To Do

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Sometimes you have years that just slope by lazily, without much changing from one end to the next. Then you get those years where your life feels unrecognisable from the point that the bells struck midnight at the start, to the point where you tuck into the Christmas tree chocolates at the end. This has without a doubt been one of those years for me, in fact it’s been the biggest year of my entire life. On the first day of 2014 I woke up in Panama City. I was half way through 6 months of backpacking, starting in South America and taking in 16 countries through Central America up to the USA. I’d already seen and experienced so much; but felt like I still had so much left to go. Due to being on the opposite side of the world as the year started, I had no idea how the rest of it would unfold. Where I’d be living, what job I’d have or what my life would look like in any way. I certainly had NO idea I’d be planning a wedding! Being a total control freak; the concept of having so little idea or handle on my future is something that would have used to terrify my. But that’s what I mean when I say it’s been the biggest year of my life; travelling taught me so much about my personality and boundaries and lifestyle that basically meant I came back a different (better!) version of me.

Anyway! I could ramble on about my ~feelings~ and ~journey~ for hours but I’m guessing anyone reading this is doing it through a Baileys or mulled-something haze (if not, why not?) so I’m going to keep it simple, and just list some of the big events of this year that I most likely failed to blog about as I have been way more active over on our travel blog Twentysomething Burnouts. I’ll try and keep them in chronological order!

Why are you calling me Beyonce? I said FIANCEE!

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On the 25th January, not long into the shiny new year, Nick asked me to marry him (read all about it). We were enjoying a couple of weeks holiday from travelling (I know, how sickening) on the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. We’d had a lovely meal, then strolled to a secluded beach that we had visited earlier in the day. It was just as beautiful at night. The air was balmy, the sea smelt incredible, and we sat snuggled up doing some star gazing. And then… it happened! Although it’s obviously something we had nattered about here and there, I had rationalised that there was no way Nick could bring a ring with him, so in my head I had completely parked the idea of any proposal speculation. It’s the first time in my life I have been fully speechless (until I yelled YES!) He couldn’t have asked at a more perfect time in our lives and trip. Having spent every minute of every day for the 4 months prior; and supporting each other through close-encounters with scorpions, death defying boat rides, teeny tin-can aeroplanes and 32 hour bus journeys with no air con OR toilets… we certainly knew each other well enough to be confident we can take on anything else in our forever future. We get married in September 2015 and so far I’ve done a bit of planning… and a LOT of obsessively watching Don’t Tell The Bride as research.

A friendly face in deepest, darkest Guatemala

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If I started writing about every highlight of our travels, it would go on for a hundred years and basically be Twentysomething Burnouts. If I started writing about every highlight with a certain Craig Heathcote in 2014, it would also go on for a hundred years. Therefore I will try to keep this section short and sweet! When we had initially announced our travel plans we had tons of people say they’d come out and see us at various points. Obviously then things like real life, work, holiday allowance and penny pinching get in the way; but despite all of those things Craig stuck to his guns and managed to wrangle over a week to join us out in the midst of Guatemala, a place I doubt would have been on his top holiday locations otherwise (to put it in context his mum kept asking, “Where are you going again? Guantanamo?” !)

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By the time February rolled around, I have to be honest and admit that we were slightly waning. We had been travelling at absolute breakneck speed in order to see all of Latin America in a tiny space of time; and sticking mostly to overland travel. Two detours had held us up; the first being an excursion to the Galapagas (yay), the second being Nick’s terrifying back injury in Colombia so as we trucked through into Central America we were racing against time to get to Guatemala in time for our date with a VIP. We hadn’t had basics like hot water for 5 months. We were SHARING a pair of socks. We had gone a month without soap. Everything we were carrying around stank, had holes in it and was bleached with too much DEET contact. We were obviously still loving our adventure, but were fraying around the edges and this meant that Craig’s arrival was exactly what we needed! He arrived with a giant My Little Pony tote bag (soz Craig) that my sister and he had packed full of clean clothes, British treats and stuff to make us smell better. He had magical things like new music – we had been sharing 2 ipods with a total of about 80 songs for months. He had new news from home, updates on all our friends and just a totally different outlook on life. It was so special! You can read all about our actual adventures here and here. Those 10 days are an absolute highlight of our entire trip. Big beers, breath-taking views and places that constantly 1-up’ed each other, wild swimming, late night jungle nattering and being zoomed about in the back of a 4×4. Oh and the time a monkey threw a rock at Craig’s head (and luckily missed!)

Here we go again London

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We were moving to Brighton, then we weren’t. We were done with London, then we weren’t. I wrote all about it here and despite all my previous grumbles with life in the big smoke, I’ve had such a fantastic time since moving back and am so happy that a few twists and turns of fate bought us back here… for now!

It’s my job to read books!

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On the night we landed back in England, I couldn’t sleep. I had a serious case of reverse culture-shock, and a bigger case of jet lagging. Despite the fact I’d planned to avoid any semblance of job hunting for a few weeks of family time, it was 3am and I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d just take a peek at the jobs on the market. I am so happy I did, because it’s then that I spotted the job advert for a role doing digital and social media bits at Penguin Random House; so after 6 months of not working or even thinking about work I had to attempt to pull together a convincing cover letter and update my CV. As a lifelong bookworm, it’s my dream job. I’m so lucky to work with so many inspiring people and just felt at home from my first day, it’s a very special company indeed and whilst there are challenging moments, it’s made life after travelling a lot easier to stomach. Plus, overtime is… reading! Who can complain about that?

Craigfest

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We had only been home for a month or so when our Craig turned 30! And luckily for all his friends, he did it in serious style. We rented out a beautiful venue in Dorset (um I think…my southern geography is so dire) for a couple of nights. There were bands (including Chime Hours), dancing, ping pong, walks in the beautiful grounds, bonfire, marshmallow toasting and all bunking down in dorms with lots of chattering late into the night/morning. And not even the British weather could dampen the party!

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Not such a Twentysomething Burnout anymore

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I turned 30 in May, officially hanging up my right to call myself a twentysomething burnout. I wrote about it here da da DAAAAAAA, but have come to the conclusion that the hype, fear and build up to 30 is so much worse than actually being 30 itself. In fact being 30 is absolutely no different to being 29, funnily enough! I was a total spoilt brat and milked my birthday for months. I am lucky enough that my eldest sibling Meg is my decade twin, and turned 40 this year. This meant we could throw a party for all of our friends, which Meg masterminded and did all the hard work on whilst I was still backpacking about; an amazing present in itself. The party was 80s Vs 90s movie themed… which sounds niche but it was amazing how inventive our lovely guests were. We had Ghostbusters… The Craft witches, Blue Brothers, Tank Girl, Marty McFly, Edward Scissorhands, THE TITANIC (!), Indiana Jones, When Harry Met Sally, Alien, Leon, Addams Family, Waynes World…. so many more. Meg and I took it in turns on our playlist with an hour of 80s, then an hour of 90s, and back again. I felt so fortunate to all my amazing friends who travelled from up and down the country to croon along to en vogue. The night ended strictly at 1am when the venue turned off the PA. But would we stop partying? No! And so my fondest memory is everyone insisting on screeching their own 90s hits super loudly until we were politely asked to leave… singing “this could be a case for Mald-ah and Scah-lly” at the top of our voices.

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Nick indulged (without TOO much persuasion) my wish to go as Sarah and the Goblin King from Labyrinth, my all time favourite childhood movie. I bought an 80s wedding dress from eBay and he ordered a “Sam Fox” wig from Amazon. He even did an amazing hypnotic dance with the crystal ball in front of everyone. I think he really embraced a bit of Bowie! A super special memory from this year was that after the party we were staying at Meg & Eds, which was just a 15 minutes walk down the river from the venue. Having had a few G&Ts, I decided we may as well just walk despite the time. So I walked in my full on HUGE wedding dress, holding 10 helium silver star balloons, through central London at 1am. Everyone we passed obviously thought we had just got married (I really hope Nick doesn’t take that as a hint to don his Goblin King costume at the wedding for real) and we had people shouting congratulations, asking to take photos and taxis beeping their horns. It was a balmy night, and town seemed to be full of just friendly, well wishing passer bys.

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Yorkshire Day

In the summer I had some holiday days to use up which coincided with YORKSHIRE DAY, the most wonderful day of the year! It was a great excuse to head up north and spend a week quality time with Lol, which I never get to do. We did lots of dancing, watching Ru Pauls Drag race, perfecting or telepathicness to the point of being too lazy to talk out loud, running round giant Asda, making nachos, eating nachos and gallivanting around the moors in the rain.

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End of Cougar Season

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In November Nick caught me up and turned 30. We went to Paris for a long weekend of real animals and skeleton animals (and eating lots of cheese) you can read about it over here and here. I also went on lovely trips to Exmoor, Sweden and Ghent, so haven’t really had too much time to get the post travel blues.

I am still stupid at 30

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Just so this isn’t a boring blog of humble brag-ish boasting (ugh I hope not) I am still monumentally bad at functioning in life. I have had 2 trips to A&E this year, an infected horsefly bite oh… and lets not forget the time I managed to drop a pint glass on my eye from a great height – I was bending down snuffling about in the fridge and knocked it off the side straight onto my eyeball. Cue black eye for a week that gradually turned into a purple eye, a green eye and then a yellow eye.

This has been such a lovely post to write, it’s been so fun reliving the best bits and remembering just how crazy this year has been. I’ve focussed on the ups here, because they are the nice bits to re-live rather than being a moaning minnie. However that isn’t to say there haven’t been downs. It’s been a really hard year in a lot of ways. My battle with the ombudsman over my messed up surgery in 2012 has cast a shadow, as has the fact I will need surgery again (wah) and the pain I still have pretty much most days on some level. A lot of my friends have had tough years and it hurts me to watch the people I love go through rough stuff; even though they are all handling it in really inspiring, impressive ways and it’s usually me wailing away rather than them! I guess this is just to acknowledge the fact that whilst the year on the surface can look pretty perfect, it’s definitely been a huge learning curve in so many ways and I’ve been trying really hard to get better at coping with my anxiety and being a worry wart. Thanks for reading the blog this year, and whilst I haven’t updated as much as I’d like, I can’t wait to tap away over the Christmas break some more.

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This time last year I sat down in an excruciatingly hot & sticky cyber cafe in a tiny Venezuelan coastal town and wrote the first blog entry of my travels over on Twentysomething Burnouts.  In the strange way that time meddles with the mind; it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago at the same time. The next six months are going to be jam-packed with this sort of anniversary; this time last year I was in trekking up Machu Picchu Mountain, this time last year I was sleeping in a hammock, this time last year I was on the Amazon river spotting pink river dolphins, this time last year I shared a bed with the worlds deadliest scorpion… and every single one makes me take stock of where my life was then… and where my life is now. I’m learning that this has its (obvious) pros and cons! Whilst I love thinking back to the once-in-a-lifetime trip and the incredible memories; I also feel like a hostage to the past at the same time, and don’t really wish to live in a fog of reflection and comparison until next March. I have so many important life-things to focus on in the present (dream job! wedding! new flat! London stuff!) but I can feel the clawing clutch of nostalgia and wistful “I wish I was back there” gloom settling on me almost every morning as I pack my backpack and set off for the daily work grind (despite the fact I adore my current daily grinding and it’s in here:

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which kind of helps)

Something to help banish those blues has been making the most of living in one of the best places on earth! Forget my trip of a lifetime, some people aspire to visit London just once and I get it on our doorstep every day. I have to have a word with myself occasionally and remind myself how lucky I am (even if my lungs aren’t; living in London = now asthmatic)

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I turned 30 in May, and for my birthday I’ve been spoilt rotten over the summer by family as I cashed in IOU’ed London based experience gifts (the best kind) and kept milking the celebrations as hard as possible! Firstly my sibling Meg took me for my first ever tasting menu. This is where you are treated to a 6-course meal and each course has a wine selected to match the food selection. My inability at Geography did hamper the start of the night. I had diligently googled The Don, and as I know it was south, which is basically all the same to this northern lass, I headed off to the address provided. It was only when I had caught two buses and walked about 20 minutes in brand new Lotta From Stockholm clogs (breaking in shoes that contain brand new leather AND hard-wood is not the one) that I rocked up to a restaurant that looked… well… a little sketchier than what I was expecting. And sure enough there are TWO The Don’s in London and I was at entirely the wrong one. Already late and now in a bit of a sweaty state; I did something I never ever do. I hailed a black cab and it zoomed me over Tower Bridge giving me a “wow I’m a real life Londoner” moment; and in mere moments I had a glass of chilled bubbles in my hand and could rest up my sore feet.

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Meg and I opted for the tasting menu at The Don; which was perfect in every way. The Don provided us with flawless food, impeccable service (polite and knowledgeable, but never stuffy or judgey) and a buzzy atmosphere where no one sat close enough to eavesdrop as our conversation got more scandalous as we drank more dessert wine! The absolute BEST bit of the night however was the cheese tray. More cultured readers may have experienced this delight before; but to me it was completely new. Basically at the end of your meal, a very smart cheese-expert wheels over a huge tray that is mounded up with about 50 cheeses. They are laid out from hard > soft, strong > mild. Oh and BLUE. Luckily these siblings share a passion for anything strong, sticky and stinky and loaded up our plates with everything that ticked that box. The waiter was happy to stand for about 20 minutes as we made our selection; patiently explaining where every cheese was from, how it was made and what was unique about it. We even tried one that had a line of charcoal running through it. Although every course was a taste sensation in its own right, I think I could probably have just eaten 6 courses of the holy cheese mountain.

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My next spoiling session was courtesy of my big sister Jess. As children we shared a bedroom and a unshakable love for My Little Pony’s. We tried to progress our toy pony love to real life horses, but sadly Bradford isn’t exactly big on wildlife. We managed to get to a couple of riding lessons in one summer holiday; but rather than scampering around with enchanted pastel coloured ponys, we were both a bit shocked when we were expected to clamber onto these stinky, snorty, huuuuge creatures. I have one really strong memory of forgetting to take a riding hat one time, and therefore being late because I had to go back and borrow someones, and by the time I arrived to the lesson there were no horses left. (On grown-up-person reflection, that seems like pretty bad planning) As a result they brought out the “naughty horse” who usually wasn’t trusted to have a rider. His name was Duke, he had a mohawk, he was about three times taller than me and it took him about 4 minutes between me saddling up to him chucking me off onto one of the jumps. Thanks Duke! Despite this sad story; both Jess and I have maintained a curious interest in horse riding and ever since we both moved to London have had “Horse Ride Around Hyde Park” firmly on our must do list.

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Because she’s a super smart cookie, Jess actually got organised and sorted this out for my 30th. We had to wait until the horses were back from summer holiday (!) so a recent autumnal Saturday we met in Hyde Park and headed off to find the Ross Nye Stables. The stables are tucked away down Bathurst Mews; an idyllic little collection of terraces where you suddenly feel like you are a million miles away from the sirens and hubub of central London. Now that I’ve ticked off a key must-do list item, I might just replace it with “Lurk around cute Mews more often”.

We were met by a friendly lady who pointed us in the direction of (super chic) riding boots and (less chic) hats. Jess was introduced to her gorgeous, placid horse and easily hopped on. I was introduced to my horse, the naughty one, and nearly fell right off the other side as I tried to graciously get on. We hadn’t been sure what to expect from our jaunt out, but had thought that as we had stated we were absolute beginners, that we’d get on a horse and then have someone just drag us about on a rope – a bit like riding a Donkey at Blackpool.

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What actually happened was that we both had a teacher who accompanied us on a horse next to us. Jess had a really chatty teacher about her own age. My teacher was 13 years old. (Are you spotting a theme?) My slight witheringness at her age quickly went out the window when the first thing we had to do with our horses was ride them out onto the MAIN ROAD to get to the park. Panic! Luckily my very capable teacher shouted instructions and occasionally reached over and gave my grumpy horse a nudge in the right direction. After successfully negotiating the road without any motorbikes, sudden car honking or anything else that might frighten the horses into doing something scary, we were in the park. I actually needn’t have worried about the road-scares, as it actually turned out my horse had one single phobia and that was… plastic bags! Totally rational! Luckily the litter collectors had been pretty over-zealous in the park that day, otherwise my joy-ride would have been over pretty quickly.

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I have a whole new respect for horse riders and pony people. I had always looked at anyone on a horse and thought; i could do that, just sit on the thing and it does all the work. WRONG. Actually even staying on a horse is pretty tricky! You have to hold the reins right, position your legs properly oh and tell the horse what to do using special secret signals. At first we had a pleasant stroll around; taking in the flame tinted autumn leaves, enjoying the cooling air and waving at the tourists taking photos. Then it was down to the hard work. In Hyde Park there are amazing horse-lanes that have existed since horse was the main form of transport in London. It was on these lanes that we learnt to trot, and canter. Jess was a natural, trotting away and looking elegant. I didn’t realise at first that you need to lift up and down out of the saddle in time with the horses movements. My first attempt at trotting just worked out to be me lifting up and down at exactly the opposite time to the horse and as a result I sat on a hot water bottle for about two days afterwards because of the damage I’d done to my poor glutes!

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I was full of enthusiasm though, if not talent, and soon we were hammering along and I was really enjoying the unusual feeling of moving that fast and that freely around the park. The lesson lasted an hour, and was so thorough. My teacher talked me through everything really patiently and answered all my inane questions such as how are police horses trained and how you can tell if the horse if miffed? I had imagined that Jess I would just be strolling slowly around the park swapping gossip and having a good natter, but we actually didn’t get to talk once. Luckily we’d had a good lunch and chat time first.

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After braving the main road again, and then scampering back into the mews, my legs turned to jelly trying to get off the horse. I hadn’t realised how every muscle in my body had been tense and active in the riding and I basically melted into a pool of ouch and relief that we had survived. It was such an amazing experience and so much better than I’d expected. It was really special to have that one on one teaching and to get to basically be riding independently from the off. We felt so proud of what we’d achieved and I definitely feel like getting straight back on the horse (ho ho) but maybe somewhere a little less public next time.

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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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I think in London it’s easy to become tenaciously obsessed with finding secret places that others might not have yet discovered, to try and clutch a bit of the city close to your chest for a while before it vanishes again or gets over-exposed and guest list only.

I’ve wanted to go exploring the Old Vic Tunnels since I heard about them opening last year. The tunnels run undernearth Waterloo train station and used to belong to British Rail (remnants of this fact can still be spotted by the eagle-eyed visitor, like old abandoned lockers and dreary staff toilets) but since 2010 the space has been reclaimed and used to host various theatre productions, events and gigs.

When you appear dazed out of tube and head out into the dark from Waterloo station don’t be alarmed when you have to vanish into the dodgiest, dankest looking subway you’ve ever seen – as the entrance is just down the steps. The tunnels have been decorated enough to make them feel cosy (candles and chintzy lamps) but also have enough original features to make it feel like somewhere you shouldn’t really be. There is a central tunnel, with ominous vast doors leading off into various rooms. One of the rooms is a fully fitted cinema screening room, complete with red velvet chairs; the perfect spooky enclosure for its recent run of Hammer Horror movies but outside festival-time the screening room is programmed and run entirely by the Old Vic Tunnels volunteer scheme.

As well as all the ticketed fun stuff occuring, there is also a huge bar area. On the recent date night that my boyfriend partner in crime and I ventured in there was a great band performing, massively cheap drinks (£2.50 for a spirit and mixer) and tons of sofas to sink into in the dim lighting, as we chatted away over the roar of the trains clattering above us. OH and there were £3 brownies although sadly due to a miscommunication about what we were actually going to see (something about red riding hood and needing to bring cake for the wolf? I really still dont know!) we had arrived pre-kitted out with our own packet of extremely chocolate mini rolls so couldn’t sample the baked goods, but judging on smell alone I’d give them 10/10.

Anyway we were there for the The Vault festival which ran in February, and I am really hoping returns again later in the year.  Basing our choice more on what night we were free rather than something we were desperate to attend, we plucked at random to buy tickets for The Folk Contraption which is the current project from the Rogues Gallery who are a group of actors, writers and directors who were “fed up of waiting for the phone to ring” and decided to create their own work which is brilliant in itself and should be supported. Also the description of the performance was ‘ramshackle’ which is probably my favourite word and style of thing too.

The Folk Contraption took place in a tented-off area in the vaults, and as everyone sat cross-legged on the floor with wide eyes I got the impression everyone was as unsure what to expect as we were. What followed was the most enchanting, amazing performance (definitely living up to the ramshackle promise) that consisted of stories, poetry, songs, music, sketches, comedy and basically anything else you can think of. They describe it as part play, part gig and part magical mystery tour which is pretty accurate! All the performers were so talented, that it was often impossible to know who to keep your eye on as they roamed through the seated crowds performing as they towered over us. The content was so diverse that I hardly even blinked and I didn’t get at all fatigued (I usually have a pretty short attention span for all things theatre).

It’s an unusual thing to be able to say and actually mean, but the show made me laugh out loud AND shed a little tear, as well as tons of other emotions in between. Everything was themed around London through various ages and felt like a real celebration and reminder of why I choose to live in this sometimes tough, rough city. I can’t recommend this show and bunch of performers highly enough, I know I will be stalking their twitter (@roguesgallery10)obsessively to find out if they are doing anymore shows in the future!

Take a trip down to the Old Vic tunnels soon for a drink or movie before everyone discovers it (Maybe start with the amazing Animal Party! ) And tell me how the brownies are…

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Hello 2012! I meant what I said, I really have returned to the land of Bee blogging, life has just been getting in the way a little bit. First it was all Christmas chaotic and then my first week back at work involved far too much desk-lunching and squinting at my computer screen, and not enough 11am drinking and living on a diet of roasted peanuts, turkey sandwiches and cheeselets for my festively conditioned body! Despite these pesky blog-obstacles, I have a really good feeling about 2012, and all the exciting adventures I will have to write about.

Anyway one thing sure to kick my ass into some Sunday afternoon scibbling (ok typing) is the fact tomorrow is my biggest blog-fan’s birthday. She has been a dedicated reader, a fan-email sender and all round eagle eye on all things Like a Skeleton Key. And she is… my mum! (This probably = minus cool points for some people, but she is the coolest fan I can think of having) So this little update is especially for her. When I mentioned I might blog about this trip we took, she said ooh I better watch my Ps & Qs if I’m going to be written about. I don’t think I have ever heard her utter more than a flip and she needs to be pretty raging to even drop one of those, but feel free to read this imagining that she swore at everyone she encountered and I’ve edited it out, it might make for a funnier read.

My mum and I have a tradition of going on a couple of weekend breaks every year. We’ve been known to pack ourselves off to chic Euopean locations like Paris… Bruges… Liverpool… Manchester… and this year her pick for a weekend jaunt was (drum roll) Nottingham. Yup, I know. I have to say, although it sounds very nice and all, I did give it a bit of a nose crinkle and furrowed brow as it’s a city I just didn’t know very much about – let alone what on earth we might find to entertain her there for three days. I’m glad to say, I was proved very wrong to be so doubtful.

We stayed in a standard Premier Inn, costing about the price of a round of drinks in London (!) per night. I am a big Hotel fan so found the room pretty swell even though it was no-frills. And of course I was chivalrous and gave my mum the double bed whilst I slept in the pull-out kiddy bed contraption that kept threatening to munch me everytime I so much as tensed a muscle in my sleep.

On the first day we just pottered around the town centre, which is really easily walkable and has some pretty areas to explore, like the old Lace Market and Hockley. I had the joy of introducing my mum to Shakeaway! I think these milkshake bars are quite common down South, but I’d only ever had the pleasure once before so was thrilled to stumble across one in Nottingham’s central square. I opted for a chocolate chip, dime bar and cheesecake special. (Mum opted for ‘just chocolate, just normal chocolate please’ ! Probably their easiest customer of forever) Mine tasted delicious, but also like diabetes in a cup and gave me the sugar-jitters for about 3 hours after; which was seriously badly timed with me having to pop into Primark to buy a cardigan. I had forgotten (tut, despite being Northern) that anywhere outside of London doesn’t have the protective smog jacket of stinky warmth, and so was in need of extra layers.

All set with my new chunky mustard knitwear (I am obsessed with mustard this year after never ever wearing anything that colour before. I’m like a magpie and now own so much mustard coloured clothing it might need it’s own drawer in my wardrobe. It’s a worry) I was ready to do some more exploring. We headed out of the city centre towards the Nottingham Trent campus, where there is an Arboretum. I didn’t know what this was, so to the uncultured, it’s basically another word for park. It was definitely worth a look; it had a nice lake, muchos ducks, ornamental gardens, exotic birds to peer at, a little maze and lots of leaves to kick. I think if we’d had longer I would have ventured out on the tram to Wollaton Hall & Park because it has real life deer and as previously mentioned, I love a good deer spot.


If you do find yourself in Nottingham, I think the best recommendation I received (via the power of Twitter) was Lee Rosy’s Tea Room,which is tucked away in the backstreets of Hockley, nestled between some nice independent art and music shops. They serve hundreds of different types of tea and a plethora of yummy cake goods. Not so good for lunch, as it’s just basic sandwiches on offer, so perhaps better as a good excuse for taking afternoon tea like a fancy person. The tea room was bustling but had a really nice atmopshere and very friendly staff, and was a great place to sit supping from our seemingly never ending pot of tea and reading books for an afternoon. They also stock tea to buy online here. I bought my boyfriend some lapsang souchong for Christmas (and a yellow submarine tea infusor, how cute is it?!) and it was really nicely pacakaged and tasted just as good at home without a nice waitress to brew it for you.

The more I write, the more wholesome and twee our Nottingham trip seems! I was going to say we did do one thrill-seeking, adrenaline pumping activity… but it was taking a ride on the carousel in the city centre. Ok, so we were definitely the only people on there over the age of 8, but it did go really fast and was dead scary, honest.

I’d definitely take a trip back to Nottingham. It was cheap, it was cheery and if nothing else takes you fancy – it’s probably the only place in the world where you can ride a carousel horse named Grandma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I love cheeseburgers.

I love cheeseburgers so much that this joyous Lazy Oaf sweater is top of my Christmas List, although sadly I don’t think I know anyone who loves me enough to pay 60 big ones for a novelty jumper! I would probably wear it everywhere though, even in the bath.

I’m pretty carniverous, despite the fact that upon meeting new people the most frequent judgement I get is that I “look like a vegetarian” which surely is just about the most random summation of a persons looks possible? But it happens over, and over, to the point that now two of my friends only refer to me as “our favourite meat-eating vegetarian”. Whenever I go for a nice meal I have the endless battle of wanting to branch out and try something new, but then my blood thirsty meat eater voice pipes up and saying ALL YOU WANT IS A CHEESEBURGER! Why deny it! And then I just have no choice but to order the burger. But is is a risky way to live your food-ordering life, as burgers can be so hit & miss. So often they arrive filled with greasy potential, only to let you down.  Dry stale bun, drooly cheese slop, brown lettuce, recently-frozen grey patty, rogue pickles…

So when I heard that MEATLiquor had opened and was serving “the best cheeseburger in London” I knew I would not be able to sleep easy until I had sampled it for myself. It is the latest project from the people behind the legendary elusive Meatwagon truck, and later #Meateasy… which I shamefully never managed to get to because it was in New Cross. and as a northerner-in-London my geography is not good enough to navigate myself to such an obscure location. Thankfully they must have felt my pain when selecting the location for MEATLiquor  as it is just behind Debenhams off Oxford Street, and a glorious ten minute straight-line stroll from my work.

MEATLiquor is snuggled into a quiet corner on Welbeck Street, surrounded by bleak car parks and hiding from the rawcous Oxford Street rabble. As I walked there, I started to wonder how hard it was going to be to find. The thing that no other review I’ve read has mentioned yet is that you can smell MEATLiquor minutes before it actually comes into view. As I clutched my iPhone and watched the little blue dot (me) scooch closer to the red pin (ML) I was suddenly hit with the definite hunger-groan-inducing smell of burgers. I did have to stop and have a stern word with myself, panicking that my over-excitement at going to MEATLiquor was bringing on some sort of scent delusion, but then I saw the red neon sign glowing in the distance and realised it was my impending dinner I could smell.

First things first, you will have to queue. Sometimes queues = overhyped disappointment, and that fear that people are purely joining a queue in a zombie/sheep/just to be cool fashion. The queue at MEATLiquor however is well deserved and exists because a) it’s amazing and b) once you are in and bagged your table, you aren’t rushed. Both these things  make it way more worth a wait than Alton Towers rides or something else you might happily stand in line for. If you arrive PRE-6.45pm on an early week night you will only have to wait about ten minutes. If you arrive after 6.45pm (I guess this is burger o’clock as it specifically does get instant busy at this time!) then I don’t know an approximate time but the queue was as far as the eye can see. Even way past the good-smells zone. Queue entertainment is however provided as impatient city boys and bustling business folk attempt everything to skip the queue and schmooze the doorman, who hearteningly is very fair and simply does not make any exceptions and tells them to get to the back of the line buster (only far more politely than that)

We were lucky to be seated right underneath this incredible ceiling art, but the entire interior is the epitome of the word cool. I’m a sucker for animals, especially angry looking animals, and ML has these in abundance. The seating and table settings are minimal (tealights in jamjars) but this just goes to help show off the drama of the towering burgers and beautiful beverages. It feels like you have walked into New York and I guess that is exactly the aim, as long gone are thoughts of tube tussles and work woes, as you soak up the grease fumes and the cheery staff make you welcome.

STARTERS: I opted for the buffalo wings with blue cheese dip which resulted in a heaving pile of wings – a really over generous portion for the price. They were slathered in the most heavenly hot sauce and left me a sticky, shiney, sauce covered mess of a girl gnawing on the bones in desperation for it not to be over. A good sign? My hot date opted for deep fried pickles. I am unfortunately a pickle-phobic. I hate the taste of pickles, the look of pickles and being called pickle. But he assured me that they were heavenly, the batter revealing a juicy, crunchy dreamland laying in wait.

MAINS: As a result of obsessing over Burgeracs Dead Hippie Review both hot date and I couldn’t bring ourselves to sample anything else. It’s been likened to a big mac, and I suppose it is, but a really insanely delicious version that won’t leave you with those hollow McDs guilts & shakes after! It’s 2 burgers, lotsa cheese and special oniony sauce. With the compulsory lettuce all burgers must have. Mmm burger-juicey lettuce. ..Why can’t all salad taste like you! I’m no fancypants food reviewer but it was definitely one of the best burgers of my entire life which is what I’d signed up for.

BOOZE: I should have guessed from the name, but I hadn’t expected the highlight of the night to be the drinks, not the burger! It’s a close run thing, but it’s the speciality cocktail House Grog that I can’t stop dreaming of since my ML experience. A rum based punch served in a giant glass jar/jug with a hunk of pineapple and a straw makes you feel like you are in a Wham! video and tastes SO good. It goes down way too easily, and the menu specifies that customers are limited to “2 servings only” ! When the table in the middle of ML was apparently designed especially for dancing on, this seems a little mean. I could have definitely gone for 4, although my bank manager and hot date might not have thanked me so perhaps ML are wise to protect their clients with a rationing policy. I also sampled the cocktail named loosely around The Full English (?) and the fact I can’t remember the exact name is because it was pure alcohol with no mixer. Just spirit. But somehow delicious and also served with a mini pickled-egg rolled in bacon dust (where do you buy bacon dust?! I want to roll all my food in it please) and so was worth a sample purely for that. The MEATLiquor twitterer claims “Come hungry. Leave drunk.” I can vouch for this claims accuracy due to the fact I talked about dog bones for an entire 30 minute night bus ride home!

The atmosphere really was electric in there, in that exciting buzzy way of something amazing taking place. Everyone was beaming (no hipster pouting going on, hooray) and the ambience, CHEAPNESS, service and food could not be faulted. To read some proper-reviews by people fortunate enough to sample everything on the menu – go here to Time Out  and here to Cheese and Biscuits blog.

Safe to say I will be going back super soon. I’m looking at it this way – everytime I go I get fatter. Therefore every next time I go I have more bee blubber to keep me warm in the queue!

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I will have been living in London for 4 years this Autumn. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a city other than the one I was born in and pretty good considering I was one of those “Oh I’ll just go to London for a year or two and then probably get sick of it and move back up north” people. I adore living here but sometimes I think simple things such as where to go for a nice cocktail, where for a good curry or where for a nice cup of coffee can be almost impossible to work out – as there is an overwhelming amount of choice!

You can basically only learn by trial and error I think. So I thought I would start to share some of my favourites as I have a whole list stacking up in my moleskin and they are better written in here than kept scribbled to myself. I figure they might be useful if you live here or ever visit (especially as they are all on the cheap, as one thing living in London does is swallow up any disposable income you have!) Here are my first 3 and there are many more where these came from…

01. The Best Place for a Coffee, Cake and Chat

– Ray’s Jazz Cafe @ Foyles Book Shop

When I first moved to London, for the first two years I think it is quite possible that I spent more time sitting in the Starbucks in Borders on Oxford Street, trying to make one £1.20 peppermint tea last a lifetime and pouring over a heaving stack of magazines, than I did in the bedroom I was paying rent for! When Borders closed down, I was literally devestated. I had always thought it would be a place I could visit and visit forever, filled with fond new-London living memories. It’s taken a long time to find a suitable replacement but the Jazz Cafe definitely rivals it.

Sitting within the lovely independent Charring Cross bookstore Foyles, which is worth a visit anyway, the Jazz Cafe has it’s own staircase from the street. It is filled with old oak tables, benches and pews and has tons of space. Which is lucky, as the secret is obviously out, and it’s always bustling and busy. I’ve never been unable to get a seat though, so it’s just on the right side of heaving.

It offers a heady selection of coffees and herbal teas. There is also always a vast selection of homemade cakes, homemade soup (that’s often on half price if you go in an evening!) and mostly vegetarian sandwiches.

Spot the difference between the book wallpaper and the real books! There isn’t endless access to free magazines (sadly) but there is a hefty book collection that they are pretty relaxed about you pilfering and taking back to your table, as long as you replace it on it’s rightful shelf after! The atmosphere is busy and social, I often park up at a table already occupied by a random stranger and end up having a bit of a natter before plunging into my reading or writing. There is always a really diverse crowd; tourists, business folk, students etc and the fact it’s in the heart of Soho means it’s an easy stop off on route to exciting places like Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Oxford Street.
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02. The Best Place for a Curry

– Tayyabs, Whitechapel

I grew up in Bradford where about 70% of meals ever eaten were curry! In my primary school, for hot school dinners we had keema every day, except for Fish Friday. I love curry, I love indian/pakistani cuisine and the spicier the better! But curry is so easy to get so wrong, or just meh. When in London it is sort of enforced on you that Brick Lane is the best place for curry. It’s definitely fun to wander around and chat to the hecklers outside, and get 10 popadoms, 2 for 1 beers and a free plate of bhajis thrown in, but I haven’t ever had a mind-blowing curry on Brick Lane.

Walk ten minutes away though, and rather than people heckling you to come in, at Tayyabs… they are heckling you to wait outside as the queue is so giant it snakes around the entire restaraunt. And this is for a very good reason; it’s the best curry in London! This leads me to my first point: BOOK A TABLE. Even when you make a reservation you might have to wait ten/fifteen minutes to be seated. If you turn up on a whim, you will be punished. Last week my beau and I got a Tayyabs craving and wandered in on a Thursday night (fools!) and we waited 1 hour and 35 minutes for a table. No seats, no polite waiters giving you freebies as you stand fainting with hunger. They don’t need to! There were at least 30 people who waited as long, if not longer, than us. The food is good enough that you are willing to put yourself that amount of torture. But unless you like your meal-out to include a very hefty test of your patience thrown in… then make sure you book.

The menu is very limited, sticking to only traditional Pakistani/Punjabi dishes – Karahi and Gosht, with various naan, bhaki and tikka starters. This is probably the key to why it is so amazing as they stick to what they do well and don’t complicate things. But don’t go expecting to see kormas or rogan josh, as that aint going to happen! They also do a different special each night. The tikka dishes come out sizzling and everything I’ve ever eaten there (alot) has been just insanely tender and beautiful. They also have a sweet centre counter where you can stock up on kulfi and jelabi to take home for dessert. Did I mention it’s Bring Your Own Booze? So you can pick up some nice cheap Cobras or wine on route, and save more pennies for food. The staff are effiicient, friendly and despite the chaos of the crowds, always seem to be having a good time with each other too.
[website]

03. The Best Place for Happy Hour

– Franny’s Pop-Up, Frith Street

Sadly, pretty much as soon as I’ve recommended this serious London GEM, I will have to recommend another… as it’s a pop up and is only open until March 12th. Wah! I think I might go and chain myself to the door in protest as it’s my favourite London discovery for absolutely ages. I have to give it a mention because if you haven’t been to scope it out yet you need to cancel all future plans and hurry down. The downstairs is a restaurant and bar, and the upstairs is an amazing art exhibition space. Despite being a pop-up, a huge amount of effort has gone into the cool decor, the branding and the (hate this word!) ambiance. It feels unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Soho, there is a really laid back but buzzy, vibrant feeling.

Oh and did I mention, that during their happy hour that runs until 7pm, they have 50% off cocktails?! That means you can get a cocktail for £3 which is unheard of anywhere, particularly London! And they are serious business cocktails, not any old tat. I had far too many apple martinis and margharitas stacked up at 6pm and it made for a very fun night. I haven’t eaten there but my friend got the piri piri chicken pasta and said it was good, it was a big hefty portion too. Finally, the staff are all swell and super friendly and all in all, this is going to be a tragic loss to Frifth Street. I hope the team behind it open somewhere new, sharpish!
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You might have seen me talking about a super secret scary thing recently on twitter. Well, it happened last night and now it is over and I survived without melting into a pool of embarrassed Bee goo, I can talk about it!

I first heard about Cringe just a couple of years ago.  The concept is the brainchild of  the delightful Sarah Brown, and the story goes – The first inklings of Cringe came about back in 2001, when Sarah  found her old diaries at her parents’ house, and decided it would be a good idea to send the most painful excerpts to her friends in a weekly email. Two years later, she moved to Brooklyn and told roommate Liz Schroeter about this endeavor, prompting Liz to dig out some old teenage zines of her own. The first Cringe Reading Night was held April 6, 2005, at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom. Since then, Cringe has traveled around the U.S. and across the ocean as well, and is currently held once a month in London, England.

When I first heard about Cringe I was instantly enamoured. I’ve always been an avid diary keeper, and realise now how precious (and hilarious and mortifying) diaries are to look back on. I’m very glad I didn’t give in to numerous desires to burn the lot of them and that I have painfully hidden and moved them with me to every house I’ve lived in (not easily hidden when they are all bright pink, fluffy and covered in hearts and stars) I think I’ve only recently got to the point where I can see the humour in my angst ridden, painfully detailed 15 year old ramblings. So, I took a deep gulp and when Sarah put a call out for contributors for Augusts Cringe Night in London, I volunteered.

On Sunday I met up with super Susie and did a practise run, choosing which of the many toe-cringingly embarrassing escapades to focus on but despite this planning, I still spent yesterday quaking like a leaf as I’m NOT a performer by any means. If I see a stage I am usually running away from it, and I do not like being in front of a crowd of people I know, let alone strangers, let ALONE reading my most inner thoughts and painful prose. I was suddenly starting to realise that I’d signed myself up for, well, my worst nightmare!

Despite my nerves, I knew that now I’d volunteered I had to really go through with it and that it would make a good blog post to do something massively out of my comfort zone. I didn’t tell anybody except Susie that I was doing it as I really wasn’t ready to share and spill in front of friends or work colleagues and was terrified if word got out, they’d all come along! The night starts at 7.30pm and is in the top venue room of the wonderful George Pub off The Strand. I have to say, I started getting mighty sweaty as more and more and more people crammed in and the room gradually packed out.

The night started off with a few readers who had previously read at Cringe nights and it gave me a chance to see the general tone and style of the content and delivery. The readers were all so witty, so funny and with great delivery skills that it eased me and panicked me in equal measures. It was really fascinating to see the difference between the first volunteer (her 12 year old girl diary about periods, shaving her legs and the pains of not knowing what a wanker was!) and the next volunteer, a guy, who read his diary from a smiliar age (“ate 4 iced buns today”. “went to Gemmas party. It was shit.” “Gran came round. She gave me a quid.” etc!)

So after about 4 readers and a 10 minute interval, just as I thought I would definitely hyperventalate with fear, it was my turn. As soon as I got on stage, the lights meant I could barely see the audience, and this made it much easier to pretend I wasn’t infront of a huge room of strangers! I was amazed how easy it was just to start reading and quickly get into my stride. It helped that the audience were SO receptive, I was getting cheers and claps and awwws and a lo of laughs which was unbelievable as I hadn’t expected that kind of reception to my inane teen traumas!

My time on stage passed quickly and after the initial shock, I really really enjoyed it! It felt great to be able to make everyone laugh and feel everyones mutual mortification at my hideousness – like everyone was really laughing with me, not err at me. I even got the guts to share some horrific song lyrics I wrote about an unrequited crush which I would previously have been sick at the mere thought of my best friend seeing, let alone anyone else. I left the stage feeling like I’d literally just lived through a realy Hollywood movie scenario! After all my fretting and worry; it had gone down so well and I almost felt like I could jump off the stage and crowd surf back to my seat or high-5 everyone as I walked off – because they had been so supportive and lovely. It was such a confidence boost and afterwards lots of people approached me to say how funny they found it and to thank me for reading. Aw!

I would absolutely recommend at least attending a Cringe night, even if you don’t have the material/nerves to read. I think the joy about them is that everyone there can instantly relate to the themes and questions and issues that all the readers diaries cover. It sparks long buried memories and feelings and is just an absolutely feed-good night out. If you can’t treck to London, then you can buy the book inspired by the event for the bargainous £3.50 on Amazon at the moment.

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As I get older I realise that I probably fall into the category of those with a nervous disposition. I think the mathematical formulae for being this way is:

Control Freak + Over Active Imagination = Easily Terrified

A prime example of this being a few months back when I was living alone in the flat for 3 months and spent the majority of nights sleeping curled on the sofa clutching a kitchen knife, yknow, just in case. But just because I am naturally twitchy and squirmy around all things scary, doesn’t mean I don’t love it. [As demonstrated when I went Ghost Hunting recently!] Obviously I don’t love being awake at 4am because I think I can hear a ghost baby crying in my wardrobe (!) but safer, controlled scary things like movies, books and tv shows I am all for. I think fear is an itch that everyone loves to scratch, but then starts to regret when you’re later laying in bed replaying scary moments and cold sweating.

I’ve actually always been a fan of all things scary from a really young age. I think it’s because both my maternal and paternal grandparents had a collection of phenomenal ghost stories, and out of every story they would regale me with – it was the ones that made goosebumps cover my arms and my spine tingle that I’d beg for over and over. I supposed that as influencers and carers, they should have been reassuring me that ghosts and things that go bump in the night are aload of guff… but I’m grateful they didn’t as those stories are the ones I repeat again to family and friends even now. My sister is three years older than me, and while other girls our age were reading Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High we were building up the worlds largest collection of Point Horror books and counting down the hours to Michael Aspels Strange But True (oh god! the credits!)

Can you remember the first time you felt real fear? I can remember mine. There was an independent  video shop (the type of which I imagine are almost completely extinct now) that my mum would take us to on a Saturday after swimming, to get a film for that evening. The video shop was called 2001 Videos – HOW scary that ‘2001’ seemed so far in the distant future and as if when it eventually was 2001 we’d be living in space and driving hover cars. Anyway, tangent ahoy, at 2001 Videos we religiously stuck to the kids and cartoons section, occasionally browsing the general releases. At the back by the counter there was the Horror aisle and my sister would always dare me to walk up it. I think I was about 6 when I finally took the bait and waited for my mum to be distracted before taking a deep breath and stepping hesitantly towards the word HORROR. There were two video boxes in particular that were SO frightening, so horrifying and so unlike anything I’d ever seen that they shook me to the core. They were Childs Play and Hellraiser

No matter that we eventually left the shop (with something nice like Care Bears) and that I was back in the comfort of my family home, the fact that I had those terrifying images burnt into my retinas meant I just couldn’t relax and I had nightmares for weeks. From a bloody VHS box! Not even watching the film!

Anyway this is all a bit of a build up to the fact that last week I went to see the INCREDIBLE Ghost Stories at the Duke of York Theatre. The play is written by Andy Nyman – co-creator and director of Derren Brown’s television and stage shows and Jeremy Dyson – League Of Gentleman genius. Their aim in creating Ghost Stories was to bring back some of the classic Victoriana theatre going experience; something creepy, haunting and that could raise a blood curdling scream.

Before going to see Ghost Stories I had avoided reading or googling anything about it (and you should too! Which is also why I promise I wont go into any depth about the content) and so really had no idea what to expect. Approaching the theatre absolutely covered in goading signs saying “Just keep telling yourself its only a show”, “Pant-Wettingly Scary” and “NOT suitable for those with a nervous disposition” (Oh, hi!) I was starting to feel the churn of fear in my belly before I’d even entered. Everything about the theatre experience is designed to put you at un-ease from the second you walk in; from the decor, the darkness of the circle as you find your seat and the well to hell sound effects playing as you sit waiting for it to begin.

I think that Ghost Stories is possibly one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in my entire life. I just cannot beg you hard enough that you have to go and see it while it’s still running. It will certainly make you scream, question everything and immediately want to book tickets to see it again. (I did, sad!) The acting, set and intricate story are just mindblowing. Just when you think you know what is going on, you realise you have no idea! You are constantly lulled in false senses of security before embarrassing yourself by jumping ten feet in the air and screaming in the face of the person next to you.

Five stars, go see it, go book it now.

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Me and my day trip buddies had planned this trip months in advance, picking a day at random and scribbling in our diaries on the train home from the seaside in April. This time we wanted to take our day-trip relationship to the next level. We were ready to commit, we were ready to invest seriously. We were ready for… BENSON! (our street car hire car) We made a shortlist of potential locations and after lots of umming and aahing, Ali came through with Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. As the day approached, England was in a pretty good state of affairs. Blistering heat and glorious sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Until you reached our day-trip day on the five day forecast for Dorset and the summary was “Chilly, with beefy rainclouds“. Luckily, like with many things (eg. the time bbc weather told me Bestival would have a mini-heatwave. In reality there was a freak storm, followed by a typhoon, followed by people being airlifted to safety from the knee-deep mud…) they were wrong. And thus followed… the day of perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 After a 3 hour drive and listening to Go West a few more times than necessary, we boarded the ferry that took us from mainland Dorset onto the peninsular . Our first stop was Corfe Castle which is a quaint little chocolate box village with a beautiful ruined old castle sat overlooking it. It’s apparently what Kirrin Island in the Enid Blyton books is based on, which made the fact we climbed up to the top for some jolly wholesome exploring and picnicking even better. Ali had made the most amazing picnic – to make sandwich bread you buy a Tiger loaf, empty out the middle and then fill it with your favourite fillings (more the merrier, I think we had cheese, ham, pickle, tomato, black olive spread & hard boiled egg!) then when you arrive at your munching location you can just slice it and ta-da instant, perfect sandwiches. We had a flask of ice tea and punnets of huge strawberries and raspberries. We met some mountain beasts (ok, brown sheep) and moseyed around the village shops before getting scared because it appears their thing is scarecrows and pretty sinister looking ones at that, with pipe-cleaner glasses. I have an irrational fear of scarecrows and it was beginning to feel like we were in the Wickerman, so made a hasty exit.

 

Isle of Purbeck was enchanting because we kept stumbling across incredible things when we least expected it. For example we pulled into a standard looking Co-op to use the cash point and behind it we found this vintage steam railway that looked straight out of a film set. By now we were getting itchy beach feet and the sun was like nothing else. Total Hawaii weather. We pulled up at a random path that looked sandy and started trekking towards what we hoped was a beach. 20 minutes of walking barefoot on scorching sand, through ferns & forests and past lakes and not seeing a soul… we spotted the sea! And white sands! And… a large angry looking naked man! 

We had managed to locate the ‘famous’ (apparently) nudest beach, and boy was it busy. We had no option really but to skulk along the dunes, trying to keep our eyes on the horizon, but the naked people seemed very keen to run past/towards us and I definitely saw more wobbling male genitalia in that 30 minutes than my entire life up to that point. We paddled past the nakeds and towards a more clothes-friendly part called Shell Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main aim of daytrips is always to sample the local fish and chips, and we found a place in Swannage that definitely fitted all my requirements called ‘The Fish Plaice” and with a surly 12 year old looking waitress who we had to practically use brute force to get to actually acknowledge our presence and take our order! The fish was lovely but the batter was greas-ee. A chocolate milkshake and OD on tartare sauce helped. Also +points for the 20p bread and butter slices on the side. For pudding? A polystyrene pot of shrimps from a kiosk on the pier, that scared Craig so much that if I chased him with them he screamed a bit.

 

The sun finally set and on route home we stopped at a pub in Wareham to laze in their beer garden and eat homemade Dorset apple pie with cornish clotted cream. Even the 4 hour journey home (big bad motorway accident, boo) and then the fact I missed my last tube and had to stomp my sandy feet through the mean streets of Bow at 11.30pm couldn’t wipe the fresh-air smile off my face. The phrase ‘staycation’ used to filll me uncertainty, but I really doubt you could find prettier places across the whole of Europe as the Isle of Purbeck. I’m sure we only scraped the surface and I’m already plotting my return.

We only have one more day-trip of the summer left, before Ali abandons us for a life of Fika and Ikea homeware in Sweden in August, so any location recommendations welcome.

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