Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Selection Of Ways In Which I Have Done Mischief To Myself

Look I’ve got nothing else to do and I threatened to do this and I did it. With dreadful puns. I have taken enough painkillers today to make them funny to me so shut up.

ARMBARRASSING
Aged 10 I ran into the side of a building (let’s clarify – red brick, huge, right smack in the middle) and broke my arm. I tried to cover up for this with all manner of shameless lies blaming other people that I can’t even remember because they were clearly insane. To this day I cannot explain what happened. I was late for Lois & Clarke, see, and I was running, and then there was this wall in my way, so… I decided to run through it? Or something?

LEG-END-ARY
In January 2010 I went to a masquerade ball at the V&A. My hideously ugly mask obscured everything below waist height for about three feet around, which as any fule kno is just ASKING for trouble. I tripped over the metal bar that surrounded a huge stone font and slammed face first into the ground; to this day I wish I’d seen it happen, because can you IMAGINE. It was amazing. Everyone around me went quiet. Security guards rushed to my aid. I still have bruised dents in my lower legs from landing on top of the bar. I was entirely sober. The upside is that at least I got a bit of a story out of it. (“Upside”.)

CUTTING EDGE
I got a papercut from a pair of leggings. I was pulling them on, something sharp ripped at my finger, and then blood. Leggings. Papercut from a pair of leggings. That’s the worst. I’ve never fully trusted a pair of leggings since.

TEA-RIFFIC
I have a scar on the back of my left leg from where I made a cup of tea. As I was pouring the water into the mug, the kettle clearly had other ideas, and sent water cascading from around the lid and down my leg onto a pair of tights that were already full of runs. I was so drunk I thought it was okay despite the fact that it felt disgustingly painful. I was maimed by a cup of tea that I didn’t even really like because I put the wrong tea bag in.

HAPPENED LAST NIGHT SO DEFINITELY TOO PAINFUL TO PUN ABOUT RIGHT NOW
Literally put my back out while washing my hands over a sink that is far too low for anyone over 5ft 8. I’m 6ft 1. My back couldn’t cope. If you’re going to put your back out I’d hope it’d be due to some pretty banging sex or rescuing someone from falling off a cliff or SOMETHING more interesting than WASHING YOUR HANDS over a sink that is DANGEROUSLY LOW. I hate sinks.

Feel free to share your own tales of woe. Might even share the thing about the goggles too at some point but I’m tired and need to lie down because OH GOD MY BACK IT HURTS

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Lush Skincare: An Overview

I’ve had a lot of blog hits recently from people searching for Lush products for their skin types and a couple of people have expressed interest in my post-Lush-job product knowledge, so hey, I thought, let’s infodump the hell out of this. I’m always going to use Lush and I’m pretty biased (in fairness I think I got my job with them because I knew loads about the products on the back of having been a long-time fan), but if anyone can recommend products from other companies with similar ethics or quality of ingredients then I’ll happily edit this post to say that. I’m more interested in being helpful than trying to sell anything here seeing as it ain’t my job to sell skin care any more!

BY THE WAY you should totally support your local bookstores. 😀

AHEM. Anyway: I have oily problem skin. That is me. That is the perspective from which this blog post is coming. Everyone’s skin is different and everyone likes different things for their face (I like my skin matte, some people like their skin soft and dewy, no two people are ever the same). Your mileage may vary with regard to each one of these products but I will be speaking in generalities, so there will undoubtedly be people who disagree.

The Lush forum is full of invaluable sources of advice – lots of other people who use the products. If you want more specific advice without going into a shop, you can’t really do better. Have a look if you’re curious or need any specific help. The people who invent and make the products are on there and they absolutely know their stuff.

In addition the Lush site is full of really valuable information about skin types and the science behind the products – here’s their page about oily skin. Have a wander around the site and read about all the ingredients and what they do – it’s exactly how I started learning about the products years ago. Rose oil and neroli oil are particularly interesting to read about!

Things to bear in mind:

1) It takes one month minimum to adjust to a new skin care regime, sometimes up to three.

2) If you use a facemask or moisturizer and get spots the next day it’s massively unlikely the new product caused them. It takes two weeks for spots to come up. TWO WEEKS. If however you have a reaction (like redness or soreness), that’s a different matter entirely, and you’ll know when it’s an allergy or sensitivity.

3) Start gently. Don’t go straight for the strongest cleanser because you have a couple of pimples. It won’t really help. In fact it usually does more harm than good – start with something nice and gentle and soothing and build up product strength as needed. This is especially true for teenagers, who (in my experience) want the products with all the tea tree oil and all the strength because omfg spots are bad and there’s almost an immediate knee-jerk reaction to just throw everything at the problem to deal with it. Don’t!

4) Eat well. Drink water. Don’t smoke. The healthier you are on the inside, the more it will show on the outside. I hate myself for adding this but it’s the biggest thing you can do for your skin and the rest of you. It’s so obvious and repeated so often it just ends up sounding like white noise in the background – you’ll hear this from all sorts of places but it really can’t be ignored. If you take anything away from this blog post, please let it be this – you’ve got to be good to yourself.

5) Stress is a major cause when it comes to skin problems. Don’t be surprised if you work in retail and your skin gets bad over Christmas. Don’t be surprised if you start a new job and your skin goes to hell within a couple of weeks. Don’t be surprised if your skin clears up AFTER your awesome relaxing holiday. Bear it in mind.

6) GIRLS. Hormones can be a major issue – if your skin is very susceptible to this, then treat your skin like it’s sensitive during the week you’re on your period. The week before you can do some detoxing, brightening, circulation-boosting facemasks and whatnot (Brazened Honey!) to combat puffiness, but the real tip is to be gentle during that week. The rest of the month you can treat it as you normally would. I usually just add the Catastrophe Cosmetic mask to my routine during the week because it’s really soothing and doesn’t mean I have to change everything, but then I am a lazy heffer and as I said, everyone’s different.

So. I’m going to mark which products I use with an asterisk (*). You can take that as a recommendation if you’re another oily-problem-skin person, but Lush staff will be better able to recommend things for you specifically – though I get that not everyone wants to talk about their skin problems with a complete stranger.

– CLEANSERS

There are three kinds – soap, oil-based, and clay-based.

The soaps (Fresh Farmacy and Coal Face*) are going to be more drying because anything that foams will dry the skin out, so be ready to use a slightly heavier moisturizer to counteract that. Fresh Farmacy is best for acne. Don’t assume that because it has tea tree it’s good for all spots – I would really only recommend it for acne-prone skin because it’s quite strong. It’s a product to be built up to. Coal Face is milder, better if you’re not certain what skin type you have, if your skin is oily, or if you get problematic skin at times. I use it some evenings when I’m feeling lazy. It’s a great option for guys because the liquorice is soothing for post-shaving soreness. I wouldn’t recommend either for drier skins, for the most part, but – and you’re going to get tired of me saying this, but it’s an important point – everyone’s different.

The clay-based ones are what I would recommend for anyone who is unsure of their skin type or isn’t sure what product to try first. Angels On Bare Skin is the easiest one to recommend – it’s soothing, balancing, healing and softening. Anyone with normal, combination or sensitive skin can use it (as long as you’re not allergic to nuts/almonds and are okay with the mild scrub (it’s more like a massage if you use it gently though)). The lavender heals and balances oil production so that’s a biiig thing to keep an eye out for if you have oily, problem or sensitive skin. Rose soothes redness, which is also useful in the Aqua Marina cleanser too. Aqua Marina is the non-soapy version of Fresh Farmacy – it too has rose and calamine, so it’s excellent for sensitive skin. It’s very oily so it’s good for dry skin too. If you have normal skin, it’s not a bad idea to consider it as a winter cleanser to prevent the skin getting dried out by the wind and cold. My favourite of the cleansers is, however, Herbalism* – antiseptic, mattifying, brilliant. It’s my Desert Island Lush product. I can’t go without it. It smells like vinegar and it’s green and I don’t even mind, that’s how much I love it – if you have combination to oily skin, it is definitely to be considered. It does wonders for my skin when it’s being problematic, and has been much less so since I started using it. Dark Angels is scrubbiest and is the soapless version of Coal Face. I can’t comment on it too much as I never used it much more than a couple of times a week as an exfoliator. It’s good, very mattifying, but I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone with oily skin (like mine) because it’s very, very scrubby and can make the skin produce more oil as a result. Remember, everyone’s different, so it’s worth trying it on the back of your hand in the shop to check that.

The oil-based ones (9 To 5, Ultrabland, Ultrabalm*) are the best for removing make-up and for dry or sensitive skin. I use Ultrabalm even though I have oily skin because they’re actually decently thorough cleansers that are ace at soothing skin that’s prone to spots. I use it with Tea Tree Water* toner most evenings because it’s the most de-greasing of the toners; sensitive skins should probably go for Eau Roma Water. Breath of Fresh Air is a great one when you’re travelling or want a bit of a nutrition boost, but I found it a bit heavy for my skin (probably means it’s great for dry skin!).

Sidenote: it used to really trouble me when parents came into the shop with a child and asked for products “to deal with their spots”, especially since they usually had nothing much to worry about and were getting stressed out by their parent’s reaction. Pre-puberty only the mildest products are best – think rose, lavender, that sort of thing. Gentle and soothing. Nothing more than something like Eau Roma Water on a cotton wool pad to cleanse the skin, morning and evening. Making your child self-conscious about a couple of spots is just mean and the urge to “do something about it”, i.e., go for the most spot-fighting product straight away isn’t going to solve anything, even with products as mild as Lush’s. 

– MOISTURIZERS

I’m out of date with these since the range has changed since I left. I’ll go through the ones I’ve used to save any confusion.

Enzymion* – The best option for oily skin if you’re not sure where to turn. Anything with citrus ingredients will absorb/break down oils (I’m unsure as to the chemistry here) and brighten the skin. It’s not heavy at all oil-wise. This is also great if you have normal skin and want to have a matte base for make up. I mix mine with the Colour Supplements so it’s also my tinted moisturizer.

Vanishing Cream – Light enough to work for oily skins, but the lavender also works to balance the skin. Aimed at combination skin, also excellent for problem skin with spots, or sensitive oily skin types. I liked it well enough, but Enzymion and Gorgeous worked better for me.

Gorgeous – Oh now here’s a product. I’ve heard both that it’s suitable for all skin types AND that it’s meant to be a pro-aging nourishing mattifying moisturizer for oily skins of all kinds. All I can tell you is that it’s my favourite and the only reason I don’t use it at the moment is because I’m saving up for my next pot. It lasts me roughly six months per pot and I use it usually as a night cream. It’s SO worth the investment, in my opinion. It has both neroli oil (hence the price as it’s an expensive oil) and sweet orange blossom, which are closely related, and apparently help to maintain the skin’s elasticity – all I can tell you is that it made my skin feel soft and glowy without making it feel heavy at all. Again, everyone’s different, but I’d recommend it most for normal to oily skin types.

Cosmetic Lad – The easy option for guys, but also for anyone with combination sensitive skin. It’s almost entirely constructed to balance and soothe the skin. Probably also worth a try if you have normal skin and want something slightly richer and more soothing during winter.

Imperialis – I would usually recommend this twinned with Fresh Farmacy as it’s balancing and more on the oily side than Vanishing Cream, so helps to counteract the drying soap. It’s not VERY oily though – best for combination skins, also good for the odd spot as it’s also healing and balancing as it’s another cream based on lavender as a central ingredient. A really solid safe option if you don’t know what to go for with your skin type.

– FACE MASKS

Most of these work for most skin types. It just depends what you actually want from a mask – I usually go for something exfoliating and brightening (Brazened Honey), soothing (Catastrophe Cosmetic) or nourishing because I’m getting to the age where I’m terrified about getting old (Sacred Truth). AGAIN: this is massively subjective and the best thing to do is to go into a shop and get a couple on the back of your hand so you can see which you feel happiest with.

I’m just going to mention the ones I’ve used often.

Cupcake – mattifying, also very soothing so good for teen skins and slightly sensitive skin. The rhassoul mud is slightly gritty and thoroughly cleansing so great for getting rid of the last vestiges of make up or if you’ve been out on a run. A great one if you’re not sure which mask is right for you but you know you want something cleansing.

Brazened Honey* – spicy, very, very scrubby and incredibly deep cleansing. Hangover cure for when you need up be up and active the day after the night before. Only go for this if you know you don’t have very sensitive skin – it has honey in, which is antiseptic and very soothing, but the scrub is quite strong. I am addicted to it.

Catastrophe Cosmetic* – soothing, detoxing, mild without being useless. IF IN DOUBT, THIS. Sensitive, dry skins can use this as well as oily, acne-prone or normal. It’s a great leveller. Like Brazened Honey, it’s great when you’ve got a hangover but can spend the day hiding in your room.

Love Lettuce – another good one when you’re not sure what to go for, balancing and scrubby and lavender-centric. Really suitable for normal and combination skins.

Cosmetic Warrior – if you’re having spot issues, this is the bastard. It smells of garlic because it’s full of it – it has garlic, honey and tea tree, three excellent antiseptic ingredients, so you know it’s going to be strong. Honey has the added benefit of being really soothing so it’s not going to be INCREDIBLY powerful, so some sensitive skins can use it too. I’d suggest trying it in the shop before using it though as some people find it drying. I certainly never did, if anything it makes the skin feel silky smooth and no, you don’t smell like garlic afterwards.

– OTHER THINGS

It’s worth having a look at the toner tabs, but I haven’t used them enough to comment on them with any surety. I’d suggest the Token To The Forest Gods for anyone who wants something good for the circulation or for oilier skins, but they’re all going to have benefits for most skin types. Use them as a steam facial before a face mask to make sure the pores are open so they can work deeper into the skin, and then rinse it off with the same water to get as much benefit from the oils as possible.

Grease Lightning* is wonderful spot treatment gel that I use every evening at the very least. It’s light and mattifying enough to be used under or on top of make up too. You could use it just when you get the odd zit if you want to but I take the blanket bombing approach and because it’s not got so much tea tree as to be overly strong and drying it’s perfectly okay to do so.

*

I’m sure there’s more I could add to this but this is all that’s coming to mind now. Current Lush staff, other ex-Lush staff, if there’s anything you want to add, or change, or suggest, please go right ahead, I’m all ears. Everyone else, if you have anything you want to say, please do. Questions are awesome. Links or suggestions to other products and companies encouraged. I will totally be coming back to this to edit, streamline and clarify so all comments are appreciated.

I’m gonna have some tea and a lie down now.

On Getting A Job At Lush: The best advice I can give

EPIC POST ALERT oh my god writing this has wiped me out and it’s stupidly long. I hope it helps. Please do ask questions if you have any. I don’t think I even remotely covered everything.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on a couple of forums about trial shifts and interviews for Lush where people have drawn the worst possible conclusions about the company, the staff and the selling. I got a bit fed up so I thought I’d set the record straight – only I’m not going to be negative about it, I’m going to be positive, because that’s what Lush did to me. I’ve finally got a job working at a bookshop (i.e., where I’ve always wanted to work) so I’m passing on what I’ve gleaned about Lush in the hope that someone else with the enthusiasm, the drive, the energy and the interest can go into a Lush shop, get a good job and make the most of it. People who want to work for Lush without putting the effort in just shouldn’t apply (and it is an effort – it’s like being on stage every shift for hours and having to ad lib every line in a massive stage production). Like book shops or perfume shops, to work there you’re effectively required to be a specialist. So before I launch into this good and proper here are some things that need to be the case before you even consider handing your CV in:

– KNOW YOUR PRODUCTS. I don’t mean know them inside-out; I mean know what suits you, what you like, and why. I used Lush for three years before I applied to the shop – just a few bits here and there, because it is pricey (the product quality is high and the mark up is far less than other things you’ll find on the high street). Know what you like and why – I never liked one of the most popular perfumes because I don’t like heavy over-powering fragrances like jasmine, but I knew I liked vanilla and spicy fragrances, so I could enthuse about those without being negative. I knew my skin was oily so I knew which products from the website (and forum!) worked best for my skin and hair and why – for instance, products with a lot of citrus in absorb oil, so they’re the first stop for oily skin and scalps. Things like that. It’s not hard, but it means you have somewhat of an understanding about what to point at in an interview or a trial shift. That’s how product knowledge starts – know what your products are.

– KNOW THE COMPANY. It’s an eco-friendly environmentally minded non-advertising company that is so green it gives the Incredible Hulk a run for his money. The world is one of their main concerns (yes, along with profit, because that’s how they pay people). They are activists. Know what they stand for, look at their past campaigns – and above all make sure you’re comfortable being a front for their beliefs. If you share their beliefs then that’s awesome. It’s brilliant to work for a company you can take pride in. If you have issues with any groups they’ve supported, make sure you’re okay with supporting them too – though I had doubts I believed in the products so much it wasn’t a problem because my entire reason for being there was to make sure customers found what suited them and didn’t waste their money. I had many colleagues who were entirely on board with the causes Lush promoted; when you work for a company that represents the very things you want to change in the world, and sells products you believe in, it’s a very special conjunction and is far too rare these days.

– LIKE THE PRODUCTS. Oh, seriously. If you applied to Lush because you “liked the atmosphere” or think “it looks like fun” you’re crazy and deep down you know it. There’s so much more to it than that. You have to at least like what you’ve used. You have to know why you like it. You have to have some sort of enthusiasm for the brand, for the message, for the atmosphere. That’s what you’re selling – an experience as much as a product. You want everyone to enjoy being in your shop and around you, spending money if possible, but even if they don’t you want them to leave having loved their time in the shop and wanting to go back. Samples help but the easiest way is to show how much you love the stuff you’re selling. There are so few places on the high street that allow you to wax lyrical about the amazing stuff you can prove feels great to use. You get to champion stuff you care about. Goddamnit, it’s fun, and that positivity is only part of what gives Lush that awesome vibe that people love. And if you don’t like Lush stuff THAT much then don’t fanny about – there are loads of people out there who genuinely love the products.

– HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR GODDAMNIT. People are arseholes. In retail you get crap from the public day in, day out, and I’ve never had it so bad as I did at Lush. There are loads of reasons for it – everything from the fact that recommending products to help with eczema in sensitive areas requires really personal questioning to the slightly less icky fact that you have to greet everyone who comes in with at least a smile and nod. People hate that. People hate being spoken to. People hate being sold to. People hate being lectured. You’re going to have to do all those things and do it with such charm that they a) take your advice and b) come back. You have to have a sense of humour to cope with the level of mean responses you’ll get, as well as to keep hold of your “audience”. When I was little I could write essays – any and all story-telling abilities I have now I got on the shop floor explaining how good my favourite bath bomb smells when you use it with a particular bubble bar, or setting the scene for a husband buying a present for his wife or kids in a hurry. It’s a stage. Don your stage persona and perform; nothing’s personal. Just keep smiling. You hit the moment pretty quickly where suddenly you’re enjoying it – customers stop being a chore and become a welcome challenge. I’ve made some brilliant friends out there. You just have to pretend that you’re the world’s greatest source of positivity.

So if you can tick these four things off, you’re well on your way. I can’t advise how to get your CV noticed or any of that because I never had a hand in that side of things. What I can advise on is the group interview. It’s important to point out here that I was in one of the biggest Lush shops for some time, so in the smaller shops it’s probably entirely different. But, yeah.

I worked with a bunch of people who are going on to become authors, lawyers, dancers, singers, actors, playwrights and all sorts. They were all creative and willing to make tits of themselves (yes, even the lawyer – ESPECIALLY the lawyer!) to amuse and entertain. Everyone has their own creative streak, and you need to stand out from the crowd in that group interview by being inventive and unique and memorable while still being yourself. Think outside the damn box. I can’t predict the questions or challenges you’ll be asked but they’ll likely be quite unpredictable. I can’t give hints about how to get through because only the best people should get through, and your task is to prove that’s you. It’s nerve-wracking – one group interview involved singing or rapping, for heaven’s sake, and the prospect of that still makes me hella queasy. It’s about how you tackle it. You need to prove that you can think fast, know what you’re dealing with and at least pretend to be at ease. Show those four points above with that dash of originality without disrupting everything for the other applicants – coming up to Christmas there’ll be more than one spot open so don’t dwell on competition. Your job is to advertise and prove yourself, everyone else be damned. If you’re asked to sing and, like me, cannot sing, think outside the box. Asked what item of clothing you’re the most like? Think outside the box. Need to sell a gift box to the interviewer? Well, how entertaining can you make that sale?

Also, not all personalities suit all shops. I went from a small one to a big one. I was hired in the first place for my enthusiasm and, I suspect, because I knew loads about the products having used them. If you don’t get the job in a big shop because you’re too laid back or too shy, don’t give up! Smaller shops need gentler sales assistants. That’s pretty generalized – all shops need all sorts – but the idea is that if you don’t fit in one place it doesn’t mean you won’t fit in anywhere else. The shops all have different atmospheres.

Trial shifts are complicated. Again, I’m not of much help – you have to be the right fit and different managers and management teams need different types of people, so I’d be a crap guide there. Always: be yourself. When it comes to being a Lush sales person, even just for a couple of hours, what you need to remember is to stay calm, be positive and be conscientious.

It’s easy to get scared shitless. I was. I was completely new to the idea of talking to strangers as it was my first stint in retail (I still hate talking to strangers) and all I remember about my prep was googling madly looking for all the advice on selling that I could get. I found nothing of any use. I was trembling, my palms were sweaty, I spent half an hour just refilling the bowls to keep them as warm as possible. I was crap. Then a man walked in wearing the most tremendous steampunky coat with brass buttons and a wonderful collar, so good I had to comment on it; suddenly it was well easy. Compliments work! The people who are open to being spoken to respond while the people who aren’t just accept it and move on – it’s not a foolproof method but it’s a good way to get started. You don’t need to sell in your trial shift (… IT HELPS) but you do need to open conversations with customers, greet them and make them feel welcome. Keep an eye out and make sure you don’t talk to someone who’s already been spoken to. Open questions (not yes/no duds like “Do you have baths?” but questions like “What’s your favourite scent?” that need a considered answer). Etc.

Sidenote: people hate Lush staff because they’re considered to “bother” customers. You can’t not do it, it’s the job to approach people. My solution was always to do drive-bys – wander past and point out that you love what they’re looking at, for instance. If you hang around a Lush shop on a Saturday you’d see how it’s done. And as for asking if people are okay – most of the products don’t have packaging (eco-friendly!) and are pretty eccentric as skin care etc things go, so people genuinely don’t know what they’re looking at half the time. Lush staff are effectively there to replace the packaging. If people don’t want to be helped, don’t. Some of them know what they need, but if they don’t, and they don’t want your help, you can’t do anything. Keep yourself busy cleaning or refilling bowls, always present but unobtrusively just in case they turn around with a question after all. Don’t harass, don’t push, don’t force them to smell a product. The only pressure I ever applied in selling things was when people with, say, sensitive skin were determined to buy something too harsh for their skin type; that’s very specific, not something you’d be expected to know yet. Just bear it in mind. If in doubt, smile and nod. Do a QEII wave if you have to! As long as people know you’re there to be asked for help, it’s cool. (It’s the mystery shopper thing, by forumites, aka big fans of the company – fans are always the harshest critics and they’re normal members of the public so impossible to spot. Lushies live in fear of them. Just be lovely to everyone, that’s the rule, and it’s a goodun.)

Don’t ask people if they want to try a product or have a demo because most people are just browsing like they would any shop and don’t trust you because you’re a weird stranger in an odd shop. You’ll know an opening when you see it; hopefully you’ll be given a run-down of your area (or the shop) before your trial begins so you’ll know what tools you have to hand. If you’re really stuck, YOU HAVE HANDS. Demo on yourself. Offer some to passing customers. Be active. Be creative. Eavesdrop on other sales, maybe do a drive-by “Oh, I love that one!” to back up someone else’s sale (be honest though, that’s a vital, vital aspect). Be positive about everything you use – if, like me, you hate the smell of Karma perfume, talk about what the scent is. If it applies, talk about people you know who use it. You don’t need to like everything but being able to sell products you aren’t keen on is a big skill.

I could go on but this is long enough. Do ask questions if you have any – most of this is what you’ll be told in a group interview or before a trial shift anyway, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

In summary:

Enthuse but don’t intimidate.
Smiles are amazing. Use them.
Start conversations over trivialities like what someone’s wearing or what they already have in their basket.
Get a handle on what Lush is about and what you like so you have something to talk about at least.
Think outside the box.

Sod it. I reckon this all counts for most jobs. But, hey, so it goes. I loved my time at Lush, I worked with a great team who are still really good friends and it was a lot of fun as well as bloody hard work, considering the pay, but I don’t regret it at all. And to think ten years ago I loathed the place! How things change.

If anyone else has anything to add please do comment cos why not. 😀

ALSO: this article is probably far more useful and informative.

Red Hair, New Job

I am writing this with a lot of mud in my hair. It’s a routine I’ve been through many, many times before, and it’s still a massive yet satisfying hassle to splodge into your hair and then wash out the slick clumps that smell like Morocco. The suds go green. It’s delightful. Lush’s Caca Rouge, if you’re curious – it gives one’s mane the glorious autumnal conker shade that would get a horse labelled “chestnut” but gets me labelled “ginger” in the wrong light.*

This is possibly the last time I’ll do this wonderful bit of silliness seeing as it’s been nine months since I left Lush and therefore don’t need to show the excellent effects of their hennas, but it’s been fun. I am typing this while continually wiping leakages from beneath my mummy-like head covering of cling film – my ears are orange, my right thumb is orange, I have an orange tide mark across my forehead which is making me giggle (thank heavens for fringes) – and I’m effectively being held captive by this stuff. I can’t leave the house or do anything strenuous. I’ve been reading Nightmares & Boners, a marvellous blog that I recommend highly (probably NSFW but worth it, my friends!), catching up on various web comics and now I’m writing this, because what else do you do when you have mud on your head? Blog about it, that’s what!

I could very easily digress and go on to explaining why Lush’s henna is excellent, why I’ve loved using it, my tips on how to mix it and what to add to it to make it go redder, darker, shinier – but I won’t. Here are a couple of examples of what the henna’s done to my hair over the past two and a half years though; lovely colour, even if I do look like a red setter these days.**

Before, Every Month, Every Three Months

Anyway. I was going to update this blog just to say I haven’t actually been neglecting it, just not posting everything. It’s a mixture of some family drama times and that niggling sensation that nothing you’re writing is up to scratch and you’re driving yourself crazy trying to make it better but there’s just something indescribably off-key and poor about it that you drop it halfway through and go read something or catch up with True Blood or put the kettle on. I have PLENTY of books that I not only want to blog about but that I have STRONG FEELINGS about and want some responses to – but my wordings are failing me. So I am still working on this blog. It’s just taking me ages to sort my head out.

HOWEVER. Exciting news! I have a NEW JOB. It is with BOOKS. I will be a full-time bookseller (fixed term until Christmas!) at a Waterstone’s in central London. I am THRILLED – I’ve wanted to work with books since I was a child and now I’m finally going to, I am properly excited like someone’s just given me a big present covered in shiny shiny paper. I have no doubt that it’s will be hard work but that’s part of what excites me about this opportunity. I’ve spent so long putting effort into things that never that weren’t even remotely in the field that I wanted to be in, but now, even though I’ll probably just be unpacking boxes and stacking shelves, it’s going to be with books and I’ll talk about books and they will pay me for it and I’m incandescent with delight!

So now I have even more reason to blog a-times and hopefully the quality of these blog posts will go up and up. Also I haven’t ignored the video blogging thing either, I am just in need of a new non-beepy-noisy microphone. Easier said than done.

And as an aside – I’ve recently started “mentoring” my dad’s god-daughter, who’s eleven and just started secondary school. She’s not a natural reader but I’m trying to encourage her anyway, and to branch out from her EastEnders-ish telly and reading habits (not STOP, I know perfectly intelligent people who watch and read EastEnders-y things, but rather to try other things too). She’s reading Anthony Horowitz‘s Stormbreaker at the moment and is 50/50 about it (she’s very girly so the dissonance is intriguing and yet she’s enjoying the plot) and I’ve also given her my highly prized copy of Elizabeth Marie Pope‘s Perilous Gard to follow it up with. If anyone can recommend anything that’s not too imposing (she’s easily dissuaded from more intellectual pursuits as various encounters with adults have given her the impression that she’s not up to such things) but still has some “calorific value” as such, I’d love suggestions. I’m working up to giving her Ballet Shoes, Treasure Island or something along those lines.

SO. There we go. I will post an actual book review shortly. Ramble over! 😀

* Editing this post the day after the henna: it has darkened to a lovely warm cinnamon shade. It’s awesome. If you want a non-damaging alternative to chemical dye it’s a hassle to do but well worth said hassle because it makes your hair HELLA SHINY and is entirely natural. Yeah, even though I don’t work for Lush any more I’m still a massive fan of their products – 90% of what I use is still Lush. It’s just fantastic.
** KAREN GILLAN I WANT TO BE YOU.

I <3 Apocalypses. And zombies. And triffids.

I love a good apocalypse.

I’ve been thinking a lot about apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction a lot since reading The Passage on holiday in a remote house on the edge of a cliff in Cornwall (dramatic and stormy weather included); a recent post on The Book Smugglers made me think about it harder, and then reading Boneshaker cemented the fact that, for me, apocalyptic-themed fiction is one of my favourite subgenres around.  The end of the world scenario could be anything from a super-flu virus (The Stand) to global warming (arguably the case in The Road though, granted, it’s never explicitly stated as such) to a zombie invasion (World War Z).  If you’re John Wyndham it can be plants, because John Wyndham was so good he could make plants terrifying.  It can be past, present or future, it can be set on earth, in space or somewhere fantastical.  It’s the point at which there is nothing to gain, characters have absolutely nothing to hide behind and all the vast variety of possible plotlines have the same simple goal – the survival of humanity.  Not a victory, but merely continuation.  There’s no winning.  Generally, life’s like that, although with less rubble and more tourists.

In Angela Carter’s short story ‘Elegy for a Freelance’ the city’s poised on the brink of a civil war and, just as society teeters on the brink of chaos, so does her lover and their precarious way of life.  It’s not quite apocalyptic but there’s a sense of a tremendous world-changing struggle that’s just beginning as the internal stresses of human nature are suddenly unleashed and the revolution begins.  It sets a tone, and not a tremendously positive one.  I love the sensation that everything’s about to go into freefall and that there’s no certainty about how it will end up, whether “civilization” will re-assert itself or something completely new will emerge from the mess.  It’s a social apocalypse with the prospect of wiping the slate clean of all that has gone before; what is next?

In contrast, what Mark Charan Newton has in Nights of Villjamur is a world under a dying red sun as a new ice age encroaches, freezing the seas and covering a once lush and fertile empire with snow.  Villjamur is surrounded by refugees hoping to take shelter in the city in an attempt to survive the freeze (though it’s suggested the ice age will last fifty years, the sun’s dying, so any respite couldn’t last long).  It’s part murder mystery, part political thriller in a claustrophobic atmosphere.  There’s more than a sense of impending hardship and strife – every facet of the city’s description is thick with past glories fading fast in the face of the longest winter, the people are suffering, and the emperor commits suicide, overwhelmed with the hopelessness of it all.  What should be a depressing story about a dark, dank, unhealthy place feels more like a story about the people who won’t give up on others around them in the face of a global catastrophe.  It doesn’t drag the reader down; even when my favourite military side-guy didn’t make it, it wasn’t depressing and it wasn’t done just to up the body count, but to make a point about his real character.  I had a few niggling problems with it (Randur was one of them, Urtica another, and Eir fell completely flat) that with a different author I don’t think could have worked, but Newton got away with it chiefly because most of his characters are sympathetic and fascinating to follow, especially Jerynd, the detective with a tail and relationship issues and Brynd, the albino soldier with… something akin to relationship issues.

Although I can’t predict whether or not there’s an impending world-ending event in Newton’s Villjamur, it’s a good example of a civilization enduring the stress of a looming, creeping catastrophe.  It’s slow, but it’s coming.  Usually it’s a sudden event: in World War Z the otaku, the obsessed fan boy, is living his life online at home with his mother leaving his meals outside his door – the next day, he’s jumping from balcony to balcony to escape zombies, seeing a chaotic Tokyo dissolving around him.

The Passage‘s catastrophe happens – as these things are wont to do – when twelve test subjects break out of a lab and spread the vampire virus far and wide.  The book contains one of the most disturbing accounts of the actual dissolution of society as children are loaded onto a train and evacuated, as written by a survivor years after the event.  For all the book contains many other scenes that are also disturbing, harrowing and weirdly fascinating, that one section stands out in my mind because even after hearing it read out by the author at his Waterstone’s signing and reading it once to myself and once out loud to a friend (it’s amazing bedtime reading, she was so freaked!) it still gave me goosebumps every time.

And then the aftermath.  The Passage‘s vision of the aftermath is bleak and hostile as the danger’s still out there, and papers in the text mention a convention of academics discussing the writings left by survivors, held hundreds of years later.  World War Z has a similar conceit – the author travels around the world interviewing people for their experiences of the war, how they survived and what happened to them.  There’s an Afterwards when someone can wander around the world again and reflect on the past and learn some lessons for the future.  Even King’s The Stand – the book that kept me up for 48 hours at the beginning of a school week because I was so obsessed with it – has the frayed ends of humanity coming together again after the massive flu pandemic and the epic good/evil battle.

(Just to make sure, King and Cronin back up their apocalypses with nuclear explosions.  Just so you know there’s a smoking crater where a big noisy city used to be.  In case someone missed the bit where everything’s gone and 99% of everyone’s dead.  It’s easy to miss these things.)

In Margaret Mahy’s Maddigan’s Fantasia, the apocalypse happened a long time ago but still changes the roads and layout of the land.  The earth’s still reshaping itself.  It’s not finished, but the people are rebuilding their ways of life with such determination to succeed that the Fantasia performs a crucial role; it entertains and distracts and even fixes.  For a long time I resisted reading YA because I thought it would be written too simply to appeal, but Margaret Mahy’s books (amongst others) convinced me otherwise; Maddigan’s Fantasia presents a post-apocalyptic society with magical and human evil alongside magical and human goodness, balanced wonderfully.  The state of the world isn’t the main plot, however – it’s to do with the need for power in the power vaccum, when tyrants try to become tyrannical and good people do bad things in attempts to do good.  That’s exactly what the focus of the story needs to be after our world is done away with – if, indeed, humanity (or whatever race is afflicted) is due to survive.

If not, then… wow.  Harsh.*

*Evidence this was written at 1am on a work day after a lot of work days: Ewa sums up the extinction of a species as “harsh”.  Not her finest hour.  Nor is writing in the third person!  Ewa is clicking ‘post’ and going to bed…

Odd few days

The plane crash in Smolensk has been very much at the forefront of our minds over the past few days. Not only because it’s a tragedy of unprecedented proportions but also because it’s such a strange thing to have happened, at such an opportune time; my dad’s decided it’s the Russians, my mother seems to agree, I don’t know what to think. We’re a bunch of UK-born Poles whose families left Poland, one to escape the Nazis and the other to escape the Communists, so I suspect conspiracy theories are part of those legacies. Still – it’s so very strange and sad.

I’ve been reading The Cardinal’s Blades and I’m enjoying it a great deal. It’s easily written, the plot’s interesting, the characters are a little difficult to distinguish but it doesn’t really matter – it has swash and buckle and people spinning through the air to decapitate their opponents with shiny swords. I can’t complain. I wish the writing didn’t feel that little bit distant – it’s a bit like someone’s writing a report on the events – which might be because it’s been translated from French, but it doesn’t detract from the fun of it at all. It’s the Three Musketeers with dragonnets, lizard-eyed young men and women pelting about in red corsets. There is a lot to enjoy in this book, especially if you’re a fan of fight scenes and people being all cloak and dagger (literally), and the chapters are nice and short too. The dragonnets seem to have a limited purpose but the historical detail about the building of Paris and the descripti0ns of various buildings are nothing short of fascinating, so I’m a bit bewildered as to the point of making it a fantasy instead of a historical piece.  That said, if I gave books stars, this would be four out of five. Because I don’t give stars, I would say this is brilliant holiday reading, especially if you liked the Three/Four Musketeers films with Michael York, Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s getting better as I go…

I tried reading Steph Swainston’s The Year of Our War before Cardinal’s Blades. It was interesting with some fantastic ideas – it just got me completely confused far too much and I had to give up on it when I realised, 130 pages in, that I couldn’t keep the plot straight at all. When I’m back on the ADHD medication I’ll give it another go, but it just felt too much like the issues I had with The Court of the Air – Court took me a full five days to work through and I have lots of books I want to read, so I’ll come back to this one when I haven’t got Spellwright and Retribution Falls eyeing me balefully from my bookcase.

In other news, giant penguins.

Distracted by good things, for once

The post I promised about The Court of the Air hasn’t materialised because of three-and-a-half very good reasons.

1) I read The Painted Man and it was a tremendous read, drawing me in to the extent that I forgot about a lot of the outside world.  It’s a solid four-star book, if not five-star at times; there were plenty of issues with it but in the end I didn’t care, I loved the characters too much.  The cities sounded like they came out of online city-building games and the dialogue often felt a bit like it was lined with lead – not to mention the Exposition Free-For-All that was the rushed ending – but I cared not a whit because all the characters were marvellous and I loved them all, partially because all of them were resilient and partially because they never really stopped to pity themselves (though I’m sure most people I know would have).  Even Leesha.  It was a great change from all those books out there in which every other paragraph the MC has an emo moment.

One aspect I liked in particular was that TPM had moments of thrillingly awful horror from both demons and humans; I’ve never winced at authors doing damage to their characters or their characters’ loved ones quite like I did in TPM.  It was very finely done, as going a bit too far one way would have pushed scenes into being pure gross-out material and too far in the other direction would have been more melodrama territory.  As an added bonus the actual plot regarding the demons and the wards has a lot of potential and I can’t wait to see where Brett is taking it.

I am thrilled that there’s a sequel (The Desert Spear) and that the author’s doing a signing at Forbidden Planet on the 16th April – I am SO going to be there to get a copy!

2) My friend Elizabeth recommended me a teen vampire book – Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead.  Bearing in mind I’m not a great enthusiast of vampire fiction I actually enjoyed it a great deal.  It’s not Stoker, but it was readable and fun and at no point was I cursing at all the characters for being moronic idiots (oh hey Meyer!).  I was effectively stuck to it for the five hours it took to read and enjoyed it – there’s something compulsive about Mead’s writing style and Rose, the MC, is an interesting unreliable narrator.  It was a decent Twilight antidote; more akin to Harry Potter (if you stand back and squint a bit and allow that VA has less worldbuilding) than Meyer’s crapfest, somewhere in the same field as LJ Smith, though I think Mead is the stronger writer.  Definitely something to recommend to those tweenagers finding it hard to read beyond Twilight.

3) I’m currently reading The City & The City by China Mieville.  Everyone’s been raving about this book for months and for the first hundred pages I was only so-so about it, but it’s clicked with me without me noticing.  At first it was a bit mystifying in places – Breach? – but now I can’t read it fast enough.  I’m only about halfway through so I can’t really comment on it, but it’s recently been nominated for the Arthur C Clarke award and is shortlisted for the Hugos, and there are other awards I know I’ve mentally mislaid.  Mieville is one of those authors I’ve yet to find disappointing.

3.5) DOCTOR WHO.  Good grief, it was everything I’d hoped for and more.  Matt Smith was wonderful in showing the transition between Tennant’s Doc and his; Moffatt is a god.  I can’t wait for the rest!

So if you want that Court of the Air post from me, my Amazon review is here.

Coming up soon: Clockwork Phoenix vol.1, Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts when I can get hold of it, The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss and probably a Georgette Heyer if I feel up to it.  Note: the above is not in any order, let alone reading order.  It’s just how they’re arranged by my laptop.  I have a shocking lack of organization in my life.

And because this is the sort of thing I do when I’m hungry and need cheering up after a really hard day, here’s someone tickling a slow loris called Sonya.