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Category Archives: Travel

Recharging the Batteries: A Weekend in Windermere

Don’t get me wrong, I love London. I actively enjoy power walking in any (and every) situation, and I have no qualms about selfishly ploughing my way through people to get to the front of a platform. It just gets a bit much sometimes. All that gutsy determination and relentless competitiveness gets tiring, and after a while I simply run out of steam. Mental batteries can only last so long, after all.

With the flashing red ‘RELAX’ sign in my brain getting more and more persistent, I knew it was time to take a holiday. I’d had my eye on the Lake District for a while. Ten miles of water and not a Tube sign in sight. What scene could be more blissful to a tired city slicker?

The Lake District, and the area around Ambleside in particular, is peacefulness personified. The water literally looks like a shimmering layer of liquid metal. Devoid of any colour with that achingly fresh, clear look that can only be found in the countryside, Lake Windermere is like the stunningly beautiful step-sister of the tired old Thames. It was a world away from the bustling high streets, packed train carriages and noxious fumes of the capital city. In short, it was just what I needed.

The sun was shining all weekend, providing the perfect shooting conditions for the keen (but very amateur) photographer in me. I’m not certain that any camera could truly capture the breath-taking beauty of the Lake District on a crisp Autumn day, so don’t expect to be blown away by the pictures below. Hopefully they’ll just serve as a gentle reminder to recharge your batteries every now and again, because getting your willpower and tolerance to regenerate all by themselves is no mean feat.

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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On the Fringes: A Long Weekend in Edinburgh

On the Fringes: A Long Weekend in Edinburgh

Right now I am recovering from a particularly unpleasant throat ache. It literally feels like a tiny, bitter lumberjack has been quietly hacking away at my voice box. My poor ears feel like they’ve been unceremoniously stuffed with sand.

Despite this, I am in good spirits. You see I rarely get ill, owing in part to my pretty healthy (and totally tedious) lifestyle. The very fact of me being ill means that I have had some genuine FUN. For once I have dropped the dull façade of a dispirited twenty-something and embraced the ‘You Only Live Once’ attitude (known as YOLO to the hip at heart) that my generation is so good at.

The four days I spent at Edinburgh Fringe Festival were, for want of a better word, FUN. Pure, unadulterated fun. This is the second time I’ve been lucky enough to attend the festival, and I sure as hell hope I get to go back again someday. With its cosmopolitan vibe and kooky Scottish charm, Edinburgh is the perfect stage for up-and-coming comedians, actors and performers. There’s something nice, too, about a festival where the likelihood of wading through knee-deep mud is very low. Unless you’re at The Hive, that is. We saw seven acts in total – a lucky number for some. Below I’ve scribbled a few words about each one!

Hot Dub Time Machine

How can I describe this? I would say ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ but that doesn’t quite do it justice. This amazing club night took us through a ‘time machine’ of music, starting from 1954 and ending in the present day. A super enthusiastic DJ manned the decks while an on-screen Aussie flight hostess took us through our paces. It was so good that our muscles ached the next day. Now that’s what I call clubbing.

Reginald D. Hunter – Work in Progress

I didn’t really know much about Reginald D. Hunter before going to see him. I’m one of those people who is happy to tag along and see something if the opportunity arises. So it was that I ended up sitting in a room stuffed full of people and trying my hardest not to wrinkle my brow as this ‘comedian’ spent an hour mouthing off about women. Sure, he did it in an intellectual way so that it couldn’t be misconstrued as misogyny. I just wasn’t buying it.

Out of the Blue

As always, this cheeky band of Oxford boys brought laughs and applause a-plenty. Along with some truly fabulous renditions of California Girls and Mambo No. 5 there was a new skit about a human drum kit and some more mellow tunes that really showcased their fantastic voices. The line-up changes every few years or so, but hopefully the band will stand the test of time. This acapella troupe really blows the brats from Glee out of the water.

The Ladyboys of Bangkok: Carnival Queens

The Thai lovelies never fail to disappoint with their terrible lip-synching and risqué costume changes. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Britney were all immortalised as was living legend Tina Turner (complete with fabulous ‘eighties mullet). At one point, some giant beach balls were chucked around the crowd. It’s just that kinda show. Polite as always, the gang thanked their Scottish hosts by donning kilts for a moving rendition of Loch Lomond. I did spend some time searching for tell-tale bulges but honestly, there wasn’t even a hint of one. These ‘ladies’ know how to tuck!

Eastend Cabaret: Notoriously Kinky

Ever heard of a ‘danger wank’? Neither had I, until I saw this show. In a dingy, dungeon-like room in the Udderbelly the Eastend Cabaret coined the term. Sporting fabulously OTT costumes, this dynamic duo sang cheeky songs about everything from de-flowering to necrophilia, with a little bit of unrequited love thrown in for good measure.

The 27 Club

We’ve all heard of the 27 club – that tortured (but brilliant) gaggle of musicians who died bizarrely young. Set in one of the charming circus themed arenas, this show had arguably bagged the best location. The performance itself however was a bit, well, lacking. The singers, especially the buxom blonde lady who sang Janis Joplin’s hit tune ‘Another Little Piece of My Heart,’ were really talented, but they just didn’t match up to the real thing. Some of the ‘filler’ songs which told the story of each member’s death went on a little too long and I occasionally found myself zoning out. The best part of the show was hearing about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of these musical legends. I didn’t, for instance, know that the bullet from Kurt Cobain’s gun was found at the wrong side of his body for a suicide (he was left-handed).

Translunar Paradise

This play mime told the story of an old man who had recently lost his wife and was reminiscing about their time together. I have to say; this show wasn’t really my thing. Much as I appreciate theatre, I am by nature a wordsmith, so a story without spoken language doesn’t really appeal to me. Having said that, the acting was fantastic and the eerie mood set by the accordionist was spot on. The old people masks were terrifyingly realistic, and the minimal use of props was pretty admirable.

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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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This weekend: Getting arty in the great outdoors.

Okay, so I’m not a huge advocate of art. I appreciate certain styles and I can recognise talent when I see it, but on the whole I don’t really ‘get’ modern art. The ‘Hey, here’s a photo of my dirty underwear, try and find the hidden meaning’ type of creativity doesn’t really float my boat. Sculptures, however, are a different story. Crafting something out of nothing would, I imagine, take a good deal of time, dedication and effort, not to mention a healthy dollop of imagination. As someone who struggles to concoct a story out of thin air, I feel a great sense of admiration for artists who can pull a defined image or concept out of their chosen material.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield caters for customers who, like me, don’t want to see yet another pair of dirty underwear passing as art. Set in a patch of lush Yorkshire greenery, it’s the perfect setting for an outdoor gallery. The artwork on show ranges from the strange (a giant wire woman with a hare’s head) to the kitsch (plant pots with poetic labels) and the downright bizarre (a metal tree with bin branches). Because everything’s dotted around all over the place, you’re forced to explore and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery. Some sculptures stand in plain sight in the middle of fields, while others are hidden in the depths of the woods. Even if you don’t like the look of everything, seeing other people’s imagination at work is a great way to stretch the muscles of your mind and untangle all those tight knots created by the daily grind (hell, it’s taken me just ten minutes to write this post!).

You can take a look at their website here http://www.ysp.co.uk/. It’s rather lovely, so you should have a gander even if you won’t be in this neck of the woods for a while.

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Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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A Festival of Fairytales: Beyond The Border 2012

“Had I known but yesterday what I know today,
I’d have taken out your two gray eyes
And put in eyes of clay;
And had I known but yesterday you’d be no more my own
I’d have taken out your heart of flesh
And put in one of stone”
Tam Lin

For some reason, this passage from the legendary Scottish ballad Tam Lin chills me to the bone. In the tale, Tam Lin is kept from his true love by the Queen of the Fairies. Stories like this are not uncommon in European folklore; in fact, all the best tales are filled with love in all its tumultuous forms.

Unlike so many other things in this world, stories transcend time. They tumble through generations, ping-ponged back and forth between family members and inevitably morphing into moral tales designed to stop small children in their curious tracks. Today, stories are printed neatly in the crisp, brightly coloured pages of children’s books or splashed across a big screen in all the technicolour 3D glory the movie companies can muster. Rarely are they bellowed out across a church hall or whispered in hushed tones around a flickering bonfire.

Storytelling is theatre in its purest form. One person takes the stage (possibly two or three if there’s accompanying music), and that’s it. With the boundless depths of your imagination to delve into, what need can you possibly have for props?

Beyond The Border is the perfect outlet for this wonderful form of creative expression. Set in the heart of Glamorgan with a glorious Medieval castle as a backdrop, this three day festival transports you into a world where girls become boys and blue bearded tyrants use meat hooks in some rather unsavoury ways.

Below is a brief summary of just some of the acts we saw and why they were worth every penny. The next BTB festival will take place in 2014 at an as yet undecided location. Dive head-first into the fairytale world at http://www.beyondtheborder.com/.

  • The Three Snake Leaves by The Company of Storytellers – An inspired rendition of the Grimm Brothers’ classic, with plenty of suffering, repentance and (naturally) a happy ending.
  • She’koyokh – A Balkan band with a strikingly unique sound topped off by an unbelievably talented set of musicians.
  • Ferdowsi & The Shahnameh by Nick Jubber – An epic Persian poem and extraordinary travels through Iran and Afghanistan.
  • Looking for Grandpa’s Island by Pam Faro – A true story of one woman’s search for a name in the wilderness of Norway.
  • The Girl Who Became A Boy by Jo Blake Cave & The Glowglobes – A tale of opposites (and a whole lotta girl power) with some funky double bass thrown in.
  • The Fantasist by Theatre Temoin and Cle – A rather chilling insight into the world of an artist with more than her fair share of demons…
  • Shudder by Daniel Morden – A lively tale of a simple lad who, in his quest to ‘shudder in fear,’ finds himself bowling a ghostly head and sitting on the Devil (literally).
  • Trickster by Dominic Kelly – A wartime ‘Catch Me If You Can’ featuring a flame haired cheeky chappy from Mansfield.
  • Bluebeard by Cat Weatherill – A screaming good story of a mysterious blue bearded man with more than a few secrets up his sleeve.

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Wooden dodgems, Magner’s mushrooms and a giant purple cow: A Saturday at the South Bank.

The Diamond Jubilee. A celebration of Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne (so far) and a blissfully long bank holiday weekend. What’s not to love? I spent Saturday wandering along the South Bank, which has been decked out with all manner of exciting attractions in honour of the Jubilee as well as of course the upcoming Olympics.

Visitors to the area can’t fail to notice the giant upside down purple cow that has taken up residence just right of the South Bank centre. That’s right, E4’s shuddering ‘Udderbelly’ is back, bringing with it a plethora of comedy events designed to tickle us silly while we wait for Olympic fever to take hold. The Mastercard sponsored ‘London Wonderground’ promises entertainment of a more unusual kind, with stocking-clad lovelies wobbling on tightropes and blowing kisses to a blushing audience in a variety of circus, sideshow and cabaret acts.

If that sort of thing doesn’t float your boat, there’s always something art or music related going down at the Royal Festival Hall or the Hayward Gallery. In short, 2012 is a great year to go to the South Bank. Below are some (hopefully) useful links and a pretty little gallery of pictures!

Some useful links: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/https://www.underbelly.co.uk/e4-udderbelly-festival-at-southbank-centre

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Following the (not so) yellow Brick Lane…

Today we spent a couple of sweltering hot hours meandering around the buzzing marketplace of Brick Lane. We went specifically to check out the Art Car Boot Fair in Shoreditch, but in the spirit of the moment we got swept into exploring all the other little shops and stalls too. Utterly exhausted now, so will let the gallery of photos below do the talking!

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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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You Don’t Get Owls in Ireland…

Tawny owls, that is. According to the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire, tawny owls refuse to fly over water and as such they don’t get to set up home in Ireland or the Isle of Wight. This strikes me as being quite a shame, as they (and owls in general) are such beautiful and fascinating creatures.

Asian otters

Asian otters

Situated around half an hour from the outskirts of Manchester, the Chestnut Centre is home to the largest group of multi-specied otters and owls in Europe. A five to ten minute walk will take you through some stunning scenery to the little forest where the otters, owls and other wildlife are kept. The rolling hills of the Peak District pass you by on the left, and you can just make out the creamy white dots that are sheep in the distance. Glance to your right and you’ll be greeted by the sight of speckled brown deer happily grazing away. You really can’t get much further from the noise and pollution of the city.

The first thing you’ll learn when you get to the Chestnut Centre is that an otter certainly isn’t a uniquely British animal. Otters can be Asian, Eurasian or even North American. The centre has an abundance of short claw Asian otters, which are adorably cute to look at and make a sound almost exactly like that of a child’s squeaky toy.

Unfortunately the ‘Badger Rehabilitation Pen’ was empty when we visited, so we didn’t get to see any of the striped lovelies. We did, however, come face to furry bottom with a Scottish wildcat, which (in true dour Celtic fashion) was not in the mood for crowd pleasing. Pole cats and foxes were also listed on the leaflet, but we didn’t get to see any of these either. I can’t say I was too disappointed about the latter; we see our fair share of foxes digging around in the capital city’s overflowing dustbins!

One creature the Chestnut Centre did have in abundance was owls. Tawny, Spectacled, Long Eared and Barn all made an appearance along with my personal favourite, the Snowy Owl. The fluffy white Snowies (not to be confused with the Moshi Monsters of the same name) have won a place in my heart ever since Harry Potter. Of course, their adorably smug/content expressions do endear them to me even more. The smallest breed of owl in the UK, which I might add was no bigger than a hand span, seemed to be happily co-habiting with a couple of guinea pigs.

Now onto the more technical details. The car park is, at the time of writing, completely free. Dogs are (quite understandably) not allowed into the centre so be sure to leave your furry friend at home. Adult tickets cost £7.50 and a family ticket (which covers two adults and two children or one adult and three children) is £22.75. This may seem a little steep, but do bear in mind that the centre provides care for orphaned or injured animals who would struggle to survive unaided in the wild. Patronising places like the Chestnut Centre helps to keep the food forthcoming and the pens improving. Go for a nice little day trip and the chance to get up close and personal with animals that you may never set eyes on in the wild.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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