Look. And blossom.

"In the hopes of reaching the moon, men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet."

~ Albert Schweitzer

Latest Loves 27/02

I have a very London-centric latest loves this week, starting with Ripley's Believe It or Not! Ripley was quite an amazing man and spent most of his life travelling the world and reporting back his extraordinary finds in his cartoon series, journals and, later on, via radio. There are curiosities galore at his London Emporium and whereas it's not the most serious thing you'll ever see in London, you can pass an enjoyable afternoon there looking at his collections and get a wee bit disorientated in the Mirror Maze!

Taking a break from West End musicals, I've seen two plays this weekend, which were both enjoyable, even if the respective casts didn't break into song and dance! The 39 Steps is most often associated with the Hitchcock film and, indeed, this version is based on that script. With only a cast of four who play 139 characters between them(!), this was utterly delightful. The small cast means you have to really use your imagination and the switch between characters is wonderfully (and often funnily) executed, as is the use of "props" - definitely worth seeing!

The other play I saw had an even smaller cast, a mere two actors(!); it should be three but they don't credit The Woman in Black in the programme. And yes, she's technically a figment and not really there, but still! I'd been told that this is absolutely terrifying, but I didn't find it *that* bad, to be honest. Potential terror aside though this, again, is brilliant and worth seeing. It's on at The Fortune Theatre - which is possibly one of the smallest theatres I've been to in London - where it's run since 1989, so you probably don't have to rush to see it immediately!

Finally, the Science Museum is one museum I've never been to, possibly because it's tucked away behind the National History Museum, but that was rectified last Friday! It's free to get in - I love this about London; there's so much free culture you can take in, which means there's no excuse! - but it's worth paying to watch one of the IMAX films. We watched Wild Ocean 3D (despite me hating sea creatures and the ocean, in general), but it was brilliant, and I'll definitely be heading back soon to catch another IMAX film and check out the exhibitions that I missed.

What are your latest loves? And what is your favourite play or tourist place to visit in London? x

Faulks on Fiction: The Lover

Following on from The Hero, Faulks went on to look at The Lover. For centuries love was told in verse, which told of real passion, but not of real settings. This came forth with the introduction of the novel, but reality is seldom like the romance that is portrayed in literature; this doesn't stop us from comparing our own experiences to the lovers we read about though.

  • Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice (1813): Men in 19th Century fiction were either predators or respectable husband material. Austen changed this and fused the two types into one with Mr Darcy. Darcy is a man of great social standing and women are drawn to him, but he has a rudeness that brings out a battle of the wits between him and Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth manages to save him from himself and, in doing so, make him a suitable husband. For Austen, love was a force for change, one to be realised in marriage.

  • Emily Brontë - Wuthering Heights (1847): Heathcliff is a lover out of control whose passion for Cathy overshadows them both and, unlike Darcy, cannot be tamed. Passion in Wuthering Heights is not the expected pleasure, it's beyond that, and far from a romantic love. When Cathy dies, he's the lover left behind, and it's his love for her that destroys him.

  • Thomas Hardy - Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891): Tess as a character compels attention; she is attractive to all the men who meet her, bur falls for Angel Clare at a May dance. Sadly for them, love is not enough - timing and good fortune also needs to be on side. Her boss, Alec d'Urberville, also finds her appeal and steals his chance with her in an act that's not certain whether it's rape or acquiescence from Tess, but because of this when she gets a second chance with Angel, he will not accept her in this challenged state. The division of love and sex is a tragedy for Tess.

  • D. H. Lawrence - Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928): For Mellors and Connie, the timing is right for them, unlike with Tess and Angel, and the affair is the making of Connie. Before this book, "true love" and "just sex" were opposites, but LCL puts forward that sex can open the doors for love - a radical thought at the time the book was published.

  • Grahame Greene - The End of the Affair (1951): Time isn't on Bendrix's side with the Blitz, so the end of the affair is present from the very beginning - it's a love that has gone sour from someone who can't enjoy the moment and thrives on complication. The Lover in this instance looks at the other side to love - it's the bitterness, suspicion and jealousy that can come out of it.

  • Doris Lessing - The Golden Notebook (1962): Anna Wulf sees marriage as the killer of love, yet she lets herself be defined by her relationships showing a contradiction of character when it comes to love. For her the idea if one perfect man is too much of a fairy tale, which spurs her to often deliberately pick the wrong man because he is wrong. Lessing shows love doesn't necessarily transform a character for the better, that love can be an affliction instead and characters, like Anna, can be imprisoned by their own neuroses.

  • Allan Hollinghurst - The Line of Beauty (2004): The protagonist Nick knows about love from crushes and books, but not by being in love himself. He realises that the only unconditional love is loving the world and appreciating its beauty.

Who do you think is the most romantic character in fiction?

Faulks on Fiction: The Hero

Recently on BBC2 author Sebastian Faulks presented a four part series on the British novel, a passion long associated with this nation for many centuries. Faulks claims it's not the novel itself though that is important, it's the novel's characters that matter because "it is in the power of their experiences we see our own lives in a new light" - a very valid point.

In the series he explored four different types of characters, using well-known characters from books we've all heard of, even if we've not read ourselves. Here's what he said about The Hero (The Lover, The Snob and The Villain to follow). I share these not as a critique of the programme but because I found the development of characterisation in novels interesting, especially against the times that they are written in, and thought it might be useful for any writer-types who may not have seen the programme to read what Faulks says about these character types.

The Hero

  • Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (1719): Before Crusoe, the hero of the past was always noble, but not Crusoe. He's like us, an everyday person - a Yorkshireman, practical and resourceful, but still human despite all his bravery. The hero became "an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances" and he is "heroic because he overcomes himself".

  • Tom Jones - Henry Fielding (1749): Tom is a rogue, comic and epic hero - he is the one who realises he is in charge of his own destiny. He is both real and heroic, which makes him timeless.

  • Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (1847): Becky Sharp shows a hero who is out for herself, perhaps because of her standing as a female at the time. She shows that vitality is more important than virtue and that there can be unlikely heroes.

  • Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle (1887): The "superhero" was introduced with Sherlock Holmes, but is it insightfulness that he has or madness? Holmes was killed off by Conan Doyle, but the public reaction was so great that he was brought back, making him truly a superhero.

  • Nineteen Eight-Four - George Orwell (1949): The hero seemed out of date after World War I, but re-emerged after World War II in a different light, as a prisoner in the case of Winston Smith. He is patriotic but passe, a hero who does not triumph in the end over Big Brother.

  • Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis (1954): Jim has the desire to subvert the environment he's in and by doing so he masters his own neurotic inhibitions - he conquers himself.

  • Money - Martin Amis (1984): John Self shows us that the hero is now dead in modern literature; it's only in crime novels and children's books that the hero can now flourish.
Do you think "The Hero" still exists in fiction today or has the everyday took over the novel? What makes a hero anyway? Is it a heroic person by nature, or their actions?

Private members' clubs and social media case study

I was reading in The Times about the opening of the exclusive private members’ Playboy Club in Mayfair, London, this May. Originally announced back in October 2010, a small social media presence sprung up in the New Year, with a Twitter account and Facebook page set up to promote the venture. But, for a Club that will be a private members' affair - the likes of which most of us will probably never see - is a heavy social media presence necessary for a brand that is supposed to be hidden away and luxurious, one that the "common" man and woman shouldn't see because of the very essence of it?

Playboy is a tricky one. Think of Playboy and you are likely to confuse a “Playmate” and a “Bunny” in thinking they are one and the same. A Playboy Bunny is a girl who defines elegance, sophistication, luxury, style, grace, poise and charm – one who can provide a guest with excellent customer service, whilst maintaining an air of dignity in a bunny outfit. It’s perhaps this very outfit that confuses the role of a Bunny and brings about negative connotations, wrongly confusing the role with the more exposed Playmate role found on the top shelf.

For a brand like Playboy in a world where we’re used to being exposed to highly sexualised selling from a young age, a heavy and public social media presence for something that’s deemed “private” will help keep any potential onslaught in check (we may be used to being exposed, but it doesn't mean we're happy to be). It can help the Club to control their message, which is the beauty of social media by having brands be involved with the conversation.

Tweets are already occurring, before the Club has even opened, and we are being told of a family of girls who are happy to be Bunnies and who are happy to tweet personally about their roles:

What’s interesting about this is that the girls aren’t being kept under wraps which, and I’m speculating here, perhaps ties in with LCI’s wider marketing strategy (LCI license the Playboy name from Hefner). I say this because LCI are currently advertising for a Marketing Manager and “particular attention will be given to candidates who can display measurable success in using digital marketing platforms, as the role holder will champion LCI’s digital marketing programme."

I'd say a pretty decent job is already being done with the excitement these tweets will generate as the momentum picks up. As more and more girls tweet about landing their Bunny role, the more exposure the Club will get, and the more positivity will be associated with the Club. It's even better that it's coming from the Bunnies and not the corporate face, too. A slow hype is being built, even before the Club has opened for business, and the Facebook page also demonstrates this with warm congratulations to the successful Bunnies and tasteful photos posted up of casting photo shoots. Now, I’m not being cynical about how Playboy Club are using social media – if I was a student in London and this had opened 5 years ago, I would have loved to have been a Bunny – I think it’s clever what’s been done in generating not only word of mouth to give the Club "cool cred" but what's also being done in preparation for the possible onslaught that could arise when the Club opens.

It shows that they are not merely thinking of their image as and when a crisis happens, but that they have a forward-thinking social media strategy that is necessary because of the very essence of the "Playboy" brand. Even if it goes against the grain of promoting the Club as a luxurious and private space - one away from the masses - it does help us to understand a world which we could tar as "sleazy" if little was publicly put out there and the secrecy of the "private" was kept under wraps.

I'm looking forward to seeing how their social media strategy picks up as the opening night draws closer and what will happen to once the hullabaloo dies down (if there is indeed a scandalised hullabaloo to the opening) - will the social media for Playboy Club die down and the exclusivity begin? Or, will an interest in the Club from those not in the Club need to be catered for? What do you think of Playboy Club's current and potential social media tactics?

Laying foundations

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

~ Henry David Thoreau

Latest Loves 19/02

There's still something quite decadent about cupcakes at the moment and The Hummingbird Bakery is one of the places to go if you want amazing sweet frosting and yummy sponge. Make mine the vanilla and chocolate ones, though I wouldn't say no to their Chocolate Devil's Food Cake either.

After what feels like forever, Lady Gaga released her new single Born this Way to the world the other week, though we're still waiting on the video. Directed by the same person who has just done Britney's Hold it Against Me and with a reported similar technological feel to it, let's hope it doesn't feature Britney's shameful Sony product placement. But, however the video turns out, the song is still a cracker and I'm eagerly anticipating the album release, too!

Nancy Mitford's books are a delightful read because she perfectly observed upper English class humour and shared it with us using wondrous wit and humour. If you need a book to read, Love in a Cold Climate is a must!

And, finally, if you're ever in London, make sure you pay a visit to Bodean's BBQ where you can have the most amazing meat fest, but one too many and you'll probably end up with a "Bodean's belly" - totally worth it though! ;)

What are you all loving at the moment? x

Latest Loves 08/02

I'm sure you've all seen it, but if not check out the fab VW Black Beetle ad which takes over YouTube in a brilliant way. If you've not seen it, I won't spoil it for you, but all I can say is kudos!

Speaking of advertising, I'm a little late to the ball game, but I've finally got round to watching Mad Men, which is about the 1960s New York advertising world. There's nothing really to it - if you've watched it, you'll know what I mean - but it's still very, very watchable. Oh, and I think Don Draper is quite swell, too. ;)

Last night I got to see my 2nd musical of 2011 - though it's the 3rd time I've seen it - the utterly fabbity We Will Rock You. I'm a massive Queen fan and the musical really does do their songs justice - definitely worth a see if you're a Queen fan.

And finally, to old-school music, poetry. On the way home from the theatre last night I spotted one of the Poems on the Underground ads. This one was Keats' Lines from Endymion, which is quite a beautiful poem, as are most of Keats' poems, to be fair. If you fancy a bit of sensuous poetry reading, his poems are a good place to begin.

What are you all loving this week? x

Guest post: Time to check-in and donate?

I've blogged over on The Social Penguin where I've looked at the introduction of Facebook Deals and what this could mean for charities if we said we'd rather make our check-ins about donations instead of benefiting personally.

Make sure you have a read! xoxo


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