United Kingdom

Humans aren’t alone in suffering from digital distraction, an anecdotal condition widely covered by New York Times trend pieces over the last few years. The Guardian reports (in a seemingly tongue-in-cheek tone) that technology is ruining nature too. The Dorset Wildlife Trust is asking people to stop using bird-call apps designed to draw birds to their cameras, to snap shots of them. Use of the apps is said to be distracting the birds from more important things, like taking care of their offspring.

I also go to the cinema alone – is that sad too?

This man sits alone

This man sits alone

I like going to the movies, and I occasionally go alone because it can be hard to get someone to pay over 10 pounds to spend two hours of their time watching something they unsure about in the first place. Maybe IMAX or 3D can get some people out there, but that’s cool, I get it. Movies require a time commitment, not to mention a decent amount of cash these days.

Proclaiming that I attend movies by myself isn’t meant as a grand statement about my level of cinephilia, or lack of concern with social norms, though if it is to be construed that way, I won’t object. I do like my movies, but I certainly am no expert. Also, like most people, I like to avoid awkward social situations which may involve me being pegged as a social pariah. But even the most insecure person needn’t worry about going to the cinema alone. I’m not revealing anything new by pointing out that watching a film is not the most sociable of activities (at least in the West – I once tried to watch a Bollywood film in India while pretty much the entire audience chatted amongst themselves, the man behind me bellowed into his mobile phone…snacks were also hurled across the room…but I digress). It is therefore not a big deal to buy a ticket and sit in a dark silent room for a couple of hours. People may expect you to be accompanied, but if they even notice you at all, it will be for a minute or two before and after the film. I think most people can handle that level of scrutiny.

Logic then, coupled with the findings of the informal poll (Gchat) I’ve conducted with friends (they think it’s fine) lead me to the conclusion that going to the cinema by oneself is generally considered as socially acceptable. As a rule, people don’t assume you’re a outcast for doing it. For those who remain unconvinced, the discrete nature of the venue is a safe setting where one runs little risk of being found out.

Apparently the same is not thought to be true about going to gigs alone, however. I discovered this harsh reality while informally polling friends once again more recently.

I first thought about attending a concert alone not too long ago – I saw that rapper Le1f is to be performing in town in June. I’ve only heard one or two of his songs, and am not a die hard Das Racist fan. But in keeping with my birthday resolution to start going to more shows, I figured that it could be a fun one to go to. When I sent a few messages out inviting friends to go, there was a pretty blatant lack of interest. So “fuck it!” I thought. I’m an adult. I pay rent and utilities! I know what I want.

I went online, added a ticket to a basket and started entering my bank details. This, the more I thought about it, would be quite the statement when compared to solo film attendance. It’s not that I thought attending a concert by myself was socially unconventional per se, but perhaps just a little more daring then booking a single ticket to the local Odeon. I was proudly telling my friend over Gchat about my commitment to the art, and growing indifference about the opinion of others whilst buying my ticket when he attacked my decision with a “dude, that’s weird”.

I was somewhat surprised by his dismissiveness, especially given his passion and dedication to seeing live music. I asked around, and it seemed everyone agreed – going to a gig alone is seen, amongst my, for all intents and purposes, self realized adult friends, as sad.

I wondered why is it seen as weird for me to attend an artist’s musical performance by myself. While an arguably more social event than going to the movies – alcohol is consumed, and there is an opportunity for swaying/dancing – doesn’t my commitment to the music trump all that? Apparently not: “I dunno, it’s just kind of lame”.

This all leads me to believe that it is only acceptable to attend cultural events solo if you can creep around in the dark without anyone seeing your face. That’s very limiting. You can make out people’s features at most social gatherings, let alone cultural ones. I can’t think of very many other activities than the cinema that involve said dim lighting, with the exception of dark rooms of the nightclub/bathhouse variety.

But then I wonder, for whose benefit should I refrain from attending a concert alone – if I’m ok with it, then maybe it’s that we make other people uncomfortable when we go to events without a date. Maybe my laissez-faire attitude would make others question the merit of seeking out friends and loved ones to accompany them to shows. Or maybe they’d think I was an important art critic and feel intimidated and threatened in my presence.

Clearly I was overthinking it all. Why again, would going to a gig alone be perceived as sad? My friend Dean put it succinctly:

maybe it’s simply because movies aren’t cool
and gigs are
and not having mates isn’t cool
also, gigs are more scene

That actually helps.


It recently came to my attention that I have been living under a rock. Despite my propensity to cook vegetarian meals and follow celebrity chefs on Twitter, how come I never heard about Yotam Ottolenghi?

The Israeli-born, London-based chef writes a column in the U.K.’s The Guardian, stars in his own cooking and travel show, and runs a restaurant empire with four restaurants in London. And here I am, falsely thinking that I am good with keeping up with current events and know about all the good cookbooks out there. Somehow, I missed the memo about Ottolenghi.

Well it is good thing that it was recently brought to my attention that Ottolenghi’s cookbooks are amazing. And by amazing, I mean that, as someone who still goes out to buy cookbooks and not just to pose as some food snob, every single Ottolenghi recipe that I have tried thus far is a winner. My sister recently brought over her copy of Ottolenghi’s sophomore effort, Plenty, and all four dishes we made were hits. Thankfully I was able to continue making more recipes after being gifted the beautifully photographed cookbook for my own use.


Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad

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Today is the third anniversary of fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s untimely death. If there is a silver lining to this sad event it is Björk’s rendition of Gloomy Sunday, which she sang during McQueen’s funeral in London, U.K. Since the Hungarian composer Rezső Seress penned the song in 1933, many notable singers have covered the song including Billie Holiday and Elvis Costello. However, it is Björk’s version that I find the most beautiful and haunting; I feel like the song was made for her powerful and elastic vocal style. What a great tribute to an immensely talented designer and innovator.

This is John Lewis’s 2012 Christmas TV advert. Their 2011 enjoyed much success, and this year they have kept within the theme of tugging at consumers’ heartstrings. If you find the song as beautiful as I do — a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love — you can find the full track here.

[Iced Starbucks Green Tea Lattes. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons]

I have a profound distaste for Starbucks coffee, and I know many others feel the same way. I find most of their coffee-based products thoroughly revolting, and I broadcast this opinion to as many people as possible, or commiserate with them, depending on my audience. I have even taken it upon myself to devise creative tweets about the company. Indeed, a friend and I collectively decided that a new Starbucks coffee slogan could be “Starbucks coffee: tastes like ashes, roasting on a fire, in the deepest pits of a Dantean hell”, and that the Internet deserves, and needs to know this.

My disdain for Starbucks isn’t noble — it has less to do with the fact that they have sucked the soul out of neighborhoods by putting mom and pop cafes out of business and turning consumers into robots, and everything to do with their crummy coffee. I do not consider myself a “coffee snob”. I have heard people proudly declaring themselves as coffee snobs, whatever that means. I am not one. In fact, I don’t drink it all that often, and am more of a tea drinker myself. I suppose then that it may seem bizarre that I harbour such strong and negative feelings towards the company. I think it stems from a naive belief that if you’re that big, with such a devoted client base, you should be delivering, at the very least, a satisfactory product, which I believe Starbucks fails to do for the most part.

This brings me to the green tea latte. I first discovered this beverage some time ago as a student in Montreal.  I am of the loud, blaring music, crowds of people, school of studying – I have always tried my best to avoid libraries.  I therefore often found myself in downtown cafes, and while the city centre is populated by a fair variety of coffee chains, Starbucks is by far the most prominent of them in terms of numbers and popularity (at least amongst my friends and classmates). I’ve spent hours and hours at Starbucks in various parts of town, and finding a tolerable beverage has always been a challenge.  It was my friend who introduced me to the green tea latte, and while I strongly object to the current trend of food glamourisation/veneration, I have to say that this drink brings me a special joy.  I usually order it with soy milk, and it’s frothy, creamy, flavourful yet comfortingly mild. Indeed, everything one looks for in a hot beverage.

It therefore saddens me that the one drink I can stomach at Starbucks is unavailable in the United Kingdom. Other novelty beverages seem to have enjoyed success in the UK – I noticed this fall, to my horror, that pumpkin spice lattes have made it to London. I mistakenly thought that the pumpkin-flavoured product craze was reserved to North America. Starbucks’s seasonally-themed drinks aren’t the only non-coffee based items to have successfully made it onto the UK menu. Frappuccinno, in their many varieties are on offer, and from my unscientific observations, seem to enjoy good sales. So why is it that the green tea latte has not made it over? Is it too wild and unconventional for the UK consumer? I wonder whether Starbucks has made a conscious decision to exclude it from the British product mix, or whether it has been altogether neglected across EMEA, which I expect it is, given that the UK is the most US-like in consumer tastes as compared to the rest of Europe.

To get to the bottom of this I did a bit of investigating over the Internet. My research led me to the “Green Tea Latte for U.K. Starbucks” community on Facebook, which consists of a small but powerful group of 22 Likes. A member wrote in to Starbucks to inquire about the absence of the GTL on their British menu. Jessica, a Customer Care Specialist, thanked “Alec” for his feedback, and reassured him that the company regularly reviews its range to ensure a varied selection. She also pledged to share his comments with the development team.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand the absence of this drink in the UK, but I find Starbucks’s response to Alec inadequate, much like their espresso. Despite Starbucks’s unclear and mysterious motivations to exclude GTLs from the UK, other chains have seen its appeal. EAT now includes the GTL on their menu, and I have even noticed small local coffee shops, like the Missing Bean in Oxford, serving it.  Hopefully, Starbucks, as a global chain that has all but monopolized consumers’ coffee and hot beverage consumption, will eventually deliver a menu that is up-to-date with changing habits and tastes.  In the mean time, I have discovered a few handy Youtube videos, and may try my hand at making a latte myself one of these days.