April 2008 Archives
Change is not always for the better - not as far as the Co-op is concerned.
Correction, that's co-operative now. I've been aware for a while that things are different in my local shops. They've joined the other big chains by introducing a premium slot - it's Taste the Difference at Sainsbury's, for instance.
Everything is getting the same branding, from the bags I get my repeat prescriptions in to the needless cellophane wrappers on the new-ish (and excellent) boutique bakery lines. Yes, in the worst modern design trend it's all lower case and it's now in bold. My lifelong favourite shop, the Co-op, where we still collect our divi, is co-operative now.
One night more than a decade ago, I was drinking tea and nibbling biscuits with two nuns in the house in Balsall Heath, Birmingham that they used as a base for getting to know the women who worked as prostitutes is the area.
"What was I doing there?" I've asked myself and I really can not remember, which is strange because I remember other things about the evening very well indeed.
What I remember is a young woman, who was working that night, coming into the house. She was lovely - bright, pretty, funny and endearingly childlike.
"I'm not being funny or anything but my boyfriend says you're nuns so you're not going to know about men are you?" she asked the sisters, very sweetly.
I love my Chinese students. And while it's a pain preparing lessons and having to wake up sleeping students in the back row every five minutes, it's always worth it to hear the little improvements, and their their logical method to approaching such an illogical language as English.
Last year I taught cabin attendants; classes of 40 impossibly beautiful Chinese girls and boys who were all far more interested in what I was wearing more than their English textbooks. They would spend our classes flicking through magazines and giggling behind their hands, taking photographs of themselves on their mobile phones using the standard pouting, wide-eyed pose, or giving the peace sign. The effort these girls went to to make themselves appear cute and child-like would irritate me at times. They were young ladies of 20 and 21, and yet they drank their tea out of baby bottles, sucked on dummies and spoke in sickly sweet childlike voices that would make Michael Jackson cringe. Predictably, though ever so disturbingly, the boys found it adorable.
In the same school I also taught the air mechanics classes. Most of these students were the boyfriends of the cabin attendants, or harbouring a massive crush on a cabin attendant. I loved these students, even more so when they weren't spitting out of the windows. These boys were amusing and straightforward with me, and so I tried my best to reciprocate. For instance, they all had ridiculous English names, like Adidas, Hitler, Rain and Kobe. So when two boys decided to call themselves Shirley and Mavis, I told them that they had old lady names and that perhaps they would like to change. They said "no thank you". Right-o then!
I swiftly became fascinated by stereotypes after moving to China and learning that not all Chinese people are really short, ride bicycles and do kung fu. So I am always curious to know what preconceptions my students have about English people. My class of air mechanics were the perfect candidates to tell me it like it is. The answers I got were..."Englishmen are gentlemen. They carry umbrellas everywhere they go." "English people live for football." "English people have big noses and red faces.." Maybe that's just me..? "English women are very ... open and drink too much". Most definitely not me... Ahem.
This year, having moved to Beijing, I was disappointed to hear that my students would be Doctors and Pilots. I expected them to be uber serious and boring, so no fun for me. Yet I've found quite the opposite. The doctors, for instance, are all old enough to be my parents, but instead of this being a bad thing, it means that I can have grown up conversations with them! We have debates, I teach them English cursing, and their eagerness to learn means that I can hold more in-depth and intellectual conversations with them than I can confess to having had with some native English speakers.
I figure that your early twenty's is a period of major transition. This is the changeover from child to adult. As a 25-year old, I simply can't hold a conversation with a 20 year old. We have nothing in common. Put me in a room with a 20-year-old of any nationality, and I guarantee there will be nothing but space between us.
From my experience, a Chinese 20 and 21 year old is significantly more naÃÂ¯ve in comparison to Western young adults. As the average English 20 year old might be contemplating which dummy to buy their toddler, the Chinese 20 year old is wondering which dummy to accessorise with their pink hair ribbons. If you were to ask my opinion, I would have to say that teaching 20 year olds is very similar to teaching children, albeit considerably less endearing.
Despite my impatience with child-like 20 year olds, I am actually super-great with children. So much so that I have a part-time job tutoring two 11-year-old girls. Their English names are May and Lisa, and they are without doubt the highlight of my week. They make me laugh more in 2 hours of tutoring more than I do in a weeks worth of lessons and playtime. Their English is at a high enough standard for us to have semi-serious conversations. 'Semi-serious' because their facial expressions and the way they act out their conversations would put Lee Evans and Jim Carrey out of work. Last week I taught them the names of different kinds of sports, which they had to act out when I called out. My all time favourites being synchronised swimming and weight lifting. (Try and imagine their facial expressions please!) As people get older, they really do get less and less amusing.
So for a teacher who never wanted to be and still doesn't plan on being a teacher, I do so love teaching. I should imagine that teaching English students would be considerably less amusing. Especially seeing as teachers in the UK are never likely to be faced with the question "why don't we call toes, 'foot fingers'?"
It's a question that's still got me head scratching...
For over 30 years now the last Sunday in April has been bluebell day for the Langley clan. We think of a wood we know where acres of bluebells grow as more or less our own.
It's reached by an unmarked footpath besides fields and then through Forestry Commission tracks, and I've no intention of telling you where it is. It's only been such a well-kept secret because it is inaccessible by car.
It's close to where we used to live when we first decamped to the Midlands from Suffolk, and we've moved a couple of times since, so the annual pilgrimage now involves a bit of travel.
Jump on a bus, go to the supermarket or just walk down the street and one of the top trends of this season will almost certainly be near, right now being stars, ombrÃÂ©, florals and frills. They don't sound too inventive but the stars have to be white on navy in blouses and light dresses, ombrÃÂ© is a fancy word for dip-dying or tie-dye, the florals are strictly Liberty print, and frills are on mini skirts across the land. To use this as the casing point, the original skirt on the Luella runway has spawned a million copies and, unlike their tie-dyed friends, don't look like they'll end up in the sale bins.
Clockwise from top: Topshop x3, Warehouse, River Island, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Oasis.
To give an example, the tiered skirt at the top right has at least five sisters in each store, but the ditsy florals as seen on the Luella catwalk are just as popular as it's cousin.
In some ways, carbon catwalk copies are the fast way to pay less to achieve what is fashionable. It's easy to wait until a trend is popular and accepted before you dabble and you don't have to search very far.
Then again, once a trend appears everywhere it is cheapened and looses it's edge. You can't desire something if it's presented on a plate. There's also a fine line to cross when a trend becomes 'so over' because it was so hot before. I know that I'm so sick of stars now that my Topshop star print Chanel rip-off dress makes me feel slightly queasy. It may be cheaper to buy high-street rather than designer but it's not cheap when you have to buy into a whole new set of trends next season as yours go out of style.
These copies may be disposable, but they sure are addictive! Little hits of fashion are what gives us the shopping buzz and these cute ruffled skirts are perfect Summer staples. Although if I was Luella Bartley, I'm not sure whether I'd be glad so many people like my designes or annoyed that shops have ripped them off and are making the money.
Tomorrow (that's Saturday, April 26) is World Tai Chi day - just one of many things I've been meaning to blog about.
The return of Heroes is another, and I've been thinking about bringing up Mad Men again (great episode this week), as well as the plans to give Blake's 7 the Dr Who makeover treatment. Servalan (pictured) virtually ignited cathode ray tubes across the nation with her OTT sexiness. She MUST return!
What links that highly-publicised missed penalty for Man U in Barcelona (by Ronaldo, above) and the number of girls taking up the harp?
I come from a generation who actually knew the original meaning of the word. It was a mechanical way of reproducing exact copies (usually illustrations) for print and publishing operations.
On the face of it the Encyclopaedia Britannica's decision to open up free web access seems like the ultimate victory for Wikipedia, or at least for the free over the expensive, but neither are perfect. There's just not enough information in them.
In a way Britannica's shortcomings are more understandable, they can't cover everything for reasons of space and editorial costs. The restrictions of the paper format and having to pay the editors, although most contributors are unpaid, gave rise to decisions about the relative merits of different subjects - information you could infer rather than read (Birmingham's entry gets 1271 words, Manchester's 5257, hmm). Wikipedia has no such constraints, but while it (or rather the community that controls it) doesn't seem to stop huge long posts on obscure topics - 5875 words on Star Trek as a franchise, not counting pages on each series or film - it does seem to have a downer on which topics are included.
Add an entry on Mr Egg, the cafÃÂ© rather than the Scottish Musician, and it will soon be deleted with a message something like " Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed". This is because, while it's often called an uncontrollable lawless place by its critics, Wikipedia has a whole wiki full of rules (don't think you'll be able to edit those either).
It's that gate-keeping of what's considered important that stops Wikipedia becoming the free sprawling Hitchhikers' Guide of geek imagination. Where as Britannica carries restrictions of size (and even the Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy willont - that's why Earth was "mostly harmless" after all) Wikipedia doesn't have that excuse - which is sort of why, for the truly local interest there's Brum Guide.
You have less than one week left to find out what goes on behind closed doors in Birmingham.
Before you get too excited by voyeuristic visions, I should point out that I'm referring to a cracking little exhibition at the Barber Institute which showcases the incredible diversity of art works in our city's private collections. Behind Closed Doors has gathered together nearly 40 paintings, watercolours, prints and drawings by internationally-renowned artists including Picasso, Hockney, Degas, Rossetti and Turner which usually reside in domestic art collections, and it's well worth the trip. I'd like to have seen a few more contemporary pieces in the mix, like this William Gear, but perhaps that's just me being picky.
The foresight shown by some of the collectors is quite incredible with stories of people buying works from emerging artists with price tags of many times their weekly salaries because the art moved them in some primeval way.
There were a couple of items which I'd cheerfully have taken home with me, including this one by George Clausen.
It also got me thinking about art (or rather often the lack of) in our offices and homes, something I'll return to in a future blog.
In the meantime, which famous works of art could you live with, should they be available to us mere mortals?
Hi! I'm Selina, writer of Flying Saucer, a blog about my slight fashion obsession. I went up to Manchester Uni this year but do love my home town and spend way too much money on train fare back to New Street! I'm super happy to join the Birmingham Post blogging team and inject more fashionable thoughts into the universe...
Right now in the fashion world, this could be one of the best and worst times in the calender. On one hand, the Autumn Winter 08/09 shows have just been revealed and fashion editors will be busy whipping up trend reports and shoots, while chain stores will be stroking their chins, eyeing up the goodies. It seems crazy that there are thousands of people out there straining over whether gloves will be leather or fur this winter, coats will be bell or cocoon, and how we can channel Rodarte's Japanese slasher film-inspired collection into our woolly jumpers. It's barely even Spring, let alone Winter!
But the mags and rags need to scour whatever the designers have created and clump details together to create trends. Buyers, marketers and design teams will mass produce copies that are as identical as they legally can be to it's original inspiration for the high street. Due to key bloggers with connections, we know that these products for Winter have already been fondled by the industry who will advertise them in their magazines come Autumn as the new 'must haves'. Then five months down the line, that's where I come in, handing over the cold hard cash at the counter!
After looking at over a thousand catwalk images, you realise that each piece in a high street store has originated from the runway, and that's why this time of year lacks a fashion front. It may be busy behind the scenes, but it's all in advance, and if you follow fashion closely you find the season seems over before it's even begun. By now the magazines have reported on the Spring trends and shops have sent out their most coveted styles. From here on is a waste land of mid-season sales and beach wear. Autumn/Winter shows only need to cover September to December but the rest of the year is dictated by Spring/Summer shows and things get a little boring around about now.
That's where we come in. Magazines are generated on profit but us fashion bloggers can jump from season to season, delve into our own inspirations and try something brand new. I may have bored you already! The confused, adventurous side is reserved for my own blog but here I hope to provide some gossip, trend tips and observations for any level of fashion interest, with special Birmingham top tips thrown in. Have you used the 360 degree camera mirror in the new New Look store where Beatties was yet? I can't wait to try it next weekend!