Friday, May 29, 2009

Cycle of decline

Regular readers of this blog might readily believe that I would go to the ends of the earth for a great pair of shoes; would you swallow, though, that I would cycle for 30 minutes just to find a shop that sells a top with a great name which I saw in a magazine? Unluckily, they were sold out in my size (phoning ahead might have been good planning, but recklessness of thought and deed was my watchword today) and in any case, it was an A$180 top that, though lovely, was in no way necessary.

The 30 minute cycle ride was to Paddington; the shop, Bracewell; the top is pictured here (click on 7 under "Queens of the Speedway"; it's the purple one for preference although there's also a rather unappealing Dijon mustard hue), and the name, HARLOT YES BUT TRAITOR NEVER, allegedly the last words spoken by Mata Hari.

Take it to the bank

John Lanchester writes a book review in the New Yorker (of three recent books about the reasons for the current financial crisis, all of which sound well worth reading: Gillian Tett, Fool's Gold; Richard A. Posner, A Failure of Capitalism; and Shiller and Akerlof, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, although you may feel that just reading the excessively long title of the latter is sufficient). The book review itself is a model of clarity for those like me who find the wall of terminology deployed in banking frustrating and incomprehensible (it always seemed to me that obscure coinages and "in-talk" were as much of a self-protection methodology for financiers as they are for lawyers, mutatis mutandis: if no one understands what we're talking about, somehow that will really impress them, and not only that, our language will be a barrier to entry).

Lanchester writes: "At its heart, banking is a simple business. Customers deposit money at a bank, in return for interest; the bank lends that money to other people, at a higher rate of interest. This isn’t glamorous or interesting, but banking is not supposed to resemble skydiving or hip-hop; what recommends it is that it’s a good way of making steady money (and of creating credit in the economy), as long as the bank is careful about whom it lends money to."

But in banking, unlike the law, it's all about the short term (quoting Posner, who incidentally is a judge and legal academic): "The greater the gains are from taking risks that enable very high short-term profits, and the better cushioned the executive is by his severance package against the cost of losing his job, the more risks he rationally will take".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Track record

I've always loved trains, above all other forms of transportation. One of my earliest memories is of being taken on a steam train journey in Devon and I still remember the excitement and mystery of it. Once I attempted to create some new memories for my little sisters, then aged 6 and 8, by taking them to Glasgow with me on the train; although it's a much more prosaic journey, something about racing along the tracks, looking out of the windows as the landscape flies past, even buying a coffee from the trolley, serves in some small way to deliver a fraction of the experience of Robert Powell in The 39 Steps, all the Agatha Christie novels I tore through, Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, and the beginning of Stardust Memories.

Sydney's trains are double-deckers, with excellent, practical green leather seats kitted out with a middle section that converts from one side to another so you can change the direction you're facing in (an important consideration for me because my travel-sickness is exacerbated by facing backwards) and shiny fittings glinting in the light. The windows are scratched to hell and the interiors are dim; it's not the Trans-Siberian Express, but I'm completely satisfied.

Rural dalek

I found this dalek lurking by the postbox at the bottom of a driveway in Lawson, a little town in the Blue Mountains north of Sydney. With his plunger on the right hand and egg whisk on the other, he seemed rather benign, but I didn't chance it by going any closer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A taste of history

Lasagne recipe from my mother's kitchen. c.1966 and still going strong. Recipe © Marg Hall 2009 (and Good Housekeeping? 1966?)

Friday, May 15, 2009


Joanna Vanderpuije, a Central St Martin's graduate, has just produced her first collection and it's beautiful.

Perhaps it's the spare, elegant aesthetic of the photographs that contributes to the impact: these are clothes you'd be proud and excited to wear.

As Alber Elbaz says in a recent interview (and it's worth reading: he's such a likeable character, with his insecurity about his weight and his preference for sandwiches over avant garde cuisine): "A good shoe or a good dress does something to you. It's not just about fashion victims. It really does do something for all women".

All photos ©2009 Jaime de Almeida.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


For the first time since my working life began in 1992, I have six weeks off. Six weeks to do nothing, or something. In the middle of the first week, I am still fighting off the urge to be doing something: get up, get out, tick things off, you'll run out of time... the shape of the day with nothing mandatory in it is strange and a little intimidating. I cycle to a cafe where I read the paper outside in Sydney's winter sunshine. I had my hair cut. I go to the gym. I play Scrabble on Facebook. I have felt oddly reluctant to write my blog. I took my camera (an excellent Nikon D80, kindly lent to me by one of my clients) to the park and took hundreds of close-ups of spiky birdlike flowers; I stalked the unwary on street corners to take pictures of the casual grace of pedestrians waiting for the green man. Other than brief conversations with the man who sells me coffee or those people who seem to like to stop and talk to me when I have my camera in front of my face, I hardly speak to anyone all day. It all adds up to not very much, but I think I will get used to it. When I come back, perhaps I won't be able to say what I did with my time, except that, trite though it sounds, I am learning how to relax about not having anything to do.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Photo credit

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Summer nightmares

Evidence of the atrocities perpetrated on the helpless in Hong Kong: