A little trip to… Wendover

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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


Edinburgh Fringe day 4 – ever more comedy

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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!

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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


I love London part 3

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I Love London part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

P1230725Having been on my travels to Croatia and Bosnia this summer I had a strange feeling as I entered my second week away. I live in London, the world’s most visited city and I live in the UK, a place many people want to call their home. Indeed, we’re so popular that our Government feels it ought to demonise and spit hate at anyone that wants to come live here. We’re full up, apparently.

The feeling I had was that I wasn’t making the most of my own country and home city, and perhaps my obsession with getting away isn’t the best use of my time off. So, I used the opportunity of having my mum down to be a tourist in London. First stop, the Tower of London to see the poppies planted to commemorate the 888,246 British soliders killed in the war. An astonishing sea of red constrasts sharply with the grey of the building and green of the grass, creating the second spectacle commemorating the war. The other was Ryoji Ikeda‘s ‘spectra’, the beam of light projected into the skies above London for a week. As impressive as the beam is from afar, up close it takes on an almost solid form – flies dancing through the light remind you of its ethereal quality. The light entranced everyone who saw it.


On top of the many free events that go around the city all summer, there’s the small matter of the museums and galleries of London which together is quite likely the biggest concentration of free art, design and exhibits anywhere on earth.

Let’s take the Tate Modern – we walked past Waterlillies by Monet in a matter of moments, not for a second thinking that some of the paintings in this series sell at auction for over £20 million. We also saw work by Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Pollock and Rothko. I was fascinated to read that Rothko was commissioned to paint a number of pieces for an upscale New York restaurant but upon realising the work was too dark in mood, he donated the works to the Tate.


We headed over to the Imperial War Museum to see their new layout and what a triumph it is. You walk in to see the spectacle of a Harrier Jump Jet, Spitfire and “doodlebug” suspended above you – above you a boat juts out of the glass windows in the beautiful atrium and above it a Landroveris similarly frozen in motion. Upstairs, the Holocaust exhibition is deeply detailed and disturbing; it’s tragic to see what happened to the Jewish people back then hasn’t been confined to history as the people of Gaza suffer a disgraceful blockade, Putin marches in and out of Ukraine and IS slaughter all who don’t want to convert to Islam. The world is in a dark place and the Imperial War Museum is a depository of our failings.


If the Imperial War Museum catalogues our war-hungry past, The British Museum highlights our ability to conquer culture and then nick it. It’s still astonishing for me to walk in there and find rooms I’ve never explored. As usual, walking past a totem pole, stuffed birds, ancient texts and incredible Egytpian and Greek statues becomes second nature and a walk through the Great Court always makes me sense just how impressive the museum is. Is there anywhere else that can match the grandeur of The British Museum?

Our cultural lives are so improved by free access to these musems and galleries, it’s hard to think back to the days we had to pay entry fees to them. While this is still free, we should take joy that these artworks and masterpieces are not solely in the hands of the super-rich and that we are free to admire them at our leisure. I may well love going abroad for my holidays but when it comes down to it, there’s no place like home.




A little trip to…Liverpool

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When I started writing these “A little trip to…” posts, the points was really to get me out and about in Britain more and while there has been some success in this quest, I feel deep shame that the North really lacks any love and care from me. Thanks to Virgin trains doing a super sale (seriously £20 return from London to Liverpool is brilliant), myself and Rokos (check his cafe out here!) headed to the home of The Beatles, centre of slavery, left-wing haven and birthplace of the true musical icons Atomic Kitten. A two and a bit hour journey of low-level sewage smells from the train loos later and we arrive at the grand but curiously empty Liverpool Lime Street station.

Rokos took me to News from Nowhere bookshop, which is a bit like paradise for me; a not-for-profit worker’s co-operative with a great selection of books about evil things like America, Capitalism and Sugar. I  bought a Palestinian film I’d been interested in seeing, 5 Broken Cameras, which, by the way, is brilliant film. Making it even more perfect? William Morris, the main man of my ‘hood Walthamstow, a keen socialist to boot, wrote the book the shop took its name from! After this, we had a coffee – I am in coffee training and had my second ever flat white – at Bold Street coffee. It’s independent, people have big hair and laptops, it’s all very now.

P1210694As I was out with Rokos, we absolutely had to have a burger for lunch so headed to Almost Famous, which is one of those places with burgers made entirely out of grease and slimey stuff. I had something called the “You will die once your body tries to digest this much goo in one go” and very nice it was too. Wobbling out, we walked through the city to Albert Dock and the Slavery Museum. Inside, on the floors dedicated to the boaty history of Liverpool, we saw the most 1980’s sign ever…


80s much?

Nearby were loads of models of old boats and not one of them had a slide for kids to go down. It is a shock that the Cunard line didn’t realise that boats are boring, especially for the poor who were trapped in the dank bsements. Even for the rich, eating Swans made of diamonds would pall after a while.

The Slavery Museum, however, really did offer food for thought and was put together with people like me in mind. It was full of colours, lights, shapes and some exhibits that really allow you to understand the horrors of slavery. The museum challenges you to look around at the impressive buildings in Liverpool and consider how many of them were built on the back of the millions that suffered in faraway placesso we could be filthy rich. A particularly vile exhibit was blown up to highlight how a family that owned many slaves wrote “Merry Xmas” on their bare chests while the family lounged around in the foreground. That the museum manages to make you confront this evil and at the same time offer a coda of hope shows the deep thinking that went into it all. My thoughts on the museum don’t do it justice, so I suggest you read this insightful article on it from the Guardian.

P1210768The Three Graces is a suitable highlight of Liverpool – a real display of immense wealth and confidence the city had but in traditional British style, someone at the planning committee continuously thought that to really make the area stand out, it would be appropriate to plonk some truly hideous buildings all around it. Good lord, what are these people thinking? British cities always have this going on but for some reason, the planners and architects had a jamboree here. In my photo below you see to your left the truly vomit-inducing car park/mountain, obligatory new block of flats designed by someone who hates humans and the one saviour, Atlantic Tower which shows a certain level of ability in making the building look like a boat.


Good building and awful one behind

Good building and awful one behind

Liverpool is a city of great architectural contrasts. The city retains a lot of its architectural charm, is able to boast more Georgian buildings than Bath, has 2,500 listed buildings and while it seems many buildings are in a state of disrepair, it was visible that new restaurants and shops opening up are making good use of the beautiful spaces in the city.

We passed through an empty arcade that oozed grace and elegance – the India Buildings. Originally the headquarters of the Blue Funnel line, yet another throwback  to when the city could boast of being in the A-League, the building today appeared to be mostly empty. The
little sweet shop was barren, as was the barbers. It didn’t quite feel that you could walk through it, but surprisingly you could.

P1210782Liverpool is rightly famed for its sensational Metropolitan Cathedral and on the way there we walked past the bombed-out church which was gutted by a fire caused by an incendary device on 6th May 1941. Once a beautiful church, St Luke’s is now a nearly-perfect shell of its former self. As sad as it is to see the destruction, it is wonderful to see it remain a part of the city’s fabric and to see a group looking after it.

P1210807Onwards to the Metropolitan Cathedral and despite just getting a brief look around before mass started, I was bowled over by the stunning stained glass windows in the colours of the Trinity. If I had the chance, I would have spent an age admiring the warm colours and often sparse walls of the building. Quite simply, it is spell-binding.

P1210870Another landmark of Liverpool is The Philharmonic pub, in itself a reason to go back to the city. The exterior boasts a textbook of styles, from windows in many shapes, balconies, parapets, sculptures and an art nouveau entrance gate. Inside are beautiful copper panels, rooms themed around musicians, elaborate ceilings and possibly the greatest gent’s loo in the land. In fact, so great is this loo that I had to stay in a cubicle listening to a gaggle of lady pensioners marvelling at the marble, making cock jokes. No way was I subjecting myself to the mirth of pensioners. As one of the ladies said, it wasn’t the first time she’d seen a large pink item in a toilet. Ahem.

P1210877Before leaving Liverpool, we ate at rapid speed at Camp and Furnace. It is said to be the “second coolest restuarant interior in the UK” and is suitably mdf-d up to play the part of cool new venue. It’s in the middle of an industrial area, features a restaurant, bar and gallery space and produces pretty knock-out food at prices that would make a London cynic weep with envy. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a day in a city that is moving forward in its own direction. Liverpool really seemed like a city that knows itself and is proud. Yes, there’s the inevitable signs of a city that is not quite working at full potential – glorious Victorian buildings in the centre of town with trees growing out of top floor windows, empty shop fronts and so on…but examples abound of an independent spirit taking root. Needless to say, I’m counting down the days until I can go again.


A little trip to…Norwich

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It is a regular occurrence, if not a weekly one, that I will set out grand claims to explore the diverse and wonderful archipelago that is Britain in much more detail. I plan out meandering tours of the 500-odd islands that make up Great Britain, I get excited about going to Northern Ireland and tracing the three years I spent there, before heading to the Giant’s Causeway and pretending I’m on Blockbusters.

Obviously, I am a dreamer by nature and most of my plans end up being binned when my attention is drawn sideways by a cat video or a woman in some god-awful American town screeching about the heat/how her air con has broken down.  So, for me, getting to Norwich at all is really quite an achievement. If you will, it’s the me equivalent of doing what Davina McCall just did for Sports Relief, without nearly as many tears.

Having been to Norfolk once before and loving it, I was really looking forward to exploring the city and my first impressions were good ones. Leaving the handsome train station and walking past the forlorn looking “Norwich in Bloom 2009” display, Rokos (he runs this cafe in Hackney, which I suggest you go to now!) and I headed towards food and medieval splendour. Our choice of sustenance, Tatler’s, was closed – things here are closed on Mondays, including the Sainsbury’s centre for the visual arts, which is just annoying – so we wandered round Tomblands, ending up on Elm Hill and at the Briton’s Arms. Without meaning to gush, the Briton’s Arms was just wonderful on every possible count; including a genuinely friendly welcome that made me feel all warm and loved. I chose the pork pie, Rokos chose the Salmon in filo pastry and I won lunchtime. The giant slab of pork pie was accompanied by a salad that defied British tradition by being rammed full of flavour and improved no end by a mustard vinaigrette. Mustard is something I generally can’t bear, so for me to rave about something I hate shows just how good this place is. Despite my best intentions I couldn’t finish the meal as I had to save space for pudding, which was treacle tart and ice cream.  It was probably the best I’ve ever had, with an incredibly soft structure that yielded easily to the fork. The puddings on offer reminded me of something Bill Bryson wrote…it was along the lines that you can serve all your meals with reductions and roulettes, but don’t fuck around with the puddings.

Aww, love.

Feeling very full  and very pleased we headed off down historic Elm Hill, where apparently most of the buildings date from the 16th century, round the river to the Adam and Eve pub, which is said to be the oldest in the city, from around the 13th century. From the taste of it, I think my beer was brewed then. Ho, ho! Whilst a nice pub, neither of us really thought it felt particularly ancient. Meanwhile, a local asks his mate “A week in Switzerland, what on earth would you do there?” Quite.

After my vinegary refreshment, we headed to the cathedral where I very nearly passed on looking inside. Glad to say I did go in, and it’s easily one of the best cathedrals I’ve ever been in. While St Paul’s is…well, St Paul’s, Norwich’s cathedral is enormous and varied enough to induce a slight state of trance to any visitor. In parts, there are still those atmospheric wooden pews and an incredible collection of roof bosses which sadly I know all about now I’m not there to see them in more detail.

The shapes on the roof are all different images that tell a story. Gorgeous.

Upstairs in the treasury is a load of silver trinkets which I reckon the cathedral bosses could sell off on eBay to recoup some of the £4000 a day it costs to run the place. Of more interest were the wall paintings which again date back many hundreds of years. While I’ll never be a believer, I can never help but find admiration for the architects of these buildings which do such a good job of calming down the speed of modern life, if just for a while.

The Cathedral

Hurtling back into the diamond-white lights of Norwich city we headed to the only (apparently) independent bookshop in the city, The Book Hive. Instantly lovable, the bookshop had that feeling that truly loved bookshops have. Instead of books piled high like a Primark sale, everything was sending the message that books are to be treasured and mean something. Pretty remarkable, huh, Amazon? And to top it all, they found a use for the badger that was lying about. 

The shopping streets of Norwich are a real draw for the city, it has to be said. The central streets lack a giant shed of commerce (it does have one, it’s a shed, it’s near the nice forum, but it’s not bang in the middle), opting for a pleasing mish-mash of buildings and streets with the added bonus of the Royal Arcade in all its – so says the internet – Arts and crafts style. Interestingly, the buildings I most admired in Norwich came from George Skipper, who also lays claim to Surrey House, home of Norwich Union and the glorious John Lewis.

I’m in love with this

The centre of Norwich feels bustling and prosperous; perhaps the location of the city makes it more immune to the ranks of empty shop fronts I’ve seen in Bristol and Birmingham? Whatever the case, the macaroons Rokos bought looked delicious. Tragically, I never got to see them again. As we continued our meander, we saw an information point that mentioned Surrey House, so we thought we’d see if we could have a look at the insides, which luckily, we could. I shan’t say much about the inside of Surrey House, but it’s remarkable to say the least and I can’t help but wonder if many visitors realise they can stroll in and see the ground floor where an inspired designer threw up a sumptuous display of marble that magically turned into the nicest office reception I’ve ever seen.

Surrey House

After over 900 words, there’s still the castle, market and gorgeous art-deco city hall to go on about endlessly. There’s the chip shop, The Grosvenor, that has teamed up with The Birdcage pub so as long as you buy a drink, they will bring your food over to you. I suppose I miss smaller cities that can create a character not based on the needs of millions of people. Yes, Norwich, I liked you more than I expected and now you’ve got me wanting a Norfolk Broads trip. Then again, there is Lavenham in Suffolk, or the Essex countryside where I hear there’s a town filled with art deco buildings. Or…

For my full Norwich set, see my Flickr!