Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kew Gardens, plus ANOTHER expose on the beauty industry, the flip side of the corporate coin

So, the first real bout of sun all year descended upon England, and we decided it was time for a visit to Kew Gardens

and yes, blue skirt, blue tights. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This is mum, taken from the upper veranda of the Temperate House. And Eric, who climbed up with me.

Eric got quite into the multitude of plantlife on showcase here.

I think he was inspired by this Time Capsule containing plant specimens from 1985, selected by David Attenborough.

Yep, this is his "Here they all their....natural habitat" Attenborough routine.

I wonder if Sir Attenborough put one of those dancing flowers in the capsule. You can't GET more a '80s plant!

Later on, Eric took on the mannerisms of Monty Don in his TV show 'Around the World in 80 Gardens'. Here he is, contemplative at the Japanese Kokoshi Mon garden.

I contemplated that the gravel 'lawn' wasn't raked any time recently. It was nothing like the perfection of other Japanese gardens we've seen, and at a £13 entry fee for Kew, we'd paid for it to be well-tended!

However, I think the writers of the Spring Haiku blog will enjoy this haiku we found there.

This is one of the entrances to the Palm House, which took over 30 years to build and is the biggest surviving Victorian Greenhouse. They say 'surviving' because it would've been pipped to the post by Crystal Palace, but that burned down (what is it with great British landmarks and fire?)

See the huge palm on the right? It was brought to Kew in 1846, but the greenhouse that houses it was not finished until the 1870s. It must've been tough keeping it alive in the British winter.

My favourite things at Kew are firstly the carnivorous plants like this badboy. It has a sticky sweet substance in it's 'throat' to attract flies which, once inside are trapped, their wings useless when coated in the stickiness, and the 'mouth' shuts down over it's prey forever.

I also like the Cacti, particularly one they call the Resurrection Plant, because it has the ability to technically 'die' only to regain life when watered after many months of receiving no moisture whatsoever. It's ability to harness and retain moisture has led to it's use in many an 'anti ageing' or 'age prevention' cream, but more on that whole flim-flam later.

THEN there's my real inspiration. Oh, you beautiful Cacao...
I was intersted to learn that it was the Spanish, in the 1520s who brought chocolate to Europe, where it was sweetened and made into what we (or I) guzzle by the bar today. For over 1,500 years previous, until the Spanish got to it via the peoples of Central America and Mexico it had been used only as an ingredient in a bitter drink made with ground chillis, vanilla and annatto (no, no idea) drunk only by the rich. What a waste!

Obviously I can't knock it as I haven't tried it, but I doubt it comes anywhere close to treating PMS like a big bar of milk chocolate does.

This is the newest, snazzy greenhouse at Kew.
Unfortunately it houses only 'alpine plants' which are relatively uninteresting by comparison.
And now, on to my employment news. I've recently been working in the beauty hall of the biggest and most famous store in the UK.
I've been on 'fragrance promotion' ("would madam like to try the new ridiculously priced fragrance by someone whose name nobody, not even the person themselves, can pronounce correctly?") and 'counter cover'.
The latter job title means that in the past three days, I've worked on three different well-known high-end skincare counters.

I have two points to make about this:

1) Miracles do not come in jars of cream. The blurb is the same. The ingredients are the same. They are, pretty much the same products on every counter at which I've worked. People do not buy the cream necessarily, they buy the person's pitch on the cream. But, having said this, when we buy something which is after all quite nice, that makes us feel good.

2) If you are ever at a beauty counter, and the girl standing nervously at that counter (with a pot of something in her hand) can't find the product you're after, it's because she is an 'agency counter-cover girl' like me, and probably has never worked at that counter before. She's covering for someone who called in sick. She doesn't know which drawer the particular shiny bottle she's just sold you is actually found in. She doesn't really know the product, but how can she? And those heels she's wearing? They hurt. She's not allowed to sit down on shift, and after 7 hours straight of just standing, she wants to throw them out the window!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Down by the river of...Kingston Town

So, this is where Eric and I walked today. We went from the bottom tip of Home Park, along the left-hand side of the triangle/river and across Hampton Court Bridge to get back home. Here's Eric doing the pre-walk stretches,
This is from Kingston Bridge, a pretty nice view of the Thames. In Tudor Britain, Henry VIII built Hampton Court Palace nearby (and Kings were crowned on the King's Stone, get it?) because Kingston Bridge was the nearest bridge across the Thames to London Bridge. Times have changed.

Check out some of the wildlife we saw on our walk. These are actually pretty scary looking ducks. They have the heroin-chic eyeliner look about them.
Nothing says England quite like a Robin. This one was singing up a storm.

These are big close up! Not that I could touch one even if I wanted to, all swans are property of the queen. It is an offence to kill a swan akin to that of treason.

In Bushy Park, I showed Eric a park with swings and slides that was the scene of much underage drinking in my youth.

As if to welcome my return, nearby deer began a stampede across the footpath.
Eric, at the front of Hampton Court Palace, featured heavily in the recent movie 'The other Boleyn Girl'.
And the back.
Here's another view of the pretty Teddington/Kingston riverside.
Eric's been gigging in a band called Fernando's Kitchen, they play flamenco music.
Eric gave Babitchka a workout that night (the bass) at 93 feet East, on Brick Lane.

Monday, April 7, 2008


What's the one thing better than an overnight mini getaway? An overnight mini getaway for a REASON, of course!

Eric's buddies from college who make up the band Patrick Watson were playing at the Hanbury Arms in Brighton. Having watched them in London's Scala the night before, we thought it only right to follow them to the beautiful British coast.

It's only an hour from Central London by rail. Here's my man, by the new pier. Check out the highly unusual and very lucky 'T-shirt weather'.

I booked a hotel online, the cheapest I could find. It too was right by the new pier, and also a massive nightclub which was adjacent to our room...

I'm showing you a postcard of the Royal Albion Hotel because it's much easier on the eye compared to how it actually looks.

Anyway, we checked in, and went swiftly to the pebble beach, for a pot of cockles. I love these doused in malt vinegar, they remind me of my childhood.

Eric tried hard, but I don't think he was convinced. Ooh, a half inch up and I could've made it look like he was eating the whole pier....

We walked along the seafront, towards Kemp Town, Brighton's answer to a Latin Quarter, to the venue via a pub, naturally.

This is the Hand in Hand, a tiny pub that looks sort of like someone's shared-flat communal room 40 years ago.

I love the ties on the ceiling and this old fruit machine. Behind it there's a plaque which reads 'Save water, shower with a friend' which took me back to my cruise ship days.

I wanted to visit this place because they brew their own ale. Alas, Eric said the pipes must be filthy because the beer tasted terrible, although they did say they were down to the end of the barrel.

The Hanbury Arms is a unique venue, in that it was originally a mausoleum. This is the beautiful hand-painted, domed ceiling. Apparently the walls are similarly painted too, but covered with ply-wood to preserve them.

We waited in a different pub, enjoying the late-afternoon sun, while the band finished sound-check.

The old pier in Brighton is very close to the new one, and was extensively damaged by fire (insurance job, anyone?) but until very recently when it began to fall into the sea, you could buy this pier for £5.

The condition was that you were obliged to rebuild the pier to the standard of it's former glory. Nobody took them up on the offer, and as you can see it's gradually falling away.

The guys finished sound-check, and we headed for the new pier to try out the rollercoasters. Unfortunately the attractions close at 7pm. Here's Eric with his friends Simon and Robbie.

Mishka, the bass player had gone to look for his favourite Balinese restaurant, so we decided to follow suit.

We found one, but apparently it wasn't the right one...

who'd have thought there'd be 2 Balinese places in Brighton?

The guys were on at 9.30, and the gig was a good'un. Here's Simon and Patrick, with Mishka's boat-race just behind.

I learned a new French-ism, to 'bav', from the French 'Bave', to drool. As in:

'When I took a solo I leaned over, my mouth was open and I just bavved all over the stage, totally by accident'. I'll let you guess who the bavee was in this picture...

One of my favourite parts in the show was when the guys stood on the bar and played accoustic/sang without mics for a song. On this occasion, the drummer Robbie got inside a large lampshade, and used it as a huge barrel drum. Very creative.

Let's see it more clearly.
Unfortunately the guys had to leave for Heathrow Airport after the gig (and on to the Juno awards in Calgary. They lost out to Arcade Fire. There's just no accounting for taste) and so couldn't stay all that long, but we had another drink while they loaded up the van for the last time.
If they read this, they'll know just how much they missed out on. How much food, that is. I give you, the famous nay, the INfamous, MARKET DINER!
And the world-famous Gut Buster therein.
A 24 hour safe-haven for roadies, bands, university students and just, er, really drunk people.
2 days later (after a weird casting for a Norwegian Water ad: "I want 3 Icicle positions, then move slow, then like I just turned on a tap and you're the water"), and look, Eric is driving with an unusually happy disposition. Why is this?
Well, to quote a great Prince track, Sometimes It Snows in April. And Eric feels quite at home driving in these conditions, of course.
What angered him was the Brit's failure to see the need for cleaning the snow off their vehicles. On people leaving snow covering their blinker lights:
"You'd get arrested for that in Montreal".
You'd think maybe with a Porsche you'd have more pride in ownership.