More mediocre attempts at capturing America on camera

Despite what you might think, freedom of speech is thriving - right opposite the White House

Monumental juxtaposition

I'd be lying if I said the colour was intentional, but you've got to love my framing.

"Hmm... leaves..."

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the sun just shone and shone

Until it set over the Pacific in a show of epic grandeur that no human will ever reproduce.


Another Weekend, Another Party (or 2)

This weekend saw me once more on the party trail across Londontown, hitting up Odd One Out's Freaks and Geeks night at the new place to be, Cable, under London Bridge station. Whilst there's no denying that this is a great venue, with the expected exposed brick, and large, slightly ramshackle, cavernous spaces, mezzanines and a vaguely Dickensian atmosphere, the event itself was something of a let down. Admittedly, I was tired from a busy week and various dramas earlier on in the night, but despite some decent music (a pretty eclectic selection including some standard electro, fun-time disco and a little bit of afrobeat), the atmosphere was somewhat confused - with a selection of Clapham yuppies, a lost looking East London contingent and some people who really went for the Freaks and Geeks theme (most people, myself included, were a little more half hearted). It didn't really seem to mesh - though drinks prices were fairly reasonable. I'd definitely give Cable another go, but maybe only for a seriously big name DJ where you know the music will be enough in itself to make the party.

The not-so-mean-anymore back streets of Dalston are where you will find Stamford Works, a warehouse space that played host to DDD's Bad Birthday Shindig on Saturday night. This was my kind of party. They didn't make a huge effort with the venue, but it divided nicely into a large, coolish room playing electro and techno deftly mixed in with splashes of jazz and world music; and a smaller, cosy, and warm (well, roasting and humid) room with velvet sofas, reclining wannabe-models pouting, and retro disco tunes. Not as crowded as you might think, and with a diverse crowd perhaps drawn by a mention in Metro (quote of the night: "What are you dressed as?" to my friends and I... Erm, ourselves?), this was one party where the fun went on, and on, and on, accompanied by impressive lights and lasers and an impressive DJ line-up: Crazy P and The Revenge alongside DDD residents. An added dimension to the Shindig was its Michael Jackson theme, which saw a decent chunk of the crowd sporting slogan t-shirts ('Hero to Paedo' sticks in the mind) or dressed as Jacko in one of his many iconic incarnations. Shame about the rain on the way home.

Things I Like That You Should Like Too

This weekend a friend recommended Taken by Trees to me. The solo project of Victoria Bergsman, formerly of the Concretes, whom I must admit I am ignorant of, other than having heard their name banded about a few times, Taken by Trees are subtle, lilting, and entirely enchanting. Combining the other worldliness of Natasha Khan with rays of sunshine and folk guitars, this is music to lift your spirits and indulge your inner Romantic poet to on a cold November evening. Even better, it is available on the wonderful Drowned in Sound to stream for free: http://drownedinsound.com/news/4137777-listen--exclusive-dis-stream-for-taken-by-trees-album-east-of-eden
Taken by Trees' official website is http://www.takenbytrees.com/ - worth a visit just for the beautiful photograph used as background, which must insipire a desire to see the world and be amazed even in those with less of a predilection for travel than me.

Which brings me on to my second recommendation for the world at large: Where's Cool.
I am biased, being a major contributor and content editor, but this really is one of the best travel websites out their for young, hip travellers on a budget. If you're looking for the coolest, cheapest, most interesting, unusual or cutting edge places to go, things to see an bars to drink in in major western cities, then www.wherescool.com is the site for you. All my favourite places are there, as well as those of a few thousand other contributors. If you disagree or think something is missing, you can join up and easily add it yourself. The layout and graphics are pretty sweet too - and whilst a lot of the world isn't covered yet, it's still early days, and the US and much of Europe is chock full of awesome spots for everyone to enjoy.


The ethics of scarves

Scarves may not seem like the most obvious subject for moral or ethical debate, but my recent choices in this area have left me more contemplative than your average winter accessory buy. The dilemma, if you can call it that, will become clear upon describing the objects at hand:

Exhibit A: A Brown, Jersey, American Apparel Circle Scarf

Exhibit B: An antique fox fur stole

Before you say anything, I am not in favour of seal clubbing or inhumane treatment of animals generally. In fact I was a vegetarian for a long time. However. There's no denying that fur both looks and feels good - so soft, so warm. Humans have been wearing it for thousands and thousands of years. Go to siberia, it's not a luxury there, it's a necessity. Not that this applies in London, but I think that when it comes to fur - yes, a lot of it is inhumanely killed or farmed, but vintage fur is already long dead and not wearing it doesn't benefit the animals. In fact, wearing a fur - especially a complete fur like mine - is a preservation of the creature's beauty, and as much of a memorial as they would ever get. You can argue that wearing a vintage fur still glorifies the trade, which does have some truth... but beauty always hurts, n'est pas.

And my circle scarf comes guilt free, from the sweatshop free icon itself. So on balance, I'm just an imperfect human. With nice scarves.

This almost makes up for not being able to afford the burberry snoods...


There were fireworks, but not the kind you'd expect on Bonfire weekend

The night didn't start off well. After getting off the diverted bus in Mare Street, we wondered why exploding rockets weren't lighting up the Hackney sky as we trudged along the canal in the chilly evening air. Two minutes later our questions were answered by a swarm of bonfire-nighters heading in the opposite direction, towards us. Clearly we had missed this year's display. On arrival at Victoria Park, sure enough, the fun fair was closing too...

But the night was still young and I do not give up on the chance to party that easily. After a somewhat surreal bus journey involving consumption of various pseudo-cocktails from plastic bottles with people in various more advanced stages of inebriation, we ended up at a house in Clapton where hilarity, involving skulls, foxes and a lot wine ensued.

But the (figurative) replacement for the missed fireworks came with a trip back down to Mare Street and the rather wonderfully named Disco Bloodbath. Despite failing to blag our way in for free (I got a discount for my effort, haha) the night was worth every shakily-remembered penny. Though I'm not paying £4 for a can of tepid beer again. Music music music. Dancing dancing dancing. Is there any greater joy in life?

Don't answer that.

How my faith in humanity was destroyed and restored.

Well, if I wasn't extremely cynical to begin with, the title might have a greater degree of truth.

In short, I was mugged.

About ten days ago, I was walking back from Highbury Corner, admiring the beautiful old houses with a certain degree of jealousy and appreciating the grandeur of the huge, old oak trees with their almost leaf-less limbs, and slipping into a semi-automatic state of gothic reverie... In other words, I was probably too unaware of my surroundings. But, I was on a well-lit street which a bus goes down, and there were other people around. I certainly didn't expect this to be the kind of place I have my pockets emptied and my bag snatched... but appearances, clearly, can be deceptive. Maybe my gothic mood was portentous.

I'd rather not discuss the actual mugging, suffice to say I was initially very shaken and subsequently massively annoyed at the huge inconvenience of having no cards, phone, access to money, ID, etc, etc.

My parents received a letter addressed to me from my local police station saying they had found something that belonged to me. How? It was this that made me realise that the police had my drivers' license, obtained when I still lived at home. This morning I went in to collect it and found they also had my bag (catch broken my the ignorant fools who stole it and mistook it for a lock), scarf, book, sunglasses and, most shockingly of all, all my (now cancelled cards). In fact everything, other than my phone and gloves. I shudder to think what they'll use the gloves for. But the fact someone even found my bag and handed it in... and that the thieves were decent enough to leave the stuff I actually needed... I don't know. I just feel as though deep down, there are a lot of people that aren't that bad.

And I'm happier for it.

(I just want my bank cards.)


Sushi: an Ode

Who would have thought that tiny pieces of uncooked fish on sticky rice with a little salty sauce, sinus-clearing paste and a few other, largely decorative, flourishes could taste quite so very good?

Here's my gripe: why is it that in California, a huge roll or the best quality sashimi will come to a price comparable to a standard take-out nigiri in the UK. Almost, at least. Clearly, the West Coast of America is closer to Japan, with a larger Japanese population, but it's not as if sushi is flown in. Britain may not have a lot of things, but a coastline is one thing we do have. We're an island! We have a lot of seafood and a big (sometimes environmentally dubious) fishing industry. The ingredients can't weigh in at much more of a cost! I would start a campaign for cheaper good quality sushi, but I really wouldn't know where or how to begin.

A special mention here must go to Sushi Spot, on Ventura Boulevard, in the depths of the Valley. Tiny and unassuming, located in the corner of a mini strip-mall, it served up quite possibly the best sushi that I have ever tasted. I was in and out in less than three-quarters of an hour, but that is one meal that I will remember when I'm old and grey. The slithers of toro literally melted on my tongue, a lingering culinary ecstasy that required not a single bite or chew. The prawn and crab tempura roll was huge, fresh, warm and succulent, rich and creamy without being overpowering. The unagi could have been caught five minutes ago and wouldn't have tasted better. Angelenos do not know how lucky they are to be blessed with this place.