Me, My Spots and I

My name is Carli, I am 26 years old and my skin is my enemy.

I don’t recall a time, month, week or day when I haven’t had spots. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, or even a particularly woeful moan, it’s simply a statement of fact. You might eye up the woman wearing Manolos on the train, or the one with the Mulberry Alexa on your bus, but my secret hobby is to scrutinise the pores of every woman I meet – on the commute, at work, and each one of my friends. The added interest (torment?) is that most of the lovely girls I work with, and count as my friends, are blessedly blemish-free. Sure, they might get a zit after a heavy weekend, or suffer the odd blackhead, but by and large their skin is clear, tight, fresh. In contrast, mine is marked with spots, scars and other ravages which in the past year have included a nasty bout of seborrheic dermatitis, resulting in patches of dry crusts across my face, neck, back and chest – the final insult to a quarter-life of waging war against my own skin.

I am not suggesting I suffer from full-blown acne: I don’t. And many sufferers of persistently flared skin will probably treat my ‘afflictions’ with disdain. However, a shared obsession is the desire to inspect the skin of the flawless, to ask a million questions about skincare and diet to try and pinpoint a crucial difference separating me with peachy clear flesh. Not forgetting the unity there is in the ‘magic’ of three more mole-hills erupting from our chins seemingly overnight.

I’ve tried the creams, visited the derms, had the tests, cut out the food groups. But essentially I am just unlucky. My mother has the skin of someone half her age, smooth, even and fresh-looking, but she still maintains she suffered until almost middle age with troublesome skin. Yes, sometimes I despair, wishing desperately for ONE DAY of clearness, where foundation could be a frivolous extra and not the one liquid saving my self-confidence, but the low moments of my early twenties have been replaced by curiosity as to what it would feel like, would I would look like, if I could treat my face as something to experiment with, not as a minefield, and if makeup was about enhancement only, not coverage. God the creams, the potions, the lotions I’ve tried. If I’m ever wondering why I don’t have savings, a quick look inside my makeup bag and bathroom will make a few Shu Uemera-related suggestions. Of course, some things need a prize merely for existing: YSL Touche Eclat is a joy for my under eyes – did I mention I had a genetic tendency to under-eye shadows? You’ve got to laugh, when every beauty ‘no no’ I read about in magazines is or has been a feature of my face.

My pet hate? ‘Friends’ who tell me that it’s so freeing not to wear foundation, how they ‘get so many compliments’ on their fresh-faced no-makeup look. I often express amazement and approval at their own good luck, but really the response I’m often reaching for is: go to hell.

Yes, I have plenty to be thankful for in life, and no I don’t have a life-threatening affliction (touch wood). But clear skin is my Everest. It only just occurred to me that I couldn’t remember a time with unmarked skin – it must have been a time pre-hormones. But I’ll keep on climbing my mountain and try not to be too hard on my face – but in the meantime if you need me, I’ll be in the skincare aisle of Boots.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories Review

As a former DJ it’s only natural that I would have been excited about a new album from Daft Punk regardless of the amount of pomp and circumstance that has surrounded it.

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter make up Daft Punk and I’ve been listening, and playing, their music for many years. Bangalter is probably the most well-known, and spoken, of the two and has released records outside of Daft Punk.

The hype around the French duo’s latest album, Random Access Memories, has been something to  behold. The trouble with hype is that things very rarely live up to it.

The album kicks off with Give Life Back to Music, something the duo have said the album is all about; a return to non-typical dance music (sorry EDO as it seems to be getting called these days).  Give Life Back to Music is a good example of a Daft Punk track with their signature vocoder singing throughout. However it’s much more of a disco affair then we’ve had previously with legendary Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers providing a rather tasty lick over the top.

Following the upbeat disco-ness we enter The Game of Love which is a slowed down, Moroder-esq track but still with the Daft Punk vocoder vocals. This track has Café del Mar chill-out music written all over it.

Track three starts with an interview from Italian dance maestro Giorgio Moroder. Giorgio by Moroder kicks in with Moroder still talking about making music, a brief ‘click’ respite whilst the man says who he is and then we’re into a Daft Punk vs Giorgio Moroder track and it’s everything you’d expect and slightly Tron-esq in style. Mid-way through we break down into something altogether more funky before we drop back into the more driving rhythms and Moroder talking again. But it’s perhaps the end of the track that stands out for me. It has some devastatingly funky bass guitar over some mean record scratching and drum playing. It’s just dying to be played loud!

As we slow things down once more we enter track four titled Within. This is perhaps my least favourite track on the album. It’s a slow lumbering, though short, love song with the now familiar vocoder vocals over the top.

Track five sees strokes frontman Julian Casablancas  entering the fray with Instant Crush. It’s a nice song and picks up as it goes along with some funky bass guitar entering alongside some keyboards. The chorus is where it really kicks, dropping back down after each time, except the final one. I can imagine there will be some good remixes of this released when the time comes.

There’s no doubting when the next track starts. Lose Yourself to Dance feat. Pharrell Williams kicks off with some sub-woofer shaking bass and a funky Chic-esq guitar over the top before Pharrell begins to sing. The song itself is a slow, head-shaking, foot-tapping, funky tune that works well; you certainly won’t be sitting still listening to it.

Touch feat. Paul Williams starts slowly and build and builds. You can sense the kick coming but they keep you waiting and waiting and oh my word is it worth it! In fact the wait is so good that you’ll be tempted to restart the track once again to hear the drop as some awesome jazz-funk piano playing kicks in with a fantastic drum and wind ensemble all beginning at the same time. We break later whilst the vocoders are back and then we build and build and build before…it sounds like it’s stopped. But then Williams sings almost acapella and we drop into… Get Lucky feat. Pharrell Williams. The track you all know and the first to be released as a single.

Track nine, Beyond, begins with a seriously fantastic orchestral piece, something that sounds astonishing on a good, large setup. It’s a shame the duo don’t do much with it beyond the intro because I can definitely see it being picked up in a remix, official or otherwise.  The track itself is a synth led slow, melodic thing, another for the Café del Mar crew.

Motherboard is up next, an instrumental that has some pretty damn fine drum playing going on throughout whilst some floaty synths and keyboards keep the momentum. Not a bad little tune at all.

US American house producer Todd Edwards provides the vocals for Fragments of Time. The track is similar to the previous hit track Edwards did with Daft Punk, Face to Face, although a bit more laid back in its approach, picking up later when some guitar/vocoder kick in as an interlude. A really nice track that will have you singing along.

Next up Panda Bear enters the scene with Doin’ It Right. Personally I’m not a massive fan of Mr. Bear and this track is a little slow and by the numbers for me. It feels like I’m being patronised, like it’s saying “now listen to this beat, followed by this beat, well done, here’s another for you ok?”

The final track on the album is called Contact and begins with an astronaut’s message back to HQ about ‘something out there’.  That something is probably the sheer force of this track as Daft Punk unleash absolutely everything they have at you in a crescendo or drums, synths, bleeps and everything else before we break and end with an increasing distorted drum sound.

There seems to be a mixed reaction to the album on the message boards from the listening masses but personally I think it’s fantastic. It’s a new direction for Daft Punk, something much more disco and funky and yet they manage to keep their sound throughout. It’s not perfect, what albums are these days, but it kicks when you want and lets you breath when you need.

How To Be Awesome

Sadly this isn’t a guide from me to you on ‘how to be awesome’. But if you’re looking for one, look no further than Hadley Freeman’s latest book.

A piece of trivia for you: the reason I am a writer is because of Hadley. In fact, it was because I wrote to her in the style of her ‘Ask Hadley’ column in my last year of university that I managed to get work experience at The Guardian, which led to a conviction that I could a) could write for a living and b) could talk about fashion for a living, which in turn led to months of unpaid internships and feelings of self-pity, before landing my writing job at a luxury fashion brand where I still work today. Hadley was the first person in a long list of journalists I contacted to actually write back, so clearly she’s pretty awesome herself. You won’t remember me Hadley, but thank you!

Aside from my personal gratitude, I feel women can more generally thank Hadley for her smart, witty advice in How To Be Awesome, which manages to tread the dangerous waters of sex, body image, work and the media without appearing preachy or pessimistic. As someone that has often felt a sense of unease that ‘feminism’ has become such an uncomfortable word to women of my generation, I think Hadley is spot on with her ‘if you have a vagina, you’re a feminist, and if not you’re not deserving of said vagina.’ The book also helps my own argument and positioning against the so-called ‘true feminist’ point of view, which says the fact that I write about handbags for a living perpetuates the myth that women are silly and shallow and therefore it’s ‘no wonder they’re taken seriously.’ Yes I like handbags. And straightening my hair. And watching Bridget Jones in my pyjamas while eating my bodyweight in Minstrels, but I’m also in position of a pretty good brain, some sense of humour and life successes that I don’t for one moment judge ill-favourably against men, or other women for that matter, and don’t expect to be judged in return.

How To Be Awesome teaches us that standing up for what you believe in (and not letting the Daily Mail suck your soul, optimism or general wellbeing), believing in yourself in a way that doesn’t mean you need to change yourself to be better, and admitting to a love of Jane Austen without worrying it might undermine your feminist credentials, can all contribute to a women’s general awesomeness – and that sometimes if you need to shout from your own soap box to make yourself heard, then damn well do it, and leave the anxiety about sounding like a ‘feminist’ behind – because you are one, and that’s just awesome.

[disclaimer: if you’re reading the section on Hadley’s sex seminar visit on a train, be prepared to both snigger, and if you’re on a particularly busy (and pervy) section of the Circle Line, ready to share the book with the man reading it wide-eyed over your shoulder.]

How To Be Awesome, by Hadley Freeman.

Hadley Freeman How To Be Awesome

IS THAT A KNOT YOU FEEL?

I am cursed with less than desirable posture. A slightly over-arched lower back, tight shoulder blades and a general desk-bound stoop mean that I am prone to aches and pains across my neck and back in a way that is slightly embarrassing to my twenty-six years.

In recent months the tightness has become unbearable, and without suing my company for an Eames chair, I need more manageable respite from the aches and bad posture than a semi-regular yoga class. In this case, all hail the art of a good massage.

To my own good fortune, I have experienced a few massages in my time, some traditional, some therapeutic, some with hot stones and some with scrubs and wraps and other exciting potions. Finding one that gets right to the offending knots is often not as simple as it seems. However, today I met Becky at the lovely little Bliss salon, who confidently told me she ‘didn’t do wimpy massages’ and who met my cynicism about any remedy for my back of knots with no nonsense nonchalance. An hour later she has forced a good percentage of the tension into oblivion, before telling me to drink lots of water to ‘flush out the energy caused by the knots’ (who knew?)

I don’t think a massage should be seen as a luxury, for plenty of us who are now desk-bound and prone to slouching it is often the only thing that can really shift the weight from our shoulders.

Massage

Ashtanga

I, like most women in their mid Twenties, has dipped in and out of yoga since I turned eighteen. Fusion classes for sixth form (Body Balance!), massive group session for £3 at university (those were the days) and a couple of experimental ‘try one free’ classes since I moved to London (including the one with the yoga fascist teacher, the one with the fainting, and the one with the props). I really, really want to be one of those people who manages three classes each week between lunch breaks and organised after work dashes, but alas, the inevitable lack of cash and time mean it isn’t possible, especially in London where the price of a class is usually half way to a new outfit from Whistles.

Recently however, I have managed to sustain fidelity with one yoga centre, and not just rely on the ‘who has an offer on’ school of intermittent yoga-ing I used to subscribe to. Ok so I can only manage classes twice a month thanks to the hourly fee and my frequently lack of spare cash, but when I go it’s really, really good.

The place? Triyoga centre in Chelsea, off the ever-trendy (and ever-smug) King’s Road. Ok so I often feel like a fraud walking into the what can only be described as the height of yogic smugness – all incense, ‘no shoe and phone’ policy and impossibly toned women in high-tech outfits, but it is a really friendly place, filled with teachers and staff that Know Their Stuff and an amazing schedule of classes throughout the day, every day.

My class of choice, after a few easygoing refresher sessions, is Ashtanga. The more physical form of yoga, the foundation of the ancient system, discovered by the late Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his disciple Pattabhi Jois in the 1930s, involves a series of set postures practised in sequence (vinyasa). Triyoga recommend a certain level of fitness before starting Ashtanga, and they’re not wrong – I’ve always exercised as part of my routine, yet one hour leaves me wrung out, with every muscle throbbing.

I think if you work in an office, at a desk, and have a tenuous relationship with your posture, a yoga class is worth a try. I suffer with tight neck, shoulders and back and yet plenty of the poses relieve tension like a massage or gym workout just don’t. The other good thing about yoga is that it is suitable for all levels, all ages and all types of body. I have rock hard hamstrings and virtually no movement in my shoulders yet I manage poses that I never would have thought I would, and I can feel myself getting better at them every time. The teachers at Triyoga (particular the fantastic Michael from Sunday’s Ashtanga) are all great at working you to your ability, pushing when you can take it and giving all sorts of posture options for the beginner up to the advanced three-times-a-weeker.

If you haven’t tried yoga, give it a try sometime, I particular recommend Triyoga Chelsea for its attitude towards combining yoga with your life, and for being welcoming for easily intimidated beginners.

*disclaimer, the picture of the below is of course, not me. But we all need a little yogic inspiration don’t we?

Triyoga Chelsea

Triyoga Chelsea

Alan Dalby Animals

I love sloths – perhaps a strange creature to adore but I love them still. Mark even adopted one for me in Columbia via WWF, so I am now the proud owner of a certificate of adoption and a plush cuddly toy sloth. Definitely a good gift to support WWF.

More details on WWF.

I came across Alan Dalby’s illustrations on It’s Nice That, and there is a sloth one! I would love to have it blown up on a canvas for my flat.

See more illustrations.

Alan Dalby Illustration

Laure Prouvost

I’ve seen the whimsical signs before, but not attributed them to anyone in particular. Then a feature in this month’s ELLE magazine brought Laure Prouvost to my attention, the creator and curator of the below piece.

Although we’re often hounded to believe otherwise, art is completely subjective. Someone’s magnificent Manet in someone else’s ‘woman staring into camera’ or ‘people having picnic’. I love David Hockney, someone else might not be able to see the magic that I do. It’s not a problem, it’s just the joy of art.

Thus, I can’t tell you why I like Laure Prouvost’s work – just that I do. I couldn’t tell you much about the artist, but Wikipedia always helps out on these occasions. She’s French, but lives in London, has exhibited at a number of hallowed contemporary galleries and works on both art and film installations.

She has a variety of work, but the witty, sometimes nonsensical signs are fun, and light, and I’d quite like one in my house. And really, that’s a good start for art.

More on Laure Prouvost >

Laure Prouvost

Introduction

How to start a new post on a new blog? The white space is almost intimidating. I am a writer by trade but a waffler in life, so expect posts from me to be somewhere between thoughtful and incoherent.

I used to run a fashion blog called Wardrobe Wisdom for years, it took me from university through my move to London and landed me with a couple of interesting jobs along the way. I closed it after a fit of pique, wanting a ‘rebrand’, some might say a quarter-life crisis. But although Twitter is amusing and Pinterest is semi-addictive, I miss a place to post those things that I find, and to have an outlet for when my brain Won’t Stop Thinking.

So you might see pipe dreams on here, you might see pictures, you might see (heaven forbid) an opinion or two. Oh, and because it’s fun to share, you’ll also see reviews, comments and the odd interesting thing from Mark. Happy reading.