Martin Creed’s Balloons

Is there anything better in the world than an art exhibition which is pre-empted by the question “Are you allergic to latex?”. (Pause here to imagine all the different exhibitions you might not be able to visit if you had a latex allergy. Finished? Kindly remove you brain from the gutter/dungeon and continue.)

The Hayward Gallery is currently home to Martin Creed’s exhibition ‘What’s The Point Of It?’. Niki and I took ourselves over there at the weekend to see what the point of it really was, and it is hands down the most fun I have ever had in an art gallery.

We arrived bright and early before the doors opened, and sat in the sunshine listening to sellers setting up shop at Southbank Centre Market and the sound of classical music blasting delightfully (in a way that only very loud, very classical music can) from a nearby parked van. Summer in the city. Bliss.

The doors opened and the patiently waiting motley crew – comprised of families with young children, artsy looking student types, and us – trotted inside.

You have to walk through most of the exhibition to get to what was really the point of it for us, so we decided to do everything backwards and start at the end. Like a pair of sniffer dogs homing in on a scent (or like us homing in on a cheesecake) we headed straight for the balloons.

On paper, a big white room filled almost to the brim with big white balloons might not sound that exciting. In reality, well, this happened.

How excited are you, Gem? Oh y'know, moderately...

How excited are you, Gem? Oh y’know, moderately…

Niki was similarly chilled about it all…

...

Er yeah…

...

So chilled.

In fact, you could even call her nonchalant.

See?

See?

Nonchalant.

Nonchalant.

I stopped spinning around with my arms in the air for a second and tried to look a bit sensible.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

But the ever-increasing static had other ideas.

...

This is apparently my ‘alarmed by my own hair’ face.

...

Look how crazy it is!

...

… And how crazy I look.

Niki’s hair looked only slightly less mad than mine.

...

Only slightly.

Niki Static2

But she was pretty happy about life.

And in the end we had no choice but to accept the craziness.

...

Little bit crazy.

...

Crazy crazy.

With big grins on our faces and huge tangles in our hair we stumbled back to the door and squeezed outside. Everything seemed a little more wonderful and a great deal more playful than it had done before the balloons. A car which every so often starts by itself, slams open all its doors and plays breakfast radio clips was absolutely captivating. A row of cacti suddenly compelled you to feel its spines with such urgency it was as if it had its own gravitational pull. A wall covered in different coloured prints of cauliflower made perfect sense.

We weren’t quite sure what to make of the balcony on which stood a huge screen showing a video of a slowly erecting penis, and stood giggling with a similarly bemused yet amused lady while we waited for it to it to reach the peak of its trajectory so she could take a sneaky photo, and cracked jokes about not putting it under any pressure.

The balcony is blocked by doors warning explicit content, but if you go with small children I’d probably recommend getting them to cover their eyes as you exit the exhibition too, unless you want to make potty training them harder than need be. I won’t be eating chocolate fro-yo any time soon, put it that way.

But other than that particular Nandos-dessert-ruining video, the whole thing was fantastic. Niki and I left feeling elated, buoyant as a pair of balloons, and about ten years younger. We headed down to the market and brought ourselves cheesecake for breakfast.

So if you want to be a big kid for an hour, then it’s well worth a visit. Book tickets here before it closes on the 5th of May.

Just promise me one thing if you do go? Don’t forget to take a hairbrush.

Birthday Soppiness

I should warn you, the content of this post is not suitable for anyone who doesn’t want to be a little bit nauseated by how much love is oozing from my heart through my keyboard and onto your screens.

Last week it was my birthday.

It wasn’t a big one, although Taylor Swift has provided it with a catchy theme tune. And if I’m honest, there was a  tiny quite large part of me that wasn’t massively looking forward to it for reasons that are frankly too silly to put on the internet. But my own ridiculousness was outweighed by the ridiculously wonderful people in my life, and I was spoiled so rotten that I’m mildly concerned someone will tell me I’m past my use by date, pick me up, and throw me in the nearest bin.

There were flowers.

Daffodils from my lovely Mum

Daffodils from my lovely Mum

Roses and carnations from Lucy

Roses and carnations from Lucy

There was singing at work.

And a card from my colleagues decorated with printed pictures from a shared Pinterest board dedicated to my favourite things. (I love my team so much it hurts a little bit.)

There was a huge quantity of cheese thanks to the gorgeous National Events girls and Gordon’s finest offering.

Partying like it's 1890 in Gordon's Wine Bar

Partying like it’s 1890 in Gordon’s Wine Bar

Cheeeeeese, Gromit!

Cheeeeeese, Gromit!

And there was cake. There was so much cake. 

Priscilla's delicious chocolate and ginger cake

Priscilla’s delicious chocolate and ginger cake…

This photo doesn't do justice to Jessie's carrot cupcakes

This photo doesn’t do justice to Jessie’s carrot cupcakes…

Gabby snuck me one of these beauties

Gabby snuck me one of these beauties…

Suze created a lemon curd and cream cheese masterpiece

Suze created a lemon curd and cream cheese masterpiece…

And my little sister outdid herself with these strawberry Champagne concoctions

And my little sister outdid herself with these strawberry Champagne concoctions!

And there were presents that made me feel inordinately loved and more than a little bit like a princess. Some of the most photogenic include…

The cutest set of little chick egg cups from Mum and Dad

The cutest set of little chick egg cups from Mum and Dad…

A statement necklace I'd been craving from Niki

A statement necklace I’d been craving from Niki (peeping from behind my smoothie)…

An apron that's too pretty to get mucky from Joe...

An apron that’s too pretty to get mucky from Joe…

This bag makes me very happy...

This bag makes me very happy…

A Pandora charm bracelet from Jess

Inside it was a Pandora charm bracelet from Jess…

My favourite Emma Bridgewater mug from Chlo

My favourite Emma Bridgewater mug from Chlo…

A Fornum & Mason picnic hamper filled with F&M goodies from Lu

A Fornum & Mason picnic hamper filled with F&M goodies from Lu!

And after Gordon’s with work, and coming home to a delicious spread of nibbles with my family, I had a very civilised afternoon tea at the weekend with some of my very favourite people in the world.

Jess and Niki looking hungry

Jess and Niki looking hungry

So many treats!

So many treats!

Lu, Niki, and me and so much food!

Lu, Niki, me and so much food!

So to everyone who made my birthday the best birthday I can remember, this is me trying to put into words how much I love you. And failing a little bit. Because I can’t quantify it, except perhaps by saying that I love you more than cake. Which, as this calorie-laden post proves nicely, is high praise indeed.

To Buy or Not to Buy

To buy, or not to buy – that is the question;
Whether tis nobler in the shops to suffer
The slings and arrows of a lack of fortune,
Or to use cash against a sea of troubles,
And by purchasing end them.

Yeah, that’s right: I just made one of the greatest, most famous soliloquies of all time about shopping. Forgive me, Shakespeare.

I am of course talking about retail therapy. The weird little part of our brain which wantonly whispers If you buy a new pair of jeans/car/house/super yacht/500ml pot of Crème de la Mer, I promise you will feel much happier. 

So it’s not real therapy; more like a really bad therapist who takes your money without actually helping you; like a therapist who’s pretending to be a therapist without having actually gone to therapy school. A con-therapist. A thera-takingthe-pist. Whoever came up with the name ‘retail therapy’ was obviously being either ironic or just deliberately obtuse.

Having said all of that… shopping makes me happy. In the same way that having some chocolate spikes my sugar levels and picks me up again if I feel tired, buying stuff spikes my spirits. It’s not a slow, banana-like, release of happiness. It’s really more of a metaphorical large slice of chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream filling and ganache icing – it’s going to make me extremely happy while I eat it, and for a bit afterwards while I can still taste it, but then I’m going to quite likely experience a wave of regret, possibly accompanied by nausea.

The larger the piece of cake, or the larger the price tag (pause here to sing Jessie J under your breath), the greater the guilt. A pair of Topshop jeans I can manage without too much of a twinge, but that aforementioned 500ml pot of Crème de la Mer would have me hiding under my duvet from my own conscience. (£1,300 for the record. For moisturiser. Fer real.)

So buying a new camera when I’m still not used to the magical, mystical wonder that the less starry-eyed among us call ‘pay day’ was an interesting lunchtime online experience. Having uhm-ed and ahh-ed for what my poor colleagues must have thought was forever, I finally summoned the courage… to ask my Dad what he thought I should do. He reckoned I should press ‘confirm order’ so, palms sweating as though I was on a rope bridge over a chasm with a bunch of crocs at the bottoms (the reptiles, not the footwear, although I’m frankly quite scared of the shoes as well), I spent £531.62 on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II. And then the rush of whatever hormone shopping releases (dopamine? seratonin?) hit me, and I sat blissed out at my desk, staring at next month’s social media schedule as though it were a Patrick Heron painting and I’d taken something.

About a week later, it arrived in all its glory. (Not literally. Literally, it arrived in a box, which is a far better means of transportation.) I’ve been waiting for the post-shopping comedown to hit me ever since, but something strange is happening. I feel no regret. I feel no nausea. My camera lust has turned to camera love, and I’m so happy with my new toy that I’d spend all 531.62 of those pounds again in a heartbeat.

It is, after all, helping me to better appreciate the finer things in life. And yes, by that I do mean cake.

Home made tiramisu cupcakes! (I love my sister.)

Home made tiramisu cupcakes! (I love my sister.)

Thinking Outside the Block

Lately, I find myself dreaming of mountains. Of clouds skidding across the smooth surface of lakes. Of the sound of bumblebees buzzing around wildflower meadows. Of padding barefoot across endless expanses of warm sand. The ocean. The feel of the sun on my face.

Working in London, a long, wet Winter, and losing my waggy-tailed walking companion are all taking their toll.

So yes, I like being outside.

I really like it.

Logged on.

More fun than your average activity log…

And I haven’t been doing nearly enough of it. One of the best things about my desk job is that I’m not only allowed but actually actively encouraged to take my soul for walks on Pinterest. But if I don’t book a holiday soon then it won’t just be my soul that’s going for walkies, but my mental faculties too. I will go stir crazy.

Only problem is, I’ve been employed for a little over six weeks. My bank balance is still breathing an almost audible sigh of relief after six months of no incoming payments, and if I even whisper the word ‘holiday’ my debit card will start quivering with fear, and dive so far in to the depths of my purse that I’ll only be able to entice it out again by using the kind of soothing tone with which you’d calm a spooked horse to tell it about my pension plan.

Plus, I’m a big ol’ scaredy cat. I dream of mountains but I worry about blisters and gnats and lack of access to showers. And lack of access to sleep. And – if I’m totally honest – lack of access to makeup. And worst of all; lack of access to food. So far my adventures have basically been of the kind favoured by the average hobbit: undertaken not at the expense of comfort, cleanliness, or vanity, and always brief enough to be home in time for tea.

But I really don’t want to be the kind of person that Gandalf would consider a lost cause.

I need to stop making mountains out of the molehills of the mountains of my mind. (Comprendre?) So this post is really a post-it-note of the virtual variety, so that I can’t chicken out of the promise I’ve made myself to find an adventure.

And who knows, I might even leave my pocket handkerchief at home, too.

Bo Jo Stole My Mojo

In many ways, I am not a strong person. I’m 5’1″. I weigh less than my dream dog. I’m scared of spiders, clowns, and accidentally finding out how many calories there are in tiramisu. I would be the first person to die in a horror film, zombie apocalypse, or freak outbreak of pretty much any disease. I’m not very good at opening jars, bottles, or doors. I’m allergic to caffeine, short of iron, and partial to making poor life decisions. I will invariably eat the last biscuit. (And the first biscuit. And all the biscuits in between.) I spend too much of my time watching cat videos on YouTube.

But when it comes to rush hour, I take no prisoners. I will be getting on that Tube car with my bag, my dignity, and sometimes even a three layer chocolate fudge cake with ganache icing (true story). My lack of height and girth may mean that my partner in commuting crime manages to misplace me while I’m standing right next to her on an almost daily basis. But it also means that, like a tetris piece with legs, I can fit into the smallest of spaces. I will over-take you in crowds. I will slip past you on escalators. I will be an unlikely looking public transport ninja.

So I was pretty surprised the other day when I found myself not just the victim of Tube rage, but the catalyst to an early-morning shouting match.

There I was at Euston, waiting to hop on board the Victoria line, at the front of the queue to get in the next car. (In this country, being the front of the queue means something, y’know?) The train pulled in; all roaring noise and headlights; the doors opened - and some guy body slammed me out of the way.

I was more confused than I was angry. Not only am I good at slipping past people, I have a good track record with chivalry. I’m the girl who people want to help with that heavy suitcase; the girl people give up their space for. As far as I can tell, I must just look like the kind of girl who would be the first person to die in a zombie apocalypse and who can’t open a jar on their own.

I experienced mixed emotions due to the ensuing and aforementioned shouting match, as one man jumped to my defence (hurrah!), only to be verbally attacked by yet another ill-tempered fellow who, perhaps understandably, did not wish to be inflicted with human emotions at that hour in the morning (less hurrah). 

So as I stood, baffled, on the platform, I could think of only one explanation for the Tube incident. Say it in your best Austin Power’s impression: I’ve lost my mojo. This is a terrifying prospect. I’m not good at carrying heavy suitcases, or opening jars. Left to my own devices, who knows what might happen.

And if I’ve lost my mojo, then I know exactly who to blame.

Bo Jo stole my mojo.(Photograph: Katie Collins/PA)

Bo Jo stole my mojo. (Photograph: Katie Collins/PA)

Boris.

Since the tube strikes, tensions have been running noticeably higher. The frailty of the system has danced in front of us, naked, wearing a high vis jacket and a scowl, and we can disavow our over-reliance upon the wholly fallible London underground network no longer.

Light has dawned in the tunnel. The flaws of the Underground have risen to the surface. Concrete is the fear that concrete may be poured in places that concrete has no right to be.

And the fear means that, more than ever, each commuter sees themselves as against the crowd, rather than part of it. This reasoning would (according to National Geographic: cheers guys) explain why millions of people can coexist peacefully during the festival of Maha Kumbh Mela, yet cause a fatal stampede at a railway station when trying to leave the site last year. The positive mob mentality was broken as the festival ended; the crowd stopped being psychological and was merely physical; and chaos ensued.

There’s a slight chance I’m reading way too much into my recent lack of luck on the Tube. But having someone to blame is always nice, isn’t it? And I pick Boris.

Vege-scare-ian

In the run up to Christmas, the nation becomes bird-brained. At least, many of us have birds on the brain. When you think of Christmas dinner, can you – like me – smell the sweet smell of roasting turkey? Or perhaps goose? Can you smell that warm, comforting, childhood-memories-evoking scent of meat cooking merrily away in its own juices, stuffed full of stuffing, so tender that it falls apart in your mouth? Can you almost taste your Christmas bird, swimming in gravy, perhaps with a splash of cranberry sauce to boot? If you aren’t salivating right now then congratulations: you’re a better person, and vegetarian, than I.

To understand my dilemma, and how much of a hypocrite my nose makes me, I’ll have to take you more than a decade into the past. Shut your eyes, count to ten, spin around in your desk chair if possible, and boom!

The year is 2002. It’s nearly Christmas. Having already given up red meat but still on the dinner time war path to persuade my parents that poultry wasn’t fair game, I bring home a Christmas poem I had written in school and, with the diabolic smile of a scheming child, hand it to my mother. The other children in my class wrote about presents and Santa and snowmen – nice, wholesome festive themes for ten year olds. I wrote a delightful ditty titled ‘Axed’ about how turkeys don’t get to enjoy Christmas because they’re all brutally murdered beforehand. In my quest for control over my own diet, I had become a vege-scare-ian.

I made a fuss about fish, I cried over chicken, and I refused to shut up about the happy frolicking animals that our dinners had formerly been. I had gone rogue cop. I didn’t care about the collateral damage. Feelings were hurt. Meals were ruined. My little sister still can’t eat turkey. So since I’ve spent the last ten years telling whoever will listen that, generally speaking, I’m a follower of the Animal Farm ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ philosophy and prefer the company of animals to most humans, the way my mouth insists on watering at the smell of roasting Christmas turkey is awkward at best.

I have therefore decided to take preventative action against my olfactory system and spend this year finding the perfect scent anecdote to poultry, that will have my mouth watering without my morals wilting. This quest might be a bit odd by the middle of summer, but for now, deep in the January post-festive slump, cooking more Christmas food just seems like a genius idea.

So I give you our first contender for Yuletide taste-bud heaven: Jamie Oliver’s mushroom, chestnut, and cranberry tart.

Tarting it up

Tarting it up.

That photo, although effectively documenting how pleased with myself I was, (and I was pretty smug to be honest because I even made the pastry from scratch – excuse me while I polish my domestic goddess halo) does not really do justice to the food. Let’s zoom in for a closer look…

Am I the only one who's drooling?

Am I the only one who’s drooling?

The intense earthy flavours of the wild mushrooms and chestnuts, combined with the sweet tang of the cranberries, and the creamy cheese and carrot filling, is pretty damn awesome, but when you factor in the redcurrant jelly gravy - oh, my, god. 

It's all about the gravy, baby!

It’s all about the gravy, baby!

I decided that I enjoy all things dairy too much to follow Jamie’s vegan recipe, so used cream cheese in the filling and butter in the pastry, as well as scrapping the gluten free plan and using normal flour. But it’s nice to know that a healthier option exists, and I imagine it would be just as delicious as a vegan, gluten free recipe. (In Jamie we trust.) This is going to be an incredibly hard act to follow, but I have eleven and a half months to investigate whether it’s going to be my next Christmas dinner. Here’s to Christmas if not every day then at least every few months!

New Years & Deadly Sloths

Of the seven deadly sins, sloth is perhaps the most troublesome to the majority of us. Lust might compel you to make poor decisions, gluttony may force you to let out your waistband, greed can lead to tunnel vision, wrath will harm you and the people around you, envy can consume you, and pride can stifle you, but sloth – the greatest repeat offender – will lead to nothing. Not the innocent kind of ‘nothing’ that answers the question “What’s wrong?”, but the vacuous ‘nothing’ which quietly withers away your life, hopes, and dreams, without you even noticing. Sloth is the silent assassin.

With that in mind, the new year is not merely an excuse for a party, but a frequently needed nudge to turn over a new leaf. I’m not subscribing to the ‘new year, new you’ mentality (especially as the likelihood is that you will wake up on January the 1st feeling like a much the worse for wear version of yourself) but I do think that a new year is a chance for a new outlook. 2013 was a bit of a tough ride for me, but, as everyone’s favourite kung-fu master and turtle, Oogway, would say: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that is why it is called ‘the present’. And if 2013 taught me one thing it is that life is beautiful, even when it is hard.

Wildflower meadows sooth the soul

I was unemployed, but wildflower meadows enrich the soul.

Autumn heals the heart

I was lovesick, but woodland heals the heart.

And friendship is the best way to stay afloat.

And friendship is the best way to stay afloat!

So my resolution is to defeat sloth. To stop waiting for adventures and to go out and find them. To try new things, to make memories, and to feel alive rather than simply being so. To think happy.