10p for a pimple

July 9th, 2008

Time to refill the supplies. I was shopping in Sainsbury’s (big UK grocery chain for those that don’t know) the other day, replenishing my stock of nourishing goods when I remembered that I was out of shower gel. Off to the toiletries aisle to find some glossy sheen. Broken down into sections I found the “Men’s” section. Simple shower gel is all I wanted, but the sheer choice is daunting, every configuration, scent, and colour on display in a wide range of prices. The demographics of placement of goods on shelves are simple, the lower you go the cheaper you get. The poor, stooped in our posture as it is, always look down, could be a dollar down there. You can tell the class of the shopper simply by head posture, posh looks up, down-trodden looks down.

I scoured the shelves in search of some glittery gel to polish myself up with. I had settled on a manly looking bottle of “faux Caribbean splendour” when my eyes discovered the jackpot. At the very bottom of the shelves, mere millimetres above the dingy floor, was an entire section of 10pence shower gels, Sainsbury’s own! 10p for shower gel, how is it possible that the gel can be made, put in a container, and sold for only 10p? I was sceptical, not to mention somewhat leery of the institutional-green color of the stuff, so I turned it around the read the ingredients. Now I am not a scientist but 95% of the ingredients do not register in my head as being pronounceable words. But nonetheless a deal is a deal, it’s fun to be a guinea pig sometimes anyways, and if it was no good I could always throw it away right?

Heading home, I hopped into the shower to try out my new SUPER stuff. Container flipped over, lid open I squeezed out some slime, only for it to squeeze right back in again, a little shy are we? This was some strong, thick stuff, fix a ceiling leak perhaps? Overcoming the nuances of use (how does something so cheap afford nuance?) I eventually figured out how to get it out and lather with it. It was pretty goby all-right, but hey, 10p remember?

End of shower I was satisfied enough with it that I decided to spread the gospel of the 10p shower gel. We’re in a credit crunch, time to save our pennies and cut back, I’m just being a savvy frugal-ist. So impressed at what I was getting for 10p that anyone coming into my path was up for a green stuff sales pitch. Sceptical eyes abounded, but hey it works, look how shiny I am, here, smell me, no really, don’t be shy. And so it was that I went on using the gel for a few weeks. Then came the punch line, me!

 At the gym doing some standing squats, I looked at my femur (lower leg, come-on now people!) and there was this strange red mark. I must have cut myself I concluded, an itchy cut mind you. Workout done it was time to examine my blemish. A cut you say? T’was not a cut at all, it was a pimple! A bright glowing pimple, on my leg! Who gets pimples on their legs? Contagious for sure for over the next few days, the pimple brigade began to spread, but only to curious places. My bicep, my chest, my forearms and my inner ear! Yes, inside my right ear was a bright red pimple.

Woe is me, after careful self deliberation I came to the only logical conclusion, I had paid 10p for a pimple growing serum. With none of the benefits but all the side effects of a cycle of Steroids, I abandoned my miracle 10p “stuff”. I now stand pimpled declaring, 10p shower gel, sure it exists, but do not under ANY circumstance go near it. Defy the experts, pay through the nose and get some REAL shower gel, your pimple free leg will thanks you greatly. You’ll have to excuse me now; it’s time to drain my ear!

Pimple of the leg

Lou Reed is a curmudgeon

July 4th, 2008

Lou Reed you old curmudgeon. So it was, a week ago, that I found myself in a great theatre in Mayfair, the Mayfair Curzon to be exact. The event was a screening of the new Julian Schnabel film “Berlin” which is essentially a documentary of Lou Reed performing his Berlin album in its entirety in St. Ann’s warehouse, New York City, in 2006. This album, Berlin, has taken on mythical proportions since its release over 30 years ago. A complete commercial failure, it was a tough act to follow Reed’s monumental work “Transformer” and sadly Berlin crumbled under the pressure.

Such was the negative reception of this concept album that it had never been performed, held in perpetual limbo, forgotten perhaps, discarded to be forever relegated to the sales bins of the unloved. The idea behind the album was the story of a variety of characters that all interact over the course of the album. Appearing, leaving, re-emerging later on. This was not an album with a few choice cuts, the idea was to listen to it in its entirety, at least if one desired to fully grasp the concept.

The film Berlin was well made, with hand held footage mingling with static conventional shots. An elaborately decorated stage, projections created by Schnabel’s daughter were shown over top of the musicians while they played. Basically the visuals were supposed to represent the words, with both important for the overall show.

Now the work was good, well put together, but it was slightly too long, with some songs seeming to drag on and on, musicians getting their glories on stage perhaps? But after containing these notes and nouns for over 30 years, a few extra minutes to savour them wouldn’t hurt the audience now would it?

At the close of the film, lights came up and some charmless British rock journalist took to the stage to act as questioner of the great one. Calling upon his interrogatee, Lou Reed arose, from the audience where he had apparently been sitting the entire show. Watching him rise, I expected him to keep getting up, but alas, Lou Reed is small, such is the way with icons, they’re much smaller, and lifelike in person. And so to the stage he took, not in some exaggerated Warhol inspired getup, but a simple white top, jeans and trainers, Nike’s to be exact. We want the underground, but we’re getting the suburbs. Slightly stooped and rambling, I expect that the effects of alcohol consumption could be blamed.

Over the course of some 45 minutes Lou Reed discussed Berlin “I had never been to the city when I wrote it, the city was just a metaphor for the album, divided…”; discussed mp3’s “…those who don’t care about sonic quality can have their mp3’s…. studies have shown that people only really download 1 track anyways…”; and all the details worth noting (note: he would only discuss Berlin, anything unrelated was not allowed) that are Lou Reed. The moderator then read off questions that audience members had written down on cue cards (so to remove the possibility of spontaneous disaster). Fan questions for the most part, they were what you wanted to ask but didn’t want to ask for fear of seeming slightly uncouth. The highlight of the question period came when Lou Reed had an audience member ejected. The constant heckling from a seat in the back became too much and Lou Reed proclaimed “Jesus Fucking Christ, can’t you just shut up? Can someone throw him out of here?”. Which did proceed to occur. The offender was a middle-aged man with a Mohawk; he wanted attention more than anything.

At precisely 45 minutes, the question period was finished, and everyone clapped. Little time for an encore, Lou quickly exited the stage, not through the audience this time, his cover was blown. Off to practice no doubt, as he had a few nights of performing Berlin to Londonites still to go. An enjoyable experience all in all, it’s always nice to see the icon’s of the world in the flesh to help remind us that while their work may be monumental, the creator themselves is only human, for big or for small…

Lou Reed Berlin

Ye Old Art Salon

June 26th, 2008

Culture beckons us on. So it was that we were called to the Royal Academy of Arts to view the Summer exhibition. Not just any exhibition however, but an old school “Salon” style display of a vast array of artwork, all placed side by side, up and down the ancient walls (floor included) of the Royal Academy of Arts building.

The upper floor has been installed in the manner of an old time salon, akin to 19th century Paris. Room after room after room, art is revealed. Not only to be admired however, all this work is for sale, purchasable for those with deep enough pockets. The ethos of this exhibition is that anyone can submit work, which is then judged by a jury and choices for inclusions are made. This makes for a democratic showcase (though one believes that nepotism must still hover over choices, this is the art world after all). Artists such as Damien Hirst, Quentin Blake and RB Kitaj lay next to relative unknown artists. Each piece is labelled simply with a number, which mandates the viewer locate the work within the guidebook that is given with paid admission. A wonderful idea, the work must stand on its’ own merits, not on the noble legs of its revered creator(s).

Hunt and peck, see a work, admire it, see who has created it, and see how much it costs. It staggers the mind that some of the most awful work is the most expensive, while some of the more unique, charming pieces are quite affordable. In my wanderings I found work ranging from $105,000 to a mere $150 and the gamete runs right between. There were things I would have gladly handed money over for, had I had some to spare, though the $105,000 piece, entitled “Skull” which was enormous in both price and dimensions, seemed to defy logic, unable to justify its price. Made of coal and acrylic rather than blood, sweat and tears, the lack of bodily fluids as art material meant that the price seemed over inflated.

Each room is curated and themed by one individual, with sculpture, conventional oil paintings, prints, architecture and “the extreme” all being represented. The most comical, un-intentionally, is the extreme room. Curated by Tracy Emin, the goal seems to be to shock the viewer. However, shocking doesn’t get any more conventional then a sculpture composed of 25 dildos formed into the shape of a head, or a video loop of a naked woman’s torso gyrating with a barbed hula hoop. So un-shocking is this room that as I stood trying to grasp the room as a whole, two elderly women stood behind me discussing the penis sculpture with as much outrage as they would discuss a vase full of dandelions.

The show is well put together though, and really gives the viewer a window into the current state of “modern” art. Sadly it seems that modernity has been stuck in place for quite some time. Work was good but as to be expected. Perhaps the lack of innovation will push the wheels of change in motion and set the art world on course for a new movement. There are enough penis sculptures out there to last an eternity, a little taste with the extreme for a change?

Ye Old Art Salon

Tastey London

June 22nd, 2008

They’ve rolled out the purple carpet, purple being the color reserved for royalty. Every year in London, to the delight of foodies everywhere, Regent’s Park hosts “Taste of London”. A dazzling affair full of scrumptious food and drink from the top restaurants/ suppliers of London. A real razzle dazzle carnival, full of stumbling guests satisfied well past the point of excess.

Good fortune raining down, I was given an admission ticket, a $21 value that would have otherwise been a tad steep in my frugal mind. The price of admission itself declares who this event is for (hint, those NOT looking for a free lunch). Some 10 staff members were waiting in the forested galley way, to make sure that we were all headed in the right direction; this was going to be something.

I was sceptical entering as one had to purchase “crowns” to buy anything in this arena of gastro-power. Running at $10 for 20 crowns, and most things costing 8-10, it was going to be an expensive affair. The goal however was to cruise through and garner initial impressions before surrendering my hard earned cash. Fearing that I would be either hungry or poor, neither was true!

Free samples were omnipresent. Wine, chocolate, ice cream, beer, decedent dessert pieces and gourmet tea. My hands were full all day long, from Popcorn tea (truly did taste of popcorn from the toasted rice that was part of its anatomy) to ginger encased in dark, rich 73% pure chocolate. So much wine was being tasted in fact that I began to do the swirl and spit, which was fine for my head, but not so fine for logistics. Astonishingly very few of the wine merchants had any spittoons, quite shocking for an event of this calibre. I resorted to swigging the wine then running looking for garbage pails. I can only imagine what was running through the heads of those looking on as I bent over a pail with great gushes of red stuff spilling forth from my lips. Alas, most people were too rosy to probably even notice.

We had made a few laps of the stalls, just to make sure that nothing had been missed, when the call came. At precisely 4pm, 1600 hours international time came the call over the PA system, “We will ask that all guests make their way towards the exits now, the afternoon session is now finished”. It seems that $21 only gained entry into one of the 2 daily sessions, and at the appointed time everyone was kicked out! Being such a well mannered country, everyone picked up their things (themselves in certain cases), and did in fact make their way to the exits and then out. Well done my sons and daughters.

Taste of London 2008 was indeed a good experience, at least for a partial free loader like me. Though I must admit that had I paid $21 I perhaps would have been less enchanted, at any rate the wine and chocolate was good, the cheese not bad either!

London Taste2London Taste1

Blurry Eyed

June 19th, 2008

So there I was blurry eyed and heeding to the call of nature. There’s always a point midway through my glorious slumerfests that I awake, unsure as to the reason. After careful consideration, and ruling out every other possibility I always come to the same conclusion, I must meet nature head on. So there I was emptying the bladder, at 5 in the morning (these watering breaks are never at a convenient time). The sun rises early in the UK, by 4:30 it’s as light outside as midday and the body is ready to go. Finishing my deed I went and washed my hands, hygiene is next to godliness they say; though for me it’s just an assurance that I’m not carrying any dribbles. At any rate, hovering over the sink, hands under water I made the mistake of looking up. There I was, face to face with myself. Shocking! When did a man get so old looking anyways? Now granted, no-one really looks good at 5 am, and if you do, the question then becomes why?

Aging is part of the game of life, unavoidable; it’s coming on strong daily. Every moment we creep on just a little bit more. The changes really are so subtle that our daily exposure to ourselves keeps the nuances of change under wraps. But for whatever reason, on this particular occasion it was quite shocking. The gray is starting to creep on, strand by strand, I like to think it makes me more distinguished looking, yet once it gets hold there’s no reversing direction.

The maturing process is all about accepting things, finding some sanctity within them and moving on. We’re all going through this process, friends, peers, family and everyone in between. This is one of the glorious aspects of Facebook, you can check out how everyone else is dealing with their own battle. A little voyeurism is good, there’s always someone doing a whole lot worse than you.

So there I was 5 am, staring at the gray, at the crevasses which were staring right back at me. At 5 am there is nothing on your mind save for the desire to get it back into wondrous dreamland. Thus when a conscious thought creeps in, there’s nothing to block it out and help you forget this man in the mirror, very unagreeable at this ungodly hour, so I did the best I could, turned my back on him! Crawling back into bed, I tossed and turned as I did a quick life review. Somewhere in all those twists and turns I gave myself this roadmap of lines that I was now adorned with. Freak-out at 5am, Yoga breathing to the rescue. Slowly I faded away into slumber, quickly falling into a dream about being 24 again, and then the nightmares began! Ah yes, 24, this is why I have all these lines! Smile on my face I sidestepped the woe and got back to business, because I need my beauty sleep more than ever!

Tired Eyes

Words from the Battlefront

June 17th, 2008

There quite simply is too much to read. Over here in the capitol there is a plethora of high quality news papers to expand the mind and capture the eye. The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail. These are the top shelf examples, more glossy raggish examples abound for a little lighter fair. Such is the competition that the news, both local and international, lifestyle articles, extensive travel sections and worker insider sections are not enough to entice readers. Instead extras are given to push the buyer into a specific direction. Now when I say extras, I don’t just mean television guides and a monthly magazine, nigh nigh my friends we’re talking about movies, books, maps, calendars, biographies of poets (and a poster of the periodic tables that adorns one of our walls)!.

How to cope when faced with the choice of a paper that includes a free copy of La Dolce Vita or another that includes a book about “how to photograph everything!”? Surely cost must be prohibitive, it did cost a few millions to film La Dolce Vita after all, surely a few dollars are being passed along the line in the form of newspaper cost for the buyer. But no my sceptics, the average price of good quality paper is about $1.40 (in pounds of course) which amounts to the price of a week espresso. Choice, a single glorious shot of caffeine or days and days of cultured words and captivating stories. Price being so utterly reasonable that my dear and I have been known to acquire some 3 to 4 papers a day on any given Saturday. Throw in a Sunday and we’ve got some serious reading to do, and this is the crux of the problem.

Stack upon stack of newsprint, we enter the garden room and the smell of printed paper saturates the nose, open eyes or not, there is no way to escape the call of duty. Minute by minute the stories get older, yet so specific are the sections within these grand pages, that save for the front page and sports, the articles are relevant for a good 4 weeks (6 to 8 during our slow reading weeks). Within our grand garden room lay stacks and stacks of papers all calling out, begging to have their pages caressed. A lot of pressure to come home to, even with the lights off in pitch darkness the distinct aroma whines.

Where in London have I been? My trail of discarded sections from various papers lays the trail. 3 sections a day seems to be the quota I’ve set for myself, a humble manageable quota, as long as I don’t take my eyes off of the page. All over the trains of the London tube lay words I’ve read and cast aside. You would think with all this reading that I would be significantly more cultured that I began, but readers I can’t seem to remember a dam thing! Not true, but it’s such a blur that I’ve got a pastiche going on in my brain that probably bears little resemblance to the origins of the information.

At any rate we trudge on, trying to keep the piles at bay. So much to do so little time, innocent little words they seem, until they gang up on you, and beat you into submission! Send in some reinforcements, because there’s a war going on.

News by hand News Surrounds

Dearest Colchester

June 15th, 2008

June 15th, 2008

Dearest Colchester,

It’s seems that you have fallen on hard times. Wise elder statesman of the Essex countryside, it seems that you’ve taken to ignoring your past and pushing on towards the future. It is your choice to try and keep up with the London-ites, you know what consumers demand, but haven’t you seen pictures of 60 year old men before and after their plastic surgery makeovers? Frankenstein could find kinship in this grossly misshapen brethren. You don’t need a makeover, you just need to shine up what you already have. There is more interest in the crags and wrinkles then in the mall spectacles that you try to distract us with.

Colchester, birthed from a Roman more then 2000 years ago, deep within your aging lines lay these Roman birthmarks. You cannot deny your place as the oldest named resident in the land of UK giants. You are the original, you should celebrate rather than try to obscure your true heritage behind some Gap window or Starbucks coffee outlet.

I come to admire your wealth of wisdom, marvel at the structures that adorn you, yet there is little if any help to point me in the right direction. You are unique, a rare find, yet you flare no becons to call forth the mass to revel at your feet.

We walk through corners, look at all sides, but while we want to submerge ourselves in your offerings, on Sunday’s you close them all. We are cut off from your treasures, left only to mingle amongst the same materials that can be found on any high street. Why do you not boast, is it this modesty that keeps your fans at bay? Celebrity is tough to cope with, yet sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps obscurity at bay.

Colchester we come to be entertained, to dine at your table and have our senses saturated with your offerings. Yet all the tables are empty, locked away or predictable. You stand unique amongst a land offering plenty, but we are left begging for a mere morsel of delight. Peer in your treasure chest and you will  find it is brimming with priceless artifacts, these are what we want, these are what make us coming running into your clutches. We have golden coins to shower you in, yet your modest downtrodden ways make us curious what we would get in return.

Colchester, you are in your twilight years, yet forgetfulness seems to have crept upon, as it does as we age. We beseat you, put on your Sunday best, delight us with your tales, and roll out the red carpet, before it is too late and all is forgotten.

In quiet confidence,

The Traveller

aka The Tourist

Colchester CastleColchester Castle

Free day Glorious Free day

June 13th, 2008

Free day, what is a free day? For me it’s a reprieve from the constraints of a fairly (highly!) structured day to day existence. I work out, do a little running, and eat a diet high in protein and fruit and vegetables that through trial and error I’ve established over the years. A normal day consists of a few (sometimes 3 or 4) protein shakes, some oatmeal, a BIG salad with egg whites and quark, as my previous post will attest to. Now come the free day, all these food groups are represented plus more, much more.

Today was one of those fortunate “free” days, King Henry the 8th, my dear rotund friend, you would be proud. Dining in an upscale Spanish Tapas restaurant that is a London foodie destination was definitely the right place to fall off of the wagon; fell so hard in fact that the weight of the fall left quite a severe impression on the landscape, belly included. With a $70 credit, courses were ordered. Every fringe diet from Atkins (2 orders of lamb shops AND beef) to cacao overdosing (chocolate cake, mmmm) was followed. The food kept coming, in waves, just finishing the last morsels when the next dish arrived.

We ate, then ate, then ate some more, it was gluttony in all its glory. Butter, melted cheese, gooey chocolate and thick ice cream, it was a case of going downhill spiralling out of control and just letting destiny take its course.

The whole idea of a “free” day is to consume as much as you can of things that you would never rationally consider otherwise. Butter on top of chocolate? Sounds perfect! Cheese melted on deep fried vegetables? At least 3 please. And so I fell into my free day face first, residual chocolate still smeared across my lips!

The best way to cope with healthy eating? Throw in a “free” day, every 7 days or so and you’ll find putting up with brown grains and egg whites are a snap. I can do 6 egg whites on Tuesday when I know that half a chocolate cake is coming on Sunday! Try it out, I dare you!

Chocolate Lips

Quarkaphobia, living in denial

June 12th, 2008

We all have our favourite things in life. Now when it comes to foods it gets a whole lot more specific. It seems that the experts say that humans, generally, are predominantly sweet or salty types. More than that though there are specific foods that we all enjoy, crave, cannot do without. Cannot do without until they are unavailable that is. Products that are abundance in one place, whether through geography or cost deterrence simply do not exist in other places.

It seems that in my short UK residency I have come to adore, crave, and am now positively addicted to Quark. A soft cheese, “Virtually fat-free”, or so says the packaging, I eat this product with a ferocity that seems to be making up for lost years when their product didn’t exist in my world. Similar in design to cream cheese, I have been known to eat it on toast with tomato, basil, and fresh pepper, yum, or perhaps with some jam added for sugary flavouring (you should taste my Quark Chocolate Protein cake!). In desperate times I have even eaten it straight up, with a spoon, right out of the package. In fact, a “straight-edge Quarker” is how I began my descent into the grips of this Quark madness.

Now all is well in good in London, Quark is in abundance, and cheap, a mere 58p gets a solid container of the succulent goo. I’m buying it by the dozens, walking through the aisles of Sainsbury’s, I’m that guy with 8 Quarks stacked on top of each other, narrowly missing the ceiling beams. Nothing provides greater distress to me then my side of the fridge (more on this later) echoing hollow sounds of inquark-titude.

Shortly my UK experiment will come to a close, which is fine, every chapter has to have an end. But what oh what shall I do without my beloved Quark? I suppose I could always substitute some cream cheese, but my taste-buds will be screaming in tandem with my waists expanding girth. Dearest readers they say that Quark does exist in Canada, alas not in the abundance that it does in the UK. My life without Quark, woe is me, hey (quietly now) I need a quick fix, know anyone with the right stuff?

Quark (or qvark) is a type of fresh cheese of Central European origin. Dictionaries usually translate it as curd cheese. It is soft, white and un-aged, similar to Fromage frais. It is not the same thing as cream cheese or cottage cheese. It is distinctly different from ricotta because ricotta (Italian: recooked) is made from scalded whey.


Quark Cake

In the Trenches

June 12th, 2008

And so it was that I found myself at hour 9. How had it come to this, how was it that I have devoted yet another day to the tediousity that was this working world. We must all find some means of subsistence, some manner by which to cover our expenses and hopefully have a little bit left over to play with. Goals in mind yes, I’m saving for big and bright things, but being in the trenches like I was makes it hard to think about the future fruits of this labour.

It has been said that find something that you love and pursue it as a career and not only will you never work a day in your life, but you will thrive under these pristine conditions. But I pose the question, what if you don’t know what it is that you truly love enough to neglect everything else and focus on this one area.

So there I was, doing the dirty deed again, grinding out the hours with a perma-smile planted right on my kisser. Everyone wants something, now, now, now. The service industry is not for the faint at heart. It really tests you inner mantle, and unless you remain focused on your goals, a job in this industry can really eat at your soul and make you lose faith in humanity. Everyone should have to spend a few weeks employed in the service industry, unable to quit as bills becon to be paid. To fully appreciate what must be endured, on a daily basis for those unfortunate enough to make a living in this industry, one must be dropped off in the trenches and made to fight to it out. A few shifts taking orders and clearing plates, dirty napkins included, would really make you question how important it was that your water had 2 lemons instead of just 1 (or none if truth be told).

At any rate, nearly 13 hours put in today, it’s a long time to spend doing something that you hate. Truly it must be time to tie up my bootstraps and kick my ass into gear, high gear, Mach10 gear. No Ruby slippers for me, I’ll have to make it out head first.