Oh Wonder

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A year ago, Oh Wonder was formed. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West came together first as a couple and then as a musical duo, birthing Oh Wonder like their prodigal first born. I don't want to jump the gun or anything, but whatever they "create", I'll embrace. No pressure.

On the 24th of November, I saw them play at Village Underground in Shoreditch. Their music was electronic and the atmosphere electric. 

Last September, they resolved to release a new song every month for a year, and they've done just that. By the new year, with only a few songs to their name, they had spread across social media like wildfire. They compiled their first fifteen songs into a self-titled debut album in September. Only now have they actually played a gig. 

In the music business, their model is innovative; create hype by dropping tracks in instalments, come the first of each month. But if their songs are stories, then they're hardly revolutionaries. Dickens' novels were serialised in newspapers; published a chapter at a time. Now, TV shows like Breaking Bad release episodes in instalments. The entertainment industry teases us, dangling new content under our noses and then pulling the rug from under our feet as we lurch in to catch it. Oh Wonder plays hard to get - and we like it. 

Light a candle. Loop the album. You won't really be able to distinguish between songs but you won't really care. They can credit their success to singles, but the irony is that they work best as an album. Their breezy ballads never reach a climax, but in succession, their crisp, clear sound feels almost cinematic. They could be more adventurous, but then they don't strive for escapism. They blissfully blend male-female harmonies with electronic pop to lull you into your surroundings. You don't want to go anywhere else when this is what you've got.

Autumn Playlist + A Little Update

Monday, 2 November 2015

So it's been a while. Call the cops! Someone sue me!
In all honesty, I've been overwhelmed by the kind response to my previous post: thank you so much. Hiding my health from the Internet had become almost as exhausting as the illness itself. If chronic illness is climbing a mountain, then hiding it is the 75L backpack digging into your shoulders. When I finally pressed publish, I was able to shed that load: I finally feel this blog is my own, a space where I can shine light on people and places, but also share bits and bobs of my own life. "What's in the pipelines?", I hear you cry. Lots coming your way this month, don't fret! Expect an interview, a touch of travel, and a very exciting announcement.
I know it's a silly month that limbos between all the good stuff, but happy November. Chin up, hit play on my autumn mix, and walk to the beat of those crunchy-looking leaves. Click here to hear the playlist on Spotify.

Invisible Illness Week

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Earlier this week, while I was furiously clicking between my seventeen open tabs, I stumbled upon something validating and heart-warming: Invisible Illness Awareness Week. For reasons which will soon become clear, I felt compelled to share. Now, I should outline this by saying that today's blog post will be different from my others. I'm pressing hold on the pretty polaroids and jokey prose. So if you're busy or uninterested or blissful in your ignorance, now's your chance to leave. No grudges!

Right. Invisible Illness Awareness Week is an annual worldwide campaign which seeks to raise visibility for the chronically ill and disabled; namely, those whose condition is 'invisible' to the naked eye. Invisible to any stranger or acquaintance or colleague or family member or friend. Best friend, even. BFF. Bosom buddy. Soulmate. Unless you and I are close, you will have no clue that - contrary to popular belief - I'm not entirely well. And that's perhaps an understatement. These past two years, I've been battling an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis. I've been meaning to write about this side of my life for some time now, but haven't yet for a load of reasons, irrational but valid:
  1. I honestly have no idea where to start. The task of untangling my mangle of feelings and frustrations about the topic is a long and arduous one - a short blog post won't cover it.
  2. I want my blog to be uplifting. Rationally, I know that honesty makes for better relationships and better writing, but I also don't want to bore you numb. Like any other person with a head and a heart, I try to project to the world my best version possible; shockingly, illness just isn't a part of that! Just as you might not launch a first date with a minute-by-minute rundown of 'that time you had Delhi-belly', I don't feel inclined to share the intimate details of my condition with every passing stranger. I could tattoo Hemingway's famous "All you have to do is write one true sentence" on my forehead and still I'd feel the same. Talking medical: it's not hot.
  3. Escapism. It bleeds into more than enough parts of my life already. I wanted this to be a space safe from illness, free from contamination. I don't want people to think that I'm obsessed by it, or defined by it, but it is undeniably a part of my life - a non-refundable part of the package. Take it or leave it!
  4. Vulnerability. Like exposing an open wound, honesty stings. Of course, my flawless mother preaches that no one worth knowing would reject me for something so completely out of my control but - shocker! - the world is cruel. Illness comes; and some friends go. Shoutout to all of those who stay. 
  5. There are worse things going on in the world. Well, yes. Of course there are. I'm not totally out of touch with reality! When I take a 20 minute nap, the world keeps spinning: I know that much. I need only read the papers, turn on the TV, or spend time in hospital next to someone fighting for breath, to realise how fortunate I am. My condition is disabling but never has my life felt in danger, and I live in a country where healthcare is free. But feeling guilty for sharing the little I do is unproductive and unhealthy and even pretty messed-up. I hide my health every day for fear that people won't believe me because they can't 'see' it. From now on, honesty is the best policy: there's no need to drag myself up the stairs when I can take the lift. 
A staggering 96% of disabilities are invisible. Put like this, it makes sense. Clearly, you can't 'see' a mental illness, nor can you see that someone's visually impaired (joke's on you -), or on their way to chemo, or younger than you but in desperate need of your seat. Young doesn't equate to able-bodied, and hell, 'healthy' doesn't look a certain way. 

I know what you're thinking - "Thank you, sweet guardian angel. I am now AWARE of Invisible Illnesses". And I get it: the concept seems well-meaning but ultimately a-bit-pointless. The aim of Invisible Illness Awareness Week is not to sign you up to charity sky-dives, or to fling you from a bungee in Phnom Penh, and it should go without saying that no one is forcing you to host non-profit bake sales on your front drive. It's a support group for the sick; a call to arms for empathy; a plea to dig a little deeper. My Instagram feed is in no way, shape, or form an accurate representation of my life, and up until today, neither was my blog. I still squirm at my dishonesty; that I once portrayed a trip to Morocco as adventurous and action-packed when I was really in a wheelchair. But it's not just online: the moment we step out the front door, we present to the world a construction of ourselves. So when someone has the guts to knock down the scaffolding, please hold out a tarpaulin to catch the odd brick.

Meet Antoine Truchet

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Earlier this summer, I logged onto Skype and rang up Antoine Truchet, a nineteen-year-old French photographer. Cue Skype's infamous ringtone - you know the one: the sweet sound of being summoned by aliens! At 70.4k followers and counting, Antoine is what you might call Insta-famous. And something of a globe-trotter. He lives in the French Alps and is but minutes from Geneva, Switzerland. He has just got back from a grad-trip to Ios and Mykonos and a family road-trip down to the South of France and the Cinque Terre in Italy. He plans to move to London this coming year. And he spent his early teens in Jakarta, Indonesia, a place which kindled his love of film and photography and which he still holds very close. The man is no sloth!

Antoine first set up an Instagram account three or four years ago, when he was still in Indonesia and living in Jakarta, a bustling metropolis which - with a population of nearly 10 million - is the largest city in South-East Asia. At an hour and a half from Bali, Jakarta is but a stone's throw from volcanoes, mountains, turquoise lagoons, and sandy beaches. The stuff of nightmares! He admits, grinning sheepishly, that in the beginning he posted 'mostly selfies'. But he grew up and the selfies slowly dwindled to a trickle. Now his photos are mostly landscapes, but he insists that "having tiny people in my photos makes them so much more interesting". Often, he'll stick in the silhouette of a sibling to give an otherwise simple photo a bit of human interest. Scroll through his feed and you'll see that his style is distinctive: clean and minimalist, his photos have lots of white space, and use a recurring palette of greens, blues, and turquoise. Each upload is striking, yes, but a single puzzle piece won't make a jigsaw; they're at their best as a set, their colours complementing and their tiny figures trying to tell a story. If Antoine describes himself as a 'visual storyteller', then we, his followers, must be his 'readers', tuning in each day to Instagram to find out what happens next.

You can buy followers, but you can't buy their loyalty, and Antoine admits that finding an audience on the platform took time. "I started slowly gaining more and more followers, but I still stayed around the 2000-mark for like, 2 years", he says. And then Instagram suddenly found his account: "I woke up, my notifications going crazy. The whole thing completely blew up overnight, I was gaining new followers every second", he explains, astounded. He was chosen as one of Instagram's 'Suggested Users'. If you live and you breathe, then you will know that Instagram's 'Suggested Users' feature is so sought-after that it now has the power to kickstart a budding photographer's career. For Antoine, it surely has.

Whether on the road or at home in the French Alps, Antoine is always shooting, posting new content almost daily. What keeps him motivated? "Of course it's super motivating to have this audience", he says, referring to his tidy count of 70,000 followers. But he is keen to emphasise the role of other online creators in keeping him motivated: "The main thing, I guess, is trying to find your own style... I'm still trying". He finds storytelling inspiration "everywhere" on the Internet and cites YouTube extraordinaires Jack and Finn Harries, Casey Neistat, Ben Brown, and Louis Cole among his idols. As for photography, he finds 'the whole lifestyle' of Instagrammers Chris Burkard and Alex Strohl 'really appealing' and loves the crisp and clean minimalism of Cereal Magazine. People spark off ideas, but travelling, 'exploring new places, new cultures' really keeps the flame burning. It's no coincidence that he's set aside this next year - a post-IB gap year - for just that. After that, he wants to come to London to study film: "But I need to be sure about the university. I don’t want to spend three years there and then at the end of it realise I'm not happy". Looking further into the future, nothing is set in stone - but neither is it for you or I. I can give you no spoilers because his next chapter is still unwritten; all I know is we'll be logging on, hungry for the next episode in his string of adventures. Patience - each 1:1 square at a time.

Check out Antoine's website: antoinetruchet.com
Follow him on Instagram: instagram.com/antoinetruchet
Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/antoinetruchet

Chewy Nutella Cookies

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

I’m sure that your kitchen is flooded with cookie recipes and that already groaning pile of papers is headed on a one-way trip to the recycling. But you don’t always know what you’re missing till it pops up out of nowhere and slaps you across the face. So here I am, swooping in like the domestic goddess I was born, whisking you off your feet and smothering you in baked goods. Like Nigella - only not. I’ve adapted a couple of existing recipes for Nutella cookies, which I found either sickly-sweet or not sufficiently chocolatey. These are hands-down the tastiest cookies I’ve ever made, so I really hope you enjoy them too! You can thank me later.

You will need: 

1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of cornstarch
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup Nutella
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 ¾ cups self-raising flour
1 cup chopped dark chocolate
A pinch of salt


1. Whisk together flour and cornstarch.
2. In a separate bowl, beat together egg, butter, sugars, Nutella, and vanilla for 4-ish minutes
3. Slowly add the flour and cornstarch, until well mixed.
4. Stir in the lumps of dark chocolate.
5. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on greased tray.
6. Pre-heat oven to 180C
7. Bake for 8-10 minutes
8. Enjoy!

Meet Kara Stanton

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with Kara 'Karakamos' Stanton, a twenty-year-old video blogger and all round cool-Canadian. She was on her way out of the U.K after a year abroad in sunny Aberystwyth, but had stopped for a refuel in London. We met in Notting Hill and took up camp on the top floor of a farm café, each ordering an apple juice and a peach. Somewhere among the peach-slurps, we managed to exchange a few actual words. But Kara is a vlogger, so she's used to editing out the inaudible and obscene.

We met in the run-up to Girlcon (check it out!), a two-day event which provides a safe "space where people can connect; talk about their lives. But really, I guess, we're just a diverse group of people who are excited about cool things". Kara is one of the organisers; second-in-command aboard the Girlcon ship. Here's hoping it catches wind! This summer's event has been a success by all accounts, and Kara hopes to take it across the Atlantic: "My dream is that it becomes a summer camp, I'd love one in Canada near my home", she says. The event has brought online friendships offline and given a platform for internet discussion in the real world. She says:

"The internet has been really great at getting people's voices together, people whose voices aren't always heard".

Is her's one of these voices? Not now, surely. On YouTube, she is heard. Her most popular video, 'On Being Ugly', exploded overnight, racking up nearly half a million views - and counting. But it hasn't always been that way: "Maybe it's a place where I talk about things that I feel like I couldn't talk about in real life". She continues: "In general I feel like I've always been a really personal, quiet, enclosed person, and I wouldn't talk about most things, so the internet has become one way that I'm like - bleurgh - let me say all the things that I wouldn't, [she pauses] which is nice." She certainly has made a habit of talking about the things that we wouldn't: have a quick scroll through her feed to see that time and time again, she tackles the taboo - and fearlessly. Her videos are titled 'An Ode to Acne', How To Be A Loner', 'How To Be Hairy', and 'Let's Talk About Pain!', to name but a few. She's honest and vulnerable and completely unpretentious and that, I think, is endearing. And refreshing.


 I don't know about the rest of you, but I log onto YouTube for a quick fix. A cheap laugh. A glimpse at the glamourous. It provides bitesize nuggets of entertainment which need neither the commitment nor the emotional investment of a twelve-part, five-season TV series. If - like me - you are a) brain-dead, b) horizontal, and c) scared of being alone with only your thoughts for company, then YouTube is your friend. It's a wormhole of wasted hours and I've lost a lifetime to shows like 'The Woman Who Ate Rocks'.

Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating. There are plenty of inspiring and innovative YouTube content creators, but still, the ingredients rarely change: flash a pretty face, splash in some relatable content, and - hallelujah - you've risen to the YouTube boil! But Kara's vlogs don't follow the recipe.

 So how does she explain the success of 'On Being Ugly', an unscripted, unedited vlog which opens "Okay so I'm a mess and I haven't showered"? Clearly, there's no magic algorithm to creating a viral video - but she has a suspicion: "It felt like one of those things people always deal with but never really talk about. A lot of the conversation around body image and self-esteem comes from actors and models and people you don't really need to hear from...". À la Jennifer Lawrence? "Hmm, yes, like thank you", she laughs.

If good art makes you think and great art changes the way you think, then Kara's vlogs are great. She doesn't preach, nor does she ever claim to offer solution. What she offers is perspective - and isn't that what we seek out of any interaction? In 'On Being Ugly', she asks why we keep preaching that 'all bodies are beautiful' when we should really be hearing that "Being beautiful is not an accomplishment and being ugly shouldn't stop you from making accomplishments." Again, it's about perspective, she says:

"When you think about being alive and you think about the smallest and biggest thing - breathing - prettiness becomes so insignificant and tiny. Tiny."

Kara doesn't seek a career out of YouTube; nor does she dream of a Karakamos-empire. If you want T-shirts, you might be waiting a while. She describes her creative process as 'piecemeal' and says that "Really I just make the thing and hope it helps someone along the way". Still, I bug her for an answer: so what's the plan? She has a year left at university and then would like to write, or work for a non-profit, or help out teenagers, or run a convention like Girlcon: "I always have a ton of ideas, but it's like, well, is that a career path?". I'm with you, Kara; I think we all are.
Okay, so her blog is a blog - and just that. Its future? "You know, I don't know how long I'll keep it up... but I still have ideas in my head. Always". 
Watch and learn, everyone. Oh, and subscribe.

Follow her on Twitter: @karakamos

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Word on the Water

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Perched on a leafy bend of the King's Cross canal, sits London's best and only floating bookshop: let me introduce you to Word on the Water. The bookbarge - brainchild of Paddy Screech - was opened in 2011, but has since been forever in flux. Having finally secured a permanent mooring, Word on the Water is now anchored inside Granary Square; up until recently it bobbed up and down Regent's Canal, cruising between Camden Lock, Angel, Paddington, and Hackney, and staying for only up to two weeks in each mooring. Laws are weird. But power to the people! In early June, 6,000 people signed an online petition to save Word on the Water: the Canal & River Trust surrendered, heads bowed and cheeks crimson, offering the bookshop a permanent home in King's Cross.

The bookshop spills onto the towpath and catches its prey like a venus fly-trap; we're lured in closer by the jazz, ensnared by the second-hand paperbacks and finally held hostage by the sofas and the wood-burning stove. But a death, this is not: it's a bookworm's Paradise. 

Step onboard the 1920s Dutch barge to find its inside low-ceilinged but surprisingly labyrinthine. Tell me it time travels and I probably wouldn't bat an eyelid. 

On the rooftop sits a resident saxophonist, whose dulcet tones lull the unsuspecting customer into a jazzy bliss. The barge is also host to poetry slams, live music, and other literary events.

"We're not aiming at what people want, we're trying to make people want what we give them" says Paddy Screech. What a Scream! Probably not the most obvious business model, but it does make a certain sense. We couldn't have dreamed of a floating bookshop, let alone 'wanted' it. But hand it over on a plate, ready-made, and we'll devour it.

 Word on the Water has fought the corporate, the council, and the Kindle, but still it bobs along. The written word floats, I hope.


Word on the Water is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12-7pm. 
They are now permanently moored inside Granary Square, 
near King's Cross station, London.

Find them on Facebook: facebook.com/wordonthewater
Find them on Twitter: twitter.com/wordonthewater

Meet Edward Smyth

Friday, 3 July 2015

On a bright and windy Tuesday at the end of June, I met up with Edward (Ed) Smyth, a nineteen year old student and filmmaker. He now "pretty much lives at the BFI" but originally hails from Kent, so had come into London for a busy day of auditions, meetings and securing props for an upcoming project. Armed with a couple of obnoxiously green smoothies, we headed to the park and sat atop a grassy mound with a view onto Kensington Palace. 

Ed explains, to my surprise, that he has absolutely no background in film, coming from a family of lawyers and solicitors: "My parents have almost zero interest in film. We have, like, 3 DVDs at home", he laughs. Nevertheless, he spent his childhood glued to the TV, 'not being very sociable at all', choosing the company of fiction over friends. "I was a bit of a weird kid", he decides in hindsight. Weird? Well, who's to say. But Ed spent his childhood honing his craft, absorbing stories by osmosis and inspiration by the by; and this, surely, has paid off.

"We're at an interesting time, at a point where filmmaking is practically democratised. Not quite yet, but we're extremely close", he says.

"The kit isn't that expensive, really, so it's far more about the actual ideas. You get a lot more shit, but it's worth it for those extra gems". Five years ago, navigating the waters of indie filmmaking was no smooth sail. Now, in 2015, the cost of a DSLR has dropped dramatically and any project more ambitious can be crowdsourced at the click of a button. Film, we hope, is no longer reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected, but a medium masterminded by kids; kids more familiar with YouTube and Vimeo than the school playground. But give a kid a camera and that won't make him an artist. Ed has embraced technology as much as the next man, but he knows that he won't make it with 'pretty pictures' alone. If you want to stand out in the industry, you need contacts. Like it or not. So Ed invests much of his time in a thing our generation of filmmakers has mostly forgotten: networking. Now, I find Twitter really empowering; it enables you to reach out to virtually anyone, no matter their fame or follower count, but it's still no substitute for meeting someone in the flesh. You need to show your face and have them remember your face. But Ed is charming and bohemian and never without a hat, so forget him, they won't. And it also doesn't hurt that he looks like Ed Sheeran. 

Minutes after meeting Ed (Smyth that is, not Sheeran), we were stopped in the street by a woman who had remembered once meeting him at a screening. Beaming, she asked for his Twitter handle, then went on her way. Something similar happened in South Kensington, where he was approached by a man who simply shouted 'BFI!' in his general direction. He had seen Ed round the BFI. So networking pays off, I ask? "Absolutely", he says, "it's key. It's not essential, but it really helps. I like to see how people work. Oh and I met a guy last year... six months later, he'd won an Oscar!". Ed jokes that all of his friends are 'film friends' and his idea of socialising involves more mingling in creative circles than downing shots in sleazy student clubs. By choice or by need, I don't know - the line is blurred. To get anywhere in the industry, you need contacts: "If you're not in London, you're basically just kidding yourself", he says.

There's little more heartening than seeing a friend rewarded for a talent you long knew they had. Ed was recently focus of a Digital Filmmaker magazine six-page article, and his short, 'Lost Pleasures', was selected for the London Short Film Festival 2015. He's in Liverpool as we speak, shooting something exciting but still under wraps: a coming of age project. 'And then?', I have the cheek to ask. "A lot depends on whether or not I get kicked out of uni!" he laughs. "The next thing really is to make more films, to use these friends and see what we can do together. I think it's fun to know your competition. I think we are in competition; the point is it's friendly competition. But I don't like aggression. I find aggressive people absolutely abhorrent." Same, Ed, same. But keep your elbows sharp and you'll soon have floored this competition.

Director/ Writer/ Cinematographer

Check out his portfolio: edwardsmyth.co.uk
Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/EJRSmyth

The Sky Garden

Friday, 19 June 2015

London's highest public garden, the imaginatively-named Sky Garden, sits on the 35th floor of the 'Walkie Talkie', a 525ft skyscraper in the City. It's not Shard-high, but it's still pretty damn high. It's free to enter, so long as you book a slot ahead of time. I overslept so was faced with the superhuman feat of crossing London in rush-hour, but I made it nonetheless, arriving in the nick of time for my 10am slot: breathless, bleary-eyed, but excited.

The queue for security upon entrance is a bit laborious - I do wonder if it's more an attempt to build audience anticipation than necessary safety procedure, but hey. On the plus side, I neither set off the alarm, nor was groped! Things were looking up. 

After a speedy climb in the lift, we arrived tone deaf on the top floor. Hard of hearing and dizzy from the altitude, you might be excused for thinking you were about to board a long-haul flight: the architecture is functional to a fault and the waiters have about as much charm as an airport lounge. 

But it's not all bad! We stepped into the Garden and were met with breathtaking views over the city. Architecturally, it falls somewhere between a greenhouse and a post-apocalyptic dystopian space-station. If we were to re-locate to Mars to simulate life on Earth over there, I'd imagine it would look something like this. The air is thin and muggy, and sprays of mist systematically douse people and plants. It was a bit early to sample the cocktails, but the pastries were cheaper and tastier than Starbucks, so a trip up to the Sky Garden won't leave you bankrupt. 

The 'Sky Garden' has a fairytale ring to it, but expect something from out of Studio Ghibli and you'll be disappointed. It isn't so much the Sky Garden that's extraordinary, but this city. From up in the clouds, I had an aerial view of my local haunts: my home, my uni, my local park, the trusty Tesco to which I make pilgrimage every Tuesday. Yes, I was briefly crippled by the whole I-am-but-a-measly-ant-in-this-vast-and-unfathomable-universe thing, but once you get over that, it's actually kind of liberating. Is there something to be said for feeling insignificant? I don't know, but maybe it takes a hike 500ft up in the clouds to plant your feet firmly back on the ground.

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The Monocle Café

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Instax/ polaroid of the Monocle CafeI recently visited the Monocle Cafe, a small independent coffee shop just off Baker Street. You might recognise the name and branding from Monocle Magazine - this is their spin-off café, a four-minute walk from the nearby Monocle store. It's cozy, minimalist, and beautifully designed, with industrial lighting and Japanese-inspired oak furniture. Definitely a spot to check out if you're in the Sherlock Holmes area and needing a homely nook to grab a bite to eat and have a good chinwag, or - like the men sat at our neighbouring table - to actually make something of your life: 'Listen, this is how I do business', I overhear.

Instax/ polaroid of the Monocle Cafe The café offers a weird and wonderful selection of dishes: order Chicken Udon soup, a Beef or Shrimp Katsu sandwich, a Japanese or Scandinavian breakfast, Muesli, Taco Rice, Chicken Curry - the possibilities are endless! It is not cheap, but neither is anyone forcing you to down a home-brewed Mocha while chanting 'Chug, chug'.

 Under the recommendation of my friend Mingling, I ordered a Matcha Green Tea Hot Chocolate, creamy and topped with luminous-green whipped cream: nauseating in appearance but heavenly on the palette. I also devoured a grilled cheese. This was no run-of-the-mill grilled cheese, nor any bog-standard grilled cheese, but a great grilled cheese, nutty and tender, while crispy to the touch. Have I made myself clear?

We then went all-out and ordered a batch of French-come-Japanese macarons in a fusion of flavours: green tea, chocolate, vanilla, and black sesame. This, I think, is the joy of a good café. Four walls and a roof is what, but not all, they are: they can be portals to other places, other worlds, other cultures. Nestled in a corner with a coffee in hand, time becomes a vortex and the café a welcome escape from real-world stresses. When you find a space like this, you've found an office, a pit-stop, and a home from home. 

24 Hours in Florence

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dear Reader,

I hope that you someday have the good fortune to find yourself in Florence with 24 hours to kill. If luck and opportunity coincide to bring you this serendipitous fate, you need to be prepared. I have selflessly taken it upon myself to prepare you for any such eventuality. You're welcome. No, really. Oh, quit it - I'm blushing.

My mum grew up in Florence so we go back often, and she certainly comes in handy as our dedicated tour-guide. Florence is at once sprawling in its suburbs and gloriously compact; and let me tell you, this city never tires. The walled old town is pedestrianised and can be easily navigated by foot, but buses too are cheap and frequent. You could while away days wandering its back streets and winding alleys, but when time is of the essence, it can be covered in twenty-four hours. I'll leave the sightseeing to your Lonely Planet guide, but let me hold your hand through some lesser-known must-sees. 

Once you've seen the river and posed on the Ponte Vecchio, stop for a cheap and cheerful lunch in a traditional Italian canteen: the Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo. It's bang in the centre of town, minutes from the station and the famous Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Think Italian family kitchen meets school cafeteria. If you're looking for luxury dining then maybe think again, but I'd choose red gingham tables and a view of the busy Florentine streets any day.

'A sated stomach is always accommodating' - Buddha. Okay, I may have invented that last one, but you get my point: ice cream. Believe me when I say that it'll be worth dragging your food-baby to the Bar Vivoli. It's a five minute walk from Ristorante Leonardo, so you have no excuse. If the Roman gelateria Giolitti is notorious for serving the best ice cream in the world, then the Florentine Bar Vivoli surely comes second best. I'm sure their mothers think so, anyway

Head south of the river to the Oltrarno area to find the Piazza Santo Spirito, a quiet and leafy neighbourhood, unpretentious and free of tourists. Idle old men sit in the many cafés which line the square. Facing the piazza is the beautiful minimalist Basilica Santo Spirito, a 15th century Renaissance church with a vast sandy facade.

Just a few minutes walk away is the penultimate stop on our pilgrimage, an outrageously cheap shoe shop named 'Otipopse'. On my last trip to this sacred spot, I snagged a pair of desert boots for €15 euros. I know.

Finally we come to our last stop: the Boboli Gardens. If you're in town in high summer, find refuge from the sweaty madness of the Ponte Vecchio in the Gardens, an oasis of calm and quiet amid a sea of fake Ray-Bans and tourists yielding parasols. Climb the hill to reach a grassy plateau with an incredible view over the city: it's a lovely place to end your day as the sun goes down.

Florence, it was a pleasure. I can think of worse ways to spend 24 hours.


Spring-Summer Playlist

Monday, 1 June 2015

Looking like an absolute tool in a field of sunflowers
1.) 'Post Tropical' by JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW
2.) 'Stay With Me' by ANGUS & JULIA STONE
3.) 'Technicolour Beat' by OH WONDER
4.) 'Skinny Blues' by JEREMY LOOPS
5.) 'Cerf Volant' by LES CHORISTES
6.) 'Myth' by BEACH HOUSE
7.) 'Caught Me Thinkin' by BAHAMAS
8.) 'I Follow Rivers' by LYKKE LI
9.) 'Hot Scary Summer' by VILLAGERS
10.) 'Turning Back Around' by RHODES
11.) 'Flowers in Your Hair' by THE LUMINEERS
12.) 'Blue Skies' by NOAH AND THE WHALE
13.) 'Mykonos' by FLEET FOXES
14.) 'Boom Clap' by LENNON & MAISY
15.) 'Sprawl II' by ARCADE FIRE
Best enjoyed in a hammock, but sweaty public transport works too. You do you do, boo boo.
Click here to listen to the playlist on Spotify. Or here to listen to it on YouTube.

Happy June, and thank you for the lovely and overwhelming response to my previous post. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Antonio, and I hope it has set the ball rolling for many more interviews with young creatives. If you have any suggestions for talented folks whose work needs that #promo, let me know. All you spring-chickens who make stuff, get in touch! Look forward to plenty more exciting posts this summer, but in the meantime, have a good month.

Meet Antonio Perricone

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

On a drizzly Bank Holiday Saturday, I set off to the Southbank to meet Antonio Perricone, a seventeen year old A-level-student-come-photographer. We all take A-levels, but we don't all take photos like he does. We took shelter in the espresso bar of the National Theatre and ordered green and peppermint teas. I know, I know: how quaint. But spend idle days drinking herbal teas, he does not. Antonio had just finished an early morning shoot with up-and-coming musician Declan McKenna and was dashing around London, his camera as an extra limb. He lives out in the suburbs in Kent and 'wastes most of his money on train tickets'. 'Wait wait - let me finish this biscuit' he pleads, shoving more cookie into his mouth. What a diva!

A love/hate relationship with suburbia bleeds into all of his work: see empty tennis courts, rows of non-descript terraced houses, teens slumped on the curb. Antonio draws on pop culture's perpetual fascination with the suburbs: think Lorde ('We live in cities you'll never see on screen') and 'Palo Alto'. 'It's so overdone but so interesting. I love it - I love the suburbs', he says. I ask him whether he thinks his photography would have been different had he grown up in the city: 'Yeah, definitely. When I moved to Kent everything was quiet by 7pm... so you have to find your own things to do. And then you can appreciate how crap it is'. He captures his teenage subjects 'as they are: as teenagers' so keeps hair, make-up and post-production to a bare minimum. 'Unless they have, like, a massive spot on their forehead', he laughs.

Adolescence is that precious and monstrous limbo, still without real-world responsibility, but also without the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card of some earlier years. Antonio's photos capture this fleeting space. Expect portraits of teenage angst and rebellion and you'll be disappointed. Bored rather than rebellious and idle over angsty, his subjects do not fit the cliché, nor do his portraits either romanticise or demonise adolescence. Teenagehood is neither fantasy nor nightmare, but something of a daydream - short but sweet. Softly lit, with hazy neutral colours, his photos have a nostalgic, dreamy quality. I'll be interested to see how his work evolves over the coming years as he and his subjects mature.

I ask to see his cameras and he empties his bag onto the table: out fall a couple of books and a journal brimming with scribbles, collage, and drawings. We leave the café and cross Waterloo Bridge, dodging puddles and splashes from the passing cars. We whizz round the Somerset House Courtauld Gallery, Antonio like a puppy in a pet shop. After some probing, he sheepishly reveals that one of his photographs just-so-happened to be displayed in Somerset House last month, after he made it to the top 50 of 173,444 entries in the youth category of Sony World Photography Awards. Topping that, he is soon to be featured in The Sunday Times' Style Magazine. 

So what's the master plan? I ask. He plans to apply for English Literature at university in autumn, but says he might still take a gap year: 'Alexa Chung says she took a gap year and it became a gap life. So that's the goal!'. 'But yeah I'd like to get a degree', he hastens to add.
 'My big plan is just to be able to afford a house and create stuff', he explains. Give it a few years and he'll be doing just that.

Check out his portfolio: antonioperricone.com/portfolio
Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/antperricone
And of course on Facebook: facebook.com/antonioperricone
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