London’s secret outdoor cinemas

Strange coincidence – I went to two outdoor cinemas last week – back-to-back, in a busy mid-week double header.

Picture of Outdoor cinema at half light in Dulwich Park

Wolf of Wall Street against the moonlight of Dulwich Park

Not deliberate and wouldn’t repeat  it –  *tiring* – but it gave me a unique chance to compare London’s offering for this strange outdoor pastime.

The Luna Cinema was first and my favourite for its simplicity – watching the Wolf of Wall Street under cover of moonlight in a deserted Dulwich Park felt vaguely illicit. We had wrapped up warm so being cozy outside in the fading summer was fun, rather than freezing.

Second was Secret Cinema’s much anticipated Back to the Future. Set in the depths of East London (a rare journey for me on its own), it was  more about the stage-craft and theater, than the film.

Picture of film goers arriving in fancy dress

Peabody’s farm, just shy of Stratford

Other film-goers stood out on the tube – dressed up in sophisticated vintage outfits that immediately made me question my own vague attempt. On arrival our phones were taken. Feeling naked, we filtered through into a Disney land for the children of 1985. There was a whole town to explore, if you are up for make-believe, but we stuck to the fairground and queuing for chips.

View from the top of the Ferris wheel

A secret photo from a forgotten camera in my bag…

There was a brilliant parade. And when the film finally aired it was full of impressive special effects – although watching it again in  high definition, at the edge of the city, it didn’t need them.

It was enjoyable to re-trace a forgotten film to a forgotten childhood, and connect the dots of an unexplained love of pretty boys to an early crush on Marty McFly.

We got cold and fearing our long journeys and early starts, left.

But I’m planning a Back to the Future marathon one weekend, when its warm inside and cold outside, sometime really soon.

 

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Which festival is better – Latitude or Wilderness?

You haven’t been to a festival until you’ve been to a festival with a severe weather warning. And this summer I went to two.

Latitude had blistering heat followed by nightly electric storms; while Hurricane Bertha woke me up at Wilderness at 5am and we evacuated four hours later.

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I’d imagined these festivals to be too luxe to be ‘real’. I don’t know what I expected – some super on-it event organiser with a headset sprinkling the ground with mud-resistant fairy dust, or that everyone would be too posh to shit in the loos.

Despite the crashing reality that a festival once attended by Sam Cam didn’t magic me into a self-cleaning Glasto-esque Cressida Bona,  both were great fun and its hard to call which was better. But if I had to rank them…

Music – Latitude – Lily Allen beat my expectations and I danced to Damon Albarn in a rain storm so intense a passing stranger thought I was on speed. I also discovered George Ezra and got a little crush on him.

Food – Wilderness, obvs – we had a banquet table at Angella Hartnett’s lunch –  five courses of her favourite Italian family food in a room that looked just magical, with the added excitement of Angela bobbing around saying hi. And other restaurants included a Hix tent and a J Sheekey fish and chip van- so it was basically Soho in a field in a really good way.

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Angela’s Boozy peaches and amaretto cream. If I could recreate this I think I could handle anything in life.

Arts – Latitude – (but only because I mainly boozed at Wilderness). I discovered Josie Long who I am now obsessed with – what a FUNNY woman -and surprised myself by enjoying the poetry tent – it might have been to do with the hot poet Raymond Antrobus whose nostalgic poems about his Nan – set to MUSIC – made me well up. I loved Peter Hayhoe too.

Booze – Wilderness – had actual bars where you could dance and a disco in the forest. But Latitude also had a piano bar in the woods which attracted kids that looked like fairies.

Camping – Latitude –  let’s be honest campsites for 10,000 always have the sense of the worst ever long haul flight – all sleepy haired, strangers sweating and spitting out toothpaste. Latitude’s campsite was best, as it had lots of space to camp (and even cartwheel). But Wilderness was surprisingly overcrowded – some friends were forced to pitch up at the side of the tracks next to the loos. But there WAS a breakfast club brunch van right opposite. Its the only time I’ve managed to get my hands on one of their sausage baps. Score.

Lake – Wilderness – both unquestionably beautiful lakes, but Wilderness had a Lakeside spa and I go to go and sit in a toasty barrel of heated water whilst it rained, sipping champagne. OH MEMORIES.

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Spot Angella


People – DRAW – Everyone was nice, didn’t get any trouble. Latitude had the highest concentration of Guardian readers – it was like a freaking Birkenstock convention – while Wilderness had a funny mix of pissed posh folk and pagans. Both festivals had way too many kids in my opinion. Far be it for me to judge parents, but waking up to the sound of children wailing as the storm hit made me want to join in and steal their calpol.

So would I do either festival again? Probably not. What tolerance I had left for camping died this summer. Plus all of the red bull I drank to survive gave me a week long skin disorder and an eye twitch. But that said, never say never. I’ve never been to Glastonbury and I am due a mid-life crisis.

The best Chinese take-away in Wandsworth

Lately I’ve been exemplifying the kind of emotionally dependent relationship with my local Chinese restaurant that Sandra Bullock embodies at the start of ‘Two Weeks Notice‘.

Can I have a bite of your number 6 please Sandie?

I know things need to change. They know things need to change. But neither of us wants to stop.

So it goes on that I, exhausted at the end of the week, make the call and get them to hit me up with a Singapore chicken noodles,  beef in black bean sauce and an egg fried rice.

Yes I know that is two types of carbs and a really bad idea. Yes I know that Sandra is way thinner than me. Yes I also know that the amazing health benefits of Asian food are only really seen on a diet of sushi, tofu and miso soup, not white rice flash fried in oil. But can the world please stop judging me and take a mouthful of the black bean beef?!

I love The Good Earth, not just because the food is excellent, but because it provides the kind of singular comfort that nothing other than a bear hug with an elderly relative can deliver.

It is also well posh (its roots are in Kensington). You can have a takeaway at home and feel really swank over skank.

They have a really fancy restaurant that has gold padded walls, very efficient waiting staff and silent, automatic doors everywhere that lead to secret rooms. Plus they look after you with hot hand towels and after dinner mints.

Image of a clay pot being revealed

The big reveal

Here I am getting the fillet steak clay pot. That is the super attention-seeking meal they cook at your table and everyone in the restaurant gets jealous (see man in white shirt with the hilarious hungry eyes).

Image of fillet steak clay pot at the good earth

Divine

Chocolate mints in orange foil

Chocolate mints. Imported from the eighties. The very best way to end a good meal.

The Good Earth has selected restaurants across London, including a restaurant in Wandsworth Common and takeaway stations in Battersea and Wimbledon.

Five nights in Dubrovnik

There is only one thing to do in London in summer. Leave. For as long as your holiday allowance will allow.

I went to Dubrovnik for five nights, expecting somewhere ‘edgy’, perhaps with a lot of electronic music and post-war grievance expressed through graffiti. What I found was a gentle city, which likes to linger in its sea-faring, medieval past.

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I don’t think Dubrovnik gets enough attention for being a summer European city-break destination. It offers more than the usual contenders – Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome,  blah, blah. All great cultural cities, sure. But in high summer, pounding concrete all I can think is “where the hell is the beach?!!” 

Dubrovnik has it all –  a city vibe, heritage, sea all around to cool off and islands to explore – and only 2.5 hours flight time from the UK.

Where to Stay

We stayed in the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel – booking this hotel was by far one of the best decisions I’ve made all year. We got a good deal and it has a swim-up bar with incredible views of the Adriatic. Sold.

But its the little things that made the hotel stand-out – the peace and quiet, a fantastic omelette station at breakfast, friendly staff and CHOCOLATES ON YOUR PILLOW (a sad lost art in hotels these days). Its set slightly out of town, but a bus stops regularly right outside the hotel shuttling you into town (and I’m generally against public transport on holiday, I do love a cab).

On days when it was overcast (which did happen on a couple of mornings), there was a great gym, indoor immersion swimming pool and spa (we indulged in very vigorous all body body-scrub and massages which were reasonable at around £55).

Water so clear you could do your make up in the reflection

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When the sea is calm (which isn’t every day), you can climb down the rocks to swim

What to do

There were times when I didn’t want to leave the Dubrovnik Palace – but  of course, I really had to.

The old town is spectacular to walk around – embarrassingly we couldn’t find the entrance to the city walls, which I’m told  is a must-see.

But my favourite thing was to travel to the surrounding islands – an all day boat trip to the Elafiti Islands was inexpensive and offered stop-offs at three picturesque islands. These have some of the best paddling experiences out there in life, Croatian beer as cheap as chips and our laid back sailing crew forced grappa on us at 11am.

The lagoon at lokrum

The Salt Lake at Lokrum 

But it was the island of Lokrum I loved the most – lying ten minutes from the Old Port by ferry lies a secluded nature reserve with a secret salt lake (I’m calling it a lagoon), beautiful peacocks roaming everywhere and incredible hot, rocky scenery. I’ve never been anywhere like it.

Where to Eat

Dubrovnik’s food didn’t do it massively for me – because its famous for its seafood (which I detest)  – but if you love seafood, this is the place for YOU. We ate in the old town most nights I had some great steaks at some really lovely restaurants, including Nautica, Gill’s Bistro and 360.

So sod the standard city break. Go to Dubrovnik. Go in summer and see what I mean.

What to pack for a festival

So rather than contemplate the flash storms forecast for Latitude , or that I wasn’t organised enough to book Monday off work and now have to find a way back on Sunday and potentially miss Haim, I am instead just going to *bury my little head in packing*.

As promised in my previous post on surviving festivals (aimed at uptight individuals or those just now in their thirties) I do have a secret festival packing list to share. I can’t take credit (unlike my own holiday list).  It was given to me by a friend ahead of my first festival (V Festival) and has become, in my mind,  sacred testimony from the gods of  bloody good sense. I am solemnly passing it down so that it might help others lost, confused or facing the peril of attending a festival on the East Anglian flood-planes…this weekend.

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Camping gear:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag – ensure it is a warm one
  • Pillow – (I bought a little tartan one pictured above, purely because it was cute)
  • Foam mat for under sleeping bag/blow up bed
  • Blanket
  • Water holder
  • Camping chair
  • Bin bags/carrier bags
  • LED torch
  • Plastic bowls/forks
  • Mobile battery pack/charging device
  • Festival trolley or backpack for carrying everything

Clothing: make sure you have one whole extra outfit in case it rains and pack outfits in separate carrier bags

  • Hoody/jumper
  • Rain Mac/Jacket
  • Shorts, skirt, dresses, leggings
  • T shirts, shirts and vest tops
  • Socks – over the knee and ankle
  • Underwear!
  • Bikini – in case you need to have a shower (or are going to the Wilderness spa)
  • Towel
  • Wellies
  • Trainers/pumps
  • Flip flops
  • PJs and bed socks

Toiletries:

  • Make up – proper slap you can rely on like waterproof mascara and Estee Lauder double wear foundation
  • Sun cream
  • Baby wipes
  • Moisturizer
  • Perfume, deodorant
  • Antibacterial gel
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash
  • Toilet roll
  • Dry shampoo, hairspray, brush
  • Plasters, ibuprofen
  • Ear plugs
  • Alka-Seltzer, Berocca
  • Accessories:
  • Small bag/cross over bag
  • Mirror
  • Hair grips/bands/clips
  • Head-dresses, headbands, face-paint
  • Hat
  • Hipflask
  • Jewelry
  • Sun glasses
  • Tissues
  • Watch
  • Entertainment:
  • Music/speakers
  • Digital camera
  • Driving licence
  • Food: (nothing which will melt/easily attract ants)
  • e.g. crisps, cereal bars, individually packed foods e.g. cakes, brioche, chewing gum
  • Booze: (cans, wine boxes or decanted into plastic bottles) 
  • Water

And last but not least, don’t forget your tickets…

An uptight person’s guide to attending festivals

Last year I lost my Festival V at V Festival. It was my first festival ever – on my ’30 before 30′ list –  which probably sums up my attitude to cutting loose.

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The Daily Mash’s recent article, ‘Nice girls pretending to look forward to Glastonbury’ resonated with me. Basically I am the “conventional, upbeat women” they describe “focusing on the practicalities of the weekend, like whether to bring an inflatable pillow, to avoid considering the hellish reality of survival in a massive ditch full of caners.”

Despite dry gagging at the stench of  the campsite; collapsing in the mud carrying four bags twice my body weight; trying to exist without sleep after our friends were robbed as they slept; and falling upon the kindness of strangers at 10pm to assemble our tent, V Festival was a great experience.

I watched Beyonce, along with (among others) Paloma Faith, The Vaccines  Ellie Goulding, JessieJ and Tom Odell and drank so much cider I decided I was ‘high on life’. Jesus.

Once I realised I could cope with the chemical toilets far better once pissed I totally let go…of reality, personal hygiene and my city- living-self. These are the ten things I learned to get you through:

  1. Carry hand-gel, toilet role and orange lipstick with you at all times – this will minimse self-loathing
  2. You will spend double your budget on booze and slices of pizza – this will all be worth it
  3. Allow (hell, encourage) people to plait your hair, adorn you with flowers and paint your face – this will make you feel younger, and given your biggest concern may become feeling like an octogenarian compared to the teenagers wearing neon crop-tops, this will help your self-esteem
  4. Don’t give anyone attitude, anything goes and this could  make the difference between them helping you carry your bags across a massive distance  or throwing their own shit at your tent
  5. If you decide against my advice and are going to give someone attitude (say for pushing in front of you to watch Beyonce when you queued to watch her for 5 hours)…at least recruit everyone else in the crowd to support the cause
  6. Invest in one of those custom-festival wheelie devices – you will come to hate everyone who was clever enough to buy one
  7. Drink through any moments of self-doubt when you question why you are there
  8. Sleep with your money in your sleeping bag
  9. Turn off your phone and only use it for emergencies – like taking photos at crucial points
  10. Don’t agree to go to the toilet with a girl you have only met once and let her guard you as you crouch. This will become awkward as you both sober up.

This summer, I’m learning from the above and tweaking the formula. I’m trying two different festivals Latitude and Wilderness, which to my naive mind will attract a slightly older, calmer crowd ( hoping to escape the 16 year-olds doing drugs off spoons at V).

I’m looking forward to the line-up and the broader arts/comedy offering at Latitude – Damon Albarn and Haim are on my list.

Whereas Wilderness sounds like a bloody mini break – set in the Cotswolds, I’m booked up for the The Lakeside Spa  and a five course lunch banquet by Angela Hartnett.

Who knows what the reality will be like, but I will report back. And in case anyone else is concerned about whether to bring an inflatable pillow (the answers is always yes by the way ) I will be sharing my ‘packing list’ in the coming days, so we can all bury our heads in pointless organisation to block out the reality of the chaos to come….

Lyles – the loveliest new London restaurant

I’m a fussy eater. I eat like a child. I leave my crusts and make a mess. If I am left alone at the weekends I often eat chocolate for breakfast and chicken nuggets and tinned sweetcorn for lunch. Over the years I have admitted to too many people that my hypothetical ‘death row’ meal choice would be a McDonalds happy meal.

But after a good experience at the new London restaurant Lyle’s this week, run by two chefs James Lowe and John Ogier who are causing a bit of a ‘stir’ on the ‘London scene’ maybe there is hope for me yet.

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When my sophisticated friends book ‘foodie’ restaurants I am always nervous. Especially when they are in Shoreditch. I find many London restaurants intimidating – with menus in continental languages I don’t understand and strange ingredients and complicated culinary terms I don’t recognise.

While Lyles had one of those scary menus – with the added fear-factor of a ‘get what you are given’  daily set menu –  I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely delighted by what I found.

A good part of the reason was that it had all the lovely touches of nice restaurants. Lots of surprising, complimentary house specialties to taste between course, so it feels like good value. And each course is brought to you by a different member of the kitchen or front of house team and they talk through the food with a lot of knowledge that underlines the quality and freshness of the ingredients, sourced from across the UK. (The chefs are also quite fit and have that very attractive, ‘country/urban’, ‘I could kill an animal, but would always treat it well’ earthy quality going on).

To start with we had something I didn’t even know existed – samphire – a sea vegetable. I think it must be that stringy stuff that can creep you out when you swim. Apparently they sell it in Waitrose and this stuff was AMAZING. So fresh, salty and lathered in butter. (I see in my future a disappointing attempt to recreate this at home on a Sunday evening).

Then there was the first course ‘peas and Ticklemore’.  Fresh peas, herbs, lovely Ticklemore cheese and edible flowers.

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I try not to take too many pictures of my food as I find it a very wanky habit- but this was just too PRETTY

Then there was smoked salmon, but I had asparagus and walnut butter (I opted for the vegetarian menu as I have a deep aversion to eating fish unless it comes out of a newspaper). The walnut butter was so yummy – except awkward moment when I had finished the asparagus, but not the butter, and wasn’t sure if would be considered ‘gauche’ to shovel the remaining butter in my mouth with a fork.

There were lots of lovely courses after that – I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the ‘mutton’ soup, but it was scrummy. The main course was my least favourite – but only because I was embarrassed to tell the restaurant that I don’t each mushrooms too (I can’t get past them being wood goblins). So I didn’t eat a lot of my puffball mushrooms, although friends who I gifted it to said it was extraordinary. I did, however, very much love the duck egg that came with that dish.

Character building moment was when a sample of ‘blood cake’ came – which I think is posh black pudding – and I was literally corralled into eating it by my friends who I thought might start chanting ‘eat it, eat it’ like we were on a rugby tour. It wasn’t that bad – not exactly the sausage taste my friends said it had and a very grainy aftertaste that disturbed me. (Iknow, I know, sausage is probably WORSE but I have very double standards when it comes to offal).

So overall – go to Lyles – really special experience for all the reasons above, but especially because I was with friends I hadn’t seen for months, so it was particularly good fun. Even if one of my friends did end the night saying he wasn’t sure about ‘the deconstructed cooking trend’. Which terrified me into wondering… “When did we all become such ADULTS? Maybe I am really too old for Happy Meals now….”