Sunny Skies, Autumn Leaves, Wintry Cold Days

It’s a confusing day to be in England today. Don’t be deceived by the bright, sunny looking skies, the minute you step outside your fingers will drop off and your mouth will stop working from all the cold. The leaves are all oranges, yellow and fiery red, but they’re still falling off, and there’s an abundance of woolly scarves and mittens being layered on.

But enjoy the pretty coloured leaves anyway : )

Gotta love the orange ombre hues on this tree.
Gotta love the orange ombre hues on this tree.

Cinderella’s Tulips, Ugly Artists and Changeling Imps

“Do you love me because I am beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?” – Cinderella

From the author of the rich world of witches, animal rights and politics in Wicked comes another re-working of a famous fairy tale – ‘Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister’. Though initially the novel sounds like a comic version of a famous fairy tale and something more gossipy like ‘chick-lit’, the story is surprisingly sober; one of the complexities of art, the burdens of beauty, ugliness, and wealth among many things, and the heartbreak of betrayal and disillusion.

Set in the backdrop of Holland during the tulip mania in the 1600s, where Dutch businessmen speculated on tulip bulbs and invested in their profits in buying more tulips, we are introduced to the Fisher family: mother Margarethe and her two daughters, “lumpy ox” Ruth and unfortunate, ugly Iris. Struggling to put food in their mouths, they arrive at the cautious, reserved Dutch town and are given shelter by an artist they call Master, who introduces them, particularly the sharp-eyed Iris, to the world of Art, beauty and seeing colour. It is not long though, before they come into connection with the beautiful, ethereal, and rich Clara, a lonely and sheltered girl. It’s easy to guess the rest of the story, but the story is told with realistic attention to the characters, no one is blameless and each character has their own part to play, though the journey to the ‘happily ever after’ scene is not as straightforward as it appears, and nor is it so ‘happy’.

There are twin themes which are always spiralling through the novel, when there is attention on one facet; it is inevitable that the opposite is highlighted too. There is a continuous emphasis on Clara’s beauty and Iris’ ugliness, mirroring each other throughout the novel. But with each comes the character’s own insecurities and burdens, with Clara feeling trapped by her beauty and how she is viewed by men, and Iris feeling trapped by her ordinariness because of the lack of opportunities it gives. Clara is constantly dogged by her belief that she is a ‘changeling’, an Other being who does not belong to the real world, and this serves to prevent her from really engaging with he outside world and with other people in society – much like effects of her beauty.

And yet, beauty and ugliness manifests itself in various forms – while traditionally the ugly characters are the ‘bad’ ones in fairy tales, it is much more ambiguous in this tale. Beauty is not given its place of pride, constantly undermined by others jealousy, scorn and disapproval – which is no accident seeing as beauty itself has been repealed by the Calvinistic society. Beauty and goodness is turned on its head – as Margarethe declares, “charity is real beauty”, while physical manifestations cannot always be trusted.

Similarly, the weaving of the role of Art and reality throughout the novel show, much like religion and its various interpretations, showing its role in how people are perceived and how the girls are manipulated. Art is revered and yet similarly restricted, it captures and immortalises both beauty and ugliness, but it also traps the subject on the canvas, manipulating them to be viewed and admired by others. It is not accident that alongside this is the depiction of religious figures, and the rejection of Catholic values as Calvinism and austerity is practiced in the town.

As well as these themes, the idea of commodity is also carried through – of art, of beauty, of women, of Clara herself, of status, of value of tulips and even of identity. They are reflected in everything, the painters capture them, the men desire them, and even the women struggle to have their own share – yet with tragic consequences. The story of Cinderella becomes, then, a voice for more than one character, the desperation, sacrifices and greed of the Stepmother, the marginalisation of the two sisters, and the objectification of Clara, on the edge of womanhood and yet unable to step outside her own home because of how she is viewed by various groups. And there is, of course the men who affect their lives, the painters and the rich businessmen, obsessively lusting after tulips while the women struggle to keep their places in the household.

At its heart, it could be said that this is a feminist novel, albeit a discouraging one – the focal characters are all women, and it is they who are continually struggling to make their identity amongst the male-dominated society. And yet, there is also a positive message too, women are objectified, painted, compared and employed, yet they still managed to take control and use this to their advantage. Margarethe makes ‘deals’ to save her daughters, Clara uses her beauty to change her life, and even plain Iris uses her brain and her artistic mind to lift herself out from obscurity. While we all know how this fairy tale goes, the path to the pretty ball gown and pumpkin coach is a difficult one, and by the end of it, we can’t help questioning who it is that ultimately lives happily ever after. I’ll let you read the book and decide that one.

Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an ugly stepsister (Headline Review, St Ives: 2008) pp.398 £7.99

Rainy Times at Winter Wonderland

We visited Winter Wonderland on the weekend to enjoy lot of scary rides, have a look at the Ice Kingdom, and maybe even visit a circus or two. Unfortunately, the good ole English rain put a bit of a stop to that, as we went on one high-flying ride which just made us feel dizzy, cold and damp.
We couldn’t find the Ice Kingdom (which sounded amazing, we really wanted to see the ice sculptures), and the circuses were pretty much a no-no too because they seemed to be closed. But nevertheless, the park was quite busy with a lot of visitors, we managed to have a fun time throwing balls randomly at targets with our precise skills (and hitting the floor), and best of all, finishing the whole thing off with Dodgem Cars like we all had road rage : )

Pics & Tricks: Lighting is everything

For me, the biggest thing which can make or break a picture is the lighting. And it’s such a simple concept too. I’m a big believer of using natural light wherever possible in pictures, and my methods tend to lean more towards not using a flash and seeing what colours and effects come up without adding any extra tricks or to the picture.

Below are a series of pictures I’ve taken in the past, of the same scenes with and without the camera’s flash, with astonishing differences, sometimes making me wonder whether it’s of the same thing!

#1. This is a picture of a window seat inside Leeds Castle, which was in a slightly shadowy room. In reality, the room was a bit dusky, as the only light coming in was from the windows, but on camera it looks beautifully romantic, and almost inviting and ghostly (in the picture on the right). When photographed with the flash (which is the picture on the left), there is a stark difference, it’s much less emotive and doesn’t seem to play tricks on your eyes the way the second one does, but it’s also less 3D as well. As you can imagine, I love the shadows and beauty which you can see with in the natural light of the picture of the flash.

#2. I remember showing this to my sisters, and they refused that these two pictures were of the same thing until I showed them the actual stain glass window I took it off. The difference between the two are remarkable, in the first picture where I used the flash, you can see the age of the window as well as the paint strokes on the glass – doesn’t look appealing at all does it? In contrast, the second picture without the flash looks beautiful, colourful and alive, and doesn’t even look like the same thing at all!

#3. This is another example of what you can miss out on – this was taken in the underground grotto at Leeds Castle, which is actually huger than you can tell in the pictures. There were all sorts of colour lights which illuminated various carvings, statues and engraving, but the biggest ‘piece’ was this scary looking thing, which I think was meant to be a scary sprite or pagan god or something. I forget. Look at the difference in the effect between using the flash (where you can see every details of the stones and the structure), and the natural light (which brings the scary, red-eyed man to life). Certainly entertained the kids too.

#4. This is a picture I took from my sister’s wedding recently, of her beautiful bespoke bridal bouquet, which we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed over for weeks. To be honest, both of these pictures have their own charm, the first one looks more sparkly and vivid, while the second has softer colours which gives a different focus on the bouquet. I still kinda prefer the second one though, just because this kind of thing looks better without harsh lighting, and to be honest, the bouquet kind of made the picture by itself!

There’s nothing wrong with using flash (at night times, you’ll need it!), but I’d definitely recommend that you try out different lighting in various places and see what you come up with, you never know where it’ll lead you (and do let me know what you think of the differences!) 🙂

Playing with Mr Potato-head…as famous people

The famous mixed-up ‘tater for tots’ toy has been re-imagined by digital artist Nacho Tamez of Media Bullys, to celebrate 60 years of the toy, with cute and hilarious results, while still looking like good ole Mr Potato Head.

Bet they wouldn’t have minded a few of these in the Toy Story films, hey?

Images take from

Weekly Gangnam Style Links

I’ve been busy catching up with my pile o’ books (which keeps growing somehow, everytime I take a book away, two more get added to the pile. Okay, that’s my own fault). Here’s some links to keep you busy while my lappie is still out of action.

How cute are these? I think I must try these with our newborn in the family.

Gangnam Style. ‘Nuff said.

Ten wacky inventions which never quite made. Flying tanks, whaa…? Although I’m sure the Phone Answering Robot just needed to be marketed properly, and it would’ve taken off like sliced bread. Could’ve been the perfect answer to those pesky telemarketers, too.

Hee hee hee. There’s always gonna be something to do with cats. I just don’t know where people get these ideas.

Even though I’ll never ever need it, I want this. I’ll put it away lovingly on the top shelf of my imaginary, miniature mahogany display cupboard inside my beautiful, imaginary doll house.

Oh, and please vote for my lovely sister’s blog, at Happy Muslimah, on the 2012 Circle of Moms contest – and visit her blog too!

Happy weekends! I’m going off to google more miniature things now!

Jazzy Places in D’Gaf

I love going to places with funky decor, and D’Gaf certainly is one of those – it has a mish-mash of decor from different eras and inspirations (think Arabic, jazz and modern mixed together with Spanish overtones and echoes of British society today), along with music of all types. And not just that, the cuisine of this place matches this spanning of the globe; be it Far Eastern, Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or just good old fashioned British food that you’re after, there’s something for everyone.

There’s been plenty of events here too, poetry nights, charity gigs, rap sessions and shisha sessions – it’s a popular place for the lastest artistic expressions on the scene. And if not any of these, it’s still good for a place to relax and have a meal : )

It’s snow! Snow I tells ya!

Okay, not really real snow, just a marketing gimmick in Bond Street, central London today to make it feel all Christmassy. And a good thing too, with real snow comes the whole palaver of falling on your bum, slidey ice and a lot of unpleasant skidding #Grinch Grumpface#.

Apart from that, look how pretty all the lights look!

And for those of you non-Londoners wondering whether we all look like that fine, smartly dressed young man dressed in what looks like a old-style bus conductor’s uniform and hat…no. No we don’t dress like that. Sorry to disappoint, he’s probably just on his way to have tea with the Queen. And I’m pretty sure those two happy looking girls next to him are certainly too smiley to be Londoners, so we’ll out them in the Tourist category.

Meantimes, my laptop is off to the repair shop (sadface) due to unnecessary tripping over it by several siblings and nephews, so if blogging is sporadic – apologies, I’ll try to keep up where I can!