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Friend: Why Edwin Smith's "Ordinary Beauty" exhibition at RIBA sort of reminded me of Zoella

Last week I had a 3 day staycation. I'd originally planned to nab some of those cheap New York flights Norwegian Air are doing and enjoy the fall in New York and New England (go leaf spotting like the middle aged twenty something I am) before I realised I was disastrously poor, and there was no way on earth I could afford an amazing holiday to the Big Apple. I couldn't bring myself to give my annual leave back, and after spending a few days looking up the temperatures in Majorca and toying with all inclusive resorts, I decided maybe to spend a few days in the city 16.8 million tourists chose to visit last year - my home town, London city.

Having said that I did spend 1/3 of my days without leaving the house, watching Location Location Location and old romcom DVDs, the 16.8 million tourist probs didn't do that, but hey you get my point. Living in London there are lots of fabulous things to do on my doorstep, and I decided to take advantage of some of them.

One of the things I went to see was the exhibition of Edwin Smith's photography, which is showing at RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects), one of the lesser known of the dozens of free galleries and museums in London. I always think we are so freaking lucky in the UK to have museums and galleries that are completely free to enter, and it is only when you go abroad and they charge you thirty quid to go to the ABBA museum (though that one was totally worth it)* that you realise how amazing it is that if you want to go and see Van Gogh's Sunflowers, you can do for free. (One of VG's 4 versions of Sunflowers is in the National Gallery). That is one of the reasons I don't do much gallery hopping on holiday, that and the fact that I see holidays as a time to drink beer and eat carbs all day, and museums get in the way of that.

RIBA is just around the corner from the Riding House Cafe, which frequently tops best place to brunch or lunch lists. Looking at OpenTable now they don't have any weekend lunch reservations available for the next 2 weeks, but on a Tuesday at 12 my friend Beth and I just strolled in.

I am not sure if Riding House Cafe is quite worth the hype, but I am still pleased I went, and in a part of town where the restaurants can be a bit of a russian roulette situation - there are zillions of them of varying quality - the Riding House is certainly a safe bet. I had macaroni cheese fritters of course (I have realised that since starting this blog, I have referred to macaroni cheese in pretty much every other post, and Beyonce in all of the other ones, I clearly like them both more than even I knew). Beth had chorizo hash browns with a poached egg. I also had an apple, beetroot, carrot and ginger juice as I am trying to get 7 a day at the moment by "eating my fruits and juicing my veg" as Mr. Juice Diet recommended, and it seemed to help balance out the fact that I was eating not fruit (soz Mr Juice Diet), but deep fried carbs and cheese. I then also had pecan and pumpkin pie with cinnamon ice cream, and rosebud tea. Beth also had a coffee, she is not as greedy as I.

This photograph was taken by Bessie Jewels

They probably looked a little yummier than they tasted - Beth's hash brown wasn't crispy and her poached egg didn't run, and I just think no meal could have lived up to the expectations I conjured in my head on reading "macaroni cheese fritter", so that probably isn't Riding House Cafe's fault. Sorry Riding House Cafe, I feel like I have been a bit of a bitch here. You, Riding House Cafe, looked really nice inside though, and I loved the soap in the loos...and my pecan pumpkin pie was pretty excellent, sorry for being so picky.

Next, Beth, myself and our food babies wandered 5 minutes down the road to Edwin Smith's Ordinary Beauty exhibition. The uncultured sod that I am I hadn't heard of Edwin Smith before, but Beth (far more arty than me) found the exhibition, and I like photography as much as the next girl. (If the next girl quite likes photography). Edwin Smith was born in 1912 and died in 1971, and his photography career was at it's peak in the 50s and 60s when he was sort of a household name (at least in the artier households). Weirdly, he said he was a photographer for necessity, and an architect for love when I always think it tends to be the other way round, but there you go.

(FYI that first part of my blog was written sober. I have now had a massive glass or red wine and a pint of beer and it is Wednesday and I am a lightweight so sorry if I get even more rambly.)

I always feel quite at peace, and pretty mindful and lucky whenever I am in a gallery or museum. One of my favourite things to do when I am hungover is traipse alone around a museum and the quiet and cleanliness and space makes me feel so much better. Edwin's (do we know each other well enough for me to call him by his first name...oh well) exhibition made me feel particularly mindful and lucky because he was taking pictures of things I knew. I went to a meditation class the other week (more about that in a later post) and one of the things the Buddhist master leading the group said was that mindfulness and meditation was about "putting more life into your life, noticing the life all around you". It felt to me like that is what Edwin did. Sometimes he took extraordinary photos of extraordinary things, amazing abandoned Romanian farmhouses, nuns on cliffs, Italian cathedrals, but my favourite photos were of inner city rooftops and streets, cornershops, market places and station platforms here in the UK. Things he saw and I see every day, but he captured how beautiful they are, when I hadn't even noticed. As my clever and insightful friend Beth said "I prefer the ordinary photos because he puts atmosphere into things where there isn't normally atmosphere. A Venetian canal of course has atmosphere anyway, but I love that this photo of suits in a shop window, it is something people would pass every day, but look how atmospheric he's made it". Most of Edwin's (I am just gonna keep going with the first name terms thing) photos are taken in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, which make the ordinariness of the photos even more wonderful as you get to glimpse an unfiltered and unstaged look of what life was like then.

Just a couple of Edwin's photographs to wet your whistle...

So, how did this remind me of Zoella, vlogger extraordinaire of 2014? If anyone is like me 6 weeks ago and hasn't heard of Zoella, she is the most successful of the "Brit crew" youtube video bloggers (vloggers), with over 6.3 million youtube subscribers on her main channel today. (For reference, the official Beyonce channel has just 800k subscribers). She isn't a singer songwriter, she isn't the star of some sort of fabulous youtube sitcom, she doesn't (except recently on very rare occasions) interview celebrities. Her 3 most recent videos are one of her pumpkin carving (and not in a how-to artsy way), a how to of some quick and easy hair styles and her chatting away on a late night food shop. But for some reason, Zoella is watched by zillions, and occasionally me. I am definitely not her stereotypical audience (I was watching her pumpkin video last night and I was slightly ashamed when a child - hopefully a child but worryingly perhaps a pervert pretending to be a child - announced in the comments "how old is everyone? I'll start I'm 10", and then everyone else wrote down they were 13, 11, 14 etc..I kept it schtum I am 26) but I find her optimistic tone and her chatter really soothing. Whenever I am having an anxiety attack, I've found Zoella's "vlogs" are one of the things that calms me down, partly because she openly suffers from panic and anxiety too so I feel less like I am the one weirdo in the world, and partly because her natter is so human and comforting and chirpy. And I think that is why so many people (ok tweens) like Zoella because her life is accessible, and because she isn't doing any extraordinary things, but she is showing the fun and the fortune in our everyday things. So I guess that is how Zoella and Edwin remind me of each other, that ability to see the "life in life" as the Buddhist master would say, or as Ikea says "the wonderful everyday" or the "extraordinariness in the ordinariness" as Richard Curtis would say, and did in his movie  starring Rachel McAdams,"About Time". 

The exhibition ended with interviews from some modern day photographers, great brains and fans of Edwin.

The passage in the photo is one of Edwin's and reads: "The man who lives in is eyes is continually confronted with scenes and spectacles that compel his attention, or admiration, and demand an adequate reaction. To pass on without pose is impossible, and to continue after purely mental applause is unsatisifying, some real tribute must be paid. Photography to many of his addicts, is a convenient and simple means of discharging this ever recurring debt to the visual world".

My pal Edwin's exhibition is showing at RIBA until the 6th December. Read more about it here.

To book dinner or lunch or brunch at the Riding House Cafe and have a gander at their menu go here.

And to check out my girl Zoella (again, I am using "my girl" in the loosest sense, she has no idea who I am) go here

So how much will a meal at Riding House cafe and a trip to Edwin Smith's exhibition cost you?

* The ABBA museum in fact is excellent.

Yes, that is a photo of me on a stage, dancing and singing along with holograms of ABBA to Mamma Mia. They also also let you do karaoke in a "recording studio" and you can see all of their fabulous clothes. If you are ever in Stockholm, the ABBA museum is certainly worth taking a break from the beer and the carbs for...

Do you like a long thoughtful post like this one? If yes, maybe check out "Loner: Go for a run" or "Loner: Go to a Literary Festival"

Or if you found this tiresome, boring and generally too much I do posts with GIFs and Beyonce and wotnot too. Maybe "Lover: The pros and cons of moving in with your boyfriend as told by Beyonce's visual album" will tickle your pickle a little more.

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