Goodbye WordPress! I have just finished the move over to my website (bar a few tweaks), where you can still find everything on this blog and lots more besides. It’s been a great almost-three-years on The Voyeuristic Stroller, and hope to see you on alexkrook.com.
I was inspired by photographer Olivia Bolles’ visual summation of her year for i-D and as imitation is the greatest form of flattery I also stole the idea. It has turned into a rather exhaustive summary of a strange year of flux; finishing university and not knowing quite what to do next.
Goodbye 2016, you were good to me if no one else.
I committed to culture and unemployment. I split my time between London and Bristol, I saw multiple plays a week, joined an orchestra, watched a lot of films, saw a lot of art, but mainly drank infinite coffees with infinite friends.
I began freelancing proper. I made a website and people started regularly paying me to take pictures: I shot my first editorial spread for The Rake magazine, I did a lot of headshots, and I began an (ongoing? unfinished?) photography series on tattoos.
I took the plunge and moved to the South West for an internship. I lived somewhere beautiful, I cycled to work, I read endlessly, I reconnected with my cameras, and the weather was flawless for an entire month.
I got lonely and I missed London. (Brexit happened.)
I started a job at the ICA and began commuting somewhere beautiful every morning to interview artists, photograph fashion shows and invite people for drinks in my workplace. (amongst other, less glamorous things.)
I spent a lot of time remembering how to get up before 9 every day. I bought Doc Martens and they changed my life. I became Company Photographer and Marketing Associate for Forward Arena, and helped sell out their transfer to the Arcola Theatre.
I joined a book club. I left a wedding party at 10pm. I went to the ballet. My partner moved in with me. I visited Amsterdam and didn’t smoke any weed as I felt like I was coming down with something. The year ended and clearly so did my youth.
… that I love about family Christmas in Amsterdam.
Except unlike two years ago this time my 12 things are all food-related. We all know that gluttony is the true meaning of Christmas.
- Warm crusty apple cake and Chocomelk from Café Winkel 43, eaten huddled outside six-to-a-bench with a 1:1 ratio of heavy whipped cream.
- A table creaking with cheeses lugged from York, from the lauded Comté to the maligned smoked goat. The apple of everyone’s eye is the cake of stilton, which we scrape onto Bath Ovals, smear across bread layered with crystallized salted butter, and melt into turkey stock for soup so rich it is served it only by the teacup.
- Christmas morning smoked salmon posted all the way from Scotland, with steaming peppery scrambled eggs, toasted loaves and a glass of bitty Bucksfizz.
- Brussel sprouts with outer leaves haphazardly peeled by the younger generation, with many sacrificed beneath kitchen cabinets in Brussel Sprout Basketball. Made palatable to the vegetable-averse by a favourable ratio of fried pancetta and flaked glazed chestnuts.
- My mother’s incomparable bread sauce. Dripped over turkey, mashed into crispy potatoes and furtively consumed by the teaspoon straight from the jug.
- Flaming brandy-soaked Christmas pud, moist and flavoursome and, best of all, microwavable.
- Spoonfuls of wibbly wobbly pink jelly with double cream and much debate over structural integrity. (Does it stay in the dish when you turn it upside down? How is the wobble to firmness ratio? Did you eat too many jelly pieces at the watering stage?)
- Tiny(ish) tumblers of Irish Bailies tinkling with arrow-shaped ice cubes and accompanied by thick peppermint creams and hard-won segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
- Home-made pork pie with a thick, asymmetrical crust and ornamental pastry pig, filled with fistfuls of herbs and a generous amounts of jelly.
- A deep bowl of trifle with creamy custard from the Dutch dairy shop and a welcome upper crunch of crushed almonds – as well as a less welcome one at the bottom born from our impatience to wait long enough for the sponge lady fingers to soften in madeira. Gone within five ladlefuls.
- A Boxing Day dish of baked red peppers, swimming in oil and stuffed with a garlic clove each.
- Fruity Christmas cake cloaked in the softest whitest marzipan icing of any year yet.
I wasn’t at home for Hallowevening so missed out on terrifying children, improvising a costume from my mother’s wardrobe and eating all the Trick Or Treating sweets myself. We did carve pumpkins the evening before though, and unlike last year I was allowed to watch a horror film. (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Atmospheric but not too scary, undeserving of its 1.5 star review rating on Netflix.)
My own pumpkin was far too basic to even bother photographing, but Ellie and DV made some solid efforts. Next year will be my year
I tell myself every year.
As someone who claims to like cinema (sometimes arguably too much), I always come up embarrassingly short whenever I am asked my favourite films. So here are five favourite films (and then some)
for me to frantically refer to on my phone next time the question is asked.
Rebecca, dir. Alfred Hitchcock
If the unfortunate majority of the world didn’t hate horror, and the unfortunate majority of horror films weren’t awful, scary cinema would form 90% of my recommendations. I love to be scared. In lieu of properly horrifying recommendations Hitchcock will have to do, an undisputed king of making you feel afraid. And although Rebecca unlike Psycho is more of a slow-burning thriller than an outright horror film, I actually think it does its job of terrifying a lot of better than his more famous screamers. Based on one of my favourite ever novels and part of Hitchock’s love affair with adaptations of Daphne Du Maurier, that creeping fear of people past and present translates perfectly from page to screen.
I love Hitchcock, and to be honest I rate Vertigo, Dial M For Murder and Rear Window just as highly. (Not The Birds though. The Birds is bad.)
The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson
This isn’t necessarily my favourite Wes Anderson film, but all Wes Anderson is fabulous so it seems as good a place to start as any. Colours, actors, whimsy, humour – he’s got it all, and he also still shoots on film but in the least dogmatic way possible:
“In a year, in two years, I don’t know if it will be a reasonable option to shoot on film. Sometimes I see a movie now that is shot digitally and I don’t even know. I am interested in all different kinds of filmmaking. I don’t know if I see something slipping away. There are lots of very strong-minded, personal filmmakers and they will always do what they believe in.”
Three Colours: White, dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski
French and Polish cinema are my all-time faves, and Kieślowski combines both in his Three Colours trilogy of fab cinema. Three Colours: White is the one I have been drawn back to again and again, a strangely sympathetic tale of loss and revenge set between Paris and Krakow. It is understated and beautifully shot, and has more in common than a language with one of my favourite pieces of cinematography of all time, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida. Like Fish Tank’s Andrea Arnold, Pawlikowski lifts non-actresses off the street to find the most magnetic faces out there, and by gosh it works well. (Seriously, every frame is gold.)
Samsara, dir. Ron Fricke
Samsara is a non-narrative documentary film about nature, humanity, life, the universe and everything etc etc, and that may not sound tempting but it is life-changingly excellent. My hard-of-hearing aunt and I stumbled across it at the amazing Eye cinema in Amsterdam, as a conveniently dialogue-free viewing option. It has soaring images and a soaring soundtrack, and I recommend it and its prequel Bakara as feasts for the eyes and the mind. They examine the ways – good and AWFUL – that humans interact with the planet in a refreshingly un-didactic manner – this is no An Inconvenient Truth.
(For watching on as enormous a screen as possible.)
Mean Girls, dir. Mark Waters
I don’t care what you think, I don’t care, this is probably my no. 1 film of all time.
I studied in Paris for four months when I was 19, because I am a cliche. I lived with my cousin in a fourth floor flat off the Rue de Rivoli that had no lift and no oven and no way near enough space for two people who were not romantically involved, (and I wrote a blog about it, because I am a cliche.) These days I regard Paris much like I regard my family: with a mixture of delight, fondness, and horror. And, much like my family, I find that I get on with it best when my exposure is limited to snatches of 24 hours or less. This weekend I had a brief afternoon window between my journey from London and my onward travel northwards, and I think this is probably the my favourite way to enjoy the city. A small taste. An amuse-bouche.
With only 2 hours between trains I elected to get the underground to the centre and walk as far as was bearable with a big cheap rucksack in city summer heat. The smell of the metro and its symphony of rattling stops and starts is oddly one of the most familiar things about Paris. So are the oppressive crowds of August that lie in wait at Citè; wading through swarms of ticket collectors and tourists trying to fit the station’s bulbous lines of lamps into a square format. (Resisting the temptation to get my iPhone out and do the same.) As soon as I emerge from underground, Paris always seems to swallow me whole, sucking me out into the sunshine and stuffing my ears with arguments and accordions and the shriek of seagulls. I begin my sweaty march towards the Île Saint-Louis, beneath Nôtre Dame’s gargoyles and alongside cafes bristling with Americans and Parisians, my boots already chalky white with Paris gravel. A woman in cream stilettos whizzes past on a vespa. I’ve already seen seven tiny dogs. Couples: everywhere. Pigeons: everywhere. There are more benches than a city realistically needs, and every welcome breeze is balanced by the smell of stale piss.
Acquire two scoops of sorbet at Berthillon, and find a patch of riverbank to sit on. I Instagram. The omnipresent smell of stale piss forces me to walk and lick. I meander along a radioactive Seine broken only by arching bridges white with seagulls, and boats of Asians in sunglasses. Branches dapple the water and the facades of apartments facing the river, and everywhere else is pale under the unforgiving glare of a cloudless sky. Comedic/tragic juxtapositions of couples whose make-or-break holiday to Paris is doing the former, and those whose is doing the latter: kissing like noone is watching, screaming like noone is listening. An old woman in red capri pants with a husband in tweed; an older woman wheeling a bike with panniers stuffed with bread; a still older woman in a silk neckerchief and a cloud of perfume and a chestful of amber beads. (Paris belongs to old women.) Away from the rippling shade and into the relentless sun. Shakespeare and Co. have opened a new cafe, and it looks like every cafe in London. Teenagers considering paying €15 for a secondhand paperback with a nostalgic cover. More selfie sticks than I can count. Someone with a Starbucks cup. I descend underground once more.
Much like my own city of London, I hold Paris both dear and in disgust. I sort of hate everything about it, and it sort of always feels like home.
I spent last weekend at Brainchild Festival, a DIY festival of art, music and performance in the arcadian grounds of the Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum in Sussex. It’s a volunteer-led festival with few attendees outside of the 20-26-year-old-creative-persuasion demographic beside the woman who owns the land. And her small fat dog who hates men and barks at them if they get too close. I took up the option of putting in 10 hours of work across the festival to halve my ticket price, doing everything from deep-frying in the kitchen to litter-picking to bar-tending to guarding the showers. It was a lovely three days, even if I came across even more art students dressed from their own childhood 90s wardrobe than I might in an afternoon on Dalston High Street.
One of the best parts of the festival were the myriad art installations to interact with (and mainly sit on). A giant cereal box that opened on the second day to spew giant foam Lucky Charms; a maze of hula hoops and coloured yarn that over the course of the festival become more and more complex and difficult to navigate when drunk; a rainbow-painted wooden living room complete with wooden pond, pot plants and window out onto the rainbow sunsets. Our favourite was the giant colouring wall by illustrator Betty Woodhouse, complete with pots of felt-tips and excited gaggles of 20-somethings. Performances ranged from the usual bands and DJs to stand-up comedy and short film screenings to group yoga classes and interpretive dance. Too much of the music featured wailing ghostly female vocals for my taste, but there were some real stand-out acts; drum and saxophonist duo Binker & Moses stole Sunday evening, and Jess Murrain’s spoken word mixed in with double-bass accompanied vocals was a highlight of Saturday. (She was followed by a puppet show called “Miss Clitoris and the Bejazzles”.)
Mid-festival we ventured round the corner to the Bentley Motor Museum itself. It’s a strange combination of a warehouse full of chronologically exhibited cars (and some scary mannequins challenging stereotypical gender roles), displays of questionable of history, a dolls-house workshop, and a gift shop selling seemingly completely non-related items. Mainly soap. MORE exciting is the Bentley miniature railway, which everyone from completely spaced-out students in harem pants to off-duty security guards hopped onto at some point over the weekend. It’s run by retired men in train conductors’ hats, and a small dog in an official uniform. Your ticket is stamped at both of two “station” stops, in a journey that lasts approximately 15 minutes. Puffs of smoke from the tiny steam engine remained visible above the trees for the whole weekend, reminding everyone where the real fun was happening.
Although there were plenty of fab acts and DJs and workshops happening across the weekend, the best part for me was being able to spend time with good friends and interesting new ones in a beautiful setting. The weather held and I took a fantastic book to sit and read on a cushion under the light-up jellyfish, or on a sofa under the giant central tree, or in The Steez Cafe in front of some strange piece of performance art. The sunsets were glorious and the loos weren’t even too horrible by the end, and I’d recommend it as £35 very well spent.
For the past two months I have been working a 9-5:30 job in Bristol, and travelling in from Bath every morning. The impending end of my time in the South-West has made me reflect that the twice-daily cycle from Bristol station to my office that breaks up my commute may in fact be one of my favourite bits of the whole experience. If I’d started the job a month or two earlier I don’t think this section of my journey would be an enjoyable one – it’s not superb in current weather, and didn’t your mother ever tell you never to hang around by the river past dark? – but in early to mid summer this route along the towpath is a pretty dreamy place to start and end the working day.
Out the station, down temple way, round the corner through the underpass, swerve round the arsehole who walks in the middle of the cycle lane staring bikers down – seriously what is problem, it’s like he doesn’t fully appreciate that we’re single-handedly saving the planet. Past the wood recycling plant and its silent dirty pond encircled with building works and a lone tent. Down the alley with the lethal blind corner with no mirror. Past the two colleagues and possibly lovers who cycle beside each other down the alley between road and towpath; past the two lovers and possibly colleagues who are forced to relinquish grips on each other’s hands and move into single file to let me wheeze past (apologetically). Onto the towpath, ducking overgrown overhangings and the occasional slow and sleepy small bird. Past the Bristol Cats and Dogs Home – a hullabaloo in the morning and eerily quiet in the evening – and past the old woman on her racing bike in her whatever-the-weather sandals. Bike after bike after bike and then over the bridge and then the side road and then the main road and into the car park.
I much prefer the cycle back. A day of work behind me and no time pressure to speak of, the golden hour of 5:40 on a sunny day truly does the route justice – even if it means pursing my lips through clouds and clouds of evening midges that worm their way between the stitches of my cardigan and up my nose and my sleeves before evaporating again by the morning. The evening crowd is different; ties are looser, gaits are slower. Past the guy walking his stoic loping lurcher and occasionally his small blonde child. Past the middle-aged man in too much lycra who once stopped and chatted as we watched the panicked lone waddling of what I had assumed was a small fluffy dinosaur. (He asserted that it was a baby seagull.) Past the balding trudger with the silver earring and the leather shoes and the eternal can of Strongbow (either a homeless person with a strict daily schedule, or someone who just really hates their job.) Up the alley and past the silent dirty pond now populated by silent men with dirty fishing rods, and onwards to the station and to home.
I moved away from London to escape the daily grind of endless travel from door to door, but this cycle has in many ways defined my time in Bristol. I will miss it and the people with whom I share it when I leave.
Yesterday, the UK voted to leave the European Union. It has been a while since anything made me so very, very sad. I’m profoundly ashamed of my country – of our politicians, our media, but mainly our electorate – and I am anxious and pessimistic about the future. I won’t bother outlining why I voted to remain, or indeed why the majority of my compatriots decided that they did not feel the same way; we voted. We fucked it. We will leave. Much as I may hope that a technicality means Article 50 cannot possibly be enacted, or a minor electoral misdemeanour scandal forces a second referendum, or London strikes out on its own as a renaissance style city-state with Sadiq Khan as it’s Muslim-Medici prince, the reality is that my country has made a decision that disgusts me and now we all have to live with it.
However, I did discover that nobody I associate with was a passionate Brexiteer. It’s hardly surprising considering the demographic split of the vote that my Facebook newsfeed was devoid of #VoteLeavers; age, geography and education converge to mean that the overwhelming majority of my friends were statistically likely to vote the same way as me. But it’s not the validation of my own views and the affirmation that I respect the politics of my nearest and dearest which has been the silver lining of this shitstormcloud – instead, it’s the way that those I know have reacted to news they were so deeply unhappy with that has been the glimmer of hope in this horrible mess. The myriad exclamations of despair, disbelief, anger and sorrow that have filled my communications channels for the last 24 hours all deserve sharing, but my friend Henry’s response rather succinctly expressed the stage of acceptance that I hope we can all reach in our own time:
“This is the saddest confirmation in my lifetime that we live in a totally divided England, separated by education, wealth and age. Immigration has been made a scapegoat for the failings of a struggling welfare state. Still, a majority has spoken. Now what the hell do we do next?”
I’m proud of us, even if I’m ashamed of what has turned out to be the majority of my country. And my favourite reaction is still the first text I received post-results:
I took this photo while fiddling with some settings in my bedroom this morning, but it seems a fairly accurate summary of life right now. Since moving out of London for a bit (SHOCK, GASP etc), life has slowed a great deal – despite the addition of a full-time job. In some ways this change of place and pace has been difficult; it’s hard not having a constant array of companions at your beck and call, and sometimes there just isn’t an obvious activity to occupy a Tuesday evening in Bath. But the benefit of this narrowing of life is that I think it may have given me a lot more space to think and to be. I’ve read six books in a month, listened to a lot of podcasts and shot a lot of 35mm. I’ve cycled for half an hour every day and explored two new cities, all the while feeling like I’ve had the time and the headspace and the freedom to do so. Even in the longest gaps between freelancing gigs, I had not felt that way since leaving university.
Again, perhaps this has nothing to do with escaping the Big Smoke and this is just what summer is like. Long evenings with beers and books and film-worthy golden hour light; I find I have always forgotten the pleasures of each season by the time they roll around again. But either way, my current state of affairs has really helped me out with my 2016 resolutions – next step is to find a West Country string quartet.