Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mid-Week Video: Saturday Morning Musical Pain

It is that time again! The middle of the week. And what better way to get over the 'hump' that is Wednesday, than with a mid-week video. This week I have chosen a film made by a long suffering father, over a 3 month period, showing his average Saturday morning with his young daughter. The father is at home with his youngest child while his wife takes the eldest to her weekend dance class. Obviously the younger daughter also wants to the most annoying music..ever...made.

Awwww, Dads! Don't we just love our fathers. They have had to put up with so much throughout our lives. Bless 'em!

NB: the father is deliberately pulling bad tempered expressions to make the video funnier.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

When You Are Not At Work, It Is Amazing What You Can Do

Japanese Afternoon Tea
Did I mention I had Thursday and Friday off work this week? No? Yep! I am currently enjoying a four day weekend (lucky me!) and I am soooooo relaxed! A concert and dinner on Thursday and yesterday - what an action packed day I had! (including walking around 9 miles in town)

Highlights include:

  • Waking up, having a cup of coffee in my favourite mug and reading Flow magazine while listening to The Vitamin String Quartet: (a string quartet that does classical string versions of popular songs)

  • Taking my mum for Japanese Afternoon Tea (complete with champagne and green tea - not at the same time!).While sitting in the Hilton London Bridge Hotel, chewing sushi and munching on macaroons (which felt very decadent and rather naughty), who should walk in a sit down beside us at the next table but Max Clifford! My mum gasped and of course this led to a discussion about him shamelessly making a fortune from the PR of numerous scandals and his alleged sexual abuse and harassment of young girls (when my mother and I get together, we can pretty much talk for hours about EVERYTHING. It's the combined talent of two chatterboxes and is pretty awesome to witness, unless of course, you are a person looking for some peace and quiet - then it is just plain annoying). Trust good ol' Max to incite such a conversation and lower the tone of the afternoon.....
  • After Max left and our conversation about his arrest and sexual abuse trial had come to a conclusion, we went for a walk along the river and through Borough Market and there was so much to see:
Playing in the mini city
A City Thrush
A Monkfish in Borough Market....not be confused with Max Clifford, despite the resemblance...
Awesome looking Tomatoes!
Awesome looking Mushrooms!
Origami Street Art - Revolt! Revolt with Paper Craft!
Umbrella Street Art - a great place for a beer if it is raining....
A life-saving London Pigeon
Obviously the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland went this way.....
Some beloved but abandoned art.
  • Later that evening I ate Pad Thai (I have had it twice in 24 hours - oh the shame!) and went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the local cinema. Obviously a review will follow on this blog in the next day or so, after I have formulated my thoughts into some sort of coherent prose. 
It is amazing what you can do when you are not work. Perhaps we should all work less? Perhaps the weekend should be 4 days instead of two? I won't hold my breath, as I know the working week is unlikely to change. Oh well, in around 35 years or so I will finally be able to retire. DEEP SIGH.....

Friday, 4 April 2014

Leaving the Planet and Walking off the Earth

So last night, after a lovely dinner of Thai and Malaysian food at restaurant called Penang! (my husband exclaiming: 'Man! This is good!' while eating a lemon grass flavoured Crème brûlée), I took my husband to a gig at Shepherds Bush Empire for his birthday. It was a complete surprise for him because he had no idea which band he was going to see and I had only seen the band play on YouTube and so had no idea what to expect.

So no expectations. No idea. And what a surprise it was! What a great performance, what a great band and what a great night! Walk Off The Earth became famous because of one little YouTube video, a bit like Justin Bieber, but a lot nicer and more talented. The video that launched them into stardom was a recording of all the members of the band playing the same guitar and singing a cover of Gotye's Somebody I Used To Know

Since then they have done lots of covers and rearrangements of popular songs, but have also recorded their own album with their original songs (which a great and very lively). They play all sorts of musical instruments and constantly swap instruments during a performance, using all sorts of strange items to create percussion and it quickly became clear during the first song that they were very talented musicians.

Walk Off The Earth and their many instruments
There were lots of great fun touches, such as covering the drums (that they beat with abandon) with powdered glitter, so that with each vibration of the instrument, the air shimmered and danced around them. When they finished playing a guitar or trumpet they threw their instruments high into the air and their technical crew rushed on stage to catch them and carry them off stage. As the evening went on, the band threw their instruments higher and higher into the air so that every time a ukulele flew across the stage, the whole audience held their breath and then gasped when someone rushed forward to catch it. Cleverly they had canons either side of the stage that shot glittered paper at the singing and bouncing audience and what a reaction the huge balloons falling from the ceiling caused. The crowd bounced about pushing the balloons higher and higher into the air. And all of this was happening in Shepherds Bush Empire, which is actually quite a small theatre and so the effect was quite magical. It was very exciting and the crowd all singing together and dancing really gave my husband and I are huge buzz. Humans are naturally social animals and that much excitement and joy all experienced simultaneously by a crowd is quite contagious.
Balloons, dry ice, sparkled paper and a fierce drum beat - time to party!
Half way through the gig, the band brought on a young man who was a competition winner. They explained that he had apparently won a prize. He came on stage looking a bit shocked and accompanied by his bewildered girlfriend. 'Wow!' He exclaimed nervously, 'There are a lot of people here tonight!' The crowd roared and cheered in response. 'Sing!' someone in the crowd yelled. Then he turned towards his girlfriend and said 'There is something I want to ask you.' The crowd all gasped. 'I asked your father last week,' the young man continued, 'And he gave his permission and blessing. Jenny, would you marry me?' He took out a ring and the whole crowd went wild. 'Yes!' she cried and nodded emphatically and began to cry and they embraced for a passionate kiss. The whole band jumped up and down on stage and Shepherds Bush Empire was filled with so much sound (laughing, shouting, clapping and cheering) that it felt like we were flying off the earth inside a jumbo jet engine.

After the last song, which was titled: Summer Vibe, during which the whole crowd sang along and wished for summer (something us British desperately need - especially clear skies after all the pollution from Europe and the sand from the Sahara choking up the city this week), the band asked for a photo to be taken with the audience and below was the result:

We are way up on the back level somewhere with our hands up
We all spilled out into the street afterwards and people were so excited that they danced and sang across Shepherds Bush Green towards the Tube station. Right in the middle of the Green are two weird sculptures probably put up by the council called Gaoloid sculptures (whatever that means).

The adult playground that is actually just pretentious public art
On the other side of the sculptures, across the park, is an actual playground for kids, so I think people just assumed that this might be a playground for adults. Plus the sculptures revolve when pushed by a human. They sort spin slowly. Except there are big signs everywhere telling people not to climb on them. So what happens when you mix two big revolving sculptures and a group of excited-semi-drunk-high-on-live-music adults? It was insane! One woman ran around the sculptures pushing them so they revolved faster and faster, while lots of young men (a social group that always seem to be willing to do something physically foolish), hung on for dear life and spun high into the air with their legs flailing outwards. More and more people climbed the supposedly non-climbable sculptures and it looked as if my husband was considering it, until I told him that if he did so and broke a bone, I was not going to take him to A&E. The last time my husband got drunk and did something physically foolish (bowling over enthusiastically while pissed on beer), he managed to damage his back and needed to stay home from work for almost 3 weeks. Quite reasonably, I had assumed he had learned his lesson. Guess not....

Anyway this lead my husband to the idea of creating adult playgrounds. Hey why not? Why should kids have all the fun? It is sort of true that as we grow up, we seem to forget how to play and become all serious. But we still love to climb, to spin and show me a person who does not love to sit on swing? Perhaps I should patent this idea?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Lisa Lân

The humble yet mighty courgette
Last night I had dinner with my father (which was a first step towards spending less time online and more time face to face with family and friends). We went to a lovely Italian restaurant called Da Mario. The meal was amazing and I made sure to really properly taste it. I had veal cooked in Marsala wine with black truffle, garlic spinach, fried courgettes and roast potatoes. Awww lovely! I was right royally spoiled!

Is there anything more fantastic than fried courgettes? Or garlicky spinach? I could probably eat both every day if I was given half the chance.

Anyway, after a delightful dinner with the fantastic company of my own father, I came home to snooze in bed and listen to Classic FM on the radio and heard the most lovely song: Lisa Lân sung by Katherine Jenkins, a prominent Welsh opera singer. I just thought it was such beautiful tune, both romantic and also sort of melancholy. In my opinion all the best love songs have a melancholy edge to them. After all, love is wonderful but it is also intense and can make a person heartsick with longing.

Lisa Lân is a traditional Welsh folk tune that is actually sung in the Welsh language and being a 1/4 Welsh myself, I am interested in most things Welsh (I am also 1/4 Armenian and Polish and 1/8 German and Swiss and of course flattened over all of it is my American and British heritage - don't worry I give them all equal time and attention, as well as other cultures I am fascinated by such as Japan, Ancient Greece (can I include that?!) and more recently Cambodia (don't ask me why!)). Anyway, I love this song and its spooky tune. And in honor of my dear husband's 31st birthday today, I am going to play it for him while I serve him tea and breakfast in bed.

The lyrics are (translated from Welsh):

Full many a time I came to woo,
Oft, Lisa I came a courting you;
I kissed your lips when we did meet,
No honey ever was so sweet

My dainty branch, my only dear,
No woman comes your beauty near;
'Tis you who with my passion play
'Tis you who steals my life away

When I go walking through the day,
My lovesick heart will turn to clay,
And but to hear the small birds sing,
The longing to my soul will bring

When'er at eve I walk apart,
Like wax will melt my lovesick heart,
And but to hear the small birds sing,
The longing to my soul will bring

Ah, will you come to bid good-bye,
When in the earth my form must lie?
I hope you too will there be found,
When men shall lay me in the ground

The longing to my soul will bring
The longing to my soul will bring

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Age of The Overload of Information

The coffee and scallop shaped spoon I enjoyed in Streatham
The last week has been a bit of a wash out for me. I was sick with some sort of virus and then I had one long headache that lasted around 6 days. Practically a whole week of what felt like little gnomes attacking my temples with tiny pickaxes. Apart from a brief excursion to take the car for an MOT in Streatham (which took much longer than I had expected and was a lot more boring than I anticipated - although the experience has led to my husband referring to the car as 'our little Silver Steed' and doing horse impressions while driving the newly repaired vehicle. We also did get to have lunch and coffee in a very cute coffee shop called Brooks and Gao) and then on Saturday night to have dinner with my parents (where my dad tried out his new Veal Stew on my stomach), I spent around 5 days indoors in darkened rooms with various damp cloths on my forehead in attempt to cool down my feverish brain.

Yesterday was the first day that I re-entered the land of the living. After several days indoors, everything seems very bright and I feel a little bit disorientated, but it does feel good to get back to active life. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, spring is here and the trees are blooming with blossoms. I still feel a bit unsettled though. I missed a lot when I was off work – two workshops, a meeting, some free cheesecake samples and lots and lots of emails. I have also missed personal appointments such as a photography course session, emails from friends, a dinner date and a bookclub meeting. The fact of the matter is I simply don’t have time for illness. There are no spare days in my calendar reserved for the possibility of me coming down with The Lurgy and having to take to my bed. Staring at the 150 plus emails in my work inbox this morning, I started wondering if I actually ever have enough time for…well…anything. My whole life seems to be calculated down to the minute. My work calendar is filled with reminders and meetings, my personal diary is chock-a-block with tasks and appointments and all my email inboxes are besieged with emails day and night. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the amount of tasks I have to complete on any given day of any given week. That novel I was going to write, keeps getting squeezed aside in favour of a whole host of other important things I need to do first.

In a tiny moment of desperation when I was having trouble getting out of bed on Sunday morning (headache, sore limbs and a feeling of weary exhaustion), I wailed to my husband (who has been suffering from insomnia recently and so not feeling all that well himself) that I felt overwhelmed and that all the things I really wanted to do with my life, I did not have time for. ‘I don’t have time to sit down and read a book! I don’t have time to do any photography! I have not even started doing any creative writing! I barely have time to knit!’

Then he uttered the fateful words: ‘You do spend a lot of time on the internet though.’

I paused. I thought about this for a moment and then said, ‘I think I was happier 5 years ago. I had a longer attention span. I read books all the way through without skipping to the end. I didn't worry so much. My confidence in myself was stronger. I worried less.’

My husband sighed and said: ‘You were on the internet a lot less then. And you didn't have an iPad.’

And I thought about it and you know what, he was right! My husband and I will be 31 this year. We are the generation that have lived through one of the biggest and fastest technological revolutions in human history. When I was born computers were giant desktop machines that used floppy disks and were not present in every home. My parents even still played music using records and a record player when I was a baby. In my lifetime computers have become part of our everyday life and in the last 5 – 10 years technology such as iPads and blackberries have shot into our personal lives with such ferocity and speed that we barely have time to think about how and when we use these items and what effect they have on our mental health. 10 years ago I did not even use a digital camera, I was still processing old fashioned film and I certainly did not have an iPad, capable of dominating my waking moments with all sorts of seductive distractions such as Facebook, Pinterest, BBCIplayer and Netflix. In my defence I did not actually buy the iPad, it was given to me as a reward for working so hard in my job (another profession dominated by a computer on a daily basis). But since I have had the iPad, I have spent an unprecedented amount of time on the internet and I am not sure it has done me any good.

A computer from 1983 - the year I was born....
Obviously I am not against technology, the internet or computers. It would be a bit hypocritical of me to make such a claim since I am currently writing a blog on a computer to publish on the internet. But it is strange that the technology that is designed to supposedly make our lives so much easier, often makes our lives more overwhelming and demanding. We humans have the amazing ability to develop technology (airplanes with giant jet engines, TV, internet, mobile computers), which we then vastly over-use to the extent that they ruin our quality of life and threaten the existence of our planet. I guess we hoped that some of this technology would liberate us and have unknowingly ended up enslaved by it instead. I don’t think it is the technology itself that is the problem, but our misuse of it. Going on Facebook once a week for 20 minutes probably does us no harm, but having Facebook constantly open on your Smartphone 24 hours a day is bound to cause information overload in an individual’s brain and lead to feelings of inadequacy due to them constantly comparing themselves with their online ‘friends.’ Recent studies that came out last month showed that Facebook even had the ability to affect your mood. If you read lots of depressing stories in your newsfeed then you are going to feel depressed and more likely express that on your profile – influencing others also on the site and so on….
...and to think we started out the 20th century riding horses and when many homes did not have electricity and we now have rockets flying people into space and personal computers in our own portable phones that we can check all the time and text people on the other side of the world. The sheer speed of technological change is insane.

Last year, while visiting the headquarters of Ericsson in Sweden with a bunch of business students for work, I was treated to a branding presentation by their marketing team where they excitedly explained that they were working towards building a world where everyone was going to be 'connected' to 'everything and everyone' all of the time via a mobile network or the internet. They showed us a video, which felt a lot like propaganda. They explained that it was a 'human right to have connectivity.' - which I must confess was news to me as I was not aware that having an internet connection was something that we as humans needed to live (unlike the right to marry who we choose or to live without fear of persecution because of our personal beliefs). 'Someday people in the middle of the remote Amazonian rainforest will be able to have instant connectivity to the rest of the world using a single mobile phone!' explained the preppy and excited but deeply serious marketing consultant, while she showed us a photo of a giant telephone mast. I sat there, doodled on my free Ericsson branded pad of paper with my Ericsson branded pen and wondered if anyone living in the remote Amazonian rainforest actually cared about connecting with the rest of the world and if they might prefer not to have a giant telephone mast in their backyard. Ericsson apparently are working for the good of mankind, for the good of 'us'. We should thank them for our instant connections on our iPhones. Everytime we post a photo on Instagram (exercising our human right to share photos of cupcakes and cats sleeping in funny positions), we can thank Ericsson for our ability to send our photos out into the ether. Well done them.

I guess I have a different perspective on constantly being connected. That very same trip to Sweden, I had to constantly compete for the attention of my work colleague, with her two smartphones. And the ironic thing was she was there to do a job and I needed her attention for a few moments every day in order to do mine correctly. I was as important to her, throughout the day, as those two portable electronic devices and she paid far more attention to them than me (the actual flesh and blood person sitting next to her). You can imagine how I felt about 'connectivity' by the time we actually visited Ericsson on the last day of the trip.

So, personally, how do I feel the technological revolution has detrimentally affected me?

1. Rather than easing any burdens I might have, I feel that modern technology and the internet has exhausted me instead.
The problem is that I personally feel that the internet and modern technology in my life does not ease any of my burdens, but exhausts me. Say I want to find a knitting pattern to knit for fun. I go on the internet instead of travelling into town to the haberdashery department at John Lewis on Oxford Street or even just the 5 minute walk to the local library to borrow a knitting book. If the library is closed (say for instance in the middle of the night), no matter! I can just surf the net on my iPad for knitting patterns any time of day or night from the comfort of my own sofa. I don't need to go anywhere. The problem is that I am then besieged with millions of options of knitting patterns and often ideas that will lead me into spending money I probably had no intention of initially spending (because of course I need all the paraphernalia that goes with a pattern etc.). I will be able to see people's photos of their knitting so I can play the comparison game and see how much better their knitting is than mine and then eventually I can see how other people are turning their knitting 'hobby' into an online craft business so that any knitting I might have just done for 'fun' feels redundant and unproductive since I am not actually knitting for any commercial or particular purpose. Information overload, peer comparison, financial pressure and feeling less confident about myself or less enthused about my hobby is a result of extensive use of the internet. Was it really such a burden to WALK to the library or visit the shop in the city to READ a book on knitting patterns and choose from a SMALLER number of choices the one pattern I actually really WANTED? Did the internet actually ease my difficulty or just add to it?

2. Rather than deepening my experience of life, technology has, at times, diluted my all-important relationships. 
I definitely see my friends less. If I saw them face to face as much as we email each other or like each other's statuses on Facebook, then I do believe we would all feel closer and know much more about each other. We would be forging real human bonds and not just communicating one-sidedly with each other. Expelling information at each other like virtual bullets. Downloading our news into each other's inboxes and brains. We seem to 'watch' our friends rather than 'interact' with them or 'make' new friends. If I was online less, I would definitely see my parents more too. I would have more time for them. And at times I do even feel that the computer comes between my husband and I. My husband is a bit technophobic, so he is better at limiting his usage of the internet than I am. But I could easily stay up too late at night surfing the net and reading useless information. It is the information overload from the many emails that husband receives at work each day that makes him tired, irritable and distracted when he comes home in the evening. I know I am not always experiencing him at his best and at times we can both be so stressed that we find it hard to be patient with each other. When we are on holiday (without phones, computers or the internet) we tend to focus on each other more and listen to each other better. We converse in a much more relaxed way and really pay attention to the world around us.

3. By providing so much to consume, modern technology and the internet, has atrophied my ability to create.
Instead of updating apps on my iPad or pinning some picture of a necklace on to my one of my Pinterest boards, I could actually be knitting or writing that novel I have never got round to or using some of my vast collection of art materials and stationary that I have. My creativity has definitely suffered as a result of the internet. I actually knew this fact last year and it has just taken me this long to tear myself away from the seductive lure of the computer and iPad. These devices in themselves promote creativity but do not inspire it or actually lead you to physically being creative and I have to admit to myself that I have not really written a poem or drawn a good picture for a long time now. Even cooking takes a back seat to watching TV or using the mobile phone. I believe technology has provided us with too many distractions, too much information and too much marketed to us to buy, procure and consume, so that we can't actually create anything for ourselves anymore. And I know myself well.....a non-creative Clara without her ability to lose herself in 'flow' is a cranky, stressed and anxious Clara. Technology often renders me passive (with exception of writing this blog and perhaps editing my photos using online software). You can consume information, rather than acting upon it - watch football on TV rather than playing it or buzz out with a cookery programme rather than cooking yourself. The result is that you are viewing a version of reality, but not actually living it. Creativity is important, experiencing reality is important, it is what makes us human. We are spreading ourselves too thin in 21st Century life and I think technology only helps us to spread ourselves thinner, not aid us in living life creatively or deeply.

4. By increasing the speed at which we live, technologies have made us forget how to savour the moment.
There is no denying we live in a fast era. High speed internet, instant text messages, fast food, bullet trains and all the rest. The more we measure time, the more we are determind to fill every moment of it. Plan, plan, plan - that is all I seem to do - both at work and in my personal life. The demands of our daily lives are outreaching and overwhelming our personal resources. We have too much information to absorb and not enough time. This painful imbalance is itself very largely caused by our misuse and over-use of technology. Too many over-long commutes, too many online realities, the constant stream of info, too many late nights and premature mornings. I often wonder what my grandmother or great-grandmother's mornings must have been like compared to mine. I am sure they must have worked hard, but were they so time pressured? Were their expectations lower? Their lives lived more naturally?
I have noticed that since using the internet daily, I struggle to sit still or quietly. I can't commute now without some sort of distraction - be it The Kindle or my iPod. My own thoughts no longer simply just occupy me now and I struggle to read a book all the way through without jumping from one chapter to another. I lose sight of the smells, the tastes, the temperature and air around me. I desperately try to recall what I did last week and I can't remember. My brain is overloading with information and I am always racing somewhere. No wonder I can't sit still. And don't even mention meditation. How am I supposed to clear my mind of thoughts when I can't even slow down on the weekends? I believe that technology has made it harder for us to live in the present and the savour the moment because we are always looking for the next thing and constantly being updated all the time by our mobile devices.
Gemma Correll's excellent cartoon showing how meditation is extremely difficult nowadays. 
It is not all bad. I am not advocating the complete non-usage of technology. After all a high speed train can take you from London to Paris in less than a day, the internet means you can Skype a friend across the other side of the world, who you otherwise might never see and technological advances in medical science means many lives have been saved over the last century. But over-usage of technology is what I object to and what I am going to try to do for myself is to limit my usage of technology on a daily basis. I am going to not 'over-use' it. That means less time on Facebook and the internet. It means only going online each day to write my blog (which I do consider creative in itself) and check my emails....once! It means more time away from a computer and spent outside in the world, more footballs kicked in the park, more letters written to my family and friends abroad, more pictures painted with just my hand, some paint and a brush and more books read using a book with pages and my own god-given eyes. I am not going to buy a Smartphone and I am going to continue to use my old phone that does not have access to the internet. I am going to ration the iPad usage and I am going to comprehensively measure my screen-time usage (that means film watching, internet usage etc.) to see if I can limit the amount of time I spend each day staring at electronic devices. I need to put technology back in its place - as a tool to be used with moderation - instead of the over-riding addiction it has become.

If I had been on the internet instead of taking a walk, I would have missed this. NB. this photo was not taken on a mobile phone and I did not post it on Facebook. I am pretty sure this tree was planted without the use of the internet.
After all, I need time to see the trees blossom, to lie around and stare at the blue sky and daydream, to live in the present and savour the moment. I am going to make time for me. I am going to make time to be sick if I have to be and to converse with my husband, to paint some pictures, send some letters, to visit my friends and finally start that novel! And instead of just listening to music all the time on an iPod, I am going to play it out loud and sing-a-long (whatever I might sound like). Spare a thought for my neighbors!

But of course, this is just my own opinion and I fully expect the digital world to keep turning and my peers to go on being plugged into their Smartphones, regardless of what I preach. I might not be right, there are lots of alternative views and arguments out there, but this is what I FEEL and although it might be harder to walk these days than run in a never-ending race, I am determined to walk....slowly....and the smell the flowers as I go.