Category Archives: Thrills

I love space

I’m really obsessed with space, partly through years of sci-fi immersion (of both the classy and trashy types), but mainly because of the incredible size and scope and possibilities that are out there. I’d love to go to space more than anything, but i fear civilian space travel is unlikely in my lifetime, even if i could afford it, and i’m definitely not clever or fit enough to be an astronaut. So instead, I love out the fantasy with grand space operas like Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity and Star Wars or the (modern) Star Trek films, and thanks to NASA’s incredible Instagram feed, which captures the greatness, terror and opportunity of space in bite-size snaps, for the contemporary astrophile. The video above and pictures below are just some of the nuggets of amazement that these pioneers and loons have created to help us understand space a tiny bit better.



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Play time

I love Viewpoint magazine. It’s kind of an oddity – a lushly printed, highly visual and thinkful biannual magazine that charges £45 every issue (because it has no ads). You can barely find it anywhere, but it’s well worth seeking out, believe. It’s from the same stable as Textile View, View on Colour and Bloom, and it’s the first place I ever had anything published (at the tender age of 18). I’ve now been writing for Viewpoint for the last 15 years, off and on (including a stint as editor) and it’s a real treat to get to write for it still. I’ve previously featured extracts of Viewpoint stuff on this here blog (on Desire and Romance)and I recently did a thing about Play for the mag, so I thought I’d put an extract here for the internet’s delectation (Viewpoint is still stubbornly old media, so you can’t read it online).Play

Playing with the everyday

“Everyone wants to play”, says Sam Bompas, partner at food experience designers Bompas & Parr. “People have told themselves that they need to behave in a grown-up way, but in the right context they are happy to let go”. Bompas believes that the hugely popular interactive artworks by artists such as Olafur Eliasson and Carsten Holler have encouraged people to think about their environment in a new way, and delight in simple pleasures.

Just as Holler’s slides encouraged serious gallery-goers to reconsider what art can do for human interactions, Dutch design firm HIK Ontwerpers installed a slide at a rail station to help commuters reconsider their daily journey. The “transfer accelerator” was designed as a nice gesture for travelers, as well as a carefree way to speed up the morning commute and improve wellbeing in its run-down locale.

A competition to create a new bridge across the Seine also hopes to encourage Parisians to think differently about their environment. One of the winning designs is an inflatable trampoline bridge, which would allow people to bounce across the famous river.


For many, this kind of public play is part of a growing pursuit of extraordinary experiences in everyday life. Bompas believes, “Consumers need to have more creative lives now – it’s no longer good enough to just go to the pub on the weekend. People feel they have to do something fantastic, and get the pictures to prove it”, particularly for the benefit of their online social networks.

The result is an explosion of opportunities for play, as streets become playgrounds again – with games that are a whole lot more sophisticated than hopscotch.  Berlin’s Playpublik, the Festival for Playful Public Spaces, used the city streets as part of a series of digital/real games around the city’s Computer Games Museum. Games ranged from parkour to micro-board games and collect-and-swap contests.

Meanwhile, in London, Hide&Seek’s 99 Tiny Games project suggested simple games via plaques mounted in 33 different locations around the city during summer 2012. The plaques instructed passers-by in games such as Rushing Roulette, where players spin round with eyes closed, then try to point at the centre of the plaque, and Twickers, a twig-pulling game, where the loser is the one whose twig snaps first.

Immersive playgrounds

Some forms of play adhere to the digital culture that spawned them, using real-life landscapes as just another platform in a multi-level game.  Shadow Cities, a multiplayer online game, uses real streets as its playing surface. Smartphone users can form teams as they attempt to control the world of the game, which is overlaid on a real-world map, using GPS.

In London, Mudlark’s Chromarama game takes the geolocation-tagging and badge-winning appeal of Foursquare further by creating a game based on commuters’ routes around the city. The game uses travel data captured by players’ Oyster cards to award points for those who get off the tube early and walk to their destination, or those who go on quests to famous, or undiscovered, parts of the city.

Alex Fleetwood, director of social gaming agency Hide& Seek, believes this is only the beginning of online/offline play. “I think we’re going to see a deep integration of the video game culture as we presently understand it with older, more embodied, more situated forms of play – sports, parlour games, games in public spaces – linking everything that’s thrilling about computer-mediated games with everything that’s important about old-fashioned social play.

Conspicuous experience

Although much of the play renaissance is about the pursuit of release, variety and thrill, there’s also an element of competitive leisure. As Bompas comments, “The drive for experience is evolving. It’s not merely about going to a great event or getting involved with fun stuff, but making people stars in their free time. So play becomes a different kind of conspicuous consumption – it becomes conspicuous experience.”

After all, when money is tight, consumers are much happier to show off about things they’ve done, rather than things they’ve bought. But with brands, marketers and retailers focusing so heavily on the intangible value of “experience” over the last decade, palates for experience have become more sophisticated, and if a brand is going to get involved in play, they have to create an experience that’s truly remarkable, or just truly useful.

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All hail Queen Bey


As a lifelong fan of Beyoncé and all her works, is it weird to be merely whelmed by Beyoncé’s spectacular Superbowl show? I proper love B, but the song choices were a bit off and she was more hairography than singing. On the upside, her fellow Destiny’s Children totally owned it, and all the stuff with the screens was cool – no surprise with that much high-tech show-womanship on the go, there was a power cut in the stadium straight after Queen Bey’s performance!

Given that I missed the chance to see Destiny’s live in full late-90s flow, I am super-excited that B’s coming into town in a couple of months (even if she’s doing the same corset-and thigh-boots look as Madonna and Kylie and all the other arena-divas) as part of the Mrs Carter Show tour (promo above). Her general splendiferousness is so overwhelming, that when tickets are released at end of Feb, I’ll be throwing money at Bey like there’s no tomorrow. Who cares about my automo-bills?

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Life down below

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So, you know that Desire article I’ve been going on about for ages? I finally got to see the layout in Viewpoint (can’t bring myself to spend the £45 to buy the actual magazine), and the accompanying images by photographers Metz + Racine have done us proud. It was quite a tall order to depict sex and desire without seediness or double entendres, and we discussed the idea at length, but the pictures above do a bang-up job, i reckon. They capture the fun, freedom and exuberance of changing desires in a suitably creative and somewhat provocative way.  Props also go to mad jellymongers Bompas & Parr for some of the saucy edibles. Never thought i’d see a cock lollipop* in the pages of Viewpoint…

*Dodgeball, not Fifty Shades, reference

LIPS x Leona

UPDATE 10/15/12: Glassheart out now! Lips’ first recording! Out now! Hurrah! Listen to snippets (and buy!) here! And here!

A few months ago, my beloved LIPS choir got called to a recording studio just over the river to record backing for a major artist – Leona Lewis. Arriving on the day, we all managed to be very cool about it, even though very few of us had ever done anything like it before. When they played us the “rough” track we were doing the backing for, Fireflies, we lost our cool. Briefly. Her voice – un-edited and un-tweaked – is extraordinary. I think most of us had underestimated that, assuming that talent-show pop princesses are all production and image,  but it was a real pleasure to hear her beautiful tone and incredible range in the raw. We got quite emosh about it.

Even though some of us hoped this would be the first step in LIPS hitting the big-time, I guess I assumed that although Simon Cowell was said to love our sound, they would replace us on the finished track with a professional choir. Yeah, that didn’t happen. The other thing did. We are totally on the finished record Glassheart, credited on the tracklisting and even mentioned on the Wikipedia entry! There are rumours of other exciting things in the offing (which I shan’t jinx by mentioning now), so I reckon its OK to make free with fantasies of worldwide tours, groupies, roadies, and hardball negotiations with Mr Cowell himself….

The new album, Glassheart (featuring LIPS choir) is out on 13 October. Even if you don’t buy the whole thing, check out track 5, Fireflies. We think its ace. If you want to buy it, that would be even acer, and certainly support our road to worldwide fame and stuff. Ta.

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On the fence

Olympic fencing semi-final

The excitement of London’s Olympic Games has been palpable, thanks in no small part to the awesome efforts of British athletes, which has made us third on the medal table (at time of writing), which is pretty unheard-of. While the pomp and circumstance of the event, like the eclectically epic Opening Ceremony, has contributed to the thrill of having the Olympics in our beloved city, I think it’s also about the accessibility of witnessing these superhuman feats. Some people (like my friends Colemans and Deej) have got to see a huge array of big-ticket events – either through epic ticket-balloting, or PR schmoozing – but others have got to see the more niche events, like Greco-Roman wrestling, and their excitement has been just as great.

I managed to score a last-minute ticket for the Fencing (Women’s Epee semi-final) last week, and the thrill of seeing these athletes IRL managed to shake off all my hard-won London cynicism. Getting to see such an extraordinary sport live was quite a learning experience, and also kind of terrifying. Although i love the fierce beauty of fencing that I’ve seen in the fillums, the actual sport is something else. Still beautiful to watch, but also kind of baffling and even brutal. The bouts are highly technical, not just in the way they are played, but in the outfits too – all of the points are scored electronically, with helmets and swords wired up like a server. The piste (field of play) and the fencer’s helmet light up when a point is scored, or an advantage won, which lends the arena a rather futuristic air.

But more extraordinary was the sounds emanating from the fencers themselves, who let out a primal scream (not a Seles-style grunt) when they score. It seems to be both an expression of triumph and a release of the incredible tension and concentration needed for each 3-minute bout, but it was also pretty unnerving too. As a result, the juxtaposition of primal and futuristic lent the Fencing arena a rather Thunderdome atmosphere (as you can see from my barely-Instagrammed picture above). It’s an experience I could never have got from the telly and will probably never forget. And for that, the rush and the expense and the thrill of the Olympics in our fair city is worth every penny.

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Greatest Show On Earth

The Olympics is fast approaching, and after an initial period of grouchery and dismissiveness, London seems to finally be getting into the games – myself included. It’s cutting it a bit fine, but there you go.  One of the most dubious parts of the games has been the accompanying Cultural Olympiad, with its vague goals and definitions, but in the last couple of months it’s been coming up trumps. Especially projects which showcase uniquely British talent, like the BBC’s incredible Hollow Crown season, or Frieze Projects East, which has asked artists to create site-specific installations in East London’s host boroughs.

Klaus Weber has created an elegant, but rather apocalyptic, sand fountain near Pudding Mill Lane near Stratford, while Gary Webb‘s sweetie-like playground offers a more chipper interaction in Charlton Park, Greenwich. By far my favourite, though, are Sarnath Banerjee’s posters (below). I first saw Banerjee’ s work at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow a few weeks ago, and we loved his funny and touching comic-style illustrations and offbeat stories. Now Banerjee takes a wry look at the achievements and failures of both the athletes and the crowds, on billboards spread across Hackney, Woolwich, Plumstead and Leytonstone (locations here).

So, ignore the decorated and customised and sponsored Wenlocks and Mandevilles that have popped up across prime postcodes (except maybe the pearly king one in Spitalfields – that’s pretty skills), and instead head out into the deep east to see original and uplifting art works by some of the UK’s most interesting talents – map here.

Also, completing the circle like a lovely Olympic ring, don’t forget about Martin Creed’s All The Bells project on Friday Morning (which was my very first post on this here blog). The Beeb’s getting right behind it, and Big Ben is getting stuck in, so I reckon there will be no escaping it. All the more reason to get clanging, no? I, for one, intend to ring-a-ding-ding, grinning like a chump…

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Fifty shades of eh?

So, I succumbed and finally read Fifty Shades Of Grey on holiday: borrowed, well-thumbed copies from my friend Jenna. I don’t usually jump on book bandwagons like this (having studiously avoided previous literary fads like The Da Vinci Code, the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, or those awful misery memoirs), but when in Rome…

As many before me have said, including a recent discussion on Woman’s Hour, the plots are thin, characters one-dimensional and emotionally moronic, the sex scenes relentlessly repetitive, the dialogue mind-numbing, the editing negligent and the breadth of vocabulary no greater than a primary school spelling test – Mr Dictionary seems to have deserted the author. Though I kind of hated it, ultimately it served its purpose, replacing the Jackie Collins bonkbusters I used to read as a trashy teen around the pool in Tenerife or Magaluf, before literary fiction and other grown-up tomes entered my beachbag. It even made me feel nostalgic for the adventures of Lucky Santangelo

Although the books themselves are terrible (however, if they got the hatchet-job edit they need, the trilogy could be slimmed down to a single volume worthy of competing with Ms. Collins latest oeuvre), I think they serve an important purpose, which is helping to remove some of the shame around sex. I’ve seen many women happily reading the books on the tube or at the beach – indeed, on my recent trip to Kefalonia, literally half of the women on the beach were reading Fifty Shades (and that’s only the paperbacks I could count. Who knows about the numbers reading it on their Kindles). A fifty-something couple from Waltham Abbey even struck up a conversation about the books after glancing me reading it under my parasol. It was quite a revelation to talk openly about the book, its contents, its success and its meaning with a couple of a different generation.

While the books’ success has spurred much animated feminist discourse, I ultimately think its (limited) BDSM content is not doing any harm to feminism. Contrary to many reports, its success does not reveal that really all women want to be dominated. The sex scenes (largely “vanilla”, except for the odd spanking) are just as much part of the fantasy as Christian Grey’s ridiculous wealth is, and as such it’s pretty harmless. However, the willingness with which Anastasia Steele (what a ridiculous name), is willing to submit to Christian Grey’s petulant and possessive demands outside the bedroom, is much more worrying. Throughout the book, I was thinking: If one of my friends was in a relationship like this, where a man attempted to control her eating patterns, her time with friends, her way of dressing and even her career, you would tell her to get the hell out. I hope many other readers have the same response, rather than equating Grey’s manipulative behaviour with actual love, like the schmuck Anastasia does.

Anyway. Shocking as the writing is, with the last decade of beach reads limited to the coy and acquisitive chick lit genre, I consider this book something of a relief, covering lust and sexual variety in a far more mainstream way than any other blockbuster book has. The book’s success has spurred Mills & Boon to re-issue its erotica series, while sales of sex toys are going through the roof.  Perhaps the Great British Reserve is weakening? And quite right too. The whole success of the book may be a passing fad to heat up this grim British “summer”, but I hope that its effects will be more far-reaching. After all the research I did for that Future Of Desire piece , which suggested a normalisation of  sex as part of everyday life, rather than something shameful, we may be on the cusp of change…

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The Scottish Play

Last weekend,  I had the pleasure of going to Glasgow to visit some lovely newly-migrated friends, and to see Alan Cumming in a one-man production of Macbeth. When we booked the tickets, I admit it was mainly from curiosity – I’ve long loved Alan Cumming, as far back as trashy early performances in Bernard & The Genie, or even further back , The High Life, co-written by Cumming himself (I defy you to get that theme tune out of your head). He was brilliant in the 90s revival of Cabaret, as a suitably sleazy Emcee, and made some surprise appearances in Bond and X-Men Movies. I understand he’s brilliant in The Good Wife too, but in general it looks like a really annoying programme, so I’ve never bothered with it…

In spite of all that, I completely underestimated him as an actor, so the idea of Cumming taking on a one-man Shakespeare seemed somewhat ridiculous. But no, it was increds. I’m no theatre reviewer, but I can say that it was an extraordinary thing to watch, and quite rightly deserved the standing ovation it got. Set in a mental asylum, Cumming plays a man mentally tortured by the actions and inactions of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, MacDuff et al,  acted out with a series of voices and props to denote each character.  In the bleak and deserted ward setting, the isolation of the one-person format neatly showed the many facets of a broken and confused man.

Although the run at the Tramshed in Glasgow has now finished (we were lucky to go on the final night), the production has now transferred to New York. If you can’t make it to New York, and want to feel really disturbed, you can now buy the audioplay on Amazon. But brilliant though the show is, I think listening to a madman doing a bunch of different voices in your ear is a sure-fire way to go mad yourself. So, maybe don’t buy it after all.

However, if you’re drawn to the multifarious Cumming, tune in to his new series Urban Secrets, on Sky Atlantic from tonight, which should be a great companion piece to the BBC’s utterly fascinating The Secret History Of Our Streets. If you haven’t seen this series, part of the BBC’s London strand, I recommend iPlayering it immediately.

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What’s your flavour?

The hot new flavour…is vadouvan, apparently. Nope, I’d never heard of it neither, but according to Iconoculture’s eminently knowledgeable food editor Charlotte Beal, this Franco-Indian spice blend is so hot right now. Pun totally intended.  It’s not dissimilar to a masala spice mix, but with added onion and garlic for that French élan. Icono’s lovely Indian editor gave us some at our recent meeting in Minneapolis (so international, right?!) and now I’m determined to try it…

Vadouvan is already the darling of the food-blogosphere, but will it spread like samphire? (geddit?) The signs look good – it’s been featured in Gourmet magazine, and on the highly influential Top Chef TV show in the US. And of course, people bloody love a food fad, especially if it’s a bit foreign (remember when sun-dried tomatoes were the thing? Gross). Although it saddens me to say, wasabi seems to have rather jumped the shark (I blame Pringles), while the Moroccan charm of pomegranate has caught up with the All-American cranberry and become rather vieux chapeau.

Instead, local specialties for local people have filled the gap in recent months as part of the British food renaissance, with scotch eggs and pickles getting chic make-overs. (I should point out, I’m way ahead of the curve on this one- my favourite store-cupboard snack used to be a pickled onion, eaten off a fork, straight out of the jar. You cannot buy class like that, I tells ya). Recent research suggests more people are getting into making their own pickles, which is ace. I’m getting into it myself (living the trend, innit). I’m particularly obsessed with recreating Koya’s pickled rhubarb, which is srsly brill…

Anyway, I digress. I’m going to follow Charlotte’s lead with a mac ‘n’ cheese scented with vadouvan, then maybe a vadouvan-spiced soup. Test subjects welcome. Any ideas for what else to do with it, do let me know!

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