An Unusual Request

“Good morning. Is that Sheffield County Council?”
“Yes, how can I be of assistance?”
“Well…this is a slightly strange request. I’m organising a naked calendar as a charity fundraiser, and wondered whether I need permission for the shoots.”
“Oh, right. [Long silence]. Where are you planning to take these photos?”
“All over Sheffield. There’s around 20 students participating, and the idea is that each month promotes a fundraiser that we have coming up next year. We’re hoping to shoot on the University Campus, but also in local parks and out in the Peaks.”
“I see…well you’d need local permission for each site.”
“Ah, well I’m hoping to shoot in the next fortnight so we can sell copies for Christmas. Can we just do it at the crack of dawn so no-one sees us?”
“Up to you, but you could be arrested for indecent exposure in a public space.”
“I see. Is this the first time someone has called asking about this?”
“Yes.”

It was 6am, still dark. We found ourselves huddled in Weston Park. The cover shot required all of us in the frame, but none of us wanted to remove any layers. Our breath hung in the November air, like the unspeakable fear of what we had to do next. We were only slightly better acquainted than strangers, having just started our fundraising year together.

For the record, getting your kit off is an effective ice breaker. Without giving away too many details, June’s tennis shoot had to be redone as the whipped cream wasn’t high enough. I’ve never seen a man walk his dog so many times around the tennis courts.

Another shoot took us far into the Peak District, clad in walking boots, woolly hats and carrying giant Ordinance Survey maps. It was a foggy damp day, and unfortunately one member of the group had (man) flu and his lips turned an alarming shade of blue. As we found a suitable place to pose and set up the camera, a group of dressed hikers ambled past as we hastily wrapped the maps around ourselves.

Another slight oversight was the fact that although the props hid everything from the camera lens, other angles were rather exposed. Our Krispy Kreme shoot on campus – although early in the morning – unwittingly attracted some attention from the office windows above. Luckily, mooning wasn’t enough to get us in trouble!

There was also the awkward exchange with my housemates when I suggested having two of the shoots at our shared house. The Wii competition and clothes swap frames did not have venues lined up, so I waited for a good moment before putting forward the idea. In fact, they were very understanding and allowed us the lounge for a couple of hours, but when the printed copies became available I became painfully aware of which chairs the naked bums had sat on. Sorry, girls.

One very generous pub owner allowed us to shoot in his establishment before the punters arrived. The pub quiz frame was set and he even allowed us to pour a pint to make it more realistic. Pity he then undid all his good work by developing a bizarre wink that saw us scarper out of there sharpish.

In marketing our calendar, I was lucky enough to secure a foreword from the lovely Georgie Glen who appeared in the movie Calendar Girls, along with signed photographs from Dame Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Both of these were later auctioned off as raffle prizes at a local Christmas fayre.

Overall, we fundraised over £1,000 for the charity Dig Deep. Although it was a source of embarrassment for some, I think peeling off the layers of prudishness is a big achievement, especially in the depths of winter up north, and even more so for us Brits. 

Image – the fundraising group with their clothes on (the Internet does not need any reminders).

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reconfiguring

Moving abroad can feel like falling into the Catch-22 mechanism where every incremental step forwards relies on something unattainable.

Take my case, for example. I arrived in Singapore with an IPA (that’s an In Principle Approval letter). That’s enough to get you in to work, with an understanding that you’ll obtain the Employment Pass (EP) soon after from the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Manpower (or MoM as it’s well known). 

To get your EP, you need a health check. After a gruelling 5hrs spent queuing in an Argos style ticket system, I finally had my X-Ray, blood sample for an HIV test and quick consultation with the doctor.   

Next on our list was having working phones with data. Easy enough, we thought. Just pop into a phone shop and buy a SIM card. Wrong. For a SIM, you need your passport and IPA letter, neither of which we had on us. 

Take 2: we went to SingTel again and this time were able to purchase two monthly bundles of data. But, the helpful man at the store could not also sell us credit. So, we had to make a trip to 7-11 to buy top-ups in order to send and receive calls and texts from our local friends which seemed a little ridiculous.

Our next priority was finding somewhere to live. After some online hunting and viewings on my days off, Tom and I put in an offer for an apartment. The agent and landlords wanted to see my EP, which I explained was still pending. Tom was still job hunting, so we avoided the conversation slightly by saying we were happy for the tenancy agreement to be drawn up in my name, along with the utility bills. So far, still manageable.

Paying the 3 months deposit was a little more cumbersome. Lloyds Bank’s website crashed for 48hrs which was convenient. Then, using our UK online banking, we hit a rather big hurdle as for any new payee the bank requires verification by calling your registered number. This was my UK mobile number, so I switched sims and waited for the call. Only it never rang. I’d ended my contract and had no credit to receive an international call. Luckily, Tom was able to sort it using his so it meant a quick transfer between us. The landlord withheld the keys until payment was received a few days later, just in time for us to move out on my day off from our AirBnB. Phew.

So we’ve now moved into our new place, and as my pay day is coming up, I need to open a bank account. I failed the first attempt as the bank said they needed my tenancy agreement, even though the website said otherwise. Some of my colleagues were rejected on the grounds that they didn’t have their EP’s yet. Luckily, DBS allowed me to open an account with my IPA, and I also had to supply my tenancy agreement, passport and my National Insurance number from back home. That was a big relief.

Then comes the exceptionally tricky part.

To get a phone contract, you must have an EP or pay a huge S$500-800 deposit. This isn’t something I can do before being paid. To get wifi in the flat, you need an EP too. So that means no catching up on Sherlock or Skyping those back home.

So where is my EP? MoM have not sent my card out yet, despite me sending everything across weeks ago. Chinese New Year means longer delays, and I suspect there may be a larger influx of expats at the start of the year due to employment cycles. 

It’s been a fun first month despite all the kerfuffle of ‘officially’ setting in. Coming back to Singapore is like coming home – it’s familiar after living here in 2013 and we have lots of friends to visit. We’ve also made new expat acquaintances and enjoyed calling at our old haunts as well as exploring new places and trying new dishes at the hawker centres. 

For now, all we can do is wait. And try not to come across a Sherlock spoiler!

Posted in Life, Singapore, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Chop and change

I sat in the chair, facing a mirror with a stranger holding scissors by my ears. Moments later, before even wetting my hair that I have grown since the age of twelve, I watched as he slowly cut along in rough lines above my shoulders. The floor was thick with my hair, which lay in a sad curled pile. It now resembled roadkill.

This week, I handed in my notice at work. Next month I’ll be leaving a job that I’ve enjoyed for the past three years to move back to Singapore. I’m flying on Boxing Day, and out there I’ll be teaching English – something I’ve never done before. Change is normal for me, but this level of spontaneity is out of character. The hairdresser asked if I was newly single as this was usually the reaction of someone recently dumped – luckily, Tom is joining me out there so it’s not fresh starts all round.

Cutting your hair is not brave, but it is a cathartic act. It is the quickest way to reinvent yourself, other than a gastric band or coating yourself in tattoos and piercings. As my locks fell away I felt lighter and had to restrain myself from shaking my head as he snipped away. It was done and I no longer needed to worry if I was going to go through with it.

I’ll admit it: I was scared about chopping it off. It was the one obvious thing that differentiated me from my twin sister. She rocks a sleek graduated bob reminiscent of the 1920’s Flappers, and her cut reflects her more demure style. Then there was doubt: what if it accentuates the wrong bits? What if he colour goes wrong and I have to manage the biggest event of my career with a hat on? What if Tom, who’s always said he preferred long hair, doesn’t like it? Should that even matter? As I watched the hairdresser methodically work through sections, I half-focused on my eyes. It was still the same face. Changing my hair wouldn’t change me.

The experience of becoming detached is like sipping a tonic on a warm afternoon. It’s the same sensation I have when I’m backpacking and everything I need fits in one bag.

The one thing that surprised me was how sentimental Tom was about my decision to lop it all off. He always complains that he finds my hair everywhere: hanging off his beard, hiding on the tail of his coat and wrapped around his socks. When we hugged, his arms snagged the ends and my head would be snapped backwards. He would roll on to it and pull it by accident, and would be treated to a barrage of tuts and sighs. Yet when I came home, he delicately plucked a long thread from his jumper and ran it slowly through his fingers in mourning.

Welcome to my quarter life crisis, and bring on the next chapter.

 

Posted in Singapore, TEFL, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poser

“I have a surprise for you.”
“Ooh what is it?”
“It’s something we can do together…but I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
“Oh…It’s not a photoshoot is it?”
[Quietly] “Yes.”

Some people are naturals in front of the camera, instinctively knowing how to angle their features to catch the light, or move their limbs into interesting positions that flatter their figure. Sadly I’m not one of them. Most pictures of me include my trademark huge grin and wrinkled up nose, and I tend to only like one side of my face thanks to a slightly lopsided schnozzle.

Leading up to the shoot, I looked online for inspiration, watching more YouTube tutorials than I will admit to. I even resorted to WikiHow. Tips included:

  • The famous ‘smize’, where you tense the lower lids of your eyes for an intense gaze/eyes that are smiling independent of your mouth.
  • Pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth to avoid having multiple chins.
  • Sticking your neck out like a turtle emerging from its shell to create a stronger jaw line. However, square jaws should be tilted to create a softer line.
  • Never ever having your hands flat to the camera as they will look like paddles – they should be shaken loose and then only presented side on for a more feminine look.
  • Arms that are not suspended away from the body will appear larger as they squidge against your torso, and the old ‘hand on hip’ pose has served women well for years.
  • Lean weight on the back leg to make the front leg appear leaner, and create shapes through the hips by adjusting your weight to accentuate the hips or bottom.
  • Model from head to toe. Apparently it’s incredibly difficult to keep control of all your various bits and bobs. A stray foot can really ruin the dynamics of a pose.
  • Pretend you are walking to make it look more natural. Jump if in doubt.
  • Keep moving, changing your facial expressions and body to give the photographer more options. Basically, there’s got to be one decent shot in a hundred.
  • For longer hair, there are rules about how to arrange it on your shoulders so that it doesn’t look messy. It should hang on the side opposite to where your parting lies.
  • Finally, my favourite – tense your ears and give yourself a mini face lift.

As you can probably tell, I was rather overwhelmed by all the advice out there. I consulted the company’s website to see what they recommended. ‘Beauty is self-confidence applied directly to the face’ was their tagline – something I could get on board with. Clicking on the ‘Preparation’ tab, I read down the list and was alarmed to see that they suggested the whole process could take 6 hours in total. Just how long was the makeup and hair going to take?! Another point I ignored was to not drink alcohol within a week so that your skin remains hydrated.

My sister Carla had told me that I needed to bring along four to six outfits.
“Forty six?” I jibed, having understood what she meant the first time.
“No, FOUR. TO. SIX.”
“Four hundred and twenty six?!”
Winding her up is my sisterly privilege.

Although we were both nervous, we decided that we’d just go and enjoy our time together. As Carla so delicately put it, we weren’t getting any younger. After sending screenshots to each other in a state of panic the evening before of potential outfits, we tried to get an early night.

We stood on the road and scanned the numbers. Oh god, it actually was a scam – there was a shoe shop next to a patisserie and no sign of the studio. I know my sister really well, and as soon as she told me about this, I asked her if it was a guy on the street with a shiny brochure who made her pay on the spot. However, I needn’t have been so cynical. We’d got the address wrong, and we were standing on the odd side of the road. We quick marched it back and Carla sighed with relief when we spotted the brass plaque.

I instantly regretted not having a solid idea of what I wanted. The makeup artist glared at me as I took in my reflection, my disdain not hidden by the layers of paint she’d brushed on. Having not seen what she’d been doing to my face, I was in shock. My smokey eyes were black holes with harsh bronze highlights. I told her I looked severe and mean, and although I’d said I wanted something different to normal, this wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. It clashed with the rouge blusher and the dark red lips. Meanwhile, Carla was sitting besides me having a lick of nail varnish, and recounted a story where she wore makeup for the first time and looked as if she’d raided our mother’s makeup. I strained round to give her some twin telepathy but it didn’t work. Besides, this was beyond a toddler mishap – I looked like a drag queen.

Not wanting to ruin the experience, I decided to have a breather and pop to the ladies. Asking for directions, the receptionist misheard me, and although I repeated myself in a faux posh accent, I eventually settled for ‘loo’. So much for acting like a model. I skipped down the corridor and down the stairs, then walked straight into the cubicle where someone had neglected to lock the door. I think I scared her more.

While I had my hair done into vintage victory curls and my nails painted postbox red, I tried to sneak glances at Carla as she had her war paint applied. She opted for a more natural look but with pink lipstick, sporting tousled locks and classy taupe nails. At least we looked different – ever since we were little we’d always tried to be individual and move away from being identical. The piano in the corner played itself a plink of a top C note, and we all looked towards it. One of the stylists was visibly shaken, thinking a resident ghost was making itself known. Our biscuits would later slide across the table away from Carla and towards me, which again was definitely the ghost.

To make me feel better, Carla consoled me by saying that actors often have exaggerated makeup for the stage to show their expressions. I pointed out that this was so people 50ft away could see them, and the photographer would be around 2ft away. We laughed and it looked like my face was cracking. I bit the bullet and overcame my British meekness to ask the makeup artist to change my eyes, again. I apologised in an awkward sing-song voice for being a nightmare client, but as their website says, it’s important to feel confident. Carla slurped her water with a straw as not to upset her lipstick. Experimenting with dramatic looks wasn’t the best shout. Once fixed and more like myself, we were all set.

We met our photographer, a guy called Abi, who asked to see our outfits on hangers to get a sense of the overall shoot. We wanted to take a few together, but were keen to avoid tacky twin poses. I joked that my many wasted hours watching America’s Next Top Model would serve me well, and for our first shoot together we opted for a leather chair and vintage phone. Wanting to create a story for the frame, we perched on its arms and I grabbed the handset and stretched the twisted coil over us so that it looked as though we were sharing the line, listening in to a scandalous caller. The ambitious photographer then asked us to lean against each other back to back, with our legs folded elegantly over the arms of the chair. I moved and dropped Carla, who fell backwards. We both took a while to compose ourselves after that.

To get over my nerves, I decided that I’d have a go at adopting the alter ego of a 1940’s vintage pin-up. It was easy enough to emulate, lots of cheeky smirks, jutted out hips, dainty ankles and strong arms. I even did a sailor salute and tried to wink. We had fun throwing shapes with a white background, on steps, sitting on a leather sofa, by the shiny black piano and outside in a cement car park. We received lots of direction, telling us where to position our hands, where to look, how to angle our bodies, what to do with our faces. There was a particular pose where we were instructed to hug ourselves, which I thought looked a bit ‘catalogue’, or simply ‘tragic’ according to Carla. I enjoyed watching Carla in action as she laughed at having to bring both hands to her cheeks, and her professionalism at holding her stance as a car reversed towards her.

We had time to relax over a coffee before the photos were ready to view. There was real camaraderie with the other women who were lining up for their shoots, and we swapped our novice tips before deciding the best thing was to smile and enjoy it. Carla was so demure, and her flowing dresses with a backdrop of plants looked so elegant. We both giggled at each other as we sped through the pictures, shouting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until we’d whittled down the list to 3 each. We traipsed down King’s Road like delirious clowns with smudged smiles.

Posted in Art, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Put down the paddle

Christie’s Auction House, an establishment where vast amounts of wealth have been exchanged for collectible antiques, art, watches, manuscripts and wine since the mid-eighteenth century. It’s not a place I ever thought I’d visit, given the fact I can’t even afford to shop at Waitrose.

I took a seat in the third row back, sitting on a smooth plastic ping pong paddle which had the number ‘280’. I slipped it under my seat as I had no use for it, and flicked through the catalogue with a glass of complimentary fizz in my other hand.

This wasn’t your usual Christie’s art auction; the It’s Our World charity event was hosted by The Big Draw and Jupiter Artland Foundation. A new friend of mine had contributed some paper lanterns, hand painted with earthy images of flora, fauna and wild beasts. She wore imposing skull earrings, and the crowd was a blend of choker necklaces next to velvet skirts, corduroy trousers and chiffon dancing with leather.

Before the first drop of the hammer, there was time to pretend we could afford the scribbled Hockney as we walked around the exhibition room outside. The space was filled with donated pieces from artists that I should have heard of, and in the corner sat a cartoonist drawing live sketches of women interpreted as gremlins. One particular piece that caught my eye was Sarah Ryder’s enormous crouching rabbit in charcoal, complete with women’s breasts which should have been called, Bunny Without Bra. A helmet made from dead leaves by the artist Andy Goldsworthy attracted lots of attention, and not just because it was located in the canapé zone.

It’s Our World Auction, Chrisites,  King Street, London, UK 04 Mar 2016.

The auction was about to begin, and the room was introduced to the young Zoom Rockman, who at thirteen was the youngest professional contributor. There’s nothing quite like the success of a boy half your age to make you jump for another glass of bubbly.

The bids were underway, but everything felt like a warm-up ahead of David Hockney’s Kilham to Rudston from 2008. A frothing oil wave on black canvas by Maggi Hambling called Night Waves fetched a decent amount, and Antony Gormley’s nightmarish blurry figure with noticeable naughty dangly bits garnered a giggle from the otherwise sophisticated audience. Peter Randall-Page was rather cheeky for submitting an egg print in burnt sienna that was created by folding a piece of paper in half. A googly-eyed chicken with a rainbow bursting from it’s back by Jake and Dinos Chapman hatched a good bid.

It was time. Lot 13, unlucky for some. The Hockney demanded a solemn hush. People shuffled in their seats, straightening up ready for business. The bids started at £20,000. The auctioneer was furiously waving his hammer around the room keeping up with the incoming bids.  I’m not sure it’s good form to look around the room, but by this point I was four champagnes down and curious to see who has this much disposable income. £25,000 up now, and the charity element surely encouraged the figure to climb. We hit £30,000 and the bidders were down to just two. The dramatic countdown began, but this time the auctioneer lingered on the numbers, his bated breath crying out to be interrupted by another bid. Clack. The gavel struck the wood, and the room exhaled.

My friend who sat next to me, caught the fever and bid for a moonlit caravan picture, abandoning her budget to secure her prize. She justified the spend by calling it an investment, and when she broke down the monthly repayments it didn’t sound quite so bad as she signed away on the paper slip. This is the kind of behaviour that caused me to quit eBay. I once purchased some boots a size too small, not because they were good value, but because I wanted to win.

The auctioneer’s voice boomed across the room. £100. The lowest starting price I’d heard all evening. I glanced up at the screen at Lot 28, and it showed a pencil sketch of a snow globe. It was moody, there were twigs levitating in the glass dome with glitter cascading lazily down. My first piece of art, I thought, my muddled brain as cloudy as the shaken liquid filling. I scrabbled around for the paddle, and lifted it above my head.

The auctioneer clocked me, and gave a smile as he introduced me as the new bidder. For that split second, I felt warm in his gaze, like I belonged here at Christie’s. Someone from the back outbid me. I lifted my right arm again, whilst swigging from my left. My friend asked me if I was sure, and what price was my maximum. The honest answer was I didn’t know. I was fixated on getting my first piece of art.

As my arm automatically shot up again, I wondered if this first piece would reflect my future self. Would it suit the more grown-up me? My first album was The Coors, and although that introduced me to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, I’m not sure it captured the essence of who I am, or rather, who I wanted to project as me.

£350. I had just bid £350 almost unconsciously. I twisted round as demurely as I could to check out the competition. A man immediately behind me with an impressive waxed moustache caught my eye, and I slinked back round. ‘Just one more…’ I told myself, as my hand popped up again. £400 now. That’s a month’s rent. For a piece of paper. A line of sweat formed on my lip. This was serious now. Was I going to have to default on my bid in front of everyone? The paddle found itself back under my seat, where it belonged.

Sarah Woodfine

The auctioneer appealed to the room, as I maintained my now strained smile. I reminded myself to blink, but my eyes felt rounder than usual. The auctioneer kept twisting his head towards me – the cursed countdown from three was imminent. Just as I resigned myself to months of soup, I was saved. A bidder trumped my offer by just £20, and I skipped out of there with the knowledge that my reckless paddle action contributed more money to a wonderful charity. That’s one way to remember it anyway.

Photo credit:

Andy Goldsworthy’s Sweet Chestnut Leaves & Blackthorns http://gbphotos.photoshelter.com/image/I0000GyNRkeyqfLU 

More information:
http://www.thebigdraw.org/images/uploads/Press%20Release_Its%20Our%20World%20Auctions_28%2001%2016.pdf 

http://www.thebigdraw.org/the-christies-its-our-world-auctionshttp://www.thebigdraw.org/the-christies-its-our-world-auctions

 

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congrats on the new gig!

So this week, I made a rather large faux pas when it comes to work. This mishap was definitely worse than my previous blunders featured here. I blame LinkedIn entirely…

For the past five years, I’ve been helping proofread international Master students’ dissertations over the summer months. It’s something I enjoy doing, and allows me to learn about fast vs. sustainable slow fashion, androgynous trends, and the latest advances in biotechnology that are revolutionising the traditional manufacturing methods.

Of course, I’m compensated for my time, but that’s not the reason I give up my evenings and weekends around my full-time job. Helping a student reach their full potential  – despite the fact they may not have native level English – makes it worthwhile. Many of us take it for granted that English comes so naturally, when in reality, it’s full of inconsistencies and baffling minefields for those taking it on as a second (or even third) tongue.

As I thought it was time to update this skill on LinkedIn, I added the following to my profile, thinking that this would be a good way of receiving recommendations for any future inquiries:Proofreader

The next morning, I woke up to about 15 messages congratulating me on the new job. Obviously, this was a bit awkward given that I just do this in my spare time. Some were generic “Congrats on the new gig!”, whereas others were lovely personalised messages from previous colleagues that I’ve not heard from in a while. I then began receiving even more worrying messages from current co-workers, asking me if I’d left my current workplace – to which I replied rather too emphatically “No! I’m still here…”.

My update had clearly announced itself to everyone as a new role, despite the fact my profile still said that I worked with my present employer. To make things worse, some thought that I now worked for the newspaper The Independent. 

Needless to say, I had some explaining to do when I went to work on Monday morning. Even more horrifying was that some of my colleagues had been taking screenshots of the email notification, and sending them on to my boss with question marks.

So, for the record, I’m still working as a conference producer. I may not bother with LinkedIn again, though. What a kerfuffle.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A twist

So my last post was an honest and dire account of How to Pitch an Article (if you never want to be published). Ouch.

However, it’s a new day and I’m delighted to say that my post is now featured on the Huffington Post website! It’s my first ever publication and you can read it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/all-the-single-ladies_us_578e6d67e4b004b4c9a37e20  Catchy URL I know.

Before you ask, it’s not a paid gig, but it’s still exciting to be writing under that header. If there’s any other bloggers out there who would like to contribute, follow these magical steps. Good luck!

Lins pic

 

Posted in Art, Books, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment