new memories and old flashbacks

Last week I was reminded about the emotional pull that a picture can have. 

On a trip to London’s National Gallery, my dashing date and tour guide reacquainted me with Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ. As we entered the room with the painting front and centre, a wave of … well, I don’t know what it was, nostalgia I guess … whomped me. 

I hadn’t thought about this particular painting in 15 years but it abruptly deposited me back to a stuffy prefab building, tucked in behind the school gym, with the stifling smell of hot concrete and cut grass wafting in the open windows. The room darkened so that the photocopied transparencies could be shown on the overhead projector as we dutifully copied down names and dates and foreign words like sfumato and chiaroscuro. Emma and I racing to see who could write faster and produce the longer essays in the set time. Miss Sharp, speaking in hushed tones about the Byzantine influence and the importance of the patron. The feeling of being 17 and in my final year of high school, doing a specialist subject like Renaissance art history, and being both old and young at the same time. 

While a picture can paint a thousand words, it can also transport you back into another time and another version of yourself. 

Which leads me on, ever so tangentially, to Sri Lanka. I went there in March, on a trip with two friends. I loved everything about it. It was hot, chaotic, loud, calm, sweaty, spicy, fresh, magnetic, wild, frantic, sweet, cramped, exotic, surprising, satisfying, vibrant, rich, dense. A thousand descriptive words layered onto 17 days of travel.

Here are a few of my photos. They don’t properly convey what it was like to be there, but each one takes me back to that place and that time and that feeling. For now I’ll carefully file away these memories and they’ll simplify to anecdotes and stories for the pub, but hopefully these photos will have the same power of the Baptism of Christ to transport a future me back.


how to talk to people

Corporate writing has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.

When you think of innocent smoothies or Pret, and you think happy, friendly, quirky. All of their writing upholds their brand values, and they take every opportunity to help you to like them, whether it be a label or a napkin.

Even more traditional businesses like banks are getting in on the feel-good action. Rather than being consumers or customers or target markets, we're being treated like people. People who have good days and bad days, people who get flat tires, forget their umbrellas, or just get hangry.

So this is all great, until you have an interaction with a big organisation who seem to be stuck back a few decades. Suddenly being treated like a reference number can be a bit of a jolt.

Recently I needed to contact SouthWest Trains customer service department. I won't bore you with the details of the thing, as I have a tendency to rant about their archaic paper system and general obstinate policies surrounding replacement rail cards. 

I emailed customer service and had to wait for a month before receiving a reply. Their response was incredible; not only is the text overly formal and, for the most part, copied and pasted from a customer service manual, but the basic subtext is 'not our problem, sucker'. You don't need to read it, as it drones on and on. 

However compare it to the email on the right. 

Earlier this year, my bank card expired and my new one didn't arrive in time. I was overseas and all my direct debits were declining, including my Spotify account. I contacted their customer service team, and received a response the very same day.

A transcript of this email is pasted below.


Banks eh?  Silly sausages don't know what they're doing sometimes do they?

Anyway, I've just added a free 1 month extension to your subscription.  This should give the card plenty of time to arrive. :-)

Whilst in New Zealand, watch out for Hobbits.  Especially that Samwise Gamgee, he's a shady looking character.

Have a great time and let me know if you need anything further.

Best Wishes,
Adam Curran
Spotify Customer Service

Not only did Spotify treat me like an actual person (imagine!) but they solved the problem straight away, and though I liked their product before, I am now their number one brand ambassador. 

SouthWest Trains - not only did you not even attempt to help me, you gleefully charge me £3,360 a year for a rubbish service.

Beware as I am now your number one enemy. I bad mouth you to everyone*.



*By everyone, that's my mum and this blog, but other people have similar sentiments 

up, up and away

Göreme at 6am is still.

There's a slight chill, but no wind. The light filters through the sky, inky black softening around us as we stand on the roof of our hotel.

At first you can just make out a few of the little clusters, black rounded shadows, dotted around the the outskirts of the town. But then as your eyes adjust to the light, you see more groups surrounding the town and out into the distance. Now and then, you see a burst of colour, a glow in the darkness as one of them is filled with burning gas.

And then they start to rise.
One by one, they silently climb, until the skies are filled with hot air balloons, silhouetted against the dawn.


A few days later, and we're in the basket of the balloon. Our ride starts a bit later, as the pilots were concerned about the foggy weather that postponed the balloons the day before. But we're okay today, the skies are clear, and there are balloons in the sky all around us. We take off smoothly, with the rush of the fire above our heads creating butterflies in our bellies. The earth falls away, as we rise and rise.

150 balloons carry nearly 3,000 people every day in Cappadocia. It was one of the most magical things I've ever done. We went to 828 metres and the trip took just over an hour.

The balloon company we went with was Voyager Balloons. They were epic; from swing dancing with my sister and throwing her into the deflated balloon bag on her birthday, group macarena lessons in the transfer van, to a pilot who really experienced, but also took us up and down valleys, alarmingly close to rocks, and gave the whole thing an adrenaline injection.

hello beautiful (but only if you're thin)

So yesterday I popped into Selfridges and saw their #beautyproject campaign. I'd seen it before a week or so earlier, but this time I paid a bit more attention.

And it annoyed me. These people are all ravishing. Yeah sure, they are a bit alternative, they have quirky haircuts or tattoos, or don't fit into the 16-25 age range of most models. However not one of them looks remotely curvy. 

I realise that they must have had to steer well clear of Dove's real beauty campaign, which is a lot more about body image and acceptance (though even Dove may have started scraping the barrel with that campaign), but in a conversation about "the definition of beauty", I feel like they could have been a bit more rebellious by including at least one person who wasn't a size 8. 

I'm not trying to wage a war against Selfridges (who I think are rad), or the fashion industry, or even the way that women and beauty are portrayed in the media, as I think there are a lot of voices who do that more eloquently than me.

I just think it's a bit shitty, as I know that there must have been a conversation at some point when they were curating these examples of beauty where someone would have raised the question about having someone a bit more voluptuous, and [warning, wild speculation ahead] I imagine the idea was panned for not being 'fashion enough'.

I know that there are lots of examples, like Debenhams and H&M, who are moving things forward in the body love movement. It's a good direction to be heading in.

death by stock images

The modern day designer phenomena. You can almost hear the despair.

There are few things more mind numbing and soul destroying than trawling stock image sites looking for something, anything that might work. What most of these sites need is a 'no crap' filter. Or just a ban on anything with arrows, silhouetted men in suits pointing, ladders, three-dimensional bar charts, handshakes. You get the picture.

As an in-house designer, I often don't have the luxury of time or budget to create art from scratch. Stock image sites then become a necessity for when you've got to get things done and out. Although typically the poor cousin of the stock sites,  Shutterstock has come on leaps and bounds in their filtering. And Offset is a wonderland of human, authentic photography. You can see why the images have that slightly heftier price tag.

The upside of the trawl is that you do occasionally come across some inexplicable beauties.

Here are some of my recent favourites...

Blue-eyed dog

Blue-eyed dog

Nose picker

Nose picker

Coin, having a swing

Coin, having a swing

Giraffe celebrating with champagne.

Giraffe celebrating with champagne.

Buzzfeed got there, with the best collection ever

Especially with this trophy slice of bread