Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chipstick it

As a Canadian living in England, it's confusing enough for me to have to call fries chips, and chips crisps, but to make chips that look like fries, or rather crisps that look like chips, or chip-crisps and call them chipsticks?

England, you mess with my head.

If you are what you eat, I'm an identity crisis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Greasy breakfast = Modern romance

"It's brilliant," my boyfriend said with the kind of enthusiasm he usually reserves for sweets. "We really, really have to get some."

The opportunist in me agreed wholeheartedly. If he was that excited about buying a Lush massage bar, I'd be a fool to dissuade him. But then he went on.

"This massage oil really is just so nice," he said, sniffing each tester in the shop's display. "Mmmm." And he paused thoughtfully before adding, "Really, really nice."

It was that last "really nice" that busted open the Pandora's box of things to strategically ignore for the benefit of any modern romance, and the ghost of one of his ex-lovers popped out to tell me just how nice she thought the massage oil was too.

"How exactly did you find out you like this stuff so much?" my inner-masochist prodded, and in the same breath I asked him not to answer that. He knew what I was thinking though, and just as much as my face didn't conceal jealous discomfort, his didn't conceal annoyance.

"How exactly did you find out you like sex so much?" he countered.

That shut me up.

With a little breath, I locked Pandora's box again and reminded myself that having a boyfriend who likes to give massages is far better than one who doesn't – no matter how he developed a taste for it, or the skills. You can read further into that if you want.

So we went back to the task at hand, and agreed on our favourite scented oil, which was easy, because we both liked the same one.

But the universe couldn't just leave it at that.

The next day an old fling found me on Facebook and sent the message that he'd been "thinking fondly of old times". While that fling was brief and lacked long-term significance, I realised I hadn't walked away empty-handed. In fact, he'd taught me something I've gone on to share with most of my friends – something just as, if not more intimate than massage oil ... breakfast.

Delicious, delicious breakfast – and I make a mighty fluffy scrambled eggs with cream cheese.

This is what dating looks like in England.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Privacy piracy: In a home near you

"What I want to see is pure, unadulterated blogging – a total exposé."

It's a gutsy thing to say considering I've just moved in with him. But he meant it, and I knew it, because he's the sort of man who likes to get down to the gritty uncomfortable truth of ... everything.

My other new flatmate, his long-term partner and also my friend (the one who brought me along as her fashion assistant for a day) immediately clocked the risks, "No, no, no, no, no!"

The rest of their dialogue was lost on me, with both arguments presented simultaneously, enthusiastically, and with English accents, so I only caught her "last word", which went something like this:

"...because I don't want the world to read about my shit taste in films and your insane rants!"

With that, she won.

I assured them I'd never expose their private life on my blog – despite that I find them both to be fascinating individuals and exponentially so as a couple. Besides, they've been loving enough to offer me their spare room in a beautiful area of London, helping make it a little less expensive for a bit and a lot more likely I'll be able to stay. That, and it was only my first night here.

Then, illustrating her point, we settled in with a glass of Merlot to watch the last half of Bridges of Madison County – still on pause since I arrived with my bags an hour earlier – and then he led a short analytical discussion about family values and gender inequalities.

While I made a quiet little wish about how I hope these two stay together forever, I also decided to make an exception to my promise, and write about them ... just this once.

This is to illustrate how I'm not actually invading my sweet friends' and benefactors' privacy – except maybe just a little.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Touching famouses

"Jake Gyllenhaal kayaked past me with [so-and-so] in Mexico."

And with that, she'd won the celebrity-spotting competition. So-and-so was a reference to some annoyingly famous and annoyingly hot young actress, but I don't remember who. After she said Jake Gyllenhaal and kayak, I was too turned on to listen.

My entry was thrilling but weak, as I'd recently brushed by Claudia Schiffer at the toilets during London Graduate Fashion Week. Dammit. I should've faked a stumble and grabbed her on my way down.

Damn me and the poorly timed instinct to play it cool – it hardly ever kicks in – why then? I surely would've won with, "I scared the piss out of Claudia Schiffer at the toilets."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How I became a fash ass

Because I generally lead a charmed albeit somewhat pitiable life, I spent a fair amount of time touching topless 19-year-old girls this week. If you can say the same, I pray it's because you work in fashion, and that it's genuinely in your job description.

I did it because, being unemployed, I have nothing else to do at the moment and one of my favourite new friends in London – who happens to work for a popular women's fashion magazine – took sweet, sweet pity on me. Inviting me to stand in as her fashion assistant at a photo shoot might be a good way to keep me busy, she rightly thought, but gave me fair warning that there's little glamour to be had behind the scenes.

"You'll have to steam the clothes for the shoot," she advised, "and probably get coffee and tea. And you'll have to take orders from me when we're in the middle of everything."

"So, I'd be your bitch?" I asked, amused with the prospect.

"You'd be my bitch," she answered, just as amused.

"I'd love to."

Just in case, she called again when I'd had time to think about it."If this is your idea of Hell..."

But equal parts curious and clueless about what might be ahead, I genuinely wanted to be her bitch for a day. Maybe it would remind me of what it feels like to be employed, I thought.

I arrived with my own ideas about the fashion industry. The kind derived from Nineties-era teen magazines – when Hareem pants were still Hammer pants – packed with beautiful people and clothes you'd never find in rural Canada. Not unless Frenchy's, the second-hand clothing warehouse, received a particularly rich bulk shipment from the United States. But you had to be careful in those days. Creativity could get you pummelled, and I already did my fair share of running from bullies.

All the way from a Frenchy's in small town Nova Scotia to working behind the scenes with models, make-up artists and photographers at a fashion shoot in London. And to think I would be listed in miniscule among the magazine credits for steaming clothes and getting drinks, regardless of the fact that everything I know about fashion I learned from Sex and the City – a TV series that ended years ago. I considered it my duty to see the irony through to fruition.

She knew what I was thinking. "Just try not to mention the name of the magazine when you write about it, okay?"

First, she showed me how to use the steamer without burning myself, but as soon as she left me alone with it, I did. When she came back to check on me, I was still struggling with the same top, alternately removing and inadvertently adding creases. But she had bigger things to worry about. The model was late.

The woman who'd be paid to pose in the clothes I burnt myself steaming was late, and no one knew where she was. I expected her to be moody, rude, demanding and beautiful, but not late.

All morning there'd been a buzz in the studio, as everyone prepared a specialist element: makeup, lighting, cameras and clothes. All the model had to do was show up. That's when I realised that the success of the day depended on a 19-year-old girl.

Forty-five minutes later, when she finally arrived, there was an audible whistle in the room, as everyone exhaled through clenched teeth and then slapped on their most professional smiles as she sat down to be primped and beautified. I poked my head around and thought that despite her height, she was surprisingly average. But I was soon to discover, when it came time to dress her that she was actually above average, by a few unexpected kilos.

"You have to dress them," my friend, the stylist and artistic director, had warned. But I didn't really get it. I thought I'd be handing her clothes and straightening collars, but not lifting off her tops and doing up her shoes. It was surprising for me to discover that models expect others to dress them in even the simplest of articles, and even more so that I would be doing it. When I first lifted off her top, I felt remarkably unqualified for the job. I was shit at steaming, and I'd never dressed anyone over the age of two.

What was most surprising, though, was that the model was too big for the clothes. The UK size 10 clothes (a Canadian 6) didn't fit, and we couldn't zip the first outfit up. My friend tugged, tucked and arranged the girl as best she could without drawing on any of the heavy words floating in the silence of that tiny back room.

When the model emerged to pose in that first outfit, the team threw each other worried looks. Finally the photographer discretely whispered, out of the model's earshot, "I can't shoot her, she's too fat." Another audible whistle passed through the room, this time from air sucked in through that same collection of clenched teeth – an apt soundtrack to the sort of what-the-eff-are-we-going-to-do awkward position they were in.

But the model was ready, in all her robust glory, and the team tried their best to make the shoot work – more blush to thin her cheeks, strategic positioning of clothes and limbs, and finally cropped shots and cancelled outfits. It wasn't until mid-afternoon, when the model had successfully sausaged in and out of everything at least once, and was photographed with the standard pouty lips and sultry gaze into the aether, that the team's whispered panic grew into an unavoidable reality: I was going to have to steam those clothes again.

The agency was sending a thinner model, scheduled to arrive once the first was safely out of range so as to avoid any upset. We were going to redo the shoot. Apparently the agency had told this first model to gain weight as she was previously too thin, but she'd taken the idea and run with it a little too enthusiastically. I think she knew, though, because she didn't even touch the green salad she'd requested for lunch.

By the time the second model arrived, my relationship with taffeta, rayon and even cotton was on the rocks. She was thin and perfectly proportioned, and everything I'd assumed a model would be except high maintenance. But we still had to help dress her.

In a taxi on the way home, my friend asked me whether the fashion shoot was as I'd expected. It wasn't, and I told her so. Pleasantly surprised, I've always thought of the fashion industry and modelling as terrifyingly superficial, cut-throat, and self-esteem destroying, but everyone treated the first model so sweetly, and they managed the issue of her terminal weight gain impressively discretely.

"Oh, you have to always, always keep your models happy," she assured me, in a tone which implied this was a golden rule. "Always," she repeated for emphasis.

"Is that because they can be so tempermental?" I asked, vocalising the stereotype and offering a final bit of naïveté to close the day.

"No," she smiled wryly. "If they cry, you have to stop and redo their makeup."

thrifting, originally uploaded by powerbooktrance.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Londammit: A pawn shop outing

I didn't think I'd be visiting a pawn shop within my first year of settling in London. Not because I wasn't aware of its ranking among the most expensive cities in the world, but rather because I'd taken preemptive action and sold all my belongings before moving here.

But today I did.

Inside everything was encased in bullet-proof glass, including the booth at the very back containing the service staff. To get there, I reluctantly walked the blinding gauntlet of disappointments, broken promises, and general golden woe – a long row of hawked engagement and wedding rings, anniversary gifts and heirlooms.

Visiting a pawn shop's not the most uplifting of things to do in London to be sure, yet judging by this one's extensive stock, it seems to be a popular one. But like I said, I've nothing left to sell, so I approached the woman with my passport, a working visa and an uncashed cheque – from my 5-week stint of being underpaid and overworked – that no British bank will accept. Not until I have a UK account, which they're more than happy to give me, just as soon as I've lived here for at least one year.

It's not that I don't want to stay in one of the world's most expensive cities that long, but if I'm going to, someone's going to have to give me money in the interim. So far that someone is the friendly neighbourhood pawn broker – my only ally. And all for as little as 5 per cent of my earnings, because they're cool like that.

And by cool, I mean they don't just know how to give it, but they can take it, too.

British banking bureacracy, you can kiss my boyfriend's tighty whities, and you can do it in front of Butt Textiles 2001.