Friday, 25 March 2016

On social media and other peculiarities of our time

This is my very favourite Instagram picture. It's not the one with the most comments or likes, nor the best in technical terms, but - for obvious reasons - it is the one I love most. And as a metric, that should be the only one that matters. Shouldn't it?

Well, not if your business relies on promoting your work through social media channels. My friend Kat runs two separate accounts - one for her professional persona and one personal one with pics of the kids. I can see why. Recently, she interviewed Lara Watson, who I worked with on Mollie Makes, for a Blogtacular podcast in which they talked about perfecting your style online and how they felt they'd never be one of the big accounts. They knew the rules but just couldn't bring themselves to work that style 100% of the time.

Which made me think back to over 20 years ago when I got my A-Level results. Confession time: I got a D in my English A-Level. For someone who now makes a living from writing, I have ambivalent feelings about this. On the one hand, it feels like a guilty secret that I must keep from employers at any cost. But on the other? In a perverse way, I've joked about putting it on my business card.

Sure, there were some of the usual reasons for my disappointing grade: new boyfriend, underage drinking, hanging out with the jitters on College Green (translation for non-Bristolians: socialising with the alternative kids on a big patch of municipal grass, drinking 20/20 and wearing terrible tie-dye outfits). But one of the big reasons was that despite reading and understanding the texts, listening to my teachers, finishing my essays, when it came to it I just wanted to write my own interpretation of the work. Not the revision guide version. Mine. And I was effectively marked down for my independent thinking.

Which brings me to Instagram. I know the rules. I've read the study guides. I understand the medium. And yet there's something about it that repels me. I find it hard to be that calculating. My love of taking photographs is about finding interesting subjects or angles or colours or light, rather than maintaining a consistent feed. My life isn't consistent, so why should a public, pictorial representation of my life appear to be? (This not meant to diss those for whom a perfect feed is their objective, by the way. I enjoy a consistently curated, visual feast as much as the next insecure, middle-aged blogger.)

Instead, I find myself actively withholding images from my account for fear they will put off followers. In the constant pressure to increase my stats I'm self editing to such a degree that I feel crippled.

This clearly means that I need to find another way for self-validation, to strip away the meaning I've ascribed to those little orange hearts and head&shoulder icons. And I need to be confident that portraying the not-so-beautiful aspects of my life, if I choose to make them public, are just as valid as the perfection. Writing a blog and showing snippets of life online offer such a skewed version of what happens behind closed doors (although my blog is far from consistent in subject matter). My road is as bumpy as anyone else's, it's just not always necessary or appropriate to publish it, although those are my own self-appointed terms. But is that helpful or honest enough?

I don't know. Now that I'm writing this it feels wrought with inconsistencies. Do I go with the textbook version of my life and get those numbers up? Or do I throw away the rules, risk a D in social media, and enjoy the freedom and truth that brings? What do you think?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A vermouth tasting with The Collector and Regal Rogue

Jack Adair Bevan pours a cocktail made from The Collector vermouth
Last week, me and Mr G went out on a Monday night. I know! But there were definite extenuating circumstances. We'd got wind of an event put on by Guardian Local (the members' events programme) that involved our new favourite drink - vermouth.

When I was a teenager, breaking in my tolerance for booze, my drink of choice was Martini Rosso with lemonade. Ribena with a twist, if you will, it met my only criteria: sweet and alcoholic.

Who knew I'd be so ahead of my time? According to the event marketing, vermouth is fast replacing gin as the drink most sought after in the world's best bars. But we're talking proper vermouth. Artisan vermouth. Delicious and delicate, this new incarnation is carefully crafted by connoisseurs. Two of these masters of the vermouth world led Monday's event - Mark Ward of Regal Rogue, who makes his vermouths from 100% Australian wine and indigenous botanicals, and Jack Adair Bevan from one of my very favourite restaurants,The Ethicurean, whose Collector vermouth is made from plants foraged in Somerset.

The event took place at Bellita, newly launched little sister to Bristol fave, Bell's Diner. And as well as the range of vermouth-based drinks we sipped, there were treats and nibbles from the kitchen, too. A gorgeous beetroot dip with hazelnuts and yoghurt, delicious breads, and incredible marzipan-stuffed prunes dusted with almonds.

One of the big revelations of the night for us was Jack's penchant for the reverse cocktail, in which the volume of spirit to lighter alcohol (eg whisky and vermouth) is reversed for a lighter drink. This means you don't get hammered on three drinks, instead able to continue on through the night in a more civilised fashion. I think I could subscribe to that.

Jack writes a monthly cocktail column for the Guardian, so head over there for more of his mixological magic. And if you haven't yet tried The Collector, well, you simply must. Find out where to buy it here.

And after? We trotted down the road to Bravas, for more drinks and nibbles, before tumbling down the hill and home to bed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Five reads for Easter (plus something to watch and something to listen to)

Kim Gordon photo: J. Dennis Thomas/Corbis

Girl in a Band

A belated birthday present, I was given Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band early this year while visiting a friend in Liverpool. By the time I arrived home on Sunday night after a 3-hour train journey, I'd nearly finished the book. Kim Gordon is perhaps the single coolest woman in rock. Now in her sixties, she spent decades writing, singing and performing in the band Sonic Youth who have always been one of the most respected indie bands on the scene.

Since reading the book I have even more respect and admiration for her as I learned of her early family life, her experiences in New York pre-Sonic Youth, and her work as a visual artist. Her voice is strong and eloquent, the book well-written and measured. And a proper page-turner, obviously.


Back in December, we had the joy of seeing the work of one of my favourite photographers up close and personal in the retrospective of Philippe Halsman (here's that post). Back in 1959, Halsman developed his theory of Jumpology - the images of celebrities he snapped mid-leap were later analysed for what this might reveal about their true selves.

The Jump book is a pictorial representation of these snaps and within its pages are beautiful, surprising portraits that offer a delightful glimpse into Hollywood, politics and art in the sixties and beyond.

What a Way to Go

A confession: What a Way to Go is written by my friend Julia Forster, who I've known for eight years. The first time I laid eyes on her was at a pregnancy yoga class and I marvelled at her poise while my own pregnant self felt lumpen and awkward. She is one of the most elegant people I know and it turns out that she writes with elegance and poise, too.

This is her first novel, the germ of which she talked about when our babies were wee. I remember her saying how desperately she wanted to get the novel out of her before the kids could properly talk as she was worried that seeing their experiences of childhood would cloud her own memories. Don't think there's any danger of that - this novel is beautiful written and insightful enough to make me also bypass my experiences as a mother and transport me back to the pop-loving eighties.

The Joy Of Eating: The Virago Book of Food

On New Year's Eve, we stayed at a friend's parents' house out in the countryside. Next to the bed in the spare room, I found this glorious anthology. Food is a constant in our lives, and it has always been a basic ingredient of women's writing - in household books, cookbooks, diaries, letters and fiction.

In this, the first anthology to concentrate on international food writing by women, you can go on a picnic with Monica Ali, learn about Frida Kahlo's wedding feast and indulge your appetites with Edwidge Danticat and Barbara Pym. Try making Elisabeth Luard's Afghan Betrothal Custard, Martha Washington's marzipan birds or Nigella Lawson's favourite comfort food. And why not sneak into the literary kitchens of Banana Yoshimoto, Emily Brontë and Angela Carter?

Invisible Cities

After a few months in the wilderness, I'm properly made up to have been asked to join not one but two new book groups. The first - an art book book group - will see its inaugural meeting next month, beginning with Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

I have read the first chapter only, but it made me nearly weep with the beauty of these words. I almost feel as though it's one to savour so much that I think I may need to eke it out and ration myself. Very, very excited about both the book and this new chapter (ha ha) in my book group career.

And - in a break with the convention of these posts - here is one to watch and one to listen to.

Broad City

We signed up to Now TV on a cheapo deal and yesterday discovered Broad City - an absolute gem of a comedy series. Two twenty-something women bodge about in New York in one of the most real and well-observed series I've seen in a while. Think Flight of the Conchords minus the songs. Or Master of None with more X chromosomes. Or Parks and Recreation with more sass.

And Hillary Clinton makes a cameo in the new series!

Laura J Martin

Working from home mostly means I listen to the radio a lot. Last week, one track stood out from the usual BBC 6 Music playlist - My Landing Place by Laura J Martin. She's from Liverpool but sounds as though she's Scandinavian or possibly from outer space. It's beautiful. Have a listen over on Spotify.

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?


Friday, 18 March 2016

Interiors: The black kitchen PLUS Joseph Joseph bread bin review

Image: My Scandinavian Home via Pinterest

In a few weeks' time, we'll be embarking on a major makeover of our really rather outdated kitchen. This house was built in the early eighties (cue Brookside theme song) and is a red brick box by the water. It still has shades of that decade, both in a selection of bold bathroom suites and in the form of a rustic country kitchen.

When I say rustic, I mean that in two senses:

1. The oak cupboards, beige worktops and mottled tiles (complete with ears of corn deco) have a strong look, one very popular a few decades back but less desirable now.

2. This kitchen is way past its best - doors are hanging off, tiles are cracked, grout is discoloured - meaning rustic is just a kind way of saying it's knackered.

Rather than ripping it out and starting again, we are teaming up with B&Q to give it the mother of all makeovers. Be gone beige and buff and all other browns! We're going monochrome.

Meanwhile, they say 'fake it till you make it' and so we're beginning to buy with black and white in mind. Enter the Joseph Joseph melamine bread bin in black (£50).

I've never really known what to do with loaves of bread in varying sizes/stages of consumption. It's just such an irregular material to work with. The Joseph Joseph one is a good, solid bread bin with plenty of room for all kinds of doughy delights. But the best thing? Its lid flips over to become a bread board. Genius! It's such a simple idea but one that makes for a really easy life. Two thumbs up.

We also tried a microwave rice cooker - the Joseph Joseph M-Cuisine Rice Cooker which retails for £20. This is such an excellent product, not because cooking rice is really that complicated but because it just removes one stage of the game when putting together a meal (and therefore eases multi-tasking brain-ache). Which is always a winner in my book.

Of course, we'll be blogging every step of our kitchen makeover, beginning soon with the painting of those corny tiles. And we can't thank B&Q enough for collaborating with us. Check back in to see our progress.

No home improvement project could possibly be complete without a Pinterest board of delights - here's my black kitchen inspiration.

Follow Lottie | Oyster & Pearl's board The black kitchen on Pinterest.

Would you go black in the kitchen? Or do you think it's too much?

Thanks to B&Q for their generosity with this project, and to Joseph Joseph for sending us two products to review.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Review: The Personal Barber subscription box

Earlier this year, I was asked if I'd like to review a subscription service by The Personal Barber. I nearly refused, but the boyfriend stepped in to say he'd be up for giving it a go. So today, have a read of this guest post of sorts. Over to Mr G. 

Ignoring the wider media’s frequent protestations that we have reached peak beard, your reviewer remains a defiantly hirsute man in 2016. So why am I testing out a subscription shaving service? Well, one may not rock the full Rasputin but my beard still requires a weekly trim and shape plus has become accustomed to a small slick of beard oil.

And I so love a subs box.

To The Personal Barber. I trialled the January Subscription Box. For £24.99, you receive a Kent Luxury Shaving Soap, a Natio For Men moisturiser (actually more balm than anything - think aloe and cucumber), a couple of Meißner Tremonia aftershave samples (a bold clove-based Moroccan Rhassoul and the rather piratey Natural Bay Rum), some replacement Wilkinson Sword blades plus, as part of your first box, a ‘free’ monogrammed razor and shaving brush. The price for a single month sub is £24.95 which comes down in instalments the longer you subscribe for. If you subscribe for more than a month, the razor and brush is replaced with more pre/post-shave items including oils and balms.

The packaging is as considered as you’d expect (plain cardboard, copperplate font, straw) and the products are value for money - if bought individually, the moisturiser, soap, blades and samples would collectively retail for around the price of the pack so the brush and razor are indeed free. Unfortunately, they can’t help but look it - the razor feels a touch light and the inscription font is somewhat off brand. Equally, whilst no-one’s expecting a £90 badger hair brush for gratis, the plastic handle doesn't quite exude the specialness you expect from a subscription service. In retrospect, I’d rather have had the initial option to buy my own razor and brush, and then receive a more generous monthly selection of treats.

And the selection I received… They’re good quality if not 100% on target for me and, to be honest, I’d like a few more things in the box. Of what was there, the Kent soap is lanolin-based and suitably unctuous, the moisturiser is as delicate as you’d expect from an aloe-based balm but the aftershave… Well, let’s just say I prefer a subtler Tom Ford scent. This was a touch Sex Panther.

Reading the last two paragraphs back, I sound harsher than I actually feel. The Natio moisturiser was sensitively chosen to be light enough to complement a strong scent, soap manufacturers Kent hold a Royal Warrant and the whole thing is admirably value for money. I just think I’d like to have maybe gone up another level of quality - happily paying more for an even more luxurious and numerous offering. It’s a personal opinion and possibly a business opportunity for The Personal Barber depending on customer feedback.

But at its core, The Personal Barber is most definitely A Good Thing. Like all facial treatments, it forces you to slooooow down, relish the ritual and presents a far more relaxing and less blood-curdling alternative to a half-used lump of carbolic and a 20-for-a-quid own brand throat slasher. I’d definitely use a wet shave in conjunction with my normal electric trim and, while I'm obviously not really getting the full value here as a beard owner, can see The Personal Barber would make a lush treat if you’re looking for an entry level alternative to gifting your partner that cut-throat shave. Father’s Day is Sunday, June 19, 2016 before you ask…

Thanks for this Mr G. You can stay x

Normal service will resume ASAP. 

We were sent a subscription box for the purpose of this review. 
All thoughts, words and images are our own. 
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