Dressed By Angels Exhibition

Think of the name Angels in relation to costumes, and your mind probably drifts to their warehouse of a shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, packed to the rafters with every possible variant of wig, fairy costume and face paint. However, Angels costumiers is a family business that has been around for 175 years, and in that time has dressed the most iconic figures in film, TV and theatre.

Detail – Adam Ant’s Hussar Jacket

New and comprehensive exhibition Dressed by Angels is currently running at The Old Truman Brewery, and will give you an incredible insight into the wide range of productions Angels has been involved in. You have the sense of walking through time as you wander from foggy Dickensian streets, to glittering royal dresses, to the poly-blend wonder of 70s sitcoms. Getting so close to garments you’ve only ever seen on screen is thrilling, and also allows you to examine the intricacy of the costumes in detail.

Centrepiece of the “Queens” Gallery – reproduction of QEII Coronation dress, designed by Sir Norman Hartnell

A must for film, TV and theatre fans, the exhibition is extremely well-curated. Room after room yields a sparkling and recognisable range of delights. I couldn’t stop myself gasping at every costume – ‘that’s Margot’s dress from The Good Life! And that’s Captain Mainwaring! IT’S INDIANA JONES!’ The entire exhibition is a joy, and it’s possible to lose yourself for hours in layers that tell you as much about the social history of the last few decades as well as the arts.

Assisting designers create the Dr Who costume look

Instagrammers take note: you may take photos as you go around as long as flashes remain off. However, it’s even better to put your phone away and just get fully immersed in costumes that are as reassuringly familiar to you as your own wardrobe. If you’ve seen ANY film or TV show in the last 50 years, chances are you’ll spot a costume from it here. Want to see Tom Baker’s Doctor Who scarf? Darth Vader? Sgt. Pepper’s? They’re all here.

Star Wars – costumes from The Empire Strikes Back

Dressed by Angels is one of the best costume exhibitions London has seen in a while, and the best possible way for any arts lover to spend the afternoon. Tickets are available through the exhibition website, and drop them a tweet at @DressedbyAngels.

benedict

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Kingsman: The Secret Service Tweetalong Party

One of my favourite films of the last year is about to come out on DVD & Blu-Ray, and I’m very excited to be celebrating the release by taking part in a tweetalong party this Sunday at 6pm! Twentieth Century Fox are releasing Kingsman: The Secret Service on Digital HD on 24th May, and on DVD on the 8th June.

Kingsman was a bit of an unexpected gem, featuring a breakthrough central performance from Taron Egerton, and Colin Firth as you’ve never seen him before. I’ve sold this film to friends purely on the merit of saying ‘yeah, but don’t you want to see Mr Darcy kicking someone’s ass?’ Of course you do, you’re not INSANE. There’s also a glorious set piece that plays out to KC and The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’, rivaling only the slow-mo rescue scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past in my affections.

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I’m going to be tweeting along (from Amsterdam, yo! That’s how much I love this flipping film), with the help of my Kingsman swag bag thanks to the terrific guys at Fox. I am now the proud owner of a stuffed pug (he’ll grow into a bulldog, right?!) and a gun shaped ice cube tray. It’s the perfect spot of Bank Holiday fun.

You can also join the party by watching the film from 6pm onwards, following @KingsmanUK on Twitter, and using the #KingsmanDigitalHD hashtag. There’ll be giveaways on the night, so it would be silly not to get stuck in.

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Vegetarian Pho with Courgette Noodles

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I had to practically sit on my hands not to do a punny title, because ‘pho’ is a total gift to those with a love of terrible puns. If you read it as written, you’ve got classics such as ‘pho my god’, ‘pho way’ etc. If you go pho-netically with ‘fuh’, you can go down an enjoyably unsavoury avenue.

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Anyway. The point is, I really love pho, but it can be hard to find a decent vegetarian option. When Nam on Old Compton Street closed for good last year, I also closed my heart to a decent bowl of veggie pho. I traipsed hopefully to other Soho Pho (Sopho) establishments, but none of them hit the spot. Also, I frittered away all my cash on Christmas presents, so homemade (phomemade? I’m really sorry, I can’t stop) was the way to go.

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I found the process of making the broth extremely soothing. Something about cooking this kind of food feels like it’s good for your soul. I recommend gathering and prepping all your ingredients in advance in a nice orderly way, and keeping counters clear for full relaxing benefits. I swapped in courgette for the noodle part, because I’m on a ludicrously cliched January health kick, but you should do as you wish. I was also going to boil an egg and pop it in too, but I decided against it, but the egg still snuck into the photos.

Forgive the slightly rubbish pics, my DSLR is in Sussex, so these are phone photos! Pho-tos. image3

For the Broth
1 white onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 litre vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp soy sauce

For the Noodles
1 courgette
1 Portobello mushroom
1/2 red pepper
1 tbsp butter

Garnish
Bean sprouts
Mint/Thai basil
Chili
Lime

1. Heat the onion, garlic and spices in a dry pan over a medium-high heat until the veg begins to char.

2. Add stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and heat on medium-low for 25 minutes.

3. Spiralize the courgette, dry it and salt it, then pan fry in a little butter until it begins to soften. Place in your serving bowl, along with the sliced red pepper.

4. Slice the Portobello mushroom and pan fry in the courgette pan with leftover butter until it softens, then add to the noodle bowl.

5. Strain the broth then pour it over the top of the noodles, before serving with the plate of garnishes.

Red Lips

Spotted an interesting bit in The Times Magazine earlier today, written by Sarah Vine, discussing red lipstick. She is of the opinion that red is frightfully unappealing to the male gender, largely because of the ephemera it leaves behind: marks on glasses and bread rolls. I personally never attempt eating a bread roll on a date, so I couldn’t possibly comment as to this, but it would appear Ms Vine is unaware of the existence of Lipcote. Her other source of ire relating to the red stuff is the fact that it gets all clogged up and makes lips look dry. Vine is convinced that men find the whole look rather repellent, and that they would much prefer some sort of berryish stain or gentle gloss on the lips.

My response? I don’t give a fig. Red lipstick is my armour. It doesn’t go on every day, but when it does, it gives me power. It’s like my energy store. I wear red lipstick precisely for the reasons Vine is unhappy about: because it makes me untouchable. Red lipstick turns me into a fetishist. It dictates my entire evening – what I eat, what I drink. The masochist in me enjoys that hugely. Tightly, rigidly controlled. Treading a certain path. It’s the same, slightly sick, joy I get from wearing insanely high heels. I am trapped, unable to run, stuck on one course.

And of course, the most wonderful part is the message it sends out to your male companion, whether they know it or not. When I go out in my red lipstick, I am saying ‘you won’t be kissing me tonight. I have decided that. You have no say in the matter’. The simple matter of a choice of one cosmetic represents an entire power struggle, a quiet coursing of electricity, of dashed possibility and unattainable promise.

Red lipstick says that I am self-contained. Red lipstick says I am selfish, only thinking of myself, to hell with anyone else. It says I am fearless and that I am not yours, not tonight. It says that you may look at me but not touch me. So in a way, I suppose I agree with Vine in that sense – that men may subconsciously find the stuff uninviting. And what? Who says that I wish to go around with inviting lips, hmm?

If I wear my red lipstick to a party when I am already attached, it is a reassurance, a tiny devotion to my chap, because it says ‘I simply won’t be physically able to kiss anyone else apart from you, whether I should want to or not’. When I return home and divest myself of the stuff, and stand before you, bare lipped, you know I am available to you. And that I am vulnerable again, girl not woman.

So that is my argument for red lips. Any fool can go out with a bit of strawberry coloured lip balm on, but it takes a true artist to go out in red. After all, lip gloss has never been iconic. And there is a reason the Dali sofa, inspired by Mae West’s lips, is red.

Fit or fad? Tracy Anderson

I’ve been meaning to do a review of Tracy Anderson and her workout DVDs for ages, but I wanted to wait until I’d been doing it for a bit longer than two days before talking about it! I’ve been doing a combination of her Mat Workout, Total Cardio and Dance Cardio DVDs for three weeks now, so I thought I’d do a bit of a check in, in case anyone is interested in trying Tracy out.

Tracy Anderson seems to be an extraordinarily controversial figure (literally!) in the fitness world. Those who like her worship her with an almost cult-like fervour, while her doubters think she’s some sort of spawn of Satan. It’s difficult to find unbiased reviews. The attention is hugely on Tracy Anderson as a person, as opposed to her method. Anyway, so far, I’ve found her method to be extremely effective and with quick results. It’s tough, and certainly not to everybody’s taste. I’m going to walk you through the positives and negatives of what I’ve found so far. The things that I like might be things you’d hate, but it’ll at least leave you better informed.

The Good

  • I like Tracy Anderson. She’s a welcome contrast from all fitness instructors with rictus smiles, grinning like they’re having THE BEST TIME EVER working out. Tracy just gets on with the workout. Sometimes she gives a tiny smile when she’s doing a particularly difficult move, but that’s it.
  • People have criticised her for having perfectly waved hair and nice workout outfits, but this is another thing I like. She doesn’t look like a scruff in a tracksuit, but she equally doesn’t look like some of those awful girls in legwarmers and leotards who do those Ministry of Sound workouts.
  • For the Mat workout and the Dance Cardio, Tracy has no back up dancers/exercisers. I love this, because I never see the point of having other people doing the workout on screen.
  • Somehow, it seems to be the perfect toughness for me. You do a certain amount of reps, and just as you’re getting tired, Tracy suddenly changes the angle and you’re working a different muscle.
  • She doesn’t burble on! This, again, is something she’s been picked up on. People say she’s a ‘terrible teacher’, and that it feels like invading her own ‘personal performance’. Well, I love it. I learn by watching, not by listening. Tracy wants you to do these DVDs 5-6 times a week, and seriously – if you had to keep hearing the same patter over and over, you’d go mad.
  • I’ve seen results insanely quickly. In just over two weeks, I’ve lost about 5 ½ lbs. That in itself is good, but actually, it’s the inch loss and body reshaping I’m most excited about. I think I’d lost something insane like 4 inches overall in that short time, which shows I’m not just losing water weight. I can really see a difference in my thighs, stomach and arms. I’ve NEVER been able to do much about my thighs, so this is pretty miraculous in itself.
  • I like Tracy’s philosophy. I love the fact that she wants to help you attain a feminine shape instead of what she calls ‘the typical shape seen in women’s fitness’; i.e. bulked up muscular arms, solid thighs, a six pack. This suits me down to the ground: I’ve often been told by people that I’m ‘slim but with curves’, and I didn’t want to wreck the lines of my body with bulky muscles. She doesn’t want you lifting more than 3lbs, and again, I love this. She gets you to do a lot of reps from different angles, so really pulling in the ‘accessory muscles’, meaning your arms get thinner as opposed to more muscular. This is precisely what I want, but I know some girls will recoil in horror at that. Each to their own, I say.
  • The Dance Cardio and Total Cardio DVDs are tricky to learn. Each features a handful of ‘combinations’, and there is absolutely no way you can just pop it in and learn it all in the first go. You actually have to work on it; which means breaking it right down and learning one routine at a time. I learn one then practice it over and over again, to my own music. This is GREAT for me, as it reminds me of when I danced. I used to love doing routines over and over again, learning them inside out. It also means you get so much mileage out of her DVDs. You don’t just watch them a couple of times, you could be learning new stuff for months.
  • Tracy pouts a lot. People seem to hate this. I’m a pouter myself, and having watched myself workout in the mirror this morning, I am definitely doing a Tracy Anderson approved frowny pout. Be proud, fellow pouters!
  • For the Dance Cardio DVD, you can choose to watch the routines from the back or from the front. That means you don’t have to watch it and keep mirroring her moves! You can just breeze through.

The Bad

  • The diet element. Tracy claims that she ‘can’t guarantee any results’ unless you’re following her diet plan too. This diet plan advocates things like pureed spinach as lunch, bans things like oils and spices, and has been estimated to provide 700 calories a day. This is pretty obscene considering you might be burning 600 calories a day from the two hours of working out she wants you to do. 700 calories means that your body is well and truly in starvation mode, and when you come crashing off the Tracy method (as you inevitably will), you’re going to pile on the pounds. I personally follow my own sensible diet. I refuse to go under 1200 calories. I’ve got ‘form’ when it comes to disordered eating, and I know that 700 cals per day will spell disaster for me.
  • Ouch! My knees! Tracy’s cardio is seriously hard on the joints. In the last week, I’ve been lying in bed at night, my knees absolutely aching. I do her workouts in proper dance trainers, which minimise the shock to my joints, so the fact that they STILL hurt is worrying. Her routines involve a seriously crazy amount of jumping. I’m still working on my stamina, so I tend to ‘mark through’ the routines a lot, and tone it down. If you’re above a certain weight or age, this is going to wreck you. I’m continuing because my body used to be fine with all this stuff, back in the days of dance and physical theatre, so I know I’ll adapt eventually.
  • Excuse me? I do a jumping jack and then WHAT? The routines are seriously, seriously complicated. Professional dancers have stated that they can’t follow them. The part of my brain that can learn routines is kicking back in, but slowly. For now, I just take them apart and keep repeating them over and over. If you don’t have the patience for this and just want to do a routine and forget about it, don’t buy these. She also sometimes seems to change moves slightly when she switches from learning the routine to performing it. Wowza.
  • The time it takes: Tracy wants you to work out for two hours a day. As I’m working from home right now, I can fit this round my day. If you go out to work or you have kids, good luck. It’s not a forgiving schedule.

So ultimately, I dig her controversial philosophy, I love the workouts, I like Tracy, and the results for me have spoken for themselves. And sure – of course you’d see results from any workout you were doing this much, but I really believe that Tracy’s routines are giving me the shape I want. They’re right for my needs at the moment. HOWEVER, some of the negatives could be pretty insurmountable. If you’ve got a history of injury, steer clear. If you’ve had an eating disorder, stay awaaaay from the diet plan. Actually, everybody should stay away from the diet plan. If you’re pushed for time, don’t bother. If your brain isn’t quick to pick up dance routines, run away screaming.

If you’re still interested, find Tracy’s DVDs on Amazon or Ebay. If you’ve got Lovefilm, they’re also on there, and I think that’s the perfect way to try before you buy. Likewise, pop her name into Youtube and you’ll find examples of her routines. Let me know how you get on!

This is England?

When I sat around, idly planning my next blog post revolving around the ideas of positivity and happiness, I had no idea that something else entirely would grab my attention today. I’d been aware of a background buzz centring around the riots that have recently hit London for the past couple of days, but being almost religious in my spurning of news (delicate temperament, I tend to get too upset/worried to stay well informed) I hadn’t realised quite how bad things had got.

So it was with utter horror that I sat up last night, Monday 8th August 2011, unable to sleep and turning from Sky News to BBC news to Twitter to Facebook and back again. This wasn’t some far away happening that I could shake my head at, but ultimately return to my every day business. Everywhere I looked, I saw either video footage of somewhere I knew, or friends who were cowering in their flats, watching as streets blazed and swarmed around them.

This was, is, our London. Our beautiful, buzzing capital. Our history, our core, where epic events happen alongside the more banal, but where everybody has a place. I think what has been most disturbing is that this is us. This isn’t some attack by outside forces, something we can rail against. This is a country turning on itself, and that is what’s most terrifying – certainly from my perspective. Why are we proving ourselves utterly unworthy, as a country? We’re still at a low ebb in terms of the economy and employment. This is something else entirely. Turning in on ourselves, kids, actual KIDS out there. And women! People on the streets last night were describing around a 40/60 male/female split. I say ‘we’ as if we are all complicit, when of course it’s a small percentage of people who are affecting this, a ‘they’, not an ‘us’.

What’s possibly even scarier is that we have no idea what this is about. What are any of these people arguing against? I find it alarming beyond belief that this has just sprung up, growing exponentially, with no just cause (as if there could be a ‘just’ cause for any of this.) The rioting grew to looting, to burning. I watched and listened as Croydon was hit, and while Reeves’ furniture store still burned, Clapham began to swarm too, then the next fire, the next lot of looting, and then along to Ealing.

I don’t trust my own opinions enough to comment on what should be done to these people, or to try and unpick why they are doing this. I don’t even really think the ‘why’ is in question, I think what we should question is ‘how’. How was last night the third night? How has this been allowed to happen? And then ‘what’ – what will happen tonight? There has been nothing so far to discourage any of these people. What reason at all is there for them to stop? I hardly think Cameron’s few placatory words to the nation will deter any of them, despite the fact that some looters are probably watching him in high definition on their new 60” televisions.

We have woken up today a damaged nation. We were fragile before, but now we’re almost broken. And yes, while the rioters are only a small percentage of our country, what’s happening to the remaining percentage, the observers? Some are already making jokes. Some are already moving on. Some are getting angry, getting militant, railing against the government and the police.

Some, however, are being positive. More than some – with #riotcleanup trending on Twitter, and helpers filling the streets to start untangling some of this mess, there is hope. A little bit of what the Daily Mail will probably call ‘Blitz spirit’ is rising up. We are Britain. We should not have to stand for this. While we can’t fight back, we must do what we can to patch things up.

While we’ve seen the bad side of social networking, as Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry messenger were all used for the worst possible reasons, today they are being used to spread the word about cleaning up, to take stock, and to ensure our loved ones are safe and sound. We’ve been through wars, IRA bombings, the 7/7 bombings…we cannot crumble in the ugly face of some of our own. If you can, please check out http://www.riotcleanup.co.uk. Please go and join the force for good. Please stay safe. Please don’t lose faith in our country.

I’ll give the final word to The Clash:

This is England
What we’re supposed to die for
This is England
And we’re never gonna cry no more

Those British boots go kick him,
Kick him in the head
Police sit watchin’
The newspapers been read
Who cares to protest
After the attacker fled
Out came the batons and
The British warned themselves

This is England
The land of illegal dances
This is England
Land of a thousand stances
This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel
This is England
This is England

Crikey on a bikey….

Oh look! What did I promise to do? Keep up with this blog, and keep doing projects. What did I say I wouldn’t do? Just tail off the minute I got busy. And this is exactly what I’ve done. Three weeks into my lovely new job, and I’ve done bugger all for this blog, and in turn, for anyone else.

So, as next week’ll be my fourth week of settling in, I think that’s perfectly enough time to be thinking about myself, so next weekend I’ll be making a concerted effort to get back on the blog. I’ll keep you posted!