July 2013

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I have ACTUAL butterflies in my tummy writing this blog post, how ridiculous is that? I guess by the time you’ve finished reading then you will perhaps understand why. I’m basically about to change almost everything in my life. At the moment I live in London, I have a full-time high powered but amazing job and I lodge in a lovely North London house. In the last week I have quit my job, quit my house and I am about to quit London too… because on the 18th September Nick & I get on a plane to Venezuela and will spend the next six months backpacking around South and Central America!

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I don’t really know where to start on how much news this is for one person to share! Firstly, I’m so sorry if you are one of my close friends and I haven’t had time to tell you this news face to face. It’s all come about quite quickly and I’m sure the next six weeks until lift-off will go even faster. After the year that Nick and I both had in 2012, when an idea and opportunity arose to take six months out and travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world, it wasn’t one we took much hesitation around snatching. As we travel we will be blogging… probably not a massive surprise as we both write for a living in some capacity, as well as in our spare time, with me blogging here and Nick writing for Den of Geek! I’ll share lots more information about where you can follow our adventures before we go, but I promise it wont be your standard travelator blog… mainly because I don’t enjoy reading most of those so I want to create something a bit more accessible to home-bodies and explorers alike. We will basically be providing a male and female perspective on everything we do and see. Additional to that, Nick has done plenty of travelling before, whereas aside from a couple of short stints around Spain, South Africa and Canada, I am a backpacking newbie. We will also still be working (of course!) recce-ing for content for a Film & TV Production Company. They have recently filmed a base jumping feature out there, and want us to report back some research and ideas for future content/people/places that might make great future shows or movies. Doing this is going massively out of my comfort zone but I think I’m at that age where it’s a bit now or never. I’ve met my bestfriend-boyfriend, I’m zooming into a career for life and I’m getting a serious case of the seven year London itch. I also want to expand my mind and my feelings and life skills. I love my life and am very grateful for it, but can’t wait to have some time out from seeing every billboard that hits the underground platform wall, checking twitter before I’ve got out of bed, answering work emails at midnight and that sense of predictability with no end point.

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If you are interested, our trip itinerary takes us to Venezuela > Brazil (hitching a hammock ride on a boat down the Amazon!) > Bolivia, Peru (hola Machu Pichu!), Ecuador (currently battling our bank balance to see if you we justify the Galapagos) > Colombia > Panama > Costa Rica > Nicaragua > Honduras > Belize > Guatemala (where Craig may well be coming to meet us, for amongst other things, a night-time sloth hunting trek!) > Mexico > Los Angeles > Big Sur > San Francisco! We are currently in the haze of vaccinations, packing plans, itinerary nailing down and buried beneath Lonely Planet books frantically scribbling and scrawling. I’m swapping my monthly orders on ASOS to Nomad and hunting out must-have items such as waterproof jackets that fold to the size of an apple..! I’ve never been so excited in my whole life. I am practically vibrating, my waking and sleeping life jam-packed with thoughts about what we’ll see and where and who we’ll meet along the way. It still feels surreal that in mere WEEKS, I’ll be wandering the salt plains of Bolivia, trekking to waterfalls in Venezuela, staying in a family homestay on Lake Titicaca and hunting out Mayan ruins in Guatemala. I also can’t wait to get out there and use my certified level-3 Spanish on the locals. Although, I’m at that stage where I can speak eloquently and sound pretty authentic… then someone replies and my face crumbles as I realise I cannot understand a word of the answer!

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So that’s the news. Just a bit dramatic! I can’t say there isn’t an underlying blind-panic clutching me every now and then, ridiculously based around taking a office-job break. Even though I’m working whilst travelling, I have had formal employment since I first stepped into a waitressing job at 16. I’ve never been unemployed since! During university I didn’t get a student loan, instead working nights, weekends and holidays at a string of bar, cinema and museum jobs to fund my rent and fees. I couldn’t even bring myself to do the typical gap yah thing when I shipped off to Canada after graduating, instead helping in a backpackers hostel for the summer. But that work ethic has got me to where I am now, but I have a creeping suspicion the hours and high stress a times have potentially had a part to play in my health woes of last year, so am certain that a break from the daily grind will have medicinal benefits too.

So, I’m not going anywhere just yet, and normal service will resume (e.g. I WENT TO A ROLLER DISCO ON FRIDAY!) but bit by bit I’ll be transitioning over to my temporary travel blog home and talking more and more about my excitement at seeing my all-time favourite animal, the capybara, in the wild and less about my latest cheeseburger adventure.

 

 

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I haven’t been sure what to post in here lately, because although life has been true to my busy-bee name, I have mostly been busy lying like a starfish on any patch of grass I can find in London, soaking up the sun and nattering to colleagues and friends. My freckles have moved in for summer and I love the fact I haven’t even thought about wearing a jacket for weeks on end. A lot of people seem to be complaining about the heat at night but I LOVE it! I sleep deeply and dozily and wake up looking like a mole who’s just seen daylight for the first time. I hope the heat is here to stay a little longer.

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On Wednesday I visited Opium in Chinatown for the third time in three weeks, which I think makes it an official obsession and therefore something I need to share with the world. Opium is a Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour; what better combination is there than that? It’s the sort of place you hear about via word of mouth, whispered tip-offs and drunken loose lips, and that’s because there is no sign – speakeasy style! I know the “secret” thing is getting a bit overdone, but I have to say I still get a little rush of excitement when you walk up to an anonymous door and have no idea what you will find lurking behind. The door in question here is the “Jade Door”, 15-16 Gerrard Street (the main Chinatown strip) which is nestled between bustling restaurants and Chinese supermarkets. On arrival, a poe-faced security man will phone up to the “hosts” and you will then be sent up a dark, winding staircase to your table. Out of the gloom you are welcomed into an oasis of calm and tranquility, it’s almost impossible to believe you’re still in the heart of chaotic Chinatown.

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The main thing that’s captured my heart about Opium is the atmosphere. The decor is stylish and simple, with huge comfy seats and low set mahogany lattice tables. It’s always the exact right side of busy; buzzy but you aren’t sat on any strangers laps or squidged into shared tables. The staff couldn’t be more attentive, and the music is a treat in itself (where else can you hear a folk version of No Diggity?) The setting feels exclusive and you are made to feel like your custom is really valued, something I’ve found desperately lacking in a lot of of my London nightlife experiences lately.

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And of course the best part, is that the prices are totally reasonable. Cocktails are all around a tenner (I can’t believe I’m saying this so flippantly as I’m sure my friends back up north are recoiling in horror, but that’s pretty standard for London cocktail clubs) and they are worth every penny. The Crafted Fancy Drinks are all exclusively created by the Opium mixologists and a menu for the more adventurous drinker like me, there basically isn’t a spirit or flavour I DONT like! Which makes choosing a really tough experience, and explains why I keep going back. Not only are the drinks delicious, but they are also smashing it with the presentation. Syrups come in “Chinese Medicine” bottles, the Opium No 3 cocktail arrived in a dramatic smoking cauldron with griddled nectarine slices on the side and shorts are served in traditional tea cups. My favourite tipple is the Lady of Yue which comes with the description “while strengthening the spirit, one should remain outwardly calm”; a quote that is about to become very relevant to my life. It’s a tasty combination of remy martini, aporel, homemade almond syrup and fresh strawberries. If weird and wacky doesn’t do it for you, there’s an extensive list of old fashioned classics too including things I’ve never heard of such as cobbler, pisco sour and a bronx.

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Of course you need something to soak up those spirits, so the dim sum is a very necessary side addition. It’s a short, simple menu featuring favourite such as siu mai and char siu buns but also some extremly addictive items such as sesame-poppy prawn-lobster toast and salt and pepper aubergine which is by far the highlight of the menu. Order it even if you don’t think you like aubergines, because you will now!

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And there you have it. My latest London secret find, which I can’t recommend enough. Something else that I keep noticing lately is a new breed of trees… the painty variety. I’m pleased to see some of the grey-er corners of North London getting a colourful smattering of nature, and I wonder if it’s the same person planting the seeds or if it’s just coincidence?

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Now that I have lived in London seven years I’ve finally found “my spot”. Everyone needs that hideaway nook that they can go to think, read, write, ponder (or phone their mum, like me!) but in London it can be hard to find a place that isn’t already bustling with people or claimed by others. Over the last two years I’ve returned to this spot over and over again, in every season. I don’t know why the tree is dead, and perhaps it’s a bit morbid that it’s the place I’m attracted to, but I love it’s spindly branches and the way it dominates it’s surroundings. It’s set in wild long meadow grass which I like to sprawl out in and breathe in the fact that no one passing would even know I’m lurking there. Well, until I start wriggling around to scare off the insect & creature invasion. I’m already excited to get a little bit of me-time there tomorrow, and finish the last chapter of my book appropriately called The Memory of Trees by F G Cottam.

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A couple of months ago, the glorious Laura over at Make Do And Mend published a blog on the cusp of her 30th birthday confessing to the 10 things she still hasn’t mastered by the age of 29. This was quickly re-blogged by the marvellous Mystery Moor. Given that I have reached that grand old age of 29 myself (although I still have 10 glorious months of my twenties left) it got me thinking about my very own list.

1. How to be smart in the kitchen and not give myself burns

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I’ve learnt from painful experience that there are two things that really don’t mix; ovens and extreme tiredness. Unfortunately for me I am usually whipping up my dinner after a long day of work, plus socialising or Spanish night school, meaning it’s 10pm and I’m bumbling around the kitchen and this inevitably ends in burn town. The amount of times my food sits going cold whilst I stand whimpering with my arm under the cold tap is ridiculous. Also my burns are getting worse the older I get. This little sad face happened two months ago and even after drowning in Savlon and daily bio-oil application, it still looks exactly the same as the day I did it.

2. How to spell restaraunt. The red squiggly line under my first attempt says it all!

3. To top my bloody oyster up online. Every time my pay-as-you-go runs out of money and I go on a fruitless hunt for a shop that sells oyster top-up, then give up and queue at Oxford Circus for 30 minutes to use the machine… the machine helpfully prompts “why not top up online next time?” and I think YES, you idiot, why NOT do this from the comfort of your comfy chair instead of turning it into a high-stress Jack Bauer style race against time. Then I instantly forget. This has been going on for seven years.

4. How not to spill. If adult bibs suddenly because fashionable and chic, I’d be first in line. I really like crab shacks where you get those novelty disposable bibs, as they are what I need for every meal in every day life. I’ve purposely introduced more and more excessively busy prints to my wardrobe as it’s the only way to avoid being busted for having zero hand/mouth/eye coordination. No one can spot the tomato soup down my chest if it’s buried in technicolour cats… right?

5. How to like beer. It’s been a long road but I’ve finally accepted fruit beer (which lets face it, is the equivalent of drinking jam) into my life. Nick’s second home is the Camden Town Brewery Bar and theirs is the only beer I almost-sortof-kinda like! And even then I can only cope with the very light Pale Ale. But… it’s a start.

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6. How and what food is ok to freeze and then eat. Also I freeze milk, despite the fact it says “not suitable for home freezing”. The world is so confusing.

7. How to poach an egg. Writing this post inspired me and I had a good try last week. After losing one egg to the bin, one wobbling around as an un-edible ghost in the pan… the final two weren’t that bad. I used these tips from The Guardian. I also recently learnt to make heart-eggs for my packed lunch, which is way more fun!

8. How to paint my nails without smudging it. I just put glitter over the smudged ones though. So I have mastered nail-stealth.

9. How to dress like an adult. This is an actual conversation that happened in my office yesterday. Me: “Is this rose-hair-crown too much for work?” My colleague: “Well you wore a dress with a giant cat face on it last week, so…” Anyway I blame fashion. If they stopped making dungaree dresses, I wouldn’t be able to dress this way!

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10. Where my home is. I don’t want to live in Yorkshire again, I have the serious seven-year itch with London… I want to live by the sea, but I want to be able to buy a burrito at 2am. I want space, and cats, and dogs, but I want the buzz of a city and my friends in walking distance. Basically I don’t know where I’ll be living in 5 years time, or 10 years time, because I don’t think I’ve found home yet. And home is where the heart is. Help…

> I forgot to mention last month that the lovely Sally aka Queenie and the Dew featured me as part of her “Why I Blog…” series, and you can take a look here.

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This weekend London finally got the hint that winter is no longer welcome, and I packed away my thermals and thick socks and dug out my sandals and strappy sundresses, from the depths of my wardrobe. Nick & I had some very special parental visitors this weekend and faced the typical London-problem of WHAT TO DO. Not because there isn’t any choice, but because the choice is staggeringly overwhelming. We decided it would be nice to do a London-first with them, and consulted our groaning list of places in London we’ve been meaning to visit (but then just go to the doggy swimming pool on Hampstead Heath like we do every weekend). Top of that list was Highgate Cemetery.  I’ve been desperate to visit for years and have no idea how it’s alluded me, especially as I now live in North London and a 10 minute bus ride away. Nick and I have both recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, in which Highgate Cemetery is basically a character in it’s own right. I can’t say I loved the book (speaking of which, does anyone know why Raven Girl isn’t on the kindle/seems so hard to get hold of?) but I did fall in love with the descriptions of this luscious, secret land within London.

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It might seem like an odd choice, to spend a glorious sunny day in a graveyard, but banish these thoughts from your mind! The cemetery comes to life in summer, as it hides beneath lush canopies of trees and greenery, the colours providing a perfect juxtaposition to the grey-grey-graves. You feel so protected from the rest of London, and there is definitely an enchanting feeling of stepping into somewhere entirely different as the hustle & bustle of Highgate village suddenly vanishes. I am keen to go back and compare with a visit in winter, I imagine with gnarled tree branches tapping at you as you walk around and a nice dose of swirly mist, it’s a completely different atmosphere again.

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It also may feel slightly morbid to go to a cemetery at all… However I think it’s actually really beautiful that it is still being visited and enjoyed in the modern day. Everyone I observed visiting was respectful and curious and peaceful as they pottered around, reading about those who have passed over and considering their own mortality. It’s never going to be a bad thing to set aside obsessive thoughts about emails, holidays, work stress etc for a moment and just be grateful to be the person looking at the grave, not inside it.

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A quick potted history for those who may think Highgate-what? The original cemetery was created in 1839, in order to cope with the number of deaths in London and provide an alternative to undignified mass-burials that had previously been the only option. Highgate was one of seven large, modern cemeteries, known as the Magnificent Seven which were dotted around central London, in places that apparently in those days would have been the equivalent of travelling way out into the countryside!  The design was inspired by en-vogue garden cemeteries such as the Père Lachaise in Paris, and created by architect Stephen Geary. Over time, the cemetery attracted it’s fair share of iconic and famous graves; including Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross), Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Michael Faraday and Charles Cruft (founder of Crufts). I didn’t realise, but people could still be buried there today (at a price tag!) and we had an awkward moment when we stumbled across Jeremy Beadles grave and Nick’s dad asked in a baffled voice “Jeremy Beadle died?!”. What a way to find out.

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The cemetery is split in two. The East and the West cemetery. The East cemetery is where Karl Marx is buried, and visitors are free to roam freely. There is a £4 entrance fee, which gives you full access to the 15+ acres of incredible heritage and history. We spent about an hour and a half exploring and probably didn’t even come close to properly seeing half of it! So set yourself an entire day aside if you plan to visit, and maybe wait until slightly less melt-into-a-puddle heat as that is definitely what defeated us in the end. Graves extend for miles in the distance and are in row after jaunty angled row, as far as the eye can see. Snaking paths vanish behind huge stone angels, cherubs, arches and vaults. The graves vary from the most decrepit; where the engraving is barely readable and there clearly hasn’t been a fresh flower laid in decades, right up to the most modern with decadent gold leaf lettering and heaps of fresh posies. It’s also fascinating to see what people choose to have engraved in memory of their loved ones, and even recreated out of stone in some cases; there are a fair few cat and dog creations… as well as a few real life cats lolling around and making a bed for themselves amongst the stone slabs!

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In the East Highgate Cemetery, you are visiting the nature as much as the graves and architecture. In the 60s and 70s the Cemetery was desperately running short of money, and during this period it descended into rack and ruin. Nature took a devastating grip on the cemetery and you can still find many graves with vast tree roots cracking them in half or entirely covered in moss and slime. These were some of my favourites as they look like there is certainly about to be a bony hand jutting out at any moment! Luckily in 1975 “Friends of Highgate Cemetery” was formed and they work tirelessly to fundraise and restore parts of the cemetery to their former glory. Which takes me nicely on to the West Cemetery…

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The West Cemetery isn’t publicly accessible unless with a Highgate Cemetery Guide. Tours run every hour, but due to size limitations, they do sell out quickly. This isn’t clear on their website, so we casually rocked up at 2pm expecting to get straight in on a tour, but instead had to buy tickets for the 4pm tour and hang about until then. My advise is definitely head straight to the chapel outside the West Cemetery and buy your tour tickets before you do ANYTHING else. Also, for goodness sake, DO THE TOUR! It’s £12, which I remember previously thinking was a little steep… but it is more than value for money. Firstly, you then get free access to the East Cemetery (saving you £4, making the tour more like £8) but also every single penny of it goes towards vital restoration projects. The cemetery is such a vital part of London’s past, and due to the decades of neglect followed by it being a target for some abhorrent vandalism, there is a desperate need to raise money and restore graves, vaults and mausoleums to their former glory and intended use.

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The tour is absolutely brilliant. Firstly, you get to step into a part of London that barely anyone else has seen! And it certainly has that rare untouched crackle in the air. All the really special parts of the cemetery exist on this side, such as the Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon which have unique engraved tombs, family vaults and winding paths built into hillsides. In the Egyptian avenue, even the keyholes to each crypt are upside down, to represent a life extinguished. Our tour guide was the perfect mix of passionate, bright, personable and a wicked story teller. Over the course of an hour we learnt so much about Victorian symbols of death, the trends in under ground/over ground/cremation/burial types and walked the length and breadth of the West Cemetery. Our guide also took us to visit some of the more fascinating residents, such as Alexander Litvineko, Michael Faraday and George Wombwell. I really recommend you click the link and read about ole Wombwell, as he was such a fascinating character! A sort of early Alan Sugar who made money from displaying his menagerie of exotic creatures in pubs and bars around the London docklands. His menagerie grew and became a touring exhibition, and this man must have been the worlds best spin doctor because despite one of his lions escaping and eating two people AND a kangaroo escaping so some poor woman woke up with a it in bed with her (!) he was still regarded as some sort of hero.

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I won’t spoil it by telling you anymore of the tales, as you really should go and hear them first hand. Every tour is slightly different so you can keep going again and again, and you know what? I certainly will. I haven’t felt so inspired and creatively affected by somewhere in a very, very long time. I’ve already started making notes for a ghost story set in the cemetery in the 70s, and can’t stop thinking about it! I’m also very keen to get involved in the cemetery on a voluntary basis. They are always looking for volunteers to do gardening, cleaning, archiving or to become a “friend of Highgate Cemetery”.

Certainly the weirdest thing I saw on my day out and about was this. On one grave there was a dead pigeon, perfectly laid out in the centre as if it had been placed there as a sacrifice. Enough to send a cold shiver down your spine on a blisteringly hot day…

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/ If you liked this, you might like my Milner Fields post. A real life Yorkshire ghost house!

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I don’t know why it surprised me, but cheeseburger is my most used tag on the blog. Examples here, here AND here. I really, really like cheeseburgers and have dived in with both feet to the burger trend that has tidal waved across London in the past two years. I really need to write a post updating my stance on London’s best burger (Lucky Chip? Patty & Bun? The Diner? Byron? Admiral Cod? Kua ‘Aina? Meat Liquor? I’ve tried ’em all… numerous times just to be sure) and actually the world’s best burger (Shake Shack? In-n-Out? Umami?) but I don’t think there is any point in doing this until I’ve sampled the latest burger boys to roll into town (Covent Garden to be precise!) – Shake Shack UK and Five Guys UK. No one seems entirely sure why these competitors chose to open their first ever British/European branches in the same week, American Independence day maybe?, but they are here and surely there is enough hype and hungry mouths to keep both in booming business. It was extra nice to see  neighbourhood branches of Bryon and The Diner tweeting them to welcome them to town.

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I’m excited to sample both, but selected Five Guys to celebrate 4th July at as I have been to Shake Shack a few times in New York (twice both visits in fact) and I adore it, but wanted to try something shiny and new. I’ve also been keen to give it a whirl since Wish Wish Wish Carrie came back with rave reviews after her visit in NYC. My partner in burger crime, the delightful blogging beau What Katie Does , was already camped out in the queue when I arrived hot and bothered after a power walk through a sticky Leicester Square. Luckily, she had already befriended a sunshiney American girl infront of us who, in turn for holding her place, fetched us some cold beers to slurp as we waited. Safe to say, a pretty dreamy start! The snaking queue may look off putting but it was very well managed. Menu’s handed out to drool over, lots of interaction with chatty staff keeping us updated on estimated queue time etc, and at peak-time of 6.30pm we actually only queued for 25 minutes before we were IN…

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Almost every staff member I interacted with was American, which added to the novelty “fresh from the US” experience. It also made me extra-appreciate their cheery, chatty attitude as I’m sure they’d have all preferred to be back home munching 4th July food and watching fireworks. As you queue, you can pick up a carton of shell-on peanuts to take the edge off a grumbling tummy. Five Guys have a close bond with the holy peanut; as they cook the fries in Peanut Oil rather than standard cooking oil. Perhaps not ideal for those with peanut-allergies, but very happy days for a peanut mega fan like me.

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I hadn’t even glimpsed at the menu before the daunting task of selecting WHAT to have! I thought the standard size cheeseburgers were extremely pricey (at nearly £9 for bacon/cheese – my favourite combo) so out of cost cutting alone I opted for a more reasonably priced Little Bacon Cheeseburger and trust me, it was not little! So don’t be put off by the title, this was a totally average size burger and filled the burger shaped hunger hole perfectly. Myself and Katie shared a large fries, which was WAY too large. We barely finished the fries that had falled out of the paper cup fries-holder and into the paper bag… so again, size down when ordering your sides. We were thrilled to discover them stocking Brewdog ale, so both opted for a frosty IPA to wash everything down with. They also stock Brooklyn Beer. Although, the big drink schtick Five Guys have imported with them is Coca-Cola Freestyle which is a machine where you can literally build your own Coca-cola drink! Adding flavours, picking the base cola type (caffeine free for meeee!) and playing cocktail maker with the worlds most iconic drink. At £2.50 a cup you can also have as many free re-fills as you like; meaning you can create some real horror flavour combos just for fun.

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My main LOVE for Five Guys is that all toppings are FREE. How obvious is that? But how stingy most burger places are, charging £1.50 for bacon, at least £1 for bloomin’ BBQ sauce etc. It is such a relief to see this burger revolution whereby you can choose any topping and it’s still the exact same cost. I couldn’t really get over this fact, so put it to the test by opting for All The Way (every topping! – onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard) plus extra BBQ sauce AND hot sauce (it was a saucy affair, but I just love a condiment). I regret not chucking some jalapenos in there, but you live and learn and it’s a good excuse to return very, very soon.

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And the food? Oh it was GOOOOOOD. The burger was perfect; exactly the right colour and a taste bud sensation of flavour and exact-right melty American cheese.  I also love a burger wrapped in foil, as it reminds me the brief dalliance my nothing-cool-ever-happens-here northern hometown had with Wendy’s and their square-burgers. Maybe now burgers are cool, Wendy’s can make a glorious return?! Katie is a caring herbivore so chomped through a veggie burger which she also made very happy noises about and said was a brilliant veggie option. We both ummed and ahhhed about ordering the grilled cheese instead of the burger (wild!) which looked and smelt delicious so that’s another must-have for a return trip. I’ll be honest, the fries weren’t anything to shout about. Skin-on and crunchy, but they seemed to go cold and tastless within moments. Granted we were chatting a million miles a minute and not exactly hurrying up with our meal, but they should be able to last a conversation and still be delicious. Five Guys do their own brand of cajun spice fries, so I would have these next time as maybe they will liven the spud up a bit.

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I was SO impressed with the eating experience considering it was opening night. I’ve been to Shake Shack near Port Authority in NYC at 3pm on a WORK day, and still had to queue for 30+ minutes once in the door, then faced the horror of absolutely NO seats so having to just hover with your tray, shovelling food in and evil eyeing all the happy folk with the luxury of a stool. It really ruins the experience! This was fully what Katie and I expected when we hit Five Guys. Instead, the staff were really managing the queue plus the restaurant is split level with tons of space both upstairs and downstairs. There were numerous spare seats to choose from, and being the curious types we spotted a narrow little staircase which we braved with our heaving burger-trays and were rewarded with a massive 10-seater booth in a private VIP corner to ourselves for 2 hours of peace, quiet and alone time with our burgers. Bliss!

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The staff also couldn’t have been more welcoming, friendly and lovely. Not a single bead of sweat on any of them, as they bent over backwards to make our experience perfect! I forgot to order mayo for the fries at the counter, so one of the many “floating” staff not only went upstairs to get me some, but also bought it right over to our tables so we could dig in. Table service? Pretty special, I can’t think of many places who would be so accommodating. They really did live up to the name of the Willy Wonka’s of burger making. It was a flawless evening. And the company was pretty swell too, thanks Katie for being such a great burger companion, I can’t believe we spent three hours together and I didn’t talk abou The National?!

I took this photo entirely by chance, but chuckled when I realised I had literally captured Five Guys, in Five Guys…

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Five Guys is at 1 Long Acre, Covent Garden (a short stroll from Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tubes) and is here to stay aka.. it’s not a pop up. Their website is already teasing a Five Guys Reading coming soon, so hopefully for non-London readers there will be Five Guys invasion in your neighboorhood soon. They are very twitter-happy, so maybe pester them with your location requests and hope for the best!

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Sorry for the vanishing act, and extra apologies for the terrible French puns in the title but I avoided temptation to do any the entire week I was away, and so my self restraint is threadbare. As I mentioned I spent last week in Cannes, working at the Cannes Craft Festival which involved attending the amazing seminars (and sharing oxygen/a room with Vivienne Westwood AND Lou Reed), my first ever TED talk, workshops around the future of advertising; including making a time capsule with predictions of what the world and industry will look like in 2033 (and yes, people are STILL obsessed with flying cars. 2033 will be like the Jetsons apparently. I do really like Judy Jetson’s dress sense though…) and then there were the parties. As so much of my work is public facing, I had a very different Cannes to the rose-swilling, champagne popping week of hedonism perhaps some experience, which meant I could actually take a little time to explore when I got the odd ten minute break to shovel a sandy crepe into my mouth on the beach!

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I’m embarrassed to admit I was SO busy and health-distracted in the lead-up to leaving that when we landed in Nice airport (from which you drive or… helicopter! into Cannes) I actually had a creeping realisation that I had no idea where in France Cannes actually was. It felt quite disorientating not to even be able to imagine myself on a map or a globe. I didn’t even know if I was in North or South; probably a very accurate demonstration of why it was a good thing I quit Geography AS Level after 3 weeks. It wasn’t until I was back in England that I took a look and was shocked how close to Italy I had been. I’ve never been to Italy and it’s one of those places I feel I really should have visited by now and have even had vague plans to on various occasions that have fallen through. One day!

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I don’t know what exactly I expected from Cannes. It isn’t somewhere I’d have ever visited by choice; a real perk of having an international job is you get to lucky dip on travelling to places you haven’t pondered over and selected yourself. I thought it would be a bit Dubai-ish, vibrant colours and oozing with wealth. This may be true on La Croisette; the main “strip”. The road run right through Cannes along the seafront, and is packed with hotels, designer clothes boutiques and every beach is privately owned by hotels and inaccessible to the general public. If you want to get sandy, only the beaches at the far end each side of La Croisette are a free for all. Then there’s the yachts… I’ve never been on a yacht. I’ve never even really given yachts much thought, but when faced with rows of these immaculate creations bobbing around in the big blue, they looked so appealing and I developed a week long case of raging yacht-envy. I warmed to La Croisette, it has a kitsch feeling of a town that has slightly passed its glory days. In Las Vegas, I was far more drawn towards seedy Old Town, than spangly New Town, and Cannes had the same appeal. Everything is decadent, but feels ever so slightly dated. Ghosts of times gone by where Cannes was the ultimate in high-life still lurk  in the air. It’s a strange town as it exists so much for these international conferences, festivals and events; it would be interesting to visit at an off-season time and compare.

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There is no denying that Cannes is a ticklist of beautiful; blue sky, pristine beaches, sunshine, a horizon of mountains, palm trees and piers. Even though I spent most of it running around in a fretful sweat or deep inside a cavernous conference centre, it was lovely to take a moment each morning just to drink in the views. Mid-week I worked hosting a villa party, in the actual villa that Brad Pitt had his stag do/bachelor party. Which if you blur the lines, basically means I partied at Brad Pitt’s house. Right? I had another first here as I’ve never stepped foot in a villa before, and like with yachts am now curiously obsessed with them. I’m not sure the definition between villa and… mansion, but I think it’s the pool and the sea view. Either way, I can imagine that piling a bunch of your friends and an inflatable crocodile into one for a weekend away would be the best fun.

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No dips in the pool for me, as I’m too much of a mother hen and was clucking around ensuring there was no broken glass / bare feet scenarios and topping up my exotic “sunglasses tree”! I know I can hardly get all woe-is-me but I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than my week in Cannes. My alarm twittered away at 6am and I staggered into bed at 4am for two nights running. On the most gruelling 20 hour day, I hadn’t eaten a single meal until 11pm and when myself and my colleagues found somewhere still serving food; the food came with a side of man playing I Will Always Love You on the electric violin at 1000 decibels! It was the sort of scenario that when you are exhausted, delirious and starving, makes or breaks you. Luckily, as we waited an excruciating 90 minutes for our COLD starters, we found the funny side and the sound levels kept us from falling asleep into our plates. I also tried my first snail! Although it had no garlic butter so tasted very gravelly and well, of dirt, to my very unrefined taste buds. I liked the special plucking tool though.

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In all honesty I don’t think I’d go to central Cannes on holiday. It’s very expensive, nigh on impossible to get around without a car (taxis are a rare beast, and very expensive, and very unpredictable about if they’ll even take you if you flag one down!) but the hills and outskirts of Cannes might be worth a re-visit. On my last night, I pottered out as far as my lead-legs would take me and found some quaint back streets of locals drinking campari, and an old lonely lighthouse flickering out at sea.

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I have to confess that on my last night in Cannes, I snuck out early from the party I was guest-listed for and after my quick neighbourhood exploration… I darted back to my hotel room, pulled on my PJs and ordered the most obscene amount of room service (YOLO!) and proceeded to watch the entire series of The Fall on my ipad before falling asleep stuffed full of Croque Madame and Tart aux Pommes. This was actually one of my highlights of the week, as I knew my work was so nearly done and that the week had been a success. I also LOVED having Gillian Anderson back in my life, with her quaint Brit accent!

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And now I am back in England, with my feet firmly on the floor. In the past 6 months I have been on an aeroplane in all but one of them. I don’t plan to jet anywhere until August now, and that’s just a nip over the sea to Belfast for a wedding.  So life should be a bit more London-normal now that I’ve stopped my gallivanting. I just want to say THANK YOU to every lovely text, comment, tweet and gesture after my last bad news post. I was really moved by just how many thoughtful folk said generous things and I’m in a much better brain-space because of it. Also, I was just catching up with season 6 of Mad Men (no spoilers, I’m 2 away from the finale) and JOAN HOLLOWAY has a cyst on her ovary! And basically I would do/have anything if it means being vaguely closer to her holyness, so that cheered me up no end. We are officially cysters.

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