London’s Best Burgers: Honest Burgers

BrewDog Burger

For my birthday, I wanted one thing and one thing only: a giant meaty burger that I could Instagram the shit out of. Cue one daytime trip to Camden, for my first burger from Honest Burgers. Because nothing says “birthday” like a fine meaty treat dripping down your chin.

Honest Burgers has a few outlets – we went to the one in Camden Lock Market for lunch. I’d heard it can get very busy, so we went at midday on a Thursday and were seated just fine. Walking past at around 1pm it was absolutely rammed in there, so if you’re keen to eat quickly I recommend going off-peak.

Both the boyfriend and I went for the BrewBurger, a collaboration between Honest Burgers and BrewDog brewery. Because IT’S A BURGER IN A BEER SAUCE, and therefore a highly efficient meat-booze ingestion system.

The burger was a big hefty slab of beef, with chips included in the price. The meat itself was excellent – juicy, coarse ground, really fine quality beef. The amazing skin-on chips are cooked in rosemary, and might possibly be the best chips in London. It’s also important to note that these are proper British CHIPS – plump and chunky, no skinny fries nonsense here. Onion rings were enormous, the crispy batter providing some fine crunchiness to contrast the juiciness of the burger and squidginess of the chips.

The only thing that I would have changed about the meal would have been to go for a straight up cheeseburger, rather than the BrewBurger – although tasty, the ale sauce is pretty overpowering, and I had to scrape some off to get a proper taste of the meat. Life lessons number 745: When in doubt, choose the cheeseburger.

Beer
Birthday beer? Go on, then…

Our burgers were £11.50 each, which would be pricey IF that didn’t include generous helping of the amazing chips. Also, the BrewBurger was the most expensive thing on the menu. Overall, I heartily recommend Honest Burgers, but next time I would stick to the plain old cheese – the meat and the chips are sweet enough of their own without drowning them in beer. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t drown my own self in beer afterwards, of course.

Geek Film Club: Her

Her Poster

On Saturday, I did one of my favourite things: I took myself to the cinema to watch a sci-fi film in the daytime, alone with a glass of wine.

I went to see “Her” by Spike Jonze at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, a venue which deserves a post of its own at some point!

The film tells the story of Theodore Twombly, a professional writer of letters for other people. In a colour-saturated near future, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix)  falls in love with an intelligent operating system known as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Reminiscent of the excellent book “Alone Together” by Sherry Turkle, the film “Her” examines the relationship between humans and human-seeming machines. And just as in real life, different characters have different views on a man loving an intelligent machine – there is disgust from his ex-wife, active encouragement from his best friend, and absolutely unfazed acceptance from a work colleague. Generally, “Her” feels non-judgmental of the idea of humans loving their own electronic creations, although the ending does make a final statement of who and how humans should love.

I found “Her”‘s vision of the future absolutely fascinating. Visually, the film was stunning: absolutely stuffed with colour.

Her1

All the interiors were in bright colours, characters wear vibrant hues and no-one’s dressed in black, and all the interiors glow with masses of natural light.

Her3

The future also seems kind – when Theodore trips in the street, strangers rush to help him. The lead character writes love letters of great tenderness for others, and characters compliment each other on how much they value each others’ creativity. There is a constant surface warmth and gentleness to everything in the film. However, this cuddliness and brightness seems to mask a fear in the characters of depth, of difficulty, of endurance.

Her2

At one point, Theodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) says:
“You know what, I can over think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself… I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself and, I’ve just come to realize that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy.”

“Her” presents an interesting view of the future, which seems highly plausible – a warm fuzzy utopia, not the antiseptic blankness of, say “Gattaca“. And yet, within it, there is unmet longing for genuine connection, combined with a fearfulness of commitment to another human. Overall, I came away from “Her” with a desire for sunlight and colour and kindness, and genuinely wondering what I would do if a computer offered me a friendship like the one onscreen.

Geek Film Club: Bronies

This weekend, I was browsing the Netflix documentary section on a Sunday afternoon. I really enjoy their documentary selection – there’s some amazing classic documentaries in there, as well as some more oddball films. Sunday’s offbeat choice was Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.

My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic

If you haven’t heard the term “brony” before, it’s a self-adopted title for adult male fans of the series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (loosely based on but updated from the original Eightes cartoons and toys). The word brony is a mash-up of “bro” and “pony”. I’d heard about Bronies before, originally via Wired magazine back in 2011, but back then it seemed like a niche hipster thing, a meme that would quickly die out.

The documentary was about how the scene had in fact become massive, with guys from all over the world collecting the toys, attending My Little Pony conferences, and creating art and music based on the show. The documentary also covered how these guys create pony avatars of themselves, and chat on forums under names like LaserPon3. Although the film featured one girl, the film mostly focused on the guys, who are the more unexpected fans of a TV cartoon intended for young girls.

The film had its flaws – in particular, some very irritating link cartoons with Gilbert & Sullivan-style sung narration. But there was something about it that really captured my attention.

I didn’t find the subject matter particularly strange or startling. After all, I’m a geek myself, and I’m used to adults dressing up as characters for conventions, watching cartoons, and being passionate about unusual subjects. I even do know some adult men who like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, even if they wouldn’t identify as Bronies.

What I did find fascinating was how the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic cartoons acted for as a gateway, an enabler, to social interaction and creativity. The male subjects of the documentary – one of whom was diagnosed with Asperger’s, others of whom talked about feeling isolated from macho communities in which they lived – talked so joyfully about how being a Brony made them part of a community. The cartoon is all about friendship, innocence, kindness. The whole package of the show and the Brony  “scene”- community, creativity, leading a considerate life – seemed to be something these guys so desperately needed.

One of the main voice actors, Tara Strong, commented in the film:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if My Little Pony has a hand in changing how people see things”.
But I think what the film showed wasn’t guys being changed by the message of the show. Instead, the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic show was a locus, a focal point, for feelings that they couldn’t express and activities they couldn’t engage in during everyday life.

The show’s creator Lauren Faust says during the film:
“These Bronies are taking these lessons to heart. We need to allow men to be sensitive and to care about one another, and not call them weak for caring.”
Substitute the word “people” for “men”, and I couldn’t agree more.

)

Feathers and glitter and flowers and joy

Dear adult clothes: Why do you have to be so hard AND so boring?

As a child, I was typical in my love of costume and dressing up – fancy dress was my staple wardrobe when not in school uniform. Weekends were spent as Red Riding Hood, a medieval knight, a fairy, a robot. As a terrifyingly geeky teenager, I longed for the clothes I read about in fantasy novels, sci-fi films and roleplaying game manuals. I wanted mithril shirts, Boots Of Striding, Mina Harker’s tiny hats. The clothes available to me in Next and Topshop in suburban Berkshire fell pretty far of my dreams. But luckily for me, I escaped into drama clubs, and discovered the joys of the school costume cupboard. I dressed as a pirate king, a Columbo-style detective, a Twenties debutante, a futuristic Shakespearean lord – and every bit of it was amazing. And as a teenager in the Nineties, wearing fancy dress to the pub on a Friday night was standard behaviour, and it was a rare weekend where I wasn’t gluing fake flowers to my face or wearing cat ears to go drinking as Hello Kitty.

At university studying Drama, I specialised in costume design (alongside feminist film theory, obvs) and had access to the departmental wardrobe store – more amazing costumes to borrow! I also got into the trance scene at uni with its opportunities for wearing fluffy boots, wings, animal ears, silver capes. Then graudation at 21, and a move to London, and the world of work and…

No more costumes.

Or rather, costumes every day – but always such boring ones! I struggled with this all through my twenties. I couldn’t dress for pure pleasure in the world of work – no pink hair, or wings, or glitter red shoes – but equally I couldn’t just rock up in actual comfortable clothes. My worst years were spent having to wear a suit to work reception in a recruitment agency. I was constantly being told off for hems coming down on my suit skirts, or having poorly ironed collars. But how could I care about clothes that were part of a costume for a role I didn’t want to play – bland, corporate, forgettable? Why is it that we feel pressured to wear costumes – “Today I am a corporate office worker in my suit”, “Today I am a sensible suburban person running errands in shops in blue jeans and jumper”, “Today I am an old school friend who will get hideously drunk at this wedding in a shiny frock and uncomfortable heels”.

Caitlin Moran has written a whole chapter in the wonderful “How To Be A Woman” on the pressure to convey our personalities every day through our clothes, and how those clothes never seem to be helping us. As she says:

“[W]hat we’re trying to do is work out if everyone that day will ‘understand’ what we’re wearing; if we’re ‘saying’ the right thing. For fashion is merely suggested dialogue – like those Best Man’s speeches you can download off the internet. Women are supposed to come up with their own, personalised version of this. We’re supposed to speak from the heart in what we wear [...] At its best – and I love a nice frock – fashion is a game. But for women, it’s a compulsory game, like netball. And you can’t get out of it by faking a period.”

So how to break free of the monotony of dressing in clothes that never make you feel like, well, you? Well, maybe the trick is to remember that it’s just a costume, but that I can pick the role I want to play. Now at the age of 33-nearly-34 I feel like perhaps it’s time to start pushing back. I’m lucky enough in the world of programming to have a lot of leeway with what I can wear to work, and can be bold in my choices – if I dare.

So perhaps now is the time to wear glitter and feathers and cat ears and fake flowers and fairy wings. Because if it’s all just pretending, let’s have some FUN in the pretending and get properly dressed up. Want to borrow my tiara?