London’s secret wine club

I have been wine tasting too many times for someone who persists in knowing nothing about wine.

But I do know this.  A dry crisp white with a good friend can take you far away from November in London.  To tasting the first of summer or filling up crystal glasses on Christmas Eve.

Take someone wine tasting and you get a proper conversation. So going with a great friend was the perfect gift.

We went to Bedales in Borough Market. It’s one of those cozy, special places – lit up with candles and small wooden tables  – made for rescuing people from dark winter nights.

Bedales wine bar

Casual but classy, our expert host – Angelo van Dyk – was very knowledgeable and took a small, intimate group of us through a combination of unusual wines in a session called ‘The Lost Grapes’.

We tasted:

And the last one? By that point I can’t remember or read my writing, which says it all

If anyone goes…please find out and tell me!

x

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.

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.

The awkward truth about being an introvert

Last summer I read an article in The Huffington Post that literally changed the way I viewed myself.

The article, ’23 signs you’re secretly an introvert’ – was a simple enough piece and perhaps not all that scientific – but revolutionary in what it conveyed.

Reading the article and steadily checking off the attributes, from being ‘easily distracted’, ‘noting detail’ and always picking a ‘seat on the end of the tube’;’ to ‘alternating between work and solitude and social activity’ , ‘screening calls’ and being ‘better at communicating in writing’, my ‘secret introversion’ all clicked in to place.

My kind of quiet

My kind of quiet

I always felt awkwardly ‘quiet’ deep down; but thought I had outgrown the days of reading books on my own at breaks in junior school. Now I work in communications and my core hobby is meeting up with my friends to chat shit over wine. When I mentioned my newly discovered introversion to some friends they were surprised, even sought to reassure me it wasn’t true, although my family have always known.

Admitting to being an introvert can feel like just another thing for shy people to feel shy about. Introverts can be seen as anti-social, lacking personality and confidence. There are certainly some ‘signs’ on the HuffPo list that it feels a little embarrassing to admit to – for example while I enjoy live entertainment, I hate crowds and don’t get ‘high off my surroundings’. I’d have more fun one on one with close friends.

In the workplace – especially my area, communications and marketing – introversion can be viewed negatively –  almost as a sign of weakness, an awkward characteristic that needs to overcome. Only on Friday I had a discussion with an extrovert about how minority introverts should be ‘integrated’ into teams of extroverts so they can adopt the same level of confidence presenting. I found myself standing up for those individuals, telling my colleague there is often a difference between being shy and introverted, but that introverts might often spot the details others miss by listening and analysing more. One friend – and fellow introvert – summarized the quandary perfectly:  “E’s’ never have to justify their behaviour to ‘I’s”, he said “whereas we have to explain ourselves all the time”.

Susan Cain author of  ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, said in 2012: “A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious…Introversion is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology.”

So without turning my introversion into full introspection, I plan to read up on Cairn’s the secret power of introverts – some say it can be a real asset, but more than anything I’m aware that if I’m not careful it could hold me back.

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.

2014-08-15 22.57.09

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.

2014-08-15 22.47.42

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.

2014-08-09 12.10.38

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.

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.

2014-07-13 18.06.55

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….