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.

Where to watch fireworks in London

I’ve never liked Halloween. I don’t understand the appeal of dressing up like I’ve been in a car crash and then trying to look a little bit sexy.

Bonfire night? That’s different. Fireworks, hot dogs and good clean fun is something I can get behind. I’ll happily park objections to the (equally weird) ritual of celebrating burning someone alive, for a spiced cider and everyone coming together.

Bang

Bang

So great is my nerdy nostalgia I invited friends over for a ‘firework themed lunch’ (which I know sounds like the start of an ill-fated episode of casualty, but don’t worry it was FINE). I even consulted Pippa Middleton’s suggestions for a bonfire feast in her much-mocked ‘party book’ Celebrate. I made her filled jacket potatoes, before moving on to my own honey and mustard sausages and a great toffee apple and blackcurrant crumble recipe I found. Unfortunately London was 30 degrees, so I really should have adapted and served salads and ice-cream.

I usually go to Battersea Park Fireworks – its amazing display, set to music in such regal and impressive surroundings – is one of the best ways to spend £10 in London. However this year, we headed up to North London (so far up I risked a nosebleed) to see what Alexandra Palace had to offer.

Whizz

Whizz

The first noticeable thing were the crowds – the display was delayed by half an hour to let everyone in. But once it started it was amazing and they chucked  everything at it. As my friend aptly put it, it was basically like watching exploding money.

Pop

Pop

However, one of the best things was discovering the aerial view of London on the viewing platform. Just stunning and my camera phone doesn’t do it justice.

What a view

What a view

So I’ll come back to Ally Pally – even if there are no fireworks. But Battersea Park’s display is scheduled for next weekend in case I’ve tempted anyone….

Super fast birthday dinner for bad daughters

You know when its Friday night and you’re supposed to be cooking a birthday dinner for your Mum? But you finish work late and then you have to make everything in half an hour and feel like having a mental breakdown?

Maybe you don’t, because you’re probably much better at life than me.

But if you do ever need to make a super-fast, super nice birthday dinner (or any dinner), this is what I would suggest making because I have SO BEEN THERE…and this kind of works.

First – whack parma and melon on a fancy plate…simple things.

Picture of melon and parma ham

Melon and parma ham

I love Jo Pratt’s ‘lazy tray baked chicken’. You just throw the ingredients in a large roasting pan  – big pieces of chicken combined with panceta, baby potatoes, chopped red onion and carrots (or any veg you feel like really – peppers work well), along with a generous helping of lemon segments,  rosemary and a good drizzle of honey. This needs about an 1.15 in the oven at 200 degrees.

Picture of chicken

Tray baked chicken

Desert is my take on another Jo Pratt classic – plums and peaches halved, de-stoned and filled with mascarpone (mix in the zest of an orange first) combined with amaretto biscuits. Pour over a good glunk of port with some flaked almonds sprinkled on top. This needs about 25 minutes in the oven on 200 degrees.

Picture of peaches and plums

Mascarpone peaches and plums

And finally – if you are crazy like me – some part of you will have pre-empted your late finish from work and have got up at 6am to make cupcakes – because you can’t have a birthday dinner without cake. We accidentally bought golden icing, but I think this actually looks way fancier. And tastes amazing with chunks of Green and Blacks on top. Of course.

Picture of birthday cupcakes

Birthday Cupcakes

18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

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.

2014-07-16 20.21.50

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…

My awkward obsession with TV psychopaths

This year I have become worryingly obsessed by two men. Both homicidal psychopaths. Both (thankfully) fictional.

Before you start judging…I’m not the only one. It seems anyone with a TV or an internet connection shares my homage to Walter White in Breaking Bad (played by Bryan Cranston) and Frank Underwood in House of Cards (starring Kevin Spacey).

I lost most of January to Breaking Bad (series 1-4 in four weeks – I know…impressive…thanks). And last week I averaged six hours of sleep a night as I finished series 2 of House of Cards through a succession of late night binges. I came home from evenings out and still thought I could soldier on with an episode or seven (no…couldn’t…woke up at 5am with my ipad on my face).

I’ve had many insightful ‘deep and meaningfuls’ with friends about the uneasy guilt we feel at our capacity to get behind Frank and Walter.

<<SPOILER ALERT>>

For most of us there is a tipping point where we descend into ‘outrage’ – (for me when Walt let Jane die and when Frank threw Zoe in front of that train). But most of us concede, after the initial shock of such betrayals, something in us still roots for these characters, we’re still on their side. We can rationalise their horrific crimes as necessary collateral damage.

The anti-hero is an interesting phenomenon (well to me at least). I know its been happening since before Shakespeare, but I’ve only just really noticed it on TV. I never got into The Sopranos, managed to resist the snake charms of Dom Draper and was just generally too busy watching Coronation Street (…not joking I genuinely record it – reminds me of home).

But it was Walt and Frank who turned me.

With Breaking Bad we see Walt White descend into darkness and hope for his redemption…sort of.  But the audience ends up in that dark place too. Each warped decision becomes somehow defensible. In a show many see as a modern day Western, Walt has his own lawless code. We’re on his side against the world – because, after all, its an unfair world. He was the nice guy who did everything right, played the game and got screwed by life.  For me, without wanting to sound too lofty/totally crazy, he represents the little man’s protest against an unjust society. Like Bryan Cranston said of his character in an amazing interview in Rolling Stone: ‘everyone is capable of being dangerous’.

With Frank Underwood he seems to have been born dangerous – our obsession lies in the why and how. There are times when I’ve genuinely hated him (why, WHY did he need to kill Peter and Zoe). There are scenes when Claire is reminiscent of a glistening Twilight-esque Vampire and you almost expect them both to rip away their beautiful faces to reveal Voldemort style evil skulls beneath.

HOC  is limited in that it offers no credible alternatives – no one on the show can challenge the Underwoods – there is no ‘good’ to their ‘bad’. And don’t get me started on how the media are crushed Hitchcock style in a way I don’t think is plausible for today.

Bu that charisma, that humour, that knowing look Frank gives you? Its seductive. Its impressive. Worryingly, its familiar. I’ve seen lesser versions of it on Newsnight.  I’m sure we’ve all see people like that in work. You know – the successful, unflappable ones.Come on – who hasn’t watched HOC and then considered trying to mimic Claire Underwood’s polished poise in meetings? OK then er… just me. Once, it lasted about two minutes. Turns out I can’t speak that slow or dress that well.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in occasionally thinking in difficult  situations – ‘what would Walt or Frank do?’

Best places to meet and eat in London

While I’ve been in London I’ve done a lot of ‘stuff’. But when people ask me ‘what’ –  all I can come up with in terms of regular features is ‘I go to wagamama a lot’ (katsu curry and ginger chicken udon are my poison in case you’re wondering).

Surely that can’t be it? No. As well as spending all my money on taxis (see my recent post) I have definitely managed to successfully fritt away a good wadge of cash in restaurants.  Below is actually the damaging evidence. Seven years of restaurant cards saved in a box of tricks.

Box of restaurant memories. Mmm.

Box of restaurant memories. Mmmmmm…

I’m not the most sophisticated foodie around – I would rather go to Five Guys than the Four Seasons (for real) – but to take you through the montage of my favourites (and a few others I’d recommend), here are my top places:

Mid week meeting friends – central (advisable to book)

  • Byron  (everywhere now)- I am totally in favour of the national expansion of this burger chain. If it takes over the world that is fine by me. I genuinely think this place is very classy (maybe because I am not very classy) but the food is also a bit like having a cuddle. You leave feeling that everything is going to be ok
  • Busaba Ethai   (two on Wardour street – try not to mix them up when meeting friends, I did...) I know this is pretty unfaithful given my previous gushing re. Wagamama being the highlight of my life, but I actually prefer this Cantonese restaurant- maybe its because of the spa-like incense and mood-lighting, but it just has a nice vibe. (And there is no reason for me to feel adulterous as they were founded by the same guy, Alan Yau – legend).
  • Pix (Soho)- lots of fun. Spanish tapas on sticks. Novelty provides justification for buying too many sticks.
  • Ping Pong (everywhere) I love this place for meeting friends for drinks – as I am incapable of drinking without eating. Ping Pong does great cocktails in a social atmosphere, but you can keep ordering as much food as you want. I’ve made the mistake of feeling that it must be healthy as it isn’t traditional British cuisine – even though they have one dim sum which is basically a sausage roll.
  • Bills-(Leicester Square  and seemingly everywhere now). Easy place to meet and quite a wide menu. Including Scotch eggs. Amazing
  • Bubbledogs – (Fitzrovia) basically just an excuse to eat hotdogs and champagne and pretend there is no tomorrow
  • Le Pain Quotdien (South Bank) – Easy, light, French food – a nice place for feeling slightly ‘good’ and probably drinking some kind of ‘cordial’ or ‘herbal tea’ instead of wine
  • Wahaca (Covent Garden and lots more central) – Everyone is doing ‘street food now’ but Wahaca was arguably one of the first with its great Mexican sharers by former ‘Masterchef’ winner

Celebrations (definitely book)

  • Hakkasan – (Mayfair & Tott Court Road) some of the best Asian food I’ve had in London and super flash, special restaurant, for feeling super flash and special
  • Tom’s Kitchen – (South Ken, Somerset House & Canary Wharf) one of my favourite places to go with family. Seemingly simple food but with a wow factor. I prefer the South Ken restaurant – bustling kitchen but in easy, chilled environment.
  • Asia De Cuba   (Leicester Square) Another great Asian restaurant – I went with work and had to hold back from going totally ‘Twilight’ in my fixation with devouring the sharing platters
  • Kettners – (Soho) has a lovely fresh menu, great atmosphere and avant-garde style. Nice mid-range price option.
  • Burger and Lobster –  (Soho) very ‘fashionable’ at one stage. I am not fashionable enough to know if this is still the case. But this a nice destination restaurant with good food (just don’t go with a vegetarian – I did and it was a litttttle bit limited for her)
  • Mint Leaf – (Piccadilly)great twist on traditional Indian with quite a cool, trendy restaurant environment. Basically I mean they have a DJ.

Hungry now. Going to make some dinner which won’t compare….