...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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January 29, 2008 || 10:25 am
New company, new blog

It's been a while - but I'm hoping that for those of you who haven't trashed me from your RSS feeder, this will pop up as a little surprise. I've been busy - new house, new baby, and a new practice, HAT Projects, set up from our studio here in Essex and currently working on lots of fun stuff, including the feasibility study for a new art gallery in Hastings. All of which means a new blog, which can be found here, so I hope you'll all migrate over and have a look, and sign up to a new feed!


July 31, 2007 || 10:16 am
Studio swallows

Studio swallows
Originally uploaded by hanaloftus
The swallows have flying lessons and fluff themselves on the wire outside the studio window where I work. Distractingly lovely creatures.


July 06, 2007 || 9:39 am
Indian handwritten newspaper

I thought this story was fascinating and strangely emotional. A team of Urdu calligraphers turn out a daily newspaper in Chennai that is first hand-written, then transferred to printing plates. It has a circulation of 20,000 and a staff of six, led by a 76-year-old editor whose son thinks it is all far too old-fashioned - "I understand Urdu, but have no interest in calligraphy."

"In the meantime, the office is a center for the South Indian Muslim community and hosts a stream of renowned poets, religious leaders and royalty who contribute to the pages, or just hang out, drink chai and recite their most recent works to the staff. The Musalman publishes Urdu poetry and messages on devotion to God and communal harmony daily."

There is something in this story about how newspapers perhaps should be - not just the endless churning out of barely re-written press releases but something more passionate and personal. It is perhaps how I imagine the offices of our earliest newspapers to be.


May 28, 2007 || 10:44 pm
Rowley Leigh and Fergus Henderson

A treat from the weekend newsround - two of my all-time favorite chefs talking about their cooking together. Going to Kensington Place was always a highlight of my childhood and growing into adulthood - little did I know, to start with, what a seminal restaurant it was but I always loved the buzz, the huge mural, and the quality of the food, consistently excellent and, especially for that era, innovative. I remember a baked tamarillo dessert that introduced us to the fruit (it seems so dated now, but it was so good!) and the signature scallops with pea puree will always be a dish for my fantasy 'best-of' menu. As a kid I loved the hot pink loo decor and still I fail to find its look dated, in the way that a much-loved place always seems just right and of itself. I'm excited about Rowley's new project that is due to open later this year.

And for the last seven years, since moving back to London, St John and its Spitalfields sister have been my absolute favorite, staple places to eat well, at any time of day. Whether slightly naughty lunches on a workday, of cold lamb sandwiches in a doorstep of good bread with mayonnaise, or bar suppers, or full-on suppers to celebrate something at the Smithfield original, or weekend breakfasts or weekday treat dinners or birthday suppers at the Spitalfields Bread and Wine, Henderson has deprived me of more money than any other restauranteur.

And I don't remember ever leaving unhappy - once, recently, a little pressed for time after a pudding mysteriously failed to appear for rather too long - but always joyful at the quality of the food, savouring each mouthful, and with faith restored by the relaxed atmosphere that both have. Never as expensive as people think, it's possible to eat ridiculously well for very little money in Spitalfields or at the Smithfield bar. I always wonder how other restaurants fail to produce such simple, good food at such utterly reasonable prices when Henderson makes it look so obvious.

And for both of them, that's what comes across in this conversation. Henderson talks about common sense - "I follow the seasons and basically the work’s done for you and nature writes the menu." And it is true - why can't others learn this?


May 20, 2007 || 9:28 pm
Hungry House life

I'm fairly sure that most of my friends think we're quite strange, suddenly deciding to get a house in the middle of green fields (and in much-maligned Essex, no less) when we should be living some crazy hedonistic London life. But right now life feels pretty crazy and hedonistic being here - much more so than the reality of many London weeks where the busy-ness becomes over-much, the difficulty of coordinating diaries with good friends or finding mental space or physical time to do half the things that the city tempts with, and the constant leaching of money become all that one remembers.

Currently, weeks seem to pass quickly as before, but contain so much. Things change fast. I've watched the weather and felt relieved when it rained though needing to scurry out and rescue the washing from the line; I've taken advantage of sunny spells to dig the garden and plant seeds and seedlings; we've ripped up carpets and scrubbed floors and moved furniture. We've gone from eating every meal on the floor in front of the log fire, with only one chair in the house, to having a dining table, studio desks, lamps, armchairs. And still we've both been working fully at our day jobs - in my case, coming through a busy spell - and I've played gigs, too.

I realise that we've not charted our first month at the house in nearly as much detail as we should have. My stock of photos is scarce and most of them are terrible. But we've had the end of daffodils and tulips, and the beginning of roses. I have tomato plants four foot high in the greenhouse, lettuces in the garden. We've eaten the first tender and delicious broad beans; and asparagus keeps poking up, albeit somewhat less profusely that I would wish. We've discovered local farm shops and garden centres (and become all too regular at the local Homebase, sadly) - we've had our first overnight house guest.

Today the brand new lawnmower mowed all the grass and I discovered that the apricot tree really does have some apricots on it. We put up the badminton net and played a few rounds. I did some more digging and sowed beetroot and turnips, and planted out my gherkin seedlings. I made rhubarb crumble and listened to the birdsong. I tied up the roses climbing on the walls. The day was really full - exciting, new and, contrived though it may sound, inspiring.

There are various photos on flickr but I will show you just the conservatory, first thing in the morning, and our first broad beans.

Conservatory early in the morning

First broad beans! delicious, tender...


May 16, 2007 || 6:37 pm
Global English

I've been following the debate summarised in this article for a while. Fundamentally, it is about whether there exists a 'standard' and 'correct' form of English, whether standards of written and spoken English are slipping among young people and students, and what the impact or place of the new forms of English used in India and China, among other places, is or should be.

This is a debate that I got into when I lived in the USA too, where I once had a heated argument about the validity of what is strangely known as 'ebonics' over 'standard' English. Should African-American children be taught, or forced to use, 'classical' grammar and spelling in school or is a petition to government, say, equally valid if written in a colloquial African-American vernacular form? As you can imagine, this was a highly charged subject - taking my point of view (which was that a standard form of English provides a level playing field upon which social and political actors can interact, with a mutually understood set of meanings) laid me open to accusations of racism, no less.

In the UK I am more and more amazed by the poor grasp of spelling and syntax displayed in the multitude of documents that I read for work - from papers put out by local authority officers (even tender briefs) to job applications or even tender submissions by reputable companies. One recent example was from a marketing and design company - and their spelling was so incredibly poor that I would have rejected them for that alone even if their design was good (which it was not). To me, being able to articulate ideas clearly and logically is vitally important.

With new vernacular forms of English developing across the world, I always find an interesting parallel in Arabic. Each Arabic-speaking country has its own form of the spoken language, often wildly variant to the extent that Arabic learners choose whether to learn Egyptian Arabic, or Gulf Arabic, or Levantine Arabic, or another dialect. But Arabic also has a Modern Standard form that is used for all written communication. It is also used as a spoken language on formal occasions and in education - although many less educated Arabic speakers can't actually speak this language, they understand it.

Does this not provide a direct precedent for the development of English? A standard global English that obeys strict rules of spelling and grammar can provide the basis for international communication - online, in law, in business. What you choose to speak informally with your friends or community will vary and take on as much vibrancy and local colour as you wish. Some of those words or verbal forms may eventually make their way into the standard vocabulary over time.

But meanwhile, we should insist on high standards of written English. It forms the basis of our communication - an essential tool for public and political participation, and thus of more importance than those who dismiss it as needless dogmatism claim. If you can't write to your MP and clearly express your concerns; if you can't complain to your local council in terms that will be understood, your democratic capacity is limited. Learning only a vernacular that can only be understood by a closed group means you can't access jobs or opportunities that demand wider communication skills.

Every novelist or playwright knows that the kind of language they choose is intrinsic to characterisation and carries strong messages. I cherish vernaculars for their often wonderful use of words - but I would argue that their users must (and already often do) understand the distinctly different associations that these lingoes and standard English convey - and have the ability to switch between the two. This is not snobbery - it is the acknowledgement that a common language form enables communication as equals. We must make sure that all sections of the community can participate in social, political and economic life to the fullest extent, and that means making absolutely sure that, if nothing else, our schoolchildren learn English properly.


May 02, 2007 || 9:50 am
The Interweb mapped

xkcd's daily sketches are always amusing but yesterday's was a stroke of nerd genius. Worth clicking on to view its full glory.

Where do you live? I can be found often adrift in the Blogipelago, with pied-a-terre's in the Myspace Bands peninsula, Delicious Island and Flickr...


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