Archives for category: Seasonal

Yesterday I did some Christmas shopping for a new guest in my house. I’ve never invited them before so I hope they’re not too upset. I bought several items, and uncovered a few from my storage cupboard to gift them with.

Say hello to my new artificial friend, my hyperreal evergreen if you (good) will.

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I decided to begin my newest collection with ornaments that have at least some meaning. I’ll start with the most recent additions.

The first two are fairly large discs with the initials of my first name (L) and my boyfriend’s (G) in a traditional font from M&S.

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The next one, also from M&S, is of an ice skate. Glitter has been used on the blade to give the illusion of ice. I used to figure skate as a child and G is very fond of ice hockey.

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I bought a set of three globes from TK Maxx as we love to travel – they are in sepia, pale blue and navy.

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Also travel-inspired is this white wooden house from John Lewis, which reminded me of my most recent visit to Norway. I call these Moomin houses, even though Moomin is Finnish.

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The paper star was a gift in a Christmas card, with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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The older ones

This metal one is from Spain; it was a gift filled with sweets. We also have one in white.

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A plush Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of my favourite childhood movies. I got this many moons ago from the Disney Store, and they continue to make Nightmare ornaments.

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I hope my little tree enjoys its first Christmas, and I look forward to adding to my collection of ornaments over the coming years.

With less than a week until Christmas I have been partaking in some festive viewing, yet eschewing the happily ever after type films associated with this time of year. Here are my choices for alternative Christmas pictures.

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Black Christmas (1974)

Set in a Canadian sorority house during the holidays, Black Christmas is considered to be one of the first slasher movies. During a party – which the film opens on – a figure is seen spying through the windows and climbing the trellis. This part is filmed from the killer’s point of view to hide his identity, which is quite disconcerting. Not long after the soiree, one of the residents, Clare, appears to be missing. Her father, Mrs Mac – an alcoholic mother hen – and the other girls start a search party but to no avail. Shortly after, a 13-year-old girl is found dead in a nearby park.

From the very beginning, the women living in the house receive obscene phone calls and their patience is wearing thin. The police agree to tap the phone and monitor the incessant dialler, whose calls are becoming more and more frantic and distressing. It is soon apparent that the caller is also the killer.

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In Bruges (2008)

Two Irish hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), have been sent to Belgium after a disastrous job. They have no idea what’s in store and await instruction from boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) – who speaks like he’s reciting a John Cooper Clarke poem – whilst sightseeing in Bruges. Ken is happy to take in the sights but Ray is more keen on blocking out his most recent kill by overindulging in beer and cocaine, and antagonising American tourists. It could be quite a depressing film were it not for the dark humour, which there is plenty of. The location is beautiful, even more so when it’s snowing, and the score equally so. Whilst the ending is left open, you have a feeling that Ray has (almost) conquered his demons.

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Rare Exports (2010)

In Finnish Lapland, little Pietari is mocked by his friend for believing in Santa Claus. He is fascinated with the legend and pores over folklore books in his attic bedroom. The books indicate that Santa was in fact an incredibly menacing and depraved creature who lived close to the family home. At the same time, an American company is excavating a nearby mountain. Not long after, migrating reindeer are found dead and the locals, requiring said reindeer for trade, are incensed, blaming the foreigners for the incident. Pietari thinks it’s his fault for cutting a hole in the fence, but all sorts of strange goings on start to occur: people have hairdryers and heaters stolen, and soon children are being kidnapped. A haggard old man is found in the snow outside Pietari’s house and he believes him to be Santa. The man is vicious and appears dangerous. Could he really be Santa Claus?

Don’t let the kids see this one (unless they’ve been really bad).

If you’re in to sci-fi, Brazil (1985) is set during the Christmas season. If you like war films try Joyeux Noel (2005) (be warned: there is a lot of singing).

My art and travel calendar picks for 2014.

All calendars are available from Amazon.

Prague, city of crystal and marionettes, city of grandiose, intricate architecture and questionable food. How you tore me with your heavenly spires and your plentiful con merchants. How you wore me down with your perpetual cigarette fog and built me back up with your awe-inspiring statues.

The Czech capital is an architectural feast of Gothic, Renaissance, Cubist, Art Nouveau and Baroque delicacies. Despite the graffiti scars, you cannot fail to be impressed with the array of styles, colours and materials. The centre of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason.

One of my favourite buildings was St Vitus Cathedral, which is situated in the Prague Castle complex. It is a stunning, gothic creation, complete with gargoyles and colourful stained glass windows. St Vitus was finished in 1929, nearly 600 years after building commenced. The front and back of the cathedral are therefore quite different in appearance; the back is equally impressive, resplendent with gold details and painted stone. It is a working cathedral, holding regular Catholic mass.

Possibly the most famous landmark in Prague is Charles Bridge, which straddles the Vltava River and was named for King Charles IV in the 15th century. It is flanked by three gothic bridge towers and is lined with saints. Disappointingly, the Baroque statues are replicas of the originals from the early 18th century, however, these are currently housed in museums.

Another of Prague’s most popular attractions is the Astronomical Clock, located in the Old Town Square, dating back to the late 13th century. It features two large faces, one of which is a calendar, incorporating signs of the zodiac. Every hour on the hour the clock strikes in to action, with several figures, including a representation of Death, moving mechanically. The clock itself is beautiful and complex but if you’re expecting a performance you’ll be clock-watching for a long time.

The Christmas markets, situated in the Old Town and Wenceslas Square, were nice enough but there was a lot of repetition. Although, the markets were missing one interesting sight due to the earliness of the month: live carp, which is traditional Czech Christmas Day fare, rather than the typical turkey.

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Winter is definitely the season to view Prague – the city was filled with festive cheer and plenty of Christmas trees and lights. It wasn’t too cold, despite advice to the contrary, and Prague doesn’t see a lot of rain. Visiting in winter means you also avoid the inevitable stag and hen parties.

Prague is a beautiful city with an interesting history. It is this beauty and history that draws tourists from all over the world – to marvel at its architecture, to trace ancestry, and to immerse themselves in the past. It is a city that knows only too well that this is more than enough to keep tourism alive. The drawbacks – an abundance of beggars, poor signage, graffiti and foul-smelling drains – do somewhat mar the experience.

Despite the prevalence of Art Nouveau in Prague, I chose to stay in an Art Deco hotel, more of which tomorrow.

One I wrapped earlier using Sainsbury’s paper (£3 per roll) in a lovely black and gold Deco-style fan print. This print is also available on gift bags and Christmas cards. I added gold ribbon to finish it off.
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Some more paper I purchased from Home Sense/TK Maxx (£2.99 for five sheets). I’m not normally into pink but I really like this print, and soft pink is quite an unusual hue for a Christmas paper. This wouldn’t need a lot of decoration, perhaps just a black bow, or if you really want to go all out, a velvet ribbon. This paper is also double sided: it has a teal and white print on the inside, making it feel ultra luxurious.
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Other paper I really like, in particular the palm tree print from Topshop.

-Books from Amazon
-Fur coat from Debenhams
-Make-up bag from ASOS
-Mascara from Space NK
-Notebook from Smythson
-Lipstick and Mac Palette from House of Fraser
-Body oil and Bobbi Brown make-up from John Lewis

Seriously creepy films for Halloween.

Nosferatu (1922, Murnau)
Silent, German classic of the first incarnation of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Max Schreck, with his claw-like fingers, razor-sharp teeth and pointed ears, is terrifying as Count Orlok. If his looks are scary, it’s his slow-moving, shadowy gait on the stairs as he makes his way to Ellen’s bedroom that really gives you the shivers. Typical of German Expressionist film, the use of light and shadow is integral to the visual narrative and heightens the suspense. Stoker’s widow, Florence, tried to destroy all copies of Nosferatu, claiming she was not asked permission for the adaptation. Fortunately for us, some copies were missed.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Polanski)
Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star as newlyweds who move in to an apartment block in new York City, where there are many sinister goings on, including unexplained deaths. Rosemary (Farrow) quickly becomes disconcerted with their surroundings and their peculiar and intrusive next door neighbours. The strangeness in the film is slow-burning reaching an almighty climax when the neighbours try to steal Rosemary’s ‘unusual’ baby. The genuine terror Rosemary displays when she sees her child for the first time is palpable. Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.

Eraserhead (1977, Lynch)
David Lynch’s first full-length feature is arguably his darkest. Shot in black and white to emphasise the industrial landscape, there is no dialogue, only the sounds of machines, for the first ten minutes of the film. Henry (Jack Nance) and his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart) appear to live in a soulless world. Mary soon becomes pregnant and gives birth to a grotesque mutant baby, straight out of a Francis Bacon painting. Can Henry learn to love it? Apparently Stanley Kubrick made the cast of The Shining watch Eraserhead in preparation for filming. Says it all really.

Marquis (1989, Xhonneux)
Not exactly ‘Halloween scary’, but one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. Set in the Bastille before the French Revolution, a group of incarcerates played by animal puppets await their fate. The main character, the Marquis (who is a dog), has been accused of trying to overthrow the king. He spends most of his day writing and talking to his penis (yes, his penis), which talks back to him (yes, it has a face). What’s probably most creepy about this film, as well as the inter-species breeding, is when about half way through the film, you realise that a talking dog having a conversation with his penis has become normal.

Little Otik (2000, Svankmajer)
A barren couple attempt to create a child from a tree in this horror fantasy based on a Czech fairytale. Alas their tree baby is not the little darling they had dreamt of, and it sets out on a path of gluttonous murder. The ‘baby’ has that overtly jerky animation synonymous with Jan Svankmajer’s films, which only heightens the creep factor. This, combined with the paedophilic neighbour who pursues the precocious little girl living upstairs, all adds up to a pretty disturbing movie.

After compiling this list, I’ve realised that three of these films centre around a creepy baby. How strange…Happy Halloween everyone!

Autumn has got to be my favourite season. Russet-hued falling leaves, chestnuts, that crisp, fresh air, and of course an abundance of pumpkins. Sadly, this is the only time we get to see pumpkins in the UK, so it was nice to see so many of them (75 varieties), and so proudly displayed, at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in Richmond, Surrey.

In the Waterlily House, a pumpkin pyramid featuring varieties of pumpkins from all over the world, many of which I had never seen before, such as the Red October and the Buttercup – which is black – rose from the water. Around the edge of the pond, there were pumpkin displays from different continents, featuring traditional recipes and ingredients.

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Kew Gardens, as it is more commonly known, was founded in 1759, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. It is a world leader in plant science and conservation.

As well as beautiful plants, trees and flowers, Kew Gardens features many decorative structures, the tallest of which is the Pagoda. It is 163 feet high and has 10 stories, completed in 1762. The size of the Pagoda is impressive and looks fabulous from a distance, but it doesn’t look particularly interesting close-up. It was once adorned with 80 gold dragons and was very colourful. After restoration, it unfortunately looks a little bland.

Another decorative structure is The Japanese Gateway, a replica of the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji (Western Temple of the Original Vow) in Kyoto, although it is not as large. It was built in 1910 and the landscaping has been specifically created to complement the Japanese design.

Kew also has eight glasshouses including The Palm House, designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner. It was constructed between 1844 and 1848 using iron and 16,000 panes of glass, at a time when the Victorians started to import tropical plants to Europe. It features a walkway around the top so you can look down on all of the palms and exotic blooms. In the lower level of the Palm House there is an aquarium with seahorses and upside down jelly fish – a new one on me. I think one of the seahorses was pregnant: his belly was huge!

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A newish addition to Kew is the Xstrata Treetop Walkway, an 18 metre (59ft) high construction, which opened in 2008. It was nice walking around the path amongst the tree tops but if you’re looking for a view, there isn’t much to see beyond the leaves.

Overall, Kew Gardens is a very nice day out, one that would be enjoyed by all ages. It’s the kind of place that you’d want to visit every season. The squirrels, geese and peacocks seem to agree.

The pumpkin displays last until November 3rd. Adult tickets cost £14.50, open daily from 9.30am. Visit http://www.kew.org for more information and upcoming events.