Saturday, 11 April 2015

Twelve Hours, Three Trains and Tignes

'Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversation than a moving plane, ship or train. At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves - that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us.' 
(Alain de Botton)

My new-found bible 'Calm' by Michael Acton Smith (a spot-on birthday present from Freya of Fashion People) describes travelling as 'a moment of peace in suspended animation.' It's safe to say that I'm in a state of suspension right now; situated on the Eurostar, precisely half way between London and Paris. I'm enjoying this moment of liminality in my happy little bubble, earphones in (Alt J of course) and writing, letting the excited exclamations of the two ten-year old sisters next to me fade into the background. They are actually on a day trip to Paris with their Grandad, hence the giggling I'm hearing as they practice saying 'Sacré-Coeur' in their best Frog accents and exploring the Eurostar. Getting from coach 1 - 13 and back in the shortest possible time is currently their ultimate goal! 
Ten-year olds aside, I've surprised myself. The prospect of twelve hours spent on and off French trains was not something I was particularly looking forwards to but it turns out that time spent au-train does provide a golden slice of solitude. I can't check my emails, Facebook or Instagram and I long ago gave up on the idea of writing any essays. Forced to turn away from the little red icons symbolising day to day productivity, I am making the most of this opportunity to 'just be' - mindful of my surroundings, other people and my own state of mind. Whilst waxing romantically lyrical on the benefits of travelling, I should perhaps explain the reason why I'm spending such a disproportionate amount of time on trains. 

Currently, I am on my way to Tignes, the highest resort in the French Alps to catch the last week of winter snow on skis. It's so convenient to be able to hop on a train more or less from my house and voilà...arrive in Tignes! (Three trains and twelve hours later, but who's counting anyway.) And so far, so smooth. No major mishaps, minus the fact I accidentally broke a ticket machine at the Eurostar terminal, I arrived in my seat on time and relaxed, flat white in hand- unspilt. It's highly unlikely that this smooth travel trajectory will last. When going to Paris one must do as the French do (although my choice of an Australian coffee perhaps slightly negates this) hence my quick nip across to Pain Quotidien for a taste of freshly baked flaky pastry: the obligatory almond croissant + morning coffee combination is a surefire way to kickstart the day! 

What Alain de Botton calls 'train-dreaming' is absolutely something I'm doing right now. Staring out the window, the world flashes by. It's all a little indistinct, the fields and sky blurring into horizontal bands. Cue 'Hazy' by Glass Animals.  This meditative state that I'm being lulled into is really quite nice. As much I'm trying this whole 'blissful thoughtfulness' business, my brain simply refuses to empty so I'm thinking about dreams. My dreams are often a bit wild and always vivid, more like waking hallucinations that stay with me the next day rather than night-time images that are relegated to the early hours. Judging from the most recent copy of Stylist, their editorial team seem to have this uncanny ability to read my mind. Lo and behold, a several page long feature on dreams and their relevance to women. Labelled by Carl Jung as 'a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul' interpreting your night time dreams allows us to realise factors of stress, anxiety, excitement and emotion in our waking lives. Following on, dreams go hand in hand with travel meditation, which restores us to ourselves - De Botton's quotation illustrates this perfectly. Exploring what makes you tick can be both unnerving and interesting, but ultimately it's something to embrace not shy away from. Women define themselves (perhaps unconsciously) through social relations and their interactions with fellow others, naturally being anthropocentric. Therefore these 12 hours I am spending with me, myself and I (and a few fellow French passengers) may reveal an unrealised facet of my own psyche, one that operates independently of the people I surround myself with in daily life. 

Anyway, that's enough for the minute, I'm heading back to my train-dreaming, Alpine contemplation and internal conversation.

A belated Happy Easter, I'm off to the slopes!



Thursday, 13 November 2014

How to do Reading Week

‘Temps Libre’ is a throwback to GCSE French, that enigmatic ‘free time’ question that inevitably pops up in your oral exam. These flashbacks to my 16 year old self have left me questioning, what is it that I actually DO in my free time? I’m talking about the hours I have to myself that are work free, chore free and (rarely) stress free. Having been on reading week, it’s a question I’ve finally managed to answer. Despite the fact my course has less than 10 contact hours per week, I still seem to be sprinting about the city in my well-worn Chelsea boots (I’m yet to make my debut into the world of trainers) trying to mentally tick off to-do lists that stretch to infinity. This week I’ve made the most of living in Leeds – doing all those things that take my fancy but have previously been relegated (sadly) to the ‘I’ll do it later’ category due to impending essay deadlines or other ‘important’ things. I’ve realised that if you spend no time on yourself, your weeks blur into a white haze of high blood pressure and coffee-fuelled (to the disapproval of the librarians) library sessions, as well as the fact that you forget to appreciate where you are! Taking time for myself has meant that my week has evolved into the antithesis of what I’m supposed to be doing (reading) but it’s been productive in a different sense. I’ve revived my interest in the creative pop-ups across Leeds’ cultural scene, done back to back gym classes just because I’ve had three hours to devote to exercising and undertaken meditative activities to channel the multitude of thoughts that flicker through my head each second. It’s been bliss. I’m being a lady of leisure, but not a lady who lunches- there’s a subtle difference. I’m still working, except this week I’ve focused on life outside the bubble of the university campus.  I thought I would share some of my activities this week –happiness and soul satisfaction guaranteed.

Ever since the arrival of Alt J, triangles feature in many parts of my life. Here’s another one to add to the tessellation. I’m sure you were all taught the exercise triangle in short-course PE. According to the textbooks, physical, social and psychological benefits are all part and parcel of sporting activity. It’s been nice to find concrete evidence for the existence of the triangle. Endorphins released during sport make you feel on top of the world and energized. There is nothing like an intense hour of Latin American hip-shimmying (AKA Zumba) followed by 45 minutes of splashing about in the deep end of a pool with floating dumbells (Deep Aqua aerobics) to get you pumped. And aching, for that matter. Luxuriating in long work outs has not only validated my decision to spend £100 on a gym membership but let me spend hours with Elle, my super gym buddy/best friend! And so the social side of sport becomes apparent.

It’s practically unthinkable to imagine life in Leeds without Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen.  I like to call that pre-historic era Leeds B.C – before Belgrave Canteen.  It’s a penchant for everything cool and edgy, but without any of the pretentiousness.  Music hall, roof terrace, pizza bar, burger joint, brunch venue, art space and coffee mecca, it covers most of the categories that ‘Culture’ gets broken down into. Obviously, Belgrave felt it wasn’t quite diverse enough, so they decided to get spiritual by holding weekly yoga flow classes. Never one to let down their consistently high standards, the yoga session was one of the best I have ever done. The ‘class’ became an hour of private, individually tailored yoga as it was only Elle, the teacher and I! Sun salutations were intensified, the music transported us to a Madagascan cloud forest and before we knew it, warrior three and crow’s poses had become second nature. We even got a little head massage and dab of orange essential oil to round off our Shavasana. Complimentary Dough Boys pizza was included- hands down THE ultimate pizzas in Leeds. Stretched, strengthened and mentally fortified, my post sports social hangover dissipated into a world outside the yoga mat.

Elle being a lotus flower in Yoga

Dough Boys 'Ricotta get through this'

Having this week off timetable has meant I have had hours to while away reading and researching the depths of the internet. By depths, I mean Vice columns, The Debrief and The City Talking- who knew the chocolates served in British Airways first class are created in Leeds? As I have a debate piece to write about drugs in the fashion industry, coming across ‘Amphetamine Logic’ caused Wednesday afternoon to flash past in a heartbeat. Mesmerizingly controversial, the infamous beauty writer and self declared drug addict is startlingly blasé and candid about her substance addiction. Titles such as ‘Nothing is wrong that feels good’ reeled me in for a fair few hours and in spite of the good girl inside me screaming how nefariously wrong anyone is who starts their articles with ‘I’m high on loads of speed...’ I could not help but read what felt like the diaries of a modern-day Edie Sedgwick. Game of Thrones is no longer the main threat to my degree, Cat Marnell’s column is!

Coffee and the paper should not be reserved for Sunday mornings. A low-key Thursday afternoon is ideal for picking up an indie-mag and heading to Laynes espresso. Weighed out, hand pulled flat white in hand, I sat down to peruse Loud and Quiet. Not that I have any specific knowledge of the music industry, but I feel that as I live in Leeds I need to be adequately informed in order to differentiate between house, deep house and techno. The differences are huge, obviously. Perhaps reading Loud and Quiet means I can now make valuable contributions to music-based conversations on Friday nights at Canal Mills. Unfortunately I emerged from the paper no more genre-aware but instead nicely entertained by David Zamitt’s interview with Ariel Pink. Quotes such as ‘the world isn’t fair and you just have to be a little bit more of an asshole and own it’ are now cemented in my memory. Also if you saw a girl wearing gym leggings this afternoon laughing out loud to herself, that wasn’t a total weirdo– it was just me appreciating amusing journalism. Also, Laynes really should be doing loyalty cards!

Flat White

Always opting for the full sensory experience, an quick shop around Urban Outfitters has created a full on obsession. Literally, music to my ears. UO were playing a banging sound track, of course I shazammed it and voila – Glass Animals manifests. Having had the peanut-butter lyrics of Gooey turn my head into an echo tunnel, I decided it was time to download ALL songs and add Glass Animals to my music pyramid. They’re up there now, along with Alt J, Chet Faker and Coldplay. Good news too – Glass Animals are playing in Leeds in March! The venue is Belgrave (surprise surprise).

Burning calories in the gym more than justifies one foodie indulgence this week. (Of course I fail to write a post without mentioning food) Let me introduce you to Fu Schnikens  - Taiwenese pop-up kitchen every Thursday night. Hoisin glazed pulled pork with a smattering of cashew nuts, torn coriander leaves and a sprinkle of palm sugar encased in a brioche bun – it cannot be described as anything other than a total taste explosion happening in your mouth*. I’m sure you can imagine. Where burgers go, chips must follow. I needed no other excuse to sample the delights of Patty Smiths. Hand cut, triple cooked and crisped to perfection and  I was left with my salt cravings completely satisfied and an even higher appreciation for the super-indie burger company. Safe to say I’ll be there on Sunday taking full advantage of their 2-4-£6 brunch burger deal. Their logo is almost as good as the food.

Patty Smiths treats plus Loud and Quiet

Fu Schnikens

* The official name is Gao Bao.

I’ll be trying out some more places in Leeds this weekend, so just to give you some prior warning, there will be food porn posted on my instagram!

Claire x