13 May 2016

Pink Poppy Day

If I had to describe where I live in three words, it would have to be: (1) Medieval. (2) Corsican. (3) Hamlet. It sounds like a statement although I don't mean it that way, as the obligatory envious clichés are invariably bound to jump off the page: vacational island, coastal living, Mediterranean climate, panoramic landscapes bathed in the wonder of blue yonder, nature on the doorstep, and ancient off-the-beaten-track dry-stone buildings.

Those three words forebode a sense of adventure, I agree. Yet adventure is to be found at the start of your state of mind. Adventure may be found in 'Salford studio flat' or 'industrial Dusseldorf complex' all the same. It's that old chestnut again: life is what you make it. You may want to play it safe and never investigate your surroundings and that is your decision.

Yet should you be seeking adventure in the mundanity of your surroundings, you are spoilt for choice. Any restrictions will be set by how far (or near!) you wish to expand your imagination and curiosity. In fact, the best way to turn anything into an adventure is to take nothing for granted because that Renaissance building that had stood the test of time till now might be gone tomorrow, because that noble cedar tree might be chopped down, because the sweet old lady down the road might sell off her bungalow and pack her bags before you've RSVPed her gracious invite for Pekoe tea and Bourbon biscuits. Because as it is, natural entropy is being accelerated by the planned obsolescence of our modern model, which puts us mere mortals at a disadvantage.

The transience of life expressed through our mortality needs to force us to be aware of every instant that is lived within the environment at large. To cultivate curiosity, be curious by nature about nature, and an explorer of life rather than a passive consumer fed by the media is what I recommend to young and old - especially the young ones - as the 'future-holders' of our world.

What is the relation of all that precedes with the Pink Poppy Day title, I hear you say? I haven't been on a diversion course; there would be no Pink Poppy Day post without this natural curiosity of mine and sense of adventure woven out of the mundanity of life. Now here is my story.

A couple of days ago, I went for a stroll up the hamlet and found that a beautiful wild poppy bush blossoming on an elevation by the side of the path had been pulled off the ground by a local landlord, and tossed down the path like a dirt bag. Sadly I encounter this attitude a lot around here, this total disrespect for nature's own floral gifts. Understand nature and the nature of wild plants: they come impromptu and spontaneous, like uninvited guests of sorts. But they don't come to burden you; rather they come to enliven your day, and their inflorescence - little bits of charm and beauty they scatter around their foliage - is free of charge. A big bonus if you want flower delight without shelling a dime! Yet instead of being left alone, the wild plants get pulled out or cut back or doused in herbicide, and this infuriates me!

I went on a poppy rescue mission there and then. I brought back home the pulled-out poppy bush, cut back its foliage and managed to fit the root system into an XXL jar with a little water in the bottom. In the next few days, I shall plant it in my parents' garden and we'll monitor its progress. Meanwhile I salvaged the blooms - which were looking sorry for themselves - and improvised them into a tabletop posy in an improvised vase, an empty glass jar! From that moment on, I witnessed the blooms gather strength and perk up.

I saved the poppies from their downtrodden state and they made my day in return with their charming blossoms that I couldn't cease to admire. Yet their place should have been out there in the wild rather than in a vase but I had to compose with the vagaries of the human mind, that interferes with nature because it wants to control it.

On the third day, my lovely poppies had scattered their petals by the time I was down for breakfast. I carefully picked those, and laid them flat inside a paper bag that I placed under a heavy contraption for a spot of drying before I use them in a paper collage at some point in the future.

This is how my Pink Poppy Day came about: a reversal of fortune for the wild flowers and an eleventh hour rescue from the ditch. The moral of the story is that nature belongs to itself and we are welcome to enjoy it, not tamper with it to the point of destruction. Yet you can bring positivity to a situation by turning the little drama around, and embracing it as an adventure in the everyday.

P.S: Jason Silva's Existential Bummer 'philosophical espresso shot' about entropy is bound to perk up your day and stimulate your thought! Three minutes of bliss!

6 Apr 2016

Blogposts with Attitude #BWA - March 2016

LBM squeezed every last drop of March before handing it to you, my friends. And what have we got in the #BWA department for the month that eased us from Winter into Spring with a little sweetness from a secret stash of Easter eggs? Read on to find out!

In this day and age of digital burn-out, it is easy to forget the basics - like how to write. National Handwriting Day (23rd January) pops in once a year to rekindle (albeit briefly) the dying art of putting pen to paper. Jewellery designer Emma Mitchell, the lady behind Silverpebble, has taken the exercise a few steps further, inviting her readers to join in the fun through The Handwritten Letter Exchange and enter into a correspondence with a penpal, with all the anticipation that goes with it: from the writing paper to the handwriting itself, and more elaborate calligraphy, to drawings and other embellishments that enter into the composition of a letter. And then pop a nice stamp on the envelope, and posted it goes onto its journey over to its recipient, bringer of glad tidings and joy! To take the time to rediscover the art of writing a letter is time well spent. If you are a little stuck and in search of inspiration, why not give Letters of Note a browse?
Emma @ Silverpebble's correspondence letter to Mirta Tyrrell @ Modern Botanics, (via Instagram)

04-May-2016 Update: Did that first paragraph of mine mention something about sweetness? Well, short and sweet is how I will have to keep this #BWA post because I am right in the middle of setting up a company with my husband, which is both very exciting and busy! It also means that certain things have had to give, hence my falling off the 'blogwaggon' over the last few weeks.

Now trying to play catch-up with this post - which I had published half-finished  four weeks ago with the hope of finishing it eventually - was just not gonna cut it. I shall however state that The Letter Exchange remains my favourite blog read of March! Get that lovely writing paper out and may you be inspired to pen a letter to a penpal or reconnect with friends and family members! In my busy schedule of late, I managed to squeeze in two letters, to aunties and uncles!

#TFISpring by Silverpebble

21 Mar 2016

Little People, Big Hearts

I have a problem with today's society. There is an urge for 'being somebody', for being noticed, being with it, breaking it, making it, becoming famous. What rigs it even more is that the quest for be(com)ing somebody is defined by one parameter - the popularity contest. It is driven by celebrity culture, inflated by social media (creating the ephemeral buzz and elusive cool factor) and misguided by the reality TV agenda (whereby we are sold the idea that anyone - just anyone - can be someone). In a world where individuals are hungry for fame and still stand famished as the fame they're craving for does not sustain in the long run, I am wondering: what's wrong with just wanting to be/ stay ordinary - as in not famous - at all?

My great great grandad Ferdinand's village in Picardie, France (pic source)

Ordinary and be of worth, able to accomplish worthwhile things, like a job done right, and be a caring child, spouse, parent, friend, neighbour. To establish and maintain one's value system and cause no harm nor prejudice. Respectful of life in all its representations, down to nature that surrounds us. Give a meaning to life that is not dependent upon external objects.

I have discussed the ordinary folks before now and to me they are anything but ordinary. I hold so much respect for them! No need to be searching high and low for we are surrounded by them in our own lifelines. Take my maternal great great auntie, Claire, an industrious Corsican woman who worked her land her entire life, with nothing like a day in lieu or a pension to fall back on. Take my paternal great grandad, Louis, who started work at 6 years of age down his local textile mill in Picardie, northern France, and later took his leave... to experience the trenches of the Great War. Or how about Louis's dad, Ferdinand, a weaver and family man whose life was stolen off him at 45 on his way to work, engulfed by snow drift in the wee hours of the morning... His tragic passing didn't make the news.

Ferdinand is buried in the Fluquières cemetery (pic source)

Those are ordinary folks, working-class heroes in their own right. They glide in and out of the grand scheme of things, and get no mention in history books. Yet in the great architecture of the universe, those are the artisans who laboured their lives away and still managed to grow spiritually and enrich their communities with a strong set of values. 

Dignity, pride, honour, honesty, respect, grace, compassion, loving care, knowledge, inner wisdom, gratitude, acceptance, resilience, bravery, labour - and an immense strength of character that we, the modern folks in quest of the un-ordinary, should take a leaf out of. These 'behind-the-scenes' folks were used by governments and corporate but still held their all while acting as the cannon-fodder that fuelled the mills during peace and the artillery during war. They still found the time and energy to be creative in their frugal ways, attend to their land agroecologically (way before the term was coined!), make do with little they owned, fix and build things, make life beautiful, feed a family and raise the kids right, go to church, believe in Heaven and redemption and hone their own conception of the after-life, and an earnest belief in the continuous betterment of man.

They lived in rural communities and were in tune with nature that they nurtured, knew every plant, concocted herbal remedies, understood the weather patterns, nature cycles, the seasons and the lunar calendar, and referred to the almanac. They were fabulous story-tellers, and the guardians of family anecdotes, local legends and folk tales. They met up with family and friends in a spirit of conviviality. They always had a bowl of soup at the ready for someone even poorer than themselves who would come knocking on their door. They were hardly school-educated, and so what? They could function autonomously, solidly grounded in common sense and observation. They were entrepreneurial, inventive and never backed down. They lived a simple life but that didn't make them the commoners they may be described as by whoever is hungry for fame and a material lifestyle that ends up tarnishing their soul. For to be rich is to own inner riches, and these cannot be bought.

19 Mar 2016

How to Foolproof Your Windows 10 PC in 10 Easy Steps!

My parents bought a new PC lately, an ASUS X553M Notebook. Price was the catch, but as the more savvy amongst us are aware, price does not (always) dictate quality, especially when it comes to technology. Roby, my Apple-devout better half, had warned them that they should go for Mac rather than PC but they went down the supermarket instead, and halfway between browsing the DIY aisle and the books section, had a quick nose round the IT shelves for a pretty-looking piece wearing an ice white shell and a shiny logo on top, then asked a couple of lame questions to a nearby vendor and the deal was sealed. When they got home, they called me and asked me to work my magic on it. And faced with Windows 10 - an adversity all to itself - this is what I came up with:

  1. I registered their ASUS machine online, following the prompts, and had to create an ASUS account in the process but kept personal data to a minimum. 
  2. Personalised the 'Welcome' message that pops up when Windows loads.
  3. Set the date and time (yep, can you believe that this is not an automatic Windows feature here?)!
  4. Uninstalled the preset anti-virus software and unleashed my trusted Kaspersky, as I own a Kaspersky licence for 2 PCs.
  5. Installed Iolo System Mechanic, a programme (not a freebie but well worth the cost!) that does a great job of decluttering registers and system drives and all the behind-the-scenes shindig!
  6. Killed off Internet Explorer and installed Firefox as the defacto internet browser. I bookmarked a handful of websites that I know my parents will be using, to make it easier for them. I tweaked the design to make it more personable to them and added the Ghostery plug-in, an advert blocker that works wonders!
  7. Uninstalled the Microsoft Office free trial bundle. Who wants to shell out cash for more crawling chaos? And here whizzed in OpenOffice! While I was at it, I installed Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, and PhotoScape free photo-editing software, a pared-down cheapo imitation of Photoshop Elements that does amateur photography the trick of the tweak!
  8. Installed Skype and created and configured their brand new Skype account, adding a couple of family contacts to give my parents a headstart with the application!
  9. Customised their task bar with all the basic programmes and features, like Open Office, Adobe Reader, Calculator, Screen Capture Tool, Kaspersky, System Mechanic, Skype and PhotoScape. I doubt they will use WebStorage and Evernote but I added those on too. Cleaned out the Windows start menu off any unnecessary items.
  10. Created a table in a word document that holds their account logins and passwords, so that they are never stuck! Of course I encouraged them to change their passwords and update the sheet accordingly whenever they do so.
Finally I downloaded the Lexmark printer files off the manufacturer's website in order to connect my parents' old printer to their new computer. Unfortunately I couldn't find drivers compatible with Windows 10;  yet another dirty little trick that Microsoft loves to play on us whenever they upgrade to a new OS, forcing folks to purchase new bits of kit... This is the Microsoft Windows diktat, and another reason why I begrudge the IT behemoth.

Now a little rant. Unsurprisingly, Windows 10 has failed to impress me, and already I can spot error messages creeping up and discrepancies brewing up just under the hood... You wonder whether Windows' clunky and notoriously dysfunctioning operating systems are not a justification for keeping IT departments and the IT sector as a whole superstaffed, because if we were dealing with efficient systems, we wouldn't need all those dedicated Windows technicians!

Would you trust this man with your computer? Me neither.

Anyhoo I tried to streamline and foolproof my parents' computer as best I could. Considering they will be mostly surfing the internet and typing up the odd letter, a PC put through my 10-step programme should suffice.

14 Mar 2016

The Lambing Season

With the call of Spring only one week away and Easter a week after that, family gatherings are back on the menu after the post-Christmas interval. Now pardon me for sounding blunt and direct, but may I ask you a personal question: How do you like your lamb?

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

No, it's not a strange question, and yes I do mean the cute cuddly baby sheep! Hmm, before the juices start running and baby onions start rustling up in the oven, you'll have me beg you to spare me the trimmings. Why? Because it just so happens that I like my lamb au naturel and with little else. That means I like it without the mint sauce and the garden peas, and the basting unless it's a typo and you mean 'basking', because I like my lamb basking in the sun (and not in gravy!). I like my lamb so much that it has got to run free through the herb garden and the potager, and across pastures new of tender grass, with no fear to be had, and a long life to look forward to. I am a vegetarian and I like my lamb alive!

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

My lamb may lie on a carrot bed should its fancy be tickled by it, but not on a bed of steamed carrots. I shall be able to gaze into its eyes while calling it cute, and not have to bear the double standards once it has been slain and laid to rest on the Easter platter for all of us to share, cutting the chop and cutting away the idea that said meat belongs to an animal that we call cute and pretty and cuddly! So cute awww, it hurts! So huggable, it loses out in the food stakes, to the hug of the carnivorous diet...  

Pause and think: do you really need to eat a cute little thing like that little guy in order to satisfy your wondrous appetite? Or are you just getting so caught up in tradition and habit that you don't even realise what is going on on your plate anymore?

This coming Easter, may your 'Aww!' moment be your 'Aha!' moment. I'll meat you over the nut loaf.

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow
Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

Wait for it! There are more farm animal cuties to be seen, via exPress-o and A Playful Day!

7 Mar 2016

The Art of Slow Blogging

Recently I came across an interesting and thought-provoking post by Kate O'Sullivan @ A Playful Day that mused over the Art of Slow Blogging. The topic instantly resonated with me... and my blogging style which happens to bear a close resemblance to the art form. Thus it was both flattering and encouraging for me to find out that the methodology - Movement even! - had been acknowledged by insiders within the blogging community!

I started blogging over six years ago - in earnest. But I had started the journey a few weeks prior, writing a dozen posts in advance, all collated together in a Word document. I published my posts at the rate of one a day. Meanwhile I knew I should be pacing myself but in those early weeks, blogging fever had taken over me! I never ran out of ideas or material or steam. Then just before Christmas 2009, I changed lives and I moved countries, and blogging had to take a back seat for a while. Yet I missed blogging so bad, I pined for it! When I finally managed to settle into a routine a few months later, I resumed the blogging, after writing a series of ready-to-be-published articles behind the scenes. I knew nonetheless that the daily post formula would not be a viable option.

Besides I had high standards and high expectations of myself, and I wanted blogging to remain an enjoyable experience - keep the flame alive - not having it turned into a chore. My priority was for content quality to improve consistently, presentation to be on a par with professional blogs out there, and topics to be more and more daring. And to me, aside from a few notable exceptions, those bloggers who deliver daily tend after a while to run out of creative steam, or get too comfortable and start cutting corners, getting sloppy, giving the finer details the shoulder, and discussing the same topic over and over, under a different title, and ripped off Pinterest pictures, for the sake of the daily publish. Or turn the daily post into the daily mall, with a shopping list and a wish list to boot that link to a list of affiliates that kerchings blogging out! The Art of Blogging, in all its capital letter glory, falls off the wayside. All you get is a series of images, and a bit of lame text that painfully stretches the distance from side bar to side bar, flashing with retail links. This leaves us readers in search of 'substance' questioning our loyalty to material that is not worth our while (anymore).

My prerogative has always been to keep my integrity of spirit and keep writing from the heart, and alongside this, develop further as a writer, and eventually move towards a non-fiction book project. In the meantime, as a blogger I choose to pace myself in order to have the time that helps me deliver quality. Slow does it for me. But careful, slow is not lazy! It might be so in relation to certain bloggers, but those won't last the distance. The slow I am on about, you need to allegorically associate it to the Slow Food Movement, that rediscovers the traditional way of cooking honest, simple food and sharing it in a convivial, nourishing and paced fashion. Slow is crucial to a stew or a fine cheese or a good wine. The produce takes a little longer in the making, it needs that little extra time and loving care in order to come together and mature and deliver taste. Good things come to those (readers) who wait and to those (bloggers) who take their time to write them. This creates a synergy.

Forget about the stats. I might not be writing a post a day, but rest assured that every single one of them is no casual affair. It takes me a fair amount of time to put together. Some posts require me to push the envelope further as they involve research that may span weeks. But in every case, I enjoy the process and I can safely say without sounding pretentious that all of my posts convey a message, provide food for thought, and give lifestyle that little edge of attitude. This, to me, is the recipe for a blog to last the distance - and what Slow Blogging is/ should be about.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for reading and appreciating my blog! This means a lot to me.

5 Mar 2016

Foraging for Wild Asparagus

Wild asparagus season is in full swing in Corsica right now, and a demonstration of how giving and generous nature is to man, in all of our taking for granted of it. I had spotted a few asparagus stems around the village, tentatively tempting me to indulge in a little culinary adventure.

Fresh asparagus always gets me excited for two reasons. It heralds Spring (two weeks from now!), and is an indulgent delicacy (verging on luxury) that gracefully eases us out of the stodgy Winter veg dishes. Unlike its cultivated counterpart, wild asparagus is thin and lean! Long stems (whose tips are for picking) that delicately sway to the breeze in a semi-shaded, well-drained environment. I find them scattered at the feet of old olive trees.

Yesterday morning, with little Tickle in tow, and 'armed' with a paring knife, small gratin dish and camera, I went pottering about my immediate surroundings, on the hunt for wild asparagus. Oh, I did get distracted on the way there and back by those other tangible signs of Spring, purple daisy-like ground flowers that go by the name of Anemone stellata.

Then I spotted what looked like Morels. However not being a mycologist and not being able to ascertain whether those morels were safe and edible - or toxic - I resisted the temptation of picking them! Folks, the 'Better safe than sorry' idiom befits wild mushroom foraging to a cap, especially if you are no specialist!

Creamy Pasta Served with Wild Asparagus

Back home, I threw together a quick and easy lunch out of leftover plain pasta, simply plunged in boiling water and a dash of olive oil for a couple of minutes, then tossed in double cream, to which were added a small tin of sliced button mushrooms (my safe option to those unacquainted wild varieties out there!), the juice of half a lemon from Nice (+ a sprinkle of grated peel), salt, pepper and chopped chives. In a separate pan, I blanched the asparagus tips for five minutes, drained them and scattered them over the plated pasta. It was an ordinary meal with a little extra thrown into it, thanks to the fragrant, natural and organic asparagus that had been picked from the wild!

(pict source)

26 Feb 2016

Blogposts with Attitude #BWA - February 2016

If you missed LBM's #BWA January feature, you need to head over and check it, as you can expect attitude in spades, with flowers and grace! #BWA is back this month - and hush! - the feature might well turn into a fixture! February explored boldness under its many guises: bold design, bold decisions, and bold reversals in fortune.

So, here we go, in chronological order, my five favourite posts this month. Enjoy the read and feel free to add on to the list: -

No.1: Reopening London's Mail Rail by The Conversation
The London Post Office Railway, a.k.a. The London Mail Rail, is one fascinating feat of engineering which - as a cog in the wheel of Britain's bold, efficient and fearless industrial legacy - operated sleek, fast, automated, driverless underground train services, over a 75-year period, facilitating business right into the core of London's sorting offices and two of its train stations, along the Paddington-Whitechapel corridor, dodging ground level delays and traffic jams, tucked out of customer sight and right at the front of the mind of the postal services. At its peak, it transited no less than 4 million letters a day! As with what happens with the idiosyncrasies of post-industrial - erm - industry, such a bold innovation would have to be scrapped eventually. Royal Mail closed the operation down in 2003, in line with its on-going streamlining of operations and year-on-year drop in mail volumes. And as with cogs in the wheels that once drove our industry, they end up either getting scrapped altogether or as a museum display - which is exactly what is to happen to London Mail Rail. Check The Postal Museum's preview on the matter. If you prefer your preview on the raw side - understand down and dirty - check the documented footage direct from the frontline by Place Hacking (back in 2011).

The iPhone S (shown in Rose Gold)

No.2: A Message to Our Customers by Apple
If there is one brand that still oozes Silicon Valley free spirit, then Apple is it. And when we thought it had met its demise with Steve Jobs' passing and the company's multi-million-dollar market share in the mobile phone industry would sell out its credibility as an edgy brand, it proved otherwise. Now Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has taken it one unprecedented step further, in reaction to the US government's request to be able to access customer data, via a master key of sorts, a 'backdoor' to the iOS (iPhone operating system). Apple boldly refused to execute the command, and clearly laid out the reasons for encrypting customer data. You can only admire a company for refusing to compromise its core values in terms of privacy laws and digital security, while still abiding to the American Constitution, yet refusing to be part of the police state that the government is building, one bit of code at a time. Apple, you stand well out there in the wake of America's founding fathers for whom liberty was a right, not an option, and I hold you in high esteem!

No.3 Dogs Run Over, Cats Thrown in the Trash: Victims of 'No-Kill' Policies by PETA
'No Kill' or not 'No Kill'? That is the question raised by this article, when shelters have ceased to be shelters and ceased to welcome every animal in need, because they no longer operate an open-door policy, for whatever reason, genuine or otherwise: over-capacity, overcrowding, long waiting lists, management difficulties, selection criteria, or simply to keep turnover low, 'make it look good' and secure further fundings. As always, the unwanted, abandonned pets are the ones left to suffer and pay the ultimate price of neglect and cruelty. PETA notes that “No-kill” policies don’t prevent animals from dying. They simply leave animals to die elsewhere—and often miserably." The solution is not in No Kill, it lays in educating people about responsible pet ownership, and adhere to a spay-and-neuter programme.

A life of tears on Necton Hall Pig Farm, Norfolk, England!

Viva! Founder and Director Juliet Gellatley braved the night and the inhospitality of her surroundings. She pushed the door of an ordinary British pig farm (Necton Hall Pig Farm, Norfolk) to show us what is really going on behind closed doors and beyond the myth of happy husbandry. She unveiled to us an ordinary tale of daily cruelty, ordinary in its commonplace, ordinary due to consumer love for meat, and a finished packaged up product that desensitises them from the reality of a once-living animal, all flesh and bones and sentience, behind that lump of meat surrendered to carnivorous appetites. And the cruelty on the farm leads on to the antechamber of the abattoir where horror awaits. The tragedy of the farm animal happens everywhere in the world where animals are traded commodities. In fact, human rapport with animals is short of humane, and may be summarised by The War against Animals by Dinesh Joseph Wadiwel, Lecturer in Human Rights and Socio-Legal Studies at The University of Sydney. The tragedy is more acutely emphasised under the industrial farming model (whereby 10 million pigs are slaughtered in the UK each year!), where an animal is a living product with a price tag on its head. Viva!'s shock tactics are sure to pull on the heartstrings of the blissfully ignorant meat eaters out there. Some of them will end up joining our vegetarian ranks, while the rest will turn a blind eye and remain complicit of the pain on their plates. Years ago, thanks to organisations like Viva! I took the decision to stop eating meat. Simple question for you: if you truly love animals, why would you want to eat them? Hone that thought before you reach out for that BLT!

No.5 Oscar-Nominated Film Forces Pakistan to Confront 'Honour Killings' by The Telegraph
It is easy for a young Western woman to take for granted that general sense of freedom that comes with the territory, in terms of her choices around higher education, employment, fashion, travel, and love relationships. Our society is tolerant of our choices and orientations, and today's parents have taken it in their strides with greater ease than their elders. The permissiveness of the West stands out from the die-hard traditions and customs of patriarchal cultures from Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Southern Asia, where girls and young women have their choices taken away from them by strong family pressure for them to conform to cultural legacy, which includes forced mariages. If they do not abide, they are not only disgraced by their families, but also run the risk of losing their lives. Oscar-nominated documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy relates the fate of 19-year-old Saba Qaiser, in a poignant true story of love and (t)reason. Every year, more than a thousand girls and young women are the victims of religiously-motivated honour killings in Pakistan alone!

15 Feb 2016

No Monkeying Around the Year of the Monkey!

PETA UK emailed me a bulletin last week that highlights the irony of 2016 as The Year of the Monkey in the Chinese Astrological Calendar. This is no reason for celebration because the assumption that monkeys will be more respected this year is only... an assumption.

Female macaque and her baby. Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, from her book We Animals.

As far as honouring our primate friends, take a closer look. Irrespective of the Chinese New Year, monkeys will be disrespected every step of the way. Expect them to pay for their ultimate 'sin' of being the closest representative within the animal kingdom to our gene pool. For sure, monkeys will look fine and dandy (but will they be feeling this way?), paraded around in ceremonial attire and fancy finery in celebration of the Chinese New Year, but this is as far as lauding the monkey will go.

This year, like every year, monkeys will still end up as delicacies on the tables of the Far East, or feed the sordid domestic and commercial pet trade across the globe, or end up as tasteless trophies on some hunter's wall. But the Gallery of Shame doesn't end there. They will still be snatched off the wild in paradisiacal hotspots like Mauritius and stowed away in sinister breeding farms before being lucratively traded like mere commodities to the notorious cages of Primate Products, Inc., and on to the death labs of the National Institutes of Health (USA) and the unsuspected science departments of seemingly 'friendly' universities out there.

Injured macaque. Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, ibid.

This year, like every year, monkeys will still be tampered with, tested upon, and submitted to the unspeakable: the immoral, unethical and utterly dispensable cruelty of vivisection: animal experimentation that gives a bad name to science and those who make a living out of it, in their despicable justification that pain to animal is gain to science, and to humanity at large, and all performed in the name of medical advancement and clinical progress and the beautification process of our made-up environments and any item thereof that demands a little animal intervention.

I could keep on painting a dark picture of monkey life in 2016. Yet by taking action - rather than turning a blind eye and looking away from these disturbing vignettes - will we be able to lift off the darkness that shrouds monkey life. There are good people out there. Individuals like you and me, ordinary folks, unsung heroes who lead decent lives and try their bit to make this crazy world a tad more sane and humane! There are high-profile defenders of the noble animal cause, and those who have specifically dedicated their lives to primates, like Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, while some like Dian Fossey tragically paid with their lives the price for their dedication! There are photographers like Jo-Anne McArthur who through her compelling project We Animals has made it her goal to document what is really going on out of sight, out of mind, behind close doors, and beyond official PR.

Scared macaque. Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, ibid.

It is a moral duty of mine to expose the flip sides, so that you do not get yourself fooled. What you are shown and told by the (mainstream) media and the globalist political agenda, do not take at face value! Go scratch the surface, do a little dig and see for yourself and think about it and make up an opinion that is yours. Meanwhile the Year of the Monkey will truly be a cause for celebration for me the moment monkeys are restored their dignity by those who stole it from them in the first place: their cousins, We Humans.

Female macaque with her young. Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, ibid.

P.S: All photography in this article by Jo-Anne McArthur, taken at a Macaque Breeding Farm in Laos. Her awesome book We Animals - which I recommend you purchase - features arresting text and photography that will shake you to the core!

P.P.S: Act your bit now by signing those two important petitions: (1) Cruelty Free International's petition to urge Mauritius to stop exporting its monkeys to the USA and Europe for lab experiments! (2) Dr Ruth A. Decker's petition to University of Wisconsin against the unethical torture and killing of baby monkeys!

7 Feb 2016

Inspire Aspire - Morning Defrag

Morning Defrag - as I call it - might sound like Morning Decaf but don't get yourselves deluded! Morning Defrag is a highly-energised caffeinated powerhouse that sets you on your working day focused and ready. It is all about self-organisation. All these years in England, I used it instinctively and it grounded me. Then I recognised the pattern and channelled it and understood how it took me from a state of morning haggard hazard to morning calm. This is a routine you need to incorporate into your life if your bed-to-work journey is hectic and chaotic.

A Date with Fate 2 by Jack Vettriano

I will state emphatically that I am NO morning person. The thought of getting up early frazzles me. So imagine how difficult and painful it was for me to get up at the crack of dawn for a work start at 6:30am or 7:00am! I had to get myself organised. Apart from those specific work assignments, my working day usually started later, some time between 8:00am and 9:00am, depending on the workplace.

There was nothing left for improvisation in my morning. I got up an hour before due to leave, so everything had to be timed, and divided into half an hour for getting ready and half an hour for breakfast. That gave me manageable time and this was a great help to me! Be warned that skipping breakfast in order to have extra time in bed is a false economy; it will burn you out come mid-morning because you will be running on empty!

It all started off with a good night's sleep. Then as soon as the alarm went off, I got up. No snooze buttons! Straight to shower, then dressed up. Down for a good hearty breakfast of hot chocolate and muesli (mixed together, yep!), followed by a glass of fruit juice, sat down at the table, to set me off for the long day ahead. I'd then prepare my lunchbox. If I wasn't running late, I took my doggie out for a quick walk round the block, or popped a few items in the washer, or whatever quick household task I could handle. The make-up routine, I have to say, was stripped down to the bare minimum. So forget the Kardashian contouring!

'Reade St Shadows', oil on linen by Stephen Magsig (2015)

Then I would leave, always aiming for that 5-10 minutes leeway prior to my absolute cut-off time of leaving the house. Because commuting is the biggest chance you're taking every single day, timewise. You have a rough idea of how long it is supposed to take, but then traffic jams, roadworks, accidents and other delays will set you back big time and aggravate your day!

I would take no chances on the road. That side street that looks like a shortcut is a bad idea to investigate impromptu on one's way to work! Investigate the feasibility of those alternative travel routes on a day off.

Depending on how I was feeling that day, I would either have the radio on (BBC Radio 1 in my case), or some pre-recorded music tracks that I liked, just to keep my mind off the stress of driving. Sometimes I was just content with the sound off. While stuck in traffic (inevitable in North West England!), I would - while paying attention to the road - get myself mentally prepared for the whole day ahead.

'47 Greene St', oil on linen by Stephen Magsig (2015)

I'd approach that quite methodically, yet without forcing my thoughts out. Usually I would start off with thinking about personal/ housekeeping/ family matters that I needed to address or deal with that very day or later in the week, and often I would find myself in a propitious frame of mind: clear-headed, sharp, spot on and business-like efficient at that particular time of day, and solutions would present themselves to me without trying too hard.

And from there my thoughts would drift towards work, important things to do that day, and I would prioritise them in my head. I would break the tasks down, and by doing so and approaching them from outside the workplace, I would have the focus, the perspective, the insight, the light bulb moment that might not have been that clear-cut at work - even if it were staring me in the face!

It became clear to me that my brain was reorganising jumbled up information and making sense of it into its next stage as follow-ups, conclusions, solutions and calls to action. My brain was like a computer being defragmented, rearranging data in a more workable way.

By the time I got to work, after my one hour commute or so, I would be raring for action, my ideas organised, solutions to the ready, new avenues to explore, reminders flashing in my head, and there was no stopping me. And as much as my long daily commute never was a piece of enjoyment in itself, I wonder whether I would have felt that prepared for work, should my commute had been short! Think this one over and praise the long journeys to work that take you to the roads less travelled... of the mind!

4 Feb 2016

French Design Thrift in the Fabulous Fifties

LBM had been looking pretty until this came along. And I'm afraid we're going to have our noses smeared in it for the good cause, for the beauty-pain paradigm. I had been putting this post off for some reason, and the 60th anniversary of the Grand Ensemble has come and gone, and I am still perusing the topic like I'm meant to be doing something with it - which I am. So here we are now, facing that concrete wall.

In this article, we will explore how the 60th anniversary of the Grand Ensemble last year in France was more a case for commiseration than celebration for its residents and - to a more muted extent - to public authorities and governmental bodies trying to save face and play the political game.

Grand Ensemble de Sarcelles (1955-75)

The failings of the Grand Ensemble are rooted in design and beyond it. If the word 'Design' is supposed to conjure up a divine ratio of style, balance and elegance, seamless execution, expensive materials, ground-breaking novelty lines, and is supposed to elevate the collective psyche into a consensus of taste to an idea of grandeur that transcends the physical, then may Grand Ensemble be a slap in the face of design.

First off, what is Design? I shall define it as a piece of Creation that goes to bed with our Emotions. A piece of creation is the alliance of Form and Function - heart and reason if you may - that hits an exact point - the Equilibrium. The equilibrium defines Taste. 

The humble clothes peg is a piece of design. So is Taj Mahal. And the guillotine. Design exists regardless of what is considered good or bad, or pretty or unpretty. Because when we start going personal on design, we are putting into play matters of taste. And since you're asking...

Résidence du Parc, Meudon-la-Forêt (1957-62) - (Pict source)

What is taste? Some see the Golden Gate Bridge as metal scrappers delight, while others enjoy how it enriches the landscape, and couldn't imagine San Francisco without it. Taste is personal and subjective, and that makes it complex. It is about Like vs. Dislike. Taste happens, and then it gets influenced, refined, cultivated, sharpened. It evolves, changes even. It gets skewed by peer pressure and the media and the fashion police. There is however a consensus that defines what is deemed tasteful, i.e. acceptable and what is not.

There are different occurences of taste, starting off with what I refer to as 'pure taste' in terms of strict aesthetic merit, which is often applied to Fine Arts. Some collectable and covetable pieces of high-ticket retail finery will be relegated to the design equivalent of Fine Arts status; think a limited edition Aston Martin. But we find that pure taste is hardly practical in everyday existence. So we model taste according to parameters: function, usability, practicability, affordability, etc.

Quartier du Luth, Gennevilliers (1971-73)

Now back to our Grand Ensemble. It was an ambitious post-WWII land planning concept that spanned three decades and revolutionised habitat and lifestyle. It started en-masse in the 1950s and was conducted on a large scale across France, bringing to the fore mixed-use developments, involving public/ private partnerships for housing, education, retail, office and leisure infrastructures. Architects got on board, ready to embrace a project of a lifetime, caressed to the core by Le Corbusier vanities. The brief was clear: focus was on fast turnover of industrial proportions: thousands of flats had to be churned out fast (not to say in record time!) and design to be modernist, practical, functional and cost-effective, by all means to the point. It had to be utilitarian, i.e. stripped off the superfluous; understand no adornment. Prefab as a building technique was the answer. Quality was secondary to quantity, and matters of personal taste and individuality were off the equation.

Set in its green open space, the Grand Ensemble was part of a bigger picture that took years to roll out fully: transport links (metro stations, wide roads, motorways, and parking amenities). Plus office space, schools, sports centres, youth clubs, retail precincts, libraries, churches and other components of the modern townscape. This would constitute a new town in the country(side), or a new town within the old town, or a satellite town built from the ground up and most likely to be a dormitory town.

Quartier de la Grande Borne, Grigny (1967-71)

The Grand Ensemble was a post-war vision come true - under the auspices of social welfare, sanitation, and city rebuilding programmes - of the luxury of comfort within an affordable life, where each household could enjoy the mod cons that we are taking for granted nowadays: hot water, central heating, modern kitchen, family bathroom, trash chute, and a balcony with a view over a stretch of lawn and maybe even a private garage. The programme was rolled out to working-class and middle-class families, taking them into the Consumer Age in capital letters!

The concept looked good and ambitious on paper, efficient in the book-keeping department - and utopic. Utopic in that it played down the complexities of the human psyche, especially once the mod con honeymoon would start wearing off, and the golden age of consumerism would get dented. Residents and other stakeholders got to write the history of that brand new place, without guidance or support, bringing with them emotional intelligence and complexity (hopes, fears, expectations, etc.), and family customs, and still trying to make sense of that new way of doing things, of making their mark, of living the space, of moving on up within it, of creating a future for themselves, of establishing a community in a forced communal living rolled out on a grand scale.

Cité des 4000, La Courneuve (1957-1966+)

I doubt grand was ever meant to be great. It was meant to be good and do good to a point. It gave mixed results and became a cause for concern. Little by little, insidiously first, the Grand Ensemble lost points; it turned shoddy quickly, it got told off, landed a red mark, got sent away and then assigned to residence into itself. The Grand Ensemble became unloved, uncouth, unkempt. It ended up sliding down that cul-de-sac that got it to skid into ghetto land. It got featured in music videos but not under a good light. It crossed the line and became a buddy to gangsta culture. Some of the architects came out of the woodwork to explain their oeuvre, their expectations of how lifestyle should have been conducted in those unnatural, unorganically-expanded environments.

The Grand Ensemble was an artificial environment: soul-less, with no heritage, no history and nowhere to go. It had been an expedient social experiment, a means to an end meant to immediately solve housing problems and hope for the best. The ensemble had sprung out of paper, out of nowhere, and families from different walks of life and life stages, and with different expectations had got thrown in together at the deep end to make it happen. Residents, now all boxed in together in 'cages' where taste and design had been leveraged to an absolute minimum, if not abstracted altogether. What we got was minimalist as in utilitarian and brutalist, where individuality had no place.

The very first Grand Ensemble ever built harks back to the 1930s: Cité de la Muette, Drancy.

After all, ensemble alludes to a togetherness of collectivism and mass, and that moulding in of the human race, that cookie-cutter approach to life as a singular unit is a failing all to itself. What fails design is when the human factor in all its complexity has been taken out of it, and when design has become clumsy and cumbersome rather than user-friendly.

P.S: All the above-pictured towns are located in the vicinity of Paris.

Further Resources:
  • A fascinating case in point in the Grand Ensemble study is Les Espaces d'Abraxas (Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris), a late-bloomer on the Grand Ensemble era. Built between 1978 and 1983 under architect Ricardo Bofill, it has the particularity of being a design-led scheme, which makes it stand out from earlier housing schemes. However life in a design-led ensemble has not been kind to its residents, and soon enough the concrete and glass infrastructure has turned to a carbuncle of dislike. Design is partly to blame as the architect put an emphasis on it to the point of making it impractical to live in the buildings, and feel safe in them! A victim of its own lack of success thereof, Les Espaces d'Abraxas (otherwise known as 'Gotham City' and 'Alcatraz') have become a film set of choice for dystopian science fiction superproductions like Brazil and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, as an eery echo to dystopian living on the estate. Who said reality was stranger than fiction?
  • A chillier and more sinister particularity of Grand Ensemble relates to Cité de la Muette, in Drancy (pictured above), the very first Grand Ensemble ever built in France, in the 1930s. However it was used as the Drancy internment camp during WWII, confining Jews who were later deported to the German extermination camps. 
  • 'Souvenir d'un Futur' (Memory of a Future) by French photographer Laurent Kronental is an award-winning ongoing project that captures life as a senior citizen in the Grands Ensembles of the Paris region. A must-see! More from ArchDaily.
  • LBM's musings on style and lack thereof.

30 Jan 2016

Rose & Gold for Valentine

Valentine's Day is an invitation for LBM to feature some pretty homeware pieces that incorporate topical pink and gold/ brass in their subtle shades. I chose subtle because we don't always like our colours to go bright and overboard, especially those as powerful and statement-prone as pink and gold. Because most of us do not want our shrines to resemble the Barbie dollhouse or Barbara Cartland's boudoir or Liberace's quarters. I am aware of some lifestyle bloggers out there who make (bright) pink their statement colour but in general terms, subtle goes a longer way as it defies trends and defines longevity.

Lace Cheeseboard in Rose by Suite One Studio

Those pieces here, touch with your eyes or get inspired further and leave a hint for your beloved to purchase. Or just summon the power and go treat yourself! Those items are not just for Valentine's by the way; they will equally suit a forthcoming bridal shower, wedding party, housewarming do, anniversary celebration and other family engagements!

P.S: If you are single and Valentine makes you look away, treat yourself to being your own Valentine and fix yourself a 'Me Date'. Get yourself a bunch of flowers (or a plant), a box of your favourite chocolates, and cosy up at home for a night in with yourself. First have a nice relaxing bath, then snuggle up on the couch to catch up with that great movie/ documentary you'd been meaning to watch, or immerse yourself into a good book. If you fancy your solo self to go social, schedule a night in around a lovely home-cooked meal with a posse of those single friends of yours!

As for the coupled up, Valentine's Day should be a reminder of what every day should be like: filled with mutual love, respect, praise and appreciation! In other words, every day should be Valentine's Day. And that doesn't cost a thing!

Burlap Tray in Rose with Gold Stripe by Suite One Studio
Gold-Dipped Ceramic Cake Serving Set by BHLDN
Vintage Copper Chocolate Bar Molds (Made in England, c.1850), by Coppermill Kitchen via Food52
Brass Money Clips by SIN, via Food52
Birdy Side Table (detail) by Urban Outfitters
'Two Peas in a Pod' Greeting Card by Rifle Paper Co.

23 Jan 2016

Blogposts with Attitude #BWA - January 2016

January, the bleakest month of the year? Oh my, gimme some flowers! A bittersweet after-party tinge in its early moments might behold - as 'the year after the year before' - it quickly turns into a time to take stock and mull over the year past, draw conclusions and move on, empowered. In other words, a time for introspection, reflection and decision that morphs into a time to set the tone for the year ahead and wear it proudly on our sleeve like our Sunday best in order to face the brand New Year in a more resolute - and upbeat - fashion.

Café au Lait Dahlia Love by Erin Benzakein @ Floret

January is not over that it has already yielded some productive results out there in blogland. It has certainly been a month where hearts have been poured, eyebrows raised, and voices heard. Introspective, reflective, or in a more direct address, the issues raised I have enjoyed reading every word of it! Probably because they put a fresh and honest perspective, stated their values loud and proud, and brought not only an emotional connection but also a rational one.

For these reasons, the posts I have listed here struck more than a chord with me. They have lifted me, inspired me, fuelled me with renewed energy and kickstarted me more firmly into my year ahead, in terms of personal and professional achievements and aspirations. I am positive that you too will draw some benefits out of them.

So, here we go, in chronological order, my five favourite posts this month. Enjoy the read and feel free to add on to the list: -

No.1: A Manifesto by Kathryn Sharman @ Kat Got the Cream
As your lifestyle blog is growing and evolving, you will need to set out or rewrite clear rules as to what your blog is about - and your approach to your craft. Monetisation/ brokering will invariably crop up, sometimes perceived as a bone of contention. Some readers will enjoy the rstyle ride with you and others won't. I have no problem with blog monetisation as long as it is cleverly incorporated within the fabric and the essence of the blog without overpowering it with affiliated shopping lists post after post. Kat struck that fine balancing act with flying colours, and hats off to her! Yet undoubtedly you will still get some readers who begrudge the union of blog and cashflow, so Kat laid out the terms as her Manifesto. A great idea for us bloggers to consider seriously and incorporate into our blogs, just to be sure author and readers are on that same page!

No.2: Will Blog Survive 2016? by Holly Becker @ Decor8
A question asked by a blog that is an authority on blogging and has already witnessed the rise and demise of many blogs in its one decade of existence, going from strength to strength to inspire our homes with consistent high-quality content. Here Holly gives us her views on the state of blogging vs. monetisation (flavour of the month?). She comments on those blogs out there who churn out sponsored post after the next, slapdash a little line of text and an endless content of affiliated links, making those blogs little more than shopwindows linked up to the cashpoint registers of the big brands. Individuality and integrity of voice and character and personality are killed off in the process. This puts the future of impartial informative blogging 'from the heart' at stake, a little like that good old chestnut, freedom of the press. And the quest for quick buck might end up a piped dream for that new generation of fame-hungry bloggers on the scene...
Erin Benzekein and her husband, Chris @ Floret

No.3: The Life & Business 3-part series on Design*Sponge dedicated to Erin Benzekein and her award-winning flower farm, Floret
I had heard of Erin previously and come across her beautiful arrangements of organic, unusual and old-fashioned flowers on her Instagram account, that got me sold! Then treble whammy in one swoop with the Design*Sponge coverage! I came face to face with a business off the beaten track, that is a success story and a winner on many levels: all about emotional intelligence and a floral immersion, our relationship to flowers that goes beyond the bouquet and delves deep into childhood memories and nostalgia, and 'just about tamed' natural beauty captured off the cuff and ingratiated in high-quality visuals. A family-centred, nature-friendly concern that is a social media eye-pleaser, and most of all a lifestyle aspiration to those in search of accomplishing something of worth in their lives, off the rat race tracks, out in the country, where they can satisfy both their intellectual and physical strengths. This is the sort of business that gets me enthused beyond enthused! Erin shares hints and tips on how she is growing her company. Take a leaf out of how Floret is flourishing and be guided by your passions! Do check Floret's About section for more inspiration.

No.4: The Secret We All Want to Know by Tara Austen Weaver @ Tea and Cookies
The creative process fascinates. To the extent that some of us want to unfold it and undress it down to its bare bones, peel off the layers and dissect it, find out the magic formula, turn on that switch by the cortex that will turn us into a writer. Good news is we all are creators - often unaware of it - whether it is fixing that bit of kit or cooking up a meal or salvaging a patch of land or doing a collage for the kids or styling hair. The bad news is there is no magic formula on how to become a writer. Tara - a published author - explains this compellingly and sympathetically, and links in a few resources from her blog, all must-read items. Mostly though, she can't emphasize enough that the creative process is an individual, personal one. It is about being one's own voice. And there is no magic formula or Idiot's Guide, rather than the fact that you should just write and keep on writing, because practice will help perfect your craft.

No.5: Here's a Space for You by Danielle Hampton @ Sometimes Sweet
Writing is about being one's own voice and being in one's own space. As an established lifestyle blogger and former English teacher, Danielle understood the importance of writing early on in life, encouraging her pupils to journal. And this is one of the best ways to get creativity going, to stimulate those creative juices. And encouraged and fostered early on in life, this can only feed into one's personal journey down the creative process. A fun and mind-expanding exercise!


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