Archive for the News Category

Your final meater reading: the end of my vegan July

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by helenperkins

Tomorrow we enter August. That means I am no longer bound by my month-long resolution to avoid consumption of animal products of any sort.

Bring out the fattened calf!

Only joking.

Now I must confess: during July, I slipped up and ate animal stuff on two occasions. I will now come clean to prevent guilt from crushing me in my bed.

Last weekend, when my lovely parents came to help me move house they took me out for a meal. Nothing on the menu was vegan. Now, these are my traditionalist folks and they had come over a hundred miles to see me, I wasn’t going to snub their evening out to make a point. So that was a fish soul dedicated to yours truly.

Also, when I first met the woman who leases out my Kendal house she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. I said yes before even consulting my meat-free brain. Tea = milk, duh, but I was too keen to appear normal and kept quiet. I mean, would you rent your property to a girl who screams ‘Oh, good God no, I can’t drink this! This has been near a living creature.”

As you can see, it is social convention that bends my vegan resolve more than the food stuffs themselves.

So, should we all be taking up veganism, did it make a difference to me, and did my skin fall off?

Firstly, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Be honest, vegan people, being vegan is a pain and a half when if comes to finding an evening meal that isn’t some rubbishy salad or a potato. You pretty much always have to cook something from scratch and that uses up time that most people, e.g. me, want to spend on other things.

After a couple of weeks of high-volume whining, and a diet consisting mostly of beans on toast, I hit the cookery books. I found one in the library called The Vegan Bible. While I can’t say I was stunned by the recipes I tried I did have some nice meals – ones perhaps even my carnivorous Dad might appreciate.

There was a big sense of satisfaction in cooking, as there always is with acts of creation. Plus, the study of it did give me a few original conversation starters.

“So, how much do you know about seaweed?”

“Can you pick me up some cilantro? I need it for my vegan parmiagiana.”

Overall though, a massive pain. The first supermarket to create a set of vegan ready meals is going to rake in the money.

 The next thing that frustrated me is all the self righteousness, hypochondria, arrogance, and confusion, which surrounds and sometimes emanates from Planet Vegan.

You get smart-arsed drunks, leaning back on the bar and talking at you with a smug tone suggesting you are a small bug and they will soon squash you with their omnipotence.

Their question arrives, dripping with self-satisfaction.

“So then, why have we got canine teeth? Eh? Eh? We’ve been given them to eat meat.”

Oh. Come on now bar bloke. Canine teeth are not divine instruction to chomp pig, just as they don’t necessarily mean you’re an actual dog.

It’s not just the vegan-haters who came across to me as slightly bonkers. I signed up for a newsletter from the Vegan Society and was sent a magazine with guidelines on ‘How to talk to carnists’ (meat eaters) on the front cover.

I don’t know why but both vegans and run of the mill Brits feel the need to draw strange battlelines. It’s us and them – weedy vegan versus snout-nosed butcher.

Okay, onto the good bits of being feat free.

New food. Vegan ice cream is amazing – in my opinion it is better than the dairy sort. Also, because you’re cooking, you end up taking more time thinking about meals, and so, inevitably your meals get better and less repetitive. This was rewarding, even if it was a pain.

Skin. I have noticed a bit of a skin improvement. Not just a lack of break outs on my face, which I have been known to call ‘my margarita pizza’ but my whole birthday suit has stepped up a bit. It’s difficult to put this all down to veganism, as I’m sure sleep and alcohol and all kinds of crazy women’s stuff plays a part. But, yeah, just maybe a bit better skin.

Energy. Don’t believe all the rubbishy celebrity health gurus, veganism is not the absolute answer to endless energy. For a start, I found I had to spend half my day munching to prevent starving – if I hadn’t I’m pretty sure I’d only have made it to the first Wednesday.

However, at work, I often get bad 3pm crashes – the sort that makes you feel your very soul is being sucked out by the reaper. Contrastingly, this month I got less of a rollercoaster afternoon surge and slump. For me, that is a big deal and a thumbs up to vegan life.

It’s for the reasons above, more than the ethics, that I’ve ended up warming a little to this vegan malarkey. I intend to try to keep it up a couple of days each week.

All the same, I miss fish and I miss scrambled eggs and I’m sure I’ll be tucking in to both. There’s only so much I’m willing to compromise for clear skin.

Tomorrow I’m starting a quit that is an oldie, but a goodie: no swearing. In a newsroom on deadline day it should be a good one to watch, this month I’m interested to see where people swear most and to try to work out why.


A merry drinker’s diary of reluctant sobriety

Posted in Diary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by helenperkins

It’s February and I have given up the plonk. Drat it.

This is all part of my year-long mission of self discovery, where I cut out one thing each month and attempt to learn from it. And this month what I have mostly discovered is that I like cocktails.

And I love gin.

And, God, I would sell my soul for a bottle of deepest, darkest red Italian wine.

It’s easy enough to say no to a boozy glow on a Tuesday night, when I’m not going out and I’m half asleep anyway. However, during the first weekend of February’s self-motivated teetotalism I was due to meet with old university friends.

Our Manchester reunion should have featured cheeky meals, sneaky bar crawls and lots of chatter. To be fair it had all of these things, but oh, I couldn’t have a drink.

Eleanor and Kathryn were supping Zombies, Rachael was drinking fruit beer, and I was drinking orange juice. This is my standard cure for a hangover, not a replacement for one.

I found myself attracted to drinks I don’t even like. I’ve never craved a Bloody Mary before but, on the Saturday in question, I would have danced the funky chicken on the bar tables for le boisson avec celery stick.

And more than the actual drink, I miss identity amnesia alcohol offers.

For the price of a mild-to-moderate hangover I forget what makes Helen Perkins Helen Perkins. I become history-less, inhibition-less, more inclined to dance, liable to tell you things I’d normally blush over. 

“Well, I hope you know this phase is going to kill your sex life,” my friend said, in grave tones, as if had declared I was becoming a nun.

“Never had sex sober then?”

“Jesus, no.”

Late night drinks are considered to be something of a tradition in Lancaster – an unrefusable gateway to social activity. The following comments were prompted after I declined gin from super-generous friends.

“Then when are we going to see you?” – Tom.

“How on earth will you switch off?” – Sarah.

“If you’re sober we’re all going to be incredibly annoying.”

“This sounds like an eating disorder to me.” – Harry, never dilutes his opinions.

It’s not all been bad news. I’m more than two weeks into my diary of sobriety and, grudgingly, I feel better for it.

Early mornings are easier, and, without the head-screwed-to-the-wind-turbine feeling, I have managed to get more projects set up, more stories written (I write news for a weekly paper), more conversations had and I feel vaguely more optimistic (depending on the day, hour, minute you ask me).

The western world clearly has an odd relationship with alcohol. It’s bad, it’s a liver killer, it’s a hangover, it’s full-fat hedonistic activity that leaves you part-conscious scrabbling round a central reservation in Birmingham at 3am.

Still, it’s also a guilty secret shared, it’s bedroom antics to terrify the older generations, it’s excuse for conversation. It’s not something I’d ever want to give up.

In March I’m taking the tipple back up and attempting to give up Facebook – Satan’s procrastination temptation. 

Cheers to that.

How to survive a summer music festival in six welly-wearing steps…

Posted in News, Story fragments with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2010 by helenperkins

A few smart choices will protect you against a weekend of misery, several deadly diseases, and a moment of horror, waking up next to the snoring face of some strange bloke you find physically repugnant but found amazingly attractive while wearing beer goggles 12 hours earlier.

After spending last weekend with 8,000 music-lovers-from-other-mothers at Kendal Calling, I thought I would share my newfound tips with those taking to mud-filled fields for the first time

1. Pack the single warmest item of clothing you own.
In my case, because I don’t have any thick clothing, I ran away with my ex-partner’s hoody.

This had numerous advantages:

It kept me warm while I was waiting for my reporter friend to finish a Fosters-induced vomiting session by the portaloos.

It was also about five sizes too big, meaning that if my wits failed me, at 4am while trying to find the godforsaken tent, I could retract my arms and legs and shelter wholly inside of it like a turtle.

Finally, it allowed me to tell shifty-looking men, most often found lurking inside the dance tent, that it was my boyfriend’s jumper, thus giving them the brush off without the need of a rape alarm.

A silly hat and practical cagoule will also add to this lesser-known fashion

2. Embrace the food.

Take at least £20 with you, even if you plan to take food and alcohol too.

Festivals are getting pretty good at Mexican, Chinese, Indian and English (i.e. chips in gravy) but unless you have the cash you will have to spend four hours in a queue for a portable cash machine that will probably charge you to withdraw money – a crime of gargantuan proportions.

On Saturday evening, when you are sick to death of Snack-a-Jacks, Jaffa Cakes, Cup a Soup and bananas there is nothing better than a cup of hot tea and piping hot fajitas.

3. Don’t buy the t-shirt.

Come on, grow up.

It costs £35 and is hated by everyone in the real world.

Admittedly, while you’re there it might seem like the perfect way to remember the weekend, but outside the hallowed realms of the festival it is the clothing equivalent of wearing a ‘kick me’ sign.

4. Be realistic.

It’s easy to imagine your three-day music festival will be a weekend of camaraderie and an uninterrupted affirmation of friendship with your welly-clad companions.

In actual fact the experience is more likely to resemble a messed up scene from Withnail and I.

Chances are at least one of your mates will turn out to be a raving alcoholic – downing a rough mixture of Asda’s own brand gin, Bargain Booze Vodkat and bottles of red wine with silt in the bottom, stopping to reflect only after they have gone completely blind

Other friends will disappear into the night – only to return 15 hours later, carrying bongs and magic beans and without any explanation for either.

Then there will be the one who doesn’t get festivals and doesn’t like their hair getting messy, who can’t cope with three cereal-bar-based meals a day and three hours sleep a night, and who has wanted to go home ever since their iPod ran out of power.

It’s bad but it could be worse. Rejoice in the fact that they aren’t shooting up heroin by the house party tent, or bringing back fat, fling-seeking married men to your own flimsy plastic abode. But try not to give them any ideas.


4. Pack bottled water, too much food, paracetamol, extra socks and toilet paper.

Sensible advice done.

5. Remember: music festivals are not about the music.

There’s no point attempting to see everything during the weekend, so unless you’re the kind of person who cannot live without an itinerary you might as well enjoy the freefall of it. Maybe decide on three things you’d like to see with a friend and actually make an effort to see at least two of them. Treat the rest of the weekend as a musical all-you-can-eat buffet.

Me, on the second night of the festival, outside the riot tent. Still sporting the silly hat look.

6. Come back and lie through your teeth.

It’s 72 hours and 16mm of rain later. You’ve been cold, half-starved, angry, hung over, fed up. Your ears are still ringing from the headline act, your car got stuck in the mud, some teenager hit you in the face with a bottle in the dance tent (that stupid dance tent) and you now have a growing bump above your eye. You spent all your money and now you have to spend two hours sorting out your stupid tent, which was ripped when some lost drunk person fell through it at 4am last night.

It will probably be great but, whatever happens, make the most of the weekend. Follow the festival tradition: when you get home, tell everyone you had an absolutely amazing time – the best time ever. Make them jealous as hell, eat a massive meal and go to bed with a smug little smile on your face.

Review: The Loneliness of Lowry

Posted in Art, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by helenperkins

Going to an exhibition on The Loneliness of Lowry when you have just split up with your partner is probably not on your friends’ list of top recovery techniques. Still, I went, and I’m glad I did – because, despite what its curators might suggest, this collection stands as a homage to those going solo.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, most famous for painting industrial scenes from the early twentieth century, has previously been stereotyped as a fairly simplistic artist who captured cheery street scenes in Salford. He was a painter and rent collector who achieved notoriety with child-like images of matchstick people, picked out in panes of red and yellow and blue.

LS Lowry: A Procession

There was none of that here though. At this month’s Abbot Hall Art Gallery exhibition, in Kendal, the works picked out tell the tale of Lowry alone in the Lake District. The detached atmosphere of his work, depicting empty landscapes, bare seas and soundless rooms suggest he didn’t just spend a lot of time alone, he also used this special space as his own, personal subject.

LS Lowry: The Empty House

Lowry’s wildernesses are not without an artist’s love. The time and patience given to these quiet northern landscapes reveal something of a fondness for a reclusive existence. His pared down oil paintings focus on formal characteristics of light and tone, creating odd illusions in depth and scale that pull you into his empty worlds – or seem to push you back from them, leaving you feeling like you are peering inside.

The Lonely House and the Empty House show the occasional people but there is no flamboyant style of modern life painter or Renaissance story-teller in Lowry’s depictions. People are too far away to have expressions captured or physiques judged – they are merely neat flourishes of colour to populate the plain architecture of Lowry’s art, at a safe distance.

Lowry: The Derelict House

I don’t know if it is fair for critics to say Lowry was entirely lonely – or if he was entirely happy with his predicament. One of the main problems of this exhibition seems to be that it tries to define a whole person and their art career with a big fat Lonely stamp and, as an audience you’re tempted either to agree or disagree. I imagine Lowry got depressed, but I bet he also ate ice cream on a summer’s day by the beach and laughed at the donkeys and the chubby, burnt British people.

Maybe the best I can say is that I’ve seen the work inspired by his winderness years and it gave me reason to be cheerful.

The exhibition is currently on display at Abbot Hall until October 30 after which a pared down version will go on show at the Crane Kalman Gallery in London from November 18 to December 18.

A paper mache Angela Merkel? It must be Deutsch Karneval time!

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2010 by helenperkins

Here comes the beginning of German Karneval, dedicated to eating, drinking, skiving work and making abusive floats to criticise the cretins that run the country. What a thoroughly brilliant idea.

This Monday 15 February is Rosenmontag (Rosey Monday if you’re not feeling very international), when our German brothers from other mothers will be kicking off the major Karneval festivities. They’re biggest around Germany’s cities – Dusseldorf, Mainz and Cologne and the parades will be trooping through the towns.

In true Blue Peter style, here’s the four steps to a truly Deutsch Karneval.

Step one: tie bells to your ankles and produce a terrifying mask to frighten away the winter spirits, the irritating tweeny brats in Asda and, possibly, all your friends.

Kids in Dusseldorf in traditional Karneval costume. It's like watching Rosie and Jim while on a trolley full of drugs.

Step two: make a massive meal and invite all those that didn’t flee from your hideous mask. Obviously there’s a recession on, so this could be the last of your spicy bean burgers/Yazoo milkshake/coco pops. It will be worth it.

Step three: Make a pimp-my-politician style effigy of your least favourite ruling personality – personally I’m opting for the rather Greasy Pete Mandleson because, as he already looks like something you would find lurking under a bridge, he should give me a head start.

Step four: Declare winter over. Horah! Here comes the spring.

My favourite German Frau – the ever patient, although slightly terrifying, Dorothea – explained to my class that this year the German populace would be flaunting floats particularly dedicated to (or should I say ‘aimed at’) the unpopular German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Naturally, they will also feature Obama – or Oh-blah-ma as he is now known.

One of the 2009 Cologne floats showed a naked Merkel with the 'problem areas' of her body marked out for surgery, including the plunging economy and government debt.

The current German pope, Pope Benedict XVI can also expect to be criticised through the art of paper mache after making several faux pas with the German public for saying, in 2009, that condoms increase the problem of Aids, for criticising gay rights and equal rights as being ‘against the natural order of things’ and for inviting Richard Williamson, a Holocaust-denying bishop, back into the Catholic church. Nice.

The word Karneval is though to come from a mixture of Italian and Latin origins and basically means ‘the end of the meat’. It is thought to be a celebration developed as a way of allowing the repressed peasantry of Europe to vent their frustration with the bourgeoisie in order to avoid a riot. So for a week the lower classes were allowed to wear fancy clothes, speak out of turn to their rulers, dance, be noisy and generally carnivourous.

Catholicism has always remained wary of the celebration, because of its unseemly merry nature and its pagan Middleage origins. However the church was unable to stamp out the tradition, which takes place in varying forms across France, Switzerland, Denmark, Cyprus, parts of India, Greece and Russia. The English celebrate a watered down version with Shrove Tuesday – where we make pancakes. We also have carnivals like Notting Hill in July – but it’s the equivalent of a funeral party compared to the street stomping, pub-parties that are going on out there.

For those woman who remain unconvinced by Valentines Day and all that ridiculous card shop frippery, take note: in Germany there is Weiberfastnacht (women’s carnival night) on the Thursday before Rosenmontag – that’s this Thursday 12 February. To uphold this tradition women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach, and to kiss any man they want to. Women going out to pubs take scissors with them.

I’m not sure what the Home Office would make of thousands of British women taking to the streets with scissors, but it would make for an interesting night down at Zanzibar!

Want to read more about the traditions involved in German Karneval? Try here.

Check out some of the images Google has to offer.

And have a Guten Karneval!

Was ist die gleis fur Schoenefeld Flughafen? And other thoughts from Berlin.

Posted in Diary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2010 by helenperkins

The cynical part of me, influenced by my working experiences, the writings of Bakhtin and Habermas, and from hearing second hand accounts of politics gurus like Marcuse, would like to suggest holidays were created at exactly the same point that nine-to-five jobs came into existence.

Here’s how it seems to me. An individual works five days out of seven, catering for people’s inflated desire to buy things they don’t need. Eventually the poor repressed soul starts dreaming of work, even while they are sleeping, and they become frustrated and angry and fed up. They realise there is no space in society for them to be creative, that society doesn’t care about them in the way they thought it did when they were younger, and that the job they have is pointless and unfulfilling. They shout ‘Enough!’

…and book a week away – as if that will solve their problems.

While on this strange Western healing experience the pressure, which might otherwise have pushed them to tell their boss where to stick it, subsides and they feel okay with everything again. Unfortunately, this occurs just in time for them to arrive back in England with their savings spent, forced back into the work-sleep-work bind they opted into initially. The holiday even convinces them that they are doing the right thing by continuing in their job. They can’t snorkel and don’t like eating raw goat – so they conclude they don’t suit any alternative situation the world could possibly offer. As a consequence, time and time again you hear people come back with the phrase “Oh, it’s so good to be back home!”

This year I started my first ‘proper’ job as a PR manager in Preston. I was sceptical about the profession because ‘Public Relations’ is often just a fancy phrase substituted for its uglier brother ‘advertising’ – whereas what I really wanted to do was write. Still, I decided to try it out and work hard until Christmas, which I did.

I quickly began publishing stories on our Northwest businesses UK Good Deals, Ghostbikes and ProJump, their products and their staff. Our team did a pretty good job of keeping our customers informed, through email, in newsletters, through our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and in the Lancaster Guardian, Bolton News, Lancashire Post, British Dealer News, Bike Trader Magazine, the Guardian and on hundreds of independent websites across Europe.

During November, my second month of work, I convinced Chris to go on holiday with me. I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been before. Before long we landed in Berlin, North Germany. This was a great place and something I intend to blog about in the future. It was an especially valuable experience for me because I came to realise a few truths about PR and about my working goals while in the harsh light of that cold climate and possibly under the influence of Gluhwein.

Good PR workers view their profession as one which gives the right people the right information at the right time. For example, when you wonder what to eat for tea tonight and the Guardian website has a section entitled ‘5 ideas on what to make for tea tonight’ that’s Marks and Spencers, KFC or Dominos doing ‘great PR’. However, all too often PR departments are made up of unscrupulous salesmen who argue that with the right lighting you can make shit look good and that you must always “Sell, Sell, Sell!”  So, thin fabric is ‘ideal for summer months’, fattening foods are ‘decadent’ and cheap merchandise are ‘value items’ or ‘bargains’. And because PR exists to oil the wheels of the economy, and specific businesses, there is always an element of pressure to accentuate the positive.

Fortunately, I was never asked to be dishonest or to irritate customers with intrusive advertising campaigns, but I was under intrinsic pressure to make our ecommerce company appear attractive – and so that permanent marketing shadow was never too far away.

I think Late Capitalism is also the era of the everyday Public Relations individual – where people market their own lives to themselves. They tell themselves they should put up with a repetitive job they hate for 50 years because it ‘offers training benefits’, the slight possibility of a pension and some vague idea of financial security. After a week out in the strange landscape of Berlin I decided this marketing mindset was something I couldn’t afford to establish in my life. I wanted to write and I wanted to paint and I wanted to make my art a bigger part of what I do. So instead of booking my next holiday I decided enough was enough.

…and I left my job for the New Year.

Award winning writer Iain Sinclair gives a guest lecture at Lancaster University

Posted in Books, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by helenperkins

With white hair, a tailored jacket and not a tremor of nerves, the award-winning British author Iain Sinclair met  Dr Brian Baker to discuss Sinclair’s work. Here are just a few fragments from the event at Lancaster University, October 2009.

Iain Sinclair: speaking on psychogeography and narrative in the noughties

Sinclair began by talking about the way his life developed after gaining critical acclaim with his novels and poetry, such as Lud Heat and the 1992 Encore award winner Downriver.

He said: “I once thought of my travels to universities as research for the books I was writing, now I see my research going towards the travelling. I’ve had only two days at home to write in over a year.

“One tries to get a sense of this time spent travelling up and down the country in a way that’s not altogether unlike travel writing – engaging on a series of trips, detouring and writing a story and making up elements. Each of the places in my book becomes a kind of novella. Each place is precious.

“I think we have gone beyond the idea of pure fiction and pure documentation. My writing is not quite a novel and not quite a kind of documentary. What it’s about is creating a personal system. It suggests if you don’t create your own system you’re living by the system of somebody else.

“I want to work in a different way to traditional authors. I will keep my notes. Sometimes I will write a one piece poem when I’m walking, including particular details and specifics of place. Sometimes it will be something longer.”

He then gave an explanation of one of Sinclair’s recent travels: “One of the suggested stops I visited was Milton Keynes. They have got lots of money for a new arts centre. There’s a massive place built for the arts but no content to go with it. The person with me was showing a film he had made by driving to Rugby. Rugby has become this huge retail park and distribution centre. He just fixed a camera on the side of the lorry and drove there. There were three people at his screening – one of them was the organiser, one was someone asking if I would come and give a lecture and the third was a runner who would run up the motorway until he was arrested. He had just taken a detour to find out what all the fuss was about.

“My book … is a kind of debate between critique and personal memory set inside a detective story. There was even a detective element to writing it. I know that there will always be books that have written what I want to write better than me. So I began my book by taking another that I admired and blacking out parts of the text to leave key phrases. This, although it worked a little like a conspiracy, revealed to me the framework and themes that I was trying to create in my own stories.

“I believe that often what matters is what writers don’t say and what’s created there – that’s how books inspire us. Pull down a story and out come the perfect images – you get the impression of secret message beneath. But by taking another story as a base point for writing my own came risks and I had to be careful the stories did not double the worst elements of each other.

“My overriding theory is this – a culture xerox: Take anything successful and you can trace it back eight steps and find its routes spread in the architecture of the cultural and physical landscape. We have had this idea re-popularised for us recently in Dan Brown’s books – this idea that there is not sort of deep cultural memory which nobody remembers and it’s there – in the walls.”

Sinclair then spoke on the idea of walking as an art and the politics of walking. “Actively knowing a place before I begin a walk allows me to walk as a form of supping up a narrative. It allows time for a story and a shape to occur without the distraction of navigation. Often by walking the same journey you recognise and remember people – and a pattern and story evolves through this repetition.

“The idea of the politics of walking is an interesting one because it challenges a culture that’s often quite static. There are several jokes about the concept – for example, me and a friend said we should walk through Paris using a map of Venice.

“The is a difference between urban and rural walking for narrative purposes. Urban is always a kind of exorcism because we have to block stuff out because there are so many things happening in a city. It’s like warrior walking to get from one side to the other without being carried away on the tide.

“John Clare’s landscape was completely bereft of human inhabitants – nothing like the places I choose. You have to build your way out if you want abstraction from more industrial climates.”