Why you have to chill out, to chill out at the spa

There are some things that perhaps shouldn’t be examined too closely. Facial pores in a magnified mirror, the sugar content of basically anything…and the ultimate weirdness of spa days.

What do you think about about when you are supposed to be thinking about nothing? Good question. Once the dead skin on the surface of the jacuzzi catches in the light, I can only think one thing. ‘I am sharing bathwater with a tattooed stranger.’

Not so awkward jacuzzi

Not so awkward jacuzzi

The relaxation sabotage continues. When the haze in the steam room clears to reveal three adult men, its hard to silence the thought that you are all averting eyes, basically sweating in your pants. Awkward.

It gets weirder. Especially if you are having a treatment and are ushered to a relaxation room with a fake planetarium ceiling and an immersive ocean music. Admittedly the room is weirdly therapeutic…until you spot a couple pressing into each other as if water birthing. So Gross.

I have been spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at spas recently, because well, it was the end of the year……so the season for ‘chilling’ and ‘me time’ and dropping £65 for a stranger to massage every inch of my body fat, as a present to myself for surviving the year.

I knock it, but there’s a lot to be said for spas – as long as you chill out first.

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On the rink: Curling in Kent

‘Random’ can be an overused word – particularly by teenage ‘guyz’ who think everything is weird – but a trip to England’s only dedicated curling rink could justifiably be called random.

Did any of us ‘need’ to try curling that weekend? No. But a brilliant friend had a weird birthday wish that just needed to be fulfilled. Afterwards all of us were richer individuals for having shared the experience at Fenton’s Rink in Kent.

England's only curling rink

England’s only curling rink

Curling is an odd sport (but no odder than any other when you think about it). Its quirkiness and Team GB’s success adds up to the fascination it generates. It turns out curling should also not be underestimated – tiring on the thighs (and the mind) and you even have to watch a safety video.

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Once everyone has the proper training, you are let lose on the ice, with groups getting full use of the rink and two coaches for support. Most people start off cautious and it is lovely to see everyone’s confidence and competitiveness grow.

Picture of people curling

The flags definitely fuel the competition

Kind of like bowling on ice, you have to get the shoes right. This aint no fashion show folks…

Image of black curling shoes

Ice shoes

To add to the quirks and charm of Fentons, it is set right in the heart of the Kent countryside and with a retro feel that transports you back to the time of Torvil and Dean. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, so while a trip curling might feel random, it might just make your weekend

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

So retro. So random.

So retro. So random.

Fentons Ice rink is open seven days a week and can be booked for two hour group sessions.

Five Nights in Marbs

Maybe its the direct flight from Manchester airport, or maybe it runs deeper than that, but when you are from the North West of England there are two summer holiday destinations that particularly call out – *The Algarve* and *Marbs*. This year, to keep with the cliche, I have been to both….

The Costa de Sol can get a bad rep – some of it is thoroughly well deserved – but there is more to this part of the world than TOWIE and Torremolinos.

Puerto Banus harbour

From a distance, Puerto Banus looks quite classy

For me Marbs has some key ingredients for a great European summer holiday that can’t be underestimated:

1. Sunshine – basically guaranteed sunshine. 30 degrees on a tap. Walking on the beach has never burned my feat so much

2. Food –  the gastro mountain village of Benahavis is brimming with quirky restaurants and art. One of the best I visited was Amanhavis – (because er…they make their own houmous and even print your name on the menu!)

3. Sea – I love a coastline and the sea is just gorgeous – whether you are into banana boating or catamaran cruises.

4. Straightforward – short hop flight, safe (unless you’re on the lash with 25 cocktail fish bowls and then you’re on your own) and you can even get a British newspaper to read on the beach

Singing Spanish men in traditional costume

Singing Spaniards in Benahavis

Solo boat from Puerto Banus to Marbella

A boat to ourselves

We stayed at the Marriot Vacation Club (you don’t have to be a member)- where there was loads to do, including loads of pools, a great gym and a short walk out to the beach where you could get a massage for 15 euros – BLISS.

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.

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….