad recipe
The final verse in this love song to crafts and creation is the aspect of ‘self care’ that they can provide. Making a meal gives me an excuse to feed myself, and to think about all of the nutrition I’m getting from my lovingly prepared food. Making a blanket means that ultimately, I’ll have something to snuggle up in when I’m cold. Embroidering and adorning things makes my environment more beautiful. Sometimes, when I’m feeling at my worst, it’s difficult to look after myself in a direct way, which is why framing it in craft or cooking can be really beneficial.
crochet in nature

So here are my tips for crafting through the pain:

  •         Start very small. Don’t try to sew a king-sized quilt if you’ve never quilted before. Just make a coaster or something.
  •         Don’t tell anyone you’re going to do it. Just try it out. Maybe knitting will turn you into a stress cadet. Perhaps it will give you a sense of satisfaction that you’ve never experienced before!
  •         Don’t feel like you have to craft anything for anyone else.
  •         Only craft things that make you happy. Don’t make a dress if you don’t wear dresses. Don’t cook an omelette if you hate eggs!
  •         There is no such thing as failure in craft. Your worst-case scenario is that you end up with a pan full of burnt eggs or a tiny little holey square of knitting. It’s still something you made!  And nobody needs to know, remember?!
geek in embroidered labcoat science embroidery

I’ve not really touched upon the feminist relationship with craft movements in this article, because I think that it merits a whole article of its own. Still, there’s plenty of discourse on the internet already that makes very compelling arguments about these traditionally ‘feminine’ pursuits. Have you made anything recently? Has craft helped you to form a personal weapon against your anxiety or depression? Let me know!
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