Vindication

So you may (or may not) have noticed that everything has been a little bit quiet over here on Average Josephine. This has been for a number of reasons but not least because some lovely, lovely people told me that my blog meant that I was living in cloud cuckoo land.

Nice.

However, I found something today that made me think “hey, that’s pretty cool”. I’d been pointed towards a really horrendous article in the Guardian which I am going to blog about separately but I saw that their fifth most read article in the previous 24 hours was about how to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Having already written on this topic myself, I went to have a look and one of the recipes that was discussed was Claire Clark’s utterly brilliant recipe that I had featured.

The thing that completely blew me away was that there was a link in the discussion about her recipe. A link to this blog. A link to an average Josephine on the Guardian website. A link to my tiny little blog on the website of a national broadsheet.

Oh. My. God.

So an average Josephine is back. And she’s going to be better than ever ūüėČ

Average Josephine x

Romeo and Juliet review 22 March 2012

Last night was the second of the Royal Ballet’s live broadcasts to 500 cinemas across the world, a performance of Kenneth¬†MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. The lead roles were being performed by Federico Bonelli¬†and Lauren Cuthbertson¬†and it was their first time performing this ballet together which seems to be largely due to Sergei Polunin’s shock departure at the end of January. That said, there have been 6 performances of Romeo and Juliet in the intervening period so to expect them to have had a trial run wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination. The fact that it makes a much better story if it’s the first time they’ve danced the ballet together could be classed as cynical but what can I say? When it comes to the Royal Ballet, I am very cynical.

This was only the fourth time I have ever seen the Royal Ballet and, to be honest, I went in not expecting to enjoy it in the least. The three previous performances (all seen live at great expense) have ranged from phenomenal to absolutely god-awful. The phenomenal was a triple bill starring Miyako¬†Yoshida¬†in the Firebird, Sylvie Guillem¬†in the first revival of Marguerite and Armande¬†since it was created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and Darcy Bussell¬†in a wonderful ballet called The Concert which allowed Bussell’s¬†comic timing to shine through. The god-awful was the Sleeping Beauty in 2004. The production was bad, a cherub needed shooting and the dancing was horrendous. For the country’s (allegedly) premier ballet company, it was embarrassing. In addition to that, having tried to watch Alice in Wonderland when it was screened shortly after its creation and having been unable to watch more than 20 minutes as the psychedelic sets made me motion sick in my sitting room, it all added up to a performance for which my hopes were not particularly high…

Luckily, by and large, my expectations were exceeded although given that I was expecting to hate every minute of it, that wasn’t difficult. The performance itself was good overall with Bonelli¬†in particular giving a phenomenal performance as Romeo. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best I’ve ever seen but I’d certainly rate it in my top five. Cuthbertson¬†was, however, in my opinion, pretty average in the first act and whether this was due to nerves or just having difficulties getting into her character, I don’t know. I will say though that having found her rather bland in the first act, I was rather concerned about the third act given the dramatic requirements of the bedroom pas de deux and the crypt scene but my concerns were baseless.

She was amazing.

You really felt her pain and desperation and it was a truly stunning performance. I just wish she had channelled some of that into the first half of the production.

As for the remaining cast, special mentions must go to Alexander Campbell as Mercutio and Bennet Gartside¬†who played Tybalt. Campbell is the only dancer whose style I am familiar with having previously danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Mercutio is a role which suits him down to the ground. Cheeky, fleet of foot and jumping all over the place, the choreography was made for him. The close ups¬†also worked to Campbell’s advantage as one of the things which makes him a consummate actor is his face. He expresses emotion incredibly well and one of the joys of his recent trip back to Birmingham to star in Hobson’s Choice was watching him sitting still. Not because there was anything lacking in the dancing but because watching the discomfort and nerves of the character being played out on his face and in the tiny nervous twitches of his hands showed the class of the actor within the dancer. The only downside of the close-ups was the fact that you can lip-read certain words rather easily and when Mercutio was stabbed, I’m fairly sure he said something which definitely wasn’t in the original Shakespearean text…

Alexander Campbell and Gary Avis in Romeo and Juliet

My only wish is that I could afford to see him dance more often although Opera House ticket prices mean that I would need to re-mortgage my flat to make that a possibility. I also hope the Royal Ballet realise quite how good he is as, having seen him dance Romeo once, it would be criminal not to let him dance it again. As for Gartside, he had just about the right amount of menace and the interplay between him and Campbell was excellent.

In the introduction to the performance, Lady Deborah MacMillan described the pas de deux as being the jewels of the ballet and the surrounding work as being the filigree and the support for those jewels. In my opinion, whilst these four dancers were definitely the jewels, the supporting structure was a little tarnished. There were numerous timing issues that I noticed, the Mandolin dance was completely out of synch and the lead Mandolin dancer was very lucky to land one of his pirouettes anywhere other than his backside, it was that off-centre. Given that this ballet has been performed since January 10th, you would have thought that these issues might have been ironed out. The appearance was more of a second or third performance where rehearsal time has been very limited. I understand that due to the nature of the Royal Ballet’s performance schedule they cannot get into the rhythm of performances as many companies can but given that this was being broadcast to the world, I would have thought they might have spent some time polishing some of the rough edges.

I was overall impressed with the performance;¬†the key players were brilliant but when you look at the detail you start to see the weaknesses. There is always such a focus on the principals and I think the highly hierarchical of the company means that the lower ranks start to suffer, something which has been confirmed by this performed. Hopefully this is something which Kevin O’Hare can rectify when he takes over at the end of this season.

Average Josephine x

Minimum wage

Every so often a company will hit the news because they have been using labour in India, China, Indonesia, the Philipines etc. and paying them a miniscule amount to create what we consider to be luxury goods. Nike, Gap, Zara and the Kardashians clothing line have all been accused of using what is considered to be slave or child labour to produce their clothing.

What I’m about to say does not excuse these practices but there exists in fashion a class of workers who aren’t paid at all. They’re here in the UK, they are paid nothing for working what are often long hours and the best many of them can expect at the end of it is a line on their CV and a reference.

They’re called interns.

please pay here interns

Interns are essentially unpaid labour; people who want to break into fashion or PR but don’t yet have the experience required to get a job (the age-old problem of you need experience to get a job but you can’t get experience without¬†a job). There are some lovely people who do now pay their interns (well done Stella McCartney) and Red magazine’s annual win an internship competition offers ¬£1000 to cover any travel and accommodation (not everyone lives in London) but the vast majority of intern positions are unpaid. This can be evidenced by the number of tweets that go out looking for interns stating that travel expenses will be paid.

Designers have argued that, despite HMRC’s plans to crack down on companies that use unpaid interns, this is the way the industry works. They did their time as interns and thus this generation should have to do the same as well. What they don’t appreciate is that this is illegal. There is a minimum wage in place to stop people being exploited like this and the fact that a multi-million pound industry is willing to sacrifice the rights of employees for a bigger profit margin shows that the beautiful fashion industry is really pretty ugly.

In addition the argument that if the fashion industry were to start paying their interns then the industry would collapse and companies would require major restructuring does call into question the business plan these companies have been built on. How can you call a business plan that requires people to work unpaid feasible? If that’s the only way a company can be profitable then it isn’t sustainable. It’s just plain bollocks.

So come on fashion and PR people, start paying your interns. It’s exploitation, plain and simple and last thing I heard, slave labour was abolished in this country a long time ago…

Do you think the practice of not paying interns should be allowed? Or is it just a case of paying your dues before you get to join a desirable profession?

As always, all comments are welcome and greatly appreciated!

Average Josephine x

Dirty laundry

I am not a great fan of airing dirty laundry in public. Says she with the blog where she grumbles at length… OK, slight oxymoron aside, there are some things that I don’t think need to be or, in fact, should be aired in the public domain and one of these things is a break up.

They’re horrible to go through and as much as you might want to spray your partner’s shortcomings all over the internet or whatever there is a greater dignity in silence. I say that as someone who went through a horrible, hideous break up, albeit a long time ago now, and there were a lot of times where I said things I shouldn’t and where I cringe now when I think of it.

So when I read on Marie Claire’s website that Katy Perry was planning on making a tell-all biopic about her break-up with Russell Brand, my heart sank. As much as I hate to say it, it’s likely to get a decent audience because it’s a bit like car crash TV. There’s that morbid bit of you which just has to look. It’s like¬†every time¬†a magazine posts a tweet saying “Celeb shock split!” There’s a bit of you that wants to look.

Katy Perry and Russel Brand

But what is it actually going to achieve? Regardless of whose fault the split was, all it will do is encourage Perry to spend however long it takes to film focused on a relationship which is effectively dead and buried. And again, I’ve been there, I know the temptation is to rehash it and try to understand what went wrong and whose fault it was but sometimes you just have to accept that it didn’t work and move on.

Again, I don’t know either of them and, to be honest, I’m not exactly their biggest fans. I don’t like Perry’s music and I don’t think Brand is funny but I do think that they should be allowed to live their private lives in peace. Unfortunately with Perry now feeding the tabloid frenzy neither will be allowed to forget it and move on in a hurry.

There’s also the issue that making a film about yourself could be considered incredibly narcissistic but I don’t think that will come as a surprise to anyone…

Do you think that celebrities should be allowed a private life away from the media? Or do they invite speculation by choosing a life in the public eye? And do you think that Perry should be making a film about the break-up or is this one step too far?

Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Average Josephine x

Baked delights: brownie mug cake

It’s Sunday which in my world means it’s baking day. Or cake day. Or sod the diet day.¬†You may pick¬†whichever appeals to you best. Or, if all three apply to you then all I will say is you’re a person after my own heart!

But it has to be said that somedays I really can’t be bothered baking and really don’t want to be left with half a cake on Monday when the diet restarts for the 4,637th time (my sugar addiction tends to win over my will power). But cakes don’t normally come in single portions and those that don’t are very rarely gluten free (although it should be noted that G√ľ’s chocolate souffl√©s are gluten free and hit the mark rather well) so when I started hearing about mug cakes that could be baked in the microwaves, I started to get rather excited.

chocolate brownie mug cake

The first recipe I tried was the basic one and consisted of 4 tbsps flour, 2 tbsps cocoa, 2 tbsps sugar, 1 egg, 3 tbsps milk, 3 tbsps oil or melted butter plus an optional tbsp of chocolate chips. All these were mixed together into a batter in a large mug and then nuked in the microwave for 3 minutes on high.

It promised much but let’s just say it didn’t live up to expectations. When I say that, I mean it was edible but you’d be better off not bothering. I’m serious. Don’t bother.

So when I saw a recipe for brownie mug cake, I was a bit sceptical…

My scepticism was totally unwarranted¬† on this occasion because this stuff is like crack. It’s crack in squidgy chocolate cake form… Totally lethal when you nearly always have the ingredients in the house.

The recipe alleges that it serves 2 but I maintain that’s total rubbish. It feeds me and me alone. What can I say? I am a pig. Oink.

The recipe is ever so slightly more complicated than the previous one but the improvement is immeasurable and as the whole process still takes less than 10 minutes so it’s hardly an ordeal.

The ingredients are:

  • 2oz¬† dark chocolate chopped/broken into pieces
  • 2oz butter
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 egg

Place the chocolate and butter in a large mug and melt in the microwave. This will depend on how big your pieces of chocolate are so I’m not going to try and give you timings. What I will say is to keep an eye on it because chocolate burns and burnt chocolate is really not very nice.

Once everything is melted, mix in the sugar, flour and the egg until you get a nice smooth batter.¬† After then, put the mug in the microwave for a minute and a half. The cake will have risen up quite a bit and when you tilt it, it should come away from the side in a solid mass but should still look quite sticky. It’s really easy to over cook it and if you do it’s fine but not as good as when it’s all squidgy.

If desired you can tip it out onto a plate but I just dig in with a fork. It would probably be good with cream or vanilla ice cream but why dilute the chocolateyness?!

Enjoy and let me know how you get on.

Average Josephine x

oink

No means no

I have just read something so horrifying that I almost couldn’t believe it. I thought that in modern society (I apologise for sounding like my mother) it was a commonly accepted fact that “no means no”, regardless of when it was said and the relationship that two people may be having. It doesn’t matter whether she’s your girlfriend, your wife, your best mate or your total stranger, no means no. Right?

So when I read comments like “girlfriends should give it up when asked. If not, I’m fine with taking it”, “rape is repugnant. the act of forcefully finishing sex with a recalcitrant wife/partner is *not rape*”, “women consent when they marry. If you marry, you agree to sex”, “it’s morrally impossible for a man to rape his wife as consent is assumed”… I was so appalled I thought I was going to be sick.

The person in question (on Twitter getting a truckload of well deserved abuse) believes that the current definition of rape in legal terms has been stretched too far, thus wives and girlfriends can’t claim rape as by getting into the relationship they had already consented to sex. He believes if someone isn’t screaming or shouting or in pain it isn’t rape. Now let me say it again: no means no. If you’re in a relationship with someone then surely you should love or at least like them enough to respect their views about what happens to their body.

Now maybe I’m being a bit naive thinking that everyone thinks like this. So if the men we love aren’t going to stand up for us then we have to stand up for ourselves. And I know that we shouldn’t have to. I can’t say I know reporting a rape is the hardest thing in the world because I don’t know. I haven’t had to make that decision. But I do know that some hideously small proportion of rapes are reported and something horrific like only 6% of these resulting in prosecution. And I know that date rape is difficult to prosecute because of the “he said, she said” issue which means that prosecuting a man for raping his wife or girlfriend will be even harder.¬†But rape is rape. And unfortunately in order for the world to see rape within a relationship for the heinous crime it is, it needs to be reported and prosecuted.

And boys, for the love of God, remember, no means no. Consent cannot be assumed. Rape is rape. Never forget that.

Average Josephine x

A sick sense of humour

There is a phenomenon on Twitter at the moment which I really don’t understand. It has affected all sorts of people and whilst some of them I understand to a degree, it is generally a pretty sick concept.

Why on earth would anyone post that someone has died when it is blatantly untrue?

The issue has become so acute that when Whitney Houston died there were a lot of tweets asking whether this was true or another hoax. I actually checked to confirm on the ¬†BBC news as they do tend to only report confirmed news rather than random gossip. Once I’d done that I did answer a couple of tweets pointing them to the relevant webpage but I don’t understand how people can retweet such awful news or comment on it when they haven’t at least checked with a reputable news outlet to see whether it is true.

Today has brought the “death” of one of my all time favourite actors, Rowan Atkinson. I am an enormous Blackadder¬†fan (if you ever hear me say something slightly weird it’s likely to be a Blackadder quote) and his turn in “Love Actually” is a piece of comic genius so when I saw that “RIP Rowan Atkinson” was trending, I was horrified. But of course, it wasn’t true, it was yet another hoax.

This cruel trend has seen the “deaths” of, among others, Demi¬†Moore, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Tiger Woods, Keanu Reeves and even Barack Obama (surely the easiest one to disprove. And I really don’t understand why people do it. Even as a joke, it is incredibly hurtful. When you see the outpouring of grief when Whitney Houston died, you understand that whilst people have mostly never met celebrities, they do get incredibly attached to them. So to claim that someone has died is likely to cause a lot of hurt and upset.

Whilst the hoaxes are normally fairly swiftly disproved and treated with the disdain and derision that they deserve, my favourite has come from Jon Bon Jovi who on the news of his untimely death tweeted a picture of himself holding a sign with that day’s date and time with the caption “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey”.

What do you think of these Twitter hoaxes? Do you think that those who start them should be removed from Twitter?

Average Josephine x