Posts Tagged ‘desert’

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (album review)

July 17, 2012

The first I time I took notice of Frank Ocean was when I found out that he was the writer of one of my favourite songs, “I Miss You” from Beyoncé’s 4. By this point, he was already gaining some buzz as a member of the Odd Future collective, and so I downloaded his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. I fell in love with songs such as “Novocane” and “American Wedding” immediately, while others such as “Swim Good” and “Strawberry Swing” grew on me after a couple of listens. I was convinced that Ocean was indeed skilled at creating R&B that was a bit more grown than the electro-dance recycling going on in the charts, and that focused on exploring human emotions. In this way, he set himself apart in my mind, and I was excited to see what he would do next.

Enter channel Orange. If anything, it’s less accessible than Nostalgia, Ultra. or than many of the songs that make up Ocean’s mammoth The Lonny Breaux Collection. For the most part, songs don’t announce themselves (and certainly not with typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures) as much as their melodies seep into your head with repeated listens. However, between the lush instrumentation (and there is definitely genuine instrumentation going on here; these are more than just pre-paid beats) and resonating lyrics, after each listen one takes away something more from the experience. channel ORANGE is a meticulously crafted piece of work, and there is much to discuss. It’s at times difficult to penetrate the chilled, hazy vibe of the album to find a meaty hook of the type that we’re used to – and I feel it would have been nice to have had more of these sprinkled through the album – but there’s nevertheless plenty of sustenance here.

Opening track “Thinkin Bout You” is possibly the most immediate song on the record, and it’s utterly beautiful: the way Ocean uses his falsetto is reminiscent of Prince, and evokes the feelings of at once being totally in love and feeling totally alone in that love, desolate and desperate. While not a technical vocalist to rival R. Kelly or Usher, Frank Ocean knows how to use his voice to maximum effect. The lyrics in the song evoke the unrequited first love that we all knew, and that Ocean wrote about so eloquently in his open letter posted on tumblr. The bravery of an R&B star, of a black man with ties to and props from the largely chauvinist hip hop community, to come out as bisexual two weeks before his album was released has not gone unnoticed, and should not be ignored; rightly so, it appears that Ocean’s success – and I personally believe that even without the announcement / confirmation of his sexuality, channel ORANGE would have been a hit – has been bolstered. Support has been largely overflowing, and it would appear that at last, times might be changing – and not just because Obama and Jay-Z gave black men permission to support their fellow man if that man happened to be gay or bisexual. But in terms of the music and in terms of Ocean’s letter, the focus pulls away from the object of his affections being male or female to the beauty and the intricacy of the sentiment. Sometimes Ocean sings to a boy, sometimes to a girl – but 100% of the time, it sounds beautiful, the lyrics are deep and honest, and the songs as a whole don’t simplify but rather reflect the complexity of the subject matter of being infatuated, in love and lost in love. “Bad Religion”, another standout on the album, begins with a howling organ which Ocean’s plaintive vocal joins to express his loneliness and despair. Lines like “I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise” and “It’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you” are at once more detailed than what one finds in a typical R&B song for the radio, and yet the emotions of someone in love can’t be put much more simply, or laid bare any more.

Subject matter on channel ORANGE doesn’t just limit itself to romance found and lost, but tackles other topics too. “Super Rich Kids” explores precisely that, but the lyrics could apply equally to the inhabitants of Ladera Heights and to the wealthy-yet-jaded entertainers in the music industry: “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce…too many white lies and white lines…nothing but fake friends.” The coda which robs the hook from Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” lends the track an air of nostalgia while giving the listener something recognisable to grab onto. “Crack Rock” likens loneliness to drug addiction, and fastens to these emotions details of being ostracised by family and society. In some ways “Pyramids” is the centrepiece of the album – an epic 10 minutes that starts out evoking Egyptian deserts, before seguing into a sexier exploration of making love to a stripper called Cleopatra. While lyrically drawing parallels between how women were and are at once worshipped and subjugated by men, the production starts off bouncy, transitions through seductive into sleazy, and fades out with a howling guitar Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix would be proud of.

Interludes give the album a sense of constant flow, and the overarching feel is nostalgia-soaked classic quality. channel ORANGE isn’t immediately accessible to non-R&B heads, and rewards repeated listens. If I could improve anything about the album, while I commend its artistry and sense of originality and self, it would be nice for some of the songs to have some more standout hooks. But overall, Frank Ocean has done himself and the world of R&B proud with this album – it’s deep, intelligent, textured and heartfelt.