Travel: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena at sunset, between Getsamani and the Old City. Image: Alan Chant

This 12-month Panamerican adventure has been full of surprises; birdwatching is now an active hobby (the birds of Central and South America are beguiling). I’ve learnt things about myself; I can actually survive without exfoliator but am unswervingly intolerant of certain nationals (can’t mention names, but they talk loudly about themselves when nobody has asked and are constantly planning their next interruption). That’s not one i’m particularly proud of, but I am afraid it is true.

My wilful exile has also brought me closer to my first love, London. I miss it so. We were having a bit of a lovers’ tiff before I left, but absence most certainly does make the heart grow fonder and I am smitten. I wish I could have been transported back a couple of weeks ago to play in the snow with you all and complain about trains. Oh it’s SO bloody HOT, here.

Me and the boyf are now nearly 4 months into our trip and PRAISE BE, we’re in Colombia.

Colombia – after the cultural and foodie vacuums of Gringoland (Costa Rica and Panama) – promised to take us back to the exultation of Mexico at the start of our trip; addictive and cheap street eats; fiery but friendly locals; safe cities with plenty to do and see; and richly diverse small towns and villages yet unmarked by the pocks of tourism and the footprints of flip-flopped holidayers stampeding to the beach. And by gum, it is not disappointing. If it wasn’t for the endless and repetitive Cumbia music I could stay here forever.

There is no official land border between Panama and Colombia and trekking through FARC territories is extremely unwise, so we flew from Panama City to Cartagena, terminating our bi-continental bus junket, which started in Nuevo Leon in Northern Mexico, at just short of 3000 miles.

A little Parisian heart

San Pedro Square. Image: Alan Chant

Cartagena should challenge Buenos Aires to a bloody fight for the title of the “Paris of South America”. I hereby dub thee the “Paris of the Caribbean”. It’s so much more than the setting of that shitty 80’s movie with Michael Douglas. Due to its walled defenses, built in the 16th century to keep out saucy pirates like Francis Drake (who sacked the city in 1586), it has managed to retain its original colonial beauty, while other Latin American cities rebuilt on top of ruins.

Cartagena’s attractions are its streets. We spent six blissful days just strolling the walkways and fortress walls, trying exotic new fruits like guayabana and caimito and sipping freshly crushed cane juice from the market stalls (amazingly refreshing with a squirt of lime). After dark, we sat amongst the costeños (Cartagenians) in the softly-lit plazas, with an arepa con queso and an ice-cold Club Colombia beer.

There are the tell-tale signs that Cartagena is a prominent stop on the cruise scene, but we found it easy enough to ignore. Each Bougainvillea-trailed street displays about five emerald shops and an abundance of boutique hotels and high-end restaurants. In narrow streets, imposing doors of thick mahogany, with heavy bronze knockers revealed grandiose, flowered courtyards. It will surely change very quickly as Colombia opens up to previously wary travellers, but tourism has yet to spoil Cartagena, unlike so many pretty colonial cities we visited in Central America.

Doing Cartagena cheap is still an option. We don’t have the Bens of your average Caribbean cruise passenger and we got by just fine without feeling like we missed out. Like the rest of Latin America, budget eating means dining with the locals. La Mulata was a favourite of ours; a smart little café with a choice of four set meals each day of Cartagena’s specialty; sea food. It was there that I discovered a dangerously addictive drink called Limonada de Coco, a Caribbean twist on classic Colombian limeade, native to the city. And when our budget ran tight, dinner was at an empanada stall in the Plaza San Diego, family-run for over 45 years and crowded with costeños.

Un corazón oscuro

Cartagena has a proudly mixed heritage. Its Caribbean spirit compliments its Latin in a rich and colourful marriage, from its dishes of coconut rice and fried fish, to the typical West Indian dress of the Afro-Caribbean woman fruit sellers.

But there is less to be proud of that the city can hide from most, but not from others. Just as Gabriel García Márquez envisioned love in a time of cholera, crimes of the body and soul are hidden by the modern passion of Cartagena. The scars of the colonies still ache in a city alive. Each day we would walk from our hostel in the ex-slave quarters of Getsemani, now a shabby but welcoming neighbourhood just outside the old city walls, through a shadowed and cool archway of El Plaza de la Paz, to Plaza de los Coches, a lively and brightly-coloured square where slaves were auctioned. A statue of Spanish Conqueror and Cartagena’s founder Pedro el Heredia stands there now, among the tables and chairs set out for travellers to spend a sticky evening drinking among the locals, deaf and blind to the sale of human bodies that once surrounded them.

Cartagena is beautiful. But it is a former slave port, shipping in West Africans to be traded all over the Americas, as part of the ‘golden triangle’ of European slave trade. This haunts me. Maybe it is because my study of the slave trade opened my eyes to the depths of barbarism in the individual acts of slavery, but I think it should haunt you too. As hard as it may be, if you visit, try to take a moment to acknowledge the fear and bewilderment of an African stepping off the boat in shackles, taking in the first sight of land on a continent that will sell her/his body.

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Images: Alan Chant //

Travel: Lucha Libre and El Toro in Mexico

My only acquaintance with spectator sports is foreign. An American father, plus four women in a very English house, meant even my little brother grew up with as much interest in English football as the stock market. Now basketball, I can watch. It’s quick, gripping and above all, civilised. When Blake Griffin (LA Clippers) fouls, he holds his hands up to the umpire and says “my bad, my bad”. Something something John Terry.

Lucha Libre, Guadalajara

Lucha Libre (‘free wrestling’) is Mexico’s answer to WWE and is everything but civilised. It’s a dwarf in a chicken suit being stamped on by four masked men with beer guts clad in lycra. It’s ‘ruddos’ (baddies) fighting dirty with ‘técnicos’ (goodies). It’s bad-mannered, outrageous, and 100% entertainment.  And the fans take it very seriously.

Sorry about the bad phone quality. No cameras allowed.

Pro-wrestling is massive in Mexico. The Tuesday night fight will be on the TV in any given cantina. Its story lines might be soap operas, but its stars act out Mexico’s social anxieties. Técnicos fight for the honest, working people and the poor, represented as comic book heroes and ancient warriors. Ruddos are arrogant, vulgar and they cheat. They are the problems facing honest Mexicans; drugs dealers, cartels, and corrupt police and politicians.

On the advice of a friend, we paid top peso ($160, about £8) for ring-side seats in Guadalajara. He told us to expect the luchadores (wrestlers) to get thrown out of the ring into the first row and he wasn’t wrong. Wrestlers walk out down a runway into the ring to their theme tune like in WWE, and are met by the crowd with cheers or boos. In one fight, with three on three, the ruddos tore off the masks of the técnicos to try and reveal their secret identity and fans rushed to the ring-side to throw in their shirts to cover the faces of their heroes. At one point, the whole front row to the left of us lept out of the way of two wrestlers being thrown clear of the rope, right into the seats. A ruddo, in reaction to a fan goading his filthy tactics, theatrically wiped his arse with his hand and with it, blew a kiss into the audience.

While we were close enough to smell the sweat, our ring side seats were in a quiet section of the stadium (a rare occurrence, I think), and we didn’t get the education in dirty Spanish words we were expecting. From what i’d read of Lucha Libre, the crowd spend more time insulting each other than watching the match. Chants like “Pobres! Pobres! Chingas a tu madre!” (“Poor people! Poor people! You fuck your mother!”) were gleefully anticipated, but for some reasons we didn’t catch any. I suspect we just couldn’t pick up the Mexican slang. But as always, the seats at the back are where the best action is.

The bullfight, Mexico City

A whole different experience at the bullfight in Mexico City. We were part of the crowd this time, in the cheap seats, being distracted from a spectacle we didn’t actually want to watch. All very well because in Mexico, the crowd is usually far more interested in itself than in the sport it’s come to watch.
I’m not glad i’ve seen a bullfight. Part of me wanted to see what might be one of the last bullfights in Mexico, because i’ve recently read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, and I was compelled to apply his commentary on fear and braveness in the bullring to it myself. The rest was curiosity.

But I saw no valour in the event. Simply arrogance in the matador and a job made pretty easy by the fact that before he even enters the ring, the bull is half-dead anyway, maimed by six deep gouges in his neck from the hooked spears of six picadors. If that and a good baiting doesn’t finish him off, the matador stabs the bull through the head with his sword. There’s very little competition between a man with a sword and a confused, dying animal.

The first fight ended with a lap of pomp from the matador, wiping the sweat from his brow with a hat thrown into the ring from the audience, despite looking like he’d barely got out of breath. It was after watching this fight far too closely, through grimaces, that we realised that no-one else in our cheap seats up the top was paying any attention at all to the fight itself. They were passing around leather kidney bags of booze, calling to strangers to come and join their section, and laughing at each other’s friendly taunts.

The elderly Spanish man next to us was concerned that we weren’t enjoying ourselves. Eventually we translated that he was saying to us, “Don’t worry about the fight, it’s OK, it’s not a bad thing”. He bought us beer to thank us for coming all the way from England to be there and he was pleased we were. Then the kidney bags came our way. Regularly. Suddenly we weren’t so distressed by the bullfight, more concerned with laughing in the right places at the good-humoured teasing aimed at the Spanish man for his interest in us. Someone suggested he wanted to take us home and he waved the notion off, a little embarrassed, and tipsy. By the time the last fight was over, we had sampled the kidney bags of everyone within a row’s reach, and we were quite, quite pissed.

The family we stayed with in Mexico City told us when we got home that we could have stayed to enjoy a glass of the bull’s blood as they carved it up to be sold for meat. We were glad we didn’t stick around. Of the two big spectacles we went to in Mexico, the bullfight left a nasty taste where the Lucha Libre was delicious, but we were glad to be part of the crowd that time, to experience an intimacy in the crowd that not even the Olympics could evoke.

Travel: Catching the bus in Mexico


If you, discerning reader, are like me (I hope you’re not), you would assume people couldn’t give two rooty-tooty farts about you pottering about the globe attempting to bond with the locals and not washing one’s hair. Or maybe you do care, but I am cursed by an enduring commitment to not looking like a wanker – a neurosis that inevitably makes me a total and utter wanker – and so while certain experiences on this trip have compelled me, I cannot, CANNOT, write a backpacker blog.

I’ll try not to be a total wanker about the whole ‘travelling’ thing, and leave out the boring in-betweens. Fuck, i’ve written a blog about buses, haven’t I…

Also, I’ve done my nails at least twice since I’ve been away and have packed four lipsticks, in mood-reflecting shades and I DON’T EVEN CARE.

To sum up, my boyfriend and I have sacked it all in to backpack (YAH) around Central and South America for the next year or so. We’ve been away for 28 DAYS and haven’t split up yet, despite spending 24 hours in each other’s company FOR 28 DAYS and me threatening to tear the pages out of his book one particularly fraught evening. I didn’t because I remembered in time that it was my book on lend. After a quick howdy-do to New York, some family-time in the South, and a week in Austin over ACL weekend, we’re now in Mexico.

Mexico seems to scare the cojones off most people.

Well-intentioned family and friends spent the first few weeks before we crossed the border sending ‘be careful’ messages, with barely-concealed warnings mainly extricated from ‘Ross Kemp’s Extreme World’; “You will get hijacked if you catch the bus” and “You will be raped if you get in a taxi”. Not to mention those pesky drug cartels, who, while I wouldn’t mess with them if they were running away from me on fire, are possibly a little busy being elbow-deep in the drug trade to be messing about with two pale Brits in bum-bags and flip-flops. NB: I can’t actually bring myself to use a bum-bag, even though I packed two.

The drug war is not isolated to certain places in Mexico, though there are areas that are not safe to travel, like Ciudad Juarez on the US border, and Acapulco in the south. Cartel murders and drug-related violence are a problem all over the country. But I am in no position to give commentary on the impact the conflict is having on the lives of innocent Mexicans. I can simply speak as a newly-inaugurated traveller here.

Naturally, some of the cautionary ‘advice’ hit a nerve, because I refused to catch a bus from San Antonio across the US border on a road with a recent increase in hijackings, and booked a flight instead. Probably for the best. Just before setting off on a bus from Mazatlan on the Pacific coast, to Guadalajara, we were warned by a family member of narco-blockades on the highway we were heading on. Advice had been given on the US Embassy website some months earlier not to travel, but given that we are English, we decided the cartels wouldn’t be remotely interested in us or our travel plans and cracked on.

Our first stop in Mexico was Monterrey in the northern state of Nuevo León. Google ‘Monterrey’ and the first news hit is ‘Monterrey police find 49 bodies’; 43 men and 6 women decapitated, mutilated and dumped by a roadside. Or, perhaps, don’t. My advice having given myself the willies over Mexico: don’t let media stories influence your travel plans. Do your research, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office‘s travel pages for official warnings (from UK government), and if you can, find out from people who have travelled recently or who live there. I’m no expert, but violent crime can affect tourists in any country. Just look at that poor Malaysian kid who was hospitalised after visiting London during the 2011 riots. That London that sees millions of foreign visitors every year. Those murdered in Monterrey were not tourists.

Actual sunset in Mazatlan. Actual wankers!

Having bussed yesterday from my favourite pit-stop yet, Guadalajara, we are now in Mexico City, staying with the family of a friend, having cul-de-sac conversations through two phrase books and a Spanish-English dictionary, being fed copiously, and making plans for Dia de los Muertos. Mexico is SMASHING and every bit as great as the Mexico I hoped it would be before I left.

Everyone who has sent warnings about travelling on buses has done it because they care about us, but it did almost scare me out of travelling on them. Now, the buses are my fourth favourite thing about Mexico, behind the food, the people (who can’t help you enough in getting places and finding things, but I think that might be everyone else but Brits?), and the tiling (I don’t think i’ve ever been so excited by tiles). Huge seats, air-con, super clean gender-separated toilets and free refrescos on non-expensive first-class services; believe, you can learn to love taking the bus in Mexico. Fuck the banditos.

Style: Yifang Wan (& contempt) at London Fashion Week

Before we get stuck into the meat of this, a disclaimer: My opinions on fashion are not to be trusted.

I am not very cool. I have a completely un-ironic love for 80’s hair metal and festive jumpers and wear hole-ridden shoes that should have been taken out and shot many moons ago. I’m more likely to discuss amphibian husbandry than the latest Prada and wear jeans with elasticated waists if I intend to go a bit nuts on pulled pork and beer at Bodean’s. Chic, no? I’m here all night.

Alls I know is that ‘blue and green should never be seen’ and that horizontal stripes will make a big gut look bigger. But in an attempt to broaden my horizons, I ventured to London Fashion Week to report for OhDearism – armed with some useful tidbits of info from a friend both wise and stylish – in the hope that I could emerge with some nuggets of insight.

Like David Attenborough among creatures exotic and rare, I endeavoured to blend in and observe…

Yifang Wan

My first stop was Yifang Wan at the Freemason’s Hall, who my learned friend informed me is fresh outta St. Martin’s and has been impressing crowds with utilitarian pieces inspired by timeless Japanese fashion. She uses muted colour palletes that symbolize bold naturalism and practicality with clean lines, statement pieces of jewelry and jersey fabrics. Inspired by the gothic style of Gareth Pugh injected with martial-arts styling, Wan creates large yet streamlined and theatrical silhouettes that flow in fluid, unforced lines.

Still with me? I’m barely with me. Sounds pretty cool though right? But let us plug away.

After a wait in a rather hefty crowd, those of us with invites got ushered in and asked to go “anywhere but the front row”, for that was where the real big hitters were to sit, all huge, enviable talon nails, dip dye and the odd frozen botox botch-job. You think I jest? No. Of the faces that bobbed opposite me, a considerable number were frozen in masks of horror, wide-eyed fury or disgust. I couldn’t tell which but the conveyed feeling was not one of comfort. I’m quite sure that was not the intention. Or maybe it was?

But I digress…

No good goodies

Maddeningly the front row had the only seats with goody bags. Dang. Equally maddening was the fact that when confronted with these treats, the sour-faced chosen ones nonchalantly shoved them beneath their chairs as though repulsed. Is this normal behavior? When confronted with free stuff do you not gleefully delve inside? We never did discover what treasures lurked within and it is a question that will plague me for longer than it should.

What? At least give them a cursory look

Scrubs for ninjas

The clothes to me looked extremely martial arts-y; loosely structured jacket-and-trouser combos with some models carrying rather vicious looking pieces of wood like ancient weapons. Everything was very angular and completely monochrome, draping around the models. Some pieces were held together with large wooden belts, square and bold with leather buckles, accented against chunky jewelry.

While the all-black outfits were pretty interesting and glamorous, the all-white pieces to me looked like hospital scrubs and didn’t have anything like the same impact. Hospital scrubs for ninjas perhaps? As my friend informed me in his notes, the collection isn’t ready-to-wear. Though not overly flamboyant, the sheer size and angular nature of the pieces would make your average gal on the street look like they were impersonating a religious figure or about to karate-chop you in the face wearing a pair of goth curtains before being hauled off by stern men in similar white attire.

More cold than cool

While I can see the appeal of these designs, I was left a little cold by the heavy atmosphere of people trying to act so unexcited by an event while trying to soak up as much of it as possible by photographing every conceivable thing, as though visable enjoyment would get you ejected from the building. Call me naïve but surely after lining up for a good 40 minutes for something, most folk would be a teensy bit pleased when they got inside? Not so here.

With patrons flipping through their myriad fashion week invites like the worst kind of to-do lists, noses scrunched up in disgust, the whole thing felt like an exercise in forced aloofness. This didn’t sit well with me at all. The atmosphere was unfriendly and heavy, the proximity of being near such a pit of sneering indifference made the air thick with bad feeling and it was a true relief when it was time to leave.

At the lighting returning to normal, the chosen ones leapt up, discarded the free spoils and wafted away into the Holborn sunshine, leaving the rest of us to look about the place like bewildered creatures crossing a busy road. “Was that it?” “Yes. Off you go.”

My friend and I were ushered out before we could pilfer one of the many disgarded full goody bags and exited, not entirely sure how we felt about the whole thing. As we retired to the familiar confines of the Dog and Duck to digest our fashion week adventure, we mused over the audience more than the collection; the people who had made a supreme effort to stand out and be admired themselves, yet seemed to regard their peers and the work of Yifang Wan with screwfaced contempt. This stuck out for me considerably more than the clothes and left a taste in my mouth that hasn’t quite gone.

For those wondering, my learned friend is called Caner and goes by @BowTieBoy_CD on the Twitter. He is far far wiser in these matters than I.

Twitter – @NadiaReads

Blog: London 2012, you’re alright.

Guest post by Nadia Ramoul 

I wanted to hate the Olympics.

I spent the past year self righteously bemoaning the folly of a huge sporting event and a hefty bill at a time of great financial uncertainty and a gung-ho approach to drastic cuts in public services.

I laughed heartily at the (still hideous) pink branding and the bizarre mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, with their eerily staring Cyclops eyes and permanent expressions of rage that seem to bore into my very soul.

My friends and I would visit the new Westfield and observe from the big ugly bridge, that the rest of Stratford was cleverly and obviously hidden by giant steel ‘tree’ with gleaming leaves that obscure the tired old shopping centre lest it offend the eyes of affluent Olympic visitors. We scoffed and rolled our eyes at Mayor Boris’ recorded ramblings advising us to change our routes to work and spent many an hour complaining about the crowds and ridiculously draconian sponsorship rules.

Now though, I feel like a bit of a dick for all my supposedly knowing laughter and bile. I confess: I’m bloody well loving the Olympics. That’s right. Please, go easy on me… don’t aim for the face… it’s honestly pretty good.

Have you been to Stratford recently? While a lot of it hasn’t had the super special Olympic regeneration promised – Maryland is still a manky hole of suspicious fried chicken and sticky pavement – the atmosphere is thoroughly different. People are actually speaking to each other and there is palpable excitement in the air. No, seriously.  Friends who saw the torch travel through report a real sense of community spirit and anticipation, and around the park hearing such a variety of languages is pretty impressive.

The park itself is equally incredible, dwarfing the Westfield over the road, with beautiful landscaped gardens and oddly picturesque views of the stadiums. Rather than the bun fight of angry tourists and chaotic cues that I expected, large swathes of it are clear and open, with picnic benches for folk to eat their lunch and friendly guys wandering around with backpacks of beer, giving directions. There is a celebratory atmosphere regardless of the hefty army guys pottering around and the swollen clouds constantly threatening rain.

I’ll never forget the Opening Ceremony or where I was where I saw it (drunk as a lord  shovelling salt and pepper squid in my mouth if you must know) and the genuine excitement at just how surreal and visceral it was. I wanted to hate it, honestly, but I couldn’t. ‘Think of the money!’ I thought, ‘the straining transport system!’ To no avail. My friends and I glanced around, choked out some quiet praise of Danny Boyle and admitted defeat.

While the mascots still fill my insides with a certain amount of dread, it has faded somewhat. Their presence around Spitalfields is pretty funny, their colourful design complimenting the street art of Brick Lane rather than directly contradicting it. Hell, a cuddly one hewn in glittery gold is staring at me now from my bookcase making me feel slightly uneasy.

Yes, the 2012 Olympics is a giant vulgar corporate clusterfuck of unpleasantness, there is no denying. But never have I seen so many really happy people in one place. The world’s largest McDonald’s looms large, a wooden monolith with odours that sting the nostrils from quite a distance while other food options and souvenirs are grossly overpriced – I should be seething with rage, but no, not entirely. The people here are having a great time. If a 30 minute queue for a lukewarm Filet o’ Fish and a few hours watching your country lose at a sport you’ve never heard of makes you happy then great. It made me pretty happy too.

Photography: Weep Not By Day

Dorrell Merritt, a friend of Arran Gregory (the dude who designed the little birdies on this site) got in touch recently to ask me to consider a review of his graduate photography project. Weep Not By Day is a display of, as Dorrell describes it, “the power of night and an insight into dolefulness in female youth, set within the busy, lonely and unforgiving urban landscape of London.”

I liked his photos, so I agreed to interview him. I proceeded to harangue him on his choice of imagery, hoping to engage in a healthy debate about the portrayal of women in popular culture (i’m mad for girl talk). Sorry Dorrell.

Luckily he gave me some interesting answers and because I was feeling nice I chose to not to drill him about certain of them, like “we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects”.

Aside from everything else, the photos are damn good. They resonate with a captured sadness that is testament to the protagonists and the photographer.  You can truly feel the hollow, lingering depression of being in a big city, surrounded by people and feeling like you’re on your own.

They also portray someone seeing these women’s dejection – another commuter or passerby, who might be wondering why the woman in each photo is so distant – and I think the women know someone can see them and that they are wondering. I have experienced both sides of the coin as i’m sure we all have.

Dorrell, and his ‘we‘ – which I assume means ‘men’ – are voyeurs. He says “we have been conditioned to feel a higher level of empathy towards female subjects”, but also that “on the other hand I think we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects to some extent”. [my emphasis]

But can you “tell the woman’s story”, as Dorrell says he wants to do, and ‘be a voyeur’? I don’t think so. Either you can connect with them emotionally in understanding their sadness, or you are watching them as a distant subject. But perhaps I don’t identify myself as the voyeur because I identify with them, and seeing these women on my imagined journey feels coincidental and fleeting. As the viewer I don’t feel like i’m following these women to spectate. But do I feel natural empathy with them and a connection with their melancholy because I am too a woman?

Dorrell has done well to capture what he calls the ‘power of the night’. Melancholy holds its own in the night and this plays a part in the potency of the imagery. He told me that he thinks night has “an ambiguous presence; it can console us, make us more relaxed, more thoughtful, more creative, but also anxious.”

This we crops up again in our interview:

“Women are almost art within themselves, really. If we go as far back as 16th century art, and look at Jupiter and Io by Antonio Da Correggio, and skip to the present day; Death of Coletti by Tom Hunter, there is a technique which has survived 500 years: the use of women as a key emotional-narrational tool.

“We are so used to seeing it, we sometimes don’t even realise it. It is ingrained within us. I think there are a number of reasons for this historically and socially but regardless, we take great pride in observing women. We are fascinated.”

Women are tools in Dorrell’s art, to apply a feeling, or be applied. There are many issues here; the idolatrous worship of women as art forms is a component of a society that doesn’t view women on an equal footing. Women are to be admired, on a pedestal. It really is no advancement on viewing women as less than men.

Dorrell has done exceedingly well to capture the souls of his protagonists in his photographs. I just would have liked to have heard about their stories in our interview, rather than just his placing as voyeur.

“Critically”, he says “I guess it could be deemed a bit shortsighted of me as a man, to attempt to tell the stories of young women.” Gender does not define whose right it is to tell another’s story, but i’m not entirely convinced it’s their stories that Dorrell wants to capture.

Weep Not By Day by Dorrell Merritt (EXPOSURE 24 – Graduate Exhibition – Frameless Gallery 18th-24th, June, Clerkenwell Green)

Blog: 2012 Hours To Go

Sorry cynics; I love the Olympics. I love it so much that I set alarms for 3am to wake up and watch Michael Phelps swim in Beijing 2008. Nothing can dampen my enthusiasm for this year’s home games.

On Saturday night I attended 2012 Hours To Go, a London Prepares event which was sort of marketed as the pre-opening ceremony for the Olympic Stadium, with celebrities. It was hilarious. This was not an event for haters. Martin Kemp raced in a time trial and Lemar zorbed his way around the track to try and win members of the audience prizes. Pure cheese, with Vernon Kay.

Before the entertainment, university-level athletes competed in BUCS Visa Outdoor Athletics Championships 2012, with events like 400m hurdles, 100m sprint, 400m relay, high-jump and polevault.

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Photos by


Blog: The Voice


BBC 1’s The Voice has taught me so much. It’s taught me that Jessie J’s talent is somewhat founded on the fact that she knows the words to EVERY SONG EVER WRITTEN and she wants you to know about it. It has taught me that is to be added to my mental list of secret gays in the music business. It has taught me that Tom Jones is a classic narcissist and it has taught me that mullets do still exist (Danny O’Donoghue of The Script).

But most tellingly, it has taught me that my perverse preoccupation with awkward situations can be captured in a prime time Saturday night slot.

My flatmate has dubbed The Voice ‘the Sphincter Olympics’. What began as a curious give-it-5-minutes flick-over on the first Saturday, has evolved into full-house participation, descending into utter hysteria.

Let me explain why we now refer to The Voice in competitive arse-clenching terms.

The Voice is so excruciating in the participation of the judges, as to be utterly thrilling. So thrillingly excrutiatingly awkward, that it makes your bumhole go a bit funny. Actually, not a bit funny, Olympic-level funny. Don’t pretend that’s never happened to you.

The singing might as well, for my flatmates and I, not take place at all. To have Jessie J, Tom Jones, and Danny O’Donoghue (?) in giant spinny chairs adorned with ‘I WANT YOU’ in neon lights, their hands (and feet if you’re WACKSTER Jessie) gleefully hovering over a big red button, shouting down the side of a hill, would be just as entertaining.

The key to this success is in their total incongruity as a panel, which totally works and makes for a smashing game of Sphincter Olympics. spends the show looking so utterly bored, it’s almost as though if there were ad breaks he’d be straight on the phone to his agent trying to back out of the whole enterprise. But the beauty is, if you follow closely you know he’s totally invested so WHAT IS GOING THROUGH HIS HEAD? IS HE MAD? IS HE A GENIUS? Oh it’s too much.

Tom Jones will only pick a singer who ‘does a Tom Jones’. Watch him quietly and gracefully wait it out…until…they hit…the TOM JONES NOTE and boom, he’s in. And then he’ll tell them he knew Elvis.

Danny looks like all he’s thinking about is how to get the 17 year old blonde girl he’s buzzed for because he was SURE she sounded hot, to pick another judge so that he can fuck her before she leaves.

And Jessie. Oh Jessie. The gold medallist in the Sphincter Olympics. The Jessica Ennis of awkward. What she doesn’t know about the industry ain’t worth knowing. She has been around the block, love. She’s running the whole game, while saying things like “fantabaluso” and doing impressions of a cockney Cilla Black.

On Saturday, we all thought our bumholes couldn’t retract into our bodies any more. We thought it couldn’t be possible. But then. THEN. did a cry. What were the odds that someone would come on and sing the hell out of Ordinary People, a song that we all thought John Legend wrote, but was actually written by about an ex? It took him a fair while to get the cry out – you could see him clenching – but he got there in perfect synchrony with the crescendo of the song.

And that was when we all died.

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Blog: Marie Colvin 1956-2012

Colvin in Chechnya in 1999. Photograph: Dmitri Beliakov/Rex, from The Guardian

I just watched a baby die. I am shaking and my face and neck are soaked with tears. While I watch the baby die in a makeshift clinic in Homs, Marie Colvin speaks to a CNN reporter in the besieged Syria city. It was a quiet death, which makes it so much worse. It is an image which will keep me awake tonight, but because Marie was murdered in her efforts to show the world, I think we all need to see the images. A mother was forced to watch her baby die, why should I close my eyes?

The child is just one of 28,000 men, women and children, cold and starving, who are being brutally shelled and mortared in their houses by Assad’s troops, in the city of Homs. Marie Colvin, war correspondent for the Sunday Times, was killed there today. She was still in Syria – the only journalist for a British newspaper still in the sieged city – because she put frontline reporting before her own life.

I am in no position to provide an obituary here for Marie. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t worked with her (though I know people who did, which always makes one feel morbidly proud for some reason, to have some small connection to those valiantly killed), but I worshipped her as a journalist because she is the image of what I would like to be as a writer.

Marie’s writing resonates because it isn’t about the big scoop. She told the human narrative of war. Never hyperbolic, sensationalised or victim-worshipping, she wrote what she saw and you knew it was real because she was there, among the people, experiencing the horrors for herself.

In her final report, she talks of ‘the widows’ basement’:

“A baby born in the basement last week looked as shellshocked as her mother, Fatima, 19, who fled there when her family’s single-storey house was obliterated. “We survived by a miracle,” she whispers. Fatima is so traumatised that she cannot breastfeed, so the baby has been fed only sugar and water; there is no formula milk.”

Marie was clearly drawn to those who would otherwise be invisible. Especially the women. Women like Noor, a frightened 20 year old widow whose children were surviving on sugar and water after her husband was torn apart by a mortar shell while out searching for food.

Some will call her foolhardy for her actions. As Marie asks herself, “what is bravery and what is bravado?”. But her final Sunday Times report on the desperation of the citizens of Homs shows the compelling need to tell the stories of the people who cannot themselves tell the world. For those silenced by oppression, she gave them a voice. Because frankly, she thought it was cowardly not to.

I hope her death renews a faith in journalism. Because it is all too easy to sling mud at so called ‘hacks’ who work for papers we are not politically affiliated with. But the fact is, for every dishonest journalist, there are brave, compassionate ones who die to report the stories of the disenfranchised.  There are also those who support the reporters; drivers, translators, sound engineers and more whose deaths are not honoured. With citizen journalism gaining such an important role in conflict reporting, I hope news agencies will begin to provide the support needed to those risking their lives to show us the ugly truth.

Read Marie Colvin’s final report from Homs.

Style: Zoe Jordan AW12

Zoe Jordan’s inspiration for her AW12 collection came from Andalucia, the region of the designer’s birth. The architecture of her home is reflected in the russets and rusts of the colour palette.

“I design for a woman who is a boy’s best friend and a girl’s confidante. She’s respected by men and women. It’s throw-on and about having a natural confidence,” said Zoe Jordan backstage to Vogue.

Cosy meets sleek and sporty; lace twinned with wool, with chunky knits were thrown over elegant day dresses. The collection has young shapes in mind, with tulip coats and skirts. Wide brim hats over dishevelled plaited hair pulled the theme back to Southern Spain.

I was so impressed with the luxe fabrics and total wearability of the pieces. Expect to see a new shape of coat on the high street very soon.

Highlight: Flat-front tulip wool coats.

WHERE: London Fashion Week at Somerset House // WHO: Holly Valance and Jameela Jamil on F:Row, Poppy Delevigne on catwalk // WHAT: Guests drank Vita Coco coconut water

Images by Jennifer Kettle @ WGSN for OhDearism