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 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

  • 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:

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Midnight In Paris and the Curious Appeal of the Nostalgia Shop.

I recently sat down to watch the Woody Allen film ‘Midnight In Paris.’ For those who haven’t seen it, the film follows a discontented Hollywood honcho and wannabe writer (Owen Wilson) who longs to break free from his American dream and settle down in the City of Love. As the clock strikes midnight, Wilson’s character is whisked off into the glittering ‘twenties, a time when Paris was populated by a wealth of famous ‘artistes’ who seemingly lived to party hard and dream in riddles.

World War II poster from Imperial War MuseumAside from being beautifully directed, with stunningly vivid shots of Parisian thoroughfares, the film got me thinking about the whole notion of nostalgia. In one particularly poignant scene, Wilson’s character tries to explain to his would-be lover that we all have such a deep fascination with the past because “[the present] is a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.”

It’s true that we always hanker after the past; we see a certain time period, whether it was within our lifetime or not, as a ‘Golden Age’ where life was simply much better than it is today. In reality, of course, this isn’t true. Yes, you may have been slimmer or less wrinkly when you were 18 years old, but would you really want to go back to that time? And as for transgressing through the ages; How many of us could honestly say we would be happy in a world without iPhones or, god forbid, the internet? Would you really want to live in the ‘fifties, with its widespread racism and slap-em-down approach to women? Thought not.

When things aren’t going our way, we like to reminisce about our past. The trouble is, we have a habit of donning rose-tinted time travel spectacles which conveniently blot out any negative aspects of what actually happened. Our brains are a bit like the BBFC, scrolling through the reels of movie footage that make up our memories and classifying them accordingly. “Think this is still a bit too raw for her, let’s not release this until 2025, when she’s a bit more mature.”

Of course, this safety mechanism is a great thing; if we all concentrated on the negative we wouldn’t be a very sunny bunch. Some people undeniably see things exactly as they are, with no shield to soften the blow of all that slightly depressing stuff we’d rather not remember. For that reason, I am ever thankful for my mind’s top-of-the-range memory muffler.

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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Miscellaneous, 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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Brains, glorious brains!

No, not the Welsh brewery. I’m talking about that slimy, alien-esque structure that lives in our heads. The Wellcome Collection currently has a fascinating (FREE) exhibition about the most mysterious of all bodily enigmas; the brain.

Brain leaflet

Brain leaflet

Among other things, the exhibition showcased some sharp-looking instruments designed for slicing ‘n’ dicing the brain and models used by medical lecturers to teach their students about the inner workings of this slimy mass.

A newspaper cutting from 1913 told of how, in 250,000 years time, we will have lost most of our physical strength and essentially just be brains on legs. The accompanying image depicted a ‘Pinky and the Brain’ esque character with a bulbous forehead and disproportionately stubby legs and arms. I’m pretty sure if we do end up looking remotely like that the human race will be doomed as no-one will fancy each other. Thanks, evolution!

There was also a slightly disturbing video (which was apparently made for promotional purposes) about the effects of Electroconvulsive therapy. Soon after the patient was given the shock, their body started tensing up and convulsing from the electric current. It looked a bit like having cramp, but infinitely more painful and probably longer lasting. My grandpa on my mum’s side was a pyschiatric nurse, and often used to help deliver these sorts of treatments. In his experience, ECT often proved to be very effective in the treatment of depressed patients (at least on the surface). The writer of this particular display’s blurb was quick to point out that scientists are still unsure as to WHY exactly this treatment works.

The highlight of the whole exhibiton for me was when a typical ‘Essex gal’ walked past as we were watching a video of a brain dissection and loudly exclaimed, “Are they puttin’ TEEF in that brain?” (they weren’t). Anyway, amusing vox pops aside, here are a few tid-bits of information that I managed to pick up along the way. I’ve handily broken them down into bite size chunks for your consuming pleasure!

  • Einstein’s brain wasn’t actually that large (or heavy, apparently). There was a model of his brain on show and it looked, dare I say, average. Somehow this makes me like him more.
  • Slices of brain look eerily like rice cakes or unevenly baked cookies. Or perhaps that’s just what we wanted to see as we were trying so hard not to think about the fact that we were seeing a dead brain. Yeuch.
  •  Scientists cut open brains with something that could easily be mistaken for a bread knife. Try not to think about that next time you’re tucking into a slice of toast…
  • The Nazis had a huge, unhealthy interest in brains. Okay, so I kind of knew this already, but I didn’t quite know the extent of their obsession. The exhibition documented a number of people (most of them minors) who were euthanised for their mental foibles and subjected to a brain examination in the name of ‘selective breeding’ and ‘science.’

All in all, this exhibition is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the capital. Despite being free, there is so much on show and a lot of it is top grade stuff. To avoid the queues, I suggest arriving at about one o’clock on a Saturday; while people are pouching a plate of nosh you can get stuck into some brains! To be honest you’d probably feel a bit queasy diving in on a full stomach anyway…

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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