Young men binge drinking

Society: Demonised and Degraded – My Home Town in the Media

I have recently been watching Bouncers, only because it followed the brilliant and sweet Educating Yorkshire, but i’ve laughed along at the coverage of a boozy Britain and the sensationalised portrayal of our culture of high street drunk and disorderliness.

Then I watched the most recent two episodes, filmed in Essex, around Colchester High Street and Clacton-on-Sea’s seafront bars. Suddenly 45 minutes of escapism became far too personal.

Young men binge drinking

After being born and starting school in North London, I moved to Colchester to be closer to my mum’s family, and that’s where I grew up. My mum and her family are from nearby Clacton, a small seaside town famed as a fading weekend holiday destination. It peaked as a resort town in the 1950s and the decline of tourism has seen the town hit with poverty and social problems. Cocaine is rife, which I find strange given that most people in town have no money to fund a habit. 41% of Clacton residents have no qualifications and Jaywick, an area of the town, is officially the most deprived area in the UK. It’s an easy media target, dubbed a “dumping ground for the poor“.

Here’s what Sam Wollaston said about Colchester, as portrayed in the Bouncers, in the Guardian:

“Colchester town centre on a Saturday night is a terrifying place. Fuelled by sambuca shots and Jagerbombs, predatory herds – of men, women, everything in between – prowl, searching for sex. Or failing that, a fight. Or both, in either order. As the evening goes on, the tension – and the volume – rises. Saggy-panted boys stagger out of doorways, then moon and shout at passing cars. Bottles, hands, voices, cocks, are waved in the air triumphantly. Arses are grabbed, and punches are thrown. The gutters run with piss and vomit and blood, and probably even worse.”

Google couldn’t tell me where Wollaston’s from. I’m guessing not Colchester, which he’s made clear he wouldn’t touch with a pooey stick.

Then, later in the week, Channel Four’s horrible through-the-fourth-wall viewer review show Gogglebox showed families watching footage, with one man exclaiming “I’d rather have a firework shoved up my arse than go to Colchester! What a shithole!” Even the family from Clacton laugh at the portrayal of their hometown, seemingly because they accept it as accurate.

It’s hard to defend it when that’s what’s being shown, and people are seen on TV to be enthusiastically defaming it. But it’s like when you complain about your family pissing you off and then someone else joins in. It gripes.

I recognise that I have been laughing along with Bouncers until it zoomed in on the ugly face of my hometown, and I realise the irony of only being angry now. But it’s not the first time Colchester has been held up as an example of Britain’s apparent degenerate culture. This is moral panic parallel to the media and the Tory’s portrayal of the London Riots, and i’m sick of my town being demonised and shown as an example to the rest of the country of how not to behave. I am sick of feeling like I can’t defend where I am from when people say “But isn’t it a bit of a dump?” What can I say when that’s all they see?

It is programmes like this that make me feel conflicted about talking about where i’m from. After watching how it’s portrayed on TV, I catch myself thinking “should I be proud that I made it out and i’m doing well?” And then I feel angry at myself for thinking like that when my parents moved to Essex to give me a better life, away from the area of North London we were living which is now another handy example of deprivation.

I guess the difference between showing the worst of what goes on in Colchester – which has been the target of many programmes on Booze Britain over the last few years, for example Booze Britain: Binge Nation – is that when we see it in Manchester, Newcastle or Cardiff, we are reminded of what these cities have provided in the arenas of culture, art, or sport. Colchester is shown as having nothing else of merit, other than the fact that it was once the Roman capital of Britain (but who gives a shit about that anymore?). It has been made a scapegoat for the UK’s problems, because it’s easy to show the activity of one section of society, so visible as it is on the high street. So to the viewer, it’s seemingly just a hellhole full of ASBOS.

My sister informs me that the one lad and his mates followed on a ‘typical’ night out in Colchester (containing one messy punch up, which I find hard to believe he has the stamina for every single weekend), was given £50 by the show’s producers and told to “get as drunk as you can.” Nice, Channel 4. I can imagine the producer gleefully rubbing their hands together at the sight of girls falling into the gutter with their skirts up around their waists, saying “GREAT STUFF, capture that!”

Call me defensive, but i’d like it to be known that Colchester is firstly a student town. Students are notorious for being awful, rowdy drunks. I know, I was one of them. And they come from all over the UK to study in the town. Secondly, it’s a military town. Squaddies reside here from every corner of the UK. And they love to fight. I know, I used to work Saturday night shifts in A&E. So think of a Saturday night in Colchester as cross-cultural, in that respect – an accurate snapshot of the UK’s boozy culture.

Colchester has a high street and it has bars, so people will get drunk and act like bellends, because that’s what they do. It has its problems like any other town in the UK. But as a country, it’s our alcohol problem we need to address. When planning a night out, young people on the show talk about deliberately aiming to get “paralytic”. They are drinking to paralyse their problems, whether they be family life or unemployment. They don’t want to think about them anymore. Let’s talk about that.

When I talked to my family from Clacton about the programme, they said it was an accurate description of the town; “It’s hell on earth!” In Clacton, the poor are vilified for acting as they do, when they are made to feel like they have nothing to feel proud of, with no prospects. So the rest of the country can watch it on telly, laugh and feel better about themselves.

If I was given the power to commission one programme for Channel 4 this year, i’d make one that saw business leaders go to Clacton and fund a start-up for a group of disadvantaged young people. The people of the town need to see their potential and something positive they can work towards in their own town, without thinking that escaping is the only way they can be successful. People drink and do drugs out of boredom and the fact that they think there is nothing else for them to do.

But look at the trends. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, binge drinking among 16-24 year olds is actually down. So, Channel 4, maybe it’s time for a change to the scheduling?

Image: The Observer (On a feminist note, search Binge Drinking in Google and 90% of images are of women…)

Style: Reasons to be excited about Nicolas Ghesquière

All is well in the fashion industry once more as the chasm at Louis Vuitton was filled by the announcement of Nicolas Ghesquière as new Creative Director last week. The post has been empty since Marc Jacobs departed to spend more time on his eponymous label in New York. For me though, a more important question has been settled. What will happen to one of the industry’s most forward-thinking and rule-bending creative visionaries Ghesquière?

While he may not yet enjoy the household status of the Lagerfelds and Jacobs of his contemporaries, Ghesquière is fashion’s dark horse. Taking the somewhat stale (at the time) Balenciaga and injecting his signature starry-eyed cool, he took the brand to stratospheric levels of influence. Although the average fashion consumer may not be able to recall his light bulb, trend-starting moments off the cuff, they certainly wore them for many seasons to come: think that moment in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep tells Anne Hathaway off for scoffing at the importance of a belt.

Suzy Menkes once called him, “the most intriguing and original designer of his generation” and having taken on the daunting task of reimagining Balenciaga at only 25, his achievements are difficult to exaggerate. Now still only in his 40s, he’s being given the incredible funds and huge responsibility of taking Louis Vuitton in a new direction and for me, that’s very exciting.

Although Louis Vuitton may be best known for monogrammed leather goods, they certainly put on a show at Paris Fashion Week and with Ghesquière we’re sure to see a fresh take on the signature look. If Ghesquière has proved he can do anything, it’s taking an iconic label and twisting and blurring the lines to create something exciting, beautiful and brand new.

To help you wait things out until his first show, here are my predictions on what the future holds for this power collaboration.

The new IT Bag

Balenciaga Lariat Bag

The Balenciaga Lariat bag was one of the original IT bags and spawned a thousand high street imitations. Are we about to see Ghesquière’s highly wearable brand of luxury be reinvented for a new handbag generation?

The Statement Shoe

Fall 06

For A/W 2006, Balenciaga introduced impossibly high platforms that came out of nowhere. For years to come fashionistas have tottered around miles from the ground, are we about to see the next statement shoe?

The Must-Have Print

Balenciaga SS08

Does it seem like floral prints are everywhere right now? Guess who started this trend in S/S08?

The New Minimalism

Balenciaga SS13

Street style icons everywhere are rocking black midi-waists with white tops, inspired in a huge way by classic Balenciaga, in particular S/S13 when the designer gave us sleek minimal lines with bold, new shapes like the unravelling skirt that was the highlight of this collection.

The Return of K-Stew

 Kristen Stewart Balenciaga

What with a cheating scandal and the end of Twilight, she’s not everyone’s favourite actor right now, but I have a serious soft spot for this girl and as Ghesquière’s best mate, I’m hoping to see her front row once more.

 

Society: This is Why I Shout

Shout
I just walked into the disabled loo in my office – yes I know this is frowned upon, but it has a full-length mirror – and overheard a conversation between two men outside the door. The first comment I heard as I walked in, and chose to ignore. The second man’s response I heard while I was in the cubicle. It took me a few seconds to register it, then a few seconds more to go over it two or three times in my head to ensure I heard it correctly.

First man (aimed at me): “You’re not disabled!”

Second man (aimed at first man): “She will be by the time i’m finished with her.”

Now I usually don’t blog about sexist remarks, cat-calling, that sort of thing. There are fantastic projects doing this on our behalves, plus, I don’t think it would make for particularly enlightening or insightful blogging.

However, this, I feel I need to put out there. Partly because of the shock I feel at hearing these remarks from men in my place of work, but also as a reminder to other women that they MUST speak up against these comments.

I cannot be sure of the intent of his remark, whether it was intended to imply that he would rape me so violently I would be left disabled, or that he would beat me so badly I would be left disabled.

I suspect it is the first. For two reasons: violence against women in the guise of beating is not generally considered to be appropriate to joke about between two men who are probably on acquaintance level. Most men, I think, would balk at another man saying he thinks it’s OK to punch a woman, for example.

Rape jokes are more acceptable. Because rape is normalised. Maybe the man making the joke didn’t even realise he was implicitly talking about rape. Maybe the other man was as shocked at me at hearing a guy utter such a disgusting thing. I hope so. I know most of my male friends would be.

I am disappointed and sad for a number of reasons, aside from the fact that the men made a comment about me when I work on the same floor of their office and have probably smiled at them when they have been in the queue for the tea machine, or even sent them an email.

I am also sad at the thoughts that ran through my head as I stood in the toilets:

1) “Be REALLY sure that’s what you heard. Could you have misheard it? You have to be sure…”

2) “No-one would believe you if you reported them. It wouldn’t be considered serious as it was said ‘as a joke’. There are two of them, they will defend one another and they will call you hysterical.”

In stopping to make sure I was totally convinced at what I heard, they walked off. I can never report them. I feel powerless.

I share this story partly for my own catharsis. I met up with my boyfriend at lunch to get a hug and remind myself of an amazing man in my life who supports my fight for equality and against a culture of rape. He was equally angry, but told me I need to forget this and move on. He is right. There’s nothing I can do now directly.

I can only urge women to speak out, try not to hesitate, report these things when and where you can. If no-one listens, at least other women will see you speaking out and think “I will do the same next time”.

Today, like on so many other occasions, I didn’t shout. I wanted to and I didn’t. And I hate that when something like this happens, I end up feeling disappointed in myself. I feel mute.

That is why I am sharing this story. Because I need to gather the strength to keep on fighting, to shout SOMEWHERE if I can’t do in the real world. I need to remind myself to put that anger into making a change.

Image from Ms Magazine.

Arts & Culture: The Lightning Child

The Lightning ChildI was stunned to read The Metro’s review of the Lightning Child, the new musical drama by Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill inspired by Euripides’ The Bacchae, described as “extravagantly awful”, “camp, trippy and a total mess.”

It’s trippy, camp to the eyeballs and yes, awfully extravagant, but it’s more filthy than messy. And that’s what’s so fun. Who wouldn’t be thrilled and delighted to hear drag queen and gay rights activist Bette Bourne (as the blind seer Tireseus) shouting “you daft cunt” across the heads of the crowd at the Globe Theatre?

We begin with the 1969 moon landing. Neil Armstrong descends from his spaceship to face Ladyboy Herald, a Jamaican queen with blue dreadlocks, sparkly flip-flops and a face-full of glitter. He’s the eternal disciple of the god of wine and ecstasy Dionysus. “Know your limits”, he tells Neil.

And so we meet the Lightning Child, Dionysus. In Euripides’ play, the young demi-god is angry that his mortal family have turned their back on him. His mother Semele, Zeus’ mistress, was killed by jealous Hera and disowned by her sisters. Dionysus has spent his adult life travelling the world and gathering a cult of female worshippers, the Bacchantes.

With Andre 3000’s looks, Hendrix’s swagger and a voice like chocolate fondue, the Lightning Child whips his Bacchantes into a frenzy in gold lamé, which is all rather good fun until its interrupted by oddly jarring and completely unrelated scenes of junkies on the brink of self-destruction, Billie Holiday making up with Lester Young in her dressing room, and a rather pointless and unrealistic rivalry between two posh flatmates. Caster Semenya, the South African runner makes an appearance, too, beautifully played by Moyo Akandé, who puts her 6ft stature to great advantage, towering above the ignorant doctor trying to force her to be gender tested. “I just want to run”, she says. Gender is irrelevant here.

So the play’s been panned across the board it would seem. “Like some demented gang-show in hell, it goes on and on.” I’m starting to feel like maybe I saw a different play. What’s been missed by so many lazy reviewers is the strength of Clifford Samuel’s performance as Pentheus, the repressed king of Thebes who bans the worship of Dionysus.

Samuel plays him as a man that we recognise. A young, misogynistic, religious zealot, who blames women for his barely-repressed urges. He plays him funny. We mock him for his narrow-mindedness and pure hatred. He’s a fool.

Women, to Pentheus (which means ‘hate’, by the way), are filthy – sluts whose only aim is to destroy men by dastardly acts like cooking. “I see through their lies!”, he says. He recounts how he took revenge on one lover for almost snaring him with a delicious home-cooked meal by holding her down and vomiting it back up on her face.

The Lightning Child, Dionysus, will have his revenge on the king that exiled him. Pentheus is in a sexual rage, torn between punishing his mother for joining the orgy, and becoming a voyeur to it, with a view to raping. It’s driving him insane. In the end, Pentheus ends up trussed in a tight sequinned dress, heels and glitter along with the rest of them, powerless to his own gender-bending curiosity.

Ultimately its over-the-top in a camp, pantoey sort of way, and less shocking than it thinks it is. In the end, even Ladyboy Herald walks away and you’re left wondering what the point was after all? “Work it out on the train home. It’s the only way”, he says. But it packs enough surprises up its sleeve for it all to be worth it. And damn, it was fun to get carried away with all the mayhem.

Saint Laurent The Dance Gracie Van Gastel

Style: Saint Laurent, The Dance

Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane has continued to show how his new vision for the house extends far beyond the runway. In two self-directed fashion videos released this week, Slimane shot two of his current muses in the new season collection.

In the first film Gracie Van Gastel twirls, jumps and drifts with a hula hoop wearing a tartan mini with a peter pan collar. With the breeze catching her billowing skirt, plus her pixie fringe haircut, Gastel brings a sweet and innocent quality that offers an interesting contrast to the goth/grunge styling seen on the AW13 runway.

Have just started using this product but it was highly recommended by a friend/dietition.

The second video features the stunning Lida Fox performing some impressive ballet moves in an old warehouse. Since I love anything featuring ballet and fashion, I am obsessed with this one. What do you guys think? Despite facing some initial criticism does Slimane seem to be up to the job of taking one of the most esteemed Parisian fashion houses into a successful new era?

Also what do you guys think of my effort at the Saint Laurent look during my recent trip to Paris?

Ohdearism Natalie Lasance

Blog: Armpits 4 August

Guest post by Nadia Ramoul

Due to my mix of genetics I’ve always been a relatively fluffy gal, and since my classmates helpfully drew attention to my fuzzy legs at the tender age of ten I’ve waged an ugly war on my fluffiness, desperately attempting to remove every scrap of hair that I sprout, lest a small, sneering boy will appear from the ether, point and announce, “you hairy.”

Unfortunately for me my fur is virile and strong, within days it returns, bigger and badder than ever like barbed wire through the razor burned wasteland my legs so often become. Ever since my dear mother passed me a battered Ladyshave as a child my war against hairiness had been unwavering. If there is even the remotest chance of my legs being seen I, like countless others, dutifully hop into the shower and with steely determination get rid of every last offending tuft – God forbid anyone see them in their natural woolly state. And my armpits? Jeez. I scrape at the poor bastards until they are smooth as a baby’s bum.

My family and I love this product. For years we have took it.
As a teenager I like many would envy my blonde haired friends who could boldly venture out in shorts and vests in the summer, their light hair nigh-on invisible in the sunshine while I sweated it out in jeans and a vague feeling of rage. To be a more hirsute girl was (and arguably still is) something deemed to be shameful and disgusting, an easy button to push for bullies and elders alike.

I’ve always questioned my personal disgust at female body hair, in that when I really think about it, I don’t find it disgusting in the slightest. What’s disgusting about hair? Children aren’t born with preconceived notions of what is acceptable or unacceptable, they learn through their surroundings – and the resignation on my mother’s face as she handed me aforementioned Ladyshave said it all. She knew that to not be teased mercilessly if I dared wear anything that revealed the offending fluff, it should be removed. She’s since said she wished she hadn’t, and not assisted in perpetuating the idea of female body hair as unpleasant.

Armpits for August is a month long growth of armpit fluff to raise awareness of PCOS and the double standard between male and female body hair, a Movember for the ladies, if you will. Alas, however, unlike the good humoured glee that Movember elicits, the thought of women who – gasp – aren’t shaving their armpits has been met with sneering disdain. While the game lads participating in Movember get to high five each other and celebrate their body’s great achievement of doing exactly what it does naturally, Armpits 4 August has been met with much derision in comparison. Despite the fact that it too is for an excellent charitable cause, the idea of women not slavishly shaving their underarms is, for many, repellent.

I thought I’d give it a go, as years of denying my true fuzzy self meant that I didn’t know just how long and thick I could grow my pit fluff and was fascinated to see if I could actually do it for the full month. Fluffy legs in winter, sure, who’s going to see them but my (thankfully nonplussed) boyfriend? But full on armpit hair in August? Woah there. Luckily for me I don’t associate with the kind of people who are shallow enough to think less of a person due to their body hair – and if I do I shall soon find out. It’s so far been an easy enough ride, at day 13 I’ve sprouted quite the respectable pit garden. It feels pretty good watching it grow and thus far have had no negativity whatsoever. I am, however, very aware that I exist in a little liberal bubble of lovely friends, and the outside world is not as kind.

For example I have noticed the looks I have occasionally gotten this past week when on public transport and clinging on to the bars for dear life, pits to the wind. Those glimpses of intrigue and slight disgust have not been lost on me, brief although they are. Noone has said anything to me yet however, and if looks are all I’m going to get it honestly isn’t too bad.

However from what is going about online, I’ve found the venom directed at what is essentially an innocuous and non-offensive act pretty revolting. For example check out these rational responses to an Independent Voices article on that bastion of reasoned dialogue, Twitter;

photo 1

The idea that you lose a part of your feminity by not removing bodily hair is obviously bullshit but the vehemence with which it is believed is sad and downright frightening. Girls are made to feel like they are dirty, slovenly and worth less than women who bother to remove their body hair, and it’s not on. My clean, fragrant pit fur is about as offensive and unnatural as a comedy moustache. Although Armpits 4 August hasn’t had even a fraction of the uptake of Movember it’s still a worthy start, and I truly hope it continues to take off.

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For more on Armpits for August go to http://armpits4august.org/

Twitter @NadiaReads

Style: Polka-Dot, Polka-Dot

wpid-DSC_8271_Salomon.jpg

If you know what you love, why not make it yourself? This denim polka-dot dress is the result of the past few weekends spent on my sewing machine. 

Paired with a floral bomber, gold chain and my beloved vintage shoulder bag that I stole from my mum, this is Little House on the Prairie given a street edge. Of course I had to add my yellow Chucks. If the sun aint shining (or even if it is) they make me feel like I’m walkin’ on sunshine.

Hope you enjoy! I’ll be heading to Paris next week so will try and take some more outfit snaps.

xoxo Natalie

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DSC_8283_Salomon

DSC_8256_Salomon

DSC_8225_Salomon

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Dress – Homemade
Bomber – French Connection
Shoes – Converse
Bag – Vintage

Blog: How to Make a Mini Cacti Garden

How to make mini cacti garden

I’ve been hankering after a mini cactus garden in a glass bowl for a while now but was always put off by the prices of the ones you can buy in garden centres or markets. A couple of my colleagues gave the the inspiration to make one myself when they brought in some jam jars filled with mini cacti for their desks. Being in no way green fingered, I assumed it would be difficult to make but they assured me it would be ridiculously easy: so here’s how you do it.

You’ll need:

  • A glass bowl or some jam jars
  • A little soil
  • Some mini pebbles
  • Cacti
  • A mini trowel or failing that a spoon!

Start by heading over to your local garden centre and picking out a selection of tiny cacti or succulents and getting the soil and pebbles. I chose a couple of taller plants for the back and then some smaller cacti and some pearl plants to provide some depth.

Cactus

Fill the bottom of your bowl with a layer of pebbles. This helps with the drainage as planting these in glass bowls can cause all types of problems with rot as there is nowhere for the water to go. Next add a layer of soil and pop your cacti in the bowl. Pat everything down and add a layer of pebbles. See, I told you it was easy! I planted my garden at around half way up the bowl, but you can do it higher or lower depending on what plants you’re putting in.

Mini cactus jam jars

Repeat the process for the smaller jars. I added ribbon to my jam jars as I thought they looked cute, but you don’t have to.

You really don’t want to over-water these cacti, especially as there is no drainage in the bowl. Aim for about once a month, when the soil is looking completely dry. Also try and keep them by a window as cacti like lots of sun.

Mini cactus garden

The whole thing cost me around $50, which is a lot less than the ones I’ve seen to buy ready made (plus I made the three mini ones too).

 

Style: V&A Club to Catwalk | London Fa-fa-fashion in the 80s – why aren’t we that free?

Guest post by Caner Daywood

Bowie beating his face

Bowie beating his face

As I write this post I am proudly blaring out some vintage 80s classics from Bowie (above), George Michael and even some Spandau Ballet because I felt so inspired and transported into this era after I attended the fantastic Club To Catwalk exhibition of 80s London fashion at the V & A. I had always wanted to be a teen in the 80s as a kid (I’m an 88 baby) and seeing the fashion, hearing the music, feeling the care-free rebelliousness, boundary breaking attitudes with the nuts drag queens and fetishistic fashions I was sure I would fit in with these gender f*cked up guys.

Ironically when we think of 80s fashion I think we sometimes mistake the silly garish thoughts of cheesy 80s-themed parties with lots of neon and Madonna (eekkk) as reality for this era, but it was never intended to be tacky or cheesy back then, quite the contrary, fashion was far more evolutionary in the 80s with edgy takes on evening wear and flamboyant prints and designs that sought to test genders and turn conventional ideas upside down.

Evening wear with some edge

Evening wear with some edge

Eccentric much?

Eccentric much?

Men wore tonnes of make-up and lots of colour and people weren’t afraid to stick out – in fact that was the name of the game. Some of the fashion pioneers of the 80s rebellious movement that exploded around London were Betty Jackson with her slogan print tops and dresses, Vivienne Westwood fronting the punk movement with her whalebone structured skirts done in contemporary fabrics such as denim, and John Galliano coining his iconic mad, theatrical structured suits and crazy head pieces as featured below.

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Icons of the 80s were obviously totally unforgettable like Bowie, Boy George and Leigh Bowery and were stars everywhere in the exhibition in video content and images, including a wonderful catwalk of the leggy bombshell blond Jerry Hall walking for Anthony Price and the androgyny queen Grace Jones.

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly - before Rita and Cara

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly – before Rita and Cara

The funniest thing was that after I settled down a little from my euphoria of walking around this timewarp of fashion and culture, I started realise that so much of this fashion is inspiring current trends right now. Extremes in fashion are totally re-emerging with structured power suits and oversized designs featuring heavily next season for Celine and Dior and even crop tops/ fetishistic fashions are massively en vogue which were all showcased in the exhibition.

Come on rude BOY LONDON - pre-Rihanna hype

Come on rude BOY LONDON – pre-Rihanna hype

Get strapped in

Get strapped in

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

I think even if I haven’t inspired you to visit this exhibition through these images and content the most inspirational element I took from the show was the state of mind that came across through everything – a state of abandon, of rebellion, of true expression and fashion freedom, which felt so lacking when I left the exhibition and had a look around me in Chelsea. BUT things aren’t this bleak and as the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race TV Series shows fashion and true boundary-breaking expression is still around with great new gender-f*ck icons like Sharon Needles (below) paving the way for revolutionary fashion for men and women everywhere.

Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles (yes he is a boy)

Ultimately fashion back then wasn’t JUST about aesthetics and/ or even comfort (probably rarely so), it was rather the truest form of expression for people and conveyed their freedom in the 80s be that for gays, straights, trannies and everything/anyone in between, and this sense of purity and confidence to be so outspoken has become somewhat swallowed down in today’s PC society. SO what I suggest is that you *right now* go book your ticket to this show and express and enjoy the 80s fashion moment at the V & A and then take some of that freedom back home with you and apply it to your daily life….(thank me in fabulousness… and bags).

Travel: Iquitos and the Amazon [Part Two]

This blog is part two of two. See part one here, with a visit to Iquitos’ Shaman’s market and floating village.

At the rainforest lodge, three hours out of Iquitos by motorboat, my nostrils are in a rapturous state of detox. The rich, damp, earthy smells of the rainforest replace the clug and choke of the city. Hundreds of unique noises from insects, birds and mammals create a singular buzz of sound that becomes an enchanting white noise.

We spend the first afternoon spotting pink river dolphins, who aren´t shy, always appearing in pairs. That night we ease into jungle life, sleeping at the lodge under heavy-duty mosquito nets. Those buggers are the size of flying rice grains here, and they hurt.

rained-in

lodging

The next morning, with guides Falcon and Eduardo, aka ‘El Catalan’ (kingfisher), and French backpacker Morgaine, we take off in our canoe in search of a camping spot. In a clearing by the water, Falcon pulls down ten metre-long vines, which he strips and cuts into lengths, tying between two trees to use as the frame on which to hang our mosquito nets.

With a hammock inside the net, suspended between two trees, it´s feels surprisingly secure. Add a couple of sticks to hang your rubber boots over, plus plastic sheeting on four branches to keep off the rain and you´ve got a pretty decent night´s sleep.

Beds made, Falcon leads us further into the jungle to explore by moonlight. Walking in the pitch dark, you become a blockade for the monstrous flying things that travel at night, like moths the size of hands, which hit your face with disconcerting regularity.

Once we get used to the traffic, we spot caiman; the Quetzal; Guatemala’s national bird that had eluded us in Central America; a gigantic bloated frog the size of my head; countless fiendish insects. My boyfriend even caught sight of an ocelot just two metres from us.

iguana

Then, hammock time. In the trees above us, night monkeys have frenetic conversations until dawn. Occasionally, an unidentified and probably enormous and man-eating creature sinks below the water metres from my net.

‘El Catalan’ is up before all of us to cook omelettes and heat coffee on the log fire. Inconceivably, I have escaped the mosquitos, at least for the first night in the wild, thanks to actually-illegal-in-Peru-strength deet. After breakfast, Falcon leads us further into the forest to explore in the daylight. The insects seem less bolshy this morning, but maybe that’s because I can see them coming.

We drink from the vine of a tree that is said to cure cancer (apols, I forget the name), hunt hallucinogenic mushrooms and learn about the flora of the rainforest. Frogs have lain spawn in our footprints from last night. A thick, two-metre long snake that looks to me like a boa skids off through the bush to get away from us. Falcon tells us it is highly dangerous (poisonous) and if we had seen it during the night, it would have gone for us.

piranhaA spot of piranha fishing in the afternoon is pleasingly fruitful. I catch five. A nervy experience, given that I am terrified of fish, teeth or otherwise (not dead fish, yum yum). Even so, I am tenacious in my effort to ‘win’ the fishing. Feeling a bite, I whip in my line, hitting my boyfriend in the face with a live piranha, which then vaults, and starts swimming up and down the inch of water at the bottom of the boat, to the concern of neither guide. We eat what we catch for lunch. Piranha meat is surprisingly bland.

As evening sets in, we all take to the canoe to explore coppices deeper in the rainforest and rich with plant life and animals. We come close to three-toed sloths, tamarin and squirrel monkeys, tree rats, and marmosets. Toucans, macaws, and kingfishers fly endlessly overhead. A giant stick insects joins our boat, plus an enormous spider which Falcon flips into the water, saying “Aah! Muy peligroso.” As the sun sets, fisherman bats with three-foot wingspans appear, skimming the water next to our boat.

spider-attack

On our final morning in the rainforest, the fat, wallowey rain that we’ve had for a short time every day holds off, so that as planned we can swim with the pink river dolphins, where the water from the coffee-coloured Amazon meets the cola-black water from the Rio Negro. Again, terrifying: fish; opaque water; angry dolphins?

The local indigenous community is scared of the river dolphins, and kill them if they swim close to their houses. They call them ‘bufeos’; ‘bu’ being the noise they make and ‘feo’ being Spanish for ‘ugly’.

buffeos

There are many legends in the Peruvian Amazon about bufeos eating children, or hunting menstruating women and raping them, creating hideous halfling people with ugly white skin. I was told that sometimes on birth certificates single mothers write ‘bufeo’ under ‘Father’.

Nonetheless, we survived sharing their water, and a couple of bufeos even got quite close. I am so glad I swallowed my fears and jumped in.

amazon-sunset

Back in Iquitos, we return to our hostel and start planning our route out of the Amazon. It’s a two day wait for a boat to Yurimaguas, the first town with a road outside the Amazon. Two days later, and we’re on El Bruno, a cargo ship that takes three days up river. We spend the days swinging in our hammocks, reading and awaiting the dinner bell.

blazing-hammocks

Occasionally the ship stops to deliver supplies to villages on the river banks and kids board selling ice-creams, tamales and fried fish. We spend our evenings watching brilliant sunsets that burn the entire horizon red and orange, and later, gazing at the stars on top of the ship. The Milky Way looks close enough to run my fingers through.

Photos: Alan Chant // alanchant.com // @bonchant