Posts Tagged ‘relationship’

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antidote.

January 7, 2013

Today, I realised that my intention for 2013 is to get the poison out of my life. I know that the word “detox” normally conjures up ideas of colonics, crazy crash diets and unlikely health fads, but the real meaning of the word “detox” is to detoxify. I think the start of the year heralds many positive changes for my life, and it’s time to make those positive changes to serve as an antidote to the things that have been undermining my happiness, sometimes sneakily and sometimes less so.

I have so far been cigarette-free for nearly a week. I know it’s early days, but this is a good sign that I’ll be able to maintain this in the long term. Toby and I have been considering healthy eating alternatives, and today he made us both a lunchbox filled with couscous, sliced peppers, carrots and cucumber, and some hummus. It was healthy and filling – not particularly inspiring, but nevertheless it made a nice change from my usual lunch and it did keep me fuller for longer! So after a few weeks of getting used to a more varied lunch through the week incorporating more vegetables (I am also embracing Greek yoghurt as a snack), I’m going to attempt to reintroduce sit-ups and press-ups back into my life. I knew that quitting smoking would work best cold turkey for me; other things, like introducing healthier food and exercise, are going to be a more gradual change that I will be fairly loose with in an attempt to make these changes something I can ultimately incorporate into my life without resenting.

In two weeks’ time, I will start a new job at a university in central London! I am so thrilled to have got this new position, which is similar in nature to my current one but in an HE environment, which to me is a real step up and will open up more career opportunities. It also allows me to escape the toxic and insane atmosphere and games in my current workplace. To me, this is a perfect example of getting some of the poison out of my life – dealing with resentment, uncertainty and unnecessary stress every day in the workplace has a detrimental effect after a while, and I don’t need to be treated that way. So I’ve chosen to move on to somewhere that will hopefully respect me a lot more. Toby is also excited because I will rant less about work at the end of most days!

Following up from my blog lamenting the prospect of Christmas spent with my family, it was actually more comically awful than I could ever have anticipated – although my homosexuality and my relationship with Toby had nothing to do with the drama. My parents had a massive row which made me feel like it was 20 years ago screaming at them to leave each other alone and solve their problems; my mother subsequently broke her wrist; my cousin, uncle and aunt revealed a casual homophobia that I found bizarre. And due to the stellar weather (*sarcasm*), the transport getting to and from Bristol was fucked up both times. In summary, even though I had pretty much made up my mind before even going home, this winter’s experience has confirmed that next Christmas will be my first London Christmas, creating my own traditions and carving out my independence. I will still see my family for a weekend around that time, and I will see Toby’s family for a weekend around that time too – but I need at least one Christmas where I am nobody’s child and instead am free to be my own person. I am already looking forward to it.

I feel like even if a couple of the changes I am setting out here have fallen by the wayside by the end of the year, that 2013 signifies a new start, a new day and a refined (if not “new”) me. Along with this, I’ve already started writing lyrics for a new album that will reflect maturity, independence, hope, strength and importantly, vibrancy. By removing all of the poison from my day-to-day existence (physically, mentally and emotionally), I hopefully will have more freedom and energy to enjoy life and really make the most of it.

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

I remember when I started this blog that I would write quite lengthy, detailed posts about my personal life and about all of my feelings and experiences. This blog has been around for over 3 years and during that time my life has transformed in a lot of ways: I did a postgrad, started working in jobs I actually wanted, learned to drive and bought a car, entered a long-term relationship, moved to London and supported myself, moved in with my boyfriend… I made the decision not to talk about my relationship in too much detail because I feel that my private life is just for me and for Toby – but he informs everything I do now and is such a big part of me that every post on here, more or less, is influenced by him or concerns him to some degree.

Although I am certainly more mature and guarded about what I choose to post on the internet, sometimes I miss the honesty and openness with which I used to post. Sometimes, when I have dilemmas in my life, I find myself typing my question into Google in search of some advice. And sometimes I find some decent food for thought, whereas other times there’s just nothing sensible or nothing that quite touches the nature of what I am going through. But on those occasions where I do find something that can help me, through offering a kindred voice or shedding an alternative perspective on a situation, it’s really valuable. And so I have decided that in this post, I am going to be honest and talk about what is on my mind, in the hope that one day someone else might find my post and it might help them to know that they are not alone.

Yesterday I was speaking to my mother on the phone and apropos of nothing, she asked me that when I am in Bristol for Christmas, that I don’t voluntarily reveal the fact that I am gay and in a healthy, happy long-term relationship with my partner. The reason for this is that my uncle and aunt are coming up from Melbourne for the holiday to visit my grandmother. My cousin (my uncle and aunt’s daughter) has been living in Bristol with my grandmother for the past six months, and during this time she has demonstrated that she has grown up a lot from the irksome child and teenager that she was when I had previously met her. And yet the other day, my mother was having a conversation with her and my grandmother, and my cousin asks “how is Alan getting on with his flatmate?” Toby is my boyfriend, my lover, my partner with whom I share a flat – but he is so much more than my “flatmate” that I paused a little bit – because surely this is obvious, and my cousin (whose recent displays of emotional intelligence lead me to believe that she would have caught onto this) must know that Toby is my boyfriend. My mum then told me that my cousin has revealed in the past that my uncle (who has hitherto always been nice to me) “hates certain celebrity chefs because they are gay” apparently. And so, my mother has asked me not to volunteer any information about Toby to “keep the peace on Christmas Day” and to keep my grandmother happy, because otherwise relatives’ reactions “may cause a scene and my grandmother will get upset.”

What the fuck.

I am not at all angry at my mother for wanting a peaceful Christmas – it’s perfectly understandable. My mother’s side of the family is Italian (and therefore Catholic, although I wouldn’t describe them as religious with the exception of my grandmother who goes to church twice a week – but only since my grandfather passed away 5 years ago). But I have introduced Toby to my father (who has made crass comments about gay people in the past but has never been anything but welcoming of Toby and supportive of me in my relationship – I feel that his macho posturing isn’t really indicative of his views, which annoys me somewhat – why does he even need to act a certain way therefore? But I appreciate the fact that he is accepting of me) and everything has been fine – Toby has never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in my parents’ home. My grandmother has met Toby a few times now and they get on ok too – neither is my grandmother stupid; she knows who he is to me, even if she doesn’t say it out loud. But here lies the crux of the problem – everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about it. Everybody is actually fine with my sexuality, but everybody seems to think that they are the only “enlightened one” and that nobody else approves. So it remains a big open secret. Which to me is partly laughable, but also quite painful because I have absolutely no shame in having found a man that I love with all my heart, and having established a strong and secure relationship with him. Shouldn’t this be something that could be appreciated, if it’s too much to ask for it to be celebrated? Why do I have to keep quiet about the most positive (out of a range of very positive things in my life) part of who I am today?

I have always been the Beyoncé of the family, if you will. (Prepare for me to toot my own horn in the next couple of sentences.) Not only because I’m musically talented, but I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family to go to university, let alone to the University of Oxford and then on to achieve a postgraduate qualification afterwards. I am the only one who has successfully moved out of Bristol. I’m the slimmest and most fashionable out of me and my cousins. I have an interesting job which pays a decent wage (but more about that in another post, as I have an announcement to make!). I am 27 years old and I have done pretty well so far (with some wobbles along the way – but hey, that’s life right?). With all of this hard work (which was for myself, but it didn’t hurt that it pleased others also), it would appear that the fact that I am gay, that I happen to be attracted to men, and that I have now built a life for myself with another man whom I love deeply, resets everything. I will never be good enough, and no matter what I did or what I achieve in the future, I never had a chance at being “good enough” because of my sexuality, which is something I cannot control. I love being gay, I love Toby, I am very happy with my life and with myself (apart from the fact that I ought to quit smoking and that next year I am going to lose weight – but there’s a forthcoming post for that too because my musical goals and my aesthetic aims are going hand in hand in 2013).  And I can’t talk about any of it, because other people may react to it, and it may upset someone else. Well, it upsets me! What about that?

Back to the phone call. So my mother asked this favour of me. I fell silent, and I said that I didn’t know if I could do that – I certainly couldn’t promise anything. I know that she understands, and I know that she didn’t like asking, and I am not angry at her. But I am angry at my family because I am never going to be good enough, and I am not able to relax and completely be myself. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why I should compromise myself. It’s not natural for one to shout their gayness or their homosexual monogamous relationship upon entering a room – this is not my intention. But I am 27 years old, and I am not afraid of them anymore – I have built my own life, and at the end of the day, I don’t live in Bristol and I don’t need the validation of my family. It’s nice if I could feel comfortable with them – but if that’s not going to be a possibility, c’est la vie. I will choose Toby over them, if it has to come to it. I am sad that it might have to come to that – but maybe we can’t have everything. I have a lot, and that’s enough. But I refuse to be intimidated by small-minded, low-aspiring people. I don’t even really know if they are small-minded – this is all just rumour and myth. But after all – I’d better not say anything, just in case.

I want everyone to have a lovely Christmas day. I want Toby to feel welcome when he comes to Bristol, and the fact that he does perplexes me even more in light of this request. I don’t want my grandmother to be upset, and I don’t want anybody to cause a scene. But it’s not my fault if they cause a scene because of their own prejudice, surely? I don’t understand why I have to conceal, compromise and sacrifice my identity in the presence of people whom I see only occasionally, and who are my frickin’ family, so as not to rock a phantom boat. Am I being unreasonable? Because perhaps it’s not such a big thing to ask, for one day. But then, to me, it’s not really about one family day – it’s about me being denied the ability to openly be myself, to celebrate all of the things I have achieved and the precious gift of Toby’s presence in my life. He is wonderful, and I don’t see why I have to downplay this. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops (though sometimes I want to! 🙂 ) because that would be unnatural, but neither am I going to lie about it because that is no more natural either.

This is bringing me to the sad conclusion that, whether or not a scene occurs, I feel like this will be my last Christmas in Bristol with my family, for at least a while. I don’t want to hurt my family by not celebrating with them, but at the same time I am an adult now, with the right to live my own life. (I can’t lie – it will be nice to actually not do a big travelling jaunt for one year.) I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to choose to stand my ground and enjoy my life in my own home. I have proven my worth time and again, and I now have the flat, the job, the relationship – the evidence to show for it. It’s not my fault that my family members may be insecure or jealous, and I don’t see why I should compromise myself to appease any inadequacies they may or may not feel. It’s not my problem. If I cannot be myself on Christmas day, then maybe next year it has finally come to the point where I’ve got to start making my own traditions, and if it means being by myself then hey – I’ll do it. I would never begrudge Toby going to spend time with his family, and maybe I would be able to join them instead. I don’t know – this whole situation has thrown me into a realm of “I don’t know”. What I do know is that I won’t lie, I won’t hide, and I won’t be ashamed. I am strong enough and secure enough to stand alone – I’d rather not have to, but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it. A part of me hopes I’ll be pleasantly surprised this Christmas and all these worries and postulations will count for nothing. I really don’t know what will happen – I am confident that I feel the right way about the situation, but I hope that I will have the grace and the presence of mind to react correctly and in a dignified manner to whatever situation arises.

I’ll let you know.

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extraordinary day.

September 23, 2012

Yesterday was a fantastically eventful day. We woke up early (on a Saturday!) to head to Gunnersbury for our first flat viewing – a 2-bed in Chiswick.

We met with the lettings agent and saw the flat, which was beautiful and apparently wouldn’t be on the market for long. After some budgeting, some pressurised promises from the agent (the possibility of cheaper rent, the possibility of a flexible moving date – who knows whether any of these will come true!) and some falling in love with a wonderful space, we decided to take the plunge and put down a holding deposit. So in 2 or 3 weeks’ time, Toby and I will be moving into our own flat in Chiswick!  All being well – there’s the process of agreeing the move with the landlord, positive references etc. – but I don’t see why there should be any problem. Until it’s all confirmed, I don’t think we’ll be able to relax, but it’s very exciting!

So that was the morning.  At lunchtime we headed back to Fulham to share our good news with family and for Toby to get his hair cut, while I attempted and failed to concentrate on reading some Italian (my nerves and adrenaline were still all over the place after the flat viewing). Then before we knew it, it was time to head out for Toby’s colleague Kate’s 30th birthday party at Tower Millennium Pier, which was ON A BOAT (or actually, a ship).

The theme was Hollywood Glamour, and so Toby and I were dressed up to the nines as we weaved our way through the crowds of Chelsea fans surging towards West Brompton tube station. Once we got on the boat, we were greeted by Kate’s friends and family, and Toby’s other colleagues, and we had a fantastic time. There was a French singer and accordion player providing some background ambience while we ate a delicious 4-course dinner, and when we were standing on deck we were able to see the city lights surrounding us as we sailed down the river. Incredibly, Tower Bridge was opened for us not once but twice, and we felt like royalty as we waved to spectators on either side of Tower Bridge. It was a magical, unforgettable night – including unlimited drinks (though I was fairly sensible and have not even been hungover this morning).

As I sit here typing on my laptop having done such mundane tasks as laundry and washing up, contemplating the ironing while watching the rain incessantly pouring outside, it feels like yesterday was a taste of the exciting life I hope to lead more often as Toby and I become stronger and more successful. We have grown so much over the past two and a half years, and on days like yesterday we reap the rewards. I am so happy that even on ‘afterglow’ days like today, I feel lucky and appreciative of that luck. I just hope that we continue to be lucky with the flat that we want, and I look forward to posting more good news over the few weeks as we move in – fingers crossed!

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Madonna – MDNA (album review.)

March 28, 2012

MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio album (depending on what you include / exclude) and it’s an improvement on her last effort, Hard Candy, simply because there’s a higher strike rate of really good tracks. It’s no Ray of Light, Bedtime Stories or American Life (her most introspective albums and not coincidentally, her best – let the debate begin!), but we get more of an insight into Madonna the Human Being than we have in possibly 10 years.

Not that you’d know it from the two singles that have been released: “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is a straightforward ‘fun’ track which has had a lot of the fun ironed out of it. Madonna’s vocal sounds flat, the production sounds a little lacklustre, and while Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. acquit themselves well during their verses, their presence is unnecessary. The melody is perky but calculated, the cheerleader chants are hooky but calculated – the whole thing is a perfectly acceptable pop song, but it sounds so desperate to be joyful that it ends up losing a lot of charm. “Girl Gone Wild” serves well as an album opener, but again it sounds dated for Madonna – which means bang-on-trend with what’s in the charts – and unimaginative. The lyrics are uninspired, the melody is catchy and you will be humming it after a couple of listens. In this sense, the singles both do their job, but there’s much more exciting stuff on the album.

Which, take my advice, should be sequenced thus:

01. Girl Gone Wild
02. Gang Bang
03. I’m Addicted
04. Some Girls
05. Turn Up The Radio
06. I Don’t Give A (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
07. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
08. B-Day Song (Feat. M.I.A.)
09. Superstar
10. I’m A Sinner
11. Love Spent
12. Beautiful Killer
13. Best Friend
14. I Fucked Up
15. Masterpiece
16. Falling Free

I am never usually one to mess with how an artist envisions their album by cherry-picking individual songse, or by listening to things on shuffle. I am very in favour of the idea of an album being treated and listened to as a body of work. However, I gave this track list (which I found on the Popjustice forums) a go and it seems to flow so much better. It stacks the harder-edged songs at the front of the album, followed by a sunny middle section and winding down towards the slower songs at the end.

“Gang Bang” is my favourite song on the album. A revenge anthem featuring menacingly-spoken vocals (reminiscent of Dita from Erotica) atop a minimal beat, a dubstep breakdown (again, bang on trend / a little passé, but it works well in this instance) and screams of “DRIVE BITCH! AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT DIE BITCH!”, it’s irresistible, edgy, a little silly (Madonna does not need to prove she is edgy and ‘down with the kids’ by swearing, but never mind), and it totally works. I can’t help but think of The Bride from Kill Bill when I listen to this song. Even though it would be an extremely weird choice for a single, this song is so cinematic that it deserves a video. “I’m Addicted” is the “Impressive Instant” of the album – swirling synths and insistent beats piling on top of each other to provide a climactic finish, while Madonna abandons insightful lyrics such as “all of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout” in favour of hedonistically chanting “M D N A M D N A” over and over.

And so we come to the album title. It’s a cool way of writing “Madonna”. Madonna has also said that the songs on this album display her musical DNA, so that also makes sense. And then, it also sounds like MDMA – which is a drug (hence the aforementioned refrain) and implies that Madonna’s new music is addictive. It’s a well-chosen title that has layers of meaning – well done to all concerned! The album cover (I am talking about the deluxe cover, above – the standard is pretty but doesn’t really go beyond that) shows Madonna posing behind a ridged glass screen which slices up the picture into discordant segments and perhaps represents an impenetrable layer between us, the listeners, and her, the performer / musical icon. The super-bright colours then pack a punch to the eye, and also reference a psychedelic, drugged-up state. Drugs like MDMA! I am spelling this out. The most intense colour comes from Madonna’s lips however, which is also important – she always takes centre stage. And her lips are where her voice comes from (sort of – you know what I mean) and Madonna is a Singer. Yes.

Back to the music then. “I Don’t Give A” is another standout track which has an urban quality to the beat. It discusses the hectic schedule of a star on Madonna’s level, and how she does ten things at once without feeling the pressure, because she doesn’t give a. It’s a defiant moment that’s further strengthened by another strong rap from Nicki Minaj, and tops out with an operatic choir repeating “I don’t give a”. As we’ll learn later on in the album however, Madonna does give a. “Love Spent”, “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are introspection done right (unlike “Falling Free”, which is an epic ballad marred by Madonna’s incredibly mannered delivery and too little momentum too late). “Love Spent” switches up halfway through from practically one song to another with little more than a hook in common, but the same theme pervades throughout – if love were money, would you spend it on me? Would you care about me as much as your money? It sounds ironic for Madonna (who is not poor) to be discussing this, but then again, why can’t she? Everyone can relate to the feeling of coming second best in a relationship, regardless of whether either member of the couple is wealthy or not. It’s an emotional moment that is buoyed by a strong melody and interesting musical touches (such as the opening guitar and the Nintendo bleeps). “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are apparently about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and the demise of their relationship. Now, I know that it is easy to attribute these lyrics to that experience which the whole public knows about- and Madonna has had a couple of relationships since then (one of which was with Jesus!) – but it sounds pretty convincingly like Guy was on her mind when she wrote these tracks.  “Best Friend” talks about losing someone Madonna was very close to, and reflecting upon the time they shared together – “It wasn’t always good but it wasn’t always bad”. The fact that time has passed between the divorce and the album has allowed Madonna to apportion the blame where it lies on both sides – as well as Guy being the subject of her vitriol on other tracks, “I Fucked Up” sees her take some responsibility for the relationship’s demise. “I blamed you when things didn’t go my way… In front of you, I was cold.” Listing a number of the things that the couple could have done makes for some heart-wrenching listening, even as the production picks up speed. Although parts of the album sound manufactured for radio (like the singles) and others see her aim blindly for the craziest dancefloors, these tracks are where Madonna is open and sounds honest, rather than pre-meditated.

Other songs that deserve a mention are “Some Girls” and its basic but essential proclamation: “Some girls are not like me”; “Superstar” and its sugar-sweet hook of “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar”  (I imagine this song as being great for driving along to); the romantic “Masterpiece” which is somewhat cliché but manages to remain elegant and understated. On the other hand, weaker points of the album include “I’m A Sinner” which sounds like “Beautiful Stranger” (and I didn’t like that song either), and the ridiculous “B-Day Song” which wastes M.I.A.’s talents and doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest of the album. However, it’s relaxed nature reveals that Madonna probably had genuine fun recording this track, and it’s nice to hear a song that’s so unguarded. Perhaps it should have remained a b-side.

Overall, MDNA is a good album. It’s not outstanding as a whole, but it contains a fair few excellent moments. The songs are cohesive enough to feel like they belong (with a couple of exceptions), while varied enough to retain interest. There’s genuine introspection, braggadocio and hedonism – which is what we want from Madonna. It’s a shame that some of the album feels so calculated that it detracts from our enjoyment of the material. But once you can look past that, MDNA provides a trip well worth taking.

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one night in paradise. (photos from our trip to Paris)

February 25, 2012

This evening Toby and I got back from our overnight stay in Paris – it was a late anniversary gift to one another to celebrate 2 years of being together and very much in love! The last time I went to Paris I was on my year abroad from my undergraduate degree at Oxford, and I was there for a week with my father. This time, although the holiday was much shorter, it was even more special 🙂 It was a pain-free journey on the Eurostar, but we made up for the lack of pain by doing about 12 miles’ worth of walking! We didn’t use any public transport once, and the weather turned out to be very nice so we took full advantage. Firstly we had some lunch near the Palace of Justice:

Then we headed to Notre Dame cathedral:

From here (on the island in the middle of the Seine) we caught a riverboat tour of Paris, which enabled us to see lots of the sights and find out a little more history about Paris from a strongly-accented French woman who was studying English.

After the riverboat tour, we crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts, a bridge to which lovers attach engraved padlocks (or padlocks with their names written on them) to celebrate their love. Next time Toby and I go to Paris (there will be a next time, I’m pretty sure!), we will bring a padlock of our very own. 🙂

We then walked to the Louvre and saw the glass pyramid:

… and the Obelisk:

After this very long walk, we checked into our hotel near the Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement, and had a little lie-down, changed our clothes, and then we were off again to the Champs-Elysées itself!  At the top, we saw the Arc de Triomphe (and its mad traffic system – or lack thereof!):

We stopped and had a coffee and a croissant, and then went for a twilight walk along the river towards the Eiffel Tower. Things started getting more and more perfect…

I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City when she goes to Paris (before she starts getting miserable and stuff). Look, we were even on an appropriately-named street!

There was this cool monument:

And this one:

Sure enough, as twilight approached the Eiffel Tower slowly but surely lit up, and it was the most romantic thing I have seen. I felt so special, and Toby and I were just in awe. We took many pictures (Toby had wisely brought his big camera) as things got more and more amazing. And then at 7pm, the tower started glittering with strobing lights:

It was so perfect! We strolled along further, taking more pictures – at each end of the bridge by the Eiffel Tower was a carousel which lent a touch of old-French kitsch to proceedings:

We decided that if we lived in Paris, it would not be totally awful. We finally headed back to the hotel and found a restaurant (appropriately called “The 8th Arrondissement”) which sold nice, if somewhat bizarre food! This morning, after a very long and restful sleep, we walked to a bakery and had a traditional continental breakfast of croissants and coffee before walking up to the Sacre Coeur, which has breathtaking views.

We dodged the sellers on our walk down and headed back to the Gare du Nord:

…where we had a yummy dinner with a proper, more traditional burger in a restaurant that played only Lady Gaga, before finally making our way back to London.

I can’t believe that we were only in Paris for just over 24 hours; we packed such a lot in that it feels like we had a full week’s holiday! But not only was it romantic (Paris + glittery Eiffel Tower = love) but it was exactly what I needed. A getaway from everything, which allowed to recharge emotionally and forget everything that was bringing me down. Work appears to have resolved itself somewhat, and the rest of my annoyances can buzz off for now. I know that I will always be a sensitive and somewhat neurotic person, but ultimately, life is very good now and I am happy. And when I have vacations like this, I am reminded just how happy I am. 🙂

— PS. I also have a corresponding post on my tumblr!

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.