A long weekend in… Warsaw

Facebook Twitter Email

Here’s a fact that will make you a pub quiz hero. The population of Warsaw before the second world war was 1.3m people. At the start of the Warsaw uprising, in August 1944, 900,000 remained. In 1945, once the uprising had failed and the Germans had finished their systematic destruction of the city, 1000 people remained and Warsaw was dead.

Human spirit is an incredible thing, because the Warsaw of 2017 is a vibrant, modern city boasting the newest old town in the world and an atmosphere far removed from what you may read in the press about a far-right lunatic government. Oh, that Government, let me count the ways… The environment minister Jan Szyszko said that “human development is not detrimental to the environment” and thought it would be a good idea to allow logging in the primeval Białowieża forest. He somehow squares the destruction of Poland’s wildest spaces with something he completely misread in the bible. He’s an idiot.

Back to human spirit, which Warsaw has plenty of. It’s an underrated city absolutely worth a visit. In a region with the opulence of Vienna, the old town charm of Bratislava, the beauty and stag-dos of Prague and Budapest, Warsaw has had to go back to the drawing board on what it can offer as a city. It has a wealth of history, a history so violent and shocking that much of my long weekend there was taken up in museums, mouth agape at the sheer horrors that Warsaw and Poland has gone through. But, modern Warsaw also has some great attractions for hipster living, and just general fun times. I left Warsaw feeling it struck a note between Stockholm and Berlin, with a mixture of beauty, gritty realism, a lust for life and sitting on deckchairs. Deckchairs were everywhere; outside the front of the Palace of Culture and Industry, up on the viewing platform of the Palace of Culture and Industry, outside the Neon museum, along the river and many places in between.

DSCF6812 (1)

Warsaw is a messy bedroom when it comes to architectural styles, there’s a bit of everything scattered around. From the Stalinist wonder of the Palace of Culture and Science, where a New York skyscraper may well have flown into the centre of the city, to the other major communist gem, Constitution Square, Warsaw announces itself as somewhere important. Constitution square is a slice of socialist realist architecture that really captures a moment in time, when the Soviet Union could do anything in its imagination, if not in reality. The square is surrounded by grand blocks that gracefully echo the strengths of the union, sculptures of heroic workers adorn the sides of buildings in a celebration of soviet myth. An updated version might show a bored woman giving you change at a supermarket, but it would somehow lack the power required to carry everyone forward into the light. On the square are three glorious oversized lamps that add a touch of brute elegance. This architecture of power is always fascinating to see, and there’s some irony in the enormous Samsung illuminated logo on the top of one of the buildings, bringing brazen capitalism into view. The square and immediate surrounding remind me of Karl-Marx Allee in Berlin, but more glitzy.

Constitution Square

Constitution Square

If I was to think of glitz and Warsaw, I would be drawn to the biggest building in the country, the eighth biggest building in the EU and a testament to the ways the USSR would wield their power. The Palace of Culture and Industry. Back in 1950’s Warsaw, Stalin was keen to offer Poland a gift. With Warsaw in ruins, you might think a hospital, a university or even somewhere for people to sleep might be a good gift, but as our tour guide said, when Stalin asks if you want something, there is only one answer. It was constructed in three years and in making it, 16 people died, which we were told was pretty good going for the 1950s. A sobering thought for the pointless 2022 Qatar world cup is that over 1,200 have died to make their vanity project. The rush to build the Palace was intense, and construction went on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A benefit of having no neighbours, I suppose. It is, I’m sure, a symbol of the evil of Stalin but the Palace is a marvel and we had a commanding view of it from our rooms in the Intercontinental hotel. Never having to live through communism, I can appreciate the structure, without having to worry about the morals of it.

The building today is a genuine people’s palace, unlike in the days of Stalin where only members of the communist party could attend events, by invitation. It is rumoured that new year’s parties here went on for four days. Keeping that spirit of booziness alive, in 2012, I heard that Roman Abramovich hired a hall in the Palace for Euro 2012 and turned it into a strip club. Today it holds a cinema, four theatres, two museums, a bookshop, a swimming pool and a viewing platform on the 30th floor. You can also go on fascinating guided tours of the building, some taking you down to the basement to see the antiquated machinery and up to the viewing platform.

The Palace of Culture and Industry!

The Palace of Culture and Industry!

The history of Warsaw’s near-total destruction is covered in forensic detailed in the Warsaw Rising museum. By January 1945, 85% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed, with an estimated 40% of the city levelled by the Germans once the uprising was over, with the population gone aside from a thousand people hiding in the rubble. Germans went around the city with flamethrowers and explosives to gut every building they could, focusing on anything of historical value or national pride, with the aim of reducing Warsaw to nothing more than a military transit point. The biggest building in the old town is the Royal Palace, which Hitler wanted destroyed as early as 1939. During the war, the Nazis conducted aerial bombardments of the palace, removed precious artefacts, tore off the roofing to quicken the building’s demise and in 1944 they spent six days blowing it up. All that remained was two small fragments of wall. Today it stands as the focal point of the reconstructed city and is an attraction worth visiting to understand the history of the building, a fascinating microcosm of Poland’s ups and downs over hundreds of years. One room, the Knight’s Hall, was removed and transported to Russia in 1832 and returned to Poland in 1922. It survived the onslaught of 1939, was removed again by the Germans and only returned to the castle in 1984. This is just one of many original fragments of the Royal Palace that through chance, brave Polish workers spiriting away contents in secrecy and the evil efficiency of the Nazis, managed to survive. The Knight’s Hall is a true gem, with a glorious wooden floor, busts, opulent chandeliers and more.

The Knight's Hall

The Knight’s Hall

Similarly, the Conference Room survived by workers managing to remove many features of the room in 1939, including a chimney piece, wall murals, portraits and even a floor made from thirteen types of wood. In our minds, perhaps a war seems very immediate, but history shows it to be something very different, where people don’t flee their cities but do their best to stall the senseless damage. The reconstruction of pre-war Warsaw was partly down to the work of Canaletto, who was commissioned to paint twenty-two street scenes of Warsaw. These paintings, like much in the city, was first nabbed by the Russians, then by the Germans, and they somehow all survived the turmoil, now sitting in one place in the Royal Castle. We visited the Castle on a Sunday, when it is free to visitors.

The old town is so remarkable, it’s hard to take it all in. You see what looks like a fairly standard eastern European old town; buildings painted many beautiful shades of green, peach, yellow, crooked rooflines, enchanting views from all angles. But it’s all of 60 years old, if that. The reconstruction of the city is a glorious act of defiance that stands at odds with how Britain rebuilt after the war, in a festival of concrete and ring roads.

All of this, about 60 years old!

All of this, about 60 years old!

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a spectacular building, designed by Finnish architects and every bit as adventurous as that would suggest; the exterior is relatively square in shape making the interior’s grand curved entrance even more startling. The building opens up to represent a parting of the seas and is lit from above allowing shadows and shapes to dance over the sprayed-concrete interior. Shapes are everywhere, from the spiral staircases to the slanted doorways. The main exhibition space is below ground and traces the history of the Jews in Poland since the middle ages and it would be fair to say that squabbles and power play have been a constant between the Jews and the Polish, with both sides enacting petty rules against the other whenever it suits. As we travel through history and edge towards the Holocaust, the space feels more oppressive as you get closer to the second world war and the tone is more frantic as history takes one of its bleakest turns. It is important to note that the Holocaust is just one aspect of the museum and the story ends in the modern world, reminding us that Jewish history did not end in the 1940s.

The Museum of Polish Jewish

The Museum of Polish Jewish

 A much smaller museum is the Museum of Life under Communism, which squeezes hundreds of artefacts, photos and tat into a few rooms that imitate a home in communist times. A cheesy record plays on an old record player, with the staff coming along to start it up again. Every room has information in English to tell you about the great time-saving abilities of the commie kitchen – stuff that Westerners will probably look at half in interest and half in amusement, but across the homes of many millions of people would be the same sort of products and the museum is a great time capsule. The house was stacked with Zenit cameras with old film stock, cleaning equipment called Prozek and Wedel Chocolate. Wedel is an interesting company; in the war, the company refused to collaborate with the Nazis and so they were persecuted, with their factory being destroyed in the uprising. Afterwards, the company made attempts to get back on its feet when the communists nationalised it. Since then, it’s been owned by a bunch of global names and now one of Poland’s best- known brands is owned by a Japanese-Korean conglomerate. A history lesson in a bite of chocolate.

A few minutes’ walk more and you’ll find the Neon museum, a celebration of liquefied air that when illuminated, makes everything look immediately cooler. Discovered by Brits, but finessed by the Polish, the neon museum has a heap of Warsaw’s old neon signs that adorned the buildings of the city during the Cold War. Some of the pieces include depictions of bikes zooming off, milkshakes, flowers bursting with colour and the symbol of Warsaw, a Mermaid. The museum also restores iconic neon in their original locations, and it looks like the museum’s work has made Warsaw reminisce for the illumination of old because the city crackles with the sound of neon on many shopfronts.


If the weather’s good, head to the University of Warsaw garden, a huge green space around the university and on top of it. The gardens are separated into two sections; the lower gardens with a pond, many spaces to sit and sculptures by Ryszard Stryjecki. The upper garden is even more impressive as it covers the roof of the university building, with four areas full of paths and differing plants and trees. The views of the riverside and the city centre are remarkable, with clusters of skyscrapers here and there and the familiar outline of the Palace of Culture and Industry dominating.

In the breaks between history and culture, a drink is always welcome and you can’t go wrong if you head to the bars of Pawilony, the cluster of little bars tucked away behind a gate at 22 Nowy Świat. Despite it not being announced by any signs, beyond the gate is pivo enough for everyone. The atmosphere is relaxed yet busy, the clientele a mix of young and older and choosing somewhere to go is really just a lucky dip. As we left the bars, a stag-do came along, singing their songs of fighting and so on. Actually, we had no idea what they were singing but the guttural chanting didn’t sound sweet in nature.

For food, Warsaw packs so much on your plate that you’re going to need elasticated trousers for a few weeks afterwards but it’ll be worth it. A new food outlet is Hala Koszyki, a gorgeously renovated market hall transformed into a grand food hall with tiny bistros nuzzling up to food stands and restaurants. Finding a table was hard to do, so you might find that you eat wherever you can, rather than where you want. Spend some time here checking out the lighting which is an artwork in itself. Just looking around the market is entertainment enough. We had a great brunch at Sam, which sprung up in 2012 and has a deli, bakery, bar, and food through the day. They bring you many, many menus that offer you all sorts of food options, so you can even bring along your fussiest. I’ve noticed this in Poland; some menus will have little arrows telling you that chia seeds are “blah blah good for you” and the omega 3 is “blah blah whatever it does” and that the meat is from some special Polish place with the eggs being from blessed chickens. Menus are turning into little booklets on nutrition and I swear it worked its magic on me when I ordered Shakshuka, which is full of “blah blah all good eggy things”.

We had dinner at Stary Dom, inside an unprepossessing façade a tram ride outside town. The interior is high on rustic charms, with a wooden vaulted ceiling, lots of pictures of old people and generous sized tables with room for all the food and drink you’ll order. It’s genuinely nice to go to a restaurant and have space. It’s not all that fun doing Tetris with your pierogi. Our waiter had a good sense of humour and coerced us into downing shots of the strongest vodka known to man. Clever man. To balance out new Warsaw and old Warsaw, we visited a milk bar. For the uninitiated, a milk bar is a communist-era cheap cafeteria serving up dairy-based food, so expect mashed potato with everything. We visited Bar Sady, where the interior seems little changed from communist times and it’s all the better for it. The extensive menu offers Polish staples like soup, meat and veg with sides of cabbage. I had a mushroom soup with pasta in it, breaded chicken cutlet with potato and red cabbage. The entire meal with a soft drink cost under £5.

Warsaw has many great bakeries, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll stumble over one but here are my highlights. For pastry needs, there’s Vincent where I had an orange croissant. For beautifully structured cakes you can head to Lukullus or Odette but be warned that you’ll not want to eat it because it’s like a work of art. Then you’ll eat it and just buy more.



I went to Warsaw expecting something altogether more grim; after all, I was told it was an “interesting” city with rough edges. Seeing Warsaw in excellent spring weather was a genuine delight. The city might not appeal to those looking for something like Prague, but it has a real depth of character that gives the city a sparky personality. Resilience turned Warsaw from a charred wreck into what it is today, and that’s a thoroughly enjoyable destination I’ll want to visit again.

Many of the photos courtesy of my friend Rokos who has an eye for detail and a head full of 80s pop tunes.



A little trip to… Wendover

Facebook Twitter Email

I am thankful for many things, but one thing I gain immeasurable satisfaction from is the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. By forming the green belt, it helped contain London and the cities of the UK into manageable shapes so we didn’t end up with endless urban sprawl. And so upon finding myself in Wendover, less than 40 miles from the centre of London, one of the first things I saw was a thatched cottage in a row of houses so picturesque I was expecting the cast of Morse, Midsomer Murders and Downton on tour to make an appearance. The Chilterns, where Wendover is nestled, is well known for its beauty and is  home to many varied landscapes from chalk streams to beech woods and chocolate box villages.


But the real draw for me in these parts is Wendover Woods, over 800 acres of deeply wooded landscape and many well-signposted walks all designed to shake off the stresses of the city. Living in the woods is the Firecrest, Britain’s smallest bird. You’ll find it much easier looking out for the Red Kite which has become a familiar site in the Chilterns since the re-introduction of them started in the late 1980s. From the station, we walked down Hale Lane and within minutes the village falls away to be replaced by open fields and parcels of woods. The path follows a gentle incline and soon enough the views behind you take on a grander form as more and more gently rolling countryside becomes visible.


After ten minutes walking down Hale Lane you will find a left turn into Wendover Woods itself, giving you an option to take on one of the circular walks within the woods. Head north and you’ll find yourself at the Cafe in the Woods, or just wander about. Either way you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a sporty kind, then you’ll find the woods to your taste with its fitness assault course scattered throughout.


When our walk led us back to the centre of Wendover we ate at the Shoulder of Mutton which is reliable, affordable and has an enormous garden. You can’t go wrong with a day trip to the Chilterns and Wendover is so easy to access, it is just crying out to be explored.

Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 

Wendover Woods forestry commission website

Shoulder of Mutton Wendover


Skåne – It’s Swedish for beautiful

Facebook Twitter Email

Skåne, pronounced like this, is the most southerly county in Sweden and stretches from Malmo in the West to Simrishamn in the West. Absolut Vodka lives in Åhus where you can tour the factory for free, and the region is one of the richest areas of farmland in Sweden so is famed for its food scene. The endless flat fields, calm orchards, green landscape and beautiful coastline led me to put Skåne on my to-visit list a long while back but Sweden’s biggest-ever selling TV show The Bridge as well as Wallander have put Skåne on the global map, but for different reasons. Where Wallander revelled in the beauty of the region, The Bridge was much more gritty, with little need for gently waving fields of rape. If anything, this photo from the BBC Wallander could neatly sum up why I wanted to visit.



The bright colours and endless blue skies look so inviting, even grumpy Kenneth Branagh couldn’t deter me from wanting to see it. After Wallander’s Ystad charmed everyone senseless, visits by British tourists increased by nearly 20% so I’m far from alone in wanting a slice of Swedish life. From spending two days in Copenhagen where flights are far cheaper than to Malmo, we took a train to Ystad. Our accommodation was Our House, a fifteen minute walk from the centre of town. It’s a great choice in a quiet location – the rooms are well sized and spotlessly clean with our shared bathroom being shared by just us and our travelling partner. Breakfast in the morning allowed me to go overboard on eggs and coffee.

Just twenty minutes stroll away was the sea – when we went in late May it was empty but I doubt it’s ever overcrowded – and the Ystad Saltsjöbad Spa hotel and fantastic restaurant. We ate in the smaller, American-themed diner called Vitas and the burger was so good it destroyed my strong belief that you can’t get a good burger outside of London. Perhaps I’m unfair as it was Bristol that let me down with the world’s grimmest burger or as it should be called, a rubberised disc of meat. Bread and butter accompanied the food and it was a novel touch to have the bread skewered on a spike. While the cocktail cost upwards of £10, it was worth every kroner.  With the choice to sit in the gorgeous bar or out on the terrace hearing the water lap against the shore, you can’t go wrong.

For our other meals, we weren’t so lucky, mostly because we were stuck with the notion that eating past 9pm is a thing. I can tell you, it’s generally not a thing in Ystad, even less so on a Sunday night. At Broderma M we ate pizzas from the posher end of the menu, but the service remained indifferent. When I asked a waitress if she had any local beers she flatly said “no” and poked her finger at the menu. Huh. But it was fine and stopped us from starving to death. It also had the bonus of having some genuinely hideous furniture that seemed like a hipster attempt gone horribly wrong. A real gem of a cafe was Soderberg and Sara, near Ystad train station. The cinnamon bun was outstanding, but even better was the cardamom bun which could only be described as life-changing. With this king of buns came a fantastic flat white. I was in paradise.

Ystad is a very pretty town that doesn’t need to have any outstanding features to make a visit worthwhile. Simply being in Skåne itself is treat enough, but the town and surrounding area offer plenty of attractions. If you’re a fan of Wallander, there’s the film museum and guided tours as well as this website of locations used in the films.


Tim models the hell-chair range

Around Ystad

Forty minutes along the coast is Sandhammeren with beautiful white sand. Some say this is Sweden’s finest beach and pictures from there look more like a Caribbean coast than one facing the Baltic Sea.


Sandhammeren Beach

We headed to Simrishamn on a grey day to pick up bikes and cycle around the coast and orchards. The first cycle place was closed but luckily Hotell Turistgården had plenty of ladies bikes with baskets we could use. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I loved that basket and the staff made hiring the bikes the easiest experience possible. No booking fee and a fee of 130 kroner per day (about £11) is a very fine deal. We headed north of Simrishamn towards the coast and found a stunning spot about 3km from the Hotel. The beach was completely empty, the sand soft and bright yellow, the waters freezing but intensely blue. I’d happily have spent the day here if time had allowed. Here’s our journey to the beach:

bike route


Sweden is home to some of the most peaceful moments of my existence, and this beach was no exception. Lying on the sand, looking up at the big sky I was getting into the relaxed state that almost always leads to falling asleep. Once I slept through a ferry dropping passengers off on a small island and setting off again.This time, I managed to move from the beach to the rocky outcrop round the corner where I spotted some picturesque boats and a deserted house.












After about 90 minutes of lazing about, we headed further north. I imagined that Vik would have a cosy cafe so we cycled onwards with grumbling tummies to find Vik was a beautiful village lacking any food whatsoever. As luck would have it, about half a mile north of Vik is the Österlens Golfklubb with a glorious cafe. Ok, I had half a pint, a banana and a cinnamon bun but it beat eating sand. The cafe served sandwiches but despite my numerous trips to Sweden, no sandwich sandwich with mustard, cheese or fish in is getting past my lips. Which is most sandwiches.

We took a more taxing route to Simrishamn, via back roads to Gladsax and onwards to the Hotel. Away from the coast, we were in a world of trees, open fields and the occasional tractor spraying muck on the fields. Yet again, the variety of the countryside in Sweden reminded me why my love affair with the place doesn’t weaken over time. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad trip in Sweden.



Skåne is an ideal place for a short break, easily accessible from Copenhagen, one of Europe’s finest capitals and just 40 minutes from Malmo. It offers a different taste of life to what you might know from Stockholm or Gothenburg where the pace is slower but the pleasures of life are savoured. A long lunch, a brisk walk, idling on the beach are all enhanced by the natural beauty of the area.


Edinburgh Fringe day 4 – ever more comedy

Facebook Twitter Email

Stewart Lee is the focus of the day and anyone expecting an easy ride from this apex predator in his natural habitat has already been told where to go. Critics and fans alike are told they are “not equipped to review me” and the audience are grouped into fans who are “cackling sycophants” or those dragged in by friends who are the enemy. Blessed anonymity is Lee’s future and his ideal audience will soon be his again. His ideal audience? One that never laughs at anything he says but can form break-away discussion groups.

Those days of small rooms aren’t coming back, and no amount of snarling at 4-star Telegraph reviews bringing in “all cunts for the rest of the month” is going to derail the success Lee is experiencing and nor should it on the face of his new show, billed a work in progress, as they always are. Today’s show had a tight half hour about the insanity that comes from chasing awards and centres around Graham Norton winning a BAFTA over his Comedy Vehicle. In true Stew style, he builds up a small annoyance into a hurricane of vanity and bitter rage. Why is Norton allowed to accept the award and why aren’t people stopping him getting to the stage? What begins as Lee seeming a little bemused that his show didn’t win ends with him outraged that a show where people mostly just go “yeah, I am in a film” and is it possible that chatting can be funnier than he, a proper comedian? It’s excellent stuff.

Even better is his discussion of the prostitutes behind his house and the ways in which he needs to become creative in telling his kids what the condoms at the bottom of the garden really are. He weaves this into a narrative about money and how it changes everything in life. Without his and his wife’s run of success, they’d not have a garden for prostitutes to throw condoms into, so the story has a partially political slant as he counts all the ways that his sources of income are all being demolished by our evil government.

For the second half, Lee recycles some jokes about Islam – which are of course hideously politically correct. We find Lee showing real outrage towards Quakers and the way they live their lives. The point being that you may as well be angry at thee Quakers if you’re going to pick on a religion, surely? Nobody seems to care about those guys.

Where Lee has excelled for a long time is in his ability to make us look at our own prejudices and even better, helps us see how his repetition of themes and flashing the inner workings of comedy at us help create something so much more nourishing than simple stand up. On this showing, he might not be the funniest comic in the UK, but he’s untouchable in intellect and narrative form.

Stewart Lee – A Room with a Stew at Assembly Rooms until 31st August – 2.15pm



My biggest Fringe surprise was Simon Munnery’s Fylm School, held in a smelly pub reminiscent of the pub from Trainspotting…


Lovely loo

The surprise wasn’t just how awful the venue was, but how brilliant the show was. Munnery has a great mind for the absurd and instead of appearing on a stage, chooses to have us seated facing a screen. He is projected from the back of the room, using a camcorder that he skillfully alternates between his face and the many cartoons he has drawn on the table. It is a strangely effective way of communicating to us – even though he is not performing directly to us, we all see an exploded view of him, giving a sense of intimacy. The contrast to this, of course, is the absence of comedians at venues like the 02 where all the video screens in the world can’t make them appear anything but very remote and distant.

Lolly Adefope has gained rather a lot of attention at Edinburgh this year, all totally justified on tonight’s showing of her character Gemma – a first-time stand up who has drinks “Red wine no ice” and is a study in tragic comedy. Gemma is all wide-eyed wonder at the world around her, desperately trying to find out what a Vajazzle is and confused as to why “women have to sit down to pee but men never call you back”. We’ve seen these comic characters plenty before, but Gemma feels like a fresh creation, partly down to the sheer exuberance of the performance. Lolly’s full show is based around 5 characters who all are hitting the stand up circuit for the first time and reviews suggest each is fully formed and worth seeing. I can’t wait to see the rest!

 Rhys James is apparently all over Twitter and uses the form of Fylm Show well by imagining famous last words on Twitter. It is said that Oscar Wilde’s last words were “either those curtains go or I do” but here, it’s suggested that Wilde repeated this phrase non-stop for 12 years, so mad was he. Twitter gives you the perfect way to have your final word and James hits on a great idea in his short segment. There’s an air of cockiness and vulnerability in his set and alongside Munnery and Adefope is very funny.

 Flym School is something I will be returning to again. It was genuinely the funniest hour I had at the Fringe.

 Simon Munnery’s Fylm School at Heroes @ The Hub until 31st August at 19.40

For just a fiver, you can catch some of the best acts at the Fringe perform short sets from their shows. A seriously good two hours showing just how many talented comics are at the Fringe.

Best of Hub at Pleasance Dome Aug 26 at 22.00

Edinburgh day 3 – it continues!

Facebook Twitter Email

So many things. So many worries that you’re missing this and everyone is having the best time. .. But by day three it’s possible to get a grip on these absurd worries and just enjoy the festival.

So, Austentacious, the Jane Austen improv group are first up. Selling out the Udderbelly most days, it’s a show you should get booking up because it’s an hour of comedy brilliance. The premise is simple: the audience come up with a title for a new Jane Austen play and the team work out the story. For what it’s worth, mine was Jane Austerity – Poverty in big floaty dresses. But it was never chosen, tragically.

Improv is fascinating to watch, being able to notice the communication between the players and how no ego can get in the way. Today’s show was no different and the story revolved around an art gallery being closed, a prominent wealthy man being likened to a tree, a poor girl offering to dive into a jar of formaldehyde for her love and a meal topped off with endless oregano, Parmesan and hundred and thousands.

Armed with incredible timing, Austentacious is top-drawer improv that needs to be seen.

Austentacious at Underbelly until 31st August.

The second show of the day was the super entertaining Max and Ivan’s The End, where they cunningly change the lights to be different characters taking us on a walking tour of a horrendous town by the sea, with the slogan “Don’t go on the beach!” giving you an idea of the town and its charms. Enormously influenced by the League of Gentlemen, there are many moments of brilliance in the show with comic timing a particular strength.

We are guided through the town and its nuclear power plant and a melee of weird characters all fighting for our attention. The father and returning son duo works well as a central storyline, with callbacks to some blood curdling arguments they’d had in their past always raising big laughs. For me, I found an unexpected but vicious (and no doubt illegal) sex scene to be the high point, intercut with other key moments in the day of the town.

The ending itself seemed to go on for too long – returning to characters we’d just seen, but it’s slick, sick and a lot of fun.

Max and Ian: The End at Pleasance Dome until 30tj August

Edinburgh day 2 – Two full plays and two full comedy shows

Facebook Twitter Email

A busy day at the Festival saw me sit through two plays and two comedy shows, a record for me! Every one of them was of a startlingly high quality, with the levels of creativity on display for Down and Out surprising at every turn, the intensity of Luke McQueen being unlike any comedy show I’ve seen and the novelty of Mawaan Rizwan suggesting he can switch from YouTube video fame to real-life adulation.


First up was Urinetown, performed with passion and wit by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The story is about a town where private companies control public amenities and peeing or pooing is only allowed at their toilets, at a cost. The musical is always finding ways to break the fourth wall and talk to us, suggesting that Urinetown isn’t as fictional a place as we might imagine. The performers that stood out were Pennywise as the company snitch who won’t let anyone off their pee fee and the brilliant Graham Richardson as Bobby Strong. Little Sally and Officer Lockstock also impressed.

Urinetown at Assembly Hall until 31st August – 11.45am

Down and Out in Paris and London is a book seared into my memory for the chilling descriptions of poverty and this play combines that with Polly Toynbee’s book Hard Work, where she discovers a world of zero hours contracts, nearly zero support from the benefits agency and a general undercurrent of despair amongst the unemployed and employed alike. A play staged with immense skill, Down and Out simply blew me away as it skipped through time from Orwell to Toynbee in a move as simple as turning a bed around or walking through a door. Armed with a script that hammered home a message that inequality is a pox we’ve yet to rid ourselves of and brilliant performances, the play will stand out for me as a genuine highlight and should find a good home in the home of inequality, London, come April 2016.

Down and Out in Paris and London – Pleasance Courtyard Two until 31st August – 6.30pm


A spectacularly rampant hour of comedy that starts without a comedian, but a disembodied voice on a phone and pushes performance and stand up into a deeply awkward and brilliant shape. McQueen was once in a double act, but not any more and he’s bitter as hell about it.

Audience participation is often scary, but McQueen has an ability, much like Adam Riches, to keep the doomed participants feeling part of the joke rather than the joke. There is a good mixture of stand up, physic comedy, video clips and props being used and as the ideas pile up on top of one another, the show becomes painfully funny and sad at the same time. McQueen seems to have form at using trauma as a tool and in Double Act he’s honed it to a sharp point.

Luke McQueen Double Act at Pleasance Courtyard Beside until 31st August – 9.45pm

We are asked to put our hands together for a gender-neutral comedian and out comes Mawaan Rizwan, splendid in a flowing gown and giant wig. With pegs for fingers. Starting by feeding the audience badly, he says nothing for minutes at a time and whatever he does say is in whispers. Keeping a midnight audience entranced, Mawaan dances about the stage before making tentative steps at telling a joke inside a joke inside another joke.

The show has a form and it slowly makes itself known through mini game shows, quizzes and almost-magic tricks. My favourite moment was a simple but effective gag about making tape animals out of cellotape. The Guardian described his show as one that will do anything for laughs, so his ending is suitably ludicrous. All I’ll say is when he tells you he’s made a serious play about the transition from boy to lamp, he’s anything but serious.

Mawaan Rizwan at Pleasance Courtyard This – midnight

Edinburgh day 1 – What a Rush!

Facebook Twitter Email

This is my third visit to the beautiful city of Edinburgh but my first at the festival, and day one was a wonderful rush! Arriving at the airport and onto the cursed tram, which was smooth and pleasant, offering no idea why it cost over £375m over budget!

A walk through the city to get to Richmond Apartments is a reminder that grey weather does not bestow upon Edinburgh great beauty, but all the same you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere important. It’s a glorious city and the buzz of the festival adds to the atmosphere.

Collecting tickets on the high street ticket office makes things as simple as possible, allowing you more time to develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you emerge back out into the throng of everything. 

To the left of me was a woman dressed as a witch banging a drum, a cacophony of bagpipes rising from the east, a phalanx of ticket jockeys. Everyone was friendly – handing out leaflets without being pushy. All around, posters for shows are pasted to all available open space; it’s a fantastic spectacle that can feel a little overwhelming. In two minutes you’ll see more happening than a city would have in a day. 

Our first show was at the Pleasance Dome. Adam Riches has moved on from performing a sketch-based show to what he describes as a sport movie on stage. Opening with a mash up of three major film studio themes merged into one, it’s evident that Riches isn’t going to lose his comedy touch, but Coach Coach is more about farcical drama than it is about comedy. The premise is simple, sort of. Coach Coach has a family who love Volfsball, but Coach isn’t any good at getting his team to win, not helped by a player with two left hands. Luckily a new player comes on the scene, able to whip up excitement and passion because he’s… a wolf. The opposite team are the centaurs, featuring a player who only communicates by finger clicks and arm movements and a mannequin. There’s also an appearance by Richard Gadd.

At times, the storytelling gets in the way and shows a script that could be tighter. Some jokes fall flat and others work a treat, but when Riches let the cast roam around the audience, things perk up and chaos is controlled but hugely enjoyable. The ending shows the skills that Riches has for audience participation, his ability at bringing storylines together and generating excitement in the audience. Coach Coach is weaker than ‘Bring me the head of Adam Riches’ which won at Edinburgh in 2011, but few comics could pull off a sports movie on stage that is as dynamic as this. He is a natural team player and doesn’t dominate a show peppered with enough gags to make for a highly enjoyable if not spectacular evening. 

At the Pleasance Courtyard Beside venue we caught Twins do a free midnight show. Free is hugely underselling the show, full of quick wit, shambolic sketches and introduced by my favourite new comic duo, Wack and Wanny who the Twins keep trying to kill.

The show is based on Jack’s bucket list that he must complete before he dies (he has until the end of the hour) and through the magic of imagination he goes to Vegas “it’s Vegas baby, roll the dice!” “I don’t wanna!”, sees the Northern lights in Northern England, hunts down a dastardly Mexican who tells everyone they’re rubbish and gets involved with a Pony Club. The Pony Club is particularly sharp, and who doesn’t want to see audience members ride comedians round a racetrack made with plungers?

The Twins have so much enthusiasm and joy in their work that the hour flew by far too quickly. A definite highlight.

Twins at Pleasance Courtyard Beside until Sunday 30th August – Midnight

Adam Riches is Coach Coach at Pleasance Dome until August 30th – 21.45


A little trip to…Margate

Facebook Twitter Email

dreamland1Margate, 64 miles from London, feels a lifetime away from the capital. With its empty shop fronts, bad coffee, chunks of town that desperately need a hug and a strong sense of decline, there is little to tempt your standard superior, culture-obsessed, party-going London idiot. Disclaimer! A day in Margate completely made me realise that I am very much part of the Metropolitan Elite and I’ve no reason to apologise for it, because I get to live in East London and it’s awesome. I love multicultural London, great coffee and my local French-Algerian bakery.

For all the gloom, there are things that could turn the tide of this seaside resort – upon exiting the station there is an almost endless amount of sand and almost bluish sea. The Turner Contemporary arrived on the scene in 2011, a 2012 Rough Guide list put Margate in the top 10 places to visit in the world, 2015 sees the re-opening of Dreamland and Kent was recently honoured by being voted the top place for family holidays in Europe. With this optimism, you’d think people would look a little less put-upon, but no.

In Cliftonville, a fruitless walk for fish and chips gave us a chance to see a parade of depressed looking locals, some of who – there’s no way to say this that isn’t mean – could have done with a cleansing dip in the Lido. If it were open, maybe they’d be beaming with health and happiness. We also came across a perplexing wall about some murders – from this wall of surrealism I gathered some locals died, the police never solved it (though one of the names was scrubbed out so that person either deserved it or their killer was found) and also Desperate Dan was involved. I exclaimed “Is this real?”, a local said it was and I asked what Desperate Dan was about. His response was “I don’t fucking know” and walked away.

50p to whoever knows why the Stones and Desperate Dan are here

50p to whoever knows why the Stones and Desperate Dan are here

Let’s talk about Dreamland, the once-famous venue that closed in 2003 and was nearly turned into a hotel with a giant Tesco attached, but in a fantastic twist of fate, Tesco pulled out. In steps the Dreamland Trust who raised £18m and set about restoring the grade II listed railway, cinema and menagerie cages. The local council carried out a compulsory purchase of the site – since when does this happen in London? Where I live, new developments in the guise of “regeneration” have seen two local amenties disappear and this is deemed as progress.

In our visit, Dreamland was a bit of a mess. Despite opening in phases, I wasn’t entirely sure how Dreamland was going to explain away the penny arcade with gaping holes in the ceiling, the slot machines that had plugs not in the wall and all sorts of various eccentricities that were charming, if not confusing. The theme park itself will cost £14.95 for an adult to visit but note that the scenic railway isn’t yet open. Whether or not it will help the town move into some sort of better future, albeit one that is reflecting on the more illustrious past, it is worth noting that the way people and organisations have pooled resources and showed great passion suggests this is a town worth saving.


The Guardian shows that Margate’s many vintage and art shop is not neccessarily an accident. There are approximately a million of these shops, many clustering in the old town and they revel in Margate’s iconography, from classic Dreamland designs to colourful prints of the Lido and you can take from these shops either a sense of pride in the town or some heavy-handed attempt to get people to love Margate. The important thing is that the art is of good quality and often really affordable.

Margate’s art trail ultimately leads to the Turner Contemporary, looking something like a modern fish canning factory – if factory owners were keen on letting in natural light. The original design was particularly exciting in that the gallery would become a part of the harbour, at risk of being swept away by an over-excited tide – the original design on the left and the final design on the right. A mere £20m difference in cost between the exciting vision and the fish factory. However, one of Turner’s key influences remains, and that’s the brilliant light coming through the large windows and the excellent views out to sea.

margate1 margate2






Staff members at the Turner were so helpful – excuse me, I’m from London, would you mind being rude in future please? The star of the exhibition was a major Grayson Perry exhibition including his wonderful Walthamstow tapestry, which I last spotted at the William Morris gallery and his astonishing pots. His Provincial Punk show, on until Sun 13 Sep, is easily one of the most inventive shows I’ve had the pleasure to see, mixing British icons, humour and filth in a collection of deceptively beautiful pieces of art. The quality of the pottery is easily overlooked when you find swastikas, gimps and penises scattered throughout the work, but if you find yourself in Margate before September, I urge you to go, just for that alone.


So, Margate. A strange sort of place, but changes are coming and with time and patience, a lot of good things can happen. What stands out for me is the inability to make a British seaside resort feel modern and relevant – Blackpool has had to induce people with a million lights and Europe’s highest rollercoaster; Margate is recreating a wooden rollercoaster. Brighton has a hugely diverse range of attractions and is 5 times larger than Margate – so the past is where it’s at for Margate and if it works, it might just help give new life to the traditional British holiday. Putting aside my London idiocy, there was something charming about the place, struck through like a Margate rock. You could do worse than go and explore it.

Links onward for Margate’s many attractions!

Margate Shell Grotto

Margate My Kind of Town by Vic Reeves

A weekend in Margate

East Kent Art and Sunshine


wobblelikejelly |Photos of the year

Facebook Twitter Email

It is to my eternal regret that I don’t get enough photos printed – it’s obvious that photos look better in tangible form. In the absence of real photos, a gallery of my favourite photos from 2014 will suffice for now. It’s been a good year, with plenty to see and do. Enjoy!

Brussels is easily one of my favourite cities and having been there four times, it is somewhere I feel very comfortable in. If someone who hasn’t bothered to visit Brussels tells you it’s boring, just come to me and I’ll bore you senseless with Brussels love. Grand Place at night looks like nothing else, and with new lighting installed, everything looks more sensational than ever.

Grand Place

Norwich is somewhere I raved about back in February and rightly so. It is quite simply a great city in its own right. It is remote enough from other big cities to have to bow to anyone and it’s all the better for it. I was especially “omgomgomgomg” about the John Lewis building and my trip seemed to focus on the architectural gems of Norwich. Go!


This year I went to Paris for the third time, but every visit feels different from the last. This time the weather treated us to a carefree April trip full of rests in parks and a daily mojito. I fell in love all over again and our trip up Tour Montparnasse gave us the added bonus of not being able to see it ruin the skyline.

13887344351_0d7c36f425_k 13887307271_96e4a2b045_k

Liverpool, what a swell place! As I left Liverpool after a fantastic day of sight-seeing, I regretted deeply that I never went to university there. I doubt I’d have ever left. The cathedral was an absolute highlight for me and I’m keen on going back and just gazing lovingly at it.


Bosnia and Croatia made up my summer holiday destinations this year, and despite being mistaken for a drugs traffiker (I’m usually mistaken for Harry Potter) sitting on a coach which was vaguely on fire for 8 hours, almost throwing up every time I went near the harbour in Split, I loved it all. Mostar and Sarajevo hugely appealed to me, even if the cities made me think seriously about the evil that humans can do to one another. Croatia had gems in the form of Zadar and Plitvice Lakes, with Zagreb offering a vibrant capital city experience.


Sarajevo Town Hall




Beautiful Mostar


Zadar’s superb waterfront


Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes




If you were to sum up the holidays I have been going on on the past few years, you will keep coming back to Spain and Scandinavia – and rightly so! God damn, I love them both so much. This year I went with my friend Rokos to Andalucia and saw some sensational places, from the gobsmackingly gorgeous Ronda to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Cordoba had the Mezquita and a charming city to boot and Seville was just a knockout place for food, drink, sights and the shock of 35c weather in late October.







Seville - Alcazar

Seville – Alcazar

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada


Eleven reasons to go to Trondheim

Facebook Twitter Email



In September 2013 I wrote about my love for Scandinavia and highlighted my seven wonderful trips there. Since then I’ve been back to Norway twice and remain deeply in love with the region. The beauty doesn’t get old, the people always seem at peace and a night out in Trondheim is never going to end at a kebab van fighting a guy who thought you were checking out his troglodyte lover. Generalisations aside, Norway and Scandinavia in general doesn’t have the of menace my high street has and every time I visit, I don’t fancy coming back to the UK.

For my 9th trip, I visited Dave from Life in Norway in Trondheim to see the area a little better and I’ve come away with a firm impression that this is a city with a great deal to offer, one where I could imagine being very happy. Here’s eleven happy reasons why you should visit…

Reason 1: Getting a direct flight Trondheim is hassle free from London Gatwick; for under £90 you can get a return on one of Norwegian’s shiny new planes with intermittent wi-fi on board.

Reason 2: boysThe cosiest pub with the best terrace, is right in the centre. Den Gode Nabo is a wonderful pub right by the Old Town Bridge where Dave gasped at the price of a pint of Dahls being 60kr, about £6. For Norway, it’s about as cheap as you’re likely to find and it’s a good pint, too. The outdoor terrace floats on the river and gives beautiful views down the river.

Reason 3: The Nidaros Cathedral. It’s one of those places that seems to be super important without anyone ever having heard of it. But…it’s the most northernmost medieval cathedral in the world, the most important cathedral in the country and parts of the Cathedral have been modelled on Lincoln cathedral. We took the tour of the Cathedral and found it informative without actually focusing on the religious stuff. Phew. The most eye-opening fact was that sections of the Cathedral were used as stables for hundreds of years – but to find out why you’d need to visit.

Reason 4: The cafe at the contemporary art gallery. Trondhjems Kunstforening is a modern art gallery I didn’t manage to visit but I did manage to have the same salad, exactly a year apart. On both occasions, the salad was a highlight of my year. Enormous and so so fresh, this is the salad of the kings.


Reason 5: Trondheim Microbrewery. Aha! Just my sort of place. The website might not have an English translation, but beer is a universal language. The IPA is good, and from trying a bit of all the different drinks we tried, I can vouch that this is a good place to hang out. As ever, it’s relaxed, people are drinking for pleasure rather than as a sort of bloodsport (at these prices, etc…) and the music isn’t ramped up to the point where you might as well forget ever talking to your friends again.


Reason 6: Solsiden. This area is primarily a shopping centre, but it’s wonderfully landscaped and being by the water is fantastic in the sun. There are remnants of Trondheim’s industrial heritage scattered around and there are of course, many restaurants to throw your money at. Which leads me to number 7…

Reason 7: A reasonably priced Chinese restaurant in Trondheim! Shanghai Restaurant, on the banks of the river at 21 Kjøpmannsgata, offers large, tasty meals for about £13 with beers around the £6.50 mark. I ordered the pepper beef which came with a ton of rice. Even when my fellow diners were nibbling at my meal, we couldn’t finish it.


Reason 8: Rockheim! One thing I really like about Norway is that each city feels important in some way. Trondheim doesn’t feel like some provincial city and giving it the national museum of Norwegian pop and rock music sets that tone. Rockheimdavve is as about as fun an afternoon as you can have for £10. Interactivity is the key here and if you ever come across my song – mostly me saying “Lindaaaa” like Jill does in Nighty Night over some confusing drums, feel free to draw up the record contract. It turns out I am not a talented guitarist, but I can dress boys up to look real pretty.

The building is fantastic, the exhibits are much more interesting than you would expect and the views from the top floor are superb. Rockheim is how all museums should be!

Reason 9: Trondheim’s ‘alternative district’. Ok, it’s small but it’s cute and as you’ll walk past it if you go to Reason 10, there’s nothing to lose. As Dave writes here, the bar called Ramp is where hipsters can go and be tattooed and beardy, free from the daily oppression they never face. Actually, I wonder if a hipster in Trondheim would wear one yellow and one pink Converse like one I recently saw in Tesco metro in Walthamstow? Around the area is a brilliant installation made of…bits of old plastic I suppose.  Check it out:



More information on the district is here.

Reason 10: Ladestien, the trail leading past the Lade peninsula is a great walk that starts with the fantastic megasized megaphone that the University of Science and Technology gifted to the city. I had hoped I could play a tune down it and the city would be treated to some Lana Del Ray, but that utterly failed. However, it is huge and is fun to play with.







The walk leads on to the usual Norwegian trio of big sky/water/trees, always leading me to feel so comforted and calm. Damn you Norway, you’ve got it going on. Along the way is a piano high above the path that is terribly out of tune, for my ability at the piano is legendary. Who would take a piano, carry it about fifty feet up a hill? A cool Norwegian, that’s who. Carry on along the water and you’ll reach a beach area where Ben, my friend on the trip with me, dived into the water immediately. I was avoiding this crazy behaviour and ate my sandwich on a picnic table. It rained, then it stopped, then it rained again.


Reason 11: Let’s hike in the hills, people! My, don’t the Scandi folk just love the open air? I was becoming one of those people when I lived in Devon. Weekends of bliss on Dartmoor – piercing cold, windswept afternoons…none of it mattered because Dartmoor is Dartmoor. Now I live in London, the first spot of rain sees me scurrying into a cafe in case I get a chill. But seriously, the weather we had in Trondheim was so pleasant, the walk around Bymarka was just the ticket. It’s a massive city forest with hundreds of kilometers of marked trails and once you get beyond the initial throng of people, you can find yourself alone in the open space. The big skies of Scandinavia really appeal to me; I feel smaller but more free and there’s something beautiful about being part of nature, picking berries and letting all thoughts slip right out of your brain. From the city centre, we took bus no. 10 right to the forest and walked a route marked as 5km, but with our meanderings, selfies and diversions, it was more like 8km. We walked to the tram stop at Lian where we took the tram back into town. The walk had us gasping for a beer back at Reason 2.

170,000 people call Trondheim home, and I bet every one of them is content to be there. It’s a real charmer of a town, in a country I adore going to. But there’s so much more to Norway for me to see, as Dave loves to point out. There’s Tromsø, there’s Flåm, there’s the Lofoten islands. Until next time!

dave and i