Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Not only absent for ages but absent for longer!

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Just a quick update to say that I have, while shamefully neglecting this blog (and without Mill’s excuse of starting at a rather prestigious university), been moonlighting over at Madame Guillotine’s blog again – this time to burble about sexy Romans.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

October 30, 2011 at 9:18 am

Posted in Posts by Delilah

Places to Drink in London

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Unpaid tourist board work and/or gushing endlessly about London continues! [I have been living in this city for 10 years this September and I am still not sick of it].

PUBS & BARS

Green Carnation, Soho

An admirable partner to dinner at Balans and a good night out. Costly, flash, comfortable, and usually packed after about 7.30pm. The decor is incredible – greens and golds, flock and pannelling, squashy fireside chairs, a DJ for later in the night – and it has a bookable downstairs. Covered in Oscar Wilde quotes, with an extensive selection of cocktails to go with the enormous choice of spirits, wines and bottle beers. A gay bar with a slight lean toward professional, older men, but pretty much welcoming to anyone who fancies drinking there. I’ve celebrated my birthday in these environs several times, and quite frequently end up making friends doing so; barstaff are occasionally ditzy but attentive, friendly (and very easy on the eye). Worth the extra cash, particularly if you manage to steal one of the good seating areas, or book one for your party.

Three Compasses, Hornsey

A proper Local. There are two open fires, a decent amount of food, guest ales and wines, plenty of places to sit, and an apparently endless selection of activities taking place: I’ve been there for quiz nights, carol singing, big-screen sports, there’s a pool table, last time I ended up in there the back room had an Elvis impersonater … there is a “takeaway” service for two pints in a box if you so desire, and it’s entirely possible to spend all day in the pub vegetating on their extremely comfortable sofas. Barstaff range from efficient to friendly, and the set-up goes out of its way to make the place feel more like home than home does.

The Elk in the Woods, Islington

The website describes this Camden Passage hideaway as a “restaurant bar” but it is listed here under drinking places for the superb and delicious range of virgin cocktails it offers. The food is mid-to-good quality, but it is recommended as a mid-day stop-off while wandering the shops of Camden Passage, for both the drinks and the atmosphere. Try to grab the exceedingly comfortable armchairs by the fireplace as you come in, and don’t be put off by the large stuffed deer’s head hanging above you.

The BFI riverfront Bar, South Bank

Located directly under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank of the river, right next to the excellent South Bank Book Market and within spitting distance of the National Theatre, this bar has become a favourite of mine in the last couple of years for many reasons: the location plays a great part, as does the year-round outdoor deckchairs allowing you to look out over the river while enjoying your drinks, but what’s kept me coming back are the friendly and inventive barstaff (on one occasion, unable to provide me with a strawberry daiquiri, one of the bartenders created a new cocktail for me), the seasonal cocktails, and the delicious pint-glass-of-sausage rolls. Obviously recommended for pre-screening drinks if you are attending a film at the BFI, but a worthwhile stop if you are visiting anywhere along the South Bank.

Post by Delilah. More recommendations can be found in the “where to go in London” tag.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Short update: Continuing Expansion of my “portfolio”.

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I love sounding like a pretentious dickface. Anyway, just updating to let anyone following know that Melanie Clegg’s second novel, Blood Sisters, is out soon and that I did the cover art. At lightning speed, no less.

Post by Delilah.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

July 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

Posted in Posts by Delilah

Places To Eat in London

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I was reminded recently that my “where to go in London” post which I made in about 2006 hadn’t really been updated in a while, so I thought I’d make a series of new ones. Click the “where to go in london” category for more of the same.

RESTAURANTS

Balans, Soho

Atmosphere: Located smack bang in the middle of the Gayest Bit of London. I would say it’s impossibly trendy, but trends change every second, so what I will say is that it is very flash, very “vibrant”, and very loud. It’s the kind of place you go to eat if you have plans to do something afterward, like heavy drinking, dancing, or watching a show (very well situated for this given that it’s a stone’s throw from the West End, and you can walk in off the street and get a table).

It’s snazzy and loud and excitable and filled with cocktails and cute young waitstaff; there are mirrors on the walls and indirect lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows and a general sense of happening.

Food: Good stuff, reasonably priced. There is a wide range on the menu and a good selection of specials, and it serves breakfast through to supper; my favourites are the Big Chips and their steak is really quite good. Definitely worth indulging in the cocktails.
Goodman’s, Mayfair

Atmosphere: This is in Mayfair, so there is an instant sense of upmarketness; it is also quieter than a Soho restaurant. Unfortunately this does mean you will occasionally have to rub elbows with wankstain businessmen, but thanks to Goodman’s being large you at least won’t have to sit too near them. Waitstaff are not only polite and soft-spoken, they are knowledgeable about their area (MEAT) and will bring the cuts out to demonstrate exactly what you get when you order each thing. Recommendations are given with restrained enthusiasm.

“Quiet” is absolutely the key to this place – the oak panneling and and depth of the rooms from the street give a sense of being removed from the world in order to enjoy good food. This place is all about the food.

Food: Superlative. Their deserts are mouth-bothering, their starters are inventively delicious, small enough to whet the appetite but not to diminish it, and the meat is beyond description. Lindsay has made so-so motions about their burgers (the best burger place in London is Byron’s in High Street Kensington) but you don’t go to Goodman’s for burgers. You go for steak.

Guys. I cannot say enough good things about their steak. There simply aren’t words. I can fling about specifics of my favourite there – Irish grass-fed dry-aged for 28 days, T-bone – but it won’t do it justice. This is BEEF. BEEF the way BEEF should be fed to people – rich and red and virtually raw (well, the way *I* ordered it, which was blue, because I am a disgusting carnivore), and tasting extremely meaty. It stuns people to silence.

Succulent, perfectly-prepared beef. To use the sauce (choice of four) given with it would be sacrelige. Save that for the chips. Which are also delicious.

Banners, Crouch End

Atmosphere: Homely. Crouch End is a middle-class-ish area with a history rooted in stand-up comedy and 60s music, and although Banners is on a busy road it’s still a fairly secluded busy road. I cannot stress the eclectic, comfortable, laid-back charm of this place; covered in ancient posters, cork-boards advertising local community things, and framed prints in a strata of interesting things, a motley collection of naked, unvarnished wooden tables and chairs, odd hanging lamps, and a bar equipped with a cinema popcorn warmer. The menus are garish and strange and drawn by children; there is a slight emphasis on ethical interests, long-past boxing matches, and biker culture. It is like being in the living room of someone with a wealth of funny and fascinating anecdotes to tell and a warm and welcoming nature.

Very, very-much child-friendly.

Food: One of the things which sells me on Banners is their variety of choice which, in opposition to Ramsey’s rantings, they cook to an equitable and thoroughly delicious standard. There are small-portion options, a children’s menu with free ice-cream, and a slight bias toward Caribbean dishes. However, like the decor, the selection of dishes is delightfully eclectic and not wedded to one particular style or place.

The quality and presentation of the food is gastro-pub rather than restaurant, in that it is not fussy or frilly, and comes in sizeable, satisfying portions. “Comfortable” is the key with Banners, and rolling sittings from breakfast to supper it would be quite pleasant to spend an entire day there.

NB: While it is possible to book at all three so far, Goodman’s is about the only place it is really necessary to make a reservation at; walk-ins at Banners and Balans are the norm.

Grieg’s, Mayfair.

Traditional English food. Extremely good traditional English food and justly famous for its steaks. The key word for everything – fish, starters, prawns, steaks, pie, anything they serve – is succulent. Idiosyncratic and anachronistic setting, an impressive winelist and good service. Not for the faint of wallet.

Abeno Too, Leicester Square

Small and closely-packed, busy at every time of the day and therefore worth making a reservation; service can take a while due to this and the nature of the food, but it is worth the wait; food falls within the £10-£30 range and is mind-bogglingly tasty. The restaurant specialises in okonomi-yaki, a kind of Japanese Spanish Omelette which is prepared in front of you on a hot plate; the process of preparation is honesty some of the best dinner entertainment I’ve had in a while and there are few things as pleasing as watching a skilled professional plying their art.

Advice: Order smaller-sized okonomi-yaki as they are extremely filling, and try the plum wine squash, which involves diluting plum wine with lemonade to create a less sickly-sweet cocktail which pairs very well with the mains.

Haché, Camden

A gourmet burger place within easy stagger of Camden station, sandwiched between bars and a market, Haché is narrow and gregarious, and very welcoming; the décor is interesting to the point of distraction. The burgers themselves are fat and juicy, prepared however you wish, with a variety of themes – my party ate our way through the Mediterranean with a Spanish-themed burger featuring choritzo, a Scillian burger topped with parma ham and mozzarella… the most charming touch, to my mind, was the fries, served in tiny little frying baskets.

Recommended: the chocolate brownie. Highly satisfying, if you can fit it in after one of Haché’s substantial burgers.

Not recommended: hot chocolate. It was rather unpleasant.

[Review] Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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Amneisa: The Dark Descent is a notoriously scary game, so allow me to begin by listing all the things it has given me phobias of:

  • purple liquid
  • blood
  • orbs
  • bulls
  • naked people
  • water
  • piano music
  • being in the dark
  • being brightly lit
  • pyramids
  • cockroaches
  • drills
  • syringes
  • mushrooms
  • wheels
  • strawberry jam

(Minor spoilers under the cut)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

July 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Review: Emmy the Great, “Virtue”

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Album cover showing Emmy next to a gingerbread house

I was fortunate enough to see Emmy perform some of the material from this album at the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre back in March (which is, by the way, an excellent venue to experience any kind of music in, given how perfectly acoustically designed it is for listening), and so listening to the album now does tend to bring back images of blue filtered lights and Emmy tapping hypnotically at a string of sleigh bells. It also moves me to use that tired old saw of reviewing, “it sounds better live”, with the addendum “please don’t listen to this album through rubbish laptop speakers”. Really, Ms Moss’s voice deserves better reproduction than that.

As to the album itself, I suspect the term “mature” should be used to describe what has happened both to the subject matter and the lyrics; imagine a whole album of “Absentee”, with the aching undercurrent of loss toned down to barely subliminal levels. This is what maturity means in writing – becoming more literary, with more allusions to more out-of-sight touchstones that can be appreciated by a wider audience, but losing some of the bite that characterised First Love.

“Creation”, for example, is an examination of the coming-of-age story and the way it is always focussed on the achievements and trials of the young man, never the young woman; it is musically beautiful with hints of threat, and Emmy’s voice has become clearer and more powerful with time, it is a more passionate and chilling essay than anything anyone has ever written in their exercise books come exam time, but it is still an essay.

“Cassandra” is one of the the more solid songs on this album, and has been the one which caught in my head for the longest. The song itself cycles through images and notes on the unavoidable nature of beginnings and endings, with the motif of Cassandra (“keep it down”), the tragically-ignored prophetess of Greek legend, revising itself downward toward the question that makes up the backbone of it all: “What good is love if it always ends?”.

“Iris” is an uptempo track, which makes skillful use of dissonance; the twinkly melody and mentions of radiance bouncing off “what if the sight of you could take my eyes”. Like “Cassandra”, Iris is a single-statement/question song, in this instance, what the word is for the emotion the narrator or the subject (it’s not clear) is experiencing. It seems a little empty, made up of syllables to encase the central question, unlike the capsule stories which filled out much of First Love.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” is, along with “Dinosaur Sex”, for me the stand-out track on this album; performed at the Purcell Room gig as the first of Emmy’s new material it produced shivers under the blue light, and the floral imagery seemed to crawl along the verses as it does over the walls of the house in the lyrics, punctured and punctuated by reference to pipes running bleach, or pipes running bone. Ordinarily I am not a great fan of anything which declares “I am a w0man” (being raised by second-wavers tends to leave one groaning “oh not this bloody affirmation again”), but as with “We Almost Had A Baby”, the shadows at the edge of the words keep the affirrmation from becoming too saccharine.

Leaving my favourite song from this album for last, there is “Dinosaur Sex”, which I am going to include a video of (from the performance of it that I saw, in fact – isn’t YouTube wonderful?).

“Dinosaur Sex” has a broader, almost country feel to it musically, and shows a return to the darker and more final imagery and language which I am more familiar with from songs like “Paper Trails” and “Two Steps Forward”. The chorus is simple and catchy, the verses haunting and somehow sounding like the memory of long-ago summers. It is a very evocative and ties in with “Cassandra”, prophecying doom in sweet tones.

In conclusion, then, Virtue is a more mature album, a more literary album, but one which in moving away from the adolescent themes of death and love has lost some of the emotional weight that First Love carried; however, almost all of the songs Virtue contains are given a significant polish by being performed live, so if it is possible I would advise going to see Emmy’s gigs.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

How to be a Good Boss

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Now, it’s been a while since I had a job, as I scampered back to full-time education and have been using this as an excuse not to get on with the demoralising business of lying to HR departments about my level of enthusiasm for filing things and trying to convince them that I am in any way a sociable human being. However, when I was in full-time employment I had a wonderful selection of terminally awful bosses, and one or two really good ones. The really good ones did things like give me free food, instill a sense of team unity without getting into disgusting bonding exercises, and ensure that they didn’t give us all contradictory instructions; the bad bosses did things like talk to me as if I was a dog, lean over my shoulder while I was working, and change the goalposts every five minutes (and refuse to train me to do my job because it was time-consuming and then yell at me for not being able to do my job: advice for large companies, if someone has been in the same role for 30 years and it doesn’t require specialist skills, you may want to consider keeping a close eye on them for psychopathic tendencies).

So here’s a nice list of ways you can get more out of your workforce when your workforce is someone like me:

  • Don’t micromanage. Everyone has different ways of getting a job done and if the end result is the same, whinging at them for doing things in the order you personally wouldn’t or for slumping while they do it is pointless timewasting. Go sit behind your desk and play minesweeper or something instead.
  • Make sure there is a steady workflow. If at all possible, give everyone a list of shit that needs to get done over the course of the day. If it’s supposed to be in a specific order, say so. And then let them get the fuck on with it. Interrupting to give people new work should only happen if the new work is urgent, otherwise just tack it on to the end of the list; and for fuck’s sake don’t take things off people when they’re in the middle of doing them. It’s disorienting and despiriting and depressing and nothing makes people more resentful and less productive than that. Furthermore, don’t give people one task and assure them it will take them all day, because it pretty much won’t. You can only ever have at best a vague understanding of how long your employees take to do something, and if they’re like me they will finish quickly, get bored, surf the internet while waiting for more work rather than interrupt you to get some or “take the initiative” and risk getting that wrong.
  • Be aware of how people work. Your employees aren’t machines. They have different needs and approaches; some people like to chat while they work, others prefer to listen to music on headphones; some people like to work in one long lump and then have a long break, others like to take lots of little breaks; some people dip between projects, other people concentrate on one at a time; some people have their most productive periods in the mornings, others after lunch; some people are sticklers for deadlines, and other people need to be told they’re two weeks earlier than they actually are.  It’s to your benefit to adjust to their methods of working rather than panickily trying to impose the same sense of order onto everyone and failing to get the most out of them.
  • Either sit down or piss off. If you work in the same room as your employees, work in that room. Sit down and type or make calls, but don’t prowl around the room like you have radio-controlled underpants. It’s distracting and threatening, and as you must know, nervous people make more mistakes than calm ones. If you have to flounce around, do it outside.
  • Set a good example. If you want your employees to be on time, not spend their entire time on the phone to their friends, have fewer coffee breaks, and dress smartly, you have to do the same. It gives a proclaimation a little more weight if you say “you don’t see me chatting away all afternoon” rather than, as one of my former line managers did, spending all day every day on the phone to members of your family within earshot.
  • Be flexible. A workforce that’s rewarded for its loyalty and hardwork with understanding and patience doesn’t even require as much in the way of material rewards. Most people would rather have a pleasant working environment – ie. one in which disputes are settled quickly and the boss (that’s you) doesn’t behave like a gorgon, a lunatic, or a prison-warder – than a large bonus, particularly if we’re in low-responsibility jobs. It also makes us more likely to volunteer for overtime.
  • Aim to be authorative. Not bossy, domineering, or shrewish. Don’t wheedle. Don’t attempt to explain the significance of the tasks you’re setting – we’re minimum wage slaves, we do not fucking care, and you cannot make us care. You’re the boss. I don’t give a blind monkey fuck why you want the files moving, just tell me to move them and I’ll move them. Don’t try to convince me of the worth of the work I’m doing, or cajole me into doing something. You are boss.
  • Don’t hotdesk. You can’t prevent friendship groups or cliques from forming, it’s a deeply ingrained part of human nature. Instead of forcing everyone to move out of the position they’re comfortable in, let them have their own dominion, and remind them not to glower at other people and to save their work gossip for outside of work.
  • Never make work socialisation mandatory. Just because we can get on with each other when we’re being paid to doesn’t mean we have any desire to see each other outside of the workplace. If we want to come, we’ll come, and if you make it an offer it’s far more likely to breed camaraderie than if everyone is required to spend additional unpaid time around people from work. Furthermore, not everyone is a great socialiser. They may well be a great employee, but you don’t get anywhere forcing the leopard to change her spots for the sake of “workplace spirit” – all this does is breed resentment.
  • Keep calm. You’re in charge, here. Your panic is contagious, and so is your anger. There are other ways to convey the gravity and importance of a situation or timeframe than by being emotional: they’re called words. If you’re straightforwards about the relative importance of various tasks and projects, people will respond accordingly.

It feels nice telling the boss what to do. Maybe I’ll try this again sometime.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm

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