Saturday, 13 August 2011

Race For Life

We did it! On a very hot day in July I jogged my little heart out and completed 5km in 42minutes.

I am extremely proud of myself. Despite going out and training quite a bit, I had still never ran 5km before that day (I know that is an amateur mistake.) Plus, unbeknownst to me at the start, the majority of the course involved running uphill, which I was not prepared for at all. But I beat my target time of 45min.

As he had earlier threatened my dad was on hand to capture the entire day in his much better than mine camera - hence the upgrade inquality. I will not be sharing all 200 pictures with you all. No one needs a still by still depiction of my ungainly running style, but here are a few I offer as proof for those that generously sponsored me,

Also a massive well done to Elle and her Mom. It would have been wonderful if we could have run together, but the threat of stress fractures is more important than my fear of looking like a pillock. I am very proud of her as she carried on and completed the 5km despite being in pain all the way through. And also go Jane for deciding to join in at the 11th hour with absolutely no prep!

Over all I raised just over £350 ( when you include gift aid etc) thank you so much to everyone that donated!!! You are all amazing. It was extremely moving running in such a large sea of pink, as everyone's reason for running was pinned on their backs. Everyone was running for close friends and family, no one was just running for themselves. Reading the messages to loved ones just spurred me on to run more. I think I will probably do it again next year, or something similar at least. But for now no more running. Give me a bike any day :D

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Camp Bestival

Furthering my reputation of being somewhat impulsive, I persuaded Jeannie and Neff to come steward with me at Camp Bestival with only 14 days notice. Frustrated by my lack of headway in my attempts to get a job with Oxfam I thought volunteering for them might get me some brownie points :D

We had an absolutely amazing time. Would recommend stewarding to anyone that can cope with a little sleep deprivation. You get a free festival ticket, ace music, some lovely new friends and an excuse to be rather childish and watch things like sooty & sweep, Dick & Dom and Mr Tumble.

We also did a bit of celeb spotting. I spoke to Jo Whiley (who is surprisingly quite short) and spotted a few others milling around in the crowd. Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall was spotted by one of my freinds, but alas I could not find him. I did however go to the River Cottage tent and met some of the guys there & got to eat some of their scrumptious food.

Most of our job consisted of telling people where the programme sellers were and looking after lost little kids - some of which were really sweet and did not care at all that their parents were no where to be seen. We met some lovely people and hopefully have made a few new friends. It seems wearing a bright orange Oxfam tabard or yellow security jumpers makes everyone really friendly and approachable. Despite not really seeing that many bands and doing far to much walking in ill fitting wellies this was probably the best festival experience I have ever had. Leeds has got a lot to live up too!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Deer Stalking & old Fashioned Sweets: Chester 10/501

Last Autumn Nick and I indulged in a day of Enid Blyton based mischief. We packed our corned beef sandwiches and cans of ginger ale with the idea of spending the day in Tatton Park. Alas it seems Tatton Park is closed in the winter (something they would do well to advertise on their website). So we changed our plans and unexpectedly found ourselves in the middle of a deer park. Despite living on the green belt and driving past multiple road signs warning that there may be deers crossing, the closest I had ever gotten to one of these lovely creatures was when peering at one of its distantly related cousins at the West Midlands Safari Park.

Dunham Massey, although not being a spectacular grand house, or of particular historical interest, is definitely a must see. Especially on a crisp autumn day. We had the place practically to ourselves and so naturally pretended to be in our own nature documentary, trying to get as close as possible to a large herd who where huddled together, not unlike penguins. It was a very indulgent and childish morning, but was so much fun. All that was missing was the presence of Philip, Dina, Jack & Lucy.

Nick modelling his Movember Look
We then ventured on into Chester as it's on the list. Being the middle distance (ish) between Nick and I, we had ventured here before and have visited since (both occasions were largely due to our need to visit the wonderful Ice Cream Farm, tucked away in the countryside about 20 minutes outside of town. A definite must if you are in the area, especially for the liquorice and blackcurrant flavoured ice cream.) Having Nick about as we wandered around the town was an advantage as I got to pick his brains about the place's history. We walked along the city walls and I learnt about Roman defence tactics and who proceeded Caeser. The city is very nice, with its chocolate box finish and high end shops. I would recommend investing a guide to the city, or do a bit of swotting up before you go as there is more to this city then meets the eye. Unlike other places though, the city does not readily provide much information for us tourists to devour about its rich history. Alternatively I might start hiring Nick out as a guide (possible new business venture). There is also a very nice old fashioned sweet shop tucked up in one of the side streets that stocked every liquorice delight you could imagine, but unfortunately I have forgotten what it is called and where exactly it is. As for it being a Must See City, I don't entirely agree. The best bits of the day were the out of town exploits and the newly acquired knowledge. If I were to do it all again I would spend an hour on Wikipedia learning about the Romans and then hot foot it to the nearest National Trust house for an Enid Blyton adventure. Long live ginger beer!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

King Alf's Backyard. Winchester 9/501

There were three reasons why Winchester was always going to be better than Brigthon. Firstly it is enshrined in English folklore and holds the Round Table that Merlin, Arther and Lancelot all partied around. Secondly Frank Turner just wrote a song about the place. Thirdly King Alf has his own Twitter account telling tourists exactly where the fun is. These things alone should persuade anyone that the drive there is undoubtedly worth it.

I went with a clear view of what I wanted to see in the 4 hours we had to spend in the city. I wanted to see the Cathedral, I wanted to see the round table and I wanted to do the Mizmaze, if I wasn't to hungover. All of this was swept aside when we got to the high street and were blown away (quite literally they were quite loud) by the Meridian Drum Corps who were busking quite merrily outside Monsoon. Treating us with the delights of Downtown, Total Eclipse of the Heart and Aga Du, they brought the entire street to a stand still. It was just what we needed to kick start our exploration as we were running on nothing but hang overs and very little sleep. Yet again Neffi and I were impressed by the calibre and quality of the buskers, but I am beginning to think that maybe everywhere except Birmingham & Wolverhampton has a thriving busking scene as all the evidence seems to point this way...

After purchase of the obligatory coffee, we wandered into the Cathedral grounds to have breakfast and watched the very well dressed people dispense from the Sunday morning service. The Cathedral itself is both impressive and informative. The staff were very friendly and there was ample reading material explaining everything from British history to procedural information, with a bit of pop culture thrown in to boot. Much better organised than Bristol cathedral and with a lot more to see than in Chester. Although, we may have been a little biased as we are Austen fans; reading so much about her and seeing her grave site was a bit of a pilgrimage. I also learnt and actually managed to retain quite a bit from our brief tour. Having never studied English history that far back at school most of King Alf's story was new to me. I feel like I might be able to add to a conversation between Nick & the guys now, or at least follow what they are saying.

Another good find was Buddy's Dinner. Neff was severely lagging by midday and this Retro American diner was a pretty good bribe to keep her both happy and awake long enough to do a bit more site seeing. We recommend the milkshakes (especially the Oreo Cookie one).

We really enjoyed Winchester. Its up there with Cambridge as our favourite city so far. The place has plenty of history to immerse yourself in, and in an extremely accessible and way. Alas we were to hungover to find St Catherine's Mizmaze and ran out of time to see where Anne Boleyn got married. But now I know how to get there, there is very little stopping us from visiting again.

Also I stumbled across this Diary of a Busker whilst researching the trip & I recommend the read!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Big Mix Festival

We went to this mini London festival on a whim, as we were down South and weren't to bothered about spending much time by the sea side. I was quite excited about it because I FINALLY GOT TO SEE NEWTON FAULKNER. I am a big fan, but had thus far not been able to go to any of his gigs. This frustration was amplified by the fact that Neffi saw him 3 times last year, despite not being particularly bothered about him. So not fair.

Playing by himself, with the addition of a tape player for one song (very retro), he happily bantered away to the little crowd that had gathered in Camden. Even if you aren't a big fan of the music that he makes, I defy you not to be entertained at one of his gigs. He manages top make a humble acoustic guitar sound like a full band, and on occasion plays some string accompaniment with his feet. It is like watching art at work. We were properly impressed, with Neffi wondering if we could make her guitar into a bass drum once we got home.

The big mix is a tiny festival so it was worth going to in order to see bigger names playing in smaller venues, there was stand up comedy and fashion too. May try and go again next year as we saw a lot of new music we liked, along with some old favourites. Just hope it rains slightly less. Now that I have the route from Liverpool Street Station and Brick Lane down (although I swear that place moves every time I go) it should be brilliant. And it is all in support of MacMillan Cancer support, so you can even go home feeling all warm and fuzzy as the money you spent went to a good cause. Keep your eyes peeled for it next year.

Also if you look closely the Teal coat (and by proxy me) makes it into the official video for the day :D

So that is 5/6 bands off Octobers bucket list done. Though it is going to be a while before I get to see the last one.

Monday, 27 June 2011

City of 100 Spires. Prague 8/501

Possibly the most beautiful city I have been to (so far). There is something magical about the place, with its hazy sky line and castles a plenty, it is entirely to easy to pretend that you are actually on a set of some big budget Disney movie.

We arrived at 5.30am as our bus was running ahead of schedule which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Despite being perhaps the grumpiest person in the world that morning, Nick managed to persuade me to not go back to the hostel to sleep, but to take advantage of how empty the city was and explore. I am so glad that I listened to him. We had the city to ourselves for the first few hours and it was gorgeous. Crossing over the river ambling around the Charles bridge at sunrise was (in hindsight) the most stunning part of our European foray.

There are three things you seemingly cannot escape whilst in Prague:
  1. Churches 
  2. Kafka
  3. David Cerny
The first two are fairly predictable. Prague was granted the grace to be largely architecturally unaffected by the mass demolition of World War II. The higgledipiggidly turrets, spires represent 100s of different religions, denominations and saints, all standing in their Gothic glory. Similarly, Kafka is probably the cities most (only) famous expat, which is unfortunate as the man himself didn't seem to have much of an opinion of the place. David Cerny on the other hand was a revelation and a joy to stumble across.

Think of him as a Czech Banksy and Tracey Emin all rolled into one. His sculptures can be found throughout the city and make for an interesting and unwieldy guide of the backstreets and secret beauty spots. Amongst my favourites were the two men pissing into a lake the shape of the Czech Republic that stands as the entrance to the Kafka Museum. Nick informs me that during the summer the motorised men will pee actual messages into the water, and that you can text in to have your message "written". You wouldn't find that on the Fourth Plinth.

On a (drunken?) saunter through the city late at night in search of food we found his glowing Embryo, which doubles up as a drainpipe. We actually doubled back as at first we just strode past it in a very nonchalant fashion, coming to a halt a few metres later and doing the WTF double take. 

Cerny is not the only modern art that Prague wears like a badge of pride. There is a gigantic metronome that resides above the city, keeping time, aloof from all the scurrying that goes on in the city below it. There is the famous Dancing House, the only 'modern' glass building that I can remember seeing there. Also the site of some really monumental road rage, but I hope that is not a daily occurrence.

As with Berlin, there is a certain amount of grief weighing on the city from WWII, in a way that I don't encounter when visiting London or Paris. The Jewish Quarter is a must see for the sake of remembrance and culture, but do not go expecting to be chipper once you have seen all its sights. The Pinkas Synagogue is horrific, there is no other word for it. Where the Jewish memorial in Berlin is playful and beautiful whilst maintaining its vast purpose, the memorial of every Jewish person who was either killed or relocated in the war is humbling and sorrowful. The walls are covered in this cavernous building from floor to ceiling in tiny red script listing every man, women and child that is no longer there. 

To counteract that realisation of the scale of Jewish persecution comes perhaps that best restaurant in the entire world. The Vytopna Railway Restaurant was charming and warm and FULL OF MODEL TRAINS. Just off Wenceslas Square, this place is no doubt aimed at the tourist, but I fell for it hook line and sinker. Once you are seated (by the rather cute waiter) your drinks are brought to you by train, straight to your table. You then proceed to sit and watch all the other trains zoom around the room, across the bar, along over head bridges and stopping at signal boxes as they bring drinks to the other punters. It was as if some one asked Nick what his favourite things were and then made a restaurant. I am amazed that he didn't insist on permanently relocating there. Most amazingly of all it was still ridiculously cheap costing less than £20 for a large meal and lots of alcohol.

Prague is majestic and regal. The castle is the largest in Europe. The astronomical clock in the Old Town Square is as farcical as it is endearing. The views from Vysehrad Castle are breath taking and well worth the jaunt out of the city centre to find. Happiest of all the beer made in the Monastery a short walk from the castle is excellent, and entirely allowed at 10am, because you are on holiday.

Monday, 20 June 2011

New Music to Love

After our epic adventure last week, Neff and I uncovered a wealth of new bands to listen to. So here are our new music to love list, brought to you after the wettest road trip in history.

We journeyed into London for The Big Mix Festival,  mini festival that was spread out across Shoreditch that provided some really exciting little venues to watch some potentially big new names.

Friends Electric

A welsh electro-pop band that had some really good hooks. I had heard a few of their songs before we got there so made a beeline for them. It was a shame that they were on so early in the day, as the venue they were playing in was quite the walk from the main entrance. I don't think that many people had managed to find it before their set started. But they soldiered on anyway. I would quite happily dance around Sandmarsh with my bottle of Tequila with the girls to this music. Just enough of a dance tune that we can prance around the living room, but  with  some amazing lyrics to sing along with too. Their new single Firework is out today! And the other song that I particularly liked was Golden Blood. Also the lead singer bares a striking resemblance to Terry Richardson. They have now been added to the list of why I am GUTTED to not be going to Wakestock this year.

Treetop Flyers 

Described in the blurb as The Libertines- meets Paolo Nutini, they were the opening band, doing an acoustic set in Spitalfield Market. We liked them so much we then went to their full band set later in the day. I don't really get the Libertines comparison. Their whole vibe is much more country/folk then Indie, but there are times when there is a little twang that could be compared to Paolo's voice. Soft and melodic there is an ounce of Americana running through the songs. Their stand out song was definitely Roses in the Yard, as we were still humming it when we got on the train at the end of the day. Also the bassist has to be one of the most friendly and approachable guys ever, quite happily chatting to the crowd whilst the rest of the guys re-tuned. They have just won the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition so keep an eye out for them and expect big things.

And now for something completely different...

The Meow Meows

This band was exactly what the doctor ordered on an extremely wet Saturday afternoon. A 'Ska & Roll' band that somehow pulled the 60s and 80s together got the crowd skanking and generally cheered everybody up. Despite having a few technical issues with the mikes, theirs was the most enjoyable set of the day. There is a lack of Saxophones in the music that is pervading the charts at the moment, especially now with the loss of Clarence Clemons, and so there isn't a better time for the re-emergence of some proper cheering sounds. They also got the seal of approval from Newton Faulkner who was dancing about 3 feet away from us, so from one ginger to another, check them out!

Tall Ships

Our Favourite band of the weekend, Tall Ships were actually the support act for We Are Scientists on Friday. WAS usually provide some pretty good new music at their gigs (Neffi disagrees at this with some enthusiasm however much love for Goldheart Assembly) so I had high expectations. Plus Edith Bowman raved about them after seeing their gig at Kokos a few days earlier. They did not disappoint. They provide a very big sound with lots of melodic synth and loops. Playing more instruments then is feasibly possible, with only 3 members, they cover a lot of ground. This makes the live performance amazing because you spend half the time working out just how they do it. The math rock they create is epic in sound and the lyrics that are laid on top of them are clever metaphorical thoughts, particularly Ancestors.

They are playing in Brum the night of Race for Life so hopefully a lot of you will come with me to see them play and help me celebrate the end of training and the re-uptake of alcohol! So go get listening!